Tuesday, November 30, 2010

As we make up, not do

It’s that special time of year again! It begins right after the US celebrates Thanksgiving: Fox “News” channel and its performers start moaning about the “War on Christmas”.

It’s all a crock, of course, with little if any truth in their spin. Sometimes it’s mere exaggeration, but other times the just make it up. It’s all to score political points against liberals, progressives and Democrats, all of whom are cast in the role of the Grinch.

But the official political party of Fox, the Republican Party, is selling an ornament that declares “Happy Holidays” (in the screenshot below). Apparently the GOP has joined the war on Christmas! The performers on Fox will start attacking the Republican Party any day now!

Of course they’ll do no such thing. If it ever came up—and criticism of the Republican Party doesn’t—they’d rationalise it away. Their rules—real or imagined—don’t apply to themselves.

War on Christmas? More like a war on credibility.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Elections have consequences

Moves are being made to repeal marriage equality in New Hampshire, veteran gay journalist Rex Wockner is reporting. As a result of the November elections, Republicans now control both houses of the New Hampshire state legislature with enough votes to override any veto from Democratic Governor John Lynch.

According to Wockner, “Bills already have been filed to repeal the marriage-equality law and to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.” The newly elected Speaker of the House, Republican State Rep. Bill O'Brien, is described as “a staunch opponent of marriage equality.”

New Hampshire’s marriage equality, which took effect on January 1 of this year, was passed in June 2009. At the moment, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont and Washington, D.C. also have marriage equality.

This is why I warned up to this month that elections have consequences: By staying home or not voting Democratic, fair-minded voters may have set back the struggle for GLBT equality in New Hampshire by 20 years or more. Voters’ excuses for not voting are looking more lame, childish—and incredibly selfish—every day. Those who vowed to “punish” Democrats look even more pathetic and stupid than they did before the elections.

Elections—all elections—have consequences.

Fast away the old tech passes

These days, technology needs frequent updates. If we’re lucky, we get a few years out of a device before whatever it’s designed to do for us can’t be done on that device.

Cellphones are a good example: Analogue became digital became 3G and beyond. Old phones can’t work in the new world. I’ve had five cellphones in my life, and I’ve just moved on to my sixth which, compared to some, is a positively glacial pace of change.

On November 12, 1998, I bought my first cellphone, a PrePay on the Vodafone network (which they’d recently purchased from BellSouth). At the time, it was both New Zealand’s only pre-pay plan and the country’s only digital network.

I stayed on prepay for twelve years because throughout that time my needs didn’t really change, and what I wrote back in 1998 was true for those 12 years:

“…I hardly ever actually NEED a cellphone, but… when I do need a phone, I really need a phone. It seemed silly, though, to sign up for a plan when my needs are so limited right now.”

Throughout that time, I used my phone so little that I probably averaged no more than NZ$10 a month. All I did was receive calls and send the occasional text; I hardly ever made a call. That couldn’t last.

Last year, I got Nigel’s iPod Touch as a hand-me-up when he got an iPhone. I played with it a bit, and found it was really handy for accessing the Internet over our home WiFi network (or public ones, where available). However, it requires WiFi to connect, has no camera or ability to record sound—all useful for the social media stuff I do. But it’s the need for a WiFi connection that was the main problem: A lot of useful information is stuff for mobile devices/smartphones, everything from traffic reports to movie times to Google maps, and none of that was accessible on the iPod Touch without a WiFi connection.

My phone, meanwhile, was 3G, but had limited functionality. For example, because it was a prepay, I couldn’t use it to pay for public parking (meters took cash—which I seldom have—or one could pay by cellphone—provided it wasn’t prepay). There are many other vending machines that allow payment by text, with more sure to follow.

So I was increasingly left out, or left behind, by having a basic phone that did nothing but make and receive calls. That’s now changed: I have an iPhone on a billed account.

My phone usage is unlikely to change much, truth be known, but mobile data—like email—will be handy. By signing the contract, we saved about $400 off the retail price of a phone, so the increase in my monthly charges will pay for that interest free.

The time had come to move on from my old cellphone world, and to merge that with the useful functionality of my iPod Touch. Somehow, I doubt it’ll be twelve years before my next technological shift.

I was reminded that I actually had one more cellphone, a prepay Virgin Mobile I used while in the US a few years back. I gave that to our niece when she when there a few months later, but it's now no longer usable.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Enemies agreeing, and wrong

Something that’s fascinated me in recent weeks is how America’s political left and political right essentially agree on some issues, though often for different reasons and with different objectives. Until yesterday, however, I didn’t realise the bailout of GM was one of those issues.

The video above is a commercial GM ran thanking American taxpayers for saving them. It’s an effective ad. Over on Joe.My.God., where I saw this, the comments from the left end of the spectrum were illuminating.

I’d always known the right was opposed to the bailouts. It was “socialism”, they declared. But it turns out the leftists were just as opposed because it was “fascism”. Now, it’s a fair bet that the vast majority of people throwing around those words have no idea what they mean, but there’s an element of truth in both viewpoints—a very small kernel of truth, but one big enough for them to hang on.

The bailout of GM was socialistic in that it was a government takeover of a means of production—but we’re talking one company, not en entire industry, so it was not socialist. Similarly, it was fascistic because it was government policy being used to advance business interests—but it was done through loans and equity investment in one company which is not what fascists do.

So, the hyperbole of both the left and the right is wrong—and utterly daft, if we’re honest. Even crazier is the rhetoric shared by both the left and the right: GM should have been left to fail. The left and the right actually have a shared reason for saying that, namely, that government shouldn’t bail out private business.

The right thinks that the company should have been allowed to fail so it would “break” the unions (never mind that their power has been declining for decades). The left feels that it should have been allowed to fail because saving it only benefited the corporate elites (never mind the ripple effects through the economy that would have affected mainstream, ordinary Americans).

The truth is that if GM had failed, it probably would’ve taken the entire US auto industry with it. Its suppliers would’ve failed, making it almost impossible for Ford to locate parts, endangering Ford, which was trading at the “junk bond” level at the time.

Had GM failed, its workers would’ve stopped buying. Stores and services would’ve failed. As GM’s suppliers failed, their workers would stop buying and more stores and services would’ve failed—and on and on and on. These workers would’ve gone on a benefit, taking from the economy, not adding to it. It would almost certainly have pushed the severe recession into a depression. US unemployment remains stubbornly high—can anyone seriously argue that adding tens—or hundreds—of thousands of workers to the unemployment lines would’ve been a good idea? Well, yeah, that’s basically what the left and the right still argue.

