Friday, December 30, 2005

Illegal Immigration

I am not quite sure where the latest round of immigrant bashing has come from. Perhaps it's the fruit of our President's actions to stoke xenophobia within our great nation despite his words of support for immigrant populations. At least when the GOP went after gays in 2004, it was a direct response to Lawrence v. Texas decriminalizing consensual sodomy and the Massachusetts decision legalizing gay marriage. The last I checked, Hispanic immigrants haven't done anything to warrant the attention being thrust upon them.

Personally, I don't understand the long term strategy of bashing immigrants. Yes, illegal immigration is a problem. You cannot live in Atlanta and not realize that illegal immigrants are everywhere. They are taking jobs that no other American will do, and they are being paid basically slave wages. Except when you are from Mexico and have nothing, slave wages in the US looks pretty good. Employers like them because they don't have to pay them taxes and they can treat them any way they like, because the illegals won't complain for fear of deportation. For years, the emphasis has been on making life miserable for the illegal immigrant. Denying them access to drivers' licenses, bank accounts, etc have been commonplace. The latest moves by the GOP focus on denying the children of illegal immigrants access to schools and health care.

I know that the children of illegal immigrants are flouting our nation's immigration laws. However, they do not have a choice in the matter. When their parents drag them across the border, they have to go. Punishing the children, making sure they don't receive basic health care or education, serves little purpose. Yes, they aren't truly entitled to these things, but what happened to basic compassion? The last thing we need in America is a group of children who are uneducated out on the streets. I would rather see illegal immigrant children in school, learning English, and becoming valuable members of society.

Yet, their parents are here illegally, and we cannot just reward them for that. I would propose leaving the laws on immigration just as they are. Let's turn our focus to the economic system that allows the illegal immigrant system to flourish. We need to turn our attention to the employers of the illegals. Even day workers should have proof of citizenship to work. There should be more inspectors to bust the operations and employers who skirt the laws and hire on the black market of illegal immigrants. The fines, and jail time, should be severe enough to discourage current practices, and the enforcement should be beefed up so that it's difficult to get away with what goes on now.

But seriously, let's leave the kids of illegal immigrants alone. They aren't here by choice, but by virtue of a decision their parents made. I don't know the answer to making the parents responsible for their illegal immigration. If we use the medical and school systems to catch illegal immigrants, it will have the same effect as an outright ban. Here in Atlanta, the fear that immigration will find out about you if you open a bank accounts leads many illegals to keep money at their home. Robbers know this, and there are countless stories of victimization in the complexes where illegals live. Yet, these stories are largely word of mouth, because the illegals won't report a robbery to the police for fear of deportation.

Building walls or enacting codes like the one in Manassas, VA ( which blatantly target Hispanics, both illegal and legal, is not the way to go. Yet, that is what the GOP seems to think will help them win in 2006. My only consolation is that while they beat up immigrants, they won't be going after gays. Still, that's a cold comfort, because I know that if the attack on illegals doesn't work, then they will come after gays again.

I just hope America wakes up to the danger that total GOP control poses to our Nation and way of life before it's too late.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Brokeback Mountain

I took off work a little early on Friday to see Brokeback Mountain, which opened in exactly ONE theatre in Atlanta that day. I bought my ticket in advance online, which is good since the movie sold out all showings on Friday. The line in the theatre snaked across the lobby, down a hallway, past the bathrooms, and back into the lobby before they let us in to sit down.

The crowd was mostly gay, but there were quite a few straight people there too. I wasn't sure what to expect. The nominations of the Golden Globes (7 in all) surprised me, as did the reactions I've read online about the movie. Some people love it, and others thought it missed the mark. But this was a movie with two up-and-coming Hollywood stars (directed by the phenominal Ang Lee) in the lead roles as gay cowboy lovers in the late 20th century. Such a movie has never been made before with this caliber of cast and crew.

The movie is raw and powerful, and in the end it will break your heart. Everyone who's ever come out of the closet will recognize themselves in Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhall, who is the more out of the two cowboys. Out in that you can see the longing in his eyes, his ferverant desire to share a life with another man, another rancher cowboy like him. He doesn't feel there's anything wrong with his desire, although he knows that living it would be dangerous. He accepts the closet that 1963 Wyoming would nail him in. Ennis Del Mar is the more closeted of the two, and is played brilliantly by Heath Ledger. It wasn't until the last half of the movie that I really bought his love for Jack, mostly b/c his eyes wouldn't betray it before, although his actions did. When he sees Jack for the first time in 4 years, he's about to jump out of his skin, he's so excited, and he takes a risk in pulling Jack into one of the most desperately longing kisses I've ever seen on screen.

