Tuesday, May 26

NYT: CA Awaits Prop 8 Ruling

Today at 10am Pacific, the California Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality and implementation of Proposition 8 which narrowly passed in November 2008. Why does the CA Supreme Court need to get involved again? Well, it's complicated. From the NYT:

Previously, in May 2008, the court legalized same-sex marriage, and since the election, several groups have sued, saying the proposition’s revocation of that right was unconstitutional.
In addition to answering that legal question, however, the seven-member court is expected to address the legal status of some 18,000 same-sex couples who were married in California between June — when the legalization took effect — and Election Day in November.
The state’s attorney general,
Jerry Brown, said last year that he believed those same-sex marriages would be legal regardless of Proposition 8. But opponents of same-sex marriage argue that it is illogical to continue to recognize marriages that can no longer be legally performed here.

Want to know where same-sex couples stand legally now?

Since the passage of Proposition 8, several states have legalized same-sex marriage, including Iowa, Maine and Vermont. Connecticut, where a court decision legalized same-sex marriage shortly before Election Day, began performing ceremonies shortly after California banned them. At the moment, married same-sex couples in California have the same rights as straight, married couples under California law, though same-sex couples have no federal recognition.
Like several other states, California allows members of the same sex to enter into domestic partnerships, which afford many of the same rights as marriage. But Kate Kendell, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says domestic partnerships are not equivalent to marriage.
“It is more than symbolism to say that an entire category of recognition is off limits to one class of people,” Ms. Kendell said. “And the category that is off limits is the one that is most culturally desirable.”

Confusing, huh? Maybe it should just be absolutely equal for all. You know, for simplicity's sake.

Monday, May 25

My Question to the President for the C-SPAN Interview

Recently, C-SPAN interviewed President Obama about an array of topics. They also asked the viewers to submit our questions to the president for the interview. Since question was not included in the interview, I'm just going to post it here. Maybe it might still find its way to him somehow...hope springs eternal.

Mr. President,
My question is in regards to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law. I understand that there is a lot happening in the world and the country today that requires your immediate and continued attention. National security and commander-in-chief of the military is a major part of your duties as president. Both of these issues are directly affected by the DADT policy. Committed soldiers, marines, sailors and pilots are still being discharged by this policy under your administration. Furthermore, gay and lesbian military personnel who have not been discharged are being forced to break their oath to be honest and ethical because they have to lie to help protect this great nation. This is especially disheartening because you have stated that you do not agree with the policy. So my question is this: why have you not, at the very least, stopped the discharges from continuing while you wait for whatever you are waiting for to have the law changed?
I look forward to your answer and leadership on this issue and I thank you for listening.

Saturday, May 16

Star Trek: Where JJ Abrams Should Never Go Again

First off, let me say this post will contain spoilers, but as another dissappointed Trek Master said " the whole movie is spoiled" so what's the difference. JJ Abrams just proved to me why he was so successful with a show about a bunch of people not knowing what the hell is going. He just looked in the mirror and divided by 9. Not to copy Keith Olbermann, but WTF?! I don't even know where to begin. First off, the technical. The ship in that movie was NOT, repeat NOT, the original Enterprise. The original ship had a satellite dish atop its deflector array( that's in front of the bottom section to you non-nerds.) The ship in this movie was the NCC-1701-A, which was not created until Kirk was already an Admiral in his late 40's. Two, Uhura and Spock? Just, NO! Three, and most important, the timeline. If you make a movie about Colonial America, and then have everyone loving ol' King George and flying Jetsonmobiles, than at least have the common decency not to call it "Colonial America." Call it " This Ain't Real But It's Got Really Cool Special FX So Shut Up And Suck It!" At least then the people know what they're walking into. However, if you name a movie Star Trek, then you have to have everything happen within the already agreed upon timeline. You can't have Kirk becoming Captain of the Enterprise right out of the Academy. Hello, you missed a little thing like, oh, I don't know, HIS CAREER! Also, after 3 seasons of the original, 7 seasons of Next Generation, 7 seasons of DS9, 7 seasons of Voyager, 4 seasons of Enterprise, and 10 movies before this one, I think we would have heard about Vulcan being obliterated. I think it would have come up, maybe, over some Earl Grey or something. And what's worse, JJ knew that everything I just wrote was going to be said by a plethora of Trekkies. So what does he do? He slips in that because the timeline was altered, everything we're watching is actually an alternate reality. That way he's free to completely mess up the Star Trek universe, since technically, it's not the one we all know and love, but some weird alternate one, like that one burnt Cheez-It that comes in every box. Only there's a question that immediately pops into my head due to this approach: what do you do for an encore? Do you continue on in this alternate reality that bears no resemblance to the true Trek universe? Or do you admit you were wrong in to do this in the first place and come back to your senses? I'm hoping it's the latter. One heaping pile is already one too many, no need to duplicate.

For all you non-Trek fans out there, this movie is what you want to see. It's full of beautiful people doing cool stuff amid explosions and phaser fire. However, if you're a true Trekkie like me and many others, either forget everything you've ever seen with the title Star Trek attached, or, before you go see this movie, make an appointment with your eye doctor, because as many times as your going to roll them, your going to want to get them checked out as soon as possible.

