Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What is AmeriNZ?

The video above explains where the name "AmeriNZ" comes from. I don't think I’ve ever explained all this on my podcast, but I did talk about it here on the blog a couple years ago. I wanted to make sure an explanation was available on YouTube itself.

I’m slowly starting to make more videos (and I’m always glad to get suggestions…), so I thought it would be good to explain the nickname—well, more of a brand, really—before I make too many more. Eventually, new videos will be a more or less weekly thing (I hope).

In any case, at least folks on YouTube will know where the name comes from, too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Arthur Answers, Part 5 – A little gaiety

Lately, the posts in this series of “Ask Arthur” answers have been kind of serious. Which means it’s time to inject a little gaiety into this series. Even so, today's subjects are still serious—it's just there's a theme for this post.

Roger Green asked on Facebook:

“Does the foot dragging on marriage equality implementation, primarily in the US South surprise, or irritate you? Or do you think it's just an inevitable part of the process?”

Much, though certainly not all, of the foot-dragging has started to resolve itself since Roger first posted the question at the start of the month, but my answer to the question is, yes.

I wasn’t surprised, since the pro-discrimination crowd had fought so long and hard and invested so much energy and money into preserving discrimination that there was simply no way they could back down once they’d lost.

However, it’s always irritating when people grandstand for political, especially partisan, reasons, and this was that. Some of the grandstanding, like that infamous judge in Alabama, was just pandering (and fundraising), and along the line some officials were used by the radical right anti-gay industry to try and score points with the most frothing part of the USA’s Rightwing (to better raise money). All of that irritated me.

But the clerks and such who dug in their heels, many of whom were being used, are more objects of pity than scorn. It’s really sad when people use their prejudices as justification for denying equal treatment under law. The clerks’ refusal was never about “religious freedom”, and only ever about anti-gay animus. We know this because they didn’t refuse marriage licenses to people who were divorced and remarrying, people of different religious beliefs—or, especially, no religious belief, inter-racial marriages, etc., etc., etc. I’ve no doubt that some of the refuseniks really did believe it was about religious freedom, but it wasn’t. That was irritating, but more pitiable than actually angering.

So, because it was all expected, including the political posturing, and because the individuals who refused were worthy of pity, not scorn, on the whole I’d say it was all part of the process.

Roger also asked me to comment on the “controversy” around a picture of shirtless men raising the rainbow flag, looking much like the famous photo of the Iwo Jima flag raising (See: “Iwo Jima Marines, gay pride and a photo adaptation that spawns fury” in the Washington Post).

I absolutely hated the “controversy”. The photo was over a decade old and, as the photographer, Ed Freeman, pointed out, it only became widely known because of social media, which, as we all know, has a ready-made audience of people looking to be outraged over nothing very much at all.

Years ago (I have no idea how many), I saw the photo (I have no idea where) and thought nothing in particular about it (apart, maybe, from thinking the lads seemed rather attractive—maybe). The point is, it certainly didn’t outrage me at the time, probably because I’d seen the image appropriated dozens of times over the years, often to promote products, some of which might be viewed as disrespectful.

The main reason I hated the “controversy” wasn’t just because of how stupid it was, but also because the visceral reaction from SO many people was obviously because of its gay theme. I know people are quick to become outraged these days, but it seemed that too many were too quick to assume that gay people had done something just to insult them, and that insulted me.

Roger also asked me to comment on an anti-gay marriage ad made by a rightwing Roman Catholic group. The ad appropriated gay imagery and themes to make an anti-gay point, and it was a truly awful idea. AdWeek discussed it and posted the videos of the ad and the first parody. The AdWeek commentary is pretty much what I thought, too. Obviously, the Catholic group can be anti-gay if they want to be, and they’re free to oppose the freedom to marry if they must, but to do so by stealing the very imagery used by LGBT people for years is pretty crass, and using it to try and present themselves as “victims” and “oppressed” is actually pretty disgusting. Still, they’ve been roundly mocked for the ad, which is good. Again, the point here is not that they’re anti-gay (one of many religious groups), the point is that they deliberately insulted and mocked LGBT people in order to try and get people to oppress us, and that was despicable about it.

Finally (for today), Roger asked here on the blog:

“Matt Baume's book (Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love) – I'm about a quarter of the way through it – talks a lot about some gay folks believing that marriage as an institution was heterosexist hegemony, and they wanted to have nothing to do with it. Others (later) thought that a domestic partnership was "marriage-lite". What was your evolution on these issues?”

I well remember when I was an activist that some of my more Leftist colleagues were against the idea of marriage, because of the reasons you list, among others, but I wasn’t opposed: I just thought it wouldn’t happen for decades, possibly not in my lifetime. I supported marriage equality all along, I just didn’t see it as a winnable battle back then.

When things picked up speed this century, and some Leftists were still objecting, I became an advocate for marriage. My position was—as it has been for some 35 years—that it was wrong to exclude gay couples from marriage because LGBT people ought to be equal citizens and treated as such. I knew (and know) that many Leftist LGBT people were (and remain) opposed to marriage, to which my glib but sincere answer has been, “then don’t get married.” Their personal opposition to marriage wasn’t a legitimate reason why the rest of us should be denied, just as the fact that some rightwing religionists opposed it also wasn’t a legitimate reason to forbid it.

I also thought that the various separate and unequal marriage alternatives proposed for gay couples were never anything more than “marriage lite”. One of the few blog posts I permanently deleted was one in which I called New Zealand’s then still new Civil Unions “marriage lite”. The problem was that in this country, as in so many other places, civil unions, etc., were seen as a stepping-stone to marriage equality: Calling it “marriage lite” was counter-productive, while a steady campaign showing why that was the case was a strategy. Subtle, and a little too “don’t make no waves” for me, but probably true (and why I deleted that post).

The fact is, I’ve always been a pragmatist: Take what we can get now, even as we work toward full equality. So, civil unions, etc., were a means to an end, but—and this is what mattered to me—they gave at least some of the protection of marriage right then, even as we waited and worked for full equality. I’ve always felt it’s better to get a little civil rights and keep working, than it is to have no rights while we wait for the “someday” in which full equality arrives. This is also why Nigel and I got a civil union: We had no idea that marriage equality would arrive so quickly, and we wanted to protect our family. When marriage became possible, we got married, of course.

Thanks to Roger Green for the questions for today. I obviously grouped them because they all related to gay stuff, but the remaining questions don’t lend themselves to such easy grouping, so the rest of the posts in this series will probably be shorter—probably.

We’re nearing the end of this series, with some very interesting questions still to go, but there’s still time to ask questions! You can leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are okay). You can also email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). And, for the first time, you can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page.

2Political Podcast 109 is available

Episode 109 of the 2Political Podcast, recorded a few days ago, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The ADA turns 25

Today (July 26 in the USA) is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), one of the laws I lobbied Congress on when I was a grassroots LGBT activist. It was—and is—a good law, and one of the biggest domestic achievements of the presidential administration of the first George Bush.

The ADA expanded civil rights protections to people with mental and physical disabilities listed in regulations by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and it mandated reasonable accommodation of people with disabilities, while preventing discrimination against them. It mandated injunctive relief for successful lawsuits, just like with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This means that the situation is made right and the plaintiff may receive court costs and attorneys’ fees, but no financial damages are awarded. Some states, however, do award financial damages to plaintiffs, but that’s not part of the ADA itself

It was opposed by religious groups, including religious schools who argued that it placed an unusual burden on them to comply, and also by the national Association of Evangelicals who argued it abridged their “religious freedom”. Both were accustomed to being exempted from most civil rights laws, and didn’t like the change.

Conservative business lobbyists also opposed it. Of course.

