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November 30, 2008

Okay, we'll talk about Walmart...

We weren't even going to write about the shit that went down at Walmart because what more could we really say besides the "this is really sad and really fucked up" that everyone else is saying? But at the same time, it just feels wrong not to at least mention what happened. That Walmart is pretty close to where I live and while I generally consider the rest of the area to be a nice, safe neighborhood... I'm disgusted that something like this can happen anywhere. At the same time, it's painful to think about the fact that some people are so desperate for a sale.

I don't know if this is indicative of how horrible our consumer culture has become... or of how poorly-run that particular Walmart might be... or of just how self-centered and heartless some people truly are. What I do know, is that I just can't shake what happened. My heart goes out to the family of the poor man that was trampled to death.

We could give you a well-written editorial on how we feel about it... but instead we're just going to show you the conversation we had earlier. Because honestly, we realized that we couldn't wrap this up into a neat blog entry if we wanted to, so we'll just share our process of talking through it. There have been a lot of debates over whether Walmart is responsible for what happened. On the one hand, I know they did up their security for the day and honestly, no one could ever really anticipate that kind of savage behavior, but they definitely made some mistakes...
I read about other stores who had bracelet systems, and had people outside ahead of time talking to the people on line about how it was going to work.

That's a good idea, but I wonder if that crowd would have stood for that sort of thing anyway. If you're the type of person to break down a door and trample a man... are you going to wait in line anyway?

Did you hear about this?

"Augustine, 26, said the melee began right after a Walmart employee told the crowd the store would open early. The employee then said it was a joke. This angered the crowd, leading to people trying to rush the store, Augustine said." [dailymail.com]

This is all that a lawyer needs. I'm sure a good lawyer would be able to make a case that Walmart basically incited a mob situation and then didn't have the proper procedures in place to handle it.


Yeah that's not cool. You also have to know what kind of crowd you're dealing with. You can tell by the crowd's behavior outside what they may be like inside. If they're pressing against the door so hard they're bending it inward... do you a) stand in front of the door, try to hold it back, and form a "human chain" or b) get the fuck out of the way and call the cops?

Well, if you're an employee and you're told to go form a human chain in front of the door, what do you do? I also heard on the radio that this store did call the cops around 3 because the crowd was getting crazy even then. The cops came but then left because they had other stores to deal with.

This is why "Black Friday" is just a stupid idea anyway! Why have the sales only on one big day? It's just asking for trouble.

I know. And the stores generally make no profit on it anyway. It's all about driving volume. It's stupid.

Did you see Walmart's official statement?

"We expected a large crowd this morning and added additional internal security, additional third party security, additional store associates and we worked closely with the Nassau County Police. We also erected barricades. Despite all of our precautions, this unfortunate event occurred. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the deceased. We are continuing to work closely with local law enforcement and we are reaching out to those involved." [walmartstores.com]

That's it. It just seems cold to me. I also think it's backwards. They should start with 'our thoughts and prayers' and then say 'although we tried blah blah blah it still happened'.

Although really what more can they say? "We know we suck and we practically caused this poor man's death by inciting a riot?" I don't know how much responsibility the actual Walmart chain deserves though. I think it's more the individual store managers who were at fault.

Well, that depends on what guidelines they get from 'corporate' about how to handle Black Friday, I guess.

I wonder if this is even in their guidelines. I mean, who predicts a stampede?


They must have some procedures for how to handle it. Or if they don't, they should. I've dealt with Walmart and I've been to their corporate headquarters. The security just to get into their 'model store' layout area where all of the new products are is ridiculous. They check IDs and confiscate cameras and phones. They're perfectly capable of running a tight ship when they want to. I just think there's a lot of evidence that shows that worker safety and security is not high on their list of priorities. Obviously it's not that they don't care at all whether their employees get murdered in the store...

Honestly, I've been to that Walmart exactly once and I swore I'd never step foot in there again. That's how bad the experience was. (I ended up leaving without buying anything, the service was terrible). It was such a bad experience, on a regular day without crazy sales. It was still chaos and rudeness and there weren't enough employees.

Walmart is a very regional experience. I've been in really nice, clean, well-staffed Walmarts. And I've been in the Walmarts on Long Island. Big difference.


I would never imagine that anyone would stampede and kill a guy. But honestly, it's less hard to believe at this store than if it happened at another nearby store. Just based on my experience there (the one time) and my general experiences shopping at that mall.

The other thing that sucks about this is that it's basically going to be open season for racism. Even if the security camera shows that half the people doing the stampeding were white soccer moms from Lynbrook or Astoria or whatever, we're still going to have to hear all about the horrible heathen savage black people who caused this.

To me it's not a race thing. It's the area. For the most part, I don't think the "citizens of Valley Stream" as a whole are the stampede-in-Walmart type. Not that some of them weren't there and joining in.

Well, I also think that it's easier for us to think that, so that we don't have to think that any of our 'neighbors' are the stampeding type.


