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.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Redefining marriage?

I have held that opening up marriage to same-sex couples hardly qualifies as “redefining” it. But an interesting post, essentially, takes the bull by the horns: suppose it is true that we are “redefining” marriage? The author of the post, a rabbi named Joseph Meszler, responds with a thoughtful post on the Daily Beast site entitled “Redefine Marriage? Absolutely”:

About 2,000 years ago, a group of radicals called rabbis sought to redefine marriage. "Traditional marriage" at the time looked something like this:

Two families of similar socio-economic status sought to preserve their wealth by arranging a marriage between their children. They negotiated a deal with conditions that included a dowry as well as obligations on the woman to provide for her husband's home. In fact, in much of the literature of the time, she was simply referred to as his bayit — his house — the absolute homemaker.

Sometime after the betrothal, she was marched under a wedding canopy from her father's house safely into her new husband's home (or more likely to her father-in-law's house as the husband was probably only an adolescent and not yet independent).

If she failed to please him, the husband could hand his wife a bill of divorce. (She could not do so if the reverse was true.) This could potentially leave the girl — and she was most likely still a girl — impoverished.

Because of the risk of women being left destitute, the rabbis intervened and created a document called a ketubah. This document became mandatory for all weddings. It was basically a prenuptial agreement that a wedding was not a casual affair but was rooted in a time and place with witnesses. The groom had an obligation to his wife, and she had rights as well. And if he wanted to divorce her, he was required to pay her a certain sum of money in order to protect her from poverty. A court could enforce the payment of her ketubah.

The ketubah back then still defined women according to their status (with less of a payment if the woman was a divorcee or widow) that today we would find offensive. But make no mistake: by creating the first prenuptial agreement and advocating for women's rights, the ketubah redefined marriage.

A different revolutionary move happened later in the Middle Ages. Church law and Jewish law began to forbid men from having more than one wife. In the history of Judaism, this prohibition happened definitively in the 10th century by Rabbi Gershon. This, too, eventually became the norm.

An equally important effort is being made today to allow same-sex marriage. As I argue in my book, “A Man's Responsibility: A Jewish Guide to Being a Son, A Partner in Marriage, a Father, and a Community Leader” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008), while some say same-sex marriage flies in the face of tradition (and it absolutely contradicts certain passages of Scripture and a long legal legacy), we should ask ourselves what tradition looks like. How selective do we want to be when we refer to “traditional” marriage? Do we include arranged marriages for children? Polygamy? Doesn't tradition also include the revolutions that took place as we grew in knowledge and wisdom?

Scripture rejects the act of sex between those of the same gender. But we have learned a great deal since then and must always learn anew from our Scripture and the world around us with the minds God has given us. Just as our rituals are hallowed by time, we must be careful because prejudice and violence are also very old as well. And shouldn't we keep in mind Scripture also says we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)?

We need to redefine marriage to include gay and lesbian couples with the same vigor that the rabbis introduced the ketubah and legislators banned polygamy. We should see same-sex marriage as the latest revolution in the creation of unions sanctified by God. It is a repudiation of prejudice and oppression and an affirmation of human rights. It brings the support of community into the private lives of two people who love each other. It also affirms that we reinvent traditional practices as human beings struggle to morally progress and evolve.

If only we were as brave as the rabbis were back then.

Now, since the author of this post is a rabbi, it is clear that at least some of the clergy in my own, Jewish, religion are comfortable with same-sex marriage. And certainly some Christian clergy are as well. So the argument that it goes against God's law holds no water: no single religious belief is supposed to take precedence over any other, according to the First Amendment. I must say to those who argue against it on the “God's law” ground: “Even if you believe it is contrary to God's law, other people believe otherwise, and their opinion needs to be taken into account as well, per the First Amendment!” Same-sex marriage, despite what some people have posted, infringes nobody's religious freedom, but banning it actually does infringe.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The marriage front advances

Now that the Supreme Court has repealed DOMA, so that the Federal Government recognizes same-sex marriages where the people live in a state that does, obviously the next step is to have more states recognize them. As I said in a post at the end of last month, I thought the best way to proceed was to use an Article IV argument, and at least in some states (Pennsylvania and Ohio) this is how they are going. The Ohio case is of some interest because a couple came here, to Maryland, to marry. (This was a case of the sort that I thought was less likely to succeed; they were really Ohioans, but just went to a state where they could marry specifically for that purpose. So this will be a real test of how well the Art. IV argument works.) So far, a Federal District Court judge has bought the Art. IV argument. Will this case go higher? To the Supreme Court? Only the state of Ohio can decide — as they might appeal this courageous decision.

And yet, there are people who want to stand in the way. A post by Shane Vander Hart, entitled “Federal Judge Ignores Ohio’s Marriage Amendment,” seems to think Art. IV does not apply, because marriage between a man and a woman is something special:

This is a sad circumstance, no doubt, but yes Ohio can. They have a Constitutional Amendment that forbids marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples and for their marriages to be recognized in the state of Ohio. The Supreme Court, when it struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage, act did state that the definition of marriage has traditionally been up to states. Ohio doesn’t have to recognize marriages between cousins and involving minors if they chose not to, but the difference with those is that they are involving – one man and one woman. Judge Black is comparing apples to oranges.