Unfortunately, Ennis's wife sees this kiss, although she keeps that news to herself. She has to say goodbye to her husband as he goes off with his "fishing buddy" knowing very well they are more than friends after seeing that kiss. The raw pain in her face, and the panic of "What do I do?" is evident in her performance. The pain of being married to a man she knows doesn't love her like he does his "fishing buddy" eats away at her soul, until she pulls away from Ennis and demands divorce. Ennis and his daughters aren't that close either, and it's all a result of his closet. He had kids because that was what he was supposed to do, and his heart really isn't in the family he has with his wife. There's a cool scene at the end when Ennis' daughter announces she is to marry, and you can see Ennis wondering if this boy is like him and won't be able to love his daughter as she deserves to be loved.

Jack's closet is of a different sort. He's been aware of his attraction to men longer than Ennis, as evidenced by his actions. He marries and has exactly one child and no more. He desperately lives to see Ennis on thier fishing trips every 3-6 months. Let's say the way their lives proceed does not lead to a happy ending. Yet, the trajectory of the story is heartfelt, honest, and real.
Watching it made me want to reevaluate my life and ponder the meaning of life, love and relationships. Watching the struggle of the Jack and Ennis should make today's gay people stop and think, "I really have it easy. Given this freedom, have I lived true to myself and opened myself to the possibility of love?" Jack and Ennis do not live true to themselves, and they are not the only ones hurt by it, but so are their wives and children. So many lives are destroyed by the closet they are forced to live in that you have to wonder what the point is. After all, Ennis and Jack did the "right thing" by marrying a woman, and having a child or two. Yet, their love could not be denied, and the closet ended up destroying them all.

The last scenes of the movie were the most wrenching when you watch the lies being spread, and the quiet truth that dare not speak its name. I left the movie stunned and quite speechless. But as I got into my car, I started to cry and I became angry. Angry because the expression of what it's like to be gay in a society where you are forbidden from "being gay" on pain of death was real, and it hit home. I was born in Kentucky, and could easily have been a country boy on some tobacco farm, as I have many cousins who did live that life. It was an accident of birth that I was born into my family in the city of Lexington, KY. How different would my life be were I a ranching boy from Wyoming like Jack?

That closet is something that is crumbling in this nation, especially in the large cities. Sodomy is no longer a crime, and states cannot restrict gay civil rights just because the population doesn't like us. Yet, as Matthew Shepherd showed us, it's still not safe to be gay in most of the country. The world of 1963 Wyoming is not too far removed from the reality of rural gays in 2005. This is a closet that the Religious Right, and the GOP, wants to re-establish nationwide from the most remote holler to the most densely populated city. Sadie Fields and her "Christian" Taliban brethern hate us, and want us to go away. They want us to live the lives that the characters of Brokeback Mountain live. It was so senseless to see so many lives ruined. Jack and Ennis would have hurt no one by owning a ranch and living it on it in peace and quiet. Their wives would have found men to love them as they deserved to be loved, and no one's life would have been ruined. It was the closet that ruined lives and nothing else. It's the closet that the GOP and it's base want us to return. That's why I became angry and why I cried not only for the characters in the movie, but for every gay person who is living his/her version of Brokeback Mountain today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I don't know who peed in Bill O'Reilly's Wheaties to get him to declare the War on Christmas, but I wish they hadn't. I imagine that Bill got a memo from Murdoch saying that Faux News anchors needed find something to help distract the public from Bush's failures and halt the slide in his poll numbers. While searching for porn, he probably found a link to Faux News online store where he saw "Holiday Ornaments" on sale, and a War was born.

If reality meets my fantasy, then the plot has worked somewhat. Bush's numbers have bottomed out, and he even rebounded to 40% approval in recent days. However, the nutjobs on the right are taking this War on Christmas thing a bit too seriously. Just last night, I saw on the local news one of the "Georgia Gang" (kind of a talking heads program for Georgia politics on Sundays) hawking her own "Merry Christmas!" signs. She's a talk show host up in Hall County, GA who's making a buck off the "Merry CHRISTMAS (and f-ck you, atheist a-hole!)" movement.

I doubt that businesses have gone from a "Christmas Sale" to a "Holiday Sale" for any other reason than one of pure profit. It's about making money, and if you can extend that period by being more "inclusive", business is going to do just that. Anyone else remember the days when you never saw any Christmas advertisements until Thanksgiving? Now, you start seeing ornaments and other Christmas items by HALLOWEEN. At this rate, by the time I die, we'll be starting the Christmas shopping season right after July 4th.

Seriously, Christmas was attacked and conquered from a Christian perspective long ago. In many Christian traditions, this is the Advent season, which is like a "mini-Lent" of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It's about God's grace for mankind, and SANTA is not included. I shudder to think how many children probably think that Santa was there to help Mary give birth to Jesus. Maybe Santa was one of the wisemen. The point is that the holiday has lost its meaning before now. Peace on Earth? Goodwill toward men? No sign of that today, especially with the current administration.

