Tag Archives: LGBT rights

Happy Fourth of July: A More Perfect Union

Flag July 4th

It’s a good 4th of July weekend.  The benefits of citizenship have been affirmed for members of the LGBT community, but as the founders told us we’re on a path to create “a more perfect union.”  Therefore, there’s more work to be done to insure that housing, employment, and other areas of American life aren’t stumbling blocks of discrimination. We will have to keep up efforts toward building that “more perfect” union.

Ravenal Bridge

There may be some dead-enders, some battle flag flying remnants of blatant racism, but no matter how hard the Klan and their allies try, their proposed demonstration will be nothing compared to the thousands who walked along the Ravenal Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina.  We’re closer to being a nation of people who are taking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message to heart:

“When evil men plot, good men must plan.  When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind.  When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. “

At least two churches in the south have been the target of recent arson attacks, so in order to form that more perfect union it’s time for people of good will to build and bind.   It’s been a long walk from the bridge in Selma to the bridge in Charleston, but we’re getting there.  We still have to acknowledge the often painful accuracy of Winston Churchill’s backhanded compliment, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.”  

In a more perfect union, we’d not have maps showing that a person earning minimum wages cannot achieve a point at which only 30% of his income can pay for a one bedroom apartment.

Rent map

The darker the blue the worse the problem.  We’ll have a more perfect union when we address the complications of living on inadequate wages.  It does no good to march behind banners proclaiming that hard working Americans should “save for the future,” – when simply meeting basic needs for food, housing, and adequate clothing consume all the family’s income. It takes us no closer to a more perfect union to proclaim, “if the poor would just work harder they’d get ahead,” when elements of our judicial system, parts of our educational system, and the myopia of commerce combine to force workers into multiple jobs at minimal wages.  We are no closer to forming a more perfect union when we reward those who prosper at the expense of those who produce.

Unassisted graph

In a more perfect union this graph would be significantly lower.  How do we care for the least able among us? The learning disabled young man with nerve damage, but not quite enough to meet disability standards?  Unmarried, with no dependent children, unemployed except for odd jobs paying about $10 per hour?  A victim of child abuse, and now a victim of a system in which he doesn’t qualify for benefits because he’s never been able to find employment which sustains them. [Reuters]

We’ll be a more perfect union when we are more aware that the able-bodied are not necessarily able to fully function in our modern economy.  In a more perfect union there is more educational, job, housing, and food support for those who live on the margins of despair.

I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man.” Thomas Jefferson to Cornelius Blatchly, October 1822

And yet:

“About seven in 10 (69%) college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2013 had student loan debt. These borrowers owed an average of $28,400, up two percent compared to $27,850 for public and nonprofit graduates in 2012.   About one-fifth (19%) of the  Class of 2013’s debt was comprised of private loans, which are typically more costly and provide fewer consumer protections and repayment options than safer federal loans.”  [TICAS]

In a more perfect union, education advances the “happiness of man,” not merely the bottom line of banking institutions, and certainly not the unrestrained avarice of some for-profit operations who once having the federal funds in hand look to more recruitment without much concern for those already recruited.

And, then – predictably – there’s the Wall Street Casino, which has created SLABS (Student Loan Asset Based Securities).  While certainly not in the mortgage meltdown class, these are problematic because:

“What I find most disturbing about SLABS is that they create a system where an increase in tuition (and the debt-burden on the borrower) equals an increased profit for the investor. When you consider the role that unscrupulous speculators played in the mortgage crisis, one can’t help but wonder if a similar over-valuation of college tuition is taking place for the benefit of SLABS investors. With the cost of attending college increasing nearly 80% between 2003-2013 while wages have decreased, it’s no wonder that so many people are having difficulty paying off their student loans.” [MDA]

This situation is NOT the way to “diffuse light and education.”

There are countless other topics and issues on which we might dwell, assistance for the elderly, transportation, trade, economic security, police and community relations, infrastructure issues, voting rights,  domestic terrorism, domestic violence, gun violence, climate change … the list is  as long as the population rolls, as we try to create that more perfect union of imperfect human beings.

What we need is Churchill’s optimism – that eventually, after avoiding problems, exacerbating problems, tinkering with problems – we’ll do the right thing.