When he signed the bill into law, President George H.W. Bush addressed critics of the ADA head on:
“I know there may have been concerns that the ADA may be too vague or too costly, or may lead endlessly to litigation. But I want to reassure you right now that my administration and the United States Congress have carefully crafted this Act. We've all been determined to ensure that it gives flexibility, particularly in terms of the timetable of implementation; and we've been committed to containing the costs that may be incurred.... Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”
I was involved in the lobbying because the ADA outlawed discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, and that was something that obviously impacted on the community our group represented. Both US Senators from Illinois at the time, Democrats Alan Dixon and Paul Simon, were co-sponsors of the ADA and voted against the inevitable anti-LGBT amendments. At that time, co-sponsorship of bills we wanted didn’t necessarily mean that members of Congress would vote against anti-LGBT amendments, so this was significant.

Several members of Illinois’ delegation in the US House of Representatives, including one Republican, co-sponsored the bill, including Dick Durbin, a Democrat who is now the senior US Senator from Illinois. I wrote letters in support of the ADA to the entire Illinois Congressional delegation on behalf of the group I was with.

When the bill became law, it created the ironic situation in which a gay man with HIV was protected from discrimination, but a gay man who was in an identical situation but did not have HIV could be discriminated against in most of the USA. That situation still exists, a quarter century later.

The ADA was a bill I always expected would pass. I spent more resources on other legislation that faced a harder road (like the Hate Crime Statistics Act) and in particular on preventing anti-LGBT amendments from being adopted always moved by Republicans in Congress, like the creepy bigot, William Dennemeyer, and the vicious and vile Jesse Helms.

But precisely because the ADA’s passage was expected, it was a bright spot in what was still an otherwise pretty dark time. The viciousness of the mostly Republican rightwing in the US Congress was breathtaking—all the more so since I was pretty sure that most of them were merely pandering as a way of winning votes and campaign contributions. Opportunistic politicians like that are still in Congress and state legislatures, but many (probably the majority) of the most bigoted among them are actually true believers in the promotion of anti-LGBT animus as a legitimate policy position.

On the other hand, we now have far more staunch defenders and allies than we did back then, even including a handful of Republicans. That was unimaginable in 1990.

Much has changed over the past 25 years, and we’ve definitely moved forward. The Second George Bush even signed a bill that actually strengthened the ADA. The ADA was a bright spot at the time, and continues to be one to this day. That’s definitely worth celebrating.

The photo above was taken on July 26, 1990, as President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law on the South Lawn of the White House. With him were (from left to right, sitting) Evan Kemp, Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Justin Dart, Chairman of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities; and (left to right, standing) Rev. Harold Wilke and Swift Parrino, Chairperson, National Council on Disability. (Image from the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library. SOURCE).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Arthur Answers, Part 4b: And furthermore

In yesterday’s “Arthur Answers” post, I answered several questions about candidates running for US President in the 2016 US elections. Commenting on that post, Roger Green had a further question. So, for the first time, this is an addendum “Arthur Answers” post.

Roger asked:

“If Hillary could NOT be the Democratic nominee, because of some legal problem, who would be? Who should be? Would it come out of the present collection? Or Clinton disciple Kirsten Gillibrand? Or would they exhume Al Gore from the crypt?”

The tl;dr version of what I said yesterday is that while it was possible that Bernie Sanders could defeat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, it was unlikely to happen. I mention that first because Hillary dropping out is one of the few ways Bernie might win the nomination, but I don’t think that's likely, either.

I think that what would be most likely to happen would be that either Martin O’Malley would emerge as the alternative for mainstream Democrats, or, more likely, someone else would enter the race. I don’t think that Senator Gillbrand would be that person (she’s too closely identified with Clinton), but Senator Elizabeth Warren could be.

Warren is in a unique position: She’s a definite Liberal, maybe not as far Left as Sanders, but further Left than Clinton. She doesn’t have the same “insider” association as either Clinton or Sanders (who’s a career politician, after all). She’s crusaded, like Sanders, against the Wall Street “Banksters”. And, obviously, she’s a woman, like Clinton. In some ways, Elizabeth Warren is combination of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but without their negatives. She even used to vote Republican.

There were a lot of Left-leaning Democrats hoping that Warren would run, and many of those same people now back Sanders. The “conventional wisdom” was that Warren didn’t run because Clinton was, and she had no interest in diminishing the chance for a woman to be the Democratic nominee. Maybe so, or maybe she just wasn’t interested, full stop. Does it matter? She didn’t run.

So, if Hillary Clinton was forced out of the race for whatever reason, I think the most likely replacement would be a candidacy by Elizabeth Warren, or else the party establishment might rally around Martin O’Malley.

However, I don’t think it matters who could be the replacement nominee: For this scenario to matter, Clinton would have been forced out of the race, and that would almost certainly mean that the Republican nominee would be elected, no matter who the replacement Democratic nominee was.

But, instead of unlikely legal issues, let’s suppose that it was simply a matter of Hillary losing the early contests. This is precisely the possible scenario that Stuart Stevens, former chief strategist for Mitt Romney, talked about in a recent (somewhat grumpy) piece for The Daily Beast. Stevens was giving “advice” to Clinton on how not to lose, but electoral defeat is the only likely reason why Democrats would be looking for a new person to rally around.

In that case, Warren would be the most likely to win the nomination, but if she chose not to enter the race, Sanders would be the most likely replacement. If Warren didn’t enter the race, O’Malley would probably pick up the support of centrist Democrats, but I’m not sure he could win the nomination: Sanders would have momentum on his side.

At the moment, none of the actual or possible replacement candidates have the name recognition of Hillary Clinton, so any late-entry candidate would have to somehow establish national awareness, and fast. It’s possible, but it wouldn’t be easy. Then, they’d have to take on the Republican nominee who by the time of the nomination will have been in the news for months. A big ask no matter the reason for the replacement.

So, depending on the circumstances, if Hillary Clinton was not the nominee, I’d expect the replacement to be either Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or Martin O’Malley. Circumstances would determine who would try to be the replacement and, once chosen, how successful he or she would be.

But, at the moment, I’ve seen nothing so far that makes me think that anyone other than Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.

There’s still time to ask questions! Like Roger did last time, you can leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are okay). You can also email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). And, for the first time, you can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Arthur Answers, Part 4: Candidate questions

I got several questions about candidates running for US President in the 2016 US elections, so I thought I’d group them together. The questions were asked earlier this month, and my answers are based on the current situation.

First up, Roger asked a question on Facebook that was endorsed by Andy:

“The Donald's comments about Mexicans, along with being rejected by Comcast/NBCUnivision and Macy's, for two, has helped him in the polls. Are you SURE he can't win the GOP nomination?”

The short answer is yes, no, and maybe. Next? Seriously, Trump’s biggest enemy is himself, not because of what he says, or even how he says it, but because he gets bored. I’m not convinced he’ll go the distance because of that, or that he won’t decide to launch an independent bid.

But that’s about why Trump might choose to not get the Republican nomination. What’s certain is that the Republican establishment doesn’t want him as their party’s candidate, and neither do the oligarchs and plutocrats who bankroll the USA’s rightwing politics (they want Scott “Koch” Walker). So, the power and money for the party are against Trump, which is why he may yet be prevented from getting the nomination.

On the other hand, Trump in typical of the Republican Party’s base—the people who are certain to vote in primaries or turn up to caucuses. They’re xenophobic, often racist, and dead set against immigration reform (the teabaggers threatened to mount a primary challenge to their former darling, Marco Rubio, because of his limited support for immigration reform, but Rubio chose not to run for re-election to the US Senate). So, while Trump sounds batshit crazy to everyday Americans, what he says is music to the ears of the Republican base. That suggests he could win the nomination, despite the opposition of the bigwigs and mega-rich.

