advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Homeland Security, Or, We Visit A Terrorist Gathering Place

They better not build that mosque down by Ground Zero, we’re being told, not just because it’s insensitive, but because we have no idea what they’ll be up to down there.

I mean, where did the money come from?

Who does this Imam hang out with, anyway?

And, at a time when our Nation faces more threats than ever, why would we let these Muslim madmen situate their “terror command posts” anywhere?

Well, I don’t know about all of that...but I do know a place where lots of these Islamic terrorists go to obtain the equipment and supplies they need to support their particular craft, and I decided to make a bit of an undercover visit to the spot, so that I might “observe and report” on what goes on at this specific location.

So put on your dark glasses...and let’s go see what we can find out.

I can’t give away too many details, for security reasons, but I can tell you that this particular distribution center is located about three miles from the Boeing Company’s Renton, Washington, manufacturing site. (The assembly lines for the 737 family of aircraft and the US Navy’s P-8A Poseidon antisubmarine patrol aircraft are all located on the property.)

Off to the southwest of the Boeing plant are dozens of nondescript commercial buildings, all one or two stories tall—including some that store, produce, or process components and subassemblies that will eventually make their way over to that Boeing plant.

We approach the unmarked building that interests us from the west, and even as we enter the parking lot we can see the terrorists gathering and going up the ramp to get inside—and it’s already clear that one of the warnings I was given has already come to pass: they’re operating under deep cover.

I didn’t let their cover fool me, though: it only takes a quick glance to know these are hardened veterans of jihad, and before I went in, I made sure I had taken every precaution.

You can see terrorists coming out of the building with large sacks of what I can only assume must be ammonium nitrate; to protect their cover they’re carrying the bags in what look like ordinary shopping carts.

I could see that everyone who enters grabbed one of these carts first, presumably as a signal to the guards (who are hidden from view as I enter) that they belong there; I grab one of them as well and pass through the portals to the inner sanctum.

Once inside I can see that there’s no further pretense of trying to hide their presence; terrorists are everywhere, in costume, wandering about freely...and for the moment, at least, they seem unperturbed by my presence.

The effort to maintain a cover story, however, even continues inside, as terrorist “sleeper cells” group up in what look like ordinary families, with a male and female, often accompanied by “terror children” and the occasional older terrorist “mentor”, who were apparently disguised to look like grandparents.

As I went inside the gathering of terrorist supplies continued, even in my presence—and it was amazing to see how effectively even ordinary looking objects could be “reinvented” as tools of terror.

At least 1/3 of the facility is devoted to devices that appear to resemble ordinary produce but have obviously been repurposed for terrorist purposes; in that area I saw terror tomatoes, terror shallots, and even terrorist-enhanced pineapples openly on display...and the costumed devils who had come to this location were grabbing them up as if they were...well, pineapples.

“Terror Tea” is evidently required if you hope to overthrow the infidels, and at least 20 different varieties of what must have been explosive materials (some of it was actually described as “gunpowder tea”) were on display, some in tiny bags small enough to smuggle on aircraft; other “bulk” packages were as large as 400 grams.

For those who seek to formulate their own materials, there is an entire “island” in the center of the store covered with bags of various powders that can be mixed together to achieve various effects; to maintain cover these were also innocently labeled as though they were exotic spices, unknown on this continent. I saw “turmeric”, “fenugreek”, and “cardamom” among the nonsense names that are obviously being used to throw off the English speaker.

They had strange fuels available as well, including “cooking” oil that they claimed was made from the seeds of grapes and some sort of what I assume was liquid explosive that was labeled “ghee”.

All sorts of “canned goods” and bizarre objects in jars were available, obviously intended to allow terrorists to infiltrate decent American homes and plant “booby traps”...but just as Japanese clothing designers seem to have trouble getting the English just right, there were subtle differences that can be observed by a real American.

For example, the word “ZerGüt”, which would never be used on an American product, appears on many of the jars (I couldn’t confirm this on the scene, for reasons of personal safety, but I assume ZerGüt means “Die, haters of Islam!” in Arabic).

Those large bags: they were stacked around the building, and as I approached some of them I saw even more patently ridiculous English labels, clearly intended to throw off Customs and Border Protection inspectors, such as “Brown Jasmine Rice” and “Red Cargo Rice”...and based on how much inventory they had on hand, there’s no doubt that the ruse was working.

The most insidious part of the story I saved for last: the use of cookies and candies as a mechanism for distributing certain unknown pastes that were concealed inside the cookies and candies, and the fact that this type of weapon is especially targeted toward American children.

