Today, while bored, I looked at the 1940 Census, and at some point I became curious as to whether Franklin Delano Roosevelt had an entry. As it turns out, he and his household were included in the Census and the address was (naturally) 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And his occupation was listed as “President of U.S.A.” [sic]. What disappointed me though is that Eleanor was listed as having no occupation. So a question to my readers. Do you think First Lady should be considered an occupation?
Yesterday, President Obama announced his support for marriage equality, the first time a sitting American President ever made such a declaration. Historically, presidents have not been at the vanguard of the civil rights movements of their time; Abraham Lincoln, and Lyndon Johnson are the major exceptions in American history.
The fact that Obama supports same-sex marriage was not much of a secret despite the fact that he claims this is a new position. It’s not. When first running for the Illinois state Senate back in the mid 1990’s, Obama filled out a questionnaire and averred to supporting same-sex marriage. This was natural given the district he represented, and Obama himself is very much the type who would (and most likely does) have gay friends and acquaintances in his social circle. But in 2004 when he ran for the US Senate, same-sex marriage was a very polarizing issue as the Karl Rove-led Bush campaign sailed to a second term on a wave of homophobia. As a result, supporting marriage equality was a no-go for any serious Presidential candidate in 2008.
All the while, more and more Senators, led by the late, great Ted Kennedy, voiced their support for marriage equality. Also since 2004, more states passed marriage equality laws (or civil unions bills) either through the legislature or through the courts. LGBT activists became more daring, especially once Obama was elected, and the activists felt that, for the first time ever, they had an ally in the White House.
And the truth is that Obama is an ally. The frustration that the LGBT community has had with him is somewhat unwarranted. Yes, it took nearly three-and-a-half years to get him to voice his support for marriage equality, but in those years, he has done far more for the LGBT community than any President has ever done, both big and small. Executive Orders may be within the purview of the President (and may be reversible by the next President), but no other President has used those Orders to help the LGBT community like Obama has. He kept his promise to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and most significantly, the Obama Justice Department is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act, saying flat-out that it is unconstitutional. The fact that such a large segment of the LGBT community refuses to recognize exactly what an ally we have is maddening at times. Trust liberals to not take yes for an answer.
Which brings us to today’s announcement, which came during an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts. From early this morning there had been rumors that Obama was going to announce his support for marriage equality, although no one could say for certain. It just felt like now was the time it was going to happen. We all expected the announcement would come in 2013, safely after the election. According to some sources, it was intended to come before the Democratic National Convention. Two things sped up the timing: (1) the passage of a horribly draconian North Carolina state constitutional amendment which severely punishes same-sex couples in that state; and (2) Joe Biden’s support for marriage equality, which he affirmed a few days ago on Meet the Press. The latter especially ratcheted up the pressure on the White House from activists who could not understand the President’s reticence.
Despite the fact that in the past two years polls have found that the majority, or at least a plurality, of the country supports marriage equality, Obama’s announcement was not a no-risk gamble. Yes, he will energize his base and his donors (particularly his very wealthy gay donors), but there are still significant risks. Perhaps the biggest problem is that Obama risks alienating a substantial portion of his most loyal base: African-Americans. As a bloc, African-Americans are very socially conservative, very church-centered, and tend to vote against gay rights. (Important note: this is speaking in generalizations. Not all African-Americans are homophobic, and many people in the LGBT community are themselves African-American. Some of the most impassioned and beautiful speeches in favor of LGBT equality have come from African-American lawmakers.) African-Americans were a large part of why Obama won so handily in 2008, and he will need their support again. Unlike Latinos who support marriage equality in roughly the same numbers as the general population, African-Americans are a stubborn holdout. Look, no Republican is going to win the African-American vote, especially against a black President, but the danger is that black voters will not turn out in significant enough numbers if they are too disenchanted with Obama.
Yet Obama has been needlessly equivocal. Even today he was equivocal, parsing out that while he personally believes in same-sex marriage, he also believes it should be left up to the states to decide. Some activists, most prominently Dan Savage, are calling him out on that. Possibly correctly. But they are also not looking beyond the words to the deeds. Obama may be saying that he wants to let the states decide, but the actions of his government undercut that sentiment, nowhere more forcefully that in the DOJ’s DOMA position. DOMA is all about state power, and the DOJ is saying that is unconstitutional. Behind the DOJ’s action is the message that marriage is a civil right that is being unfairly denied to same-sex couples. So yes, what Obama said and what he is doing are at odds, but I trust the actions. Obama’s presidency has at times been revolutionary, but only from a large picture perspective. It’s been the same with gay rights, almost a pointillist approach; each step that he takes is just another dot in what is a grand masterpiece of making the LGBT community equal.
