Saturday, February 25, 2012

What is freedom?

This year, being a presidential election year, we will hear a word used more often than we are used to. That word is freedom. But exactly what is freedom?

Webster's defines freedom as:

1 : the quality or state of being free: as
a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another

Seems pretty clear, but if you listen to the Republican presidential candidates discuss freedom things get a bit cloudier.

All of the candidates use the word freedom to refer to economic freedom. To them it is very important that we be free to use our money as we see fit without being restricted by our government. Since we are required to pay taxes and since we can't decide specifically what our tax dollars will be used for, taxation, of any sort, is an infringement on our freedom. Of course in practice this is not what they really believe. First off none of the candidates are arguing that we should eliminate all taxes in one fell swoop. The Republican candidates all claim to want to lower taxes to some extent which in their minds would lead to greater freedom but most of their plans will lower taxes on the wealthy more than they would on the middle class and poor. Obviously they think that some people should be more free than others. What about those of such limited means that they are unable to take advantage of economic freedom? Our country has always been about spreading freedom, but the Republican candidates seem to be a bit stingy with economic freedom. We are all born with the right to free speech, so why is it that we are not all born with the right to economic freedom that the Republican candidates hold so dear? Why is it that someone who is wealthy should be able to use that wealth to overwhelm someone else's freedom of speech? Economic freedom is not specifically guaranteed in the US Constitution but freedom of speech is, so why do the Republican presidential candidates seem so eager to go against the intent of the founding fathers and impose their values on the Constitution?

What about religious freedom? The Republican candidates will all stand up and support this concept which was described by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 in this way;

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

It was obvious to Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and one of our most respected founding fathers that the Constitution called for a separation of church and state. Is this what the Republican candidates believe religious freedom means?

We have seen the Republican primary evolve into a fight over issues like contraception, marriage equality, and abortion. The strange thing is that all of the candidates seem to be on the same side of the fight even as they try to punch each other in the face with these issues. The question is why are these issues being discussed at all? The candidates will all claim that their
stances on social issues like these are determined by their faith, and that is fine, we have the right to decide things for ourselves based on our religious beliefs. These men, however, want to decide things for the rest of the country based on their religious beliefs. They seem to believe that religious freedom means that they, and others who share their beliefs, should have absolute freedom to practice their religion as they see fit. Even if that practice means forcing their beliefs on others. They believe that they should have the freedom to practice their religion anywhere and at any time. If someone like Rick Santorum wants to hold a Christian prayer service at a mosque during afternoon prayers they feel that the Islamic prayers should be set aside. After all, if they aren't allowed to hold a Christian prayer service at that mosque at any time they want the Muslims are stepping on their religious freedom.

They feel that there should be organized Christian prayer is schools because not allowing organized Christian prayer in school is stepping on their rights. Of course you can't have a Hindu religious ceremony at a public school because that would be forcing Christian students to endorse a religion they don't believe in. They think if their religion doesn't support a woman's right to choose that no one should be able to choose. Just as we saw with economic freedom the Republican candidates all support religious freedom, but only for certain groups.

I could show examples of their selective support of freedom when it comes to all of the other rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights as well, but I am sure you get the idea by now. The Republican candidates love freedom... for themselves and people who are just like them. They hate freedom for anyone else and will try to eliminate the freedoms of those with whom they disagree. Apparently they have forgotten the last few words of our Pledge of Allegiance, "with liberty and justice for all."

So this leaves all of us with a decision to make. When you look at the four wealthy, powerful, well connected, Christian, white, straight, male, Republican candidates running for president do you feel like you are looking in a mirror? When you see these four men do you see four, or three, or two, or even one person who is so similar to you, who understands your world so well, that you want that person to decide what is right and wrong for everyone else in America? If you don't see your identical twin in that group then I urge you to think carefully about supporting any of them in their crusade to become President of the United States. They have clearly shown their willingness to fight for their freedom to not have anyone disagree with them even though that freedom isn't mentioned in the Constitution. I can only guess that they will fight for this freedom harder than any other though as it seems to be the one they hold most dear.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Success, the reason Democrats fail.

Why do the poor and middle class vote for Republican candidates when the policies they support go against the best interests of the poor and the middle class? This question baffles Democrats but the answer is probably quite obvious to Republicans. It all boils down to what the voter hopes for and what they see the two parties offering.

