A temporary holding place for this blog until such a time as a new site is launched.
Welcome to The Asylum. Just as before, Josh is always right.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Shocked Into Silence

"Fails!"

That's the only word I can make out in City Clerk Michelle Loren's conclusion of the vote, and trust me, it wasn't just because of the loud air conditioner in the council chambers.  I was in the room, I saw it all unfold.  She was literally so stunned by the turn of events at the end of Monday night's city council meeting that she seemed almost afraid to say it.

It was a come-to-Jesus moment for the good ol' boys.

You see, by a dead-even vote of four to four, the Hillsdale City Council voted down the new, ill-conceived, horrendously written contract for Rick Rose.  Councilpersons Emily Stack-Davis, Patrick Flannery, Adam Stockford and Bruce Sharp all voted against.

And the tension was palpable.

From the moment Interim City Manager Doug Terry took the podium before the vote and began to make his grand overture to the council about why we need Rose in that position and his troubles with alcohol and the law shouldn't be a factor in his employment with the city (more on that later), it was very clear that he knew this was an uphill battle.  The explanations were more pleas than anything else; the begging of a man desperate for the council to end his employment with the city on a good note rather than the downer of terminating a long-time Director of Public Utilities.

What really seemed to ruin the tone of the whole thing was that Terry appeared to be attempting to triangulate, to read the mood of the council as he went, looking for something positive that they would latch on to so that he could stick there and focus on it.  But that thing never came along, and as a result, he meandered and never really made a solid, cohesive point.  He may not be a "spring chicken" (his words, not mine), but this seemed new territory for him, and he wasn't finding his way very well.

It didn't come without its contentious moments, either, and knowing that I was sitting in the room, he made plenty of effort to justify actions, again cast "social media" in a negative light and insist that he only had the best of intentions for all of us and the City of Hillsdale... all of that in a frustrated, defensive tone.

Now, to be fair, I might feel the urge to get a little frustrated and defensive if my motivations were being called into question.

Oh, wait!  They have been!

And yes, there are certainly times when I feel frustrated.  I can get a little defensive at times, too.  But the key to dealing with those situations is A: reminding yourself that you're in this for the right reasons, and B: doing what you know is right in moving forward no matter what anyone else says.

Terry, I think, to some extent, sees what I see.  He comes at it from a different angle.  He believes that what he's doing is for the best.  Even though we're diametrically opposed in many ways, I think, based on some of his comments Monday night, that he realizes he's been tugged by the various factions at City Hall in some directions which weren't the best.  I won't fault him for that much; it's all too easy to step into an already volatile situation and be manipulated by the people who were already there.

But there's still a very major problem with how he's handled the significant backlash that's come as a result of these problems finally being called to the public's attention -- and it wasn't just him; it was a variety of people inside and outside the city government.  It is this pervasive idea among the old guard that the Internet should not be used as a place for political discourse, especially at the local level.

Amusingly, Bruce Sharp -- whom I criticized before for scolding you and I on this matter from his seat at the table -- had nothing to say about it at this meeting.

There's a larger problem at play, though.  See, we are a small town, and there's this idea that's been around for a long time that you don't go negative in small-town politics.  It's the idea that, even if you vehemently disagree, you should always cast things in a positive light, because since this is a small town, the people on the city council are residents, business owners and community leaders who just want what's best for everyone, and that's no reason to be rude.

It's time to throw that idea out the window.

I had a good talk with a few people not long ago who described the very situation that leads me to that conclusion.  One of the participants in this conversation made note of the fact that back in the days when city council meetings were still on the cable access channel (ah, the memories), they remembered that the council was truly made up of civic leaders; business owners, longtime residents well-known for their community involvement, people you knew and trusted to put the best interests of the city ahead of their own desires and ideology.

I'm not saying that the current council members don't have the right intentions, but you don't see that kind of community leadership anymore.  You don't see the owner of a downtown shop representing their ward.  You don't see a mayor who volunteers at the local charities.  You don't see a councilman who has spent years on various other boards, not because they're a career politician but because they care about the community.  And that's not to say that any of our present councilpersons are lacking in those regards, but is that how you think of them?  Is that how they present themselves?

The situation in this city has changed.

We don't have civic statesmen anymore, we have council members.  We have a mayor.  We have a city manager.  We have a city government that exists to do what we tell it to do... if and when we care so much as to tell it what to do.

The days of simply electing a council and leaving it all up to them are long gone.

Now, I'm not saying this because I want to be negative.  I don't want to be negative.  I'd love to be able to go to every city council meeting and report to you that everything is all hunky-dory and that we shouldn't have a care in the world.

But this isn't The Truman Show.

Fact is, there's a lot going on in our city government that needs, at best, closer attention, and at worst, serious housecleaning.  The council just took steps Monday night that were encouraging, but they're far from the goal.  We have to stay alert and we have to get involved.  And things aren't always going to be nice.  Things could get downright ugly.  People aren't going to like the mean tone that we'll sometimes need to take.

But that's the price we all have to pay for being this apathetic for this long.

The fallout of this council meeting could get interesting.  Rose, himself, was in the gallery (just in front and three seats to the right of me, in fact), and while I wouldn't quite call what he did "storming out," he sure left in a hurry.  Some people even brought up the question to me of whether or not he would even show up for work in the morning, because, hey, why bother, right?  Though there's another possibility I'm afraid of: that he'll call his lawyer.

Remember that little issue of legalese in his contract that violates the ADA unless it's in everyone else's contract, too?

Here's my worry: Terry made his case for Rose's continued employment based upon the argument that his problems with alcohol have not affected his job performance and that they should, therefore, not be a consideration in light of his years of service to the BPU and the city.  Emily Stack-Davis was really the only councilperson voting "no" who described her reasons for doing so, stating that she disagreed that this was the right leadership move.  Pressed further, she mentioned a few BPU issues that don't reflect particularly well on Rose, but nobody else gave those issues or anything else in their objections.  Flannery, Stockford and Sharp all used the phrase "I disagree," and what were they disagreeing with other than Terry's assessment that Rose's positives outweighed his negatives?

Where that puts us into dangerous territory is the contract language.  The entire purpose of rewriting the contract was to add these provisions based upon Rose's recent DWI.  Obviously, it's that DWI that prompted the objections, otherwise those voting "no" would likely have stated BPU-related reasons as Stack-Davis did.  Since Rose's contract was voted down on the basis of what the ADA considers his disability (alcoholism), that may well give him grounds to sue the city for employment discrimination.  I don't know that for certain -- I'm not a lawyer, despite my mother encouraging me to become one every time I got into trouble as a child -- but I've read enough on the topic that it worries me.

And the sad fact of the matter is that I can't seem to shake this feeling that it was intended that way all along.  Of course, I don't know that for a fact, either, but when I get gut feelings like this, it's very rare that I'm wrong.

We'll see about that Thursday night, the 28th at 7:00 PM.  I'll give Terry credit where it's due: he... shall we say, suggested to the council after the vote that they schedule a meeting with the BPU board to discuss how to move forward.  Because it didn't appear that the council had any ideas about where to go from here.  And while he suggested to them that a new contract could be drawn up for Rose -- which I would strongly oppose, and I get the sense that the "no" voters would, as well -- he gets points for making it clear that, hey, we just fired our BPU director.  The council didn't seem to realize that.  Or, maybe moreso, they did.

That would explain the shocked silence which filled the room.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Bloom Is Off of Rose

I have to wonder why the packet for Monday night's city council meeting wasn't posted on the city web site until Thursday evening when the city policy, by council request (and possibly resolution, though I can't confirm that at the moment), is to post it on Wednesday.

I have to wonder if it has something to do with the fact that this week's council packet includes a renewal of super-drunk BPU director Rick Rose's contract.

I have to wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the good ol' boys are monitoring both this blog and Hillsdale's Hot Debates and took notice of the fact that I normally publish on Wednesdays.

Hey there, fellas!  Here's a little clue for you about how the Internet works: I'm not a print outlet, so I can publish at any time that I want.  I don't have to stick to my deadline.  I can publish early.  I can publish late.  I can show up to the city council meeting on Monday night and live blog the whole thing like Aimee England used to do.  Wednesdays are just the self-imposed deadline that I use to motivate myself.  But sometimes I feel moved to write more often than on a weekly basis.  Much like today, as this post demonstrates.

Now, sure, I have no doubt I'm about to hear from at least five or six people that this is all in my head, that there are perfectly rational reasons for why the packet wasn't posted at the proper time, that it has nothing to do with me, and that I really need to get over myself.

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-huh.

Nope.  Sorry.  Don't buy it.

Don't think for a second that I don't know what's going on here.  I know scared tyrants when I see them, and I'm looking at a few in our city government right now.

Interestingly (but not surprisingly) enough, it's not only the delay of the packet's release that begs questions.  Thanks to my crack team of researchers -- not to be confused with a team of crack researchers, which would serve an entirely different purpose -- we've come across some rather telling pieces of text in that BPU Director's contract which give us all kinds of material for Monday night's public comment sessions.  We're going to work through a lot of legalese here, but stick with me, because this is important.

  1. From the Preamble (packet pg. 121): "Hillsdale's current Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has found and determined Rickie J. Rose (Rose) of Hillsdale, Michigan, Hillsdale's Director of Public Utilities (referred to in the Hillsdale City Charter as Superintendent) to be highly competent, eminently qualified, with the skills, education, character and job experience to efficiently and expertly operate and oversee Hillsdale's electric, water and sanitary sewer facilities and services.

Let's forget the fact that Rickie (and I just love calling him that, don't you?) has been known to shout down his employers at city council meetings in the past.  Let's instead focus on the fact that, just last month, he spent 24 days in the Hillsdale County Jail for driving into a tree with a blood alcohol content of .23, which is just shy of three times the legal limit and considered "super drunk" under Michigan law.  Let's also recall that Judge Sara Lisznyai, in her sentencing of Rickie, said directly to him, and I quote, "You do have a drinking problem."  Let's keep in mind that, in crafting the sentence, Judge Lisznyai took into consideration the fact that Rickie had three prior run-ins (if you'll pardon the expression) with the law: a DWI in 2003, reckless driving in 2005, and disorderly conduct in 2014.

With all of these things taken into consideration, is this really the kind of "character" that the BPU board considers suitable for a man who runs a power and waterworks company?

A man who oversees the electrical distribution for the entire city of Hillsdale and several surrounding townships and villages?

