Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Dear Professor Warren,

I woke up this morning thinking about the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.  I remembered how attuned we were, as a party, to the needs of those on the margins.  As those on the right accuse us of godlessness (and I admit, I myself am an atheist), I saw people preaching the true message of Christ and professing the values our nation is built on: that yes, we are our brother’s keeper, and yes, we are in this together.  That together, we are greater than the sum of all our parts.  You quoted a piece of scripture in your speech that resonated with what I think we stand for as a party.

You said: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  And you explicated the passage well, stating that the passage “teaches about God in each of us, that we are bound to each other and we are called to act.”  You, along with the rest of the speakers, reached out to those on the margins – the poor, the homeless, the undocumented, the disabled, the LGBT community, and the various racial communities that make up our great nation.  You drove home the point that health care is a fundamental human right that no one in this country should go without.  Because of this, I woke up and donated $20 to your campaign.

Then I saw Scott Brown’s response to the Michelle Kosilek case; he called it “an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars” and I said (publicly) that this was yet another reason I would not be voting for Senator Brown.  Certainly, transgender folks are treated as some of the “least of these my brethren.”  The prison community even more so.  And for a woman who has been forced to live her life as a male by a society that refuses to understand the needs of gender minorities – for a woman who has been forced to live in an all-male prison – for a woman who has repeatedly self-mutilated and attempted suicide over the lack of medical care (again, something we as a party deem a fundamental human right) – I knew that you would understand Kosilek’s plight.

So I was surprised today to learn that you agree with Senator Brown.  Surprised and disheartened, really, after what I found to be such a great convention speech.  Although you weren’t as blustering as Senator Brown, you told WTKK the following: “I have to say, I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars.”  It’s true that this is the sentiment of many of our friends and neighbors who do not understand transgender issues.  It’s true that, in an election year, it might have been political suicide to come out in favor of trans rights (especially in the case of Kosilek, a murderer who garners little public support).  But there was an out for you, Professor; you could have simply deferred to the medical expertise of those in the prison system who stated that this was medically necessary treatment.  Certainly the great people of Massachusetts don’t want the Government intervening in the decision of doctors, right?  Isn’t that everyone’s great fear about “ObamaCare” – that bureaucrats will be deciding the treatment of Americans?

I know that you would not deny anyone the chemotherapy to cure their cancer, or the medicine to control blood pressure, or the drugs to treat depression.  Why then would we withhold treatment for someone who has fought the last twenty years trying to live as a woman the treatment the medical community has deemed necessary.  We do not allow prisoners to fund their own care; we take on that obligation as a state and as a nation.  That means that we cannot withhold treatment, even from – especially from – “the least of these my brethren.”  What Michelle Kosilek did to her wife was deplorable; it’s easy to hate her, and seek vengeance against her by denying her treatment.  But that’s not who we are, nor is it who I think you want us to be.

Trans folks face some of the worst treatment our society has to offer, and to keep her in an all-male facility, and to deny her the care she needs, sets her up for further suicide attempts, further attempts at self-mutilation, further attempts at rape and abuse.  The Bill of Rights protects every American from cruel and unusual punishment – even those on the extreme margins of our society – and I would hope that a candidate as progressive as yourself would recognize that this is not about an operation; this is about a human being.  It’s about our own humanity as we remember what a Reagan-appointed federal judge remembered: that we love our neighbors, that judgment is not our prerogative, and that – with God in each of us – we are called to act.

More:

http://articles.boston.com/2012-09-06/metro/33615525_1_disorder-illness-violent-inmates
http://tranifesto.com/2012/09/06/the-michelle-kosilek-decision/
http://news.yahoo.com/transgender-murderer-michelle-kosilek-deserves-sex-change-treatment-155400205.html

Resources for those trying to understand trans issues:

http://transequality.org/Resources/NCTE_UnderstandingTrans.pdf
http://lbgtrc.msu.edu/resources/understanding-transgender-identities

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Normally, I’m not a believer in the following logic that seems to be pressing Romney to release his tax returns: “Well, if you don’t have anything to hide, why not show it?”  I just find that line of reasoning dangerous.  If you’re not committing a crime, why not have Government cameras in your house?  Because there is a certain point at which it’s an invasion of privacy.  So the question is: are the repeated calls for Romney’s tax-returns being made public one of these points?

