Saturday, June 30, 2007

The “martyrdom” of Farfour the mouse

Farfour has been a Mickey Mouse impersonator on the Hamas affiliated television station al-Aqsa TV who urged children to fight Israel and for world wide Islamic domination. The children’s program is shown on Fridays in the Palestinian territories and has been the source of controversy for its promotion of violence and hatred.

Yesterday’s program had the rodent beaten to death by an Israeli trying to take his land. The show’s narrator declared him a martyr killed by killers of children.

This from the Associated Press:
Hamas TV on Friday broadcast what it said was the last episode of a weekly children's show featuring "Farfour," a Mickey Mouse look-alike who had made worldwide headlines for preaching Islamic domination and armed struggle to youngsters.

In the final skit, Farfour was beaten to death by an actor posing as an Israeli official trying to buy Farfour's land. At one point, Farfour called the Israeli a "terrorist."

"Farfour was martyred while defending his land," said Sara, the teen presenter. He was killed "by the killers of children," she added.

The weekly show, featuring a giant black-and-white rodent with a high-pitched voice, had attracted worldwide attention because the character urged Palestinian children to fight Israel. It was broadcast on Hamas-affiliated Al-Aksa TV.

Station officials said Friday that Farfour was taken off the air to make room for new programs.

Station manager Mohammed Bilal said he didn't know yet what would be shown instead.

Israeli officials have denounced the program, "Tomorrow's Pioneers," as incendiary and outrageous. The program was also opposed by the state-run Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, which is controlled by Fatah.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Justice on summer vacation in Georgia

Genarlow Wilson is not eligible for bond according Judge David Emerson of the Douglas County Superior Court in Georgia. Wilson was convicted of aggravated child molestation for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year old woman when he was 17-years old. He was sentenced to ten years in prison and a lifetime registration as a sex offender. A story of the incident can be found in Atlanta Magazine.

After having served 27 months behind bars another judge reduced the sentence to reflect the change in Georgia’s law that occurred after (and largely because of) his conviction. If he and the young woman had engaged in consensual sexual intercourse the “Romeo and Juliet” exception to the law would have applied and he would have been guilty of a simple misdemeanor. However, oral sex with a minor – even when they are only two years apart in age – carried a ten year mandatory prison sentence.

The Georgia legislature changed the law but did not make it retroactive. The state appealed the ruling reducing the sentence making it consistent with the law. The hearing on Wednesday was to determine bond for Wilson’s release while the case works its way through the courts.

This is from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Wednesday’s ruling:
A Douglas County judge ruled Wednesday Genarlow Wilson is not eligible for bond in his child molestation case, a development that could keep Wilson behind bars for at least several more months pending an appeal.

Superior Court Judge David Emerson issued an order canceling a July 5 bond hearing for Wilson. He cited a state law that prohibits appeal bonds for people convicted of Wilson's crime -- aggravated child molestation -- and who have been sentenced to five years or more in prison. Wilson is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.

"As the court has no authority to grant an appeal bond in this case, there is no need for an evidentiary hearing on the defendant's eligibility for a bond," Emerson wrote in his three-page order. "The motion for bond is dismissed. The hearing scheduled for July 5, 2007, is therefore cancelled."

Civil rights officials reacted angrily to Emerson's ruling.

"The NAACP is convinced that justice has taken a summer vacation in Georgia," said Dr. Francys Johnson, the organization's Southeast Regional Director.

***
Wilson was convicted of aggravated child molestation for receiving oral sex from the 15-year-old girl at a 2003 New Year's Eve party. The age of consent in Georgia is 16. The law at the time required a minimum 10-year prison sentence for the crime.

The Legislature, however, changed the law last year to make the same offense a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison. Wilson, now 21, has served more than two years of his sentence.

This month, a Monroe County Superior Court judge threw out Wilson's prison sentence and reduced his conviction to a misdemeanor, calling his case a "grave miscarriage of justice." In making his ruling, the judge granted an appeal from Wilson's attorneys, who argued his prison sentence is cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution.

Baker has appealed the Monroe County judge's decision to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing the judge overstepped his authority.

Baker filed a request for an expedited review by the court, but the court rejected his request last week. The earliest date the case could come before the court is October. And it could take until April of next year to be decided.

Judge Emerson had scheduled the July 5 hearing to decide whether Wilson should be freed on bond pending the appeal. Douglas County District Attorney David McDade and Wilson's attorney, B.J. Bernstein, did not immediately respond to telephone calls for comment on Wednesday. Baker's office did not have an immediate comment.

However, McDade has previously argued Wilson is not eligible for bond since his crime is one of Georgia's so-called seven deadly sins. …

God as a weapon

Ed Husain has an interesting essay, “With God On Their Side,” in today’s Guardian comparing political movements that cloak themselves in religion, specifically as this plays out in the Middle East:
Zionism and Islamism are both political perversions of ancient Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam. They were both born out of protest and anger: Zionism in response to tsarist pogroms and Islamism as a retort to colonialism. The heavy political content of both ideologies came from men who had no theological training in the centuries-old traditional understanding of the Torah or the Koran. Theodore Herzl, an Austrian journalist, mapped out Zionism in an age of ubiquitous nationalism. Syed Qutb, an Egyptian literary critic, was the chief ideologue for Islamism. And yet they appealed to people of religious faith. Or did they?

Some of the most ardent Zionists have been non-Jews, not least George W Bush and droves of evangelical, literalist Christians. Increasingly, here in Britain, we are witnessing a new phenomenon of left-leaning non-Muslims who identify with Islamism: George Galloway's Respect party members are a fine example of this. When non-Jews and non-Muslims can share political ideologies set up in the name of faith, it illustrates that these movements, in essence, are not faith-driven, but political developments that have a potential to appeal to various sections of the political spectrum, irrespective of religious affiliation. Islamism pits itself against socialism and capitalism, not other religions.

****
My problem lies with marketing political ideologies as religion. Whether it is evangelical Christianity in the United States and their religious support for rightwing Republicans, or Zionism posing as Judaism, or Islamism masquerading as Islam - all three are equally guilty of misleading people, creating conflicts and corrupting three of the world's greatest religions.
You can read the entire piece here.

David at Harry’s Place, while sympathetic in general to Husain’s argument does take issue with some comparisons of Zionism and Islamism:
The major link between Islamism and Zionism is that both are, in practice, communalist political movements. Zionism and Islamism therefore have tended to recruit through communal structures: both religious and non-religious.

However, there are important differences.

1. Zionism is a nationalism, which argues that a jewish national homeland is good for all jews. Islamism, by contrast, regards an Islamic government is good for everybody in the world….

2. Zionism is a national liberation struggle, which was fuelled by genocide and persecution. Islamism is a trans-national movement, which is the product, chiefly, of a reaction against the failure of an autocratic Arab nationalism.

