Same Sex Marriage

Concerned citizens and ministers gathered again at Alabama’s state capitol last week, expressing their opposition to same-sex marriage and asking the governor to resist any attempts by activist judges to introduce it. Capital Hill Independent Baptist Ministries, the organizer of the event, told reporters he wants the state’s ban on the practice to stay in place and called for peaceful civil disobedience if any judge tried to overturn it. The protest went off well and attracted bigger crowds than an earlier one in the same location, but advocates of traditional family values could now be coming under attack on a new front.

Missouri is one of the states that so far has resisted pressure from homosexual lifestyle advocates and maintained its stance on marriage, but now its courts are facing a complicated challenge from a gay couple. Two St. Louis men, known only as M.S. and D.S., have a certificate issued in Iowa that proclaims them married. Nine months later their relationship collapsed, as many gay ones do, and now they’re looking for a divorce.

One of the men filed a divorce petition in St. Louis this January, citing irreconcilable differences. On the face of it the petition looked reasonable but the family court judge turned it down, citing the fact both petitioner and respondent were male. The court’s position is that it can’t grant a divorce for people who under Missouri law aren’t actually married, which is both reasonable and in the spirit of the state constitution. Unfortunately activists are now pushing to overturn this decision and, in the process, threatening traditional marriage in Missouri.

Lawyers for the men are arguing that Missouri’s ban on gay marriage is no obstacle to granting a divorce and that the step wouldn’t amount to a recognition of the practice. Attorney Drey A. Cooley argues that to dissolve the marriage Missouri doesn’t have to recognize it, just acknowledge that another state has. This looks reasonable on the surface and has precedent to back it up. In 2011 the supreme court in Wyoming, which also bans gay marriage, divorced a same-sex couple who had been married in Canada; the court argued that recognizing the marriage to the extent needed to end it didn’t affect Wyoming’s own policies.

Even limited recognition is a slippery slope though. By granting the divorce Missouri would open itself to claims that it had recognized gay marriage as a legitimate concept, and that might encourage activists to accuse the legislature of denying homosexuals a right that the state accepted and granted to normal couples. Cooley himself says that while the court could grant his client’s divorce on a narrow ruling he hopes they will take a “broader approach” – by which he means forcing gay marriage into Missouri law.

Proponents of gay marriage have gained a lot of experience in recent years, and are skilled in exploiting loopholes and creating precedents. Defenders of traditional marriage need to be increasingly vigilant to ensure that issues like this aren’t used to circumvent the law-making process.

The Missouri Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case within the next few weeks.

Ferguson Protests

When the world looked at US news last week the coverage was dominated by events in Missouri. For the second time this year the press flooded the airwaves with scenes of chaos and destruction in Ferguson, plus the spillover of protest and violence into other cities. The grand jury decision that found Officer Darren Wilson had acted correctly threw a spotlight on race relations in the USA and prompted a flood of outrage about racist cops and the way black Americans are denied justice.
At least that’s the party line. In reality things are a bit different. From the way the case has been reported you’d think Wilson singled out Michael Brown just because he was black, then staged a public execution for the fun of it. Look at the facts, though – facts that nobody has disputed. Brown and a friend were walking away from the scene of a robbery they’d just committed, stealing a box of cigars from a local store. For reasons unknown they decided to walk down the middle of the road, deliberately disrupting traffic. When Wilson saw them he told them to get on the sidewalk; they refused. Then he realized Brown’s description matched the robbery suspect and spotted the cigars. When he challenged them again events spun out of control, and this is where eyewitness testimony – always the most unreliable kind – gets confused. Wilson says Brown punched him through the car window then tried to grab his handgun. Some witnesses dispute this. However the evidence is clear: Wilson suffered facial injuries, and forensics proves that when the first shot was fired the gun was inside the car and Brown had his hand on it.
So far from a brutal cop singling out an innocent youth going about his business, it turns out Wilson was doing his job – keeping the peace and trying to apprehend criminals. Of course there are bad apples in law enforcement, and of course cops sometimes make a bad decision, but this doesn’t look like one of those times.
Despite the racial conflict stoked up by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and even Barack Obama, plenty of black Americans recognize that the police have a difficult job to do and mostly only use violence when it’s necessary and justified. The latest to come out in support of Wilson is former NBA star Charles Barkley, who made a strong statement Wednesday condemning those who used the grand jury decision as an excuse for vandalism and pillaging. Calling the rioters “scumbags” Barkley confirmed that he agrees with the verdict, then went on to praise the police for the job they do in maintaining peace.
It’s true that racism still exists in America, but we shouldn’t go looking for it every time an incident like this happens. It’s always a tragedy when a young person is killed but that doesn’t make the deceased blameless. Officer Wilson found himself in a difficult and frightening situation, and exercised his right to defend himself. Going by how many people didn’t feel the need to go out and burn local businesses, most Americans of every race understand that.