All things considered, the GM bailout was the cheapest option available to the government. The US taxpayer now owns a minority of GM, after its recent successful stock offering and re-listing. In the end, taxpayers will at least break even on the investment, maybe make a profit. That’s good news, but you won’t hear the left or the right celebrating it.

Sometimes, it seems, political point-scoring is more important than simple humanity.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Another expat Thanksgiving

American expats have many different experiences of their holidays, depending on where they are. Thanksgiving is one, I can attest, that many Kiwis just don’t get. Mind you, I understand: Thanksgiving is a harvest holiday referencing another country’s mythology. In New Zealand, it’s Spring and the historical references are irrelevant.

And, yet: It’s Thanksgiving! I’ve often tried to keep the traditions alive, but it always seems to get hot just when it’s time to do the roasted dinner. Not such a good idea, really.

Today I roasted a turkey—a real turkey, not just a fake roll. I also made a pumpkin pie (using tinned pumpkin, of course). The result was mixed.

The turkey was frozen (it’s hard to find fresh turkey, in my experience) and ended up moist and nice—but tasting nothing like an American turkey. I have no idea if that’s because of the additives in American turkeys (NZ ones have none) or if New Zealand turkeys are just different. I have no frame of reference! I can’t say whether NZ turkeys are more pure or if US ones are totally fake; all I can say is that my NZ turkey was different.

The pie was another matter. The filling was fine (it’s hard to screw that up), but the pastry was too hard. The thing is, a family member is gluten intolerant, so I made gluten-free pastry—and I’d never made any sort of pie pastry before. Let’s just say, it was an incomplete success.

The meal, on the whole, was nice and enjoyed by all. Still, it was HOT as I was making dinner. I think I may skip it—and the heat—next year.

The larger issue is celebrating a US holiday in another country. Many of us find a way, even though the country we’re in doesn’t have any connection to it—or even understand it. We find a way and sometimes, like this year, it’s good.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Republican Family Feud

Last Friday, I posted a video of a debate on MSNBC between someone from GOProud , a conservative “gay” group, and someone from Concerned Women for America, a noted anti-gay group.

Well, here’s another, more fiery debate between rightwing Republicans. This time, joining spokespeople for GOProud and CWA is a spokeperson from one of the several competing Teapublican groups, Tea Party Nation. Gotta feel a little sorry for GOProud: It’s pretty reviled in the mainstream GLBT community AND by heterosexual conservatives.

In this debate, however, GOProud was correct on some very specific points. First, the election was NOT won by Teapublicans because of social issues. Yes, the leaders and candidates are rightwing christianist extremists, but the folks who bought the message and voted for them are not necessarily—many simply bought the fiscal conservative message, which, as we all remember, is precisely what the Teapublicans were selling in the campaign. It’s not surprising that, having won, they’re revealing their true agenda, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to pretend now that the culture wars was always their focus.

Also, the rightwing agenda to outlaw same-sex marriage through constitutional amendment would absolutely be the biggest expansion of federal power in at least a century, probably more because it would be federalising something—marriage—that has always been a state issue.

To me it sounded like the CWA and Teapublicans don’t want anything to do with those dirty homos. The Teapublican apparently believes that one cannot be gay and conservative; in fact, GOProud is far more conservative than it is gay. CWA has a long track record of fighting to keep gay people second class (or worse) citizens, so their antipathy toward GOProud is certainly in character for them.

Oddly enough I don’t take any particular delight in this family feud (well, okay, maybe a little…). Instead, I think this is yet another example of how the political right in the US is rock solid anti-gay. We already know that dialogue with rabidly anti-gay groups like the CWA is impossible, but I think this also shows how the Teapublicans aren’t the least bit interested in dialogue, either, even with people who would be their allies on perhaps 98% of their radical agenda.

The lesson in all this seems obvious to me: Progress on GLBT issues in America is impossible through working with the far right culture warriors in the Republican/Teapublican Party: Dialogue, let alone compromise, is clearly impossible.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What can one say?

When a major tragedy happens, particularly when it’s to people one doesn’t know, and in places one isn’t, it’s difficult to know what to say. Yet the tragedy of the Pike River Mine disaster, and the 29 lives lost, deserves some sort of acknowledgement.

When it’s a national tragedy, as this is, the leader of the country attempts to speak for us all. In that spirit, I’m republishing the remarks made by Prime Minister John Key (as delivered):

This afternoon New Zealand has been devastated by the news we have all been dreading. A second explosion at the Pike River Mine confirms our very worst fears. The 29 men, whose names and faces we have all come to know, will never walk amongst us again.

This is a national tragedy: A tragedy for the men's families, for their workmates and friends, for their community and our nation. New Zealand is a small country, a country where we are our all our brother’s keeper. So to lose this many brothers at once strikes an agonising blow.

Today, all New Zealanders grieve for these men. We are a nation in mourning. Where this morning we held on to hope, we must now make way for sorrow.

Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families of those 29 brave men. After days of waiting, of both preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, they have been delivered the cruellest of news.

So to all those who have lost a loved one in the Pike River mine let me say this: New Zealand stands shoulder to shoulder with you. Though we cannot possibly feel this pain as you do, we have you in our hearts and our thoughts. Like you, we’d all longed for that miracle to occur, that your men would be returned home to you.

Tonight, on behalf of the people of New Zealand, we send our sympathies to the children who have lost their fathers, to the parents who have lost sons, to the wives who have lost their husbands, to the girlfriends who have lost their partners, to the siblings who have lost their brothers.

This is a tragedy for the communities of Greymouth and its surrounding areas. This loss will be felt in every home. They leave behind them a hollow space that will not be readily filled.

We must also acknowledge that Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom have lost men in this tragedy as well.

Tomorrow, I will travel to Greymouth to express my condolences to the families and to express our thanks to all those who have worked so hard on the attempted rescue of these men. From the moment of the first explosion, they have spent every waking hour tirelessly working, searching for a way to bring these men home alive. That was not to be. But their enormous effort can not go unmarked.

Tomorrow in Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English will move a motion in my absence, providing all political parties an opportunity to express their sympathy. Then as a mark of respect to the victims and their families, it is the Government's intention to lift the House.

I have also directed that tomorrow all flags on Government buildings will fly at half-mast.

Questions must now be asked and answered about how such a tragedy was able to occur and how we can prevent another happening in the future. It is my expectation that Cabinet will confirm the details of a Commission of Inquiry at its next meeting on Monday, along with any other inquiries that may be deemed to be appropriate.

At this time of national pain, let us not lose sight of what truly makes New Zealand great. We are a tough and resilient little country. We care deeply about our fellow countrymen and women. We are a series of communities knitted together by a set of values and principles that have guided us together through good times and bad.