But I know that the bulk of the people who shop there now are from Queens (and Brooklyn). Maybe most of them are black, but it's not because they're black. It's a poverty thing, not a race thing.

Yeah it's definitely a class issue.

This shit doesn't happen at Roosevelt Field (yet).

I'm sure there was a mob mentality element to this too, especially after standing out there for hours. I also read something about not lumping all of the different Black Friday types together. There's the person who's there to wrestle you to the ground for a cheap xbox and there's the person who's there because they're so poor that the super sale is their only chance to get new winter coats for their kids.

God this is all just so sad.

That's about as far as we got before we were emotionally exhausted thinking about this. There are other issues going on right now... and frankly, we're just stressed about all of it. 


November 29, 2008

Totally Gay Good News Roundup

Even though we still have a lot of work to do regarding the fight for same-sex marriage, there has been some good news on the gay rights front both in the U.S. and internationally.

CALIFORNIA

Last week, California's Supreme Court voted 6 to 1 to review legal challenges to Proposition 8. The court may hold a hearing on the lawsuits as early as March.

A statement from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office:
"The governor believes the Supreme Court ought to bring clarity to this issue." ...Schwarzenegger has said he expected the court to overturn the proposition and indicated that he favored that outcome.
UCLA law professor Brad Sears, an expert on sexual orientation law, gave his opinion:
"If the justices were really leaning towards upholding Prop. 8, and that was clear, they would have wanted to do it as quickly as possible and put the issue to rest." ...He said the delay could indicate that the justices were divided and needed time to resolve the issues.

FLORIDA

Florida's 50-year-old ban on gay adoptions was ruled unconstitutional by a Miami-Dade Circuit Judge on Tuesday.

Judge Cindy Lederman:
"There is no question the blanket exclusion of gay applicants defeats Florida's goal of providing [foster] children a permanent family through adoption.''
"The challenged statute, in precluding otherwise qualified homosexuals from adopting available children does not promote the interests of children and, in effect, causes harm to the children it is meant to protect."
"It is clear that sexual orientation is not a predictor of a person's ability to parent."

IOWA

On December 9, Iowa's Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether their "Defense of Marriage Act" (a decade-old ban on same-sex marriage) is unconstitutional.

In August 2007, Iowa District Court for Polk County Judge Robert Hanson ruled that the act violated the state constitutional rights of equal protection and due process. An appeal was filed by a Polk County attorney less than 24 hours later, but dozens of couples applied for licenses in the few hours that same-sex marriage was legal in Iowa. (Only one couple was able to actually get married before the stay was enacted).



NEPAL

The Nepali Supreme Court issued a historic court ruling granting protections and rights for sexual and gender minorities. The ruling includes the following concepts:

  • laws providing equal rights for "all individuals with different sexual orientations and gender identities" are necessary
  • a committee to study the various same-sex marriage/partnership laws in other countries will be created in order to determine how to move forward with a potential same-sex partnership act for Nepal
  • cross-dressing should be "taken as individual's freedom of expression"
  • LGBT individuals must be defined as "natural persons" ("...their physical growth as well as sexual orientation, gender identity, expression are all part of natural growing process. Thus equal rights, identity and expression must be ensured regardless of their sex at birth.”)

AUSTRALIA

Australia's Senate has passed legislation giving homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual couples and it is expected to pass in the House of Representatives next.

Although they have ruled out legalizing same-sex marriages... family, health and taxation laws will now give same-sex couples access to the same services as opposite-sex couples living together in "common-law" or "de facto" relationships. This includes family benefits under the state-run health care program, the choice to leave their retirement benefits to their partners if they die, and the ability to confer parental rights on couples their children.


UNITED KINGDOM

The Rugby Football League has become the first national governing body of a major sport to sign up and support an anti-homophobia campaign in Britain.

Teaming with the organization, Stonewall, the league will display posters and logos reading "Some people are gay. Get over it!" at rugby league grounds, in programs (etc.) in an attempt to promote homosexual/bisexual equality in sport. Forums will also be set up for GLBT players and staff. The campaign will officially be launched after the season starts in February.

Stonewall's chief executive, Ben Summerskill:
"Homophobia still deters far too many gay people from being both fans and participants in sport. We hope that we'll soon see a British Ian Roberts, an iconic Rugby League player able both to come out as gay and play world class rugby at the same time."

"Boys, including those who are heterosexual, can be deterred by the macho culture. While girls can be put off sport because so many leading sportswomen are derided as being lesbian.

"The vision shown by RFL is an absolutely ground-breaking step in making sport more accessible."

Stonewall recently awarded Nigel Owens, a rugby union referee and the first openly homosexual official to oversee a world cup match, their Sportsman of the Year 2007.

Related Posts:

November 26, 2008

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

We didn't have a lot of blogging time yesterday, so we're late in mentioning that November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I was going to do one of those quick 'here's the logo, here's the link, this is totally important' blogs last night, but you can get that anywhere, right?

