Sunday, July 19, 2009

Now that's how you run a caucus...

This story about Sam Rayburn, the powerful chairman House Interstate Commerce Committee and later Speaker during the FDR administration is too good not to share:

He would never ask a man to do anything against his own interests. "A Congressman's first duty is to get re-elected," he would say, and he would advise young Congressmen: "Always vote your district." If a Congressman said that a vote Rayburn was asking for would hurt him in his district, Rayburn would always accept that excuse. But Rayburn knew the districts. And if the excuse wasn't true, Rayburn's rage would rise. Once, for example, it erupted against a Congressman from a liberal district who took orders from the district's reactionary business interests only because he didn't want to offend them. The Congressman had often used the excuse of public opinion in his district, and, because Rayburn had never challenged him on it, and had stopped asking for his support, was under the misapprehension that that Rayburn believed that excuse. One evening, however, after the Congressman had voted against a bill Rayburn supported, he approached Rayburn, who was standing with a group of friends, and with a winning smile said he sure wished he could have voted with him, but that such a vote would have hurt him in his district. Rayburn did not reply for a long moment, while the deep red flush stated to creep up his head. Then, says one of the men who were standing with Rayburn, in a recollection confirmed by another, Rayburn said:

"Now, I never asked for your vote on this bill. I never said a word to you about this bill. I knew you wouldn't vote for this bill, and I never said a word to you about it. But you come across the room just now and told me you wish you could have voted with me."

"So I'm going to tell you something now. You could have voted with me. I've known that district since before you were born, and that vote wouldn't have hurt you one bit. Not one bit. You didn't vote with me because you didn't have the guts to."

The flush on the huge head was so dark now that it looked almost black. The men standing with Rayburn backed away. "So don't you come crawling across this room telling me you wish you could have voted for the bill. 'Cause it's a damn lie. It's a damn lie. And you're a damn liar. You didn't vote for the bill 'cause you didn't have the guts to. You've got no guts. So let me tell you something. The time is coming when the people are going to find out that all you represent is the Chamber of Commerce, and when they find that out, they're going to beat your ass."

A young state legislator who had considered challenging the Congressman for his seat had dropped the idea because he didn't have enough political clout. Not a week after his confrontation with Rayburn, the Congressman walked into the House Dining Room for lunch and saw the legislator sitting there - at Rayburn's table. When the legislator returned home, he had all the clout he needed, and the Congressman's political career was over. Rayburn drove him not only out of Congress, but out of Washington. He tried to stay on in the capital, looking for a government job or a lobbying job, but no job was open to him. And none would ever be - not as long as Sam Rayburn was alive.
"The Path To Power", Robert A. Caro, pp. 329-330

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Final post on the "NO GODS" license plate

As promised, just wanted to post the text of the letter I got from teh BMV now approving my "NO GODS" plate for those that are interested.

Dear Mr. B_______:
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles ("BMV") received your request for the personalized license plate NO GODS. The BMV initially denied your application and sent a letter to you informing you of that determination. Subsequently, the BMV did an additional review of all applications that were denied and determined that your application shoudl have been approved. As such, your request for NO GODS is approved for the 2010 registration year.
It's signed by the General Counsel of the BMV, so I'm certainly with the idea that this was more a "oh shit we might get sued" sort of thing. I hope that this helps the BMV implement it's policies regarding Personalized License Plates more fairly in the future, and maybe even helped others who had decided not to fight get the non-theist plates they requested.

So that's it. I'll be getting the plate early next year in February. I'll make sure to post a picture when I have it.

Oh, The Friendly Atheist posted a quick bit that I was approved as well. Thanks to Hemant for posting my story and helping to get the visibility for it that lead to the successful conclusion.

Monday, July 13, 2009

(Almost) Final Update on the "NO GODS" license plate

There's been a resolution to the "NO GODS" license plate. I don't have the letter I got from the BMV on me so I'll do another post tonight with the text from the letter, but the short version is that they 'suddenly' decided to do a review of all rejected plates, and it turns out the rejection of my plate was all just a big mistake.

I talked with the ACLU-IN last Friday, and their legal director said he had a message from the BMV stating pretty much the same thing, that it was all a big mistake with handling their new PLP rules that now allow religion (obviously, since i have photographic proof of one that reads "BE GODS." He's not sure how the BMV knew the ACLU-IN was involved, but it worked either way. My guess is as the story got circulated, the BMV got wind of it. The general consensus on Twitter seems to be that "it was a mistake" is code for "shit, we don't want to get sued."

So my 2010 Indiana license plate will read "NO GODS." I'm happy with the resolution to this. Hopefully this means that the BMV will be more diligent about applying their rules to PLPs in the future and someone else won't have to go through this. It means I probably won't be going on CNN, as doing that now would just be kind of dickish. But that's fine too. If it was still an issue to be fought I'd definitely still fight it. Now.. now I'm just happy that the Indiana BMV decided to appy their rules fairly.