This is exactly why the Federal Defense of Marriage act was passed so other states would not be forced to adopt another state’s redefinition of marriage. This is an example of why it would have been helpful for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on California’s Proposition 8. Can Federal judges ignore or overturn state constitutional amendments? I’d say in most circumstances no they shouldn’t unless there is a compelling Constitutional argument that a person’s enumerated rights spelled out in the Constitution are violated. There is no right to redefine marriage or, frankly, even a right to a marriage license. I know some would argue the government shouldn’t even issue marriage licenses – I can sympathize with that viewpoint, but the horse is already out-of-the-barn on that. It’s instances like fuel that help make the case for a Federal marriage amendment if Federal courts continue to insert themselves.

States have always been able to determine their own marriage laws and issuing marriages licenses to one man and one woman is demonstrating equal protection under the law. Every man and every woman in states like Ohio have the ability to marry one (willing) spouse of the opposite sex – provided it’s not an incestuous relationship and they are not minors.

But in fact, the judge's decision rests, among other things, on the fact that Ohio has honored marriages performed in other states between first cousins (considered incestuous under Ohio law) and people who were considered minors under Ohio law! Mr. Vander Hart even quotes ABC News, although the actual source is the Associated Press:

In his ruling, Black said that historically, Ohio law has recognized out-of-state marriages as valid as long as they were legal where they took place, pointing to marriages between cousins and involving minors.

So Mr. Vander Hart is undermining his own argument by the last sentence of the quoted portion (which I emphasized in blue) of his post.

And, I note, Mr. Vander Hart uses the phrase “another state’s redefinition of marriage.” I don't understand how anybody is “redefining marriage,” when all they have done is open it up to a larger class of people. As I said on July 11,

[Michael] Geer (the president of Pennsylvania Family Institute) is, as conservatives try to do, defining this as a “redefinition of marriage”: but it is hardly a real redefinition; it is simply redefining who is eligible. When the vote was extended to 18 year olds, it did not “redefine” an election; it simply made more people eligible. This is no different.

Why do conservatives like Mr. Vander Hart think it is so important that same-sex couples not be afforded equal marriage rights? Well, it is telling that the blog on which he made the post has the subtitle “Stimulating Christian conservative news and commentary.” He is not just “conservative,” but his commentary is from a “Christian” angle. And there's the rub. No matter what Christians like to say, this is not “a Christian nation.” It is a pluralistic nation, with a First Amendment that recognizes all religions as equal — even atheism! Mr. Vander Hart wants to impose “Christian values” — and not just any sort of “Christian values,” but the values of his particular version of Christianity (since some Christian churches are willing to accept same-sex marriage!) — on all of us, regardless of our own religious values.

The one thing that no “Christian conservative” has been able to demonstrate to me is how allowing same-sex couples to marry affects, in any way, the rights of opposite-sex married couples. And that would be the only justification for restricting them.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What a crock!

Norman Ornstein wrote an article, dated July 24, on the National Journal site entitled “The Unprecedented — and Contemptible — Attempts to Sabotage Obamacare” The main burden of the article is in the following excerpt:

When a law is enacted, representatives who opposed it have some choices (which are not mutually exclusive). They can try to repeal it, which is perfectly acceptable—unless it becomes an effort at grandstanding so overdone that it detracts from other basic responsibilities of governing. They can try to amend it to make it work better—not just perfectly acceptable but desirable, if the goal is to improve a cumbersome law to work better for the betterment of the society and its people. They can strive to make sure that the law does the most for Americans it is intended to serve, including their own constituents, while doing the least damage to the society and the economy. Or they can step aside and leave the burden of implementation to those who supported the law and got it enacted in the first place.

But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation—which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil—is simply unacceptable, even contemptible. One might expect this kind of behavior from a few grenade-throwing firebrands. That the effort is spearheaded by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate—even if Speaker John Boehner is motivated by fear of his caucus, and McConnell and Cornyn by fear of Kentucky and Texas Republican activists—takes one's breath away.

What he seems to ignore is the fact that this law — enacted after the people of such a blue state as Massachusetts chose Scott Brown to the Senate primarily to prevent Obamacare from becoming law, by using a parliamentary maneuver to bypass the Senate's rules — is, in the mind of the Republicans who are trying to derail it, a terrible law that will ruin the economy (and, in fact, has already hurt it seriously). Why should anyone do otherwise than to sabotage it, given a President and Senate which will resist repeal? Suppose the shoe were on the other foot, Dr. Ornstein: there were a law on the books that you felt was seriously going to hurt the economy, and there was no way to patch it to eliminate its flaws. Would you simply acquiesce? These Republicans were elected for a reason, and that reason was that the voters trusted them to do right by the country. And, in their opinion — and that of the majority of the country, according to polls — the bill hurts the country, and it should be repealed, not strengthened.