Which leaves us with the reactions from the peanut gallery. Progressives are thrilled, pragmatists are scared, and the people who weren’t voting for Obama anyway are still not voting for him. Fox of course had the classiest reaction. Or no, I’m sorry, the opposite of class. Tackiest, perhaps?
But we can’t forget the gay Republicans, who are gnashing their teeth in agony. Obama has caused this brains to short-circuit. The head of the Log Cabin Republicans released a statement that is just baffling in its stupidity. GOProud then followed up with one of equal lunacy. The basic gist of both statements is that: (1) Obama was disrespectful toward the same-sex couples of North Carolina by making this announcement so soon after they lost their amendment battle; and (2) he is following in the footsteps of Dick Cheney in supporting marriage equality.
Arguing with GOProud and the Log Cabins is a fool’s errand. Their existence only proves that gays too can care more about money than principle. But I do want to address both parts of their argument briefly. (1) What is more disrespectful, announcing that you support marriage equality after the North Carolina defeat or that you oppose marriage equality as well as civil unions as their boy Mitt Romney did both before and after President’s announcement today? I believe the latter. (Also, Republicans are the ones responsible for the North Carolina amendment. Just saying.) (2) Dick Cheney is hardly a leader in this issue. When his influence may have done some good, like say when Bush the Younger tried to pass a constitutional amendment that would have banned all same-sex marriage in this country, he remained silent and implied that he did not support marriage equality despite the fact that his daughter is a lesbian. Obama, is the President. He is running for reelection. He is not taking the easy way out of waiting until he is out of power and then talking about marriage equality from the safety of retirement.
What Obama did today is a small step, but it is an important one. Every once in a while the arc of the moral universe does bend a little closer to justice.
Before I begin this post, I suggest to that you watch Hillary Clinton’s Human Rights Day speech to the United Nations in Geneva on December 6, 2011. (Transcript here.)
The die is cast.
LGBT activists have had an often tense relationship with the Obama Administration dating back to before his inauguration. Truth be told, there is some justification for the activists’ mistrust. When handed a friendly Congress, the only friendly Congress this or any other Democratic Administration will have for at least another generation, the Obama Administration spent no political capital whatsoever on gay rights legislation. Congress passed one law, the Matthew Shepard Act, and that came via the back door, attached as a rider to a National Defense Authorization Bill. Furthermore, the Matthew Shepard Act came entirely from Congressional Democrats, and there were even rumors (unfounded rumors I hasten to add) that the White House was displeased that Congressional Democrats got the law passed.
The truth is that the Matthew Shepard Act, the first pro-LGBT legislation ever passed by the federal government, was the very least of what Congress could have done. Far more important legislation which include the repeals of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, benefits for the same-sex partners of federal employees, and immigration reform recognizing same-sex marriages were never touched upon for better part of two years. Coupled with Obama’s disappointing public stance on same-sex marriage (not for it, a state issue, he’s “evolving”), LGBT activists began to despair, and that despair turned to rage.
Then came the 2010 elections and the understanding that no pro-LGBT legislation would make it through Congress. There came real pressure to overturn DADT before the Republicans took over the House. Lo and behold, after furious 11th hour maneuvering, DADT was finally overturned, consigned to the dustbin of history. The military is now totally integrated, and there are no problems. (There are those however, who cannot let it go.)
Since the end of DADT nothing much has happened, or that is how the narrative goes. It is not exactly accurate, because while the Congressional statute is the strongest form of legislation there are other ways to make law. The President is the leader of the country and the nominal head of his party, but the truth is that Representatives and Senators do not answer to him; he is not their boss. This is especially true for Democrats who are harder to keep in line than Republicans because there is a larger ideological variety among members (that Nancy Pelosi did such a good job of it for four years is why she was such an effective leader). The President is the boss of the Executive Branch alone.
That is not insignificant power. The Congressional statute is far stronger because President-made law (Executive Orders, memos, etc.) can change from administration to administration depending on the man in charge, or even if the President were to change his mind. Nevertheless, unlike a statute, which requires Congress to act– and which is becoming less and less likely to get passed as Congress falls further and further into the mire–President-made law is immediate, effective, and depends upon only one person. And the Executive Branch, in essence the entirety of the administrative state, affects our day-to-day lives and sometimes the lives of people around the world, Presidential orders are extremely important.
