Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ok, now I don't know what's happening in Iran.

I just watched the horrifying video of the girl Neda who was shot and died on the street. There is clearly much, much, more going on here than a simple election protest. However, I don't think turning a website green in solidarity with the protesters or with Moussavi is really helpful - it's the digital equivalent of a "Free Tibet" sticker. It makes us feel better, but nobody in the Chinese government is going to look at our cars and have a change of heart about Tibet.

Like I said before, Moussavi is simply a government-approved candidate who, if he takes power, probably won't be any more of a reformer than Ahmadinejad. At this point, though, it looks like whatever is happening is bigger than Moussavi and has gone way beyond the disputed election. It seems like Iran is at a pivotal moment, where the people are clearly demanding significant change, possibly a major rethinking of their whole system of government. I hope something good comes of all of this, but I have no idea what that might be.

It makes me absolutely sick to see innocents being gunned down by government militias.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Civil liberties under Obama" forum 6/17/09

I wasn't able to attend this event, but it sounds like a lot of important topics were discussed. Here's a press release summarizing the forum. The forum itself will be broadcast on cable access, to be scheduled at a later date.

Overflow Crowd Attends Forum - Civil Liberties Under Obama: Are We Still At Risk?
By Mark Kramer, National Lawyers Guild

On June 17, an overflow crowd of 100 attended a forum - “Civil Liberties Under Obama: Are We Still At Risk?” at Portland State University. The event was sponsored by the Portland Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), the ACLU of Oregon, Peace and Justice Works, the American Constitution Society, and others.

Participants included Steve Wilker (ACLU cooperating attorney), Tom Nelson (NLG attorney litigating against the NSA for warrantless wiretapping), Jo Ann Bowman (Executive Director of Oregon Action and former State Rep, co-host of KBOO FM community radio), Steven Wax (Federal Public Defender - author of Kafka Comes to America, Fighting for Justice in the War on Terror”), Ashlee Albies (NLG attorney litigating against the government over warrantless surveillance) and David Fidanque (Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon).

Moderator (former US Senate Candidate) Steve Novick opened the session with a challenge to the panelists, questioning whether in light of recent events, President Bush was as much of a threat to civil liberties as we believed, whether President Obama had decisively turned the page on Bush’s abuses, or whether President Obama was equally bad as President Bush. While there was not unanimous agreement, there was a consensus that President Bush had fundamentally undermined civil liberties and that President Obama had made some substantial progress in curbing the abuses of the Bush regime, including a commitment to close down Guantanamo, reverse reactionary executive orders, stop referring to the “War on Terror” and a commitment to better respect the due process rights of detainees. At the same time, all agreed that President Obama had not gone far enough and was pursuing a number of troubling Bush policies, including

• Maintaining the “State Secrets Doctrine” as a shield against transparency and litigation to hold perpetrators of civil liberties abuses responsible;

• Maintaining the right to use preventive detention without adequate court oversight;

• Maintaining the right to use warrantless wiretaps, in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA); and

• Reserving for a select “few” detainees (both at Guantanamo and elsewhere) prosecution through military commissions or secret courts without adequate due process.

ACLU cooperating attorney Steve Wilker reminded the audience that American history is littered with sorry degradations to our civil liberties and that the responsibility for this lies with both political parties.

Jo Ann Bowman spoke about the parallels between racial profiling in Portland (against Blacks and Hispanics) and the preventive detention of Muslims and non-whites on sometimes bogus and other times flimsy or unreasonable grounds. She critiqued both the Oregon’s new Attorney General John Kroger and Bureau of Labor and Industries chief Brad Avakian for refusing to consider a class action suit to challenge racial profiling.

NLG attorney Tom Nelson spoke about a number of travesties of justice in which innocent citizens and organizations were wrongfully arrested, subject to secret rendition, and, in some cases, tortured, including one of his clients who still awaits justice in the courts. For Nelson, the critical inquiry is whether we will ever find out what was done in our names under the Bush regime. Until we find that out, he said, we are still at risk.

Steve Wax spoke of his personal experience representing an innocent Guantanamo detainee and the representation of other innocent detainees by the Federal Public Defender’s Office. He noted that Guantanamo was just the tip of the iceberg, that there were more than 500 detainees across the world (including at the Bagram Air Base in Iraq) languishing, many of them innocent, and many of them held on exaggerated charges or without any charge, and with little or no prospect of a due process trial. Wax challenged the Obama administration’s opposition to releasing evidence explaining why detainees are held by the government, even to the detainees or their attorneys. Wax forcefully challenged the claim that American courts are unable to handle alleged terrorists. He noted a number of cases in which the courts have adjudicated persons accused of terrorism, mass murder, war crimes, etc. Wax was open to using military commissions for a select few individuals accused of war crimes but only under the due process afforded by the Uniform Code of Justice, rather than the commissions set up by Congress (both Democrat and Republican), which still hid evidence from the accused.

