The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

What's the next step?

The Supreme Court's ruling on California's Proposion 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry) puts California among the other 12 states and District of Columbis where same-sex marriage is legal. And the other ruling on the subject (United States v. Windsor) makes it clear that anyone that the States consider married, the Federal Government must recognize as married too. Two very sensible rulings, which it pains me to see so-called “conservatives” attacking. Most of the time, conservatives believe that the Government should protect people's rights. They should realize that both these rulings are in that spirit. However, a lot of “conservatives” seem to want to have the Government impose their moral standards on everyone, even though the others may have a different view of what is, and what is not, moral. These “conservatives” I can only despise. They would, I'm certain, feel differently if, say, an Islamic Government imposed its rules, as the Taliban did, on them.

So I'm happy with these rulings, but I wonder what is next. I don't think the nation is ready for the equivalent to Loving v. Virginia, overturning laws in many States. However, I can see a logical next step. A person who gets a driver's license in one State can drive in all the other 49, even if, for some reason, they would be ineligible in the State where they are currently located. This is because of Article IV of the Constitution. It requires the States to give “full faith and credit” to the acts of other States. A case might be made that a Virginia same-sex couple, going to Massachusetts to get married without establishing Massachusetts residency, is stretching the law, and Virginia can legitimately refuse to accept this marriage. But it seems to me that a same-sex couple who marry in Massachusetts, being resident there at the time, have a legitimate marriage that must be recognized in the other 49 States, even if, say, Virginia will not allow such a marriage to be performed there.

So I think this is the next step. Forcing all States, under Article IV, to recognize legitimate marriages performed in other States, at least between residents of the State where the ceremony was held, is going to cause great consternation in States like Virginia, but I think this will need to be done before those States are forced to allow the marriages to be performed there. At least, that's how it seems to me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Supreme Court's two gay marriage decisions

For once, the Court's decisions went just about as I would have had it. The only place I was not quite right was that the overrule of California Proposition 8 was on the grounds of “lack of standing,” rather than appealing to an earlier decision in a Colorado case that a right, once given, could not be taken away. But the practical effect is the same; the lower court's decision was upheld, and that court used the argument I would have cited.

The DOMA decision got it exactly right. The states have always said who had a right to marry, and if the Federal government restricts that right, they are impairing the right to equal protection. As Justice Kennedy wrote in his opinion, “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.” Those who talk of the “traditional” definition of marriage have a lot of things wrong; traditionally marriage has been regulated by the states, not the Federal government, and over the years the nature of marriage has changed — in the nineteenth century it made a wife the property of her husband, for one thing. So appealing to “tradition” is nonsense.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Court's Voting Rights Act decision

The Supreme Court made a sensible decision regarding the Voting Rights Act. A formula that counted New York City as a discriminatory area — a city that had had an African-American Congressman, Adam Clayton Powell, as early as 1945 — was certainly a crazy formula. And the Court did not invalidate the goal of the VRA, only the formula it used to determine discrimination, and that because it was based on practices that were on the books nearly half a century ago!

Chief Justice Roberts has said that tomorrow will be the last day of the term, so the two big gay marriage cases will be covered in tomorrow's rulings. I expect to have a post tomorrow on those.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How NOT to gain the support of people like me

Very recently I got an appeal, by mail, from the Human Rights Campaign, an organization whose main purpose, equal rights for people of all sexual orientations, is one which I support. However, the letter is one I would say was counterproductive with me, and would be to all people who generally agree with me.

The letter starts right off with two paragraphs ending with “Just take a look at what we're up against,” and follows it with an anti-homosexual quote from the Texas GOP platform and a homophobic quote from an unnamed member of a Tea Party group. And a few paragraphs down, it has praise for President Obama — the same President Obama who took three years to come around to recognizing the unconstitutionality of DOMA! — contrasting him with “the Republican leadership in Congress.” Granted that it's unfortunate that they did choose to try to defend the indefensible DOMA; but there is not a single word in the entire letter saying a good word for any Republican — though three Republican Senators have come out in support of same-sex marriage — or a bad word about any Democrat — especially President Obama, who sat on all gay rights issues for three years, though he had the power, for example, to end “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” on Jan. 20, 2009.