Of course, according to the right wingers, the "PC" crowd of liberals (Oh no! The L-word! And I don't mean Lesbian!) has made a determined plot to destroy Christmas and drive it from the public consciousness! If that's true, someone forgot to send me the memo for the meeting. Oh, that's right...that is because THERE WAS NO MEETING.

"Happy Holidays" grew as the Christmas shopping season extended past Thanksgiving to Halloween. Thanksgiving, I daresay, has merged with Christmas and New Years as the "Holiday Season". Makes sense; there are three national holidays in this time frame. Not to mention Ramadan and Hanukkah usually fall during this period too. It's a cornucopia of holidays that mean different things to different people. Saying Happy Holidays is a way for business to attract non-Christian customers and invite them into the national orgy of spending. After all, for Hanukkah, Jewish children are supposed to get one gift for each NIGHT of Hanukkah. It's not just one day of gifts; it's a week! I don't know if Ramadan has a gift component, but stores would love nothing better than for American Muslims to add one! Even atheists (like my father when I was growing up) celebrate Christmas as a family holiday if nothing else. For most people, it's like Thanksgiving. It's a time for families to get together, exchange presents, and either enjoy each other's company or remind one another why they only do this once a year.

Truly, the degradation of Christmas was started by the Roman Catholic Church as it attempted to attract pagans like the Druids and the Romans. Our Christmas tree is of German origin, and the exchanging of presents and bright decorations came from the Saturnalia celebration of Rome. The winter solstice occurs on Dec. 21, and it has traditionally been a high holy day for pagans, probably b/c it was the shortest day of the year. Jesus was not born on December 25th. It's more likely he was born in late spring if the scholarship I've read is correct. But if it made the leap to accepting Christ easier for the pagans, the Church saw no harm in setting Dec. 25 as Jesus' birthday since Jesus a) wasn't born in a hospital and b) didn't have a birth certificate. The Santa story was born later, and thanks to Coke and The Night before Christmas poem, has exploded into the shopping orgy we have today.

I personally don't care if you say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" to me. I will wish you the same, whatever you say. I generally use "Happy Holidays" simply because I do want to be inclusive. It's not about excluding fellow Christians; it's about including my fellow citizens who are not. Here in Georgia, the War on Christmas has produced people who practically shout CHRISTMAS! at you when saying "Merry Christmas". It's ridiculous, not to mention aggressive and blatantly offensive. Just say "Merry Christmas" if you want. But don't lean forward, give your head a sister roll, and shout "CHRISTMAS" with eyes bugging out, daring someone to say something. That is the antithesis of the season, and I daresay that Jesus himself would not be pleased that this is how you choose to celebrate the season of His birth.

Christmas is not in danger! So chill out, have some egg nog, and have a happy holidays, merry Christmas, and happy new year!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tookie and the Death Penalty

Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed this morning in California, and that's a good thing. While I will add my own commentary, I must refer the handful of people who actually read my blog to my friend Kirk's thoughts on this episode: I find myself agreeing with Kirk's points.

It may surprise some people to know that I'm a supporter of the death penalty. I know it doesn't deter many people, if any, from committing heinous crimes. I look at the death penalty as society's just vengeance for heinous crimes, particularly murder. As a Christian, I know we are supposed to the turn the other cheek, and not take an eye for an eye. Perhaps it is my fallibility as a human being that leads me to still demand vengeance for those who have been murdered. I do, however, want to be sure that the right people are executed. I don't mind the lengthy appeals that death penalty cases undergo, because it increases the likelihood that mistakes will be caught before it is too late. In any case where DNA could come into play, testing should be required. Evidence should be safeguarded until the execution is completed.

With the sensitivity of forensic testing today, there's no excuse for not having every rock looked under to be sure we have the right perp. Once we are as certain as possible that we have the guilty party, if a jury finds for death, death should be the punishment barring any legal errors.
Mr. Williams, aka "Tookie", was one of the founders of the Crips. Together with the Bloods gang, the Crips have been responsible for an untold amount of crime, violence, and murder. These gangs have chapters all across the nation, luring young men of color into a life of crime, drugs, and violence. Of course, if society presented young men of color with adequate opportunities for legitimate self-improvement and a way out of abject poverty, gangs wouldn't have any members. However, just because we have allowed the circumstances that lead to gangs does not mean we should excuse gang violence.

Tookie (what kind of nickname is that anyway?!?) protested his innocence of the murders throughout. There are the usual charges of ineffective counsel, flimsy evidence, etc. Since Tookie exhausted all possible appeals, I can only conclude that there was no legal error in the trial and that the verdict was just. I haven't read the trial transcript, and I certainly didn't sit on the jury. The fact remains he was found guilty of 4 murders, and as a Crips "founder", he's likely responsible for God-only-knows how many more.

I'm uncertain why his case became a cause celebre around the world, and especially in Hollywood. Is it because he "found God" and decided to renounce gang violence and write children's books on the matter? If so, that's a lovely gesture on his part to try to undo some of the damage he did when free. I'm glad Tookie discovered that gang violence leads to no where anyone intelligent would want to go. Yet he takes no responsibility for the murders he committed, and seemed to be playing the race card in his attempt at clemency.