NLG attorney Ashlee Albies spoke at length about her work on the Al Haramain case, where a Muslim charity is suing the government for secret and warrantless wiretaps. Despite vociferous attempts by the government to kick the case out of the courts, the judiciary has kept the case alive while at the same time keeping secret the document discovered by the charity apparently demonstrating the government’s illegal wiretaps.

ACLU Executive Director Dave Fidanque noted how the ACLU discovered through courageous whistle blowers and the Freedom of Information Act prolific evidence (available online at the ACLU website) demonstrating civil liberties abuses, including torture and secret rendition. He criticized both the Bush and Obama administrations and those members of Congress who were thwarting attempts for transparency and accountability. He called for a special prosecutor and independent inquiry to look into the origins of the policies (some of which began under Democratic administrations) to explore the justifications for such policies so that we can avoid abuses in the future.

All of the speakers agreed that we are still at risk and we will remain at risk until the history of recent civil liberties abuses is brought to light and the architects of those abuses are held accountable. The need for vigilance has not been reduced by the election of a somewhat more progressive President.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What nobody seems to be saying about Iran

Iran is not a democracy. The "election" they just had featured four government-approved candidates. The current kerfuffle is between two of those government-approved candidates.

All hopefuls for high elected office must be cleared by the Guardian Council, a 12-member body of clerics and scholars loyal to the ruling theocracy. The council often rejects potential candidates considered too liberal or critical of the Islamic system. For Friday's election, just four of more than 470 possible candidates were allowed.


Now, if this kerfuffle turns into a genuine movement to overthrow the clerical leadership that actually controls the government and institute real democratic reform, then I'll get behind it. But trumpeting the cause of one government-approved candidate over another government-approved candidate, neither of whom are actual reformers who are going to move Iran away from an oppressive, radical theocracy that threatens Israel and the West? I'll pass, thanks.

Beyond which, again, the real power in Iran rests not with the President, but with the clerical leadership. The President is little more than a figurehead with nominal constitutional powers.

Why do Republicans hate our troops?

The House just passed a war funding bill, with all but five Republicans voting against it.

Why do Republicans hate our troops?

Friday, June 12, 2009

No excuses.

Obama's "Justice" department crossed a line today by filing a hideously hateful brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. The brief contained legal arguments comparing gay marriage to incest and parroting far right homophobic viewpoints that would make Pat Robertson giddy. Worse, it said that DOMA is constitutional, and that denying gay people marriage equality is not the same thing as denying interracial couples the same equality that led to the Loving v. Virginia decision. Interestingly, today is the 42nd anniversary of that decision, which decriminalized interracial marriage nationwide. Obama sure has an odd way of celebrating that anniversary.

Obama has shown a consistent disregard, if not an open hostility, toward the GLBT community. During the campaign he hosted homophobic gospel singer Donnie McClurkin. He had the bigoted fundamentalist Rick Warren do the invocation at his inauguration. His stance opposing marriage equality was used by the hatemongers who helped pass Prop 8 in California.

Yet the GLBT community voted for him in droves. Why? Because he told us what we wanted to hear, and we were "realists" about the "fact" that he could "never support marriage equality" and still be a "viable candidate." We could still get him to overturn DOMA, we told ourselves, and pass the Matthew Shepard Act, and repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, etc. Marriage equality would have to wait until the bigots, overwhelmingly old and white, died off, and the new, progressive generation, could take full control of the political process.

You know what? Fuck that.

Fuck all of it.

Fuck political realism. Fuck expediency. Fuck it all to hell. And Fuck Obama.

Because we did all of that, we gave Obama the benefit of the doubt, we trusted the Democrats to do the right thing, and they shit all over us.

Not only that, but now Obama and his "Justice Department" are actively undermining us. At least the right wingers are honest about their intent to demonize us. The Democrats pretend to be our friends and then stab us in the back. Which is worse?

What's worse is that there are progressives today who are defending this atrocity of a legal brief supporting DOMA. Obama is a President who has to "uphold the law" and DOMA is "the law." The Justice Department is "legally required" to defend DOMA.

