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Iowa Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Gay Marriage

The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a ban on gay marriage in the case of Varnum vs. Brien today.  In a unanimous (!) decision, the court ruled that Iowa’s existing Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional because it violated the equal protection clause:

(summary of the opinion — PDF)

In addressing the case before it, the court found one constitutional principle was at the heart of the case-the doctrine of equal protection. Equal protection under the Iowa Constitution “is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike.” Since territorial times, Iowa has given meaning to this constitutional provision, striking blows to slavery and segregation, and

recognizing women’s rights. The court found the issue of same-sex marriage comes to it with the same importance as the landmark cases of the past.

Attorneys for the defendant (the county government that denied the licenses) had argued that the law defining marriage was not targeting gay couples, and therefore not a violation of equal protection.  The court specifically addressed whether the law was discriminatory against gays:

The plaintiffs contended the statute classifies and discriminates on the bases of gender and sexual orientation while the County argued the same-sex marriage ban does not discriminate on either basis. The court concluded that “[t]he benefit denied by the marriage statute-the status of civil marriage for same-sex couples-is so ‘closely correlated with being homosexual’ as to make it apparent the law is targeted at gay and lesbian people as a class.” Therefore, the court proceeded to analyze the statute’s constitutionality based on sexual-orientation discrimination.

How to Fight Slippery Roads and Vampires

Governments at all levels around the country are facing severe budget problems, and that includes the city of Ankeny, IA.  Ankeny shares a problem with lots of other cities — a lack of road salt.  As our friends at the Salt Institute know, road salt is spread on roads to help melt ice and snow.  It can be a big expense for city governments, and a snowy winter last year hit city government budgets hard and created a road salt shortage heading into this winter:

Some towns are paying as much as $170 a ton as salt prices nationwide soar because of shipping problems and surging demand. Hoping for the best – but preparing for the worst – communities are making plans to stretch supplies by mixing salt with sand, brine or even beet juice.

Ankeny, unfortunately, does not have a lot of spare beet juice lying around.  But they do have a Tone’s Spices plant.  And Tone’s just happened to have 9 tons of excess garlic salt lying around which they graciously donated to the city of Ankeny.  

Disappointing News From Auburn University

A bit of a controversy is developing in my back yard concerning my alma mater, Iowa State University, and its former football coach Gene Chizik.  After compiling a 5-19 record at Iowa State in his only two seasons there, Chizik somehow landed the head coaching job at Auburn University in Alabama.  Given Chizik’s rather short and unremarkable tenure with Iowa State, the reaction of some Auburn fans was . . . oh, let’s call it . . . mixed:

“I don’t know how to react. It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t seem like they could possibly be so shortsighted. I’m going to spend tonight trying to figure out how to react. That, and drinking.”

Was there a better candidate for Auburn’s head coaching position?  The athletic director at Auburn, Jay Jacobs, also interviewed Turner Gill, a young coach who just led Buffalo to their first bowl game and conference championship.  Gill has been prominently mentioned for other coaching vacancies after turning Buffalo’s lowly football program around in only three years.  Why would Auburn pass over Turner Gill for Gene Chizik?

It couldn’t have anything to do with Gill being African-American and having a white wife, could it?  Former NBA star Charles Barkley, who attended Auburn, thought it did when he described a conversation he had with Gill about the coaching position at Auburn:

“We talked about the whole race thing in Alabama,” Barkley said. “I told him it’s there and it’s going to be anywhere you go. I told him you can’t not take the job because of racism. He was worried about being nothing more than a token interview. He was concerned about having a white wife. It’s just very disappointing to me.”

Iowa Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in Same-Sex Marriage Case

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday on a same-sex marriage case that challenges whether Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act enacted in 1998 is constitutional.  The case specifically challenges whether a ban on same-sex marriage violates the Iowa constitution’s “equal protection” clause (Article 1, Section 6) and “due process” clause (Article 1, Section 9).  Decisions from Iowa’s high court usually come two to six months after oral arguments.  

The case, Varnum v. Brien, was filed by Lambda Legal in 2005.  The plaintiffs in the case are a group of same-sex couples who tried to get marriage licenses in Polk County in late 2005 or early 2006, including Kate Varnum and her partner Trish, who has legally changed her last name to Varnum also.  The defendant in the case is Timothy J. Brien, the Polk County Recorder who refused to issue marriage licenses to the couples.  Brien informed the couples he could not issue marriage licenses to them by state law, citing the Defense of Marriage Act (Iowa Code, Section 595.2).

Welcome to Docudharma Stadium

Congratulations fellow taxpayers!  The federal bailout of Citigroup comes with some perks you may have overlooked.  Citigroup has a contract for the naming rights to a new baseball stadium for the New York Mets.  A mere $400 million buys the name “Citi Field” for 20 years:

Under the naming-rights agreement, Citi pays the Mets $20 million a year. What is not known is if Citi could get out of the agreement through a buyout or escape clause. Citi officials insisted on Friday that baseball games would be played in 2009 with the Citi Field sign on the new stadium.

What perks do we get for our bailout of Citi?  Well, it only seems fair that if it’s our money paying for the naming rights, we should get to choose the name!  With so many taxpayers involved, however, agreeing on one name would be difficult.  So I propose a revolving name system for the Mets’ field, where all taxpayers get a chance to have the stadium named after them for one game.

These Are Nostalgic Days

Remember when you were little and your grandparents told you all those quaint stories about banks failing, crops failing, and governments failing?  That seemed like such a long time ago, until recently, when comparisons to the Great Depression suddenly seemed plausible.  My grandparents always thought we had it too easy since we never had to live through a Great Depression.  They sure would be proud of us now!  