Death Row is not a rehab camp. It's a place you go while waiting to die. If a murderer finds Jesus, Mohammed, or whomever while there, good for them. It doesn't change what they did or the punishment for it. God will forgive them of the murders; society doesn't have to. Besides, if you truly believe in the Christian message, you know you'll go straight to heaven upon execution anyway. I don't see how living in prison the rest of your natural life is better than seeing the Savior post haste.

I don't mean to be glib, but I'm highly suspicious of death row conversions. If they are sincere, I'm happy for the condemned. But just because you've become a changed person on death row doesn't mean you should be granted mercy. Tookie's case did not warrant Gov. Arnold's intervention. From the reports this morning on the Today Show, Tookie was quite defiant even to the end. They apparently had trouble finding a vein for the lethal injection, which is something that should have been done before he was brought to the death chamber.

I'm disturbed but not exactly surprised that the YDA Minority caucus sponsored a resolution that was adopted in Phoenix to ask for mercy for Tookie. It seems all the partners of Democrats (NAACP, etc) were all asking that Gov. Arnold commute his sentence. I understand people who take a principled stand against the death penalty. It is unevenly applied, and if you're black, you're more likely to get sentenced to death than if you are white, even if you commit the same crime. People who are poor in this country, black or white, rarely have the effective assistance of counsel. There are many fine public defenders in this country, but they are overloaded and overwhelmed by the system. Money, as OJ Simpson and Micheal Jackson have proved, can buy you freedom. I doubt that Tookie was prosecuted simply because he was black. If you believe the system is hopelessly corrupt or broken, then fight to change it; fight for a moratorium so that the system can be fixed as best as possible. Individuals come with their own baggage, and Tookie had a full set. Like Kirk, I wonder if the press and Hollywood would have been so quick to jump on the "forgiveness" bandwagon had Tookie been a white supremacist, Neo-Nazi who had murdered 4 people of color but later recanted his beliefs on death row. If the answer is no, as I suspect it is, then Tookie's supporters are guilty of gross hypocrisy.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

It's only "Activism" when you Disagree

Poor, unqualified Harriet Miers. Her best buddy, the President, threw her under the bus, thinking he'd get another crony a plum job just cause everyone loved him in his party. Well, he apparently forgot the disaster that was Katrina, the failure of his "signature item", Social Security reform, and other missteps. Harriet apparently didn't know the Constitution from a grocery list, so she was rejected. That and she once indicated that the government should stay out of personal decisions, like whether to get an abortion. So Harriet is gone, and now we have Scalito.

Say this for Bush...he didn't lie when he said he loved him some Antonin Scalia and wanted to appoint his clones to the Court. He forgot that the clones needed to be qualified with Miers, but he learned his lesson. If Scalito gets on the on the Court, Scalia will basically control 4 votes: his own, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito (aka Scalito). That's a pretty scary block, and if something happens to Stevens or Ginsberg, Bush would have a chance to nominate a 5th clone, and then we'd all be screwed.

I am intellectually honest enough to recognize there are two competiting schools of thought on the Constitution. The originalists (headed by Scalia) think that the Constitution and its meaning was set in stone in 1787, and that the amendments with their meanings were set in stone whenever they were ratified. That means whatever was kosher under the 8th amendment in 1791 is kosher today. Whatever the usage of "Equal Protection of the Law" meant in 1868 is what it means today. Under this world view, the Constitution can never be adapted to current standards or reinterpreted in today's society without formal amendment. Coincidentally, this view usually produces outcomes that dovetail perfectly with the political philosophy of the judge professing it....i.e. a "conservative" or one who misses the halcyon days of the 1950s when homos were in the closet, women in the home, minorities "knew their place" and white men controlled everything. How very convenient to find a judicial philosophy that produces outcomes you desire.

Not that the "Living Constitution" crowd is much better, and I say this as someone who subscribes to the notion that the Constitution was never meant to be set in stone, and that the Founders anticipated and expected us to reintrepret its meaning over time. They built in vagueness and flexibility so that it could be reinterpreted and would therefore stand the test of time. I've read the Federalist papers, and while the Founders had definite ideas of what different clauses meant, they also recognized that they didn't have all the answers to all the questions for all time. They meant for the Constitution to be amended and reinterpreted if it was going to last. The mistake they had made with the Articles of Confederation was making them too specific and too rigid. They also knew that people would argue over the meanings of phrases in the Constitution. Shoot, even the Constitutional Delegates themselves did not agree on the exact meaning of every phrase. And that was OK, b/c there was separation of powers. That meant Legislative, Executive, AND Judicial.

