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Carpe Diem, California

New York has passed marriage equality. Let's repeat that. In. A. Big. Bold. Font.

New York has passed marriage equality!

or even better

Why not then California?  

With an incredible victory in the New York State Senate as tailwind, the question of whether to pursue repeal of Proposition 8 now comes to the fore. Is California to be left in the proverbial dust, awaiting a Supreme Court decision that even if favorable will take years and years?  Or will the state put this scourge to rest a little less than seventeen months from now?

The answer is not blowing in the wind. The answer is in the hands of LGBT organizations similar to those that came together in a unified front (or perhaps were pushed!) to win marriage equality in New York. The answer is in the hands of donors similar to those who were willing to go to bat for marriage equality to the tune of millions of dollars in New York. The answer is in the hands of grassroots advocates similar to those who, in New York, worked their butts off. They called, they gathered signatures and postcards, they called some more, and they demonstrated on the streets and in the Capitol in anticipation of the vote. Would their analogues in California work their butts off to pass marriage equality in California if they were given the chance?

There's no doubt in my mind: the answer is 'yes'. 'Yes' to putting it on the ballot. 'Yes' that the money and enthusiasm will be there.  

Do It.

Battles are not won by the timid.  Victories are not earned by complaining about how grueling a campaign it will be. And as history is rife with examples, no one is going to hand anyone their rights on a silver platter.

There are arguments against the attempt to repeal Prop 8 in November, 2012 to be sure.  But ultimately these arguments pale when held up against the example of what has just happened in New York State. There is no excuse for remaining unequal a day later than it is possible for such an iniquity to be rectified.

Let's consider the naysayer's points one by one:

We might lose.

It's true. There is no guarantee of victory. There never is. But what's the worst that happens? Do you think the movement will collapse? It didn't in New York when they experienced a crushing defeat in 2009. I don't think the suffragettes or the anti-slavery movement or the civil rights fighters of the 50's and 60's ever gave up...

Of course the movement will not collapse. Not only that, the Prop 8 case will still be there as backup and if THAT fails, there's 2016. Or, dammit. 2020. This is just not a serious argument when one thinks of the great civil rights movements of the past and how long they took and how much they struggled.

It will cost a lot of money.

Well, duh. But California is a very rich state, with a lot of rich people. Between Hollywood and Silicon Valley there's enough money to pay off the federal debt (okay, I engage in hyperbole, but you get the point).  These are both groups of people with a libertarian/liberal bent, many of whom would probably be overjoyed to be associated with a victorious campaign just as their compatriots in New York, both entertainers and businesspeople, were so associated.

While it will cost a lot of money, California has lots of people. LGBT people. Allies. Millions and millions, in fact.  That's a lot of potential smaller donations.  Maybe it will cost more per capita than to wage a campaign in Maine, but this is just not a realistic concern in my opinion.  Build the campaign, and the dollars will come.

There are other battles to be fought in 2012.

This is just plain wrong in conception. Yes, there is at least one other battle (Minnesota), and there may be others (Maryland, Maine, Oregon).  But that is a good thing, not a problem! It's called synergy. It's called a movement. Each campaign will reinforce the others, building momentum while attracting support and supporters -- not detracting or taking resources away from the others.  Remember: the majority of the American public supports marriage equality. This is a fact.  This is not a movement on the margins any more.  The more excitement there is, the more resources there will be.

No one should be voting on other people's rights.

Philosophically, it's a great argument. Practically, it's as useful as discussing angels on pins, or Republicans for tax increases.  They've already voted on your rights!. Thirty one f***ing times, and they're going to do it again in 2012 -- 2012!! -- in Minnesota and maybe in North Carolina. On battlefields of their choosing, using wording of their choice.  

To make this argument against voting on rights is to deny the reality of the recent past. And look, we're not talking about some life-or-death moral principle here. It's not like we're discussing whether or not it's okay to use landmines in a war zone where children will long afterwards endanger themselves, or whether we should stand idle versus intervening while a dictator massacres tens of thousands of people. Voting on people's rights is not going to kill people or make children suffer. We're talking about using a political tool that our opponents have used over and over against us to our benefit instead. Sure, it's asking to people to vote on whether you are equal, which just sucks, but if that's the way forward to equality then I say "use their own damned tool against them!"

The votes aren't there.

I can't prove to you that the votes are there. And you can't prove to me that they aren't there.  Only an actual vote will decide that argument.

But what I can tell you is that there is every reason to believe that with a solid campaign the votes can be made to be there.

Please read Math, Science and Emotion: Defeating Proposition 8 in 2012 if you do not believe me.  It may not be a perfect analysis, but it can't be far off the mark.

The simple explanation is that

 a) Demographic change through November of 2012, along with
 b) Social change, combined with
 c) Enthusiasm and momentum from the NY victory (not included in the analysis)

taken together add up to a really good shot at victory.  One has to be a confirmed pessimist to believe that there isn't a least a good shot at victory given the state of national polling, statewide polling, and the incredible change in social attitudes (think 'Glee') that has occurred in the last three years (leaving a year to go!).

And it's not like we're starting from a 2008 base of 40%. We all know that Proposition 8 opponents (aka us) got almost 48% of the vote three years ago. That just cannot be an insurmountable obstacle.


(note: this graph is not reflective of the most recent polls; the result would be even more stunning if it were)

Why deal with it? Why not wait for the Prop 8 Trial to resolve?

 -- Because it might not succeed!  

There is a real possibility of losing at the Supreme Court which some people seem to ignore.  And if the Supreme Court issues an adverse ruling that would be a huge blow, potentially setting back the fight for equality for decades. Of course, the case might succeed. Spectacularly.  But neither you, nor I, nor anyone except perhaps Justice Anthony Kennedy, knows or can even estimate reasonably what the chances of success or failure or something in between are.

Really, ask yourself -- are all the eggs to be placed in the same basket that decided corporations are people in Citizen's United? That's quite the gamble.

 -- Because it will take years and years to get to a decision.

People are being denied equality now. What justification can there be to deny people a good shot at being frst-class citizens?

 -- Because winning in California will be huge.

It will further catalyze the nationwide movement towards marriage equality.  
It will speed up the pace of change of public opinion in our favor.
It will make politicians stand up and take notice in terms of repealing DOMA.
It will make it more and more likely that when a marriage or DOMA case does come before the Supreme Court, the issue will be decided favorably.
It will reverberate around the world, just as the NY vote is doing right now.

It's just too much effort.

