Archive for the ‘States’ Category

I spent a good part of the month of April and early May advocating for the defeat of the then proposed, North Carolina Marriage Amendment, or Amendment 1 as it was more popularly known.  That advocacy fell upon deaf ears as the state voting pool by about a 2/3 to 1/3 majority decided to embed permanently into the state constitution the ability to discriminate against a group of American citizens.  In summary in the state of North Carolina is it constitutionally codified that marriage is strictly between one man and one woman and that is the only recognized civil union that will be recognized by the state.  Notice with their ambiguous language in the two page amendment has managed to both codify discrimination in terms of the word marriage AND they managed to solidify state sanctioned discrimination even further by wrapping marriage in the ill-defined catch phrase “civil union”.  In one fell swoop the state brought any union between two people that does not fall into this category into the world of contractual law, which the blood relatives will be able to dispute with as much authority as the recipient of benefits by contract.

Now that I have summarized the ill-effects at the state level, lets take a look at the federal.  In 1996, in an attempt to demonstrate his moderate position in order to solidify a base among voters and politicians, then President Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, essentially codifying within federal law the inability for any couple beside that between a man and a woman to receive any level of federal benefits, regardless of the laws of the state in which they reside.  Again, what this did is stop a same-sex couple who may be “legally” married in the eyes of the law (as is possible in eight states right now) from receiving federal level benefits.  Denigrating and diminishing the one of the major reasons behind being married (or civally unioned), the ability to plan together as a family the future of that family, unless of course you fall into the “biblical” definition of a marriage which is that between a man and woman.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week made a pretty significant determination to the constitutionality of the act, yet in my mind it rings as a hollow victory.  In their DOMA Ruling they determined that the act was indeed unconstitutional:

In writing the appellate court’s decision, Judge Michael Boudin noted the unprecedented and unconstitutional attempt by Congress “to put a thumb on the scales and influence a state’s decision as to how to shape its own marriage laws.”

Essentially, what this three member judicial panel decided was that marriage is a state issue and that is where it should be decided, not in an act approved by the federal government.  One of the reasons this is a bit of a hollow victory in my mind is:

The 1st Circuit said its ruling would not be enforced until the Supreme Court decides the case, meaning that same-sex married couples will not be eligible to receive the economic benefits denied by the law until the high court rules.

Another reason is the ruling would only have applied to:

 states within the circuit – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire – and Puerto Rico. Only the Supreme Court has the final say in deciding whether a law passed by Congress is unconstitutional.

So, in making this determination, the appellate court has passed the buck on to the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of the act, and since it is a Circuit Court they only have jurisdiction of the previously mentioned states allowing the other Circuits the ability to invalidate their findings within those districts.  So while it is very interesting to have the three judges rule unanimously, they are 2 Republican appointees and 1 Democratic, it has not given any further headway to dissolution of a law, at the federal level, that allows a targeted group of citizens to be discriminated against. Currently, there is not a petition to decide DOMA and its constitutionality before the USSC and until there is one and they decide the merits of the act the USSC cannot do anything about it.  The USSC cannot decide upon its own without being petitioned by a party the constitutional veracity of the law, if they were able to do so, they would be in violation of the the law themselves because they are not “law maker”, they provide the interpretation of the the Founding Father’s intent with regards to the Constitution and the laws of the land.  A pretty vicious cycle.

Should it pass, the Respect of Marriage Act or ROMA could possibly be on as shaky ground as is DOMA from a Constitutional standpoint.  In a nutshell ROMA would repeal DOMA and provide for the requirement for states to recognize between them a legal marriage or union, regardless of the law or constitution of the state.  So, if a couple from NJ moves to NC, their legal union, marriage, contract, whatever, would need to be recognized by NC as legal and they would receive all benefit as they would have in NJ.  So again, while the intent is to undo the wrongs of bad legislation, you still may have from the federal level a constitutional crisis, as the federal government is again trying to regulate what may be determined to be a state’s rights issue.

Unless the Supreme Court determines what specifically is unconstitutional with DOMA, ROMA will be susceptible to the same challenges.  If they determine pieces of the legislation are unconstitutional, but the federal government did not over-reach with regards to state’s right, then ROMA can be a very effective move forward.