It is this spirit that will see us through.

The montage of the 29 miners, above, is a screen grab from the font page of the New Zealand Herald website. I don’t normally lift things from websites, but I felt it was important to memorialise the lost. Video of the Prime Minister’s speech is available on the Herald’s site, and the speech and press conference afterward is also available on TVNZ’s One News site.

What I’m talking about

I frequently say that the newsmedia shouldn’t interview the spokespeople of known hate groups as way of providing “balance” when talking about GLBT civil and human rights. It’s unconscionable and absurd: They’d never—ever—talk to a KKK person about African-American civil rights, or to a Holocaust denier about Jews.

In this video, Dan Savage talks to CNN about how to fight anti-gay hate crimes, and he brings up this very point (and CNN knew it was going to be criticised, by the way). Maybe if enough of us keep repeating it, they’ll finally get the message and stop this reprehensible practice.

A list of naughty, not nice

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) has updated their list of anti-gay groups, as well as increasing the number they classify as anti-gay hate groups from 8 to 13. I heartily applaud the move—and completely agree with it. To fight hatred, my must first indentify the perpetrators.

The SPLC was founded in 1971 to help fulfil the promise of the civil rights movement. Initially, it focused on combating institutionalise racism, white supremacist groups, and so on. They won important victories.

However, the hatred of the extreme right is seldom limited to race alone, so the SPLC now focuses on “fighting hate and bigotry, and… seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.” It’s in this context that they track anti-gay groups generally and anti-gay hate groups specifically. They’re internationally recognised and well-regarded for their work combating political hatred.

The political right in America hate the SPLC, of course, because the group calls them out when they’re naughty—or worse. On gay issues, the radical right likes to whinge and moan that they’re being criticised for their “Christian” beliefs (never mind that not all Christians agree with them and their anti-gay agenda).

However, the SPLC has very strict criteria for labelling these groups:

Generally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups. [emphasis added]

Note especially that last sentence. I may disagree vehemently with fundamentalist Christians over what I consider a boneheaded religious dogma, but they absolutely have the right—and freedom—to believe what they want, no matter how stupid I think it is. They do NOT, however, have the right to promote their contentious religious beliefs as fact, particularly when they use lies, smears, innuendo and defamation to do so, nor do they have a right to force their beliefs on everyone else.

Many of the groups on the list are relatively small, but their influence goes far beyond their actual numbers. Their rhetoric—even when based on junk science or outright fabrications—has been taken on as talking points by America’s rightwing. Put another way, they write the tune that rightwing politicians—mainly Republicans/Teapublicans—dance to.

The cash-strapped Focus on the “Family” isn’t on the anti-gay list (or the list of anti-gay hate groups) because it recently toned down its rhetoric. After Jim Daly took over the group from the truly vile James Dobson, he told an interviewer: “I will continue to defend traditional marriage, but I’m not going to demean human beings in the process. It’s not about being highly confrontational.” Yeah, well, I’m not convinced that the leopard has changed its spots, or that they’ll stick to the new gentler fundamentalism when other far-right christianist groups are attacking them for easing up.

So when I refer to an anti-gay hate group on this blog, it’s mainly because of this list. I don’t use words like “hate” and “hate group” lightly—there’s a reason for it and ample evidence backing me up. It isn’t, in other words, mere rhetoric—it’s an accurate description.

Kudos to the SPLC for spreading the truth and fighting political hatred in all its forms.

Tip o' the Hat to Truth Wins Out.

The military evidence is clear

This ad from the Michael Palm Center advocates repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. So of course Fox “News” refused to air it. That doesn’t change a simple fact: Unlike the constant spin from the right, the presence of gay and lesbian soldiers has no affect on military readiness, as the experience of US allies clearly shows—that’s the point of this ad. It is and has been a non-event in other countries.

While New Zealand is—technically—not an ally of the US (just a “very, very, very good friend,” as Colin Powell put it), our defence forces have been officially integrated since 1993, after the Human Rights Act was passed. New Zealand’s military leaders didn’t oppose the end of discrimination.

The experience of all these countries shows how out-of-step US politicians are—so much so that one suspects it’s all about politics, and not military readiness. Take John McCain, for example: He was willing to listen to the generals and support repeal of DADT—until those generals started supporting repeal, and then McCain started grandstanding against it. Maybe it was too mavericky for him.

McCain wrote a letter to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates urging him to modify the survey of defense personnel to ask whether DADT should be repealed, not just what they thought of it. Gates wrote back with what McCain should’ve known: "I do not believe that military policy decisions — on this or any other subject — should be made through a referendum of servicemembers." Well, duh!

So, in the face of overwhelming evidence of allied and “friendly” countries and basic acceptance from US military leaders and personnel,  the opposition by US politicians must be based on nothing but pure politics alone, and that’s a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the US.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God. for the links.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why marriage matters

I hadn’t intended to make today “Marriage Equality Day” at the AmeriNZ Blog, but I may as well go with it.

This video from the American Civil Liberties Union shows why full marriage equality matters—not just the right to get married, but also for the federal government to recognise it. Edith "Edie" Windsor talks about her marriage to her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer. Her government screwed her over, but she’s fighting back. I admire her courage and strength, and also the ACLU for fighting for her—and for all married same sex couples in the US, and those who’d like to be.

As an aside, the ACLU posted this underneath the video on their site:

“Please note that by playing this clip YouTube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see YouTube's privacy statement on their website and Google's privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU's privacy statement, click here.”

I wonder how many bloggers have ever even thought about that, much less warned their visitors. Consider yourself warned, I guess.

Tip o’ the Hat for the video link to Roger Green.

Progress back home

There’s progress planned for my home state of Illinois. The newly-elected Governor, Pat Quinn, wants a Civil Union law on his desk by the end of the year. It’s very clear-cut. The purposes, listed in Section 5, are pretty clear:

“…to provide adequate procedures for the certification and registration of a civil union and provide persons entering into a civil union with the obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses.”

The law makes things clearer in its definitions:

"’Party to a civil union’ means a person who has established a civil union pursuant to this Act. ‘Party to a civil union’ means, and shall be included in, any definition or use of the terms ‘spouse’, ‘family’, ‘immediate family’, ‘dependent’, ‘next of kin’, and other terms that denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the law.”

So, it’s pretty clear the intention is to create a separate-but-fully-equal marriage-like legal arrangement. Even dissolution is handled in the same way a dissolution of a marriage (Section 45).

