Posted in Rants on July 30th, 2015 by Ed

Having recently sold an older but impeccable German sports car for a substantially cheaper and more practical Japanese econobox, I found myself in the odd position of having an amount of cash on hand greater than what would be necessary to escape the country on short notice. In the spirit of responsible adulthood I decided that it would make the most sense to close out my student loan debt. My student loan debt is old enough to drive; I graduated with my bachelor's degree in 1999 and the money owed for services long ago rendered has been more or less a permanent feature for my entire adult life. Now it's gone.

I had to borrow about $30,000 to cover my educational expenses between the time I graduated from high school in 1996 and from college in December of 1999 (grad school fortunately didn't cost anything except seven years of my life that I'll never get back). Combined with perhaps another $5000 run up on credit cards to cover my extravagant insistence on food and shelter and the earnings of various part-time forms of employment throughout, my college degree cost me around $35,000. As insecure and unsuccessful people tend to do, I'm always eager to point out that I wasn't on the Mommy and Daddy plan as most undergraduates are/were. I did the kind of shit that political candidate boast about in an attempt at authentic Common Man cred. There was more than one occasion on which I got 30 days of meals out of a 50 pound bag of rice. I probably have all the canceled rent checks in a box somewhere, and I can regale you with how hard it was to make some of them clear.

The point here is not that I'm a good person because we all know that's silly, nor is it to argue that hard work and self-reliance build character. I wouldn't recommend doing it that way to anyone, ever. It sucked. It was equal parts anxiety and fatigue and it was absolutely No Fun. If someone else would have offered to pay my bills I would have taken them up on it in a heartbeat. Anyone who claims otherwise, that they would never pass up the character-building opportunity it offers, is lying or very stupid. Instead, the point is that I managed to get out of a very good state university with a degree for a grand total of $35,000, give or take. What would the same thing cost today? Any way you look at it, my experience of being a normal person going to a normal school without a massive amount of outside financial support now sits on the boundary dividing unlikely and impossible.

If, instead of something like $12,000 per year the school had asked me for $25-30,000 per year as they do today, what would have been my options? There's no way I could pay that out of pocket. Assuming I borrowed it, my total debt at graduation would look more like $90,000-100,000 instead of $30,000. It took me long enough to pay back what I actually owed. How long would it take me, and at what cost to my other financial options in life, to pay off three times as much? Aside from the baseline cost of tuition and other class-related expenses like textbooks and fees, the cost of living in most college towns has gone through the roof as well. I dare you to find affordable housing (for students and non-students alike) in the proximity of your average big university. As an undergraduate I was able to rent studio/efficiency apartments for something like $400/month back in the late 1990s. That same apartment is, according to the property management company's website, a $900/month apartment 16 years later. And I bet it's still the same carpet.

When doing the math, the inescapable conclusion is that anyone who hopes to get a college degree today is in one of three situations. They could get a cheap online degree and find that it's worthless. They could borrow the money to pursue a more expensive and valuable degree and then graduate with a truly crushing and ludicrous amount of debt. Or they could have rich parents who pay for it, graduating with the ability to pursue opportunities rather than taking whatever shit job pays best in order to start chipping away at a six-figure loan balance.


Posted in Rants on July 27th, 2015 by Ed

When living outside of a major metro area the economy tends to revolve around a very small number of large employers. Most often these are, despite what right wingers would lead you to believe, either government (city/county, school districts, police and fire, etc) or private industries that are little more than thinly disguised conduits for government money (hospitals, higher education, state contractors). Usually there are a handful of actual private enterprises that are large enough to matter; the monolithic Factory or Mill that lends a company town feel to the area. Its fate and the fate of the local population are intertwined, Accordingly the average person becomes more intimately familiar with the inner workings of otherwise unremarkable companies than a person living in, say, New York or Boston would ever be. A thousand people are probably laid off or otherwise rendered unemployed in New York City every four hours. In the middle of nowhere, where the prospects for finding a different job at anything above the minimum wage, no benefits plateau are bleak, that same 1000 layoffs will hit the community like an earthquake.