If President Obama, or the Democrats in the Senate, had been willing to allow the repeal of Obamacare, and the construction of a new act, the Republicans would be remiss if they did not go along. But this is not the case, and sabotaging this act is the only course possible.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The moderates awake in the GOP? I hope so.

A post by Sahil Kapur titled “Senate Republicans Splinter As Moderates Rise Up,” on the “Talking Points Memo” site, dated July 19, 2013, recently came to my attention. I would like to quote it here:

Whether it’s immigration reform, the budget, or President Obama’s nominees, a faction of more moderate Republican senators are increasingly splitting from both their leadership and the tea party and partnering with Democrats on key issues.

The growing signs of division are remarkable after years of exceptional Senate GOP unity under the reign of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), during which minority use of the filibuster to thwart governance has soared to unprecedented heights.

This week, large numbers of Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), broke with McConnell and voted with Democrats to secure the confirmation of controversial Obama nominees to the Labor Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In all eight cloture and confirmation votes, McConnell voted “no.”

The most controversial nominee so far, Tom Perez for labor secretary, overcame a GOP filibuster by the thinnest of margins, 60-40. The six Republicans who joined Democrats in his favor, whom Democrats will look to for cooperation on other matters, were Sens. McCain, Bob Corker (TN), Lamar Alexander (TN), Susan Collins (ME), Mark Kirk (IL)[,] and Lisa Murkowski (AK).

In a clear sign of boiling rank-and-file frustration, Corker reportedly cried “bullshit” loudly while McConnell was discussing the issue of nominations and Democrats’ nuclear option threat during a closed-door GOP meeting on Wednesday. He later declined to apologize for it and said he’s “glad that that occurred.”

On immigration, 14 Republicans joined every Democrat in voting to comprehensively overhaul the system and offer unauthorized immigrants a path to citizenship.

On the budget, numerous Republican senators are urging conservative colleagues to stop blocking conference negotiations with the House, and are pushing for a long-term budget agreement with Democrats that includes new revenues — anathema to the tea party.

McCain has led the dissent in each of these cases, earning effusive praise from leading Democratic senators and prompting jokes this week by Democratic aides that he is the new minority leader.

John Sides, a political scientist at George Washington University, pointed to three apparent factors in the divisions: “[S]incere preferences about policy,” the outcome of the 2012 election, and the fact that some senators “value the institutions of the Senate.”

“They want to Senate to work better than it has been, and believe that confirming presidential nominees is part of that,” he said. “And they also value the filibuster, too. They want to preserve that feature of the Senate, and so a compromise on nominees was better than Reid’s using the nuclear option.”

Complicating matters for leadership is that McConnell and his No. 2, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), are both unpopular at home and face reelection next year. As a result, they’re working to ward off primary challengers by voting against Democratic initiatives as much as possible and avoiding the appearance of working with President Obama. That makes it harder for them to balance the concerns of rank and file members, who watched their party get crushed in a second consecutive presidential election and aren’t eager to spend another four years obstructing.

But it remains to be seen whether the divisions will usher in a new era of Senate cooperation, as McCain strikes a conciliatory posture with his 2008 rival on upcoming battles involving the debt ceiling and nominees to the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On nominations, McConnell had sought to so vastly redefine the parameters of a Senate minority’s obstructionist muscle that the beating he took this week ultimately amounts to a battle lost in a war he’s still comfortably winning. On immigration, senior Republicans tacitly gave reform their blessing, seemingly for the sake of the party, even as they voted against the legislation. On the budget, the larger GOP divisions are between the Senate (where members are less enthusiastic about massive spending cuts) and the House.

For me, this is a mixture of good news and bad news. A GOP contingent that fragments is less likely to prevent the Democrats from getting their way. But this group of moderates is a group whose positions I generally like, and I'd like to see them have more influence in the GOP. Sen. McCain, of course, was my choice for President in 2008, and I still believe he'd have made a better choice as President than the man in the office now. Sen. Alexander is another one I've liked a long time: he was my second choice for the nomination after Bob Dole in 1996. Sen. Collins has been, for a while, my favorite Senator, since Sen. Arlen Specter left the GOP and became a Senate Democrat. And Sens. Kirk and Murkowski have had the courage to buck the social conservatives and endorse marriage equality. Additionally, Sen. Murkowski ran a successful write-in campaign when a far-right candidate took the GOP nomination away from her — an amazing feat of political courage. So it is clear that I'm rooting for this moderate group.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The effect of partisanship

There are organizations that give liberal/conservative ratings to politicians. And in terms of how they vote, they are probably accurate. But the effect of partisan affiliation has to be taken into account, and usually is not.

Case in point: The National Journal's rankings are given for Senators, based on their votes. If one leaves out Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who is no longer serving, the most liberal Republican is Susan Collins of Maine, with a 45% liberal, 55% conservative score. The most conservative Democrat is Joe Manchin of West Virginia, with a 47.7% liberal, 52.3% conservative score. (It appears that the National Journal uses the same votes to determine the two scores, as they always add to 100%.) Doesn't look like there's a lot of difference, right? And once the Senate is organized, probably true.

