Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Despair Not For We Shall Prevail in Time

A lot of my liberal friends are up in arms that the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8. I'm not. I'm even a bit glad that they did.

The problem here isn't the court. The problem is Proposition 8 itself. And California's ridiculous rules for amending its constitution. Remember that this is the exact same court that gave Cali gays the right to marry in the first place. We loved them when they did that. They said marriage was a constitutional right. Of course, if they determine that it's a constitutional right, well, the only way to make it unconstitutional again is to change the bleeding constitution, which is exactly what Prop 8 did.

The constitution, which the CSC is sworn to uphold, is different now than when they made their initial decision. The (kinda wobbly) grounds for this particular suit were based on whether the constitution was amended or revised. There are two different standards for those things. An amendment only needs a majority vote whereas a revision requires legislation with a two-thirds majority. Dumb? Yes. Legal? Also yes. These things are far from mutually exclusive.

The process, while moronic, was entirely legal. The meatheads in California passed an amendment through their own codified-into-stupidity rules. It's idiotic that 50.1% of the state can decide to amend their constitution, which is supposed to protect rights, in order to deny rights. And massive funds for propaganda coming in from Utah? Sure. Bring it on. But those are the rules. If the CSC had ruled to overturn the vote, they would have been wrong. And there would have been the biggest, nastiest, ugliest right-wing hissy fit about judicial activism that you would ever have the misfortune to experience. And they would have been right, for once.

This is a temporary setback, but it always was. Prop 8 supporters are on the wrong side of history. Full marriage rights are inevitable. I sense that the right knows this and are throwing up as many roadblocks as they can. California will have them soon enough, probably in a few years when they put it back up for a vote and the demographics change just enough to swing it. Younger voters, and those not quite old enough to vote, favor full marriage equality by a pretty hefty margin. The numbers get lower as the voting age gets higher. You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. It won't be long.

This is not really a sad day. If you had asked even the most optimistic gay rights advocates five years ago where we'd be now I don't think any of them would have predicted that more than half a dozen states would either have full equality or be leaning hard in that direction. (Should I say it? Okay. I'll say it. Fucking Iowa!) But here we are. It's actually moving very swiftly, by historical standards. Someday, even sooner than we think, we'll wonder what all the fuss was about. And Miss California's fake boobs will explode in her face.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

And So to My Oar...

Well, we kind of expected this. Sonia Sotomayor is going to be the next Supreme Court justice.

I know, I know, she's only been nominated. She still needs to be confirmed.

There is no doubt that the Republican'ts are going to try and paint the nastiest, most scary librul picture of her that they can. But they're not going to block this. They don't have the votes and there's no way in hell they're going to filibuster a Hispanic female nominee unless there was proof that she did something really really heinous. Crikey, Clarence Thomas got in and he had credible sexual harassment allegations against him, not to mention a pretty unspectacular legal career up to that point.

So it'll get ugly. And you'll hear the following phrases over and over until you want to jam knitting needles into your ears to make the pain stop. (Yes, stop.)

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
---Sonia Sotomayor


“[A] court of appeals is where policy is made.”
---Sonia Sotomayor

Oh no! Identity politics and judicial activism! Run for the hills! We need more "strict constructionists" who think that corporations have more rights than individuals and that only certain people have the rights that were supposedly endowed on us all by our "creator" even as they mock-venerate the framers of the constitution.

Please. She's not perfect. But she'll be fine.

I do have concerns about how long she'll be able to serve. She's only 54, not much older than John Roberts but she has diabetes, which could conceivably knock 15 to 20 years off her life. Roberts could still be messing up our lives for 30 or 40 more years. My freaking mortgage will be paid off by then.

I'm not thrilled to pieces. But it's a good start for BO's SCOTUS picks. And Elena Kagan will be ready when near-nonagenarian John Paul Stevens either kicks the bucket or hangs up his hat at some point in the next few years.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Here's Your Speech, Mr. President

My fellow Americans,

There has been some heated controversy over whether the United States government should release a certain group of photos to the public. These photos were the subject of a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union and show abuse of prisoners held in United States custody.

There are many who feel that sharing these images with the world will serve to inflame passions in those who would do us harm. Others feel that the public deserves to know the truth about what was done in its name, regardless of the consequences.

It is my considered opinion that, while these images may indeed exacerbate feelings of anger toward our country with those already inclined to such feelings, and possibly even ignite new fires of hatred among certain others, it would be even more damaging to tell the world that we have something to hide. If we share these images, we may hear, at the least, "How could you do such a thing?" If we don't, we will definitely hear, at the least, "What are you so ashamed of?"

The release of these images is not to suggest that there is no shame here. There is. We do feel shame for the abuses that occurred. And we solemnly vow that we will do everything in our power to ensure that they will never again take place in a country that is free, democratic and committed to the rule of law. We are confident that an honest accounting of our actions will send the signal to the world that we are capable of reflection and improvement and that, no matter what has happened in the past, the light of truth will lead us toward a brighter day of healing and reconciliation with not only the global community but with our own constitution.

