February 14, 2011

New HRC Report Demonstrates Which Companies Support Workplace Equality

The wonderful thing about the Human Rights Council is that while one of their banner causes has been equal treatment of the LGBT community in all aspects of life, they also do great research and in-depth analysis as well as activism. One great example of this is the most recent workplace acceptance study, which went to a number of popular companies and workplaces in America to see how well they cope – if they’re friendly at all to it – with having LGBT individuals on staff.

The results are actually surprising – some companies that proudly fly their progressive colors in many cases are anything but accepting of gays and lesbians or transgendered people, and some old standard companies you would expect to be stodgy and conservative have very progressive human resource policies. Here’s a snippet of how the companies are judged, and one strong performer, Microsoft:

Businesses are rated on a scale from 0 to 100, based on whether or not they have policies that support LGBT employees. These include anti-discrimination protections, domestic partner benefits, diversity training and transgender-inclusive benefits. This year we provided an unofficial score to businesses that have not, after repeated attempts, responded to the survey. An unofficial score is reflective of the information that HRC has been able to collect without help or input from a business.

So Microsoft may have fared well in the study – and that’s likely part of the reason the company is an HRC National Partner. But how about some of the other companies that you likely shop with every day? They say vote with your wallet, and this is a great opportunity to find out how some of the companies you likely patronize treat their employees – regardless of their sexual orientation or expression.

[ HRC :: Buying for Workplace Equality 2011 ]

January 10, 2011

Justice Scalia’s ‘Originalist’ Hypocrisy (and that of the GOP)

This one hit the radar a couple of weeks ago and it makes me laugh every time I read it – for being what lawyers and judges call an “originalist,” as in, he believes in interpreting the constitution to the letter, Justice Antonin Scalia certainly has tons of revisionist ideas of what the Constitution says. After all, this week he says that the whole “equal protection under the law” apparently doesn’t apply to women, and that the Constitution offers them no protection against discrimination.

That’s right – it’s one thing if you want to say something about the Constitution’s implied protections for African-Americans (who were slaves at the time and there was debate even then if they should be protected, culminating in the decision that African-Americans were three-fifths human, which gave them carte blanche to ignore us entirely…what, didn’t know about that? Those are in the parts of the Constitution that the Tea Party thugs who claim to honor the document so highly decided to conveniently avoid reading when they did their theatrical reading on the House floor last week) but the founders made it clear that women were supposed to have the same legal protections, even if they didn’t believe at the time they should have the same rights to vote and own property.

Yet again, Scalia reveals himself as being an “originalist,” but only when he supports the perspective of the founders – anything else is conveniently bent to the right.

“In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation,” Scalia said in a recent interview with the legal magazine California Lawyer.

“So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both? Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that.”

However, if the “original intent” of the amendment’s drafters was so determinative – that the 14th Amendment supposedly was only meant to apply to black men at the end of slavery – it might be safe to assume that the drafters weren’t thinking about protecting a white man like George W. Bush from possibly losing an election in Florida in 2000.

Here’s the beauty of the piece all summed up and pretty:

n other words, Scalia and other right-wing justices operate with a situational ethic when it comes to “originalism” and “strict construction.” If their partisan and ideological interests require the abandoning of those precepts, the principles are dumped overboard.

That is what most of us would call hypocrisy or dishonesty. But Scalia, like many on the Right, operates with a curious sense of false righteousness, at least when his “principles” match up with his ideology and partisan interests.

In the recent interview, Scalia packaged his assessment of “originalist” intent on the 14th Amendment as a tough-minded recognition of the facts. Scalia claimed that the amendment’s provisions should only relate to the “original” intent of extending legal rights to black men.

He framed his argument as an invitation to state legislatures to grant women, gays and other groups equal rights. But that also suggests that the states would be free to deny these Americans their rights, if the legislatures saw fit.

In essence, leave it up to the states, and he’s already laid the groundwork for his own denial of equal rights on Constitutional grounds going forward. It’s not only unfortunate, but it’s horrifying, and it’s horrifying that his perspective has managed to stay on the highest court for so long. I’m far from an originalist, mostly because I think the Constitution, which is an amazing document, is a framework – a prism through which the founders intended future generations to peer and look at the world they lived in, not a stone tablet they expected future Americans to adhere to the letter at all times.

But sadly, the definition of conservatism is to maintain the status quo and avoid progress at all costs – to live in the false righteousness that the way things “are” is the way things “should be,” or the way things “were” are better than the way things “are.” It’s unfortunate, but very real – and as we see in Justice Scalia, it’s a perspective we have a great deal of work remaining to fight against.

[ Justice Scalia’s ‘Originalist’ Hypocrisy ]
Source: Consortium News

October 11, 2010

Forcing the Black Community to Confront Homophobia

When I was an undergrad, I went to see a speech by world reknown poet and author Nikki Giovanni. Her speech changed my life, and completely brought to the fore my own budding political and ideological beliefs. I sat in a room full of my peers – other African-American students at my University – while Giovanni challenged us to move on past our own homophobia, and to not let the racism and privilege that still sits near to the hearts of many of our white classmates deter us from greatness.

She pointed out that we should be less concerned with winning hearts and minds as we are concerned with ensuring equal treatment and equal access – essentially, the end of privilege. Racism is a cancer we may never be able to remove from the human psyche, but racist behavior and the curse of privilege is much easier to attack.

She noted that she hadn’t cared what was in the heart of someone who wasn’t sleeping in bed next to her for years – what was important was how people treated each other in the real world; the doors they opened and the doors they closed.