It is a power that the Obama Administration has put to great effect with regard to LGBT rights. Some of his orders have been merely symbolic, such as including same-sex families in the White House Easter Egg Roll, or recognizing June as LGBT Pride Month. Other orders have had real significance: (1) all hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid (which is almost all if not all of them) to allow same-sex partners the same visitation and proxy rights that straight couples have; and (2) an end to the US travel ban of people infected with HIV. And then there was one extremely momentous order, the President’s command to the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA in court because the Administration’s position is that DOMA is unconstitutional. As a personal matter, the President has made anti-bullying a priority of his Administration; he even personally recorded an It Gets Better video.
That was just inside the United States. Another thing which the Obama Administration did, and which did not get nearly as much credit as it deserved, was leading (and winning) the fight which led the United Nations to adopt a resolution applying human rights protections and principles to sexual orientation and gender identity. There was some major behind-the-scenes drama to produce what at the time seemed like merely symbolically significant window dressing.
Yesterday came the double-whammy from the Obama Administration following up on its UN victory. First the President sent a memo out instructing the federal agencies to weigh how nations treat their LGBT population in the decision on how to leverage foreign aid. It’s not altogether clear what the Administration will do. There are mixed messages, none of which are as clear as UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s unambiguous statement about withholding aid from nations that criminalize same-sex relationships and activity.
Hours after the memo was released, Secretary Clinton gave what may well be the most important speech in LGBT history, which I included at the top of this post. “Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.” While admitting that the US is far from perfect when it comes to LGBT equality, Clinton made clear that she and the Obama Administration as a whole are strong allies of LGBT populations around the world, especially in places like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ghana–places where LGBT people are imprisoned, tortured, and even executed for the crime of existing. (The State Department has been very vocal of late about its LGBT concerns, going so far as to condemn a severely draconian anti-gay law proposed in St. Petersburg. This was before the recent election showed up Russia to be the Potemkin democracy we all knew it to be.) Secretary Clinton described affirmative (non-punitive) steps that the US will take to help. Her speech was greeted by a standing ovation. Those at whom her remarks were aimed left. The message was clear; the United States considers LGBT discrimination as bad as any other kind of discrimination.
No doubt President Obama and Secretary Clinton offer a sincere if somewhat nebulous vision. Secretary Clinton detailed a 3 million dollars global fund to help LGBT populations around the world. Frankly, that is not a lot of money. But it is something. Symbolically it is very important, and one suspects (hopes?) that this is just the beginning. It’s easy enough to accuse the US and the UK of imperialist behavior, which no doubt the guilty nations are doing, but all money comes with strings. If those nations don’t want the money, no one is forcing them to accept it. If you want to hear the song, you have to pay the piper.
Immediately afterwards, the usual suspects ranted and raved about the Obama’s memo and Clinton’s speech. And the loudest criticism came from the Republican candidates for President. (As though the US had never intervened with another country’s internal politics before.) Rick Perry and Rick Santorum in particular have taken great pains to voice their displeasure, or in reality pander to the evangelical right. Santorum–who only seems to be noticed by an LGBT press that despises him–accused Obama of “promoting special rights for gays” as though the right to not be tortured, imprisoned, or executed is a special right.
It’s easy enough to dismiss Santorum, Perry, and the rest as bigots, which they no doubt are (Santorum in particular although he seems not to understand why gay people hate him so much), but it is important to understand that they are trying to appeal to an audience of conservative, evangelical Christians who hate gay people, want to roll back the clock to the 1950’s, and have been a formidable voting bloc. The same evangelical groups that oppose LGBT rights have also invested heavily in poor African nations such as Uganda, and have put forward a vociferous anti-gay agenda. It is the ideal that these Christian groups want for the United States, but are prevented by law. Now these same groups are seeing that work opposed by their government that has largely ignored them and in some cases abetted them. Being unable to inflict their pernicious vision of society in this country or in any other is what these groups, the Republican base, and Fox News really mean when they talk about anti-Christianity or a war on religion.
But mark your calendars. Hillary Clinton’s speech marks an important turning point in LGBT history, the day when the fight against worldwide homophobia began in earnest. In 50 years time, December 6, 2011 will be as important as the anniversary of the Stonewall riots are now.
For most of his term thus far, President Barack Obama has been derided by LGBT advocates primarily because of the Justice Department’s defense of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and The Defense of Marriage Act in court. The Justice Department has made some serious missteps along the way, particularly its first attempts to defend DOMA, which recycled every anti-gay canard in the book. It was a very disappointing start from someone who called himself a fierce advocate for the LGBT community.