The last time I checked, John Marshall was a member of the Founding Generation that drafted the Constitution, and he's the one who gave the Supreme Court a veto power in Marbury v. Madison by allowing the Supreme Court to strike down laws that were unconstitutional. There was nothing in the document itself that allowed such a decision, but Marshall correctly surmised that a Court which could not strike down laws contrary to the highest law in the land was a useless Court. Jefferson disagreed strongly with this reasoning, but Marbury has stood the test of time and proved to be a good "reinterpretation" of the Constitution's role for the Supreme Court.

Scalia and his brood (Thomas, Roberts, and Scalito) would never have voted in the majority of Marbury in 1801. If the Constitution didn't say the Supreme Court could strike down a law, then they wouldn't read such a right into it. They undoubtedly would have upheld Plessy v. Ferguson in 1954 rather than use Brown to overturn "separate but equal". The idea of "one man, one vote" would never have been established in 1962. The concept of a right to privacy arising from the Bill of Rights certainly would never have been established. And when you take away Privacy, you allow the state to control access to birth control, deny women the right to choose abortion (and instead use a nice, rusty coat hanger), and legislating against gay people just because you think anal sex is "gross" (unless you get your wife or girlfriend to do it, of course) would be A-OK. Amendment 2 in Colorado that barred any locality from enacting gay rights legislation would have been upheld. Every school child would be mandated to start his/her day with a prayer to "Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ" even if they were Jewish, Muslim, or atheist. Affirmative action would have been struck down as soon as it reached the Court, leaving those who live in communities of no hope without any way of getting out, even with hard work. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would have been struck down as an unconstitutional expansion of the commerce clause. Segregation would be the law of the land in the South, and the Civil Rights movement would have been much more bloody than it was with the courts standing up for African Americans and saying, "These people are citizens too, and you will treat them with equality and dignity."

Perhaps such a world warms your heart. For me, it sends chills down my spine. These "activist" decisions by the Supreme Court allowed America to come closer to living out its promise of an egalitarian democracy where ALL MEN (and women) ARE CREATED EQUAL. Bush wants to undo this promise of America with his court appointments. No should be suprised, because it's only what he promised he would do. 51% of the people last November said that was OK by them.

We are now about to sow what we have reaped by allowed George W. Bush to remain our President for a 2nd term. God help us all.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Hillary Comes to Atlanta

When I first heard that Hillary Clinton was coming to Atlanta to speak, I was stunned. Although Atlanta is an island of relatively progressive philosophy in a sea of Blood Red Georgia, the fact that Hillary Clinton would come to Atlanta still surprised me. It wasn't but a year ago that we in the Georgia Young Democrats begged Nancy Pelosi to come and speak to our state convention. She initially agreed, but then backed out around Christmas, scuttling the plans we had built around her. Unfortunately, we had already signed contracts for the hotel, so we took a financial bath. It seemed we couldn't beg, borrow, or plead for a nationally known Democrat to come to Georgia. I suppose that with as crazy as the Bushies are, the threat of assassination is real.
I then discovered that Hillary was coming at the invitation of Stuart Eizenstat who worked in the Carter and Clinton administrations. The lecture she presented was endowed by his family in honor of his father and uncle. Bill Clinton spoke in 2003, which I somehow missed. This year, though, we got at least two emails from Bobby Khan, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, telling us about this free event. If Hillary Clinton was coming to GEORGIA, I would be there.
I arrived 50 minutes early for the lecture, and there was already a line around the synagogue. Apparently, the Ahavath Achim ("AA" for short) Synagogue is where all the power Jews go. I had heard of this synagogue's existance, but I wasn't sure where it was, since it wasn't in Druid Hills where I live. Lots of politically involved Jews attend this synagogue, including Bobby Khan, Sen. David Adelman, former Sen. Liane Levetan, and Rep. Mike Jacobs. I've never been in a synagogue, but this one is much like a church. In fact, it reminded me very much of any large megachurch, except you didn't see a cross or an alter.

No cameras were allowed by the public, so people with camera phones had to put them back in their car. All we had to do was go through a metal detector. Compare this to a Bush event (or really, almost any GOP event) where you must sign some sort of loyalty oath before being let in. I did not wear any buttons or clothing to indicate that I'm a Hillary supporter, and I was never questioned. Even though a lot of people had arrived before me, there was still good seating to be had, and I got to sit relatively close to the front.

I noticed some interesting features of the AA synagogue. First, there are several plaques with nameplates of people who have died. I guessed this from the "In memorium" inscription above the plaques. The interesting thing is that next to each name is a light. Some where lit and others were not. I'm not sure why this is the case or what it signifies. I also noticed that the prayer books and the Torah were printed upside and backward. I knew Hebrew was read right to left, just the opposite of how English is read. But I wasn't expecting the English version to be printed with the front of the book where you would normally expect the end to be. It was interesting.