She also said she was tired of the homophobia in the Black community, and that if we kept this up we were destined to repeat the oppressions and mistakes of the same people who tormented us and marginalized us – she reminded us to be all-inclusive and to fight hatred wherever it rears its ugly head and in whatever form, even if it’s couched in religion and hurled at us from the pulpit of our churches.

She was absolutely right, and to this day I’m irritated at the homophobia in the Black community. Admittedly much of it is religiously driven and I’m not horribly religious, which puts me on the outside of a lot of it, but it still tears at me greatly.

Over at Alternet, Devona Walker is irritated at it as well, and wonders if the Eddie Long sex scandal will force us all to come face to face with its ugliness for what it is:

Atlanta megachurch Bishop Eddie Long faces four lawsuits from young men — either members of his congregation or employed by his church — who alleged that Long coerced them into sex. The news broke a few weeks ago and has caused a huge uproar within the black church community. But black lesbian, gay and transgendered folks as well as numerous civil rights leaders wonder if Long’s downfall could open the door for a long overdue conversation about homophobia in the black church. It also offers an opportunity for the black church to distinguish itself from the anti-gay rhetoric of white evangelicals and reclaim its historical place as being primarily about civil rights, as opposed to hate.

“We have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy within the black community and the black church. As long as you don’t disclose your sexuality, you can be on the usher board, you can be in the pulpit, but don’t you dare talk about it,” said Darion Aaron, a black gay Christian, activist and author who lives in Atlanta. “And it’s killing us as a community, and it’s killing gay and lesbian members of the black church who have to go to church and listen to that mental abuse. We are more accepting of a rapist or a murderer than an unrepentant gay and lesbian.”

Aaron says the gay community in Atlanta has known for some time that Long was a hypocrite. He has personally seen the bishop on numerous occasions out at the mall with young, attractive men who were either gay or bisexual. The gay community in Atlanta is upset, he says, by the hypocrisy, but not surprised.

“When the news broke,” Aaron said. “It was like, ‘Oh, there it is.”

On the upside, Aaron says the accusations have touched off numerous conversations in Metro Atlanta about gay African Americans and their place in the black church. The black church has historically accepted gay folks as long as they kept silent about their sexuality. Many African American gays and lesbians have accepted these limited roles for the sake of having a place within the black community. You can walk into just about any black church in the country and find dozens of gay folks present. Gay men are leading the choir. They are ushering you to your seat. They are cooking the church’s Sunday dinner.

“Gay men and lesbians have always been present in the black church, actively engaged at that,” said Joshua Altson in a Sept. 23 Newsweek.com article. “The prevalence of gay men in black church choirs and bands, for example, is accepted but not widely discussed. The unspoken agreement is that gay men get to act as seraphim, so long as they are willing to shout in agreement as they are being flagellated from the pulpit. It’s an indignity some gay men subject themselves to each and every Sunday. Why should they have to live this way?”

Alston recalled how another black pastor in Atlanta, Dennis Meredith, had gone from espousing anti-gay views to “preaching acceptance” once his own son came out as gay. While some parishioners left, rather than hear a message of love and acceptance for gays, they were replaced by new congregants looking for a church that would accept and affirm them.

“Long’s predicament is bringing back to the surface the endless debate over whether or not homosexuality is fundamentally moral or acceptable, a debate that preachers like Long have prolonged with their bigoted teachings,” Alston wrote. “It’s about the black community on the whole and whether or not gay men and lesbians are going to be considered full citizens in it.”

Ray Taliaferro, of the San Francisco Bay area, is just one of many longtime civil rights activists who have used the Long scandal as an opportunity to blast black homophobia.

“It is inhumane to do what black people do when they approach the issue of homosexuality,” Taliaferro told the San Francisco Examiner. “Why is it that black people, my people, feel they got to get up in the pulpit and they have to condemn a very active segment of the population of our society who happen to be gay, who happen to be homosexual?”

Taliaferro is a former San Francisco NAACP president and has been a choir director for years at several churches in San Francisco.

I’ve wondered for a while – and said for a while publicly – that maybe it’s time for some of the old guard leadership of the Black community – those who so courageously led us through the Civil Rights Movement and the darkest days of the 50s, 60s, and 70s – now retire and appreciate how far we’ve come in that time, and let the young ones who are more familiar with and able to adapt to this new age take the lead now.

The world is different now, the threats to our freedom are different, and many disparate communities being attacked by privilege and hate need the bolster and support of other communities that have been through it and have learned that only be coming together can you face down hatred and injustice.

I can only hope – for the sake of our communities and for the sake of Black people as a unified force for social justice and equality everywhere – that we can get past this, and those of our community that are religious can begin to preach the gospel of acceptance and love instead of thumping the bible in darkness and out of hatred.

[ Will the Eddie Long Sex Scandal Force Black Churches to Confront Their Homophobia? ]
Source: AlterNet

September 20, 2010

The Obama Achievements Center

I know I ranted about this at length in my post, That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking! but I wanted to drive it home a little more because memories fade so quickly and people forget exactly how far America has come in the few short months since Obama took office, and how quickly this American ship has managed to right itself and set a course for prosperity. Are we there yet? No. Is Obama perfect? Not at all – but has he accomplished a lot? Is he trying? Is he a hell of a lot better than who we had before – both in the White House and his cronies in Congress? Absolutely on all counts.

That’s why I’m really thrilled to point out the existence of the Obama Achievements Center, a great resource for people who want quick ammo to rebut the claims of history-rewriting conservatives who think that Obama hasn’t done anything, or at least hasn’t done anything good, and are basking in this kind of false reality where America has become a worse place since he took office. Quite the contrary, to fact. Here’s what the site’s builders have to say:

This site is the preview version of our new Obama Achievements Center. It’s a work in progress and a labor of love — for our country.
We’re building a crowd-sourced compilation of the achievements of the Obama administration, with documentation for each achievement linked to it. It
In today’s frenzied media zones, far too much time has been spent putting the spotlight on complaints while significant achievements are either ignored, not reported, or minimized.