It is with a heavy heart that I share these images with the public. They are difficult to view. Many of them are ugly and disturbing. But a free nation is never afraid to face its demons. And as we confront ours by sharing these images with our own citizens and with the citizens of the world, we ask those who choose to view them to do so not with an eye towards retribution but with a renewed sense that we are a strong nation that will prevail over those who wish to do us harm not by hiding in the shadows but by seeking the light of truth and freedom in all of our endeavors.

Thank you and may the United States of America always be a beacon of hope for the world.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sessions in the Sun

You know what I hate?

Actually, you probably do. The list is long and much of it has been covered in this space.

But right now. What I'm thinking about. Okay, I'll tell you. It's the completely misguided (or possibly dishonest) views about what a judge's job is that are constantly spewed by conservatives.

Antonin Scalia considers himself a "strict constructionist". This is a nonsensical idea. The concept holds that the constitution is settled and that all you have to do is read it and follow it. Judges supposedly shouldn't "legislate from the bench". They shouldn't "interpret" the law, they should simply follow it. Of course, this is easily knocked down. After all, if the law didn't require occasional interpretation we wouldn't need judges now, would we? How many 5-4 decisions have we had? Someone's not following the law.

"Strict constructionism" is just a rhetorical dodge anyway, a way to pass off reactionary viewpoints and judgements as "what the Founding Fathers envisioned". Bullshit. The Founding Fathers never would have stopped ballots from being counted. Or told someone that they couldn't sue for pay discrimination because said discrimination had been cleverly hidden from them until after the arbitrary statute of limitations had passed. "Sorry. My hands are tied. It's not me. It's the law." Uh-huh.

We'll continue to hear more of the "following the law" bullshit as we get closer to an Obama Supreme Court appointment.

Here's professional racist Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on what makes a good judge (lifted from this Salon article).

"As long as they have a deep commitment to the law and recognize that when they put on the robe, that they go beyond politics and they're required to subordinate themselves to the law as written."

Actually, no. One of the Supreme Court's main functions is to check the legislative branch by passing judgement on the constitutionality of its laws. If the law is unconstitutional, not only do they not subordinate themselves to it, they strike it down. That's their job. And this man is now the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hooray for us.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pete Seeger Turns 90

If you have any connection to the folk community, or even if you're just culturally in tune, then you don't need me to tell you that today is the 90th birthday of one of the true giants of American song, Mr. Pete Seeger.

Pete is the true embodiment of the folk spirit. He is the most unpretentious cultural icon in the universe, possibly the most unpretentious person in the universe. Even in the folk world, there are folks who thirst for the spotlight and enjoy the fame that they get. You never get an inkling from Pete that it is about anything but the community. He is not the star. He is merely the bandleader with anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand chorines to enjoin in song. To Pete, the sharing of a song is far more important than the person performing it. Paradoxically, it takes a huge person to be so effortlessly humble. If anyone can make you "get" folk music, Pete can.

I have several friends in the Hudson Valley folk community that know and work with Pete. I only encountered him personally once, at Pete's Clearwater Festival, where some of the aforementioned friends (and Pete, of course) were performing.

Several of us were sitting at a picnic table in the artists' area when Pete saundered over to our table with a bag of chocolate chip cookies and sat himself down. "I'm a cookie-holic. I'll eat all of these if I don't share them." This seemed, if not impossible, then certainly inconsequential, as Pete is astonishingly fit and healthy for a man of his age. (He could pass for 70 with ease.) He opened the bag as he straddled the bench and casually waited for any of us to take him up on his offer.

As a (then) recent convert to veganism, I did not partake of the cookies. But it was difficult to feel like "Holy shit! That's Pete Fucking Seeger!" as one would in a similar situation with another celebrity. (e.g. "Holy shit! That's Elvis Fucking Costello!" or "Holy shit! That's Barack Fucking Obama!") It was just a genial old man sharing some cookies. His warmth and humility were evident. They filled the area without overwhelming it. This is not something Bob Dylan would or could do.

After a few minutes of idle chitchat between Pete and my amigos he went on his way. I don't remember if he left the cookies. But he left his spirit.

Pete Seeger is not a sophisticated composer. He is not a stunning wordsmith. He is not a virtuoso instrumentalist or vocalist. What he is is a man who knows the power of song and how to communicate it, a man who practices what he preaches and retains 100% of his soul. This is extraordinarily rare and beautiful. The world is an undeniably better place for having Pete Seeger in it. In fact, he is one of the few people of whom I can imagine a measurably worse world in his absence.

Happy birthday, Pete. May you have many more. No one, and I do mean no one, deserves them more than you.