Section 60 describes reciprocity:

“A marriage between persons of the same sex, a civil union, or a substantially similar legal relationship other than common law marriage, legally entered into in another jurisdiction, shall be recognized in Illinois as a civil union.”

In other words, a same-sex couple married in Canada or Massachusetts would no longer be married in Illinois—they’d be in a civil union instead. On the other hand, folks who are already in a civil union or similarly formally recognised relationship would have that relationship recognised in Illinois.

I think this section is unconstitutional. The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution (Article IV. Section 1) requires states to recognise the public acts—like marriage—of other states. So, Illinois has no right to recognise a same-sex marriage as anything other than a marriage and civil unions as civil unions.

Regardless, this law could be an important step forward toward achieving full legal equality for gay and lesbian Illinoisans—as long as they’re already US citizens or permanent residents; this law would change nothing for bi-national couples.

So, civil unions are not marriage, nor are they truly equal to marriage when some people are excluded from participating in marriage simply because they’re gay. Because of this, some people are adamant that it’s “all or nothing”. Much as I’m an ardent advocate for full marriage equality, I disagree that it’s best to hold out for full equality.

There’s no proof that holding out will make full equality arrive any sooner. And what of the couples who are disadvantaged in the meantime? That’s why I so often say that civil unions are better than nothing, but something that will be a perfectly reasonable choice on its own once marriage equality is achieved.

I hope Illinois does this one good thing.

Yes, but…

Lately, I’m having trouble taking NZ politicians seriously. I mean, both sides—the ones I agree with and the ones I don’t. I should explain why.

Today the Minister of Health, Tony Ryall, appointed members for the 20 District Health Boards, including 10 new chairs. Several of his appointees will serve on more than one board in the same area. Ryall said:

"These cross-appointments signal a push for greater regional collaboration in the planning and delivery of health services. The overlaps between each of these Auckland and Wellington region DHBs are clear.”

These overlaps include, for example, Auckland’s Waitemata (DHB) paying Auckland DHB a quarter of its budget each year for services. So it sounds to me like “cross-appointments” could make it the DHBs operate more efficiently and that could reduce costs and deliver better services. It sounds reasonable, in other words.

Labour disagrees. Their health spokesperson, Ruth Dyson, called this a “move to merge boards by stealth”. Dyson said:

“Without any consultation with the community, Waitemata, Auckland, MidCentral, Whanganui, West Coast, Canterbury, Hutt Valley and Capital and Coast DHBs have begun the path to amalgamation.”

Here’s what I don’t get about Labour’s position: Why is merger automatically a bad idea? Auckland is merging eight local councils into one, so does it really make sense to have two District Health Boards, kept entirely separate, serving the merged city?

Dyson charged that Ryall’s appointments are really “about increasing health cuts and merging boards without bothering to consult with communities.” She has a point about cuts—National has been making cuts in health spending—but how will appointing the same person as CEO of two different-but-connected DHBs lead automatically to cutting spending on health services?

I have another issue with Labour lately: Marriage equality. On their Red Alert blog, Labour MP Clare Curran posted “Australians to debate gay marriage”, which spoke approvingly of the Australian Green Party and the Australian Labor Party (they spell it differently) agreeing to support a first-step motion on enacting marriage equality in that country. They have a long way to go.

Apart from one apparent religionist, the comments were all favourable. That one negative comment led Curran to comment, urging people to be “civil and respectful”. Fair enough. Then she added:

“NZ has taken some great steps forward in this area and I welcome more discussion. It’s a healthy thing. We are a stronger and more open society as a result of our civil union law.” (she added a Wikipedia link about our law)

Well, yeah, it’s better, but it’s not full equality when marriage is restricted to heterosexuals only. Labour knows that, and I get that there are right wing members of that party, too, and they have to be catered for. But I’m sick and tired of Labour acting like they’re moses for GLBT New Zealanders and the Civil Unions law is the promised land. It’s not, important step that it is notwithstanding. I’m also sick of Labour MPs allowing half-hearted debate on marriage equality but doing nothing about actually moving forward.

Mind you, the conservative National Party is worse on this issue (88% of their MPs voted against the Civil Union Act in 2005, while the same percentage of Labour’s MPs voted for it). And, this National-led government is doing some seriously naughty things that the next Labour-led government will have to fix.

But I expect National to be bad and to do things I don’t agree with. I expect Labour to have a vision, to offer an alternative and—for me—they’re just not doing that.

And that’s why I’m having trouble taking any NZ politicians seriously.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hatred for its own sake

One of America’s leading and most powerful anti-gay hate groups, the American “Family” Association, has attacked the Obama Administration because they’ve ordered all hospitals receiving federal funds to ensure that they don’t discriminate against gay couples in visitation policies. Echoing their usual anti-gay rhetoric, the AFA calls it “special visitation rights”.

The AFA approvingly quotes the far right “legal” group “Liberty” Counsel’s spokesbigot, Matt “Bam Bam” Barber, claiming these rights already exist:

"Patients are allowed to designate whoever they want to come visit. And certainly through powers of attorney and various written agreements and contracts in advance of this sort of situation, people are allowed to decide who comes to visit them in the hospital."

He’s being deliberately deceptive. Many hospitals do have such rules for ordinary visitation, but regardless of their overall policies, many hospitals restrict visitation to “immediate family” at least under some circumstances, such as in an intensive care unit. Even when they don’t formally make such a restriction, many hospitals will do that in practice—restricting visitation only to a legally-married spouse or similar close blood relative. In most places in the US, that means the same-sex partner can be excluded—even if they’ve spent hundreds of dollars drawing up special documents the hospital may refuse to accept, anyway.

Barber makes their objection clear: "Certainly there are Catholic hospitals and Baptist hospitals that recognize homosexual behavior as sinful behavior, and they do not want to take part in affirming homosexual sin under the strong arm of the government." The AFA dishonestly claims that the Obama administration is “casting liberty of conscience aside” and is “forcing acceptance of homosexuality”.

Put another way, their religious dogma should trump patients’ rights and simple human decency toward hospital patients who are ill, injured or who even may be dying. They aren’t displaying “liberty of conscience” (whatever that means) by putting their political agenda ahead of compassion and caring. In fact, they aren’t even being remotely Christian.

I think Joe.My.God. describes them best. His site’s where I found the AFA press release link and their video in which they moan about having to treat gay people with human decency and compassion. Said Joe:

“As unbelievably cruel as it may sound, God's Gentle Loving People™ are actually publicly saying that gay people should die alone without their loved ones by their sides. I can't think of a single thing more vile or detestable. Or one that more perfectly encapsulates the vicious nature of American Christianism.”