Trump’s biggest challenge could be that even Republicans are turning on their party. A new study by Pew Research found: “Positive views of the GOP among Republicans have declined 18 percentage points since January, from 86% to 68%.” This spells trouble for the more extreme Republicans if that decline is related to, as the same survey found, the fact that Americans in general see the Republican Party as more extreme and least likely to govern in “a more honest ethical way”.

So: Yes, I’m sure he won’t get the nomination because the party’s establishment and money men don’t want him, and because the party is losing the passionate support of it’s own partisans. No, I’m not sure he won’t because he is in lock-step with the Republicans most likely to participate in the selection process. Maybe, because that base may not be enough to overcome the other obstacles Trump faces.

Andy asked:

“In your opinion, Arthur, is Hillary Rodham Clinton the best qualified candidate for POTUS in all of the United States of America, or is there something about the selection process that precludes better qualified candidates from running for office?”

Hillary Clinton is as qualified as any/every candidate for US President because the qualifications are VERY specific. Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution states:
“No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”
That’s it—the only qualifications for US President.

What Andy’s actually getting at are qualities, the whole list of things that we personally think are important in a US president. This may include experience, positions on issues, temperament, age, gender, or any number of other things. One’s perception of what qualities are important is entirely subjective, based on the things that matter to us personally, things like ideology, partisanship, issues one is passionate about, prejudices—any number of possibilities.

So, obviously Hillary Clinton is qualified to be president—and so are all the other candidates. However, I also think she has the right qualities to be president, too, and not all the other candidates do.

The question then becomes, does Hillary have the best qualities of anyone in the USA who might run for president? That’s something I can’t possibly know. However, I’m sure that, theoretically, there are probably Americans whose qualities would make them better presidents, but those theoretical candidates aren’t running (see also my answer about Bernie Sanders below).

There is one thing that DOES preclude candidates with the best-possible qualities for president from being viable candidates: Money—specifically, corporate money and money from the oligarchs plutocrats. Ordinary people who would make brilliant presidents don’t have even the remotest chance because they can’t possibly raise enough money to be competitive.

Roger Green asks:

“And in the same vein, can Bernie Sanders win the Democratic nomination? He's getting big crowds, and frankly, is more in line with the liberal wing of the party than HRC.”

Yes, Sanders CAN win the nomination—he’s just not very likely to do so. He’s been drawing record crowds, and Bernie’s favourability is now polling ahead of Hillary Clinton is the latest Gallup Poll. Clinton’s also viewed more negatively than positively in that poll, which sounds good for Bernie. Well, not quite.

52% of the Americans surveyed have never even heard of Sanders. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters—the people who will actually decide who wins the nomination—Hillary is viewed favourably by 74% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, while 39% view Bernie favourably. Clinton is viewed more favourably than Sanders by every single demographic, including Liberal Democrats, 81% of whom view her favourably, while only 53% of Liberal Democrats view him favourably.

This is only one poll, of course, though it’s also the most recent, so this may change. At the moment, this preference that Democrats have for Clinton over Sanders tends to reinforce what I’ve said several times, that Sanders’ main support is coming from Leftists who don’t usually participate in the Democratic Party’s selection process, and who often specifically reject the Democratic nominee because they’re not Left enough. Put another way, Hillary Clinton’s support is coming from within the party and Sanders support is coming from outside the party.

If Sanders keeps drawing large crowds and keeps raising money, then he could be a factor in the race. But even if all that happens, he faces an enormous uphill challenge unless he can get his supporters to participate in the Democratic Party’s selection process. At the moment, it would take an enormous influx of Leftist, but non-Democratic voters to overcome Hillary’s support among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters.

In the interest of transparency, I should point out that while I’m still neutral in the race for the Democratic nomination, on most issues I’m more aligned with Bernie Sanders than I am with Hillary Clinton. However, I want the next US President to be a Democrat, so I’ll support the party’s nominee—whoever that is.

So, to sum up, it’s possible that Sanders could win the nomination, but at the moment, it doesn’t seem very likely.

Thanks to Roger and Andy for the questions!

There’s still time to ask questions! Here’s how: First, you can leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are okay). You can also email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). And, for the first time, you can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Green water, too

The drinking water shared by our furbabies is now green, but it’s supposed to be that way. They don’t mind, and it’s supposed to be good for them. But it does look weird.

The green stuff is supposed to help prevent the bacteria that leads to plaque from sticking to their teeth. This is because dogs and cats don’t rinse and spit like people do, and it’s part of what the vet has recommended to help keep their teeth healthy (other parts include brushing the dogs’ teeth, if they allow it, and giving them food that helps clean their teeth).

The furbabies don’t seem to have noticed. Maybe it’s just us that thinks green water is weird.

Actually, that’s a small problem: We have very helpful friends and family who, seeing the green water, might change the water for us. We’ll need to make sure we tell the friends and family who visit the house that the water is supposed to be green.

Bella is pictured above, earlier this evening, right after I refilled the furbabies' shared water bowl. In reality, that bowl is much larger than her head; my phone just happened to be close to her head when I shot the photo.

At least Bella gets a photo—I still don’t post enough photos of her. I think this will be the only photo of green water, though.

Update: There's an update to this post (first item).

Labour’s TPPA bottom line

I oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), currently being negotiated in secret, because of what it will do to the countries that sign it. Today the New Zealand Labour Party released what they call their “Bottom Lines”. It’s a really good start.

The TPPA started out as a free trade agreement among several Pacific nations, including New Zealand, but everything took a rather dark turn when the United States joined the negotiations. Everything about those negotiations is meant to be top secret, and anyone revealing what’s in it can be sent to jail. That’s clearly intended to frustrate democracy and democratic oversight, and to put a chill on people’s democratic rights to debate important political issues.

However, big corporations are allowed to see the negotiating text of the TPPA, even if ordinary people are forbidden to do so. That should ring major alarms for anyone who cherishes democracy.

“The lack of transparency around the Government’s negotiations with large foreign interests means Kiwis are in the dark about which of their sovereign rights are being gambled away by this Government in the hope of better trade conditions,” according to Labour Party Leader, Andrew Little. He’s exactly right.

The problem with the anti-democratic secrecy is that national legislatures will only get see the final agreement once the negotiations are concluded, and by then it will be too late. The NZ National Party, currently leading the government, will order its vassals to vote for it: The one-man parties of Peter Dunne (United Future “Party”) and David Seymour (ACT “Party”), as well as their allied party, the Maori Party.

So, the only way to make clear what’s unacceptable NOW is to release bottom lines, as Labour has done. They are:
  • Pharmac must be protected
  • Corporations cannot successfully sue the Government for regulating in the public interest
  • New Zealand maintains the right to restrict sales of farm land and housing to non-resident foreigner buyers
  • The Treaty of Waitangi must be upheld
  • Meaningful gains are made for our farmers in tariff reductions and market access
Under the parts that have been leaked, by Wikileaks or others, we know that none of these would have been met during the early stages of negotiation, but we cannot know if they’re still included or not—but they probably are, because that would benefit big US corporations.

The NZ Labour Party is not reflexively against free trade agreements. In fact, one of the last things it did when it was the previous government was to negotiate a free trade deal with China (which was not even remotely as contentious as this one). The argument with TPPA boils down to who will be telling New Zealand what to do? Will it be the people of New Zealand or foreign corporations ordering us to do what they demand?

Andrew Little is exactly right: “The bottom line for Labour is that New Zealand’s sovereign rights must be protected. Anything else is unacceptable.”

I agree. And Labour’s position makes it clear the high bar the TPPA would have to clear in order to win support, something I’d wager it cannot do. This also provides a good tool to organise opposition to the agreement while we still can.

Related: For now, the New Zealand group fighting the TPPA is It’s Our Future, which has information and resources for stopping the TPPA, though the website is awful and seldom updated.