This takes me back too:  a visitor to Yellowstone National Park was diagnosed with bubonic plague in August.  Wyoming doesn’t seem to be in any danger of losing one-third of its population the way Europe did in the 1300’s.  But this is thought to be the sixth case of bubonic plague in Wyoming since 1978.  A doctor with the Wyoming Department of Health suggests “avoiding areas where a large number of unexplained rodent deaths have been observed” to keep yourself healthy.  That’s probably good advice for lots of reasons.

But now, follow me back to those romantic days of yesteryear, when the gentle ocean waves were frolicked upon by . . . pirates.  Sometime last weekend pirates seized an oil tanker off the coast of Kenya, and it’s currently anchored off Somalia.  This wasn’t a few scurvy dogs trying to steal some rum either.  The ship, the Sirius Star, is a Saudi supertanker with $100 million of oil on board, and is the largest ship ever taken by pirates.  Even Blackbeard himself never took a ship that large.

Some Thoughts On Voter Turnout

Although official voter turnout figures won’t be available until the 2008 elections are certified in each state, Dr. Michael McDonald of George Mason University has published a list of estimated voter turnout percentages.  

My revised national turnout rate for those eligible to vote is 61.2% or 130.4 million ballots cast for president. This represents an increase of 1.1 percentage points over the 60.1% turnout rate of 2004, but it falls short of the 1968 turnout rate of 62.5%.

McDonald has also compiled some statistics on early voting in the 2008 election.  The information is a bit jumbled and incomplete, but the bottom line I was looking for suggests that 25.7% of votes cast nationally were cast early, compared to 22.5% in the 2004 election.  With all the stories we heard about a massive turnout expected, I was curious how early voting affected the turnout in states that offer it and whether either candidate gained a clear advantage from early voting.

Former CEO of Postville Plant Arrested

Finally, some action is being taken against the management of the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, IA, the site of one of the largest raids of undocumented workers in U.S. history when 389 people were arrested on May 12th of this year.

Federal immigration agents arrested Sholom Rubashkin, the former CEO of the plant, on Thursday.  Rubashkin is being charged with conspiracy to harbor undocumented immigrants for financial gain, aiding and abetting document fraud, and aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft.  He resigned shortly after the May 12th raid.  If convicted on all counts Rubashkin faces up to 22 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.

Tiny Archers Save America From Wall Street Fat Cats

While normal Americans were watching the Dodgers-Cubs game on Wednesday night, the Senate passed the bailout bill on a 74-25 vote.  The House was unable to pass the bill on Monday, but the Senate fixed the glaring problems of that bill and it breezed through with bipartisan support.  How did the Senate fix and pass the bailout bill?  They added a provision to repeal an excise tax on wooden arrows designed for children.  Now why didn’t the House think of that?

Senators attached a provision repealing a 39-cent excise tax on wooden arrows designed for children to an historic $700 billion financial-markets rescue that passed tonight by a vote of 74-25. The provision, originally proposed by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, will save manufacturers such as Rose City Archery in Myrtle Point, Oregon, about $200,000 a year.


Representatives for Wyden, a Democrat, and Smith, a Republican, didn’t immediately return calls.

This wasn’t enough for Senator Wyden (D), who still voted against the bailout.  But it apparently swayed Senator Smith (R), who voted in favor of the bailout.

McCain Calls for SEC Chair Christopher Cox to be Fired

(cross-posted at DailyKos)

At a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, IA on Thursday, John McCain laid part of the blame for our economic crisis on SEC Chairman Christopher Cox and said that he would fire Cox if he was President.  McCain said that Chairman Cox “in my view, has betrayed the public’s trust. If I were President today, I would fire him.”

Editor of Russian Web Site Mysteriously Killed

Ruslan Khautiyev, the deputy editor of the web site announced on Sunday that the site’s editor, Magomed Yevloyev, had been killed by Russian police.  Khautiyev said that police arrested Yevloyev after arriving on a flight to the Ingushetiya province in Russia, took him away, and later dumped him on a road with a gunshot wound to the head.  He died later in a hospital.  However, an article from the BBC says that “local police said Yevloyev tried to seize a policeman’s gun when he was being led to a vehicle. A shot was fired and Yevloyev was injured in the head.”


This is Why Republicans REALLY Suck

A fews days ago, buhdydharma had an excellent essay detailing how the Republicans had screwed the country during the Bush years.  But one aspect was left out — the most important one from my point of view.  As I write this, my beloved Minnesota Twins lead baseball’s American League Central Division by 1/2 game over the evil Chicago White Sox.  The Twins exemplify all that is good and pure about baseball.  They play good defense; they bunt to sacrifice runners to the next base; their pitchers don’t walk anybody; they win with young players brought up from their minor league system rather than bidding for free agents; and they do it all with a payroll that is but a fraction of what the Yankees spend.  

But the Republican party is conspiring to ruin the Twins’ drive for the American League pennant.  Because their convention will be held in St. Paul from Sept. 1-4, the Twins are forced to embark on an unheard of 14-day road trip:  four games against the American League’s leading Los Angeles Angels, then three games at Seattle, four games at Oakland, and finally three games at Toronto.  For those of you who may not be baseball fans, this is a BIG deal.  Minnesota has a 46-23 record playing home games, but just a 28-31 record playing road games.  Having to play 14 consecutive road games may well ruin the Twins’ season through no fault of their own.


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