Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Real reason at the core

Yesterday I was in a couple of threads about the SCOTUS decision. I explained why this has nothing to do with marriage equality or gay rights. It's a case of federalism, plain and simple. This pissing contest between the federal government and states' rights is wearing a marriage equality mask, but could be anything really. That's just the topic du jour being used as a facade.

Almost EVERYONE missed what this is really about. If you think it's about marriage equality, you're crazy. If marriage equality was solved 50 years ago, this would still be happening in the Supreme Court about any other topic.

Everybody is treading lightly because of the implications of federalism on a larger scale. What is federal territory and what is state territory. The issue of marriage isn't anyone's business and most people agree, but after so many years of someone laying claim to the right to approve/disapprove, whose right is it to say it not longer requires approval in the first place? Once the federal government overrides state legislation, then it can happen on any topic.

So on the surface it looks like it's about marriage, but really it's a balance of power between states and federal at this point.

And once the federal government negates the states' rights, people have a Supreme Court worthy case if they want to marry 5 people and their dog because the state has no say anymore. Forget what it's ostensibly about; it stopped being about marriage long ago.

Of course the DOMA of 1996 (ahem, Bill Clinton) was a way to give up some ground to the states while retaining power. States were given the right to decide for themselves, but the Defense of Marriage Act said that the union of marriage is between a man and a woman. So if you start in a state where it's legal and move to a state where it's not, the new state has no legal obligation to honor the marriage license. It's why the Department of Defense does not recognize gay marriage. So, if I was gay and married a man and I was still in the military, I do not get the extra pay for my household allowance, he is not entitled to my medical benefits, and he would not even get notified if I was killed in combat. That's the federal government saying "it's ok, but it's not that ok" and that came from the same guy that enacted "don't ask, don't tell." Before that you could not be gay in the military. After it, "you can be gay and serve, but you can't tell anyone about it, act on it, or live your life openly. It's ok, but it's not that ok." That's a federal act, DOMA, so leaving the power in the hands of the states means if ALL States approve it, they have to get the fed to strike down DOMA and do you think the federal government is prepared to take orders from the states? Political posturing is all this is. Most people don't realist just how poorly the states (as a collective) get along with the federal side of the house.

Those were my 2 cents yesterday. Now there has been some release of information about what went on inside SCOTUS yesterday. The quotes from several justices make it clear that all of the above is 100% true.
I just wonder if the case was properly granted,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who probably holds the decisive vote, in a comment that showed a court torn over whether this was the right time and right case for a decision on a fast-moving social issue. 
So far, we see the focus on the timing of the issue and not the issue itself.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor seemed to share that concern. “If the issue is letting the states experiment and letting the society have more time to figure out its direction,” she said, “why is taking a case now the answer?” 
Once again, it's about whether or not even making a decision is the right move versus letting states "experiment." Keep in mind, this experimentation uses the life decisions and love lives of human beings and Americans specifically, but the focus is on whose role is this rather than solving this issue for the people who have something at stake.
Those justices and others seemed driven to that conclusion by an argument in which no attractive middle ground emerged on the substance of the question before them: whether voters in California were entitled to enact Proposition 8, which overturned a State Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage. 
This is the first of the two most important points. So California approved gay marriage and then issued a referendum called Proposition 8. California voters weighed in and had gay marriage banned. If the SCOTUS says that gay marriage is allowed across the board, that will again overturn Prop8 and neuter the voting process at the state level. Is the importance of overturning Prop8 big enough to chip away at foundational blocks of our voting process? Some say yes, the justices are not so sure.
That appeared to leave the court with an all-or-nothing choice on the merits: either a ruling that would require same-sex marriage in all 50 states or one that would say that all states may do as they wish. Neither choice seemed attractive to a majority of the justices.        
And finally we have the coup de grace. To vote yay means that gay marriage is unequivocally allowed anywhere in the United States and each state has nothing to say about it which, many people say, violates the spirit and intent of parts of the constitution. The federal government keeps things running smoothly but doesn't legislate us into prosperity or define how our lives should go. With a diverse nation in terms of demographic, landscape and just about everything else (and the reason why we should never be compared to European nations), the federal government cannot possibly have enough insight into the lives of the average American and make a blanket policy that effectively covers people from New York to Nebraska. On the other hand, voting nay puts the power in the hands of the states, something that stems the tide of federal power, and not what the power hungry federal government wants either.

So what's the solution? Play the ostrich and put our heads in the sand. Dismiss the case. "We'll talk about it later." And that folks, is why it's not about gay marriage at all. That's the face of the battle between states and federal today. Tomorrow it may be something different.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Dollars, not sense

I've been seeing this JC Penney story heating up for the last few days. For those that don't know, JCP used a lesbian couple in an ad for children's cloths or household items or something. It was last year on the heels of making Ellen Degeneres, who is openly gay, their spokesperson. The ad contained the couple and children as a family. So 1 million JC Penney shoppers threatened boycott and organized some anti-shopping movement, called 1 Million Moms, over it. JC Penney then released another ad of 2 gay men and their children. Once again the Internet ire, sparked by 1 Million Moms, is reaching critical mass.

So it's nice to see a company support some logic and have moral fiber along the way. Starbucks is in the same boat at the moment. One shareholder had some things to say about Starbucks support for marriage equality and the CEO Howard Schultz told the guy to sell his shares if he didn't like it. It went one longer than that, but that's the gist. So, these are 2 companies who stand up for what they believe in and the things they believe in are altogether wholesome. I know people feel how they feel about gay marriage and lifestyles, but suffice it to say that JCP and Starbucks are not advocating violence and death and segregation and bias. They are trying to give everyone a fair shake.