Ugh. Think back to November, 2008. All the protests. All the energy. All the speeches vowing to overturn Proposition 8. Camp Courage. Now, finally, there is a real chance to really do something, and the powers-that-be seem to think that such enthusiasm cannot be harnessed? I have more faith than that. People are waiting for someone to lead, but I believe they are more than willing to follow.

We don't know how to counteract NOM.

Of all the criticisms I've heard this has the most weight.  If we don't have a strong counterattack to the inevitable spate of hate ads claiming we must protect "the children" from "teh gay" there is a good chance that we could still lose, even with public opinion seemingly strongly on our side.

Still, the fact that NY was able to do it is an indication that it can be done. I'm no marketer or Mad Man, but I find it hard to believe that with all the talent out there, and all the politicians, celebrities and LGBT couples willing and available to speak out for marriage equality, that it's not possible to come up with an effective campaign. (And in fact at the town meeting I attended Equality California leaders said they have conducted research and have what they think is an effective countermessage.)

It's time for California's LGBT organizations and leaders to come together and resolve that if the Courts have not resolved the issue favorably by the time it is necessary to move, that move on this we shall.

It's time to take the lessons of NY -- a united front, a single message, a relentless, orchestrated campaign -- and win back equality in the Golden State. And then the country.


Carpe Diem, California.


(Lady Gaga celebrating the victory in NY)

Thanks for listening.


Feudal marketing: A look at who’s up and who’s down in the gilded economy

Ad Age analyzes the economy from the marketing perspective. I think what's most interesting about it is the blase way the article describes income disparity. It looks to me as if this information has been absorbed and ... accepted. Business is adjusting as it will. Winners will emerge, losers will disappear. Customers ... well, it depends on who you are servicing.

The rich -- and marketers who cater to them -- just keep getting richer as everyone else struggles through a so-called recovery. That fact of economics could reshape marketing strategies this year, and for years to come.

Last year, the only growth in spending came from people making $100,000 or more annually, said David Calhoun, CEO of Nielsen Co., speaking at the Advertising Research Foundation's annual Re:Think conference in March. If anything, the disconnect between the haves and the have-lesses has only kept widening since. The ConsumerEdge Research monthly tracker, based on surveys of more than 2,000 consumers, helps illustrate this vividly.

Overall, its "Willingness to Spend" index of U.S. consumers has fallen fairly steadily from 103 in May 2010 (just before the so-called summer of recovery) to 96 last May, where 100 equals sentiment levels in December 2009. But willingness to spend has been on the rise lately among the high-income segment -- that 16% of the U.S. population making $100,000 or more annually. Their spending sentiment index rose from 118 in December to 131 in May. Their index is down 6 points from 137 a year ago, but they're the only income group more willing to spend now than they were in December 2009.


One reason Procter & Gamble Co. is confident its current round of price hikes to recover commodity-cost increases will stick more readily than those taken in 2008 is that at least this year, wealthier folks are more confident. "You saw the whole affluent class come out of the market in 2008, and what we're seeing now is a very strong resurgence of the affluent class," said P&G Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller at a Deutsche Bank investor conference in Paris June 15.

In one sense, nothing much has changed from the trend of the past three decades. Real wages have been largely flat overall since 1980, even as real GDP doubled. The top 1% of earners, as a result, have seen their share of total income double to 20%, even as their tax rates plunged. More broadly, the top 20% of earners have seen their share of U.S. income increase from 45% in 1980 to 50% in 2009 while the shares of every other quintile fell, according to Sanford C. Bernstein research.

For much of that period, however, middle- and lower-income people could grow spending faster than income thanks to loose credit and rising home prices -- factors that disappeared in the Great Recession and show no signs of returning.

I have been telling my friends for the past couple of years that in the new servant economy the only smart place to put your entrepreneurial skills is to cater to the wealthy: that's where all the money is. Hey, it worked for feudal Europe for centuries.

Not that I'm against cuttting defense spending, mind you, but this just makes me laugh:

As the White House tries to revive negotiations to raise the nation’s debt limit today after the talks nearly collapsed last week, some Republicans see cuts to Pentagon spending as a potential area of compromise. Although the House GOP has long been resistant to the idea, they believe it is easier to build support around cutting defense spending than raising revenues through changing the tax code.

Everyone from the President to Jim DeMint agrees that the government is just like an average American household and it must pay down what it owes as quickly as humanly possible. But they also seem to believe under no circumstances is it acceptable to bring in more money to do it. I guess this explains the lack of interest in the unemployment rate.

Seriously, the defense budget is a very logical place to look for savings. It's been off limits to any kind of serious oversight for decades, particularly the one just past. I have no doubt that significant savings can be found there. If they can come up with some cuts in obsolete programs that don't hurt any of their prized constituencies and donors too badly, a deal could potentially be made that would give President Obama an argument to take to his base as his liberal accomplishment in this "deal".

But keep in mind that when they make the argument that we can't raise taxes because the economy is too fragile, the economic logic of that is the same as cutting spending. So it isn't about the economy --- it's about shrinking government. No matter how worthy a goal cutting the Pentagon is on the merits, it's not a liberal economic policy. In fact, none of this is an economic policy at all --- it's a ritual sacrifice.

I'll be on Virtually Speaking at 6 PDT chatting with Cliff Schecter about all manner of things political. You can tune into Blogtalkradio here. You can join in SecondLife or watch it here live.


Another week of GW News, June 26, 2011 [A Few Things Ill Considered]

Logging the Onset of The Bottleneck Years

This weekly posting is brought to you courtesy of H. E. Taylor. Happy reading, I hope you enjoy this week's Global Warming news roundup

Read the rest of this post... |

Read the comments on this post...

Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


California’s Violent Video Game Legislation Falls to First Amendment Jurisprudence

Given the recent first amendment jurisprudence, especially this doozy of a decision protecting the rights of corporations to doctors' individual prescription history, the decision to strike down California's violent video game legislation should come as no surprise.  Yet, I'm sure that won't soothe Sen. Yee (the author of the legislation) all that much.

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down California's ban on the sale of violent video games to minors.

In a ruling closely watched by other states and the entertainment industry, the court in what amounts to a 7-2 ruling determined that California's 2005 violent video game restrictions violated free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

"Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. (SacBee)

While I do admit to being a nerd, I'm not all that much of a gamer.  Yet, I was never a huge fan of this legislation.  Penalties were rather harsh, but a strong argument could be made on both sides.  Sen. Yee and Gov. Brown, however, did support the measure quite strongly.  Brown, as Attorney General, pressed the case to the Supreme Court.  And now, well, we lost.  That's not necessarily a bad thing on this particular issue, but it raises other questions.

