31 March 2011

Gays and grandmas - homophobia's double standard

I recently had a frustrating conversation with an opponent of same-sex marriage. To him (like many other homophobes) it was obvious that gay sex is wrong, because it cannot lead to procreation. God created sex, he believes, for purposes of procreation. Where that possibility does not exist, it cannot be right. It's obviously not part of God's holy plan.

I didn't bother asking him if that means he doesn't touch his wife when she's not ovulating.

And I didn't bring up the biblical passages that appear to condone sex among barren couples.

I did, however, ask him about his widowed grandmother. What if grandma met a nice man and they decided to marry? Since no children could result from such an elderly union, must they abstain from sex? Is elderly sex "wrong" like gay sex, because it, too, precludes the possibility of procreation?

"That's different," he replied.

But he couldn't explain how it is different. He just mumbled something about the "gay agenda".

And that mumble spoke loud volumes in ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance.

30 March 2011

SCOTUS hears Wal-Mart sex discrimination case

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Wal-Mart vs. Dukes. This case, which Wikipedia calls "the largest civil rights class action suit in United States history", charges the retail giant with "discriminating against women in promotions, pay, and job assignments in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

The Supremes will not be ruling on the discrimination issue itself. Instead, as the Washington Post explains, they will settle a technical issue. Specifically, they "will decide whether the small group of plaintiffs have satisfied federal class-action rules, allowing them to stand for co-workers nationwide who they say have suffered under common discriminatory practices. The class would include all women who have worked at Wal-Mart since December 1998."

This case will set an important precedent. Nan Aron, President the Alliance for Justice, explains:
"What makes this case so important for all Americans is not just the injustice done to hundreds of thousands of workers, it's the desire by Wal-Mart and the corporate powers supporting their case... to restrict the ability of the women harmed by these policies to band together as a class and fight a unified battle in court."
Will the women of Wal-Mart stand a chance in their pursuit of justice, now that we have three females sitting on the highest court in the land? Or will the conservative male majority again prevail in favor of corporate America running amok?

Stay tuned.

29 March 2011

SCOTUS rejects Troy Davis's innocence claim (and what you can do about it)

Sad news:

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected without comment Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis's appeal to further delay his execution as he attempts to prove his innocence.

According to Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, the Supremes "[rejected] five different ways that Davis's lawyers had sought to press his claim that he did not commit a 1989 murder of an off-duty policeman."

This decision gives Georgia the green light to set a new execution date for Davis.

The Supremes apparently don't believe Davis should be given more time and opportunity to prove his innocence, despite an impressive number of factors that suggest he may be innocent of the murder for which he was convicted: Davis's original trial was flawed. Most of the witnesses have since recanted or contradicted their stories, with many claiming that they had been pressured or coerced by police. And there is no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime. His conviction was based solely on that questionable testimony by witnesses.

Also disturbing is the fact that there was no noted dissent from yesterday's decision.

As I've written before, the Troy Davis case makes a good argument for repeal of the death penalty in the U.S. It illustrates how judicial discretion can block the fair and thorough review of innocence claims, thereby risking the execution of an innocent person.

That, I contend, cannot be called justice.

What you can do:

Sign Amnesty International's petition asking the Georgia authorities to take all steps necessary to ensure that Troy Anthony Davis does not face execution. There are also sign-on letters for religious leaders and legal professionals:

General petition

Religious leader sign-on letter

Legal professional sign-on letter

And stay tuned for updates.

28 March 2011

Military action deja vu while Americans suffer at home

In his weekly address on Saturday, President Obama defended the U.S. military attacks on Libya on the grounds that he is protecting the Libyan people from Gaddafi.

This reminds me of one of George W. Bush's excuses for attacking Iraq, once his WMD story was proven false. Bush insisted that we needed to protect the Iranian people from Saddam Hussein.

Apparently, American presidents, Democrat and Republican, seem to think it's our job to spend tax dollars "protecting" the rest of the world, even as so many people here at home are unemployed and hungry. Who is going to protect us?

25 March 2011

Reminder: Earth Hour tomorrow night - 8:30!

As I wrote on Wednesday, Earth Hour will be observed worldwide tomorrow evening.

At 8:30 pm local time, individuals, businesses, and municipalities around the world will turn off their lights for one hour -- Earth Hour -- in a show of concern for climate change and commitment to finding solutions.

I will be turning off my lights at that time, and I hope you will too.

For more information, go to www.earthhour.org.

24 March 2011

US double standard on humanitarian intervention

President Obama and his allies and fans are defending US-led attacks on Libya as a humanitarian mission "to make sure people aren't butchered because of a dictator who wants to cling to power."