Although I too have been very disappointed at times, the truth is that even prior to the DADT repeal a few months ago, Obama had done a tremendous amount for the LGBT community, far more than any of his predecessors–in fact, far more than all of his predecessors combined. However, before the repeal of DADT, everything victory had been administrative, which means that if a homophobic bigot such as Mike Huckabee were to becomes President, all of the Obama Administration’s good work could be erased almost immediately. It is different with legislation; because getting Congress to do anything takes a tremendous amount of effort, repealing prior legislation is almost impossible (unless the courts do it–more on that below.) It’s why DADT will stay repealed despite the rumblings of some idiotic freshman Republican Representatives. It’s also why it is so hard to repeal DOMA legislatively, although God love Dianne Feinstein for trying.
LGBT advocates have always known that the only way to overturn DOMA is judicially. DOMA is blatantly unconstitutional for at least two very good reasons: (1) the federal government is supposed to recognize state marriages; and (2) state governments have to recognize marriages performed in other states. Yet DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allows states the option of not recognizing them. (Also, it is a law that blatantly and unconstitutionally discriminates against a class of people.)
Now, it is true that the federal constitution does not explicitly mention marriage, which is why DOMA was not struck down immediately. However, marriage has always been left to the states. Marriage and probate law are the two major areas that the federal government steers clear of. It is unthinkable that say the state of Wyoming, let alone the federal government, would refuse to recognize a marriage from Colorado.
When DOMA passed, there was no such thing as same-sex marriage in the United States. Only the Hawaiian state Supreme Court had found a state constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples and that was quickly overturned. Nevertheless, the writing was on the wall, and Congress overstepped its bounds to make sure that if there were any more Hawaiis, then neither the federal government nor the other states would be bound by such formalities as the constitution.
So why does DOMA still exist? No one has challenged it yet. Given the makeup of the Supreme Court in 1996 (when DOMA passed), LGBT advocates were justifiably afraid that a majority of the Justices would create horrendous precedent for same-sex couples. Sodomy laws were still on the books in a few states, and Supreme Court jurisprudence had by and large been very unfavorable to the LGBT community. Although that had started to change with Romer v. Evans, challenging DOMA would have been akin to civil rights litigation suicide.
In the late 1990’s things started to change. Vermont led the way with its civil unions law. Then came the double whammy in 2003 of Lawrence v. Texas and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision which required the state to offer marriage to same-sex couples. More states enacted civil union and same sex marriage laws. DADT was overturned by Congress. Despite the setbacks, and there have been many, the gains have been monumental. Lawrence, as flawed as the decision is, cast a very long shadow, and despite (or perhaps because of) its vagueness, lower courts have been trended to find a more expansive holding with regard to gays and lesbians. This meant that anti-gay laws cannot stand. First and foremost among them is DOMA.
So getting back to Obama, when the Justice Department defended DOMA, LGBT advocates were crushed because throughout his presidential campaign he heavily implied that he thought DOMA was unconstitutional. The Justice Department learned from its initial tone-deaf missteps, and its attempts at defending DOMA were half-hearted at best. Nevertheless, the law was still being defended by the Obama Administration.*
The President has directed the Justice Department to argue that DOMA is unconstitutional. That means that the federal government’s position whenever DOMA is challenged is that the law should be struck down (at least in districts with no precedent.) Although it is not unique for the Executive Branch to argue that standing law is unconstitutional, it is exceedingly rare–almost unheard of.
Moreover, and to me this is the even bigger deal, the Justice Department’s official position is that sexual orientation is a protected class and merits heightened scrutiny. As I have discussed before, reviewing a law with heightened scrutiny means that the law is far more likely to be struck down. Presumably this would mean DOMA and its progeny would fall.
But here is the problem–although the Justice Department’s official position is that sexual orientation is a protected class deserving of heightened scrutiny, the Executive Branch does not make that determination, the courts do–specifically the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court holds that sexual orientation is not a protected class, then it is not until Congress or the Constitution change (or the Supreme Court personnel does.) Furthermore, a new Administration may change Justice Department policy. Additionally, DOMA is not left undefended. Members of Congress are permitted to defend it now that the Justice Department has declined.