The Achievements

Determined to change the media narrative to finally include the good works of this administration, a group of Twitter users got together under Shoq’s leadership and compiled a list of the achievements and promises of the Obama administration, with documented links to every item. It will be updated on an ongoing basis, as this President accumulates more successes and lasting reforms.
Defining what an achievement is in any administration, is itself an interesting issue. We decided that we would define it broadly to include executive orders,important legislation, and significant initiatives or outcomes of any kind, both foreign and domestic. We worked hard to screen out minor or subjective items whenever we had agreement on them. As anyone can see from this very impressive list, they weren’t needed.

Isn’t it beautiful? This is worth a bookmark, people, and includes everything I mentioned in my last post and then some. Best of all, it’s organized by topic and category, so if you have a favorite cause of topic, you can zoom right to it.

[ The Obama Achievements Center ]

August 9, 2010

That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking!

I’ve never been a fan of bumper sticker politics: I find it overall relatively crude and demeaning not only to everyone involved (both the person idiotic enough to put something like “Miss Him Yet?” on their car and the person who has to see it while they’re headed to work or home from it) but there’s been one little trend of short-memory and revisionist history among conservatives and Republicans that I feel compelled to note.

Admittedly, the Right’s attention span has always been short, and their capacity to revise history to make themselves look glowing (see Ronald Reagan) has always been remarkable, but President Obama has been in office for 18 months and not only are conservatives trying to pretend that he’s not still busy cleaning up the messes of the past 8 years (“hurr when will you stop blaming the last guy for what’s happening now, hrurr”) but also conveniently shaping today’s issues in short-term language (instead of properly pointing at the near 30-year history of American conservatism as responsible for the deregulation of our financial industries, energy industries, and transportation industries to the point where they’re only accountable to their shareholders and the desires of their executives to line their pockets – at the expense of the American people.)

Bumper stickers like “How’s that change working out for you” and “Miss him yet?” have been appearing on the cars of the angry, who want you and I to believe that the world may as well have ended 18 months ago and now we’re all picking through the smoldering ashes of our civilization. To those questions, I have two very simple answers:

* That change is working out great for me, thanks for asking!
* No, I don’t miss him at all – in fact, I’m happily on my way to forgetting he ever existed.

Starting at the very bottom, I’m particularly glad that I have a President who, while he isn’t perfect, is leaps and bounds more perfect than the last guy, and a President who I don’t have to worry will lock me up and waterboard me if I disagree with him and don’t march in lock step behind. Now I have a President who, as a matter of policy, doesn’t strip American citizens of their rights and due process just so they can be thrown in a dark cell until the powers that be can think of what do to with them. Again – our current Administration isn’t perfect on this point, but at least they’re willing to listen to suggestions and open to changing course – the last Administration would have simply called you “un-American,” “un-patriotic,” and thrown you in a cell just for speaking your mind.

The last Administration listened in on the phone calls of American citizens without a warrant, and the last Administration locked up American citizens for no reason. The last Administration was responsible for the Patriot Act, which while it hasn’t been repealed, has been used with significantly more caution and judgment than it had been in the past. The last Administration was obsessed with the State Secrets Act and shutting down human rights lawsuits just by invoking it.

So no, I don’t “miss him yet” at all, and that “change” has been a huge breath of fresh air.

Let’s move on to some more tangible examples though:

Would Mad King George have appointed two women to the Supreme Court? Likely not.

Would McCain have signed the Lucy Ledbetter Act, mandating equal pay for equal work? Never.

Would Bush Jr. have committed to drawing down troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, even if those plans are slow to take shape? Never – they would have said even talking about leaving would have emboldened our “enemy.”

Would the Little Bush or McCain ever strive to provide health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans, pass a Patient’s Bill of Rights, put Medicare on sound financial footing, and cut near a trillion dollars from the budget defecit over the next 10 years by reforming the way Americans get and spend on health care? It would have been a laughable proposition.

Would McCain or Palin have signed an executive order mandating that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be repealed? Wouldn’t have even crossed their minds.

Would Bush Jr. ever thought to close Guantanamo, much less actually try? Never.

Would a Republican president ever have sought to re-vitalize the Civil Rights wing of the Department of Justice, ousting political appointments that sought only to minimize the amount of work the agency did by throwing out legitimate cases and complaints and marginalizing career lawyers who have fought for equal rights their entire lives? Nope.

Would McCain or Palin have fought to restore science and scientific analysis to its rightful place in American discourse, especially on such important topics as climate change, space science, and medicine? Never.

Would McCain or Bush Jr. be on nearly as solid terms with our allies as Obama is, and managed to completely turn around our antagonistic relationship with Russia the way he has? Never – we would have seen more bluster and saber rattling, and likely be in the middle of another war with another faceless enemy designed to make us afraid by now had we voted differently.

Would McCain ever have gleefully signed ethics reform into law that would ensure there were strong rules to make sure the the field day that Republicans had during their majority time in office prior to 2008 (remember the cascade of ethics and sex scandals coming out of Congress back then? Oh how soon the right wing forgets…) never happen again? Not a chance.

Would Bush Jr. ever have given woefully needed money to the American auto industry – even if it was unpopular – and then been able to stand behind them as, as happened last week, they all post revenue gains and profits as opposed to the record losses and debts they had over a year ago?

