30 January 2013

Two few black senators

No, that's neither a misspelling nor a grammatical error.

Today, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced his pick for interim senator to replace John Kerry, who is moving up to the role of Secretary of State upon Hillary Clinton's (hopefully temporary) retirement.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, the new interim senator will not be Barney Frank, who had publicly volunteered for the position. Instead, Patrick appointed Mo Cowen, his former chief of staff. Cowen will serve in an interim capacity until a special election scheduled for June.

I am not yet familiar with Cowen's history or politics at this point, so I will not now comment along those lines. But I want to note that this appointment means that We The People, for the first time in this nation, will have 2 African-American senators serving on Capitol Hill at the same time. And that's kind of cool. Very cool.

But it's still unfair, and not truly representative, because African Americans currently make up some 13.1 percent of the U.S. population. For African-Americans to be truly represented on Capitol Hill, we would need 13.1 black senators, not 2. I would be happy with 8 or 9.

I don't have the political answer to this problem. I can just expose it and hope that doing so will help the cause of fairness in the long run.

Also for the long run, I want to point out that I don't indiscriminately advocate for African-American candidates. One must cast one's vote based on the issues, not on the color of a candidate's skin. (See Herman Cain.)

But I do try to advocate for fairness in any reasonable context.

22 January 2013

40 years after Roe v. Wade, we're still fighting for those rights

Today, January 22, 2013, marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which ruled that the right to privacy under the 14th Amendment includes a woman's right to exercise sovereignty over her own body and choose to terminate a pregnancy.

And the Republicans are still upset about it. They've been doing everything they can to make abortion as difficult as possible to obtain. In 2012 alone, 19 states enacted 43 restrictions on access to aborton services.

We need to keep fighting back.

Just as female voters got revenge on the rape nuts last November, and rejected candidates like Todd ("legitimate rape") Akin and Richard ("God's will") Mourdock, we need to continually inform and mobilize women against the war on contraception and a woman's right to choose. We need to work at the state level all across the nation to defeat those who would erode our rights.

We cannot afford to let them take us back to the 1950s.

21 January 2013

King's dream seems so close, but still so far away

Today, the third Monday in January, Americans celebrate the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day,, honoring the late civil rights leader.

If Dr. King were alive today, I'm sure he would be delighted to see an African-American family in the White House. However, he would surely also recognize - as we all should - that his dream is still far from becoming a full reality. The election of our first African-American president did not usher in a post-racial America. Indeed, in some corners of the country, it has fanned the flames of racism.

Furthermore, today, it's not just about white vs. black, but also white vs. brown, and white males vs. "other" in general.

In response, we must all work extra hard every day to promote tolerance and acceptance. We must all work every day towards fully realizing Dr. King's dream, in which all people "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Given human nature, the dream will likely not come true in my lifetime, if ever. But every step forward is worth celebrating.

Your homework for today:

>> Watch video of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

>> Read the text of the speech.

20 January 2013

Obama 2.0 and you

To my liberal/progressive friends and allies:

As President Obama begins his second term in office, surely things will be different than they were during the first term. He is more experienced and probably less idealistic today than he was four years ago.

To the dismay of many liberals and progressives, Obama spent much of his first term - especially in the two years since the GOP won the House majority - trying in vain to negotiate with the Republicans in Congress, even as they systematically rejected almost every generous compromise that the president offered. Unfortunately, most of the compromises were one-sided.

I think he finally got the message, as the Obama of recent weeks seems much less conciliatory. He is still reasonable, but he is also stronger, tougher, and more assertive. It will be interesting to see how this affects the dynamics in DC moving forward.

On a less hopeful note, I fear that he will continue down the darker paths in the so-called war on terror, like drone attacks, targeted assassinations, and the continuation of injustices at Gitmo. Because of this, we must remain vigilant and vocal.

The delay of the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrated that organized protests can have a positive effect on this president's actions. We must continue to organize and challenge him to do what's right.

This second term will determine Obama's legacy. Let's do what we can to ensure it's a positive one.