So what have we learned from this episode? Well, it certainly confirmed that the Supreme Court believes that the First Amendment is really First. It has become monumental in its authority.  It now controls political funding to medical data, "speech" that the founders would never have envisioned at their time of the drafting of the Constitution.  I do not really care to psycho-analyze Madison and Hamilton, the Court already has that covered far too well, but how are we really to address the issues of the nation if we have a view of the Constitution that is so inflexible for modern times.

Perhaps you like this decision, or perhaps you don't.  But when speech related issues come before the Legislature again, you can bet they will be chastened by this decision.


Good cuts, bad cuts

Not that I'm against cuttting defense spending, mind you, but this just makes me laugh:

As the White House tries to revive negotiations to raise the nation’s debt limit today after the talks nearly collapsed last week, some Republicans see cuts to Pentagon spending as a potential area of compromise. Although the House GOP has long been resistant to the idea, they believe it is easier to build support around cutting defense spending than raising revenues through changing the tax code.

Everyone from the President to Jim DeMint agrees that the government is just like an average American household and it must pay down what it owes as quickly as humanly possible. But they also seem to believe under no circumstances is it acceptable to bring in more money to do it. I guess this explains the lack of interest in the unemployment rate.

Seriously, the defense budget is a very logical place to look for savings. It's been off limits to any kind of serious oversight for decades, particularly the one just past. I have no doubt that significant savings can be found there. If they can come up with some cuts in obsolete programs that don't hurt any of their prized constituencies and donors too badly, a deal could potentially be made that would give President Obama an argument to take to his base as his liberal accomplishment in this "deal".

But keep in mind that when they make the argument that we can't raise taxes because the economy is too fragile, the economic logic of that is the same as cutting spending. So it isn't about the economy --- it's about shrinking government. No matter how worthy a goal cutting the Pentagon is on the merits, it's not a liberal economic policy. In fact, none of this is an economic policy at all --- it's a ritual sacrifice.

I'll be on Virtually Speaking at 6 PDT chatting with Cliff Schecter about all manner of things political. You can tune into Blogtalkradio here. You can join in SecondLife or watch it here live.


Reinventing the Informal Economy [Casaubon’s Book]

As I gear up to finish my Adapting-in-Place book, I've been thinking a lot about the role of the informal economy in supporting a culture that can't keep growing and consuming resources at the same rate. As those of you who have been following my work for a while know, the informal economy represents the larger portion of the world economy (3/4 of all economic activity) and includes a wide range of important activities. When the formal economy fails, the informal economy is needed - and yet we have stripped the informal economy over the last decades. How to rebuild is a huge question - and one whose radicalism can't be overstated. It involves completely reinventing our economy, among other things, since the domestic informal economy stands against industrial growth capitalism and undermines the idea that we can have economy based largely on consumer spending. If you make, rather than buy, well, that changes a lot of things.

One of the most important things to know, I think, is that the growth we depend on is virtually always fed by taking something from somewhere else. That is, we tend to talk about growth as though it comes, magically, from nowhere - we all of a sudden wake up and realize we need VCRs and then, the VCR industry emerges, the economy grows, we move on to DVDs and Blu-ray or whatever, and on and on.

But this is not all the story. Many people who read this will be familiar with one part of the story that was left out - the energy equation. That is, all growth depends on energy as a master resource, and the assumption that energy consumption can always grow, is, well, a problem. Those of you who are peak oil aware will have seen many versions of this account, revising the classic economic assumption that we'll just find more energy when we need it.

But there's another piece of the story that doesn't get told quite as often - that energy is only part of the equation. In order to grow, we have to use a lot of energy, of course, but that energy use *has never* come without also bringing many more people into the economy as well - while energy does reduce human labor in some ways (ie, one guy can do with a tractor what 40 guys did with horses), the net demand for human labor in growing economies is always positive - you need more and more people.

More importantly, those people have to come from somewhere, and they have been doing things that *also* have economic value. Think of it as a law of conservation of human energies - that is, whenever you build a new industry and create growth, you take people who have been *WORKING* at something, contributing something, and you shift them from one sector of the economy to another.

I realize this sounds obvious, but our society works hard to convince us that that's not true - that in fact, the people moved into the formal economy weren't actually doing anything important. The culture has tended to dismiss or trivialize their work, but that's how you get them to move, not based on any empirical knowledge. Think about how much energy was devoted, say to talking about "unproductive" farms in the years of industrialization, or the amount of energy people have spent convincing us that cooking is "drudgery" and should be left the corporations. Ff course, Mom doesn't need to spend time cooking, she should be an administrator for, because she can open a can, and that work is mindless, boring and pointless anyway. Of course you can't keep 'em down on the farm after the war has taken them off to see Paree - what's on the farm? Just shit, right?

Because the US and other developed nations operate almost entirely in the formal economy, enormous efforts have been made, through industrialization and globalization to bring billions more people into the formal economy, where money is everything. The growth of the formal economy at the expense of the informal economy and the ecological economy has been the whole project of the last 70+ years.

It is presently considered normal to need a lot of money for everything - everything from things once supplied by the commons (water, education in crappy school areas) to things once supplied by the informal economy (cleaning, cooking, gardening, etc...). And since we are presently in a period of great economic difficulty, this is already a scary and troubling situation for many people. It is only likely to become more-so as we go forward.

I wrote in _Depletion and Abundance_ about the distinctions between the formal economy - the world of GDP statements, income taxes and salary and benefit equations, which constitutes about 1/4 of the world's total economic activity; and the larger (that it is larger comes as a surprise to most Americans, who live entirely in the formal economy and are often barely aware that the informal economy exists, much less vastly exceeds the value of the formal economy), economy which covers subsistence and domestic economies, criminal activities, under the table work, barter, family labor etc...

One of the effects of the last 70 years or so of industrialization is to pull everyone available into the formal economy. First came the farmers, black and white, many of whom did most of their work in the subsistence economy, often needing very little income. The Depression/Dust Bowl pushed many of them off their land, and World War II took them away from home, and they never went back to the farm. Whole families were moved to the cities, to serve the war effort, and their land was left behind. After the war, the future was in the suburbs, the factories, the new, more formal economy.

For African-Americans particularly, this often was framed as a new kind of freedom - and in some measure, provided one. Factory wages were better than servant and sharecropper wages. In the short-term particularly, it did seem a road to greater freedom. There are, however, many good reasons to critique and question whether the disruption of rural African-American community structures was, in fact, good - and we'll see this situation replayed with less-free peoples all over, as their "liberation" into the formal economy comes both with benefits and costs. Unfortunately, if the formal economy cannot or does not support them, however, we tend to see only costs.