Late last week – "Break bad news on a Friday" being one of the cardinal rules of modern corporate PR – Mitsubishi announced the closure of its sole U.S. manufacturing facility in Normal, IL. Along with State Farm insurance and Peoria-based Caterpillar, Mitsubishi was one of the sole companies with a major employment presence in Central Illinois (and one of the only blue collar employment opportunities). Now other than State Farm (and Beer Nuts…) the Bloomington-Normal area, population 135,000, is entirely dependent on Illinois State University and other public sector sources for employment at any level above the service industry. Local reaction has been the predictable mixture of anger, sadness, and resignation; this has happened so many times "downstate" (i.e., any part of Illinois not immediately adjacent to Chicago) that it hardly surprises residents anymore.

The reason for the plant closure could not be more obvious. Unless you live in the area, where employee-discounted Mitsubishis are ubiquitous on the roads, or are really interested in the auto industry, there is a good chance you had no idea Mitsubishi still sold cars in this country. They have not been a player in any segment of the U.S. market for two decades. Other than their $40,000 boy racer Evolution model, a favorite of the teen Fast & Furious set, no product they've made since the early 90s has garnered more attention than the bare minimum obligations of the automotive press. Nor have any reviews surpassed "Well, I guess it's not awful, but there are probably 10 options I'd buy before this" in the realm of the positive. More often the commentary has been downright brutal; what may be the company's final new model in this country, 2014's Mirage, was almost immediately placed on "10 Worst Cars of all time" lists. The Normal factory was producing about 50,000 cars annually – most sold at a substantial discount and loss to employees or in annual summer fire sales – despite having a capacity of over 300,000. It didn't take a genius to figure out that this wasn't a going concern.

Irrespective of the complete lack of advertising for Mitsubishi products and their stark inferiority to the competition, I'll give you ten seconds to guess who or what shoulders the majority of the blame for the factory closure in the local press.

If you didn't guess the UAW, try again.

I don't know what I expect from people anymore. We've all read What's the Matter with Kansas? and internalized its narrative by now. We've all become well enough versed in armchair psychology to understand that people who experience this kind of economic dislocation are going to look for someone to blame and their choice of whipping post might not be terribly logical. But I want to grab people and shake them, not to make them See the Light but simply to get an answer to the question of what exactly the absence of unionization would have done to improve this situation.

What exactly is it that could have helped this situation – a moribund, clueless company designing products for third world markets and then trying to sell them to Americans at market prices? Are we angry that the UAW didn't give Central Illinoisans the right to work for the $8/hr Mitsubishi could have paid factory workers in rural Mississippi? Are we upset that we never had the chance to work for the $1/hr that Mitsu pays its manual labor in Thailand, Malaysia, and India to assemble cars (the justifiably maligned Mirage is made entirely in Thailand)? This isn't an example of a company closing a factory and moving it elsewhere for cheaper labor. The company is getting ready to abandon the U.S. market entirely because it sucks at what it does and it is not remotely competitive in this market at any labor cost.

It used to be that when the company went through layoffs and firings, people got angry with the company. Or "the bosses." Or "management." Even a passing understanding of this situation would direct the area's anger toward Japanese boardrooms where bad decisions and bad products originated. If ever a company had a legitimate economic argument for closing a factory, Mitsubishi has one here. Nobody buys their cars because their cars are shit. I understand how "the unions" are an easier, more proximate target than a faceless corporation. I understand why people blame them even when it makes absolutely no sense in context. It would be interesting, though, to know exactly what these anti-union people envision would have happened here without Union Interference. The obvious answer – "Everyone would have made less and then gotten laid off anyway" – hardly seems worth getting in knots over. An unemotional observer might describe that as no real loss at all. A smart one might conclude that the only chance we missed was for the situation to be worse.


Posted in Rants on July 21st, 2015 by Ed

So the Sandra Bland dashcam video can be filed directly under "Exactly What I Expected." Take a look here if you haven't seen it yet. Shockingly, the narrative the police pushed bears no relation to what's on the video. There's a half-decent chance this cop will end up fired, but that doesn't really help the person who's dead now.