Democrats don't want to make the rich poor, but they see a world in which too many don't have enough to survive while a few have more than they could ever need. They want to change things just enough so that no one falls through the cracks. They want to see the success of the few spread around just enough so that no one has suffer any more than necessary. They won't promise you great wealth, but they will try and make sure that we all have what we need to survive in today's world, food, shelter, education, health care. This is, without a doubt, more in the best interest of the poor and the middle class, especially those in the middle class who live on the edge of poverty.

Republicans don't offer any hope of survival. They will allow you to fail miserably. They will allow you to go hungry, to be homeless, to be un-educated, they will even allow you to die just because you can't afford the health care that you need. SO why do the poor and the middle class vote for so many Republican candidates? While they don't offer any promise of survival, they do offer hope for great success. The Republicans hold out the promise that if you succeed they won't stand in your way. They offer up the great American myth of success, that anyone who works hard enough can be successful beyond their wildest dreams. They highlight the few examples of this that they can find and tweak the biographies of those who are close enough to being good examples of the American dream to turn them into people who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. The Republicans offer a lottery ticket like chance of great success to those who haven't experienced it.

So the Republicans offer the chance to succeed while the Democrats offer the chance to survive. Given these two options is it really such a mystery why so many poor and middle class voters support Republican candidates? Of course it isn't. The real mystery is why the Democrats haven't changed their message to show how the Republican vision of success is limited to just a few and how severely the odds are stacked against the average person in a country run under Republican rules. The Democrats can offer hope of greater success to more people, they can offer a vision of making smart investments in our country. The Democrats can offer a vision of an honest path to the American dream instead of one based on billion to one odds. Instead they focus on the facts and figures of survival.

The Democrats seem to be waiting for the poor and middle class voters to wake up and face reality. It may be the Democrats who need, instead, to embrace the myth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What the presidential race means for Tennessee

This has been a very entertaining Republican primary. We have seen the social conservatives battle the economic conservatives as the libertarians fight against both of the other arms of the Republican Party. Democrats have always been jealous of the way Republicans can just fall in line and do what's best for their party. Now it seems that the Republican Party is splintering into three rather contentious factions and this can only be a good thing for the Democrats nationally.

The economy is improving and more importantly average Americans seem to be able to feel that it is improving. President Obama's approval ratings are on the increase and his possible opponents haven't shown that they could run a national campaign that would impress independents and conservative Democrats along with Republicans. Right now things look very good for President Obama although he could take a serious hit if the current unrest in the Middle East were to escalate and send gasoline prices higher at a faster rate than they are already rising. All in all, at the moment at least, it looks like President Obama is well on his way to being re-elected. So what does this mean for elections in my home state of Tennessee?

Tennessee is a very conservative state, we have large numbers of conservative Republicans, conservative independents, and even conservative Democrats. President Obama is not a terribly popular president here with consistently lower approval ratings and higher dis-approval ratings in state wide polls than are seen in national polls. We have quite a few socially conservative Republicans in Tennessee and they are a driving force in our state politics. If you are not from Tennessee you may have still heard of recent legislation that has come up in my state. The "Don't Say Gay Bill", a bill to legislate which public restrooms have to be used by transgender persons that was introduced by Richard Floyd, a state representative who threatened to "stomp a mudhole" in a transgender woman who tried to use the same restroom as one of his female relatives. Last year a bill was passed, not to make it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians but instead to make it illegal to pass any laws that would make it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Yes, the social conservatives are a powerful group in Tennessee. So how does this relate to the presidential election?

If Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination I doubt that you will hear a lot of cheers from social conservatives. His stances on gay rights and abortion have varied, seemingly based on geography more than anything else. As governor of a liberal state, Massachusetts, he was pro gay rights and pro choice. When he decided to run for president in 2008 we found that his feelings on these issues had changed dramatically. I have no problem with a politician studying an issue and finding that over time his or her opinions have changed, but Romney's conversion seems a bit too politically convenient to accept as a simple change of heart. Because of this social conservatives simply don't trust him and no matter how much they would like to see Obama defeated in November I doubt they will get overly excited about a Romney presidency and many of them simply won't make the effort to get out to the polls and vote. In a state like Tennessee this is good news for Democrats, possibly the best news they could get.