Next came the women of the Global North. We tend to think of this as a product of the women's movement, a conscious choice by a generation of women to move into the formal economy, away from the drudgery of domestic, informal economy life. And there's a degree to which that's true. But the story is more complex than that. First of all, women first went into the workforce during the war, and despite our vision of the 1950s housewife at home, in fact, women continued to work in rising numbers after the war years. Quite a few women never left the workforce, and still more entered the formal economy during the 1950s.

Both my husband and I had four grandmothers who worked in the 1950s and early 1960s, not because of the women's movement, but because of their class and circumstances - two were single mothers, one divorced, one widowed, both worked at the phone company as operators. One was a recent immigrant whose household needed both incomes - she sold Fuller Brushes door to door. Another went to work in a department store to pay for college for her daughters. Rather than viewing feminism as creating a radical break between a past in which women mostly did not work, we can see the war and the subsequent shift of laborers from the subsistence economy as a gradual progression that served to expand the formal economy, at the cost of the labor that sustained the informal one (it is worth noting that almost all "commons" are in some large measure sustained by informal economy work - volunteer efforts, for the most part, and that this was part of the destruction of the commons.)

We should also note that the important distinction is less between women doing economically remunerative work and doing non-economically remunerative work, but between women working from home and out of the home. Historians have found that "women working" is far more normative than most of us have grasped - indeed women were routinely major household providers throughout history. But by necessity (as Judith Brown has described) their work was mostly out of and from the home. It isn't so much that women began to work, but that they began to work away from home in much greater numbers - gaining higher salaries often, and requiring more education, which were good, but also privatizing more domestic activities and consuming more resources, which, we know, weren't so good.

I have argued before, and continue to argue that while the project of feminism itself is a great one and I am a proud feminist, the version of feminism that succeeded and prospered was the one that served the larger goal of stripping the informal economy and the commons to feed the formal one. Feminism was coopted from an early stage.

While many feminists critqued the popular version of feminism we got, it is no accident that corporations were happy to describe domestic work as mindless drudgery, unworthy of women, even before they moved en masse into the workforce - it is no accident that Betty Friedan and Campbell's Soup were working towads the same goals.

The same can and should be said of many of the liberation movements of the period and since - this is not a maligning of the importance of the civil rights movement - the early civil rights movement focused on access to the commons - to the public square. This is why water fountains, buses, schools and lunch counters were so important. But the later versions of the civil rights movement have emphasized not the strengthening of the commons, or investment in the many African Americans who did subsistence and informal economy work on small farms or in local economies, but in the idea that freedom and justice are tied to greater access to corporate and factory jobs and the formal economy. Every social movement, in the end, is coopted by the need for growth - and growth in one part of the economy is never natural - it is stripped from ecological capital and the informal economy. That is, we do not grow, in the sense we mean - we reallocated resources from one sector to another.

By the 1990s, about as many American women were moved into the formal economy as were going to go - it has hovered around 60% for years, and this is probably something of a cap, because the minimal informal economy work never actually went away, and went on being done largely by women (and non-white men). While much of the work was stripped off, outsourced into the formal economy (ie, shifted from people cleaning their own toilets to hiring poorer people to do it), or simply no longer done by Americans (either it was offshored or abandoned), the reality is that someone still had to nurse the kids, do the laundry, maintain minimal civic culture, etc...

So the formal economy needed more natural resources, but since natural resource can never be separated from the people needed to use them, also more people moved from other sectors of the economy into the formal one. The next step was globalization. In it, millions and millions of agrarian people were moved into cities, and set to doing industrial labor. Where once they grew food, and after meeting most subsistence needs, they sold their surplus - and where many struggled to make ends meet and to feed themselves, now they work for a living and move into the money economy - which is great, as long as they've got money. The problem is that rising food and energy costs and falling incomes make them vulnerable. For most of the global south, we're in the "obvious benefits" stage for most of the poor who now have income, can send daughters to school, buy more meat. On the other hand, unlike the relatively idyllic period in which this happened in the US - when climate change and environmental consequences of industrialization weren't as obvious or acute as they are now, the pollution and environmental loss is obvious already. Indeed, official sources in China have suggested that the environmental costs may make industrial growth in China a losing battle in the comparatively near term. Whether this is true or not, the Global South certainly has had to confront costs more quickly than the Global North did.

The vulnerability of people wholly dependent on the formal economy puts both new entrants (who cannot generally go back to their land) and those of us who live wholly in the formal economy at fairly equal risk. During the last great economic crisis in the US, more than 1/4 of the population lived in large part in the informal economy. Now, it is a minute portion of US workers - it was once possible for families in the Depression to go home to the family farm, and at least eat, even if they had little else. It was once possible for urban communities that relied on informal sector labor to support themselves minimally in some ways. It was once possible for most people to rely on the commons to provide for some needs. Most of those resources have been heavily stripped away.

The single most significant project of the next few decades will not be dealing with "peak oil" or "climate change" or "financial crisis" - or rather, it will be all of them. In large part the practial response to all will be rebuilding the informal economies. In difficult times, the role of the informal economy cannot be overstated - for example, economists all over the world couldn't figure out what the Russians weren't starving en masse during the collapse of the Soviet Union - the reason is that the informal economy, as Peasant economist Teodor Shanin and others have documented, arose to take the place of the formal economy.

Now the informal economy isn't perfect. Unless you join the criminal parts of it, or are a natural scrounger, you probably won't get rich off of it. Most of us will never live wholly in the informal economy. But the truth is that the informal economy is more resilient (being vastly larger) than the formal economy - markets, as we all know, long preceeded "the market." That is, human beings always have economies - they are simply not always formalized and organized with the levels of complexity that we have today.

In most cases, people live partly in the formal economy, partly in the informal - the formal economy is needed for the paying taxes and debts, for some projects, while the informal economy meets other needs. The more cash money you have, the less you may rely on the personal ties and subsistence labor of the informal economy, but also, the more unstable, complex and vulnerable the formal economy is (and these are the defining characteristics of modern finance), the more the informal economy is necessary - family ties take over for retirement accounts, barter for when neither of you has any cash, subsistence labor replaces money labor for some people, so that you need to earn less. In the former Soviet Union and parts of Africa, economic historians have long documented that formal economic models suggest people should be starving to death - even when they aren't. The question "how do people in collapsed societies or societies in great crisis live, when the formal economy cannot support them" is answered by the informal economy. It is literally ilfe and death.

