Friday, October 31, 2008


I’ve been working as a volunteer on NO ON PROPOSITION 8, and have become so wrapped up in this battle I can barely see straight anymore. Barack Obama seems to be winning, and I can’t find the time to feel good about it. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. I am really worried the money pouring in from right wing sources, particularly religious organizations like the Mormon Church, may win the day for the other side on November 4, and the right to marry will be taken away from gay people.

So I got my butt in gear and went to the NO ON 8 headquarters in San Francisco to do what I could. I walked in the door, said to the sweet young thing at the door that I wanted to volunteer. For years I've boasted I could hang up on unsolicited callers faster than anyone else east or west of the Mississippi, and I could sneer, "How dare you call me at dinnertime?" with the best of them. The dialogue went kind of like this:

Me: ...Just don't ask me to make phone calls.
SYT: That's what we need people to do most right now.
Me: I'll do it.

Monday I called 110 people, Tuesday 155. Mostly I just got answering machines all over the 408 (San Jose) area, but I did manage to engage a couple people in conversation. If I could just find a way to start a conversation, I thought, I might make a difference.

One conversation went kind of like this:

Me: We’re calling to urge people to vote NO on PROP. 8…
Woman: No. My church told me to vote YES.
Me: I respect your freedom to follow your own moral code, but do you really think I should be governed by your religion as well?
Woman: Yes.

And she hangs up before I can say any more.

Well, I had to ask.

Let me fast forward to a call I made this week.

Me: May I speak with Dustin, please? (I’m not using the real name.)
Woman: Who’s calling?
Me: I’m a volunteer with NO ON PROP. 8, and we’re trying to set up training times for people who volunteered to work on election day on the campaign.
Woman: Oh, then I’m the one you should talk to. Dustin is in school. He’s only 16. He came out to us a couple months ago, so his father and I decided we should go with him to fight this wretched homophobic proposition to show him we support him and always will. What time should we all be there?
Me: (trying to hold the tears back) Ma’am, you’ve made my day. Hell, you’ve made my year.

What an astonishing experience this has been. I have not been politically active in decades, and to go in day after day and sit in a room full of strangers all earnestly working on a cause near and dear to my heart, has made me feel twenty years younger.

I’ve tried to look ahead to the possibility of failure and brace myself. The opposition is fierce, and phone banks in Utah are covering the state with fear of the fall of civilization if Prop. 8 fails.

As always, it is no surprise where the support is coming from. This morning’s Chronicle reports that while 62 percent of the voters with a high school education or less support Proposition 8, only 33 percent of the voters who have done some postgraduate work do.

And while the Mormons are the biggest force behind removing Californians' civil rights in this instance, among other religious groups, Protestants are the strongest supporters, 60 percent to 33 percent. Catholics are evenly split, 44 percent in favor and 48 percent against. Proposition 8 is opposed by 64 percent of voters of other religions and 77 percent of those with no religious preference.

To make myself feel better, I’ve been pouring over the NO ON PROP. 8 videos on YouTube and on the NO ON PROPOSITION 8 website, and checking in on the yes side as well to see what the arguments are.

This issue is worth some careful analysis, but not now. For now, I’ve got to be 100% partisan or I won’t sleep at night.

In that vein, let me share with you a sampling of the videos available. There are more being posted all the time. Some are pretty silly. These, most of them, appeal to me.

If you have a life, you probably won’t get through them all, so let me put my ten favorite ones right at the top. Just click on the names or titles.

1. Diane Feinstein
2. Barbara Boxer
3. Itzhak Perlman
4. Ellen Degeneres
5. The Thorons
6. Jewish Mother
7. Celebrities Say NO
8. Hello, I’m No – 1
9. Outraged Parents
10. Apple, orange and potato
11. No on 8 PSA: Family
12. California: Vote No on 8 (Feminist Majority Foundation)
13. Parents – What’s wrong with gay marriages? (the same thing as with straight marriages)
14. Wedding in Canada (Come and get married in Canada)
15. Margaret Cho & Selene Luna
16. Why gay marriage is wrong
17. Blanket - What’s wrong with gay marriages? (the same thing as with straight marriages)
18. Straight to the Point
19. I Decide
20. Joe Biden on Ellen
21. League of Women Voters, Mayor of Santa Barbara, rally
22. Asian and Pacific Islanders (George Takei)
23. John Cho
24. John Perez, East L.A.
25. End marriages for the Elderly?
26. Response to the Kids ad about a prince marrying a prince
27. Backwards
28. Is Gay Marriage a 2-Sided Issue?
29. Lynn Cheney
30. Wanda Sykes
31. California Clergy

And just a taste of what we’re up against:

1. John Pendleton of :

If you want to see where the NO ON PROP. 8 support is coming from, here is a partial list of supporters. Note the list starts with both California Senators, the mayors of all the big cities, and all the major newspapers.