The economic downturn was in full swing when President Obama was elected, as were both wars and all of their issues – so blaming President Obama is only ad accurate as you can blame someone for not cleaning up someone else’s mess fast enough. Someone recently pointed to a story about the vast majority (something like 96%) of money slated for reconstruction in Iraq being unaccounted for, and snarkily commented about whether or not this was something that people would just blame President Bush for – to which I responded that yes, it is – it’s only the right that seeks to unload accountability for their own actions and leadership decisions onto the people that follow them. President Obama has accountability to cleaning up that mess, but he has no accountability for having made the mess in the first place.

To that end though, would Bush Jr. or McCain ever have pushed through legislation designed to stimulate the economy, fund thousands of new infrastructure projects, put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work, and, with time, eventually turn the job decline into a slow but steady job incline? Not at all – there would have been some tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans (like the Bush tax cuts being debated now in Congress – you remember, the ones that did nothing to stimulate the economy or create new jobs?) and the Republicans would have resorted to their old stand-by, that people who are unemployed somehow “want to be jobless” or “deserve it.”

Would Bush ever have had the gravitas or political will to push through a massive financial system reform bill into law that not only forces more accountability in the financial sector but also establishes a new government agency that the public can turn to for their own protection against those massive Wall Street entities? Never. Would McCain? Hardly – he may have handed over some more money to them, but never have fought on our behalf.

So when you ask me if that “change” is working out for me, I’m more than happy to say yes.

When you ask me if I “miss him yet,” I can answer with a smile and say “miss who?”

Because overall, there’s plenty of work left to be done, and we’re not out of the woods, and everything isn’t perfect, but I’m more hopeful now than I ever have been, and I’m confident that America is moving in the right direction under a leader who at least considers the best interests of the people and the nation over their own personal whim or delusional personal “calling.”

Yup, that change is working out for me just fine, thanks. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

June 28, 2010

Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means

One of the things that still appalls me – although not surprises me – is the fact that so often some of the people we trust with our very lives; like first responders and 911 operators, are simply not interested in doing their jobs and have no passion around them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this about everyone, and I’m not saying it’s even a majority, but I am saying that these kinds of cases happen entirely too often for them to not be systematic problems, and I am saying that these kinds of cases can only come up so frequently before they really can be considered “common” and “the norm.”

As much as authorities when confronted with the behavior of their staff will try to downplay them and claim that the responsible parties have been dealt with and that these are “isolated incidents,” they truly are not by any means, and they’re truly troubling. These particular cases are specifically distressing because they deal with something that really is a life or death issue where police are desperately needed and their response can mean the difference between life or death: domestic violence.

I even hate the term, because it sounds almost so pedestrian these days, but domestic violence, spousal abuse, partner abuse, all of these situations deserve the same if not more urgency on behalf of first responders than a burglary call while the offender is still in the home, or a kidnapping or robbery in progress. How the 911 operator responds and how quickly they respond can be the difference between someone living or dying that day.

Here’s what’s so horrific, thanks to Tiger Beatdown:

Marie Celeste Arraras is a lady. She is a lady that some of you–including, shamefully, your humble correspondent who really needs to expand her horizons once again–may not have heard about. But if you watch Telemundo, you probably have seen her on “Al Rojo Vivo,” her daily news broadcast, or her work as a contributor for the “Today” show. She’s pretty, talented, and good at her job — she’s been called the “Katie Couric of Spanish television.”

She’s also a lady. I believe I mentioned that. Because it turns out to be pretty important.

On May 28, Arraras called Miami 911, telling the dispatcher to send the cops right away because her boyfriend had hit her and was trying to choke her. The police did eventually come to the house, arrested her boyfriend, and observed that she had a swollen lips and marks on her arms.

All this you can read in this story from the Sunday New York Daily News, like I did. What I find interesting is that in the online version, they left out the transcript of the call. Which makes for some…what’s that word we use? Interesting? Infuriating? Depressingly typical?

Yeah, that one.

Here, in living Minou Transcription, is the 911 call:

Operator: Miami Dade, where is your emergency?

Arraras: Please send the police to [redacted] right now. Somebody is about to kill me. Please.

Operator: What are they doing?

Arraras: Choking me. Please hurry.

Operator: They are choking you?

Arraras: Please.

Operator: Ma’am, you are on the phone; they are not choking you. What did they do?

Arraras: They just hit me and tried to choke me. Please.

Operator: Who did that to you?

Arraras: Somebody that lives with me.

Operator: Okay then, who is that somebody? Let’s not be silly. Ma’am, answer my question.

Arraras: I have three kids here.

Operator: And who is this someone that tried to kill you?

Arraras: It’s somebody that I’m dating, that lives here…please, could you send somebody right away?

Operator: Okay, ma’am. Hello. Instead of just saying hurry up, why don’t you answer the question?

Arraras: Listen to me, I have to go because he’s trying to get back in. Could you please…

Operator: So the person is outside?

Arraras: Outside, but not for long.

Operator: So, he lives there with you?

Arraras: Are you sending somebody right now?

Operator: I said, yes, if you would have listened instead of just talking. Okay.

I’ll say two things right away, because I have to, because if you’re going to be outraged, on the Internet, while female, you have to say things to cover your ass before the nitpickers and MRAs and rape apologists descend upon you. First, I don’t know if that’s the full transcript. I tried to dig it up via diligent net browsing, but the best I could find was the print edition of the News. There are a few ellipses in the transcription which could be gaps in the transcript, or capturing pauses in Arraras’ speech. Second, I haven’t heard an audio of the conversation, so I can’t speak to the tone of either Arraras or the operator.

Within those narrow dimensions, I’m still pretty appalled.