A man who oversees the operation of highly powerful and potentially deadly machinery?

A man in charge of making safety-related judgment calls on a daily basis?

This is the kind of man you choose to entrust the lives of your employees to?

In the private sector, Rickie here would have already been fired, and any talk of negotiating a new contract with him would have been laughed right out of the boardroom.  But this is all perfectly acceptable to the good ol' boys in Hillsdale's city government.

  1. Also from the Preamble (packet pgs. 121 & 122): "Rose is desirous of continuing in the position of Hillsdale's Director of Public Utilities on the terms and conditions hereinafter provided.  Rose represents himself to Hillsdale and its BPU as having, possessing, and fully utilizing the necessary skills, education, character and job experience necessary to assume, continue and faithfully discharge the duties of the Director of Public Utilities for Hillsdale in a professional and competent manner for Hillsdale's and its BPU's benefit and for the benefit of the general public in Hillsdale and the greater Hillsdale area., all as demonstrated by and through his past service to Hillsdale and its BPU."

Oh, well then!  I suppose that just erases all that's gone on in the past couple of months!  He promises to be good, you guys!  We should just forgive and forget!

(For those of you who are unable to detect snark, the above paragraph was drenched in it.)

Also, just because I can be a real jerk sometimes, "having" and "possessing" are the same thing in this sense.  In fact, merriam-webster.com defines the word "have" as "to hold or maintain as a possession, privilege, or entitlement."  See?  It even uses the word "possession" right in the definition.  And the definition of "possess" is "to have as an attribute, knowledge, or skill."  See?  It even uses the word "have" right in the definition.  Using both "have" and "possess" consecutively in a sentence to make what you're writing sound official is both repetitive and redundant.

(There was also some snark in that last sentence, too, as well.)

(And in that one.)

Oh, and there's a period prior to a comma after "greater Hillsdale area."  That was no typo in my transcription; it's in the actual contract that way.  You might say I'm just nitpicking to be vindictive now.  You'd be right, and I really don't care.  Like I said, I can be a real jerk sometimes.

  1. From Section 2, subparagraph A (packet pg. 123): "The Board agrees to employ Rose as Director of Public Utilities for the term of three (3) years from July 1, 2015, to and including July 30, 2018."
    And from Section 3, subparagraph A (packet pg. 124): "During the continuance of this agreement, Hillsdale's Board shall pay Rose a basic salary in such amount as it, from time to time, determines to be commensurate with Rose's skill, training and experience after survey of pay levels for like work at similar utilities in the State of Michigan, as well as those providing utility services in or near the BPU service area."

That's very interesting, because according to this Hillsdale Daily News article from August 17th, 2013, Rickie made himself a deal with the BPU board two years ago that was to freeze his salary at $85,000 per year for a period of five years with a one-time bonus of $15,000 in lieu of any future raises, and because that was merely an extension of his three-year contract from 2010, it's stated in the article that the matter didn't need to go before the Hillsdale City Council.

Now, I'm no math whiz; I'll be the first to tell you that.  But I am proficient enough with basic addition and subtraction to know that 2013 plus five is 2018.  If that 2013 extension to the 2010 contract is still in place, why is his contract coming before the city council?  Did they request this of the BPU board to give themselves an opportunity to let him go?

Good question, and it brings us to point number...

  1. From Section 2, subparagraph C (packet pg. 123): "[...] it is specifically agreed and understood between the parties that Rose's employment with Hillsdale is 'at will' and, in addition to the termination procedure provided in the preceeding subparagraph A of this section 2, may also be terminated by either party, with or without cause, for any reason not prohibited by law or for no reason at all [...]"
    And from Section 3, subparagraph A (packet pg. 124): "The compensation rate shall not be less than is in effect at the date this agreement is signed and shall be certified to Hillsdale's Treasurer and shall be paid in equal bi-weekly payments." [emphasis theirs]

Ah!  Very interesting!  But also stupid!  Just to make sure we've got this right, let's read Section 3, subparagraph A in whole, shall we?

"During the continuance of this agreement, Hillsdale's Board shall pay Rose a basic salary in such amount as it, from time to time, determines to be commensurate with Rose's skill, training and experience after survey of pay levels for like work at similar utilities in the State of Michigan, as well as those providing utility services in or near the BPU service area.  The compensation rate shall not be less than is in effect at the date this agreement is signed and shall be certified to Hillsdale's Treasurer and shall be paid in equal bi-weekly payments."

You notice how that section says absolutely nothing about what his compensation is to be?  If you hadn't read the Daily News article I linked to above, how would you know that the starting point is $85,000?  And what will that compensation be if it goes above $85,000?  The contract doesn't spell that out at all.

All of which says to me that the city council just tipped their hand.  They're going to wipe Rickie's 2010 contract with the 2013 extension right off the books and give him this contract, which could well include a pay raise.  Or additional bonuses.  Or perhaps both!

Hey, we don't have the money to pave the streets, but a belligerent employee who drives drunk, drives recklessly when he's sober, and conducts himself in a criminal, disorderly manner?  By God, give that man a raise!

Oh, and speaking of driving recklessly, be it while sober or super-drunk...

  1. From Section 3, subparagraph I, subsection i (packet pg. 127): "Rose shall, at his sole expense, own and maintain in a good and safe working order, an appropriate automobile for his personal use in the discharge of his duties as Hillsdale's Director of Public Utilities."
    And from Section 3, subparagraph I, subsection iv (packet pg. 127): "Rose shall not operate or use any motor vehicle or other motorized equipment after the consumption of alcohol or a controlled substance within the 10-hour period that immediately precedes any act within the scope of his employment or while within the scope of his employment." [emphasis theirs]
    And from Section 6 (packet pg. 129): "'Cause' as used herein shall include, by way of example, but not limitation, the consumption of alcohol or a controlled substance within the 10-hour period immediately preceding or while within the scope of his employment, acts of dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation and acts involving moral turpitude." [emphasis theirs]
     

Wow!  That takes some cojones!  "Yeah, sure, we'll continue to employ you.  We trust your character.  We might even give you a raise!  But if you so much as think of going near a bottle..."

Is Rickie's license even active right now?

But beyond the obvious, there's another underlying problem plaguing subsection iv: it's wholly illegal due to the fact that it's an inconsistent application of employment requirements, which is in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Wait... alcoholism is a disability?" you might well ask.  Yes, it is.  According to the government's own ADA web site, about two-thirds of the way down the page,

"While a current illegal user of drugs is not protected by the ADA if an employer acts on the basis of such use, a person who currently uses alcohol is not automatically denied protection. An alcoholic is a person with a disability and is protected by the ADA if s/he is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. An employer may be required to provide an accommodation to an alcoholic. However, an employer can discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct. An employer also may prohibit the use of alcohol in the workplace and can require that employees not be under the influence of alcohol."

Of course, we know from the BPU board's glowing praise of Rickie that he's "eminently qualified," so even though he does, as Judge Lisznyai put it, "have a drinking problem," he's protected by the ADA.

But why does that make this requirement illegal?

Well, to answer that question, let's go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who give us not one but two paragraphs to explain that if you're going to make something an employment requirement, it has to be a requirement for all employees.

The first comes from their "Prohibited Practices" page, which states that:

"The law makes it illegal for an employer to make any employment decision because of a person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. That means an employer may not discriminate when it comes to such things as hiring, firing, promotions, and pay. It also means an employer may not discriminate, for example, when granting breaks, approving leave, assigning work stations, or setting any other term or condition of employment - however small."

The second comes from their page entitled "The Americans With Disabilities Act: Applying Performance And Conduct Standards To Employees With Disabilities."  It goes into even more specific detail about exactly this kind of situation, to wit:

"Whether rules are written or not, employers should be careful that all conduct rules are applied consistently and should not single out an employee with a disability for harsher treatment. In addition, because ad hoc rules are just that, ad hoc, an employer may have more difficulty demonstrating that they are job-related and consistent with business necessity."

And in addition to that, the Society for Human Resource Management sums it up this way:

"Enforce a policy for one employee, but not for another—and guess what? Your company will lose the court case every time. Inconsistent enforcement opens the door for the employee’s attorney to allege discrimination, Zandy said."

So in case you haven't gotten the point yet, because City Hall wants to apply this policy to one Rickie J. Rose -- and only Rickie J. Rose -- it is in violation of the ADA, the EEOC would easily win a lawsuit against the city, and guess who'd be paying for it with their tax dollars?  That's right: you and I.

That's even more money that Joe Taxpayer doesn't have, going to yet another unnecessary expense, all thanks to the city's reckless attempt to keep employing a man who has proven he is in no way, shape or form fit for the job.

That's what they were trying to hide from you.

That's why the packet wasn't released on time.

The good ol' boys are nothing more than frightened little dictators, and we're starting to put them in their place.  That's why they're trying to keep you in the dark.

Here's the packet.  And here's another copy of it just in case, for some odd reason, it happens to disappear from the city's own web site at any given time.

Inform yourself.

Take it to the meeting Monday night.

Make your voice heard in the public comment sessions.

Don't back down.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Issue of Ballot Issues

I've caught a bit of flak recently.

No, not that flak, and not from the people you're thinking of, either.  That was to be expected.

This was from a reader who took issue with the fact that I didn't mention the other significant matter at the last Hillsdale City Council meeting: the approval of November ballot language that asks if we should make the city clerk and city treasurer positions appointed rather than elected.

Let me explain my editorial decision: I didn't cover those two council votes because of the time-sensitivity of the city manager search debacle.  The information about the two publicly-named candidates had only just recently been discovered, and I even jumped ahead of my own promised publishing date to make sure that that information was shared here the day of the city council meeting in the hopes that you might take it and run with it that night.  The piece that I published instead that Wednesday was the follow-up, addressing both the arrogant attitude of resentment that the council displayed while voting to offer David Mackie the job anyway, as well as addressing some of the uproar that Monday's piece had instigated.

By the way, in the time since, Mackie has withdrawn his name from contention in Farmington, so providing that the contract gets worked out to his and the council's satisfaction, the man is now our city manager.  Doesn't that just fill you with hope for our future?

Now, sure, I could have covered the ballot measures, too.  I could have given you a whole boatload of issues to take to that meeting.  But there are two primary reasons why I didn't.

