Friday, December 24, 2010

A Radical Christmas....



They crossed the border and snuck into another country. They did this, if course, because they were fleeing the law. She was an unwed mother with a 3-year old in tow; the man accompanying her, a cradle-robber many years her senior. As could be expected, they lived under the radar in poverty.

When her son grew older, his tendency was to hang around rough-talking, hot-headed fishermen and befriend prostitutes. He walked comfortably with lepers, more interested in shooting the sh*t with them than he was afraid of catching their disease. Clearly, he was not the product of Polite Society.

He would call respected religious leaders 'vipers,' and use physical force to destroy their business. He, and his cousin, and his band of vagrants would wander, homeless, from place to place living on handouts. A political radical, he brought attention to the plight of the poor, the diseased, the homeless, the immigrant, the single parent, the fatherless child. He embarrassed good people everywhere.

The government found him to be an anarchist, a revolutionary, a subversive, a malcontent, a trouble-maker.

Proper religious leaders rallied their followers in opposition to this disturber of the status quo and of sound theology.

And so, in accordance with civil order, and national security, and common decency, and the Rule of Law, he was executed.

Nonetheless...every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, and will be fuel for the fire. For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:5, 6)

May you all have a Radical Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Open Letter to the US: Wikileaks & Free Speech



Open Letter to U.S. Government Officials Regarding Free Expression in the Wake of the Wikileaks Controversy

December 22, 2010


Dear Public Officials:

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from legal and free speech
experts about the possible application of the Espionage Act to the recent publication of secret documents by the whistle-blower website Wikileaks, as well as to traditional media outlets, Internet companies, and others who have also distributed and reported on that information. All seven witnesses cautioned against attempts to suppress free speech and criticized the overwhelming secrecy that permeates the United States government. We write to echo these concerns and applaud those who have spoken out against attempts to censor the Internet. We urge caution against any legislation that could weaken the principles of free expression vital to a democratic society or hamper online freedoms.

Unfortunately, some government officials have already attacked newspapers’ rights to
report on the releases by Wikileaks. Other government actors have made official and
unofficial statements casting doubt on the right of government employees and others to download, read, or even discuss documents published by Wikileaks or news reporting
based on those documents. Others have rashly proposed legislation that could limit the free speech of legitimate news reporting agencies well beyond Wikileaks.

These actions have created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among the general
public, leading them to question their rights with regard to the documents posted by
Wikileaks. As you continue to discuss these critically important issues, we urge you
to do so in a way that respects the constitutional rights of publishers and the public that have been recognized by the Supreme Court.

Specifically:

• Publishers have a First Amendment right to print truthful political information
free of prior restraint, as established in New York Times v. United States.

• Publishers are strongly protected by the First Amendment against liability for
publishing truthful political information that is lawfully obtained, even if the
original disclosure of that information to the publisher was unlawful, under
Bartnicki v. Vopper.

• Internet users have a First Amendment right to receive information, as repeatedly
endorsed by a series of Supreme Court cases, including Stanley v. Georgia.

• The public has a First Amendment right to voice opinions about government
activities. This is core political speech, which receives the highest protection
under the Constitution.

It will be especially critical for members of Congress to keep these rights in mind as they consider any future legislation that may impact freedom of expression. In a free country, the government cannot and does not have unlimited power to determine
what publishers can publish and what the public can read. As the robust public
debate about Wikileaks continues, please make sure that it includes the rights of all
involved.

Sincerely,

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Arizona First Amendment Coalition
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Bob Barr, Former Congressman and Chairman, Liberty Guard, Inc.
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights
Communication Is Your Right!
Courage to Resist
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Feminists for Free Expression
First Amendment Coalition
Government Accountability Project
Liberty Coalition
Muslimah Writers Alliance
National Coalition Against Censorship
New America Foundation
New Media Rights
OpenTheGovernment.org
Privacy Activism
Privacy International
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Privacy Times
Progressive Librarians Guild
Sunlight Foundation
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University

Saturday, December 18, 2010

DADT: It's Done. Vitriolic Theocrats: Exit Stage Right



Finally...after blogging about Lt. Dan Choi, Victor Fehrenbach, and dozens of other patriotic American service men and women who lost their jobs and pensions (if they didn't get killed or lose limbs first)....it's FINISHED. THANK YOU to the Democratic Leadership, and the 6 Republicans who voted to end debate and bring this to an end.