The event was supposed to start at 7pm, but didn't get rolling until 7:30pm. I had no idea that Jews ran on Queer Standard Time (QST) ;-) Anyway, the second Hillary appeared on the stage, the audience erupted in cheers and rose to its feet. We had a brief welcome by the President of the synagogue followed by a small lesson about the fall harvest festival that is going on in the Jewish calendar. Then Stuart Eizenstat introduced Hillary, who really needs no introduction, but we all know these things are carefully choreographed.

On a side note, the number of Secret Service was truly amazing. They were taking NO chances on her safety. A lot of people were dressed up, but you could make out the Secret Service folks thanks most of the fact that they were the ones you could see scanning the crowd. They were positioned all over the synagogue. Again, that goes to my crazy right winger theory of why national Democrats are rarely found in Georgia. Not only does it have to do with the extremist voting pattern of the state in national elections especially, but there's a good chance that some Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity loving crazy will try to take out Hillary for "the conservative cause". When the speech was over, and everyone was pouring into the parking lot, we were all stopped by the entrance of the synagogue until Hillary could get into her (bulletproof, I'm sure) vehicle and start back to wherever she was going next. Since there were a lot of trees and the area was pretty dark, I am not surprised that the Secret Service required this.

Hillary looked fabulous in a black power suit with medium heeled pumps. Her hair was flawless, as was her make-up. I've seen Hillary looking pretty rough in the past, but she was definitely "on" for this event. She launched into a speech that covered broad themes...themes I'm convinced we'll see in late 2007 and 2008 when she runs for President. It is only October 2005, and she is well on her way to developing thoughtful arguments for where our country should go in the future.

Many might expect that Hillary would throw out some red-meat before a largely friendly crowd. But her criticism of Bush was not too pointed. She never mentioned him by name, and she criticised things like planning, budgeting, etc. She didn't go after the cronyism charges or the lack of intelligence thing that so many of us in the progressive world despise about the man.
She spent a good deal of her speech on national security issues. Turns out that her being on the Armed Services Committee has been a good thing, although I shouldn't be shocked that Hillary had a plan when she asked for the assignment. She has obviously put a lot of thought, effort, and time into developing her positions in this arena, and they come off as such. I've often wondered why she's made pro-Bush votes in the Senate, such as voting for the Iraq War, and not being sorry about it. She has even stated that having a deadline for getting out of Iraq is a mistake.

This does not mean she agrees with Bush. She deplores the lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the war. She made a statement that just because Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction doesn't mean those weapons don't exist. I'm not sure what she meant by that, unless she meant that other nations who hate the US have weapons of mass destruction. That seems a bit obvious, but surely she doesn't make the argument that the WMD were there, but removed before we invaded? I'm not sure it's that important. Most people understand we were lied to in order to go to war with Iraq. We can argue motives for those lies (was it deliberate...or just "intelligence" errors? I believe Bush and company lied to us on purpose and cherry picked bad intelligence to make their case) until the cows come home, but the point is, we're in Iraq, we've broken it, and we have to make a good faith attempt to fix it.

This brings me to Hillary's answer to the question of when the troops should come home. I agree that setting a date only lets the insurgents know they can wait us out. But Hillary also thinks the open ended "We'll be there as long as necessary" mantra of Bush is also a mistake.
The Iraqis must understand that they will have benchmarks of progress in taking over their own security and setting up a working government. As those benchmarks are met, troops can be withdrawn accordingly. But there will also be the threat that if we do not see a good faith effort in making progress, that we will withdraw our troops and leave them to fend for themselves. In a way, it's a tough love advocacy, and it makes sense. The Iraqis are not going to become part of the USA. They do need to take responsibility for their own country and their own futures. We have the duty and obligation to help them. If they don't show they are willing to help themselves, then we will have done our duty in trying to help, and we can leave with a somewhat clean conscience (as clean as the Bush regime can leave us). This is a sensible compromise that keeps our promises but also doesn't keep us in a quagmire.

Hillary is also a member of a Pentagon panel (the only sitting Senator on it too!) that is rethinking the structure of our military. She said that we should expect to see more special forces in all branches in the future which will concentrate on a specific region of the world. Those serving will learn the language and become immersed in the culture of their area and will specialize in much more tactical strikes when used. At the same time, though, we mustn't neglect our conventional warfare. Even though she hopes that China will become our friendly competitors, we would be foolish to ignore the growing Chinese power and the fact that they are dramatically increasing their military spending. So we will have to have two kinds of armies, it seems. A smaller conventional one to answer the growing power of the Chinese, and this newer special forces heavy one to fight terrorists and the states that sponsor them.