The graphic above was shared on Facebook by the New Zealand Labour Party.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Jurassic Park: High Heels Edition

A lot of folks have been complaining about how Jurassic World character Claire (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) spent a lot of time running in high heels to get away from dinosaurs. A parody was inevitable, and this is it.

The video was made by YouTubers XVP Comedy, which says of it in the description: “You loved the endless running in high heels in Jurassic World... Now enjoy them in the entire Jurassic series!”

It IS pretty funny: “Footwear 65 million years in the making,” and “these styles aren’t going extinct.”

The last big clown

The 16th and last of the so-called “major” candidates has clambered aboard the overcrowded Republican Clown Bus. Despite his spin, this one’s really not much different from the other Republican clowns.

John Richard Kasich today announced that he, too, is a candidate for the Republican nomination for US President, raising the legitimate question, who ISN’T running? Kasich is 63, an age that puts him in the middle bunch of the Republican clowns candidates. On Inauguration Day, he’ll be 64 years, 253 days old. The oldest US President, Ronald Reagan, hallowed be his name, was 69 years, 349 days when he was sworn in.

Kasich is often called a “moderate”, but that’s only because he sometimes differs from his fellow Republican politicians. The reality is that Kasich is no moderate, and is actually quite conservative on most issues.

On LGBT issues, for example, like all the other Republican clowns candidates, he opposes marriage equality. He was also a big fan of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which made open service by gay military personnel illegal. When I was a grassroots gay activist in the late 1980s and early 1990s, while Kasich was a US Representative from Ohio, I knew him as being a definite political adversary.

On the other hand, he’s more recently said he’d attend a same-gender wedding (something many of his rivals claimed they’d never do), and that he’d actually been invited to one he was planning on attending. He’s also couched his support for (some) welfare in Christian terms, while his fellow Republican politicians were touting their rightwing religious views AND cutting welfare support for poor people. His position is consistent with his claimed religious beliefs, which cannot be said about those fellow Republican politicians. See? I can say something positive about one of the Republican clowns candidates!

However, the seeming necessity for Republican politicians to promote their religious views at every opportunity—and that includes Kasich—ought to concern all Americans, of whatever religious bent. Article VI of the US Constitution is very clear: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Yet to win the Republican nomination, politicians have to fall all over themselves to “prove” that they’re not just conservative, but VERY conservative Christians. Some of them are more convincing at that than others are, and Kasich has been using religious rhetoric for a very long time, so it seems he’s probably sincere, like Scott “Koch” Walker. But this de facto religious test for the Republican nomination troubles not just secularists, but also everyone who believes in that impregnable wall of separation between church and state, many of whom are deeply religious, and some of whom are conservative.

John Kasich is not the worst of the Republican clowns candidates, not by a long shot. But that doesn’t mean he’s a good candidate, either—none of them are. The longest of the Republican long shots, George Pataki, is the least odious, but in a truly awful field of candidates who offer nothing to true moderates, that’s really not saying anything positive about him or Kasich, the runner-up for least odious.

As of today’s poll averages, Kasich won’t make the cut for inclusion in the Fox “News” public performance next month (the graphic I posted last week has the current poll averages displayed). In fact, today, Rick Santorum is rating higher than him—and also out of the “debate”. Now that’s he’s an official candidate, Kasich will probably rise in the polls (most new candidates do). If he manages to rise high enough to make it onto the Fox “News” stage, it will likely be at the expense of Rick Perry, or possibly Chris Christie. But since both are better known than Kasich, it’s also possible he may just be the highest-polling of the Republican clowns candidates who don’t get to take part in the Fox “News” event.

Unfortunately, when the first of the candidates start dropping out, and assuming that the egomaniacal clown with the weird hair continues to do well in the polls, we could see some more Republican clowns candidates enter the bus to try and save their party. It’s still a long campaign yet to go.

Here’s the Human Rights Campaign video on Kasich:

As of today, there’s still 1 year, 3 months, and 18 days until the US presidential election.

Further Reading:
“Newest GOP Presidential Candidate Isn’t Afraid To Say He Supports Common Core” from ThinkProgress
“John Kasich Halted A Program That Saved Consumers $230 Million” from ThinkProgress
“Who Is This John Kasich Guy Running For President And Where Does He Stand On LGBT Rights?” from The New Civil Rights Movement
“Transcript: Read Full Text of Gov. John Kasich’s Campaign Launch” from TIME Magazine
“That time John Kasich tried to get his local Blockbuster to pull Fargo from its shelves” from Vox

The graphic up top is from a meme posted to the Facebook Page of ThinkProgress. The points it raises are in their post, “The Truth About John Kasich”, which is also linked to earlier in this post.

2Political Podcast 108 is available

Episode 108 of the 2Political Podcast, recorded a few weeks ago, right after the US Supreme Court marriage equality ruling (among others), is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Arthur Answers, Part 3: Flags and national discussions

Today’s “Ask Arthur” answer combines separate questions, something I do when they’re thematically linked in some way. This also gives me the chance to talk about a related New Zealand national discussion currently in the news.

Roger Green asked on Facebook:

“Give me your take on how the Confederate battle flag from Virginia almost overnight became toxic? And how far should it go? Should it include removing from Confederate cemeteries, clothing, Dukes of Hazzard model cars?”

I think it’s pretty clear now that it happened because of the reaction to the racist mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina. Many people throughout the USA were shocked (whether they should have been is another matter), and they wanted to “do something”, and in a way that didn’t mean they actually had to, well, do anything. The non-Confederate flag, as I’ve called, provided a clear and easy symbol. That’s why I think it became so toxic, as Roger put it, almost overnight.

I also think that South Carolina did the right thing in removing the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina capital. The flag was there as a compromise: In 1961, South Carolina raised the Tennessee battle flag over their dome supposedly to commemorate the start of the Civil War when the secessionists fired on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. However, TIME Magazine thought it was more of a middle finger to the civil rights movement.

In 2000, the flag was removed from the capital dome, and the smaller battle flag was placed next to a Confederate memorial. I congratulated the state (the first time I’ve ever done so on this blog) when the legislature voted to remove the flag, and I celebrated when it finally came down altogether—peacefully, I might add. Since then, white supremacists have rallied in support of that flag, thereby proving the point of the vast majority who wanted the flag removed, that it was nothing but a symbol of racism.

I honestly don’t know about removing the flag from pop culture, though I tend to think it’s the right thing to do. Still, that’s a decision that’s been made by retailers alone, and it is absolutely their right to do so. In the current climate, however, it would have been foolhardy for them do to otherwise.

I also don’t think that any non-official Confederate flag (like the battle flags of Virginia or Tennessee) should ever be flown over Confederate cemeteries or monuments because it’s not historically accurate or true. That’s why I’m less troubled by flying the real and official flag of the Confederate States of America in such places, though it may be difficult to agree on which flag of several to fly (although the flag of the US State of Georgia may point the way). The official CSA national flag also doesn’t have the same racist legacy of the battle flags (in the post-Civil War sense). Others may disagree.

Roger also asked a question that’s related to this topic:

“Someone asked me this recently, and here's variation: How can a ‘national conversation’ take place in the US? What topics ought to be discussed? And ditto this for New Zealand.”

Real national conversations can only happen organically, that is, people start talking about a topic because it concerns them in some way. The news media can lead the people to an issue, but they can’t make them think. So, it’s impossible to say what topics “ought” to be discussed, because people choose that for themselves.

When the people have a national conversation that the news media may not even notice, it can change things dramatically, and the turnaround in support for marriage equality is a prefect example of that. People having quiet conversations in their families can change all of society, and lead to new political realities and paradigms.