You could see it from 50 feet away, as the “children” of the sleeper cells would gather around the cases of weapons, often choosing the most brightly colored packaging in what must have been a tactical decision to use that packaging to attract other children later when the cookies are handed out to innocent victims.

Mind control pastes?
Novel explosives?
A means to bankrupt us by spreading diabetes?

It’s impossible to say, but whatever their plot is, it must be diabolical to use such weapons as these.

In an effort to determine exactly what was going on, I obtained several of these packages of weapons. Disassembly and sampling have not enabled me to fully discern exactly what properties these unknown pastes might exhibit, but I do know that they contain high levels of sugar, which could be helpful if you’re looking to make “formed explosives”.

Due to the variety of hues encountered when examining the pastes, I assume there is some sort of color code that I have not yet figured out.

Obviously, I’ll continue to sample the various packages obtained until the scientific data within is more fully revealed.

Despite the fact that I was not dressed as the others in attendance were, I was moved through the money-changing process efficiently, in English (that’s how good they are...), and I was able to return to my vehicle and leave the area without being tailed.

An analysis for active and passive sensing and sending devices (on my vehicle and among the objects obtained) seems to offer no new data compared to a baseline analysis I conducted before visiting this site, so I’m fairly confident I escaped without the potential for future incident...which means the biggest issue remaining is probably assuring the safe disposal of the samples that were collected; as we’ve noted, that process is already underway.

So what did we learn?

We now know that an active distribution network exists to put various booby-trap weapons and other devices in the hands of terrorists—and we know that this activity is occurring within just a few miles of a commercial aircraft assembly facility that also does work for the militaries of this Nation and several others.

The devices are astounding in their similarity to actual items that might be seen in American households...and the terrorists are so good at maintaining cover that, in my presence, they kept themselves in the characters they were taught by their handlers, even to the point of the “children” keeping up the appearance of sticking with their “parents”.

But the most important thing we learned is that we can not take any chances on allowing these terrorists to gain any more footholds in our Homeland.

We don’t know what their diabolical plan is, but we have to act now to stop any further command centers from coming on-line—and most importantly of all, we have to make sure that these terrorists don’t get a chance to take their sleeper cells to a “Community Center” anywhere near Ground Zero, where they might try to play Terror Basketball or cook up “recipes” in a Terror Kitchen...and if we have to throw out the Constitution to make that happen, well, what’s more important, being free, or being safe from being free?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On Saving Us From The Immoral, Or “Ready, Fire…Aim!”

It was about a week ago that we saw the ruling throwing out California’s Prop 8; that decision has now been appealed, and we will see, at some point in the future, how the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handles the matter.

A couple of days later, I had a story up that walked through the ruling, describing the tactics used by the Prop 8 proponents, which, in the opinion of the Judge who looked at the evidence, were basically to try to scare Californians into thinking that gay people, once they’re able to get gay married, will somehow now be free to evangelize your kids and make them gay, too.

In the course of answering comments on the several sites where the story is up, I noticed that there were those who felt the Bible should be guiding our thinking here…that if it did, we would be better off than where we are today, with all those immoral gay people running around free to do all those immoral gay things.

This led me to an obvious question: are those who have been using the Bible as a sort of “divining rod” to figure out who is immoral and who is not…actually any good at it?

There are those who seem surprised that a defective rattrap like the Mulford law could be endorsed by the legislature of a supposedly progressive, enlightened state. But these same people were surprised when [California’s] Proposition 14, which reopened the door to racial discrimination, was endorsed by the electorate last November by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

--From The Nonstudent Left, by Hunter S. Thompson, published in “The Nation”, September 27, 1965 (links were added for this story)

So as I said above, there are lots of folks who are just absolutely convinced that the Bible can effectively help us figure out who is being moral and who is being immoral; others are convinced that, with the proper application of the “Judeo-Christian values” that form the basis of our system of Government, we can protect ourselves from the immorality that constantly threatens out American Way Of Life.

Let’s see how that’s been working out.

For about 400 years Christians tried, and tried again, to save Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the immoral Muslims; we know those efforts as the Crusades. In the effort to save the world from that immorality thousands upon thousands of Christians and Muslims were killed in war, thousands more Jews were killed who just kind of happened to turn up along the way, and in 1212, thousands of children either did or did not participate in another Crusade that led virtually all of them into either death or slavery.