So does this mean that the Administration’s position is worthless? Absolutely not. In fact, this may be a blessing for the courts. Courts hate to be out in front of public opinion because of the political fallout. It is very rare for a court to lead the way–that’s why there was only one Warren Court (the era in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the Supreme Court dramatically altered civil and criminal rights law.) Because the federal government’s official position is that DOMA is unconstitutional, the courts may be more willing than before to strike DOMA down. Although that might not make a difference in front of the Supreme Court, it also just might. When the case comes before the Supreme Court, the Court will ask the Justice Department for its official position. An attorney from the Solicitor General’s office (perhaps even the Solicitor General) may well argue for ten minutes or so before the Court and tell the Justices that DOMA is unconstitutional and homosexuals deserve stronger protection under the law (watch for Justice Scalia’s head to explode if that happens.)
President Obama made a very strong point today–his administration will no longer defend any laws that are rooted in anti-gay animus. Dahlia Lithwick does a great job summing this all up if my analysis is not enough. Read her take anyway. She’s always worth it.
So assuming the Supreme Court follows the Justice Department, what happens next? Well, it is dangerous to speculate, but there probably will be two different courses of action. The first is to get rid of the entirety of DOMA. Remember, the current lawsuits only challenge one part of the law. There is still the matter of the states refusing to recognize other states’ lawful marriages. Assuming that the Supreme Court does indeed grant heightened scrutiny for sexual orientation, then there will be a state-by-state law campaign to get rid of all laws and state constitutional amendments that outlaw same-sex marriage (and adoption).
The second course of action will be to go after federal government laws that discriminate against same-sex couples. These are laws you may not immediately think of, but are still very important: tax laws, particularly those dealing with marriage and inheritance, immigration laws (letting a same-sex spouse stay in the country as one would with an opposite-sex spouse), government worker benefits, particularly health care. These are no small potatoes.
So the final question is why now? There was really no political gain, and the announcement came out of the blue. When DADT was repealed, I thought that the Administration was going to pack up, say that it kept its major promise to the LGBT community, and would worry about DOMA after reelection. I have to say that I am shocked. It really feels like the LGBT community has, finally, the staunch ally that we were promised. The arc of the moral universe may have bent a little more today toward justice.
* There are currently two cases pending before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that challenge that section of DOMA that defines marriage for federal government purposes as only one man and one woman. The Second Circuit hears cases from Vermont and Connecticut, both of which legalized same-sex marriage.
That both states are very close is not much of a surprise. Maryland has been a blue state for quite some time, and its proximity to DC–where same-sex marriage is already a reality–had put added pressure on the state to legalize same-sex marriage. All the more so after the Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler released an opinion recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages (and after Governor Martin O’Malley won his reelection bid last November and pledged to sign the bill.) If the bill passes, there could be a referendum. The good news is that getting a referendum to overturn an LGBT rights law in Maryland has not been successful in the past. The bad news is that equal rights supporters have a very poor track record in state-wide referenda.
Rhode Island is, quite frankly, just a matter of time. If not now, then soon. Before this week, Rhode Island had a very homophobic governor in office. Now Lincoln Chafee is governor. Governor Chafee is undoubtedly a (to quote a now-infamous remark) “fierce advocate” of LGBT rights. He was when he was in the Senate, the lone Republican one could say that about. Lincoln Chafee’s ouster in 2006 was a tragedy. Had he turned independent, Rhode Island would still have a great Senator rather than a future great Governor. However, he was loyal to the GOP in a year when the country was sick of Republicans. Despite an approval rating of over 60%, he lost his seat. When I heard he was running for Governor, I told anyone who would listen that I hoped he would win. After his election he refused to meet with the anti-gay bigots from NOM, and then he called for a marriage equality bill in his inauguration address. That, my friends, is fierce advocacy.
Perhaps if marriage equality is successful in Maryland and Rhode Island, the LGBT rights movement can recapture the momentum that it lost after the failures in New York, New Jersey, Maine, and California.
Future Heartbreak? This Sunday Showtime will air the episode of its new series Shameless, which is an American version of a British series of the same name. One of the characters is a gay teen named Ian Gallagher. I have not seen the British show, and I had never heard about either the original or the American version until today (I don’t have Showtime, but I will watch Shameless the next time I visit my parents.) Having said that, I am excited and terrified at the thought of this show. I am excited because British shows are usually very good at creating gay characters (Beautiful People, the British Queer as Folk). It seems like people really enjoyed the British version, which is now on my Netflix queue. I am terrified because American shows by and large make gay characters horribly one-dimesnional. While I have not watched Showtime lately, their track record with gay shows has been appalling (The L Word, the American Queer as Folk). On the other hand, this is not a gay show, it is a show where one of the central characters is gay. That’s an important difference, and every once in a while, in that paradigm American television does do a gay character well. Maybe Ian Gallagher will be among the lucky few. (Although can we talk about this Ian Gallagher as the anti-Kurt Hummel thing that Vanity Fair and Towleroad are pushing? Gay people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors; to define a gay character as an antithesis of another gay character is to denigrate the entire community, because there is an implied superiority. Kurt and all effeminate/fey gay men around the world are just fine the way they are; the same is true of not-effeminate/fey gay men.)