The AFA shows how the wealthy and powerful far right christianist lobby in America engages in hatred of gay people for its own sake, attempting to make sure that even in the most distressing and vulnerable times for GLBT people, they’re right there putting the boot in. Vile and detestable? Vicious? I think Joe is being far too kind.

To read the press release for yourself, or to see the AFA video, you’ll have to go to Joe’s site. I have a policy of never linking to far right extremists.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Framing the fight

This video features Jimmy LaSalvia of the “gay” conservative group GOProud versus Wendy Wright from the anti-gay Concerned Women for America on the subject of whether the teapartiers are fiscal conservatives or social conservatives. GOProud recently sent a letter to the Republican leadership of the new Congress, begging for them to focus on fiscal, smaller government issues and not on going after homos. Wendy’s not having it.

The thing is, she’s absolutely right: The teapartiers are merely a repackaging and rebranding of the far right christianists who completed their takeover of the Republican Party under Bush/Cheney. Their often extremist agenda on social issues doesn’t play well outside their churches, though, so this year they wrapped it in a veneer of “small government, fiscal conservatism”. That helped them—as did simply being in the right place at the right time (only the craziest of the crazy Teapublicans failed to win election this year).

The Teapublicans who were elected to Congress are all anti-gay and anti-choice. Those issues are at the core of who and what they are, and GOProud doesn’t seem to understand that. They’re not alone, though, with far too many moderates also duped into believing the teaparty rhetoric of “small government” and “fiscal conservatism”.

What I found fascinating in this interview came at the very end when Wendy was given the final word. She said:
“Fiscal and social issues DO go together. When you look at the efforts like expanding domestic partnership benefits, that’s bigger government, that’s more cost to businesses, it’s more increases to taxpayers. So they DO go together and that’s why you can’t try and separate them. Social issues are moral issues, fiscal issues are moral issues.”
She’s revealing exactly how the Teapublicans will frame their opposition to equality for GLBT citizens: As a fiscal issue. The christianist right has for many years portrayed gay Americans as wealthy people who don’t really need equality because they can afford to pay double. So, they’ll argue that these “well off” people don’t need to “burden” taxpayers or businesses with equality in benefits.

Everyone expects the religious right to oppose marriage equality, but this strategy gets them off the hook for also opposing separate and unequal civil unions or even the vastly inferior “domestic partnership benefits”: They don’t have to say that the real reason they oppose them is because their Jeebus tells them to; instead, they can say with great faux sincerity that their opposition is all about “smaller government”, “reducing burdens on business” and “saving taxpayers money”. It’s a crock and a lie, but it will probably work if there’s no pushback—and this is one form of pushback.

I’m a staunch critic of the newsmedia always putting some right wing bigot on opposite a gay person to provide “balance” on an issue; as I often say, they’d never even consider having a member of the KKK on to provide “balance” in a discussion of African American civil rights. However, this is one example of when it’s appropriate, since the subject was the gays versus the anti-gays fighting for the “heart of the GOP” (does it even have one?), as the chyron puts it. This was actually a useful interaction—but to prepare our side, too.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Key to heckling

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was heckled as he campaigned in the Mana electorate for the by-election there on Saturday. Supporters of the Labour candidate, Kris Faafoi, and a leftwing independent heckled the prime minister, who said it was a sign of “desperation”.

No, it’s a sign that his goofy grins and smarmy smiles are beginning to wear thin. He had a minister rort the travel allowance system and resign when caught—how many of his shady ministers have resigned now? I keep losing count.

But the main reason the prime minister was heckled—and should expect to be—is that average New Zealanders are worse off now than when National won the election two years ago, with median incomes, adjusted for inflation, lower now than in 2008, when the election was held (in fact, it's the first drop since 1998). National has raised GST, ACC levies and cut funding for early childhood education—all of which hit ordinary Kiwi families hard.

The government is also forcing through under urgency (what is it with them ramming their agenda down our throats under urgency all the time?) a plan to take back one week of annual leave, pretending that ordinary working people will be able to “negotiate” with their employer over whether they'll keep the leave or cash it in. They’re also extending the 90-day probation period to all employers, not just small/medium enterprises, meaning that all employers will be able to fire workers without cause and without any recourse for the worker during those first 90 days.

Add it all up, National’s assault on ordinary hard-working New Zealanders is why John Key was heckled. If anyone should be facing desperation, it should be Key as the wheels fall off his government.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NZ Rugby up over

There was a rugby match held in Washington, DC: The 14th Annual Ambassador's Shield rugby match was held this past Sunday (Washington time). New Zealand beat the US Combined Services team 44-24. Of course.

For more on the match and pictures, check out my friend Jason’s blog post. He enjoyed it and even had a pie—he must be a Kiwi in the making!

Update 18/11/10:
I've added the video that Jason shot of the match.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Glee-ful remix

I’m a big fan of “Glee” (a subject in itself), and saw this remix of “Teenage Dream” over at Joe.My.God. I like it. At any rate, I thought it was time for a totally not serious break from normal blogging.

I had a feeling that would happen: The video is gone. As so often happens in a culture that now values absolute copyright ownership over creative freedom and experimentation. Creativity, it seems, it just another commercial commodity.

Advance Australian fairness

A recent Australian poll conducted for Australian Marriage Equality by Galaxy found that 62% of Australians favour marriage equality, and 74% of the voters backing the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the party leading government, also back marriage equality. The ALP, however, continues to oppose it and refuses even to allow a conscience vote on the matter; the Liberal/National Coalition also has failed to advocate a conscience vote.

The problem for Labor politicians is that support for marriage equality—and gay people generally—is strongest in urban electorates and weakest in rural or blue-collar electorates, where moral disapproval of homosexuality runs highest. The parties fight over the marginal seats, ones that don’t have a strong preference for one party or the other and, as Idiot/Savant puts it on the blog “No Right Turn”:
“The study also shows that marginal seats are highly concentrated in areas with between 25 and 34 percent bigots. And it’s these people the ALP leadership are trying to pander to in taking a conservative approach. Rather than standing up for progressive principles, they are instead adopting a ‘small target’ strategy and not giving people a reason to vote against them — with gays as the victims. It’s an utterly despicable strategy, and if the ALP continues with it, they deserve to be rejected by their own base."
I completely agree. The ALP have been cowards on this issue for years, and I wrote about this timidity nearly three years ago. It’s way past time for the ALP to advance Australian fairness.

Update: The ALP is supporting a motion later this week to require MPs and senators to seek their constituents' views on same-sex marriage. The Greens’ Adam Bandt moved a motion to force the house to acknowledge that same-sex marriage exists elsewhere, but this part was dropped from a motion offered by Labor backbencher Stephen Jones.