Still another Crusade ended the immorality of rivals competing for Venice’s monopoly control over the marketing of Byzantine trade goods. (That took two years, from 1202 to 1204 and led to the sacking of Constantinople).

Here’s what happened with yet another effort to protect Europe from the immoral:

When national feeling and the adoption of religious ideas later associated with the Protestants made Bohemia a threat to European stability, at least in the eyes of the Holy Roman Empire and the pope, a Crusade was declared against Hussites, who were named for John Hus, their first leader. Some decried this as a false Crusade, saying that greed was being sanctified by ecclesiastical banners. But most of Europe endorsed the brutal warfare and the reimposition of Catholicism. This was, in their eyes, a Crusade for Christ’s church and people, as valid as any of the expeditions to the Holy Land.

It turns out that believing in “ecclesiastical poverty” was another one of those immoral things that had to be stamped out to protect the rest of us…and that’s why certain French Christians were subjected to the Inquisition, starting in the 1300s.

Being a Jew could be immoral, too, which is why officials of the Spanish Inquisition killed somewhere between 10,000 and 600,000 of those who refused to convert to Christianity as the Moors were being driven out of Spain.

Ever heard of Galileo? He became famous because he built telescopes that could prove that the Earth orbits the Sun…which was immoral because it was heretical (which essentially means the Church, who told everyone else what the Bible really means, did not agree). He did not have a fork shoved through his chest and jaw to shut him up before he was burned at the stake for those beliefs because he had friends in high places who could protect him.

Ever heard of Father Giordano Bruno? He believed the same things, he had no friends in high places…and he did get the Heretic's Fork, after which he was burned at the stake to protect the public from his particular brand of immorality.

Sorcery was immoral from the beginning for Church theologians, but magic was OK. Believing in witchcraft was immoral, before 1400, and those who believed in witches, the Bible told us, were heretics who needed to be punished for the protection of the rest of us…but by 1487, when the Malleus maleficarum was published by the Catholic Church, practicing the witchcraft which recently didn’t even exist was now considered idolatry and apostasy, punishable under law…and all that is a long way of saying that thousands and thousands and thousands of “witches” were killed, on orders of the Church and local authorities, partially to try and stop the bubonic plague, which, as the Bible taught us, was being caused by witchcraft…which only recently, the Bible taught us, didn’t even exist.

Do you know what a Bruloir might be?

It’s an oven that is specially designed to cook the living person inside in the most painful way possible (you put them in a cold oven, then heat it up)…and it really gained popularity as a moral means of killing those plague-promoting witches in the second half of the 16th Century.

I could go on and on and on…but let’s have a look at where we’ve been so far, and see what we can learn:

If you believed that the Earth orbits the Sun, and you taught that to others, you were immoral, a heretic, and a menace to society, and had to be exterminated for the good of the rest of us.

If you believed that being Islamic and living in Jerusalem was no big deal…you were immoral, a heretic, and a menace to society, and for hundreds of years entire Christian armies were going to try to exterminate you for the good of the rest of us.

Immoral, at least once.

Immoral, at least twice.

Exterminations all around, please.

When the witches caused crop failures, or the plague, or engaged in their orgiastic behavior, we were darn lucky to have the Bruloir available for the protection of our collective morals…eh?

Even to this very day, theologians warn us to beware of rock ‘n’ roll, I kid you not, because “these musicians have been primarily responsible for the dramatic rise in Satanic practices among young people today.”

And now it’s the damn homos, wanting to destroy our American Judeo-Christian Bible Law And Morality with their efforts to get fag married and turn our babies into lesbian cannibals…even though Pastor Fred Phelps very clearly tells us that God hates Fags….which they somehow can’t seem to understand, which is why we have to pass laws to try and protect our Judeo-Christian values.

Now I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here, and I know this is a great campaign issue for Republicans, but if you’re standing in front of the “Protecting Morality Scoreboard”, and the score reads, say, 0-11, and you’re the 11, and every time you’ve screwed it up so far piles of bodies end up strewn all over the place…and now you’re here to tell us that God and the Bible want to shut down the same-sex weddings because you just absolutely know that they’re a moral threat to society…why, exactly, are we supposed to believe you have any idea what you’re talking about?

Monday, August 16, 2010

On Online Brainstorming, Or, "Hey, Unions...Wanna Grow?"

Sometimes stories happen because of planning; other times serendipity intervenes, which is how we got to the conversation we’ll be having today.

In an exchange of comments on the Blue Hampshire site, I proposed an idea that could be of real value to unions, workers...and surprisingly, employers.

