Friday, May 23, 2008

Historic times & Landmark cases

A few weeks ago, on May 2nd, Mildred Jeter Loving passed away due to pneumonia. Mildred, a black woman, was a plaintiff in one of the most important civil rights cases in American history. It was 1967 when the United States Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren decided unanimously to overturn anti-miscegenation laws, in this case the state of Virginia's "Racial Integrity Act of 1924", on the basis that such statutes are unconstitutional. The court's historic decision would end race-based legal restrictions on marriage in this country.

In 1958 Mildred Jeter, of African & Native American descent, married Richard Perry Loving who was Caucasian. Though residents of Virginia, they married in the District of Columbia to avoid Virginia's so-called Racial Integrity Act which banned marriage between white and non-white persons. Back home in Virginia they would soon be charged with "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth". The statue cited not only banned interracial marriage in Virginia but it prohibited interracial couples from leaving the state to marry and then return home. It seems the racist bigots in Virginia had thought of everything, well, except for the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that is.

The Lovings {I find their name distinctly apropos} faced a felony and possible prison sentence for up to five years. This, for the "crime" of marrying each other. It's really hard for a lot of people to imagine such a thing occurred only 4 decades ago. But then such blatant discrimination against couples still carries on to this day as more than 10 states have statues banning same-sex marriage and 24 states have passed constitutional amendments either banning same-sex marriage, same-sex unions or both.

There was no denying the "crime" of love that the Lovings committed in Virginia and so they had little recourse but to plead guilty. Judge Leon Bazile presided over the case. In his decision he stated that "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix."

Again, it's hard to imagine that such a racist statement would be made by a judge in a court of law a mere five decades ago, but then it's not at all unlike the ignorant and bigoted statements such as "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." A glib remark that homosexuals have often had hurled at them.

Mildred and Richard Loving were sentenced to a year in prison. The sentence, however, would be suspended on the condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia not to return for 25 years. The couple complied, moving to the District of Columbia. Within a few years the ACLU became involved in the case after a referral by then Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The ACLU, on the behalf of the Lovings sought justice from the Supreme Court of Virginia. Sadly, the court held that anti-miscegenation statues were within the bounds of the Constitution. The court claimed that the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment was not violated since both Caucasian and non-Caucasian spouses were treated equally in being barred from marriage to each other and punished equally if having done so. That's some really convoluted logic at work there, but this is not unlike arguments I've heard from anti-same-sex marriage advocates who claim that homosexuals and same-sex couples are not discriminated against by bans on same-sex marriage because "heterosexuals cannot marry people of the same gender, either." Thus, they argue, the law is applied evenly.

The case would be appealed further, making its way to the United States Supreme Court in 1967. Finally justice would be meted out when the court unanimously decided that anti-miscegenation laws do violate both the Due Process and the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. In particular the court stated, "Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

Thus, justice finally prevailed, though had the phrase been invented at the time {I'm assuming it wasn't, yet}, I'm sure such a decision would have been labeled by racists, using the modern vernacular, as "activist liberal judges" who were overruling the "will of the people". As slavery and segregation has proved, in a society that respects freedom and egalitarianism, some injustices just shouldn't be left to majorities to decide.

Happily, Mildred and Richard Loving remained married until Richard's untimely death in 1975 in a car accident. They have been survived by three children and now many grandchildren.

In more recent times, much to the consternation of individuals and organizations who believe marriage should be unique {read: exclusive} to heterosexual couples only, the Loving vs. Virginia case has been cited by same-sex marriage advocates as a comparison of the injustice of prohibitions against same-sex marriage. Many on the conservative side of this issue dismiss such comparisons, claiming that the two aren't legitimate comparisons. They claim "opportunism" in "using" racial issues. Those who are immersed in their prejudices find it easy to dismiss the plight of those they are prejudiced against.

Fortunately, perhaps the most qualified person of all, Mildred Loving herself, stated on year ago on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision {June 12 - a.k.a. "Loving Day"}: "Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights."

Even in the face of the beliefs of someone so close to suffering and overcoming the personal injustice of archaic prejudices the naysayers continue to claim that "tradition" be upheld. This in spite of the fact that this sort of specious justification for banning interracial marriage certainly wasn't and isn't legitimate. Rationalizations that intermarriage would "weaken the races" are no less well-reasoned than the argument that same-sex marriage somehow undermines the heterosexual family structure.