17 January 2013

Dennis Kucinich now works for Fox News!

Who would have imagined it???

Former U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), possibly the most liberal member of Congress ever, who lost his seat in Congress last November due to redistricting, has signed a multi-year deal as a Fox News commentator.

What???!!! That's like saying that I married a Republican. Oh, wait - I did that before. But, at the time, I was very young and not yet political. Dennis has no such excuse. (And I am long since divorced from that Republican.)

While I believe that Kucinich did this because he wants to continue sharing his progressive ideas (perhaps especially in hostile territory), I think he won't be taken seriously on the fiercely conservative Fox News, and will be seen/treated as a "wild-eyed liberal nut" at worst and/or a token left-winger at best.

So it might do more harm than good.

What do you think?

15 January 2013

San Francisco might name airport after Harvey Milk

This is cool:

According to the LGBT rights organization Equality California, "the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is planning to move forward with a proposal to rename San Francisco International Airport to Harvey Milk International Airport, after the former supervisor who was the first proudly gay man elected to office in America."

John O'Connor, Equality California's Executive Director, beautifully summed up what this would symbolize: "Renaming the airport for Harvey Milk would be an international symbol of hope and freedom, and an enormous educational opportunity. People from around the world -- including countries where being gay is still against the law -- will learn about Milk's great legacy. This is a chance to lead the world and [effect] positive change on a global scale."

O'Connor continued: "San Francisco International Airport serves over 40 million passengers a year, with 59 airlines serving 105 airports throughout the world. This would be the first airport in the world named after a proudly LGBT person."

I hope it happens.

14 January 2013

New resource on 2012 death sentences: Good news, bad news, and the fight goes on

The Death Penalty Information Center has created a new resource page on U.S. death sentences in 2012.

Among the key findings:

• 77 people were sentenced to death in 2012, the second lowest number of sentences since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. (That's some progress, I suppose.)

• Of those sentenced, 3 were women, 48% were black, and 40% were white.

• Four states - Florida, California, Texas, and Pennsylvania - were responsible for 66% of the death sentences.

• Only nine counties produced over a third of the death sentences in the country.

I am ashamed that my home state of Pennsylvania is one of the most bloodthirsty four. We have a lot of work to do, fighting uphill against a Republican governor and a GOP-dominated state legislature.

But we must keep up the fight nationwide until the death penalty is abolished in all U.S. states - just as it has already been abolished in most other western democracies.

The death penalty is not about justice, it's about revenge. It's time we joined the more civilized world.

>> Check out the new resource page: Death Sentences in 2012

13 January 2013

Jeanne Manford, PFLAG founder, RIP

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Jeanne Manford, founder of an organization that eventually grew to become Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Manford started the original support group in 1972, after her gay son had been beaten while participating in a protest for gay rights in their native New York City. PFLAG now has some 200,000 members and more than 350 local chapters across the U.S.

Since its inception, the organization has provided a supportive environment for members of the LGBT community and the people who love them. Perhaps most prominently, it has provided a safe and compassionate haven for parents and other family members who need to work out all kinds of issues upon learning that a son, daughter, brother, or sister is gay. And, once over that initial hump, the group's ongoing support can lead to lifelong friendships and a life-changing commitment to the causes of acceptance and equality.

I have been a dues-paying member of my local PFLAG chapter for several years, both as a close friend of some LGBT persons and as an overall supporter of the organization. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to attend many of their meetings. But, when I have been to meetings, I was always impressed by the love and acceptance that these people project - towards each other, towards their LGBT friends and family members, towards newcomers, and towards people in general. I always felt welcome there, from my very first meeting, even though I couldn't give back as much as I've wanted to.

The local meetings I've attended usually have consisted of a formal program followed by a less formal support group where people can share their experiences, issues, and concerns, and get advice and encouragement. Sometimes there were tears; but there was always compassion, caring, and often laughter. I'm sure that the group has saved the sanity of a lot of people, has helped to keep some families together, and maybe even saved some lives.

