Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Why I'm endorsing Clinton for President

As a longtime journalist, I don’t often endorse political candidates.

It’s a practice I avoid because I have a problem with it that I’ve outlined before.

When I was managing editor of The Prince George’s Sentinel, it was against our policy to endorse political candidates. Bernard Kapiloff, the newspaper’s longtime publisher, believed our readers were intelligent enough to make their own decisions based on the facts.

I didn’t always agree with him on many issues, but I wholeheartedly agreed with him on that one.

The practice of an organization whose job is to report the news, to present facts, and to inform the public of endorsing a candidate for political office compromises its expected objectivity. In normal times, I would be reluctant to even endorse candidates as an individual.

These are not normal times. Not with the megalomaniac Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s candidate for President. Not with a whole legion of bigots who’ve come out of the woodwork, emboldened by Trump’s racist, misogynistic, anti-Muslim, homophobic, and anti-disabled attacks on anyone he doesn’t like. Not with Twitter rants at 3 a.m. because someone had the audacity to say something that upset him.

I personally endorse Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton for President for a great many reasons.

A Trump Presidency would be a singular threat to the world at large, as Trump has made noises about ignoring American allies and embracing enemies. It would be a threat because Trump all too often doesn’t know what he’s talking about and shows a strong disinclination to learn. It would be a threat because Trump has suggested he would play fast and casual with nuclear weapons, threatening to test the notion that the world could face a nuclear winter.

As for Clinton, she isn’t perfect. Her penchant for secrecy is well documented, and has often resulted in a perception she has something to hide. She badly mishandled the issue of using a private email server until it became a full-blown controversy. She has subsequently owned up to her mistakes in that regard, but could have stopped the bleeding much earlier. She comes across as cold and calculating on the campaign trail, although stories about her from people who know her personally paint her as being much warmer than she is perceived to be.

However, Clinton’s faults do not include blame for Benghazi. A Republican-led Congress slashed funding for security for the American compound there, so the multiple investigations into the attacks proved little more than outward manifestations of Republican hatred of President Obama and Clinton.

By many accounts, Clinton was a wildly effective stateswoman as Secretary of State. As a Senator, she showed a tenacity for dealing with constituent concerns, including a personal account from one grateful constituent whom Clinton spoke to personally. 

A couple of papers, notably The Miami Herald on Friday, shot down the notion that Clinton is the lesser of two evils in their endorsement, saying, “the narrative that Hillary Clinton is the lesser of two evils is patently wrong.” The Corpus-Christi Caller-Times went further, saying, “She is not, as has been sold, a mere lesser of two evils. Her experience and intellect would make her a standout in any group of candidates. Like President Obama said and didn’t need to be fact-checked, she’s more qualified than him or her husband.”

Clinton may not be the most qualified person ever to seek the office of President, but her real qualifications make her among the most qualified. None of the other people seeking the White House come close. She has real experience in politics. She has real accomplishments. She deserves to become the 45th President.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On the right of protest

What I'm about to write now will alienate some people.

I don't care.

I can't care. Not when Terence Crutcher is dead at the hands of Tulsa police. An unarmed man with his hands in the air is gone.

Last night, for the first time in over 43 years on this planet, when I had an opportunity to stand for the national anthem and salute, I chose not to.

I was at a bar watching the Monday Night Football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears. Most people at bars don't reflexively stand up and salute the flag. Until last night, I did, even drawing ridicule as a teenager for that display of patriotic fervor.

My thoughts during the anthem turned to the losses of black lives when white lives are often preserved.

Meanwhile, people still vilify Colin Kaepernick. He makes too much money to protest. He's an athlete. He should worry more about keeping his job than about social issues.


Megan Rapinoe was in the area earlier this month as her Seattle Reign got set to take on the Washington Spirit in a National Women's Soccer League match. She intended to kneel during the national anthem, joining a protest Kaepernick started during a preseason NFL game.

However, Spirit owner Bill Lynch had other ideas. He had the stadium play the anthem while the teams were still in the locker room, preventing Rapinoe from protesting.

Players from various teams ranging from college to high school and earlier have taken to kneeling, some under threat of suspension from school or from the team. John Tortorella, the head coach of the United States's World Cup of Hockey team said if any players sat on the bench during the anthem, they would remain seated for the entire game.

An employer may have the right to impose consequences for speech. That's why people like Lindsey Stone can be fired for flipping the bird and pantomiming screaming next to a sign that asks for silent respect for the fallen, which happened in 2012 near Arlington National Cemetery. However, school systems would run afoul of the Constitution for suspending players who choose to protest.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that schools cannot force students to stand and salute the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance. As representatives of the state, school systems cannot compel patriotism.

What changed last night? Nothing. And that's the problem.

The system problems Kaepernick's protests seek to address haven't gone away. They haven't even been addressed through anything more than talk. Far too many black children are being shot dead. Far too many black adults are being harassed where white adults are given the benefit of the doubt. For every Cory Batey who is sentenced to 15 years in prison for rape, there's a Brock Turner who serves just three months. The difference? Batey is black. Turner is white. And an Olympian-potential swimmer at that.

What changed last night? Everything. And that's the point.

For 43 years, I fought even the prospect of changing the national anthem. If it weren't for the events that led to the anthem's being written, we wouldn't have a country, I'd argue. The fact that Baltimore repelled the British during the War of 1812 was a matter of pride in my home state.

What changed? Debate over whether the national anthem is racist gives me pause to consider what was not even up for discussion just weeks ago. Ultimately, I still don't think the anthem should be changed, though more out of a sense of needing to learn the lessons of history than a sense of blind fervor.