Here's the statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the anti-violence initiative:
"All of us – men and women, soldiers and peacekeepers, citizens and leaders – have a responsibility to help end violence against women. States must honour their commitments to prevent violence, bring perpetrators to justice and provide redress to victims. And each of us must speak out in our families, workplaces and communities, so that acts of violence against women cease."
So then I was going to do one of those list-style blogs, you know, like '10 Ways to End Violence Against Women While Blogging in Your Pajamas in Your Parents' Basement' or something. But that's ringing a little false to me today, probably partly because an issue like global violence against women and girls is so huge and progress sometimes seems so slow that, kinda like our Blog Action Day blog on the theme of poverty, it's hard to even know where to begin. So I'm just going to talk about some of the issues that I'm thinking about on this topic that I can't wrangle into a neat link-filled bullet point list.


A group of girls and women in Afghanistan were recently attacked and sprayed with acid as they walked down the street. Their crime? Going to school. Or, I guess it would be more accurate to say that their crime was being female and thinking that they had a right to go to school and get an education.

Her friend rushed over to help her, struggling to wipe the liquid away, when she too was showered with acid. She covered her face, crying out for help as they sprayed her again, trying to aim the acid into her face. The weapon was a water bottle containing battery acid; the result was at least one girl blinded and two others permanently disfigured. Their only crime was attending school.

It was not an isolated incident. For women and girls across Afghanistan, conditions are worsening — and those women who dare to publicly oppose the traditional order now live in fear for their lives.

Our military has been in Afghanistan for several years now, and President-elect Obama has said that he intends to send more troops there to finish what we started before we got "distracted" with our little situation in Iraq. Now, the Bush administration used to try to claim that our military presence in Afghanistan had made things better and safer for Afghan women and girls, but I think that claim would be a hard sell today. Of course, tempting as it is, we can't lay all of the blame for the plight of Afghan women on Bush & Company - it's a complicated situation that wasn't good for women before the U.S. got involved, so even if Bush had wanted to, he most likely wouldn't have been able to turn the place into a feminist utopia in just a few years. But what we can do is speak up and demand that the Obama adminstration do better, and that when our military does eventually leave Afghanistan (which hopefully will be less than ten thousand years from now), we're leaving Afghan women and girls much better off than they are today.

We also have to open our eyes. Gawker has a piece today that juxtaposes the quote above about the Afghan acid attack with these tales of some brave American women from a New York Times article on the sucky economy:
At left is a picture the Times is running on A1 this morning, the day before Thanksgiving. It depicts a Florida mom showing off all the useless crap she was able to scrounge for daughter McKenna (!), like a fake plastic kitchen, thanks to a "noble sacrifice" this year: The mom will bravely go without this season's new designer jeans, according to the accompanying story. Notice that she seems to be nicely up-to-date with last season's pricey denim; that she is standing in a garage larger than many apartments; that it seems to be furnished with an operative extra refrigerator; and that discarded toys (from prior Christmases?) are plainly visible in plastic boxes in the background. This typifies sacrifice in America today? The coming depression is so going to eat the nation alive, and the world will laugh, because we deserve it.

In America, reports the Times, mothers (JUST like this one!) are cutting back on their all-important clothes-shopping trips (down a whopping 18 percent, jeepers!) and using "online tools to organize meetings with other mothers to swap clothing, toys, video games and books. Others are buying DVDs and video games in bulk from warehouse stores like BJ’s Wholesale Club, then taking the sets apart to create multiple gifts."

The Gawker piece goes on to talk not just about the Afghan acid attack, but also about some stories of women around America who are genuinely struggling to find and keep decent jobs and support themselves and their families, who would be more than happy to confront the great tragedy of not having this season's trendy designer jeans if it meant they didn't have to use food stamps or live in a shelter. In fact, let's follow their lead and give these two articles one more spin together.

America:
Come Christmas, McKenna Hunt, a gregarious little girl from Safety Harbor, Fla., will receive the play kitchen and the Elmo doll she wants. But her mother, Kristen Hunt, will go without the designer jeans she covets this season. For Ms. Hunt and for millions of mothers across the nation, this holiday season is turning into a time of sacrifice. Weathering the first severe economic downturn of their adult lives, these women are discovering that a practice they once indulged without thinking about it, shopping a bit for themselves at the holidays, has to give way to their children’s wish lists.“I want her to be able to look back,” Ms. Hunt declared, “and say, ‘Even though they were tough times, my mom was still able to give me stuff.’ ”
Afghanistan:
Member of Parliament (MP) Shukria Barakzai receives regular death threats for speaking out on women’s issues. Talking at her home in central Kabul, she closed the living room door as her three young daughters played in the hall.

“You can’t imagine what it feels like as a mother to leave the house each day and not know if you will come back again,” she said, her eyes welling up as she spoke. “But there is no choice. I would rather die for the dignity of women than die for nothing. Should I stop my work because there is a chance I might be killed? I must go on, and if it happens it happens,” she said.