There was an enclosure in the letter, featuring a quote by President Obama, and listing, as people who have spoken out in favor of marriage equality, such Democratic political figures as Hillary Clinton, Senator Al Franken, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. No mention of a single Republican, though they could have given such people as Senators Rob Portman, Mark Kirk, and Lisa Murkowski. Any such Democratically partisan mailing is hardly guaranteed to elicit any sympathetic response from me.

Friday, June 21, 2013

One more sensible decision

As I've said before, I am far more sympathetic with the Republican Party on most issues than with the Democrats. And that is primarily because the Republicans favor limiting the role of Government and allowing individuals more freedom. But I've always thought that the attitudes of so-called “social conservatives,” that Government should impose their norms on everyone else, is quite counter to this, and I've wished that their influence on the GOP could be reduced. For that reason, I've looked askance on John Boehner's decision to take on the case of the defenders of the mislabeled “Defense of Marriage Act” before the Supreme Court when even the Obama administration accepted its unconstitutionality. DOMA should be allowed to die a peaceful death.

On the other side of the coin, I'm happy that Republican Senators are coming out in favor of same-sex marriage. First Rob Portman, then Mark Kirk has done so, and now one more Republican Senator has joined them: Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Of course, in the wake of what happened in the 2010 election, some may call Sen. Murkowski a RINO, but she's the kind of Republican, I think, I would like to see more of. Thank you, Sen. Murkowski, for making the decision to ignore the bigoted “social conservatives” in the party and take the pro-freedom position on this issue.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Somehow, I fail to understand it

There is a post by Matthew Franck on the “Real Clear Politics” site dated June 19, 2013, with the title “Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom, Fundamentally at Odds” that seems totally nonsensical to me.

First of all, the post concedes that in any state that legalizes same-sex marriage, no priest, rabbi, or other clergyman will be forced to solemnize a marriage that would be invalid under his religion's rules — but he considers this meaningless because the First Amendment would make it illegal to force them to do so; which seems to mean that the “religious freedom” aspect of the First Amendment is being taken into account. So far, I see no conflict with “religious freedom.” So let's see where he finds it.

It seems that Mr. Franck feels it would be an interference with the religious freedom of a baker to make him bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, or an interference with the religious freedom of the owner of a hall to make them open it to a wedding reception for such a couple. But they are not being forced to recognize, in any formal way, that marriage. Does such a baker now request a marriage license before baking a wedding cake? I doubt it. He could simply be asked to provide a cake, of the style he normally does for a wedding cake, for a party, and even if he does not think there is a legitimate wedding involved, I think he would bake the cake. Similarly, the owner of the hall would simply be letting out the place for a party which the couple involved is calling a “wedding reception,” even if the hall owner thinks of it simply as a party. I doubt that anyone would be engaging in “immoral conduct” in the reception hall itself!

Similar refutations apply to every single case that Mr. Franck raises. A college that provides housing to married couples probably also has housing for roommates; if those roommates are gay, what they do behind closed doors is not, normally, something of which the college is aware anyway. If they choose to call themselves “married” and the State agrees, the college doesn't have to do so. It can simply call them roommates.

I really do not see how anyone's religious freedom is affected here. I'd like to be enlightened.

There is even a reference in Mr. Franck's post to the termination, a few years ago, of Catholic Charities' provision of adoption referral services in Massachusetts. The chairman of the board of directors for Catholic Charities of Boston at the time, Peter Meade, says otherwise:

Like many of my fellow Catholics, I believe our greatest commandment is to help those who are in need and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That call is why I joined the board of directors of Catholic Charities of Boston.

I was especially proud of our work facilitating the adoption of abandoned and neglected children.