While I oppose all violence, as it will never ultimately solve the political problems that underlie any such situation, Obama's intention sounds positive.

But if Obama really wants to protect the innocent citizens of other nations from violent, repressive governments, why has he not led similar large-scale efforts to defend the people of Darfur? The DRC? North Korea? Our trade "partner" China?

(Rhetorical questions, of course.)

23 March 2011

Earth Hour this Saturday (March 26)!

I've participated in Earth Hour the past three years, and it felt good. Now I am looking forward to Earth Hour 2011, which will happen this Saturday, March 26.

On Saturday at 8:30 pm local time, individuals, businesses, and municipalities around the world will turn off their lights for one hour -- Earth Hour -- in a show of concern for climate change and commitment to finding solutions.

Earth Hour started in 2007, and has been growing larger year by year. According to the Earth Hour Website, "Earth Hour 2010 became the biggest Earth Hour ever. A record 128 countries and territories joined the global display of climate action. Iconic buildings and landmarks from Asia Pacific to Europe and Africa to the Americas switched off. People across the world from all walks of life turned off their lights and came together in celebration and contemplation of the one thing we all have in common – our planet."

Let's make Earth Hour 2010 even bigger.

To find out more, go to www.earthhour.org.

If enough people, businesses, and cities participate, imagine how dramatic it will look from space as darkness rolls through the earth's time zones one by one!

22 March 2011

AT&T plays monopoly

I'm not referring to the board game.

AT&T announced over the weekend that it plans to purchase rival T-Mobile for $39 billion. Assuming it receives regulatory approval to do so, it would become the largest mobile phone network in the U.S.

As a result, customers will likely no longer be able to opt for T-Mobile's relatively inexpensive service plans.

As the big mega-corporations continue to buy up the competition, the consumer almost always loses.

Fewer choices, higher prices.

And the CEOs keep laughing all the way to the bank.

21 March 2011

Obama: The new war president

"I'm a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind."
-- George W. Bush

A grim anniversary has just passed.

On March 19, 2003, George W. Bush started his attack on an oil-rich nation that had posed no threat to U.S. security.

And, in future years, the date will carry yet another disturbing significance:

On March 19, 2011, Barack Obama commenced military action in Libya. And so it seems the current Commander In Chief is overseeing more military action on more fronts than his predecessor.

I'll bet George W. Bush is envious.

18 March 2011

Philly area teen bullied for being Muslim

We've been hearing a lot recently about what Madonna has dubbed the "bullying zeitgeist" in American schools these days. But, most of the time, the victims we hear about are gay.

Now it appears that the rampant Islamophobia we see amongst the Fox "News" crowd is also finding its way to the younger generation.

NBC's Philadelphia affiliate aired a story this week about a suburban eighth grader who has been enduring threats and bullying for being a Muslim. Schoolmates have been calling her a "terrorist", and one even tore off her veil in a bathroom and chopped off her hair.

I cannot believe that this kind of hate is solely the teenage bullies' own idea. They had to learn the Islamophobia from somewhere -- most likely at home.

I hope the bullies will be appropriately disciplined, and that their parents will learn a valuable lesson from it. But I'm not optimistic about the latter.

17 March 2011

House vote today on Afghanistan troop withdrawal

Today the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a H.CON.RES.28, a resolution requiring the withdrawal of all U.S. military troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011.

As the Los Angeles Times explains, the measure "is designed to appeal to the fiscal conservatism that has dominated the Republican agenda since the start of the year."

But, while some are calling it a "bipartisan" resolution, there are only two Republican co-sponsors, one of whom is libertarian Ron Paul. (The other is Walter Jones (NC).)

I'm pretty certain that the remainder of the Republican House majority won't go for it.

But it's worth trying, if only to get their votes on record in favor of continuing to spend billions of dollars on that war even as they complain about the deficit.

16 March 2011

How you can help the Japanese quake/tsunami victims

As you probably know, a major earthquake and tsunami struck Japan last Friday. As a result, countless Japanese people are homeless. They need shelter, clothing, electricity, food, and water. They need everything.

See below for some reputable organizations that are working on the relief effort. You can either donate online or donate via text message, as follows:

Donate online:

American Red Cross

Doctors Without Borders

International Medical Corps

Mercy Corps


Save the Children


Donate via text message:

American Red Cross: Text "REDCROSS" to "90999" and a one-time donation of $10 will be sent automatically to the American Red Cross and charged to your cell phone bill.

International Medical Corps: Text "MED" to "80888" and a one-time donation of $10 will be sent automatically to the International Medical Corps and charged to your cell phone bill.

15 March 2011

Are nukes still necessary?