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Filed under banking, civil liberties, education, financial regulation, Global warming, homelessness, income inequality, Minimum Wage, poverty, racism

Laxalt Endorsed By Famous Person: Word Salad Shooter Version

Laxalt First Republican candidate for Attorney General, Adam Laxalt,  told me he wanted my vote because he’s a native Nevadan, “ready to serve,” making much of his stint in the U.S. Navy – thank you for your service sir.  BUT it escapes me exactly  how prosecution of terrorists in military courts  prepares a person for administering the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Consumer Complaints, Insurance Fraud, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Mortgage Fraud Unit, resolution of questions regarding the application of the Open Meeting Law, Worker’s Compensation Fraud, and Special Prosecutions.  Nor does this explain to me how Mr. Laxalt is ready to participate in the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice, the Attorney General’s Substance Abuse Working Group, the Committee on Domestic Violence, the Nevada Board of Examiners, the Nevada Council on Domestic Violence, the Nevada Information Technology Board, the Nevada Supreme Court Commission on Statewide Juvenile Justice Reform, and the Nevada Open Meeting Law Task Force.

And, then there’s that not so little matter of having some really dismal evaluations from one’s own law firm.  Rather than demonstrate he did not earn the sobriquet “Train Wreck,”  Mr. Laxalt is outraged his opponent could be the source of the leaked evaluations – which Mr. Miller is not.  That would be a denigration of Mr. Jon Ralston’s skills as an investigative journalist – Ralston got them, Ralston shared them. [NVProg]  Even a layman can figure out “promotion to counsel” doesn’t equate to “promotion to partner.”  There’s little left but the whining that Evil Doers have sabotaged his campaign?  Most of the time using the Victimization excuse  merely serves to remind voters that those who are good at making excuses are rarely good at much else.

“Adam is running for Attorney General to protect the safety of Nevada’s families, to preserve the liberty of Nevada’s citizens and businesses and to stand up for Nevadans against federal government overreach.” [Laxalt]

And for this he gets the endorsement of none other than the most infamous Word Salad Shooter the conservatives have to offer – Sarah Palin.

“While most of the focus leading into 2014 elections has been on the country’s life and death fight for our future with a conservative majority serving in the U.S. Senate, there are other offices we need to count on to put a stop to the liberal Obama agenda. In individual states, good Attorney Generals have led the legal fight against Obamacare, to protect religious liberties and states’ right, and to uphold other imperative core Constitutional principles. Here are four conservative Attorney General candidates I’m supporting. They will continue the fight for all of us!”

OK, sometimes I do get into “Comma Queen Mode,” but “death fight for our future with a conservative majority…” says to me the fight is with the conservative majority, which as a progressive is something with which I could agree.   This, in turn, reminds me that Mr. Laxalt told me he wanted to “stop Obamacare.”  Translation: Mr. Laxalt would like to repeal the health care insurance reforms enacted in the Affordable Care Act.

Seriously? He doesn’t want Nevadans to have any recourse if an insurance corporation rescinds a policy because the person made a legitimate mistake in the medical history portion of an application? Forgot you had measles in 1972?  He wants policies for women to automatically be more expensive than those for men?  He wants to kick the kids off family policies before age 25?  He wants to allow insurance companies to sell junk “life time limit” policies?  He wants to tell new entrepreneurs they can’t go to an insurance exchange (market) and pick out a policy from Anthem, Nevada Health Care Co-Op, Health Plan of Nevada, or Saint Mary’s [SSE] that fits his needs and finances?  Perhaps Mr. Laxalt hasn’t yet figured out that Obamacare isn’t a thing.  There’s are no government issued insurance policies.  There are only markets (state and federal) where people who do not have employer sponsored insurance policies can find affordable plans to purchase.   If candidate Laxalt hasn’t figured this out, perhaps there is a reason those evaluations weren’t stellar?

