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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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.”

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Palin on Parenting

In Entertainment, Politics, Uncategorized on February 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm

“And that is why the Mamma Grizzly had to kill the seemingly sweet, adorable bunny rabbit. As always, thank you for coming to the Sarah Palin Institute of Parenting. Does anyone have any questions?”

“Um, Governor?” says a woman sitting toward the front as she gathers up her notebook.

“Yes?”

“Well, I read that you gave an interview on Long Island where you said that the First Lady is telling people to breast feed because the price of milk is so high.”

“Oh, gosh, yes. Milk is just so expensive these days. That’s why I ask my Todd to go out and hunt pregnant, female elk, wound them and take all of their milk before killing them. Milk is just way too expensive.”

“Well, um, yeah,” says the student, a little disarmed. “A couple of things about that, I guess. First, aren’t babies supposed to get either breast milk or formula? I mean, I’ve never heard that you’re supposed to be giving them cow’s milk.”

“Where are you from?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“What does it have to do with anything? Everything. I would bet you’re from somewhere on the East Coast.”

“Ohio, actually.”

“Exactly. So you’re one of those East Coast intellectuals who probably gets most of their parenting tips from The New York Times. You probably think that your precious little child will be too good for cow’s milk. Let me ask you something. Do you think baby cows drink formula?”

The woman looks a little dumbfounded.

“Of course not. And do you think your baby is somehow better than a baby cow? A baby is a baby and we are all Mama Grizzlies looking to care for our young. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

The woman shakes her head.

“Good, because it is very important that we never lose track of the importance of the things that are important to us. Sure, you can listen to some person using Kenyan parenting techniques to raise a child who will grow up to be a Marxist revolutionary looking to overthrow a government and upend all that is sacred to Mama Grizzlies looking to protect their young, and eat them if necessary, or you can do what generations of women have done for generations and make sure that the price of milk isn’t so high that people are forced to consider using their babies as anchors.”

“Anchors?”

“It happens all the time. People need to wake up and tell this administration that their ideas of parenting, ideas that they picked up in places like Cuba and Russia – which I can see from my house – are not the kind of ideas we want to use when it comes to raising our American babies.

“Anyway, I want to thank you all for coming. Next week we will talk about how to make sure you’re not secretly raising a Muslim baby. You betcha you’re going to want to be here for that one.”

Shopping for a New Democracy

In Media, Politics, Uncategorized, World on February 16, 2011 at 6:58 pm

“Welcome to Bed, Bath and Beyond Democracy,” says the impossibly cheery sales clerk. “What can I do for you today, Mr. President?”

“Well,” President Obama says, checking out the price tag on a set of flatware before moving on to a set of the collected writings of James Madison. “Egypt is getting a new government and Michelle and I thought it would be nice to get them a democracy-warming present.”

“I’m sure we can help you find something,” says the clerk. “Do you know if they’ve registered?”

“It all happened fairly suddenly,” President Obama says. “I don’t think they had a chance.”

“Not a problem. We have many great things for a fledgling democracy. If you would just follow me.”

The clerk leads the President over to a wall of rolled-up parchments.

“This is what we call Constitution Corner where we keep all sorts of founding documents to help a nation set up a government. We have everything from the U.S. Constitution to the Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown also known as the English Bill of Rights to the rules governing the Soviet Politboro to Robert’s Rules of Order.”

President Obama looks at a copy of the Magna Carta. “I think the constitution is something people there are going to have to come up with on their own. What else do you have?”

“Oh, plenty. Our free press starter kit is very popular with new democracies. It helps them transform a state-run media operation into privately run system and you can get attachments so they can have a public broadcasting component and social media network.”

“That could be interesting,” the president says. “Does it come in any other colors?”

“We also have — and this has proved very popular in Central America and Chicago — a rig your own election kit. Though it does tend to work better for more advanced democracies.”

The president looks at the box. “Recommended for countries 100 and older as well as military dictatorships pretending to be governments of the people,” he reads. “Yeah… I think this is what they’re trying to move away from. Let me look at the free press kit again. Does it come with freedom of information laws or are those sold separately?”

“They’re included.”

The president keeps walking through the store, finally stopping at a very large display case with people inside. “What’s this?” he asks.

“Oh, these are political consultants. We have all sorts of political persuasions and you can even get a sampler box that comes with one of each.”

The president looks at the price tags. “Kind of expensive, no?”

The clerk smiles. “Political campaigns aren’t cheap. But I guess I don’t have to tell you that.”

The president efforts a half-hearted smile. “No. You don’t.”

At that point, Michelle walks over and joins them.

