I've been reading a lot of people talking about yesterday's SCOTUS decision "gutting" the Voting Rights Act, but now that I'm taking some time to read about it, it looks like the decision was a lot more nuanced (and perhaps less dire?) than that. Am I missing something? Here's what I've gathered so far...

Section 5 of the act sets standards for pre-approval that have to be met before state voting laws can be changed.


Those rules only apply to "covered districts", which are defined by a formula in section 4 of the act. That formula is based on the voting rights record of the district in question... from the 1960s and (after later amendments) 1970s. Only. Nothing past that.

From the SCOTUS decision:
The coverage formula and preclearance requirement were initially
set to expire after five years, but the Act has been reauthorized several times. In 2006, the Act was reauthorized for an additional 25
years, but the coverage formula was not changed. Coverage still
turned on whether a jurisdiction had a voting test in the 1960s or
1970s, and had low voter registration or turnout at that time.

The court's holding says this:
Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional; its formula
can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.

...which, I've gotta say, kind of makes sense. Instead of rubber-stamping section 4 over and over, shouldn't Congress have been, you know, applying the VRA in *all* places that are exhibiting suspect behavior, not just those that did so 30+ years ago (or, ideally, uniformly across the board)?

The interim between the SCOTUS decision and when Congress can implement a more reasonable alternative to Section 4 is a scary thing to think about, but...

1) In the long-(or even mid, depending on how quickly Congress can act)-run, it's a solvable problem... right?

2) Is SCOTUS really the right place for blame? I'm not a lawyer, and I haven't thoroughly researched this, but it's looking to me like Congress acted stupidly and irresponsibly by not updating section 4 for decades, and now it's blown up in their faces.

So, people who have been posting about this. What am I missing? (<-- sincere question, in case the tone isn't clear)

Further reading...
SCOTUS decision:

"tl;dr" summary of the issue from Slate:

Two articles from Colorlines, one from before the decision and one from after, which together look like a pretty good analysis, and which have influenced my thinking about the issue:

Wikipedia article with summary of the VRA, and a link to the law's text in the sidebar:

Crossposted to Facebook, where discussion has ensued.
I'm getting really sick of people on both sides freaking out about "ZOMG Eric Holder says the President can send drones after citizens on US soil!!!"

Don't confuse what I'm about to say for a blanket defense of Obama's policies in the "war on terror", but no, he really didn't say that, at least, not in a way that any other administration in the history of the country wouldn't have said, but for differences in the weapons available to them.

Here's the letter Holder initially sent to Rand Paul:

In particular, a lot of people seem to be freaking out about this quote (which comes after two paragraphs of statements like "we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat", but hey, where's the fun in getting all bogged down in stuff like context?):

It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941 and on September 11, 2001.

What Holder is saying is here patently obvious, and is exactly what any other representative of any other administration would have said. I think Bob Cesca puts it better than I could in an article on thedailybanter.com:

the president — any president — has always reserved the right to use military force to stop an in-progress attack by either foreign or domestic enemies... If you disagree, allow me to present yet another hypothetical scenario:

A group of organized American citizens have acquired a vast stockpile of military weapons and begin to fire mortars, RPGs and other destructive munitions into a U.S. military base. You’re the commander-in-chief. What do you do? If you said anything other than “return fire,” you’re either an extreme pacifist or you’re lying.

See also: fighter jets (or, in the future, perhaps unmanned drones) being scrambled to attempt to stop hijacked planes, etc.

Basically, I have three points to make here:

1) What Holder said is absolutely nothing new. There are, and have always been, circumstances in which a military response to a threat on US soil is not only appropriate but expected. Take issue with that as you will, but it's been the case for as long as our country has existed. All Holder did was be complete enough in his answer to acknowledge the fact.

2) Rand Paul et al's running with Holder's comments to the extent of "ZOMG does this mean the President can bomb you at Starbucks?!?" is nothing but politically manipulative fearmongering (but, if you want it in writing, here's Holder's response (spoiler: the answer is 'no')).