Ed Hussein believes that Islamism is fuelled by "colonialism": which may be so to some extent. However, it is principally a reaction to a failed arab nationalism, and emerged directly out of that failure. Even in the West Bank and Gaza - where Islamism is in part a response to Israeli occupation - it presents itself as no more than part of an international Islamic movement, fighting a specific battle against jewish "usurpers". As is the case elsewhere in the Arab world, Hamas' main opponents are arab nationalist and other political movements. Islamism is a post-colonial ideology.

3. Zionism is principally a secular doctrine. Although there are a small minority of religious Zionists, most Zionists regard themselves as supporters of a national liberation movement, and not an attempt to create a kingdom of divine justice on earth. That is why most Zionists have been interested in creating and maintaining a nation state, which is a pluralist democracy. Islamism is overwhelmingly a religious movement. Although some Islamists have chosen a democratic path to creating an Islamist state, the ultimate goal is the creation of a system of government in accordance with a particular interpretation of god's law.

Problems flow from the religious nature of Islamism, chiefly:

- It has a difficulty in recognising the equal status of women;
- It has a difficulty in recognising the equal status of minority groups.
You can read the entire post here.

I would simply caution that there are competing visions of Zionism and Islamism, which are important to be aware of in trying to understand the complexity of the politics of the Middle East. But putting the Middle East aside for a moment I think it is worth noting that even in this country there is a similar phenomenon, Christianism that uses as leverage the authority Christianity seems to hold in our society. By no stretch of the imagination has it reached anywhere close to the extreme that Islamism has reached in the Middle East. Hopefully, it has peaked in its influence in our democracy but if it has not then it is important to remain vigilant and be aware of the extremes people will go to who claim God is on their side.

Treaty? What treaty?

From FP Passport:
With climate change so high up on everyone's agenda, we don't need to be reminded yet again that the United States hasn't ratified the Kyoto Protocol. But what about other international conventions that the United States continues to snub? They may be pointless, they may be basically unenforceable, but some people actually take these things seriously.

Here's a brief rundown of some of the big ones:

International Criminal Court: The United States is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that created the ICC in 2002, citing objections to the court's claim of jurisdiction over people from non-party states and concern for U.S. sovereignty. But in a recent attempt to show that the United States can cooperate with others, John B. Bellinger III, legal advisor at State, declared that the U.S. government is open to any requests for help with the ICC's efforts to investigate and prosecute war crimes in Darfur.

Law of the Sea: The U.S.'s beef with this convention relates to several provisions on deep-sea mining. However, in a speech earlier this month at The Hague, Bellinger stressed the fact that the U.S. administration considers the convention "enormously important" and that it have been abiding by it the whole time. He went so far as to hint at possible ratification:
We have been working with the Senate to move the treaty forward. In fact, although the press has not actively reported it, last month President Bush personally urged the Senate to approve the Convention during this session of Congress.
Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women: In the same speech, Bellinger argued that domestic U.S. law did enough to protect women's rights and he wasn't convinced the convention presented any measures that weren't already being taken. The United States stands alone as the only developed country to oppose this convention.

Convention on the Rights of the Child: The CRC prohibits the use of the death penalty for offenses committed before the age of eighteen, which doesn't really go well with the twenty-two U.S. states that allow for the execution of juvenile offenders. But hey, Somalia hasn't ratified it, either, so what's the big deal?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Crackdown on the press in Mali

Mali, formerly a French colony between 1880 and 1960, is located in western Africa. It is approximately the same size as South Africa and is one of the world’s poorest countries. In 1992, Mali held its first democratic, multi-party presidential election. Alpha Oumar Konaré was elected and re-elected in 1997. In 2002, he was succeeded by Amadou Toumani Touré, a retired General, who was re-elected to a second term just months ago. Mali is considered one of Africa’s most politically and socially stable countries.

However, when a high school teacher asked his class to write a humorous essay about the mistress of a fictional African leader, he was arrested as well as the journalist who reported the story. Then other journalists and editors were arrested who reprinted the original story.

The international press organization Reporters Without Borders urged their release and stated, “Mali was hailed as an example of democracy in Africa, but as this case goes from bad to worse, it is looking more and more like an authoritarian regime, crippled by taboos and dangerous for those who show lack of respect for an untouchable president.”

According to the BBC, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) urged African countries to scrap their laws on insulting leaders at a congress in South Africa. Such laws are in force in 48 out of 53 African countries.

This from the BBC:
Five journalists and a teacher have been found guilty of insulting Mali's president over a school essay.

All were given suspended jail terms at a closed door trial in the capital.

Teacher Bassirou Kassim Minta asked his final-year secondary school class to write a humorous essay about the mistress of a fictional African leader.

He was arrested, along with a journalist who wrote about the task. The arrests have been condemned by press freedom organisations.

The BBC's Salif Sanogo in Bamako says that about 300 people turned up for the trial before being told they were barred.

He says that security was outside around the court.

Defence lawyers boycotted the proceedings.

"We want to show by our absence that the freedom of the press is being violated in Mali," defence lawyer Mamadou Gakou told the AFP news agency.

Journalist Seydina Oumar Diarra wrote an article, called The Mistress of the President of the Republic, in the Info-Matin newspaper about the essay.

Police then arrested him and Mr Minta.

They were given suspended sentences of eight months each.

Following the detentions, the article was reprinted in other newspapers, leading to the arrest of four more journalists and editors.

They were given suspended three month sentences as accomplices.

After the trial, all six were taken back to prison to carry out the formalities before being freed.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Iraq near collapse?

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has issued a report warning of the collapse of Iraq as a functioning state. This follows a similar report last month by the Chatham House.

The ICG report points to Operation Sinbad, carried out by the British between September 2006 and March 2007, in Iraq’s second largest city, Basra. Operation Sinbad was very similar to the current "surge" being carried out in Baghdad by the Americans. Despite the initial appearance of success it turned out to be a failure. According to the report:
…. Basra’s experience carries important lessons for the capital and nation as a whole. Coalition forces have already implemented a security plan there, Operation Sinbad, which was in many ways similar to Baghdad’s current military surge. What U.S. commanders call “clear, hold and build”, their British counterparts earlier had dubbed “clear, hold and civil reconstruction”. And, as in the capital, the putative goal was to pave the way for a takeover by Iraqi forces. Far from being a model to be replicated, however, Basra is an example of what to avoid. With renewed violence and instability, Basra illustrates the pitfalls of a transitional process that has led to collapse of the state apparatus and failed to build legitimate institutions. Fierce intra-Shiite fighting also disproves the simplistic view of Iraq neatly divided between three homogenous communities.
The report goes on to point out, like the Chatham House report, that there are multiple violent conflicts underway between many different players. However, the widespread violence – whether political, sectarian or simply criminal -- is a symptom of a failed state where the government lacks the will, authority and power to bring these conflicts under control.