There are two things every law enforcement officer in this country needs to have explained to them before they work another minute. First, we are not obligated to kiss your asses or be nice to you. There is a good chance that if we're dealing with you, our day has been or is about to be ruined. Assuming we didn't decide to murder someone or rob a liquor store that day, it's likely that you're about to hassle us over some minor infraction – 7 mph over the limit…my god, I'm history's greatest monster! – and hand us a ticket we can't afford now that local governments have decided in the face of declining budgets that law enforcement is an alternate form of tax collection. We understand that there's nothing to be gained by being rude, which is why most of use are curt but not aggressive when dealing with whatever crap you are about to subject us to. We are legally obligated to do very little – to provide identification, not to be violent, to comply with the handful of things you're allowed to ask us to do when we interact. That's it. Nobody cares if your feelings are hurt or if your ego reacts poorly to being treated with an attitude other than meek deference.

Second, we don't have to do things just because you tell us to do them. Whether we smoke a cigarette while sitting in our own car is not under your purview. We don't have to get out of the car when you repeatedly refuse to tell us why we've been detained. There is no law that states that we have to stop doing anything that you might be irritated by or that somehow displeases you. This includes smoking, talking on a cell phone while not driving, and being a black person who doesn't act like a 1930s Hollywood Step-n-Fechit toward anyone with a badge.

Oh, and if we refuse to do something that the law does obligate us to do, that doesn't mean you get to shoot us. That's what the law says. In practice, though, "All that matters is the cop had his feelings hurt and Sandra Bland is dead because she wasn’t nice enough to him." Pretty much sums it up, and unfortunately it happens so regularly now that people are getting numb to it.


Posted in Rants on July 21st, 2015 by Ed

Have you ever noticed that when someone is described as "saying what everyone's thinking" or "telling it like it is" what follows is inevitably racist and "everyone" in this case means white men in their 60s or older? In 36 years I can't think of one occasion on which someone said What Everyone is Thinking that reflected what I was actually thinking. Perhaps I am just an outlier. Or maybe I'm not ideologically compatible with people who like to use phrases like that to appeal to large groups of dipshits.

This rant has been circulating online under the title "News Anchor Gets Fed Up With Obama, Says What Everyone’s Thinking In EPIC Rant." If that does not portend a string of words on the level of a local newspaper comment section, nothing does. If you choose to click this link you will see two minutes of stupidity dribbling out of the mouth of the 22 year old UNLV sorority girl who gave an impressive enough cue card reading to get a "job" with something called "One America News Network." I accept no responsibility for your choices.

There's no reason to watch, though, because you've heard this all before. What follows is standard, predictable Pamela Gellar / Donald Trump style anti-Muslim boilerplate. Blah blah appeasement, blah blah get tough, blah blah round them all up and deport them even if they're citizens, blah blah. Nothing about this is new. Nothing about this is interesting. There is a population out there, apparently, that just wants to hear it at regular intervals and preferably from a Maxim-looking white girl in her 20s.

The part that kills me is the way people pass this stuff around the internet and applaud her "bravery." So bold! So fearless! Willing to speak the truth! Listen. Going on a rant against a small minority group, no matter who it is, is never brave. Next to getting admitted to Arizona State it's probably the easiest thing to do in the United States. It involves no risk aside from the risk of being admitted to the elite circle getting fat off the Fox News Guest gravy train and the D-list conservative pundit circuit. Yes, the First Amendment protects the right to say things like this. No, re-hashing nativist, anti-immigrant, anti-everyone not like Us rhetoric does not qualify as edgy, brave, or refreshing. They're just taking turns saying the same thing to the same receptive audience of slack-jawed yokels and fearful, narcissistic suburbanites.


Posted in Rants on July 19th, 2015 by Ed

In graduate school I had a colleague who was forever paying to see really bad movies and then expressing disappointment after the fact. Being blunt and generally unsympathetic, I finally asked her: What exactly were you expecting when you paid money to see these obviously horrible movies? Did you think the Sir Thomas More monologue from A Man For All Seasons was going to show up in the middle of Fast & Furious 4? Ben Affleck was going to channel Lionel Barrymore in Gigli? New cinematography techniques would be employed in the filming of Beerfest? I mean, being disappointed is never fun but at some point you have to reflect on the criteria you're using to decide where to set your expectations when it's happening over and over again.