Barakzai receives frequent but cryptic warnings about planned suicide attacks on her car, but no help from the government. Officials advise her to stay at home and not go to work, but offer nothing in the way of security assistance, despite her requests. She said warlords in parliament who received similar threats were immediately provided with armored vehicles, armed guards and a safe house by the government.

Afghan women are feeling increasingly vulnerable as the security situation worsens and a growing number of Western and Afghan officials call for the Taliban to join the government. “We are very worried that, now the government is talking with the Taliban, our rights will be compromised,” said Shinkai Karokhail, an outspoken MP for Kabul. “We must not be the sacrifice by which peace with the Taliban is made.”

Under Taliban rule, up until 2001, women were not allowed to work and were forbidden from venturing outside the home without a male escort. Afghan women who defy traditional gender roles and speak out against the oppression of women are routinely subject to threats, intimidation and assassination. An increasingly powerful Taliban regularly attacks projects, schools and businesses run by women.

This is much like what we wrote the other day about the huge disconnect from reality that was Sarah Palin saying "you see equality in Alaska", when what should really be seen is Alaska's astronomically high rates of rape, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse. Many of us are way too comfortable being blind and deaf to what's happening around us. Yes, our economy sucks and that's just one of the many major problems that we have right now, and hey, America is far from a feminist utopia itself. But we're not being sprayed with acid on the way to school.

And speaking of the fact that the economy does suck and we're all unemployed basement-dwelling bloggers in pajamas, let's think about using what money we do have in a way that helps women around the world who have it much worse than we do right now. For example, check out the V-Day Store - all of the net proceeds from sales of the stuff in the store go to V-Day's programs to end violence against women and girls around the world. They also have some items that were handmade by women in the Democratic Republic of Congo through a program called Healing Arts:

The 12" x 13" cotton wrap style bags are sewn through Healing Arts, an organization in Goma, DRC, which equips women and vulnerable populations with skills, opportunities, and education so that they are economically capable to support themselves and their families.

Based out of the HEAL Africa hospital in Goma, which specializes in fistula repair surgery, Healing Arts teaches patients who are survivors of sexual violence how to sew, make soap, bake bread, and weave, which provides them with a dependable income during their stay at the hospital. When a woman returns home after treatment, Healing Arts gives her an income generation grant so that she may continue to develop her skills and business.

Healing Arts also works with a network of widows and disabilities cooperatives to sew the campaign purses in addition to other Healing Arts products, which are sold in DRC, US, and Canada.

Many who survive sexual violence in DRC suffer stigma and discrimination, resulting in limited economic opportunities. The proceeds from the sale of these bags will help these women get back on their feet and support themselves and their children. Local Congolese fabric was used to make these bags. The bags also include a Stop Raping our Greatest Resource campaign button. For just $20, you can make a difference!

If you just can't quit Amazon or Target or Overstock.com, check out GoodShop. When you do your online shopping through GoodShop, a percentage of your purchase goes to the participating charity of your choice. This is a small thing but it's super easy and if a lot of us got into the habit, it would make a difference. There are a ton of participating organizations, including lots of groups that are dealing with issues of violence against women, from RAINN down to local rape crisis and domestic violence shelters. (There are also a bunch of crisis pregnancy centers and similar groups, so make sure to go with an organization that you know or do a little research before you choose.) And as Cara at Feministe points out, "It’s not about using this as an excuse to buy more crap you don’t need, but about seeing that a bit of your money goes someplace a little more admirable when buying crap you were already going to buy." Maybe we'd all feel a little better if we spent some time focused on the global "women's economy" instead of the American "AIG executives resort & spa getaway and automaker CEOs private jet" economy.


Just one more thought before I stop rambling and give you the bullet point list of related links that you know I can't resist doing even though I said I wouldn't. This is from UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi's statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women:
On 19 June 2008, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1820, which recognizes sexual violence in situations of armed conflict as a threat to national and international peace and security. The resolution calls for decisive actions by all involved in the conflict to protect women and girls. It calls on international security institutions to make sure that women participate in all aspects of conflict resolution and peacebuilding to ensure there is redress for crimes. Resolution 1820, combined with resolution 1325, form a powerful platform on which to build effective actions to end impunity for violence against women and ensure women’s participation in all aspects of reconstructing institutions and communities.
It's great that the members of the Security Council, including the U.S., adopted this resolution. But on some level, doesn't it just make us hypocrites? How can we call for decisive action to protect women from sexual violence in situations of armed conflict when we can't or won't address the major problems of rape and domestic violence within our own military? Our Veterans Day blog included this quote:
Women in the military are twice as likely to be raped as their civilian counterparts. In fact, "women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq," Congresswoman Jane Harman, D-Calif., told the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs in May.
Back in May, the PBS show NOW did an investigation into the issue of rape in the military. "Last year, nearly 1,400 women reported being assaulted and raped by their fellow soldiers, in some cases by their commanding officers. The shocking phenomenon is called military sexual trauma, or MST. Since NOW first aired its investigation into rape and sexual assault in the military last year, the Pentagon has released new reports in which one-third of military women say they've been sexually harassed. And the number of women reporting assault and rape has essentially remained the same—even though the military says it has invested serious resources to combat the problem." And feministing recently discussed the growing problem of domestic violence in military families and the failure of the military to effectively address the situation and its causes, including PTSD and drug abuse.