Of course Romney may not get the Republican nomination. He has been a fundraising powerhouse but he has also shown himself to be a pathetic campaigner. He has committed one gaff after another, and at a time when America is leaning more and more toward some version of populism Romney says that corporations are people and that he enjoys firing people. This is not an effective way to convince voters to support you. One of his opponents, however, has been very effective at speaking to his base of socially conservative supporters. He has been ideologically consistent throughout his political career. He has problems, while in the Senate he was a major user of earmarks and as an incumbent suffered a major loss to Democrat Bob Casey who received 59% of the vote compared to Santorum's 41%. Santorum's name returns an interesting if rather crude result when googled because of statements he has made against gay marriage. But he has a strong, large, and growing groups of supporters who are willing to overlook his shortcomings. He is a polarizing figure and that's exactly why he could be so important to state elections in Tennessee.

While Romney might not be able to excite social conservatives enough to get them to turn out at the polls in large numbers Santorum can. The chances of Santorum winning the general election against President Obama are very slim, but his impact in Tennessee can't be doubted. Social conservatives in Tennessee, if Santorum wins the nomination, would not only be able to vote against Obama, they would be able to vote for a candidate that firmly agrees with them on the issues they hold most dear. While in the voting booth they won't be just voting for a presidential candidate, they will also be voting for state representatives and senators and they could effectively eliminate any legislative opposition to the radical and extremist social legislation that has been pushed on our state since Republicans took over the state house, senate, and governor's office two years ago. We may need to change our states name from Tennessee to Theocressee.

As someone who believes in smaller government, especially when it comes to the government being in our homes and bedrooms, as someone who believes in economic growth, and who also understands that making it illegal to acknowledge the existence of homosexuals in our schools does not create jobs, a Rick Santorum candidacy in the general election scares me to death. When you drive into our state you see a sign that says "Welcome to the Great State of Tennessee" not the "great, conservative, medieval thinking, you aren't welcome if you don't agree with us, State of Tennessee" and I am willing to do what I can to make sure we don't get any closer to our state putting a new slogan on our "welcome" signs. We are already traveling down that road at a speed that seems far from safe to me and it is up to us to put up a speed trap and pull over the individuals who are drunk with unrestrained power and driving us down this dark and dangerous road. We must all get ready for a fight to keep Tennessee a place for all Tennesseans. We must remember that every vote counts and that every voice needs to be heard. We must be willing to use our voices to show our friends and family the danger of a state run unopposed by theocratic ideologues who want to force their beliefs down our throats leaving us no other choice than accept their bigotry masquerading as religion or move to another state. Of course if we move they can continue increasing their political power unopposed and finding ways to spread it to other areas of the country. Knowing that we have only one real choice, stay and fight for the kind of state and the kind of country our Founding Fathers obviously hoped to create. I'll be here standing up to the oppression. I hope to look around and see my friends standing with me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gay marriage, a threat to our society?

Washington State has decided to recognize gay marriage. I didn't say legalize because I believe marriage equality is protected in the US Constitution and by US Supreme Court case law, what is actually illegal are the state bans against gay marriage. An appeals court has ruled Prop 8 in California unconstitutional. The New Jersey legislature has recognized gay marriage although it is very unlikely that New Jersey's governor will sign the measure into law. Of course conservatives are less than happy about all of this.

Conservatives say that gay marriage is a threat to our society but then they also say that food stamps make people want to not work. Food stamps cause laziness, allowing poor people, who of course choose to be poor, to just sit at home living the lush life off of the $33.45 per week that the average Tennessean on food stamps receives. Of course unemployment benefits are evil because they make people just want to take 99 week long vacations at the expense of the rest of us. Heck it only makes sense that if we got rid of unemployment benefits the unemployment rate would drop to nothing instantly! Well I have some information that conservatives might want to think about.

You know what makes me want to stop working and stop being a productive member of society? Being told by the state I live in that I don't deserve the same rights heterosexuals in Tennessee have. Why should I work hard and make contributions to a society that says I am not worthy of being consider a full citizen? I can't even talk about marriage equality here in Tennessee because in my home state I am not even considered to be fully human. A bill is currently working its way through the state legislature that will attempt to make even the mention of my existence illegal in most Tennessee public schools. We aren't talking about equality in my state, we are talking about the intellectual elimination of my community. Marriage? I can be denied a job or fired from a job for just being who I am. Marriage? I am talking about being denied an apartment because of how God made me. Marriage? I have to worry about what our elected officials, who are suppose to be focusing on our economy, are going to try and do to my community next. They have legalized discrimination against us, they have tried to give a legal excuse for bullying us and driving our kids to commit suicide, they are currently trying to turn us into Tennessee's Lord Voldemorts, "those who must not be named" in public schools.

You want members of the LGBT community to be productive members of society? Well then you had better be prepared to let us be full members of that society. We are sick and tired of the straight community in Tennessee mooching off us us through our hard work and then telling us that we are less than real citizens, some how less than human.