We are told, all of us, lady and dude and every other fantastic gender under the sun, that you call 911 when there’s an emergency. We are especially told that if we are people of the lady persuasion–not only because we are assumed to be incapable of dealing with anything messy and violent (except, you know, housework and rape), but because if, Cthulu forbid it, something happens to us, and we didn’t call, well then it’s clearly all our fault.

I tend to have a pretty good nose for tone, and even if the things that the operator is saying are in the most innocent and benign tone, they would be unacceptable. And frankly, something tells me that they’re not being said in the most innocent and benign tone. A 911 operator taking the approach of a disturbed call center staffer (trust me, I know how that is) who’s annoyed enough to be bothered to answer the phone, much less do actual work is by definition unacceptable, and I sincerely hope that this person isn’t just out of a job, but finds it incredibly difficult to work in their field in the future.

This is part of the problem frankly – as with any profession or job, when someone leaves one job after having done it for a long time, even if they did it poorly and they were dismissed, they frequently go to another place that doesn’t bother to check up on them and they wind up doing the same job again – often just as poorly and often just as dangerously. It makes me wish there background checks and permanent records for people who want to be 911 operators, but they’re already in short enough supply that anyone can get the role…as we can see here.

Now we can be horrified as much as we want because this particular woman has some celebrity status, but this makes me terrified for every woman who doesn’t and doesn’t have the means to have her story told in this way. And like I said above, I can only read stories like this so many times before it starts to look awfully common.

C.L. Minou, author of the post, goes on to explain that there are some groups that simply don’t call 911 in case of emergency, and she’s absolutely right. Queer folk, most minorities and especially Latinos (for fear of our “papers please” culture) have come to understand that the police and authorities are very frequently not their friends and have no interest in coming to their rescue in times of crisis. This is a mindset I can certainly corroborate in my own experiences.

My own calls to 911 over the years for various reasons go largely like this, with the operator more interested in getting off of the phone (partially likely because their lines are ringing off the hook, understandable) than there’s any interest in actually helping, lending an empathetic voice, and making sure I’m aware help is on the way. My experiences with police later in life (although earlier in life was different) go to prove the same point – officers less interested in hearing the full story and actually helping a victim and more interested in listening long enough to convince you to let them get back in the cruiser and drive away.

It’s a shame, because I know there are 911 operators and police officers out there doing amazing work and really making an impact and a difference in the lives of the people they touch. I honestly wish I could take whatever secret sauce that makes them successful and spread it around their colleagues so they don’t feel alone and don’t get jaded – even often times in the face of a community that already hates them and sees them on the other side of the line from them.

Regardless, for example, there’s no excuse for this, taken from the same piece:

Now look. I get that this is a horrible job, that most 911 dispatchers’ workday probably consists of prank calls, folks calling without a real emergency, and depressingly repetitive crimes all sandwiched around a few cases of pure brutal horror. So I’m not saying that 911 is sexist or that you shouldn’t call 911 if you’re in trouble. You should. But at the same time, I’m hardly doing much more than raising the MacKinnon Memorial Prize for Repetitive Observation by pointing out that all too often people in authority don’t take domestic violence seriously.

Like, for example, this story:

As we first revealed, when Sheila Jones needed help, help never came.

That despite repeated calls to Metro Nashville’s 911 over a three-hour stretch about an ex-boyfriend who’d assaulted her and was threatening to come back.

Sheila to 911:”They ain’t sent nobody. I just don’t understand. Is it ’cause I’m black? Is it ’cause of the neighborhood. What is it?”

And our investigation discovered, this is how one of the last calls ended:

Sheila: “I’m scared to even leave out my f***ing house.”
911: “OK, ma’am, I updated the call. We’ll get somebody there as soon as possible.”
Sheila: [Hangs up.]
911: “I really just don’t give a s**t what happens to you.”

You know what that voice is? That’s the voice of every MRA [ed. note: MRA = Men’s Rights Activist] troll who gets smug with you online about “if it was such a big deal, why didn’t you call the police?” That’s the voice of anyone who makes the victim in a battering case the one to hang her head in embarrassment. That’s the voice of everything that keeps a woman for asking for help, that’s the smug assurance that it just doesn’t matter.

That, ladies and assorted dudes of good cheer, is the voice of patriarchy as sure as if it was broadcasting on Radio Free Patriarchy.

This terrifies me, because frankly, the authorities should be the bastions of trust and protection that we’re taught they are since childhood. When I call 911, I should know the person on the other end, while I certainly know I’m not their only call, should make me feel like I’m the only one in the world – because that’s likely how I feel right now. Every other public or customer-facing job in the world would never settle for less; there’s no reason to expect some of our most crucial public services to be any different at all. It’s a systematic problem and it demands a systematic solution.

[ Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means ]
Source: Tiger Beatdown

May 24, 2010

Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul?

A number of other blogs and sites have had a great time bashing poor Rand Paul these days, and while I’ve been sitting back and watching the whole thing happen, I can’t help but laugh and join in.

This is the same man who said – and was forced to significantly backtrack from – that not only would he have opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act – which ensured Black Americans had the unfettered right to vote and ended segregation and the policies of the Jim Crow south – but that he also had reservations about the Americans with Disabilities Act. The way he characterized his remarks implied that he would also have issues with the Lucy Ledbetter “Equal Pay for Equal Work” Act, with the right of women to vote, and just about any other Federal law that protects basic human rights in America without exemptions for private industry.

I think J Smooth said it best in this video about Rand Paul and his beliefs:

He’s absolutely and utterly correct, of course – and while he’ll stop short of saying that Rand Paul is racist, I think it goes back to another one of his videos that describes the difference between being a racist and saying or doing something that is racist. One is calling someone out on their behavior, the other is a character judgement you simply can’t make – and I think that’s Rand’s issue – he’s doing things that pave the way and open the doors to institutional racism, but is he a racist? Can’t say – all I can say is that his ideals and policies support institutional racism and he clearly prefers those policies to actual people.