And of course, as expected, the anti-gay fund-raising letters and right-wing haters are just bubbling over with vitriol.

My favorite so far:

"...We will no longer be able to bail out these other emasculated armies because ours will now be feminized and neutered beyond repair, and there is no one left to bail us out. We have been permanently weakened as a military and as a nation by these misguided and treasonous Republican senators, and the world is now a more dangerous place for us all." - American Family Association hate group radio host Byran Fischer.

Mr. Fischer, I hope when you google your name and my blog pops up with your ignorant quote...that you take a long hard look at the accompanying picture. If these gay men are your definition of "feminized and neutered," you better take a long look in the mirror, buddy...

And oh, while you're at it...you can apologize the the thousands of women who have ably served our military and sacrificed for our nation...all without weakening our military one iota.

In fact, I'll bet any one of them could kick your ass.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

House Roll-Call on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"



Total Roll Call vote to repeal DADT: 250 Yes to 175 No, and 9 not voting.

Breakdown by Party:

Democrats: 235 Yes, 15 No, 5 Not Voting

Democrats Voting No: Boren, Bright, Childers, Critz, Davis (AL), Davis (TN), Marshall, McIntyre, Ortiz, Peterson, Rahall, Ross, Skelton, Tanner, and Taylor.

Democrats Not Voting: Baird, Berry, Cardoza, McCarthy (NY) and Woolsey.

All unnamed Democrats voted Yes.



Republicans: 15 Yes, 160 No, 4 Not Voting

Republicans Voting Yes: Biggert, Bono Mack, Campbell, Cao, Castle, Dent, Diaz-Balart, Djou, Dreier, Ehlers, Flake, Paul, Platts, Reichert, and Ros-Lehtinen.

Republicans Not Voting: Granger, Marchant, McMorris-Rodgers, Wamp

All unnamed Republicans voted No.

House approves repeal of Dont Ask Dont Tell: on to the Senate



By a vote of 250-175, The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday afternoon to approve a measure to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The House had previously approved repeal of DADT, but as part of a larger Defense Funding bill. The Funding bill is bogged down in the Senate, which by a vote of 57-40 last week was unable to cut off debate to take a vote. In a last-ditch effort, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.), re-introduced DADT Repeal as a 'stand-alone' bill yesterday, and it was approved about an hour ago.

And while gay rights has been more controversial in the African-American community than among whites, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), an African American, declared on the House floor,

“I don’t need a survey to tell me what’s right when it comes to human rights...We cannot have a first-class military with second-class soldiers...I will not ask people who are willing to die for my country to lie for my country.”

The same stand-alone bill will be debated in the Senate, where it has been introduced by Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Mark Udall (D-Colorado), and Kirsten Gillenbrand (D-NY). Supporters believe 60 votes for passage have been secured...and Dont Ask Dont Tell will come to an end.

As soon as we can verify the roll-call vote, we will post it

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Tea Party Leader: Require Property Ownership for Voting


In my blog and in message board discussions concerning the Tea Party, I have been consistent in my predictions: The Tea Party has had strength because they have been unified in what they have opposed; but, when the time comes when they are forced to agree on what they are actually in favor of…, well, it is then, I predict, that the movement will fracture. It is far easier to agree on a common bogeyman than to agree on the solution or replacement for the bogeyman.

Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips’ comments over the last two weeks on voting rights might just convince many Tea Partiers that they have signed on with a lunatic, and precipitate that fracture.

On the other hand, if the Tea Party rallies to his defence, we are in bigger trouble as a nation than I had ever dreamed.

On his Tea Party Nation internet radio program on November 17, Phillips said:

"The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn't you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you're a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you're not a property owner, you know, I'm sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners

I kid you not. His comments can be heard here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4j7yD94F9y4&feature=player_embedded#!
These comments are devoid of reason. Has he ever been to Manhattan, and seen city block upon city block of apartment buildings…places where thousands of people live in units rented from absentee landlords who live somewhere “roomier?’