Consider briefly the birth-certificate imbroglio that weighed down the beginning years of Barack Obama’s presidency (and almost his entire candidacy).  I was vehemently opposed to the rhetoric floating around back then, as in my eyes it was clear that people just could not believe that this man — with an exotic past and dark skin — could be President of the United States.  After all, I had never seen anyone claiming that Bill Clinton was born in Kenya.  No one ever claimed that George W. Bush was born overseas.  To my knowledge, no one has claimed that Mitt Romney was born in Canada.  So why was that question reserved for Mr. Obama?  I think the answer’s obvious, but to suggest it is to open oneself up to attacks of “playing the race card.”

So now the shoe is on the other foot, and people are talking about Romney’s taxes.  I don’t think comparing these two questions as witch-hunts and here’s why: almost every candidate for president — since Mitt Romney’s father released an unprecedented 12-years of returns — has released more than a year of tax returns.  Federal law only requires two years, and so far Romney has only provided one year’s worth, with another planned for October.  Do you see the difference?  Almost every candidate has been asked to release tax returns and has done so; Romney has not.  No candidate had been asked to prove his place of birth; Obama was.

There’s all kinds of speculation about why Romney won’t release his returns.  To be fair, McCain only released two years of returns prior to his candidacy, but nobody at the time was claiming that McCain was hiding millions of dollars overseas or failing to pay any taxes at all.  McCain also didn’t fail to disclose to the Federal government that he had a corporation in Bermuda.  Romney states emphatically that he’s paid what is legally necessary — and only what is legally necessary — and the IRS has audited him, so we should believe him.  To be honest, I don’t disbelieve him.  But the reason Romney doesn’t want this as part of the conversation isn’t because he’s done anything illegal (I don’t think), but because it will bring the realities of tax-policies for people worth hundreds of millions of dollars into the forefront again.

We will begin having the same conversations that both the TEA Party and Occupy Wall Street started — except we’ll be having them in the context of a Presidential election.  The question will be simple: “Do we want a leader who has benefited from years of tax loopholes and off-shore accounts and who has promised to maintain those tax breaks for the wealthy?”  That’s a real conversation to have.  Do we continue the idea of “Trickle Down Economics” or do we reform the tax code so that those who benefit the most from the American system also pay the greatest proportion of taxes?  Either way, this isn’t a discussion that’s going to be going away anytime soon.  As Romney’s numbers fall in key swing states, it might be time for him to bite the bullet.  Better now than in November.

Liz Warren sums up my position, but the American people are entitled to see the tax records and have the conversation:

“I don’t give a shit, Madame Butterfly!”

HBO’s new show, The Newsroom, continues to draw the ire of many critics and journalists (although Dan Rather found the show remarkably accurate and the potential to be a classic) who have any number of complaints about the series.  People claim that the dialogue and banter is too intellectual and that people don’t really talk that way (a similar criticism was levied at Sorkin’s other hit television show that you might remember… The West Wing).  The blog-o-sphere is aghast at how the show is misogynistic and fails at creating strong, likable female characters (I would usually provide a link here, but you can just Google any recap from the first six episodes and you will see the same complaints rehashed over and over).  Others complain that the show is too one-sidedly liberal and that Will McEvoy, the main character, is the voice of Liberal TV-God Sorkin himself.  Others just rag on how the drama between the characters gets in the way of the good part of the show, which is the idealized newsroom covering events that are several years or months old with the benefit of hindsight to aid in the writing.

The criticism that the show is too dialogue-heavy and intellectual, to me, should be more a praise than a complaint.  It has to be one of the most intelligently written shows since the West Wing and focuses on two things that I would prefer to banal plot, namely character development (and their psychology) and social/political issues.  The notion that people in this profession do not — would not — speak that way, I think, might be a bit disingenuous.  Has anyone ever watched Rachel Maddow?  She speaks that way, as do many journalists.  She spoke that was a radio host, and she speaks that was as a TV host, and I imagine she speaks similarly if I were talking to her outside her work environment (and very little of The Newsroom is set outside the work environment, so I still think it’s reasonable for them to talk that way).  People who are in environments of very educated people, and who are themselves well-educated, tend to speak in a more formal register of language.  I don’t find it so unrealistic that I can’t suspend my disbelief for the 52 minutes of an episode because Will or Mackenzie are just a bit too witty.