Through our relatively short history as a Constitutional Republic, America has had it’s ups and downs from a civil rights perspective.  There has been rampant discrimination against multiple races, genders and orientations, some has been sanctioned officially and some has been tolerated as policy if not law.  Each progressive move forward has not resulted in equality from the start, many can argue that Affirmative Action has caused a reverse-discrimination situation as it establishes requirements outside of merit based election.  I would hope, considering the last 60 years of experience in the realm of civil rights, that as discrimination against same-sex couples is legislated into extinction, that we as Americans of all races, creeds, colors, religions and proclivities can finally acknowledge that as Americans, we can be different from each other, we do not have to like or even condone a particular lifestyle, but we are ALL Americans and each and everyone of us has the right to be happy as the next and no one should be exempt from the same benefits as another simply because they are not the same or hold the same beliefs.

My comrades and I have spent the last 10 years not only battling terrorism as a result on attacks on our country, but trying to spread the environment of equality through the world.  Each and every in-road has been met with resistance and we have no right to dictate humanitarian policy within a sovereign country, especially if we cannot demonstrate the same level of human rights, civility and acceptance within our own borders.  Being an American is different to each and every one of us, as an American soldier, part of how I see my role is to be an ambassador for how people should be treated and use our great country as an example of how to achieve that goal.  It is hard to do when there is an explicit divide between the equal and not as equal.

Time for change America, a little free thought goes a long way.  Decide for yourselves what is right and wrong.

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If at any time you can jump from the outside to the center of the chart, vote [X] AGAINST on May 8th.  If you make it all the way to the end without even thinking about moving towards the center, you probably should ask someone what it really means to be AMERICAN.

Well, we are about 30 day out from the public referendum on the proposed North Carolina Amendment 1, also known as ‘Same-Sex Marriage Amendment’.  I Previously wrote about this a couple of months ago in “North Carolina Amendment 1”.  This proposed amendment to the state constitution  walks the perilous ground between conservative religious ideology and the denying of rights to all persons who are citizens of the state.  NC already has a law on the books that bans marriage between any people who are not man and woman; public passing of this referendum would not only be a redundancy but also could deny valuable assistance and legal protections to couples of varying gender groups because of the wording of the amendment.  The amendment would essentially decree that the only state recognized marriage would be that as performed by a member of the church so authorized to do so.  Couples like me and wife would possibly fall into jeopardy as we were married in what NJ considers a civil ceremony when we were married almost 17 years ago.

NC Representative Rick Glazier, a strong proponent for opposition to the amendment wrote an OP-ED to the Fayetteville Observer Times this weekend outlining some of the potential consequences that his peers in the state legislature would rather not be defined for the public.  They would rather keep the potential consequences private for it may sway the lemmings among their constituency to actually think for themselves and vote against the amendment, rather than as the politicians who brought this before the public want them to.  Rep. Glazier does a fine job of breaking from the pack with this OP-ED in what I believe is the hope people will make up their own minds and do what is truly right rather than vote along ideological or political lines.  Please read Representative Glaziers opinion on the matter here: http://fayobserver.com/articles/2012/04/08/1168504

Among the potential effects this amendment may have as identified by Rep. Glazier are:

Legal recognition of joint parenting rights.

Legal recognition of a child’s relationship to her parents.

Eligibility for public housing and housing subsidies.

Potentially, access to employer-based health and other benefits by partners as well as nonbiological, not-jointly-adopted children.

Access to Medicaid and Medicare benefits.

The ability to enroll nonbiologically related children in public schools or to authorize emergency medical care for them.

The ability to make health care decisions for incapacitated partners or even visit them in certain hospitals.

The ability to obtain life insurance.

Many deeds, trusts and wills.

The unintended consequences from this could roll back a host of laws across the spectrum in the state of North Carolina.  Domestic violence protections could be stricken, children born out of wedlock may not be eligible for certain benefits and protections as they would if they had “traditionally” married parents, and things such as living wills and DNRs may be protested by relatives who oppose the significant others, simply because they do not like them and have a no “biological” or “legal” connection to the individual.

North Carolina has one of the most diverse populations in the country.  The long-term family connections and roots are embedded in the religious ideology that keeps NC as a staunch and long lasting member of the “Bible Belt”  The many and well supported colleges and universities both supported by the state and private organizations have a make-up of complete diversity.  The University of North Carolina has both a “traditionally black” campus in Fayetteville State University and also an American Indian campus in UNC Pembroke.  The remainig UNC campuses, NC State, ECU and numerous private colleges and universities derive a vastly diverse population base, much of which is based upon a more “liberal” make-up than the more rural and steadfast population of the rest of the state.  It is quite possible that a side-effect of Amendment 1 would be the ranks of college students, who are the least likely to influence local political agendas, may swing the vote on the proposed amendment towards failure.  After all they are the future leaders of not only this state, but the nation as well.  As the next crop of adults responsible for bringing the state forward, they would also be charged with changing the perception that such a backwards move would cause in the rest of the nation.