Wednesday, May 13

Pres. Obama and the DADT

The Daily Beast has a post by Matthew Yglesias titled "Obama's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Hypocrisy". It is a short post but here is my favorite part:

The game being played here is easy enough to understand. Obama's decision on a variety of fronts has been guided by a clear desire to avoid some of the early missteps made by Bill Clinton. And conventional accounts of Clinton’s early presidency put the way he got into an early dispute with the military brass over treatment of gay and lesbian servicemembers high on the list of missteps to be avoided.
But while the political logic behind the administration's thinking is understandable enough, the moral logic is contemptible. The dismissal of gay and lesbian soldiers was unjust when undertaken by administrations that believed in the policy. But disagreement about policy is inevitable in a democracy and sometimes injustice reigns. What we have today, however, is an absurdity—an administration that clearly does not believe in the policy, that is on record as opposing the policy, that campaigned explicitly on changing the policy, and that nevertheless declines to change the policy.
Tsao and Choi are being dismissed, in other words, not because the president of the United States feels they should be discriminated against, which would be bad enough. Instead, they're being dismissed because the president doesn't feel like doing anything about it.

Read the whole piece here.

Monday, May 4

NYT: Going Dutch

I read this fantastic New York Times article on my lunch break yesterday. It is about the Dutch economic and financial system, written by an American living in the Netherlands. After reading this article, my brother's words seem more potent: If everyone truly understood real socialism, nearly everyone in America would be all for it.

For the first few months I was haunted by a number: 52. It reverberated in my head; I felt myself a prisoner trying to escape its bars. For it represents the rate at which the income I earn, as a writer and as the director of an institute, is to be taxed. To be plain: more than half of my modest haul, I learned on arrival, was to be swallowed by the Dutch welfare state. Nothing in my time here has made me feel so much like an American as my reaction to this number.
And yet as the months rolled along, I found the defiant anger softening by intervals, thanks to a succession of little events and awarenesses. One came not long ago. Logging into my bank account, I noted with fleeting but pleasant confusion the arrival of two mysterious payments of 316 euros (about $410) each. The remarks line said “accommodation schoolbooks.” My confusion was not total. On looking at the payor — the Sociale Verzekeringsbank, or Social Insurance Bank — I nodded with sage if partial understanding. Our paths had crossed several times before. I have two daughters, you see. Every quarter, the SVB quietly drops $665 into my account with the one-word explanation kinderbijslag, or child benefit. As the SVB’s Web site cheerily informed me when I went there in bewilderment after the first deposit: “Babies are expensive. Nappies, clothes, the pram . . . all these things cost money. The Dutch government provides for child benefit to help you with the costs of bringing up your child.” Any parents living in the country receive quarterly payments until their children turn 18. And thanks to a recently passed law, the state now gives parents a hand in paying for school materials.
Payments arrive from other sources too. Friends who have small children report that the government can reimburse as much as 70 percent of the cost of day care, which totals around $14,000 per child per year. In late May of last year an unexpected $4,265 arrived in my account: vakantiegeld. Vacation money. This money materializes in the bank accounts of virtually everyone in the country just before the summer holidays; you get from your employer an amount totaling 8 percent of your annual salary, which is meant to cover plane tickets, surfing lessons, tapas: vacations. And we aren’t talking about a mere “paid vacation” — this is on top of the salary you continue to receive during the weeks you’re off skydiving or snorkeling. And by law every employer is required to give a minimum of four weeks’ vacation. For that matter, even if you are unemployed you still receive a base amount of vakantiegeld from the government, the reasoning being that if you can’t go on vacation, you’ll get depressed and despondent and you’ll never get a job.
Such things are easy for an American to ridicule; you don’t have to be a Fox News commentator to sneer at what, in the midst of a global financial crisis, seems like Socialism Gone Wild. And stating it as I’ve done above — we’ll consume half your salary and every once in a while toss you a few euros in return — it seems like a pretty raw deal.
But there’s more to it. First, as in the United States, income tax in the
Netherlands is a bendy concept: with a good accountant, you can rack up deductions and exploit loopholes. And while the top income-tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, the numbers are a bit misleading. “People coming from the U.S. to the Netherlands focus on that difference, and on that 52 percent,” said Constanze Woelfle, an American accountant based in the Netherlands whose clients are mostly American expats. “But consider that the Dutch rate includes social security, which in the U.S. is an additional 6.2 percent. Then in the U.S. you have state and local taxes, and much higher real estate taxes. If you were to add all those up, you would get close to the 52 percent.”

Friday, May 1

House Passes Credit Cardholders' Bill Of Rights

The Huffington Post has a great piece by Caleb Gibson on the details of the bill and why even more is needed:

Pushback against egregiously unfair lending practices in the credit card market is mounting. And it looks like Washington is finally getting the message. On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights by a landslide vote of 357-70. The bill, championed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), would enact basic standards that eliminate some of the most exploitative practices in the business. Card companies will no longer be able to retroactively raise the interest rate on existing balances--except under limited circumstances, such as a 30-day delinquency. (This will put an end to "any time, any reason" rate increases) When the credit card companies do increase an interest rate, they will be required to give customers 45 days' notice. In addition, interest may only be tallied on balances in the current billing cycle, statements will be mailed earlier in the billing cycle, payments will always be allocated to the portion of the balance with the highest interest rate, and hefty fees for over-limit transactions will be banned unless cardholders explicitly permit it ahead of time.
Well, not so fast. Unfortunately, there is a 12-month lag between enactment and implementation. Congress is essentially outlawing these practices as harmful to consumers and then allowing them to continue for a year. Indebted Americans cannot wait a year for fair treatment when every day brings more bad news for the family bottom line.

Gibson works for the excellent advocacy organization Demos.