As someone who considers himself a budding feminist (or pro-feminist, if you’re in the camp of individuals who believe that men cannot be feminists), I don’t really understand the critique of the show as being overtly misogynistic (similar claims were made about The West Wing as well).  To believe that the show is an anthem for white male privilege, as many reviews would suggest, means that you accept as a premise that we are supposed to like and agree with the two most misogynistic characters: Will, our protagonist, and Don, who seems to be improving on the likability front these past two episodes.  I find Will to be one of the most interesting (but also damaged) characters on the show, but I don’t think for a second Sorkin expects you to agree with how he treats others.  He’s a bully and a chauvinist, and you’re supposed to dislike those parts about him.  If I had any complaints about the series thus far, it would be that tonight’s episode basically had to spell this out for the viewer as Will admits he’s a bully, and a strong female character shouts “Don’t call me girl!” after being patronized by Charlie (played by Sam Waterston from Law & Order, whom I love).

[Edit, rant to follow: I just felt that, after reading some more reviews, that I needed to elaborate even further on this.  It is true that some of the female characters on the show have serious character flaws.  Some of those flaws are ones that are typically and inaccurately ascribed to all women by society.  Similarly, some of the men on the show have serious character flaws, and some of those flaws are ones typically and innaccurately ascribed to all men by society.  But there are male characters who are not the epitome of patriarchy and masculinity (Jim) and there are characters who challenge female archetypes (Sloan, and to some extent, Mac).  People fail to recognize when railing against this show’s misogyny that these characters are highly competent yet flawed.  Those who lambaste the character of Mac for her technology savvy and being bullied by Will don’t recognize that she’s the same character who embedded herself to cover the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and that Will is the highest-rated anchor on the air and seems to be a journalistic idyll but whose entire staff left him, hates him, or is afraid of him.  I am just frustrated that people don’t see that these characters are multi-dimensional and flawed as products of an imperfect society and a unique set of experiences, but rather see them as promoting some hegemonic male white privilege.  The whole argument reminds me of people who try to say (and they do exist, I promise) that Glee is homophobic because Kurt exhibits some stereotypes of the gay community.  They try to diminish him as a flat, archetypal gay character rather than looking past that to see one of the more nuanced and complicated characters on the show.]

As for the complaints that the show is too partisan and that Will is Sorkin’s mouthpiece, well, that’s just not really believable.  Will is a Republican (in the traditional New England style, not the radical Tea Party style or the Christian Right Neo-Conservative style).  But again, tonight’s episode pandered to those who didn’t quite get that by giving a Republican character a more likable place on today’s show (though the fact that fictional Sutton Wall is based on real-life ex-Santorum staffer Robert Traynham bothered me as out of line — unless there are other Black, gay, Santorum campaign staffers out there I don’t know about, this man is not a public figure and probably shouldn’t have been castigated in fictional form on HBO primetime).

Also, I love the drama between the co-workers on the show.  I love their relationships and I find the ensemble cast very symbiotic.  They have chemistry and continue to develop week to week.

And it seems like the viewers agree, if only because the show has already been renewed for a second season and is pulling decent ratings.  It’s not for everyone, and it’s not meant to be, but for its target audience it does a brilliant job and I will continue to watch.  I love the dialogue, adore the female cast, appreciate the voice of moderation (though perhaps in today’s political climate, moderate Republican really is equivalent to far-left demagogue), and find the characters compelling.  Sorkin at his best, and it had me from the opening hook:

One of the popular issues on and off throughout the election cycle so far has been voter fraud — specifically, whether or not one should have to present valid, state-issued photo ID (drivers license, passport, gun permit) to cast your ballot in November.  The argument goes something like this, if you listen to those on the right: “You need an ID to drive a car, buy liquor, buy cigarettes, open a bank account — why don’t you need one to do the most important American duty (so important that only 61.6% of eligible Americans voted in 2008)?”  My response will probably sound a lot like the ones you’ve heard Liberals articulate on the news, specifically that it disenfranchises voters.  Specifically, I’d argue that it predominantly affects voters who tend to vote democratic, which is why these new voter ID laws tend to pop up in states with conservative leadership.  Also, it is a solution in search of a problem.  Between 2002-2007, according to a study completed by the Justice Department under Republican administration, there were only 120 cases (of which only 86 were convicted) of voter fraud.