Black Friday 2014

It’s now less than two weeks to Thanksgiving and, right after that, Black Friday. With the current lack of confidence in the economic recovery many financial commentators and most of the media are starting to build up speculation about the annual retail frenzy, usually through making the claim that it’s a bellwether of how the critical holiday shopping season will turn out. Good seasonal sales figures will offer a significant boost to many US businesses, and in turn that will affect share prices and help shape the market as a whole for next year.
The big question is, how much does Black Friday actually mean for pre-Christmas retail spending? The conventional wisdom is that it’s a key measure, and higher spending on that day means good figures can be expected when it’s all tallied up in early January. Many analysts think that idea is media-created hype though. It’s hard to find any correlation between Black Friday sales figures and performance for the season as a whole, because the data points are widely scattered. To the extent any association can be drawn it’s pretty weak – and it suggests that a better Black Friday tends to mean a worse retail season.
The reasons for the rise of Black Friday itself are simple. Unofficially it’s the start of the Christmas season, and for many employees it’s also a holiday. That means a lot of people are going to grab the chance to get an early start in the annual gift-buying extravaganza. Over the decades – it seems to have been a significant shopping day since at least 1961 – it’s built up momentum as stores compete with each other to be the one customers line up in front of. However looked at rationally there’s no reason to expect that one day to make a real difference to the entire season.
The fact is that most people have a pretty fixed budget for Christmas shopping, and whether they spend it the last weekend in November or the last weekend before Christmas doesn’t matter much. In reality it’s not quite that simple. Lower prices and a fixed budget could mean more gifts being bought, and while that won’t affect retailers’ profits much (and any influence is likely to be a negative one) it could help the companies who make those gifts. These effects probably balance out though. Overall, people are going to spend what they planned to spend.
There’s also a possible – and rational – explanation for that weak link between a good Black Friday and a bad December. Lining up for post-Thanksgiving bargains takes some effort, and people might be more willing to make that effort if they’re feeling financial pressure and want to stretch a smaller budget as far as possible. In other words strong sales at bargain prices could indicate that consumers want to spend less overall.
Black Friday is now a regular fixture of American culture, and since 2005 it’s had the highest single-day retail takings every year, but despite the media hype and popular belief it doesn’t really say anything useful about sales figures for the rest of the year. It can affect investor confidence but that’s just the fickleness of the market at work.

Ebola in The USA

The Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa continues to make the headlines. Official figures from the World Health Organization currently put the number of infections at just under 14,000, with almost 5,000 dead. The CDC think the true number could be three times as high. In the last few weeks the health services in the worst affected countries, which weren’t all that great to begin with, have started to break down. About ten percent of the fatalities have been medical staff, and shortage of doctors and nurses could ultimately cause more deaths from other causes than are killed by the epidemic itself. The response from the United Nations has been poor – the WHO’s contingency fund for dealing with the outbreak contains just $100,000, while the organization has just blown $20 MILLION on an anti-tobacco junket in Moscow. This isn’t just failing the people of West Africa; it’s risking lives everywhere in the world.

Ebola virus disease was first seen in Africa in the 1970s, but for the first time it’s reached the USA. So far it looks like it’s been contained but there’s now a real worry more cases could appear, and even that the infection could break out into the general population. What’s most worrying of all is the competence of the people we rely on to protect us is in serious doubt.