“Did you find anything,” her husband asks her.

“All sorts of things. They have that internet kill switch I know you’ve been wanting.”

“We’re not here for me. Did you see anything for Egypt?”

“There were a couple of budget-balancing kits that I thought were nice but you know what I really liked?”

The president waits.

“Cuisinart has a really nice new mixer.”

“How much?”

She whispers in his ear.

The president smiles.

“We’ll take it,” he tells the clerk. “Do you ship?”

Operation Deathmatch

In Crime, Politics, World on January 27, 2011 at 3:59 am

Pat Durkin plans to be in the courtroom in Portland Federal Court on Thursday when Doitchen Krasev is sentenced for identity theft.

“He was the toughest defendant I ever encountered in my 25 years,” Durkin said by phone soon after arriving here from San Francisco where he is the Special Agent in a charge for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security Services.

Krasev is a Bulgarian immigrant who arrived here legally but then fled his life in Washington DC and moved about the country before finally adopting the identity of Jason Evers who was a three-year-old boy murdered in Ohio several years ago.

In that capacity, Durkin oversees the bureau’s Operation Deathmatch.

“We started in 2005′” said Durkin. “We use a computer program to match passport applications with death records and find people who are living under stolen identities.”

Durkin, who is in charge of operations for the Bureau in ten states in the West – besides his main office in San Francisco, he has offices in Portland, Seattle and Denver – said the initial investigation found more than 200 people with stolen identities.

“We’ve had more than 100 convictions,” said Durkin who added most of the people fall into one of four main categories: fugitives, pedophiles, draft deserters and migrant workers here illegally.

“Mostly, they are people looking to leave behind some sort of criminal past,” said Durkin.

Krasev, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to fit neatly into one of those categories.

When he was discovered by Durkin and his agents, he was living in Bend working as an investigator for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

“I don’t know that we ever had someone steal someone’s identity and then become a law enforcement agent,” said Durkin.

Durkin, for his part, hadn’t planned on becoming a law enforcement agent – before joining the DSS he spent five years working as a counselor in a psychiatric hospital.

“I come from a large, Irish Catholic family,” he said. “Someone had to go into law enforcement and it was decided it would be me.”

Durkin, whose dad was an immigration agent at Ellis Island, applied to several different agencies.

“Diplomatic Security was the first to call me back,” he said. “I’ve been with them ever since.”

That was 25 years ago. Since then Durkin has worked all over, including stints in Colombia, Peru and Cuba.

“It’s been busy but fun,” said Durkin. “Not everyone knows about us and even those that do don’t realize the diversity of what the Bureau does. We protect the Secretary of State, we provide the protection for embassies around the world and we oversee protection of visiting dignitaries.”

And in all that time, Durkin had never met anyone quite like Doitchen Krasev.

“When we brought him in, he was very clear – ‘You’ll never find out who I really am,’ he told me,” Durkin said.

“And for a little while, it wasn’t clear that we would,” said Durkin. “Fortunately, good police work made sure he was wrong and we were unable to unravel his story. His real story.”

Durkin won’t be the only interested observer watching when Krasev is sentenced,

The family of Jason Evers, the boy who was kidnapped and murdered, whose identity was stolen by Krasev, will also be there. And when the sentencing is done, Krasev and the family will meet.

And soon after that, Durkin will be back on a plane to San Francisco. There are, after all, more cases to pursue.

Durkin said that what often happens is that someone will start by getting a birth certificate.

“Then they go after a drivers license and start to get overly confident,” said Durkin. “And then they decide ti go after the gold standard – a passport – and that’s when we catch them.”

Durkin said that one of the issues that make it easy for criminals is that some states allow you to get a birth certificate online.

“All you need is the date of birth and the names of the parents,” he said. “Krasev figured out how easy it was.”

Durkin said they need to close that loophole.

“In the meantime, we keep running checks,” said Durkin. “And we keep finding more people.”

The New York Times, The Washington Post and Irony

In Media, Politics, Technology, Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 at 8:56 am

Where would we be without Mondays?

Today’s life lesson in irony comes from The New York Times and The Washington Post. Actually it’s from Politico but it’s thanks to a New York Times story.

(maybe you should buckle up)

The New York Times had a story yesterday, In a World of Online News, Burnout Starts Younger.

The focus is websites like the hyperactive political website Politico and gossip site Gawker and the conclusion:

“Such is the state of the media business these days: frantic and fatigued. Young journalists who once dreamed of trotting the globe in pursuit of a story are instead shackled to their computers, where they try to eke out a fresh thought or be first to report even the smallest nugget of news — anything that will impress Google algorithms and draw readers their way.”