Here is why they are both potential wrong for their actions. If 1 Million Moms actually got a full one-million people to stop shopping there, what would that do to JC Penney? Are they gaining the favor of 1.1 million gay individuals there they end up net +100,000 shoppers? What if 1,000,000 people walk out and 100,000 walk in? Then they lose 900,000 shoppers worth of revenue. JC Penney is not a 501(c) charity. They are not non-profit. They are a for profit company that is publicly traded. They are answerable to shareholders, not values. Morality doesn't keep the lights on. JCP also hit an all-time high on their share price in 2007 at $80 per share. In April of last year they were at just shy of $40 per share. As of this very moment they are at $15.01 (down from $15.23 when I began this post). JC Penney is losing relevance and market share to online shopping (as are many large and big box retailers around the country). Is now the time to further dilute the clout they have? What if gay individuals have invested in that company because of their internal philosophies of supporting gay rights, yet their public actions and spiteful nature of ad placement have actually removed value and in some round about way, they've hurt the people they support? It's a stretch, I know and who the hell is investing in JCP these days anyway? The point is that the business of business is business. Set up a foundations, charity, NPO or any other group to champion your cause, if that's what your into, but gambling with shareholders money to promote something? That's bad business.

And not all shareholders will agree with your cause, as we saw in the case of Starbucks' Schultz vs. Strobhar. Strobhar is anti-marriage equality and an investor in Starbucks. He let his opinion be known at a shareholder meeting and Schultz, the CEO, told him to sell his share and went on some diatribe about how the company is being held down by close-mindedness or some such nonsense. I hate to break it to you Schultzy, but Strobhar's money is just as green as anyone else's. Maybe his ideas and his votes as a shareholder are weighing down your innovation and out of the box planning, but that's why there are so many shareholders - so one person doesn't take control. Another company putting their own personal values against the one thing with real, measurable value - money. Are you willing to leverage your financial success and fiscal footing against a cause? Would you donate next month's rent to a charity of choice? The economy is still in recession (don't believe the hype, things are better but not good). Starbucks is going up in price at the same rate of mortgage default and job loss in this country. Mayor Bloomberg is gaining support from other lawmakers and like minded politicians to engage in Gestapo tactics for banning anything deemed unhealthy. Will all newly married gay couples pull Starbucks up by the bootstraps if need be? I know Starbucks isn't folding and I don't mean to insinuate they are or be over the top, but I'm just aligning strategic vision with the response they'd receive.

At the end of the day, as I always say, the business of business is business. You've read it here a million times. So again, I love that Starbucks and JC Penney actually have a moral compass (I'm not debating whether I think it points true North or not, that's not the point here). Not many companies do. But betting their future and the money of investors (and employees) on a belief, is irresponsible. Make money, you're a corporation. That's your job. Support your causes as individuals, on your own time, on the side, with your own cash.

I'll still drink gigantic, frozen, chocolatey, coffee drinks from Starbucks while shopping in JC Penney. Their products still appeal to me. But I wouldn't invest in either way. When I give them cash, I get a product. When I invest cash, I'm not part of a cause that may win or lose me money. Investing is always  gamble, but I can track cash flow and market capitalization. I can't track feelings, spite and goodwill.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Driving in the north vs south

I've been driving in the north again for almost 2 weeks already (have I actually been home that long?) and I wasn't sure what to expect along the way. I thought that perhaps I had slowed down after being in the south for so long. But it's like riding a bicycle and it all came back very naturally. I have noticed that the traffic isn't much worse. There is more traffic, sure, but there are more people overall. So the congestion isn't worse in and of itself, it's all to scale.

What I have noticed is that the patience level of drivers up here is much lower, or rather, on par with the every place else. People in the south, while some of the craziest drivers I've seen (and I've driven in multiple countries on multiple continents), are much politer than up here. Naturally, I have a theory as to why that is. It's got nothing to do with the southern hospitality and it's got nothing to do with the asshole-ish (word?) behavior of us "damn yankees." It's something much bigger.

You don't cut someone off, blow your horn, give the finger or scream obscenities in the south for one reason and one reason only - EVERYONE has a gun. You never know who has it handy, who is a good shot or how many rounds are in it. More importantly, you're never sure if their gun is bigger than yours. So, much like US vs USSR in the 80's, the best offense is a good defense.

Up here, nobody is armed so people are freer with their verbal nonsense and everyone has extra muscles behind the wheel of a car. Well, when I say nobody I think you understand the distinction I mean. Some people are armed, but in the south everyone is and it's all legal. Before the gun control nuts use this in their favor, let me be clear. I'm not advocating for arming people to force politeness out of fear and I don't think most people in the south live in gun-based fear. Southerners have weapons, love weapons and are most assuredly NOT afraid of weapons. So, if I'm not afraid, neither is the other guy. So rather than terrifying people into politeness, it ends up being more of a mutual respect for the power we carry and the slight fright of the unknown. All in all, it makes for people to mesh better on the roads.

I've heard more horns, yells, screeching brakes and overall rudeness on the roads in the 2 weeks I've been back than in the 10 years I was gone. I've also felt my blood pressure climb and have had to stifle responses in this short time. Maybe some of it is shock factor after being gone and I'm readjusting, but a lot of it is just me and my reactions. If I thought for a minute that the guy I was blowing my horn at may have a gun, I'd think twice before laying on it.

Say what you want about the north, the south, guns, gun control, road rage, etc. All I know is that people were less jumpy when everyone around them had a firearm and traffic moved more smoothly.