Catholic Charities used the one and only criteria that’s appropriate for adoption agencies — the best interest of the child.

For nearly two decades, Catholic Charities arranged adoptions to families who would provide safe, loving homes for the children we worked with, many of whom were from difficult backgrounds and harder to place.

We placed kids according to their needs and to make sure that they would find a loving and stable adoptive home. The kids always came first.

Most of these children, as a matter of fact, were adopted by straight couples, but during 15 years, about 13 were placed in the stable, secure and loving homes of same-sex couples.

Then in 2005, tragically, and out of the blue, the Vatican told our agency to cease using the single criteria of “best interest of the children.”

They ordered us to stop facilitating adoptions to households headed by gay men and lesbians.

I objected.

First and foremost, the Church hierarchy was telling us to ignore the best interests of the children we were trying to place. But just as important, the bishops were telling us to ignore decades-old anti-discrimination laws.

Catholic Charities had signed a contract with the state and accepted taxpayer money to provide adoption services for hard to place children. Some of these kids were older, had behavioral issues or chronic medical conditions.

When organizations accept taxpayer dollars, they have to follow anti-discrimination laws that are in place to make sure everyone is treated equally. If we excluded qualified families simply because they were gay or lesbian, we would violate those laws.

When taxpayers are footing the bill, you can’t discriminate against people. It is part of the contract to do the work.

The decision had nothing to do with marriage, and the conflict would likely have occurred regardless of whether same-sex couples could legally marry.

The board reacted strongly to the Vatican’s order, voting 42-0 against excluding gay and lesbian families from adoption services. From the board’s point of view, the decision was wrong for children and a violation of longstanding law.

When the hierarchy persisted in its demand, the organization had little choice but to end adoption services. They had made the decision to put other interests ahead of what was best for the children we served.

Along with seven other board members, I resigned.

While the adoption services Catholic Charities had provided were immediately filled by other social service agencies, the decision broke my heart.

It is simply untrue to claim that legalizing marriage for same-sex couples caused any of this to happen.

Catholic Charities had been facilitating adoptions for gay families for 15 years before same-sex couples could marry in Massachusetts. And ending that practice was a choice made by Catholic Charities under extreme pressure.

As a Catholic, my faith continues to call me to serve the neediest among us, and to treat every person as a child of God.

What happened in Massachusetts was wrong because the hierarchy lost sight of our mission to serve children, and it could have been avoided. But I cannot allow what happened with Catholic Charities to become a weapon against allowing same-sex couples to receive a marriage license in Maine.

It’s a terrible shame that opponents of marriage are willing to distort and twist the truth to achieve a political victory by scaring people into thinking that allowing two loving, committed people to marry will somehow turn the world upside down.

Can one really say that it is more in violation of Catholic dogma to allow a same-sex couple who is married according to State law to adopt a child than to allow a couple to adopt who is just living together? And Meade confirms, as I've read elsewhere, that Catholic Charities had been doing that for years. So it's clear that same-sex marriage did not abuse freedom of religion there.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Media bias, the NSA, and the last two administrations

There's an interesting post by Richard Benedetto on the Real Clear Politics site, dated June 18, 2013 and entitled “Media Cut Obama Slack They Denied Bush on NSA.” While the emphasis is mine, I quote it in its entirety. It shows just how biased the media are:

In recent days, there has been discussion about how Democrats and liberals, once severe critics of anti-terror surveillance programs when Republican President George W. Bush was conducting them, have been more careful, and less critical, when responding to the massive data collection sweeps that have come to light under President Obama.

“It is jarring to see the left so compliant now that the surveillance has been sanctioned by a Democratic president,” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote Sunday.

Milbank raised a valid point. But perhaps even more “jarring” are the carefully chosen, softer words used by the news media when reporting on the Obama program, compared to the inflammatory and alarmist language used when his predecessor was in charge.

