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El pasado 29 de diciembre, la Ciudad de México se convirtió en el primer cuerpo político en Latinoamérica en abrir la institución del matrimonio civil a parejas del mismo sexo. Desde ese entonces, e incluso durante el debate en la Asamblea Legislativa, opiniones y sentencias no tardaron en hacerse oír desde el interior de aquella ciudad y de otros estados. En particular, las iglesias hicieron sonar sus apocalípticos cuernos para denunciar, sin ninguna alusión a la compasión o la distinción entre iglesia y estado, lo que para sus líderes resulta “perverso,” “condenable” y “una aberración,” en palabras del arzobispo de Chihuahua, el Sr. Constancio Miranda.


 

Cobardemente, los medios han sido cómplices de presentar un debate unilateral, en el cual las iglesias y los opositores han tenido monopolio de la palabra. Incluso los sondeos populares entrevistan al jurado antes que a los mismos acusados. Mientras que los sujetos en cuestión, las parejas identificadas como “homosexuales,” deberían ser los primeros entrevistados, las páginas y pantallas los presentan únicamente como fotos o videos a manera de curiosidad, dignos de extrañamiento. Sus necesidades, sentimientos y opiniones pasan a última instancia – para los medios y gran parte de la sociedad, los “gays” son más bien como bichos raros, la desgracia de otras familias; ya bien enfermos mentales, pecadores o criminales que atentan contra la naturaleza. Los medios no son capaces de presentar un debate justo, con la información independiente y completa que nos intentan vender.


 

Es precisamente por esta razón que hago llegar la presente a los medios de comunicación, difusión y asociación de Chihuahua, para ofrecer un punto de vista que a diferencia de la iglesia y los medios conservadores, no busca juzgar, sino afirmar los derechos y la humanidad de los que buscamos la igualdad para todos en todas las instituciones civiles, incluyendo el matrimonio y la adopción.


 

Es importante primero reconocer que México es un país de libertades desde hace ya cien y doscientos años. Las garantías individuales, principios fundadores de nuestro país y hechas ley en los primeros artículos de la Constitución, garantizan que todos los mexicanos somos iguales ante la ley, libres de expresarnos, de creer en la religión de nuestra conciencia, de asociarnos, generar contratos que nos obliguen, así como de pedir al gobierno que responda a nuestras necesidades. Es por eso que la discriminación en contra de las personas por su raza, sexo, religión, lugar de origen o edad es contrario a la constitución e ilegal en México. El propósito de estas garantías individuales es el de asegurar que todos los Mexicanos tengamos los elementos para ser felices y plenos, y para ello es necesario ser primeramente libre en un marco legal que afirme los derechos propios y de terceros.


 

Al establecer la igualdad en el derecho al matrimonio, el Distrito Federal simplemente hizo posible una estructura en la cual todos los ciudadanos pueden aspirar a la felicidad y a una integración social más plena. En México, el matrimonio no es sólo una palabra para unir a dos personas, es una entidad legal que otorga a las parejas derechos y privilegios superiores a los de un individuo soltero o en unión libre. Estos incluyen beneficios fiscales, de salud y seguridad social, así como asegurar protecciones y obligaciones para nuestros seres amados. Sin un matrimonio igualitario, las personas con afectos del mismo sexo no podían con legitimidad acceder a estos derechos.


 

El matrimonio da respaldo a las relaciones ante la justicia y la sociedad. De manera común se asocia a la comunidad gay con problemas como drogadicción y promiscuidad. Dichos fenómenos son simplemente condenados, y pocas veces se toma en consideración el hecho de que para muchos no hay alternativa. Frecuentemente las personas con atracción a su mismo sexo se sienten orilladas a vivir en el secreto, la desconfianza y el desapego de la familia y es precisamente por ello que terminan en situaciones nocivas. Perpetuado por la tradición religiosa, los medios y una cultura que no ofrece modelos que afirmen de la diversidad, las personas lesbianas, gay, bisexuales y transgénero enfrentan posibilidades de vida poco alentadoras.


 

Dicha situación es realmente lamentable, pero en la mayoría de los casos la familia misma es la que puede hacer la diferencia. Es mi humilde opinión que el día en que los mexicanos seamos capaces de reconocer que la mayoría tenemos un hijo, un hermano, un familiar, un amigo, un maestro, un doctor o alguna persona gay en nuestras vidas, ese día sabremos apreciar que nuestras diferencias no son señal de alarma, y que puede ser más bien una fuente de alegría y entendimiento para con todos los demás.


 

Un punto de mayor controversia aún es la adopción por parte de parejas del mismo sexo. El arzobispo Miranda la describió como “perversión,” “injusticia y arbitrariedad.” Sin embargo, contrario a las preferencias de la iglesia, las familias mexicanas tienen muchas formas. Mientras que la iglesia intenta imponer una forma en particular de la misma, la realidad es que muchos niños en México crecen hoy en familias con sólo madre o padre, criados por abuelos o por algún tío o tía o incluso por padrinos que no son el tutor legal. El Código Civil de Chihuahua establece también que el matrimonio heterosexual no es la única forma reconocida de familia, sino que existen otras formas de hacerla. La realidad es que ya existen en México muchas familias encabezadas por parejas gay, y en muchos casos la suerte de los niños es mucho mejor que la de ser criados en la pobreza, por padres ineptos o abusivos; o en situaciones de explotación y carencia de oportunidades. Con frecuencia estas ocurren dentro de matrimonios legales y nadie hace alusión a la sexualidad de los que producen estas situaciones, pero sí a la gravedad e injusticia de las mismas. ¿No sería lógico y justo que tratásemos a las parejas gays de la misma manera? La homofobia hace que la sociedad prejuzgue a los gays como malos padres, sin siquiera darles la oportunidad de serlo primero.


 

Es este mi punto final. Para mí, como joven mexicano, es alarmante que nadie sea capaz de exponer el prejuicio y la falta de empatía que se permite en este debate. La iglesia presenta la idea de que las parejas del mismo sexo jamás podrán ser iguales a las heterosexuales. Esta actitud es sorprendente por su franca ignorancia. En México y prácticamente en cualquier lugar del mundo occidental, un hombre y una mujer cualesquiera pueden casarse ante un juez civil, sin ninguna clase de vínculo o compromiso para romperlo unos días después, o que crían niños para propósitos egoístas y reprobables. Al mismo tiempo, existen parejas del mismo sexo que han pasado la vida juntos en amor y fervor por el otro y que sin embargo jamás recibirán el mismo trato o dignidad por la iglesia, el estado o la sociedad. Sin ningún recelo la iglesia llama estas personas “pervertidas,” “inmorales” y “condenables.” A la primera oportunidad, la iglesia tira a la basura valores tan cristianos como el no juzgar, la compasión y la dignidad humana.


 

La diversidad sexual no es algo nuevo. La iglesia misma reconoce que la homosexualidad es inherente a la persona – no es una decisión, ni se puede cambiar. Sin embargo, le exige a la persona “homosexual” que cargue con un doble pecado original, absteniéndose de actuar en pos de su propia felicidad. Independientemente de estas convicciones religiosas, el estado no tiene ninguna obligación de fomentar esta actitud que de fondo establece que los homosexuales no son, ni deberían, ser iguales ante la autoridad. Por el contrario, el estado mexicano tiene la obligación de enaltecer la libertad, de crear una sociedad en la cual las garantías individuales se cumplan y se lleven a su máxima expresión.


 

Ahora nos corresponde a nosotros como ciudadanos el informarnos y tomar la actitud que dicte nuestra conciencia – pero habiendo escuchado ambos lados del debate. Como joven, yo tengo plena confianza en que mi generación será la que creé condiciones de igualdad y justicia independiente de sexualidad.


 

Sinceramente,

Isaac Pérez


 


Published on EP Culture Beat - http://www.epculturebeat.com/

Last Tuesday, the El Paso City Council voted to approve a budget provision to allow all city employees, married and unmarried, gay and straight, to extend their health insurance benefits to their partners, starting next year. It was a small step, comparable to others already taken by other cities in the state, like Austin and Dallas.

Originally, the item was proposed during a budgetary meeting on July 30. The item was agreed on and expected to be voted on with the bulk of the budget. Initially, the measure passed smoothly through the conveyor belt of El Paso’s local politics. David Crowder, of Newspaper Tree, commented on his blog that “El Pasoans had little to say” about the measure.

When the issue hit the newsstands, the Chico’s tacos controversy was still fresh in most people’s heads. If you were in another planet and did not hear about it, here is a small summary. A group of gay men goes to Chico’s Tacos at midnight. Two of them kiss on the lips. A security guard tells them “we don’t do that stuff here” and asks them to leave, not knowing that the city prohibits discrimination against LGBT people in public places since 2003. The gay men refuse to leave. The guards call the police. The police tell them that they could be arrested for breaking a Texas’ statute against sodomy that was declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court six years before. A hundred people protest the incident a few days later, and though there was no concrete result or change, no apology issued or security guard immediately fired, the matter added a certain tension to the air. The gay community, or at least those who consider ourselves to belong to it, had a feeling that it was the beginning of a new time of awareness.

Personally, I felt that after years of seeing only minor coverage of our issues, mainly in hopes of catching local glimpses of national news, our plights were finally making it to the front pages of local media. We were savoring the symbolic victory of feeling that people were finally realizing we are here.

A week later, the fact that the city was extending benefits to same-sex partners of employees looked to me like a ripple of progress, an attempt at putting out the right example to the people of the city (later on, Rep. Steve Ortega clarified at an El Paso Press Club event that they had been cooking up the policy for months before the Chico’s Tacos incident). Bottom line: it was a good thing, but the benefits themselves would only reach, at most, 45 people in a community with over 1,300 stable gay couples (this according to a study by UCLA in 2007).

That is why not many of us expected the mob that stormed the city council the week after, uttering biblical threats of fire and brimstone and demanding a popular vote. Members of various religious groups, among them Cielo Vista Church, Word of Life Church and El Paso for Jesus lined up to speak at the “Call to the Public,” Bibles in hand. They claimed that providing equal benefits to gay and unmarried straight couples (“shacking up” was a favorite expression) was “a moral issue,” “a smack in the face of 95% of the people in El Paso” and “an assault on traditional marriage and family values.” The issue, they said, warrants a popular vote.

During that first meeting, Rep. Beto O’Rourke was the real hero. Since Texas law prevented the City Council from addressing issues not on the agenda, O’Rourke called for a recess to the meeting just so he could step outside and respond to the attacks.

“Hard-working city employees who happen to be gay but are in a committed relationship are barred from getting the same benefits as their married counterparts,” he said. “They have no more choice to be gay than I have in having brown hair or a funny nose.”

The week after, the balance between opponents and supporters continued. Roughly divided between the two sides, the council had a chance to hear from both. The majority of the arguments for the domestic partnership benefits argued for equality, freedom and ending discrimination. Most of the arguments against the benefits were references to the Bible, using taxpayer money against some taxpayer’s will and the so-called “sanctity of marriage.” A local pastor said that the city would invoke the wrath of God on El Paso, and that the city would be destroyed like Sodom if the council approved the measure (the same argument was made in 2001, when the Gap, a company that gives equal benefits to all employees, chose not to relocate its headquarters to El Paso on the premise that the city was not friendly to LGBT people). One of the speakers was interrupted and asked to sit down as she pointed her finger to the mayor and said, “You are hypocrites!”

A glimpse of hope appeared when Rep. Eddie Holguin asked for a chance to respond to the opponents of the benefits in a special item for the next week’s agenda.

“How can people who claim to preach the love of God say so many hateful things?” said Holguin.

The newspapers, websites and TV stations of El Paso could not get enough of the issue. Proponents like Steve Ortega and Beto O’Rourke argued in columns and interviews that the benefits allowed El Paso to remain competitive and a par with employers like AT&T, Wells Fargo, Johnson & Johnson and cities like Austin and Dallas. Opponents Tom Brown of Word of Life Church and Larry Wilkins from Cielo Vista Church argued that the city had no right to use taxpayer money to advance the “gay agenda.”

Opinions also raged in the comment sections and in opinion polls. In some websites you could find comments like “God help us! You gays go away please!!!!!!” and “Isn’t Lisa Turner a dude?” (Lisa Turner is a transgender woman who has spoken to the city council regularly for years before this controversy).

The third week, close to a hundred people showed up from the opposing side. About forty showed up in favor. Close to fifty speakers addressed the council that morning, increasing the tension in the room with each speaker. When the issue finally came to vote, the lineup remained the same as when the issue first passed: 6-1. Except this time, representatives Quintana and Holguin, usually opposed to increases in spending, fully came out for the benefits.

“At the beginning I was divided 60 to 40 for it,” said Quintana. “Now I’m a hundred percent for it.”

But the battle is merely starting. As in the beginning, opponents of equal benefits are still strong in their resolve to bring the issue before the voters. All they need is 1,500 signatures, which they will likely get on a Sunday at the mega-church.

In my opinion, the biggest obstacle we face as proponents of equal rights for everyone, gay, straight, married or unmarried, is gaining the hearts and minds of El Paso for our side. It seems as though the majority of El Pasoans are not fundamentalist Christians set out to prevent progress for happening. But we must admit it, we could be facing an apathy problem. Back in 2005, only 8% of voters in El Paso cared enough to show up at the election that banned gay marriage from the state constitution. From those, 68% were likely moved by fear, prejudice and religious motives to deny a fundamental civil right (the ability to marry) to a sizeable amount of the population.

Still, I believe we stand a chance at this. The debates in the media and in city council denote, in my view, a deep generational divide. The people who speak against this at city council, those who have the time to go online and comment, the people who flipped their middle finger at me during the protest outside Chico’s, were mostly older than fifty.

Most of the youth, on the contrary, have no problem accepting that discrimination against gay people is just like discrimination against women, African Americans and immigrants: there is no right reason to deny them any of the same benefits that straight people get.

The challenge now is to get them to help us, their brothers and sisters, their uncles and aunts, their cousins and best friends, to believe that we can change things. That our fight is the right thing to do in the 21st century. The fight is not just about 45 people working for the city now. It is about opening the door to progress, about opening El Paso to new opportunities and bringing fairness to its people. It is about recognizing that the time to do the right thing is always now.

Educating others today is crucial. Staying silent is killing the opportunity for El Paso to enter the 21st century. It comes down to our generation to prove that we are a city that respects and honors diversity, a city that can move past our differences and celebrate all the things that make us one.

 

Isaac Perez can be reached at ieperez@miners.utep.edu.


Don't Worry, You Can Still Eat at Chico's



Me, protesting outside of Chico's Tacos

Fifty-four years ago, a black woman in the small town of Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give her seat on the bus to a white man. Her dignified, quiet yet bold stance became legendary and a cover image for the history of the civil rights movement in America.

Last week, the case of two gay men and their group of friends who were kicked out from Chico’s tacos for kissing each other in public echoed for me a cry of “Why don’t you stand up, Rosa?”

Clearly, we are not in 1955 Montgomery. This is 2009 El Paso; the civil rights of people are supposedly protected by countless pieces of federal and state legislation, court rulings and city ordinances. Does this mean that Americans’ struggle for equality in rights and obligations has finished, that we live in a completely free society? I am sad to say we are still far from it.

It is encouraging, however, that examples of the spirit of Rosa Parks are alive and well, wherever there is injustice in America.

Contrary to popular remembrance, Mrs. Parks was neither docile nor quiet, but she was bold. Rosa Parks was an activist, a secretary for the NAACP, the life-partner of a civil rights activist and the employee of Clifford Durr, the very lawyer who challenged the Montgomery ordinance banning blacks from the front of buses.

Let me go to the point of why I believe the Chico’s incident and ensuing protests are part of the larger civil rights movement, and a continuation of its history.

Many have cried out that the gay community is trying to appropriate the civil rights movement by comparing their “lifestyle,” as conservatives would put it, to skin-color or a person’s sex. When I say that gay rights are civil rights, and furthermore, human rights, I am not saying that being gay is like being black or being a woman. Making such claims so plainly would make no sense – one can be all black, a woman and gay at the same time, and indeed, many people are.

Conservatives have tried to spin the equal rights debate towards one about whether people are born homosexual or choose to be so.  I think that question is better left to social and natural scientists.

When it comes to the question of rights, I believe that point is much better left untouched. The true question is: should people be free to live their lives and moreover, should the government guarantee all citizens the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

The Chico’s incident is proof that discrimination is discrimination, regardless of basis. When the two men were told “we don’t do that [slur for gay] stuff here” and asked to leave, they were being treated unfairly. Anyone who has been to Chico’s Tacos late at night knows that it is not rare for couples to sit together and kiss; for a group of friends to be cheerful. Perhaps it should not even have come as a surprise that someone “danced like a ballerina in the middle of the aisle,” as the security company has now argued.

As the story has developed, I have come across several comments online arguing that the gay men were “seeking attention,” and it looks to me like a prevalent opinion. For many, public displays of affection are an uncomfortable situation, yet straight couples at Chico’s, who undoubtedly were present, were not disrupted or asked to leave. In a case like this, making arguments about seeking attention or displaying affection are analogous to those of the Montgomery bus driver: “Why don’t you stand up?”

Times do change, we must admit. In El Paso, gays and lesbians are protected against discrimination by the first comprehensive city ordinance in Texas to ban discrimination by businesses open to the public. Why is there such controversy, then? Some people might ask.

The young, allegedly inexperienced, police officer who sided with the Chico’s Tacos security is a perfect example. He threatened the group with citing them for displaying “homosexual conduct,” which is banned by a piece of the Texas penal code that was overturned in 2003 by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas

While the El Paso city ordinance and the Court’s decision in Lawrence have been prominent victories for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, most victories of the gay rights movement have thus far been isolated and won inside legislatures and courtrooms, as opposed to the classrooms, living rooms and kitchen tables of common Americans. Meanwhile, fundamentalist Christians are fighting for their so-called “conscience rights,” a euphemism for a religious right to discriminate in public services, in the media and in businesses open to the public.  

In El Paso, not even our own police force knows why diversity should also include justice. This is why the gay rights movement must continue to merge with the broader civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks behaved like a first-class troublemaker after the Montgomery incident. Her case propped a group of leaders to form the “Montgomery Improvement Association,” headed by a young reverend named Martin Luther King Jr., who called for a boycott of Montgomery buses. The boycott crippled the city’s public transportation system, and damaged white businesses. Finally, the Supreme Court ruled segregation in buses unconstitutional in 1956.

The El Paso gay community today parts from a different point, however. We are not boycotting Chico’s Tacos, as a matter of fact some of us felt tempted to eat there after the protest on Friday. We are actually protesting because we need the support of our community, the support of El Pasoans of all races and sexual orientations to overcome discrimination. We protest to make you think: “Is this fair?”

Last week, the incidents in El Paso’s Chico’s Tacos and the raid of the Rainbow Club in Fortworth led a Dallas columnist to proclaim “it’s still 1969 in Texas”–a reference to the year in which the Stonewall Riots in New York City kicked off a new wave in the gay rights movement all over the country.

When I was standing outside of Chico’s Tacos, carrying a sign that said “Kiss Me, I’m Gay,” I was reaching out to you, as I do with this letter. Although a few offended men and even one or two disgruntled elderly ladies flipped their middle finger at me, the picket filled me with hope. Most people were honking at us, especially the younger drivers.

“Did you notice that every car with a UTEP parking pass honked at us?” a friend asked me. I did notice.

 I trust that our generation will bring about the justice we are still lacking in many places; not only in our right to eat tacos like everyone else, but also in healthcare and disease prevention, in the military, in immigration, in the right to have our partnerships recognized, in education, in democratic participation, in teenage mental health, in homelessness and elderly care. But we need you, reader, no matter who you are and what your age is. We are asking you to ask yourself: “Is this fair?”


Those Who Mind Don't Matter



 
Once touting the Obama rainbow next to their rainbow flags, LGBT people promoted, volunteered for and donated extensively to the Obama campaign. They were lured by the charm of the first politician ever to fight openly for equality. On election night, gay bars and hang outs across the nation filled with the same joyous chorus that joined millions of other Americans who believed in the advent of a messianic era, brought in by the first president of color. Since his election, however, President Obama has proven more committed to appeacing those who oppose him than fulfilling his core campaign promises. Perhaps no constituency of his has resented this more than the millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Americans who stood behind him.

Through thick and thin (now gradually thinner), gays and lesbians have stood with our president. "He has a lot on his plate right now" has been a typical apology for those who have begun to see through Obama's borderline shameful politeness in tackling key issues. People have made lightness of the fact that Obama has had more time to come out on late-night talk shows, more recently the Colbert Report, than to issue a statement about the Prop 8 Decision by the California Supreme Court.

From the day of his inauguration, in which he invited homophobic pastor Rick Warren to conduct the initial prayer, Obama's actions have evolved  from mere political faux pas into blatant abuse. A few months into his administration, LGBT watchdog groups criticized the White House for removing Obama's bid to get rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" from its website. In response, the White House put the promise back up, but rephrased it to say that Obama would end the policy "in a sensible way that strengthens our Armed Forces." While a relatively undercovered story, it later on came as a surprise to many in the mainstream media when the Department of Justice filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to drop a case regarding the legality of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It did so on the grounds that excluding Americans willing and able to serve in the military was "rationally based" on legitimate defense purposes.

More recently, the ultimate affront against LGBT equality has been exposed by an editorial in the New York Times, which describes how the Department of Justice has now filed another brief, this time to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) - the most infamous piece of anti-gay legislation since the sodomy laws of two centuries ago. In dire contradiction to the essence of the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution, DOMA argues that states are not bound to recognize each other's marriage contracts. Furthermore, in what the DOJ has called  a "cautious policy of federal neutrality," DOMA forbids the federal government from recognizing marriages between partners of the same sex. Obviously contradicting Obama's promise to achieve full recognition of LGBT couples at a federal level, the DOJ brief argues that DOMA "preserves long-standing state authority to define marriage while saving taxpayer dollars." Obama's call for federalism in social policy comes at an odd time, since the federal government does participate in the definition of marriage by denying gay couples of the upwards of 1,100 federal benefits of marriage.

In a time when the likes of Dick Cheney, Ted Olson and John McCain's daughter have come out in support of gay marriage, Obama has few places to hide what I fear might be closet bigotry or pusillanimous political "tact." As a constitutional law professor, Obama recognizes that gay right issues are civil right issues, yet he refuses to acknowledge that marriage is a "basic right of man, fundamental to our existence," as set forth by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia and preceding cases.

Our times are changing. The hegemony of one race over all others, of one gender over all others, of one form of sexuality over all others is gradually becoming a shameful legacy. The gay community is angry now, President Obama, but many are still waiting for you to live up to your campaign promises.

Perhaps Dr. Seuss put it better: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter".

Honeymoon Divorce


"Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference" - Joel Barker.

When talking about Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, a history professor once told my class that for a politician to be attacked from both left and right was a sign that he was doing the job right. Many have invoked the almost mythical figure of FDR when talking about Obama's presidence to this point. He has provided us with important signs that things are changing in America: the closing of Guantanamo, the release of the torture memos, the announcement of a plan to retreat troops from Iraq, the push for financial and healthcare reform. All of them, however, have suffered criticism from left and right; either because he is doing too much or because he is doing too little. I am personally inclined to believe that such an assessment is flawed, regardless of the political lens you take. What we are witnessing now is the beginning of the end of his political honeymoon. While the charm and symbolic strength of his public actions and speeches continue to move us, policy analysts are beginning to see through the veils of his rhetoric and the fact that we are still early in his presidency and have started wondering: are we going to witness any major changes? Will they be a mere return to pre-Bush policies and principles? Is Obama really a revolutionary president more than he is a visionary?

Indeed, the Obama presidency so far seems to me to have more symbolic merits than actual historical substance. The closing of Guantanamo, for example, can only be judged by the fact that the Congress has rejected to fund Obama's initiative because he has not provided an actual outline for such an act. The end to the Iraqi occupation should be seen in light of the fact that thousands of troops and private contractors are designated to remain in Iraq, as well as the largest US Embassy in the world  after the occupation formally ends - and which will likely play a key role in Iraqi politics for the years to come. Also, while Obama has pled since before his presidential campaign that he opposed the war in Iraq, he merely has shifted US military interventionism from Iraq to Afghanistan. While playing the card of restoring the USA's image in the world, Obama continues to act according to a very similar foreign policy doctrine as the Bush administration: namely claiming that a "War on Terror" is a justified and that victory is achievable; regardless of the fact that terrorism is a concept and not a sole, organized and clear-cut enemy (an animal rights activist can be placed in the same category as a suicide bomber). He has stated that it is not the responsibility of the executive to prosecute wrongdoings from the past (even though both him and Secretary of State Clinton claimed to be "rule of law" people during the primaries), probably because that would render him a terrorist as well. In the "war on terror mentality," the killing of US military personnel is considered terrorism, while the bombing of innocent civilians by US Armed Forces is considered an act of war. Exactly like Bush did in the past, Obama continues to use terror as a political tool: why did he not call Dr. Tiller's assassination an act of terrorism? Because terrorism only exists when it is politically (and economically) convenient.

Another front in which Obama continues to fail to his campaign promises is financial reform. While he has squeezed billions of dollars for private companies to stay afloat, he has provided little if any regulatory changes to the way they operate. The takeover by the government of private banks, insurance and car companies has provided little benefit for the economy as a whole while bold signs of restructuring efforts have been largely absent. Perhaps one important piece of reform that he has signed into law was the so-called "credit card Bill of Rights," - which was not a proposal of his, but an effort by Congress members. The terms in which banks continue to lend to businesses, remain virtually unaffected. The structure of the financial system continues to be largely centralized and unregulated, with derivatives, hedge funds and investment banks still untouched, even if the government continues to scrub their messes with showers of cash. At this point, the argument that we are still too early to change anything is at best half-true, since the Congress was relatively quick to approve his bailout packages, yet he has made no concise effort to overhaul the business practices of companies that received government aid.

The healthcare reform is also proving to be a major disappointment. Obama has said that the "previously existing structure" of healthcare in the US makes it very hard to work a reform. Translated into human terms, Washington has taken so much money from healthcare companies that it is almost impossible that healthcare in America ceases to be for-profit; regardless of how toxic this is to all fronts of American life. Private companies have presented their own idea of healthcare reform, based on "cost containment," a ridiculous proposal to anyone who knows that health insurers are already doing everything in their power to avoid paying for whatever medical expenses they can. While Obama has winked at private insurers saying that reform should guarantee "choice," a growing number of Americans wonder why no choice is being presented to them to have a single-payer system; which offers the lowest possible individual cost and the highest overall benefits. Instead, Obama now has said he is "open" to requiring every American to purchase healthcare, a proposal that was espoused by Hillary Clinton during the primaries and he strongly rejected. "It's not that Americans don't want to buy health insurance, is that they can't afford it," was his response. Now he says he will settle for such a system as long as it includes waivers for low-income Americans and small businesses. The problem with such a system is that it continues to make chronic diseases a kind of long-term investment for health profiteers and a savings-guzzler for common families - namely, it continues to buy into the notion of health "insurance." Such an idea comes from the simplistic model that health risks are similar to the risks of driving a car or owning a home - you just have to drive safe or lock your doors and windows, and that insurance is merely a "safety net" in case anything happens, if at all. If you are not careful, then you will have to pay more for it. This, I argue, is not the case. Healthcare costs are not the result of all the added individual risks, as insurance companies would have you believe. In this case, what is true for society is not the same as what is true for individuals. We live in a country that experiences some of the highest levels of stress, sedentarism, car-dependency, pollution and unequitable development. Our food supply, and especially that of the lower and middle classes, is dominated by foods that are high in fat, refined sugars, modified starches, cholesterol, genetically and hormonally-enhanced proteins, chemical preservatives and animal toxins. About 100 million Americans are considered obese, and a similar number suffer from hypertension. About 80 million also suffer from heart disease. 43 million suffer from an arthritic disease. Close to 30 million have diabetes. Around 16 million suffer from asthma. 15 million new cases of venereal disease appear each year. There are about 1.5 million cases of cancer. All of these are in an upward trend. Let's face it: chronic and highly-contagious diseases, which amount for the majority of healthcare costs in industrialized countries, are not a mere "accident" like a car crash or a home robbery. It is a social cost that we all will have to pay for at one point in our lives.The notion of health insurance fails to understand this, and further fosters the belief that health is completely a matter of personal responsibility, which is what plans that advocate requiring the purchase of healthcare seem to tell us. While there are daunting tasks ahead of us to change health prevention practices and the general American lifestyle, compromising with the healthcare-for-profit behemoth is simply not an option. So many important goals for the future of America, including productivity, social mobility, competitiveness, market fairness, quality of life, disease control and prevention depend on healthcare reform. Meager steps that appeace those who become rich by milking America's chronic health problem will not bring an effective solution. In this regard, I give the worst mark to President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress.

An Obama deception that hits home for me is his public stance on gay rights. His promises to the LGBT community have been largely "left for later," sending the message that LGBT Americans are as much second-class voters as they remain to be second-class citizens. Our future in fields like marriage equality, military service, discrimination protection, HIV prevention and health promotion - they have all been swiftly ignored and left to the Congress, rendering our future contingent on the hateful sensibilities of closet-bigot Republicans and cowardly democrats. Obama did not even bother reacting to the decision of the California Supreme Court on Prop 8, and while he says he supports equality in every regard he fails to make a bold statement that he does support gay marriage (as he made clear in his oppinions on the first California Supreme Court decision to let gay couples marry). Even former Vice President Dick Cheney has said that he supports marriage equality! In his now typical, polite fashion, Obama continues to pointlessly appease the dwindling forces of social conservatives.

Thus far, Obama's achievement continues to be a mere matter of symbolism. He gave a speech in Cairo yesterday that offered a sign of peace to the Arab world, but he continues to passionately defend Israel in its occupation. While he has said that Israel should freeze settlement growth, his words continue to resound larger than his actual policies.

As far as this leftist is concerned, Obama has to start making bold policy actions before the power of his symbolic actions runs out.
Mr. President,  America needs a transformative change more than it does transformative speeches. It's not enough to stand up for things. There comes a moment when you actually have to start walking and get to work on them.
 

An Open Letter to Tony Perkins



Call me a political creep, but every morning besides my usual salad of Democracy Now!, NPR News and the New York Times, I also like to keep the extreme right-wing in check. I get emails from Tony Perkins, founder and CEO of the Family Research Council (FRC), one of the most radical conservative lobbying organizations in this country.

The FRC is world-famous for its advocacy of "the family," which includes proposing adoption as "an alternative to single parenting," arguing that a woman's right to work has undermined the standard of living in the US, and protesting the government's interference with a parent's right to "impose necessary discipline, including spanking." They also advocate that America returns to its core of "Judeo-Christian values," and claim that religious bigotry in America mostly affects Christians (they don't seem to care much for Muslims, however). It was him who called proponents of gay marriage "radical social engineers."

Today's message from Mr. Perkins, with the headline "The Left's Economic War on Your Values," has a particularly grievous tone. He begins by praising yesterday's TEA Parties, a mainly Libertarian protest to this administration's tax-and-spend approach to problems. Perkins, however, writes as though the last eight years never occurred. He is telling conservative Americans that Obama and his allies are on a campaign to "undermine America 's Judeo-Christian heritage and moral foundation."

By setting aside money for community organizations and foundations (Perkins cites ACORN, whom the right wing accuses of voter registration fraud), he argues that Obama is supporting radicals "committed to creating a permanently left-wing government." Perkins forgets that Obama has also come under sharp criticism from the left for supporting religious initiatives - a practice started by the Bush administration. I frankly doubt that these religious organizations with government funding want to create a perpetual left wing government. If anything, I think it is a merit to president Obama that he is supporting non-profits and community organizations, even religious ones. As a community organizer himself, our chief executive understands that for millions of Americans the only real solutions are not brought to them by the government or by capitalism, but most often by the effort of other people near them who are willing to help.

Perkins also denounces the President's budget for "interfering with local shools" by giving them money to force them to "teach immoral behavior." Again, Perkins makes no mention at all of the last eight years, in which the Bush administration pleased the FRC by disbursing millions of dollars to promote "abstinence-only" sex education, not only in our local schools, but even in Africa and the developing world, where such an approach has had disastrous consequences in the battle against AIDS and overpopulation. Back home, abstinence-only education has been proved ineffective in preventing pre-marital sex, teen pregnancy and STD transmission. If anything, scaring the kids with a slideshow of deformed and oozing genitalia and then asking them not to have sex only delays intercourse for a few months. Even worse, when they finally do it, they are likelier not to use adequate protection. If the Family Research Council wishes to stop interference, why would it support sex education that is even more restrictive, instead of promoting an education that is true to the facts of human sexuality while still recognizing the effectiveness of abstinence?

Another complaint is that Obama is giving money to abortion and "a culture of death," mainly referring to embryonic stem-cell research. Memory check: the Bush administration, with the support of the most conservative Supreme Court in a century, has taken away funding from health agencies and clinics who would even dare to suggest abortion to clients, not just those who practice it. All Obama is doing is restoring sense to government spending in health care. Obama has also repealed the executive restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research so that researchers can use the mountain of discarded frozen embryos created in fertility clinics up to ten years ago. Why would Perkins oppose giving a life-saving use to microscopic coagulates of human cells (no larger or more complex than a fingertip), which would otherwise remain in a freezer, sucking up energy until being thrown into the garbage?

I get very upset whenever conservatives bring about the notion of a "culture of death." If they are so concerned with human life, why do they not support research that will save lives? Why would they not protest the death penalty? Where are they when people go out and rally for the millions of people the government is torturing, killing and terrorizing in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why do they so staunchly support the US' funding of the Israeli army, which has killed thousands of Palestinians this year? Why do they ridiculize efforts to protect countless animal lives through wildlife and environmental regulation? Why do they stand by transnational companies who produce the pesticides, genetically modified life-forms and hormonally-enhanced animals that give millions of people cancer every year? If they so wish to own the "life" side of issues, then why do they support its detriment so much?

Finally, Perkins is protesting that Obama is planning to reduce the tax incentive of charitable giving in order to starve religious organizations. In reality, a sizable majority of charitable donations are given to religious organizations. Here, however, Perkins is not very detailed. What Obama is doing is reducing the tax-deductible percentage that the top income bracket gets through charitable giving from 39% to 36%. In real terms, this is not a very substantial change, but it would save the federal government millions of dollars. The tax incentives of charitable giving for people who make less than $250,000 a year would remain the same. After eight years of countless loopholes and tax-cuts for the richest, Obama is providing a sensitive way to maximize the resources of the federal government.

Finally, the FRC complains that the Homeland Security Department produced a report arguing that some extreme right-wing groups constituted a security threat. Perkins asks "Do they no longer see Al Qaeda or the Taliban as the greatest threat to Americans' liberty? Apparently they are now targeting us." Memory check: under the PATRIOT Act, the Bush DHS targeted and spied on countless peace activists, civil liberties groups, environmental coalitions, gun control advocates, women's rights movements and even nuns! The right wing is shaking at the fact that Obama does not blindly subscribe to the Bush rhetoric of "war on terror." Again, the hypocrisy of Republicans: while promoting the idea that "terrorist" organizations have a plan to bring about a nuclear apocalypse in America, enslave our men and rape our women and turn us all into turban-wearing jihadis, they fail to see that our government constitutes the largest, most powerful terrorist organization the world has ever seen. Americans are bombing towns, shooting down countless civilians, razing schools and hospitals to the ground and unjustifiedly arresting and detaining people without due process of law; all with the purpose of imposing our political system and our beliefs on other peoples.

The Department of Homeland Security is clearly an instrument of the war on terror, of the rhetoric of fear that undermines all of our liberties, left and right, in the name of liberty (just like burning crosses in the name of Christ). As a political instrument, it should not be surprising to Mr. Perkins that the DHS would turn the table on the right wing and expose the Ku Klux Klans, the Neo-Cesessionists, the Minute Men and the Neo-Nazis out there as being as hateful and dangerous as Al-Qaida.

You are definitely entitled to your fancy tea parties, Mr. Perkins. Just don't forget that it was your friends who started the very things you are protesting during the last eight jubilee years you had under Bush.

