Friday, July 29, 2011

On Gay Marriage and Polygamy

Recently, my favorite conservative, Bogart, asked me about the legal challenges to anti-polygamy laws using the precedents from the gay marriage debate to argue that government has no right to prohibit the actions of consenting adults.  I have a distinct impression that Bogart was trying to bait me into saying that either (a) the precedents such as Lawrence v. Texas were wrong; or (b) that polygamy is all good.  The thing is, same sex marriage and polygamy are two different things.  When states allow same sex marriage, the following happens:
In other words, states print up the marriage licenses (and get paid for them), but otherwise everything remains the same.  Marriage, in the government's eyes is simply a way property is distributed.  Two people want to enter into an agreement to share property for whatever reason, government is good with that.  There was a time when traditional gender roles were entrenched in government family law statutes (making same-sex marriage a bitch to administer), but those days have long since passed.  As Judge Walker noted in his ruling overturning Proposition 8 (California's gay marriage ban), there is simply no half-assed reason to keep the ban.*

Polygamy is a completely different animal.  For one, plural generally occurs when there is a distinct power imbalance between the sexes.  Indeed, plural marriage would necessitate that one gender is dominant.  If I had three wives, I could afford to piss off two of them at any one time, and be fine.  And if I managed to piss off all of my wives, I could just as easily find a new wife.  This is why cultures that allow plural marriage tend to have an extreme inequality between the sexes.  For this reason alone, plural marriage would violate the governmental policy of equality between the sexes.

Now, a way to avoid the inequality, of course, would be to allow my hypothetical wives to marry other men while being married to me.  But ultimately, this leads to the other problem with plural marriage - it would require states to redefine marriage.  Now, this argument has been made about same sex marriage, but in the case of same-sex marriage, the only difference between same-sex marriage, and opposite sex marriage without traditional gender roles is who is getting married, and maybe the sexual practices of the participants in that marriage.  That's not a good reason to ban same-sex marriage.

Plural marriage would necessitate the rewriting of the family law statutes because all marriages come to an end - either by divorce or death.  What happens then?  If one of my hypothetical wives divorces me because I'm being a dick, or because she likes her other husband more, how is the marital estate divvied up?  Or, if the State deems me and my wives married to one another, what happens if one of my hypothetical wives divorces one of my other wives?  The whole concept of the marital estate would have to end.

And ultimately, that's reason enough to not legalize plural marriage.  Marriage from a government's perspective is all about property.  Not love, not commitment, not children, but property.  Two people want to become one in the eyes of the government, fine, then they're property is as of one.  Throw that out, and there is no reason for government to even acknowledge marriage.  So yes, people should be able to live their lives as they want, and certainly decriminalization of plural marriage isn't a bad idea, but the legal recognition of plural marriage is simply too problematic to allow.

*I'm referring, of course to the Rational Basis Test where Courts will allow minor intrusions into due process or equal protection rights for even the most half-assed reasons.  If you have the chance to read Judge Walker's decision, please do so.  The arguments in favor of Prop. 8 all fell into "gay people are bad, m'kay," category. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Now for Something Completely Different

While all this debt ceiling craziness has been going on in Washington, a right-wing anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant sociopath killed over seventy people in Norway.  I'm eschewing the link because you all know what I mean.  This attack, by the way, is proportionally a worse attack than 9-11 (Norway is a much smaller country).  Now, its important to consider the guy's ethnicity (undoubtedly Norwegian) and his religion (Christianity), because far too often we think of only Muslims committing terrorist attacks.  As we have all witnessed, this is simply not the case.

Religious extremism, it seems, leads to violence.  From the Crusades (where we Christians reintroduced the idea of jihad to the Muslim world), to al Qaeda, to the Islamist regimes in Iran and Afghanistan, we have a deep history of supposedly deeply humble people doing truly awful things.  Heck, the Old Testament of the Bible applauds acts of genocide on several occasions. 

As the same time, religion can elevate our lives and our actions to greater heights.  I have been to Quaker prayer meetings that restored my faith in humanity, seen Christians risk life and limb to help their fellow man (one of my fellow parishioners at St. David's Episcopal Church was arrested in South Africa for helping Bishop Tutu fight against apartheid), and have heard of other acts of stupendous bravery, kindness, and humility inspired by deeply held religious beliefs.

So how is it that on one hand religion is so destructive and on the other appeals to our best instincts?  Roger Williams believed it had to do with the mixing of Church and State.  And in part, he was right.  Most religious violence is committed whenever religion is mixed with politics.  But its not just mixing politics with religion, its religious coercion that is so ugly.  When a single faith is deemed "the only religion" and all must believe in it or perish, that is when its okay to kill those who disagree with you (about really tiny and stupid stuff - the Thirty Years' War was fought over whether God like people who have faith or people who have faith and do good stuff), blow up innocent civilians, and otherwise do terrible things.