But that “once the Senate is organized” caveat is important. For Sen. Collins will reliably vote for Mitch McConnell's team to organize the Senate. And Sen. Manchin will just as reliably vote for Harry Reid's team. And who wins will have a major impact on what the Senate will do. So there's a lot more than 2.7 percentage points' difference in their effect on the Senate.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Chick-fil-A and contraception

The heading to my blog includes the words:

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.

Although nobody has called me on it, a few moments before posting this note I was standing in a shower and it occurred to me that I've taken two positions that some might assail as inconsistent:

  1. On the one hand, I've been boycotting Chick-fil-A for years: not because of their stance on gay marriage, but because they enforce the Christian Sabbath on all franchisees, of any religion, but
  2. On the other hand, I've defended Catholic institutions which refuse to provide contraception in their insurance plans, and thus incur fines under “Obamacare”

But this is not as inconsistent as many people might believe. The difference between Chick-fil-A and the Catholic institutions, both of which want to impose their religious beliefs on others, is a major one: the role of Government.

Chick-fil-A has every right to do what it is doing as an expression of the Cathy family's First Amendment rights to freedom of religion. And I have the right, under that same First Amendment, to boycott them on religious grounds. I do not have the power to make Chick-fil-A pay millions of dollars in fines as a consequence of their behavior. All I can do is withhold my dollars, and the dollars of anyone else who reads my position and decides to take the same step that I have, from Chick-fil-A. If the Cathy family chooses to continue, they still can, without my patronage.

The Catholic institutions are in a different position. It isn't just a boycott by pro-women's-rights groups that they are facing; it is a fine, imposed by the Government of the United States of America. I don't defend their position; I certainly would not consider contraception immoral, though I've never used it in the past (because, when I was engaging in marital relations with my wife, I wanted children, though they never happened.)

Both Chick-fil-A and the Catholic institutions have every right to let the principles of their religion guide the way they run their businesses. But individuals like myself have a right to boycott businesses who do that in a way we dislike. And Government has no business interfering with either of those rights.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Heather Mizeur

Delegate Heather Mizeur just announced her candidacy for the Governorship of Maryland. She was one of the three Delegates from a legislative district where I used to live. And she addressed a group (an advocacy group for better public transit) to which I belong earlier this year, so I've actually gotten to meet her and speak with her. (At the meeting, she was introduced as a likely candidate for Governor next year, so her announcement was no surprise.) The one thing that I wonder is, is Maryland ready to elect a lesbian to the Governorship? For Mizeur's being one is no secret; she's been out a long time.

Maryland tends to be liberal on LGBT issues. It passed a same-sex marriage law, and when this law was challenged by right-wing opponents, became one of two first states (Maine and Maryland voted the same day, so neither has an exclusive claim to be first) where same-sex marriage was instituted by popular vote. Besides Mizeur, there are seven other openly gay state legislators in Annapolis (one of whom is my own State Senator, Richard Madaleno).

Readers of this blog know I supported the ballot question on gay marriage, so I'm not saying that Mizeur's lesbianism is a reason to oppose her. I merely question whether she can get sufficient support to be elected. In fact, if she gets nominated, I obviously will not support her, not because she's a lesbian, but because she is strongly pro-organized labor and very liberal on other issues that put us on opposite sides. But at this time, she has a steep climb. Her opposition in the Democratic primary will include two people who both hold higher offices (and thus may claim they're more qualified): Maryland's Attorney General, Doug Gansler, and Lieutenant-Governor, Anthony Brown. Brown, also, is trying to become Maryland's first African-American Governor, so he may well gain votes from that community, just as did President Obama, out of racial solidarity. (Actually, he's like Obama, the child of a mixed-race marriage, and unlike the President, doesn't even look very African — but he certainly identifies as a member of that group.) I don't get to vote in a Democratic primary, so I can only observe the Mizeur/Gansler/Brown conflict, but it's clear she is hardly going to have an easy task. But it will be interesting to watch.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


People are saying — at least African-American people are saying — that George Zimmerman got off because he was white (actually, of course, he was Hispanic, at least on his mother's side) and Trayvon Martin was black. I've seen it written that if the races were reversed, there would have been a guilty verdict. I'm not so sure.

I remember, a few years ago, another trial. An African-American defendant killed two white people, one being his wife. And a court acquitted him. Remember O. J. Simpson? When the verdict came out in that trial, it was white people who were complaining about a miscarriage of justice, and African-Americans saying justice was done.

What we are seeing is not a racist America. (It certainly is a racially divided America, when a strong majority of white people voted for Mitt Romney last year, but the African American community was nearly unanimous behind Barack Obama for the second successive Presidential election.) The trial, and the O. J. Simpson trial, point out the way our criminal justice system works. The burden of proof is on the prosecution; the presumption of innocence favors the defense. Even if there is a lot of evidence showing that a murder occurred, if there is a “reasonable doubt,” the jury is supposed to acquit. And in both trials, the prosecution failed to make its case properly.