Speaking of families, there’s the gay marriage issue on which Mr. Laxalt has made his opposition clear, in spite of advice from Governor Sandoval and AG Masto.  There is something to be said for following the news:

“Case law over the last year and a half has completely turned our argument upside down,” Masto told the Reno Gazette-Journal on Tuesday. Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican and former federal judge, also said the state’s ban is “no longer defensible” in court and told the Gazette-Journal on Tuesday that he looked at the case “as a judge and a lawyer” and agrees with Masto.” [LVSun]

Indeed, the case law is changing, and in light of the recent refusal of the Supreme Court to take same sex marriage cases Mr. Laxalt continues to say he will “enforce the law” whatever that might be – a far cry from his adamant opposition to LGBT rights in 2010. [RGJ]  We might say, given Mr. Laxalt’s Navy experience, that that ship has sailed.

There’s one other arrow in Mr. Laxalt’s quiver – Tough On Crime – he wants to keep women and children safe – and who doesn’t?  However, Mr. Laxalt is not running for District Attorney.  Or Sheriff. Or applying to be Chief of Police. Or, even running for a state legislative seat wherein crimes are defined and penalties assigned.  He’s running to be an an administrator, and thus far his agenda is to fight anything Federal, fight anything that impinges on health insurance corporation profits, and fight anything that says members of the LGBT community should have equal rights.   For some this agenda will be adequate, even acceptable.  For others it’s an admission that he’s frozen in the politics of the past.

Indeed, those congealed into the Rovian politics of the Culture Wars will find our National Word Salad Shooter only too pleased to endorse them.  The remainder of the electorate may see only the candidate’s imploring brown eyes, seeking our votes, and looking for all the world like a young beagle trying desperately to comprehend house-breaking instructions.

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Filed under Nevada politics

SB 192 Nevada Dodged A Bullet

Rainbow Flag 2In the last session of the Assembled Wisdom several members of the Nevada Republican Party introduced SB 192 which “Enacts the Nevada Preservation of Religious Freedom Act to prohibit governmental entities from substantially burdening the exercise of religion. (BDR 3-477).”   Those twho originally sponsored this bill included: Cegavske, Hutchison, Hammond, Hardy, Denis, Ford, Goicoechea, Gustavson, Jones, Kieckhefer, Kihuen, Parks, Roberson, Segerblom, Settelmeyer, Smith, Woodhouse, Fiore, Duncan, Hardy, Grady, Hambrick, Hickey, Kirkpatrick, Kirner, Oscarson, Stewart, and Woodbury.

The bill got a vote in the State Senate and passed 14-7 with Atkinson, Ford, Manendo, Parks, Smith, Woodhouse, and Spearman voting in opposition.  The testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 13, 2013 was instructive — especially so in view of the comments made by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer as she vetoed the Arizona version.

Members of the committee asked those testifying in favor of the bill to provide an example of a person in the state of Nevada who had had their religious liberties violated by the current framework of non-discrimination statutes.  As close as the members got to an answer came from a representative from the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“You have asked about specific incidents in Nevada to which this bill is a response. I am not aware of any violations of the kind detailed in Exhibit E that have occurred in Nevada. We may not know when rights violations like this occur because those who consult attorneys might be told they have no legal recourse. ”  [Schultz pdf]

In short, NO. There hadn’t been any actual problems, but ‘gee whiz maybe there might be someone out there who got told by a lawyer that discriminating against people probably wouldn’t fly‘ or sometime in the future somewhere on the horizon, or something….  Not to put too fine a point to it but the EPPC was one of the initial think tanks established for the Culture Warriors, and one especially associated with highlighting what its sponsors saw as a plague of secular humanism (whatever that might be).  They are pleased to continue following this path.

Not surprisingly, between the mid 1980s and 2001 the group was funded by all the usual suspects — the Castle Rock Foundation, the Scaifes, the Koch Brothers, the Olin Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation.  [SW]  [NVProg] The anti-gay refrain commonly associated with conservative think tanks of the sort supported by the bed rock foundations emerged during the hearing when, unable to provide any concrete examples of anti-religious discrimination in the state a spokesperson for the Church State Council described the proposed legislation as “pro-active” — to prevent alleged instances of religious ‘discrimination’ prior to their occurrence.  [Reinach, pdf]

One organization could provide examples of how the proposed statute could be a problem for Nevadans, it just wasn’t on the proponent’s side of the argument.   Elisa Cafferata, speaking on behalf of the Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, observed:

“I am not an attorney, and I have learned not to argue about what the law means, especially with a Committee made almost entirely of attorneys. I would just point out that the proponents of this bill could not point out any specific examples of violations in Nevada law that this bill would correct. Unfortunately, I read every day of situations in which people assert their religious rights to deny women access to health care. There are dozens of cases around the Country. We know of cases in Nevada where pharmacists have refused to provide women with birth control. We can give you hundreds of examples.”