However, when the news media drive national conversations, it seldom matters because in almost every circumstance the discussions end up being nothing more than verbal circle jerks: People talk about how Something Must Be Done, and convince themselves that merely talking about it IS doing something. In relatively rare cases, something actually results, and the removal of the non-Confederate flag is a good example of this. It allowed even relatively conservative people to feel that by supporting removal of that flag they were Doing Something about racism—violent racism in particular—when, in fact, nothing has actually changed apart from removing an egregious symbol of that violent racism.

In the USA, there have been many media-led national discussions about big issues, but nothing has changed with gun laws despite frequent mass shootings. Similarly, virtually nothing has been done to clean up police behaviour toward minorities, despite the many well-publicised police shootings of unarmed black people.

In New Zealand, nothing has changed with child poverty, domestic violence (especially violence against children), income inequality and social deprivation, or even overseas investors buying up houses in Auckland and making prices soar beyond the reach of ordinary Kiwis—despite all these things being frequent topics of national discussions driven by the news media.

Now, someone less cynical than I am (which, to be fair, is most people…) could reasonably argue that nothing changes because people don’t know what to do, and, being people, they eventually lose interest in an issue. I think that’s true, and that people want quick and easy “solutions”. But I also think that most people don’t want to have to take personal action, personal responsibility, or make a personal sacrifice to effectively deal with an issue. Maybe that’s not their fault, and it’s really because of the rank cowardice and amorality of most politicians, who, because of whatever personal failing, never offer real solutions.

And then, sometimes people are just idiots or arseholes.

We’ve seen that with the non-Confederate flag debate in which some people deliberately ignored reality to argue that a symbol of racism and racist violence was, in fact, merely part of their “heritage” (what, do they have a white hood and robe hanging in their closet, too?).

In New Zealand, we see this with the current debate over whether New Zealand should change its national flag (apparently, flags can be quite contentious…). The entire focus of the discussion in New Zealand has been over how the process is costing us $26 million at a time when there’s so much need. That’s a fair criticism, but totally irrelevant: There WILL be a referendum to pick an alternative flag, and there WILL be a referendum for people to choose between the current flag or the alternative. Neither fact will change, no matter how much people complain about the cost, which is the main focus of the news media's "national conversation".

So, in my opinion, “national conversations” are generally overrated, producing little of substance when they’re driven by the news media. What DOES change things are those quiet, self-started conversations within families and among friends, almost invariably without the news media even noticing. That kind of unnoticed “national conversation” can change everything, and it’s not something that anyone can control or manage, but when enough people care about a topic to start discussing it without the news media pushing it, then real, substantive change can happen.

I do wish it happened more often, though.

There’s still time to ask questions! Here’s how: First, you can leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are okay). You can also email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). And, for the first time, you can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page.

Half Birthday

Today is my half birthday! It’s exactly halfway between my most recent birthday and my next one. Kids take notice of such things, but we adults don’t, and maybe we’re the poorer for it. But, then, these days I often think “grown-ups” need to just chill out.

Kids are often obsessed with the minutiae of time, which figures: They’ve experienced so little of it that a month or a week—sometimes even a day—seems like an eternity. Kids know how long it is until Christmas, or how long since their last birthday. “I’m 8 and three-quarters”, they may say. Actually, kids outside of America may not say that, since they really have no reason to learn fractions when they live in a decimal world.

The point is, kids notice and, if not celebrate, at least take note of achievements in time—like half birthdays—and they don’t really understand why adults don’t.

Yeah, why don’t we?

Some adults just consider it childish, and we’re oh, so above such things. Mostly, I think it’s about not wanting to be reminded that the days ahead of us are becoming fewer. None of us wants to be without our loved ones, some of whom can’t make it to the end of the race with us. But while we obsess on the end of things, kids revel in the continuance. I think they have it right, and we “grown-ups: need to ease up a bit.

None of us knows what’s at the end of life, though many have firm beliefs, so why dwell on that? Why not savour every moment? Why NOT celebrate the day we’re 38¾, 56½ , or 93 and one month? Each day is worth celebrating for its own sake, and so is the fact we get another day with the people we love.

There will inevitably be a day that turns out to be our last. When that day comes, if we’ve loved honestly, openly, and without reservation, and then are loved in return, then I’d say even that last day is a good one. It’s the journey that matters, and how much of a good person we were along the way, not when the journey ends.

So, I say, celebrate each day, even a half birthday, like the wonderful thing it is. Seriously: Why not?

Public Domain photo at top by Evan-Amos (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The clowns perform

This weekend, the Republican Clown Bus came to a screeching halt so clowns could scramble off, horns honking, seltzer bottles spraying, and perform for their adoring audiences. And there are months more of this to come.

The Republican clowns candidates are currently fighting to see who can say the most outrageous thing to get attention from the media and to whip up the most frothing parts of the Republican Party base. All of which is why everyday Americans are raising their eyebrows and wondering what the hell has gotten into the Republican clowns candidates.

The Republicans aren’t talking to mainstream Americans at the moment—they don’t need to. Instead, they need media attention in order to have any hope of getting a seat in the Fox “News” candidate’s circus centre ring.

So, when Donald “I am the best human ever” Trump says outrageously racist things about Mexicans, he’s pandering to the frothing base of the Republican party who are racist and xenophobic. When he attacked John McCain’s military service, pundits declared he’d gone too far, and Lindsey Graham—currently second to last among the Republican clowns candidates—declared of Trump “You’re fired!” Ha, ha, ha, so very, very witty—and idiotic.

What none of the pundits or establishment Republican politicians seem to understand is that the frothing base of the Republican Party despises John McCain because they don’t think he’s conservative enough. Many of them call McCain a RINO, so when Trump, who got five deferments to make sure he didn’t have to go to Viet Nam, made fun of McCain’s service, the base will give at most a shrug. That base doesn’t think of McCain as a legitimate hero, which is how they justify tolerating attacks on an ex-military man when they normally would pretend they were about to beat up anyone who said a single unkind word about a military person.

Trump will continue to say outrageous things to fire up the frothing base he’s performing for, and the media will keep repeating it, ensuring the attention continues, thereby helping Trump all the more. Trump is a brilliant performer, and like all good actors, he knows how to give the audience what they want, and his poll ratings and amount of media attention show just how good a performer Trump is. The fact that there’s nothing more to him than his act is beside the point.

I did notice, however, how establishment Republicans and a few of his fellow clowns candidates were quick to dump on Trump for his McCain insult—yet responded slowly, if at all, to Trump’s blatant racism. Quite telling, really.

Of course Trump wasn’t the only clown performing this weekend. Ten of the Republican clowns candidates were at an event in Iowa hosted by some far-right religious extremists. Pandering to that crowd, each clown candidate was desperate to prove that he’s a bigger anti-gay bigot than the other clowns candidates by declaring that they’ll “fight” marriage equality! Well, somehow or other, you know, like with magic or something, and, like, um, hey! Did you know marriage equality is JUST LIKE slavery?! Well, sure, that sounds utterly absurd to normal people, but to the Republican clowns candidates pretending it’s the same gives them cover for so they can show their anti-gay bigotry all they want because, well, being against slavery proves they’re not bigots. Somehow. In the alternate universe that the USA’s radical anti-gay industry lives in.

Scott “Koch” Walker, meanwhile, said, golly gee, he has no idea whether being gay is a choice or not because, he assured the USA, “I don’t have an opinion on every single issue out there.” Whew! He also claimed he was “focused on representing all Americans, even ones who do not support his beliefs.” Just as long as they’re not gay and wanting to get married, of course. Or a worker who wants to join a union and bargain collectively. Or a poor person who thinks they ought to be able to get pasta sauce and spices with food stamps. Or—oh, heck, we should all just shut up and let Scott “Koch” Walker decide everything for us—even those issues he says he doesn’t have an opinion on!