I’m a little hesitant to watch this show because I am afraid of what would happen if I like it and then Showtime cancels the show? My heart was broken by Beautiful People, and I’m still a little gun shy about new relationships with television characters.
edit: I have been watching the British version on YouTube. It’s funny, but this whole Ian Gallagher as the anti-Kurt Hummel is complete bollocks (as the British say.)
Turkish Orders Another LGBT To Close: Dear Turkey, do you really expect to join the EU? And given that you pull this kind of thing all the time, do you really want to join?
Johnny Weir Comes Out: No, really. I know you’re shocked. And (what incredible timing!) he’s just about to start selling his autobiography/memoirs. But it really was because gay kids are killing themselves. I don’t want to hate on Johnny Weir; I liked his personality, and I liked his skating. But his desire to play the victim now (Big Bad Gay Media made me stay in the closet!) rings hollow given his constant need for the spotlight–including television shows and a movie about his “outrageous” personality. Additionally, after all of his complaining about the constant probing into his sexuality he outed his rival/enemy Evan Lysacek on Chelsea’s Hendler’s show. Dear Johnny, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, even you really do hate Evan Lysacek.
Politics: President Obama selected William Daley as his new Chief of Staff, and progressives are up in arms. I share their disappointment that the President appointed someone who believes the Democrats went too far to the left, but we need to be rational about this for a second. No progressive legislation is going to be passed in the next two years, Daley or no. As of this past Wednesday, the Administration is unofficially at war with Congress. In the face of inevitable investigations, government shut-downs, and the 2012 election cycle, nothing progressive was going to get done anyway. The White House needs a general right now and one who is not afraid to fight. (But it would be nice if the Obama White House branched out and employed someone from outside of Chicago. The rest of us are not incompetent.)
League Football: Tomorrow Barcelona plays Deportivo La Coruña in A Coruña. Depor has not had a great season thus far, but they are still dangerous, especially at the Riazor. Barcelona barely got past Athletic Bilbao at the Copa del Rey this week, and squeaked by Levante last week, so there is clearly some rust. That needs to be fixed ASAP given that Real Madrid is always lurking.
For weeks I have been hearing non-stop bashing of La Liga. The whiner complain that it is boring because only one of two teams is going to win, and that’s only because the rest of the league is so weak. It denigrates an entire league, whose overall quality is just as good as any other (and team-by-team there is better technical quality in La Liga than anywhere else in the world.) The bashing is usually from the English (of course), and all they talk about is how only two teams exist in La Liga. Let’s examine why the detractors are hypocrites. Every major league in the world has its big two, three, or four. Spain has Barcelona and Read Madrid; Italy has Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter; England has Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea (and previously Liverpool–sometimes); and Germany has Bayern Munich and occasionally a team that is not Bayern (this year it is Borussia Dortmund.) Ligue 1 has been more competitive of late, but almost no one pays attention to Ligue 1 because the quality is just not there. And we won’t even go into the problems with the leagues in Portugal, Scotland, Holland, and the rest of Europe.
Here are some facts. Since the 1992-93 season, the beginning of the English Premier League, there have been 5 different winners in Spain. There have been 5 different winners in Serie A. There have been 6 different winners in the Bundesliga. There have been only 4 winners in the Premier League.
From the 2000-2001 season to the 2009-2010 season there have been 3 different winners in La Liga, 4 in Serie A, 5 in the Bundesliga, and 3 in the Premier League.
From the 2005-2006 season to the 2009-2010 season there have been 2 different winners in La Liga, 1 winner in Serie A, 3 different winners in the Bundesliga, and 2 different winners in the Premier League.
In the 18 completed seasons since the formation of the Premier League, the top winner of La Liga (Barcelona) has won 8 titles; Serie A has a three tie for the spot as Juventus, Milan, and Inter each have 5 titles (but a lot of suspicion because of the Calciopoli scandal); the top winner of the Bundesliga (Bayern) has won 10 titles; the top winner of the Premier League (Manchester United) has won 11 titles.
