The 99% is the 1% times 99

As it turns out, rich people are just like regular people, but with more money.

Just like none of us believe that we would have been slave owners / allowed ourselves to be slaves if we had lived in the 1700s, we all like to believe that we’re better people and would have risen above, given the same circumstances… but the odds are stacked pretty highly against that. And the odds are also pretty high that the 99% would behave exactly the same way the 1% does, given massive piles of cash.  Money changes everything, as the 18th century Austrian philosopher Cyndi Lauper once said.

This concept doesn’t forgive bad behavior on anyone’s part, it’s not in any way a justification for terrible things done in the past, but it does help in the discussion, in my opinion: “they” (the 1%) are not the Faceless Other. “They” are us; “they” respond to similar incentives, and demonizing people who are just as human as you are doesn’t help any of us advance the conversation.

That being said, the rich eat more foie gras, so they are less stringy and much tastier.


Le stupidité de l’escalier

L’esprit de l’escalier” means “the wit of the staircase”.  It’s a French term that refers to that incredibly funny, apropos and witty comeback that occurs to you hours after it would have been useful and timely.  Literally, the comeback that you think of as you’re walking down the staircase away from the posh dinner party where your integrity was publicly called into question, but your response in the heat of the moment was “Yeah, your MOM failed to declare taxable income on gambling earnings in the 2007 and 2008 fiscal years!”

But I don’t know if there’s an equivalent word or phrase for the opposite situation: the realization that a throwaway comment you made was considered incredibly witty by the listening audience, because of multiple meanings that you weren’t aware of at the time you were uttering it.  In the best case scenario, you find that people are laughing far more heartily than you would expect, and as you replay what you said in your own head you suddenly “get” your own joke.  If that happens, you can smile a knowing, smug smile at the people who are laughing: yes, aren’t we all smart!  I was making an oblique reference to Pynchon’s novel and the conflict between the Right Hegelians and the Young Hegelians !  Such cultural awareness I display!

In the worst case scenario, you immediately follow up your comment with another that makes it clear you actually didn’t understand the implied or secondary double meanings, which immediately downgrades your status in the party from “witty Oscar Wilde-ish character who will definitely be invited to my book salon” to “idiot savant”.

But there’s no phrase or term equivalent to “l’esprit de l’escalier” for that situation, as far as I know.

There should be.  Because this happens to me ALL THE TIME.

Civil unions: not an option

“Instead of trying to get married, same-sex couples should just get a civil union, they work exactly the same!” – argument I have heard repeatedly in discussions over the MN Marriage Amendment.

Well, no, they don’t. Not by a long shot.  And sometimes this argument comes from people who are enjoying the very rights that they are fighting to prevent same-sex couples from getting. The best that can be said about this opinion is that it’s “unaware” of the significant advantages that marriage has over a civil union. At worst, it’s a lie about which some people prefer that you never ask questions, since it falls apart rather quickly.  In reality, the only thing that is “like” marriage in the U.S. is… marriage.

A civil union is, at its heart, a legal agreement between two people. It does provide some benefits that (at a significant cost and a lot of time to draw up) can get a couple who is unable to get married slightly closer to the position a married couple gets automatically for their $40 marriage license fee. The very fact that one section of the population should have to pay thousands of dollars in fees and spend hundreds of hours to get some of the rights that others get for $40 is unfair from the get-go, but to make matters worse this approach misses a massive swath of rights, especially at the Federal level. And there is no recourse the get those rights, civil union or not.

As a perfect example, see this link from CNN on the money that same-sex couples end up paying as additional taxes, because of differences in the ways they have to file Federal taxes: you can’t sign a “civil union” contract with a partner that would force the Federal government to tax you at the same rates as married couples. In specific situations, this can mean massively larger tax bills.

In fairness, what this article fails to point out is that some same-sex couple would actually end up (eventually) paying more taxes as a married couple, thanks to the so-called “marriage penalty“. That applies in cases where the two partners are earning similar taxable incomes.  But different-sex couples still choose to get married (in massive numbers, some repeatedly) in spite of the tax “marriage penalty”: this shows how important an institution marriage is and how important (and valuable) the other benefits are, that it certainly doesn’t seem to be convincing a lot of people to stay single.   In any case, the “marriage penalty” has been a non-issue for most couples for several years now; it may return in 2013, depending on what Congress does about extending the penalty elimination implemented in 2001 that was set to expire at the end of 2011.

So for this reason as well as hundreds of others, a civil union is not a valid alternative, and cannot be.  Pension rights, hospital visitation rights, treatment in court cases, implicit legal agreements, treatment by companies for death and disability claims, health directives… the list goes on and on and on.  At the end of the day, there is a group of people in this country who want equal treatment under the law, and the equal application of rights: our first reaction as citizens who enjoy those rights already should NOT be “well, maybe someday, if they fight for years to get something like civil unions approved in all states against major opposition, they might get some percentage of those rights, eventually.”  And our first reaction should also never be “I’m OK with this group getting the same rights I have, as long as they change the name so that it is distinguishable from this other group of people who might be offended by you getting the same rights they do.”  Your first reaction, if you truly believe in the principles of equality, should be “equal rights for everyone NOW.”

MN Marriage Amendment: hypocrisy


Minnesota State Capitol building in Saint Paul...

Thank you, Gov. Dayton. It COULD be this easy if the Legislature chose to drop the “Bradlee Dean Amendment”, and we would save the state of Minnesota millions of dollars and lots of vitriol.

Odds of that happening are pretty small, though.

The actions of the Legislature need to reflect the reality of the culture and population they affect. It is ironic that Ms. Koch now has to experience, through her poor choices, the kind of under-the-microscope analysis and judgement of her personal life that the Legislature is imposing on other Minnesotans via the Marriage Amendment. There are people here in MN who would be ecstatically happy with the chance to experience the union of love, fidelity and rights that she has seen fit to treat with disrespect in her own life.

I am sure that there are many couples here in MN who would treat the institution of marriage with far more reverence than Ms. Koch has: I know many of them. It is painful to realize that thanks to her actions, the Legislature is trying to deny them the chance.

This is an opportunity for the Legislature to do the right thing, get on the right side of history, and seize the opportunity to increase equality in our state instead of trying to decrease it.