Thursday, March 28, 2013

I do but I don’t

This week saw historic hearings at the Supreme Court regarding the legality of gay marriage.  Much has been written and talked about this subject, but most of it misses context and is the usual who's winning - who's losing coverage.  Let’s step back and look at the role of government in the social fabric of society and how marriage is part of it.  Equality in relationships is for many of us a deeply personal matter about our families and isn’t simply a matter of justice and identity.  Obtaining permission from the state – receiving a license to marry – is a validation of equality and acceptance, but doesn't seem right.  Is there a better way? 
Wikipedia states: “For most of Western history, marriage was a private contract between two families. Until the 16th-century, Christian churches accepted the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s declarations. If two people claimed that they had exchanged marital vows—even without witnesses—the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.”
If marriage was still a private contract – then why would the government need to license and approve it?  Marriage is a right, consistent with other individual rights - some of which are spelled out in the Constitution, some of which aren't.  Allowing the state to exercise control over marriage makes the institution, not a right.  As the Libertarian Party states:  those born in the US receive a birth certificate, not a birth license.
Certain private contracts do have to be registered with government – like real estate transactions.  Obtaining a marriage certificate seems reasonable.  Limiting the role of the state to issuing certificates also takes the religious element out of the equation.
Some persons of faith interpret the Bible in a way that reinforces their conclusion that marriage is between a man and a woman only and not two people who love each other.  In matters of faith reason does not win the day.  (Fortunately for me my religious tradition has been at the forefront of Equality.)  Taking marriage out of the Temple and out of the Churches would mitigate the largest basis for opposition with the issue.
Many European countries, and even our friends in Mexico – certify marriages as civil contracts.  People are fully married in the eyes of the law going through some bureaucratic process.  Priests, Rabbi’s and other religious leaders are not empowered with the legal authority to marry people.  Those couples who wish to have their relationships recognized in their faith tradition do that separately. 
As long as there is a discrepancy between gay and non-gay people in the law, it is my fervent prayer that the Supreme Court eliminates the gap.  As a philosophical political matter, I do think that moving to a system where marriage is not licensed, but recorded and religious authorities are decommissioned is the right way to go.  Personally I know that at the time that my prince comes I will want society’s validation and the pomp and circumstance that my Hollywood Anglo-Catholic Parish can offer up.  Until then I'd settle for a date.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bush-era nostalgia?

Anniversaries inherently have nostalgia attached to them.  As the world marked the 10th anniversary this week of the U.S. “war” with Iraq, I am surprised to find I’m longing for the days of George W. Bush...well, not him personally, but his era.  I am not a Republican, nor a fan of W’s politics – especially the policies that drove the U.S. economy into a depression in addition to invading sovereign countries preemptively.  It’s the 10th anniversary of my opposition to the military action in Iraq.  Harry Browne (RIP) and other Libertarians warned of the consequences in 2003 of the action.  Their website has been frozen in time at  It remains accurate and prophetic.  The Bush administration either had the worst intelligence gathering people imaginable, or the material justifying invasion was manufactured to support their perspective.  Why would I be nostalgic for those shenanigans?
The Bush administration went to the United Nations to get authorization to invade.  Then they went to Congress and asked for the legislative authority to use the military.  I have criticized the fact that the politicians at the time didn’t request or authorize war, permitted by the Constitution,  Instead there’s this whole other reality that has been created where it feels like war, it’s funded like war, but it really isn’t war.  But let’s give credit where credit’s due:  the Bush administration at least had the gumption to give the illusion of following the rule of law and getting appropriate authorizations.  The political theatre at the time was all about getting the authorization.  Action wasn’t taken unilaterally. 
Barack Obama swept into office in 2008 as the anti-Bush.  Many would say that he even won re-election by campaigning against Bush 43 again in 2012.  A key differentiation between the candidates was how Obama viewed the war in Iraq.  He promised to get U.S. troops out of the country – and he did.  (There are still tens of thousands of ex-military serving through third-party ‘security’ companies as 'civilian contractors' who are funded by the Pentagon.  Direct U.S. troops are essentially gone.)
Kudos and appreciation should rightfully go to the 44th President for ending the occupation of Iraq.  In other regions, however, President Obama has gone where even George W. Bush wouldn’t.  Obama has a kill list that he personally oversees – deciding who lives and who dies.  He has expanded the Bush drone program and has even assassinated U.S. citizens – without any oversight or any semblance of the Rule of Law.  The current administration has shut down any attempt to apply even military justice rules to the program.  Can you imagine the hue and cry if President Bush had done any of these things? 
There’s little that I agree with policy wise from either of the last two Presidents.  They’ve both been reckless with the economy, spending  vast amounts of money that don’t exist.  The limitations on civil liberties are epic.  The wars are a stain on America’s values.  At least Bush went through the motions of following the law, and, it’s horrifying that this distinction makes me nostalgic.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Life's Mysteries 31 years on