Perhaps this prosecutor was incompetent. At least one column I saw on the net says she was worthy of disbarment. This may be so, but it's too late to fix that. We have rules about “double jeopardy.” Like O. J. Simpson, George Zimmerman may face a civil suit, which may go the other way because the standards for evidence are weaker. But he cannot be tried for murder again.

Monday, July 15, 2013

One of the few sensible comments on the Zimmerman trial

Although Derek Hunter's column at is dated July 14, 2013, it was apparently written before the verdict came out on George Zimmerman. But it still strikes me as the most sensible comment I've read on the whole series of events:

Can I just say something controversial that must be said? I don’t care about the George Zimmerman trial. I don’t, not even a little. That’s not to say I don’t feel sorry for those involved who’ve lost a loved one, I do. One family lost a child to a gun, the other lost a child to a mob. One is in eternal rest far too soon, the other will never know rest in all his remaining days. But that doesn’t mean I should care about it, nor should you.

Sympathize away, but being invested emotionally while not being a friend or family member of anyone involved is irrational and dangerous.

But an emotional investment is exactly what every news outlet in the country wants you to have. There’s money in it and it fits their progressive agenda.

From the first moment the MSNBC prime-time clown car metaphorically emptied into Sanford, Florida, an agenda was set in motion to manipulate as many people as possible into believing things that were not true. But they weren’t alone.

While progressives tried to paint a picture of racism to fit their needed narrative of an America where the Klan roam the streets and hold public office (as Democrats, a part of their past they always conveniently omit), many conservatives attempted to prove that there is no circumstance under which George Zimmerman shares at least a slice of the blame pie.

The progressive case goes something like this: Trayvon Martin, a black 17 year old, went to the store to buy candy and a drink. On his way home, this black teenager, was racially profiled by a “white” Hispanic guy, who followed him with the intention of killing him for being black. He provoked Trayvon into punching him in the nose and banging his head on the sidewalk so he could shoot him. Diabolical. Oh, and did I mention Trayvon Martin is black?

The conservatives who care present a case probably closer to the truth, but no less speculative. A generally good guy was looking out for his neighborhood and saw someone he didn’t recognize walking in an odd place. With the neighborhood having suffered its fair share of crime, he called the police and, trying to be extra helpful, set out on foot to follow a guy walking home. Trayvon decided to confront the “creepy-ass cracker” stalking him by jumping out of the bushes and punching him in the face. Zimmerman, completely overpowered and fearing for his life, shot Martin in self-defense.

Actually, the meat of the column is the next short paragraph:

The truth is somewhere in the middle and nowhere as clear-cut. There were dozens of opportunities for this not to happen, Zimmerman could’ve not gotten out of his car, Martin could have not decked him, etc. But they did. Someone’s dislike of these facts doesn’t make them any less so.

As I read somewhere else on the Net, there were two idiots acting idiotically. Either one could have ended the confrontation, and Trayvon Martin would be alive today, and George Zimmerman would have gone back to his ordinary life. But, continuing with the column:

So we’re left with a dead kid and a man on trial. This happens all the time in the world, but it doesn’t get this much attention.

Over the 4th of July weekend, the city of Chicago had 74 people shot, 12 died. One of the shooting victims was a 5-year-old boy. There’s no ambiguity about that. What was that child’s name? What are any of their names? You don’t know because not only were the suspected shooters black, so were the victims. In the progressive media equation of what constitutes news, black on black crime – a tragic epidemic by any normal unit of measure – doesn’t rate.

To the progressive media, who set the narrative tone, a busty blonde being involved in a crime, either as victim or perp, trumps everything else. After that, it’s black victim with a white perpetrator. The list beyond that fades into insignificance until you reach “I don’t know what you’re talking about” level. Under that, tied with “putting your fingers in your ears and shouting ‘lalalala, I’m not listening’ is black on black crime.

You’d think a “civil rights leader” like MSNBC’s Al Sharpton would care since it’s what he claims to care about, but you’d be wrong. There’s not nearly as much camera time and money in scores of bleeding bodies on Chicago’s south side as there is when the perpetrator is white.

Aside from the rank hypocrisy of silence on an ongoing issue of life and death, the Zimmerman trial offered another opportunity for progressives to express distracting outrage to avoid an important issue.

Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend, Rachel Jeantel, a 19-year-old high school senior, testified in the case and was mocked for not being able to read cursive handwriting. Progressives were outraged anyone would mock this woman who has obviously gone through Hell. But imagine the good that could come out of her testimony had the progressive media been half as angry at a union dominated public education system that churns out 19-year-olds who can’t read cursive as they were at people who found it odd. Opportunity lost because it didn’t fit the narrative.

The George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case is a tragedy, but it’s not unique or special, it’s simply one that can be exploited. Progressives need people to believe America is a horribly and hopelessly racist nation to justify bigger government and more thought crimes.