What’s that? You haven’t seen the interview to which J Smooth is referring? Rachel Maddow has the lowdown on her blog, where she corrects a New York Times story on Paul and links to her own interview where Paul does some artful dodging of pointed questions:

[ New York Times gets Rand Paul wrong ]
Source: The Maddow Blog

Still, over at TruthDig, the venerable Robert Scheer – writing before the explosion of idiocy that’s been spewing from Rand Paul’s mouth like so much BP oil into the Gulf of Mexico, asks the question, “Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul?” and pointing out both sides of why we should be concerned about him – not because of the so-called rise of the Tea Partiers, because they’re willing to elect anyone who embodies their rage without checking to see whether they actually share that person’s beliefs, clearly – but because they may prove a way for fringe and extreme right-wingers to get elected. But in the long run, at least he’s not a traditional Republican, right?

Tuesday’s election results were pretty good for progressives. The retirement of that windbag chameleon Sen. Arlen Specter is long overdue, and pro-labor forces were able to push Sen. Blanche Lincoln into a runoff in Arkansas. Even the big tea party win in Kentucky has its bright side.

Count me as one lefty liberal who is not the least bit unhappy with the victory by Rand Paul in Kentucky’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Not because it might make it easier for some Democratic Party hack to win in the general, but rather because he seems to be a principled libertarian in the mold of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and we need more of that impulse in the Congress. What’s wrong with cutting back big government that mostly exists to serve the interests of big corporations? Surely it would be better if that challenge came from populist progressives of the left, in the Bernie Sanders mold, but this is Kentucky we’re talking about.

[ Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul? ]
Source: TruthDig

Scheer tries desperately to make the best out of the election of Paul, which could very easily have been spun positively, but since he’s outed himself as anything but libertarian and more of a fringe-right corporatist when the pressure is on and only libertarian when it comes to revoking human rights by law and instead preferring the law of the market to rule not just business life but all life, I doubt even Scheer could defend him now.

Joshua Holland, writing for AlterNet, completely dissects Rand Paul’s attempt to be libertarian and winding up father right than most Republicans, specifically with regards to his desire to let BP off the hook entirely for the oil still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico:

Rand Paul’s supporters argue that his greatest flaw is his relentless honesty. In the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto gushed that “Far from being evasive, Paul has shown himself to be both candid and principled to a fault.”

But in an Appearance on Good Morning America, Paul proved that he is just another corporate-power-loving wing-nut who believes companies can do no harm, and there’s nothing principled or libertarian about that stance.

As Matt Corley reported earlier, Paul said Obama’s promise to put his “boot heel on the throat of BP” was “un-American.” He mused that it was an example of our “blame game society,” in which “it’s always got to be someone’s fault,” and added: “maybe sometimes accidents happen.”

The context here is important. Obama was talking about forcing BP to accept full liability for its actions. Libertarians believe that we are all autonomous agents who should be free to make our own rational choices, and then we must take responsibility for the results of the decisions we make. BP has caused billions and billions in damages to others, and its liability for the mess is capped at just $75 million plus the actual costs of the clean-up (but since BP will likely be found negligent in operating the rig, those caps are not necessarily going to apply).

Along the way, the company made choices. Its managers chose to drill in 5,000 feet of water, and then cut corners in terms of safety not only on the Horizon, but as a general operating principle. They made a rational decision to drill with a blow-out preventer that had a dead battery and was effectively “useless.” And they chose not to invest a half million dollars in a back-up system that might have prevented the worst damages.

That’s right – 11 people died on that rig from a completely preventable explosion and now near immeasurable damage is being done to the ecology and economy of the Gulf of Mexico – and as rare and unusual as it is for such a thing to happen, Rand Paul wants to chalk it up to an “accident” and move on without looking into it any further or holding anyone accountable for their actions. This is the kind of behavior I would expect from a Tea Partier or a webertarian (eg, the ignorant, mom’s-basement libertarians that troll YouTube and Reddit), but not someone who actually understands and wears the label of libertarian.

Holland continues:

The people of the Gulf whose livelihoods are being destroyed by the spill had no say in those decisions. It’s what economists call a “negative externality” — effects of a private transaction on a 3rd party. True libertarians believe that government’s only role should be to keep the peace and to correct market failures when they occur. Negative externalities represent the classic market failure.

Libertarians believe the government doesn’t need to regulate — to, for example, force oil-rig operators to have redundant systems and tightly monitor their safety routines — because the market will punish those actors who make the wrong choices. BP, according to the “logic” of the free market, should now bear the full burden for the results of the choices it made. Libertarians believe that when a free individual makes choices that harm others, litigation from other private actors will result. That’s known as “private enforcement,” and true libertarians argue that it is far preferable to “public enforcement,” AKA regulation.

I have a whole chapter in my book about how ours is a political culture that embraces the idea of free markets, but only in principle. BP made those choices I mentioned above because they were the economically rational things to do — they knew that if they destroyed a large swath of the Gulf Mexico in the process, they wouldn’t end up paying for it in its entirety, so management could rationally take more risk than they would have in a real free market system.

If Rand Paul were truly a principled libertarian, he’d be out in front of Obama, demanding that BP take full responsibility for its actions because it’s the free market thing to do. Instead, he dismisses the whole notion of taking responsibility for one’s decisions with an airy statement that “accidents happen.”