So why is Voter Fraud a big deal, you ask?  I will start by directing you to the Constitution, specifically the 24th amendment:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 24th amendment was implemented in response to the creation of poll taxes designed to oppress Black voters during the reconstruction era after the 15th amendment granted voting rights to citizens of any race.  In most states, it costs money to obtain a state ID.  Here is where proponents of Voter ID proudly exclaim: any state which implemented this law makes obtaining a state ID free!  Well yes, sort of. In most states, to get the free ID, you have to already know about the law and ask for it.  So who does this most prominently affect, anyway?  Surely most people have some sort of Voter ID:

1.) The elderly, for a number of reasons.  First, some older folks have driver’s licenses that do not have a photo on them.  In Tennessee, for instance, this number was as high as 230,000.  If the state requires that the ID be current, many elderly do not drive and fail to renew their licenses or lose them and do not bother to replace them.  After all, older Americans have already established their bank accounts, purchased their homes, and likely do not get carded when buying alcohol or tobacco products.  They are also the ones, I speculate, to be least aware of changes in voting laws.  After all, if you have been voting for fifty years, it seems unlikely to think “Oh, wait, this might have changed.”

2.) Young people.  Young people move around a lot.  One third of people in their 20s move every year.  Many states allow college students to vote in the state of their college, and have only out of state ID (which again may have expired, or they may not keep with them).  College students are also less likely to drive, especially in urban areas, and most IDs expire on or around the 21st birthday while in college.  If I needed to obtain an ID right now (I have one, thankfully), I might have some trouble.  I pay all of my bills online and do not have statements to prove my address.  I have moved ten times in the past six years spanning two states and four cities/towns, so a permanent mailbox is not available to me.  I’ve lost my birth certificate in one of those moves, and the closest copy is 150 miles away.  It’s entirely feasible that young college students will not have valid photo ID.

3.) African Americans.  For whatever reason, African Americans are significantly less likely to have a valid form of ID than anyone else.  In states where Voter ID laws have passed as if 2006, as many as 22% of African Americans did not have the required identification.  Hispanic/Latino citizens were also less likely to have the required ID than White Americans.  Depending on the survey you look at, those percentages range from 20-30%.

4.) The poor: The poor are least likely to have an ID for reasons stated above… the cost and hassle of getting IDs renewed or replaced places an undue burden on those who can least afford to do so.  It also further restricts the voting ability of the homeless.  Even if they are not a group that traditionally votes, they are still afforded the opportunity to.  I had someone respond to me on Twitter and say that he didn’t want “lazy homeless people who don’t contribute to society voting.”  I guess he didn’t realize that military veterans are more likely to be homeless.

It seems to me that these groups (with the exception of perhaps the first, though I suspect that medicare and social security policies of recent austerity-movement conservatives might make that group more democratic), these groups predominately vote democrat.  There has been a correlation found between attitudes toward African Americans and support of Voter ID legislation.  Those who are outraged by claims that these laws harken back to Jim Crow-era race relations might do well to look at the history of voter suppression in the United States.

While many have railed about the evils of the liberal ACORN, many of which were unfounded, voter fraud happens just as often or more on the right.  The recent Wisconsin recall election was fraught with reports of people calling and going door-to-door saying that those who had signed the petition to recall Scott Walker didn’t have to vote. or that those who hadn’t voted in 2010 weren’t allowed to vote.  The Republican governor of Florida ordered, illegally, the purging of voter rolls and was reluctant to stop when ordered by the DOJ.

All of this ignores one fundamental fact, too.  Almost all voter fraud is done through absentee ballot, which these laws would not affect.

So we would disenfranchise as many as 11% of Americans in an attempt to solve a non-existent problem with ineffectual and probably unconstitutional means.  And people think this idea has merit?  Personally, I think it’s thinly-veiled racism and attempted voter manipulation.

Chick-fil-Gay

Posted: July 29, 2012 in Politics
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I thought it would be fitting for this to be the first post.  Much controversy and imbroglio has arisen in recent days as Chick-fil-A president Truett Cathy announced (to the surprise of no one in the gay community or those familiar with the customer’s Baptist heritage) that his organization was “guilty as charged” of accusations that they supported traditional marriage.*  So guilty in fact that the organization donated nearly $5M to anti-gay causes in the past decade.  For advocates and activists, we knew this already, but the rest of the country hopped on board the old-news express this week.

