Bob and Carol & Jane & Alice

Two’s company; three’s potentially legal

A narrow national majority favors same-sex marriage.  Will that majority favor a plurality?

When it comes to debating social issues, the  ”slippery slope” argument often holds the least amount of traction.  As Minnesota was racked by contentious debate surrounding last year’s marriage amendment, one of the litany of debate volleys was that opening the door to same-sex marriage could inevitability lead to polygamy.  Same-sex marriage supporters dismissed the notion, suggesting the argument was tangential at best, and a “scare tactic” at worst.

Boo:

Advocates for so-called plural marriages are applauding a ruling by a U.S. District Court judge that struck down key segments of Utah’s anti-polygamy law, saying they violated constitutional rights to privacy and religious freedom.

In a 91-page decision issued Friday, Judge Clark Waddoups effectively decriminalized polygamy in Utah, ruling that a central phrase in the state’s law forbidding cohabitation with another person violated the 1st and 14th amendments.

In all fairness, the lawsuit, brought about by the stars of the TLC reality show “Sister Wives”, depicting a Utah Mormon family with one legal wife and three “wives” who live with them, was more over striking down language that prevented religious cohabitation than actually allowing polygamy.  Kody Brown, the “star” of “Sister Wives” remains only legally married to one woman.  But proponents and opponents of polygamy alike agree that the ruling has opened the door to potentially allowing multiple partners in a marriage.

The debate reached the pages of the New York Times, and in true Gray Lady fashion, presented four arguments in favor of what is now being called “plural marriage” with only two dissenting points of view.  To ape T.S. Eliot, this is how social convention dies, not with a bang, but with a series of op-eds.

If the contours of the New York Times‘ debate on polygamy looked familiar, they should – because they neatly conform to the same lines of argument that have defined the same-sex marriage debate.  Laws against polygamy are discrimination.  Plural marriage advocates deserve respect and dignity.  Plural marriage makes us freer as a society.  Heck, even the arguments against “scare tactics” make a triumphant return.  Opponents can sight studies showing the negative effects of polygamy on women and children, but essentially are reduced to arguing that the move represents a further tumble down that ill-defined “slippery slope.” Continue reading

Occupy Vatican

Lighten up, Francis.

Most observers, Catholic or not, recognized the sea-change brought about by Pope Francis I.  An Argentinian Cardinal, Francis supposed a move left for the Catholic Church from the days of Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II.  While Francis hasn’t shocked many with his bending on social issues, his most boisterous attacks have been on economic issues – a move leftward he restated by declaring “unfettered capitalism” a “new tyranny.”

The move isn’t exactly unprecedented.  Pope Benedict XVI voiced deep reservations about modern capitalism. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict reiterated “progressive” stances in areas of public unions and economic redistribution; areas often overshadowed within the media by Benedict’s undoubted commitment to baroque liturgies and traditional moral norms.  The election of Pope Francis caused everyone from full-time Vaticanologists to the average Catholic in the pew to recognize a shift, a change of emphasis and style, and a laser-like focus on poverty from the new pope.  Continue reading

Fits and Starts

Jerry by the Numbers: 12 wins, 4 seizures (and 16 losses)

The debate over the future of Jerry Kill’s tenure at the U of M gets seized by political correctness.

The scene last Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium was tragically familiar – the Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach lying down, surrounded by medical staff, the victim yet again of his epileptic condition.  It was the fourth such game-day incident since Jerry Kill inherited the mess of a program left by booster-in-chief Tim Brewster.  And as reports trickled in throughout the weekend, conflicting stories surfaced about how many off-field seizures Kill has had since joining the Gophers, with numbers as high as nearly a dozen seizures in one week being casually thrown about by sports radio talking heads.

Ever-present in the wake of Kill’s latest health scare was the maddening silence from Athletic Director Norwood Teague, or any official from the University of Minnesota.  Teague would eventually issue the standard press release of support backing his head coach, but not before Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan did what most journalists and sports commentators have apparently found verboten to discuss - is Jerry Kill’s health a determinant to the football program?

Even those who admire him most can’t believe that he should keep coaching major college football after his latest episode. Either the stress of the job is further damaging his health, or his health was in such disrepair that he shouldn’t have been hired to coach in the Big Ten in the first place.

The face of your program can’t belong to someone who may be rushed to the hospital at any moment of any game, or practice, or news conference. No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground. This is not how you compete for sought-after players and entertainment dollars.

The reaction to Souhan’s comments showed precisely why few, if any, major media figures have dared to broach the subject.

