Sunday, October 19, 2008

Senator McCain's Constitutional Error?

The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

In the most recent (the third and last) presidential debate for the 2008 election, I found Senator McCain's apparent ignorance of the last phrase in the reservation to be the reason for his answer to the question on women's reproductive rights and the appointment of Supreme Court justices:

SCHIEFFER: But you don't want Roe v. Wade to be overturned?

MCCAIN: I thought it was a bad decision. I think there were a lot of decisions that were bad. I think that decisions should rest in the hands of the states. I'm a federalist. [Senator McCain apparently doesn't know what a "federalist" is.] And I believe strongly that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test. Now, let me say that there was a time a few years ago when the United States Senate was about to blow up. Republicans wanted to have just a majority vote to confirm a judge and the Democrats were blocking in an unprecedented fashion.

We got together seven Republicans, seven Democrats. You were offered a chance to join. You chose not to because you were afraid of the appointment of, quote, "conservative judges."

I voted for Justice Breyer [Ed. note: I think he meant Justice Alito] and Justice Ginsburg. Not because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated. This is a very important issue we're talking about.

Senator Obama voted against Justice Breyer
[Ed. note: I think once again that he meant Justice Alito - at least he's consistent!] and Justice Roberts on the grounds that they didn't meet his ideological standards. That's not the way we should judge these nominees. Elections have consequences. They should be judged on their qualifications. And so that's what I will do.

I will find the best people in the world -- in the United States of America who have a history of strict adherence to the Constitution. And not legislating from the bench.

Senator McCain's ignorance of the meaning of the term "federalist" is too readily apparent (it means someone who supports a strong central government, not the "state's rights" view that the senator has maintained for a long time - perhaps Senator McCain should call himself an anti-federalist - but his friend or rather, Governor Sarah Palin's friend) Joe Sixpack and his economic adviser Joe the Plumber probably don't know what a federalist is, either - it just sounds comfortingly "pro-American.")

He also doesn's understand the term "litmus test" (He clearly wants one - his idea of "qualifications" is a litmus test - but doesn't want to admit it because he doesn't like the term.) He doesn't even understand the idea of "strict adherence to the Constitution" is a "litmus test" or he might not be so critical of Roe v. Wade, especially in light of that last clause in the tenth amendment.

Senator McCain should reflect on what the tenth amendment really means. The Bill of Rights, including the tenth amendment, was added to the Constitution to protect individual liberties. The tenth amendmenr makes it clear that powers not apportioned to the federal government are apportioned to the states - or to "the people."

I believe the intent of the founding fathers with that last phrase was to implicate that even the states have limits on what they can legislate - and those limits are where their laws interfere with the individual civil and constitutional rights of the people themselves. Of course, there is a bit of disagreement among constitutional scholars about the exact meaning of the phrase - but Senator McCain is no constitutional scholar.

When it comes to women's constitutionally protected reproductive rights, Senator McCain's so-called "states rights" (not federalist) standpoint doesn't wash because it interferes with the individual rights of the people.

Senator McCain stands for the proposition that, constitutionally, the idea of equal marriage rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is an idea that states should legislate, and the federal government shouldn't interfere, at least if the federal Defense Against Marriage Act is not held to be unconstitutional.

Senator McCain may not agree with the Loving v. Virginia decision - a 1967 decision by the United States Supreme Court hat held that there are limits on the states in issues relating to marriage rights - and the right to regulate marriages does not include the right to prohibit marriages between members of different races. Again, the rights of the people, guaranteed by the federal Consitution, trump, or rather limit, the states' rights to discriminate, even in an area like marriage traditionally seen as "reserved to the states."

Senator McCain, like his friend President Bush, and also doesn't seem to understand the concept of judicial activism - it isn't judges legislating from the bench. It's judges standing up to the tyranny of the majority. It's judges protecting individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution from encroachment by either the federal government or the states. Judges who don't recognize that role have no place on the United States Supreme Court.

This last debate is just one more reason for people to be voting for Senator Obama on November 4th.

Can Roman Catholics vote for Obama?

Can Roman Catholics morally vote for candidates who support laws that protect women's rights to reproductive health (including abortion) or equal marriage rights for all citizens (even gays and lesbians)?

My short answer is that if Catholics have an informed conscience, they should feel free to ignore the immoral instructions from members of the Church hierarchy that make opposition to abortion rights the litmus test for supporting a candidate - but who at the same time ignore the issue of the prosecution of an unjust and immoral war.

There is a controversy that Catholics in American politics face - the fact that the Church hierarchy insists on mandating that their personal beliefs as Catholics must guide their work as legislators, government executives or judges (at least on the abortion issue).

Catholic public officials in a society ostensibly based on the principles of freedom and individual liberty, who may well as a matter of their own "moral" belief would not make a choice themselves to have an abortion, but who see a difference between their own personal beliefs as Catholics and the imposition of those beliefs on others who do not believe in the same way, are in trouble with the Catholic Church hierarchy.

For just one example of the directives that go out from the Vatican to constrain Catholic public officials in America, take a look at the following 2003 document published by the Vatican and issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (a Catholic Congregation in the Curia formerly known as The Holy Office and earlier, The Inquisition):

In this document, the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy actually states:

"When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral."

There are conservative Catholic bishops in America who have denied access to the sacraments to Catholic politicians who don't vote as the Church requires, when it comes to abortion or gay rights.

Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, has been denied Holy Communion in the Diocese of Scranton, because the local bishop, like the people behind that dreadful document on marriage, is trying to meddle in American politics. (Sadly, the hierarchy doesn't do the same to Catholic politicians who vote for unjust wars.)

There is apparently an inherent conflict between the philosophy of tolerance and respect for disparate religious viewpoints that marks the American Experiment in establishing a democratic republic that has protection of individual rights, differences and dignity, and the repressive attitude of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which wants to impose its version of Catholic morality on the secular world.

In my view, the Church oversteps its bounds. The private moral decision as to whether to have an abortion should belong to a woman. If she is a Catholic, she absolutely should take into account her beliefs as a Catholic as to the sinfulness of the decision. In America, people should have the right to make their own moral choices as long as no other living person is harmed.

While the Church considers all the rights of personhood to commence with conception, that actually doesn't have a great deal of support in sacred scripture (a much more likely time for "soul infusion" would be when a born person takes their first breath - but I shouldn't be arguing theology here).

There is certainly room for people of good will and different faiths to disagree.It's a similar thing with marriage - the Catholic Church doesn't have to sanctify a marriage involving a same-sex couple. If the Church wants to excommunicate gay Catholics who get civilly married, that is the Church's right.

But to tell Catholic politicians that even if they are never going to enter into a gay marriage themselves, that they must oppose civil marriage rights for gay people or be in a state of sin, goes against the principles under which the United States was founded.

Catholics in American public life are thus faced with a dilemma - if they obey the Church, they accept the anti-American idea that the Church position on a controversial issue is not only for Catholics, but must be imposed on everyone. If they don't, they can be denied access to the Sacraments, and be judged public sinners.

The Church hierarchy's position on this is untenable. Essentially, the only moral choice for a Catholic who respects the hierarchy's teaching and the underlying principles of American liberty and civil rights is to stay out of politics.

The moral depravity (yes, moral depravity!) of Church leaders who use their clout to try to force Catholics in politics to vote against their own consciences and the principles of American democracy and the liberties and freedoms we cherish - especially when it is on two issues and ignores a myriad of other issues, is despicable.

If a politician were to introduce legislation that would force women to have abortions, the Church would be right to be against it. If a politician were to propose that would force all churches to bless gay unions, the Church should rightly oppose it. These would be laws that interfere with personal moral choices that do not harm other people. (Fetuses may be "human life" but they are not (yet) people.)

But when Church leaders don't use their moral suasion to oppose an unjust war such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq, when they ally themselves with those whose political philosophy lacks true compassion for the poor and downtrodden, but instead rail against gay rights and women's rights. they show the true extent of their erroneous thinking.