This is the Guardian's report of the ICG assessment:
Iraq can only survive if a functional and legitimate state is rebuilt from the ruins of war and occupation, drawing on the lessons of the collapse of British-ruled Basra, an influential thinktank warns today.

Overall, says the International Crisis Group, it is not enough just to resolve the confrontation between Sunni Arabs, Shia and Kurds. And if the US and Britain continue backing the same Shia political actors, the likely outcome will be the country's break-up into myriad fiefdoms. "Far from building a new state," their Iraqi partners "are tirelessly working to tear it down".

In a powerful critique of current policy, the ICG insists it is vital to avoid repeating the experience of Basra, where UK forces implemented a security plan, Operation Sinbad, similar to the current US-led surge in Baghdad. "The answer to Iraq's horrific violence cannot be an illusory military surge that aims to bolster the existing political structure and treats the dominant parties as partners," it adds bluntly.

Operation Sinbad was a "superficial and fleeting" success, and ended with British troops being driven off the streets in what was seen as an ignominious defeat by the city's militias, now more powerful and unconstrained than before. Some British data about its achievements, particularly about improved police performance, "defies credibility", the group notes.

The key failure in Basra, argues the report, has been the inability to establish legitimate government to redistribute resources, impose respect for the rule of law and ensure peaceful transition at the local level - a lesson it says has to be learnt across Iraq as a whole.

"Basra's political arena remains in the hands of actors engaged in bloody competition for resources, undermining what is left of governorate institutions and coercively enforcing their rule. The local population has no choice but to seek protection from one of the dominant camps. Periods of stability do not reflect greater governing authority so much as they do a momentary - and fragile - balance of interests or of terror between rival militias."

Basra's "multiple and multiplying forms of violence" may have little to do with sectarianism or anti-occupation resistance but involve "the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighbourhood vigilantism ... and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors."

"Should other causes of strife - sectarian violence and the fight against coalition forces - recede, the concern must still be that Basra's fate will be replicated throughout the country on a larger, more chaotic and more dangerous scale. The lessons are clear. Iraq's violence is multifaceted, and sectarianism is only one of its sources. It follows that the country's division along supposedly inherent and homogeneous confessional and ethnic lines is not an answer. It follows, too, that rebuilding the state, tackling militias and imposing the rule of law cannot be done without confronting the parties that currently dominate the political process and forging a new and far more inclusive political compact. "

For the ICG, Iraq is in the midst of a civil war but has also become a failed state. It describes "a country whose institutions and, with them, any semblance of national cohesion, have been obliterated. That is what has made the violence - all the violence: sectarian, anti-coalition, political, criminal and otherwise - both possible and, for many, necessary. Resolving the confrontation between Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds is one priority. But rebuilding a functioning and legitimate state is another - no less urgent, no less important and no less daunting."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Stabbed in the back: Who lost Iraq?

Kevin Drum says “stabbed-in-the-back” arguments are starting to appear in the upcoming debate over who lost Iraq.

Here is what Kevin Baker was quoted on this blog last summer as saying
Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.

As the United States staggers past the third anniversary of its misadventure in Iraq, the dagger is already poised, the myth is already being perpetuated. …
Baker traces the popularity of the stabbed-in-the-back myth to story of Siegfried who was assassinated by Hagen – a story popularized by Wagner in opera. You can read the 7/15/06 Sisyphus post on “Stabbed in the back” here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Hugo Chávez: Petro-dollar revolutionary?

Hugo Chávez has made a splash in the world news over the past several months. Last September, he stood at the podium in the United Nations and called George Bush the devil. In January he was granted special powers to rule Venezuela by decree. During the past few months he has closed down a television station unfriendly to his rule. This week his government announced a ban on public demonstrations during the Copa America soccer championship to be held in Venezuela starting next week. During his upcoming visit to Moscow, Chávez is expected to purchase a fleet of submarines. Much like his counter-part in Washington, he thrives on the threat (real or perceived) from external enemies.

Marc Cooper calls our attention to an article by Joaquín Villalobos in The Nation about Hugo Chávez. Villalobos was the founder in 1972 and main leader of Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo in El Salvador. In the 1980, the group joined with other opposition groups to form the FMLA during El Salvador’s civil war. He became the principal military strategist for the FMLN during that conflict. This is all to say he is well versed in revoluntionary politics.

Villalobos is something less than impressed by Chávez whom he sees as trying to buy a revolution with oil money:
What Chávez has got wrong is his belief that he has made a revolution when in fact he's simply won some elections. And even those victories are more attributable to an arrogant, bejeweled opposition that lacks mass adherents than to Chávez. This has allowed Chávez to dominate some state institutions and to change some of the rules of the game, but it doesn't give him the leverage needed to impose the sort of drastic ideological sea change he clearly intends.

In Venezuela there has been no revolutionary rupture, as there was in Cuba and Nicaragua, two countries where there was no democratic history. In Cuba the change was violent and encompassing; all of the institutions were recast. And to date there is no real Cuban opposition--nor are there real elections, freedom of the press or private property. In Nicaragua the change was equally violent, and though mistreated, the institutions of press freedom, political opposition, elections and private property all survived.

Venezuela might be experiencing a period of extreme polarization and social conflict, but that is not a revolution. In revolutionary times, violence becomes prevalent, first in the form of rebellion and later in the form of counterrevolution. So far in Venezuela, political violence has been more verbal than material.

Forty years of peaceful transitions of government power created a democratic culture among Venezuelans that has, fortunately until now, made violence unnecessary. The rule of law might be weak, but there is nevertheless the rule of law. The mistake made by the opposition in the attempted coup of 2002 was precisely to undervalue this democratic tradition. Overthrowing governments is no easy task, nor is peacefully modifying the basic pillars on which they are built. A revolutionary rupture creates a situation of great social exaltation that--for better and worse--opens up spaces to change many things, including prevailing ideologies and cultural traditions. But short of revolution, these things are difficult to change.

***
Chávez lacks a revolutionary party and instead depends on a fragmented political structure rife with different ideologies. To his right is the military, to his left some intellectuals and below him a politically diverse base. Converting this into a unified party would mean butting heads with a lot of local bosses who like to disagree. Chavismo has accomplished something important by giving power and identity to thousands of Venezuelans who had been marginalized, but it is not cohesive, either
ideologically or historically. Rather, it is held together by petrodollars.

Nor does Chávez have a revolutionary army. On the contrary, the army has defeated him twice (1992 and 2002). The complicity of the army with Chávez today rests solely on weapons purchases, and that is much more about corruption than about preparing for war. It's exactly this sort of privileged corruption that closes the path to authentic revolutionary change. The Venezuelan military will neither kill nor die for Hugo Chávez.