3) Like Cesca, I'm no fan of the "war on terror", and particularly not what I've heard about re the tactics used in our drone attacks, and the effects thereof (c.f. http://livingunderdrones.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Stanford-NYU-LIVING-UNDER-DRONES.pdf), but here's the thing: If you want to talk about extrajudicial killings, great. If you want to talk about drones, great (though if the prospect of them being used on US soil was the first time it raised an alarm for you, start by explaining why Pakistanis and Afghanis getting blown up is substantively different to you), but there's plenty with which to take issue without hyperbolic reactions to a frankly mundane comment.
Things I learned from Fox today:

1) There is a dearth of "marriageable" men nowadays
2) Women, it's all your fault!

See, this lady talked to a bunch of men who said they weren't interested in marriage, and then asked them why. Being a good woman who knows her place, she then (and here's the really clever part of her research) accepted their reasons uncritically and used them to form her own opinion, which dovetails nicely with her thesis, to wit: wouldn't it be awesome if all women did that?

See, the problem is that less enlightened women have just gotten too darn uppity, what with their "jobs" and "independence". Sure that probably sounds good to someone who's been brainwashed by new-age commie propaganda, but did anyone stop to think about how the misogynists would feel about it? How are these poor men, who until now have had no voice, supposed to provide for their families if more and more women have unnatural life goals that don't involve being dependent upon them? That's all these poor, silenced victims want, and really, is it so much to ask? But noooo, you selfish women have been so blinded by your own ambitions that you never stopped to think about us men, did you? For shame.

But wait! The article is not just the bearer of bad news; you ladies can still earn forgiveness, after which these eligible bachelors will totally be willing to marry you! Just "surrender to your nature" and "be women". See? Easy! If you do this, benevolent misogynists will take pity on you, for they know that you, like them, have just been victims of a feminist blight that caused you to forget what Sesame Street taught you as a child: be what other people want you to be, and you'll be happy. Or at least married, which is basically the same thing for you women, right?

Ok, serious face on. I think this is worth sharing as a reminder that these attitudes still exist (for those of us fortunate enough to need a reminder). ...Ok, maybe that's just an excuse. Mostly it just irritated me so much that I felt the need to vent through sarcasm and then inflict the object of said irritation on my friends. I'm a jerk like that. You're welcome.

I only wish the site had been unwise enough to enable comments on the article, as I think/hope that the majority of people would call this the addle-minded BS that it is. Then again...

With SOPA, that other bill that's apparently like SOPA, NDAA... there's so much stuff I feel like I need to research to really get a handle on it, and I just haven't had time lately. :(

Anyway, [livejournal.com profile] theferrett posted a ranty piece about how furious he is about Obama changing his promise to veto NDAA. The post its self is pretty much just frothing, plus a link to a more informative but equally scathing article at Salon.com.

I always read the comments on this sort of thing (meaning Ferrett's post, the salon.com article's comments are just a mess) because I hope someone will chime in with an articulation of the other side of the argument. In this case, someone did, and with a position that I'd been considering myself, having read the portion of the bill about which people are upset (Section 1031, PDF of the while thing available here via thomas.gov), but after reading some more and thinking about it, I wasn't sold and replied.

I'm going to link to that thread and invite interested people to take a look because I think it sums up where I'm at on the issue, including what I don't know, and I just don't have the time right now to do the level of digging I usually want to do before having an opinon on something like this, so I'm deferring to the lazyweb to see if anyone out there who's more informed than me cares to comment and fill in some gaps.

Then again, since from what I've read the NDAA is as good as passed, I should probably be reading up on and freaking out about SOPA anyway. Oh yeah, and I should also be doing, you know, my job. I hate feeling like I only have time to be any two of a good employee, a good citizen, and someone with a life. :(
I haven't had time to research this thoroughly, but according to MoveOn (admittedly not the most unbiased of sources), at 7am tomorrow, there are plans afoot to kick everyone out of Zucotti (aka Liberty) Park. It's supposedly for cleaning, but the protesters are understandably dubious.