Thanks to everyone on Twitter, Reddit and The Friendly Atheist for their support, ideas and most importantly spreading the story. I don't think it would have ended so easily without the story making the rounds like it did.

I'll post the text of the final letter from the BMV tonight, and once I get my plate of course I'll be posting a picture, but that won't be until next February.

Thanks everyone!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Update on the "NO GODS" license plate

Alright I promised a followup to my original post, but nothing has really happened with the BMV itself yet. The official written appeal for an administrative hearing is going out today. But there's plenty of other things to update related to this (some of which were updates to the original post, but not all of you may have seen those)
  • The original post made Reddit, where it got some really good discussion. The biggest finds via that thread were another Hoosier who had his "GODLESS" plate rejected and has already been in contact with the ACLU of Indiana, and an example of a personalized plate for a Christian that was accepted ("BE GODS"). I'm in email contact with him and am hoping that we can basically combine our appeals to the BMV in some way via the ACLU.

    Some other good points were made there and when I was following that thread the first day it was a pretty lively and almost exclusively supportive discussion. Thanks to mileszs for posting it there.

  • I also submitted the story to The Friendly Atheist, where it appeared. That site is a great resource for atheists, agnostics and even people who just plain respect the separation of church and state. Many thanks to Hemant Mehta for posting my story there. Some great and (obviously) supportive comments there as well.

  • I did get contacted by the ACLU-IN today, and was told my complaint is on the appropriate desk and I should be hearing from them soon. Good to hear, and hopefully they can combine the issue of both my plate and the "GODLESS" plate. I'll post more when I hear more from them (and find out what I should and shouldn't be sharing on public forums I suppose, in case this does get legal)

  • The biggest news is that I was contacted by a producer for CNN. Still very early stages, and not even guaranteed that they will pick up the story, but it's a possibility. I was apprehensive at first, but also think that standing up and doing what I think is right is very important. So when I talked to my wife and asked her what she though and her first words were "Doing what you think is right is the most important thing.", well I knew two things. I knew I had married an awesome woman, and I knew I had to at least try for the possibility of media coverage. So we'll see.
Also some people I want to thank for their help so far.
  • First my wife. She is an atheist as well, and not shy about it either. She's been very supportive of my desire to do what I think is right and fight this and it's just one of the many reasons I love her.

  • My friend E___. Going to leave out her actual name, but a few years ago she went through a fight against an institution on some pretty strong discrimination grounds, which ended up blowing up into a pretty big media thing for a bit. Her advice on dealing with media and how to keep my jittery ass calm when talking to them has been great.

  • Fellow Orphanarium blogger CRS has made some great early points to me on where the argument really lies that make a ton of sense. The "In God We Trust" plates really are beside the point as "IGWT" has become a non-religious statement all over our government (as much as I dislike that) and the real issue is they have approved pro god PLPs, but that rejecting my pro-atheism plate is giving preferential treatment to one viewpoint over another (and has shown that having religion on a PLP is obviously not the problem).

  • All the people on Facebook and Twitter who have given encouraging comments, support and have spread the link around about the story. It's cool knowing I have friends and strangers in my little corner of the Internets who both have my back and see the importance of an issue like this.
SO finally, here I'll include the letter that is serving as my official appeal for an administrative hearing with the Indiana BMV.

Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles
Personalized License Plate Requests
100 North Senate Avenue, Rom 404
Indianapolis, IN 46204

To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Jason B_______, and I am writing to officially request an administrative hearing to appeal the rejection of my personalized license plate (PLP) "NO GODS" dated 06/22/2009 After reading the BMV website relevant to PLP standards, I conclude that this should not have been rejected.

The BMV will deny a personalized license plate request if an objective, reasonable person would find that the customer’s proposed expression on the personalized license plate application is determined to carry a connotation offensive to good taste and decency, is misleading, or is otherwise prohibited.

I do not see how "NO GODS" is offensive to good taste and decency, unless the Indiana BMV considers atheists and non-believers to be offensive to good taste and decency themselves. I have seen at least one PLP with a message of "BE GODS". To allow the that but not a PLP making a different religious (or non-religious) statement would be giving preferential treatment to one viewpoint over another.

Please contact me at your earliest convenience to schedule an administrative hearing. I would prefer to be contacted by email or phone for the quickest scheduling. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to having this issue resolved soon.

Jason B_______
[contact information]

So the next step is waiting on the ACLU to get with me, wait on CNN to get back to me if they want to do the story, and obviously wait on the BMV to respond to my appeal. I'll keep you all updated. Be sure to check back here for updates. Not sure how frequent they will be. Lots of stuff still up in the air. But when I know enough for a substantial post, I'll let you know