Fidel Castro survived all the many attempts on his life. Daniel Ortega led a successful insurrection in Nicaragua and Evo Morales made a swift transition from the barricades to the presidency of Bolivia. Chávez, by contrast, sells oil to the Americans; on two occasions he surrendered to his enemies with no fight; and he currently sleeps with an enemy army. This pushes him to engage in public provocations in order to burnish his revolutionary credentials, as he has by insulting George W. Bush. Attacks strengthen Chávez. Tolerance weakens him. Chávez needs external enemies to help him hide the corruption of his own functionaries, the incompetence of his government, the division among his supporters and the lack of security in the streets of Caracas.

With his latest acts Chávez has turned the process of accumulation of forces against himself and has suddenly revitalized a demoralized opposition. Maybe he will be able to make some more changes in Venezuela. But he will never be able to get rid of elections. And as long as there are elections, there will be no permanent majorities, no fraud so great as to be insurmountable, no set of alliances that are eternal. Oil money can help Chávez do many things--but it will never be enough to buy himself a revolution.
You can read the entire article here.

Loving for all – freedom to marry

In 1958, Mildred Jeter (a woman of black and Indian descent) and Richard Perry (a white man) married in the District of Columbia. They took up residence in Virginia and were quickly arrested for violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 law banning the marriage between any white person and non-white person. They were convicted and sentenced to one year in prison. The prison sentence was suspended for twenty-five years on the condition they leave the state.

They left the state but challenged their conviction on the grounds of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court which unanimously ruled in 1967 Virginia’s anti-miscegenation (and others around the country) was unconstitutional.

Last week, June 12th, marked the 40th anniversary of the ruling. On that day, Mildred Loving issued a statement circulated by Freedom to Marry drawing comparisons with the situation her and Richard (who was killed in a car accident in 1975) with that of the current debate over same sex marriage. (See Slaves of Academe for an interesting discussion of race versus sexuality.)

“Loving for All” by Mildred Loving:
When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn't to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn't get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn't allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn't that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the "crime" of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed.

The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: ""Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.

We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn't have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men," a "basic civil right."

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God's plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation's fears and prejudices have given way, and today's young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Friday Fun: Jesus sings "I will survive"

In loving memory (Jesus Christ) by Javier Prato

Friday Fun: Triumph at the Tonys

Tony the Insult Comic Dog at last week's Tony awards.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Virgil in New York next Wednesday to support human rights in Iran and call for release of detained Iranian-Americans

Four Iranian-Americans have found themselves caught in middle of worsening relations between Iran and the United States. All four are being detained by the conservative Iranian government as it extends a crack-down on its own citizens and has made many Iranian-Americans fearful of traveling back to Iran. According to an Amnesty International press release:
In May 2007 the government of Iran arrested four Iranian-Americans: prominent U.S. scholars Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, journalist Parnaz Azima and activist Ali Shakeri. Esfandiari, Tajbakhsh and Shakeri remain in detention without being able to see family, lawyers, or the International Committee of the Red Cross. All four face serious charges stemming from their efforts to promote an Iranian-American dialogue and scholarly work and could be sentenced to long prison terms.
A vigil will take place next Wednesday, June 27th between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (1st Avenue and 47th Street across from the United Nations Plaza) in New York City. If you are in New York on the 27th go to the vigil. The point Juan Cole makes that a large turnout is important is well taken.

Sex in the Public Square.org

Check out the new web site, Sex in the Public Square.org. Co-founded by Elizabeth Wood, Chris Hall and Tom Joaquin, the project is, as Ms. Wood puts it, a “space for readers and commenters and visitors to talk about the sex-related issues that matter to them” and is an outgrowth of her blog by the same name (minus the “.org”). According to the site’s mission statement:
We believe that sexuality is a fundamental component of human life, and that it cannot be excluded from “polite conversation” without losing an important element of democratic participation. We are working to expand the space available for discussions of all aspects of sexuality, so that participants in democratic community life can be fully seen and recognized, can share information, and can become more educated and informed. We also believe that talk about sex needn't always be "serious" in order to be "appropriate" and we welcome playful conversations that focus on the fun of sex as well as serious conversations that focus on things like policy, safety, and identity.
You will find articles, blogs, book reviews, forums and links about sex as it pertains to society, culture, the news, social policy and our everyday lives. It’s all about sex in the public square. Check it out.

Aung San Suu Kyi continues under house arrest in Myanmar

Pro-democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, marks her 62nd birthday while under arrest by the repressive military regime of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Many bloggers from around the world have published poems and comments regarding her continued confinement.

Aung San Suu Kyi, inspired by Mahatam Gahdhi, entered politics to work for democratization of her country. She helped found the National League for Democracy and would have likely been elected Prime Minister if the 1990 election results had been allowed to stand. She is a Buddhist who won the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her non-violent pro-democracy struggle under the Myanmar dictatorship. She has also been under house arrest by the dictatorship for at least eleven of the past seventeen years.

This is from Reuters via CNN:
Myanmar opposition leader and democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi spent another birthday under house arrest on Tuesday, as her supporters released doves and balloons to accompany prayers for her release.

To mark her 62nd birthday, around 300 supporters gathered at the dilapidated headquarters of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which won an election landslide victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the military junta.

The NLD reiterated its demand for the immediate and unconditional release of Suu Kyi, as well as the other 1,100 political prisoners believed to be behind bars in the former Burma.

As with countless other pleas on countless other "milestones" during Suu Kyi's 17 years of on-off detention, it is certain to fall on deaf ears.

Plain-clothes security police, their long-lens cameras clicking away, kept close watch over the NLD ceremony from across the road.

A dozen trucks filled with members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association -- the official name of the junta's political wing -- sat nearby.

In Manila, 20 people protested outside the Myanmar embassy, and there were similar scenes in New Delhi on Monday evening.

However, there were no demonstrations in Thailand, the traditional center of the Myanmar dissident movement, for fear of repercussions from the military regime now in charge in Bangkok.

In the United States, first lady Laura Bush published an essay in the Wall Street Journal urging support for Suu Kyi and her followers. She described plans to meet with the U.N. Special Envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, to discuss "how the international community can hold the generals to account."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a news conference the United States would work on "many, many different fronts" to keep Myanmar on the international agenda."It requires everybody's effort and it requires concerted pressure from all parties involved," he said.

T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA said the missing ingredient in the global campaign was pressure on China and India to end their political and material support for Yangon.

"We should make a pledge today that we will target these two countries to make sure they back off," he told a rally in the U.S. Capitol building attended by key lawmakers.

Suu Kyi's confinement in her lakeside home in Yangon was extended for another year in May despite international pleas to the generals to end her latest detention, which began in 2003.