Why you should support marriage equality



When the Supreme Court of California first decided to grant marriage equality to gays and lesbians, California was the only state where gay marriage was allowed for out-of-state couples. This gave millions hope that they could finally be recognized under the law as full citizens by the laws of their own state.

Last Thursday, however, that same court heard arguments regarding the legality of Proposition 8, which amended the constitution of that state to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. I personally find it hard to believe that well into the 21st century, and after more than two hundred years of struggles for liberation, the American democracy could produce a measure that eliminates the rights of a group of people.

Shortly after the election the ACLU, Lambda Legal and several other organizations decided to file a challenge to Proposition 8, based on the premise that it constituted a revision to the principles of the state constitution, and therefore required state congressional approval rather than a referendum.

By the end of the hearing on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Supreme Court judges’ final remarks pointed out that they would uphold the legality of the marriages performed before “Prop 8,” but also the legitimacy of the ballot measure as an amendment to the California constitution.

Though advocates of equal rights for LGBT people like myself will not give up our fight, the Prop 8 ordeal is now pointing out to the fact that America is still largely indifferent, even hostile, to our movement. 

How would you feel if your right to get married was subjecteded to a popular vote?

The problem with Prop 8, in my view, was not the one heard by the California Supreme Court, but the fact that the limited arguments brought about by the Yes on 8 Campaign were enough to scare half the electorate into restricting the rights of others, even though it did not concern them. All the arguments for Prop 8 were flawed and could have back-fired had the public been more involved and stood up against them. Woes for religious freedoms do not hold since no church has ever been obliged to perform gay marriages against their conscience in other states like Massachusetts or New Jersey. Children’s education in moral subjects is largely left to the parents in California. To speak of the sanctity of marriage is ludicrous when you think about Britney Spears’ three-hour-Vegas-marriage, and yet gay marriage is considered abominable.

I am tired of hearing arguments that gay people already have the same rights as straight people, that a civil union is the same as a “marriage” and that gay people should scale down our efforts and instead settle for “baby steps.”

These are some facts that I would like to share with readers so you can see for yourself and determine whether there is a need or not for marriage equality.
 

  1. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) prohibits the federal government from recognizing anything other than heterosexual couples as married for legal purposes. DoMA is also possibly unconstitutional in that it waives the Full Faith and Credit clause of the US Constitution by leaving it to the states whether they wish to recognize civil unions or out-of-state gay marriages.
  2. Gay couples, whether in a marriage or a civil union, do not count in the US Census, cannot file their taxes together, do not qualify for upwards of a thousand federal programs and benefits, cannot immigrate into the states together (even if one of the partners is an American citizen), do not have equal parental rights, and cannot qualify for federal health care benefits as married households.
  3. Only nine states grant civil unions or similar contracts, which are subject to DoMA restrictions, and are in many instances sub-par to marriage. These unions are also not recognized by many private employers, prisons and hospitals.

The right to marry has been recognized as a fundamental civil right by the US Supreme Court since Loving v. Virginia (which stroke down miscegenation laws and legalized interracial marriages) and preceding cases. I am sure the gay community will continue to advance the case for marriage as one for justice, equality, fuller integration and acceptance into society and an improved chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The case for equal legal rights not only in marriage but also in areas like employment, housing, the military and family life should not be made a theological debate or an argument about nature versus nurture. It should be about how much our laws allow us to live free and fulfilling lives.
 

 


Really?!?: Michael Phelps


More about Michael Phelps and pot


Maria Sabina, Sacerdotiza de los Hongos Magicos

"“Some people never go crazy, What truly horrible lives they must live” - Charles Bukowski

The talk of this week in El Paso is the city council resolution that failed to pass after being vetoed by Mayor John Cook, and which was later re-phrased and re-voted based on a recommendation from U.S. Representative Silvestre Reyes. The controversy was sparked by a simple sentence at the end of the original resolution, intended to condemn the violence in Juarez, inviting a sincere and open debate on reforming current drug policy throughout the nation - particularly legalizing certain drugs.

Though the provision was struck down, Beto O'Rourke, original proponent of including the invitation to debate in the resolution, pointed out that it is "still important to have the type of conversations that will truly address the drug issues along the border, even if they make the established leadership uncomfortable."

O'Rourke's resolution seemed to suggest that the astonishing levels of violence registered in Juarez in the last year or so could be resolved or reduced through the legalization of drugs in the United States. Why was this so inflammatory to Congressman Reyes? If anything, O'Rourke's resolution was, in my opinion, a glimplse of politics that actually make sense in the times that we are living.

Dating back to the turn of the twentieth century, US drug policy has been based on fear and moralistic sensibilites towards addictive substances. The prohibition of marijuana, for example, began in the 1930s as a reaction to marijuana use among Mexicans. The drug was seen as a source of deviant behavior, and several states began to tax it or even forbid it completely. The media published sensationalist accounts of violent crimes being committed under the influence of marijuana (many times exaggerated), and marijuana acquired the negative reputation that it continues to have today in mainstream politics. In his warning letter against passing the resolution, Congressman Reyes said that "its passage would be counterproductive to our efforts to enact an ambitious legislative agenda at the federal level." 

Nevertheless, marijuana use is today more widespread than ever, crossing barriers of gender, age and ethnicity. The World Drug Report 2008 calls marijuana "the most commonly used drug in the world." Consumption prevalence in the US has remained more or less the same in the last couple of decades, with about 10% of the population consuming it on a regular basis since the 1980s. The rate among high school students has been significantly higher, currently about 30%. Some sources have concluded that about 42% of the living US population has tried marijuana.Very recently, another media sensation arose when a picture of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana was released by the media. A sheriff in North Carolina is now attempting to prosecute Phelps, and conversations about whether the greatest Olympic athlete the US has ever produced deserves the same kind of treatment as everyone else who would engage in smoking marijuana. What all of this really points out to, however, is the fact that marijuana is now a part of American life as much as alcohol or tobacco.
 

The consequences of banning drugs in an absolute, irrational manner have numberless ramifications. The US has already experienced once what mindless prohibition of an addictive substance can do. The prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the 1930s did little to stop either, and furthermore created an illegal market for the product, run by violent organizations that spread a whole other plethora of socially harmful criminal phenomena like violent gang wars, kidnappings and corruption of law enforcement and political officials. Does any of this sound familiar? Attempting to "un-invent" drugs, or in this case any source of pleasure, does not work. Psychoactive substances have been around for thousands of years, embedded one way or another in the daily lives and cultural practices of peoples. The increased availability of them has not changed this.

While current drug policies have done little to hinder drug production, trafficking and consumption in the US, they have disproportionately impacted the lives of thousands of people. Incarceration rates for African Americans and Hispanics are significantly higher than for whites. The ACLU reports that currently, about a third of all black men in productive age are in prisons, leading scholars to conclude that the criminal justice system of the states contains a racial bias, very often stemming from drug policies and related sentencing. In the same way that marijuana was identified with Mexicans and deviant behavior, possession crack cocaine (the form of the drug most used by blacks and Hispanics) is currently punished far more severely than possession of powder cocaine (more commonly consumed by whites). The way they stand, drug policies today are serving institutional racism and imposing the views of the elite on some substances upon minorities.

In 2000, estimates suggest that Americans were spending about $70 billion in illegal drugs per year, about 17% of the world's consumption according to UN estimates. As it is, the market for drugs is cartel-dominated, meaning that drug trafficking organizations name their prices as competition is based not on market forces but on violent confrontation. In this sense, keeping drugs illegal actually favors drug traffickers, as they are able to keep the bulk of their monstrous revenue, spending money in more illegal enterprises and a lavish lifestyle. Would it not be fairer for that revenue to be taxed (maybe even use the tax revenue in drug education programs) and for the business to be open to a market where competition is just and regulated?

Another problem with the fear-based approach to drugs is the fact that the drugs produced and consumed are virtually impossible to monitor. The government cannot realistically expect to regulate the safety of drugs sold to people, meaning that consumers are continuously at risk. Were drugs to be legalized, the government could intervene to regulate the dosing and quality of drugs being sold.

Perpetuating a blindly prohibitive approach to drugs also hinders our ability to understand and take advantage of benefits they may have. The medicinal uses of marijuana, for example, are already recognized in some states as valuable in the treatment of asthma, diabetes, diseases causing chronic pain, glaucoma, AIDS, etc. This, however, has created a problem for these states, as possession of certain amounts is federally prohibited, even if the state allows it and recognizes the patient as a legitimate user.

Another benefit that marijuana has and federal drug policy has incapacitated us to take advantage of is the use of hemp fiber. Hemp is a variety of cannabis sativa whose leaves are unfit for consumption as a drug, since the concentration of THC is very low. What hemp does provide, however, is a very resistent, eco-friendly and cheap-to-produce fiber. Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil also have multiple uses in food production. Because of its contempt for anything remotely related to drugs, all but a few states ban the production of industrial hemp and until 2002 the DEA had restrictions on imports. Because of that, the US must spend millions of dollars in imports of hemp products. Plants that yield illegal substances could have other benefits and uses, but the stigma attached to them impairs us from tapping into those in a responsible manner.

At a time like this a conscious, open debate on drug policy is exactly what the US needs. It is simply inadmissible to shut down those voices who are trying to bring about change for the better. We need more politicians who are willing to challenge the intransigent political establishment, who will finally usher in policies that are educated and which exalt freedom, not fear.

Proportions


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: If you’re in your apartment, and some emotionally disturbed person is banging on the door, screaming, “I’m going to come through this door and kill you!” do you want us to respond with one police officer, which is proportional, or with all the resources at our command? Just think about it in that context. There’s no so such thing as proportional response to terrorism. This is not a game that we’re playing by the Marquess of Queensbury rules. People’s lives are at risk.

And I can tell you, in New York City, we would not do anything but use all our resources to keep you safe. And in America, we use all our resources to keep you safe. We wouldn’t get involved in these ridiculous things like proportionalism. Proportionalism is for theoreticians. The real world is, governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens with everything that they have.

The Jewish community's response to the Israeli attacks on Gaza illustrates the gravity of the situation in the Middle East. Under the distorted lens of a world that's unified in a "war on terror," it would be reasonable to think that every Jew would be backing Israel in the same manner that Michael Bloomberg has.
The actual Jewish response, however, is far from unified. Protests, many led by Jews, have been taken to Israeli embassies across North America. Tikkun magazine, a leading reform Jewish publication, just published an ad on the New York Times urging Barack Obama to intervene in the conflict to bring about a ceasefire from Israel and summon new peace negotiations for the region. Israel is clearly no longer the voice for all Jews in the world, but has become an instrument of its own political leaders and their allies in the Western world.

The idea of proportionalism has been brought continuously almost from the beginning of the Israeli attacks of this year. To this day, more than four thousand palestinians have been injured, 1,083 have been killed - a striking figure compared to the thirteen Israeli deaths occurred thus far. While there can be no doubt that every death is a tragedy, regardless of which side it occurs in, it is simply ridiculous to think that one attack justifies another.

Furthermore, if we were to employ an analogy similar to Mayor Bloomberg's, one would say that if there is an emotionally disturbed man, knocking at the door of your apartment, threatening to kill you, you would send all of the police forces, have them kill all of your neighbors and pass-byers near your apartment building to neutralize the one crazy man. Denying proportionalism, the idea that Israel's attack on the Gaza strip is unjustifiedly disproportionate, is like making 84 Palestinians pay with their lives for the death of one Israeli. Coming back with the argument that Israel's intention is not to kill innocent civilians, that the blame rests in Hamas for hiding rockets among civilians is as puerile as a child holding another's fist, beating him in the face with it and then saying "Why are you punching yourself?"

The way to end terror is not to fight it with more terror, but with actual efforts that aim at peace, reconciliation and respect of individual and collective liberties.

Supporting Israel's attack on Gaza, even in the name of fighting "terrorism," denies any possibility of lasting peace. The ultimate goal of the attack on Gaza is not ending "terrorism," as some would have you believe, but to obliterate Hamas and allow Israel to continue exerting an unchallenged, imperialist domain on the Palestinian people. The greatest deterrence to this rationale is, however, that afterwards Hamas' place will be occupied by another group, perhaps one that is even more violent, until the Israeli violence and more importantly the occupation itself comes to an end.

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