Hillary also mentioned health care, but she did it from a business viewpoint. With costs rising dramatically, the private and public sector must work together to find a solution. Neither sector can do it alone. In a global economy where many of our competitors provide universal healthcare, the American system of employer-based healthcare is quickly becoming unsustainable. Companies are chosing to locate in places like Canada (ex. Toyota) where health care costs are not a cost of doing business. The auto industry in the US is in grave danger in large part due to pension and health benefits. Private industry appears to be reaching a point where it will work with government for a solution to this problem that doesn't overburden taxpayers, but also helps business remain competitive in worldwide markets. Hillary didn't offer any answers, but she did offer this method of solution. It could work if business and the public become willing to sit at the table together and come to a mutually beneficial solution. But, Hillary warned, there is a LOT of money to be had in healthcare, and plenty of people becoming quite wealthy under the current system, and they will fight change to the bitter end.
Hillary also catalogued a litany of things that from WWII forward were bipartisan approaches to national problems. You had a consensus that after WWII, we had to help rebuild not only our former friends, but our former enemies as well, even thought that meant keeping high tax rates. You had Eisenhower building the interstate highway system (she told a funny anecdote about being told by her teacher that President Eisenhower wanted her to study math just after Sputnik, and even though Hillary hated math, she wasn't going to disappoint the President). Even with Nixon, you had the creation of the EPA, and the Endangered Species Act. Ford reached out to all Americans after the horrors of Watergate. Even Ronald Reagan knew in 1983 that to help put Social Security back on track would take Democrats AND Republicans. Even Bush the Father worked with Democrats to solve the fiscal crisis in 1990, even though it meant raising taxes and alienating his base. He did what was right for the country, and we've lost that. That's why Hillary has reached out to GOP members like Newt Gingrich to shore up her credentials in working with the GOP. Even when you disagree on a vast majority of topics, there are areas where you can work with your political enemies. We've lost the ability and willingness to behave in a bipartisan way, and it's important for the country to get back to it. Hillary also mentioned that had we stuck with Carter's program of investing in alternative energy, we wouldn't be where we are today with energy prices and oil dependence. She said there's no excuse that we don't have a "Manhattan Project" for alternative enegy sources, especially since the energy crunch is only going to get worse as China and India grow their economies and look for resources to fuel it. If we invest in alternative energies now, we can find solutions that we could sell to India and China that would not only put Americans to work, but help us compete in the future. She makes a lot of sense.

This being a largely Jewish audience, she spent the last portion of her speech on Israel. She said that she supported Sharon's move toward non-engagement in Gaza, not in small part because we have no business dictating to a democratically elected leader. Sharon knows his country and its circumstances better than we do here in Atlanta, NY, or anywhere else. She imagines it was hard for him to withdraw like that, but she feels he did what he thought was best, and the US should support him. It also provides the Palestinians a "put up or shut up" (my words, not Hillary's) moment since they have a terroritory that is just theirs now. She mentioned support for the wall that is being built in the West Bank, and the need for education reform in Palestine so that children aren't taught to hate. One thing she pointed out was her belief that teaching your children to hate is a form of child abuse. I'm very pro-Israel on an emotional level. I understand there has been some horrible oppression of Palestinians by Israelis, but at the core, the Palestinians abandoned their land in 1948 because they thought that the Arab armies would crush the new Israeli nation. They gambled and lost. Quit yer bitchin', I say! I firmly believe that Israel just wants to live in peace and enjoy the life of a thriving democracy. This is the homeland of the Jewish people owed to them in no small part to the Holocaust. Israel is here to stay, whether the Palestinians like it or not. It's odd that this puts me on the side of Bush and the Christian Taliban, but they like Israel for one reason only: they believe that supporting Israel, they will provoke the 2nd coming of Christ. They could give a rat's ass about the Jews or their homeland.

The questions that came weren't all that difficult. Hillary talked about Darfur, and how China has blocked any resolution in the UN Security Council due to some deal they have with the Sudanese government. She urged continued pressure to be applied to our public officials to speak out and act on the Darfur genocide. She talked about why she voted no on John Roberts (he was evasive in his answers and didn't let us see there was a human being under that big brain of his), and she said that if she were on the Judiciary Committee, her first question to Miers would be ""Please tell us one thing you disagree with President Bush." I'm sure the silence would be deafening if she were asked that question.

Hillary's development as a potential presidential candidate is impressive. Her presentation last night was flawless. She had notes, but she rarely looked down at them, instead focusing on different people in the audience. Her voice was well regulated, and she came across as reasonable. The far right has painted her as such a harpie that seeing her in person is an amazing experience. She's calm, reasonable, and friendly. She has learned her craft in politics well. Of course, she is married to the master :) It's only 2005, and Hillary has a better rationale for being President and a better theme than John Kerry or Al Gore ever did. I can also see why the GOP is terrified of her...the country, once they got to see her and experience her, would actually like Hillary, and the lies about her would be exposed for what they are.

I fully expect Hillary to annouce her candidacy about two years for now for President. A Clinton restoration is just what this nation will need after 8 disastrous years under Bush. I just hope there's a country to save by the time 2009 gets here.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Lying to Congress

I work for the federal government. My program is in the middle of the PART (Program Assessment Rating Tool) that is part of Bush’s Management Agenda. It's basically a way for Bush to smack programs and cut their funding to continue paying for his wars and his tax cuts. For instance, questions include, "How have you worked to fix your management deficiencies." Most of them have this tone, "We know you suck and are wasting money; defend yourself." I happen to work for a very good program, and we wanted to do is show that we are very efficient in using our funds for program purposes. This involves buying and helping distribute vaccines to third world countries, mostly children.