If things worked out correctly, not only would lots of people feel a real desire to have unions represent them, but employers would potentially be coming to unions looking to forge relationships, and, just to make it better, this plan bypasses virtually all of the tools and techniques employers use to shut out union organizers.

Since I just thought this up myself, I’m really not sure exactly how practical the whole thing is, and the last part of the discussion today will be provided by you, as I ask you to sound off on whether this plan could work, and if so, how it could be made better.

It’s a new let’s all put our heads together and rebuild the labor movement, shall we?

Credit Where Credit Is Due Dept.: We’re having this conversation today because of a back and forth between StratfordDem and myself over at Blue Hampshire, as I mentioned above, and the ideas that you’ll hear here are hardly my own—in fact, they’ve been part and parcel of how unions have worked for as long as there have been unions.

My proposal, however, takes an old idea, adds a twist, and tries to develop it to a whole new market, in a place where unions have been disadvantaged for a long time: among small businesses.

Before we move forward with the actual proposal, let’s do a bit of “stage setting”:

We are forever being told that the vast majority of jobs being created in the US economy are jobs created by small businesses. Unfortunately for unions, those small businesses don’t seem to be fertile grounds for organizing.

There are a variety of “structural” barriers that have been put in place over the years to make union organizing harder (and it’s even worse outside the US); one example would be the “right-to-work” laws that exist in more than twenty US states.

On the other side, there are industries that seem to likely targets for organizing, including those nursing facilities providing the kind of “hands-on” care that is often performed by medical assistants...who, quite frankly, would be awfully hard to “outsource”.

In normal economic times, it’s hard to keep these places staffed, particularly when there are either short shifts to be filled or people calling in sick, and that’s why there are “staffing agencies” who provide workers to fill in the gap.

There’s a catch: “agency” help is very expensive—and that often forces facilities to choose between agency help or “mandatory overtime”, which is also an expensive option. Obviously, abusing mandatory overtime isn’t just a budget problem—it will also damage the relationship between management and crew, which has its own costs.

The other players in this environment we’ll be talking about are the “Bryman Colleges” of the world (or Everest College, depending on where you live); you know them for their nonstop ad campaigns hoping to make you anything from a medical assistant to a construction project manager.

According to the General Accountability Office, the tuition for the medical assistant program at one of those schools might run in range of $12,000, which could be triple what it would cost to get the same training at a community college.

Ultra Geeky Fun Fact Of The Month: Those of you who play with Lie Groups and buildings of spherical types probably already knew this, but Belgian mathematician Jacques Tits (so famous, thanks to his “buildings” theory, that the concept of a group with a BN-pair is described as a "Tits System") celebrated his 80th birthday August 12th.

Ironically, Tits and buildings have nothing to do with TITS (the Total Information Transfer System), created by the City University of Hong Kong to to improve the communications process among construction managers developing large building projects.

So now it’s time to put all this together:

Picture, if you will, a union apprenticeship program for medical assistants that is melded with a “hiring hall” for fill-in positions.

Instead of spending $12,000 to go to Bryman, people would join the sponsoring union and start paying union dues.

The union, in turn, would place these workers, at about 125-150% of “normal” wage, in the fill-in slots that become available, allowing workers to “earn while they learn”; at the same time they’re attending the academic classes that would be required of any apprenticeship program.

The union needs to find nursing homes that are willing to place these workers. The way they do that is with a fairly straightforward sales pitch: “I can place workers in your facility, on short notice and with one phone call, for about the same price as overtime...and a lot less than the cost of agency help.”

The union involved will have to accept that they won’t be representing all of the workers at that facility...but they will be placing their workers at higher wages than non-union workers...and as the one group begins to see what the other has, this should help to make the idea of joining a union a lot more interesting to that portion of the staff the union does not yet represent.

It also removes the problem of the facility “pretextually” firing anyone who might look like they’re trying to organize the rest of the workforce.

Since workers would be finding out about the apprenticeship program through advertising and other means of contact, the ability of employers to intimidate workers out of joining a union is diminished; since employers are looking to bring in these union fill-in workers to fix a hole in their very, very, tight budgets, their desire to intimidate is also reduced.

If they do this well, the union should be able to create quite a bit of worker loyalty, and that should help resolve some of the problems associated with “right-to-work” laws.

So there you go: there may be a place for unions to expand apprenticeship by invading the territory of training schools that seem to be sticking it to workers today, and those same unions have a chance to change the relationship between unions and businesses into something that looks a whole lot less threatening to those businesses.