In this day and age, the passing of such an amendment would be the equivalent to moving NC back to the middle of the 20th century when there was segregation based on race and it was illegal for persons of different races to wed, never mind the other benefits that come with marriage.  The antiquated thoughts of our leaders in the state legislature need be replaced with progressive ideals.  Government of any level has no right to intrude on the individual happiness of one or of a couple.  They should be allowed to decide on their own what their relationship status is and what rights and protections they wish to afford each other.  Non-standard couples as they are seen now are more commonplace than they were just a couple years ago.  It is not uncommon to see un-married men and women raising families and paying for the things they need to, the same rights should be afforded couple of any make-up.  The pursuit of happiness is something we are guaranteed, if two people find that happiness together, they should be allowed to enjoy it, no matter what their composition may be or your personal beliefs are about it.

Contacting your representative at this point would be moot as it is already destined for public vote.  The only way to insure this amendment does not pass is to get out and vote NO on May 8th 2012.  See the link at the side for more information on NC Amendment 1.

 

Republican NJ governor Chris Christie is starting to lose some of the shine the GOP has heaped upon him over the last few months.  The voice of reason in the GOP over the last year or so and the one person they were actually interested in running against President Obama, has somehow managed to step on his crank by ordering the flags across the state lowered in honor of the death of Whitney Houston.  This particular order has given rise to a multitude of criticism from citizens of NJ and across the country in general.  Christie has defended his order as a sign of respect for “a daughter of New Jersey”.  In my not so humble opinion there are numerous points of contention with bestowing an honor such as this upon Ms. Houston as tragic as her death may be for her family and fans.  Let me start with the Governor and work my way out because in all honesty, this ended more about him than it actually did Whitney Houston.

Like members of both parties and the Repubilibercrat Ron Paul, Christie is so convinced that HE IS AMERICA, that no matter how the people speak out, he obviously knows better and is not afraid to use his authority to do so.  Christie is the Governor of a state, which has a flag.  He could very well have chosen to lower the flag of the Garden State in memoriam to the entertainer, but no he had to elevate his power to the point of allowing his office and his state represent the collective sense of loss for the entire American Republic when he ordered the American flag be lowered as well.  Like many, I will be so bold as to say MOST, politicians these days, Christie took the authority of his office and despite the criticism, decided to do what he wanted simply because he could and he was arrogant enough to do so.  Admittedly he does exude quite the air of confidence and calm despite his rotund and portly figure, but considering America has turned in to one of the fattest nations on earth, I guess he is just representing us in a physical sense as well.

Politically speaking NJ has always been a bit schizophrenic.  Traditionally it is labeled as Democrat and a liberal state, yet the ideals when you speak across the people are more conservative in nature.  One of the many reasons for this is NJ is a heavy union state and they traditionally vote more towards Democrat than Republican.  I remember working construction back in 90 and talking to a union man who had just come back from voting for Clinton because that is what his delegate told everyone to do since that is who they were backing.  This despite the fact he was a Republican.  Since just about every career field in the NJ area is represented by a fairly robust and strong union, the state tends to run blue.  Considering the liberal bent of NJ from a political standpoint it was also not a surprise to see Christie exercise his capacity to be the Master Calibrator of the collective moral compass and veto the legalization of same-sex marriage.  He claims he wants it to be based upon the voice of the people and a public vote held.  We should all be aware that this generally means a politicians does not have the balls to say or do what he needs to do, they are trying to appease their party by not going against it’s core beliefs and give themselves the appearance of a person of the people.  Too bad he blew that appearance when he did not listen to the people and NOT lower the flags to half-mast.

Ok, to get back on track to the original topic.  Lets address Whitney Houston and her role in this whole mess; she died.  Period.  Honestly, was anyone really surprised when they heard about it?  I am not trying to be callous about it, I am sure to her close friends and family it was a tragedy, any death of a family member should be a tragedy for the family.  That is one of those things that goes undefined when you try to explain family.  But members of the general public, were we really surprised. really?  Maybe by the timing or of the circumstances, but this was not exactly a Black Swan event in the history of the world.  Like many entertainers that came before her, it was the circumstances of her chosen career which in some way led to her death.  Just in the last 40 years or so alone, how many musicians have succumbed to not only the immediate ravages of addiction and abuse, but the continuing effects that happened as a result of that abuse, despite no longer using mind altering chemicals.