Scott “Koch” Walker also tried to hide his anti-gay bigotry behind reasonable sounding words. He now says what he meant by opposing gay and bisexual adult leaders in the Boy Scouts of America is that “I just think it pulls scouting into a whole larger political and cultural debate.” Oh! We were wrong! He doesn’t hate gay people, he just hates the “politics” of people being gay! Quite how being gay is automatically “political” will mystify normal people, but the frothing Republican base understand the anti-gay wink-wink that Walker gave them. Besides, heterosexual religious extremists like Scott “Koch” Walker would never dream of forcing their politics on everyone else!

Rick “Oops!” Perry has no such reluctance. “I believe that scouting would be better off if they didn’t have openly gay Scout masters,” Rick said. He also said he stood by his 2008 declaration that “openly active gays, particularly advocates, present a problem. Because gay activism is central to their lives, it would unavoidably be a topic of conversation within a Scout troop.” Now, there are all sorts of ways that I could call Perry an idiot, though the fact that he’s an idiot is obvious, but if you take his statement and replace the word gay with Christian, you can see how Perry’s own words could be used to oppose him being a Scout leader, and it would be equally as stupid.

It’s hard to believe that it was just 2½ years ago that Bobby Jindal declared the Republican Party had to "stop being the stupid party". He and his fellow clowns have spent every waking moment trying to ensure THAT never happens, and this weekend was a great example of why they still are The Party Of Stupid™.

Oh well, at least some of the Republican clowns candidates will be gone by this time next month. That Republican Clown Bus has quite a few more stops to make before then, unfortunately.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Arthur Answers, Part 2: Freedom’s flavours

Today’s question is from my friend Andy, with whom I’ve had many interesting Facebook discussions. On the blog post announcing this series, Andy asked:

“You have experienced the American flavor of ‘Freedom’—which, in the Land of the Free, tends to be fairly overt; and you have experienced the New Zealand flavor of ‘Freedom’—which, in the Land of the Long White Cloud, tends to be implied and quite understated.

Which do you prefer, and why?”

When I first began this blog in 2006, that was the sort of question I didn’t want to answer. I had this idea that I shouldn’t criticise my homeland, mostly because of how notoriously tetchy Americans can get when their country is criticised, especially when it’s compared unfavourably with another country. Clearly, I no longer have any such reluctance!

I should say upfront that “freedom” is a very general term that can be interpreted in numerous ways. For this post, I’m using the term in relation to enumerated rights, that is, rights that people have guaranteed through their national constitution/government structure, and how that affects the way people (including me) feel about their level of freedom.

So, keeping that in mind, at a certain fundamental level, both the USA and New Zealand have very similar attitudes toward freedom: They both protect freedom of speech, and of belief, and of assembly, for example, and both countries also forbid unreasonable search or seizure, and also ban cruel punishment.

New Zealanders’ fundamental rights are laid out in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (the link goes to the NZ government website, where the entire BORA, as it’s called, can also be downloaded as a PDF; naturally, I’ve done that. Of course.). It’s also been further clarified in subsequent court rulings (the Wikipedia article on the BORA is pretty good).

Americans’ fundamental rights are spelled out in the Constitution of the United States and its amendments, but the most fundamental rights are listed in the first ten amendments, known collectively as the “Bill of Rights”. US Courts have also expanded and explained the rights held by citizens. The Wikipedia article on the Bill of Rights provides good, basic information on the history and meaning of the amendments.

I mention all that first because I think it’s important to understand that the citizens of both countries enjoy pretty much the same enumerated rights. There are, however, some significant differences in those enumerated rights: US citizens have the right to “keep and bear arms”, and New Zealanders do not. New Zealand’s BORA forbids discrimination on wide range of criteria as outlined in the Human Rights Act 1993 (HRA), and these go FAR beyond the discrimination that the US Constitution forbids, even with NZ’s carve-outs and exclusions (the Wikipedia article on the HRA is a pretty good tl;dr description).

The USA’s Bill of Rights, however, can only be changed through Constitutional Amendment, a process that was deliberately made difficult and cumbersome—so much so, it seldom happens (it's described in Article V of the US Constitution, btw). In New Zealand, a simple majority of Parliament can amend the Bill of Rights Act at any time—or repeal it altogether.

The US Constitution is what’s called “entrenched”, that means, it’s supreme law and cannot be easily changed or abandoned. New Zealand’s constitution, on the other hand, is unwritten and made up of the laws passed by Parliament. An incomplete portion of that—generally the parts about the structure of government—were codified in The Constitution Act 1986. The Act was passed as the result of a constitutional crisis, but also established the final independence of the NZ Parliament from that of the UK (again, Wikipedia has a good, brief discussion).

All this talk about structure is important because I think it’s the reason for the fundamental difference in the way Americans and New Zealanders look at their rights. In the USA, with its difficult-to-change Constitution, there’s a culture of entitlement in which people think they have absolute rights that apply in all cases, even when they don’t—like, for example, that most Americans fundamentally misunderstand their rights under the First Amendment (the xkcd cartoon on free speech wonderfully illustrates—ahem!— what I’m talking about). This attitude leads to a lot of court action.

New Zealanders, on the other hand, have a culture of assumption, that is, they assume they have basic rights. Like their American cousins, NZers sometimes misunderstand free speech rights, but they otherwise don’t assume that their rights trump other people’s rights, as so many Americans clearly think. On this point, Kiwis clearly have the advantage. We don’t have a litigious culture, and our civil court proceedings aren’t about conflicting rights.

New Zealand’s more laid back attitude extends to government regulation, and Kiwis can pretty much just get on with their lives without a lot of government interference. For example, if a New Zealander wants to start a business, they just start: They don’t need to register with anyone (though they may have to register with Inland Revenue to pay Goods and Services Tax, but very small businesses don’t need to bother with that). In Chicago at the time I left, anyone wanting to start a business needed to get a license from the City of Chicago, register with the State of Illinois and Cook County (all of which charged fees for that, of course). In addition, at that time it was generally illegal to run a business out of one’s home in a residential area, even if no customers would ever visit and there was no “noxious” manufacturing (some of that has been eased since I left, and I realise that in other places it’s easier—or harder—than Chicago was then).

But it’s not just about constitutional structure or lack of unnecessary regulation: There are profound differences in the way that Americans and Kiwis approach their lives as part of a community. In general, NZers have an attitude that how other people live their lives is no one else’s business (unless they’re endangering other people or creating a nuisance for the people around them). Americans, on the other hand, have a long history of telling other people how they must live their lives. As a gay man, I never felt as free as I did when I arrived in New Zealand. Sure, the USA has caught up a bit in the past two decades, and New Zealand isn’t perfect (of course—no place is), but I feel freer as a gay man than I did in Chicago.

To sum up, then: Both the USA and New Zealand have the same basic enumerated rights, while differing in some areas, as well as how secure those rights are. The differences in how those rights are structured leads individuals in the two countries to have differences in expectations of what their rights mean for them personally. Added to the more relaxed NZ culture, and the more controlling US culture, this leads to New Zealand feeling more free to me than the USA did.

One final caveat: I left the USA nearly two decades ago, and things have changed a lot. The dark years of the Bush/Cheney regime aside, I think there has been a clear move toward greater freedom in general, but having been away so long, there’s no way I can possibly know how the USA’s freedom feels. So, my reactions are based on what my lived experience in the USA was and is in New Zealand.

Noting that caveat, and all the other qualifications and such in this post, in general, I personally prefer New Zealand’s flavour of freedom over the USA’s.

There’s still time to ask questions! Here’s how: First, you can leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are okay). You can also email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). And, for the first time, you can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Freedom to Marry: Celebrating Victory

Freedom To Marry, the premier organisation fighting for marriage equality in the USA, is closing down, now that it’s particular work is done. As part of their swan song, they recently held a gala attended by Vice President Biden, and they're releasing a few last videos, like the one above.