If Zimmerman walks or is found guilty, life will continue. That you know about this case in the first place is a testament to just how powerfully manipulative the progressive media is. That you can’t name one person shot in Chicago over a 3-day weekend from a list of 74, or that people aren’t protesting outside of Rachel Jeantel’s school chanting “malpractice,” shows just how effective the corrupt progressive media is.

There are lessons to be learned from everything in life, that’s especially true in the Zimmerman trial. Unfortunately, the progressive media will learn only how to manipulate even better the next time because actually talking about and solving problems for which they’ve appointed themselves champions would put them out of business.

There are so many sensible observations in this column, I just had to quote it here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Zimmerman verdict

I haven't been closely following the Zimmerman trial. But it's clear that there were a lot of loose ends. On the one hand, we have the spectacle of an unarmed teenager shot to death while carrying an iced tea and some candy, hardly a lethal weapon. But on the other hand, it seems that there was a good chance he was beating up on Zimmerman. Yet back on the first hand, what might Zimmerman have said or done to provoke Trayvon Martin's attacking him?

We know that Trayvon Martin was a trouble-maker in school, and a drug user. But we also know that George Zimmerman was a hair-trigger type who habitually called 911 for things like a garage door being open. This kind of person should never have been allowed to carry a gun. But Florida is one of those states that takes the Second Amendment — the absolute worst piece of our Constitution — seriously. Florida's “Stand your ground” law will lead to a lot more Trayvon Martins in the future.

Zimmerman was found not guilty. And probably the jury had their “reasonable doubts,” and on that ground the verdict was justified under our judicial system. But the really guilty party is the State of Florida. (Of course, I've said this before, more than a year ago.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Why "conservative" and "liberal" ideas both seem inconsistent

Most people who consider themselves “conservatives” do not want Government to interfere with their rights to carry guns, but they seem happily unconcerned with Government telling other people who they can marry — certainly they cannot marry another person of the same sex, “conservatives” want to insist. In other words, they want the freedom to do what they want to do, but they get apoplexy when others want the freedom to do different things.

But it isn't just “conservatives” who entertain inconsistent ideas. “Liberals” think it's a great idea to force Catholic institutions to pay for their employees' contraception contrary to Catholic doctrine — in other words, to subsidize what those institutions consider immoral — but they oppose making taxpayers help support private religious schools. So here, making people pay to subsidize something they oppose is “bad.”

It's reasons like this that make me reluctant to go with either the “liberals” or the “conservatives.” And it's why this blog does not consistently echo a “conservative” line, but tries to select the best “conservative” ideas and the best “liberal” ideas and merge them.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A response to a commenter on the blog

One reader commented on my April 10, 2012 post by saying:

2 of your 3 stated principles are in error. The government has one function only: to provide the people with an environment that is free from force, so that they can live freely… it is not a govt function to provide goods that the people can't or won't provide themselves… the gov't has no place in industry… [L]incoln was totally wrong in his statement that gov't may provide goods if it can do so at a cheaper price… that would place the gov't in direct and unfair competition with private industry.

This comment really does not refer to my post, but, as his reference to Lincoln shows, to my statement of principles at the top of the blog. The commenter is certainly entitled to his opinion, and this is an example of an extreme libertarianism that, at first glance, looks good. It would be nice if the Government could confine itself to “provid[ing] the people with an environment that is free from force, so that they can live freely.” But there are simply too many inequalities of position to make that possible. When the railroad companies, in the 1960's and even earlier, decided that they could not make a profit by running passenger trains, the Government needed to step in and create Amtrak. There was no way that a single passenger could build a new passenger rail line, buy the trains, hire the crews, and provide himself with a train ride from one city to another. When an individual (or an individual company) has such a control of resources that, on its own, it can either refuse to provide a product or service or simply price it at a prohibitive rate, and the consumers of that product have no alternative than to go without it, it makes sense for Government to step in. I do not want Government to compete with private industry “unfairly.” But it is not really unfair if the private company refuses to provide a product, although it is able to do so. (And if it cannot make a profit providing that product at a reasonable price, it should welcome Government's stepping in!)

The poster of that comment differs from me. That much is clear. But one freedom we still have is to express our opinions on our respective blog pages. I hope he will accept that I have as much of a right to express my opinions as he does; and after all, he has two separate blogs of his own. We disagree, but let us be civil about it. Statements like “2 of your 3 stated principles are in error” and “[L]incoln was totally wrong” go overboard; all he has a case for saying is that in his opinion, that is so. And I disagree.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pennsylvania's marriage equality case

An article by Cheryl Wetzstein, entitled “Pennsylvania AG refuses to defend state marriage law,” appeared in the Washington Times. It deserves comment. It begins:

A lawsuit filed this week by gay couples against Pennsylvania’s marriage law got a major boost Thursday when the state’s top law officer said she would not defend the law.

“I cannot ethically defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s version of DOMA where I believe it to be wholly unconstitutional,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said at a press conference.

She noted that she could authorize another state official to defend the state in litigation.