Their meddling in American politics could hurt Catholics in American politics, too. it was not so long ago that Catholics were viewed with nearly the same sort of suspicion that many modern Americans see in Muslims today - Catholics were different; they didn't eat meat on Friday; their religious rites were in a foreign language; they were different from the WASPs who ran the country and were the majority.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy had to tell people that he would not be taking his marching orders from the Vatican.

In 1960, the Catholic Church wasn't giving orders to Catholics in public office. In 2003, they did.

If it wasn't for the fact that many Catholics in politics have used their consciences to try to separate Church teaching from the good of the American people, we'd be in a lot more trouble in this country than we already are.

What might work in a country where Roman Catholicism is the official state religion and all the people in the society must belong to the Church (or else) fails terribly in a nation built on principles that include religious freedom and individual human rights.

The Roman Catholic Church hierarchy oversteps its bounds when it interferes with the individual liberties guaranteed to all Americans.

So to my Catholic friends, use your moral compass and informed conscience and please vote for Obama on November 4th - he may not be perfect but he's a lot better than the other major candidate.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Foreign Policy: Missing a History Lesson on Iran?

The recent vice presidential debates had me cringing at some of the answers from both sides, particularly on the issue of marriage rights. But there were other areas where I am not so sure that any of the major candidates seemed to be very strong - one of those things is with regard to Middle East foreign policy, particularly as it relates to Iran. Here is a segment from the Biden/Palin debate last week:

IFILL: Let's move to Iran and Pakistan. I'm curious about what you think starting with you Senator Biden. What's the greater threat, a nuclear Iran or an unstable Afghanistan? Explain why.

BIDEN: Well, they're both extremely dangerous. I always am focused, as you know Gwen, I have been focusing on for a long time, along with Barack on Pakistan. Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. Pakistan already has deployed nuclear weapons.

Pakistan's weapons can already hit Israel and the Mediterranean. Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be very, very destabilizing. They are more than - they are
not close to getting a nuclear weapon that's able to be deployed. So they're both very dangerous. They both would be game changers.

But look, here's what the fundamental problem I have with John's policy about terror instability. John continues to tell us that the central war in the front on terror is in Iraq. I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it's going to come as our security services have said, it is going to come from al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's where they live. That's where they are. That's where it will come from. And right now that resides in Pakistan, a stable government needs to be established. We need to support that democracy by helping them not only with their military but with their governance and their economic well-being. There have been 7,000 madrasses built along that border.

We should be helping them build schools to compete for those hearts and minds of the people in the region so that we're actually able to take on terrorism and by the way, that's where bin Laden lives and we will go at him if we have actionable intelligence.

IFILL: Governor, nuclear Pakistan, unstable Pakistan, nuclear Iran? Which is the greater threat?

PALIN: Both are extremely dangerous, of course. And as for who coined that central war on terror being in Iraq, it was the General Petraeus and al Qaeda, both leaders there and it's probably the only thing that they're ever going to agree on, but that it was a central war on terror is in Iraq. You don't have to believe me or John McCain on that. I would believe Petraeus and the leader of al Qaeda.

An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider. They cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons period. Israel is in jeopardy of course when we're dealing with Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iran. Iran claiming that Israel as he termed it, a stinking corpse, a country that should be wiped off the face of the earth. Now a leader like Ahmadinejad who is not sane or stable when he says things like that is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons.

Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, the Castro brothers, others who are dangerous dictators are one that Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet with without preconditions being met first.

And an issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naivete and goes beyond poor judgment. A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous because leaders like Ahmadinejad who would seek to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the earth an ally like we have in Israel should not be met with without preconditions and diplomatic efforts being undertaken first.

I honestly don’t think that either the Democratic or the Republican candidates, or, for that matter, most of the people in the American foreign policy establishment, have a real grasp of the issues that Iran poses toward stability in the Middle East.

Indeed, the single most destabilizing presence in the region is the presence of the American military in Iraq, and the single most destabilizing event was the ill-conceived and catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq. The result of the American invasion has been the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure and the balkanization of that nation as competing mostly-sectarian interests, previously held in check by the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein, have erupted into violence.

No one seems to take into account the history of the region, and the fact that the United States has since 1953 succeeded to the colonialist mantle in the region previously held by the British, dating back to their “great game” diplomacy in which there were twin goals of (a) exploiting resources in the region, and (b) denying Czarist Russia, and later the Soviet Union, access to a warm water port to maintain a powerful navy fleet.

Both Iraq and Iran have suffered from American interventionism, and Americans, sadly, do not seem to have maintained a proper historical perspective. Essentially, we seem to suffer from a collective amnesia when it comes to politically expedient short-term “solutions” that have turned into long-term nightmares.

First, let’s look at some truly “ancient history.” Iran is one of the few nations in the world to have had an independent existence that goes back to ancient times: the Persian empire, the Parthian empire and Persia, with some intervening occupations by Macedonian Greeks, Mongols, and some others, have evolved into modern Iran. When Islam swept across the region, Iranians developed their own version of Islam, Shi’ia, which has doctrinal differences with the Sunni Islam that prevails in much of the rest of the middle east (excepting, notably, southern Iraq, which has a Shi’ite majority).

More recently, Persia/Iran has been humiliated by British colonialism in its “great game,” much in the same way the Brits humiliated the Chinese empire. Unlike the situation in which China was opened up to Western exploitation by British foisting of opium on the Chinese in trade for Chinese goods and the auctioning of areas of Chinese influence to other western powers, the Brits forced the Persian government to accept British control of its tobacco and petroleum industries, in return for nearly nothing.

Smarting from the abuse of the British, the Persian government developed close ties with Nazi Germany, prompting an allied (pre-American involvement in World War II) imvasion and occupation of Iran – the British military forces smashed the Shah’s armies in a month.
After World War II, Iran emerged with a constitutional monarchy, and a democratically-elected government, headed by the dormer sha’s son as monarch, and led by a Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh.

In 1953, spurred on by false reports from the British that Mossadegh was going to transform Iran into a communist country, President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles sent the CIA in to effectuate a coup d’etat against the democratically-elected government. Iran had already nationalized its oil industry, giving the boot to the British control of its petroleum industry. In 1953, the American-sponsored coup succeeded, leading Iran into a brutal dictatorship under the leadership of Shah Reza Pahlavi. America succeeded to Britain in the exploitation of Iranian oil resources during this time, and as long as the Shah was an American friend, the United States looked the other way at the brutality of the regime.

During the time of the Shah’s regime, the only freedom existed in the mosques, and even so, many of the Shi’ite religiousl leaders ended up in exile, including the Ayatollah Khomenei, who spent many years in France.

When the revolution came in Iran, it was led by the religious elements, and the Ayatollah set up a religious theocracy in the country – a development that was not forseen by the Eisenhower administration when it engineered that coup in 1953.

During all that time, while the government of Iran was America’s friend, it was clear that America was not the friend of the Iranian people. And when the Iranians took American embassy workers hostage, and painstakingly reconstructed shredded embassy documents that showed the extent of Americn complicity in the Shah’s regime, American amnesia took hold.
President Jimmy Carter declared that the 1953 coup was “ancient history,” during a February 13, 1980 press conference:

Q: . . . Mr. President, do you think it was proper for the United States to
restore the Shah to the throne in 1953 against the popular will within Iran?

PRESIDENT CARTER: That's ancient history, and I don't think it's appropriate
or helpful for me to go into the propriety of something that happened 30
[actually 27] years ago.

(See the analysis published by the conservative Cato Institute in 1991 .) The Cato Institute paper covers a lot more than just the Iran situation – and all of what it does cover is relevant.
What is clear to me is that since 1953, the United States has consistently messed up in the Middle East. Support for Israel, while an important part of our foreign policy, has only played one part in the drama.

Right now, Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. China has nuclear weapons, as does India and Israel. Iran may well develop them, regardless of the further efforts the United States makes to alienate the Iranians.

While Senator Barack Obama’s avowed willingness to meet with the Iranian government “without preconditions” has met with hostility from the MaCain/Palin camp, it may well be that going to Iran with an olive branch and an acknowledgment of the wrongs done to Iran by America in the past, and acknowledging Iran’s interest in the region, including as a part of the solution to the Iraq crisis, will go far to help create an atmosphere in which relations can be repaired over time.