This is progress, but the curiously conservative ALP has no intention of actually enacting marriage equality, since official party policy is that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Also, this motion may not pass: The ALP relies on independents to govern, and one, Bob Katter, told the media that his constituents were against it, adding for homophobic punch: "If you want to have a relationship you can have it but you can't ask the government of Australia to bless it." Separate and definitely unequal, eh Bobbo?

Update 2, 18/11/10: The Green's motion passed—barely—73 votes to 72. The Coaltion, the conservative Opposition, refused to support it, as did the homophobic Bob Katter.

Update 3, 22/11/10: A new Sydney Morning Herald/Nielsen poll has found that 57% of Australians support marriage equality and 37% oppose it, broadly in line with the earlier poll. That same poll found that the ALP is losing support to the Greens, partly because of the ALP's reluctance to advance this issue.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Visualising truth

This is one of the most extraordinary infographics I’ve ever seen: It maps out the contradictions in the bible.

The chart was created for Project Reason, which promotes “science and secular values”. Steve Wells compiled the data that Madrid graphic artist Andy Marlow used to create the chart.

Suzanne LaBarre, who wrote the article on Fast Company, where I found this, explains it:

The organization here is pretty simple. You’ve got bars at the bottom representing the 1,189 verses of the King James Bible. White’s for the Old Testament, gray’s for the New Testament. Then a red arc links all the verses that contradict each other.

It’s one thing to know the bible is filled with contradictions, and it’s another to see them visually—and in such a compelling way. Sadly, though, the people who most need to see this and understand its implications are least likely to do so, no matter how stunning the visual.

Considered and discarded

I didn’t bother posting yesterday for two reasons: I was busy enjoying my Sunday and what blog time I did have was spent in an abandoned experiment.

Yesterday was a really good day. It was sunny, warm, and I spent a lot of time with Nigel—it really doesn’t get any better. I joined him for his The Third Colony Internet radio show on qnation.fm, which he does every other Sunday at 3pm our time (Saturday at 9pm eastern in the Americas). It was a lot of fun, as always. Later on, we went out for dinner, which was the perfect end to a nice day.

I mention all that because I don’t often say that the reason I don’t post isn’t always that I’m too busy (though that’s often the case). Real life comes first—yeah, sacrilege, I know, but this was one of those times.

However, I wasn’t away from the computer entirely. I’d been thinking that it might be a good idea to put my posts on US politics into a separate blog. I set one up, minimally, and figured out how to export my posts/comments from this blog so that I could include all my previous posts on the subject.

This idea had been swimming around in my mind for awhile, really ever since I made changes to my podcast, and for similar reasons. I was starting to talk more about US politics, including regular shows with my friend Jason. That led someone to comment on iTunes that my podcast was “too political”.

I’d been thinking that discussions of US politics didn’t mesh well with the main themes of my podcast—my life, New Zealand and life in it, as well as stuff related to being an expat. So, in February 2009 Jason and launched a new podcast, 2Political, its name proudly based on what had been intended as some sort of criticism of my first podcast.

That fixed the problem of too much ill-fitting US politics mixed in with the usual fare of my podcast. But I felt the same sort of bad fit here, especially for folks simply looking for information on New Zealand (including New Zealanders who may not be interested in the US at all). My solution was to explore a separation similar to that of my podcasts.

Turned out to be a bad idea: If US politics go there, what about religion? It’s also not really related to the main subjects areas of this blog. Or what about discussions of US history? US culture? What about international politics? Clearly it was a lot more complicated than I’d realised.

But the main reason I backed off of separation came from an epiphany: The folks who read this blog regularly pretty much know what to expect from me. If they’re not interested in a topic, they skip the post. Obvious, I know, but I didn’t think about that.

That left the issue of people only looking for information on New Zealand or being an expat, but this epiphany/realisation also brought with it an idea for a solution that doesn’t involve splitting this blog at all. But that’s a topic for another day, when I have something to share.

In the meantime, this blog will continue as it has been. You have been warned.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Spring cleaning the blog

I’ve begun changes to this blog to kind of streamline things, remove some clutter and to kind of personalise it a bit more.

The most obvious change is the background photo: It’s now one of mine, a photo of Auckland taken from North Head in Devonport—and no, I didn’t manipulate the colours apart from ordinary brightening. This view may seem familiar: Another version of it is at the top of my podcast site, and it’s also in my first video (also available for download from my podcast site). It made its debut in a post four years ago. I quite like it.

Also, I’m adding pages, accessible through tabs at the top. The first one is “Resources” "Links"*, which includes my extended blogroll and also my list of links to podcasts (“podroll”?); eventually I’ll add other links I think may be interesting or useful. I’m trying a different blogroll listing on the sidebar; titled “Blogs I read regularly (listed by most recently updated)”, it’s a list of four blogs I always read, with the title of their most recent post and when it was posted. There are only four sites because I’m just trying it to see if I like it, and I may add more later or scrap the thing entirely. We’ll see.

These changes have been on my agenda for a while, but some of them have come from advice other bloggers recently gave me. Still to come, I plan to add more pages, including about New Zealand and Auckland to answer the questions I get asked most frequently.

Longer term, probably during for the holidays, I’m going to work on that sidebar: I want to streamline my tags (there are way too many), get rid of a few things that are no longer necessary and maybe add a couple useful new things.

Aside from that, who knows? I’m open to suggestions!

Unlike so many other bloggers, I hardly ever change anything here, and that’s on purpose: I don’t want to confuse anyone. But I do want to make it more “reader friendly”, so suggestions are always welcome (apart from “shut the thing down,” because I’ll ignore that…).

*Update 15/11/10: I've changed the page's name from the original "Resources" to "Links" to more accurately reflect its purpose. Also, the other pages I mentioned adding will all have lists of relevant resources, so "Links" seemed like a better name.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Christmastime in the city?

One year ago, I wrote about how there was no “war on Christmas” and this year it’s every bit as evident. The photo with this post shows a few flyers that arrived in our letterbox this week. Americans will note that “Christmas” is the universally chosen word.

Christmas displays started going up at our local Warehouse in October. The weekend before Halloween, the store had many times the display space devoted to Christmas stuff as to Halloween (one of these years, there’ll be no Halloween stuff at all—mark my words!).

We’ll get a lot more Christmas marketing from now on. I can both ignore and enjoy that. It’s a good space to be in.

BTW: Today is 12/11/10 here. I like symmetry.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spring again

It’s been a pretty uneven spring so far—some really hot, sunny days and some that are cold and rainy. Some mornings have been downright wintry.