Can he truly believe that these thousands of people have no interest in their communities? In their children’s schools, their garbage pickup, the traffic patterns in their neighborhoods, crime in the streets and subways they use to go to and from work, and their fire and police protection?

Who does he thinks serves on community boards and Parent-Teacher organizations and Parks Commissions? Landlords? Or the mere residents, the renters whom he feels have a lesser stake in their community?

Does he think they don’t pay sales taxes and income taxes and meals taxes every day?

It is unfathomable to me that a political leader would actually suggest this as a rational policy. This is the kind of thinking that lead to the Scottish Clearances and the Irish Famine in another century – the notion that ‘tenants’ were merely ‘problems.’

In an effort to make sense out of his statements, I thought perhaps he was simply putting himself in the place of an 18th century aristocrat, and explaining why they may have included property requirements for voting in the late 1700s.

But then, two days ago, Phillips sent out an e-mail designed to rally his supporters in response to the outcry about his comments. In it, he referred to a Property-owning requirement as a “wise idea”:

"A couple of weeks ago, on the Tea Party Nation radio show, I was talking with David DeGerolamo of NC Freedom about the Founding Fathers and the original Constitution. During the course of our discussion, I mentioned that the founding fathers limited voting rights to property owners. I commented this was a wise idea."

He made no retraction. No clarification. In fact, he confirmed his position. He then went on to criticize those who objected to his comments, saying that the “left went nuts,” “spastic” and “into hysteria.”

Not just the left, Mr. Phillips. Seniors in Nursing homes. College Students. Renters. Single parents living in shelters for the abused. Native Americans on Reservations. Grandparents living with their children. None of whom would qualify for voting rights in Mr. Phillips’ world.

Mr. Phillips seeks a wholesale evisceration of American democracy and the US Constitution, which permits no other qualifications for voting other than being a citizen 18 years of age or older.

No poll tax. No literacy test. No Property-ownership requirements.

And hopefully, no successful Tea Party efforts to change this.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Health Care: Can the GOP Prove it still has a Soul?


With Republicans poised to take control of the House of Representatives, there is little doubt that the recently-passed health care bill is up for, shall we say…”discussion.” The fact that Democrats continue to hold the Senate and White House also means that there is no run-away train here when it comes to passing – or repealing – legislation. A ‘divided’ government means that we can have two years of gridlock...or we can have statesmen from both sides of the aisle who actually work together to address the nation’s ills.

Eric Cantor, set to become the new Republican House Majority leader, has suggested in the last few days that the Republican Party, while looking to repeal “Obamacare,” may also offer revisions and additions to the bill rather than just repealing it and walking away. In this statement, there is the faintest glimmer of hope that America could actually end up with a better law.

Tea Party darling (and complete lunatic) Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has already gone on the offense, stating to the Christian News Service,

“…I think there needs to be an insurrection here in Washington, D.C., against our own [Republican] leadership, because that is the message that's come loud and clear out of this election: a full-scale repudiation and rejection of the federal government takeover of private industry…If we want to replace ["obamacare"] with Obamacare-lite where the government comes in and tries to have interventionist policies, we are going to continue to see failure…”

Bachmann represents everything that has gone wrong with the Republican Party: extremism, ignorance, mean-spiritedness, an elevation of ivory-tower theory over people and reality, and a slash-and-burn, rule-or-ruin style of governance.

For all its flaws, the Democrats got several things very right with the Health Care Bill: A new McClatchy Newspapers/Marist survey found that 68% of respondents favor allowing people under the age of 26 to be covered by their parents' plans, and 60% want to deny insurance companies the right to turn people down for coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions. Permitting insurers to refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions is a pocket-lining win for corporate insurance at the expense of struggling families.

The entire theory behind insurance is that everyone goes into the ‘pool’, and those at greater risk are subsidized by ratepayers who pay more than they take from the system.