It is with great symbolic irony that just a week after the passing of Mildred Loving, on May 15th, that the Supreme Court of California found that state laws which discriminate against same-sex couples are unconstitutional. In effect, domestic partnerships {a legal union granting limited rights to couples regardless of gender ratio} are not an adequate substitute for actual "marriage". The Chief Justice in the case cited a state case in 1948 that overturned state laws which prohibited interracial marriage. He elaborated that sexual orientation is a protected class under the Equal Protection Clause of the California State Constitution, a first for a court of such authority.

In less than a month, same-sex couples will be permitted to marry in the state of California, this as so-called "traditional marriage" groups work feverishly to pass new laws which will write discrimination into the State's constitution. What sort of shameless people would have insisted on a prohibition of interracial marriage be added to the national constitution after the US Supreme Court? The same sort that now seek to deny equality and egalitarian principles to other citizens simply because of religious customs or a discomfort with these people's "lifestyle" as they put it.

Of course anyone can refer to interracial coupling a "lifestyle" choice, but few would deny that such a "choice" is one that people do and should have a right to make. It remains to be seen whether bigotry will prevail in California. In spite of great achievements across the country, discrimination against homosexuals is institutionalized in not only society but throughout government. It is the latter that is so threatening, as in a free society all people should come to their government as equals. Even though in Massachusetts and soon to be California same-sex couples will enjoy the same rights, the same privileges, the same legal status as opposite-sex couples at the state level, when it comes to the Federal level, thanks to the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act' signed by President Bill Clinton, homosexual partnerships will continue to be legally inferior to heterosexual partnerships. In addition, of course, same-sex adoption is still banned in many states. Being openly gay in the military is still not permitted and sexual-orientation can still be cited as a grounds for non-employment or housing in various locales across the country. Disgraceful laws that prohibit sexual relations between members of the same sex {though ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2004} are still on the books in many communities, harkening back to the era when interracial sexual contact was prohibited on similar fallacious grounds of "decency" and "morality".

Discrimination based on race and in particular sexual-orientation continues on in this country, but the decision to strike down the "will of the people" who had dictated that homosexuals and same-sex couples are not worthy citizens deserving of equal rights is as relevant and just as when a court struck down in the name of justice some 41 years ago the "will of the people" who had dictated that interracial couples aren't worthy of a right to choose their partner.

It is a very slow process, requiring decades or even centuries, but justice slowly prevails. Within a generation homosexuals will hopefully enjoy genuine equality in this country. It will likely take much longer. Part of that will come about due to a change in attitude, this is inevitable, and there will be setbacks. Part of it will come about from landmark cases like those in Massachusetts and California. As I believe the case of Loving vs. Virginia proves, the world can indeed be changed for the better one law and one marriage at a time.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Anything to win...

Well, as I'm sure everyone is by now aware, all went well for Barack Obama in the primaries. He did very well in North Carolina, 56 to 42%. This was a strong margin which counts for a lot at this stage in the game, particularly after the recent suspicions that his bubble had burst.

Things were quite different in Indiana - Hillary 51 to 49%. A win is a win, yes, but Hillary needs landslides - a huge comeback. She didn't get one. She squeaked by. What's more, though not directly at fault, she seems to have won under dubious circumstances. A big question right now should be: Did Republican interlopers give her the win?

It turns out that Hillary won by a little over 14,000 votes. Pretty damn close. So I wonder how much Rush Limbaugh's so-called "Operation Chaos" played a role...? According to MSNBC 11% of those voting in the Indiana Democratic primary were Republicans. According to CNN, 2 out of 3 "self-identified conservative" Republicans voted for Hillary in Indiana. Also, according to MSNBC, 58% of Republicans polled said they believed Obama would beat McCain in the fall.

I'm sure we can safely conclude that conservatives who bothered to go out and cast their vote for Hillary didn't do so because they are oh-so-impressed with her newfound right-wing stance on certain issues - like eliminating the gas tax to the tune of 300K jobs. Afterall, supposedly there isn't a "dime's worth of difference" between Hillary & Barack on policy.

I'm also sure these card-carrying conservatives haven't forgotten how much they're supposed to hate the Clintons... So, what gives? What does it mean for right-wing hacks like Limbaugh to encourage Republicans to vote for Hillary? What does it mean when conservative Republicans actually do vote for Hillary? Genuine change of heart or unscrupulous manipulation?

Aren't a lot of these Hillary supporters in denial when they dismiss the prospect that Republicans overall really DO want McCain to face her in November because they are most confident his chances are best against her? And doesn't this challenge Hillaryland's claim that she is the most electable? Do they even care? I think we've seen enough dishonesty from the Clinton camp, and many of her supporters, that I don't think they care about anything but winning at all.