I don't usually act on this sort of thing without taking the time to research more thoroughly, but I'm too busy and there isn't much time, so I'm spreading the word about this petition (yes, I'm not sure a petition will help, but there we are) for which MoveOn is gathering signatures.

Here's what I wrote when I signed the petition:

I have a motto (one of many): "Sometimes the greatest price of freedom is the freedom of other people".

I have my issues with Occupy Wall Street, but I do think they are doing something exceptional, and something that is going to take time. I respect the city's right to arrest people who interfere with day to day operations, like those who walked onto the Brooklyn Bridge, but as long as the base camp remains peaceful, I think it is very important to let them stay.

Like them or not, what's happening in the park is democracy in action, and it needs be supported. Please let this thing run its course. By leaving them alone you lose nothing, but by forceably evicting them everyone, including you, loses.
(I feel like this post isn't quite polished yet, but I've been working on it for days and have read, re-read and tweaked it a gajillion times, stressing myself out in the process. I think now it's time for me to go ahead and put it out there, if only so I can go to bed. It's long but it's personal and I think it's important. It's also something I might want to spread further once I've gotten some feedback, so I hope people can take the time to read it)

An old friend of mine is visiting after a couple of weeks at the Occupy Wall Street event. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I have... mixed feelings about OWS, but those are for another post. Suffice it to say, my friend and I have been having some very engaging and provocative (but civil) conversations on the subject, and while I have my misgivings about its organization and approach, I agree (of course) that there are some fundamental problems with the way our society interfaces with money, and that I would like to see change. If you have not been reading We Are The 99%, stop reading this, read that, and be upset about it.

It got me thinking a lot about "ok, what can I do?", which leads me to this post.

Before I go on, I need to explain why what I'm going to write about here is kind of uncomfortable for me. This post is, in part, about philanthropy. Specifically, philanthropy in which I'm involved. I believe that acts of charity should be done discretely, and that the act is sullied if one broadcasts one's actions, giving the impression of doing it for reputation rather than to help for helping's sake. In addition, I tend to be very self-conscious around issues involving money generally, and have a lot of my own issues wrapped up in same. For these reasons I've talked to almost no one about a project in which I've been involved for years, but now I wonder if it might be better to be more open about it and my motivations, so this post is a sort of coming out about that project.

For the last three years I've given 10% of my income (less taxes) every month to causes I think/hope are helping to make the world a better place. I do this because I believe that I, along with most in my situation, owe what success I've had in part to the dumb luck of circumstance, that we are all in this together, and that we owe it to one another to do what we can to even the playing field, even if only a little*. I believe the old notion (which I don't expect many on my flist to espouse, but I've been thinking more globally) that the prosperous are so only by virtue of being more ambitious or making better choices is poisonous in its lack of perspective.

I'm not fabulously wealthy, but I make enough to be putting a decent amount into savings each month, and that's enough more than so many equally talented, creative, and wonderful people I know, not to mention millions I don't know, that it bothers me, because I'm aware that it is in part just the flip of a coin that separates my circumstances and theirs.

In part. Have I worked hard? Of course I have, and that's important, and I'm very proud of it. This isn't about devaluing effort and ambition, nor excusing a lack thereof, but acknowledging that what my effort has allowed me to do is make the most of advantages I've had, like parents who had the will and financial ability to help me go to college without incurring boatloads of debt, interests and aptitudes that lend themselves to a field that is both valuable and lucrative, and plain old fortunate timing. If I'd been graduating college with self-taught Linux and coding experience and a degree in philosophy now instead of in the middle of the .com boom, I would probably be screwed-- instead I ended up with an $18/hr internship at Cisco that I got by happening to call the guy who was hiring for it about a room he was renting. These are not things I did, they are things I got, and then worked to make the most of. When I acknowledge this to myself, I conclude that my prosperity is not entirely my own, and feel compelled to give something back, so I started doing this "secular tithe"**.