Conservatives claim to believe that we should be rewarded for our hard work, if you really believe that then allow all of us in this state to be rewarded for our hard work. I can work just as hard as a straight Tennessean, I can be just as smart as a straight Tennessean, I can be just as productive as a straight Tennessean, but I can never be as successful because I can't be fully free in our state. My success will always be tempered by the fear that I will be fired just because of who I am, that I won't be able to move into that nice home I worked so hard for because the current owner just doesn't want to sell it to someone like me. How can I feel successful if my partner and myself have kids and their teachers can't even acknowledge the existence of our kid's parents. Do not punish me and my community for our hard work, stand up for what you say are your beliefs, show me that this state actually wants me to work hard and contribute and succeed. If not then you don't want freedom, you don't want capitalism, you want a theocracy, and that is as un-American and un-patriotic as it is possible to be.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Political translation

If you read any political commentary, if you follow the news at all, if you pay any attention to the running of our country, you are aware that our nation is extremely divided, possibly more so than at any time since the Civil War. The conversations between liberals and conservatives, when they happen at all, are about as useful as having someone who only speaks English trying to carry on a conversation with someone who only speaks Chinese. Over time the English and Chinese speaker could find ways to communicate, but unless forced to they would probably get so frustrated that they would just give up before that happened. This is where we are in the US right now. Conservatives and liberals speak different languages even though they are using the same words. If our nation is to effectively move forward we have to find a way to understand each other. Well let me start trying right now.

I want to take one issue that there seems to be some agreement on and see if we can build from there. The issue I think we should start with is tax policy.

National polls are now showing pretty strong agreement that we need to change our tax policy. People on the right and left both seem to agree that we need to make our tax system more fair. The question is, what is "fair"?

Those of us on the left think it is unfair that a few individuals are multi-billionaires and control so much of our economy while others are working but still having a hard time keeping their families housed and fed. We look at fairness as a matter of proportion. We don't mind that some have more than others, but to us it seems unfair that some have more than they can ever use while others have nothing.

On the right fairness has a different meaning. If there is a set of rules that we all have to follow, and we all follow them then fairness will be the outcome. If you work hard and follow the rules you will succeed and prosper, this is fair. If you don't work hard or try to cheat the system you won't succeed and should have to deal with the ramifications of your decisions. This also seems fair. Income inequality is not a problem to be fixed by rigging the system, it is a problem to be fixed by having individuals realize that they are responsible for their prosperity or lack there of.

We all want our tax system to be fair but we have two different definitions of fairness. Lets see if I can't translate my liberal beliefs on taxation into a language that speaks to my conservative friends.

When we talk about raising taxes on the wealthy the question always comes up, is that fair? Well no, it isn't. What it costs you to be part of our system shouldn't be decided by how much you earn. If a millionaire and a school janitor both walk into McDonalds and each purchase a Big Mac they will both pay the same price. That is unmistakably fair. SO why should the millionaire have to pay a higher tax rate? Well think about it this way, if the janitor buys a Big Mac, but the millionaire travels further down the street to a restaurant where he enjoys a porterhouse steak and escargot, shouldn't the millionaire pay more for his meal?

What we pay shouldn't be based on what we make, it should be based on what we receive. Look at it this way, almost all of us use the roads in our country and almost all of us pay taxes for the construction and maintenance of these roads. Our janitor friend uses the roads to travel back and forth to work, if he is lucky he might be able to use the roads every few years to take his family on vacation, and of course he uses the roads to go back and forth to places like McDonalds and the grocery store. Our roads make his life better and easier, he receives direct and indirect benefits from our roads (there are things to buy at the grocery store because trucks used the roads to bring the items to the store). Since he receives benefits from the roads it is only fair that he helps pay for the roads, but what about our millionaire friend? It is easy for most of us to see the benefits our janitor friend receives from using our roads, are the benefits any different for the millionaire?

Let's imagine our millionaire. He studied hard in high school and was able to get into a really good university. He left the university and worked hard at a company and moved up through the ranks. With his official education and the continuing learning he did in his work he felt that he was ready, took out some of his savings, got a loan, and opened his own business. His business was very successful and grew to the point that he had a large number of employees and a large number of stores selling his products. So how does this relate to roads?

