Archive for November, 2005

Uh, we win?

(Oops! I just realized that I’d forgotten to actually post this after saving it as a draft for two days.)

Hey all,

I’m Dexter, and I’m an angry, if somewhat tired, brown queer living in Vancouver, BC, fresh from 5 years in New York City and Washington, DC. I am honoured to rant alongside Jack.

As I was telling a friend of mine, it’s been hard for me to write coherently and push past the blockage that is built-up frustration and anger at many instances of uninterrogated white supremacy and just plain fool white people I’ve encountered in the past month. I suppose, then, that I am grateful that a very special white guy, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, is back in the news to provide me with some kind of focus.

Tomlinson is the former (as in, he got the boot two weeks ago, after his dealings were officially presented) chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and remains the current head of head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which apparently supervises all American government-broadcasting programs overseas (there was a great segment on him on “Democracy Now!” this morning). He’s also a big-time Republican who made it his business to eradicate so-called “liberal bias” at PBS, a plan of action consisting of, among other things, dishing out thousands and thousands of public broadcasting money to monitor shows (alas, not even Tavis Smiley was safe) suspected of “liberal bias.” And, according to the New York Times,

The report said he violated federal law by being heavily involved in getting more than $4 million for a program featuring the conservative editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal. And it said his decision to hire Republican consultants to defeat legislation violated contracting rules.

He’s also suspected of playing an inappropriately large role in installing the corporation’s new president, also a big-time Republican. Again from the New York Times:

The investigators found evidence that “political tests” were a major criteria used by Mr. Tomlinson in recruiting the corporation’s new president, Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and former senior State Department official.

There’s a happy ending to this story though, right? He got fired and publicly shamed, right?

Then why am I not feeling anything? I’ve been rooting against this guy for months, but frankly, I don’t see that this report is going to make much difference. Tomlinson’s still pushing the spectre of big, bad liberal bias all the way out the door, except, wait, he’s not all the way out the door and the Republicans still have control of PBS. For some time now he’s been a textbook example, a blatant and laughable example, of conservative-dominated media’s blustering (and rather meaningless, considering the distribution of power in mainstream media) tirades against so-called liberal media, but no one takes notice until some official dude rubberstamps our disapproval.

Or, better yet, some Republican does it.

I should be happy that the Senate’s increasing pressure on the White House to be more forthcoming with Iraq information right? Delaware Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., “senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee” is:

“For the first time…our Republican colleagues have joined Democrats in listing and insisting on a clear Iraqi strategy from this administration, a schedule to achieve it and real accountability.”

Gee, that’s not how Bill Frist sees it. He called approval of the Republican plan an “absolute repudiation” of Democrats’ efforts to pin down actual withdrawal dates.

Um, um, um. Senator Biden, if this is so great, then why does it feel again like the Republicans are taking lefty points, filing them down to little nubs, and then throwing them back at Democrats?

Oh well. Even if they have lost some of their sharpness, federal Dems could use those little nubs to replace some of the teeth that they’ve lost.

The NY dailies: never flagging in their ability to annoy

During my morning commute, I regularly get assaulted by images and headlines from NY’s astoundingly obnoxious dailies, the Post and the Daily News. I generally do my best to avoid those papers, but with so many people holding them up in front of my face on the F train on my way into work, I just can’t help but see what garbage they’re spewing this time.

This morning was no exception.

First off – the cover of yesterday’s Post. I saw this yesterday and was troubled by it, but, luckily for me, some readers were a little behind, so I got to see it again this morning.

cover of the NY post

(click for a larger version)

The article itself begins:

The female half of a husband-and-wife suicide team yesterday calmly detailed her chilling role in the al Qaeda bombing at a Jordanian hotel wedding reception — even posing in her explosives vest on TV like a fashion model.

Note that the picture the Post selected for the cover was not a photo of the woman “posing in her explosives vest.” Rather, it’s a photograph of the woman in a headscarf. Maybe the Post didn’t intend to equate being “dressed to kill” with “wearing traditional Muslim garb,” but the connection is there on the cover, and a (possible) lack of intent doesn’t do away with that connection, especially when it’s an equation that’s so prevelant in our society.