The reason I'm writing about this now is the realization that maybe a small thing I can do is to be more pubic about this project and the beliefs behind it. I don't want to make it sound like I think I'm the first person to think this way, that I expect this to make everything better, or that it's comparable to being involved in more direct ways, but if enough others do it and say they're doing it, maybe it becomes something: a popular movement to decide to view prosperity, and the attainment of same, differently, to acknowledge that there's not as much difference between us as we've been told, and to choose to distribute prosperity. There's nothing wrong with a comfortable life, but if you are fortunate enough to have excess for savings, consider: would the work you've done to get where you are have yielded the same results if you'd been born to different parents, with a different personality, a less healthy body, a few years later, or a few towns over? What about halfway around the world? And if you swapped places with that hypothetical other you, wouldn't you be better off if whoever inherited your circumstances gave something back? Consider also, what would you lose by committing 10%, or even 5%, of what you make to regular support for charities and activist organizations working toward changes you want to see? I'm single with no kids, supporting only myself, which means this is the perfect time in my life for this project. Giving 10% back means it will take me a bit longer to save up for a house. I can totally deal with that.

If you agree and are one of the fortunate, consider adapting this project for yourself and being a patron of change. If you already do so, say so. Let it be known. Advocate.

If you agree but have more time than money, Charity Navigator has a search feature that can help you find local charities and Idealist.org has similar features for finding activist causes. How much change could be brought about by the energy of things like Occupy $LOCATION being put into focused volunteerism and activism?

If you agree but have neither time nor money in excess, and I know the majority of the people on my flist probably fall into this category, remember this idea if/when things change for you.

If you don't agree, feel free to comment or email. I'm still figuring out how best to articulate and act upon these beliefs, and would welcome discussion.

I know I'm not the only one who thinks this way, and maybe I'm not the only one doing a project like this. Maybe lots of people do it (or would do it if they could) but aren't saying anything, so we all assume it's a strange thing. I would love to find that this idea is not strange, and if it is, I want to work toward a world in which it isn't.

* = If you'll excuse the tangent, I'm sometimes saddened by the perception that atheists aren't as or more devoted to charity than religious people (and maybe that's just a stereotype anyway, I guess I don't really know). After all, we're the ones who believe that you only get the one life, and that all we have is each other. That's precious; far too precious to justify indifference toward those who would work to live differently if they could. I'm not against personal responsibility for making bad choices, but there should always be a way out, and I want my good fortune to facilitate the work of organizations that provide ways out (and ways to avoid getting in).

** = It should be noted that I take this idea from my LDS upbringing, though in Mormonism you give 10% of your income (before taxes) directly to the church.
Apparently there's a Rally to Restore Sanity "sister picnic" on Boston Common. If I am concious and functional at noon tomorrow, which after the week I've had I'm not willing to commit to right now, I shall be rightly colored intrigued. Anyone else going? There are 465 listed as "Attending" on the FB event page!

(In other news, thanks to everyone who has come out to BB1946 so far! Just two more shows!)
Elections are November 2nd. That's one week from today! Please research and vote! This is not a small election. If you've been paying attention at all, you've probably heard a lot of talk about a swing back to the right this time around. Whether your goal is to help or hinder that prediction in coming true, please don't take it for granted. Because of the low turnout expected, it's an opportunity to make your voice count even more than usual, or to let the voices of those with whom you disagree have disproportionate weight. Take part, and do so after having done some research. Here's what I've got toward that end:

If you enter your address at the boston.com elections page, they have a tool that will let you compare the positions of any two candidates side by side (would be nice if you could do more at once, but whatevs) for each of the races relevant to you.

There is also video of the gubernatorial debates on the websites of some of the local TV stations:

10/25 Debate
10/22 Debate

I haven't gotten to watch either yet, but both appear to have all four candidates, including Green Rainbow and Independent.