That makes Rand Paul just another Republican whose first instinct is to bow down in obeisance to the corporations that he apparently believes can do no harm — they only suffer “accidents” — even while thousands of barrels of oil continue to leak into the Gulf.

That about sums it up – Paul is completely willing to shield BP from the ramifications the market will take on their actions, when in reality what he would be doing if he were remotely libertarian. But then, this psuedo-libertarian scourge goes all the way back to his father – the man that Robert Scheer was trying in vain to defend in some regard, which I wrote about at length in my column The Ronulan Menace back when he was running for President.

Will this nonsense be the end of us all or the dooming of American politics? Not likely, especially as long as people like Paul pretend that he doesn’t have another election to win come November and keep his foot firmly planted in his mouth, but even if he does win that Kentucky senate seat, he’ll be so fringe he’ll likely find his time in Washington short either by will of the poeple or his own inevitable weakness.

In the interim though, it all makes for excellent, if not facepalm-worthy, political theatre.

[ That Was Fast — Rand Paul Throws Libertarian “Principles” Out the Window ]
Source: AlterNet

March 22, 2010

Racism, Homophobia Dominates Tea Party Protest Over Health Care Bill

I’ve written about the racism and homophobia that exists in the Tea Party several times, and how in fact their so-called leadership (as much as anyone can “lead” a group of thugs with torches and pitchforks) are driven by and funded by racist and far-right fringe groups, some of whom have openly called for the death of the President. Never has it been more front and center than this weekend, where protesters both for and against the health care legislation that passed the House yesterday faced off in DC. What do you do when you’re out of steam, never had any ideas to begin with, and are fueled by pure hate and ignorance? Show it off, of course:

Demonstrators outside the U.S. Capitol, angry over the proposed health care bill, shouted “nigger” Saturday at U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who was nearly beaten to death during an Alabama march in the 1960s.

The protesters also shouted obscenities at other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, lawmakers said.

“They were shouting, sort of harassing,” Lewis said. “But, it’s okay, I’ve faced this before. It reminded me of the 60s. It was a lot of downright hate and anger and people being downright mean.”

Lewis knows what’s up. He’s faced far more hatred than this bunch of glorified trolls, but it’s just another example of the cancer that the right-wing has in their ranks – one that they desperately need to remove if they expect anyone to take them or the mainstream Republican party (if there is such a thing anymore) seriously in any election.

But it didn’t stop with racism:

Protestors also used a slur as they confronted Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., an openly gay member of Congress. A writer for Huffington Post said the crowd called Frank a “faggot.”

Frank told the Boston Globe that the incident happened as he was walking from the Longworth office building to the Rayburn office building, both a short distance from the Capitol. Frank said the crowd consisted of a couple of hundred of people and that they referred to him as ‘homo.’

“I’m disappointed with the unwillingness to be civil,” Frank told the Globe. “I was, I guess, surprised by the rancor. What it means is obviously the health care bill is proxy for a lot of other sentiments, some of which are perfectly reasonable, but some of which are not.”

“People out there today, on the whole, were really hateful,” Frank said. “The leaders of this movement have a responsibility to speak out more.”

This, everyone, is the ugly, horrible face of conservative America. The worst part is that they don’t see anything wrong with their hatred and ignorance, and have absolutely no desire to join the rest of the American community in any kind of intelligent, civil discussion. Heaven forbid they educate themselves – willful ignorance and hatred feed on this mentality, and if they had to enlighten themselves, they’d be in a world of trouble.

[ Racism, Homophobia Dominates Tea Party Protest Over Health Care Bill ]
Source: TruthOut

March 8, 2010

Drinking While Brown (or Gay) in Texas Will Get You Arrested

Ah Texas. I’ve said it before, with the exception of Austin and a few other alcoves of sanity in the state, we may as well hand Texas back over to Mexico; they seem to want it more than we do. Kidding aside though, Texas manages to ram some really incredibly stupid and mind-boggling laws down the throats of its citizens, most of whom are so conservative or libertarian enough that they don’t really care because the rules will never apply to those with privilege – the moment they do, however, you can expect them to rally with their guns in the air outside of the state capital.

In this case, Texas’ new drinking laws give police the discretion to cuff you and lock you up regardless of where or how you’re drinking. This is how it works:

Late on a balmy Saturday night last June, six Fort Worth cops and two officers from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission went looking for trouble. They had just raided two Hispanic bars in an industrial stretch of town and nine detainees now sat in the paddy wagon (pdf), hands bound with plastic ties. The rest of the city’s bars would soon shut down. It seemed like the night was over, except for the paperwork. Then Sergeant Richard Morris had an idea. “Hey,” he said. “Let’s go to the Rainbow Lounge.”

A half-dozen police cruisers, an unmarked sedan, and the prisoner van slid to a stop in front of the Rainbow Lounge, Fort Worth’s newest gay club, at about 1:30 a.m. on June 28, 2009 — 40 years, almost down to the minute, after New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn with billy clubs and bullhorns. Inside the bar, the officers fanned out, grabbing and arresting six patrons for public intoxication. Benjamin Guttery, a 24-year-old Army vet, says an officer told him to put down his drink, then “bulldozed” him through the crowd to the paddy wagon but then let him go. “I’m 6’8″, 250 pounds, and I had just finished my second drink,” Guttery told a local reporter. “I might have had enough to have a loose tongue, but not a loose walk or anything like that.” Another man alleges that he was slammed against a wall, elbowed, and fell on the ground, landing him in intensive care for a week with bleeding in his brain. He was charged with public intoxication and assault.

That’s right – arrested for “public intoxication” inside of a bar. Only in Texas.