I'm always impressed when I see the local PFLAG group marching proudly behind their banner in gay pride parades. I wish every LGBT person had a family who loved them enough to so proudly and publicly support them for who they are.

Fortunately, for those who do not have that kind of support at home, the PFLAG family is there with open arms.

Thank you, Jeanne Manford, for making it all possible.

11 January 2013

Smart gun regulation ideas from my gun owning friend

Vice President Joe Biden has indicated that he will be submitting a set of recommendations from his gun violence prevention task force to President Obama by next Tuesday. He said that he is seeing a lot of support for universal background checks and restrictions on high-capacity magazines.

Those would be a good start.

I got some other smart suggestions from a socially liberal gun-owning friend (listen up, Mr. Biden): Licensing - with passing a safety course as a requirement; and registration.

This friend suggested making unsafe handling of a firearm a felony. Those found guilty wouldn't necessarily go to jail or even pay a fine, but they would be banned from gun ownership for some period of time (life if egregious). You would lose your license and any firearms you own.

Gun registration would prevent a lot of straw purchases. Unregistered guns could be confiscated as illegal.

To me this makes sense. For the most part, it's how we treat car ownership and operation. You cannot operate a motor vehicle without a license - which is available only after passing a test. Also, all cars must be registered. And reckless driving has its legal consequences.

Of course, the radical gun nuts would probably try to point out that there's no constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to own or operate a car as there is to "bear arms".

As my friend then said, "I'm a firm believer in the right to own guns, but I'm also a firm believer in people having to take responsibility for those guns. That's the part that I find lacking on the right."

Indeed, with rights come responsibilities.

10 January 2013

DC Amnesty activists demonstrate at Zero Dark Thirty premiere

On Tuesday evening, January 8, Amnesty International activists gathered at the Washington, DC, gala premiere of the controversial movie Zero Dark Thirty at the Newseum. According to some commentators, the movie suggests that the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e., torture) may have helped the CIA to locate Osama bin Laden, which resulted in his assassination. (Note: I have not yet seen the movie.)

The DC activists, dressed in orange prison-style jumpsuits, projected the message "Torture is wrong" and the Amnesty candle logo on the wall of the Newseum. They also handed out Amnesty's fact sheet on torture and Osama bin Laden.

See photos here.

Media reports on the protest:
Atlantic Wire
Hollywood Reporter

Great job, you guys!

09 January 2013

My weird Daily News anniversary

Today marks the 7th anniversary of my last paid column for the Philadelphia Daily News, the city's number 2 newspaper. Sadly, the gig ended when the Daily News and its sister publication, the larger Philadelphia Inquirer, were sold for the second or third time in a small number of years.

I have mixed feelings. The Daily News gave me broad exposure for my human rights and social justice advocacy. On the other hand, it wasn't easy to work with my assigned editor, the token right winger on the editorial board. In fact, at times it was hell.

Overall - and with no sour grapes, I swear - I keep telling myself that I'm better off having moved on. And I thank all the editors of the various publications that today keep my work out there in the public eye on a regular basis - where it hopefully will do some good.

07 January 2013

SCOTUS to hear same-sex marriage arguments March 26-27

Today the U.S. Supreme Court released a schedule of oral arguments for March. Hearings on two cases regarding same-sex marriage will be heard on subsequent days at the end of that month.

Here's the scoop from SCOTUSblog:

Tuesday, March 26:

12-144Hollingsworth v. Perry – constitutionality of California's "Proposition 8" ban on same-sex marriage; also, question of standing to appeal

Wednesday, March 27:

12-307United States v. Windsor – constitutionality of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act's benefits limited to married opposite-sex couples; also, question of standing for U.S. government and for House GOP leaders to appeal the case

Of course, with the current makeup of the Court, anything could happen in either case.

Stay tuned, with fingers crossed for equality.

06 January 2013

11 years later, Gitmo injustice continues

January 11, 2013, will mark the 11th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

In 2009, just two days after taking office, President Obama issued an executive order calling for the Guantanamo prison to be closed within a year, and for detainees to be given fair trials in U.S. federal courts. But, since then, he has repeatedly signed Congress's defense bills that keep Gitmo going, even while blaming Congress for his failure to keep his promise.