Without our roads our millionaire friend wouldn't be able to easily get his products to the stores that sell them. Without our roads our millionaire's employees wouldn't be able to easily get to work. Without our roads there would be no place to put the billboards he advertises on and he would have to increase his ad budget to cover TV commercials. Without our roads the people buying his products wouldn't be able to easily get to the store to buy his products. Oh yeah, our millionaire also uses the roads to get himself to work, to the grocery store, and to take his family on vacation.

It is obvious that our millionaire is getting a steak dinner out of our roads while our janitor friend is only getting a Big Mac. What we pay shouldn't be determined by what we make, but by what we get. Our millionaire also benefits from the public school education most, if not all, of his employees received. He also benefits from government funded research which allows him to improve his products. Our millionaire receives more from our collective tax dollars than our janitor, so shouldn't he pay more?

Of course there are those that find themselves supported by our social safety nets who are receiving more than the average person. In theory they should pay more as well, sadly that would be like trying to get blood out of a turnip. They can't pay what they don't have. This is an unfortunate complication, but we have to play the cards our society was dealt.

So should we raise tax rates on the wealthy? Probably. We must first look and see if they are paying a price relative to the value they are receiving when compared to the other tax payers across our nation. We might also want to look at why we tax wealthy individuals who don't really work for their money at a lower rate than those who put in a lot of long hours to be successful (think of people like Paris Hilton, what is it she does for her money? And the tax rates that some wealthy individuals pay on income generated for them by hedge fund managers and investment bankers, others are doing all the work, they just reap the benefits and then get taxed at a lower rate for it). We can fairly raise taxes on the wealthy and if we can we probably should. Have you seen our national debt lately?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Guns don't kill people, being uncompromising kills people.

Saw a post on facebook today from a friend of mine who is a gun owner and who supports gun rights. It was a take on the old "guns don't kill people, people kill people" adage that cleverly brought blame against forks for making people fat and blames pencils for misspelling words. It was pretty funny and effective. You see it really got me thinking about a few things.

First off I am not a proponent of gun control. The 2nd amendment of the US Constitution states;

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

This has been interpreted to mean a few different things, (does the right to bear arms only apply to the need to defend the country? does the "shall not be infringed" part mean I can have any type of arms anywhere?) but it seems safe to assume that it is perfectly legal to own a gun in the US of A. That is of course where it stops being safe to assume anything.

Gun rights groups take a hard stance on gun ownership and read the 2nd amendment to mean that gun ownership is a right that should exist without restriction. Well they kind of take that stance. People like myself who engage in a lot of political discussions tend to wind up talking about the same issues over and over again with different individuals and so we build up an arsenal (pun intended) of facts and arguments that we can use whenever the need arises. On the gun control issue I just like to keep the debate centered on facts and so when someone tells me that owning a gun makes you safer I like to bring up studies showing that owning a gun actually increases your chnces of getting shot . Recently I brought this up in a discussion and my friend on the other side questioned me to see if this increased chance of getting shot involved those people who illegally own guns. This question struck me as strange. You see if you don't support gun control laws in any form or fashion how is it that you could think a gun could be owned illegally? Even staunch gun rights activists seem to, at least in the back of their minds, support some form of gun control. This is where the debate breaks down. Fearing the dangers of a slippery slope, gun rights activists feel the need to publicly claim that no substantive limits should be placed on gun ownership while at the same time knowing that there have to be at least a few common sense rules concerning the issue. They believe that if you give the gun control supporters and inch they will take a mile, and they do have a point. There are a few individuals who would like to make all firearms illegal, but to be honest their numbers are very small. We like our guns in this country and very few people want to get rid of them all together. So can we find some balance in this issue?

Lets look at limits we put on other legal activities for examples. I think we can draw a lot of parallels between driving a car and owning a gun. Driving a car is perfectly legal, but you have to be at least 16 years old, you have to pass a test showing that you can safely operate a car, you have to carry insurance, in many states you have to show that the car you are driving meets minimum safety requirements, there are greater requirements you have to meet to drive vehicles of a certain size, and if you break specific laws your driver's license can be taken away. Why can't we apply similar rules to gun ownership?

Before you could buy a gun you would have to simply show that you meet the minimum age requirement, pass a criminal records check, show that you understand how to safely operate the firearm, prove that you have insurance to cover any accidental injuries caused by your gun or guns, and acknowledge that breaking certain laws will result in your gun ownership rights being taken away. Groups like the NRA are big advocates for training people how to correctly fire and maintain their guns, this would simply mandate what groups of this sort have recommended for years. It would allow for easier, safer, and freer gun ownership while helping to protect us from those who shouldn't own a gun in the first place. One license would allow you to purchase any weapon within a certain class of guns and if you wanted to buy something in a different class you would simply go in and show that you meet the training requirements and have that class added to your license. Simple, safe, and it doesn't step on anyone's toes.