First, Mayor Menino, in true bureaucratic fashion, wrote a strongly worded letter:

This made national news, until our lovely Boston mayor was out-shined by a slightly more famous pol, Chicago mayor and former White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel and the city’s Alderman, Proco Moreno, chimed in.  But it wasn’t just the typical beltway blowhards who decided to make this national news: none other than Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy agreed that Chick-Fil-A’s stance on LGBT issues and marriage equality meant that they could no longer be friends.

It seems that Chick-Fil-A was spurned by this announcement, and started making dastardly accusations towards Gonzo et. al. (below).

Notice that Muppet toys will no longer be available because they are unsafe. Perhaps they’re worried you’ll realize the truth about Bert and Ernie.

And as the mayors of progressive cities running for re-election everywhere started issuing bans and fatwas against, what I’m told, is the most homophobic producer of chicken sandwiches, a predictable rally-cry was heard from those on the right.  Commentators like Rush Limbaugh called Menino and Emanuel Stalinists, and others railed about first amendment issues, government overreach, etc..  So called traditional-marriage conservatives Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum tweeted that they were enjoying some tasty Chick-Fil-A as most twitter uses re-tweeted with scathing replies.

It’s all been quite dramatic, really, and even typical progressive Allies like the ACLU and Mayor Bloomberg have begun criticizing reactionary politicians for curtailing the civil liberties of corporate-person Chick-Fil-A.  Another unlikely stance comes from  Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown, who is veering as hard-left as possible to try to keep Massachusetts Democrats from voting for Elizabeth Warren in November, came out (no pun intended) against Cathy’s remarks and, trying not to offend anyone, said that Massachusetts law would take care of any discrimination concerns whether or not Chick-fil-A made an appearance on the Freedom Trail.  Fried chicken, along with slow news cycles, makes strange bedfellows!

So what to make of all of this?  Is it really a free speech issue?  Will the market decide (through boycotts from the left and donations from the right) whether this fast food chain will show up on Beacon Hill?  Does anyone really care?

From a personal perspective, I appreciate the comments of Mayors Menino and Emanuel, and all of the politicians who have come out declaring that the values of Chick-fil-A are not in keeping with the values of the community.  I think it’s a show of solidarity for the gay community more than anything, with perhaps a little bit of political posturing thrown in.  While those in charge can make permitting and licensing difficult for Chick-fil-A, it’s unlikely that these well-intentioned politicians will be able to prevent the restaurant from expanding northward (though Northeastern made it difficult).

In reality, this is more than a free speech issue.  I don’t think Cathy’s views really have anything to do with the true problem — that Chick-fil-A is donating millions of dollars to hate groups.  I wonder — if they had donated to the KKK, there would be this much outrage about politicians trying to keep them away? Here is where those on the right claim that these liberal pols have already allowed hate groups — many citing Farrakhan or certain fundamentalist Islamic churches — to reside in the most progressive cities.  The difference being, in my mind, that those groups (whose opinions I don’t agree with) are trying to protect minority interests, whereas Chick-fil-A is actively donating money to maintain current power structures and the status quo.  It’s the rhetorical equivalent of saying “Well, there’s a gay pride parade that I don’t agree with, so why can’t we have a straight pride parade?” — not recognizing that most institutions in the US are Christian institutions, and every day is a straight pride parade.  Others will contend that the groups that Chick-fil-A donates to aren’t “hate groups” in the same way the KKK is, so that the analogy isn’t valid.  I suppose that depends on the view from where you’re standing, as the KKK were (and are) pretty strongly against inter-racial marriage.

Either way, I’m proud that we’re getting to a point where people aren’t just shrugging at large donations being given to homophobic groups (some of which commission misleading studies about the impact of gay parenting).  Meanwhile, marriage equality has served as a boon for local economies in states that have recently legally recognized such unions, proving that progressive agendas can stimulate the economy.

Such impassioned debate is a sign that things are moving in the right direction.  Does anyone have the number for a good relationship counselor to help Chick-fil-A and the muppets work out their differences?

*Jon Stewart takes on “traditional marriage,” Chick-fil-A, and the Boy Scouts