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Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

West, Texas and Boston: A Tale of Two Cities

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2013 at 6:28 pm

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Mario Saldivar was buried Monday but you’d be forgiven for not knowing that.

It’s not that it wasn’t covered – just not by everyone and even those that did, didn’t make a big deal out of it.

Saldivar was 57 when he was killed earlier this month sitting in his apartment in West, Texas where he had moved from Portland. To retire.

Instead he became one of at least 14 people killed and more than 200 injured. As more than 100 homes were destroyed – along with other buildings and the plant, which is now the site of a crater, 90-feet wide and 10-feet deep – they are using the phrase “at least” because it will be a little longer before they know the final numbers. Ten of the dead were firefighters who were acting as first responders. The other four – including Saldivar – appear to have just been sitting in their homes.

“All the time, I ask God, ‘Why?’ I ask, ‘Why him? Why him?” Saldivar’s sister, Belen Saldivar, told a reporter last week.

Without putting too fine a point on it, a better question may have been why couldn’t he have been killed in Boston?

Not to take anything away from what happened in Boston. Three dead, more than 200 injured and a proud city shaken to its core by a terror attack. Having lived through September 11 and its aftermath in New York; having known people who died that day, I understand the trauma involved.

Here’s the thing.

West, Texas has also been shaken to its core – and then some.

While investigators don’t know yet the cause, early indications are pointing to poorly stored ammonium nitrate, which was used to level the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

How did the ammonium nitrate get there? How much was there? How was was it stored? Why were homes allowed to be built so close to the plant? When the homes were approved, did anyone know about the chemicals? Who was looking after the safety of the plant? Were first responders informed of the danger? All of these are questions that point to a complicated story.

Boston – with many questions still – is not really that complicated a story. It’s a story of terrorism with good guys and bad guys and plenty of information that can be presented in sound-bite sized chunks. CNN can send reporter and anchor to a street corner in Boston and talk for hours without really saying all that much. A moment of silence can be extended into hours of discussion without any apparent sense of irony.

Boston is a major city with a major media presence.

West, Texas really is in the middle of nowhere. And it’s easier to forget.

Would it really be that much of a stretch to think network executives were relieved when – one day after sending crews to West, Texas they had to send them back to Boston because of news – at the time, incorrect – of an arrest? And it doesn’t seem that anyone has thought to send crews back to Texas to monitor that investigation, to chronicle the lives of hundreds of people whose homes were destroyed. The Boston bombing investigation allows for the politics of screaming; people taking sides without any apparent interest in finding solutions. West, Texas would require thought, probing.

A city was destroyed and what’s going to be done to help those people?

It’s easy for the networks to be in Boston. Cost-wise it’s much cheaper as well. Going live from West, Texas requires satellite trucks and the setting up of infrastructure – infrastructure that already exists in Boston.

Maybe the easiest way to look at the difference is in the money raised.

More than $26 million has been raised for the victims in Boston. Less than one million has been raised for West, Texas. In Texas, the Salvation Army raised $200,000 and has already spent more than that.

There are people in Boston who have have lost limbs and will need extensive medical care.

A city in Texas has been destroyed. People are homeless and unemployed. Why does it seem they are worth less?

Mario Saldivar was laid to rest Monday.

No word yet on when the funeral for West, Texas will be. But, if something isn’t done, there will be one.

Though I’m not sure if anyone would notice.

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For Couple, Gay Marriage Ruling Welcome but not Enough

In civil rights, Politics, Uncategorized on April 26, 2013 at 7:04 am

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For Tex Clark, a Federal Public defender, it’s really not that complicated an issue.

“I stood up, asserted myself, and said this is not right. It’s not fair.”

And a federal judge agrees with her.

Last June, Clark and her then-partner (now married partner), Anna Campbell, went to Vancouver, British Columbia where they got married. A couple of weeks later, they returned to Oregon and like all newly married couples, Clark went to HR to change her status on her benefits.

“I had gotten married and needed to change my status,” she remembers of her effort to get health benefits for Anna. “They were understanding and supportive.”

But, as Clark would quickly find out, it wouldn’t matter. The Defense of Marriage Act was – and still is – the law of the land.

“We got a letter saying the government didn’t recognize our marriage, that it wasn’t legitimate in their eyes,” she says.

She appealed the decision and this week, Judge Harry Pregerson of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit not only ruled that the federal government had discriminated against her by denying benefits, he also ruled that Oregon’s Measure 36 – passed in 2004 and defining marriage as between a man and a woman – was unconstitutional.

“I can see no objective that is rationally related to banning same-sex marriages , other than the objective of denigrating homosexual relationships,” Judge Pregerson wrote. “This objective amounts to a desire to harm a minority group and is therefore impermissible.”

It’s the first time a federal judge has written that Measure 36 is unconstitutional.

“On a personal level, what he ruled has a lot of meaning to me, that we were not treated fairly,” says Clark. “But the ruling has a deeper meaning that is still hard to accept. It’s a judge saying that while I have rights, the fact is that there is still no remedy.”

Clark points out that there have been rulings that you can’t deny people pensions because of their sexual orientation; that you can’t deny people social security. But as along as DOMA is the law of the land, there is still no remedy to actually fix these problems.

“Judge Pregerson’s ruling is significant and it feels good to have someone agree with my assertion that I was not treated fairly. But it’s a long way from feeling vindicated. In fact, given all the other cases out there that have been brought in recent years, I feel a little late to the party.”

On very practical level, the judge’s ruling doesn’t change anything. While Clark has her federal benefits, Campbell – a photographer – has to buy her insurance on the open market.

“What that means is that she pays a lot more for what is basically inferior coverage,” says Clark. “And that creates anxiety. There’s a fear that we live with every day of what if something were to happen? How would we deal with that? I certainly would not be in the same situation as one of my colleagues if something were to happen to his or her husband or wife.

“That still needs to change. We need to get to the point where there is a remedy.”

Clark says the hope is that will come in June when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on two cases it heard earlier this year – on California’s ban on same-sex marriage and on the constitutionality of DOMA. If the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, Clark will likely be able to add Campbell to her benefits.

In the meantime, they wait.

“One day the federal code will be rewritten so that all of these issues – taxes, owning real estate, benefits – will be applied the same way for everyone. And then there will be a sense of success, of vindication.”