In the process, unions could create new worker loyalty—and they could also create a situation where the other workers start asking themselves: “hey...why don’t we belong to a union?”

And that brings us to the part where you come in:

What obvious things did I miss?
What legal impediments might exist that I’m unaware of?
How can this idea be made better?

Let’s make this a conversation, and let’s see where it ends up.

Monday, August 9, 2010

On Saving 319,000 Jobs, Or, Legislation Keeps Teachers Teaching

As I pick up the pace of work again, coming into the midterms, I have to get some stories cleared off the desk in order to make room for some others, and that’s what we’re about today.

We’ll be talking about saving more than 300,000 of this country’s most important jobs, and paying for it in a way that is not only good policy, but is a real problem for Republicans who are yelling “no new taxes!” once again while pretending they care about actually paying for actual spending and actually want to cut actual unemployment.

We have a bit of work to do today, but we want to keep it somewhat let’s get going.

So across my desk have come documents that report how many jobs will be saved by the House coming back into session to vote out H.R. 1586 and send it to the President for his signature.

Long story short, after all the commemorative pens have been distributed about 319,000 more people will be working, including 161,000 more teachers who will be in class this year then there would have been there if it wasn’t for this bill...and as it happens, that many teachers is actually about 25,000 more people than the total number of workers in all of America’s coal mines combined.

It’s going to cost $10 billion for the “save the teacher’s jobs” part of the bill; another $16.1 billion will be paid to states to help them pay for their share of Medicare expenses this fiscal year, that will allow them to avoid laying off the remaining 158,000 workers, many of whom are working for someone like Child Protective Services or are State Troopers or are working for your State’s Department of Corrections...and about 80,000 of those jobs are private sector jobs, as contractors who work for the various states are also kept on the job.

To give you an idea of just how many teachers we’re talking about, Florida will have 9200 more this fall than they would have otherwise, Illinois will have 5700 more, Kentucky, 2200 more, and in California there’ll be about 16,500 more teachers in the classrooms this fall than if this bill wasn’t going to pass.

You can look up how many more teachers your State is estimated to have this fall at a handy page on the House Committee on Education and Labor’s website.

I don’t have a handy chart for the remaining workers, but if those jobs are more or less distributed the same way you could expect California, as an example, to save a total of about 33,000 jobs with just this one bill, and Florida to save about 18,000.

How badly do states need the money?

By an amazing coincidence, as I’m putting this story together I’m watching tonight’s “The Rachel Maddow Show”, and sure as life, she’s working the same story...and she’s reporting that Paul Krugman’s reporting that several states are literally unpaving their roads because they can’t afford to maintain them any more.

So here’s the best part: it’s all paid for by closing a variety of tax loopholes and recovering money that wasn’t being used from other programs, so no new deficit spending or additions to debt are required.

The tax loopholes?

They take aim at the various methods multinational companies are using to shield US income from US tax collectors; these mostly involve getting a Post Office box in the Cayman Islands, or something similar, and more or less claiming all your US business is derived from your new “regional office”, or that you believe you paid all your income taxes on your US income to some other government.

Our Republican friends are going nutty about this, claiming, as John Boehner just did on “Meet The Press”, that: “...they want to raise the taxes on the American people .”

This is particularly tough for Republicans because they’re dying to save The Bush Tax Cuts For The Really, Really Rich, all $800 billion worth of ‘em, without explaining how they would be paid for, all the while complaining about the much, much, lower cost of paying for saving these 300,000 jobs—and, in the very next sentence, saying they hate deficits...and if you check out the transcript from that “Meet the Press” interview, you’ll see that David Gregory asked Boehner about how he planned on paying for the $800 billion in tax cuts he wants, three different times, and he wouldn’t give a straight answer once.

So when people ask you: “What’s Washington doing about jobs?”, you can tell them they’re not only saving about a third of a million of the jobs that fight fires, and put criminals in jail, and teach your kids this fall—and paying for it, to boot—but those smaller classrooms are also making it more likely that your kids will have better jobs when they grow up; all of that without much help from our Republican friends, who’s biggest job right now seems to be figuring out how to borrow another $800 billion from you and China to give away to their wealthiest friends.

Which is its own special kind of job...and I’m pretty sure the word “snow” is somehow involved in the job description.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

On Organized Fearmongering Revealed, Or, “Lock Up The Kids…It’s The Gay!”

The airwaves (and the print and blog waves, for that matter) are filled with the news that a Federal Judge in California has declared that State’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional, which could clear the way for the resumption of same-sex weddings in the State.