Souhan’s column was deemed “ill-informed, dishonorable, and just plain nasty.”  Callers into Dan Barreiro’s KFAN radio show denounced the topic even being discussed, with one caller even comparing the questioning of Kill’s fitness to coach as a form of bigotry.  Multiple voices demanded Jim Souhan be fired.  And all this just for questioning the health of a coach whose had four seizures in 28 games.

Souhan’s harshest criticism was directed not at Jerry Kill, who has little control over the frequency and severity of his seizures, but at Teague’s combination of silence and dismissive attitude on the matter.  The lack of information from Teague allows speculation to run rampant (how many seizures has Kill really had since coming to Minnesota?) and fosters the concern that Kill’s health is a bigger hurdle to the program than assumed.  Such silence doesn’t help when there are legitimately poorly-informed commentaries on the issue, such as CBS Sports‘ Gregg Doyel who believes Kill is taking his life in his hand by continuing to coach.  But credit Jim Souhan for starting a conversation that needs to be taking place, if not in public, than at least in private within the University.

Removing Jerry Kill based solely on his health is almost certainly impossible, as the University would quickly run into Americans with Disabilities Act provisions.  But a negotiated buyout of Kill’s contract, right now at $1.2 million a year for the next five years, might be possible – if extraordinarily expensive.

The better question is should Kill step down?

Let’s dispense, if we can, with the obvious.  Jerry Kill is admirable for coming as far as he has with his condition and seems like an honorable man and a competent coach.  Stepping down from his job would be a major career reversal and disappointment for both Kill and fellow epileptic individuals from whom he rightly ought to be a role model.   But if stress is a major factor in Kill’s epilepsy, how exactly will that stress lessen as the coach of a Big 10 team on gameday?  What if Kill suffers another seizure while leading against a top-ranked team?  Or in a major bowl game?  Will fans be as accommodating with his condition if they believe, rightly or wrongly, that his health cost them a game?  Forget the opinion of fans, how will recruits react to Kill’s health?

If Kill’s condition worsens, even with the program reducing his day-to-day activities, at what point has the University reduced Jerry Kill to more of a figurehead than an administrator?  Given the trajectory of Kill’s health, with seemingly an increasing number of seizures, that point may be coming sooner than anyone wishes.

ADDENDUM: The Star Tribune editorial board, rarely a fount of wisdom, offers the definitive assessment of the impact Jerry Kill’s health has on the team – and it comes from the coach himself:

[Kill] confessed that a seizure he suffered during halftime of last November’s Michigan State game had been a low point for him because he realized “you can’t be the head football coach and miss half of the game.” If that were happening all the time, “the university wouldn’t have to fire me,” Kill said. “I’d walk away if I didn’t think I could do it.”

Filtered for His Pleasure

With the clocking ticking closer to midnight on his mayoral legacy, Michael Bloomberg is banning as fast as he can.

Fran Drescher

In the era of “Yes, We Can,” Michael Bloomberg has long staked his legacy on “No, You Can’t.”  In the soon-to-be 12 years since he became Gotham’s Technocrat-in-Chief, Bloomberg has managed to ban, or try to ban: (in no particular order):

Bloomberg’s nanny-ish reach has been so broad that in his waning months he’s repeating himself.  Hizzoner’s latest ban plan?  Hide cigarettes from public view:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing for a new citywide law requiring stores to physically conceal cigarettes and other tobacco products behind counters, curtains or cabinets—anywhere out of public view—as part of a new anti-smoking initiative.

The legislation would also increase penalties on the smuggling and illegal sales of cigarettes as part of an effort that Bloomberg said would help curb the youth smoking rate and promote a healthier New York City.

Three out of every five cigarettes smoked in New York City were “smuggled” – purchased over state lines where the $4.35 per pack expense, not counting the additional $1.50 per pack levied in New York City, wasn’t an issue.  So while smoking in New York is at historic lows (14% according to polling in 2011), most of those gains occurred from 2002 to 2007 – before Bloomberg’s more recent tobacco initiatives to ban workplace and outdoor smoking were set in motion.

Bloomberg isn’t likely to receive much push-back to his latest move.  Hitting tobacco is often a political winner and as nanny-state legislation goes, moving tobacco products behind the counter isn’t much of a reach.  Bloomberg’s past comments on tobacco put this latest move to shame, with Bloomberg even suggesting that children have the right to sue their parents if they’re exposed to second-hand smoke.

But Bloomberg’s acknowledgment that his past legislation has made underground tobacco sales Gotham’s latest cottage industry stands in stark contrast with his attitudes on marijuana.  Last June, in concert with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move to downgrade possession of pot from a misdemeanor to a violation, Bloomberg chimed in that he would “limit” enforcement of New York City laws against marijuana.

So pot’s okay.  But a Big Gulp demands immediate legislation.