Right wingers no longer anger or frustrate me because age and experience have taught me what to expect from them. Like a terrible pop country song, I only need to hear a few words to complete the rest of their sentences. Lots of people still get riled up because they share that characteristic that defined the first five years of Obama's presidency – the steadfast belief that Republicans will be Reasonable People if appealed to properly. This logic mimics the compulsive gambler who thinks that the next hand will be the big winner. For my own sanity I decided after experiencing the beginning of the Iraq War that I would never again expect that anything other than their own base self interest and craving for power motivates conservatives. There is no logic, there are no principles, there is no moment of clarity. There is only narcissism. That's why it is ludicrous to expect any consistency in their rhetoric from one moment to the next. Six years ago John McCain's major asset was his status as a war hero; now he's a big pussy because he ejected from a flaming airplane over Vietnam.

Does it make any sense? Of course it doesn't. Why would you expect it to.

Here's a perfect example, courtesy of A Good Cartoon. Recently in San Francisco a non-citizen named Francisco Sanchez fatally shot a young woman who was almost certainly not intended as a victim (details are fuzzy on whether the shooting was a pure accident or if the victim was shot accidentally while Sanchez struggled with someone else). Right wing hack editorial cartoonist was quick to point out that Sanchez was only partially responsible – Obama and Liberal Pussy Immigration Policy both helped him pull the trigger. They literally had their hand on the gun. They are equally culpable.


But if we look back to previous high profile shooting incidents, Ramirez has…a somewhat different message about responsibility.

Remember Jared Loughner, the guy who shot Gabby Giffords and killed a Federal judge?


It was all him. 100% him. Absolutely no outside influences of any kind, and how is the availability of guns even possibly relevant.


Michael Brown is also 100% responsible for his own death. The guy who actually shot him bears no responsibility, not even one-millionth of one percent. Again, no longstanding social or cultural issues come into play either.

"Discovering" that a right-wing Tea Party type changed his tune to suit the ideologically correct narrative – rugged individualism one minute, It Takes a Village the next – should not surprise you. If it does at this point I'd suggest that you are not paying enough attention or perhaps are tiptoeing into the territory of naivety. In 6th grade I watched a classmate eat a live cockroach on a dare. He gagged and retched and made a great ruckus about how terrible it tasted. Even at the not terribly wise age of 11 I thought, Were you expecting it to be filled with chocolate ice cream? His example, though, was redeeming in the sense that he never* made the same mistake again.

*(Dan W., if you're out there and still eating cockroaches I am very disappointed. You're 36. Get it together.)


Posted in Rants on July 12th, 2015 by Ed

Having doubled down on the Anything But Guns red herrings since Newtown, gun fetishists have shown a remarkable and unprecedented concern for America's mental health issues lately. The idea makes sense on its face; who would be in favor of crazy people having guns? Filter out the Crazies and you'll be left with only Responsible Gun Owners (and devious criminals, of course) owning America's private arsenal of firearms. The problems with the argument become apparent when subjected to anything beyond a passing glance. The only people who can be identified as "mentally ill" are people who have gotten treatment – voluntarily or by court order – and they're a lot less worrisome than the people out there who insist they're Fine and don't get treatment.

This argument is too tired to be interesting at this point, so it's pretty cool that we never have to have it again because it turns out that using mental illness as a criterion misses 99% of the people we should be worried about. According to a recent study, gun hoarders (six or more guns) are far more likely than the rest of the population to exhibit "impulsive, angry behavior." There is no single demographic profile that will cover all people likely to use guns to commit crimes, but it makes far more sense in terms of probability to stop focusing on Crazy and start focusing on Violent.

Because only a small proportion of persons with this risky combination have ever been involuntarily hospitalized for a mental health problem, most will not be subject to existing mental health-related legal restrictions on firearms resulting from a history of involuntary commitment. Excluding a large proportion of the general population from gun possession is also not likely to be feasible. Behavioral risk-based approaches to firearms restriction, such as expanding the definition of gun-prohibited persons to include those with violent misdemeanor convictions and multiple DUI convictions, could be a more effective public health policy to prevent gun violence in the population.

In short, if you're the kind of person who does things like punch people or destroy property when you get angry we should be much more worried about you having a gun than some college kid who's depressed. That's not to say that the latter is incapable of gun violence or the former is certain to do it, but as a matter of public policy aimed at reducing gun crime this would make far more sense.