The first is that, on that particular Monday night, we needed to be focused on the most pressing issue, because the council was guaranteed to try to ram this through -- definitely unethically, and quite likely illegally -- whether we liked it or not.  If anyone was going to show up to oppose them, there had to be a united front, not a handful of people all talking about different subjects during the public comment periods.

The second reason is that the ballot language is just that: ballot language.  What the council voted to do that night was approve the language for two ballot measures; one for the city clerk position, the other for the city treasurer position.  This language asks the voters if the mayor should appoint their chosen candidate to those positions to be approved by the city council, who will then establish the terms of employment (length of time, salary, and conditions).

That's what they voted on.  Just the language.  The ball is now in our court.  In order to make either position appointed, the city charter has to be amended, which means that we have to approve it.  The city council can't just vote on it and make it so, this is our choice to make, and we won't be making it until November.  That's why it wasn't such a pressing issue at the last city council meeting.

The person who brought this concern to me rightly pointed out that the ballot measures could have been stopped at the council meeting if we had convinced them to vote the language down, and that the fact that the language was even presented to begin with is just yet another sign that the good ol' boys want to consolidate their own power and take it away from you.  All of that is true.

However, that being said, they were going to do it anyway.  The city manager vote proved that.  If something that important was something they didn't bother listening to our objections over, ballot language for an issue that we're going to have to vote on anyway isn't going to be held up by our objections, either.

Not to mention the fact that several people had already filed as write-in candidates for the city clerk election before the council voted on the ballot issue. They knew that there are people who wish to fill the void, they just didn’t care.

Well, I shouldn't say that they all didn't care.  It should be noted that there were three votes against the clerk measure's approval, which is a good sign that we do at least have some city council members who are listening to their constituents, or at least have the sense themselves that this is not the right thing to do.  So thanks to councilpersons Emily Stack-Davis, Bruce Sharp (who still needs to learn how to deal with the Internet) and Adam Stockford for their "no" votes.

But as Dame Shirley Bassey sings, "this is all just a little bit of history repeating." City Hall has attempted this before.  They waited the two years required by state law and are now putting it on the ballot yet again, despite the fact that they were told "no" the last time.  Which means that they're wasting your tax dollars and mine by repeatedly putting a question they've already had answered on the ballot.  Elections ain't cheap.

Now, all that being said, this is a good test for us.  Are we truly committed to this city and making it function to everyone's benefit?  Or are we -- as I've put myself on the line to accuse us all, myself included, of being -- simply apathetic and complacent?

Do we want to keep these two elected positions in our control as a check on corruption?

Or do we just not care?

These votes will prove whether or not we're actually motivated to self-govern.

You're going to hear the pro-appointment side go nuts with their campaign.  Especially now that the city clerk section on the very same ballot is going to be empty.  They're going to point at that empty row and say "see?!  Nobody wants to do this!  That's why we have to have this power, because nobody wants to run an election campaign for these positions!"

And you know what?  I'm not going to lie: that's a rather compelling argument.

But here's the thing: if nobody runs for the position, the city council has to appoint someone to it anyway.  They won't tell you that little factoid.  Those are positions that, by state law, have to be filled.  That's why that fallback is there.  The ONLY purpose for making them appointed positions rather than elected ones is to consolidate power in the hands of a select few and usurp it from the voters.

That is the ONLY reason.  Do not let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

You see, a pattern has very clearly emerged at 97 N. Broad.  Do you recognize it?

  • City employee, BPU director and habitual drunk driver Rick Rose yells at and berates the city council to their faces.
  • City employee, legal counsel and alliterative name-haver Lew Loren rejects street repair plans citing lack of precedent simply because he doesn't like them.
  • Soon-to-be-former city employee, former interim city manager and displeased political cartoon character Doug Terry sits on a committee to choose his own replacement when the position would fall to him if nobody is chosen (and he gets to keep his $50-an-hour job with this city as long as the search continues).

And what gets done about it?  Nothing.  Nobody even bats an eye.  Council just sits there and takes it.  Council is complicit by virtue of their failure to take control of these situations.  Council even participates in these situations at times.

This is why it is imperative that we reject these ballot proposals just as soundly as we rejected Proposal 1 last Tuesday (which, by the way, well done on that one, Michigan; that was absolutely the right call).  We cannot let a small cadre of city employees, who the council should be exerting their authority over, continue to ram their personal ambitions down our throats.

The good ol' boys have to be held accountable.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

...And So They Did It Anyway.

Apparently we've hit a nerve.

References to "the Internet" and "Facebook" were made at the city council meeting Monday night, quite obviously referring to this blog and the Facebook group Hillsdale's Hot Debates... and not exactly with glee or in a pleasant tone.

They don't like that we're holding them accountable, and that's why we can't stop.

Despite the obvious municipal code violations -- and I challenge city attorney Lew Loren to explain why the obvious violations are perfectly okay ("because I say so" is not a valid answer) -- the city council went ahead and approved David Mackie as the new city manager by all but one vote, the lone dissent coming from Mayor Scott Sessions (whom I thank for his decision).

So now, as long as he accepts the job -- I understand he's still waiting to hear back from Farmington -- David Mackie is our new city manager.  You know, the guy who filed for bankruptcy and had to defend highly questionable financial practices in a court of law?  Yeah... he's set to become our city manager now.

Does that not demonstrate outright contempt for you, the people of the City of Hillsdale?

We cannot stop.

I'm encouraged... and not only because I woke up to see that my last post had over 500 page views by Tuesday morning (though I do thank you for the ego boost... as if I needed it, right?).

I'm encouraged because you are motivated.

Whether or not you agreed with what I said about civic apathy in this city, it motivated you to prove me wrong, and that was exactly the goal.  I said so at the very end of the post in question.

But this isn't about me, despite the fact that they're trying to make it about me.  Have you noticed how they've been attacking me and my credibility?

It's not about me.  I know it and they know it.  If it were about me, they would have been attacking me before I ever said word one.

No, this is about them and their disdain for you.

See, the good ol' boys, they don't like that you've been informed.  They don't like that you're getting the information that they're withholding from you.  They don't like that you're learning what they've been doing behind your back this whole time.  And they're attacking me -- and the people at Hot Debates who dug up the information in the first place -- for bringing it to your attention.  Make no mistake about it: if it had been John Doe who had written that post, they'd be saying exactly the same things about John Doe.

It's not personal to them, it's just business.  Business being guided by the current city manager and the city attorney into a cesspool.

And you need to be the ones to put an end to it.

Oh, don't worry, I'm not trying to be the commander of the forces here.  That's the last thing I want.  Besides, as we all know, you are not my personal army.

No, all I can ask of you is that you think critically and participate actively.  We can disagree on any given issue.  You can dislike my style.  And hey, feel free to think that I'm just some arrogant jerk who spouts off when he shouldn't.  You wouldn't be alone, and that's okay, because none of that matters.

All that matters here is that you care enough about this city to participate in making it a better place.

Because that's what's been lacking.  That's why we have four city council seats and a city clerk position open with no one filed to run for them.  That's why this city manager search was able to be conducted for so long with no one to ask any questions about why we're not getting any details about it or any of the candidates.  That's why the council chamber is usually pretty empty during meetings.

We haven't been paying attention, and we were apathetic.

For most of the residents, it's because they just plain didn't care.  And let's face it: the majority of any population is politically inactive.  That's never going to change.

For the rest of us, it's frustration.  We've been so beaten by the system for so long that we simply gave up thinking that there was ever going to be anything we could do about it.

Like I said in my last post, I include myself in this.  I'm just as guilty as you are, and I readily and ashamedly apologize to you for not doing more than I could have.  I will do better.

I can only ask that you do better, as well.

Beat the damn doors in.  Don't give up.  It's not over until you make it right, and even then, it'll be a constant battle just to keep things right.  That's the nature of politics, no matter what the scale.  Don't relent.  Keep fighting.

The best way to do that is to start attending city council meetings.  You can download the packets for all regular meetings and watch live and archived video of those meetings by following this link.

Let's once again prove Hillsdale's motto true: It's The People.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Apathy and Corruption in the City of Hillsdale

NOTE: This post is coming a couple of days early due to its time sensitivity.  The Hillsdale City Council meeting at which a city manager hiring is expected to be approved is tonight, Monday, May 4th, at 7:00 PM.

If I told you to go to 97 North Broad, would you know where that is?

Chances are dangerously high that you wouldn't.  Because nobody in the City of Hillsdale seems to know that we even have a City Hall anymore, let alone know where it is, what's going on there right now, or who's seeking to represent their ward in the November election.

Do you even know that there is a November election?

Do you even know that there are vacancies on the city council right now?

Are you paying attention to local politics at all?

Are you even alive right now?

I shouldn't be too terribly harsh.  We have no real press in this city.  We have no newspaper outside of a lone reporter, a lone sportswriter, and whoever Gatehouse can dupe into writing for them for a pittance this week.  We have a radio station that rips and reads the police blotter, and that's about it.  Sometimes the Jackson Citizen Patriot covers a few stories from the county, but their audience is Jackson County, not us.  And getting the Lansing TV stations to cover anything going on here?  Ha!  Good luck!

It's no wonder you're so woefully uninformed.  There's barely any journalism going on in this town at all.

But let's face it: that's no excuse.  Those of us living here at the spring of the St. Joe just don't give a damn.  City politics?  We can't be bothered.  It's not important to us.  We've got bigger fish to fry.  We're more concerned with... well, anything but city politics.

Remember that big hullabaloo about the streets last year?  City Hall wanted to unnecessarily raise taxes to pay an outrageously overestimated amount of money for street repair, and we collectively -- correctly -- replied, "are you kidding me?"  But beyond rejecting that ballot proposal, what else did you do?  Oh, sure, a few people showed up at city council meetings to present alternatives... which, of course, the council simply rejected out of hand, saying "I don't wanna!" in their best three-year-old voices.  But were you there to see it?  Were you even aware that it had happened?

Again, the chances are dangerously high that the answer is "no."

I keep saying "dangerously" because you're most likely unaware of the latest news to be coming from the pentagonal structure sitting between Broad, Hillsdale and Carleton.

(Did you even know that City Hall is a pentagon?)

In case you missed it -- and you did, because literally everybody did -- April 21st was the deadline to file petitions to run for the vacant city council seats in Wards 1, 2 and 4.

(Do you even know what ward you live in?)

Nobody filed.  Absolutely nobody.