But some in the gun rights world will tell you that even common sense regulations of this type are too extreme. They will borrow from their arsenal of facts and arguments and remind you that "guns don't kill people, people kill people". Well they are right, but I would also want to remind them that cars don't kill people, people kill people and yet we still have regulations concerning owning and driving a car to help protect all of us. If they want to continue with their line of reasoning then they should carry it out to its logical conclusion, nuclear weapons don't kill people, people kill people. So do they support letting their neighbor buy a nuclear warhead from Pakistan and setting up a missile silo in their back yard? Why not? Nuclear weapons don't kill people, people do.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Missouri, Montana, Colorado, and the Tea Party.

Last night was interesting to say the least. Pundits all over the internet and the airwaves are discussing the ramifications of last night's primaries and how they will effect the selection of the republican nominee. Well let me join in and do the same thing.

Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich have all been working hard to become the Tea Party candidate in this set of primaries, I think we found out who won that contest last night. Gingrich and Paul both have problems when it comes to speaking to the evangelical side of many Tea Party members. Paul is not overtly evangelical and seems to base most of his policy ideas on a populist form of libertarianism. This is not a bad thing, it does appeal to many Tea Party members, but it has considerably less appeal among more traditional Republicans and is even less of a draw to the general electorate. Gingrich combines a more traditionally conservative outlook on economics with strong words about faith and family. However Gingrich's past has caused many evangelicals to doubt the veracity of his faith credentials and more traditional Republicans are worried about Gingrich's history of uneven and spontaneously combustible governance. This leaves Santorum.

Rick Santorum has all the street cred any candidate could ever need to claim the title of "culture warrior" and he wears this title as a badge of honor. His fiscal policies are also conservative enough to appeal to traditional Republicans while being acceptable to Tea Party members. He seems to have it all and, as we saw last night, his appeal has now been noticed by voters in 4 states, which if we are counting states, puts him ahead of Mitt Romney in this race. Romney however still has one advantage that is keeping him going in this fight, presumed electabilty in the general election.

Santorum's evangelical gravitas, which is serving him very well in the primaries, is seen as very worrisome in a general election. Will independent voters support someone who believes our nation should be run based as much on the Bible as it is on our Constitution? Romney may have his own religious issue but his more moderate stance, at least that seems to be the general perception, on issues of faith and economics is seen by the Republican establishment to have broader appeal in a general election. I think they might be wrong.

Let's face facts, Mitt Romney has run a very well funded but poorly executed campaign. He has been a gaff factory since he started stumping and to many people, Republicans, Democrats, and independents, appears to be little more than a wealthy elitist with little or no connection to the average middle class American. Sadly I believe this elitism may also be why the Republican establishment is so forcefully behind Romney. Santorum is a completely different kind of animal though. He didn't grow up wealthy, he became successful but not so successful that we feel we can't trust him. He wears his faith on his sleeve like many Americans do, he is, in other words, someone many Americans can relate to.

This should make Santorum a viable candidate against President Obama who can seem a bit aloof and elitist himself. I also believe that Santorum will enjoy a considerable momentum after last night's contest and could possibly consolidate the support of the Tea Party behind his campaign. I know the Tea Party would love to find a candidate they can get behind so they can show their power in a nation wide contest the way they already have in many House and Senate elections. But while Santorum may be a more electable candidate than Romney, is he electable enough?

If the Tea Party rallies behind Santorum and he wins the Republican nomination it will show, beyond a doubt, the Tea Party's influence, but only their influence within the Republican Party. If Santorum wins the nomination and fails to win the general election, his stances in the culture war could back fire on him and being primarily known for work on social issues instead of economic issues is not where you want to be in this election, it would show that the Tea Party has limited influence outside of the Republican Party. This is make or break time for the Tea Party although I don't know if they realize it yet. I think we are in for a very interesting next few months.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Court finds California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional... what this means.

Marriage equality supporters around the country are cheering the ruling from a federal appeals court today that found California's ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional, but maybe celebrating isn't the correct response. We must all remember that this is just one more step in the process of having our nation recognize same sex marriage and while this is an important step today's decision didn't really solve anything.