Ordinarily, this would be the point where I would present to you a walkthrough of the ruling, and we’d have a fine conversation about the legal implications of what has happened.

I’m not doing that today, frankly, because the ground is already well-covered; instead, we’re going to take a look at some of the tactics that were used to pass Prop 8, as they were presented in Judge Vaughan’s opinion.

It’s an ugly story—and even more than that, it’s a reminder of why it’s tough to advance civil rights through the political process, and what you have to deal with when you’re trying to make such a thing happen.

So first things first: one of the sites where my postings are to be found is The Bilerico Project, and over there Dr. Jillian T. Weiss has gone to the time and trouble of explaining the nuts and bolts of this ruling in a very accessible way; I’d commend to all of you who are looking for that background a visit to her story.

With that out of the way, here’s what I want you to know about how Prop 8 was presented, promoted, and defended: the entire process was designed to use ignorance, fear, disinformation, and God to make same-sex couples a national threat to you and your babies—and when it came time to defend this proposition in court, those who supported Prop 8, frankly, ran away and hid, which had a lot to do with the eventual outcome of the findings of fact, and, of course, the findings of law.

(If you weren’t aware, a court’s opinion will often present as a narrative of the evidence, followed by “findings of fact”, then “findings of law”. In the appeals process, findings of fact are rarely overturned; findings of law are frequently overturned.)

The “Defendants and Defendant-intervenors” (to use the exact language of the Court) who support Prop 8 intended to call 10 expert witnesses to explain why Prop 8 fulfills some sort of rational purpose.

Some of them were “deposed” (a sort of “pre-interview” conducted under oath before trial)…and that did not go well: by the time the trial came around only two of the original 10 were actually called to testify. Of the missing eight, two had their deposition testimony offered into evidence by the Plaintiffs, who were able to use the testimony of the Defendant’s expert witnesses to show the Judge that Prop 8 deserved to be overturned.

After that process was over, here’s what the Judge had to say about the Prop 8 campaign’s tactics:

The Proposition 8 campaign relied on fears that children exposed to the concept of same-sex marriage may become gay or lesbian. The reason children need to be protected from same-sex marriage was never articulated in official campaign advertisements. Nevertheless, the advertisements insinuated that learning about same-sex marriage could make a child gay or lesbian and that parents should dread having a gay or lesbian child.

One of the two defense experts who did testify was David Blankenhorn; he’s the founder and president of the Institute for American Values. Here’s what the Judge had to say about that testimony:

Blankenhorn was unwilling to answer many questions directly on cross-examination and was defensive in his answers. Moreover, much of his testimony contradicted his opinions. Blankenhorn testified on cross-examination that studies show children of adoptive parents do as well or better than children of biological parents. Blankenhorn agreed that children raised by same-sex couples would benefit if their parents were permitted to marry. Blankenhorn also testified he wrote and agrees with the statement “I believe that today the principle of equal human dignity must apply to gay and lesbian persons. In that sense, insofar as we are a nation founded on this principle, we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were the day before.”

Blankenhorn’s opinions are not supported by reliable evidence or methodology and Blankenhorn failed to consider evidence contrary to his view in presenting his testimony. The court therefore finds the opinions of Blankenhorn to be unreliable and entitled to essentially no weight.

Just so everyone knows…in this story, I’m editing the Judge’s opinion to remove various notes (example: “Tr 1900:13-18”) in order to make things more readable.

There were four defendants who were there by virtue of their being the “official proponents” of Prop 8 (other defendants included the Governor, State Attorney General, and certain Public Health officials and County Clerks, each in their administrative capacities); one of those was Hak-Shing William Tam, and, again, I’ll let the Judge handle this one:

Proponent Hak-Shing William Tam testified about his role in the Proposition 8 campaign. Tam spent substantial time, effort and resources campaigning for Proposition 8. As of July 2007, Tam was working with Protect Marriage to put Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot. Tam testified that he is the secretary of the America Return to God Prayer Movement, which operates the website “” encouraged voters to support Proposition 8 on grounds that homosexuals are twelve times more likely to molest children, and because Proposition 8 will cause states one-by-one to fall into Satan’s hands. Tam identified NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) as the source of information about homosexuality, because he “believe[s] in what they say.”. Tam identified “the internet” as the source of information connecting same-sex marriage to polygamy and incest.

(The links were not part of the original text.)