Well, okay, one person did.  Bruce Sharp.  But he's an incumbent.  Everyone else is either term-limited or leaving for their own reasons.

That means that there are currently four council seats that will go unfilled barring write-in campaigns, and Ward 2 (which happens to be where I live) will have no representation on the council at all.  Additionally, no one filed to run for city clerk, either, so after this election, council is going to have to appoint someone to that position.

Now, before you say "well, then, maybe YOU should run, Josh," I'll disabuse you of that notion immediately.  That's not my calling.  I can barely manage my own life let alone the governance of a city.  Even if it were my calling, I'm not familiar with the inner workings of city government enough to simply jump in and expect to be an effective legislator.  Because, unlike our current state representative, I actually take the time to learn about my jobs before I bother applying for them.  I don't belong in that seat right now, if ever.

There's another seat that I don't belong in, an equally important seat, and none of the people currently up for the job belong in it either.  I'm referring, of course, to that of the city manager.

Last week, in the Facebook group Hillsdale's Hot Debates (the "social media" that WCSR credited with unearthing this story), a couple of members did some digging into the history of the top two candidates that the search committee is considering, and they came up with some rather interesting facts.  Among them being that one candidate, William Cooper, bankrupted the last city he ran.  The other candidate, David Mackie, bankrupted himself and faced a bit of legal trouble for ripping off his investors in an apartment complex renovation deal.  Oh, and the guy heading up the search committee?  That would be Doug Terry, the interim city manager... who, it has been rumored, will get the job if no one else is hired.

Conflict of interest?  Nahhhhhhhhhh.

Of course, knowing that the heat was on, the city put together a hastily-scheduled public meeting to introduce the two candidates.  How hastily?  They announced it to the media on April 30th, and it was scheduled for May 2nd.  That's right: a Saturday afternoon meeting announced on Thursday, when most people already had plans for the weekend lined up well before then.

Intentional flight under the radar?  Nahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Now, Linda Brown resigned as city manager all the way back on February 2nd.  You might be asking yourself right now: isn't there some sort of time limit as to when the city council has to hire a new one?

Why, indeed there is!

According to the municipal code, "The Council shall, within 90 days after any vacancy exists in the position of City Manager, appoint a City Manager for a period of not less than one year nor more than five years and shall fix his compensation."  The period of 90 days after Linda Brown's resignation?  Guess when that ended?  Yep.  May 3rd.  The day after the hastily-scheduled public meeting.  A Sunday, no less.  A Sunday that has come and gone, and we still have no city manager.

Additionally, the code also states that [emphasis mine] "The Council may appoint or designate an acting City Manager for a period not to exceed sixty days during the period of a vacancy in the office or during the absence of the City Manager from the City and shall have all the responsibilities, duties, functions and authority of the City Manager."  Which means that Terry's appointment has actually been longer than allowed by law for more than a month's time now.

One Hot Debates group member who was at Saturday's meeting reported to me that Terry was rather irate at the fact that his actions and motivations were being called into question -- on the Internet, no less; the nerve of those people! -- and after arguing against allowing public comment, he had to be taken out of the room and shown that the law requires it.  That fight then continued in front of the city council, which led to a vote to essentially tell him to sit down and shut up, and public comment was, in fact, allowed.  Because, you know, the law requires it.

Needless to say, Doug Terry is not a happy camper right now.

Much of the problem is the "good ol' boy" situation in this town.  Some of it just comes with the territory of small town politics: everyone knows everyone else.  But that being the case, and everyone being well aware that conflicts of interest are to be avoided, there should be a lot less of it going on, and it's just business as usual around here.  As the late, great, George Carlin famously said, "it's a big club, and you ain't in it."

Yet even if it weren't for that club, what it really comes down to is the fact that there has been no transparency in this search at all.  That fact is merely exacerbated by the "good ol' boy" situation.  The city council ostensibly conducted the search internally in order to save money -- instead of hiring an independent firm to do it, as is done by every other city that even half-assedly tries to make it look like they're not as corrupt as Hell itself.  I mean, hey, it's a fairly decent excuse.  Begging poor is relatively easy to pull off when roughly half of your streets make Kabul look like a motorist's paradise.

But it gives those in charge of the internally-conducted search far too great an opportunity to dupe not only the council, but the entire city as a whole.  There was supposedly a wide field of potentials to choose from, and we're only hearing about two of them.  We have no other names, we have no information about how these two were picked, we would know absolutely nothing about even THESE two candidates if it hadn't been for a couple of people outside the process -- and not even in the media -- doing a simple friggin' Google search!

Did the city council even bother to do that much?  Apparently not, because councilman Patrick Flannery told the Daily News, and this is a direct quote, "We are happy to present these two candidates.  I see both candidates moving the city forward, to help us with the goals we have before us."

Bankruptcy and fraud are goals of the government of the City of Hillsdale?  Well, to quote Spock, "It would explain a great many things."

That same Hot Debates member tells me that only one other person from the group was there Saturday afternoon, and while disappointment isn't quite appropriate in this case given the short notice, it's not as if the third floor is packed to standing room at any given city council meeting.  This is the norm in this town.  Everybody bitches about the legitimate problems, but when it comes time to actually take action, nobody shows up.  It's like we're living in an M. Night Shyamalan movie called "The Non-Event."  All this buildup, and then... just totally flatlines.

Actually, that pretty much describes every M. Night Shyamalan movie, but that's neither here nor there.

The point is, we need to get off of our fat backsides and do something.  And I'm yelling at myself here just as much as I'm yelling at you.  I'm guilty of this, too.  We all are.  Civic involvement in this city has just hit what is most likely an all-time low.  Certainly the lowest it's been in any of our lifetimes.

And when we all find out what the result of that apathy is, complaining about the streets is going to be the least of our worries.

Correction: In the initial version of this post, I accidentally flipped the names of the city manager candidates in relation to their respective issues.  The post has been updated to correct the error.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Disgraceful Republican Battle for the Heart and Soul of Michigan

Before we jump into the actual content of this post, let me make you, my readers, a promise: one new article every week.  I'll publish something new every Wednesday, which is the best time for me because I'm least likely to have a game to call on Wednesdays during any given sports season.  I've been wanting to make this more of a regular thing for a long time now -- which you can tell by my repeatedly saying so every time I randomly feel moved to write -- but I haven't been able to put myself under a deadline out of sheer hatred for deadlines.  However, that's the only way my posting regularity is going to improve, so from here on out, you'll be able to check back every Wednesday for a new post.  You'll still be able to see my spur-of-the-moment posts on Facebook, but I'll go more in-depth here.

Now, on to the actual content, won't we?

Who's Impeding Your Religious Freedom, Anyway?

State Senator Mike Shirkey doesn't seem to have a very tight grasp on the reality surrounding him and his Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Coming on the heels of an enormous nationwide backlash against a horrendously flawed piece of similar legislation in Indiana, as well as one that didn't pass in Arkansas for the very same reasons why the Indiana law was amended after its passage, he appeared to be standoffish and smug in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, and even moreso in an interview afterward (the snide look on his face as he turns away from the camera at the end doesn't help).

Now, I've read the bill itself, and it's not the same as the Indiana or Arkansas bills.  The latter two included language that specifically allowed for defense of discrimination under religious pretenses in court, and the Indiana bill was particularly egregious in that it granted corporate personhood for the express purpose of allowing businesses to use that tactic.  Those two bills were written specifically to allow discrimination against the LGBT community in light of the nation's shift toward legalizing same-sex marriage.  Michigan's RFRA does not contain any of that language.  It is very much along the lines of the federal RFRA that was deemed unconstitutional only because the federal government does not have the authority to make such a law governing state governance outside of the Constitution.  That fact is ostensibly why Shirkey has been pushing for the bill's passage.  He claims that such a law is necessary in order to protect religious freedom from being impeded by government action.

...Except, you know, we already have that protection in Article 1 of the Michigan Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  If a case goes to court and it's a question of religious freedom, we already have the law in place and the standard of measure by which it is to be upheld.  Further legislation is unnecessary.

And besides, exactly who is having their religious freedoms being substantially and unduly burdened by any level of government in the State of Michigan?  I dare Mike Shirkey to name just one person who has recently or is currently facing a case of undue government burden in regard to their religious freedoms.  Just one.  If this bill is truly necessary, it shouldn't be hard for him to do.

No, the timing of all of this is no coincidence -- and not only because coincidence doesn't exist, but also because it's just plain painfully obvious.  Do you know when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA was unconstitutional?  June 25th, 1997.  Nearly eighteen years ago.  Why is this all of a sudden an issue now?  Not only for Shirkey, but for any of the states currently attempting to pass this type of legislation?  Certainly if it had been so important in 1997, states would have overwhelmingly begun passing it then.  But they didn't.  In fact, only 17 states passed RFRA's in the seventeen years between the 1997 Boerne v. Flores decision and the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, the latter of which is widely regarded to be the turning point for allowing corporate personhood language in such bills.  If it were so pressing an issue, you'd think that number would be more like 37... which happens to be the number of states that, as of this writing, now recognize same-sex marriage.  Some of those states have even done both (even if most of them had to be forced to do the latter by court order), and amazingly enough, the world has not ended.

And that's just the point here.  Shirkey is smugly attempting to fly into the wind with this bill, the motivation quite clearly being to provide an open door for the courts to allow discrimination on a religious basis, despite the fact that he claims otherwise.  The bill doesn't allow it explicitly, but it doesn't have to.  All it takes is one case in which the court rules that a city ordinance requiring a landlord to rent to, say, a transgender woman and her wife, is an undue burden in violation of the landlord's religious freedom, and boom!  All of a sudden, we have statewide legal precedent for legalized housing discrimination against the LGBT community on the basis of religious freedom.  And it doesn't stop there!  Who's to say the concept can't be applied to black tenants?  (Oh, yes, that would happen in certain areas of this state!)  Or, say, military veterans?  What, you don't think anyone has religious objections to war or those who participated in one?

That's Shirkey's plan.

See, if this were truly about religious freedom, he would simply add the same type of language Indiana added to their law after the outcry became too harmful to dismiss.  It would plainly and clearly state that this legislation is not to be used by anyone to discriminate against anyone else.  Indiana's law names specific protected classes, but that's really not necessary.  Just have the bill say that this legislation does not allow any person to discriminate against any other person, and that would be fine.

But Shirkey won't do that.  Because this bill is not about religious freedom.  It's about legalized discrimination.  And he knows it.