There are a few ways that this could play out. The supporters of Prop 8 could decide to stop their fight at this point. Why would they do this? Today's decision would only apply to the state of California, if they allow it to stand and don't file an appeal same sex marriage would become legal in California but no other state would be affected. If they think that the US Supreme Court is likely to uphold the appeals court's ruling they might believe it is in their best interest to cut their losses and not proceed any further. As a supporter of marriage equality though I think it is important to try and understand the feelings of the other side. The supporters of Prop 8 and marriage equality opponents in general shouldn't be classified as bigots or people who are against progress or homophobes as I really don't believe this is what drives them. I believe that most of the individuals who are opposed to gay marriage see it as a threat to the American family, a social structure that they believe has allowed the United States to become the great country it is today. Over the years they have seen many laws passed which they believe threaten the family by encouraging single women to have children, that have caused the divorce rate to increase, that have reduced parental control over the lives of their children. They are certain that the collapse of the family will lead to the collapse of America and so any recognition of yet another form of "family" isn't just a threat to traditional marriage, it is a threat to our nation in their eyes. They, as patriotic citizens of the United States, will fight this threat in every way that they can which means they aren't haters or bigots but instead they are the protectors of our country. At least as they see it. SO while it might make the most strategic sense for them to simply drop the case at this point I expect them to carry on with an appeal to the US Supreme Court as they believe their fight is too important to give up on.

So what happens if the case is appealed? First of the Supreme Court could simply decide to not hear the case and let the appeals court's ruling stand. This would ensure the legality of gay marriage in California but have little or no effect on any other state. They could also take the case but rule in a way that only affects California. Narrow rulings of this sort are not uncommon from the Supreme Court and could be possible in this case. Of course they could decide to hear the case and make a wider ruling on it. That ruling may not be as simple as the yes or no vote many believe it would be. Yes, the court could uphold or overturn the lower court's decision which would mean their ruling would apply nationwide. A ruling against Prop 8 could mean that same sex marriage would then have to be recognized in all 50 states. But don't get too excited over that possibility. I have almost no doubt that in this case many states that have state constitutions that have been amended to outlaw same sex marriage would then go to court and try to defend their bans on gay marriage by stating that their constitutional amendments were written in such a way as to not violate the US Constitution and so they shouldn't be affected by the Supreme Court's decision on Prop 8. The legal battles could continue for many, many years and might not end with the entire nation recognizing gay marriage. Furthermore there is the Defense of Marriage Act which currently prevents the federal government from recognizing same sex marriage. If gay marriage was made legal in all 50 states the Supreme Court's decision still wouldn't mandate that the federal government recognize it.

But lets ignore all of these problems for a moment and focus on what may be a bigger issue for marriage equality supporters. If the Supreme Court decides that Prop 8 is unconstitutional and rules in such a way as to have same sex marriage recognized in all 50 states I can promise you that there will be an immediate and strong push from the opponents of same sex marriage for an amendment to the US Constitution banning same sex marriage. If such an amendment was added to the Constitution it would mean that same sex marriages couldn't be recognized even in the states where they are legal today. It could invalidate all of the gay marriages that have already been performed. It would be the ultimate victory for those who are against same sex marriage and it would actually become more easily achievable if the Supreme Court validated gay marriage all across the United States. Suddenly finding their worst fear coming true nationwide would energize the foes of marriage equality like nothing else could and they have years of practice under their belts at organizing and rallying their forces. This is an outcome that those of us who support same sex marriage can't ignore and must prepare for.

So how do we prepare for this possible firestorm of litigation and constitutional hostage taking? We start now by paying extremely close attention to the upcoming elections. Not just the presidential election but all of the senate and house races on both the federal and state levels. A constitutional amendment is not a simple thing to put into place, it requires super majority support in the US House and Senate as well as ratification by 75% of the states. This means that to make sure it doesn't get enacted we must do everything that we can, legally, to make sure that we keep supporters of an amendment banning gay marriage out of office. As you are reading this I can promise you that opponents of same sex marriage are looking at the situation and realizing that they have to do everything they can to get as many supporters of such an amendment elected, and as much as I hate to say it they are better at winning elections than the marriage equality side is.