Since when do our laws make sense, though. Especially when our Most Important Right is involved. It's far easier, legally and politically, to pick on Crazy People than to suggest that there's something alarming about good old-fashioned American male behavior like getting in fistfights and breaking things when angry.


Posted in Rants on July 9th, 2015 by Ed

This is important enough to preempt NPF, although I'll try to post something more Fun as well before Monday.

So remember a few months ago when a number of women like Beverly Johnson went public with stories bearing titles like "Bill Cosby Drugged Me"? Remember how they were all called opportunists, publicity hounds, victimhood addicts, skanks, and bandwagon jumping liars? It's important to remember those things now that Cosby admitted under oath to obtaining sedatives to give to women he wanted to have sex with (although it's not entirely clear to me whether he admitted to giving anyone the drugs or merely to obtaining them – I suspect that distinction will be important in court). Turns out "Bill Cosby Drugged Me" is not so far-fetched an idea after all.

This whole ordeal provides an excellent example of how people use motivated reasoning and tortured logic when they don't want to give up on someone who appears to have done some terrible things – friends, relatives, beloved public figures, or ideological allies in the Culture Wars. There is no other explanation, once we account for the gender biases inherent in public discourse on sex crimes, for staying in Cosby's corner for this long. I see these situations as a matter of probability, logically speaking. We have two options of what to believe. One is that Bill Cosby does or did in fact give women drugs without their consent. The other is that a large number of women with no apparent connection to one another engaging in a coordinated conspiracy to ruin Bill Cosby by coming forward nearly simultaneously to tell remarkably similar stories about their alleged encounters with him. Which of those two seems more likely?

Are there accusers who are piling on Cosby in the hopes of getting attention or money? Maybe. Probably not, since there is are high non-monetary costs to coming forward. It's possible, but even if it happens the core of the accusations against Cosby were so remarkably similar that rejecting them out of hand would be like betting on 00 in roulette versus betting on Even or Odd. Both are gambles, since people like us never have all of the facts and it's possible that what we believe (in either direction) could turn out to be wrong. But they're not equally likely to be wrong.

This is one of those things a lot of people could learn from; while accusations cannot automatically be presumed factual, it makes even less sense to presume them false. Of course we will learn nothing, though, and go through this all over again next time. As long as we refuse to update the way we think, there will always be a next time.


Posted in Rants on July 7th, 2015 by Ed

Every time another survey reveals that Americans can't find their asses with both hands in their back pockets knowledge wise, we end up having the same nails-on-chalkboard argument. Look how stupid everyone is, this is the problem! vs. What is the point of knowing facts anymore, you can just look everything up. I have tried over the years to become more open-minded toward the latter, with some success. It isn't a sign of moral and intellectual weakness for an individual to fail to know all of the members of the Supreme Court, provided they have a working understanding of what the Court does and how. In that example, Google will serve a roughly equal purpose to memorizing all nine names.

What that argument fails to account for, of course, is that this hypothetical rarely reflects reality. Apologists have argued that it's OK if American students, for example, do not know any facts as long as they develop critical thinking skills. The problem is that they suck at that, too. We've gone from a couple generations of students who memorized a lot of facts and information and may not have been taught much about how to put such information to productive use to generations who haven't memorized anything, don't pay attention to much, and are as good at critical thinking as the Chinese are at hockey.

This is why I've always been on the Facts side of the argument. And lately we are seeing the second major shortcoming of the "They can just Google it" thesis: Ignorance of information has a mysterious tendency to correlate with ignorance of history. History may be the subject area most affected by the declining relevance of actually learning things. I can't explain the Space Race to you if you don't know what the Cold War is, don't know what the Soviet Union was, and can't identify Eisenhower, Khrushchev, Kennedy, Sputnik, the Mercury Program, and other important figures. And none of the preceding will make any sense without understanding World War II, how it ended, and the geopolitical consequences. I can send you an article or even a video to explain the Space Race, but what good is that without some understanding of who these people and events are? What you're left with is a Michael Bay Transformers movie version of learning: nobody has any idea who is who or what is going on. It's a miasma of events and names that mean as much to most Americans today as Runic stones.