If that language were to be added to the bill, I would have almost no problem with it.  Granted, it's unnecessary legislation, which I generally oppose, but apart from the one loophole, it's not particularly harmful unnecessary legislation, it's simply unnecessary legislation.  But that's one hell of a big loophole, and it needs to be closed.

Which is why Governor Snyder is wise to state with certainty that he will veto this thing if it's not accompanied by an Elliott Larsen amendment.  Which the Republicans who want the RFRA passed will not stand for.  I'm not in favor of an Elliott Larsen amendment, either... though for much different reasons.  The social conservatives oppose it because it would include TEH GAYZ! (*gasp!*) among people we'd actually have to consider as people despite our prejudices.  I oppose it because we don't need protected classes at all thanks to the "all persons" and "any person" wording in the 14th Amendment.  But if that's what's going to stop the RFRA from being enacted into law, then I applaud Nerd Boy for making it a requirement for his signature.

Because, honestly, after all that time he spent refusing to do his job and call off Bill "The Will of the People" Schuette's persecution of same-sex couples, Snyder needs some serious repair done on his civil rights record.  If this is going to be the place that starts, it's a damn good one.

Hopeless in District 58

FULL DISCLOSURE: My stepfather is Brad Benzing, one of the several candidates who ran against eventual State Representative Eric Leutheuser, and I was involved in Brad's campaign.  That said, these opinions would be exactly the same if Brad had not run at all.

Adoption is not an issue that needs to be made political.  Adoption is not an issue that needs to be made divisive on religious grounds.  And yet, Eric Leutheuser and his cohorts have, in both ways, made it one.

In what is notably the very first piece of legislation Leutheuser has ever introduced in the entirety of his political career (which began with his occupation of this office), he has managed to not only set foot firmly in big-government territory, but he is making the exact same mistake that Spring Arbor University and the Department of Education made in allowing Title IX exemptions while continuing federal funding.

The simple rule of thumb should be this: if you wish to discriminate against qualified people who want to adopt children, you will not receive state funding with which to do it.  If you wish to receive state funding for your adoption services, you will not discriminate against qualified people.  That could mean same-sex couples, atheists, or anyone who happens to fit the reasonable standards necessary to qualify for placement.  This is not rocket science: if you want taxpayer dollars for your social service, you don't discriminate.  Simple as that.

But this bill allows for exactly the opposite.  It allows for religious discrimination in state-funded adoption.  And it's contradictory in its language, at that.  It specifically states that the state cannot act against an adoption agency's free exercise of religion, and despite the subsequent language that claims this does not intend "to limit or deny any person's right to adopt a child or participate in foster care," what the hell else could it possibly mean?  In what way would the state be seen as violating the religious rights of an adoption agency other than if they said "we're not giving you money because you turn potential parents away on religious grounds?"  That's the only situation in which the state would have any reason to deal with adoption agencies in regard to their religious practices!

Besides, how exactly does this benefit the children?  We all know that everything in politics is always done for the children.  What children are benefiting from not being adopted?  What children are going to be thankful down the road that Leutheuser took away their chance to be adopted into a loving family?  Because that's exactly what this bill will do: prevent orphans from being adopted by loving prospective parents who want to nurture and care for them.  Does that seem like a good thing to Rep. Leutheuser?

The most ironic thing about all of this is that, in my above-linked article about the Spring Arbor idiocy, I referred to the difference between SAU's acceptance of federal money and Hillsdale College's rejection of it.  As Leutheuser has many ties to Hillsdale -- as do I -- it's rather surprising that he has rejected that principle.  Hillsdale does not accept any federal money at all, and yet its endowment, funded entirely with private money, is far larger than Spring Arbor's.  Hillsdale is the measure of success in that regard.  So wouldn't it stand to reason, then, that private adoption agencies would do far better jobs without state money and oversight?  Why give them a codified pardon for using my money and yours to turn away qualified loving couples who want children simply because they happen to be two people of the same sex?  Wouldn't these adoption agencies be able to raise enough private funds to operate if such discrimination were truly the right thing to do?

Aye, there's the rub!

Discrimination is not profitable, and Hillsdale College is well-known for being the very first in North America to put in its charter -- all the way back in 1844 -- that they will admit all races and sexes.  The football team even refused to play in a national bowl game because the officials wouldn't let the black players play.  Hillsdale is successful, in part, because they don't discriminate, because they know it isn't the right thing to do.  On the other hand, Spring Arbor has seen nothing but backlash over their Title IX exemptions... not to mention their previous run-in with discrimination.

If Leutheuser wants to build a career of getting Michigan's economy back on track as he claimed he did in the election, supporting public funding for discriminatory adoption practices is certainly an odd way of going about it, especially when it flies in the face of the very economic and social principles of an institution he's linked to, an institution world-renowned for its conservative political influence.

And as I said: I have ties to said institution, as well, so I have a vested interest here.  I don't want to see this reflect badly on Hillsdale College, which it very well could.

Look, I know the guy.  He's got his political positions and I have mine.  Some of them line up and some of them don't.  And that's fine.  But this is just plain terrible legislation, and he ought to be ashamed.  It's discriminatory, it's religiously motivated, it perpetuates big-government policies, and as with the RFRA, it's just plain unnecessary.  It is everything that is wrong with the Republican Party today, and with it, our state representative here in District 58 has made himself the poster boy for big-government social conservatism at the state level.

So how 'bout that economy, huh, Eric?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How To Fix Society

I don't know what I can say about the suicide of Leelah Alcorn that hasn't already been said.  If there is anything new about my perspective, it's not much.  I guess this post is really more about me venting than anything else.  I need it.  This situation rips my heart to shreds.

I've read countless articles, blog posts and comments that accurately reflect everything I think and feel when it comes to this tragedy.  Terrible sadness that yet another young girl took her life because she was psychologically tortured by those in authority over her.  Infuriation at her progenitors for forcing her to live a lie.  Infuriation at her progenitors for refusing to acknowledge their own guilt in their daughter's deathInfuriation at her progenitors for refusing to acknowledge that their daughter committed suicide, instead prefering to insist that their nonexistent son died in an accidentInfuriation at her progenitors for refusing to even acknowledge their daughter's true self in her death.  A true anger -- the kind that only extremely rarely manifests within me -- that makes me want to hold her mother -- and I use the term loosely -- down on the ground and just slap away... not only for her despicable (and thankfully failed) attempts to erase her daughter's existence, but for her inexcusable harassment and emotional abuse of her daughter's best friend after the fact.  I cannot say enough vile or vile enough things about that person -- and, again, I use the term loosely.

None of this is much different from most reactions I've seen elsewhere.  I cannot excuse the kind of inhuman treatment that leads one's own child to believe that suicide is the only way out, nor can I comprehend the kind of irrational rejection of fact that leads to that inhuman treatment.  I'm left to marvel, like most of the rest of the world, at how Leelah's parental-type individuals could possibly be so viciously evil, especially in the name of a God who is exactly the opposite of everything they did.

Keep in mind: I hold that the Southern Baptist Convention (which is not culpable here) is guilty of first degree murder for every transgender person's suicide that they had any part in bringing about.  Parents and guardians whose actions result in their transgender child's suicide are guilty of first degree murder by definition even more directly.  Doug and Carla Alcorn are no exception.  On top of everything that I listed above, there is also a deeply-rooted sense of justice within me which demands that they and the quacks who performed Leelah's "conversion therapy" be thrown in prison and the key be dropped into the Mariana Trench posthaste.

But while the immediate -- and admittedly emotional, though no less rational -- reaction is to hold accountable those who are, indeed, accountable, that will only begin to satisfy Leelah's final desperate plea of us to "fix society."  She was absolutely correct in the words that she chose.  Our society has several glaring flaws that allowed this to happen.  And make no mistake about it: this has happened many times before without notice, which is one of those flaws that Leelah has already helped us overcome.  Her suicide only gained global attention for two reasons: one, her death came at a time when transgender rights are in the public eye, and two, she was an intelligent young lady who left a very damning last message which directly named the exact, scientifically proven foundations of her situation.  She knew why she was depressed.  Scientific study proves exactly what she stated.  She knew exactly what led her to such an impossible place in life.  And worse yet, she knew where and how to find the support to help her escape... but she couldn't act on that knowledge, because her progenitors locked her inside the house and cut off all connections to the outside world so that they could continue their psychological torture of her and she couldn't get the help she needed to save herself.

And that is the biggest societal flaw of them all.  That we, as a society, have allowed that to happen even once is sickening.  That we have allowed it to happen more than once makes us complicit.  That we have allowed it to happen more than once in the name of religion puts us on the fast track to Hell.  We have allowed parents like the Alcorns to get away with their crimes because they claim "religious freedom" over the deafening roar of scientific and Biblical evidence that disproves them.  Yes, these people are criminals.  They've violated the Harm Principle.  They have willfully and maliciously engaged in behavior that caused the death of their own child.  That's a crime.  It can and should be punished.  But we're not punishing it.  We're not punishing the Alcorns or anyone else.  That in and of itself is criminal.

Now sure, California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have criminalized "conversion therapy" when undertaken by licensed therapists or medical professionals, and several states are in the process of crafting and passing similar legislation.  But this does nothing to punish the parents who force their children into such efforts -- as the Alcorns did to Leelah -- and therefore such laws rely upon the victim to report the crime.  Since we know that the Alcorns essentially locked their daughter in a cage and abused her -- and since we know that they're far from being the first set of parental-type individuals to do such a thing to their child -- it's quite obvious that such a report from the victim would not be forthcoming, and the validity of a report from a third party would be legally questionable in standing and motivation.

Given all of that, I fully support the effort to ban "conversion therapy" with the additional demand that parents who force their children into it be prosecuted.  This is a form of child abuse, which is already illegal; we simply need to add it to the existing legal definitions at the state level.

Why the state level?  Because federal law is only legally capable of laying the ground rules for what child abuse is.  From the Department of Health and Human Services:

While CAPTA provides definitions for sexual abuse and the special cases of neglect related to withholding or failing to provide medically indicated treatment, it does not provide specific definitions for other types of maltreatment such as physical abuse, neglect, or emotional abuse. While Federal legislation sets minimum standards for States that accept CAPTA funding, each State provides its own definitions of maltreatment within civil and criminal statutes.

Those minimum standards, again from HHS, are:

  • "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation"; or
  • "An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."