From the YouTube description:
“On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the freedom to marry nationwide. This video sheds light on the incredible story of the movement that historic win possible.”
I thought the video is well done, though there were parts I couldn’t see well. I guess there must have been some dust blowing in through the closed window, because my eyes were watering.

The thing is, when I was an LGBT grassroots activist from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, I was working for a day in which 50-state marriage equality would be a reality. I didn’t expect to see it until I was very old, but it was nevertheless something I was working toward, even if it was usually only slightly related.

So, seeing marriage equality arrive is, first and foremost, a dream come true, because I did dream of a day in which legal equality would be a reality. There were bitter disappointments and defeats along the way. “What happens to a dream deferred,” I often recited to myself at such times, even as I wished it would explode*. Slow and steady, it turned out, won the race.

So now Freedom To Marry steps off the stage, leaving the last few battles to the groups who have been there throughout. It’s all a matter of mopping up the last cells of resistance, and time to move on to the last few tasks remaining.

One of those remaining tasks—banning employment discrimination MAY have become easier this past week. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act bars discrimination based on sexual orientation because “[A]llegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex.” Whether the EEOC is right will probably be determined, ultimately by the US Supreme Court, but, for now, it’s the rule.

Still, easy as it is to be unnecessarily distracted by the hard-core opponents of marriage equality, and by the work remaining to end discrimination against LGBT people, it’s perfectly okay to stop and reflect on how far we’ve come, how we got here, and how much it means to real, ordinary people. One commentator on YouTube put it well—and I don’t often say THAT! He said:
“I lost my lover of 27 years in 1996. We marched together in the first Gay Pride parade in NYC, and many, many more. We were never able to marry in his lifetime, but I am so happy to have lived long enough to see it possible for others. We were as married as two hearts, and souls could ever be. All we were missing was the ‘paper’. I can go to meet him with a smile on my face, and I can’t wait to see the smile on his.”
Congratulations Freedom To Marry—and thank you!

*This is a quote from and reference to "Harlem" by Langston Hughes, one of my favourite poets, and a big literary influence as I entered adulthood. "Harlem" is one of my favourites of his poems.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Preparing the circus’ center ring

The Washington Post graphic above shows who is currently in a position to be included in the Fox “News” debate of the Republican presidential candidates to be held on August 6. The Post explains how this will work:
You'll remember that Fox News decided to manage the ever-ballooning Republican field by allowing only the 10 candidates performing the best in the five most recent national polls. (In the event of a tie for 10th, the tied candidates get to participate as well.) Given the importance of the first debate, that top-10 status has become a key test for candidates. [Link in the original]
As of today, there’s a tie for ninth place, so there are only ten candidates; quite frankly, I can’t see any of the bottom six being included (one of whom, John Kasich, isn’t yet a declared candidate, though he’s expected to become one next week). If they’re not included, it almost certainly means their candidacies will struggle to survive, and may never even get the chance to face any actual voters; I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The Post plans on updating the graphic, and if that means the link updates, too (as it should), then anyone accessing this post after today may see something different than when I posted it. So, for their benefit, here are the candidates who make the cut, ranked by percentage of support as of today: Jeb (just don’t say) Bush: 17; Donald Trump: 10.8; Scott “Koch” Walker: 9.3; Marco Rubio: 7.8; Ben Carson: 7.6; Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee tied at 6.5; Ted Cruz: 5.1; Rick Perry and Chris Christie tied at 2.9.

Update - 18 July: I can now confirm that the graphic does update, as Rick "Frothy Mix" Santorum has moved up, knocking Rick Perry out. Further rearranging is likely before the final cast list is announced.

Tip o’ the hat to Roger Green who sent me the link; I don’t check out the Post all that often due to the limit in the number of articles one can access for free in a month.

The most dangerous clown of all

This week, the 15th so-called “major” candidate scrambled aboard the Republican Clown Bus, ready to join the party’s Hunger Games selection process. This one combines all the worst elements of all the other clowns candidates, and piles on whole new levels of true awfulness. He’s so awful, in fact, that it’s taken me many, many drafts of this post to tone down my rhetoric, something that hasn’t happened with any other Republican clown.

Scott Kevin Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, announced his candidacy on Twitter (image above) and in a moneybeg email informing us that his running for president is “God’s plan for me”. His god did not publicly comment on that claim.

In his speech later that day, Scott laid out his brand of radical conservatism, throwing in a dog-whistle to the new far-right talking point of again making it impossible for government to make the lives of everyday American workers better. Of course he did: That’s what his employers want.

Scott Walker is in office because the billionaire Koch brothers paid to get him elected, then paid to keep him from being recalled, and then paid again to have him re-elected. They’ve also pledged to spend a billion dollars to get a suitably far-right Republican elected president. Who better than their employee, Scott “Koch” Walker? And where the Kochs lead, the other oligarchs and plutocrats will follow.

Jeb (just don’t say) Bush has long been considered the odds-on favourite to win the nomination, but he’s struggling in polls of Republican voters. This hasn’t been helped by an inept start to his campaign, and his propensity for opening his mouth to remove one foot just so he can insert the other one. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has been deliberately stoking racist fires to get attention, and it’s worked: Trump’s been surging in polls of Republicans.

All of this matters because the proposed debate structure for the clowns candidates is that they will be selected based on averaging national polling. So, doing well in the early states—which used to make or break some campaigns—is now irrelevant: Getting national attention is all that matters. Jeb (just don’t say) Bush has name recognition (which is why we’re supposed to call him only “Jeb!”), and Trump has the patent on outrageous statements, so the rest, including newbie Scott “Koch” Walker, need to differentiate themselves.

So, Walker has ramped up his god and religion shtick in a blatant attempt to capture the far-right fundamentalist Christian vote, which makes up the strongest and most reliable part of the Republican base, the part that always turns out in party primary elections and caucuses. But all the Republican clowns candidates are opposed to marriage equality (and most want to enshrine in law the right to discriminate against LGBT people), and all but George Pataki oppose reproductive choice. So, how can Walker break through?

First and foremost, by doubling-down on the far-right’s “Christian” agenda. In that moneybeg, he bragged about signing into law new restrictions on access to abortion in Wisconsin, and he now declares he’ll somehow do the same if he becomes president. He’s actually long been opposed to reproductive choice, which has led him to all sorts of bizarre statements. He once said that doctors should lie to pregnant women to prevent abortions, and he famously declared that mandatory ultrasounds, such as the one in his anti-abortion bill, are "just a cool thing" for women.

Walker called the US Supreme Court’s decision establishing 50-state marriage equality a “grave mistake”, and immediately called for a constitutional amendment to overturn it. While talk of an amendment is merely pandering to the far-right, since it can’t happen, he’s also promised to nominate extreme rightwing Supreme Court justices, something that will be easy to do—and mandatory—if Republicans get a president elected and still control the US Senate.

Walker has talked proudly of his vote to enshrine marriage discrimination in the Wisconsin constitution, but his anti-LGBT animus is most obvious when, as governor, he tried to stop defending the state’s domestic partnership law that gave gay couples a handful of the rights and privileges of marriage, from which they were barred. The rights, few though they were, included hospital visitation, among other things, and were important to couples—but Walker thought they mustn’t be allowed. Wisconsin’s courts consistently disagreed with him, and federal rules mandate hospital visitation rights for LGBT people. But Walker’s enthusiasm for trying to ensure that same-gender couples had NO rights whatsoever show the depth of his anti-LGBT animus.

And he’s now also condemned the Boy Scouts of America for ending discrimination against gay adults because the discrimination “protected children”, he said. The anti-gay animus in that is so blatant there’s just no sugar-coating it, but ThinkProgress explained why Walker’s statement is so deeply offensive.