Of course, this is farther than even Barack Obama is openly willing to propose.

In the debate on this point, Senator Biden gave a better answer – that Pakistan is perhaps a greater danger in the region at this point than Iran. The best intelligence estimates has the Al Qaeda leadership in the ungovernable mountain region of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan – and points out the numerous anti-American Islamist Madrassas schools that have sprouted like mushrooms in the border areas of Pakistan, training potential future Al Qaeda militants.

Of course, all one has to do is look at the legions of “home-schooled” American kids whose parents espouse a different sort of religious fundamentalism, and the many public school systems in the United States that still teach thinly-veiled Christianist mythology as if it had any scientific validity. In many regards, these are no better than Madrassas schools, yet they are tolerated and even encouraged.

If America does not change our own course into the future, if we do not learn from the mistakes of America’s past foreign policy and present military policy, the future of our foreign policy looks as bleak as the dystopian vision of the “social conservative” Republican Orwellian nightmare does for domestic policy.

As our own “home-schooled” and ill-educated children grow up into future Sarah Palin clones, America will have a lot more in the way of collective amnesia, when dealing with the products of Madrassas schools where a great deal of the hatred instilled in the students is actually based on things that Americans don’t learn about in our own history.

We have an opportunity with this presidential election, to stem the tide of the “social conservative” dystopia that had its roots in the Reagan administration and has only begun to flower under the regime of George W. Bush.

Still, the road ahead isn’t guaranteed to be bump-free. It is going to take a decade to repair the economic damage the Bush Administration has wreaked on the American people with its “asleep at the switch” oversight of the mortgage lending market, antitrust, and wall street investment firms, combined with the economic devastation the cost of its ill-conceived and disruptive invasion and occupation of Iraq. The destabilization of the Middle East caused by the invasion and occupation, and the ignorance of the Bush Administration’s “lone cowboy” foreign policy has damaged America’s leadership role, prestige and honor in the world.

I don’t see the Obama/Biden ticket as a panacea. They’re wrong on important issues like marriage, but even on that, they’re less wrong than McCain/Palin. They’re better on every other foreign and domestic issue as well.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Does Sarah Palin secretly support Obama?

First, here's how we're doing with the Trans Community Supports Obama campaign:

Goal Thermometer

Now, on to my current thoughts:

I don't really want to pick on Sarah Palin, perhaps because there are times she seems to be somewhat defenseless. While I would not criticize her for being a woman, or being "qualified" to be President (the proper age and a natural-born citizen - something John McCain actually isn't!), and I think it's nasty to harp on her so-called lack of "foreign policy experience" as a so-called qualification, when the last President to be elected who wasn't a Governor or Vice President was then-Senator John F. Kennedy. Obviously, foreign policy expericnce wasn't important when people elected either George W. Bush (all right, he was technically appointed by the Supreme Court as part of a bloodless coup) or Bill Clinton.

Anyway, all that aside, I saw a Katy Couric television interview of Governor Palin, and here is a Q&A from the interview transcript that intrigued me (emphasis added):

Couric: When President Bush ran for office, he opposed nation-building. But he has spent, as you know, much of his presidency promoting democracy around the world. What lessons have you learned from Iraq? And how specifically will you try to spread democracy throughout the world?

Palin: Specifically, we will make every effort possible to help spread democracy for those who desire freedom, independence, tolerance, respect for equality. That is the whole goal here in fighting terrorism also. It's not just to keep the people safe, but to be able to usher in democratic values and ideals around this, around the world.

Whoa! Avowed "social conservative" Sarah Palin is actually calling for us tio spread democracy to bring freedom, independence, tolerance and respect for equality?

Is this the same Sarah Palin who called for a referendum to change the Alaska constitution tom deny same-sex partner benefits? (while she did veto a law that would strip the rights after the state supreme court held that same-sex partners are entitled to insurance benefits, she did so because she took good advice that the law would be unconstitutional. However, she wants to change Alaska's constitution to take away equal rights.

Is this the same Sarah Palin who opposes same sex marriage?

Is this the same Sarah Palin who opposes women's reproductive health rights?

Is this the same Sarah Palin who supports freedom and equality only for people who share her narrow religious beliefs? who thjinks the Iraq war is God's war against Islam? Who thinks the Iraq war is a fight against Al Qaeda? Who cut financing for a shelter for young unwed mothers?

If Sarah Palin really meant what she said, she means she is voting for Barack Obama! Because she and Senator McCain don't support freedom, respect, or tolerance for people who don;t fit their narrow view of who is entitled to freedom, respect, or tolerance.

On the other hand, she obviously means those words in the usual conservative Republican Orwellian Newspeak way:

Let's translate what she really meant to say:

(Not the real quote - biut translated into American English from Newspeak):
Palin: Specifically, we will make every effort possible to help spread [democracy] Conservative capitalistic Western American Culture for those who desire [freedom] to lose their cultural heritage, [independence] the loss of independence and an enforced alliance with the United States, [tolerance] enforcement of Traditionalist Christianist or similar fundamentalist-type Values, [respect for equality] and tolerance of inequality for those who don't agree or who are different.

All the more reason to make that donation to the Obama campaign - have you given yet? It's still not too late!

Here's the link again.

A day late? It isn’t too late! ACT NOW!

Before I start with my thoughts, let’s start with the link I want you to go to:

The Transgender Community and Allies Support Obama page

Now, on to why you should go to the link:

There’s that old complaint, “A day late and a dollar short.”

Yesterday was the day for a big push to get trans donations for the Obama campaign, and as much as I wanted to, what with the stock market crash, crazy things at work, and Rosh Hashannah (my sweetie being Jewish, even if I am not), I just never got around to doing my bit for the campaign.

Well, here I am, it’s Tuesday September 30, 2008 – and TODAY is the last day of the quarter – so we can make those donations count even today.

Readers of my occasional thoughts here know that I am supporting Barack Obama for President. I am one of those Hillary Holdouts in the sisterhood who, when my candidate made her speech at the Democratic convention, finally came around to support Barack.

But I already pointed out here in my blog that Barack was actually better on the repeal of the Defense Against Marriage Act than Hillary. And compared with the “social conservative” platform offered by the McCain/Palin ticket, there is no doubt but that Barack Obama is the best candidate on LGBT issues, even if he isn’t quite “there” yet on marriage.

Right off the bat, he supports the trans-inclusive version of ENDA. Of course, what I want is a real Civil Rights Act – but give us Barack Obama in the presidency, 60+ senators and a reasonably good majority in the House, and we might be able to get there.

So, what am I asking?

If you have some spare change, use that link and give something to the Obama cause.

But don’t worry if you don’t have the money – the Obama campaign needs our time and efforts as well. My forte is stuffing envelopes, but others with the talent can go door-to-door getting voters registered (in New York, until October 10th), manage a phone bank, write letters to the editor, blog, etc. . . .

If you can give, do it today. If you can’t give today, do it tomorrow – we have until November 4th to get the job done.

If you do give – feel free to post a comment to this blog entry if you like (unless you want to be anonymous). For that matter, feel free to post a comment to any of my blog entries.

There you go – I may be a day late, but it isn’t too late!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

McCain: Ignorance is Strength

It’s bad enough that Senator John McCain made a fighter-pilot “snap decision” without a great deal of thought in choosing Alaska Governor Sarah “Barracuda” Palin to be his vice president.

But John McCain has recently unveiled a sadly deceptive “attack ad” on the Obama record on education that makes it seem as if the McCain campaign is campaigning to keep our children ignorant in order to better protect sexual predators! In the McCain world of “social conservatism” it appears that the campaign slogan is now an Orwellian Ignorance is Strength.

This is a chilling reminder that the United States today has become uncomfortably more dystopian in a 1984 way, and that McCain and his sidekick Palin want to bring us more of the same.

McCain’s attack ad centers on a comprehensive sex education bill (referred to as Barack Obama's only accomplishment on education) that Barack Obama voted for in committee. This bill would have provided age-appropriate sex education to children in kindergarten - enough to allow them to know when a sexual predator has touched them inappropriately.