To see the practical results of this kind of collective mental atrophy, look no further than the Confederate Flag debate or, if you're a little more policy-oriented, the current economic situation in Greece. Watch Thomas Piketty calmly explain to a reporter that what Germany, the EU, and neoliberals the world over are demanding of Greece is the exact antithesis of what Germany, France, the UK, and other cripplingly indebted nations were asked to do at the end of WWII. The idea that austerity would solve a problem with debt was so patently ridiculous at the time that it was not even suggested. Quite the opposite; inflation and economic growth were understood to be the only logical ways to reduce a debt at 200% of GDP, and governments the world over were encouraged to spend like drunken sailors. Provided those drunken sailors had an eye toward building productive, growth-oriented industrial economies.

It worked. How many people today know that? What is being proposed now demonstrably does not work. How many people today know that? Once you've punted on knowledge and facts, the hope of having an informed debate is gone. The result is what we see today: people all around the world, from bankers and world leaders to reporters and newscasters to minimum wage earners on the street, who have absolutely no ability to look at two options and conclude that one has worked before and is therefore likely superior to the other that has been tried and doesn't work at all.

Good luck getting that from Googling "Greek debt."


Posted in Rants on July 5th, 2015 by Ed

So, Bernie Sanders has started to get an increased amount of media attention lately. Take that with a grain of salt; part of it comes from the fact that his campaign has been doing some interesting things, and part of it is due to the media's need to cover a second (or more) viable Democratic candidate so that the nomination process is something more exciting than a Clinton Coronation.

The second caveat is that Sanders has been harvesting some low hanging fruit. Let's put it this way: if you're the progressive candidate and you can't get 10,000 people to come out to see you in Madison, WI you might as well throw in the towel. The headlines about his early draw in places like Oregon, Madison, and Berkeley are up there with "Dog licks balls" as riveting news. Furthermore, a good deal of the national media attention he has received is condescending, depicting him as your burned out old hippie uncle who once lived on a commune and probably has an extremely high electric bill (wink). It is hardly as if full scale BernieMania is on the verge of sweeping the country.

That said, he has a real shot at this. And Team Clinton must be shitting bricks right now. I suspect that more than a few who were around her toxic campaign in 2008 dare not say "Uh oh. Here we go again…" even though they're thinking it.

Here is the problem from Clinton's perspective. As commanding as her lead in name recognition and money over the rest of the Democratic "field" is, 75% of the party base is looking around hoping someone better will come along. Hillary Clinton seems like she could win a general election, and therefore nearly all left-of-center Americans consider her Acceptable. Acceptable and Great are not quite the same thing, however. She is the classic establishment candidate, and her argument for the nomination boils down to "It's my turn, and I deserve this." Like other establishment candidates (Mitt Romney, for example, who also saw his party desperately try to nominate literally anyone but him before circling back) her primary motivation seems to be that she really, really wants to be president. That's fine, but you can't make it this obvious. Democratic voters are more susceptible to idealists than Republicans. Someone who can come along and convince the party base that he or she might make things better rather than merely being Slightly Better than the Republican.

In 2008, Obama came out of nowhere, offered this to primary voters, and immediately eliminated Clinton's insurmountable lead. Sanders is capable of doing that. And I suspect the Clinton campaign knows it. Even if they won't say it, I think they also recognize that the fundamental problem is that while voters will take Clinton, nobody's terribly enthusiastic about it. We're all scanning the horizon looking for someone less infuriatingly Centrist, less New Democrat, less I Refuse to Take Positions on Anything of Importance and I'm Basically John McCain on Foreign Policy. Again, in a general election Democrats and left-leaning voters will vote for her overwhelmingly. She's good enough. Clearing the bar just barely will always leave her susceptible to challengers who leap over it and look like they could actually win a general election.

Sanders is not without flaws himself. He needs to be more conscious of his visuals when on stage or behind a podium. He needs some people who have a proven track record of running a winning campaign. He needs a goddamn haircut. As he stands, any opponent would have a very easy time labeling him an old codger from a bygone era. Image counts. Hillary Clinton (67) is nearly as old as Sanders (73) but looks nowhere near that age. Most people would be surprised to learn that she is even 60. Sanders also needs to avoid the fate of Howard Dean. The media will be eager to depict him as an old, ranting lunatic from the hinterlands and he needs to be careful not to give them the opportunity.