We could still lose, if urban voters stay home and rural voters come out in large numbers. Or if secular or mainstream religious voters stay home and born agains come out in large numbers.

I don’t want to think of that possibility, so I’m hoping others will look at who is on the NO ON 8 side, and consider where they are coming from:

List of Donors to NO ON PROP. 8

Keep the faith, baby…

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Letter to Nicholas Kristof

In today's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof asks the question,

Should we call Obama ‘black’ or ‘biracial’?

I joined the large crowd of those who took this as an invitation to provide their two cents.

Here's my response (No. 104).

Mr. K:

Delighted to see you have brought up this ridiculous and racist folly we Americans practice of thinking if you’re not “pure” white you’re black, and that black implies polluted. But then why add more folly? If race is a retrograde social construct, “mixed race” is no less so, even though on the surface it suggests greater scientific accuracy. You don’t make things better by calling somebody mixed. You don’t know whether they are smart or dumb or kind or vicious or honest or deceitful when they are labeled black or white, and you don’t know that about them when you see them as mixed, either.

Nor do you really know much about their cultural identity. To say Barack Obama knows more about white culture because of his white grandparents is not fair to the “non-mixed-race-blacks” – and, for that matter, the allegedly non-mixed-race white people of America – whose life experiences and educational opportunities well used have brought them to pretty much the same attitudes, values and beliefs Obama holds. Some people learn what is hot without actually sticking their hands in the fire.

I know social constructs are just as real as biological ones, and the categories we invent then come to determine our thinking to a large extent. That is what is driving the excitement of finally seeing a “black” man and his family take on the role of governing our country from the White House, and representing us all in the world.

But the fact Barack Obama has the support that he has suggests a whole lot of us are quite capable of jumping from “black or white” to “human” without having to go through “mixed” first. “Mixed” is a category for those who want to move more slowly. I know that’s a lot of people, and they need to be given time. But I hope we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that “mixed” is a real correction to racist category-making. It’s only an intermediate step. And a paltry one, at that.

— Alan McCornick

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Letter to PowaySean in the San Diego Union-Tribune

Just came across this comment in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

By PowaySean on 10/29/2008 at 9:40 a.m.
...I disagree with you that marriage is a "right". Marriage is a religious institution that governments endorse. Child rearing is an expensive and difficult venture. Governments endorse marriage as an encouragement for stable procreation. There is no other logical benefit for government to endorse marriage. Since homosexuals, by the very definition, cannot procreate there is no reason to endorse it. As for homosexuals, I am all for treating them with respect, but since marriage is not a human right I see no reason to support it. Just my humble (and to some I am sure "extreme") position.

and I wrote this response:


You say:

a. "marriage is a religious institution"

Actually, no. Marriage is a civil right in California, and clergy are permitted to act as agents of the state. A church wedding not registered with the state is not valid. In most modern countries, only a civil marriage is legal, and if the church wants to bless the union, that is extra, and the state pays it no notice. Marriage in the U.S. began with the doctrine of coverture, in which a woman was her husband's property and had no rights of her own. Once there was no divorce, but the state (not the church) made divorce legal. Once there were miscegenation laws, but the state (not the church) made them illegal. Religion may guide your individual choices, but if your choices are not my choices, then it is the state, not your church, which should referee our differences.

b. "marriage (is) an encouragement for stable procreation.

Yes, but that's hardly all that marriage is about.

Would you argue that two individuals in their 50s who want to marry should not be allowed to do so? Sterile men? Infertile women? Women and men who choose not to have children?

Should the 163,879 American households (2000 Census - no doubt there are many more now) in which children live with gay parents be thrown under a bus because you want to limit marriage to procreators? That's 22% of male same-sex couple households and 33% of female same-sex couple households, by the way.

Let's not lose sight of what Prop. 8 would do: it would take away civil rights that Californians currently enjoy, rights the Supreme Court found in the Constitution. Why? Because some religious people want them taken away? If we were going to be dictated to by organized religion (and good Lord, why would we forget Thomas Jefferson and 200 years of American tradition to do that?), why not the Congregationalists? The Quakers? The Unitarians? Reformed Jews? They all embrace gay and lesbian people and are urging Californians to VOTE NO ON PROP 8.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Letter to Stephen re Prop. 8

This letter appeared in yesterday’s

I have heard a lot in recent weeks about Prop. 8 denying same gender couples various rights. My concern is in regards to religious rights.