There’s talk of high turnover rates and frantic obsession with page views and that we live “in a media environment crowded with virtual content farms where no detail is too small to report as long as it was reported there first.”

What isn’t there is a lot of talk of long-term projects and in-depth reporting. Not to say that there isn’t in-depth online reporting, it’s just that the emphasis is fast fast fast. It’s as if suddenly everybody’s a wire service reporter.

Except Dana Priest of The Washington Post.

Bless her and her ability to report the hell out of a story.

In the past five years, Priest has won two Pulitzers — for her exposure of the CIA’s secret prisons and for her series on the lousy treatment Americans veterans were receiving at Walter Reed.

Now she’s back with a hell of a story running in installments in her paper.

Top Secret America is the result of more than two years of reporting, breathtaking in its scope and an amazing example of not only why newspapers are important but how effective they can be when embracing changes in technology.

At its heart, the series explores how “the government has built a national security and intelligence system so big, so complex and so hard to manage, no one really knows if it’s fulfilling its most important purpose: keeping its citizens safe.”

Priest, her colleague William Arkin and nearly a dozen other Post staffers have put together what appears to be an astoundingly well-reported, well-written series. And not only have they written some great articles (part two is live today), they’ve created an interactive website with a searchable database, a Facebook page, a Twitter account. There’s going to be a special on Frontline (won’t be airing until the fall, watch the seven-minute teaser video here).

So, on a day that The New York Times reports on how the world of online journalism is leading to burnout, The Washington Post comes out with a great series that reminds people of why newspapers are important — essential — and shows the potential of in-depth reporting on the web.

Brilliant.

Read This: A Middle School is Still Trying to Recover from Katrina

In Media, Politics, Uncategorized on July 8, 2010 at 9:15 am

Now that I’ve written the headline, I’m thinking it’s a little misleading because it really wasn’t Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans, it was the failure of the levees after the fact that caused so much destruction.

Anyway, that’s another argument for another time.

Today we’re talking about one of the most fabulous organizations on the planet — Read This. I’ve written about them before and feel I could never really write enough about them. They solicit books for school libraries and other places that need them. They make sure that kids have something to read.

They’ve helped kids in the Bronx and Brooklyn and the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is truly noble work.

Among their current projects is helping collect books for the library in the soon-to-reopen Andrew Jackson Middle School in St. Bernard Parish. (for those of you who don’t know, Jackson is huge down there because it was in New Orleans that he defeated the British during the War of 1812).

Their goal is 1,400 books by September. As of July 1, they had collected 605 and had 795 to go. They are not the only ones helping the schools down there, which really need some assistance.

So, take a minute, head to either Read This or the website of the Garden District Book Shop, an independent store down there helping in the effort and buy a book.

A kid will be thankful.

I guarantee it.

TSA & Company Explain That Queasy Feeling

In Crime, Politics, World on March 24, 2010 at 3:24 pm

The occasion was yet another Congressional hearing on the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner — the House Judiciary Committee meeting on the topic of “Sharing and Analyzing Information to Prevent Terrorism.”

Testifying were:

Timothy Healy, the director of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center;

Patrick Kennedy, Undersecretary for Management at the State Department;

Patricia Cogswell, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary (kind of sounds like the title they give someone from the temp agency) in the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Policy;

And, the person with one of my favorite titles — Russell Travers, the Deputy Director for Information Sharing and Knowledge Development at the National Counterterrorism Center.

Why do I like his title? Because it implies there is actually someone in charge of learning (knowledge development, no?) and sharing that information when clearly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

In the case of each person’s testimony they basically thank the committee for “inviting” them, describe all the great security measures that have been put in place since 9/11, tell the committee why nothing really worked — to some degree why it wasn’t their fault — and then tell the committee how committed their agency/department is to keeping America safe.

For instance, Travers told the committee that “the incident does not raise major information sharing issues” but the government “needs to look at overall standards — those required to get on watchlists in general, and the No Fly and Selectee List in particular” and “The US Government needs to prove its overall ability to piece together partial, fragmentary information from multiple collectors.”

He finished by saying:

“The men and women of the National Counterterrorism Center and the Intelligence Community are committed to fighting terrorism at home and abroad, and will seek every opportunity to better our analytical tradecraft, more aggressively pursue those that plan and perpetrate acts of terrorism, and effectively enhance the criteria used to keep known or suspected terrorists out of the United States.”

Of course.

Healy, of the FBI, told the committee that the people who work at Terrorist Screening Center are “committed to protecting the American public from terrorist threats while simultaneously protecting privacy and safeguarding civil liberties” as they manage the terrorist watch list but that they rely on their partners in law enforcement and intelligence to nominate people for the lists.

He finished by repeating what was his real theme:

“We have a standing commitment to improve our operational processes, to enhance our human capital and technological capabilities, and to continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats while protecting privacy and safeguarding their civil liberties.”

Then there’s the testimony of Cogswell who, as expected, begins by talking about how her Department and its partners are: determined to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat terrorist networks by employing multiple layers of defense that work in concert with one another to secure our country.”

She then lays out all the security measures put in place since September 11 — none of which really made a difference on Christmas — and then claimed how on Christmas “the attack on board the flight failed in no small part due to the brave actions of the crew and passengers aboard the plane.”

Actually, it was ENTIRELY because of the passengers and crew.

Anyway, I’m flying tomorrow and again on Tuesday and would feel a lot better about the whole thing if these guys could actually appear before Congress and say something positive that doesn’t stink of spin.

Judge Throws Out 9/11 Settlement

In Crime, Politics on March 20, 2010 at 10:58 am

Eight days after a tentative deal was reached to create a $657.5 million settlement fund to compensate thousands of rescue and cleanup workers who toiled at Ground Zero, the judge overseeing the case has ordered the parties back to the bargaining table.

“In my judgement, this settlement is not enough,” Judge Alvin Hellerstein told lawyers Friday afternoon. “I will not preside over a settlement based on fear or ignorance.”

Hellerstein also criticized the part of the settlement that would give lawyers a third, saying it should be less and it should come not from the settlement but from the WTC Captive Insurance Fund, which was set up with a $1 billion grant from the federal government.

“I will fix the reasonableness of the fee and the fee will be payable by the captive insurance fund,” he said.

The head of the fund, Christine LaSala, reacted to the judge’s order by seeming to demonize it and play upon the fear of the families, which was exactly what Hellerstein had warned against.

“I am very disappointed that the judge has now made it very difficult, if not impossible, for the people bringing these claims to obtain fair, timely and just compensation, a settlement that they have long waited for.”

Hellerstein’s decision was also a blow to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg who had praised the settlement, saying:

“This settlement is a fair and reasonable resolution to a complex set of circumstances.”

Maybe not.

Several workers praised Hellerstein’s decision.

“I was real proud of the judge, former cop Richard Vole told The New York Post. “I think he showed a lot of compassion and I think he showed a lot of bravery.”

Indeed.

Deal Close on Closing Gitmo

In Crime, Politics on March 19, 2010 at 3:14 pm

That’s according to the Wall Street Journal, which is reporting that Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham has been working with Democrats Carl Levin, Ben Cardin and Dick Durbin. The paper also reports that two unnamed Republicans are prepared to go along with the deal.

The Journal says that as part of the deal more detainees — including 9/11 Mastermind Khallid Shaikh Mohammed — will be tried before military commissions.

Curiously, ten days ago, The New York Times reported a similar deal was in the works but that Graham was without support from Republican colleagues, leading the ACLU to throw an ocean-full of cold water on the idea.

So, what’s changed? Not really clear.

My only hope — and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — is that before they close Guantanamo, they figure out why four people died there — were they murdered?

Kicking David Paterson When He is Down

In Politics on February 26, 2010 at 1:00 pm
New York State Governor David Paterson opening...

Image via Wikipedia

I know the temptation is to say it’s wrong to kick someone when they’re down.

But, as the noted Italian historian Luigi Barzini wrote of what his countrymen knew:

“Why not when he is down? When else, if you please, should one kick a man more advantageously? When more safely and effectively?”

Which brings us to David Paterson.

As is being widely reported, Paterson is announcing today that he is dropping out of the governor’s race in New York.

I almost wrote that he wasn’t going to seek reelection but since we know Paterson took office when Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign in a call girl scandal. So, now New York has had two governors in a row felled by scandal.

As The New York Times, which broke the story, detailed, Paterson’s problems stem from his apparently intervening in a case against a top aide. Of course, that wasn’t the first reported problem with the aide.

Since taking office, Paterson has not exactly been inspiring and, the fact is, you have to look at him in the context of where he came from — the Manhattan Democratic Machine that gave us Charlie Rangel.

Not to say that Paterson, his father and people like Rangel and David Dinkins were bad or corrupt — certainly they didn’t hold a candle to the Brooklyn or Queens Machines when it comes to malfeasance — but it does point to the downside of machine politics.

So, maybe Paterson survives all this — though I suspect he won’t. I think the question’s going to be whether he is able to survive the rest of his term.

I guess Illinois better watch out…