The first case of Ebola ever diagnosed in the USA was a Liberian citizen, Thomas Eric Duncan, who flew from Liberia via Brussels and arrived in Dallas on September 20. There are checks in operation at al airports in the epidemic area, but Duncan was able to easily lie his way past them and claim he hadn’t been exposed to the disease. In fact he had – he’d taken a dying woman to hospital – but this level of check isn’t adequate anyway. After all many victims won’t know they’ve been exposed until they become ill.

Duncan did become ill, and went to Dallas Presbyterian on September 24. At first he was diagnosed with a minor infection – at least partly because the doctor didn’t know he’d come from Liberia – and sent home with some antibiotics. Four days later he was back, badly sick by this point, and finally someone realized what might be happening. He was diagnosed with Ebola on September 30, and died on October 8. That meant he’d been in the hospital, suffering from projectile vomiting, for two whole days before the medical staff treating him were ordered into biohazard suits. And by then two of them were already infected as well.

It looks like the nation has managed to dodge this time, because despite one of the nurses flying to Ohio and back after she had already shown symptoms nobody else seems to have become infected. The only active case in the USA right now is a doctor who contracted the disease in Africa and is now being treated in New York. However we need more than luck to prevent more outbreaks, and it’s not clear we’re getting it. First of all the WHO’s measures to contain the disease in Africa are clearly failing; there is no way Duncan should have been able to board a flight so easily. Secondly, the CDC itself has performed very poorly so far. It looks like bad guidance was given to Dallas Presbyterian on how to handle Duncan, and that might have contributed to the nurses being infected. Secondly, the nurse who flew to Ohio called CDC several times to check if she was allowed to fly; although she reported suffering from a slight fever – a classic symptom of Ebola – they told her it was fine.

Well, it wasn’t fine. Any of the dozens of people who shared the flights with her could have been infected, especially if she’d become more drastically ill en route. The CDC has taken on immense powers over the last few decades, always with the explanation that they need this to protect us. It’s time they started doing a better job.

Americas Failing Public School System

There’s even more bad news this week about America’s failing public school system. It’s bad enough that schools are increasingly controlled by aggressive secularists and that academic standards are falling behind competitors in Asia and Europe, but it seems the system can’t even manage the basics now. Basics like hygiene and cleanliness. Our children are being crammed into filthy schools while money is wasted on imposing the ideologically driven Common Core standards on frustrated teachers.

A survey of Chicago public school principals has just handed in its results, and they’re appalling. Almost half of the schools quizzed have serious problems with cleanliness. The list of faults includes broken furniture, overflowing trash cans, dirty floors, lack of basic supplies like soap and toilet paper and infestations of vermin. Staff, already under pressure, are having to put in extra hours trying to keep their schools in a fit state. It goes without saying that the notorious Chicago Democrat machine is trying to blame the situation on the private contractors who handle cleaning, but worries about standards in public schools aren’t exactly new. In fact many people have been concerned about this – and trying to find a solution – for a long time.

There are alternatives to public schools and for many families they work very well, but they’re not for everyone. Private schools are financially out of reach for a lot of parents, although voucher schemes can help with that. Vouchers also resolve the unfairness of the system where parents who opt for private education still have to subsidize the public schools they’re not using. Even with this assistance, however, not everyone can afford it – and in any case there’s a shortage of private school places in many parts of the country, including some of the areas with the worst public education. Homeschooling is another popular alternative but again a lot of parents can’t do it. With many Americans having to work two or three jobs just to keep their heads above water it can be impossible to give up work to educate children at home – that’s a full time job on its own if you’re going to do it properly.

For millions of people the public school system is the only realistic choice, and that means it needs to be as good as we can make it. No American child should be denied a good education just to meet some politically correct agenda imposed from above, but that’s what’s happening. How can remote officials know what’s best for local schools? They can’t; the country is just too big and too diverse. Forcing a one size fits all education policy on schools isn’t working and we have more than enough evidence of that by now.

The problem in America’s public schools isn’t that private companies are being given cleaning contracts; it’s that the entire system is being undermined by interference from the federal government. Communities are the best level to handle educational policy; local school boards know the staff, know the students and know what the area needs. To return this country’s education system to what it used to be – a world leader – we need to take the power away from the faceless bureaucrats who’ve appropriated it and give it back to the people who can use it best, and that’s the American people themselves.