But when people willingly submit to God, there is something beautiful about it.  Faith is a glorious thing, and something that atheism simply cannot reproduce.  Unfortunately, every time I allow my faith to be rekindled, I realize that for many, the beauty of faith is skin-deep. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Estamos Jodidos en California. . .

Okay, title is something of an inside joke.  Back during my political activist day, a friend of mine used to do a spot-on impression of California Governor Gray Davis - stilted language and all.  Then to get huge laughs, he'd talk in Spanish as if he was the Governor, and we would all laugh our asses off.  Stupid I know, but to get Davis' uberwhiteguy pitch while speaking in Spanish was hilarious.

Anyway, in case you haven't bothered to look it up, "estamos jodidos" means "we're fucked."  And not just in California (that was the hat tip to my Gray Davis impersonating friend), but the whole country is about to be fucked. Big time.  Our Congress is about to let the United States renege on its debts for the first time E-V-E-R.  That's right kiddies, ever.  Thing about it - during the first years of the republic, we paid our debts.  When the British were kicking our asses and burning down Washington, D.C., we paid our debts.  During the horrific violence of the Civil War, and the extreme financial crisis that was the Great Depression, we paid our debts.  So why can't we pay our debts?

Because Congress won't pass a stupid bill to raise the debt ceiling so that the U.S. can borrow money to pay for the crap that Congress requires the U.S. to pay for.  Got it? No?  Okay, put it this way - go to a restaurant, order a bunch of crap, and then when the bill comes out, tell the restaurant you're only going to pay with the cash in your pocket, and not bust out the credit card.  Do you think the restaurant will mind if the cash in your pocket only covers 50% of the bill?  Yeah, it will.

And so will the people who are supposed to get paid by the Federal government by this time next Wednesday.  But since no one can beat the Feds into paying (except maybe the military, who may or may not be paid), the only thing our creditors can do is raise interest rates on everyone else.  For someone like me, who's looking to buy a house, I am about to get fucked.  But guess what, everyone is going to get fucked.  The higher interest rate will create a ripple of inflation throughout the world.  Or, to put it in economic terms, failing to raise the debt ceiling is going to create a supply shock while we're going through a demand side recession.  Kinda ironic that this would be done by supply-siders.

Make no mistake, unless something radical changes, there will be no deal.  John Boehner, facing an increasingly hostile freshman class, knows that any debt ceiling deal will cost him his Speakership.  The Tea Party, meanwhile, wants so badly to prevent Obama from getting reelected that its willing to destroy the country.  As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put it, this is a game of chicken where one car doesn't have a driver.

And before we go all "a pox on both your houses," let's keep in mind that this fight has nothing to do with the deficit or the national debt.  Failing to raise the debt ceiling will actually increase the deficit substantially.  But even then, Obama and the Congressional Democrats have gone well to the right in hopes of forging a compromise.  The Republicans, who have become slaves to their own base, simply cannot and will not make a deal.  Hell, even John Boehner can't even pass his OWN plan.

So, in the nasally voice of Gray Davis, I say "Estamos Jodidos en los Estatos Unidos. . ." Ugh.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Debt Ceiling Debate

Over the past few weeks and months, Washington has been bracing for a fight.  With the debt ceiling about to be reached by the end of the month, the President and Congress have to agree to raise the debt ceiling or else the Treasury has to shut down parts of the government, and all sorts of bad things happen.  I'm not sure exactly what, but I'd imagine that hyperinflation would be one of the many fun things around the bend.

Now, with his usual eye for negotiating, Obama has been a complete disaster.  From the get-go, he should have demanded, insisted and cajoled Congress to send him a clean debt ceiling bill.  After all, Wall Street is going to get hit just as hard from a default as anyone else (harder even).  Instead, he opted to listen to their arguments on the long-term debt, giving credence to their economic policies (which are ridiculous).  And he willingly put Medicare and Social Security on the table, which would undermine a great Democratic election point. . .seriously, Mr. President, you are the worst negotiator ever.

What is of equal interest, though, is the interworking of the Republican Party.  The Tea Party faction, which is hard-core conservative, is absolutely refusing to support any increase to the debt ceiling absent serious cuts.  So, for Boehner, the Speaker of the House, to get a deal done, he has to convince Democrats to support the debt ceiling deal.  But if Boehner does that, he will not remain Speaker.  Hell, he may not remain in Congress.  For the past several years, every Republican has been threatened with a primary from a more conservative candidate.  And since these candidates are invariably well-funded, and since legislatures are gerrymandering to make Congressional districts more Republican or more Democratic, these more conservative candidates win. A lot.