McCain's education attack ad is found on his campaign website here:

In the ad, we're told that this means "children are learning about sex before learning to read."

But we know that the “sex education” for kindergarten in the bill was designed to protect kids from pedophiles. The bill that McCain cynically attacks was supported by a coalition of education and public health organizations, including the Illinois Parent Teacher Association, the Illinois State Medical Society, the Illinois Public Health Association and the Illinois Education Association, according to the New York Times:

John McCain should know that the bill would only have given kindergarteners enough information to help them protect themselves against being touched in the wrong places. If he approved the ad, which he did, he is presumed to know that. Ignorance is no excuse here.

Either he is lying, or he believes that a policy of keeping children ignorant to help protect pedophiles is a good thing!

Senator McCain appeared on The View on ABC yesterday, where I saw him stand by this ad, calling it “true” when challenged by Joy Behar. Is this what we want in a President? We already know that McCain and Palin don't support sex education in the schools, supporting "abstinence only" education that leads to teen pregnancy - and also opposing abortion - a double whammy against young women in America that McCain also confirmed during his View interview.

It only confirms the Orwellian slogan Ignorance is Strength will be the centerpiece of a McCain administration. We may as well unveil this as a new slogan for McCain:

McCain/Palin: Country First - Ignorance is Strength

It isn't just sex education and women's reproductive rights and health where McCain and Palin share the bedrock belief that Ignorance is Strength - the theme seems to permeate their campaign. The worst thing is that while Sarah Palin might be a "true believer" in Creationist nonsense, McCain seems to be quite willing to cynically use the ignorance of the bloc of American voters who really believe the world was created in six 24-hour days some 6,000 years ago, just to get elected. After all, even though it took some cheating (Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004) to put George W. Bush "over the top," reliance on this bloc of voters got Bush awfully close to actually winning rather than the bloodless coup d'etat we got. (Oops, I shouldn't be putting it quite that way, but that's essentially what really happened, if one looks carefully.)

McCain’s continuing support for this ad seems to prove that the Hero *IS* a Zero.

Now that we see that Ignorance is Strength fits the McCain Campaign, let’s take a look at the other two slogans from 1984, while we’re at it:

McCain/Palin: Country First - War is Peace

This seems to have been the Bush Doctrine in a nutshell – preemptively attack other countries for no legitimate reason, so we can fight “over there” instead of “at home.” McCain supports the illegitimate invasion and occupation of Iraq. He assumes that the war was right – in his ignorance, he doesn’t seem to understand that Iraq was not behind the events of 9/11 – it doesn’t matter that “the surge is working” when there should never have been a war in the first place. His running mate Sarah Palin is under the same delusion – is this what we need in the White House? We’ve been suffering from this idiocy since 2003, and it’s time for a real change - Obama/Biden, rather than the illusion of "change" that McCain/Palin would bring.

McCain/Palin: Country First - Slavery is Freedom

McCain and Palin’s “social conservatism” is ultimately all about the patriarchal thing: making women into babymaking slaves who have no reproductive choice even if they’ve been raped.

Their anti-human rights position for lesbian, gay, bi and transgender people continues the national shame where some Americans have more rights than others – and transgender people have fewer rights than anyone else.

Whoopi Goldberg reacted on The View to McCain’s ignorant or cynical promise to appoint the kind of strict constructionist judges who would interpret the Constitution the “way the Founding Fathers intended” – does McCain think we should return to slavery? Incredibly, John McCain smiled goofily and didn’t even bother to deny it. (While I don’t envision a return of African Americans to hereditary involuntary servitude, I do see the nightmare of a Supreme court with a couple more social conservatives joining with Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito in rolling back civil rights to match the obstructive court interpretations from the 1870’s to 1890’s and even up to 1953. I have already seen what happens when those four are joined by Kennedy. Add one or two more like them, and we will be seeing judicial regression for the next thirty years.)

Shame on you, John McCain, shame on you! Whether you're an outright liar counting on the ignorance of the people, or you're ignorant yourself, you don't belong in the Oval Office.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin a Book Banner? McCain a Faulty Vetter?

My last entry in this group focuses on Sarah Palin and the issue of censorship in libraries. At the outset, I have to tell you that I am on the local chapter board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the chair of the Bill of Rights Day Essay contest run by the chapter. Last year, one of our essay topics was on the issue of banned and challenged books.

Now, with that as prologue, let’s look at the situation with Sarah Palin and the Wasilla library. First, we see Time magazine relying on an interview with John Stein, who was Sarah Palin’s predecessor as mayor of Wasilla, and who she beat twice in mayoral elections (perhaps not the best primary source for this, BTW):

Stein [n.b. John Stein, former Wasilla, AK mayor beaten twice by Ms. Palin] says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.

I saw a variation on the story in the New York Times (September 3, 2008):

Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. "They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her," Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to "resist all efforts at censorship," Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were "rhetorical."

Ms. Emmons was not the only employee to leave.

I doubt we'll see a completely unbiased source for this story - but at least we have corroboration from multiple quotes, including the following contemporaneous 1996 quote from the librarian (or so I believe).
I searched the web and found numerous variations on the same general censorship story – and a reference to that elusive article in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman from December 1996 – I believe that the following might be a reference to and partial quotation of the original source, which is not on-line:
[N.B. Mary Ellen Emmons is a Past President of the Alaska Library Association, and was the Wasilla Public Library director. I believe she is now known as Mary Ellen Baker.]

Palin Asked City Librarian About Censoring Books, Insisted It Was ‘Rhetorical.’

In 1996, according to the Frontiersman, Wasilla’s library director Mary Ellen Emmons said Palin asked her outright if she could live with censorship of library books. Emmons said, "This is different than a normal book-selection procedure or a book-challenge policy...She was asking me how I would deal with her saying a book can’t be in the library." Palin said in response, "Many issues were discussed, both rhetorical and realistic in nature." [Frontiersman, 12/18/96]

I don’t know if that is an accurate quote from the article, or even if it’s pure propaganda. What I do know is that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, and that the country should hear more from Mary Ellen Baker (formerly known as Mary Ellen Emmons), the brave librarian who stood up to the specter of unjust censorship (or so it would appear from all the reports).

The issue about book challenging or banning also adds a question as to the adequacy of the "vetting" done by the McCain camp prior to springing the choice of Sarah Palin onto the public. Is she another mistake like Thomas Eagleton, Dan Quayle or George W. Bush?

From the Huffington Post:
Sam Stein

On Saturday, a Democrat tasked with opposition research contacted the Huffington Post with this piece of information: as of this weekend, the McCain campaign had not gone through old newspaper articles from the Valley Frontiersman, Palin's hometown newspaper.

How does he know? The paper's (massive) archives are not online. And when he went to research past content, he was told he was the first to inquire.

"No one else had requested access before," said the source. "It's unbelievable. We were the only people to do that, which means the McCain camp didn't."

The Frontiersman did not immediately confirm the revelation.

And there is no indication from the Democratic source that anything nefarious or problematic will be found in the archives. But officials with the paper did not recall inquiries by the McCain campaign.

"I cannot confirm that information at this time," said publisher Kari Sleight. "I am not aware of the McCain campaign researching our archives, but archive requests do not usually go through me."

If true, the failure of the Arizona Republican to access the newspaper clippings becomes another in a growing list of revelations that calls into question just how and why he made his decision to choose Palin. A rudimentary clip search, such as this, is presidential politics 101 as campaigns not only look for the majority of background information on any high-level appointee, but also try to prepare themselves from future attacks.

Well, the source here on the background check situation is the Huffington Post, which even I would consider to be somewhat "liberal media." Though most of the news media in the United States is not at all "liberal" – that’s a canard. The news media in the United States has developed into something much more chillingly right wing than it ever has been – so-called "liberal" media bends over backward to give space to "opposing views" and hems and haws about everything else. Conservative media makes no real attempt at fairness. Fox News, the New York Post and Washington Times are ultra right-wing. Even the New York Times is to the right of center these days – which explains why it went out of its way to libel me in a news article in November 2006, violating its own stylebook in the process.