But of course, marijuana isn’t tobacco when it comes to the effect on health.  Right?  A 2012 study at the University of Alabama garnered some press for the headline that marijuana wasn’t as bad for your lungs as tobacco.  As usual, the substance of the research was buried by the lede.  Smoking marijuana, the study concurred, leads to chronic coughing, wheezing and potentially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  The study even admitted that longer term research would be required to see what the rate of lung cancer was among long-term pot users.  Or as one quoted researcher simply put it, “casual or recreational marijuana use is not a safe alternative to tobacco smoking.”

By his actions, Bloomberg demonstrates a capricious sense of how to use the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office.  Marijuana restrictions need to be eased because enforcement has not only failed but is as likely to hurt the causal user as the hardcore dealer.  Tobacco restrictions need to be tightened even as Bloomberg acknowledges that his previous efforts have driven demand underground.  Tobacco users, who legally purchase a legal product over state lines need to be taught a lesson.  Marijuana users, who use a product that is currently illegal, are due leniency.

The macro issues of the Drug War aside, at a minimum, Michael Bloomberg has a high threshold for irony.

 

No una oportunidad, los Republicanos

The GOP’s new motto on immigration reform?  Yo quiero pander…to all sides of the debate:

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Politico that he’s open to giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship in exchange for a temporary moratorium on all legal immigration while they “assimilate.” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a longtime proponent of reform, said legalization should be paired with the repeal of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil. And Republican House Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Friday that he would not commit to including a path to citizenship in his immigration reform efforts…

Juan Hernandez, a Texas-based Republican political consultant who served as Sen. John McCain’s director of Hispanic outreach in 2008, said whatever the potential disagreements, congressmen should start hammering out a deal now.

“Should it be with two, three or four steps? That’s fine. Let’s negotiate. But let’s starting taking the first steps immediately,” Hernandez said. “We may not find a political moment again in which at least I see everyone saying it’s time for immigration reform.”

The cries that demographics equal destiny for an eventual GOP shift to the left on all issues pertaining to immigration reform have been shouted for some time.  And in the wake of a narrow popular vote re-election for Barack Obama, carried in part by a 44% margin of victory among Latino voters, the cries have renewed with vigor.  Even some in the conservative intelligentsia have backed a 2007-esque immigration reform stance, including Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer.

But would backing amnesty, a path to citizenship, however the GOP wishes to define such legislation, really give the GOP any electoral edge?  Republicans have gained nothing among African-American voters despite the GOP’s critical role in civil rights legislation.  Yet pollsters love to mention Bush’s 44% showing among Latinos in 2004 and equally enjoy pointing out 65% of all voters (including 3 out of 4 Latinos) support some opportunity at citizenship for illegal immigrants.  Of course, Bush’s Latino support was greatly inflated and was more likely around 38%.  And last, but not least, is the data suggesting that immigration from Latin American countries may be actually reversing.

That last part is critical because Latino attitudes towards immigration reform vary depending on whether they were born here or immigrated.  While 42% of all Latino voters called immigration reform their number one issue, only 32% of U.S. born Latinos agreed compared to 54% who were foreign born.  Financially stable ($80k+ incomes) Latinos and those who are second generation are less likely to focus on immigration reform or support carte blanche amnesty.  Those who called Spanish their first language were far more interested in immigration reform than those who said English was their primary language.  The greater integrated recent immigrants had become, the less interested they were in immigration concerns.

Republicans focus on Latinos when speaking about immigration reform ignores a number of other demographic groups who have more at stake in any immigration conversation.  Asians are now the largest block of recent immigrants, surpassing Hispanic migration.  And as a voting block, Asian-Americans voted by similar margins to Latinos for Obama.  Where are the breathless newspaper column inches declaring the GOP must court Asian-Americans?

Republican outreach to minority groups has been a priority mothballed election cycle after election cycle.  If an election where nearly 13 million fewer voters showed up prompts the GOP to finally engage demographics they’ve thus far all but ignored, then great.  But if Republicans try and out liberal liberals on issues like immigration reform, they will continue to find no real opportunities for political gain.

ADDENDUM: Rachel Campos-Duffy at National Review hits the nail on the head of the broader challengers standing between Republicans and Latino voters:

Hispanics come to America for the American Dream. They are “trabajadores,” and you would be hard pressed to find an American farmer, contractor, or restaurant owner who would not testify to their work ethic. Unfortunately, the communities in which they live and work are teeming with liberal activists: farm and service-industry labor unions, well-intentioned community-based social services providers and more radical and racially motivated Latino groups such as La Raza, LULAC, and Mecha. In addition, the curricula their kids encounter in public schools are either hostile or silent on the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and ideas that are the foundation of conservative thinking. All of these activist groups and institutions have a common ideology and an affinity for big and centralized government, and of course, entitlements. They go out of their way to sign folks up and to begin the cycle of government dependency. Once hooked to the IV of government handouts, a steady drip of ideology, and a heavy dose of raunchy pop culture, the once vibrant American Dreams and traditional family values of Hispanics drift into a slow, deep coma.