Jane Heenan, of Gender Justice Nevada, was even more specific:

“There was an incident at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in 2010 in which a transgender person went to change the driver’s license gender marker. The person brought a letter from a doctor, which was a requirement at that time. The DMV staff member decided it was not appropriate for the person to change the gender marker and asked questions such as, “What does God think about your behavior?” and ultimately refused to perform the service. That is one example of many I could provide.”  [Heenan pdf]

Any questions?  Those holding anti-contraception and anti-gay beliefs would find some solace under the provisions of SB 192 if they foisted those tenets of faith on others.   A compromise amendment [R pdf] to SB 192 came before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 12, 2013, and assured that “non-discrimination” wouldn’t become “discrimination” the committee added its “do pass” recommendation. [NVLeg pdf]

State Senators Cegavske and Hutchinson testified (pdf) in the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s May 17th (2013) hearing on SB 192, noting: “The key provision of S.B. 192 (R1) is found in section 8 of the bill. Specifically, section 8 prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless the governmental entity demonstrates that burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that governmental interest.”

Interesting.  Note that there would have been two tests here. First, the government can’t “substantially burden” a person from (not filling a contraceptive prescription or not letting a person change the gender marker on a driver’s license) and further the burden must be commensurate with a “compelling” governmental interest — whatever that might be — and further the “burden” must be the “least restrictive means.”

No one contended at any point that religious freedom wasn’t a wonderful thing, however the implications, and actual target of the legislation was summarized quickly by the representative for the Nevada ACLU (pdf): “We are talking about language that says a religious motivation gets the greatest deference that the courts and the government could give, even though it may affect someone else whose rights do not get that same kind of deference.”

The bill went no further.  Nevada avoided the sort of publicity recently accorded the Arizona legislature over S1062.   However, before we sit back and relax enjoying the pleasant delusion that the Culture Warriors have been shamed into silence — this legislation will not be the end of the matter.

Women’s Health

There are those who devoutly hold that women are vessels, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:7″ — A bit of proof-texting is all that is necessary to bundle up a bit of Scripture to prove a woman’s subjugation to male authority, none of which goes very far towards explaining Paul’s admonition in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Texts notwithstanding, the underlying attitudes towards women’s health and the use of prescription contraceptives, aren’t so much scriptural as cultural.  As long as masculinity as defined in some unfortunate quarters by fertility women are at risk of being forced to carry to term pregnancies which can be both physically and emotionally damaging.

Gender Discrimination

I am truly sorry for those whose personal bubble is a protective device shielding them from that which they find uncomfortable in others.   Only about 3.8% of the U.S. population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. [Abt]  If two men holding hands in the park make a person “uncomfortable,” the real problem is in the eyes of the beholder, not the two fellows having a nice afternoon with a picnic lunch.    If a person is confusing a wedding ceremony with a marriage contract, that’s a matter of personal conflict; one that should not be transformed into the denial of inheritance,  access to social services, or any other legally available rights awarded to married couples.

What the law cannot protect us from is seeing what we don’t want to acknowledge.   The law can no more prevent us from seeing the men at the picnic table any more than it can prevent us from witnessing children being handed school lunches only to have the meal tossed away for non-payment.  The law can’t prevent us from seeing the deterioration of school playground equipment, nor can it prevent us from observing a transgender person in a shopping mall.   Our level of comfort is subject to our own very individual tastes and concerns.   And, our level of comfort is in no small measure a function of the level of our fears.

If a person is made more uncomfortable by the sight of a gay or lesbian couple than by the sight of humiliated children, deteriorating playgrounds, struggling retailers, an alcoholic left ignored and untreated in a doorway, or children left to play indoors on a sunny day because there is the prospect of gun fire in the neighborhood — then perhaps there is room for the reconsideration of our priorities? Not to mention the kind of life our faith is supposed to nurture.

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Filed under Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Politics