As several human rights groups have pointed out, until this changes and the prison is closed as promised, Gitmo will remain a big, black blemish on our national image, and a symbol of an immoral "war on terror" that will continue to serve as a recruiting tool for terrorists. It's an atrocity that Obama inherited, but now he owns it.

"It's not encouraging that the President continues to be willing to tie his own hands when it comes to closing Guantanamo," said C. Dixon Osburn, Director of the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First. "The injustice of Guantanamo continues to serve as a stain on American global leadership on human rights."

As long as Gitmo remains in business, so will the faulty military tribunals that are trying the detainees who are "lucky" enough to be charged and tried rather than held in legal limbo. According to Amnesty International, "[military commissions] have been specifically crafted to enable the U.S. authorities to circumvent protections that defendants would enjoy in a civilian courtroom. The fact that they have undergone multiple statutory and procedural revisions suggests that they fall short of the 'regularly constituted court' standard required by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions."

And these military trials are also less efficient, noted Laura Pitter, Counterterrorism Advisor for Human Rights Watch: "The attacks of 9/11 were a great tragedy for all Americans and without doubt a crime that must be prosecuted. But it's disturbing to watch that horrific crime so dramatically change the U.S. system of justice - a source of pride for so many Americans. It's more disturbing given that it's not necessary or prudent. Federal courts have completed hundreds of terrorism cases since 9/11, while the commissions have dispensed with a mere seven."

I strongly urge President Obama to think about this again as he starts his second term. As a constitutional attorney, he should know as well as anyone that ensuring true justice does not mean that you're weak on terror. Indeed, it takes far more strength to do the right thing.

02 January 2013

Rick Perry keeps the Texas death house busy

Texas Governor Rick Perry ended 2012 with 15 executions under his belt for the year, bringing his total in office to a record number of 253. (By comparison, George W. Bush oversaw a mere 152 executions during his time as governor.)

Given how Perry bragged about his execution record during a presidential primary debate last year, I'll bet he savored each and every one of them.

And I'll bet he hasn't made any New Year's resolution to change his bloodthirsty ways. Already, the 2013 execution schedule is rapidly filling up, beginning with a January 29th date for Kimberly McCarthy.

Somehow, Perry apparently thinks it makes sense to kill a killer in order to show that killing is wrong. As if two wrongs make a right.

But, as the much wiser Mahatma Gandhi once said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

01 January 2013

Ironically, the House is supporting tax increases

As I write this, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are still playing politics with the so-called fiscal cliff, with Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other members refusing to support the compromise bill that passed the Senate early this morning. The Senate bill reinstates the Bush-era tax cuts for singles making $400K or less, and for couples making $450K or less.

Ironically, by rejecting the Senate bill, these members are effectively supporting the default tax increase for all, which kicked in at midnight. I thought supporting tax hikes was against their religion.

In Philly, 3 gun deaths already in 2013

It didn't take long for Philadelphia's 2013 gun-related death toll to kick in.

The first fatal shooting victim of the year was a 17-year-old boy who was gunned down at around 12:30 am on New Year's Day.

Then, about two hours later, a man was fatally shot.

At around 3:00 am, three people were shot, and one of them died.

Yes, right here in the so-called City of Brotherly Love.

And, sadly, I'm sure it's happening elsewhere in the U.S.

Unfortunately, even in the wake of the recent Connecticut school shootings, I doubt that anything will change. The gun lobby is just too powerful, and our elected representatives are just too weak.

The public discourse has already shifted to the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling. The next mass shooting will resurrect the subject, but probably only temporarily, as usual. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Happy New Year (and thanks)!

On this New Year's Day, I'd like to wish all my readers and friends, and your families, a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2013.

Thank you for your support through the years, and for constantly keeping me on my toes.

I am a better person - and a better writer and activist - because of each of you.