I was in college in central Pennsylvania, about 100 miles from the Three Mile Island nuclear generating station, when the meltdown happened there in 1979.

Seven years later, in 1986, we saw something far worse happen at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

Today we're watching and wondering what the environmental and health consequences will be of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan that has affected the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant there.

When these things happen, the power industry tends to dismiss them as isolated incidents. But they are unnecessary incidents. Wouldn't now be a good time to move away from nuclear energy development and instead invest in safe alternatives like wind and solar? How many more disasters like this have to happen? (Sadly, these are rhetorical questions.)

ValleyWatch.net: Top Ten Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Power

14 March 2011

In war on terror, Obama is Bush light

Obama was elected to the presidency because we the people were ready for a change from the Bush regime. We were tired and angry with the Texas swagger and the bully-like approach to foreign policy. ("You're with us or you're with the terrorists!") We expected Obama to waste no time in reversing the Bush administration's more heinous (and, some say, illegal) policies in the so-called "war on terror".

We expected Obama to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay as promised and end the unfair military commission system there. But talk is cheap. And now it looks like we've been fooled.

On March 7, Obama issued an executive order to continue the Bush-era policy of indefinite detention of certain Guantanamo detainees, and resuming the military commissions. As Dana Milbank described it in a Washington Post column, Obama "has essentially formalized George W. Bush's detention policy." Yes, Obama, a constitutional attorney, has formalized the denial of basic human rights via these policies of indefinite detention and offshore kangaroo courts. And unlike Bush, who had Cheney pulling the strings, Obama has no shady puppet master we can blame it on.

Some Obama apologists want to pin the blame on Congress, which passed a defense spending bill last December that specifically prohibits the use of defense funding to establish an alternative prison in the United States to hold Guanatamo detainees, or to transfer Gitmo detainees to the U.S. But, on January 7, President Obama willingly signed it into law. And now, with the March 7 order, he has taken a further step backwards.

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out at Salon.com, "The preservation of the crux of the Bush detention scheme was advocated by Obama long before Congress' ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. It was in May, 2009 -- a mere five months after his inauguration -- that Obama stood up in front of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives and demanded a new law of 'preventive detention' to empower him to imprison people without charges: a plan the New York Times said 'would be a departure from the way this country sees itself.' It was the same month that the administration announced it intended to continue to deny many detainees trials, instead preserving the military commissions scheme, albeit with modifications. And the first -- and only -- Obama plan for 'closing Guantanamo' came in December, 2009, and it entailed nothing more than transferring the camp to a supermax prison in Thompson, Illinois, while preserving its key ingredients, prompting the name 'Gitmo North.'"

If we in the progressive community can see past Obama's fancy, clever rhetoric and detect the underlying lack of progress for human rights and the rule of law, surely the rest of the world can see it as well. And I find it disgraceful and embarrassing at best.

Perhaps the only good thing about all this is that the policies might have grown even more abusive had McCain and Palin won the 2008 election.

But I wonder if there will ever come a day in my lifetime when we're no longer seeing most of our elected Democrats as the lesser of two evils.

11 March 2011

With "Born This Way" video, Gaga blew an opportunity

A few days ago, I saw Lady Gaga's new "Born This Way" video for the first time. While it was entertaining, it was also disappointing.

The song is a tribute to her fans in the gay community. Unfortunately, aside from the fluorescent pink triangles that open and close the video, the visuals didn't seem to reflect the lyrics' message of acceptance. For most of the 7+ minutes, it was Gaga dancing around in her underwear. I was disappointed that she didn't take full advantage of the opportunity to reinforce the lyrics' point visually.

Perhaps it was a record company marketing decision. In any case, I nonetheless applaud Gaga for writing the song and helping to promote acceptance and tolerance through her music.

10 March 2011

Illinois Governor signs death penalty abolition bill

Yesterday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn made history by signing a bill banning the death penalty in that state. The Illinois state legislature had passed the bill on January 11. But, having supported the death penalty in the past, Quinn wanted to take his time in deciding whether to sign it or veto it. He also commuted the state's 15 existing death row sentences to life without parole.

This does not mean that Quinn isn't tough on crime. After all, I see life in prison as a much harsher sentence. Once you're executed, you're dead. But with life in prison, you have all your remaining years to live with the horrible crime you committed.

The criminal justice system is too seriously flawed to justify death sentences. The system is run by humans, and humans make mistakes. That is why we've seen more than 100 exonerations of death row prisoners in the U.S. who were wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit. How many others weren't allowed to live long enough to have a chance to prove their innocence? (We know of at least a few.)

Thanks to Governor Quinn for choosing to act on the side of life, not death.

