30 June 2014

Huge Supreme Court salaries

In the wake of today's unfortunate Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, I did some research to find out how much we're paying the Justices. According to an article on the Houston Chronicle's website, the Chief Justice earned an annual salary of $223,500 as of May 2010, while the eight Associate Justices averaged $213,900. And that doesn't include the fringe benefits.

That's what we're paying the conservative five to sell out our individual religious freedoms in favor of the conservative beliefs of business owners.

That's what we're paying Justice Clarence Thomas to sit quietly and unengaged during most hearings.

And that's what we're paying Justice Antonin Scalia to spew racist remarks from the bench.

At least Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg consistently earns her keep through her wise dissents.

Your tax dollars at work.

29 June 2014

Benghazi suspect belongs in federal court

Libyan national Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a suspect in the Benghazi bombing, is in U.S. custody and has been arraigned in federal court.

Some in the GOP think he should be sent to Gitmo and tried in the kangaroo-court-style military commission system there, which has done little to achieve justice and has done much to erode America's image in the world with regard to human rights and the rule of law.

If our federal courts were good enough for Timothy McVeigh, and good enough to effectively lock away the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, then they're certainly good enough for Abu Khatallah.

In fact, they're more effective than the military tribunals, as the Center for American Progress pointed out a few years ago:

"The facts are clear: Criminal courts are a far tougher and more reliable forum for prosecuting terrorists than military commissions.


"The extensive record of criminal courts in successfully prosecuting terrorists stands in stark contrast with the shockingly poor military commissions system. Since 2001 - the same period in which military commissions have convicted just three terrorists - criminal courts have convicted more than 200 individuals on terrorism charges, or 65 times more than military commissions. Criminal courts racked up these convictions with none of the uncertainty that still plagues the military commissions system."

So those of us who oppose Guantanamo are not soft on terrorism. Quite the opposite, in fact. And we can sleep at night because, unlike Gitmo's sytem, our way complies with U.S. and international law.

Effective and legal vs. ineffective and extralegal: Shouldn't it be a no-brainer?

28 June 2014

Remembering my encounter with Fred Phelps

As LGBT Pride Month winds down, I am thinking about my encounter a while back with the now-deceased "Reverend" Fred Phelps, then head of the homophobic Kansas-based Westboro Baptist "Church", whose website can be found at GodHatesFags.com. Yes, that is their actual web address.

For decades, the Westboro folks have been traveling the country and picketing any public or private event that they think represents gay culture or its effects. They sometimes even picket soldiers' funerals, because they believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were punishments from God for America's tolerance of homosexuality - as if that makes any sense at all.

And those are some things that I cannot let go unchallenged. So I took advantage of an opportunity to confront Phelps in person - in public.

About 10 years ago, I was in downtown Philly during an LGBT pride festival and decided to check it out. While I am straight, these things tend to be a lot of fun, and a good way to network in my advocacy for LGBT rights.

The place was rockin'! People filled the street celebrating the progress we've made in LGBT civil rights. But, most of all, they were celebrating the fact that they could be themselves, that they could act naturally - at least within those six or eight city blocks.

By contrast, Phelps and his team of bigots set up shop on a street corner in the midst of the festivities, and Phelps used a bullhorn to spew his biblical misinterpretations and condemn all gays to eternal hellfire.

I recognized him instantly. He was tall, very thin, and sported a cowboy hat. Unable to resist, I walked up to Phelps and asked, "Sir, doesn't your Bible say, 'Judge not, lest ye be judged'?"

He paused for a moment and looked at me as if I were some repulsive insect.

Then he turned his back to me and continued spewing more pseudo-religious nonsense.

I guess it's easiest to change the subject if you have no real answer.

Fred Phelps died on March 19 of this year. There are rumors that he was excommunicated from Westboro prior to his death, but I haven't been able to sort that out yet.

What matters is that his legacy lives on through the leadership of his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper (a lawyer and a very influential and controlling influence at Westboro) and Westboro spokesperson Steve Drain (whose daughter Lauren Drain wrote a fascinating book after her escape from Westboro).

Hopefully, more young people who have been brainwashed by these nuts will also wake up as Lauren Drain has done. Westboro will cease to exist if they run out of kids to hold their ugly signs.

27 June 2014

If you want to shoot, go to war

There was a story on the local Philly area news this morning about a fatal shooting overnight.

A TV reporter interviewed a relative of the victim, whose reaction was priceless: "If you want to shoot, go to war."

26 June 2014

SCOTUS rules that harassment and intimidation are constitutional

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a 35-foot buffer zone protecting abortion clinics. The buffer zone was established to prevent protestors from too aggressively interfering with the clinics' day-to-day operations.