The Judge referred specifically to a letter Tam sent to the “friends” of his website during the Prop 8 fight which really shows what these folks are thinking:

“This November, San Francisco voters will vote on a ballot to ‘legalize prostitution.’ This is put forth by the SF city government, which is under the rule of homosexuals. They lose no time in pushing the gay agenda —— after legalizing same-sex marriage, they want to legalize prostitution. What will be next? On their agenda list is: legalize having sex with children * * * We can’t lose this critical battle. If we lose, this will very likely happen * * * 1. Same-Sex marriage will be a permanent law in California. One by one, other states would fall into Satan’s hand. 2. Every child, when growing up, would fantasize marrying someone of the same sex. More children would become homosexuals. Even if our children is safe, our grandchildren may not. What about our children’s grandchildren? 3. Gay activists would target the big churches and request to be married by their pastors. If the church refuse, they would sue the church.” (as written)

You can gain more insight into Tam’s thinking from his own trial testimony. Again, from the opinion:

Tam supported Proposition 8 because he thinks “it is very important that our children won’t grow up to fantasize or think about, Should I marry Jane or John when I grow up? Because this is very important for Asian families, the cultural issues, the stability of the family.”

Are these the views of just one very disturbed citizen, caught up in hyperbolic campaign frenzy?

Apparently not…because here’s what the Catholic Church was saying a year after the Prop 8 vote:

Catholics for the Common Good, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, Excerpts from Vatican Document on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Unions (Nov 22, 2009): There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”; “homosexual acts go against the natural moral law” and “[u]nder no circumstances can * * * be approved”; “[t]he homosexual inclination is * * * objectively disordered and homosexual practices are sins gravely contrary to chastity”; “[a]llowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children”; and “legal recognition of homosexual unions * * * would mean * * * the approval of deviant behavior.”

Plaintiff’s witnesses, without exception, were found to be credible, and among those was Dr. Gary Michael Sagura, a Stanford University Professor of Political Science:

“[T]he American public is not very fond of gays and lesbians.” Warmness scores for gays and lesbians are as much as 16 to 20 points below the average score for religious, racial and ethnic groups; over 65 percent of respondents placed gays and lesbians below the midpoint, below the score of 50, whereas a third to 45 percent did the same for other groups. When “two-thirds of all respondents are giving gays and lesbians a score below 50, that’s telling elected officials that they can say bad things about gays and lesbians, and that could be politically advantageous to them because * * * many parts of the electorate feel the same way.” Additionally, “the initiative process could be fertile ground to try to mobilize some of these voters to the polls for that cause.”

“[Proponents’ expert] Dr Young freely admits that religious hostility to homosexuals [plays] an important role in creating a social climate that’s conducive to hateful acts, to opposition to their interest in the public sphere and to prejudice and discrimination.”

“[T]he role of prejudice is profound. * * * [I]f the group is envisioned as being somehow * * * morally inferior, a threat to children, a threat to freedom, if there’s these deeply-seated beliefs, then the range of compromise is dramatically limited. It’s very difficult to engage in the give-and-take of the legislative process when I think you are an inherently bad person. That’s just not the basis for compromise and negotiation in the political process.”

As the Judge notes, all this hating has had an effect on actual crime and violence:

“[O]ver the last five years, there has actually been an increase in violence directed toward gay men and lesbians”; “gays and lesbians are representing a larger and larger portion of the number of acts of bias motivated violence” and “are far more likely to experience violence”; “73 percent of all the hate crimes committed against gays and lesbians also include an act of violence * * * we are talking about the most extreme forms of hate based violence”; the hate crimes accounted for “71 percent of all hate-motivated murders” and “[f]ifty-five percent of all hate-motivated rapes” in 2008; “There is simply no other person in society who endures the likelihood of being harmed as a consequence of their identity than a gay man or lesbian.”

So what can we make of all this?

How about this: there’s a community of people who feel that Teh Gay poses an imminent danger to their marriages, their children, and their way of life—but when it comes time to actually explain why, in a court of law…they can’t offer a bit of evidence, except to say “it’s on the Internet” or “because God told me so”.

In the meantime, the group who isn’t actually a threat to anybody is the group most likely to be targeted for violent attacks—because some people are just so sure they’re such a threat to our marriages, our children, and The Good Ol’ American Way.

Political compromise is not likely—and political courage isn’t either, which may be why there’s still so much “not asking” and “not telling” going on these days.