My grandmother died 31 years ago this month.  She was one of those people who is so much a part of me that I know she her own sequence in my DNA.  My brother-in-law found my college essay in some of my Dad’s files and sent it along recently.  In re-reading it I realized that writing has been a key part of how I express myself for a very (very) long time.  I thought I might want to edit it, tweak a few things – you know, with age comes wisdom and all that.  I realized that, no, actually, it still resonates all these years later – though it is clearly written by a young person.  It is truly the best way I can think of to honor her memory.  Below is a scan of the two-page essay.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Shirt off our backs

Clothes make the man said Mark Twain in a statement that applies to mankind – not just the male gender.  Fashion has become so prevalent in today’s world that it is synonymous with the entertainment industry.  Just a few weeks ago nearly a billion people watched a lot of wealthy people walk down a red carpet to a theatre in Hollywood and there are nearly that many photos of the event.  There are lots of ‘reality’ television shows about sewing.  With such a focus on fashion, it’s no surprise that the U.S. Government has joined the fray.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, on the eve of Sequestration, finalized a $50 million contract for one year to get uniforms for 50,000 TSA employees.  The contract is essentially a continuation of the prior one – where 2 years ago the company was awarded $98 million over two years – so this isn’t a one time only cost.    It’s a pretty standard uniform, the $1,000 cost per employee includes 3 shirts, 2 pants and socks. 

A dress uniform for the Navy tops out at $500.  SEALS duds are $400.  (There’s probably a discount on those since the Pentagon would buy in bulk.)

I never thought of myself as a natty dresser, but in my earlier career in Hollywood I was profiled in the Los Angeles Times in their Friday Fashion column.  I explained how I balanced the dress needs of being an executive in the film industry with one foot in the finance world and one in the entertainment world.  Even then I never came close to spending $1,000 per outfit.

Pointing out wasteful government spending is easy.  The amount spent to clothe one of the most unpopular group of Federal Employees (perhaps second to IRS Auditors) is an important issue, but the actual money is negligible in a $3.796 trillion budget and could be a total distraction.

The issue it raises is that nobody is managing the government. Yes, there’s political theatre and absurdities that have resulted in essential gridlock.  But the government has continued on – literally through a series of continuingresolutions that fund the government.

Elected leaders aren’t – and shouldn’t be – managers.  Bureaucrats make terrible managers.  CEO’s, executives who run large institutions like hospitals, universities, etc. have the particular skill to manage.  That ability doesn’t justify the 343 times in salary what their employees make but it’s an expertise that is lacking in the public sector.
Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree that taxpayer funds are to be expended and managed responsibly.  In 1996 the Federal government passed a requirement that all agencies pass an audit.  Seventeen years later – 3 administrations later – most of the major agencies still have failed.  There’s no amount of dressing up, even at $1,000 per outfit, that justifies the mess that is the U.S. Federal Government.