Pennsylvania General Counsel James D. Schultz said that his office “was surprised” that Ms. Kane, “contrary to her constitutional duty,” would decide not to defend a lawfully enacted law “merely because of her personal beliefs.”

Interesting. I would assume that “her constitutional duty” would include not defending a law, no matter how “lawfully enacted” it might appear to be, if, in her belief it was contrary to the Constitution of the United States. In fact, she has the duty to ignore any laws that contravene the Constitution.

Mr. Schultz said his office had not received formal notification of her decision yet, but would be reviewing the matter.

Ms. Kane’s announcement mirrors that of U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who, in concert with President Obama, refused to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for the purposes of federal law as only the union of one man and one woman.

And Mr. Holder was justified as well, as the Supreme Court has ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional, as the next few paragraphs of the Times' article helpfully explains:

A lesbian widow sued to overturn that provision of DOMA, and in June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down, saying that refusal to recognize gay couples legally married under state law was unconstitutional.

Now, of course, this is a different issue, involving state laws, and it needs to be resolved separately. But it is still a case of an official being charged with the duty not to violate the Constitution, and until the Supreme Court rules, her opinion on what the Constitution requires must guide her. This is the case in question:

On Monday, 10 same-sex couples and a lesbian widow filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas W. Corbett and other state officials, including Ms. Kane, for enforcing Pennsylvania’s marriage DOMA.

Exclusion from marriage “undermines the plaintiff couples’ ability to achieve their life goals and dreams, threatens their mutual economic stability, and denies them a ‘dignity and status of immense import,’” said the American Civil Liberties Union complaint, citing language from its recently won U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Windsor.

The Pennsylvania case, Whitewood v. Corbett, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, asks that Pennsylvania’s DOMA law also be overturned under the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses.

Other people, of course, believe differently:

Michael Geer, president of Pennsylvania Family Institute, said he and his allies believe Mr. Corbett, who was elected governor in 2010 is on record as supporting Pennsylvania’s marriage law, “will vigorously defend state law” and uphold marriage as “the unique and vital institution that benefits society and children by bringing together moms and dads.”

And if Corbett really believes the law is constitutional, he has to defend the law. However, Geer is acting in a very stupid manner:

If the ACLU thinks public opinion is so strong for gay marriage in Pennsylvania, “why not go through the political process,” where most significant policy decisions are made, Mr. Geer said.

It isn't public opinion that the ACLU is appealing to, it is the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of the United States. After all, there was, in the South, no public support for integration after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. It was simply an equal protection issue. And the ACLU is pursuing, as they have a right to do, this argument.

Instead, they are “short-circuiting the process and trying to get a federal judge to impose this redefinition [of marriage] on Pennsylvania, no matter what the people may think.”

Geer is, as conservatives try to do, defining this as a “redefinition of marriage”: but it is hardly a real redefinition; it is simply redefining who is eligible. When the vote was extended to 18 year olds, it did not “redefine” an election; it simply made more people eligible. This is no different.

Separately on Tuesday, longtime gay-marriage advocate Evan Wolfson said there is “irrefutable momentum” to bring gay marriage throughout America, but it will take a lot of public education and work in each state.

Gay-marriage advocacy groups will work “hand in glove” with litigation groups like the ACLU and Lambda Legal, Mr. Wolfson. But there is also a need for “education on the ground,” he said, noting that Freedom to Marry, the marriage-equality group he founded, is already investing $500,000 in state marriage campaigns.

The first states to be targeted for gay marriage are Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and Hawaii. After that, gay-marriage campaigns are likely to be held in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, he said.

Pennsylvania’s DOMA, enacted in 1996, says marriage is a “civil contract by which one man and one woman take each other for husband and wife.” It does not permit recognition for marriages between persons of the same sex from other jurisdictions.

Ms. Kane, a Democrat, was elected in 2012 with wide support, partly because she promised to review how the attorney general’s office handled the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal.

It seems ridiculous to me that people spend so much time and trouble defending the restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples. It hurts nobody to allow same-sex couples to marry; it'e really a question of “if you don't want to marry another man (or woman if you're a woman), don't marry one!” But there is absolutely no reason, other than hostility toward homosexuals, to oppose marriage equality. I cannot see any one.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

How do you address him?

There's a Catholic priest who, at least in the past, has regularly read this blog, and is one of the few who has posted comments. I recently got a “tweet” which he broadcast, in which he mentioned visiting Washington, D. C. on the 4th of July. I was thinking that it might have been nice to have met him in person and spoken to him. Too bad I didn't know he was in the area. But this made me think of a question, which applies to all Catholic priests I am, or will be, in touch with: How do you address him?