The Nobel peace laureate has now been confined for more than 11 of the past 17 years, with her telephone line cut and no visitors allowed apart from her maid and doctor.

"In our view, until their constitution is ratified, she will not be released," said Sann Aung, a Bangkok-based leader of the government-in-exile set up after the junta ignored the 1990 election results.

The generals have promised a referendum on the new constitution and eventual elections but refused to set a timetable. Critics call it a sham aimed at entrenching military control over Myanmar's 54 million people.

Sanctions imposed by the West have had little effect on the military, which has ruled Myanmar in various guises since 1962.

Neither has the soft diplomacy employed by Myanmar's partners in the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has been embarrassed by the junta's intransigence.

"Today, Burma is the black sheep of ASEAN," Thailand's Nation newspaper said in an editorial. "As long as Aung San Suu Kyi remains incarcerated, ASEAN's reputation and the group's international standing will be tarnished."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

CBS and Fox have rejected a new ad for Trojan condoms

CBS and Fox television networks have rejected a new ad for Trojan condoms that suggests the use of condoms in the pursuit of….sexual pleasure.

This is from today’s New York Times:
IN a commercial for Trojan condoms that has its premiere tonight, women in a bar are surrounded by anthropomorphized, cellphone-toting pigs. One shuffles to the men’s room, where, after procuring a condom from a vending machine, he is transformed into a head-turner in his 20s. When he returns to the bar, a fetching blond who had been indifferent now smiles at him invitingly.

***
But the pigs did not fly at two of the four networks where Trojan tried to place the ad.

Fox and CBS both rejected the commercial. Both had accepted Trojan’s previous campaign, which urged condom use because of the possibility that a partner might be H.I.V.-positive, perhaps unknowingly. A 2001 report about condom advertising by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that, “Some networks draw a strong line between messages about disease prevention — which may be allowed — and those about pregnancy prevention, which may be considered controversial for religious and moral reasons.”

Representatives for both Fox and CBS confirmed that they had refused the ads, but declined to comment further.

****
“It’s so hypocritical for any network in this culture to go all puritanical on the subject of condom use when their programming is so salacious,” said Mark Crispin Miller, a media critic who teaches at
New York University. “I mean, let’s get real here. Fox and CBS and all of them are in the business of nonstop soft porn, but God forbid we should use a condom in the pursuit of sexual pleasure.”

Networks accept ads of a not-so-subtle sexual nature for erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra, often restricting them to the wee hours.

Trojan has had no trouble finding other broadcasters to take its money. Jim Daniels, vice president for marketing, said that the company was spending more on this than any previous campaign, but declined to say how much. The commercial will run on ABC, NBC and nine cable networks, including MTV, Comedy Central and Adult Swim. Print ads will appear in 11 magazines and on seven Web sites. All will highlight a Web site, trojanevolve.com.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Fun: The Dead

"The Dead" by US Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

Changing minds on same-sex marriage

The following are excerpts from remarks by Gale Candaras, a Democrat in the Massachusetts state legislature. As a Representative in the last session she voted in favor of a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. She returned to the legislature as a Senator, changed her position and voted against the same-sex marriage ban this week.
“For me, what all this comes down to is this: Same gendered couples are taxpaying, law-abiding citizens, who are important community contributors, well-loved and well-respected by their families, friends, neighbors and employers. They deserve and are entitled to the same legal protections enjoyed by all others citizens of our state. This is the law of the Commonwealth, articulated by our Supreme Judicial Court in Goodrich v. The Department of Public Health, decided in November, 2003.

“Despite dire predictions, there has been no adverse societal impact from this decision and most people now express little concern about same gender marriage.

“Springfield and Western Massachusetts needs these families, and all our families, to help rebuild our neighborhoods and the peaceful and productive society to which I know, whatever our differences on some things, we all aspire. As a practical matter, I believe we simply cannot afford to marginalize our human resources. Most importantly, I feel strongly that no child should ever be made to feel "less than" or "second-best" nor should any of our children be exposed to a public campaign focused on adult matters of personal privacy. There is altogether too much unseemly information brought into our homes and schools already. It is in the best interests of our children that we accept fully these new families.

“I also want to address directly one of the more contentious issues in this debate: Same gender couples have been adopting children and building families here in the Commonwealth for about twenty years. In many instances, same gendered couples have adopted children with severe challenges, children no one else wanted, and they have worked miracles with them. These children would have lived lives of despair without these families. This underscores how we cannot afford to marginalize any of our people; make anyone second-class citizens. We are all precious resources to each other, and to generations yet to come.

“We have had a full and fair public discussion and debate, and today we must settle this matter so we can move on to other issues of equal and, perhaps, even greater import to our state. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that the finality of judgments is the concession we make to the shortness of life.

“I know from listening to my constituents, since I first became Senator this year that this vote, the vote I take today, is the right vote for the people I serve. I have been most impressed by the number of individuals who have called me and asked me to change my vote because they have changed their minds. One grandmother told me she had changed her mind and wanted me to change my vote in case one of her grandchildren grew up to be gay or lesbian. She did not want any of her grandchildren to be denied the right to marry the person they love. This is exactly the legacy we will leave to generations beyond us, and the example we can set for the nation and, I daresay the world, which is certainly paying attention to what we do and say here today.
You can read the entire text here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Foresight, hindsight and humanitarian intervention

The deteriorating situation in Iraq is enough to make you want to hide your head in the sand but that would be irresponsible. Looking back it’s clear of the many things (numbering in the hundreds) that were done wrong. Looking forward it is less clear of what the right things to do are other than the current policy is a failure. There is a very real degree of impotency in our actions there.

However, there are situations around the world where intervention has made and can make a difference. Are all interventions equal or can some be worthy and others not? Is there something horribly wrong about changing one’s mind about the wisdom of a particular wartime policy?

Jonathan Chait has these thoughts in today’s L.A. Times:
ONE OF THE annoying things about the debate over the Iraq war is the constant flurry of accusations of hypocrisy. If you favored the war when it started but later decided it was a bad idea, or opposed it from the beginning but think it would be a mistake to leave, somebody, somewhere is going to accuse you of flip-flopping.

The silliest version of this accusation holds that if you favored other humanitarian wars, such as those in Bosnia or Rwanda, but want to withdraw from Iraq, you're a hypocrite….

***
Many liberals favored humanitarian military intervention in various places in the 1990s, and favor it today in Darfur, but can't support the current mission in Iraq. … The argument for intervention was that the United States had a moral obligation to stop mass slaughter. Mass slaughter will probably ensue in Iraq if we withdraw. Ergo, those who favored war elsewhere but want to leave Iraq are
hypocrites.

As Matthew Continetti put the accusation in a recent issue of the Weekly Standard, "It may seem as though the Bosnia analogy is more applicable to Iraq today, where coalition forces are the only thing keeping the various sectional, sectarian and political factions from slaughtering one another."

