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Archive for the ‘Progressive politics’ Category

The 2012 Democratic National Convention gets off to a fiery start in North Carolina with inspired speeches by a roster of powerhouse women, capped off by First Lady Michelle Obama.

On the first night of the Democratic National Congress 2012, the women speakers set a strong tone for the week. Nancy Keenan, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, made a powerful appeal to women voters. “Don’t assume that women know the truth about Mitt Romney,” she said, making a strong case that reelecting Obama is the only way to safeguard women’s health and women’s reproductive rights.

Pulling together, heroism, and hard work were recurrent themes, demonstrated most clearly in a speech by Tammy Duckworth, Democratic House Candidate in Illinois. One of the first Army women to fly combat missions in Iraq, Duckworth revealed her moving personal story, starting with her immigrant mother and ending with her service in the armed forces, in which she sacrificed both legs for the cause of her country. Her elegance and confidence yielded received a standing ovation.

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, outlined the key benefits of Obamacare, focusing on the ways in which the Affordable Care Act protects children and senior citizens and ends discrimination against women. “Being a woman is no longer a preexisting condition,” said Sebelius. She was followed by Arizona mother Stacey Lihn, who brought many in the audience to tears speaking about how the Affordable Care Act, which forbids lifetime caps on health care, has eased her concerns about caring for her chronically ill child.

Alabama native Lily Ledbetter, namesake of the Fair Pay Act of 2009, spoke passionately about equal pay in a country where women still earn only about 70 cents to each dollar earned by men. “Maybe 23 cents doesn’t sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account,” Ledbetter said, in one of many of the night’s references to Romney’s monied background. But the pennies add up, Ledbetter continued, and they make a difference to working families to pay for the little things and the big things.

As for the big speaker of the night? I don’t have enough words to describe my deep admiration for First Lady Michelle Obama, but I’ll try to select a few: Rousing. Elegant. Heartfelt and utterly sincere. And there is no better advocate for the American people, or for Barack Obama. She sums up the reason I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and the reason that I still believe in the Obamas as our First Family:

“When you’ve worked hard and done well,” Michelle said, “and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. No, you reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

Come November, I know what I’m going to do to keep the door open—and what you can, too.

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In honor of Veteran’s Day, here are the stories of two of my high school classmates, one a veteran, the other an active duty military officer, about what their military service means to them.

Jason WongJason Wong was a Captain in the U.S. Army and worked for the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command. His military experience started with ROTC in high school and college. But he joined the army only after getting a law degree and working for a few years at a law firm, which he found unsatisfying. He quit the law firm and joined the army as a prosecutor. “This country’s been very good to my family,” said Jason Wong of his decision to serve in the Army. “This was my chance to give back.” Jason’s great-grandfather emigrated from China to San Francisco as a paper son. His grandfather was a small business owner in Hawai’i, and his father was the first person in their family to go to college.

Now a small business owner himself, his experience in the military continues to shape him. He recently hired a veteran at his Seattle office. “Most Americans don’t realize the sacrifice service men and women make,” he says. “It’s something you’d just have to experience to fully comprehend.” An avid cook, Jason sends care packages of baked goods and handwritten letters to friends who are actively serving overseas. “I know what baked goods and letters from home are worth,” he says.

Lieutenant Colonel Chris HamiltonLieutenant Colonel Chris Hamilton serves in the U.S. Air Force. His grandfather was a Gunnery Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and a Korean War veteran. Chris initially joined the military to help pay for college. “I wanted to get near the space program,” Chris says. “I only planned to stay in for four years.” But the military offered Chris the chance to get two master’s degrees and a wide range of work experience. “I’ve had opportunities I couldn’t get in the civilian world,” Chris says.

“People do it [join the military] for different reasons, but deep down inside, they want to do something bigger than themselves,” says Chris. “And the military is a chance for you to do that. It’s an equalizing force. People come from all walks of life, but when you get there, everything is based on your performance, not who you were before you joined.”

Chris and I talked briefly about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which was repealed in September 2011. He says by the time Congress repealed the discriminatory law, the military had already long accepted gays in their ranks. “The active-duty military reflects the young population of this country,” he says, “not the decision-makers in their 60s and 70s,” and thus has the same tolerance towards gays as the great majority of young people in the rest of the U.S. “Military folks,” says Chris, “are just like everybody else.”