When news broke in December 2005 that the Bush administration was engaged in phone wiretaps (without court orders) against suspected terrorists, the major news outlets almost immediately labeled the program “domestic spying.”

“In address, Bush says he ordered domestic spying,” said a Page One headline in The New York Times on Dec. 18, 2005.

The Washington Post, reporting on the same radio address, used similar wording in its headline: “President says he ordered NSA domestic spying.”

The Times and Post news articles each went on to use the word “spying” — which has dark, sinister connotations — four more times, although Bush, in his speech, never used it once. The Post followed up with an editorial: “Spying on Americans.”

So use of the word “spying” was the media’s choice, not the president’s. But the stage was set. From then on, The Times, The Post and other major news outlets continuously used the phrase “domestic spying” when reporting on the Bush wiretap program months after the initial outburst.

Bush, apparently frustrated by what he saw as media failure to fully explain what was really going on, tried to clarify in a Jan. 23, 2006 speech at Kansas State University. He hoped to get rid of the “spying” label and convince Americans that he was not listening in on phone calls to their mothers.

“I'll repeat to you, even though you hear words, ‘domestic spying,’ these are not phone calls within the United States. This is a phone call of an al-Qaeda, known al-Qaeda suspect, making a phone call into the United States.”

The presidential explanation didn’t work. Here is the USA Today headline on the speech: “White House steps up defense of domestic spying.”

Fast-forward to June 2013. Obama, thanks to an explosive leak by a National Security Agency contractor, finds himself embroiled in a similar flap over the gathering of domestic intelligence. This time, he is in charge of what appears to be the most sweeping “domestic spying” mission ever undertaken. “Unprecedented” is a word Obama likes to use. That’s what it is. And while the news media have not shied away from covering the controversial program and its citizen-privacy ramifications, the style, tone and use of language are far different from the Bush days.

Mostly gone from the reporting is the loaded phrase “domestic spying.” Instead, we find a flurry of euphemisms such as “call monitoring,” “data collection,” “data mining,” “data gathering” and “electronic surveillance.” Most news outlets that continue to use the word “spying” when referring to the current U.S. intelligence gathering programs are foreign newspapers and broadcasters.

“Top official tries to quell US spying scandal,” said a headline in the June 10 New Zealand Herald. Moreover, many of the reports repeatedly remind us that the programs in question began under the Bush administration. So, by implication, it’s not really Obama’s fault.

Last Sunday’s Washington Post front page had a nearly 2,000-word story on the surveillance controversy headlined “NSA Surveillance: The Architecture.” It strongly reiterated the point that this is what Bush wrought.

There were no photos on the front page, but when you jumped inside there was a four-column picture of Bush, Vice President Cheney and two other top aides in a 2008 visit to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. There also were smaller headshot photos of two Bush legal and security aides and one more picture of protesters at a 2007 Senate hearing wearing oversized sunglasses with the message “Stop Spying.” The witness at that hearing was then-Bush intelligence director Mike McConnell.

Oddly, many news stories on the current surveillance controversy do not feature photos of Obama unless he is directly addressing the issue. It conveys that while this is a serious problem, it is not necessarily Obama’s problem. He’s busy showing the world that he’s doing other things. That’s the way he likes it. And so, apparently, do the news media.

A good observation. And one that needs to be given more publicity.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The new Iranian president

It seems that the Iranian people have resoundingly elected Hasan Rowhani as president — he received an absolute majority, which in an election with so many candidates is an amazing result. Since Rowhani was the most nearly moderate candidate of the bunch, the fact that the Iranian people chose him so overwhelmingly is good news. But the bad news is that no truly moderate candidate was even allowed to run, and that the Iranian president has no real power if the Supreme Leader wants to do otherwise from what he wants. So the election really doesn't let the Iranian people control their destiny.

Unless they have a counter-revolution, though, this is the best news we can hope for from Iran.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The New Jersey special election

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has decided that the replacement for the late Senator Frank Lautenberg will be chosen in a special election to be held in October, three weeks before the November general election. And many people are howling “foul” about it. Interestingly, the people complaining are primarily Democrats who seem to have no problems with President Obama's using every trick in the rules to get his way.