I do not believe that the formal economy will disappear - but we are facing falling incomes, increasing insecurity and instability, and more and more of our formal economy incomes being used to serve enormous, and unsustainable debts. We already know that safety nets are being undermined and debt levels rising rapidly - this is a long term problem, whether there are green shoots or not. And most of us are vastly overreliant on the formal economy.

Which means that we must rebuild the commons, and the informal economy - and that means reallocating time and resources and labor away from the formal economy. The law of conservation here requires that just as we have rapidly taken our commons and informal economy labor and placed it in the service of economic growth, we must equally rapidly begin shifting our resources to the informal economy - we need to spend more time volunteering, we need to return to domestic labor that saves us money, like gardening, mending, making things. We need cottage industries that can operate under the table, if necessary, and barter. We must take things away from the formal economy to build new commons - new water resources, new food resources, new community resources. Mostly, what we need to take is our time and labor - because we can't do it all, to the extent we can, we need to use the destruction of the formal economy to make new and better work for ourselves in the informal economy.

Don't think that I believe this is easy - your mortgage lender won't take chickens, and most of us can't pay for our day to day life without formal economy work. Which is why what we're doing now is so very hard - most of us are trying to fit our gardening and canning and other work around our jobs, and our other projects. We're stuck in the formal economy, unless it casts us out. But that is a necessary transitional reality - again, don't think I think it is easy, don't think I think you aren't tired - me too. But the truth is that if we are going to rebuild public, communal, domestic and informal economies, that time and energy will have to come from where we can spare it best - and we're going to have to push ourselves. For some of us, time will be forthcoming when lose our jobs, or when we get enough benefit from our activities to be able to take one earner out of the equation, or when we consolidate households and resources to need fewer earners. But in a world without growth - and whether growth ends now or as we come up to absolute limits of natural resources, it is ending - we have no choice but to rebuild the informal economy.


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The E. coli O104:H4 Outbreak Gets More Confusing—and Potentially More Disturbing [Mike the Mad Biologist]

Consider this a post wherein I engage in some speculation, and hope that I'm very, very wrong. You see, the 'German' E. coli O104:H4 outbreak ('HUSEC041') has taken a confusing turn:

The strain of E. coli blamed for 46 deaths in Germany appears to have resurfaced in France, the French Ministry of Health said.

The new outbreak has sickened eight people, who went to two hospitals in Bordeaux, authorities said.

Officials interviewed seven of them, all of whom reported having attended an open house at a children's recreation center. Six of them reported having eaten sprouts during the visit, "particularly used in decoration of a gazpacho," the health ministry said.

Two of the eight patients have hemolytic uremic syndrome. The strain of E. coli isolated from one of them "has the same characteristics as the strain responsible for a large epidemic" of enterohemorrhagic E. coli in Germany over the past several weeks, which has been blamed on sprouts, the ministry said in a statement.

The seeds for the sprouts consumed at the recreation center were planted and grown in France, officials said.

An investigation found the seeds were supplied by a British company, but no definitive link has been established, an official with France's economy ministry said.

Meanwhile, the UK has issued a warning about eating sprouts, including "alfalfa, mung beans (usually known as beansprouts) and fenugreek." Not sure what fenugreek is, but you shouldn't be eating it (them?).

One of the downsides of this early post about the misidentification of the outbreak strain is that it has made me into something resembling an authoritative source (fools). So I've tried to stay away from any speculation, since speculation has a way of working through the intertoobz and coming out the other end as a definitive statement. But this latest development leads to me speculate. And speculate the Mad Biologist will.

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Constitution-Making Is An Inherently Ideological Exercise

Over the weekend a new reform organization, What's Next California?, held a deliberative poll to discuss fixing the broken system of government we have here in California. Viewing it from afar, mostly via twitter stream, the whole thing appears to have been utterly fascinating and, I would suggest, a generally useful exercise in getting a deeper understanding of Californians' views on their state government and what might be done in order to fix it.

But this exercise has two inherent limitations. The first is its center-right lens, which blinds the organizers to the true breadth of opinion in California. Related from that is the second limitation, which is an unwillingness to acknowledge that California's problems are not merely structural, but ideological, and only ideological solutions will show the way out of this mess.

What's Next California? appears to be an exercise in promoting center-right solutions for California. For example, on taxation and fiscal policy, the proposals are generally center-right. A higher income tax on the rich, or a higher tax rate on corporations, both of which poll well, was not included as one of the possible options for fixing our revenue problem. Given the central nature of this problem to California's budget issues - rising wealth inequality and the lowering of tax rates on the rich (which helped produce that inequality) have gutted the state budget - any solution to the state's budget problems needs to address this fundamental inequality. Any solution that doesn't address it is inherently flawed.

But they don't address it because like so many other constitutional reform exercises, What's Next California? is not willing to admit that the problem is not just structural - it is ideological. California is a progressive state with a progressive electorate that wants progressive policies. But conservatives have been able to shape the structure of government to prevent that progressive impulse from being expressed. That is the California constitutional and structural problem in a nutshell.

Of course, as a center-right project What's Next California? ignores this in the service of their own ideological lens, which holds that the right is usually right and the left is crazy. In other words, maybe the state does need structural impediments to the realization of a progressive agenda even if that's what a majority wants.

What's Next California? seems to want to find the place where Californians can agree on a governmental structure that works for all, to find majority support for specific reforms, and assumes that people will want those things because they either want good government or because they share the view of What's Next California? that neoliberal technocrats know what is best for California government.

Again, while I think the data-gathering aspect of the deliberative poll is quite valuable, I don't see any actual movement happening on a reform agenda as a result of the deliberative poll. That is because constitutional change only happens because of a mass desire for ideological change.

How did Prop 13, the most important constitutional change in the last 60 years in California, get put into place? Not as a result of careful deliberation, but as a result of a right-wing reaction against the realization that they were losing their grip on California. It was an ideologically-driven change. So too was the adoption of the initiative, referendum and recall 100 years ago this October, although that time it came from the left.

The fact is that Californians, like most other human beings, do not view constitutions as abstract documents the way supposedly independent and nonpartisan analysts do. They see constitutions for what they actually are: a blueprint for producing a specific kind of government that will ensure ideologically-specific outcomes.

We can see how this works when it comes to the key issues of the day. Let's go back to taxes. If you are a conservative, you want to make it as difficult as possible for government to raise taxes, so you will never ever support weakening the 2/3 rule. If you are a progressive, you are highly motivated to support majority vote on budget and taxes because you realize that government spending is essential for prosperity. That divide is unbridgeable. Californians have to choose one.