On just those two “social issues” alone, it’s obvious that Walker isn’t faking his far-right fundamentalist Christianity: He really is a religious extremist, and is not just playing one on TV.

Forcing his religious beliefs onto everyone else isn’t all Scott “Koch” Walker is about, of course: He’s also a radical conservative on economic issues, which makes sense, since he’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch Brothers, whose far-right agenda he’s gleefully promoted. From crushing unions (which he wants to do to the entire country), to gutting public education spending and so much more, Scott has proven himself a loyal employee of the Kochs. All of which is why, to everyday people, Walker’s been an utter disaster for Wisconsin (See also: “Scott Walker Wants To Run The Country. Here Is How He Ran Wisconsin.” from ThinkProgress).

The only area in which Walker disagrees with his masters is that Walker believes in “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” for even non-violent offenders convicted of minor crimes. His self-styled libertarian payroll masters, the Kochs, support sentencing reform. Pundits think Walker can’t adopt the Kochs’ position without being called a “flip-flopper”. Clearly, such pundits haven’t been paying attention: The Kochs can run ads everywhere praising their employee for what they’ll probably call his “courage” and maybe “maturity” in doing as they ordered him to do “evolving” on the issue. The Koch political machine has mastered manipulation of political messaging, so once they get into it, Scott’s abrupt shift will look like an angelic virtue, utterly beyond criticism.

On the other hand, if Walker sticks to his weird far-right views on criminal “justice”, the Kochs can spin that as being “proof” that Scott is “independent” of his paymasters. The point is, no matter what he does, Koch money will spin it and spin it and spin it until no one has any idea what the truth is any more—it’s what they do.

All of which assumes that the Kochs can buy the Republican nomination for their minion, and there they run into their biggest problem: Scott. He has so little charisma that they’ll have to bring industrial heaters to his rallies to keep the lack of warmth from freezing his audience, even in July and August. I kid, I kid—but not by much. Of course, the reality is that the Kochs' billions can fix even that, too, through ever more distraction and diversion.

But we just can’t get away from the other big metaphorical elephant in the rhetorical room (aside from his fealty to the Kochs): Walker’s theocratic bent and his determination to impose his particular brand of a subset of Christianity on the entire USA. In his moneybeg, he declared, “Our U.S. Constitution calls for freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” and he couldn’t possibly be more wrong about that: Obviously freedom OF religion means absolutely nothing without freedom FROM religion—otherwise, all we have is a theocracy in which religion—specifically, Scott’s particular flavour of it—is mandatory. That should trouble all people, whether religious or not.

Scott “Koch” Walker is a dangerous man. He’s successfully rebranded his theocratic and plutocratic extremism as mere “conservatism”, though it’s nothing of the kind: It's merely extremism that co-opts the word conservative as a kinder, gentler marketing tool. To Scott, destroying the middle class to give more money to the oligarchs and plutocrats and forcing his personal religious views onto everyone else is mere “conservatism”. I know plenty of real conservatives who would strongly disagree with him on that.

Scott “Koch” Walker is the worst of the clowns candidates who might actually win the Republican nomination. If elected, he would be all the bad parts of all the worst of the other clowns candidates rolled into one, with a scoop of extra awfulness on top. None of the other creepy Republicans—Huckabee and Santorum in particular—could ever win the nomination. Most of the other completely awful clowns candidates don’t stand a chance, either. So, his real competition are the clowns candidates who are merely mostly awful.

But with billions and billions behind him, Scott “Koch” Walker has the chance to win the Republican nomination, and then the White House, and that’s something that should be enough to scare the shit out of anyone—including Republicans. I cannot stand the man and cannot say a single nice thing about him—obviously. And this is after I toned down what I was going to say!

So, given his truly awful record as governor, his far, FAR right extremist agenda, paid for by the billionaire Koch Brothers, and his determination to impose his religion on everyone in the USA, Scott “Koch” Walker, isn’t just another clown on the bus, he’s the most dangerous clown of all.

The basics: Scott “Koch” Walker is 47, replacing Chris Christie as the second-youngest Republican clown candidate so far (after Bobby Jindal, who is the youngest). On Inauguration Day, he’ll be 49 years, 80 days old. The oldest US President, Ronald Reagan, hallowed be his name, was 69 years, 349 days when he was sworn in.

As of today, there’s still 1 year, 3 months, 24 days until the US presidential election.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Arthur Answers, Part One: Who knew?

It’s time to start answering this round of “Ask Arthur” questions, and I thought I’d start with one that I actually received months ago. There’s still plenty of time to ask your own questions, too, by the way.

Today’s question is from Roger Green who asked last April:

“OK, that suggests an Ask Arthur Anything question: When you were growing up, what did you think of performers who were THOUGHT to be gay, but weren't out (because almost no one was out), such as Liberace and Paul Lynde?”

The simple answer is that it never occurred to me that people like Liberace and Lynde were gay. They said they weren’t, and I took them at their word. Mind you, I was quite young in the 1960s, and not fully grasping the realities of sexuality and identity.

By the 1970s, things were changing. Elton John said he was bisexual, and David Bowie more or less did, too. Even Daryl Hall & John Oates were in on the act, and Billboard magazine said of the cover of their 1975 album called, oddly enough, Daryl Hall & John Oates, that they were adopting a playful bisexual look, whatever that meant.

The thing is, it wasn’t until the 1980s that I ever heard of an openly gay recording artist (and for me, everything changed then). Up until that point, I can’t remember even thinking that a recording artist might be gay because I was so used to there being none.

The same is true for actors. It wasn’t just that I took performers at their word, but also that there were no openly gay actors when I was a kid or young adult, so I just assumed there was no such thing as a gay actor. I was also totally unaware that the campy performances of Lynde, Liberace, and others, were anything other than a performance style.

By the time I was a teenager, and more aware of the world, I used to sometimes wish some performers were gay, but I assumed none of them were (and, far more often than not, I was right). So, even then, I didn’t think any performers were secretly gay.

Even so, I do remember one actor who I thought was gay, and that was Nancy Kulp, who is most famous for playing Miss Jane Hathaway on the 1960s hit TV show, The Beverley Hillbillies. To this day, I have NO idea why I thought that: As a kid, I didn’t even know what the word “lesbian” meant, and her character was more or less an “old maid”, and I knew some of those in my dad’s church without ever thinking they might like the ladies. And yet, I had a sort of intuition about her that I can’t remember having about any other actor, male or female.

Now, because there was no such thing as an openly gay performer in the 1960s, and I’m not entirely sure I even understood what that would’ve meant, anyway, I just thought Nancy Kulp was funny. Many years later when I heard she was out, I did sort of think, “I knew it!”, but I didn’t hold her earlier closetedness against her.

But, then, I didn’t hold clostedness against any of the performers I saw growing up and didn’t, at the time, know were gay, finding out later that they were (like George Takei, Jim Nabors, Johnny Mathis, and, apparently, Barry Manilow, for example). Some of them I at least suspected were gay when I became an adult, but they’re all much older than me and I didn’t try and project my values onto them and others of their generation.

So, while I was growing up, there were no openly LGBT performers, so I didn’t know LGBT people could even be performers of any kind, so it never occurred to me that any of them could secretly be LGBT. I completely bought the narrative and beliefs of the dominant culture, and it wasn’t until later in my teens and early 20s that I realised I’d been lied to.

Things are WAY different now, and obviously for the better, with openly gay performers all over the place. I wonder, though, if young gay kids these days still imagine that cartoon characters are secretly boyfriends, like I hoped Jonny Quest and Hadji were. Do kids even need to imagine such things any more?

There’s still time to ask questions! Here’s how: First, you can leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are okay). You can also email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). And, for the first time, you can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page.