In some way Whitney Houston died as a symptom of her inability to deal with her fame.  For longer than she was famous and viable as an entertainer, she was just as famous as a sideshow.  Her battles with drugs and alcohol were not hidden from the public.  Bobby Brown and she had a regular television show that showcased the issues weekly.  She was known to be a moody and contentious personality to work with.  Ego grown of her success did not diminish at the same rate as her gifts did.  In other words despite her ability to sing, she was, human.  As a human, like the rest of us, we are born to die.  you cannot beat it no matter your talent.

Here is a link to the United States Code which covers Old Glory and who/when it is proper do display under circumstances other than normal. US Code Title 4 .

The particular paragraph below should draw your attention, but please read the entire chapter.  I hate it when people take a line and twist the context to suit their needs without supplying the supporting phrases that surround it.

(m) The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff. By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law. In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession who dies while serving on active duty, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff, and the same authority is provided to the Mayor of the District of Columbia with respect to present or former officials of the District of Columbia and members of the Armed Forces from the District of Columbia. When the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, or the Mayor of the District of Columbia, issues a proclamation under the preceding sentence that the National flag be flown at half-staff in that State, territory, or possession or in the District of Columbia because of the death of a member of the Armed Forces, the National flag flown at any Federal installation or facility in the area covered by that proclamation shall be flown at half-staff consistent with that proclamation. The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President or a former President; 10 days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress. The flag shall be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. As used in this subsection—

(1) the term “half-staff” means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff;
(2) the term “executive or military department” means any agency listed under sections 101 and 102 of title 5, United States Code; and
(3) the term “Member of Congress” means a Senator, a Representative, a Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.
Here is just one of many requests to a local official to not recognize Governor Christie’s proclamation.  I think this is probably the best written one I saw over the last few days.
What do you guys think?

Most of the news I hear about my state of birth (notice I did not say state of choice) New Jersey comes from the news or second and third hand from Facebook and people I know who still live there.  I managed to make it there for the first 23+ years of my life before volunteering for the Army and Uncle Sam seeing fit to station me at Fort Bragg, NC.  I have been down here at Fort Bragg for the last 17, almost 18 years, 15 of which I have lived in the city of Fayetteville; the largest of many cities and towns associated with the base.  Over the years, my wife and I have often spoken of the things we miss about being back home and the things we both love and hate about both of these places.  Suffice it to say, there would have to be an enormous salary offer to even think about, possibly entertaining, even the remotest possibility of moving back to my home of record.  Having said that, the state we both thought we were going to retire to in just a couple years, albeit in another part of the state, has given us some cause to question our intentions over the last few years.  As my military career has passed the point of not being able to think about or no longing planning these things, I have lost a little bit of sleep these last few months over our future.  Here are a few of the things that bring me a little bit of mental distress when I think about where I have come from, where I am and where I would like to go.

Nicknames:

NJ, the Garden State – There is a reason all the tv shows from New York pick on my home state and the distinct lack of gardens or a reliance upon the agriculture industry is one of them.  NJ does seem to have an innate ability to grow chemical plants along with television shows that emphasize the negative stereotypes the other 49 states have come to expect.  Quite possibly fertilized by all the bullshit coming out of shows like the Jersey Shore or all the bodies Tony Soprano and his henchmen left throughout the state.

NC, the Tarheel State – A term coined during the Civil War (or war of Northern Aggression) used to describe the fighting spirit of troops from NC against all enemies.  The nickname is the name of the University of North Carolina’s sports teams and Tarheel blue is the most prevalent color as the university gains billions each year in marketing dollars in competition with other great schools like NC State, Duke, Wake Forest and East Carolina.  To this day, NC politicians hold this nickname to heart as no one can hold fast to an outdated ideal, despite public opinion, quite like they can.  They will go down fighting to try and get what they want, often using their ‘Good-Old Boy’ system, cultivated through generations of familial wheeling and dealing.

The last line about NC brings me to compare the way things get done in each state.  I may be perpetuating the stereotype for NJ, but the arrest and conviction of how many mafia bosses and associates over the last few years, combined with the investigation and arrest of numerous Mayors, leads me to believe the organized crime and good old-fashioned nepotism is as alive and well in NJ as it is down here in the South.  Corruption in many aspects is not only alive and well, but is expected in certain industry.  In NJ, the construction and sanitation industries are amongst the most popular, while down here you can find it everywhere from the farming and agriculture industry right on down to the local DMV.  It is everywhere.  I can tell you that up until just a few short years ago, there where way more DUI’s issued in Cumberland County, NC then ever made it to trial.  This is a by-product of the good old boy system of lawyers that work down here.