09 March 2011

SCOTUS rules in favor of DNA testing for Hank Skinner

On March 7, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner may pursue a civil rights claim to obtain DNA testing that could prove his innocence in the 1993 triple murders for which he was convicted.

While this is good news, I wonder why it had to get this far. How could the lower court have ruled that the evidence should be ignored, thereby risking the possibility of executing the wrong man?

That, of course, is a rhetorical question. The criminal justice system is not always just, as illustrated by the fact that we know of at least a few cases in which innocent people were wrongly executed.

My thoughts are with Hank Skinner and his lovely wife Sandrine as they pursue the next step in their fight to prove his innocence.

May the truth ultimately prevail, whatever it may turn out to be.

08 March 2011

UN Secretary General statement for International Women's Day

Today, March 8, is International Women's Day, which was first commemorated 100 years ago. This day is observed worldwide each year to celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon issued the following statement to mark the occasion:
One hundred years ago, when the world first commemorated International Women’s Day, gender equality and women’s empowerment were largely radical ideas. On this centenary, we celebrate the significant progress that has been achieved through determined advocacy, practical action and enlightened policy making. Yet, in too many countries and societies, women remain second-class citizens.

Although the gender gap in education is closing, there are wide differences within and across countries, and far too many girls are still denied schooling, leave prematurely or complete school with few skills and fewer opportunities. Women and girls also continue to endure unacceptable discrimination and violence, often at the hand of intimate partners or relatives. In the home and at school, in the workplace and in the community, being female too often means being vulnerable. And in many conflict zones, sexual violence is deliberately and systematically used to intimidate women and whole communities.

My UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign, along with its Network of Men Leaders, is working to end impunity and change mindsets. There is also growing international resolve to punish and prevent sexual aggression in conflict, and to do more to implement the Security Council’s landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which highlights the importance of involving women in all aspects of building and keeping peace.

Another area where we urgently need to see significant progress is on women’s and children’s health. The September 2010 Summit on the Millennium Development Goals recognized the central importance of this issue, and Member States and the philanthropic community have pledged strong support for my global strategy to save lives and improve the health of women and children over the next four years.

In the realm of decision-making, more women, in more countries, are taking their rightful seat in parliament. Yet fewer than 10 per cent of countries have female heads of state or government. Even where women are prominent in politics, they are often severely under-represented in other areas of decision-making, including at the highest levels of business and industry. A recent UN initiative – the Women’s Empowerment Principles, now embraced by more than 130 major corporations – aims to redress this imbalance.

This year’s observance of International Women’s Day focuses on equal access to education, training and science and technology. Cell phones and the Internet, for example, can enable women to improve the health and well-being of their families, take advantage of income-earning opportunities, and protect themselves from exploitation and vulnerability. Access to such tools, backed up by education and training, can help women to break the cycle of poverty, combat injustice and exercise their rights.

The launch this year of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women – UN Women – demonstrates our intent to deepen our pursuit of this agenda. Only through women’s full and equal participation in all areas of public and private life can we hope to achieve the sustainable, peaceful and just society promised in the United Nations Charter.
>> Learn more about International Women's Day.

07 March 2011

For International Women's Day, the true recipe for equality

March 8 is International Women's Day (IWD), a day celebrated worldwide to mark the economic, political, and social achievements of women. And, while women's rights have advanced considerably in a world of still mostly patriarchal cultures, we nevertheless have a long way to go to achieve true equality.

This year's IWD theme, as designated by the United Nations, is: Equal access to education, training, and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women

I completely agree that access to those resources is necessary for women to progress in the workplace. However, there are other, more basic, considerations that must not be overlooked: Access to sex education and family planning services. After all, even today in the modern industrialized West, many girls and young women still find themselves having to drop out of high school or college due to pregnancy. And this sets them on a potential course to lifelong underachievement. Most pregnant teenagers do not share Bristol Palin's socio-economic privileges, and cannot feed their families by dancing with the stars.

WomensHealthChannel.com lists the following grim statistics on the consequences of teen pregnancy:
> Teenage births are associated with lower annual income for the mother. Eighty percent of teen mothers must rely on welfare at some point.

> Teenage mothers are more likely to drop out of school. Only about one-third of teen mothers obtain a high school diploma.

> Teenage pregnancies are associated with increased rates of alcohol and substance abuse, lower educational level, and reduced earning potential in teen fathers.

> In the United States, the annual cost of teen pregnancies from lost tax revenues, public assistance, child health care, foster care, and involvement with the criminal justice system is estimated to be about $7 billion.
Still, many on the political right are doing all they can to undermine any chance of dealing with the problem in a practical, scientific manner.