And then there are some statewide questions with potentially big ramifications. While I'm a little suspicious of this kind of info being on a wiki, ballotpedia has what looks like pretty fair summaries of the arguments for and against each (plus a few that didn't make it to the ballot, like one for instant-runoff voting-- I wish I'd known!):

Question 1: Repealing the sales tax on alcohol
Question 2: Removing exemptions from local zoning laws for contractors who build affordable housing
Question 3: Reduce the state sales tax to 3%

So, there you go. Read, watch, decide, VOTE.

edit Also, of course, if you have other resources, or just want to make the case for an issue about which you're passionate, please share in the comments!
[livejournal.com profile] lightcastle linked to a story about a 10 year old in Arkansas refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance on the grounds that we are not, in fact, "with liberty and justice for all" (warning: I am not responsible for injuries due to banging one's head on the desk after reading some of the comments attached to said article). This got me thinking: may I propose a minor revision?

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands: one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

There. That's better, innit?

A guy can hope, at least...

Back to work now, for serious.
Haven't posted in a while, so why not a political screed?

To quote [livejournal.com profile] londo:

The Archdiocese of D.C. is apparently threatening to pull all social services/break relevant contracts with the city if they pass a certain non-discrimination law primarily dealing with homosexual couples.

Washington Post article

Don't take my or the WP's word for it. Read the Archbishop's op-ed yourself, on his own website.

...or, if I may paraphrase the archbishop:

"But... but we want to take public money and be dicks to a sizeable portion of the public!"

Cry me a river.

To me the most irritating thing in that op-ed was the repeated use of the phrase "recognize and promote", as if the one follows from the other. This notion that acknowledging the existence, or even the legality, of something promotes it, or put another way, that refusing to acknowledge such things is a legitimate or constructive way to express disapproval, pisses me off something fierce.

If the poor babies have that hard a time complying with the law by offering equal benefits to equally committed couples in their employ, and then have the special mix of nerve and idiocy required to cite "the creation of children" as justification for such behavior, and then even have to think about whether their discomfort around that is more important than the charitable services they provide, then boy oh boy do I hope to enjoy the view of them in my rear-view mirror as they're consigned to the past. Good riddance.

One thing about religion, though, is that it's a force-multiplier for the worst and the best in people. In other words, the churches get charity done, so I can't fully mean the previous paragraph until there are more secular charities, motivated by nothing more or less than the belief that each other is all we have, to take their place. If anybody knows some good ones, lemme know. I'm looking to donate.

Ok, California, you now officially have no excuse. You don't want to be less progressive than Iowa, do you?

"“Equal protection under the Iowa Constitution is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike. Since territorial times, Iowa has given meaning to this constitutional provision, striking blows to slavery and segregation, and recognizing women’s rights. The court found the issue of same-sex marriage comes to it with the same importance as the landmark cases of the past.”

Happy birthday to me. =:)

Also, may I just take a moment to mock the rebuttal the article cites:

“The decision made by the Iowa Supreme Court today to allow gay marriage in Iowa is disappointing on many levels," State Senator Paul McKinley, the Republican leader, said in a statement on The Des Moines Register’s Web site. "I believe marriage should only be between one man and one woman and I am confident the majority of Iowans want traditional marriage to be legally recognized in this state."

"But... but, we don' wanna have to treat them the same!". Awww, sad face for the him (ignoring the fact that traditional marriage is still recognized in the state. moron.)
The response to my post about volunteering for Obama got a heartwarmingly larger-than-expected response. Most of the people who said they might be available seemed to indicate that late October worked the best for them, so I've signed up for 10/18-19. I also emailed them asking for details about whether there will be crash space for staying overnight, what the best way to arrange to go as a group is, etc, but haven't heard back yet, so I guess the best thing to do is to for now is go to the signup page here, provide info about whether or not you can provide carspace and let them do the logistics.