Gee, it sure sounds to me like "putting your child through an effort to change their biologically hardwired gender by way of scientifically disproven methods known to result in suicide" certainly fits the description "Any recent act [...] on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death [or] serious emotional harm."  And it certainly is "An act [...] which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."  But maybe I'm just using those pesky and dangerous powers of reasoning and logic again.

Leelah was also correct in her statement that gender identity needs to be taught about in schools sooner rather than later, and her motivation for that is subversive, but I don't mean that in a bad way.  That subversion is necessary.  Only the younger generations that are presented with the facts will be able to supersede the impositions of the older generations with their outdated, disproven notions of gender identity, and only then are we going to move into the world she said would allow her to rest in peace; a world where transgender people are truly seen as equals in our society.  People are coming around, yes, but look at the state of racism in this country alone.  Black people still disproportionately face deadly force at the hands of the policeBlack women still get arrested for kissing their white husbands in public on false accusations of prostitutionAdoptive white parents of black children get called "nigger lover" because they stand up for their daughter by confronting the parents of her bullies.  And this is in the United States of America, fifty years after Selma.  Half of a century, and we still have that kind of progress left unmade.  Not to mention where the rest of the world is in that regard.  Are we seriously expecting a lack of education to make better progress for transgender people when the existence of education has made such slow progress for black people?  "The earlier the better" indeed, Miss Alcorn.

But these are all relatively short-term fixes for the true root of the problem.  The ultimate fix for society is easy to pinpoint but far more difficult to accomplish, and that is to completely eliminate the concept that different is bad.  At the risk of coming off as crass, I'd like to point out that the Star Trek universe has a proactive term for this: the Vulcan principle of Kol-Ut-Shan.  In English, that means "infinite diversity in infinite combinations," often abbreviated as "IDIC."  It is "the basis of Vulcan philosophy, celebrating the vast array of variables in the universe."  We could sure use some of that celebration in the here and now.  I'm afraid we have a long way to go before Gene Roddenberry's vision for a united human race comes to fruition.  But that shouldn't stop us from working toward it.  And the first step in that work is to simply love people for who they are, not who we think they should be.

This is exactly what is so disgusting about Carla Alcorn's comments.  She insists that she loved her son.  Problem is, the person she was talking about was not her son, she was her daughter.  Carla Alcorn claims that she loved her child unconditionally.  Clearly she doesn't know the meaning of the word "unconditionally."  She didn't love Leelah.  She loved a person who never existed, and denied the existence of the person she brought into this world and was charged to love.  That's not unconditional love.  That's the exact opposite.  Conditional love of a person who wasn't real and hatred of a person who was.  She put her bigotry over the love of her own offspring.  And that's something which society has, up until now, largely accepted.

How do we fix society?  We begin to value our differences rather than condemn them.  We appreciate people for their intrinsic value in our own lives.  We've turned a corner, but we still have a long way to go, and there's only one way to get there.

We will fix society when we put love above all else.

Note: Yes, I specifically chose to use the word "progenitors" in reference to Doug and Carla Alcorn.  The word "parents" implies tenderness and affection, neither of which the Alcorns had for their daughter, but rather reserved for their nonexistent son.  I will not dignify their behavior with terminology that it contradicts.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Un-American Sniping

Chris Kyle.  I don't know what to think of him as a person, and frankly, I really don't give a damn.  Neither do I know what to make of the book or movie about him, and the same failure to give a damn applies.

What I do care about -- tremendously -- is the fact that his story is being used as propaganda in favor of this country remaining in a perpetual state of war, which is something we have been warned against throughout our history.  Many people quote Alexis de Tocqueville, who famously and brilliantly summed it up: "No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country."  But George Orwell went into a bit more detail in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and it's a necessary bit of fiction to read, because it has now become reality:

The war, therefore if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that the hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.

The very word "war," therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist. The peculiar pressure that is exerted on human beings between the Neolithic Age and the early twentieth century has disappeared and has been replaced by something quite different. The effect would be much the same if the three superstates, instead of fighting one another, should agree to live in perpetual peace, each inviolate within its own boundaries. For in that case each would still be a self-contained universe, freed forever from the sobering influence of external danger. A peace that was truly permanent would be the same as a permanent war. This--although the vast majority of Party members understand it only in a shallower sense--is the inner meaning of the Party slogan: WAR IS PEACE.

So how can a movie about a sniper be used as pro-perpetual war propaganda?  It's so deviously simple that it's far too effective for anyone's good: if you so much as question the motivations of the story or it's telling, you're seen by the neoconservatives(*) as questioning the war.  You're instantly labeled as anti-American, "liberal," unpatriotic, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  This is the Trey Parker / Matt Stone "America, FUCK YEAH!" and "if yew don' lahk it, yew kin GIIIIIIIT OWWWT!" stereoptype... but unfortunately, it's no longer just a stereotype embodied by a handful of ignorant racists demanding revenge against the towelheads for 9/11, this is now literally the neocon party line.  To question anything having to do with the war is to question America -- which, as any good little neocon will tell you, is the only remaining source of liberty on this God-forsaken planet, and what is peace if not liberty?  Therefore, to question the war is to question peace.  WAR IS PEACE.

I know this firsthand.  I've had it happen to me more than once over more than just the movie American Sniper... and directed at me by people who I happen to know are far more intelligent than that, yet they've allowed themselves to fall into this trap of false patriotism.  Some of them have served in the military and use that as an excuse, but others haven't.  It has absolutely nothing to do with military service or lack thereof.  These people are simply and blindly following the idiotic line of thought that if you so much as question a movie about a book about a single veteran of a war that you might even agree is justified, you're a traitor and engaging in demoralization.  Of course that's not true, but that's the response you'll get.

To these people, I say this: when you grow up, when you decide to use your God-given brain power to understand that this isn't about criticizing the war or the country, when you can fully comprehend that perpetual war is a destructive force that will leave us without a country TO criticize, then maybe -- JUST MAYBE -- you might have to take a look at this film in a different light.  Because what you're doing?  The baseless treason accusations and faulty logic?  That is what is truly un-American.  You can disagree with me that this movie is propaganda all you want -- and I happily base my observation on the fact that it might not have been intended as such to begin with.  But my statement of that conclusion is firmly rooted in my love of this country.  My patriostism is my motivation for pointing this out.  Because we are well into the trek down into an abyss that there is only one way out of, and that way out is not by continuing the climb down into it.

(*): Not that the liberals are any better.  They pay lip service to peace and liberty, but they know what side of the political bread the monetary butter is on.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Update Forthcoming

I've got a lot to say and I haven't had a lot of time to say it.  So while you're waiting for the next post, here's something to hold you over.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Attorneys General Are Pissing Me Off and Other News You Should Be Paying Attention To

It sure is a good thing that I don't get paid to write this blog, because if I did, it'd be a pretty paltry paycheck given how infrequently I've posted to it.  So to make up for lost time, let's just skip the formalities and go straight to what's on my mind these days, shall we?  We shall.

Let's Talk About Dishonest Lawyers, Part I (or, In What Way Is Pam Bondi Breaking The Law This Time?)

Florida's attorney general (who I cannot mention without pointing out that she believes so staunchly in the sanctity of marriage that she's on Fiancé #3 right now) is "expediting" the legal process by intentionally stalling it.

As The Advocate reports, Bondi told WPLG on Tuesday evening that she still plans to appeal the Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County rulings overturning the state's unconstitutional same-sex marriage ban directly to the Florida Supreme Court.  This despite the ruling of the Third District Court of Appeal (for Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties; Broward and Palm Beach are in the Fourth District) that, because these cases came from the county courts -- which are not the same as district courts -- they must first go through the appropriate district courts of appeal before they can be brought before the Florida Supreme Court.  A decision which is based on, you know, actual law (see subsection (b) (1) (A)).

And in case you're wondering, yes, what Bondi is doing here is WHOLLY illegal, and she could and should be disbarred for it. As per Florida Statute 57.105 (2):

At any time in any civil proceeding or action in which the moving party proves by a preponderance of the evidence that any action taken by the opposing party, including, but not limited to, the filing of any pleading or part thereof [...] was taken primarily for the purpose of unreasonable delay, the court shall award damages to the moving party for its reasonable expenses incurred in obtaining the order, which may include attorney’s fees, and other loss resulting from the improper delay.

Which means that because Bondi is insisting that the Florida Supreme Court take up the case even though they procedurally cannot, the families she's fighting against can, as soon as she attempts to file the case, go to the state supreme court, move that she's pleading to cause unnecessary delay, and Bondi would be forced to abide by the lower court's ruling that she has to go through the appellate process first.

In other words, she's not only violating her oath of office by refusing to uphold the United States Constitution first and foremost, she's breaking state law to do it and violating one of the most basic rules of ethics in her profession. It's known on the federal level as Rule 11, and lawyers live and die by it.  And damnit, if Pam Bondi is gonna die by it, she's gonna die on her terms!  It's the juris equivalent of the mafioso in a noir movie shouting out the window of his getaway car, "YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE, COPPAS!!!" just before crashing into a brick wall and bursting into flames.  What makes it especially egregious is that she's doing it to the detriment of thousands of people whom she swore an oath to protect.  The level of my disdain for this woman and her actions is beyond measure.

Governor Rick Scott, by the way, is almost just as awful a person for the very reasons that WPLG's Michael Putney pointed out on Sunday morningAlmost just as awful.  Not quite.  But almost.

Let's Talk About Dishonest Lawyers, Part II (or, Bill "The Will Of The People" Schuette Is A Despicable Human Being, But Then, We Already Knew That...)

It's pretty pathetic that Michigan's attorney general has had to fall back on human trafficking as a campaign issue to win points with a voting public who's had enough of him.

Let's take a look at the situation our fine William finds himself in:

  • He continues to violate his oath of office to defend the unconstitutional Michigan Marriage Amendment while insisting against all mathematical possibility that it was "the will of the people."
  • His unpopular (and illegal) attempts to undermine the state's medical marijuana laws continue to anger just about everyone, from seniors and their advocates to those of us who understand the failed "War on Drugs" to be nothing more than statist bullshit.  His antics even sparked several attempts at recall campaigns against him, though they unfortunately fizzled out.  Mostly because the people behind them didn't really know what they were doing.  Not that that excuses Bill's actions at all.  The folks had the right motives, they just didn't know how the system works.
  • Almost every major poll in the attorney general's race so far has put combined undecided/third-party voters at more than half of his support.  Meanwhile, his Democrat opponent, Mark Totten, is only two to twelve percentage points behind him... with a few ties, and even one poll putting Schuette behind Totten.  The Detroit News just finished up a poll that's making them nervous.  Hell, even Tim Skubick asked all the way back in July if Schuette was vulnerable, and if you've lost Tim Skubick, you've lost the election.  Schuette knows he has to do something to garner more support, and that something is apparently relying upon one of the most emotionally-charged issues available to run on.