Well, no, it's not applicable at all. The key fact in Bosnia is that people were not, for the most part, "slaughtering one another." Serbs were slaughtering Bosnian Muslims (and later Kosovars). That's a situation in which American military force could clearly solve the problem. All we had to do was inflict enough punishment upon the aggressors to make them stop.

In Iraq, on the other hand, you really do have ethnic groups slaughtering one another. One of those groups, the Shiites, is mainly using the machinery of the state. The other group, the Sunnis, is using insurgent tactics. But the point is, we can't kill our way out of the problem, because success would entail not just persuading one side to stop its aggression ut persuading both sides to make peace. And the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government shows no signs of wanting to make the concessions it needs to make for peace.

Is it possible that, if we hang on long enough, Iraqis will give up fighting and start to compromise? Sure, it's possible. But the question of how possible it is cannot be answered from the lessons of Bosnia, Kosovo or the like. Those liberal hawks who have turned against the Iraq war are constantly being accused of losing their nerve or being driven by partisanship. But maybe there's something to be said for letting your opinions be driven by changing facts.

Letting your opinions be driven by changing facts – imagine that! You can read the entire piece here.

Sex (mis)education funding promoting abstinence only before Congress

Last week the Labor and Health & Human Services subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee approved funding for Title X Family Planning program that not only included the discredited Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program but increased its funding. This came as a shock because the Democratic leadership had previously indicated this program would be dropped and already had pulled the plug on abstinence-only education programs funding under Title V of the Welfare Reform Act. The subcommittee’s members saw the passage as a compromise in order to push through other legislation.

The abstinence-only sex education program under CBAE emphasizes complete abstinence from sex until marriage. Discussion of contraceptives is restricted to their failure rate.

Here is Lindsay Beyerstein’s assessement in In These Times:
Even opponents of abstinence-only education might concede that a few extra million for abstinence education is a small price to pay for easing the passage of a very important domestic spending bill that contains a lot of spending that’s important to Democrats.

Yet, principle is at stake here. Few people realize that the CBAE program promulgates out-and-out quackery and barely disguised religious dogma. These programs don’t just encourage students to remain abstinent as teenagers. By law, they are required to teach “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity,” among many other stipulations. In other words, the program must teach that all sexual activity outside of marriage, even between consenting adults, violates some nebulous “expected standard.”

Federally funded abstinence programs must teach the “the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity”—regardless of whether those gains are real. In an Orwellian twist, the government doesn’t care what educators promise kids as long as they’re told that abstinence is good for them. Some programs promise integrity, purity, self-esteem. Others say there’s a causal link between staying abstinent and being happily married. None of these claims has been substantiated by independent research.

Programs must also teach that “that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects,” again irrespective of any evidence. CBAE grantees don’t have the option of leaving out a core tenet if they don’t find enough evidence to support it. All eight of the core tenets must be taught.

Leveille argues that the current abstinence guidelines raise a number of troubling civil rights issues including gender discrimination, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and improper insertion of religion into public school curricula. The current guidelines also censor information about birth control and STD protection, except to point out the failure rates of contraception. “Information on contraceptives, if included, must be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and presented only as it supports the abstinence message being presented,” reads one of the official guidelines for CBAE curriculum development.

These programs are depriving students of basic medical information that they will need when they become sexually active, in marriage or otherwise. For gay and lesbian students, the logical upshot of abstinence-until-marriage programs is that they are never allowed to have sex—since sex is only allowed within marriage, and marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The House Committee on Government Reform reviewed the contents of federally funded abstinence programs at the request of Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and published the results of their inquiry in 2004. The investigators found that 11 out of 13 programs contained significant errors or distortions. The report also faulted many of the curricula they reviewed for blurring the line between science and religion and promulgating sexist stereotypes as fact.

The Bush administration has already sunk more than $1 billion into abstinence-only education during its time in office. While no evidence suggests these programs are effective in decreasing teen sexual activity, they are very effective at enriching the administration’s backers on the Religious right.

In their rush to achieve compromise on an important domestic spending bill, Democrats should not lose sight of the ugly reality of abstinence-only education. Having publicly acknowledged the worthlessness of Title V, the Democrats will be hard-pressed to justify giving even more taxpayer dollars to another program based on the same ineffective and prejudicial framework.
You can read her entire article here.

Philosophically, the bottom line of the abstinence only education approach is that knowledge is bad and ignorance is necessary for the preservation of innocence. This line of thinking simply runs counter to the Enlightenment concept that knowledge is power.

Abstinence only education is not education; it is indoctrination…that doesn’t work. Sexual abstinence for teenagers is desirable but the reality is significant numbers of teens are sexually active and need to know how to protect themselves and their partners. And regardless of whether they are sexually active or not they need to know what is going on with their bodies and the changes brought on by puberty. Common decency demands comprehensive sex education for our kids.

Right now there is a lobbying effort underway directed towards House leadership (particularly Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as individual Representatives contacted by their constituents to amend this appropriations bill. Go here to take action.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Animals in war zones

Few people would disagree that we have a moral obligation to help our fellow human beings in need but do our obligations stop there?

By no stretch of the imagination should the welfare of animals come before the welfare of humans. However, that is not to say the welfare of animals is to be disregarded.

The awful toll of warfare on humans is all too well known. The toll on domestic and caged wild animals is less known and appreciated. This is an excerpt from a new book by conservationist Lawrence Anthony about what he found at the Baghdad zoo in 2003:
My first instinct was to find a rifle and shoot the lot. In all my years in the African bush and in conservation, I had never seen wildlife in such wretched condition. The lions were so desiccated they could not drink. When a zookeeper got water to them, they just dunked their mouths in the trough, trying to loosen their swollen tongues. The bears, one of which was blind, were pacing up and down their cages like demented robots. The tigers, whose once-shiny pelts were now as faded as doormats, stared at me listlessly. One of the cheetah had a suppurating wound, infested with flies. In her debilitated state, it would not heal.

These were the lucky ones. Of the 650 animals and birds at the Baghdad zoo - once the finest in the Middle East - only 35 had survived. They were the ones who had come through the battle between American soldiers and Iraqi Republican Guards that raged around their cages for weeks. They were the ones with teeth and claws sharp enough to fight back when looting hordes later stormed the zoo, killing or kidnapping every antelope, ostrich, monkey, and even two giraffes. Lovebirds and macaws had their necks wrung and were eaten like chickens.
Anthony, along with the help of many people putting themselves at great risk, were able to save these animals. You can read the rest of the excerpt here.

Based upon his experience, he founded The Earth Organization – a grass-roots conservation organization to raise awareness of the plight of animals around the world.

Why Virginia is like Austria

Virginia = Austria. Indiana = Denmark. Alabama = Iran. Well, of course.