How can our country take a stand against the use of sexual violence as a war tactic when such a large portion of our own military is made up of perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence and their victims? Our military should serve as a model of how things should be done, not as a reflection of the same evil that we claim we want to fight. And again, with a new presidential administration and a new Congress just a few weeks away, we have an opportunity to hold our government and military leaders accountable and tell them that we support UN resolution 1820 and we want it to be applied to women around the world, including the women who are serving our country and deserve better.



For more information on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, UNIFEM, and the UN's ongoing campaigns to end violence against women:
  • Statement of UNIFEM's Executive Director on the International Day, which outlines the need for a "checklist" that would help to hold countries accountable on how well they are actually enforcing anti-violence laws already on the books
  • The homepage for the UN Secretary General's ongoing UNite to End Violence Against Women campaign
  • UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women. "UNIFEM’s Say NO to Violence against Women campaign is a global advocacy and awareness-raising effort on ending violence against women, designed to support UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s UNite to End Violence Against Women campaign."
  • This page has some videos, including the broadcast of yesterday's UN event, at which more than 5 million signatures from around the world (the goal was 1 million) from people supporting the cause of ending violence against women were presented to the Secretary General.







Related Posts:

November 24, 2008

Bush's Last Minute Suckage

President George W. Bush and the federal agencies that do his dirty work have been pushing through a series of "midnight rules" (last minute regulations that have the force of law) that may be hard to reverse. Typically the regulations that are saved until the "midnight" of an administration are ones that would be too controversial to propose early in a presidency.

We went over the list provided at ProPublica.org and we definitely aren't too happy.

Possibly the worst rule - a concept that we've taken issue with in the past - is one which would allow federally funded institutions to turn down abortion requests for "moral or religious reasons". Yep, another one of those "conscience clauses" (even though I personally find it unconscionable). Now obviously this is going to limit women's access to federally funded reproductive health services, which will hit low-income women the hardest. This is extra dangerous because it could be interpreted in a way that extends to contraception as well.

But that's not all! They plan to limit the use of funds and eligibility for funds made available for victims of sex trafficking. Any organization that seeks federal funding to help victims must certify that they do not advocate, promote or support the legalization or practice of prostitution. (Which is really shitty, because voluntary sex work is totally different than human trafficking). They also plan to subject HIV/AIDS prevention groups applying for federal grants to similar qualifying rules.

As if that wasn't craptastic enough, they're also fucking over women and families in other ways...

A new labor rule will revise the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, making it more difficult for employees to use paid vacation or personal days when they take leave for medical of family emergencies. They also plan to cut funding to disadvantaged families through a revision of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) by eliminating a credit incentive that critics fear will mean less money available to families in need.

However, the BIGGEST hits will go to the environment. Most of these proposals have environmental groups pretty pissed off and worried, including regulations that would:
~Stop the EPA from regulating the perchlorate (a chemical component of rocket fuel that can contaminate water) in drinking water. Cleaning it up would cost billions of dollars, but leaving it alone may cause a potential health risk because it has been linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women, newborns, and young children. [OMB Watch]

~Allow OSHA to provide guidelines to assess the risk of chemicals in the workplace. There have been accusations that OSHA's rules (that are being drafted "behind closed doors") are too lenient and would leave workers unprotected for longer time periods due to regulatory delays. [Washington Post]

~Undercut a clean-air rule aimed at curbing childhood lead poisoning, that previously required lead monitors next to any factoring emitting at least a half-ton a year. The changes would raise the threshold to a ton of lead or more, resulting in a nearly 60% drop in factories being monitored and an increase in lead emissions. (According to the EPA, cement plants, smelters, steel mills and other factories emit about 1,300 tons of lead into the air each year, under the old law. This will no doubt increase as the restrictions are weakened). [Chicago Tribune]

~No longer require farms to report on air pollution from animal waste, as long as it is not above a certain threshold within a 24-hour period. The EPA says this will ease the burden of reporting in situations where an emergency response action is unlikely. But critics worry that less oversight will mean greater health risks to those living near factory farms. [CBS News]

~Allow companies that run confined animal feeding operations to voluntarily apply for permits to discharge waste into waterways. So if they don't think they pollute enough, they're under no obligation to get permits. [Environment News Service]

~Make it easier for mining companies to dump mine debris from mountaintop removal into waterways. [Reuters]

~Monitor emissions from power plants by the hour instead of the by the year, which critics say could allow power plants to pollute more than currently allowed. This may also exempt them from installing expensive new pollution control technology. [McClatchy Washington Bureau]

~Open the way for commercial development of oil shale on federal land. In July the administration proposed rules that would lead to leasing 2 million acres of public land in Colorado, Utah & Wyoming for oil shale extraction. Proponents say this new source of oil will help reduce energy prices, but opponents argue the drilling process uses vast amounts of energy and water and emits a significant amount of air pollution. [Los Angeles Times]

~Increase uranium mining permits near the Grand Canyon, increasing the potential for hazardous seepage of uranium into the water. [New York Times]

~Weaken the Endangered Species Act by allowing agencies to make their own determination of whether construction projects would harm protected species (rather than relying on extensive scientific review as they have done previously). [CNN.com]

~Potentially give more power to the fishing industry when determining their environment impact, by complicating the environmental review process and shortening the public comment period. [OMB Watch]

Thanks Bush!

The good news? The Democrats are already looking into ways to reverse some of these midnight regulations- even those that have already taken effect. A clause in the Congressional Review Act of 1996 states that any regulation filed within 60 legislative days of congressional adjournment is considered legally finalized "on the 15th legislative day of the new Congress" (likely sometime in February). Congress would then have 60 days to review and potentially reverse any law with a join resolution that can't be filibustered in the Senate. What does that mean exactly? It would take only a simple party-line vote in the (Democrat-controlled) Congress to undo any of Bush's recent regulations.

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) recently introduced legislation that would prevent the aforementioned Health and Human Services abortion "conscience" rule from going into effect. Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY), co-chairs of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, introduced similar legislation in the House as well.

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November 22, 2008

My Last Word Ever On Sarah Palin

Okay, so it's almost definitely not my last word on Sarah Palin, because we all know she's not going away any time soon, but I'm trying to think positively. I just had to briefly comment on this quote.

Speaking as she returned to her native Alaska, Mrs Palin claimed to be baffled by what she claims was sexism on the national stage. "Here in Alaska that double standard isn't applied because these guys know that Alaskan women are pretty tough, on a par with the men in terms of being outdoors, working hard," she said.

"They're commercial fishermen, they're pilots, they're working up on the North slope in the oil fields. You see equality in Alaska. I think that was a bit of a surprise on the national level."

So Sarah Palin just wasn't prepared for how backwards and sexist we all are down here on the mainland because she presides over Alaska: Utopian Land of Gender Equality. Got it. There's just one tiny problem. Here's what the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has to say about this magical place where, under her fine leadership as governor, all men recognize the strength and ability of women and everyone treats each other with respect. [Link via Huffington Post.]
  • Alaska's rape rate is 2.5 times the national average.
  • Alaska has the highest rate per capita of men murdering women.
  • Almost 75% of Alaskans have experienced or know someone who has experienced domestic violence or sexual assault.
  • Almost 90% of Alaskans would vote to increase funding for victim service programs, and over 90% would support increased penalties for domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrators.
  • Child sexual assault in Alaska is almost six times the national average.
  • Almost 30% of Alaskans were not able to access victim services or encourage others to do so because there were no services available in their area at the time.
The Huffington Post piece also mentions the unsuccessful attempts of Alaska's Alliance for Reproductive Justice to get Governor Palin to take action on some of the major problems affecting Alaskan women and children. Here is ARJ's explanation of what they asked for and the lack of any meaningful response from the governor:
In 2007, Women's Summit attendees delivered an open letter to Governor Palin asking to work together on five issues of concern for women and children in Alaska. Although we disagree with her anti-choice position and support of abstinence only education and teaching creationism in public schools, we hoped that she would understand that there are issues we could work together on to find solutions.

Governor Palin did not deliver and did not take a leadership role on any of these issues. In fact, this year when there was a 7 billion dollar state surplus she did not step up to the plate for the women and children of Alaska to help increase the income guidelines for health insurance for low income women in Alaska. We were truly disappointed with her lack of action on this critical public health issue.

Our letter asked for her support and leadership to:

Increase funding for Denali Kid Care (Alaska's SCHIP Program, Alaska is one of a minority of states that fails to fund health insurance for families at 200% of the federal poverty level.)

Decrease the incidence of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska (Alaska’s rape rate is 2.5 times the national average, Alaska is #1 in the nation for women murdered by men)

Provide state support for shelters that accept women with children (Many shelters are at capacity and many can not accept women with children.)

Support working mothers by enacting laws that allow for breastfeeding in the workplace (There were bills in the legislature each year that would have required breaks for women.)

Provide medically accurate sex education in public schools (In Alaska, we lead the country in the rates of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea and have high rates of teen pregnancy.)

This is the place that Sarah Palin looks at and sees a state of equality that is free from double standards. The huge disconnect between "you see equality in Alaska" and the reality about what life is like for Alaskan women gets right to the heart of why so many women across the country opposed her so vehemently - it is not because she's dumb, but because she's willfully and selfishly blind and deaf.

November 20, 2008

Happy Birthday Joe Biden!

Today is Joe Biden's 66th birthday. And his new boss, President-elect Barack Obama, knows what everyone wants on their birthday no matter how old they are - cupcakes!
The day before Vice President-elect Joe Biden turns 66, President-elect Barack Obama presented his running mate with 12 candlelit cupcakes after their weekly lunch on Wednesday. He also gave Biden Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bears hats as well as a bucket of Garrett's popcorn as presents.

“You’re 12 years old!” Obama told Biden according to a Democratic source.

“Maybe in dog years!” Biden responded, laughing.

Obama and the staff then sang Biden ‘Happy Birthday.’

All of us here at Joe Biden Feminism Watch headquarters wish the VP-elect a happy cupcake-filled birthday.





Unfocused

The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family announced this week that they are laying off about 200 workers. This news comes after about 50 employees were laid off several months ago, and according to The Colorado Independent, this is the third year that Focus has laid off employees due to budget cuts.

...202 jobs will be cut companywide — an estimated 20 percent of its workforce. Initial reports bring the total number of remaining employees to around 950...The cutbacks come just weeks after the group pumped more than half a million dollars into the successful effort to pass a gay-marriage ban in California.

Critics are holding up the layoffs, which come just two months after the organization’s last round of dismissals, as a sad commentary on the true priorities of the ministry.

"If I were their membership I would be appalled,” said Mark Lewis, a longtime Colorado Springs activist who helped organize a Proposition 8 protest in Colorado Springs on Saturday. “That [Focus on the Family] would spend any money on anything that’s obviously going to get blocked in the courts is just sad. [Prop. 8] is guaranteed to lose, in the long run it doesn’t have a chance — it’s just a waste of money.”

In all, Focus pumped $539,000 in cash and another $83,000 worth of non-monetary support into the measure to overturn a California Supreme Court ruling that allowed gays and lesbians to marry in that state. The group was the seventh-largest donor to the effort in the country. The cash contributions are equal to the salaries of 19 Coloradans earning the 2008 per capita income of $29,133.

In addition Elsa Prince, the auto parts heiress and longtime funder of conservative social causes who sits on the Focus on the Family board, contributed another $450,000 to Prop. 8.

So, let's analyze this situation. If Focus on the Family focuses on your family, they ruin your life by helping to strip you of your civil rights. And if they don't focus on your family, they ruin your life by laying you off and sending your family into major financial difficulties right before the holidays. It's exactly the kind of integrity, compassion, clear thinking and responsible prioritizing that Jesus would want, don't you think?


Maybe they should consider changing their name.


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November 15, 2008

The Future of the Feminism Watch

The election is over, and Joe Biden is the Vice President-elect now, which means we can stop doing the Biden Feminism Watch, right? Wrong. What kind of slackers do you think we are? It's like you don't even know us at all!

Seriously, we are going to keep the watch going, but we're going to shift the focus a little. Rather than spending so much time on the feminist stuff in Joe Biden's past (although we still have some of that up our sleeves), we're going to start looking more at the Obama/Biden transition - who they're appointing to serve in the new administration, what women-friendly changes they might make right away, and what the status is of a lot of the campaign promises that they made relating to that status of women. We're also going to do something that we kinda neglected to do during the election craziness - a Barack Obama edition of the feminism watch to round up all of the President-elect's positions on women's issues.

Here's a quick example. The online application form for jobs in the Obama-Biden administration contains this statement:

The Obama-Biden Transition Project does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or any other basis of discrimination prohibited by law.

A commitment to diversity and non-discrimination in actions as well as words? It's like change we can believe in, or something. Stay tuned.

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November 14, 2008

The Fight for Same-Sex Marriage

So what are we supposed to do now that Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage in California (as well as the similar initiatives in Florida and Arizona) has passed?

Lawsuits have already been filed regarding Prop 8 in California. One basic argument being made is that to allow the majority to vote to deny fundamental rights to a protected minority is unconstitutional. Can you imagine if the people of California were able to vote to deny, say, black people the right to marry?

So what else can the rest of us do, including those of us outside California?



SIGN YOUR NAME

Now of course, the easiest way to join in the fight is to sign a petition... Of course, the easiest way is not always the most effective way. By all means, please do sign the petitions! Just don't stop at that, because it's not enough.



VOICE YOUR OPINION

Contact your congressperson and your local officials directly and tell them why same-sex marriage (and other civil and gay rights issues) are important to you.
Congressional Directory
Directory of Local Governments
Also write to the politicians, government officials, and other public figures that opposed Prop 8 - like Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger - and thank them. You can search the Voting Records of the elected officials in your community to see what their stances have been on gay rights issues.



SHOW YOUR SUPPORT

Download and fliers and graphics to show your support of same-sex marriage. Go blue for equality by displaying a blue light in your window or storefront. Wear your support with one of our new cafepress t-shirt designs:





[Click each image for more items]




DONATE YOUR MONEY

Support the companies that funded the fight against Prop 8 (such as Google, Apple and Pacific Gas & Electric) and the many organizations that opposed the proposition (like the League of Women Voters and the California Teacher's Association).