That last point, of course, begs a few questions. For starters, if human trafficking is such an important issue to him, why is he only now making it a priority to publicly address it?  Has human trafficking become more of a problem during his first term? And if so, doesn't that mean that his efforts to fight it aren't working?  Because remember: the laws are already in place; he's simply pointing out that he's been using them.  So if what he's doing isn't working and the effort needs to be stepped up, whose fault is that?  Certainly not Totten's.  Certainly not yours or mine.  Who's the elected official in charge of taking these things to court?  Ah, yes!  That would be... Bill Schuette!

And just who in the political arena supports the criminalizing of kidnapped children who have been forced into sex work?  Is Totten going around telling people that the victims had it coming?  I highly doubt it.  You'd think that would have made the news by now if he had. 

And finally, when the hell did this step out of the realm of "something we should be doing without begging for credit" and into the world of "hey, look at me, I'm doing the most basic function of my job description, so even if I'm not going above and beyond, you should definitely vote for me!"

The man continues to sicken me.

And Speaking Of Douchebags In Michigan's Government, Rick Snyder!

Apologies to the Columbia University Marching Band for stealing their joke format.

To be fair, The Tough Nerd was the best candidate on the ballot the last time around, and given the options that were on that ballot, I'd vote for him again.  But we won't ever see that ballot again, and frankly, we could have done better.

Yes, Michigan needed a businessman in Lansing.  Governor 867-5309 did a real number on this state's economy -- long before the national and world economies decided to play along with her -- and only someone who actually knows how the economy works could have fixed the damage she left in her wake.  In that regard, Snyder was the smart choice, and it was obvious that most Michiganders understood that.  Otherwise, obviously, he wouldn't be in office right now.

Problem is, even going to the polls to pull the lever for him, most of us understood that there was a lot about his politics we didn't know.  For example, he (wisely) tended to avoid social issues on the campaign trail, and the deflections he replied with when asked didn't really inspire any hope that he was a social liberal.  In fact, he was (and still is) particularly adept at giving a repeated complete and total non-answer to questions about his position on same-sex marriage.  And that answer is this: he was elected to enforce the laws of the State of Michigan, and he will enforce the Michigan Marriage Amendment.  He will not answer whether or not he supports same-sex marriage either personally or politically, but simply that the MMA is state law, and his job is to enforce it.

Keep in mind that the unconstitutional Michigan Marriage Amendment was passed in 2004, so it had already been firmly established as state law by the time he was running for office in 2010.  And both of those elections took place quite some time before the now well-established support for marriage equality supposedly became the majority.

(I say "supposedly" there because it was the majority even before state bans became all the rage.  Those bans were nothing more than a result of Reagan's biggest mistake: tying social conservatism to fiscal conservatism in the Republican Party.  Every one of them came about at the same time Republicans won power, and you can thank Reagan for courting the religious nutjob wing as a campaign strategy.)

Today, however, the majority will not be silenced, and yet Snyder still refuses to give a clear answer on the topic.  He has stated that, quote, "I will respect what happens in our court system,"... buuuuuuuuut let's not get our hopes up just yet.  You'll notice that he said he will "respect what happens in our court system."  That doesn't necessarily mean that he'll abide by the 6th Circuit's ruling (whenever the hell they decide to make it), it could also mean that he's prepared to go to the Supreme Court with it.  The Detroit Free Press also points out that he has, in the past, stated his desire for the state legislature to take up the issue, which would say to me that he wants to find some legislative circumvention of the ban's inevitable courtroom demise.

You'll also notice that he said he will respect what happens.  There's no guarantee that Bill Schuette will, and Snyder was quoted by MLive shortly after Judge Bernard Friedman struck the MMA down, saying, "I'm not spending my time on the appeal nor did I spend my time on the lawsuit.  I'm spending my time on the implementation of what the law is."  Which draws an interesting parallel: two governors of states that I've lived in, both named Rick, both refusing to take responsibility for their attorney general's refusal to abide by now clearly established judicial precedent on the same issue, both with the authority -- and responsibility -- to put an end to this blatantly illegal discrimination once and for all, and both of them falling back on the entirely untruthful excuse that "that's not my job."

But social issues aren't the only front on which Nerd Boy's facing trouble; oh no!  Let's start with the right-to-work law.  Fantastic law.  I supported it 100% and I continue to stand by it.  He absolutely did the right thing by signing it into effect.  It is unquestionably one of the best moves this state's government has ever made.  But in the very heart of American unions?  It was political suicide.  It hasn't played a role in he or his opponents' advertising, and received nary a mention at the one gubernatorial debate.  But it didn't have to.  The moment that bill was signed into law, his numbers dropped drastically.  If he hadn't signed it, he'd be clobbering Mark Schauer right now.  He knew that would be the case when he did it, and I respect the hell out of him for it, because I would have done the same, but he's got a tough road ahead of him on that point alone.  I don't doubt he'll pull it off, especially since the third-party candidates are barely even showing up in the polls, but Schauer wouldn't have nearly the support that he does if Snyder hadn't passed right-to-work.  That's just how the game is played.

And now, he has an actual strike against his economic leadership credentials: protectionism for car dealership franchisees.  Long story short, Tesla Motors sells their cars directly.  Instead of signing franchise agreements with dealerships, they simply open up shop and do all the business themselves.  In Michigan, that was already illegal, but this new law goes a few steps further by prohibiting manufacturers from dictating transaction fees and explicitly requiring the manufacturers to sell through franchised dealerships.  And guess who came up with that language?  Why, the dealership lobby, of course!  (Oh yes, they exist.)  They slipped this in and poured the pressure on, and now Tesla, after publicly stating that they want to bring stores to Michigan, won't be able to do so.  Standing up for special interests when he feels like it?  That's One Tough Nerd.

Things Just Keep Getting Worse for Darren Wilson

You know that second autopsy of Michael Brown's body that came out last week?  Remember how it was played up in the media as vindicating his killer?  Yeah... if you had actually read the autopsy report instead of all the news stories about the autopsy report, you would know that it doesn't vindicate Wilson at all.  Actually, it confirms the eyewitness accounts and calls Wilson into question even moreso than before.

Let's start with the bullet wound to the thumb.  This shows that Michael Brown was shot in the thumb during the struggle in the vehicle, as the only time he was in close proximity to the gun was during that struggle.  Which begs the question: why did Wilson pull his gun while he was sitting inside his vehicle?  Firing a weapon in that enclosed space is insanely dangerous and irresponsible, even if the use is justified.  If the door was shut and Brown was trying to get in through it, Wilson should have grabbed the steering wheel, floored the gas pedal and rolled up the window, in that order.  Brown would have had to let go at some point.  But the wound to the thumb shows that Wilson's first reaction was to go for his gun.  That's gotta instill confidence in police training, huh?  The wise choice is to drive over or through your attacker, but the police choice is to pump lead whether justified or not.  I feel safer just thinking about it, don't you?

Then there's the skin left on the outside of the vehicle door.  Wilson pulled his gun and was threatening to shoot Brown while Brown was struggling against the door.  The eyewitnesses claimed that Brown was struggling to get out.  Wilson claimed that Brown was struggling to get in.  A la the infamous Maury segment, the skin on the door proves that was a lie.  Think about it: if you were trying to get inside an SUV through the window, you would be using downward force on your feet to push your way up through the window, not inward force on your legs to push yourself away from the window.  The inward force could easily result in scratching of the legs on the running board as you struggled against the door to get away, whereas the downward force would not, as you're putting your weight on the ground -- or possibly the running board -- and wouldn't have as much freedom to move your legs.  It's at this point that Wilson's story begins to crack.

Then comes the full-fledged shattering: the shot to Brown's forearm was from the back to the inside, which means that Brown was NOT facing forward when that shot was fired, and his hands were down at the time, which would suggest that he was still running away.  That tells us that Wilson fired at Brown BEFORE Brown turned around.  Again, a confirmation of eyewitness accounts.  And given that standard training is to continue shooting until the clip is empty or the target is dead, that means that Brown could have motioned for surrender after he turned around, but Wilson would have just kept firing anyway.  Which he obviously did four more times, according to the math.  In other words, Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown from behind.  That's the damning evidence right there.

It should also be noted that the presence of marijuana in Brown's system (or anyone else's, for that matter) does not necessarily mean inebriation. Tests do not reveal how long marijuana has been in one's system, and it stays in the body for days or even weeks after losing its intoxicating properties. So the presence of marijuana in his system is entirely irrelevant to the events of that fateful day.  Even if Brown had been high, marijuana isn't the kind of drug that would make you charge full-speed at a police officer who's firing a gun at you.  In fact, it's well-known for its ability to induce paranoia, particularly the kind that makes you fearful of authority.  Making a huge deal of the presence of the drug in Brown's body (as many in the media have tried to do) is not merely ignorance or anti-drug hysteria, it's an attempt -- by those who have everything to lose from the truth -- to spin public opinion in their favor.  Because the facts are quickly adding up against them.  Don't fall for it.

Long story short, in order to accept the idea that this second set of autopsy results vindicates Darren Wilson, you HAVE to believe either one of two things. Either:

  1. Michael Brown was freakishly capable of doing the physically impossible by rotating his arm outward on a vertical axis at the shoulder, or...
  2. The bullet that hit Brown in the back of his arm and exited the inside was a Kennedy-style "magic bullet" that somehow passed Brown, stopped and turned around mid-air, then hit Brown from behind.

If you believe either one, I have some oceanfront property in Nevada to sell you.

Oh, But We're Not Done With The FPD Yet; Oh No!

If you thought the Ferguson Police Department was a circus act before, you're gonna love this turn of events.

It seems that CNN, relying on their ever-accurate anonymous sources (this time credited as "government officials familiar with the ongoing discussions"), reported Tuesday that FPD chief Thomas Jackson would be announcing his resignation next week.