Here is an interesting map from Freakonomics (via FP Passport) comparing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of states with countries. (Gross Domestic Product represents the annual market value of all goods and services produced within a country in a year or, to be more precise, consumption + investment + government spending + [exports – imports].) The states on the U.S. map are renamed for the country that has a similar GDP. You can find the specific stats state-by-state here.

This was obviously put together by someone with a lot of time on his or her hands.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Freedom to marry

This is a short video by Faith in America and the National Black Justice Coalition on the occasion 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia.

The 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia

This June marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s unanimous struck down anti-miscegenation statutes in it’s ruling testing Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act of 1924” in a case involving the interracial marriage of a Virginia couple. The case was brought on by the Virginia ACLU. This was a great victory for human rights but unfortunately, the right of consenting adults to marry has still not been firmly established as witnessed by last year’s vote to amend Virginia’s constitution banning same sex marriages.

Kent Willis, Director of the Virginia ACLU, penned the following op-ed:
Forty years ago today the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Virginia law that criminalized the marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving.

Richard was white and Mildred was black. They had violated Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute and were banned not just from rural Caroline County, where they had met and fallen in love, but also the entire state of Virginia.

The Caroline County judge who in 1959 found them guilty of violating the Virginia Racial Integrity Act, wrote, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

For those of us who grew up in the segregated South in the 1950s and 1960s, this kind of bigoted reasoning from a rural county judge was not terribly shocking. But there is no excuse for the disgraceful ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court that followed. In 1965, Virginia’s finest legal minds upheld the ban on interracial marriage, relying on an earlier case in which it said the state was obligated “to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens” and to prevent “the corruption of blood,” “a mongrel breed of citizens,” and “the obliteration of racial pride.”

Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court -- only one hundred miles up the road from Richmond but worlds apart from the prejudiced provincialism of the Virginia judicial system-- saw it differently. The high court had given us Brown v. Board of Education a decade earlier, and had watched Congress pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Loving v. Virginia was in the right place at the right time.

****
It would seem to be a good time to rest, at least momentarily, on our laurels-- to celebrate how far we have come since 1967. But it is hard to be joyous about the right to marry in a state that denies gay and lesbian couples that entitlement.

The harsh bigotry found in the words of Virginia’s judges in the Loving case seem like a fading echo from a distant past -- something we study for the lessons we can learn from them, but which have no place in these more enlightened times. But the closer I look at those old words, the more I realize how similar in spirit they are to the words used today by Virginia’s legislators, who have not only banned gay marriage but also prohibited gays and lesbians from entering into other legal arrangements of their choice.

It was a rising cultural tide that thrust the civil rights movement upon us and carried the Loving case to its inevitable conclusion. And one day soon, as more and more Americans see the pettiness of their prejudices against gays and lesbians, there will be a rising tide that carries the fight for gay and lesbian rights to its inevitable conclusion.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ten year sentence in teen sex case voided

Common sense and common decency prevailed today in Georgia. A judge has voided a 10-year prison sentence for Genarlow Wilson for having consensual oral sex with a woman two years younger than he was. The judge reduced his charge to a misdemeanor with a 12-month sentence already served.

According to the judge, ''The fact that Genarlow Wilson has spent two years in prison for what is now classified as a misdemeanor, and without assistance from this court, will spend eight more years in prison, is a grave miscarriage of justice. If this court or any court cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here, then our court system has lost sight of the goal our judicial system has always strived to accomplish ... justice being served in a fair and equal manner.”

The woman was 15 and Wilson was 17 at the time of the incident in 2003. He was originally charged with rape but eventually convicted of aggravated child molestation – a felony carrying a mandatory ten year sentence and lifetime registration as a sex offender -- even though if the two had engaged in sexual intercourse he would have been guilty of only a misdemeanor. The law was changed to be consistent largely from publicity about this case but was not made retroactive. Thus Wilson remained in jail.

Meanwhile, the fine folks with the Georgia Attorney General’s office have indicated they will appeal the judge’s ruling. Wilson, now 21 and having already served 27 months behind bars, will remain in prison while the appeal proceeds.

Vote for McEachin in Virginia’s 9th Senate District

This Tuesday, June 12th, there will be Democratic and Republican Primaries around Virginia for a number of state legislative seats. One of the more closely watched will the contest for the Democratic nod in the 9th Virginia Senate District that covers all or portions of the City of Richmond, Henrico County and Charles City County.

A. Donald McEachin, 46, is challenging five-term-incumbent Benjamin J. Lambert, III, 70. McEachin is currently serving as a Delegate representing Virginia’s 74th House District. (For the sake of transparency I should state that Don McEachin is a friend whom I have known for years.)

Don was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1996 where he served until 2001. That year he gave up his seat to represent Virginia Democrats as their candidate for Attorney General. He lost that race to Jerry Kilgore. In 2005 he again ran for public office, this time for his old House seat representing the 74th District.

This past session of the Virginia General Assembly, Don sponsored and promoted a resolution regarding an apology for Virginia’s part in the enslavement of Africans. According to Don, “Virginia had nothing to do with the end of slavery. It had everything to do with the beginning of slavery," but by expressing contrition, Virginia would help play a leading role in healing the wounds caused by this nation's embrace of slavery and its ugly aftermath. The bill passed despite a controversy raised by conservative die-hards who did not want to apologize for anything and has served as a model for similar apologies by the state legislatures of Alabama, North Carolina, and Maryland with consideration by Arkansas. It was a gutsy thing to do and quite an accomplishment for a member of the minority party in the legislature.

Consideration of the race cannot escape the events of last fall’s U.S. Senate in Virginia pitting Democratic challenger Jim Webb against incumbent Republican George Allen. Earlier last year Allen’s re-election was considered a sure bet and Allen was even mentioned as a possible presidential candidate representing the right-wing forces friendly to the Bush White House against the anticipated Republican anti-Bush candidate, John McCain. However, Allen’s campaign collapsed around racially tinged issues that he kept bringing upon himself.

The significance of that race on this one is that McEachin and Lambert went off in different directions. McEachin was an early supporter of Webb while Lambert had endorsed the Republican Allen in exchange for a promise to support historically black colleges and universities with federal dollars – a pet cause for Lambert. However commendable that cause may have been, support for Allen regardless of his promises was not. Allen represented forces that have done real harm to this country. And Lambert’s endorsement was no momentary bad judgment. Allen’s shady history was well known well before the endorsement and while admittedly withdrawing an endorsement would have been awkward, it was not out of the question and he had ample opportunity to do so. He did not. Nor has he expressed any regret.

Senator Webb is working hard for McEachin in this race.