Well, the records we have showed that we spent about $150M as a division in FY04. Somehow, the my agency's financial folks told Congress in our FY06 budget justification that we spent $138M. Whoops, where did the other $12M go? We know for a fact that we spent $150M, and we have the records to prove it. But the financial people say we can’t have a different number than the one already reported, and that the discrepancy has to do with new budget lines created for CDC’s restructuring. The ordered us to change our budget figures and basically LIE to Congress. We, of course, refused. Quite strongly. So now the agency is stripping out all of our budget figures to hide the fact that THEY lied to Congress about what we spent! My God, the culture of “stretching the truth” has seeped all the way down to Atlanta from DC. It’s not just for the White House and Pentagon anymore! It's shameful.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Racism in the GOP

I find it interesting in the fights over nominations to see how the GOP tries to use race to its advantage. In the Democratic circles I run in, discussion of various candidates first goes toward their beliefs, then focuses on whether they can win. Race can and does play a factor in the "can this person win?" question, but it is by far not the most important consideration.

Compare this to the GOP, who will throw up the first minority face they can find that will publically agree with what the evangelical base wants. In Illinois last year, when the GOP candidate imploded in a sex scandal, they faced a formidable Democratic opponent who happened to be black. Apparently not finding any qualified black candidates in Illinois who were conservative enough, the GOP imported Alan "Mary Cheney and my daughter are selfish hedonists" Keyes to be the sacrificial lamb.

Now Maryland appears ready to do its own version of affirmative action. I can only suppose that the GOP has figured that Kweisi Mfume will win the Democratic nomination for Paul Sarbanes' Senate seat next year. Which is why this item in the Congressional Quarterly popped up today:

The Baltimore SUN reports that Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "said yesterday that neither he nor first lady Kendel S. Ehrlich intends to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, but he held out the possibility that Lt. Gov. Michael Steele could become the GOP's most competitive U.S. Senate candidate in decades." The governor "said the fact that people are interested in whom the Republicans will nominate is proof that the party is more relevant than it has been in years. 'This is a seat I believe can be won by the right candidate,' Ehrlich said of his party's chances. 'Michael Steele would be a wonderful candidate.'" Democrats have several potential contenders. Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume is already running; Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has set up an exploratory committee. Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen are considering bids.

Race is a primary reason that many conservative salivate at the thought of elevating Clarence Thomas to Chief Justice once Rehnquist dies or retires. As my GOP-loving uncle put it, "I'd love to see the Dems be forced into the position of blocking the first black nominee to the Chief Justice slot." That's how the GOP thinks about black people; they are nothing but pawns. Some might argue the same of Democrats, but I would argue that in many places (especially in the South) black Democrats have real power in swaying where the party goes. Such statements like the one my uncle made not only show that the GOP doesn't care about qualifications as much as power and ideology, but they are proud of that fact. Clarence Thomas has been one of the least distinguished people to sit on the Supreme Court in a long time. Most of the time, he just echoes whatever Scalia says, or vice versa. It's like they share a brain. If Thomas is put up, I hope the Democrats do filibuster him. A Thomas Court would be a disaster. I'd rather have Scalia; at least he is smart and thoughtful, although I do disagree with his conclusions most of the time.

Of course, Dems fighting a Thomas nomination would be used by the GOP to go to the black community and say, "See, they don't like you at all! Vote for us!" This assumes the black community is too stupid to see through the smokescreen, which it is not. They saw through Alan Keyes, and they'll hopefully see through the rest of the tokenism of the GOP.

HB 67 passes

As if the overwhelming passage of Amendment 1 (the Georgia anti-gay relationships amendment that banned not only marriage but anything that even hinted of marriage like qualities...even going so far as to deny gays access to the court system if the action arises out of a homosexual relationship) was not enough evidence that Georgia hates its gay citizens, the legislature is now taking on Atlanta for daring to have a civil rights ordinance protecting gays.

HB67 was written to overturn a decision of Mayor Shirley Franklin to fine the Druid Hills Golf Club for discriminating against gay members by treating partners of homosexual members differently than partners of heterosexuals. The House passed the legislation 124-39, which is remarkably close to the number of House members who voted to pass the gay marriage amendment last year. The GA Senate today passed the bill 37-11, so it goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his signature, which he will sign with relish.

This will not be the end of gay bashing by the Georgia Legislature. For next year, which is a big election year for state officials in Georgia, the plan is to ban gay adoption just like Florida has. The thousands of gay families with children will not matter. The intent is to destroy gay families while driving out bigots to vote for the GOP.