Seven hundred years ago, ship merchants in the Baltic Sea were besieged by Vikings; they got through that period by pooling their risk and cargoes, thus creating the first known insurance pool (The “Hanseatic League”). Those merchants who were set upon by Vikings were not ‘ruined,’ but rather, participated in the profits of the ships that did successfully reach port. That is the theory behind insurance: sharing the risk increases the chances that all will survive horrible mishaps. When Insurers are permitted to cut off newborn babies born with birth defects, or refuse to cover spouses with crippling diseases, they are throwing the ‘bad risks’ overboard; it is no longer an insurance pool, but a cartel of the healthy for the profit of the insurer.

Contrary to Bachmann’s blind quasi-religious belief in the existence of perfect markets in health care, we must acknowledge that there *is* a problem in terms of affordable access to health care for many Americans. With 10% of the Labor Force out of work, an additional 10% “underemployed,” and youth, stay-at-home parents, part-time workers, the disabled, many immigrants, and the homeless not included in those figures, estimates range from 30 to 50 million Americans living without health insurance. That means somewhere between 10% and 15% of Americans living on the edge of ruin or death at the instance of a single serious mishap or disease. The compassion of a civilized society rejects, "hell, tough on them!" as an acceptable response.

Republicans must be convinced to keep these two provisions of the health care bill, as well as an end to lifetime caps, or suffer the consequences at the ballot box two years hence.

In addition, this is an opportunity to make improvements to the existing bill. Those improvements could include the following:

1) Permit non-profit regional or state groups to form for the purpose of buying health insurance. Sounds simple, isn't it? But it's illegal under IRS Rule 501(m). Individuals can *not,* under existing law, form 'groups' whose primary purpose is purchasing group health insurance. (Groups may form for business or fraternal purposes, and then choose to buy insurance as an incidental benefit, but they can not form for no other reason than to buy insurance). End this prohibition, let competition ensue, and there will be no need for the single Federal Government Insurance company the Republicans fear.

2) End State-granted Insurance Monopolies. The Federal Government has the authority to regulate Interstate Commerce, and since people may get sick *anywhere* and request their insurer to cover it, this is clearly federal jurisdiction. Blow open the lid on Insurer Competition across state lines.

3) Enact Tort and Medical Malpractice Reform. It was reported 6 years ago that an OB-GYN doctor in Massachusetts has to deliver EIGHTY-FIVE babies just to cover malpractice insurance premiums for a year. Worse, 5% of doctors are responsible for 95% of malpractice claims, raising all doctor's and hospital's premiums. Limit Malpractice Awards, raise the negligence standards (so hospitals don’t need to run costly and unnecessary tests), and relieve the 95% of decent doctors from paying the premiums of the 5% convicted of malpractice.

4) Eliminate the FDA's Efficacy test, especially for terminal patients. Currently, the FDA requires that pharmaceutical companies prove that their drugs meet two tests: they must prove safe, and they must be 'efficacious,' that is, they must be proven to cure the condition they claim to address in virtually 100% of patients. This is a costly and inconclusive standard: people react differently to different substances. The peanut butter that fed me through high school will kill someone with an allergy; let *Doctors* decide what to prescribe, with the understanding that the idiosyncrasies of individual patients means that results WILL be different with different drugs. And while we’re at it, permit the medical production, possession, and use of cannabis.

5) Engage in Multi-national agreements with other nations to accept their pharmaceuticals and increase competition. The refusal of the US FDA to permit the importation of Canadian pharmaceuticals is insane. An individual can come to the US from France, or Britain, or Mali, or India, and providing only a driver's license from their own nation, get behind the wheel of a 6,000 pound rental car and take off minutes after landing - even if they don't speak English or have never driven on the right side of the road. And yet, if a pharmaceutical company goes through hundreds of thousands of test subjects in Germany, or Britain, or Canada, the results are not considered 'valid' in the US. Now, realistically, which is more dangerous: the driver, or a drug produced in Canada?