This season as it stands, Barcelona leads La Liga by 2 points; AC Milan leads Serie A by 5 points; Borussia Dortmund leads the Bundesliga by 10 points; and the most thoroughly mediocre Manchester United in recent history leads the Premier League by 4 points with two games in hand.
Meanwhile there actually a race in La Liga with two stellar teams (one possibly among the greatest of all time.) In the other three major leagues, there is a lot of mediocrity at the top, which is why the league leaders lose and draw so many matches.
Can we please give lie to this canard that La Liga is boring?
World Football: Chile is probably out of a national coach. The election for head of the Chilean Football Association head was held again, and this time Sergio Jadue won. Bielsa has said he would resign if Harold Mayne-Nicholls (who did not run in the recontested election) was voted out. There is a new head. According to local media, Jadue will try to convince Bielsa to stay, but that probably will not happen.
And FIFA head Sepp Blatter, to the surprise of no one, is now calling for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to be held in the winter. When will Sepp Blatter go already?
The Asian Cup has started in Qatar. Qatar lost 2-0 to the powerhouse that is Uzbekistan.
Women’s Football: Kristine Lilly finally retired, and it is a sad day for American soccer, men’s or women’s. Lilly participated in five World Cups, and was on the winning side in two of them. She is the most capped player of all time, men or women, and the second highest scorer in women’s history. She saved the US in the final match against China in the 1999 World Cup. It is truly the end of an era, and the US team is all the better for her having played on it.
Music I listened to: Well none, but I did listen to a World Football Daily podcast.
With regard to this post.
This is from an article in The New York Times:
While the new law does not mention advance care planning, the Obama administration has been able to achieve its policy goal through the regulation-writing process, a strategy that could become more prevalent in the next two years as the president deals with a strengthened Republican opposition in Congress.
Congress is making itself irrelevant. Eventually the Executive Branch will assume full law-making authority, and Congress will just be a rubber-stamp for legitimacy. The American people have only themselves to blame: you cannot elect people into government when their goal is to destroy the government’s authority.
After 17 years, the horrible, bigoted policy known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is over. Repealed. Kaput. Consigned to the trashcan of history.
I am very happy for the covertly gay and lesbian soldiers who now can be open about their private lives without fear of reprisal. I am happy for all those brave men and women who were wrongfully discharged because of DADT and who are either morally redeemed or can (if they choose) return to serve. I am happy that, for once, a law that benefits the LGBT community was passed by the United States Congress.
Having said all that, DADT only affects a very small subsection of the LGBT community. Repeal of DADT is a symbolic victory, a political victory and a moral victory. It is also however, in the grand scheme of things, a very small victory. DADT should have been a slam dunk, but it barely squeaked by (all credit to President Obama though who kept his promise to repeal DADT on his watch.)
If it was so difficult to pass a repeal of DADT with possibly the LGBT-friendliest Congress ever, then how much harder is it going to be to get other legislation passed with a much hostile Congress? Other legislation that will effect a greater number of people such as: The Employment Non Discrimination Act, The Student Non Discrimination Act, a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (and full marriage equality for the entire country), pension and Social Security benefits reform, health insurance benefits for partners of gay federal workers, immigration reform that treats homosexual partners like heterosexual partners, legislation preventing discrimination in adoption rights, and transgender-friendly laws in any field. I am sure I am forgetting other important and necessary legislation.
The Arc of the Moral Universe is long indeed.
It is not unusual to hate Congress. Everyone hates Congress and with good reason. The old joke asks if Congress is the opposite of progress, and the answer is, of course, yes. However, over the past few administrations, the situation has become dire. I believe that Congress has set the United States on a path that will ultimately result in the end of our system of government.
Congress has had help in eroding the government. The other branches have done much to turn a nominal democracy into an barely covert oligarchy. The Executive Branch has been grabbing power for itself unchecked for almost 80 years. The regulatory state is by nature far more complex and comprehensive than legislation. However, the Executive Branch has been growing astronomically since the Great Depression culminating in the Unitary Executive Theory.
The courts have also done their part over time. As a rule they are too deferential to the other branches. Throughout history the Supreme Court has lacked the foresight to avoid self-inflicted wounds. The foremost example was Dred Scott but there are many, many other examples. Each of wound has caused the Supreme Court’s validity to be called into question. Because validity is the only real power source the judiciary has (it controls neither the purse nor actual enforcement forces of any kind), this has led the courts to try and avoid constitutional questions unless absolutely necessary. Last year in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court inflicted yet another wound on itself and on the country. Donating money is conduct not speech. A corporation is not a person and therefore not protected by the First Amendment. Common sense tells us the previous two statements are undeniably true. According to the Supreme Court, both are false. In our capitalist democracy the richest had the most influential voice; in a post-Citizens United world they will have the only voice.