There are two bottom lines to the Palin library censorship scandal – first, the issue has to be fully and fairly explored, as it goes to Sarah Palin’s core qualifications and fitness for office; and second, the question of whether John McCain’s people flubbed their background check – if true, this amplifies the sort of hair-trigger fighter-pilot knee-jerk decision-making that is great for shooting down enemy planes, but not a great qualification for the "leader of the free world" who gets to carry that nuclear football, or rather, has it nearby at all times. That is pretty much the same sort of irritating quickdraw judgmentalism lost McCain the Republican nomination in 2000, and perhaps should be yet another reason to deny him the presidency in 2008.

Then again, I’ve already professed my choice is Barack Obama. And gentle reader, I’m admitting that I am not necessarily being any more "fair and balanced" than the FOX News channel. (Actually, I *am* fairer and better balanced than that Bill O’Reilly and his "All Spin Zone" and the other denizens of FOX.

Sara Palin's Hypocrisy on Teen Pregnancy

On September 1, 2008, James C. Dobson, the founder and chief demagogue of (Out of) Focus on the Family issued the following statement:

"In the 32-year history of Focus on the Family, we have offered prayer, counseling and resource assistance to tens of thousands of parents and children in the same situation the Palins are now facing. We have always encouraged the parents to love and support their children and always advised the girls to see their pregnancies through, even though there will of course be challenges along the way.

That is what the Palins are doing, and they should be commended once again for not just talking about their pro-life and pro-family values, but living them out even in the midst of trying circumstances."Being a Christian does not mean you're perfect. Nor does it mean your children are perfect. But it does mean there is forgiveness and restoration when we confess our imperfections to the Lord. I've been the beneficiary of that forgiveness and restoration in my own life countless times, as I'm sure the Palins have.

"The media are already trying to spin this as evidence Gov. Palin is a 'hypocrite,' but all it really means is that she and her family are human. They are in my prayers and those of millions of Americans."

Well, while I will discount the last paragraph (Sarah Palin is a hypocrite, if one looks at what she says and what she does when she slashes funding for caring for pregnant teens in her state, that isn't what Dobson is dealing with), I largely agree with the so called "Doctor" Dobson here, at least when it comes to his reaching out to comfort people who fit into his narrow view of "pro-life, pro-family." He and his organization don't really care about anyone whose life or family doesn't meet his narrow and bigoted view of whose life is important and what makes a family. But if we limit ourselves to the sort of people who fit his constituency, I can't disagree with him.

His organization’s counseling doesn’t allow for any reproductive chopice other than going forward with the pregnancy. On the other hand, in the Palin situation, I am sure (or at least hopeful) that Bristol Palin should allowed to make her own reproductive choice, including having her baby. As to marrying the young man who got her pregnant, that should be their mutual choice. (I’ve seen reports that he may not be as willing to be getting married as she is, but that’s personal and private, and between them.)

But what’s the real issue – it isn’t Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, it’s teen pregnancy and teen unwed mothers and the role of education and government that are legitimate issues in the campaign.

Sarah Palin's "social conservatism" and her strange superstitious "religion" help make her a strong opponent of women’s reproductive rights except for the obligation to have a baby if one gets pregnant, whether by plan, by accident, or out of ignorance.

Sarah Palin opposes sex education in the schools. She recently line-item vetoed help for pregnant teens in trouble with nowhere else to turn. Don't believe it? See the Washington Post coverage: Palin Slashed Funding for Teen Moms By Paul Kane

ST. PAUL -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee who revealed Monday that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, earlier this year used her line-item veto to slash funding for a state program benefiting teen mothers in need of a place to live.

After the legislature passed a spending bill in April, Palin went through the measure reducing and eliminating funds for programs she opposed.

Inking her initials on the legislation -- "SP" -- Palin reduced funding for Covenant House Alaska by more than 20 percent, cutting funds from $5 million to $3.9 million. Covenant House is a mix of programs and shelters for troubled youths, including Passage House, which is a transitional home for teenage mothers.

According to Passage House's web site, its purpose is to provide "young mothers a place to live with their babies for up to eighteen months while they gain the necessary skills and resources to change their lives" and help teen moms "become productive, successful, independent adults who create and provide a stable environment for themselves and their families."

Apparently Governor Palin only believes in the oppressive side of the "right to life." While Sarah Palin may be supportive of her own daughter, not all teen girls who are pregnant and actually choose to have their babies have family support, or support from private sources.

Governor Palin may think it’s a good idea to cut the state budget to save taxpayers money – but relying on private charity does not make for a level playing field. Relying on religious charities, especially with the Bush version of "faith-based initiative," gives us an ugly hybrid – using goverment taxpayer funds to support discriminatory practices by religious bigots.

Seeing Sarah Palin speak during C-Span’s coverage of the Republican convention, and seeing her family, could have given me some "feel-good" feelings if it weren’t for her opposition to things that I hold near and dear, like the fact that I should have the same rights as everyone else. After all, she’s not entirely bad, is she?

If (Out of) Focus on the Family wasn’t rabidly anti-gay and anti-trans, I’d feel better about the positive things they do for people who fit their constiruency. For now, it’s enough for me to acknowledge that even the most evil Christianist demagogues aren’t all bad. James Dobson and Sarah Palin might be members of the lunatic fringe on the issue of marriage rights and civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, but I have to acknowledge that they’re not 100% pure evil on every issue.

After all, according to a recent controversial movie on the subject, even Adolph Hitler apparently liked small animals and children.

Barack Obama and the Compromise with Evil

I thought Barack Obama gave a pretty good speech when he accepted the Democratic nomination for President last week.

That is, I thought it was pretty good up to the point where he started to speak about "our sense of common purpose" with the enemies of freedom in the Neo-Con and Christianist right wing that represents the core of the Republican party.

Here are the dangerous words from Barack Obama’s nomination acceptance speech, with my comments inserted in the place of the pauses for applause:

"America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices. And Democrats, as well as Republicans, will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past, for part of what has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose, and that's what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country."

(APPLAUSE: The Republican party is in the thrall of Religious and other "social" conservatives who have no respect for the rights of women, particularly women’s reproductive rights, unless the sole expression of those "rights" is to "choose to have babies." The Republican party and its standardbearers in this presidential election, John S. McCain and Sarah "Barracuda" Palin, are both sufficiently "social conservative" enough to oppose the quite sensible Roe v. Wade decision, to oppose any sex education oher than "abstinence only" education that leads ignorant teens into accidental pregnancies. The "social conservatives" in Congress have passed barbaric laws that curtail women’s reproductive rights. Seeking "compromise" on this vital issue is a weakness. But now that the applause has died down, back to Senator Obama . . . )

"The -- the reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals."

(APPLAUSE: Hmmm. I won’t argue too much on the Second Amendment – just this year, the Supreme Court has spoken, quite unconstitutionally and somewhat irrationally, on the subject (at least IMO, but they're the ultimate arbiters of "what the Constitution really means", and I'm not), divorcing the right to bear arms from its attendant constitutional responsibility and purpose – that of providing for a well-organized militia.

I’d like to see Washington D.C. pass a law that requires those who are licensed to have guns also take mandatory militia training and help patrol the streets of the City, and see what the Supremes think about that. But that isn't presidential campaign stuff - the nation itself, as a result of the Second Amendment, really is a bit gun-crazy, unlike the civilized folks over in Europe, who don't need to see too much news to view most Americans as ignorant cowboys, anyway. So, let's see what sort of "compromise" is out there . . . and now back to Barack for the scariest "compromise" item . . . )

"I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination."

(APPLAUSE: This raised my ire just as much as the idea of compromise on women’s reproductive rights. The idea that we should play politics with basic human rights that should be beyond the "right" of the oppressive majority to impose on the oppressed minority by a so-called "democratic majority vote" sickens me, especially when it comes from the very people who should be the strongest allies of the poor, the weak, and the oppressed. When will friends like Barack realize that we should be entitled to the same rights as his parents? When will friends like Barack realize that we are getting tired of beign oppressed? When will friends like Barack get ready to take us seriously?