Case in point: on yesterday’s edition of Democracy Now, Amy Goodman interviewed Aman Mehrzai, a journalism student who witnessed last week’s protests and subsequent arrests outside of Colin Powell’s speech at De Anza College in Cupertino, California. In the preface to the interview, Goodman states that “confrontations occurred with the police and arrests were made. While the majority of those who engaged in confrontation were white, most of the people arrested were people of color.” Speaking about what he witnessed, Mehrzai says:

But there were many Middle Eastern people amongst the protesters, and they were dressed in Middle Eastern garb, and a lot of observers noticed that the confrontation between the Middle Easterners and the police were mainly verbal, and apparently what they are claiming – the police are claiming – that there were spotters who saw the Middle Easterners throwing things. But most of what everybody that I know saw, the actual confrontation was verbal, and out of all of the people who were apparently spotted, seven out of the — six out of the seven who were arrested on the outside were Muslim. And many of them were part of the MSA, and many of them were dressed in their Middle Eastern garb.

Again, traditional Muslim clothing is deemed a sign of propensity to violence, whether those wearing the clothing are actually violent or not.

Now, back to the Post.

This morningI also caught a glance of this headline:


I couldn’t see the rest, but what little I could see made me say uh-oh right away. When I got to work I looked up the article (for which the NY Post website required me to register, grrr), and, surprise surprise, it was yet another article about “reverse discrimination.”

Three white female detectives were subjected to discrimination by a black commanding officer who stripped them of plum assignments and overtime pay in favor of their minority counterparts, a lawyer for the women told jurors yesterday.

“The evidence will show that the three women were discriminated against because of their race,” attorney Louis LaPietra said in opening statements as a trial began in Manhattan federal court.

Now, I don’t condone unfair treatment. If these women were truly treated unfairly, then there’s a problem there. And that’s a big if – because frankly, I wonder if these women were used to being on the “right” end of racial discrimination, and when suddenly things got a little more balanced out, they cried foul. Just sayin’.

But, regardless of whether or not these women were treated unfairly, I am immensely tired of hearing about “racial discrimination” against white folks. It seems like every time I turn around, there’s another story about white folks being treated oh-so-badly because they’re white.

People of color are treated badly because they’re not white a gazillion times a day. Why aren’t there a gazillion articles a day documenting every instance of true racism? Where’s the “NYPD Bias Squad” report about the people of color who are most certainly discriminated against both by and within the NYPD on the daily? Oh, that’s right, that’s just business as usual, no big deal, no surprise. But when the tables are turned and the white folks don’t get all of the perks and privileges they’re used to getting – well, that’s headline news.

Yet another reason to hate FOX

As if we didn’t have enough reasons to hate FOX…

the cast of Arrested Development

They’ve gone and cancelled Arrested Development, which I would put right up there with Desparate Housewives as one of the best shows currently on network television. (I can’t talk about cable since I haven’t had it in years.)

Those bastards!

WARNING TO DESPARATE HOUSEWIVES FANS: definite spoilers in the comments. Beware, if you haven’t seen last night’s episode yet!

The downward spiral of the Civil Rights Division

Seems that the recent behavior of the Justice Department is part of a greater trend towards conservatism and a not-so-gradual rollback of what little progress has been made towards true equality and civil rights. From Prometheus 6: Civil Rights Focus Shift Roils Staff At Justice:

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which has enforced the nation’s anti-discrimination laws for nearly half a century, is in the midst of an upheaval that has driven away dozens of veteran lawyers and has damaged morale for many of those who remain, according to former and current career employees.

Nearly 20 percent of the division’s lawyers left in fiscal 2005, in part because of a buyout program that some lawyers believe was aimed at pushing out those who did not share the administration’s conservative views on civil rights laws. Longtime litigators complain that political appointees have cut them out of hiring and major policy decisions, including approvals of controversial GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas.

At the same time, prosecutions for the kinds of racial and gender discrimination crimes traditionally handled by the division have declined 40 percent over the past five years, according to department statistics. Dozens of lawyers find themselves handling appeals of deportation orders and other immigration matters instead of civil rights cases.