Let's take the legislature. If you're a conservative, you don't like the legislature because as a democratic institution it represents a majority whose values are very different from your own. Its leaders are liberal, are diverse, and in the Assembly at least, are LGBT. Conservatives view the legislature with contempt because it embodies - literally - the new reality in California, and can make laws that reflect it. So conservatives have every reason to weaken the power of the legislature, whereas progressives have every reason to want to increase it.

Would conservatives support massively increasing the size of the state legislature to 300, 500, or even 1000? Not if it meant that the new California majority, which is diverse and progressive, would be given more power. Would conservatives support things like multiple-member districts, proportional representation, or instant runoff voting? Again, not if it diluted their power. And let's face it, progressives like these things because we believe it will make it easier to govern a state that has already chosen us to lead it.

Further, there won't be any momentum to change the status quo except from one ideological base or another. Constitutions change not because a bunch of smart people decide the system should change (if so California's constitution would have changed LONG ago) but because a bunch of motivated people decide the system should change.

All these groups that are sponsoring What's Next California? seem to be trying desperately to avoid having constitution-making become an ideological exercise. But that's what it is and what it has always been. There's nothing wrong with that. An ideology, after all, is merely a worldview that provides coherence, sense, and stability to a set of similar ideas and shared values. Constitutions that are produced for ideological purposes are better and stronger. Constitutions that are the result of compromise tend to fail, as the 1787 Constitution failed in 1860 and as it appears to be failing again today.

We know how this debate over constitutional reform will end - the same way the Constitutional Convention proposal ended in 2010. The wealthy backers will shy away because they will perceive the process as having too much risk to their bottom line. The right will see no need to change because the main reason we need a convention or any other kind of reform is because the 2/3 rule broke state government. And the left will want to see a lot of change, but will rightly walk away if the reform agenda is rigged to prevent their goals from being satisfied through the process.

I look forward to seeing the results of the deliberative poll. Not because I think it will show consensus answers, but because it will help us progressives have a better understanding of what we need to do to achieve our own constitutional changes.


Next Stop: Reality

Nobody has acknowledged that
a) the bubble economies of tech and housing were not financially real,
b) we can not "recover" to a condition that was not financially real in the first place, and therefore
c) we need to start focusing on a transition to something close to reality,
which is a long ways from where we currently are.

-- Charles Marohn, The Growth Ponzi Scheme

In this week's Sift:

  • Presidents and Precedents. If President Obama's manipulation of the War Powers Resolution process stands, what might a President Perry or Bachmann build on that foundation?
  • Ponziville: The Suburbs Are Unsustainable. Charles Marohn claims that sprawling suburbs are an inefficient use of infrastructure. But the problem stays hidden until the initial developments start to wear out.
  • Short Notes. Funny fake news vs. scary fake news. New Yorkers notice that same-sex marriage has not destroyed civilization in Boston. Matt Taibi demonstrates how not to attack Michele Bachmann. A Pulitzer-winner fesses up to being undocumented. Without illegal aliens, Georgia reaps only a metaphorical harvest. It's not just the music that's synthesized, it's the girl. The First Amendment now protects data-mining. Vermont keeps heading towards single-payer health care. And more.
  • This Week's Challenge. If you want to help in the Wisconsin recall elections, here's how.

Presidents and Precedents

During the last administration, I often warned Republicans not to claim any powers for President Bush that they wouldn't want President Hillary Clinton to have. Maybe they trusted W with extraordinary powers, but I hoped it might slow them down to imagine some future Democrat tapping phones without warrants or locking people up without charges.

It never worked.

Even so, I think it may be time to take my own medicine: Sure, I mostly trust President Obama, so I haven't been watching our involvement in Libya as closely as I might. I know there are War Powers Resolution issues and Congress should be involved to some degree. But seeing congressional Republicans play chicken with the debt ceiling hasn't made me wish that they had more opportunities to get in Obama's way.

Still, today's actions are tomorrow's precedents. Eventually there will be another Republican president, maybe sooner than I think. And if someday President Bachmann decides to invade Sweden to protect the world from socialism, shouldn't she have to make her case to Congress? Or somebody?

Maybe it's time to pay attention.

The Founders' Vision of War. The Constitution divides the nation's war-making powers. The President is commander-in-chief (Article II, Section 2), but only Congress can raise armies or declare war (Article I, Section 8).

Why did the Founders do that? They believed that standing armies tempted rulers to impose their will by force. And the US had the unusual advantage of being far away from potential enemies. So they pictured a ground-up form of defense that would only require a sizable federal army on rare occasions.

Most common threats (criminal gangs, pirate or Indian raids) a community would handle itself, maybe with the help of neighboring communities. (Picture the colonial Minutemen or the posse that goes after the bank robbers in a western.) Larger threats (big Indian raids or slave uprisings) would be the responsibility of the state militias. Only when things really got out of hand, say if we were attacked by a European power, would a federal force be needed.

And those big wars would be rare, because we were going to stay out of "entangling alliances". In President Washington's Farewell Address, he wrote:

Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice? It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.

So most of the time the President would be commander-in-chief of not very much. When tensions rose, Congress would assemble an army and decide which countries to use it against. The commander-in-chief clause made sure those armies would report to a single commander, avoiding strategy-by-committee in Congress.

(BTW: This interpretation also makes sense out of the "well-regulated militia" clause of the Second Amendment: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The people should keep and bear arms not so that they can overthrow the government -- as the Tea Party would have it -- but so that they don't depend on a standing army that could be used against them.)

Rep. Lincoln. As a congressman, Abraham Lincoln opposed President Polk's role in instigating the Mexican War. Arguing by letter with his law partner William Herndon in 1848, Lincoln wrote:

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion … and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. ...

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.

Historical drift. The Founders' vision slowly came apart. President Lincoln himself, facing an enemy within cannon-shot of the capital, acted on his own authority and sought congressional approval later. By 1900, the US had colonies of its own and intervened constantly in Latin America. We came out of the World Wars with global commitments and a world-spanning enemy. Now we were trying to entangle other nations in our alliances -- NATO, SEATO, CENTO, OAS, etc.

Eventually, nuclear missiles threatened to destroy our cities in less time than it took Congress to assemble. So power accrued to the President because no one else was in a position to wield it.

Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia. The Korean War (1950-1953) was the first major conflict the US fought without a formal declaration of war. That looked like an aberration at the time, but instead it became the new model. Congress has not declared war since, but has indirectly signed off on presidential wars by continuing to fund them and occasionally endorsing them in resolutions like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

President Nixon pushed presidential authority too far by bombing Cambodia secretly in 1969-70 and delivering misleading records to Congress when it investigated in 1972-73. Congress needed to take some power back.