I’d like to see Barack Obama supporting a full civil rights law for LGBT people, and not the sad caricature of an employment non-discrimination act that Rep. Barney Frank (D. Mass.)keeps watering down because he wants to pass something, anything, in the spirit of compromise on civil rights. It’s not just about repealing the Defense Against Marriage Act (something Barack Obama does support, and the one point where he had a better position than Hillary Rodham Clinton, the person who really should have been the Democrat’s presidential candidate . . . )

I’d like Barack to reverse the October 2002 change in Social Security regulations that leaves transitioning transsexuals and non-op transsexuals in limbo, without proper identification documentation.

I’d like to see Barack reverse "don’t ask, don’t tell" and I’d like to see immigration rules for gay and trans people be put on a par with the rules for straights. I’d like to see the bizarre rules banning people with AIDS from entering the country lifted. I’d like to make sure that tax dollars are not spent to support religious discrimination in the providing of social services and medical care. The applause has died down again, time to see what Barack has to say next . . . )

"You know, passions may fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers."

(It would have been nicer if Barack had mentioned the separation of people in same-sex relationships here, too. There wasn’t a pause for applause here – but the immigration issue is more like the Second Amendment issue – one that might well be amenable to compromise, but not with the hard-core white supremacist right wingers. It isn’t just about Mexicans "taking American Jobs" by crossing the border. American businesses these days steal American jobs by using the current version of NAFTA to exploit cheap Mexican labor.

It seems like Republicans support NAFTA so that jobs can be exported to Mexico, and Democrats (these days) seem to oppose it. I think that NAFTA needs fixing – there should be a level playing field on the issue of minimum wage (in equivalent currencies among the trade partners, which would not free-float against each other, ultimately leading to a common currency), worker’s rights, and other sisues, so that it will not be any more advantageous to locate an industrial plant in Michigan, or Tennessee, or Sonora, or Manitoba. If we were to improve NAFTA to bring the standard of living for Mexicans, Canadians and Americans to equivalent standards, maybe there wouldn’t be a need for a Metal Curtain on America’s border with Mexico.

An improved NAFTA could also bring along other friendly nations in our hemisphere, and perhaps we could encourage South American nations to form a SAFTA - with a view toward eventually entering into a hemispheric treaty and an economic union that would go beyond the borders of the United States. Such ideas aren’t forthcoming from any of the candidates – Democrat or Republican. Let's let Barack sum up this segment of his speech . . . )

"But this, too, is part of America's promise, the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer, and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values.

And that's to be expected, because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters."

(APPLAUSE --- Despite these qualms and misgivings, and since Hillary Clinton isn’t running any more and she's also supporting him, I will support Obama for President. Even if he isn’t perfect, he represents the best available hope for keeping the darkness and oppression of "social conservatism" at bay.

Postscript: Listening to Sarah Palin this evening, I realize that if it weren’t for the scary "social conservatism" aspect of the McCain/Palin ticket, the part that makes them totally wrong for the country, they wouldn't seem terribly different from the Obama/Biden ticket. This explains why Americans "in the middle" often seem to have such a problem identifying the better candidate - they aren't hurt by oppressive "Social conservative" Republican policies, so they're more likely to be unaware of it, or perhaps they don't care. (Hard core Republican conservatives either don't care or they're the types who aren't terribly different from their Islamic fundamentalist jihadist counterparts - ready to stome people like me in stadiums.)

Both sides are pushing for winning against terrorism (though Obama actually understands that it’s Osama bin Ladin and Al Qaeda who are the enemy, not the people of Iraq), both sides want America to be energy independent (though Democrats appear to be divided on the oxymoronic "clean coal", and Republicans add more nuclear and oil drilling to the mix), both sides are "patriotic" (though the Republican version of patriotism is a scary sort of McCarthyite, jingoist, Orwellian thing, while Democrats know that one really doesn’t have to wear a flag pin to be patriotic).

The rhetoric of "Bush's Third Term" or "Hero, Not Zero" doesn't impress me. My choice is based on what's Right for America, or at the very least, to stave off the people I know are Wrong for America. I don't need scare tactics to be afraid of McCain/Palin. I already know what they think of me, and what they're likely to do to my people.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thoughts on the Dignity for All Students Act and the School Safety Act

First, I was quoted by The Advocate (online, August 19, 2008) in an article by Kerry Eleveld discussing the Safe Schools for All Students Act that was introduced by the Republican-controlled New York State Senate Rules Committee – notable for the first time any Republican-sponsored bill in New York has sought to protect people on the basis of “gender identity or expression.”

See the full article here.

Here's the part that quotes me:

Trans activists overall are pleased by the progress that has been made in the senate. “As a signal from the Republican leadership, the inclusion of gender identity or expression in the Safe Schools bill could be a ray of hope,” said Joann Prinzivalli, state director of the New York Transgender Rights Organization.

But Prinzivalli said one “disturbing” difference in the Republican bill is that it provides protection from disciplinary action or professional misconduct for school employees who know of, but do not report, acts of bullying. “This is not a feature in the [assembly’s] Dignity bill, and it makes the Safe Schools bill much less palatable as an alternative,” she added.

From a quite different viewpoint, the following comes from the Lunatic Fringe at (Out of) Focus on the Family:

New York Considers Special Rights for 'Transgendered' Students

The Republican majority in the New York Senate has introduced a measure that would make the state among the first in the nation to grant special protections to "transgendered" students, including those who cross-dress.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-activist group, is taking credit for the so-called Safe Schools for All Students Act. Disguised as an anti-bullying effort, it would add special protections based on sexual orientation.

“While efforts need to be made to stop the bullying of any child, we believe it’s wrong for schools to have mandates pushed on them by homosexual-advocacy groups," said Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family Action. "These groups have been bragging about a 'coup' in New York and have a clear agenda of promoting their sexual lifestyle to children. “It is not wise to push those types of agendas onto young kids who are still figuring out who they are. Plus, it puts teachers who have deeply held religious convictions in jeopardy.”

North Carolina lawmakers rejected a similar bill in July.

Aside from the fact that the folks at (Out Of) Focus On The Family Action are always trying to push their anti-Christian, anti-humanitarian, anti-science, anti-human rights anti-justice anti-fairness agenda, one other thing these people don’t get is that this Republican-sponsored School Safety bill would add special protections for “teachers who have deeply held religious convictions.” If they bothered to read the bill carefully, the (Out Of) Focus folks might have seen this.

Both the Dignity for All Students Act (S1571, sponsored by Democratic State Senator Thomas K. Duane, and co-sponsored by eleven Democratic Senators, the Republican Rules Committee bill (S8739, the Safe Schools for All Students Act) require that school employees report incidents of harrassment/bullying of which they are aware or have reason to suspect. Both bills protect those school employees who report harrassment/bullying in good faith. But the Republican bill goes farther, adding:


It appears to be possible that the Republican senators really are trying to protect those (Out of) Focus “teachers who have deeply held ‘religious’ convictions” whose strange version of religion involves a belief that bullying and harassment of gay, transgender, tomboy and sissy kids is somehow a good thing.

The fact that “gender identity or expression” is properly included (under the definition of gender) as a protected class, in addition to sexual orientation, race, color, religion, disability, national origin, military status, sex, gender, age or marital status is lost on the bully-protecting folks at (Out of) Focus, who seem to think that it’s just fine for a schoolyard bully to pick on that nerdy sissy kid with glasses because in their warped sense of “religion” that’s what they think Jesus would have done (though I am quite sure Jesus would differ with that viewpoint, as they’ll find out when they get judged at the Final Judgment - see Matt. 25), or because bullying the sissy kid will somehow “make a man out of him.”

I had my own painful personal experience as a child with bullying and harassment, from the 5th grade until I got out of high school. It wasn’t a “sexual orientation” thing. It wasn’t even visibly a “gender identity or expression” thing – or maybe it was.

Essentially, I transferred into a new school in the middle of the school year, and somehow, the school bumped a very popular kid from the “A track” class to the “B track” class in order to fit me in. On top of that, when it came to schoolyard activity, it became obvious that I “throw like a girl.” This caused a great deal of resentment and led to a lot of harassment. I didn’t complain about it, but apparently teachers and administrators noticed, which prompted them to set up a meeting with my parents and the principal.

The proposed solution? My father was told that he and I should play catch after school every day. This was along the lines of “it’ll make a man out of him.” Of course, this turned out to be a very frustrating exercise for both my father and myself. No matter what I did, it *hurt* my elbow when I tried to “throw like a boy.”

The problem with this picture is that the traditional solution in these cases is to blame the victim, something the (Out of) Focus folks seem to want to continue as the solution.

The (Out of) Focus folks and the New York State Senate Republican-controlled Rules committee don’t seem to understand that teachers (and other school employees) who want to hide behind their so-called “religious beliefs” to justify bullying and harassment don’t belong in the schools, just like a teacher who believes in “Young Earth Creationism” shouldn’t be protected for teaching this religious belief in a science classroom.

One thought about this disturbing language in the Republican Senate bill (language perhaps intended to pander to (Out Of) Focus and its ilk) is that it was put there intentionally as a “poison pill” with the idea being the Senate could pass this bill and then kill a compromise with the Assembly Dignity for All Students Act bill (A3496 – the same as S1571) by insisting on protecting those teachers, school officials and employees who want to continue to turn a blind eye toward harassment and bullying. In this very cynical view, the Republican senators could trumpet about how they voted for (or even supported, if the bill doesn’t come to a vote) a “school safety” bill in their bids for re-election.

Most people wouldn’t even notice that the bill has a fatal flaw that eviscerates the coverage it would only seem to provide – the folks at (Out of) Focus On The Family Action didn’t notice that their so-called “concern” on the issue was already addressed by the Republican Rules committee.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why Governor David Paterson "gets it" (and an afterthought as to how he doesn't)

Ever since I met New York Governor David Paterson some years ago when he was the New York State Senate minority leader, I knew that he "got it" about the need for legal recognition of transgender rights under the state human rights laws.

Just yesterday (Thursday, July 17, 2008), Governor Paterson gave a speech to attendees at the national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) held in Cincinnati, Ohio. In an interview given after the speech, he indirectly explained the context of how he came to this understanding, as he is quoted in the New York Times article cited above:

Governor Paterson’s views on discrimination have been shaped by the fact that he is both black and legally blind. He said one of the most painful experiences he had with discrimination came from a black businessman who refused to hire him because of his blindness.

"That’s when I realized this is kind of a universal problem that exists, this fear of the unknown, fear of others displaying difference," he said.

[citation: Paterson, at N.A.A.C.P., Warns of Racism’s Power, by Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times, published Friday July 18, 2008]

The impact of this insight is precisely the reason Governor Paterson has embraced and supported the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) and the Dignity for All Youth Act (DAYA), as well as the bill to make New York’s Marriage laws completely gender-neutral.

People who are transgendered, or gay, experience discrimination for the same reason that African-Americans still experience discrimination – it’s this, as he put it, "fear of the unknown, fear of others displaying difference."

It’s the reason a major title insurance company fired me as its chief underwriting counsel in January 2000. Just before Thanksgiving 1999, on my own time and after work, I testified at a public hearing, imploring Westchester County legislators to restore language that would have better clarified coverage for transgender people to the then-proposed county human rights bill. My testimony was televised on local and regional news, some lawyer in Long Island realized exactly who I was and called the company headquarters in Texas and asked "what kind of pervert do you have working for you?"

It took two board meetings, one for the national company and one for the New York subsidiary, but despite an excellent history of job performance, I became persona non grata at that company because by being "different" I sparked that visceral and instinctual "fear of the unknown" in the hearts of the company’s management – the same management that only a few months earlier was effusively praising my work.

In the meantime, I am hoping Governor Paterson issues an Executive Order some time soon that provides employment protection to transgender people in state employment - this is something the governor can do without waiting for the legislature. It's something trans community activists and allies were working on obtaining from former governor Eliot Spitzer's administration before he resigned. Now that the legislative session is over, perhaps Governor Paterson will be able to turn his attention to this bit of work.

Afterthought: During his N.A.A.C.P. convention speech, Governor Paterson took the time to condemn the recent satirical cover illustration from The New Yorker magazine, that depicted Senator and presidential Candidate Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, as militant radicals seeking to destroy the United States. He called it "one of the most malignant, vicious covers of a magazine I have ever seen."

I wouldn’t condemn the magazine for running the cover – I know the magazine’s purpose was to show just how malignant and vicious the lies, innuendoes and false rumors some conservative Republicans have been spreading about Senator Obama and his wife – things like how he is supposedly a Muslim extremist, or that their "fist bump" is some kind of black radical secret handshake, or that the Senator was educated in a "madrassas" school (depicted as a fundamentalist Muslim school the teaches radical Islamost "Jihad against America" propaganda as part of its interpretation of the Holy Qu’ran, its only textbook).

By printing the cover, the magazine exposed the vicious lies to the light of day as exactly how ridiculous these are – and the reaction the cover has inspired is exactly the reaction intended by The New Yorker – except I think The New Yorker editors expected more sophisticated readers to understand that the cover itself, by being so "over the top" was intended as satire.

Governor Paterson is not alone in his condemnation of the magazine cover.

The reaction to the New Yorker cover is reminiscent of the reaction of abhorrence that another famous satire, a 1729 essay by Jonathan Swift, entitled A Modest Proposal, once evoked.

As with the cartoon cover, Swift had the experience of having some, including some rather sophisticated and intelligent people, take his satire seriously and react with abhorrence.

So in this instance, I’ll part with Governor Paterson, but only slightly, and condemn the malicious and repugnant lies that were satirized by the magazine cover, rather than the cover itself.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Photo from NYC Pride March 2008

I got to drive a convertible as part of the contingent for The LOFT, my local LGBT Center, based in White Plains. This photo taken by a friend from the sidelines, shows me also holding up a sign calling for transgender rights.


Paraphrased (and adapted to reflect the current struggles for gay and transgender rights) from the eloquent and beautiful Independence Day Speech at Rochester, 1841, given by Frederick Douglass. This is an homage to Mr. Douglass, who was a supporter of the rights of women, as well as the rights of African-American men. There is so much in the current struggle for gay and transgender rights that is similar to the historical struggles for women's rights and the rights of America's African-American minority.

Fellow citizens, pardon me, let me ask why have I been asked to speak here today? What do I and people like me have to do with this holiday celebrating national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in the Declaration of Independence extended to us? And am I asked to bring a humble offering to the national altar, to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from the Declaration of Independence to us?

I wish I could truthfully look at you and say “yes” to these questions! That would be easy. Who would not be warmed by a nation’s sympathy? Who would be so dead to the claim of gratitude, and not be thankful in acknowledging the priceless benefit of those inalienable rights? Who would not raise up their voice in singing the America the Beautiful, or some other paen to liberty and freedom, when the rights freely granted and recognized have been recognized for us?

But I can’t do it.

I say this with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the ambit of this wonderful celebration. The celebration of freedom and liberty and justice which this holiday represents only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The rights of justice, liberty, prosperity, independence, and the right to pursue happiness, bequeathed by this nation’s forefathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brings light and healing to you brings me nothing but the taste of ashes. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may celebrate while I must mourn. To drag a third-class citizen without the same rights, into the temple of liberty and call upon her to join in the celebration, is both an inhuman mockery and a sacrilegious irony.

Is it to mock me for what I do not have, that I am here to speak today?

Above your celebration of joy, I hear the mournful wail those who are without joy, whose pain of rejection and inequality is rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. To forget them, to pass lightly over the injustice and intolerance, and to chime in with the popular theme would be a kind of treason.

My subject, then, is the matter of the human rights of my people, and the right of marriage. I shall see this day from the point of view of those who like me do not have our families recognized as legal relationships, who have not got the benefit of the level playing field of equal opportunity, who are shunted aside and called upon to live in the shadows at the edge of our society, lest children be exposed to us. I stand together with the homeless and the destitute who are forced by circumstance and the impact of societal disapprobation to the depths of despair. I stand with families denied the same rights as other families, with children denied the same rights as other children, and of individuals who are not welcome at the table of justice.

I cannot hesitate to state that the character and conduct of this nation in the past and even today, has never looked darker than on this Fourth of July. In the name of security, precious liberty is squandered, but it is often a liberty that has already been denied to me and those like me.

Whether we turn to the declarations of the past or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing here before you as a woman, as a woman with a transsexual history, as a lesbian, in solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution which is disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate injustice and inequality - the great sin and shame of America! I will not equivocate, I will not excuse; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that anyone whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, shall not confess to be right and just....

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal humanity of those who are different from the majority because of gender identity or expression or because of sexual orientation. Is it not as astonishing that, while we are trying to live our lives, to care for our loved ones and families, to work to provide homes and shelter and clothing, we must attempt to do so with great handicaps not shared by the majority? That we have our very humanity denied.

Must I argue that it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of sex, gender and sexual orientation? Must I argue that a society that tolerates the bigotry and prejudice, not merely tolerates, but even institutionalizes it, is not truly a free society? That it is wrong?

No! I will not. I have better things to do.

So, what does the Fourth of July really represent to the LGBT American?

My answer is that it is a day that reveals to us, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice of which we are the constant victims. To us, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your parades and solemnity, are, to us, mere bombast, fraud, deception and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up behavior that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth that claims to be free and to cherish liberty, which is guilty of practices more shocking and hypocritical than those of the people of the United States at this very hour.

Search through the entire world for every abuse in nations claiming to be free, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting bigotry linked with shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Background relating to County Legislator "Drag Show" protest

In 1999, former County Legislator (and current State Senator) Andrea Stewart-Cousins introduced the initial version of the Westchester County Human Rights Law. There were three public hearings on the bill.

The original bill defined "gender" as "the biological or social characteristics of being female or male." This language is identical to the language adopted that same year in Suffolk County for its human rights law. The Suffolk County law is recognized as being transgender-inclusive, while the Westchester law, with its legislative history and changed language, is not.

Before the third public hearing, the then-chair of the County Board of Legislators (and current State Assemblymember) George Latimer had a meeting with the New York (Roman Catholic) Archdiocese Office of the Family, in order to address Catholic Church opposition to the bill in previous public hearings.

Among the speakers at the first public hearing, and one of the two who focused on being anti-transgender, was Dr. Catherine Hickey, the Schools Chancellor for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. Dr. Hickey is a bright woman and an excellent speaker. She lectured the legislature during her five minute talk, referring derogatorily to the proposal's definition of gender as "creative writing" and then boldly averred, "Everyone knows that there are only two genders, male and female!"

As a result of Mr. Latimer's meeting with the Archdiocesan Office of the Family, and among other things, the bill's definition of "gender" was changed to mean "the biological characteristics of being male or female." This removal of the words "or social" could be seen as an attempt to weaken the law's coverage so that it is possible that transgender people would not be covered. I als note that the Catholic office apparently also requested that "female or male" be restored to the traditional biblical patriarchal order.

I testified at the third public hearing on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week 1999. I was not fully in transition at the time, and I was "outed" by being featured prominently in news coverage, that cited my former name, on News 12, Fox 5 News and Good Day New York.

As a result of this outing, I was fired from my job as chief underwriting counsel for a major title insurance company shortly prior to the effective date of the law. After my testimony, both Mr. Latimer and Ms. Stewart-Cousins advised that they couldn't change the language again and pass the bill in 1999, but that they would get to it "next year."

The bill was enacted with the weakened "gender" definition.

In order to try to get the best interpretation possible, I wrote an article for The LOFT Community News, a publication of The LOFT: The Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, Inc. based in White Plains. In the article, I pressed an interpretation of the word "biological" to mean "both physiological and psychological" aspects of beuing male or female, in an attempt to make up for the removal of the words "or social" from the law.

I circulated the article to members of the human rights commission, who have been treating transgender people as included on that basis. In the situations where I have been advised that transgender people have sought the assistance of the human rights commission, they have been treated fairly.

However, my concern ramains that the actual statutory language is weak and while principles of Administrative Law give the agency interpreting a statute broad power of reasonable interpretation, it remains a distinct possibility that a commission ruling can be overturned by a court on the basis of the legislative history.

No bill was offered until I asked Legislator Lois Bronz to do so in 2005. At the time, Legislator Marty Rogowsky was chair of the Committee on Legislation, and when I asked him to move the bill, he said that the committee would get to it immediately after the November 2005 elections - and when I went to attend the committee meeting after the election in 2005, Legislator Rogowsky advised that he had forgotten, but that it would be taken up in February 2006.

In 2006, he was no longer chair of the committee, and no action has been taken since.

After last week's meeting, County Legislator Ken Jenkins told me privately that he believes that transgender people are already covered under the existing law, but he also indicated that if the human rights commission were to request the clarification in the law making it less vague, he would support it and do his best to have it passed.

My talk to county legislators at their June 16, 2008 meeting

The New York Transgender Rights Organization

AT THE JUNE 16, 2008, 10:00 AM MEETING OF

Good morning to the honorable legislators and all who are present.

My name is Joann Prinzivalli. I live in White Plains and I am the state Director of the New York Transgender Rights Organization, or NYTRO.

I am speaking to you this morning to impress upon you the serious nature of the issue involving the need for an amendment to the county human rights law to correct the definition of gender to explicitly include protection for my people.

The bill was introduced by Legislator Lois Bronz in 2005 but has died in committee. I am appending a copy of the bill to my prepared remarks. Given several recent turns of events, I strongly urge you to pass this legislation immediately.

Needless to say, everything is not “coming up roses” for transgender people.

Transgender people are subjected to severe discrimination every day. I lost my job in 2000 because of being transgender, and ironically, because I testified at the 3rd public hearing on the original human rights bill in November 1999, begging you to reinstate the language that was removed by then Chair George Latimer at the request of the Catholic Archdiocese Office of the Family.

In Westchester County, homeless transgender women have been placed in men’s facilities. It has only been through efforts of people like Laura Newman, the former LGBT liaison to the County Executive, that in some cases that came to her attention, some accommodations were made.

Transgender people are sometimes refused service in eating and drinking establishments in this county. We live in fear of being arrested for using a public bathroom no matter which bathroom we use.

In the Bronx, just to the south, young Sanesha Stewart was brutally murdered. Because she was transgender, the New York Daily News portrayed her as a prostitute who was killed by a john when he found out she had the wrong genitals. This was not true at all.

On the floor of the State Assembly during the debate on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which ultimately passed in that chamber by a 108-33 vote, Assemblymember Peter Lopez, while acknowledging that transgender people need protection under the law, raised his opposition to the bill based on the argument that it would protect sexual predators who would lurk in public restrooms to prey on women and children. Another Assemblymember thought that young children in schools should not be exposed to a transgender teacher.

And now, we have had the experience of watching on television three heterosexual cissexual members of this august body of legislators cavorting on stage in mockery of transgender people - intentionally or unintentionally, and I am sure it was unintentionally, portraying crossdressed people as simple-minded and buffoonish, to get a laugh.

There is a very direct and insidious connection between the portrayal of transgender people as prostitutes, sexual predators and a threat to children, or parodied as buffoonish clowns, and the way a segregationist white America chose to portray African Americans not so long ago.

If I refer to motion pictures, we have the examples of the controversial 1915 DW Griffith film The Birth of A Nation, which portrayed black men as always ready to be raping white women, and the first “talkie” in 1928, The Jazz Singer, featuring white actor Al Jolson in blackface. It wasn’t just in the movies – news accounts of lurid black-on-white crime made whites fearful, while at the same time popular minstrel shows featured white people in makeup, acting in a parody of African-Americans.

Discrimination against African Americans was often seen as justified in the minds of whites, in part, because of the routine portrayal of black people as sex-crazed rapists, or as a simple-minded, shuffling, lazy lesser breed of human.

Let me put it this way. You may understand the idea of “white privilege” and how that impacts “institutionalized racism.” It’s the same thing with what I would call “cissexual privilege” and “institutionalized transphobia.”

Straight cissexuals mocking people like me in a drag show is just as much “just in good clean fun” as white people performing a minstrel show in blackface.

I hope I have illustrated the need for this technical amendment to the law. I can speak to any or all of you to amplify on this is you wish.