Thanks to whomever can come out to help! I've never actually taken part in the process like this before and it was helpful (and humbling) just to hear how many people I know who have! If you commit to going, please comment or email me so we can coordinate!
In response to my last post (an update on which I'll put up later-- short version: I'm thinking 10/11 or 10/18 weekends), a friend commented that she has several relatives who are usually democrat-leaning but are "buying every bit of the smear campaign against Obama" and could I suggest some websites for counter-arguments that aren't just McCain-bashing, or post some of my thoughts on why the common arguments don't hold water for me. Well, my ego has officially been appealed to and I've written on this below, but I thought I'd do it in a separate post so that others who are interested can make their own suggestions. Ego aside, I really only know as much as I have time to research, and I don't have that much time. =;) Feel free to correct or expand upon any of the points below, I ask only that the conversation be kept constructive and that sources be cited wherever possible.

cut for people who don't care for Obama, politics or random peoples' observations thereupon )
MA People:

As you may have noticed from recent postings, this election has become very important to me. As it turns out, New Hampshire, previously a solid "red" state, is considered up-for-grabs this year and I'm seriously considering taking the Obama/Biden campaign up on their request for volunteers to spend a weekend there working on the election effort.

I know at least one person who has done this sort of thing in the past, for Obama during the primaries and for Kerry in '04. She said the work involved either registering voters in front of super markets and the like or going door-to-door to ensure that everyone knew where their polling place was and asking them to vote for the candidate (Kerry in that case). I have to say I am more than a little nervous at the prospect of going door-to-door, but if the Dems lose this one, at which point I think the last shreds of my idealism that survived '04 will finally be obliterated, I don't want it to be for lack of trying on my part.

The McCain campaign from the conventions onward has been downright slimy and I am sick of it. I've been pro-Obama all along, but have been becoming more and more anti-McCain as his campaign shows its true colors. I feel the need to do something about this.

Question: Is anyone interested in doing this with me? Of the dates they're looking for volunteers on, I'm available for any of the following...

10/25-26 (edit: my mistake, they appear to be taking that weekend off to prepare for intensive efforts 10/29-11/4).

I can drive. Who's in?
Barack Obama's most recent speech, taken from [livejournal.com profile] unwoman's journal. I think she said it best:

This is possibly the most honest, insightful, and necessary speech I've ever heard from a modern politician. It's 37 minutes long -- but completely worth it for all Americans -- when you have time to watch it, please do.

...to which I'd add: Especially if you're on the fence about voting for him. This speech exemplifies why I am excited by the prospect of having this person in the white house. Here is a man able and willing to speak with intelligence and eloquence about the subtleties of a complex issue. It's not loud, it doesn't lend its self to sound bytes, but it really demonstrates the combination of brains and heart I would like to see in charge of this country for a change.

The text can be had here if you'd prefer to read it.

I knew I shouldn't have checked "everyone should plant a tree!"...

The Green Party
The Green Party, You support equality and mother

Want to know what political party you really are?
brought to you by Quizilla

I guess I don't have anything against the Greens. If/when Lizbeth and I go back to New Zealand, if we end up staying I'll probably register as a Green. The Green party there actually enjoys a great deal of popularity and power (at least with the people I talked to). But New Zealand is a very small country and is still largely agrarian. The greens have no doubt played a large role in that and I am immensely grateful to them for it.

Nonetheless, in a country as large and industrialized as the US, with companies moving jobs overseas to countries without all those pesky emmissions and pay standards, I can't help but think that the exacerbation of such problems that the Greens would cause with well-meaning but expensive penalties against businesses would far outweigh the good they would (try to) do... at least in the short run.

Put it this way: I think that, if by some miracle they got someone like Nader into office, the Greens would do what we as a country probably ought to do, but also might ruin us economically in the process.

Whatever. I've never had much luck with these 'assess your political standpoint' tests. We took one in our government class in high school and mine came back split 50/50 between Republican and Peace and Freedom (basically, socialist)... WTF?

Either way, I really ought to do more reading before I talk about this stuff. =:\ <sigh>



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