Next to our house are some yuccas, and they’re again in bloom—something I saw for the first time last year, though somewhat earlier.

I took the photo above yesterday. If you look in the background, you’ll see Chinese privet in bloom—a particularly noxious plant I wrote about four years ago.

Still after the uneven weather of this spring, and the challenges I’ve faced for various reasons, I’ll take whatever signs of real spring I can get.

See? I’m really not THAT hard to please!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Politics and theatre

I haven’t been writing much about New Zealand national politics lately. I’m still keenly interested (always!), but lately I’ve found it hard to muster the energy to bother commenting. Today I realised why.

I saw a post on a blog called “The Dim-Post” titled This rough magic I here abjure (a line from “The Tempest”, if you don’t recognise it). The author, Danyl, wrote that some of the latest antics of our Parliamentarians “just feed into my deepening depression about the mediocrity of New Zealand’s political class and the culture surrounding it, related to my wider despair at the state of the economy.” I realised that I’ve been feeling similarly, and agreed completely with the final thought:

“In our current situation we have a government that knows much about theatre and politics and almost nothing about government and an opposition that probably knows much about government, but in vain because they know nothing about politics or theatre.”

Nail-on-the-head. When I’ve written about NZ Politics, it’s often been to criticise the government over its reliance on theatre and politics (as, especially, in the last paragraph of this post) and the opposition for when they try stupid theatrical stunts (like here).

But last week I saw some empirical evidence backing up one of my complaints about the National-led government: Their constant use of urgency to pass legislation, ensuring the public has no voice.

Writing on the Green Party’s “Frogblog,” party co-leader Russel Norman compared the amount of time spent under urgency during this government and the previous Labour-led Government. Two-thirds of the way through the life of this Parliament, it turns out that National has spent nearly three times as much time under urgency: The Labour-led 48th Parliament spent 9.9% of its total hours under urgency, while the current 49th Parliament has spent a whopping 27.1%.

Urgency is something that should be used very, very rarely, in only the most extraordinary circumstances (like a natural disaster or other true emergency) where the need for speed is obvious. But the National-led government has used it again and again to push through ordinary laws to make sure that the public has no chance to comment at all. The reorganisation of Auckland is probably the most famous example of that.

So I look at the arrogant theatre and politics of the National–led Government and the utter ineptness of the Labour opposition in scoring any theatrical hits against the government and, well, I get where Danyl is coming from. I’m still blogging, however—I just may not post about New Zealand’s national politics very often. Now you know why.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A question for bloggers…

I know I have a few fellow bloggers who stop by here, and I have a question about blogroll links. Obviously dead links can be removed, but what about blogs that aren’t updated? How long does it need to sit idle before the link is deleted? Is it months? A year? More?

From time to time I check my links and delete any that are dead. Today I also deleted links to blogs that are now open only to folks invited to read them. The whole point of links is to share with others, but if it’s behind an “invitation wall”, the link’s kind of pointless.

So that checking got me wondering if there’s any sort of consensus on protocol for linking to idle blogs who still link back. I’m not planning on scything through my blogrolls, but I am curious what other bloggers do.

Minor detail

Today I received an email from the US Consulate General in Auckland. There’s nothing new about that—I’ve been getting them for years, and sometimes they have useful information.

Today’s contained a link to the PDF of the Veteran’s Day edition of the Consulate’s newsletter, “The Consular Post”. It’s kind of interesting to an expat American, but I stopped abruptly when I read a little item headlined “Moving back to the U.S. and need to file for your spouse to accompany you?” It said:
"As a U.S. citizen, you need to file an I-130 Petition to qualify your spouse for an immigrant visa. You can file it with us only if you live in New Zealand or the rest of the consular district (Samoa/Cook Islands), and have been here for at least 6 months (and not just on a tourist visa). You can obtain the initial forms and instructions to start the immigrant visa process by calling the Visa Center on 0900-87-847 (a caller pays service) or contact the Immigrant Visa Section at email… Your non-citizen spouse can start the process by mail if you are outside Auckland city. However, eventually the I-130 petition must be filed in person by you — it cannot be filed by mail. Download from USCIS website: www.uscis.gov – Forms. You can file without an appointment at the Consulate General on weekdays between 8 – 9 am."
First, it continues to amaze me that many of the services provided by the consulate—including phone calls—are on a user-pays basis. But I’m also amazed that in 2010 virtually nothing can be done online—actual, paper documents are still required. When I was filling out my paperwork to vote, I had to download a form, print it, sign it, scan it and THEN I could submit it by email or fax (some states don’t allow even that—actual physical forms must be mailed in.

But the main thing that struck me was this: The word “spouse” refers only to an opposite sex married couple. The partner of an American citizen in a same sex or opposite sex Civil Union under New Zealand law is not considered a “spouse” under American law. Neither is a same-sex married couple recognised by the US—and it can never be until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed (which won’t happen for at least two years) or struck down by a court.

That little newsletter item didn’t mention any of that, nor, as far as I could tell, does the website for “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services” of the Department of Homeland Security. Neither do any of the required forms or their instructions. This is hardly a minor detail, so why don’t they mention it? Are they embarrassed? Well, I’d like to think so, but I doubt it.

That I-130 petition mentioned has a filing fee of $US355 (today, $NZ453). I couldn’t tell if they refund the fee to any gay couples that attempt to file due to the lack of any instructions that they can’t.

The picture accompanying this post is of the bottom of the email. I’ll admit I rolled my eyes when I read that final line.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bad and good

I said in my previous post that “there’s a lot of bad stuff that will happen, and a lot of good stuff that won’t,” and in this post, I’ll elaborate on that comment. As a liberal Democrat, I have a particular perspective. If you’re expecting “balance”, look for a journalist, because I’m not one and have no obligation to do other than to call ‘em as I see ‘em—and I will.

I don’t expect anything good to come from the next Congress, though I sincerely hope that I’m wrong. Politically, a stridently partisan, rigidly ideological US House would be the best thing that could happen because it would guarantee a Democratic majority in 2012—Republicans fiddling while America burns, and all that. However, that would be the worst possible thing for America and the world beyond, so I fervently hope that progress will be made. I just doubt very much that can happen.

In any case, there are some bad things that will certainly happen.

In the US House, Republicans’ top priority is a grandstanding attempt to repeal healthcare reform, something they know full well cannot succeed. They promise to attempt it over and over and over again. They also pledge to deny funding to key parts of healthcare reform. Some Republican members even promise endless “investigations” into the Obama Administration, apparently supercharged versions of their witch hunts over Hillary Clinton’s imaginary misuse of the White House Christmas Card list, for which Republicans wasted 140 hours and millions of taxpayer dollars. Imagine that nonsense multiplied exponentially.