In various instances the rights of religious freedom are threatened by proponents of gay rights. If Prop. 8 fails, no rights will be taken away from gay couples. However, the rights of the religious community to practice their moral beliefs would be endangered. On Aug. 18, the California Supreme Court ruled that physicians could not refuse to provide fertility treatments because of religious objections. On Aug. 3, Catholic Charities in San Francisco announced it would stop its adoptions work. Earlier this year, Catholic Charities in Boston stopped providing adoption services because of the state mandating that homosexual couples be considered for placement, despite religious beliefs to the contrary. Clearly, religious persons are the ones whose rights are being threatened.
If Prop 8 fails, it is clear that the religious community will lose its rights to proclaim its faith and morals without fear of reprisal.

(signed) Stephen Wood
Yuba City

I felt I needed to speak to this guy. Here’s my response.

Dear Stephen:

“No rights will be taken away from gay couples,” you say. Do you have an official California voter information guide? Turn to page 54 and read:

Proposition 8 – Eliminates right of same-sex couples to marry.

You claim that if we don’t remove the right of California same-sex partners to marry that “the rights of the religious community to practice their moral beliefs would be endangered.”

Is it an English language problem? One believes. One then puts one’s beliefs into practice, or not. How, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, would Proposition 8 interfere with your ability to put your beliefs into practice? If you believe you, as a man, should not marry another man, by all means don’t marry one!

You are advocating the removal of our right to marry. Why? Because you don’t believe we should marry? Why should my practices be affected by your beliefs? After careful deliberation the California Supreme Court determined the constitution grants me the right to marry the partner of my choosing, regardless of sex. If your religious tradition runs counter to that, why should that affect me? I should not have to be governed, as a citizen, by your religion.

Democracy works when one’s personal rights end where another’s begins. You are right to focus on that notion. But you must distinguish between belief and practice. Children have the right to good homes. If the state determines that gay people give them good homes, your beliefs should not entitle you to remove that right. If the state – and, for that matter, other people’s religious beliefs - determine all citizens have a right to access to fertility measures, your religious beliefs do not entitle you to override those rights, either. Nobody is punishing you for believing this is not right. They are simply acting upon different beliefs. Neither their beliefs nor yours are being threatened.

Protestants once insisted we should limit the rights of Catholics, Christians once limited the rights of Jews, and whites for a long time succeeded in limiting the rights of non-whites. One by one these tyrannies of the majority were eliminated and democratic liberties were extended. Recently, the (largely Republican) California Supreme Court extended the right to marry to same sex couples. Just as whites did not lose rights when blacks gained them, and Christians were not barred from country clubs when Jews were admitted, those who believe families should be comprised of a man and a woman are not prevented from forming such families, simply because, as a society, we have come to see families as more broadly defined.

When you urge government to interfere in our lives by taking away our right to marry, leaving us to settle for separate-but-equal second-class status, you are moving in on our civil rights. If you fail, you most certainly will not lose your right to proclaim your faith and morals, and your claim that there will be reprisals for doing so is entirely bogus.

What you will not be able to do is police the practices of those who do not share your beliefs. Americans have not had that right since the days of Cotton Mather.

We currently have rights we are desperately trying to hold onto. It’s bad enough you want to take those rights away. Bad enough the fox moves in on the henhouse. Now he wants the chickens to see him as the victim?

Please, Stephen, there are better ways to deal with your fears than to bully your fellow Americans with your religion. Make some efforts to familiarize yourself with gay people. Particularly those who adopt kids most straight people won’t take in. And those who, like yourself, belong to a religious community. We are not your enemy. Gay people in Spain, Canada, South Africa, Holland and the Scandinavian countries build families around same-sex marriages and their societies are the richer for it. Should we in America not have the same basic rights?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fixing Things

I had a friend many years ago who got seriously annoyed with me when I admitted, without embarrassment, an ignorance of economics. “How could any educated person talk like that?” he said. “If you don’t understand economics, you don’t understand anything!

I think that’s overstating it, but at moments like these, I wonder what he is doing and whether he remembers his old friend, the economic dunce, now reading the papers and trying to figure out what the hell is going on in America.

It appears there are three separate camps fighting over what to do about the Wall Street bailout:

A. those who want to give Paulson $700 billion;
B. those who don’t because they are against big government;
C. those who don’t because they believe it’s rewarding people who should be punished.

My head is with those in Group A, because all the smart people seem to be there – people like the Democratic Leadership, Paul Krugman, Barack Obama. And David Brooks. As Thomas Friedman put it this morning, “This is dangerous. We have House members, many of whom I suspect can’t balance their own checkbooks, rejecting a complex rescue package because some voters, whom I fear also don’t understand, swamped them with phone calls.”