6) Permit every American to have a Medical Savings Account. Currently, Government workers and some self-employed people can utilize a Medical Savings Account which permits them to cover medical costs using a credit-card-like card. These citizens have a certain amount of money deducted from their paychecks, and go into an account for medical expenses: prescription drugs, eyeglasses, dental work, and even over the counter remedies. These deductions are pre-tax, meaning it lowers the person's gross income, lowering their tax and even possibly dropping them into a lower tax bracket. Better yet, these workers can 'borrow' against future deductions if they incur expenses early in the year at no interest expense. If government workers are allowed these accounts, why not ALL Americans?

7) Repeal DOMA and the Internal Revenue Service Imputed Income provisions. The Internal Revenue Service requires that employers report the value of health insurance benefits provided to non-traditional partners: registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, and some marriages. The value of this 'benefit' results in greater employee taxes - often as much as $3,000 annually. This creates a disincentive for employees in the majority of states where thee benefits exist to actually cover their partners...who then go uninsured, or who qualify for taxpayer funded low-income health programs in the states. ALL of these partners can be better served, with better insurance, at no taxpayer expense, if the IRS would stop punishing otherwise economically viable households based on their formal definition of 'federal marital status.'

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The PROBLEM with the Pentagon's DADT Report...



Upon the release of the Pentagon's survey of military men and women, President Obama commented:

"...Today's report confirms that a strong majority of our military men and women and their families - more than two thirds - are prepared to serve alongside Americans who are openly gay and lesbian..."

Those who have supported the repeal of the "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell" rule have pointed to this study as some sort of Holy Grail, proof that our enlisted men and women themselves are in support, by a wide margin, of ending the policy. And, I suppose, those who have always opposed ending DADT will argue that the survey was not worded correctly, that one-third opposition is still an enormous number of people, that things should not change until after "the war." (Which war? Iraq? Afghanistan? The war Against Terror? the War against Drugs? The brewing one in Korea? A strike against Iran's nuclear reactor?)

But all of this media spin and cheering and questioning of the Pentagon Report seems to ignore one central, critical fact:

Since when are civil and human rights in the United States determined by popular vote?

In the 1940s, President Harry S. Truman, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, ended racial segregation in the military with a single pen stroke (not an act of Congress, not a public debate, not a Special Study by the Pentagon) - but in his Constitutional capacity as Commander-in-Chief. And this, during a time when housing, and restaurants, and hotels, and even public schools, in both the south AND the north - were still racially segregated.

Imagine if he had waited for a Popularity Poll to come out of the Pentagon before acting. I expect he could have made an Obama-like announcement:

"Today's report confirms that a strong majority of our military men and women and their families - more than two thirds - are not prepared to serve alongside Americans who are Black or Latino. Therefore, we will keep segregated barracks and bases as they are."

At least one Federal Court has already ruled that DADT is clearly Unconstitutional.

The act discriminates based on the content of the speech being regulated...It distinguishes between speech regarding sexual orientation, and inevitably, family relationships and daily activities, by and about gay and lesbian service members, which is banned, and speech on those subjects by and about heterosexual service members, which is permitted,” wrote Justice Virginia A. Phillips, in an 85 page ruling in a case that took six years just to be heard.

Well, dammit, if it's Unconstitutional, I really don't care about popular opinions or Pentagon Polls.

We didn't poll white water-fountain patrons before deciding that separate Water Fountains for Whites and Colored was unconstitutional.

We don't poll pacifists to find out how they would 'feel' if someone in their neighborhood wants to own a rifle.

We don't ask permission from a largely Christian community to build a synagogue in their town.

We don't seek majority approval before agreeing to give an accused rapist the right to take the 5th Amendment.

Ahhhh, you say..."but the military is different!"

No, it's NOT.

In the Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers carefully set out their grievances with the British Crown. One of the prominent complaints they had against King George was this:

"...He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power."

In other words, our founders were clear in their desire that the Military not be independent of, nor superior to, civil authority...something we have routinely ignored in the name of "national defense," and something which has enabled us to send our young men and women around the world in a fools errand at policing and empire building.

I really don't care what the Pentagon survey said. It is immaterial. Constitutional Rights in this country are based in Law for the purpose of securing Liberty, and NOT in popular opinion or mob rule.