Lets take a look at religion differences between NJ and NC.  Both states have a good bit of population diversity, but growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in NJ I think the greater number of religions was Christian (Catholic, Lutheran) and quite fervent in belief, with quite a liberal sprinkling of Judaism.  I am sure there were other religions present, especially as the 80’s saw a greater influx of different nationalities.  Down here in NC, the greater number of people are of the Christian faith, leaning more towards the Baptist and Methodist, with a good mix of just about everything you can think of making up the difference.  Growing up in NJ, you knew where the houses of worship were, they actually looked like one.  Down here in NC they have churches, even ones that look like one, but there are more “churches” that have taken over space in strip malls.  It is not uncommon to see a “church” in an old gas station, beauty parlor, or on a few occasions, a former strip club.  While I admire the ability to recycle, some of these so-called “churches” have no greater of a lifespan than the businesses they replaced.  One thing about the South, anyone can be a lay-preacher down here.

Lets take a look at some government policies.  We used to think that the local governments down here in NC were just ass-backwards.  After all, we grew up in a state that had pretty strong and involved local governments.  Everything was done at the town level, Union county was just a collection of 21 towns or cities.  Down here, everything is run at the county level with only the larger cities having any real influence over how they govern themselves.  The Sheriff’s department is more likely to police a smaller town than their own police force and the local tax rate is set by the county with a percentage to the city.  Deeds, Superior Court, and the jail is a county responsibility.  In NJ, some of these same things are county, like Superior Court, but each town maintains its own government services.  After years and years we have finally figured out that the governments in each are just two sides of the same screwed up coins.  As backwards and partisan as the city council is here in Fayetteville, they are no more or less inept than their similar counterparts in the Garden State, they just bring a different flavor of that ineptness and occasional corruption.

Both NC and NJ, from a state perspective seem to have issue with same-sex marriage.  NC going so far as to try and make it directly against the constitution of the state, and NJ has a governor who hopes it will go to public vote and everyone will follow his misguided views and vote it down.  It seems North or South, almost a half-century after the Civil Rights movement began we can still justify rights to people just because they may not be the same as everyone else.  Guess progressive is a word only good in industry and not when it comes to humanity itself.

Sharing the I-95 corridor, my current town is a midway stopover for people who run illegal goods from Florida back to NJ/NY.  Just like the NJ Turnpike, NC is about to start collecting tolls on the Interstate.  It looks like within the next couple of years, NC will install a tollbooth every 20 miles to collect a $1 per car fee.  Truckers, you about to get road raped.  NC already has some of the highest per gallon fuel taxes in order to pay for roads, but since they are no better at maintaining a budget than the federal government, they need to find new ways to stick it to us.  Any of my NJ peeps that want to go to Florida sometime after 2014, let me know and I can give you the work around to paying more for your trip than you really need to.

Not to let NJ off of the toll road tirade.  I remember way back in the late 80’s, 1988 to be exact.  The Garden State Parkway (or Parking Lot) was supposed to do away with it’s .25 cent toll because the original roadway loans were to have been paid off.  Well when the time came, not only did they not do away with the tolls, but they raised it .10 cents.  Does anyone in the class of 1988 remember the difficulty of blowing through a toll booth and learning to adjust from slam dunking a quarter as you passed by to slowing down because you needed at least 2 coins to do the same thing?  I am going to skip the whole convoluted Turnpike toll fees thing, no way for a mere mortal to figure that one out.

I could go on an on comparing and contrasting just about anything; schools, crime, gangs, social convention, bad accents, etc.  I finally figured out this morning when I woke up a little after 5 AM thinking about this crazy stuff, that it really does not matter.  No matter where we end up we will be able to draw negative and positive parallels to the last place we lived.  My sincere hope is my wife finds a job, in a place she wants to stay.  I will be following her this time, the least I can do after all the years she has lived down here while I was off to all those exotic places.  I will be able to adapt no matter where we end up, it is what I do.  We have a short list of places we want to end up, NJ is just not one of them.  NC on the other hand has a couple of areas that still interest us, it is just going to depend on the job market when my wife graduates in just a couple of months.

Later on this weekend I will be writing a couple of very targeted blogs on some very specific issues, one with NJ and one with NC.  I look forward to some input on the NC one when it is posted, it is a pretty unique situation that until recently I have never heard of happening before, so I hope to hear from some of you NJ peeps on your perspective of it.