So, what has the GOP leadership done?  Well, they've decided to run awaySeriously.  There is an escape hatch in this debate - the 14th Amendment seems to suggest that debt ceiling legislation is unconstitutional because the U.S. government has constitutional requirement to cover its debts.  Now, Obama looked into this idea before, kinda, sort-of, threatening (but not really) to use this provision as an escape hatch in the bargaining.  But his own Treasury Department thought that the 14th Amendment argument was on shaky ground.

Does this mean that Obama will take up the GOP on its offer to continue to raise the debt ceiling?  I have no idea.  What I do know is that neither Boehner nor McConnell cannot negotiate on behalf of the GOP.  Not because they are bad negotiators, but because they do not speak for the Republican rank and file.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Um Guys. . .

So the media is freaking out over the idea that Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are planning to use body bombs, wherein the explosives are implanted into the body of the suicide bomber.  My first reaction to the news: Its good to want things.  Look, I want to be a billionaire, own the Padres (the concessions at Petco would be totally kickass if I ran things), and have Obama learn basic negotiating skills, but it ain't gonna happen. 

Similarly, Al Qaeda isn't going to start implanting bombs in the bodies of suicide bombers.  You know how I know?  Because Al Qaeda took down four airplanes with box cutters.  The bombs used against the troops in Iraq/Afghanistan are called IED's - an acronym for "improvised explosive device."  In other words, these guys are decidedly low tech.  And bomb implants are decidedly high tech.  You know how else I know Al Qaeda isn't going to try bomb implants?  Because Hamas hasn't used bomb implants.  Ever.

And seriously, without guys like Osama bin Laden, there isn't a whole lot of desire to attack the U.S. heartland anymore.  Keep in mind that we're really, really, really far from the Muslim world. So, any attack on the U.S. is going to be a lot more expensive than say, attacking Europe, or anywhere in the Muslim world.  And given that groups like Al Qaeda have limited resources - people, money, etc. - they're going to want more bang for their buck.  What made Osama bin Laden so dangerous was that he was committed to bringing terrorism to the U.S.  But even then, Al Qaeda managed to successfully attack the United States once.  Granted it was a big attack, but the U.S. is a target-rich environment, and there should have been more.  Nope, because its so expensive to attack the US, any attack has to be worth it.  Human bombs aren't going to be big enough.

So let's chill out people.  Al Qaeda isn't going to use human bombs anytime soon. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Comparing Lockouts - a Sports Post

Like most sports fans, I am somewhat saddened by the NFL and NBA lockouts - how can there be fall without FootBALL!!! Although the NBA is slightly less important, I still am a fan.  With that said, the end result of these lockouts could be both interesting and depressing. 

First, let's go into some background.  Both the NFL and the NBA have similar structures made up of owners, who own the team, and players who actually play the game.  NFL teams employ dozens of players, coaches, medical staff, and other hangers on.  The cost is tremendous, and so are the rewards - the NFL nets billions of dollars every year.  In the meantime, NFL players play, on average, 3-4 years, are paid well, but not great, and suffer shortened lifespans as a result of their NFL careers.  NFL Players are represented (sort of, but its complicated right now) by the NFL Players Association, and the NFL owners have their own group.  The NFL owners, wanting more money from the players, have locked out the players, so they can't go to work.

The NBA has a similar structure, but is completely different.  While some teams in the NBA are turning a profit, many NBA teams are not.  In fact, the NBA owners did the rare thing and opened their books to the players.  Additionally, the lifestyle of NBA players IS different.  The average NBA player plays for several years, makes a lot of money, and doesn't suffer the kind of long-term health effects that NFL players do.

Now if the justice were to prevail, the NFL owners, who are locking out their players to be greedy, would lose terribly, and the NBA owners, who have a legitimate gripe against the players, would win.  But I don't think so.  NFL players have deep support from the fans, but ultimately, that won't help them.  Not only will the fans miss football, but the players will miss their paychecks, and have to give in.  The owners, meanwhile, have built up a warchest.

NBA owners, on the other hand, have a real problem on their hands - let's say that the lockout is bad and bitter, what's to stop NBA players from forming their own league?  Players like Lebron James and Dwyane Wade are already savvy businessmen, and have brilliant marketeers around them.  Unlike in football, basketball injuries tend not to be severe, and a team really needs 8-10 players.  In other words, the entrance costs for an NBA competitor would be significantly lower than that of a football team. Moreover, in the last 13 years since the last lockout, the methods of marketing have gone viral, and the overall cost has dropped.  Players are used to marketing themselves.  As a result, and with that potential handgrenade hanging over their heads, I think the NBA ends its lockout sooner than later.