No. I'm sorry, but that's just not ok.

I work in family law. I spend my days working on divorce case after divorce case. Straight couples who have the right to marry, do so, and then rip each other to shreds when it doesn't work out. I don't even have that right, and sometimes it just kills me that I'm deconstructing marriages, when I can't legally enter into one.

This issue isn't about legalistic arguments or what someone is legally supposed to do. It's just not.

Marriage equality is an issue of moral outrage. It is legal discrimination against a class of people for no good reason.

By filing this hateful brief, the Obama administration has shown that they care more about the technicalities of the law than they do about correcting a civil rights injustice. Moreover, they've used every argument they can against marriage equality in such a brutally thorough manner that if their arguments succeed, they'll severely hurt anyone else's chances to get justice and equality through the courts.

If you support this opinion, or you believe Obama's Justice Department was right in writing it, then you are just as bad as the bigots who wrote it. I don't care what your reasoning is.

I want our community in the streets. This is Pride week in many cities. Let's put a little bit of moral outrage in our parades. Let's turn up the heat on Obama and show him that we won't take his homophobic bullshit sitting down.

And let's not give him or the Democrats the benefit of the doubt in the next elections. It's time to stop compromising. It's time to start organizing.

Happy Friday

Possibly the funniest thing I've ever seen:

Language Nazi strikes.

Yes, I'm the language Nazi.

Two articles have pissed me off recently.

One: [Some American Idol dick] admits he's gay in an interview.

So is he gay outside of the interview?

Should be: "In an interview, [some American Idol dick] admits he's gay."

Two: "Lightning kills boy while fishing with Father."

Was the lightning fishing with the father, or was the kid?

Grr.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New poetry

Ok, not exactly new.

But this is an excerpt from a collection of poetry I'm working on. Comments and criticism are welcome. This was written as a tribute to Allen Ginsberg on the 10th anniversary of his death.

4. America 2007

America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents won't even buy a gallon of gas June 12, 2007.
I can't stand my president's mind.
America when will we end war?
Go fuck yourself with your Guantanamo.
Your Patriot Acts like a fool.
I won't write my poem till you're in my right mind.
America when will you be rational?
When will you take off your mask?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
I refuse to be reasonable.
America pragmatism is a compromise between idealism and barbarity.
America realism is an excuse for barbarity.
Are you being barbaric?
I haven't read a newspaper for months every day another editorial tells me it's ok to torture.
America I feel sentimental about the Bill of Rights.
America I'm still a communist at heart I'm not sorry.
My mind is made up; there's going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
America are you going to let your emotional life be run by People Magazine?
I hate People Magazine.
I'm forced to read its insipid cover every time I go to the grocery store.
It's always telling me about famous people.
Actors are famous. Athletes are famous. Everybody's famous but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
What chance do I have?
I'd better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two computers, millions of brain cells, an unpublishable train of thought that thunders at a zillion miles an hour and should be kept in a mental institution.
Not to mention my cat, or the millions of uninsured Americans who live paycheck to paycheck under the watchful eye of the credit reporting agencies.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a left-handed gay Jew.

America how can I write a holy litany in Allen Ginsberg's silly mood?
My strophes are as individual as Allen's, more so they're all stolen from him.
America free the detainees in your secret CIA prisons.
America get the hell out of Iraq.
America constitutional rights must not die.
America when I was twenty I went to the biennial convention of the Socialist International in Paris I heard speeches by Tony Blair and Gerhardt Schroeder and Yasser Arafat walked right by me and everyone was angelic and sentimental about the workers even though none of them knew what it meant to be one we had this one party on a yacht in the Seine in fancy suits and got up on the roof and sang the Internationale clutching champagne flutes and million dollar smiles.
Everybody must have been a hypocrite.
America you really don't want to go to war again.
America it's them bad Arabs. Them Arabs them Arabs and them North Koreans. And them Arabs.
Them Arabs want to eat us alive.
Them Arabs want to take the crosses out of our churches.
Them Arabs want to blow themselves up in our synagogues.
Them Arabs are religion mad.
They want to fly planes into Chicago. Them want to blow up their shoes in Cleveland. Them need a copy of the Koran in all of our hotel rooms.
That no good.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from watching cable news.
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or flip burgers at a fast food joint; I'm near-sighted and hyperactive anyway.
America I'm putting my own queer shoulder to the wheel.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Happy Friday

and now in memory of David Carradine, who may have died from something rather embarrassing, here's this great scene from Kill Bill: