Friday, December 26, 2008

Priorities & Connecting the Dots

THE MARCH GOES ON: American Financier after Corporate CEO after Industry Representative, heads held low as they shuffle along, stepping in line; up Capitol Hill, down Pennsylvania Avenue; hands out, palms up; and nothing but billion dollar bailouts on their minds.

If this is not actually the funeral procession for laissez capitalism it damn well ought to be.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the National Priorities Project released a brief video this year as a deserving tribute to the persistence of its founders and supporters. The video, presented here, provides an overview of the environment in which this organization has worked all these years and what they have been doing to raise awareness of the displaced priorities, missed opportunities and economic threats that brought us to our current situation.

More than $700 billion of tax-payer money set aside for cleaning up after so much out-of-control profiteering and corporate excesses of the past three decades!

As that unfathomable figure keeps growing and the national debt skyrockets our personal income, if we are lucky, just stagnates. For too many of us, caught up in the resulting layoffs from this colossal boondoggle, our resources are drying up completely - including any personal savings and public services we may have been counting on.

So far, the outrageously expensive relief packages that Congress and the Bush Administration have rolled out include nothing that might effectively stabilize the inherently volatile capitalist system. Other than strict regulation and market oversight - incredibly still a matter of political debate in this country(!) - there is absolutely nothing that can prevent a recurrence of the meltdown we are in.

Left to its own erratic devices the free market will inevitably lead those undead corporate bloodsuckers back to the taxpayer's trough like zombies out of a Robert Zemeckis flick.

Having found such easy pickings in the DC vaults they are likely to be back sooner rather than later.

There is reasonable hope that the Obama Administration will at least see to it that the wage slaves of the middle class will benefit in some tiny, short term way from the disbursement of those bailout funds. But it remains to be seen how the new regime will address the inevitable rehabilitation of the economy once they take over and the current crisis has bottomed out.

Though the most egregious corporate failures and abuses leading up to the current collapse were certainly accelerated during the free-wheeling, bellicose Bush years, the wheels were definitely set in motion by the repulsive "Reagan Revolution" launched nearly 30 years ago. All of us consumers and voters have been made fools of for having let things go so long and get so out of hand before enough of us began to realize that this is where we have been headed all along.

Some - like the National Priorities Project - did catch on pretty quickly. But nothing was able to stop the blood tide once it started rolling.

We have been lured into regarding this global economic downturn as though it is some sort of widespread natural disaster that just happened, unforeseen and unforeseeable - like an act of God - with all of us more or less equally victimized. Clearly this is another instance of that "manufactured consent" Noam Chomsky speaks of in this enlightening video...

In adding up the costs of the impending bailouts and remedial measures that are intended to revive our ailing economy after the Bush era implosion the question remains of what and who really caused this fiasco. And what consequences will be in store for those found to be responsible for having brought us to this brink of international economic catastrophe?

Naturally, those who are caught blatantly committing fraud and other indictable economic crimes are likely to face charges at some point. But will the prosecution of independent mercenaries be sufficient when most of the damage has been wrought by organized syndicates operating within the parameters of legality?

In the past, when we were serious about preventing any recurrence of major global disasters perpetuated by legitimate armies, tribunals were held to make spectacular examples of those found to be responsible. Blameworthy commanders and troop leaders were made to pay for the error of their ways.

Of course, war crime tribunals have only been held in extreme cases that cost innocent lives while property and other assets were destroyed or appropriated and the sovereignty of nations was threatened. But if things are as bad as we are just beginning to hear isn't this substantially what we are facing today? Are we not involved in international class warfare that has escalated to the point of a potential destruction of the global economy?

American political leaders have a long tradition of exploiting the metaphoric language of war to any perceived crisis we face. We've had a "War on Poverty," a "War on Drugs," a "Moral Equivalent of War," a facetious "War on Terror," and of course the one-sided imaginary "Culture Wars."

With the light of awareness intensifying at last on the heretofore covert "War Between the Classes," we have already seen one notorious lieutenant on the side of the filthy rich, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villhuchet, evade public humiliation and justice by way of dishonorable suicide.

Villhuchet was apparently nothing more than collateral damage in what might be called the Madoff Offensive. In this raging class war the autonomous actions of Bernard Madoff's cartel is likewise the equivalent of those attributed to private militias in the so-called "War on Terror."

(BERNARD MADOFF = Bin Laden? His extortion squad BMIS = Al Qaeda?).

This is because the fraudulent Ponzi Scheme Madoff perpetuated is said to be only technically different from the "legitimate" business models developed by those failed and faltering financial institutions that have bilked billions of our tax dollars in the current bail out. The profits derived, whether legally or not, all end up supporting the exclusive interests and lifestyles of the rich and famous as well and their cohorts, the infamous rich. 

Many of them, in fact, represent the same families, dynasties and governments who fund and benefit from the autonomous terrorist plots carried out by al Queda and other extremist groups in the "War on Terror."  

How convenient that Madoff's crimes have come to light at this moment. His high profile arrest could take a lot of the heat off those with much more blood on their hands by lending credibility to their claims that this was all a function of rogue Wall Street Investors. By all accounts there may be no more deserving a fall guy than Bernie Madoff: he who brazenly swindled those wealthy investors to get a piece of their action also targeted a number of schools, charities and non-profit groups who invested their operating funds with him and now face ruin. Who is not happy to see this cad go down?

But what about those "merely unscrupulous" super-wealthy mercenaries and their corporate officers who exploited the legal but deficient principles of laissez faire capitalism to their own benefit and to the severe detriment of the world as we know it?

In their defense, of course, fingers are pointed at over-spending, credit-busting consumers who are said to have undermined the credit and lending industry and caused this market collapse with overwhelming demands against supposedly diminishing supply. Balderdash!


It does not take much to show that the blame lays squarely in the laps of unethical and greedy corporate moguls and financiers colluding with corrupt government officials.

The fact is that middle and working class consumers are largely alone so far in bearing the brunt of punishment for this debacle by way of devastating losses of livelihood along with the employer-provided health insurance, diminished savings, rising costs of living and the inevitable burden of increased taxes to fund the mounting bailouts in lieu of the public and charitable services that those diverted tax funds once supported.

But brace yourself. The worst is yet to come.

So what of those who have been in decision-making positions and benefitted outrageously from the supposedly over-burdening economic demands and drove us to the door of the poorhouse?

Will they be left free to enjoy the rich rewards of their actions and the self-serving decisions they made? As much as their personal wealth may be chipped into as a consequence of lower returns on their invested endowments, the worst of them will still be left with obscenely substantial means relative to those who will have lost everything. With all that loot they could easily slip away to live out their years in Dubai comfort like so many Nazis did to Brazil, rather than face the Nuremberg Trials.

If such an exercise in connecting the dots seems to lead us to a far-fetched conclusion, or if the call for an economic war crimes tribunals sounds implausible or absurd, it may help put things in perspective to recount the huge diversion of public funds to support the actual on-the-ground opportunistic war still raging in Iraq. This economic meltdown did not happen in a vacuum. Connect the dots: the conquering of the world's middle class is in no way a bloodless coup.

Several years ago Brave New Films released a documentary of the nearly $700 billion+ U.S. occupation of that country, "Iraq For Sale: the War Profiteers" (still available). Of particular and disturbing relevance is the expose of those whose coffers the lion share of funds supporting that war ended up in -- and how they are connected to the overlords of our government and our economy.

If you have not had a chance to attend a screening I urge you to do so. The DVD is available at their website: The bonus scenes below give a good sense of what the film contains.

If laissez faire capitalism has finally fallen victim to its own excesses in the War Between the Classes, will it be given it a proper military funeral, flag draped coffin and all?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Proposition 8 to be Voided?

Newsflash: California Attorney General Jerry Brown has asked the state Supreme Court to void the gay marriage ban approved by the passage of Proposition 8 on November 4th.

Even before that infamous ballot measure, the public profile of the entire LGBT community has been forcibly solidified around the issue of same-sex marriage rights.

Of course, this fabricated perception is a function of the main stream media's "manufactured consent" (ala Noam Chomsky) decrying our more diverse common interests as U.S. citizens. They gleefully pit our undeniable reality against the inbred primal revulsion churning in the stomachs of narrow-minded masses of Americans who still buy into the "culture war" deception. Provoking such tensions is a profitable enterprise for Fox News and its wanna-be's. The "culture war" is actually a ratings war and there are still big gains to be earned exploiting even the slightest discomfort most Nielson Families feel toward us "deviants and perverts."

Never mind that ours is a reality of which the straight majority has no capacity and even less desire to understand. Forget empathy. Mindlessly they conform to the demands of an inherited legacy, five thousand years in the making. The myths and mores they cling to once defined a primeval social order at the birth of civilization, imposed to stifle the inborn drives and inclinations of our forebears, with well-known exceptions. Through countless generations a significant minority of humans yearned as we do today for the fulfillment of an authentic existence that seems to have always been totally alien to the conformist majority. The justification for discouraging committed same sex relationships lost all rational credibility generations ago.  

Perpetuating such an outmoded world view in a civilization fifty centuries advanced imbues the current majority with a sense of superior entitlement over how we live our lives today. That entitlement is as illegitimate as it is inherent in any surviving authoritarian regime rooted in ancient history and tyrannical arrogance.

This is a viewpoint we never hear articulated outright. But it is exactly what should be asserted in any way it can be said, loud and clear every time a marriage ban apologist mouths the tired and specious claim that "five thousand years of history has defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman."

In this would-be age of enlightenment, the fact that this outmoded tool of oppression has shamefully persisted through five millennia is a much better argument for legalizing gay marriage than against it. By rectifying the age-old denigration of a people for the kind of relationships they form, even at this late date, the high ideas of justice and equality may finally approach realization.

Five thousand years of institutionalized homophobia is enough. It has only inspired fear and persecution of homosexuals, inciting not just a denial of our basic human rights but a pogrom through the ages: continual derision, denigration, violence, murder and mass extermination -- as in last century's during the Holocaust and in modern day radical Islamic cultures.Our survival has not come easy. But it has come by way of the time-tested strength of our collective character, not to mention our heightened sense of humor.

With the emergence, cohesion and maturing of our distinct global culture over the last half century, we as a community have earned the still evolving respect of our forward-thinking and courageous fellow travelers on this human adventure. And many of us work tirelessly in natural alliance with them to bring peace, justice and hope to the world.

How can we still allow ourselves to be held to social and legal standards set by those backwardly oppressive forces hell bent on doing little more than enforcing their own arrogant ill-gotten and irrelevant sense of superiority and entitlement?.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What If They Threw a Culture War and Nobody Showed Up?

Back when the presidential campaign was just getting warmed up - was that like eight years ago? - I was one of those who caught a lot of heat for not backing Barack Obama in the primaries. Let's just say I had my reasons but they were not based in any truly negative feelings about the Senator from Illinois.

Barack Obama seemed like a great candidate to me for a future national campaign. I felt this way mostly because the country had had such little exposure to him at that point that it would be too easy for the Republicans to stir up baseless suspicion about every aspect of his life - just as they did and continue to do. I am gratified that Obama and his growing team of professionals proved to be able to hold up under such mud-slinging and clinch the Presidency for him.

Still, the right wing persists conspiratorially, pounding lies into the heads of their obstinate followers that Obama is indeed a foreign-born secret Muslim socialist with ties to terrorism even as the President-elect prepares to take office. They are not about to quit any time soon so let's just hope that reason will ultimately prevail and those dubious unfounded claims will eventually yield to reason for the most part.

My greatest doubts about his early campaign were more about his "followers" than about him. I admit I was put off by the degree of blind devotion his early supporters showed: it seemed more apostolic than politic. I was suspicious of the heights to which his supporters raised him on that pedestal of adulation as though he embodied a prophesied savior sent to lead us out of bondage.

If there was anything about the man, Obama, that put me off it was his undeniable charisma.

I had felt the pull of it myself on that one occasion I had to be in his audience - when he came to in Philadelphia during the 2004 campaign. His charismatic draw was palpable and awesome. He could have said anything, I thought; the whole lot of us were inexplicably entranced by something emanating from this man's presence.

Lo, it made me sore afraid!

But of course I voted for him and I am thrilled that Obama won. I look forward to the inevitable huge changes that have already begun to take shape in the way we think about the government and the way the world looks at us. I believe he could become one of the greatest presidents we have ever had. But I am still weary of some of Obama's followers now that he has begun to take on the job as President.

About a year ago, when I saw how some some of Obama's devotees were breathlessly in awe of him, thinking he would be the answer to all our problems, I wondered aloud how crushingly awful it would be for them when he actually started work and made his first decision, after being elected, that did not necessarily please them.

Now I have seen this come to pass as well. Obama's choice of homophobic minister Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation has pissed off some people in the LGBT faction of the Democratic Party so bad that they are saying such things in blogs and elsewhere that they are sorry they voted for him. Some are already saying they won't vote for him in 2012 and are threatening to boycott the inaugural parade (Really? come on, now!).

Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign sent a letter to President-elect Obama decrying his invitation to Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the January 20th inauguration as "a genuine blow to LGBT Americans."

I think this does represent the vocal response of many in our community but not all of us. I, for one, feel that all this fuss is an unfortunate overreaction that makes us look more like a bunch of spoiled brats, kicking and screaming over a minor infraction that is overall and in the long run, ultimately meaningless. Two minutes of mumbo jumbo uttered during the warm-up to a right of passage should be considered nothing more than a blip on the radar, whoever does the uttering.

Obama obviously felt indebted to Warren - who is no doubt a bigot - for the exposure he provided him as a Presidential candidate that may have actually been the cause of more than a few votes switching from the McCain camp to ours. If this is the extent of his political payback for that favor - a cameo appearance at the inauguration for two minutes of meaningless jabber - then so what?

The media has enthusiastically picked up on the overblown rift between Obama and his LGBT supporters dredging up the tired old specter raging in the minds of those right wing extremists who invented the phenomenon of a "Culture War" in this country. Once again, we are foolishly letting ourselves be dragged right into the middle of it.

Is it worth it? Wouldn't it be better to let this minor, unmemorable and meaningless infraction slide and keep our sights focused on the real battles yet to come?

Politically, I think it is best to call a truce over this silly battle immediately. Obama has responded to the complaints, reiterating his support for our community as much as ever. Though he outwardly opposed California's Proposition 8 while Warren supported it, Obama NEVER supported full marriage rights for same-sex couples, any more than all the other major candidates for national office except for Dennis Kucinich.

At this point, if Obama gave in to our mounting demands and yanked Warren from the inaugural program he would be seen by the media as responsible for escalating the fake Culture War and he is not about to do anything as stupid as that. Rabid fundamentalists, still itching for a battle, would brand Obama as beholden to the interests of their enemies. And this would open up an even greater opportunity to the likes of the fag-hating Reverend Fred Phelps to bring more of his idiotic followers out in force to picket the inauguration and dog the new President for who knows how long?

As I said before, we are in danger of a replay of the same kind of issue that bogged down President Clinton at the start of his presidency. Then it was gays in the military that was used by the radical right to hinder his effectiveness in the long run and actually solidified the fundamentalist base who believe they are fighting the good fight in this imaginary Culture War. The cause was and is righteous but the tactics were tragically counterproductive, to say the least. We ended up with the worst possible scenario, "Don't Ask Don't Tell" which helped turn Clinton into such an emasculated advocate for our rights that he finally sold us out altogether, signing into law the "Protection of Marriage Act" under a cloak of shame.

HRC's current letter to President-elect Obama correctly points out that "Our loss in California over the passage of Proposition 8 which stripped loving, committed same-sex couples of their given legal right to marry is the greatest loss our community has faced in 40 years."

But it goes overboard, I think in following that with: "by inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table."

After ticking off inarguable legitimate reasons why Warren's views and actions are offensive to reasonable people everywhere, the HRC letter concludes, "We feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination. Only when Rev. Warren and others support basic legislative protections for LGBT Americans can we believe their claim that they are not four-square against our rights and dignity. In that light, we urge you to reconsider this announcement."

So, OK, now that our main advocacy organization has made our objections known, I am just saying that we should move past it. Let Warren have his payback with those fleeting two-minutes of fame. This will appease those who need to see somebody at the inauguration speaking as though from a "pulpit" - a concession to religion that I find more objectionable than anything else but I'm not going to raise hell about it.

For those who still buy into the divisive myths of our day, it's time to withdraw our gay troops from the Culture War. We have bigger fish to fry, real issues to confront and other, real-world wars to end.


P.S. Obama may have picked a turd to deliver the invoca-shun, but I expect real inspiration will come from the Inaugural Poet he has chosen: Elizabeth Alexander. 

This will be only the fourth time a poet has been asked to compose a piece and read it at the swearing in. The first was Robert Frost who read at JFK's inauguration.

Big Surprise: Republicans have never had a purely creative person of culture featured at their inaugurations. Alexander is a cool and edgy choice and we are in for a real treat that will surely outshine any of the fire-and-brimstone crap the preacher man may bore us with.

Here is an excerpt from one of her works...


funky, is
leaky, is
a soggy, bloody crotch, is
sharp jets of breast milk shot straight across the room,
is gaudy, mustard-colored poop, is
postpartum tears that soak the baby’s lovely head.

Then everything dries and disappears
Then everything dries and disappears

is day into night into day,
light into dark into light, semi-
and full-fledged, hyperconscious,
is funky, is funny: the baby farts,
we laugh. The baby burps, we smile, say “Yes.”
The baby poops, his whole body stiffens,
then steam heat floods the pipes.
He slashes his nose with nails we cannot bear to trim,
takes a nap, and the wounds disappear.
The spirit lives in your squirts and coos.
Your noises and fluids are what you do.

is what we cannot see: you speak to the birds,
the birds speak back, is solemn,
singing, funky, frightening,
buckets of tears on the baby’s lovely head, is

“One day you’ll forget the baby,” Mother says,
“as if he were a pocketbook, a bag of groceries,
something you leave on a kitchen counter-top.
I left you once, put on my coat and hat,
remembered my pocketbook, the top and bottom locks,
got all the way to the elevator before I realized.

It only happens once.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Got Religion?

Religion. I get it. I really do.

I appreciate that most humans hold some kind of religion and find great personal value in practicing it; whether we make a big deal out of it or not. In our perception of a world where nothing is certain the idea of an non-malleable truth and a benevolent God comforts us in our deepest fears including the awful thought of our mortal reality. Pestering doubts about our self worth are countered by faith, relieving us any burden of proof that absolute truth exists. Most people seem to require an ideal of perfection in order to acknowledge our imperfection and so faith keeps us humble. 

Of course, subscribing to any specific version of the absolute truth requires a disavowal of all other versions, but we Americans are a tolerant people. We outwardly tolerate religious differences among ourselves. We may frown on proselytizing and tend to regard as taboo the topic of religion in polite conversation but we tacitly honor our mutual freedom and the unfettered right we enjoy to exercise our respective faiths or whatever world view we assume.

In our private lives, we good citizens are free to perform the prescribed rituals of our respective religions or merely go through the motions, as many do, having only our conscience to contend with. As long as our behavior complies with civil law we risk no legal penalty for either practicing or neglecting to fulfill the requirements of our chosen religion. As law-abiding citizens of this magnanimous country our civil rights and privileges are not subject to any religious test: theoretically; ideally; Constitutionally.

As Americans we often take our religious freedom for granted, often as much as we take our religion for granted. Mainstream God-fearing people in this country seldom flaunt their religious beliefs, nor do they adhere to the strict letter of their tenets. On our own, we seldom even think too deeply about our religion until it is imperative or seems advantageous, such as in times of personal distress, need or bad luck. 

That imperative arises almost reflexively for many when they feel their beliefs are challenged in some way. Then, even the most nonobservant believer can become fervently defensive of their religion as though their own immutable essence has been threatened. The reflex is irrational, of course, since logically neither threats nor defenses could affect true immutability.

Still, those defenders of the faith paradoxically feel that their religion is under attack from time to time, and that I am somehow a part of the threat. Me personally. They may not normally show it. They may not routinely think in such terms. It may only come out in private, such as when they find themselves alone behind the curtains of a voting booth. 

If a same sex marriage proposition happens to be on the ballot good Christian voters may not think too deeply about the effect of their vote on me personally. If anything, they are most likely to conjure up a nebulous mass of faceless, nameless people who are an affront to Christian dogma by their existence alone. Our existence. But I do not feel that anyone votes in such a way as to target me. They are just being good Christians, they feel, following the dictates of their conscience as shaped by dogma over which they have no control.

And lets face it: when you talk about religion in America today, it's all about Christianity. American Jews, it seems to me, largely honor the wall between Temple and State and tend to consider themselves more of an ethnic minority than a religious one. And people of other religions do not have the political clout or influence on public policy that organized Christians do just because their numbers are smaller.

But we may politely assume that all of us are basically good and law-abiding citizens, innocent until proven guilty of some legal transgression. I assume that none of us would consciously deny anyone else access to the same legal rights we take for granted, including the right to exercise any self chosen religious beliefs. So it is frustrating to see something like the outcome of California's Proposition 8, where a majority of voters did, in fact, deny a lawful minority of citizens access to marriage, a basic civil right.

"One of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival..."  is how the US Supreme Court characterized marriage in Loving v. Virginia in 1967.

Because of Proposition 8, certain marriages, previously recognized in the Golden state and entered into as a fundamental right, have been dissolved -- against the will of the married individuals. Any such potential marriages, once anticipated by right of citizenship, are now banned on the basis of one partner's sex.

Once there was a debate about whether people who engaged in private same-sex relationships could be held to legal sanction or punishment in this country. That question was settled, however in 2003 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v Texas. Every remaining "sodomy law" on the books in any state was finally swept away at that time. By religious standards those who engage in same sex behavior may still be sinners. But we can not be seen as criminals under the law. Yet, I have not heard a single credible argument in favor of denying same-sex couples the right to marry that is not based in the punitive biblical dictum that some believe to brand homosexuality as sinful.

To me, this clearly applies a religious test to determine our worthiness to the basic right to marry. Testing positive for heterosexuality or repentant as a homosexual is now a requirement in California after Proposition 8.

The closest anyone has come to a rational argument to impose this sanction has to do with the ability to bear or raise offspring. Yet childless marriages and adoption are still legal. And legally married people may still bear children by surrogate. And legal marriage partners may still bring children into their new families, born in prior relationships. None of this is exclusive to marriages between partners of opposite sex in California, except for the legality.

Marriage is still a right, not a privilege. Mike Huckabee, the once and future Republican candidate for president - and ordained Baptist minister - is one who argues otherwise and he makes a number of other baseless claims in interviews hyping his new book. He states his opinion as plain fact, as Republicans often do, even though the U.S. Supreme Court was quite unambiguous in Loving v Virginia. Huckabee declares in his super nice guy manner that "Marriage still means one man and one woman," which is only partly true. It also means one man and another or one woman and another. Obviously, Huckabee and his ilk can only speak in absolutes. It's his way or the highway! His stilted view of history where marriage is an unchanged and unchangeable institution 5,000 years old is absolute bunk that demands a suspension of disbelief that only the totally ignorant could muster.

Constitutionally, the matter of whether marriage is a right or not is no longer open to question - no matter what Mr. Huckabee says. In his interview with Jon Stewart presented below, the former governor of Arkansas clicks off all the talking points that the right wing uses to support their prejudice, denying his homophobia with a smile but no credibility at all. He concludes with a last ditch desperate argument that people just cannot do whatever they want to do. "Religious people do not have the right to burn others at the stake," he says

I was not aware that this is something they still want to do.

(God bless Jon Stewart.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

60th Anniversary: Universal Declaration of Human Rights: 12/10/08


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, 

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people, 

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, 

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations, 

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, 

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, 

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge, 

Now, therefore, The General Assembly, Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction. 

Article I
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11
1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.
Article 12
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14
1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15
1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16
1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17
1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21
1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.
3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23
1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25
1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26
1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27
1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29
1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Source: United Nations Department of Public Information

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A More Perfect Union?

Envision, if you will, something along the lines of this as wording for a proposed Constitutional amendment:
"Equal access to the lawful institution of marriage, including all rights, privileges and obligations accruing thereto, shall not be denied to any consenting adults solely on the basis of either partner's sex or gender identity."
As a potential amendment, you are never likely to see it, of course. And it need not be written as long as equal access to marriage is not prohibited and the states are free to expand marriage rights to same-sex couples as well. As we know, however, a number of states have opted to amend their Constitutions in recent years, not to expand marriage rights but rather to deny them to partnerships of any combination other than one man and one woman.

Pushing for adoption of such restrictive language to state Constitutions is the chosen strategy of those compelled to assure irrationally punitive discrimination against same-sex couples. So far their crusade has succeeded in 29 states and they obviously have their sights on the Federal Constitution, aiming to punish us in the "sinful" minority of Americans who would dare to seek the same rights and protections under the law as those taken for granted by the majority.

A discriminatory marriage amendment has been proposed in Congress during every session since 2002 and failed to garner substantial support every time. This is OK with the proponents of institutionalized discrimination as they understand it is really more effective to mobilize on the state level where the law may be altered by simple majority of votes cast on referenda - such as California's Proposition 8. They have an easier time manipulating the irrational fears, ignorance and emotions of citizen "Joe the Voter" than they do with his representatives in Congress who may feel they actually have to represent their entire diverse constituencies with fairness and intelligence.

The mission of Prop 8 promoters is simply anathema to a rational system of laws based in self-evident principles of civilized human freedom. And they know it. They are politically aware enough to know exactly what they were doing. They know their movement violates the principles of equal access to legal protections, rights and benefits that are granted by the civil institution of marriage irrespective of any personally held doctrine that would bestow superior/inferior status on any citizen in good standing.

In other words, they are fully aware of the anti-American, unconstitutional nature of their intentions. In fact, with regard to the United States Constitution, their movement is unapologetically subversive and their actions are seditious. They seek to undermine the role of the Courts as the legitimate interpreters of the Constitution by supplanting the Courts' knowledgeable authority with the uninformed, biased opinions of a prevailing voter majority.

Proposition 8 was placed on the ballot by a collection of religiously motivated folks who were displeased with the learned California Supreme Court Justices' interpretation of the law. The Court found the law laking in reasonable basis to deny marriage rights to consenting partners on the basis of either partner's sex. This finding was objected to because it failed to permit the state to penalize certain law-abiding adults with a punitive denial of access to certain rights and privileges afforded all other citizens under the law. The prejudiced majority view still holds that same-sex adult relationships are distasteful at best, wicked at worst and deserving of punishment - though completely legal - by depriving committed same-sex partners the freedom to marry under the law: a freedom that the "tasteful" majority takes for granted.

As a member state of the American Union, California is obligated to comply with the Federal Constitution and its standards of equal treatment assured to all citizens in good standing. The First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion for all citizens precludes any religious test of worthiness in order to qualify for equal treatment and access to the privileges and protections of the state.   

Progenitors of Proposition 8 openly admit that they are compelled by specific religious doctrine that holds people who chose partners of their own sex to be deserving of retribution for their supposed wickedness. The retribution imposed is a denial of access to the provisions of secular laws regarding marriage. In effect, they intentionally abused the power of the ballot to cause a rewriting of the (amendable) Constitution, bringing it into compliance with their (presumably immutable) religious doctrine. The result is that voters, acting directly as the state, effectively made a "law respecting an establishment of religion" by requiring compliance with specific religious doctrine in order to qualify for state benefits.

Such subversion of the Constitution is often defended by asserting the theory known as "Original Intent." This specious hypothesis is actually more doctrine than theory as it goes beyond rational analysis of the ideas embodied in the Constitution and a respectful appreciation for the brilliance and ardor of the framers. Apologists for the passage of Proposition 8 and other antithetical measures cite "Original Intent" with a fervency that presupposes something of a divine inspiration in the work of the 18th Century colonists who framed the Constitution.

Any meaningful study of the U. S. Constitution will tend to yield a theory or set of theories that effectively elucidate the ideas committed to paper over 220 years ago. Theories are often invented to serve the needs and interest of the student but may also be purely academic. Constitutional scholars and other thinking people are naturally inclined to render a unifying thesis concerning any such historical artifact. It is what they do.

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The body of the Constitution consists in the main of an outline of the federal government's infrastructure. It is from Article III that the Supreme Court clearly derives its Constitutional authority to interpret the Constitution itself, effectively enforcing its underlying principles. In theory, we have a very functional, closed system, theoretically independent of any outside influences or authorities. This is particularly apparent in the limits, enumerated as Constitutional Amendments, to the powers that Congress may exercise over the freedoms we enjoy as lawful citizens.

Determining what is written in the Constitution is a simple matter of recitation. It is a testament to the forward thinking brilliance of the framers that the Constitution they crafted not only allows interpretation but prescribes it for what is written and, moreover, what is left unsaid. Interpretation may begin with determining the significance of how it was written: resolving the differences between the language as used for such purposes in the 18th Century and today. Theory results from asking the all-important question of "why?"

Some answers that arise from posing this question are more theoretical than others. Why should "the right of the people to keep and bear arms...[not] be infringed?" The prefatory clause of the Second Amendment provides an arguable context though theories still abound concerning the Constitutionality of gun laws, intent of the framers and the relevance to our current reality. 

The Fourth Amendment assures "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects..." against unwarranted violation. The arguments deriving from a theoretical consideration of this amendment often lead to a conclusion of whether or not a "right to privacy" is implicit in the Constitution. The ramifications of this are far-ranging. 

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Here, the language calls for resolution of disparate word usage for "respect" and "establishment."

The prosecution of justice under the law, or any defense against prosecution, presumably rests on some persuasive legal theory that must needs to comply with the ultimate authority vested in the Constitution as interpreted by the Courts.

Of course, some who familiarize themselves with the Constitution operate from a prepossessed point of view. It may seem incongruous but those empowered to effect our laws are admittedly - sometimes outspokenly - beholden to the conventions of what they regard as a higher authority; specifically, a religious doctrine that may contradict the Constitution's theoretical primacy. It is nonetheless allowable. As we know, this applies to a number of those entrusted with its enforcement even at the highest levels. Whether this inappropriately belies the concept of ours being a closed system of governance answerable to no higher authority remains an unsettled matter of theory and opinion.

It is nonetheless understandable that the masses are more influenced by their intimate, self-affirming associations with religion than they are by concepts of fairness and equality. But it is not right. If We the People are truly free to believe as we choose individually and still be treated equally under the law, then democracy and religion are irreconcilable. Allowing doctrinaire opinion to influence the vote essentially yields not a democracy but a theocracy. Some far-right extremists are upfront about their intention to do just that. Conservative politicians, pundits and justices who are considered moderate but uphold the Constitutionality of legislation the intent of which is to restrict all citizens to a standard derived from religious doctrine are disingenuous at best.     

Asking why anyone is so motivated to vilify their fellow human beings politically will likely evoke the claim that they believe they are "doing God's work." This self-righteous posture of God-fearing humility would actually yield, though a little honest soul-searching on their part, the true and deeply selfish motivation behind such a claim. Isn't it nothing but their own personal place in heaven that they expect in reward for "doing God's work?"   

To hell with the Constitution! Others be damned! It's every man for himself. Your first responsibility is not to be a good citizen but to save your soul. 

And by doing "God's work" sending the wicked to hell you just make more room for yourself in heaven. 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Proposition 8: The Musical!

Starring Jack Black, John C. Reilly, Rashida Jones, Maya Rudolph, Craig Robinson and Margaret Cho...

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My World AIDS Day 2008

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
-- Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 - 1950

This poetic fragment is newly inscribed on a bronze plaque installed Monday at the celebrated poet's alma mater, Vassar College. Millay graduated class of 1917 and became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1922.

She grew up in Camden, NJ where Walt Whitman lived out his final years also during the 1890s. Today, the city of Camden lays pretty much in prosaic ruin directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, my adopted hometown since 1979.

In the 58 years since her passing Edna St. Vincent Millay has been memorialized in numerous books and in monuments around the world. The new Vassar plaque is not actually another dedication to her life or work directly. Rather, it was created to honor the memory of 25 known Vassar alumni and one faculty member who have succumb to AIDS over the last quarter century. It was ceremonially unveiled on the occasion of this year's World AIDS Day, the inaugural event of AIDS Awareness Week on the bucolic campus.

I was invited to attend the unveiling as the surviving partner of Kirk H, class of 1976, who died in my arms on May 9, 1992 in Madrid. Kirk and I had honeymooned together on the Hudson shore campus during the better part of his senior year and I found deep and lasting friendships in a few of those who had shared his whole coming-of-age experience there. I also became acquainted with several others during that time who, along with Kirk, continue to exist today only as memories that we refuse to let die. Their memory is now preserved there in a bronze slab that evokes their collective spirit by way of those perfectly fitting words lent by the poet.

I planned to attend the ceremony with BB and NC, two of those long-standing friends from Vassar's class of 1976 who share my undying love and memories of Kirk. It would be fitting since they too continue to be very near and dear to my heart.

It was bound to be a poignant weekend. Regrettably, the occasions have become too rare that we three are able to get together these days . And the hours out of these few days we had set aside would serve to span the ever-widening oceans of time and space that separate these mundane lives of our own making.

Grateful for as much our most gracious host included a traditional Thanksgiving feast on Sunday which was open by invitation to several other friends from his current life. And they would have surely only enhanced the familial atmosphere had the weather not turned so foul. As it turned out, it was only the three of us at dinner that turned into a long casual evening and stay-over, just as I had envisioned it, lolling about with Daphne, BB's wonderful new dog.

In the morning, BB and I would prepare to travel to Vassar for the unveiling. NC would be with us in spirit but had a previous commitment to work in the City.

Though I have no doubt my friends love me singularly, there will always a familiar feeling of personal incompleteness for me when we are together. Kirk had introduced me to this kind of life and left me in it all too soon. Though near decades have passed a bitter sweetness is still palpable when we who knew him are all together and it can turn quickly, if briefly, into a pained silence straining to fill the space where only he could have completed our repartee.

I am sure I am not the only one that feels it. This weekend however there was another unspoken difference in the air, born of a new shared experience - to some extent - that all of us have now faced the loss of someone who had been the center of our separate lives. It came by way of a love one's unexpected recent death for BB; and for NC an on-going deterioration of her long-time partnership. The latter may, in fact, still be salvaged and a breaking heart may be spared. Naturally, we wish her and TR the best.

Our weekend retreat recalled feelings I first experienced when certain other friends rallied to my side immediately after returning to the States, newly suffering through my greatest loss. Some of them were grieving themselves over concurrent break-ups and abandonments by still-living partners who had shattered their hearts. Though my own grief was profound and heartfelt I became acutely aware at the time of advantages I held over those particular friends. Commiserating sincerely with them lent a practical perspective to my own predicament, I think, from which I could truly feel worse for them than for myself.

First, I had learned from my experience the value of "closure" - having been fortunate enough to spend his final months with my partner in life, in close intimacy, essentially isolated and undistracted by all the mundanities of our familiar world. We had been traveling in Spain when he unexpectedly took ill and died for lack of suitable medical attention. So the two of us were free to take all our remaining time together to communicate those things between us that lovers often wish they had said or done before parting forever. We made our peace and said goodbye over three weeks of certainty that the end was closing in on us.

And that was a whole different thing, the second advantage I had over my broken-hearted friends: my loss was undeniable. While they still held out hope in the fantasy that their partners may yet come back and they may live happily ever after, I had no choice of fooling myself into believing that my life with Kirk, as we knew and shared it for 17 years, was over.

We who survived would all be fine eventually, of course, on our own. Though life may continue to rough us up, let us down, it would deal us new victories and wounds among the stretches of wholly unmemorable times. We would persist, reinvent ourselves, find new loves to lose and maybe keep as long as we should live and keep them.

And after so much time on our own it may never happen that we stop wondering each day as I do, among other things, if he might be proud of me - were he to know - for having followed the ways I found on my own. I admit sometimes I doubt he might even recognize me today.

But I still know him as much as I did after spending half his finite life with me. As sure as I am of his generous and life-loving spirit I know Kirk would be pleased with how things worked out this week: we did not make it to the unveiling of the AIDS plaque at Vassar.

BB woke up on World AIDS day feeling too frail from his own symptoms of the disorder and wisely decided that the 70 mile drive to Poughkeepsie would be too hazardous to his unsteady health. Kirk would not have given it a second thought and neither did I: the potential ill effect to our dear BB's well-being was not worth the risk.

Instead, I left BB alone in his home and drove with NC into the City where we took in the dreamy Miro and Van Gough exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art. It was the kind of stimulating, artful and life-affirming pastime that Kirk would have definitely favored over some somber death-centered gathering as we had planned for our recognition of World AIDS Day. He would be pleased, we assured ourselves, even if it meant missing a chance to revisit his beloved Vassar campus with its gardens, parlors and those secret romantic niches that held for us secret memories of two young lovers that once we were, after thirty two years and counting...

I will be there in the spring.

I am not resigned...
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.
Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go: but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains - but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
-They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay. 'Dirge Without Music'