Some examples: Should the so-called {undemocratic} "superdelegates" choose by delegates or popular vote? To them, that depends on whichever she is ahead in. And if all else fails they should decide by who is most electable, which conveniently works out {so they claim} to be Hillary.
Oh, we simply must count Florida and Michigan, who cares if she agreed that those states weren't going to count because their primaries were moved forward? Who cares what the decided upon rules were, we've got a presidency that we're entitled to! Who cares if Barack wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan, a win is a win is a win... And who cares if Obama wins more states, more votes. WE WIN THE BIG STATES... and on and on we go.

As if it wasn't obvious enough that the Clintons and the Establishment they represent will do anything to regain power... If you put it all together, throw in the pandering to right-wing partisans, there really is no honesty in denying it. I don't know who is worse to resort to any stunt to win, the Republicans or the Clinton Camp.

So, I still want to know if Republicans who intend to vote for McCain in November actually gave Hillary the win. This kind of manipulation of our democratic [small "d"] election system, while perhaps not illegal, is extremely unethical and frankly un-American. Rush Limbaugh and his mindless, drooling "dittoheads" need to be tarred & feathered for it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Finally moving on, or still spinning the wheels?

So tomorrow {technically today} is the big day in North Carolina & Indiana. How many of these "Super Tuesday's" have we had now, anyway? Too many!

Some -mostly Republicans- are saying {hoping} that it's going to be a Clinton upset. I don't see that happening. Even after seeing the national humiliations that were the 2000 and 2004 elections, I just can't believe that there could really be that many stupid voters. Could there be? ...I'm going to put my cyncism aside and have some faith in Americans, I can lament misplaced faith later, if need be.

Most political pundits are giving North Carolina to Obama, Indiana to Hillary. Objectively-speaking, I tend to agree. How many states has she claimed in some way to be from, anyway? I think the count by now is Arkansas, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and now Indiana... She would have claimed Chicago, her birthplace, but I think even she realized that Illinois wasn't going to accept that ruse on Barack's home turf. Seriously now, shouldn't there be a limit to how many times one can play the 'local-girl makes good' claim?

John McClaughlin, of the McClaughlin Group predicted Obama will win NC with some comfort and win IN by a slim margin. I desperately hope he's right. I know even this wouldn't stop the Clinton Machine from trudging on. Most likely, Bill & Hillary are going all the way to the convention. I saw a political cartoon the other day that seemed fitting. It was of Obama being sworn in as President, Hillary was in the crowd sitting on a disgruntled-looking Bill Clinton's shoulders shouting her oath decree - January of 2009 and still insisting that SHE is the rightful heir.

Still, if Hillary loses two more contests then that would take some of the wind out of her sails. Many women will rush to her aid, again, with donations and the requisite "glass-ceiling" hyperbole, nonetheless, more "superdelegates" {one of the most un-democratic notions I've ever heard of} will be convinced of the all too obvious reality that she simply cannot win in November.

There is another angle to this. Losing NC and IN could have a domino effect ensuring that she loses the remaining primaries. If she were to lose every contest between now and June 3, she would all but have to drop out. The calls for it would be so deafening that even she couldn't ignore it any longer. If she does lose both primaries tomorrow, for the good of the party, the good of Obama's campaign, and the good of the country - she needs to drop out ASAP.

It is the last point that I'm most worried about. If Hillary continues to drag this out it greatly increases the chances that Obama will lose in November. The nation - and really the world - cannot afford four more years of Bushesque policies and Neoconservative ideology... That's just what we're going to end up with if McCain is our next president.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

How little decency? How about some legit priorities!

Anyone who even slightly knows me should know I’m not some uptight conservative prude. However, contrary to the assumption many conservatives who have read my opinions may have of me, I am actually a bit of a social conservative. Like them I am disgusted by the level and glorification of sexual promiscuity in society. I am strictly monogamous and quite unapologetic in my belief that monogamy is superior to promiscuity.

I believe there is way too much sex & violence in mass media, I just don't happen to think it's the government's role to dictate content. I also think that conservative groups need to get a life rather than constantly try to legislate their "family values". I may think the incessant "male enhancement" advertisements and "Girls Gone Wild" infomercials are completely unnecessary, but I still watch Family Guy.

It is with pensive contemplation that I wonder just what in the hell this world is coming to. While reading Newsweek magazine, in between articles about Barack Obama and the race for the White House, I read three articles describing some goings on that genuinely shocked me. No, it certainly wasn't the first time.