Jackson, of course, flatly denies this, stating that he is the man in charge here, and he's keeping his job no matter what you hear from those mean and nasty journalists who ask too many questions and always want explanations for things.  God, it's like people want to hold you accountable for your actions or something!  The nerve!

Sadly, even if the CNN report had been true -- or if it still is, we have yet to see -- it would just provide the opportunity for just yet another Won't Get Fooled Again reference.  The same people that put Jackson in charge in the first place are still running the show now, and whoever they pick this time around would most likely be just as bad.

Another option that's been floated out there is to simply close up shop at FPD and let the St. Louis County Police step in to do the job, but that's just as terrible an idea.  Let's not forget that SLCPD had a very key role in the repressive and overkill (terrible pun intended) insanity that was the militarized response to peaceful protestors and journalists, and they themselves have a long and storied love affair with racial profiling.

Either way, meet the new boss: same as the old boss.

Now there are calls for reform from the top down, but how do you effect that kind of change when you have two different police agencies operating under the jurisdiction of two different government entities?  You can fire all the cops in the world, but you can't un-elect the people in office who hired them and write their paychecks, and unless you hold those elected officials criminally responsible for something (and what would you hold them criminally responsible for, exactly?), there's nothing stopping them from taking things right back in the same direction.

Basically, the residents of Ferguson have to keep fighting for their city, not only on the streets, but at the polls.  This has to be a local political revolution, or nothing will change.

I Was Going To Title This Section "Monica Lewinsky Needs To Get It Through Her Head," But That Might Be Too Tasteless, So I Won't

No, Monica Lewinsky was NOT "patient zero," as she puts it, for cyber-bullying.  She put herself in the public spotlight when she and Bill Clinton -- The President of the United States at the time -- decided to have an affair.  Yes, mean and nasty things were said about her by media figures and no-names alike, but that in and of itself does not constitute cyber-bullying; it was the public discourse -- vile as some of it may have been -- about a woman who opened herself up to it by getting down on her knees under the Oval Office desk.  The entire situation could have been avoided if she had simply said "no" to Slick Willy's advances.  Her failure to take into account the consequences of having sex with the president does not give her license to escape those consequences.

In contrast, victims of cyber-bullying are outside the public spotlight and have done nothing to bring such attacks on themselves.  They're usually a student in school being attacked by peers, which means they can't just ignore it because they are inescapably surrounded by their tormentors in person every day.  None of that describes Monica Lewinsky.  She wasn't cyber-bullied, she made a conscious choice and she had to deal with the fallout.  I have no doubt that said fallout did her emotional and psychological harm, but that does not in any way make what she went through cyber-bullying.

In getting the definition wrong, she is misrepresenting herself and wrongfully appropriating the term, which in turn diminishes the public perception of cyber-bullying and endangers its victims.  She is literally doing more harm than good.  I don't believe she's necessarily doing it to be self-serving or self-promoting; I think she genuinely wants to help.  But she cannot.  She is incapable of helping victims of cyber-bullying by falsely claiming that she, herself, was cyber-bullied.  She needs to take a few steps back and think that through.

Listen Up, Neocons: Here's Your Civics Lesson For The Century

A friend of mine brought this story to my attention about a week and a half ago through this blog post right here.  (Don't click that link unless you feel like both screaming in rage and laughing at the author's stupidity.)

Here's what's going on.  Two bigots -- a married couple who both happen to be ordained ministers -- run a for-profit wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; much like the kind in Las Vegas where you can elope and get hitched by an Elvis impersonator.  The city, in 2013, passed a non-discrimination ordinance which includes protection on the basis of sexual orientation as well as the standard bases of race, sex, religion, et cetera.

This law applies to all public accommodations, otherwise known to you and I as for-profit businesses.  Basically, if you're conducting business with the general public, you have to serve all of the general public unless you suspect that they are committing or planning to commit a criminal act.  That means that this for-profit wedding chapel, which is classified as a public accommodation, cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation.  Even if the ordinance hadn't been written to include sexual orientation, discrimination against same-sex couples is sexual discrimination against either one partner or the other, because one partner is not the opposite sex from their significant other.  So either way, now that same-sex marriage is legal in Idaho, a for-profit wedding chapel is clearly committing a criminal act by rejecting the business of same-sex couples, be that defined as sexual orientation discrimination or sexual discrimination.  You just can't do it.

But that's exactly what these two morons did.  According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, a man called the chapel to inquire about booking a same-sex ceremony.  The idiots on the other end of the line turned him down, and then proceeded to file for a restraining order against the city to prevent them from enforcing the non-discrimination ordinance.  They have also filed a federal lawsuit against the city, claiming that they're facing oppressive religious discrimination.  The city, for its part, correctly makes the case that the chapel is a for-profit business serving the public, and as such, they are subject to fines and/or jail time if they do not comply.

Now before you neo-conservatives get your big girl panties all in a wad, no, this is NOT an attack on religious liberty, because if these two clowns want to be able to discriminate against same-sex couples without the threat of fines or jail time, all they have to do is convert their chapel to a full-fledged church, which will make it a religious institution under the law, and therefore exempt from the city's non-discrimination ordinance on religious grounds.  Or they could also simply hire an officiant who is willing to perform same-sex marriages.  The fact that the two operators of the for-profit wedding chapel are ordained ministers means absolutely nothing, because they're not performing wedding ceremonies individually as ordained ministers for a fee, they're operating a for-profit business, the sole purpose of which is to provide a primary source of income for themselves by performing wedding ceremonies.  They are not under attack, their freedom of religion is not being violated, and they could easily solve this problem if they hired another minister just for same-sex weddings or were to simply start a church.  The latter option being, you know, what ordained ministers are kinda supposed to do: pastor churches.

So why don't they do that?  Simple: they want to create a situation that appears to fulfill the lie that same-sex marriage is inherently an attack on religious freedom.  They're bigots, they want to continue both their bigotry and their business, and they have to make it appear as though they're the victims here in order to gain your sympathy -- not to mention spark a frenzy amongst the socially-conservative minority who already thinks that gay marriage will bring an end to humanity.  Their only motives here are hatred and money.  They're not victims, and deep down, they know they're not victims, but they also know that they can make mountains of money off of this situation in neo-conservative circles, from giving speeches at events to making appearances on Fox News... maybe even "writing" a book (by which I mean they'll spew their nonsense and someone will write it down in a somewhat literate fashion).

And you neocons are eating it up like a fat kid eats cake.  I would know.  I was a fat kid.

Oh, and by the way, don't kid yourself: the "National Organization for Marriage" and the "Alliance Defending Freedom" (sarcasm quotes in full effect there) are in this purely for the money, themselves.  The ADF is representing these two jackballs in court, and both they and NOM are 1000% (not a typo) guaranteed to use this whole manufactured controversy as fundraising material.  They know a moneymaking scam when they see one.

In other words: this is not the outrage you're making it out to be, and by fanning the flames, you're only further proving to the world what imbeciles you are.

And On A Similar Note...

This.  I don't need to say anything about it, because it's just right the way it is.  It is mandatory reading.  And if that didn't bring you to tears...

At What Point Can The Southern Baptist Convention Be Charged With First-Degree Murder In Transgender Youth Suicides?

I have never been more proud in my life to no longer be a member of a Southern Baptist church.  It's been almost fifteen years since I last set foot in one, I've never once considered doing so again, and I've never once regretted either of those two facts.  Why would I when the church leadership keeps spewing vile shit?

Hey, you have to ask yourself (as I did): what can you really expect from a denomination that was founded by racists to uphold slavery on Biblical grounds?  No, really: what can you expect from such an organization?  A church that didn't even acknowledge or renounce their own roots in racism and slavery until 1995; how can you expect them to catch up to modern times?

I mean, let's ignore the fact that every single valid scientific study on the physiology of transgender people has shown that gender identity is an inborn biological trait with actual physical differences in the brain.

Let's ignore the fact that the psychiatric, medical and social work communities have completely blown away the notion that "nurture" has anything to do with gender identity.

Let's ignore the fact that transgender people -- specifically transgender children -- are at substantially higher risk for suicide directly in relation to their parents, family and social circle's lack of acceptance.

Oh.  ...Well, given the facts, science and statistics that are stacked entirely against their position, I guess you can expect better of them.  Much better.

I've made this point countless times before, but it bears repeating: science trumps dogma.  God gave us the ability to study His creation for a reason: to use it and learn more about Him.  Every so often, He uses the scientific process to tell us things.  I like to think of it as Him calmly leaning against the doorway of a pastor's office, saying "hey, you know that thing that you keep saying I said?  Yeah, well, uh... My creation doesn't reflect that at all, and I don't make mistakes, so... yeah, this one's all on you guys."

And yet, even when presented with all of this evidence, the SBC still rejects transgender people, particularly transgender youth at this event, and they encourage parents of transgender children to utilize the extremely dangerous quackery known as "reparative therapy" (which has rightly been made illegal in several states) and in all other conceivable ways psychologically torture their children in an effort to change their physiologically unchangeable gender identity.  Which, as the evidence cannot possibly make more obvious, more often than not leads those children to kill themselves.

This is first-degree murder.  There is no getting around that fact.  It is an act (or, in this case, a series of acts) with malice aforethought and prior planning that directly results in the death of the victim.  That is the very definition of first-degree murder.  The Southern Baptist Convention is not only encouraging it, they are engaging in it.  Blood is on their hands, and they revel in that fact.  In any other setting, we'd be frying them by now.

So what is it going to take before we can start locking them in prison for life without parole?  Because that's what they deserve.  Nothing short of the next to maximum penalty -- because death would be too good for these sick fucks.

We need to be demanding that they face the punishment for their crimes.  That they're committing them in God's name should be even more of a reason to bring them to justice, not an excuse for them to hide behind.

Also In Church News...

This happened.  It leaves about as many questions unanswered as it does... well, no, it doesn't really answer anything, it just raises more questions.  But Mark Driscoll has stepped down at Mars Hill, and the world is a slightly better place for it.  Let's hope and pray that God guides the church back to the right path.

And Finally Tonight, A Water-Skiing Squirrel

A state rep in Pennsylvania put his concealed carry permit to use while standing up to some thugs who tried to mug him and one of his colleagues.  And he's a Democrat.  No, they're not all anti-gun whackjobs.

Are You Done Now?

Yep.  I'll try not to let so much content stack up before I write next time.