They also plan “investigations” into what Republicans say is the “global warming hoax”—meaning, nothing will happen on climate change for another two years. Campaign finance reform is also dead. Republicans’ corporate masters made killing that a top priority, and they’ve succeeded. Net neutrality is also dead, again thanks to corporate campaigning.

But there are also good measures that are dead (unless they’re dealt with in the lame duck session):

Repeal of the anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is dead for two years. Despite a clear “super majority” of Americans favouring a repeal, Republicans in Congress don’t.

Repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act: Republicans think the Act is a good idea that doesn’t go far enough; the party wants a Constitutional Amendment to permanently ban same-sex marriage. Some Republicans may grandstand on the issue, but the Senate will stop them.

Passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA): This cannot happen when the Republican caucus is so anti-gay. New teabagger Senator Rand Paul doesn’t think there should be any civil rights protections, and it’s a reasonable bet that the other teabaggers in the new Congress feel the same way.

Immigration equality: Comprehensive immigration reform is probably dead, since most Republicans used Hispanics as a wedge issue in the election; they’re not in a position to now champion reform. Even in the unlikely event they do, immigration equality for gay and lesbian Americans is dead. The committee that will oversee immigration bills is expected to be chaired by the rabidly anti-gay (and whackadoodle) Steve King of Iowa.

Those are a few of the issues that I care about that will be ignored in the rush to partisanship that we can expect from the Republicans. This is, of course, only the probable reality in the new Congress. If I’m right, it means we should start organising for 2012 now, while the Republicans are too busy playing “silly buggers” with America and its future. Then, after 2012, Democrats can make the people’s business the focus.

Meanwhile, why again is it that progressive voters stayed home? I seem to not be able to grasp their point.

Now then…

There’s an advantage in not being able to comment on the recent US elections until now: I’ve been able to see how others have reacted. Blogs and mainstream news sources have left me amused or bemused, and sometimes downright exasperated, as they wrap these elections in their own brand of spin. Now, it’s my turn.

This is one of those times when my views don’t mesh with either the right or the left: I don’t think this election was an utter disaster or the dawn of a new age of evil, nor can I see any evidence of some sort of magic shift to the right among US voters. Both sides are so far off base that I think their positions are for fundraising and organising.

2010 was—absolutely—a bad year for Democrats, no question about it. But if you want to talk bad years, it’d be hard to get past 1980 and Reagan’s landslide. That election brought some truly evil people into Congress and gave birth to the radical right christianist movement that now controls the Republican Party. It ushered in eight years of almost unrelenting culture wars against the centre and left. THAT was a bad election.

So, too, was 1994 because it stopped any progress by the Clinton White House and jerked it sharply right. 2004 was a bad election because by then we knew how truly awful the Bush/Cheney regime was, and yet they and their cronies got back into power, anyway.

This election also isn’t as bad as claimed because most of the truly crazy Republicans were defeated. Also, the elected Republicans may turn out to be their own worst enemies: The new Republican caucus in the US House is roughly half newbies, which is unusual, and among them are many aggressively extreme rightwingers. This makes the new caucus not just even more rightwing than the current one, it’ll pose huge problems for Republican leaders: These aggressive new folks may not be as easily corralled as the old guard. If so, it could mean that internal fighting may become as much an image of this Republican caucus as it’s unwillingness to work with Democrats will be.

The right is wrong about the nature of the election: If it really showed the country veering right, there’d be evidence of that, but it simply isn’t there. For example, exit polls revealed that most voters wanted money spent to grow the economy and create jobs—cutting the deficit was NOT their top priority, unlike for Republicans.

In the current US House, there are 54 members in the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats. They suffered heavy losses in the elections and now have only 26 members. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, however, had 83 Democrats (79 of whom are in the US House). Only 3 CPC members were defeated in the 2010 elections.

If there really was this mythical rightward shift, that situation with Democrats would have been the opposite. Instead, the new Democratic Caucus in the US House is arguably more liberal than that of the current Congress. It proves what people like me have been saying for years, namely, that the best route to success on our side is for Democrats to be Democrats, not “Republican Lite” or a kinder, gentler sort of Republican. Our party stands for things and we now have the opportunity to coalesce behind traditional Democratic ideals so that in 2012 we have a real point of difference to present to the American people, not just “me-too-ism”.

So, the new US House will definitely be far more conservative than it is now, but there’ll be major conflicts among Republicans as people jockey to out-rightwing each other. Democrats in Congress will be more liberal than they were, which means greater opportunity for party unity on important issues—and that means the opportunity to send a coherent message to US voters, just as Republicans were able to do for the past four years. This is an opportunity, not a crisis.

It also has to be remembered that Democrats control the US Senate and White House so they can stop any extremist bills passed by the US House; there’s little danger yet of a far-right takeover of America. Still, there’s a lot of bad stuff that will happen, and a lot of good stuff that won’t. And that’s the subject of my next post.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

About that election…

I have a lot to say about yesterday’s US elections and the issues surrounding it, but I have much to do right now and don’t have the time to do it justice. I promise to return to the topic soon, but in the meantime I’ll say this: Overall, the results weren’t completely unexpected. That doesn’t mean it isn’t disappointing or even sad; it just wasn’t total a surprise.

Those who are wailing and gnashing their teeth are overreacting because this doesn’t necessarily mean the Republicans will win in 2012 or beyond. It also doesn’t mean that the Republicans have a mandate to do most of what they say they’re going to do. This was merely an election in which, for many reasons (some legitimate, most not), our adversaries won. It is a clarion call for liberals and progressives to re-group, and for Democrats to be better Democrats.

I’ll come back to all that later. For now, though, the important thing is that while we lost an election, we’re not vanquished. We’ll be back to fight another day, and I’ll be there, too—just not today.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


What more can I say after fifteen years? Well, fifteen IS a big number. Still, I’ve talked about the whole expataversary thing before (see below). Some might say there’s nothing more to say.

How about this: I am what I am precisely because of where I am. This place has made me what I am now.

Also, I’m more than I would be without Nigel: The sum of us together is definitely more than I would be alone. I think that’s something in itself. Put another way, the choice I made 15 years ago is vindicated.

So here I am, one and half decades later, and still completely happy. That’s what can happen when you follow your heart.

Previous posts:
Lucky 13: Expataversary and more
Twelfth Anniversary
Eleven Years an Expat
Ex, but not ex-