It’s also clear that conservatives who never much liked civil rights legislation in the first place are now doing all they can to twist it so that it can be used for their own, decidedly unjust purposes.

The Bush administration has filed only three lawsuits — all of them this year — under the section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits discrimination against minority voters, and none of them involves discrimination against blacks. The initial case was the Justice Department’s first reverse-discrimination lawsuit, accusing a majority-black county in Mississippi of discriminating against white voters.

The bastardization of civil rights

Few organizations make me as angry and disgusted as the Center for “Equal Opportunity”. Their website claims that their mission is to “to the promotion of colorblind equal opportunity and racial harmony.” How do they work towards this mission? Primarily, by promoting a twisted bastardization of civil rights thinking and legislation through lawsuits against colleges and universities with educational programs that encourage and assist people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups.

This despicable organization has enlisted the US Justice Department in its crusade. The civil rights division of the Justice Dept is threatening to sue Southern Illinois University if they do not end three graduate fellowship programs for people of color and women. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

In a move Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said “just doesn’t make sense,” the U.S. Justice Department charged that three SIU programs that aim to increase minority enrollment in graduate school exclude whites, other minorities and males, in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.

“The University has engaged in a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination against whites, non-preferred minorities and males,” says a Justice Department letter sent to the university last week and obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Reports like this make me quiver with fury, quite literally. It is horrifying and rage-inducing to see civil rights legislation – designed to protect the rights of people of color, women, and other groups who have been long oppressed by American goverment society – be so twisted, so bastardized, so perverted in the wrong way by racist conservatives, the CEO and the Bush Administration foremost amongst them. That the damned civil rights division of the Justice Department has been subverted into a tool for gradually dismantling what little progress has been made to redress centuries of racist and sexist damage inflicted upon people of color and women by and in this country – well, it’s just mindbogglingly wrong.

These people just can’t stand to see people of color get any reparations whatsoever for the evils that our society perpetrates upon us. I mean, they’re crying bloody murder over SIU’s programs when, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, only eight percent of SIU students are Black or Latino. Yes, clearly, grave discrimination is going on against the huge proportion of the SIU population that is white.

This sort of bullshit recently touched close to home, when the CEO went after my alma mater. You see, Swarthmore College, along with nearby Bryn Mawr and Haverford, used to participate in a wonderful program, the Tri-College Institute. Tri-Co was a program for incoming freshmen of color, an extra period of orientation for students about to enter the very white world of these three colleges. I participated in Tri-Co in 1998, and it was an invaluable experience for me. Tri-Co provided my first real chance to look at racism and understand it for what it is. It also gave me my first opportunity in a long time to be in an environment where I was surrounded by other people of color, after attending a very white high school and being friends with mostly white girls. For the first time ever, I was around many people of color, even many Latinos, my age. And I also got to learn a lot from the older students who ran Tri-Co – mostly amazing, politicized folks who helped me get engaged with POC organizations and activism on campus. After Tri-Co, I made a lot more friends and did wind up with quite a few white friends, but I also never lost the bonds of friendship that were formed at Tri-Co, and I think that made a tremendous difference in my time at Swarthmore.

Last year, the CEO decided to set its sights on Tri-Co. Enabled in their bigotry by the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling on affirmative action practices at the University of Michigan (which state that “race could be included as a factor in determining admissions, but not the sole factor”), the CEO sent a letter threatening legal action against Haverford College if Tri-Co continued to be limited to people of color. Disappointingly, Swarthmore and the other schools didn’t put up much of a fight, promptly opening participation in Tri-Co to all students.

The Swarthmore deans defended the decision, saying that “there will not be a major shift in the focus of the program… the one difference will be that there will be white students included in the program.” Um… hello? That one shift is just about the most major shift one could make to the program. It changes everything, making it nothing like the program that I found so valuable when I attended it.

At least SIU has a chancellor who says he supports the programs, and also has the benefit of a kick-ass supporter in the form of Senator Barack Obama. Let’s hope they manage to hold out against the Evil Empire’s assault on the true spirit of civil rights.

Slightly disturbing; also, the required post-election snippet

Today, while reading this ABC news article about al Qaeda’s attempted justification of the bombings in Jordan, I glanced down at the bottom of the screen and noticed the “Most Sent Headlines” section:

  • Can Your Cat Make You Crazy?
  • Cat Show Plans Memorial Service for Dog
  • Warm, Fuzzy Winter Bra Unveiled in Japan

Apparently, ABC News readers have some strange priorities when it comes to the news that matters most.

So, Ferrer and Mattera lost. Sigh. Not that it either result was terribly surprising – I had very little hope for Mattera’s campaign, and things weren’t looking so good for Ferrer for quite a while. Well, at least this year’s results aren’t heartbreaking like last year’s were. Republicans lost many key elections, and we even had a state (Maine) vote in favor of the rights of queer folks for a change. (Texas, of course, came through strong for the homophobic, rabid right.)

Voting mishaps to avoid

First off – I hope y’all either voted already, or are planning to later! As the social justice calendar on my wall says, “Vote, but realize it is a small part of being a citizen and creating a truly democratic system.” Hell yeah.

Also, for New Yorkers who have not yet voted: note that the ballot proposals are located on the far right of the voting booth panel thingie. Don’t forget to look there.

This morning, I went to the polling place with my girlfriend. On the way there, we discussed the ballot proposals, how confusing they were, and how we planned to vote. She went into the booth before me and took a while in there (she was writing in Norman Siegal for Public Advocate, and write-in votes are tricky!) When she finally came out, I poked fun at her for taking so long, then stepped through the curtain.

And then I panicked.

Pull the red lever which way? Did I do it right? Did I already mess up? OK, Jack, calm down. It’s not all that hard. OK. Where are my candidates? Did I vote for Bloomberg by accident? What the hell is this mess over here where all the third party candidates are? Did I vote for the Green Party candidate or for the Libertarian? Did I remember to vote for folks under Working Party instead of Democratic? Ack. Ack. Ack.

Finally, I pulled the lever back, felt exhilarated at my participation in the democratic process, and went on my merry way to work.

I got to work, started speaking with my coworker about the elections, and suddenly had a Homer-Simpson-slap-my-forehead-moment:

I didn’t vote on the ballot proposals.

I never even saw them! And in my voting-booth-induced panic and confusion, I didn’t even remember to look for them! AUUUUGH!

I know, I know. My votes on the ballot proposals (probably no but maybe yes, yes, no, no) most likely would not have made much of a difference in the end. But still!

I think this speaks to the need for some changes in those damned voting booths. I’ve been inside of them maybe four or five times now, and they still make me all nervous and scared of making a mistakes. Imagine new voters! Imagine folks who aren’t extremely comfortable with the English language! Imagine people with impaired vision!

But I most definitely don’t want the fix to come in the form of electronic voting machines, at least not in their current form. From Democracy Now! a few days ago in a report on how the 2004 vote was may have been stolen :

Last week the Government Accountability Office – the investigative unit of Congress – issued a major report on the safety of electronic voting machines. Although the report has received little attention in the corporate media, its findings have startled critics of electronic voting. There are three main problems the GAO found with the machines: First, some electronic voting systems did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, and it was possible to alter both without being detected. Second, it was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works so that votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate. Third, vendors installed uncertified versions of voting system software at the local level.

Scary stuff, folks. Scary stuff.

Avian flu: who’s really at fault

This morning, I stumbled across this article on avian flu and the US poultry industry’s response to it:

Asian governments must provide financial incentives and shut down as many backyard poultry farms as possible to halt the spread of bird flu, a leading U.S. poultry industry official said.

“We cannot control migratory birds but we can surely work hard to close down as many backyard farms as possible,” [Margaret Say, Southeast Asian director for the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council] told Reuters. “And we can do that only if backyard farmers are given an alternative source of living — some incentive to close down.”

Very convenient, I think, for the US poultry industry — which, as we all know, has been a paragon of healthy practices and good treatment of workers and animals alike — to be advocating for the elimination of an important part of the economy and way of life in Asia. Pinning it on the small guys is always easier than fessing up to the wreck that’s been created by the big guys. Additionally, these backyard farmers that the industrial poultry industry would like to shut down just happens to be their competition. But that’s just a coincidence, of course.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to Democracy Now, on which Amy Goodman was interviewing Mike Davis, author of a new book on avian flu entitled The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu. He had this to say about the poultry industry, backyard farmers, and culpability in the resurgance of avian flu:

…the ecology of influenza, like other diseases, has changed dramatically in the last 10 or 15 years because of economic globalization, because of the breakdown of biological barriers between animal and human populations, because of air travel, because of urbanization, but in this case, above all, because of something called the “livestock revolution.” And that’s been the generalization around the world of the American model of poultry production, the Tyson model. Tyson is the giant poultry producer, one of the most exploitative corporations in the United States with just an appalling record of working conditions. Tyson kills several billion chickens a year. It’s created huge conurbations of chickens, unprecedented concentrations of chickens …

The corporate poultry industries have undertaken an international offensive, claiming that the fault resides entirely with the backyard producers, the tens of millions of small farmers across the world who have free-range chickens in constant contact with ducks and wild birds and children playing amongst them. And although this is part of the ecology of avian flu, the thing that has changed the way that flu emerges, that has amplified, I think, the danger and the speed with which it evolves, are these huge industrialized concentrations.

An almost perversely lighthearted PS given the subject matter above: I love Democracy Now. Though I heard about it constantly, I’d never listened to the show until a few weeks ago, and now it’s on my iPod almost every day on my way home from work. Not only is the news delivered by Goodman and Juan Gonzalez incredibly on-point and insightful, but, I must admit, I think Amy Goodman’s voice and delivery are totally hot. Yes, I’m a huge weirdo.

More Lies from BushCo

From Reuters AlertNet:

A captured al Qaeda operative who told U.S. authorities that Iraq had trained al Qaeda members to use unconventional weapons was identified as a probable liar months before the Bush administration began using his claims to make its case for war …

“Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control,” the excerpts [of a Defense Intelligence Agency document dated February 2002] said.

Add another one to the pack of lies that the Bush Administration used to send this country to war (not that many of us ever believed any of it.) That last bit is especially telling, given that Iraq and al Qaeda have so often been depicted by our government and the mainstream media as being oh-so-similar, obvious allies in a radical Islamist plot against the West. No, not quite. For all of the many problems with Hussein’s regime, Iraq was a secular state prior to the US invasion – not a fact reflected in the rhetoric of the Bush regime, other pundits, and some of the mainstream media, all of whom continuously lump Iraq, Iran, al Qaeda, the rioting youth of France, and other groups together into one great big Muslim bogey-man, by virtue of their shared religion alone.

Legislating love

From my friend Dex: He looks too ‘aloof’ in photographs, so Immigration rejected his wife. This is a Canadian incident, but similarly racist, xenophobic, and just plain heartbreaking applications of immigration laws occur in the US every day. As Dex put it, “this is what happens when the government tries to legislate love.”

Speaking of legislating love, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Latino/a Coalition for Justice recently released this report about queer Latina couples, based on the 2000 census (thanks to Julie for the link). Some of the findings: Latina queer couples earn less and are less likely to own a house than white queer couples, which is not very surprising – racism and classism affects queer Latinas just as it affects all Latinas.

What was particularly interesting to me were findings that about two-thirds of Latina queer couples are raising kids, and nearly half of Latina queer couples include someone who is not a US citizen, both statistics indicating that gay marriage could have very important affects on Latina queer folks – and that a lack of gay marriage can have very negative affects, when it comes to raising children and immigration struggles.

I often hear (and often agree with) arguments that the mainstream gay movement leaves many people out by focusing so singularly on gay marriage, that gay marriage is not priority number one for many low-income queers and queers of color, and that gay marriage is all about legitimizing certain kinds of queer relationships (monogamous between two people) and delegitimizing others. But it’s important to remember that gay marriage really could have an important and beneficial impact on many queer immigrants and queer people of color.