My heart is with Group C, people like Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Moore and that vast majority of American people - the kind of people making the phone calls. “…(O)ne of the best votes of my career,” says Representative Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, about his decision to say no.

And, if you’re interested, going around is a list of a couple hundred economists who actually believe the bailout will make the economy worse.

Group A has a parallel mondo bizarro set of strange bedfellows. Pelosi and Reed and Barney Frank and Steny Hoyer all on the side of George W. Bush.

At the heart of Group B, from all reports, are the Republicans in greatest danger of losing their seats in the next election. They are aware just how angry their constituents are, and are joining hands to throw George W. Bush under a bus and demonstrate they are part of the McCain future, not the Bush past. Group B also includes right-wingers like Jeb Hensarling, star student of Phil Gramm and poster boy for the spending limits ideologists of the Republican Party dedicated to "protecting the family budget from the federal budget.”

What a delicious turn of events, watching Republicans fall all over themselves to vote with the extreme left. Will we ever see such goings on again?

I understand that the 777 point drop in the Dow Jones Monday represents a loss on paper of 1.2 trillion dollars. That’s $1,200,000,000,000 and no cents, right? Right? A trillion starts with twelve, count’em, zeros? The 777-point drop is an indication, the pundits tell us, of what will happen to all of us if they don’t agree on a bailout pronto. 1.2 trillion dollars we have one day but don’t have the next. Man, that’s impressive. Imagine what you could do with that money. One source I read suggests the burden of the bailout carried by Berkeley voters would pay for a year’s health care for every man, woman and child in Berkeley, with money left over.

But wait. The day after we lose 1.2 trillion, the Dow Jones goes back up 500 points. Doesn’t that mean that half a trillion dollars comes back? See? Not such bad news after all. And all those savvy investors pouncing on the opportunity to make a buck by buying low. Isn’t that a sign of health? Apparently not.

The guy who kick started all this deregulation business is McCain’s economic advisor Phil Gramm. Talk about throwing people under a bus. A better metaphor might be watching somebody kick doggie do off his shoe, McCain being the kicker and Gramm the doggie do. And, by the way don’t you love how the media pounced on McCain over his gaffe – saying on September 15 that the economy is sound, well after it became obvious the opposite was true. Just like his insistence that he saw this coming, after admitting he didn’t see this coming. What did we do before YouTube?

It seems pretty clear now with the failure of the first couple of rounds that they’re doing the requisite tinkering. Thank God. Imagine giving that lobbyist for Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson, unfettered control over that $700 billion? Imagine giving any Wall Street banker that kind of taxpayer money? Any Bush appointee? Jesus, it makes your skin crawl.

But will the tinkering be enough? As Michael Moore points out, they may cut off the $60 million retirement bonuses to CEOs who bankrupt their companies. But couldn’t they just as easily increase their own salaries to make up the difference? Can the government really control salaries? Isn’t this a very strong argument for letting the markets work themselves out and let these greedy bastards take the hit?

The other side we always come back to is that there is no way, given the setup, that we can get these guys to take the hit without wrecking the entire economy in the process. Already people are talking about large corporations being unable to access the funds they need to make payrolls. And that will lead to layoffs. Loss of healthcare. Loss of pensions. And this whirlwind of spinoff effects leading ultimately to the economy screeching to a halt.

How many people can talk intelligently about leveraging? Tell you precisely how credit figures in and how much of this is “confidence building.” Explain market mechanics. This is an issue like stem-cell research where we would like to turn it over to the experts but know we have to get involved because the politicos certainly will and they will screw it up.

Like it or not, because there is so much we don’t know and don’t have the time to learn before a decision gets made, we are going to be at the mercy of “the experts,” including many of the foxes guarding the henhouse.

Chief of these is Hank Paulson, of course, a man who, I notice with alarm, once worked for John Ehrlichman. According to a Wikipedia article on him, in the leadup to the debacle,

• In August 2007, Secretary Paulson explained that U.S. subprime mortgage fallout remained largely contained due to the strongest global economy in decades.

• On July 20, 2008, after the failure of Indymac Bank, Paulson reassured the public by saying, “it's a safe banking system, a sound banking system. Our regulators are on top of it. This is a very manageable situation.”

• On August 10, 2008, Secretary Paulson told NBC’s Meet the Press that he had no plans to inject any capital into Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

• On September 7, 2008, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went into conservatorship.

This is the guy who’s going to fix things?

I note he is also devoted to fixing the environment. Was an Eagle Scout. A Christian Scientist. Maybe, this little voice says, he’s more than just another member of this Bush gang.

And that makes me worry I’m just one more of America’s millions of wishful thinkers.

Wonder if we are going to survive this one.