In 2016 the Democrats have a chance to give themselves a real leg up by the time the general election begins. While the GOP 20-way circus plays out as monkeys in suits flinging their own crap at one another on debate stages, the two older, mature looking and sounding Democratic candidates will turn on how well Clinton can convince voters that she is something better than Republican Lite and how "electable" Sanders can make himself sound.

In short, greet Sanders' increased visibility with guarded optimism. He can win, even if the odds remain a long shot for now. The best evidence that he is viable is the Clinton campaign's sense of alarm as they realize that she is not in fact the candidate of inevitability.


Posted in Rants on June 29th, 2015 by Ed

Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Supreme Court ruled that every state is obligated to issue same-sex marriage licenses, surprised me with its breadth. In it the Court dealt with two distinct but closely related big-picture questions. First, is a state obligated to recognize a marriage license, including those for same-sex marriage, issued by another state when it differs from their own practice for issuing licenses? Second, must every state issue same-sex marriage licenses by law regardless of their current policy? I confidently expected the Court to rule on the former and punt on the latter. They didn't.

For nearly 20 years I have argued that same-sex marriage is miscast as a moral issue and obfuscated with all of these irrelevant discussions of tradition and the nature of marriage in Western society. To me, the question is and always has been solely a matter of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution. Period. The FFCC mandates that states must recognize "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state." The FFCC is the reason that you do not need to get a new marriage or drivers license when you cross state lines. Your New York drivers license is valid in New Jersey, and when you get married in New Hampshire you don't need a new marriage certificate when you move to Vermont (and, crucially, you also don't need to return to New Hampshire to get divorced if you choose to do so).

In this light, my opinion has always been that as soon as gay marriage became legal in one state – any state – it was effectively legalized everywhere. Even if Hawaii were the only state to issue gay marriage licenses, the FFCC obligates every other state to recognize it. I expected the Court to rule decisively in this manner, requiring every state to recognize all marriage licenses issued by any other state as valid for its own purposes. This would have allowed the Court political cover, sidestepping any discussion of the nature of marriage, the "moral" rightness of different types of marriage, and so on. The result, I expected, was that gay marriage would become similar to what divorce used to be in terms of interstate heterogeneity. Back before divorce was widely accepted, for example, Nevada was the only state to grant quickie no-fault divorces. So it was not uncommon for couples to file for divorce in Nevada, where the process was quick and easy, and return to their home state with a dissolution of marriage that every other state would be legally obligated to recognize. So, in such a ruling the Court would allow two men in Mississippi to drive four hours, get married just across the state line in Illinois (or any other state legally recognizing gay marriages) and then return to Mississippi, which would now be required to grant that marriage license full faith and credit. In this reality, you can imagine the ad campaigns: Gay Wedding Packages to Lovely Colorado! Come to California, all weddings performed, same day licenses! New York, a wedding destination that welcomes all!

Would that have been ideal? Certainly not. But it would have given every person who wanted to get married in a manner not recognized by their home state a reasonable method by which they could do so. Traveling across state lines obviously represents a burden, but one that the Court historically would not recognize as terribly onerous. Anything within the reach of a Greyhound Bus ticket is generally recognized as being accessible.

Had the majority limited itself to that logic, I think they might even have gotten Roberts on board. As it stands, though, the five-justice majority was far bolder and appears to have settled the entirety of the issue. In my opinion, despite the fact that I agree with their conclusions I fear that they made the opinion a bit more open to future undermining in the process. Kennedy's defense of the nature of marriage and its status as a basic right is eloquent but also subjective. It's the type of decision that a future Court with a radically different composition could have a field day reversing. But that will take quite a while, and it seems highly likely that within the next few years gay marriage will become ingrained as a social institution and so unexceptional to the vast majority of the population that objections will cease beyond the comparatively small world of die-hard religious fanatics. And as the Court ruling affects only civil marriage – religious institutions are wholly unaffected by this decision – they won't have a leg to stand on anyway.