The War Powers Resolution of 1973. Passed over Nixon's veto, the WPR gives a president 48 hours to inform Congress of a military action, and then gives Congress 60 days to authorize it. If it does not, the President then has 30 days to disengage.

Subsequent presidents have groused, but have mostly gone along with the WPR, for the simple reason that it's sound practice. (It's a myth that presidents have all regarded the WPR as unconstitutional.) If you can't get Congress to endorse a war at the beginning, before the bodies start coming home, then you'd better hope you can go in, declare victory, and get out in short order.

Obama and Libya. The bombing in Libya started on March 19, and Congress has not passed any authorization. So President Obama's 30-days-to-disengage has run out. But instead of standing down, the administration sent a report to Congress making this claim:

The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of “hostilities” contemplated by the Resolution’s 60 day termination provision.

Where did the President get that view? Not from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which is the official executive-branch body to study such issues. And not from the Pentagon general counsel, either. Instead, he followed the opinion of an ad-hoc group of executive-branch lawyers led by the White House counsel, who is not approved by the Senate and in some administrations is nothing more than the president's personal lawyer.

Constitutionally, the President is not obliged to follow any particular legal advice. But Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman explained in the NYT why circumventing the OLC is a bad practice:

If the precedent Mr. Obama has created is allowed to stand, future presidents who do not like what the Justice Department is telling them could simply cite the example of Mr. Obama’s war in Libya and instruct the White House counsel to organize a supportive “coalition of the willing” made up of the administration’s top lawyers. Even if just one or two agreed, this would be enough to push ahead and claim that the law was on the president’s side.

Remember Mukasey's Paradox from the Bush administration: Lawyers can't commit crimes when they act under the orders of a president, and presidents can't commit crimes when they act under the advice of lawyers -- any lawyers, even if they were hired precisely to give that advice.

We don't want to go down that track again, because it undermines the whole notion of the rule of law. Regardless of what you think of Libya or Obama or Congress, the really bad thing here is the precedent. Imagine what a President Rick Perry could do with it.

Ponziville: The Suburbs Are Unsustainable

In a classic Ponzi scheme, money from new investors pays off old investors -- who then brag about the rate-of-return they're getting and tempt even more new investors to get in. As long as inflow of new money grows exponentially, everybody stays happy. But that can't continue forever, and so the scheme collapses.

Charles Marohn claims this model fits the suburbs:

the underlying financing mechanisms of the suburban era -- our post-World War II pattern of development -- operates like a classic Ponzi scheme, with ever-increasing rates of growth necessary to sustain long-term liabilities.

The model has been that state and federal money, developer investment, plus a small amount of local-government borrowing, builds the initial infrastructure of a suburb -- roads, sewers, schools, etc. -- and so the local tax base goes up accordingly. But the infrastructure has a life span, and the increased tax base is not sufficient to rebuild it when it wears out. The only way to hide this is with more growth -- new sprawl that raises the tax base in the near term while adding more long-term liabilities.

In America, we have a ticking time bomb of unfunded liability for infrastructure maintenance. … The reason we have this gap is because the public yield from the suburban development pattern -- the amount of tax revenue obtained per increment of liability assumed -- is ridiculously low. Over a life cycle, a city frequently receives just a dime or two of revenue for each dollar of liability. … We've simply built in a way that is not financially productive.

I wish Marohn had said more about the urban side of the equation: By moving our rich people to the suburbs, we've also wrecked the tax base of our cities.

I'm struck by how Marohn's vision dovetails with John Michael Greer's model of long-term decline. Here's my summary of what Greer says in The Long Descent,:

At its peak a society builds a larger capital base than it can maintain. From then on, the deferred maintenance periodically comes due in some big failure, which cascades through the system until things settle down at a lower level. Then the pattern repeats: The lower capital base generates enough resources to maintain itself day-to-day, but not long-term -- eventually leading to the next big failure.

So: News Orleans can't afford to maintain its dikes, which fail during Hurricane Katrina. Then New Orleans rebuilds, but not all the way. The new, lower tax base will be unable to maintain something else, which eventually will lead to another disaster and another contraction.

In the longer version of Marohn's article (on his Strong Towns site), he starts prescribing rather than diagnosing:

a rational response is to start insisting that our places show a positive financial return. That will require a completely different approach to building our cities along with a completely different understanding of growth. If you need help getting started on this, check out our Starter Strategies for a Strong Town as well as our Strong Towns Placemaking Principles.

Short Notes

lt's on: Funny fake news (Jon Stewart) is going after scary fake news (Fox).

Friday night, a same-sex marriage bill passed the Republican-controlled New York Senate, with 4 Republicans and 29 Democrats voting for it. Governor Cuomo signed it just before midnight, and it will take effect after 30 days, in late July. The NYT reports:

In New York, passage of the bill reflects rapidly evolving sentiment about same-sex unions. In 2004, according to a Quinnipiac poll, 37 percent of the state’s residents supported allowing same-sex couples to wed. This year, 58 percent of them did.

That's a much faster increase than you can get just by the passing of an older generation. To me, it's the natural result of the scare-tactics anti-gay activists have used. For a long time, their message has been that civilization will literally fall if men start marrying men. Such alarmism works as long as the practice is theoretical. But it starts to sound silly when New Yorkers can clearly see that civilization has not fallen in Boston or Montreal.

OK, California. You're up.

In the current Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi writes a strangely self-defeating analysis of Michele Bachmann. He convincingly characterizes her as  a champion of the ignorant masses who feel abused by the ridicule of the educated. "Bachmann's stature rises," he writes, "every time she does something we laugh at."

But he still can't stop himself from heaping scorn on her rather than coolly cataloguing her flaws.

She is at once the most entertaining and the most dangerous kind of liar, a turbocharged cross between a born bullshit artist and a religious fanatic, for whom lying to the infidel is a kind of holy duty.

The article goes on like that. Taibbi's rhetoric is entertaining if you already agree with him. But if you forward it to your fundamentalist cousin or aunt, they'll think Taibbi despises people like them for not being as smart as he thinks he is. And they'll want Bachmann to succeed, just to put Taibbi in his place.

The Des Moines Register has Romney and Bachmann neck-and-neck among likely Iowa-caucus-goers. Romney leads 23-22, but Bachmann is the second choice of 18% to Romney's 10%. When folks realize Cain and Santorum aren't going to make it, they'll go to Bachmann.