Make a donation to any of these groups that fight for gay rights:
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the grassroots power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

GLAAD
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is dedicated to promoting and ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Let California Ring
Public education campaign to "open hearts and minds" about the freedom to marry and the respect, support, protections, and responsibilities that come with marriage.

EQ|CA - Equality California
In the past 10 years, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals to a state with some of the most comprehensive civil rights protections in the nation.

Human Rights Campaign
America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.

Immigration Equality
A national organization that works to end discrimination in U.S. immigration law, to reduce the negative impact of that law on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive people, and to help obtain asylum for those persecuted in their home country based on their sexual orientation, transgender identity or HIV-status.

ACLU

In addition to preserving civil rights (such as the freedom of speech or the right to due process), the American Civil Liberties Union works to guarantee the right to equal treatment and protection under the law.

Lambda Legal
A national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

NCLR
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.


BOYCOTT THE OPPOSITION

Boycott the many businesses that endorsed or donated to "Yes on 8". Californians Against Hate have compiled a list of the top contributors to the cause. (You can also search the Donation Records of the people in your area to see what candidates they've supported).

You should also contact groups and organizations that funded the "Yes on Prop 8" campaign and tell them that you will not support them because of their position on same-sex marriage.

One of greatest supporters of Proposition 8 was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This has not only caused many Mormons to resign from the church in protest of the "hatred" and "discrimination", but has also prompted people to work towards stripping the Mormon church of its tax-exempt status. The argument is that since the IRS law has restrictions on political campaigning and lobbying, they should not be eligible for tax-exemption (which would seriously diminish their anti-gay marriage funds).



STAY INFORMED

We urge you to check out some of the campaigns against Proposition 8 (and for same-sex marriage in general). Keep updated on their various events and projects.

Just a few random websites:
OverturnProp8.com
InvalidateProp8.org
Stop8.org
LoveHonorCherish.org
MillionGayMarch.org
Follow NoOnProp8 on Twitter, add Equality Now on myspace, or search for "prop 8" on facebook.

Also... Here's a cute myspace blog from comedian Ian Harvie, giving "tips" on how to make a go of marriage equality next time and an awesome "Special Comment"from Keith Olbermann, on how horrible Prop 8 is. Just because.



GET INVOLVED

There will be a nation-wide protest against Proposition 8 outside city halls across the country this Saturday, November 15 at 10:30 am PST/1:30 pm EST. We hope to join the protesters gathering in NYC and encourage everyone to look for one in your area: here! (If you can't find a location near you, get involved and organize your own!) Check out jointheimpact.com for more information on Saturday's events and please pass the word on.

Also check out Equality California's list of events, the list of Prop 8 protests and rallies provided by Queers United and Protest8.blogspot.com


REACH BEYOND CALIFORNIA

Fight for same-sex marriage in your state. Right now same-sex marriage is legal is only two U.S. states: Massachusetts and Connecticut. (A few other states offer "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships"). There are limitations to what someone in say, New York, can do about the law in California, Arizona or Florida... but we can reach out on the local level to try to encourage change and progress.

We should all be working towards gay rights on a national level as well. We need federal legislative action that would invalidate Proposition 8 (and eventually, every other gay marriage ban or restriction). Repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act would be a big step in the right direction. DOMA states that no state needs to recognize a same-sex relationship as a marriage (even if it considered a marriage in another state) and the federal government is forbidden from doing so.



HOLD THE MEDIA ACCOUNTABLE

If you've been paying attention to the media then I'm sure you've already heard about how Prop 8 passing is all the fault of black people. Or that scary stuff about ministers going to jail for refusing to do gay weddings. Or the new requirement of teaching same-sex marriage in public schools. Or the angry riots that gay people have been causing throughout California.

Yeah you've probably heard it all. The problem is that NONE OF IT IS TRUE.

It's up to us to speak out and try to correct the false information whenever we hear, read, or see it. Hold the media accountable if they report an inaccurate or untrue story, because we deserve the truth.



DON'T GIVE UP HOPE

Although the general public basically considers the measure to have passed, technically it will not be law until December 13 when the state of California will officially call the results of Prop 8. (The measure passed by a difference of only about 504,000 votes, but there are still as many as 3 million absentee and provisional ballots that have not yet been counted).

And I wouldn't exactly call this good news, but it is still interesting to note that in 2000, 61.4% of voters supported Proposition 22 (the ballot initiative that originally banned same-sex marriage in California), while only 52.5% of voters supported Proposition 8 this time around. So it is a small sign of progress. We'll see on December 13th just how small it really is.



SPREAD THE WORD

Forward this blog (or selected information provided within the blog) to everyone you know. [Alternative link here, for the prudes].

This is not just a "gay" issue or a "marriage" issue. This is a civil rights issue. If we stand for discrimination of any group, then we cannot expect to be protected from discrimination ourselves. If we condone or ignore denying rights to one segment of the population, then who knows what will be next. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr...
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."


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