SO if you support marriage equality it is time for you to do something about it. Figure out right now how much time you can give to a candidate and start volunteering with the campaign of someone who doesn't support a constitutional amendment to outlaw same sex marriage. It doesn't matter if they are a democrat or republican (not all republicans are opposed to same sex marriage) it only matters that they support freedom and liberty for every last one of us. Also take the time to try and understand where the other side is coming from. It is easier for those of us who support marriage equality to demonize our opponents instead of trying to understand what it is that they are actually thinking. If we can carrying on a conversation with them instead of just trying to shout each other down we might be able to actually change a few minds. They may not be the minds of the individuals we are speaking with directly, but someone seeing a thoughtful discussion on the evening news might decide that their pre-conceived notions weren't true. We need every single bit of support we can get and the old adage remains true, you attract more files with honey.

So, to all of my friends who support marriage equality, celebrate today because we have had an important victory, but keep in mind that this war is just getting started and things are probably going to get tougher before they start getting better. We all have a lot of work to do to make this a country that lives up to the phrase in the constitution "all men are created equal" and it is up to us to do the work. SO get ready, get organized, and get to work, this is worth the effort.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Here in Tennessee it seems that every day another piece of proposed legislation targeting the LGBT community is brought out by one of our representatives or senators. Recently we have had local high schools shaken by the suicides of young people who had been bullied for being gay. I live in a state where being who you are can be quite difficult some times. Still there are individuals who don't seem to be able to see what is going on around them.

I have been asked by several different individuals how the proposed anti-gay legislation affects me on a personal basis. I don't have kids so the "Don't Say Gay Bill" which would prevent homosexuality from being discussed in Tennessee's public schools is something they feel I shouldn't be concerned about. Likewise the "License to Bully Bill" would have an effect on me since I am no longer in school. Obviously the bill recently publicized that would mandate which public restrooms an individual could use, even if that person is transgender, is not something that should concern me personally. I have to admit, these bills won't have a huge impact on me personally, at least from a legal perspective. The fact that my state would elect legislators who would think it was in their best interest, or their constituent's best interest effects me greatly.

Many people seem to think that members of the LGBT community are protected by the legal protections that certain other minority groups fall under. This is completely false. In Tennessee there are no real legal protections for LGBT individuals. We can be fired for who we are, we can be denied housing simply because of who we are. We are denied the ability to marry the person we love, therefore we are also denied the right to be treated equally under our nation's tax and inheritance laws. Yet many think that homophobia isn't real or exists on such a small scale that it isn't worth their consideration. Well right here in Nashville, Tennessee, a very liberal city where the LGBT community is fairly visible and suffers less from homophobia than it does in almost any other part of our state homophobia still exists.

A friend of mine is in the process of starting a new business. He previously worked for a local gay and lesbian bookstore that fell victim to the same economic and market forces that have closed so many local bookstores around our country. But my friend knows the value of having a store like this in Nashville. He has seen many frightened young people walk into the store where he worked, kids, and sometimes adults, who had never been in a place before where they could be who they are. A place where they could talk about things they couldn't talk about at school or church or with their families. A place where they could see other people like themselves who are happy and well adjusted and living good lives. A physical representation of the "It Gets Better Project" where kids could see that one day the bullying would stop and they have a reason to keep on living, a physical place where they could see hope when all of the other places they should have been able to find hope had turned them away. My friend has a business plan, but he also has a plan for a community. He wants to be able to earn a living while also giving others a reason to keep on living. Today I received an email from him describing what is preventing him from adding to our community and to our economy, homophobia. Below is his email;

Homophobia in Nashville

Dear George,

For the sixth time in the same number of months, a landowner has told us that he would not rent us his space because we are a GLBT Business. He told his agent that he had thought long and hard about it, but just couldn't rent to "those people."

We are suppose to be a pretty progressive city--a blue dot in a sea of red. Unfortunately, it sure doesn't seem like one today. This is another reminder that our battle isn't over. Just look at the legislative proposals that are coming to the hill right now and you can really see that we have a lot of work to do.

The social conservatives have not stopped their work because of the recession. In fact, they are even more active now because they know people have other concerns. Take time to support those organizations that are working for you in the state and local governments--even if it's just a small amount.

We are working hard to open a new store for our Nashville community. If you know of any GLBT-friendly owners in the midtown or East Nashville areas, please have them contact us if they have any spaces that are between 1,800 and 2,500 sf.

Our work continues!

Jim Hawk, Chief Manager

Homophobia exists, it is real, it effects people, people you know. You may not think it effects you, but directly or indirectly it effects all of us. It is time we stand up against homophobia just as we have and continue to stand up against sexism and racism. Without fairness there is no freedom, and none of us is free if all of us aren't free. It is time to make this country what it is supposed to be, a country where we all have the opportunity to succeed, a country where we can disagree but where we allow others to be who they are and believe what they believe.