In one graph, Gallup explains why Jon Huntsman is no threat to be nominated. His polling data shows two clear trends: name recognition up, positive intensity down. The more Republicans know him, the less they like him.

Another recent poll has President Obama beating all major Republicans in an unlikely place: Tennessee. Steve Singiser from Daily Kos Elections explains it like this: Tennessee is experiencing the same kind of Republican over-reach that has wrecked their poll numbers in Florida and Michigan. 2010 voters who thought they were voting for traditional Republicanism suddenly find themselves living in Kochistan.

Remember the Paul-is-dead rumor of 1969? (OK, maybe not if you're under 50.) Well, Eguchi Aimi of the Japanese girl-band AKB48 has taken it one step further: She never existed to begin with. The uber-cute Ms. Aimi is a computer-generated synthesis of the cutest features of the other girls in the band.

Using the sad example of Chicago's parking meters, Senator Durbin warns against the temptation to raise cash by selling off public assets at fire-sale prices. In particular he proposes that if federal money builds a local asset which the local government then sells, the feds should get their money back.

The DREAM Act, if it ever passes, is supposed to normalize the status of undocumented immigrants who came here as children and have done well since they arrived. It makes sense: The original sin belongs to their parents, not them, and they know no other country they can go back to. As they become adults, they keep breaking the law -- forging documents, lying on forms -- because all the other choices are worse.

Wednesday, young journalist Jose Antonio Vargas put his own face on this problem. In My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant he tells his story: He came to America from the Philippines at age 12, and found out he was here illegally at 16. But rather than pick fruit or work in a sweatshop, he got himself a job with the Washington Post and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer.

He told a lot of lies and forged a lot of documents to give himself those opportunities. But now that he has fessed up, the moral onus is on us: Do we send him back to the Philippines?

Meanwhile, the harsh new law that was supposed to keep illegal aliens out of Georgia is working. Blueberries, onions, and cucumbers are rotting in the fields. They've tried getting criminals to do the picking, but it's not going so well.

In practice, "cutting the waste out of our school budget" means firing librarians.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was in Justice Ann Walsh Bradley's office last week, was asked to leave, and wound up with his hands around her neck. But it's her fault. Just like it was Justice Shirley Abrahamson's fault when Prosser called her a "bitch". Those female judges ... you know how they get. What's a real man to do?

It's been a very pro-corporate Supreme Court term, as I'll outline after it ends next week. But the worst of it may be Sorrell v IMS Health, where corporate First-Amendment rights got their biggest boost since Citizens United. The Court threw out a Vermont law that stopped pharmacies from selling prescription data to data miners, who could then advise pharmaceutical companies on marketing to doctors. If you can see any legitimate free-speech issue there, your eyes are sharper than mine.

Vermont's Senator Leahy called the decision "a win for data miners and large corporations and a loss for those of us who care about privacy not only in my home state of Vermont but across the nation."

But Vermonters keep plugging with their New England common sense: They're moving towards single-payer health care because it's cheaper and it works better.

This Week's Challenge

Right now Wisconsin is the central front in the struggle to defend the middle class and the public sector. Six Republican state senators and three Democrats are up for recall this summer, and the Republicans look far more vulnerable. Picking up three seats will flip the state senate to Democratic control. That would not only change the equation in Wisconsin, it would send a national message: Voters don't support taking away workers' rights, or cutting education to pay for corporate tax breaks.

You can contribute online through Act Blue. If you want to phone bank or volunteer in some other way, go to the Wisconsin Democratic Party web site.

The Weekly Sift appears every Monday afternoon. If you would like to receive it by email, write to WeeklySift at Or keep track of the Sift by following the Sift's Facebook page.


Celebrations! [Casaubon’s Book]

Friday was a fabulous day, after a very, very long week. For a week, we frantically prepared for our final home visit. Some of it was pretty normal stuff - minor repairs, etc... Some of it, I think was pretty weird - who knew that freshly washed window screens were a requirement to be a good foster parent (yes, they did explicitly require that). They gave us hoops, and we jumped through like trained tigers wink.

But we passed - in what is still the first biggest news here in our particular tiny household in New York, Eric and I will be (as soon as the paperwork is processed) New York State foster parents and eligible to accept placements. After this, we wait for an appropriate placement, and go from there.

Outside our little household, obviously the biggest news in New York was that we finally caught up with cultural leader Iowa and got gay marriage!!!!! YESSSSSSSSS!!! No longer do I have to explain to my sons why New York's marriage laws are so much stupider than other states. Plus, we've got some parties to go to!

All in all, Friday was a terrific day - gay marriage, certification, heck, even gelato with friends. What's not to love about that! Plus, now the blog's back and I can give you all my full attention.

Eric and I have never had a Jewish wedding - we had a civil wedding in MA many moons ago, before my conversion was completed, but for various reasons we have long put off a religious wedding, in part because I was unwilling to have one in a state or a movement that didn't affirm gay marriage (and yes, I know that technically the state marriage didn't matter anyway). My religious movement got its act together some years ago. On Sunday, at our Rabbi's house, celebrating his daughter's 8th birthday, our Rabbi asked "So, NOW can I marry you two?" I guess I have to say yes wink - so parties all 'round!

(I should note that while many of my atheist colleagues here at science blogs are rightly deploring the role of religious leaders in undermining gay marriage, my Rabbi is by no means atypical - my Conservative synagogue, my mother's Episcopal church and the churches, temples, covens and synagogues of millions led the way on this issue - they offered gay marriage long before states began to do so, and they have been speaking from the pulpit in favor of gay marriage and trying to bring the law and their communities into sync for many years. My parents stood up and married in their church some years before they could do it in their state - and that's true for thousands and thousands of gay people whose religious communities have taken the lead in social justice!)

I missed the first round of gay marriages in Massachusetts - my best friend was out cheering at Cambridge City Hall at midnight when the doors opened and the first celebrations began. We weren't at my mother and step-mother's legal wedding (although we were certainly at their church wedding some years before that!). Jesse, my friend called me so I coud hear the cheering and weeping for joy, and I wanted to be there as he was. Every friend and acquaintance I had called that day to ask if my mother and step-mom were really going to do it, to congratulate us and them. I couldn't be there - we were caring for Eric's grandparents and couldn't leave them. I told my boys, most of whom were too small to really understand that they were around for something important that day. It felt like a large segment of the nation was partying - and that can only be a good thing.

You can be sure my family will be out there celebrating the first marriages in New York, that my sons, now old enough to care about justice and to understand what's at stake will be out there celebrating. And again, I guess there's no reason not to stand up under a chuppah ourselves. As it should be - parties all 'round!!!


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