First was the food crisis. This is a big problem, of course, and it's getting bigger all the time. But there was one anecdote which, for me, really put things into perspective. I've heard some horror stories about hunger and poverty before. I recall documentaries in which people from Russia in WWI or Germany in WWII described boiling their shoe leather out of hunger, which, outside of cannibalism and eating your pets that seems about as extreme as things get. But watching black and white newsreels and listening to elderly people describe what they went through as children, while tragic, has a surreal quality to it. It's a somehow different when you read what people are going through Right Now. And so, I was sickened upon reading that in Haiti, "the desperately hungry have turned to mud pies (concoctions of cooking oil, bits of vegetable and dirt)".

While the blame falls to many causes, like higher food demand from a growing middle class in India and China, much of the blame is also linked to bad crop yields due to weather. This is often a direct effect of climate change. Yep, the climate change that so many “no-nonsense” conservatives insist isn't actually happening or if it is then it's merely cyclical - money-generating industries couldn't possibly be the culprit.

Overzealous environmentalism is to blame, too. What the “green lobby” instigated, government subsidies has turned into a total nightmare - biofuels. To me, from the first time I heard about it years ago, the concept of growing food for fuel was completely counterintuitive. Not because I'm such an expert on farming and the global market, but because I do seem to possess at least a shred of common sense. Call me crazy, but there is something inherently very wrong with growing food for fuel, especially in a world in which people are still starving!

I moved to another article. This one was about "art", as some call it. Again, not a total prude, but I must admit most abstract art I simply don't get. Nonetheless, again, in my libertine philosophy it isn't the government's business to be setting standards on art, nor dictating what museums should exhibit. I recall strongly opposing former NY Mayor Rudy Guilianni attempting to do so over “art” involving elephant dung & the Virgin Mary which offended his Catholic sensibilities.

It seems that the latest "statement" by certain twisted imaginations who call themselves "artists" involve tethering a starving dog just out of reach of food and a young woman who produces "art" using what she claims is blood from her {deliberately} induced miscarriages. I won't mention these “artists” because neither are deserving of the publicity they are obviously seeking.

It wasn't just the offensiveness in these attempts at “art” that shocked me. It wasn't simply that I don't "get" what they're trying to say - I doubt they do either. Personally, I don’t see how either should even qualify as art, but for me it was the obviousness of how unethical it is that I found so disturbing.

Fortunately certain museums are refusing to exhibit the works, which is their prerogative. As one would expect, free-speech advocates are coming to the rescue. I think it’s these folks that really don’t get it. Now, I truly loathe censorship to degrees a lot of people might find unimaginable. I have nothing but contempt for those charlatans who claim respect for free-speech whilst also demanding anti-flag-burning amendments and insisting nude statues be covered before the class of 5th graders be allowed into the museum. But seriously, if a museum places reasonable limits on the sort of content they’ll permit, especially when it crosses such an obvious threshold of having no intrinsic worth, then no one is taking anyone’s precious “free-speech” rights.

The last article involved parents "freaking out" because young children, particularly boys, sometimes engage in perfectly reasonable, perfectly natural behaviors. No sex, we're talking about the very type of activities that curious boys and girls and boys have participated in since time immemorial.

One 5-year-old boy gets taken to a therapist for asking his younger sister to see her genitals. Another 6-year-old boy was reported to the police for smacking a girl's butt. One mother laments that while it was cute when her 3-year old would streak in the backyard, now that he’s 4 it isn’t so cute anymore. Seriously, lady, it’s not like the kid is even remotely near approaching the onset of puberty yet. At least wait until he’s five before soberly contemplating whether he’s likely to become a “flasher” as an adult!

Now, for shear over-the-top, people-are-losing-all-sense-of-rationality, a teacher's aide actually accused a 4-year-old boy of "sexual harassment for pressing his face into her breasts when he hugged her". I couldn't make this stuff up. I wish it were.

So, while people are eating mud in Haiti, here in the U.S. Costco is limiting four 20-pound bags of rice per customer. While you may be assassinated for depicting the Prophet Mohammed in some European countries, here you have a “right” to splatter your miscarriage on sheets and exhibit it in museums as “art” whether they like it or not. And, while pre-teen Afghan girls are being married off to men or their teenage sons in order to repay loans, otherwise well-adjusted Americans of good conscience are considering therapy for their 5-year-old’s curiosity about what our society labels as “private parts”.

Yes, Virginia, the world has lost its freaking mind!