Race to the Bottom

Ebony & Irony

The media begins to chum the political waters for race-baiting.

There was little doubt that race was one of the larger underlying narratives of the 2008 presidential campaign.  The election of the country’s first African-American president, by the largest popular vote margin in twenty years, was widely hailed by Barack Obama’s supporters as a sign that racial relations had truly improved.

And now, what of the electorate that gave Obama 69 million votes, 365 electoral votes, and an 8% margin of victory?  According to the polling analyst du jour, America has not only returned to being a land of racist voters but, in fact, always was:

Though many people believe that our first African-American president won the election thanks in part to increased turnout by African-American voters, Stephens-Davidowitz’s research shows that those votes only added about 1 percentage point to Obama’s totals. “In the general election, this effect was comparatively minor,” he concludes. But in areas with high racial search rates, the fact that Obama is African American worked against him, sometimes significantly.

 

“The results imply that, relative to the most racially tolerant areas in the United States, prejudice cost Obama between 3.1 percentage points and 5.0 percentage points of the national popular vote,” Stephens-Davidowitz points out in his study. “This implies racial animus gave Obama’s opponent roughly the equivalent of a home-state advantage country-wide.”

Apparently Obama was supposed to have won by 11% or even 15%.  Or maybe simply by acclamation.

Where is this thesis of latent racism coming from?  Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a doctoral candidate in economics at Harvard University, who gleaned his insight from that fount of all wisdom – the Internet.

Stephens-Davidowitz coupled internet search histories with racially charged words with searches for “Obama”, compared them to results for the 2004 election, and faster than you can google “the Bradley effect,” surmmerized that Americans are actually super secret racists.  And if you believe the liberal-leaning polling outfit, Public Policy Polling, you may need to add roughly one-quarter of African-American voters to the ranks of the racists since they’ve soured on Obama in North Carolina.  Perhaps Stephens-Davidowitz is saving that study for after he get his doctorate in an unrelated major.

There are a few issues within Stephens-Davidowitz’s thesis that most people wouldn’t contest.  Racists still do exist in some places in America and the electorate’s view on the condition of race relations has plummeted since Barack Obama’s election:

A new Newsweek poll puts this remarkable shift in stark relief for the first time. Back in 2008, 52 percent of Americans told Pew Research Center that they expected race relations to get better as a result of Obama’s election; only 9 percent anticipated a decline. But today that 43-point gap has vanished. According to the Newsweek survey, only 32 percent of Americans now think that race relations have improved since the president’s inauguration; roughly the same number (30 percent) believe they have gotten worse. Factor in those who say nothing has changed and the result is staggering: nearly 60 percent of Americans are now convinced that race relations have either deteriorated or stagnated under Obama.

 

Whites are especially critical of Obama’s approach: a majority (51 percent) actually believe he’s been unhelpful in bridging the country’s racial divide. Even blacks have concluded, by a 20-point margin, that race relations have not improved on Obama’s watch.

A myriad of reasons explain such stark polling data, but it doesn’t help that the media consistently attempts to propagate stories that seek to find racists around every corner.  Especially in political coverage which implies that to oppose President Obama is to oppose him based on the color of his skin.  It’s false and deeply insulting.

It’s also an attempt to prepare the battlefield post November.  As Stephens-Davidowitz concludes:

The state with the highest racially charged search rate was West Virginia, where 41 percent of voters chose Keith Judd, a white man who is also a convicted felon currently in prison in Texas, over Obama just this May. Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Alabama, and New Jersey rounded out the top 10 most-racist areas, according to the search queries used.

 

What does this mean for this year’s contest? “Losing even two percentage points lowers the probability of a candidate’s winning the popular vote by a third,” Stephens-Davidowitz explains. “Prejudice could cost Mr. Obama crucial states like Ohio, Florida and even Pennsylvania.”

 

The narrative is set.  If Barack Obama loses re-election, the nation of progressive, racially-harmonious voters will have suddenly become extras in a remake of “Deliverance.”  But is this exactly a wise political strategy?  It’s bad enough when one party blames their defeat on the electorate being stupid enough to fall for the rhetoric of the opposition, but what is there to be gained from inferring that voters are racists?

Do Republicans need to counter that if you vote for Barack Obama, you’re secretly a religious bigot who hates Mormons?  Sheesh.