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Last night, a Facebook friend of mine, who I’ll call Norman, posted a link to a CNN article about the recent backlash against the Occupy movements that have swept America. The article writes, “They call themselves the 53%…as in the 53% that pays federal income taxes.” In his Facebook post, Norman declared, “I *am* the 53% that pay taxes, and one of the .001% that has served in our military.”

Honestly, given the cryptic, shorthand nature of Facebook posts, I’m not even sure what Norman’s view on either Occupy Wall Street or the 53% backlash really is. Norman is an old high school classmate. We’re not close friends, and I don’t spend enough time on Facebook to have an accurate sense of his political inclinations.

What I do know is that my frustration with the 53% is so strong that I risk rendering myself incoherent.

53% supporters seem to believe that protesting economic inequality somehow equates to not wanting to work and pay taxes. Stories of “personal responsibility and work ethic” fill the 53% blog. Assuming that Americans who protest economic inequality don’t want to work and pay taxes is baseless and prejudiced.

One protestor defends his stance by saying, “I took jobs I didn’t want, suck it up.” Is this really the kind of world we want to live in, a world where everyone hates their job and just “sucks it up”? Where the brilliant potential of every human being is dimmed in a job they hate? That’s not the world I want to live in, nor the life I want to lead, and it is not the kind of world we have to settle for. We humans – we Americans – can do much, much better than that. Don’t believe me? Try reading Yes! magazine http://www.yesmagazine.org/, especially the Fall 2011 issue, for a take on what’s possible, a sharp contrast to the 53%’s perception of what’s not.

In a literal sense, I am the 53%, too. I’ve always paid my taxes on time. Any friend or colleague can attest to my strong work ethic and sense of personal responsibility. With regards to economics, I simply want, for myself and my fellow citizens of America and the world, to work in fair conditions, to be able to make enough money to provide for myself & my family, and to have access to affordable health insurance. Anyone who tells me that is too much to ask for has lost sight of the American dream.

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Protestors at an anti-Prop 8 rally in Los Angeles. From CNN.com.

Yesterday, United States District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, in a landmark ruling, overturned Proposition 8, the voter-enacted amendment to the California Consitution that declared that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” From the state capitol (Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger praised Judge Walker’s ruling) to the streets of San Francisco, where thousands of marriages between same-sex couples were performed in 2004 and again in 2008, many Californians celebrated the decision, even as proponents of Prop 8 prepared an appeal.

I reviewed the ruling, available here, and wanted to share some key quotes from the ruling that helped me form a better understanding of the entire issue of gay marriage. 

The following four quotes effectively illuminate the rationale behind the decision to overturn Prop 8 because it denies equal protection and due process to people based on sexual orientation: 

  • California’s obligation is to treat its citizens equally, not to “mandate [its] own moral code.”
  • That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant, as “fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”
  • Tradition alone cannot form a rational basis for a law. The “ancient lineage” of a classification does not make it rational.
  • “[T]he Constitution cannot control [private biases] but neither can it tolerate them.”

The following snippets illustrate the irrelevance and insidiousness of the attempt to define marriage as between a man and a woman:

  • The exclusion [of same-sex couples from marriage] exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.
  • The evidence at trial regarding the campaign to pass Proposition 8 uncloaks the most likely explanation for its passage: a desire to advance the belief that opposite-sex couples are morally superior to same-sex couples.
  • The campaign relied heavily on negative stereotypes about gays and lesbians and focused on protecting children from inchoate threats vaguely associated with gays and lesbians. The evidence shows that Proposition 8 played on a fear that exposure to homosexuality would turn children into homosexuals and that parents should dread having children who are not heterosexual. The evidence at trial shows those fears to be completely unfounded.
  • The evidence shows beyond any doubt that parents’ genders are irrelevant to children’s developmental outcomes.

And in conclusion:

  • Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.
  • Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

The latest controversy over the Prop 8 ruling is that Judge Walker is openly gay and thus could not have been objective in his verdict. To anyone who questions Judge Walker’s objectivity, I would ask you to read the ruling and observe – objectively – his findings.

The judge is passionate about upholding the principles of equality and nondiscrimination that are central to the California Constitution. His sexual orientation may play a role in the degree of his passion, but to suggest that it impairs his judgment is to ignore both the evidence and the intelligence, profound thoughtfulness, and historical perspective with which Judge Walker made his decision.

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