In fact, Pres. Obama sees to have gone beyond the rules; consider the “recess appointments” that were ruled unconstitutional because the Senate was only taking the weekend off, and not truly in recess. But I suppose if you're a Democrat, anything goes. By contrast, what Gov. Christie did was totally within New Jersey law, and seems to be very minor to me. The Senate election will probably go to Newark mayor Cory Booker. It would go to Booker no matter when it was held. The only thing that the October special election does is that the extra voters who will come out to vote for Booker because he is the African-American mayor of Newark — African-Americans and Newarkers — may not come out again three weeks later. They would likely, if they did vote in a gubernatorial election, vote for Gov. Christie's opponent. But Christie is so far ahead in the polls that this would only reduce his margin.

So what Gov. Christie did doesn't even change the likely winner of an election. All it does is make his likely victory margin bigger, so he'll have more to show. This is hardly of a piece with what Pres. Obama did — appointing people who would not pass Senate scrutiny, by claiming a “recess” that doesn't exist. I don't think anyone has a right to complain.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Appointing Susan Rice

President Obama is appointing Susan Rice as national security advisor. Many people have pointed out that she's really not very qualified; for one example, see K.T. McFarland's column on the Fox News site. But that's not too important to this president; after all, this is the president who said: “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” He doesn't need a national security advisor, as he sees it; he knows more about national security than anyone he appoints.

But he wants to stick it to his political opponents. He's wanted to stick it to his political opponents ever since he went into politics. And because he wanted to nominate Susan Rice — a consummate Obama loyalist, willing to lie to protect the President — as Secretary of State, but found her attacked in the U. S. Senate severely enough that he had to withdraw the nomination, he found an equally prestigious post that required no Senate confirmation. And if there is one thing that Barack Obama knows how to do, it is to use the rules (or even bend the rules, as he did with those “recess appointments” when the Senate really wasn't in recess!) to his own advantage. He doesn't know how to be a President according to the Constitution's strictures, but he knows how to do whatever it takes to accomplish what Barack Obama wants to do.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Barry Goldwater vs. Ronald Reagan

The two heroes of the conservative wing of the Republican Party are Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Both were the most conservative of the people contending for the nomination, Goldwater in 1964 and Reagan in 1980. But while many people point to the similarity between the two, I would like to call attention to one big difference. (And I do not mean that Goldwater lost, but Reagan won — though I think that the difference which I intend to cite probably was a big reason why Goldwater lost, but Reagan won.)

Goldwater rejected the idea of the “big tent,” while Reagan embraced it. As evidence for the first, one can point to the famous speech before the 1964 Republican convention in which Goldwater proclaimed:

Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

His choice of an obscure Representative, William Miller, whose only special qualification for the vice-presidency was his sharing of Goldwater's extreme conservatism, accented this attitude. As I said in an earlier post:

I was one of many Republicans who did not vote for Goldwater that year — I felt I was being read out of the party, though this was my first year of eligibility to vote.

Let us compare Ronald Reagan. His choices for vice-president were diametrically opposed to Goldwater's. In 1976, when he did not really have a shot at the nomination because Gerald Ford was the incumbent, nevertheless, he appealed to the moderate wing of the party by selecting Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, one of the best known moderates in the party at the time. Four years later, knowing he had the nomination, he picked the very person who had led the moderate opposition to his nomination: George H. W. Bush. And he kept Bush on the ticket four years afterward, and strongly backed him for the Presidency after his own Presidency was forced by the Twenty-second Amendment to terminate. Reagan's rhetoric was different from Goldwater's, too. While Goldwater, in 1964, read the moderates out of the party with his “extremism” speech, Ronald Reagan made a very different point about the moderates in the party:

"The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor."

When the hard-right conservatives realize this, they will help the GOP become a majority party again.