For years they have been pushing for abstinence-only sex education, as opposed to safe-sex education, and that has proven to be ineffective at best. Telling kids not to have sex is not ultimately going to stop them. It just makes them unprepared for dealing with the potential consequences when they do have sex.

To further compound the problem, the right has waged an all-out war on the Planned Parenthood organization. In their first line of attack, anti-choice groups and individuals have been saturating the airwaves with distorted video and audio clips suggesting that Planned Parenthood provides services to illegal sex traffickers and encourages abortions for teenage rape victims without reporting the crimes.

In another line of attack, Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even though, as Elise Foley pointed out at the Huffington Post, "Planned Parenthood does not currently spend federal money on abortion services." With the abortion issue out of the federal funding picture, it's just about women's health - low-income women's health. And, if the Republicans succeed, countless low-income women may have to go without birth control and - more importantly - without health screenings.

This could result in more unwanted pregnancies due to harder-to-obtain contraception. It could result in an increase in cervical cancer due to harder-to-obtain Pap smears. And it could result in an increase of sexually transmitted disease due to reduced availability of STD education and treatment.

Overall, it has the appearance of a Republican war on women. Or, rather, a Republican war on non-rich women.

And we must fight back hard. Only with well-informed reproductive freedom can we hope to someday achieve true equality in education and the workplace.

04 March 2011

Yes, I have Republican friends

I had dinner a few days ago with a good friend whom I've known for more than a decade. She is the kind of friend who would be there for me if I needed help in an emergency. She is like family to me. She also happens to be a Republican.

Some people are surprised to learn that I have Republican friends, since my own political views fall pretty far to the left. Their surprise makes me wonder: Do they not realize that there is more to life than politics?

There are so many other things besides politics to talk about and share. And to think otherwise is to miss out on so much.

For me, it's better than being stubborn, lonely, and too one-sided.

03 March 2011

SCOTUS rules in favor of "God hates fags" group

Free speech: 1, Decency: 0

I never thought I'd ever agree with "Reverend" Fred Phelps and his Kansas-based Westboro Baptist flock of bigots about anything. But yesterday I came to the awkward realization that the impossible has happened.

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Westboro's disgusting picketing at military funerals is protected under the First Amendment. The ruling was the result of a court case filed by the father of Matthew Snyder, a soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2006. As the Washington Post explains, Albert Snyder accused the Westboro group of "intentionally inflicting emotional distress" both by picketing his son's funeral and by posting "a poem on the church's website that attacked Matthew's parents for the way they brought up their son."

The Westboro folks, for those who are unfamiliar, typically picket military funerals as well as gay-rights events with their slogan "God hates fags". They believe that the military deaths are God's punishment for what they perceive as the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

While my heart bleeds for Matthew's parents, I have to agree with the Court here. If they had ruled that the Westboro group cannot express their disgusting views, which group or individual would next be censored?

It brings to mind a phrase commonly attributed to Voltaire but actually coined by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in a biography of the French philosopher: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

02 March 2011

Why I won't remarry anytime soon

Some of my friends encourage me to remarry. Most of them are happily married, and they want the same for me. While I appreciate their caring, and while I certainly would like to marry again if I find the right kind of man, I don't see it happening anytime soon. That is because it wouldn't feel right to me to marry here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania while my gay and lesbian friends do not enjoy the same option.

I first got the idea from actress Charlize Theron, who expressed that view some years ago. And more and more people seem to be adopting that stance. Recently, singer-songwriter Jason Mraz announced that he and his fiancee will not marry until gay and lesbian Americans can do the same.

How could I not feel the same way?

For me to remarry now would feel selfish and self-centered.

It would feel like an in-your-face "nyah-nyah-nyah" to my fellow Pennsylvanians who are not free to marry the person they love.

It would feel like I was exploiting my status as a first-class citizen (read: heterosexual) while my gay and lesbian friends retain second-class status.

And I just couldn't live with that.

01 March 2011

Yes, Governor, worker rights are supposed to be a given

Like all faithful Republican governors, Chris Christie of New Jersey is doing what he can to downplay the importance of workers' rights.

On CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday, Christie claimed that the right to collective bargaining is not a given.

Per the CBS News website: "Listen, all these rights are legislatively created," he said. "They didn't come down from tablets at the top of a mountain."

No, Governor, they're not in the 10 Commandments.

They are, however, enshrined in Article 23(4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the U.S. is a signatory (as I noted in a blog post just last week):
"Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."
Of course, I'm sure that makes no difference to Christie, whose agenda seems focused on gifts for the rich and destruction of any programs that help the non-rich.