The Court said that the protestors have a First Amendment right to occupy the sidewalks surrounding the clinics. And, in doing so, they essentially ruled that the protesters have a constitutional right to harass and intimidate the clinic's patients and staff.

The Court's opinion suggests that Massachusetts should have instead addressed the issue using "less intrusive tools readily available to it," like having the police ask the protestors to move if they are blocking access to a clinic.

The First Amendment is important, but I don't think our Founding Fathers intended it to be an excuse for harassment and intimidation.

What about the right of clinic workers to freely enter their workplace without having to call for a police escort? And what about the right of their patients to freely access the constitutionally legal services that the clinics provide?

Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, today pointed out what may be the worst likely result of this ruling: "This decision will just embolden more outrageous violence against women and health care providers."

Alarmingly, the Court's decision was unanimous.

24 June 2014

"Commie" hypocrisy from the right

Among the many derogatory labels that the right tries to pin on President Obama is "Communist". They fear that Obama's alleged "Communist" goals are a threat to capitalism.

However, it is amusing to note that these are some of the same people who support corporations that send American jobs to Communist China, where they can exploit the cheap Communist sweatshop labor.

And I'm guessing that they can't even see the irony.

17 June 2014

New book out today by Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three

Over the years, I've written a number of columns and blog posts about the West Memphis Three - a trio of men who were convicted as teenagers for the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Presumed ringleader Damien Echols, who was 18 years old at the time of the murders, was sentenced to death. His codefendants, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley, Jr., who were still minors at the time, were both sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There was no physical evidence connecting them to the murders. The conviction was based on a coerced confession by the intellectually disabled Miskelley and the testimonies of two witnesses who later recanted.

In 2011, the three were released on a controversial plea deal, after DNA evidence was discovered that would likely have proven their innocence.

In 2010, I met Echols at a book-signing event when he was promoting his first memoir, Life After Life, which was very good reading.

Today, Echols' new book, which he co-authored with his wife, Lorri Davis, will hit the bookstores. Echols and Davis met, fell and love, and got married all while he was on death row. All the while, Davis fought tirelessly for her husband's freedom, and led a full-time campaign to prove his innocence. Their new book, Yours for Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row", tells their love story through the letters they exchanged.

I just downloaded it to my Kindle, and I can't wait to dig in.

15 June 2014

The anti-gay crowd should watch this 2007 film - and rethink

Last night I watched the 2007 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, about how conservative groups twist and exploit and cherrypick from the Bible to justify their their ignorant fear and hatred of gays and lesbians and the denial of human rights to the LGBT community.

The movie also presents some rational and very insightful analysis of the problem by some more enlightened conservatives whose family lives have been affected by discrimination (and harassment and threats of violence) against the LGBT community.

I wish everyone who opposes LGBT rights would watch this movie with an open mind and rethink their views.

In fact, I dare you.

14 June 2014

Philly transit workers strike for their rights

At midnight last night, workers from Philly's regional commuter rail system, run by SEPTA, went on strike after negotiations failed.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the two striking unions "offered to submit their labor dispute to binding arbitration [but] SEPTA declined arbitration." Apparently, the rich boss doesn't want to make himself beholden to the opinions of a third party. Is it a control thing?

At any rate, tens of thousands of daily commuters will now have to find a new way to get to and from work. That's more easily said then done, especially for lower-income workers. Even for the better off, driving into Philly each day won't be easy, especially with the increased demand for public parking.

This is a huge inconvenience. However, unlike many, I won't condemn the striking workers. SEPTA refused arbitration, and so the unions' only other options were to strike or roll over and allow the man to continue to walk all over them.

Article 23(4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests." And so the SEPTA workers are simply fighting for their rights.

It's one way in which the people can wield a little bit of power.

So inconvenienced commuters would be better off blaming SEPTA. It didn't have to get to this point, but SEPTA let it happen.

01 June 2014

I'm straight, and now I could remarry

As a straight woman, my right to marry was never an issue. And so I took advantage of that right. Twice.

Neither marriage worked out, but I always knew that I could marry yet again if I found another Mr. Right. It's a privilege reserved in most U.S. states only for heterosexuals. And the third time's a charm, I'm told.

But I've always felt it unfair that I could marry any man I chose while my gay and lesbian friends did not have the freedom to marry their same-sex partners - even though many of my gay and lesbian friends have been in loving, committed relationships that have lasted much longer than either of my own marriages.

So, a number of times over the past several years, I took a public oath to not remarry until my gay and lesbian neighbors could also marry here in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Recently, same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania. So I can now marry again. But, unfortunately, all the good men my age seem to be either married or gay - or now, both.

So I will take this as a sign that I need to broaden the scope of my oath and not remarry until gay and lesbian couples can marry in every state of the union.

After all, why should I enjoy benefits that they can't simply because of whom we happen to love - no matter which state we live in?