Whether this opinion is upheld or not, its deeper truths remain for all to see; I’ll close today’s discussion with a deeper truth of my own:

If you belong to a political or racial minority…or if you’re a “plain old White American”, facing the prospect of soon becoming a minority group…you better figure out, and quickly, that those same forces of prejudice you’re directing at these people can be turned against you, too (as they were, against the Chinese, not so very long ago, and as they are, against Blacks and Hispanics and Arabs, to this very day), just as soon as it’s convenient for the political needs of another.

The reason we fight prejudice isn’t just to protect the group being affected…but to protect us all from the people who will manipulate this stuff for their own use—and if you don’t think the fear of The Gay Baby Molester, and the Scary Hispanic Border Jumper, and the New Black Panthers isn’t being used by Conservatives, right now, to keep you from thinking about the problems they created as November draws nigh…well, then, Gentle Reader, you’re missing out on Politics 101.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prop 8 Preview: The “Basis” Is The Thing

As you look at today’s Prop 8 ruling, I want you to think back a few weeks to the Massachusetts Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) rulings for a bit of legal logic that will make a huge difference as this case moves through any appeals process.

What I want you to think about are two moderately obscure concepts: “strict scrutiny” and “rational basis”. The difference between the two will tell us how hard Prop 8 will be to defend, and we’ll quickly walk through what you need to know, right here, right now.

We have a long discussion available, here and here, that explains exactly what happened in Massachusetts a few weeks ago, but the short version is something like this: a series of Plaintiffs, including private persons and the State of Massachusetts, sued the Federal Government, alleging that DOMA violates the Constitution.

Judge Joseph Tauro, of the District of Massachusetts, ruled in two rulings, released on the same day, that DOMA does indeed fail Constitutional muster, but he added a rather unusual twist to the ruling, and to explain that twist, we now need to talk about the concepts of “strict scrutiny” and “rational basis”.

It works like this: according to the Supreme Court, some rights are more “fundamental” than others. If a government seeks to intrude upon one of these fundamental rights, they need a very good reason…one that’s so good, in fact, that it can survive the “strict scrutiny” of an examining Court.

Marriage for the purpose of procreation has already been established as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court in the 1967 ruling Loving v Virginia; nobody’s ever really specifically addressed the question of whether those who do not intend to have children have that same fundamental right to marriage.

Other rights are considered less fundamental; governments can intrude upon those “liberty interests” if the intrusion:

“…is “narrow enough in scope and grounded in a sufficient factual context for [the Court] to ascertain some relation between the classification and the purpose it serve[s]… …As such, a law must fail rational basis review where the “purported justifications…[make] no sense in light of how the [government] treated other groups similarly situated in relevant respects…”

That intrusion is far easier to justify under this “rational basis” standard than it is under strict scrutiny.

So here’s the twist: in the Massachusetts cases, Plaintiffs argued that DOMA failed the strict scrutiny test—and if marriage without procreation is considered to be a fundamental right, then the Plaintiffs should prevail, and DOMA should be ruled unconstitutional.

But the Judge ignored that argument.

Instead, he analyzed the case from a rational basis point of view—and even under that far less restrictive standard, he ruled that there was no rational basis for the existence of DOMA. In fact, during rational basis review the Defendant’s attorneys, or even the Judge, can invent their own “rational bases” for the law, during the trial, and apply those to the argument, and even with all that help nobody could figure out any reason for DOMA to exist—except for the possibility that a majority of the Congress at the time just didn’t like gay people.

Again, from Tauro’s opinion in Gill v Office of Personnel Management:

“In sum, this Court is soundly convinced, based on the foregoing analysis, that the government’s proffered rationales, past and current, are without “footing in the realities of the subject addressed by [DOMA].” And “when the proffered rationales for a law are clearly and manifestly implausible, a reviewing Court may infer that animus is the only explicable basis. [Because] animus alone cannot constitute a legitimate government interest,” this Court finds that DOMA lacks a rational basis to support it…

…As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this Court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

And that’s what I want you to be looking for today: does the opinion from California look beyond strict scrutiny and analyze this case under rational basis review—and if they do, will the challenge to Prop 8 be upheld, even under a standard that is easier to defend?

If Prop 8 fails, even under rational basis, it’s going to be a lot tougher for the Supreme Court, who we assume will eventually be getting this case, to justify keeping the law alive. That’s because they would presumably have to find some rational basis of their own to assign to the law, which, so far, has proven to be rather a tough thing to do.

There’s still a few hours to wait, so go grab a coffee, settle back, and wait for the fun…but it will indeed be a big legal deal, especially if a rational basis analysis is applied, and Prop 8 still fails.