Nevertheless, the most culpable institution for the inevitable destruction of our democratic republic is Congress–the Senate in particular. Arcane Senate procedures prevent legislation from passing and administrative and judicial nominees from serving without any votes ever cast. Moreover very few Senators and Representatives are experts in their fields they oversee (unlike federal agency career staff who are.) I would argue that in most cases Senators and Representatives are less intelligent than the average American citizen, and to compensate they wage a cultural war against “the elite.” Yet, it is these people who set policy. What really makes politicians different from the rest of us is that they are crueler, more ruthless, and more power-hungry. These are not the leaders we should want. A government cannot run the way Washington is running; something will eventually give out.
The pushback has already started. The White House, over the past several administrations, has increased the number of Presidential advisors. These advisors serve as a de facto Kitchen Cabinet and have better access to the President than the actual Cabinet. Better still, they need no Senate approval. Increasing their number is a logical next step when the Senate will not confirm appointees. It is no surprise that in recent years the agencies have been losing turf to the White House. White House staff is more important if less prestigious. Former Secretary of State James Baker left the State Department to become Bush 41’s Chief 0f Staff. This was considered a step up. (It says volumes that no woman has ever been Chief of Staff. An alarming reminder that women are allowed to be figureheads in government, but Executive power is still a male-dominated arena.) This White House power grab should alarm federalist and all those who oppose centralized power.
The federal courts and not Congress have thus far been the bulwark against an Executive power grab. However, the federal courts too are suffering from the Senate’s gridlock. The courts need more judges to run effectively. Instead they are getting fewer. The Democrats will most likely not treat the next Republican President with more respect than the Republicans are treating Obama. Doing so would highlight weakness, especially given the ideological picks that Bush 43 made (and the next Republican President is likely to also make.) The rift between parties can no longer be healed. That is America.
As I noted above, the unstated truth about federal court authority is that it is a house of cards. In order for court orders to be effective, the parties have to submit. When an individual does not obey a court order, the court has corrective alternatives. Should the federal government not comply, then the court has a problem. Since Thomas Jefferson, Presidents have challenged the Supreme Court with varying degrees of success. The Bush administration showed how impotent the Supreme Court can be, and a future President could very well ignore court orders altogether with no consequences.
What will happen to Congress? It will not disappear entirely. As much as Americans hates Congress, they want the facade of choice. Congress is doomed to be like the Senate of the Roman Empire as the President evolves into an autocrat. Karma would indicate that this is what the United States deserves. The American government interfered with the democratic process around the world, aiding brutal dictators in demolishing elected leadership. The United States has not been an altogether beneficent world power contrary to what middle school social studies teachers teach.
In the end, perhaps this has always been inevitable. Tragic, but inevitable. The world is facing economic, ecological, and martial crises. The most powerful nation in the world cannot act because 535 children will not get along. Governments need to be run by adults, never more so than in the face of crises. Congress only hinders the President, and the incoming Congress will be worse. The last Bush Administration proved that Congress is superfluous. Russia and China are proving that the wave of the future is dictatorship not democracy.
I see no change on the horizon. In my fantasy world, I have a suggestion for how to fix the government. Constitutional Amendments! Number 1: Every person in Congress, after his or her term ends (either by retirement of an election loss), must serve half the length of his or her term in prison. Number 2: Repeal Citizens United. Go to back to common sense rules regarding money and corporations. Number 3: Elected officials, political appointees, and federal judges should lose all personal civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution during the time that they serve. They cannot vote, they do not have free speech, they cannot carry arms, they have no inherent privacy, etc. Their salary is limited to a living stipend and nothing more. Any other money that may come in such as royalties or investments must go into escrow until after they leave office. All money they have or their families have must also be frozen until they leave office. Their children get free education at public institutions through the age of 22, but are barred from attending private institutions. The Justice Department sets up a division devoted solely to monitoring and micromanaging all expenses and expenditures.
What is the purpose of such draconian measures? Elected and appointed officials have a lot of unchecked power, and it needs to be balanced out. People who do serve in positions of power should serve only out of civic duty and not for material benefits or hunger for power. The only way to ensure this is to make the consequences of serving so horrific as to weed out the faint of heart.
This is my fantasy to fix things. In reality I believe that the system is beyond repair. It had a good run.