If I were ever to meet President Obama, of course, I would address him as “Mr. President.” There is no question that he is the President of the United States, even though I twice voted for his opponent. If I were to meet a Protestant minister with a Doctor's degree in Divinity, similarly, I would address him as “Dr. So-and-so,” acknowledging his degree, which is a valid doctorate. But the normal mode of address for a Catholic priest is “Father So-and-so,” and this has always been a problem to me, even fifty years ago, when I was in graduate school, and a fellow grad student, also a Catholic priest, became a friend. I had discussed this very question, saying that, since I'm not Catholic, I don't consider him my spiritual father and in no other way is he my father (or anyone else's, given the celibacy of the Catholic priesthood). This priest, fifty years ago, told me to call him “John,” which still was not quite satisfactory to me because it seemed disrespectful to the office. I mostly avoided using any name or title in addressing him.

The priest that I was talking about in the opening sentences of this post is in a slightly different situation. I've been in contact with him, by Internet chat or e-mail, since he was a 13- or 14-year-old boy. I've come to think of him as “Josh,” though he, unlike the other priest, has not suggested I call him that. If he were to say that I should call him by his first name (actually a nickname, since his first name is legally Joshua) I would not find it as difficult as calling the other Catholic priest I mentioned by his first name. But he has not suggested that, and it still seems that there is a dignity to his office that requires a more formal mode of address.

So this is a quandary. What does a non-Catholic call a Catholic priest, whom he does not consider his “father” in a spiritual or any other way, but whom he wants to address with respect?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Lessons from the Declaration of Independence

I used to like to read the Washington Examiner, a free paper which, however, provided all the features one might expect in a real newspaper, without the cost of the two main newspapers in this area. Unfortunately, they ceased publishing last month, which I bemoan. They do, however, still maintain a presence on the Web, and the July 3 virtual issue contained a column by Philip Klein, entitled “What the Declaration of Independence can teach Congress,” which I would like to quote:

As the nation's founding document, the Declaration of Independence produced a number of immortal phrases: “When in the course of human events;” “all men are created equal;” “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But one phrase that tends to be overlooked in popular celebrations is the most important: “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.”

Each year, July 4th offers Americans an opportunity not only to celebrate but to reflect upon the nation's founding — particularly the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress.

What's amazing about primary author Thomas Jefferson's writing in the document is that it not only lists the grievances that colonists had with England, but it concisely defines the core purpose of government.

At a revolutionary time, with colonists rebelling against a distant tyranny that overtaxed them and meddled in their lives, it would have been quite understandable if they rejected the idea of government altogether.

But what Jefferson's words instruct us is that even at a time of revolution, the nation's Founders viewed some limited measure of government as not only tolerable, but necessary.

That is, in a state of anarchy, rights couldn't exist. There wouldn't be a military to protect individuals from foreign threats; there wouldn't be police forces to prevent people from harming one another; and there wouldn't be a court system to resolve disputes and exact justice on those who harm others.

Certain functions must be delegated to government because it simply isn't feasible for individuals to handle them by themselves. It doesn't make sense, for instance, that every individual would subscribe to his or her own private army or walk around with a personal bodyguard.

The Founders didn't see much of a role for the government beyond securing the most basic, unalienable rights.

In his First Inaugural Address, Jefferson called for “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

In the intervening centuries, Americans' concept of the purpose of government has grown dramatically, and the Founders themselves are a part of the reason.

Nothing in this nation's history was a more egregious affront to Jefferson's words than the brutal institution of slavery, in which which many of the Founders, including Jefferson, participated. Furthermore, some of the largest expansions of the federal government's role in American history stemmed from the need to end slavery and to deal with its stubborn legacy. In the process, valid arguments about state sovereignty became tainted by those who used them to justify preserving an inhumane practice and continued racial oppression.

Obviously, at this point, there would be no way for the U.S. government ever to return to the limited purpose articulated in the Declaration of Independence. It would require cutting the federal budget by 75 percent or more and scrapping popular programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

On July 4th, however, Americans can still reflect on Jefferson's words and the vision for government that they conveyed, even if his own deeds — and those of his generation and succeeding generations — did not live up to them.

Members of Congress should take some time to reflect, as well. And before passing new laws to expand the size and scope of government, they would be wise to ask themselves, “Would this help secure the unalienable rights of American citizens?”

Noble words. But many of the “conservatives” who claim allegiance to Jefferson find it necessary to pass laws restricting abortion, which certainly do not protect anyone's rights (unless you believe an unborn fetus is a “person,” which they claim to do, though I've never seen a one of them hold a funeral for a miscarried fetus, for example!) but do infringe upon the rights of many people, or laws restricting marriage, which again do not protect anyone's rights but seriously restrict the rights of same-sex couples who want to marry. It isn't only Congress who needs to take these words to heart — it is the “conservative” part of the public.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The next development in Egypt

Deposed President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt is saying that it was a “military coup” that deposed him. Literally, it was, but it appears that the military was trying to insure democracy.

Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who announced the deposing of Morsi, indicated that the head of Egypt's constitutional court would be the head of Egypt's new government. Al-Sisi has indicated that this would be an inclusive government, with “all factions” represented. To me, if Al-Sisi means what he says, this will not be a military dictatorship, but a democratic government with the military supporting it.

Of course, the proof of the pudding will be how Egypt's new government actually operates. I'm waiting to see.