But here’s the clincher – these guys aren’t going to rootin’ tootin’ cowboy bars with blasting country music and confederate flags on the walls; they’re headed to gay bars and latino night spots, so they can make sure they round up, harass, and arrest the people they dislike the most: minorities and gays. It’s racial profiling at its finest, and the law enables them to do it.

The finest quote on the matter comes from a defense attourney in Dallas:

The public intoxication standard, backed by the Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is so broad that you can be arrested on just a police officer’s hunch, without being given a Breathalyzer or field sobriety test. State courts have not only upheld the practice but expanded the definition of public intoxication to cover pretty much any situation, says Robert Guest, a criminal defense attorney in Dallas. “Having no standard allows the police to arrest whoever pisses them off and call it PI,” he says, adding, “If you have a violent, homophobic, or just an asshole of a cop and you give him the arbitrary power to arrest anyone for PI, you can expect violent, homophobic, and asshole-ic behavior.”

Yup – that sounds about right.

The point of these laws, and the intention I’m sure that Texas’ MADD arm had, was to keep drunken people off of the roads and streets where they can cause harm to themselves or others. But good intentions paving the road to hell and all that, the statute doesn’t include the appropriate checks and balances against the inevitable abuse of police power, especially in a state like Texas; deep in the heart of Red America.

There is hope though – as with any group of cockroaches (I love this metaphor, which is why I use it so often) as soon as you shine the light on them, they scatter and try to get away:

After community activists took to the streets and airwaves, Irving’s arrest rate for Hispanics plummeted. (Dallas and Irving are no longer part of the federal program.) In Fort Worth, protests over the Rainbow Lounge raid elicited a quick apology from the police chief and promises to review the PI policy. But the arrests have continued elsewhere, and no one is targeting the public intoxication law itself. Many people don’t care, Novello says, “because they can’t vicariously experience this injustice.” The Houston attorney puts it more bluntly. “As long as police are going out there fucking with the blacks and the Mexicans, until it hits the people with the power, they won’t care.”

And that brings me back to the original point. Until the white, privileged majorities are affected, there likely won’t be any real change here – and if there is real change because of the outcry, it’ll be a step-by-step struggle against that privileged majority who doesn’t see anything wrong with the rules only because they’re not the target of their enforcement.

[ Drinking While Brown (or Gay) in Texas Will Get You Arrested ]
Source: AlterNet

December 15, 2009

The GOP’s Civil-Rights Problem

Bashing the Republicans and the right-wing (even the center-right) for their blindness to privilege and racial injustice is low-hanging fruit for me, but every now and again there’s more good data to share on the matter. For example, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that during the Bush years, everything we’ve said about civil rights is absolutely true. The Bush Administration went out of its way to dilute the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and placed political appointees in places where they could obstruct the actions of career lawyers and officials who would want to take on civil rights abuses that were reported to their office.

George W. Bush was never particularly taken with the civil-rights crowd. Not that he was exactly hostile to the notion of protecting society’s most vulnerable groups. But he and his minions assumed that the time for coddling minorities had passed. So after sizing up the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice—the most powerful advocate for civil rights within the federal government—Bush’s operatives endeavored “to rip the heart out of [it],” in the words of Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP.

In dry statistics and even drier prose, a report released last week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) spells out how sweeping that effort became. The Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division veered away from challenging “at-large election systems” that marginalized African-Americans and focused on language discrimination against Spanish speakers. The Employment Litigation Section moved away from so-called pattern or practice cases (suits that took on widespread or systematic discrimination) in favor of individual complaints. (“Plenty of individual lawyers can bring these individual discrimination cases,” pointed out Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda, a New York–based nonprofit; but only the Justice Department can pursue certain big cases that can make a real difference.) Bush’s Justice Department was also particularly sensitive to discrimination against white males. In 2007 the division filed a suit against Indianapolis for favoring African-Americans and females over white males for promotion to police sergeant.

For Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the breadth of the changes crystallized during a meeting with Ralph Boyd Jr., an assistant attorney general for civil rights under Bush. A case filed by several women against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) was then working its way through the courts. SEPTA had instituted new physical-fitness standards for aspiring transit police. Many women had a hard time meeting the new standards, which required all new applicants to run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes or less. After being rejected by SEPTA for failure to pass muster, the women sued. The Justice Department signed on to that suit under President Clinton. Under Bush, it withdrew. Henderson tried to convince Boyd of the necessity of taking a stand against what he considered a clear case of discrimination against women. Boyd, as he recalls, responded with a lecture on how the women should exercise and get in better shape. He reduced “this case of discrimination to one of personal failings,” observed Henderson.

What really entertains me here is that not only was the Civil Rights Division hostile to minorities, they were also hostile to women. And not only were they hostile to minorities and women, they are particularly sensitive to the group that benefits the most from privilege and the old boy’s network, but seems to always feel threatened when confronted with their own prejudices and privilege. It’s absolutely stunning how scared even some so-called libertarian and centrist white males will get when they have to come to terms with their own privilege, and most of those same men will then deny that privilege exists and sputter into the tailspin of claiming that, like Bush and his minions did, the time for “coddling” minorities and women has passed and that all of this racism doesn’t really exist and is a figment of the imaginations of minorities. It’s a pretty quick jump for those particular white males, but it’s always an amusing one to watch them take.

Beyond this though, the GAO report is pretty damning, and while I’m sure things are getting better at the Justice Department and a breath of fresh air is headed through the department, it’s important to remember that it’s things like this that are relieved by having someone like President Obama in office. So while we may disagree with him or wish he were pressing harder on progressive issues, it’s important we don’t lose sight of the so-called smaller issues and positions that the Administration takes that keep our agencies of social justice in line with American values.

[ The GOP’s Civil-Rights Problem ]
Source: Newsweek