There is a lot to be said for experience but there is also a lot to be said for fresh leadership and new ideas. Senator Lambert has had the opportunity to serve his community in the Virginia Senate and previously in the Virginia House of Delegates. But times change, communities change and after 30 years it’s time for a change in leadership. If you live in the 9th District, vote for Donald McEachin for State Senate on June 12th. You can volunteer for Tuesday’s GOTV effort by calling 804-288-3381 and make a financial contribution here regardless if you live in the district or not.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Friday, June 08, 2007

Don’t ask, don’t tell (the truth about “Don’t ask, don’t tell”)

The American military is stretched dangerously thin as a result of the Iraq war and is especially short on Arabic translators. The shortage of translators is especially critical in the type of conflict where soldiers have so much contact with the civilian population and don’t know for sure who the enemy is. The inability to communicate in a timely manner can doom the mission.

Yet our military still expels service men and women, including critically needed translators, for begin gay or lesbian.

This appears in today’s New York Times by Stephen Benjamin, a former petty officer second class in the Navy:
The lack of qualified translators has been a pressing issue for some time — the Army had filled only half its authorized positions for Arabic translators in 2001. Cables went untranslated on Sept. 10 that might have prevented the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Today, the American Embassy in Baghdad has nearly 1,000 personnel, but only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers.

I was an Arabic translator. After joining the Navy in 2003, I attended the Defense Language Institute, graduated in the top 10 percent of my class and then spent two years giving our troops the critical translation services they desperately needed. I was ready to serve in Iraq.

But I never got to. In March, I was ousted from the Navy under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which mandates dismissal if a service member is found to be gay.

****
My supervisors did not want to lose me. Most of my peers knew I was gay, and that didn’t bother them. I was always accepted as a member of the team. And my experience was not anomalous: polls of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan show an overwhelming majority are comfortable with gays. Many were aware of at least one gay person in their unit and had no problem with it.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” does nothing but deprive the military of talent it needs and invade the privacy of gay service members just trying to do their jobs and live their lives. Political and military leaders who support the current law may believe that homosexual soldiers threaten unit cohesion and military readiness, but the real damage is caused by denying enlistment to patriotic Americans and wrenching qualified individuals out of effective military units. This does not serve the military or the nation well.

Consider: more than 58 Arabic linguists have been kicked out since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was instituted. How much valuable intelligence could those men and women be providing today to troops in harm’s way?

In addition to those translators, 11,000 other service members have been ousted since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was passed by Congress in 1993. Many held critical jobs in intelligence, medicine and counterterrorism. An untold number of closeted gay military members don’t re-enlist because of the pressure the law puts on them. This is the real cost of the ban — and, with our military so overcommitted and undermanned, it’s too high to pay.

In response to difficult recruiting prospects, the Army has already taken a number of steps, lengthening soldiers’ deployments to 15 months from 12, enlisting felons and extending the age limit to 42. Why then won’t Congress pass a bill like the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell”? The bipartisan bill, by some analysts’ estimates, could add more than 41,000 soldiers — all gay, of course.

As the friends I once served with head off to 15-month deployments, I regret I’m not there to lessen their burden and to serve my country. I’m trained to fight, I speak Arabic and I’m willing to serve. No recruiter needs to make a persuasive argument to sign me up. I’m ready, and I’m waiting.
The British military began allowing gays and lesbians to serve in 2000 and despite fears of discord concluded in a report a few weeks ago that it was a non-issue. The same goes for our allies. The current policy goes beyond running roughshod over the rights of gays and lesbians – it puts homophobia above national security. This is insane.

Sex (mis)education legislation passes House subcommittee

Contraception works and is important! But... don't tell the children.

The House Appropriations subcommittee for Labor and Health & Human Services (LHHS) approved an appropriations bill to increasing funds for family planning through Title X by over $27 million. The Public Health Services Act, the portion of Title X that funds family planning services, was first introduced into Congress by then-Representative H.W. Bush and signed into law by President Nixon in 1970.

The problem with yesterday’s action is it includes funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that censor information about birth control and the health benefits of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence-only sex education emphasizes complete abstinence from sex until marriage. Discussion of contraceptives is restricted to their failure rate. Yesterday’s vote comes less than two months after a study revealed these programs have no impact on the behavior of teenagers.

According to Medical News Today, “studies have shown that the virginity pledge is nearly always broken by those who make the promise. The problem then is that these people have not had adequate sexual health education and are more likely to develop STDs unknowingly and end up going to the doctor when the disease(s) is in its advanced stage.”

Abstinence-only sex education received funding initially under the Reagan administration and was strongly promoted by the Republican led Congress of that past few years. Last month new Democratic House leaders indicated they planned to let expire the $50 million in annual federal funds supporting abstinence-only education. Thus it came as a shock when the bill with the abstinence-only funding came out the subcommittee. Supposedly, Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., wants to avoid controversy on social issues this year in order to move other legislation through Congress.

The reaction was swift. According to Daily Kos, “This is more than just controversial social policy. This is a profound failure on the part of Democratic leadership, once again, to stand up to a harmful conservative agenda. This, of all ridiculous policies wrought on the nation by the GOP Congress, is a no-brainer to let die.”

The ACLU says, “Rarely do we at the ACLU come across a problem like abstinence-only-until-marriage that cuts across so many civil liberties issues: censoring information; creating a hostile environment for gay and lesbian teens, reinforcing gender stereotypes, and in some instances using taxpayer dollars to promote religion.”

NARAL says Congress is repeating the mistakes of the past and asks that this legislation be fixed.

Here is how an angry James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth, sees it:

Today, the House Democrats will waltz into the mark-up of the Labor HHS Subcommittee and proudly present a bill that puts their stamp of approval on domestic abstinence-only-until-marriage programs—an ideological boondoggle that threatens the health and well-being of America's youth.

The most appalling aspect of this sell-out is that that the Democrats will not only fully fund the worst of the failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs—they'll give them a $27 million increase—the first in three years!

Shame on Congressman David Obey for brokering this "deal;" shame on Congresswoman Nita Lowey for agreeing to it; and shame on those other Democrats on the Appropriations Committee who have already promised not to offer any amendment that would cut funding for abstinence-only programs and thus "upset" the deal.

In one inglorious motion, the Democrats have sold the health and well-being of young people down the proverbial drain, delivered a public slap in the face to evidence-based public health, and made a mockery of their "
prevention first" message.

Consider this irony. The first domestic policy the Democrats will endorse on the prevention front will be to fund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for young people up to the age of 29! Good work, gang. You make me proud to be a Democrat—NOT!

The problem with this sex “mis-education” program is that it leaves teens vulnerable. While teen pregnancy rates are decreasing, the teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. is still the highest in the industrialized world ranging between 750,000 and 850,000 teen pregnancies a year. Teenagers in the U.S. contract an estimated 9.1 million sexually transmitted infections annually. An average of two young Americans are infected with HIV every hour.

You can take action here.