Rather than directing anger toward people like Kaepernick and Rapinoe for not standing at attention when overzealous nationalists would like to force them to, we should direct our outrage against a system that led them to the point where simply kneeling became the latest shot heard around the world.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Coming out is still a personal, difficult journey

Filmmaker Lilly Wachowski came out yesterday as transgender after facing pressure to do so. Photo from Windy City Media.

Recent events in different arenas have underscored the difficulty people have with coming out.

Namely, filmmaker Lilly Wachowski, one half of the Wachowski siblings, came out yesterday as transgender after a tabloid reporter pressured her. Of course, her sister Lana Wachowski had come out as transgender in 2012.

The same day, Chicago Tribune sportswriter Chris Hine came out as gay in a column during which he ripped the NFL for its lack of progress on addressing gay issues.

Hine’s column underscored the difficulties faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other people facing questions about their sexual identities. He used the obnoxious line of questioning directed toward former Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple by Atlanta Falcons assistant coach Marquand Manuel, who asked if he was gay. Hine wrote that Apple, who denied being gay, said the Falcons assistant insinuated that there were a lot of gay men in Atlanta.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn quickly addressed Manuel’s question, saying he was “disappointed.”

I have spoken to the coach that interviewed Eli Apple and explained to him how inappropriate and unprofessional this was,” Quinn said. “I have reiterated this to the entire coaching staff and I want to apologize to Eli for this even coming up.”

Even though Manuel also apologized to Apple, Quinn, the Falcons and the fans and said he learned from the incident, the fact that the question even came up deserves more than strongly-worded press releases and pledges to attend sensitivity training. Hine’s column highlighted his own difficult coming out process, writing that he wrestled with the question for many years before he finally was able to accept that he was gay when he was 20. He’s 29 now.

In her coming out story to Windy City Media, a Chicago-area LGBT media group, Lilly Wachowski took a humorous approach despite the pressure.

“SEX CHANGE SHOCKER — WACHOWSKI BROTHERS NOW SISTERS!!!” began the story as Lilly Wachowski strove to regain control from the Daily Mail reporter who pressured her into coming out. Lilly Wachowski, previously known as Andy Wachowski, called for a change in how people discuss gender issues.

“We need to elevate the dialogue beyond the simplicity of binary. Binary is a false idol.”

From my own experience, coming out as LGBTQI – with the “Q” standing for “queer” – which I hate because of its history as a pejorative term or “questioning” and the I standing for “intersex,” even in 2016 with same sex marriage legal nationwide, is still considered a courageous act by some. It certainly wasn’t easy for me, as I wasn’t able to come out to anyone until I was well past my 24th birthday.

Even then, I felt lucky. My birth father is also gay; I refer to his partner as my “other dad.” By and large, many of my friends have accepted me, with two good friends even asking “which one?” at times when I just referred to “my father” or “my dad.” I certainly didn’t – and don’t – feel very courageous. I still have moments when I’m nervous about coming out to someone or confronting someone who’s too loose with an offensive word.

Yes, I’m well aware that courage isn’t the absence of fear, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said. Still, confronting someone for casually using the word “faggot,” or dismissively calling something “gay,” even in a joking manner isn’t always either easy or safe.

Even with those thoughts in mind, these stories – even though they occupy in different “worlds” in American entertainment culture – are a reminder of how far we still have to go before we no longer describe coming out as being an act of courage.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

'Bathroom bill' shot down in South Dakota, at least for now

Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R-S.D.) vetoed legislation on Tuesday that would have restricted transgender students' use of bathrooms that correspond to their birth genders.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaardʼs veto on Tuesday of legislation that would have restricted access to restrooms and locker rooms in elementary and high schools in the state does not necessarily shut the door on an ugly piece of legislation. 

However, the fact that the Republican governor has sent the bill back to the state House of Representatives and its initial sponsor, Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Dist. 4) has asked his House colleagues not to override Daugaardʼs veto of House Bill 1008, saying an override would detract from the accomplishments of the overwhelmingly Republican state legislature, which has so-called super-majorities in both houses, seemingly points to changes in attitudes toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities nationwide.

The bill, does not address any pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota,” Daugaard wrote in a letter sent to House Speaker Dean Wink. “Local school districts can, and have, made necessary restroom and locker room accommodations that serve the best interests of all students, regardless of biological sex or gender identity.ˮ

The veto comes despite earlier reports that Daugaard initially supported the bill, and did not happen without incendiary boiler-plate comments from bill supporters.

Iʼm sorry if youʼre so twisted you donʼt know who you are,” state Sen. David Omdahl (R-Dist. 11) said when asked about the bill last month, according to foxnews.com. “Iʼm telling you right now, itʼs about protecting the kids, and I donʼt even understand where our society is these days.”

Omdahlʼs comment was not only vitriolic and patently offensive, it was ignorant. Ignorant in its offensiveness and ignorant of the facts, as experts debunked the fear-mongering arguments and scare tactics used by people like Omdahl.

For his part, Daugaard said he wanted to study the legislation and met with three transgender people to hear their stories. Previously, Daugaard said he had never knowingly met anyone who was transgender.

The bill garnered nationwide attention, as CNN reported that South Dakota could have become the first state to restrict bathroom access by gender of birth. Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, an organization founded to promote support of LGBT causes by straight athletes, spoke out against the legislation on ESPN's Outside the lines.

With South Dakotaʼs senate consisting of 27 Republicans and eight Democrats and the house of representatives consisting of 58 Republicans and 12 Democrats, a strict party-line vote would easily override Daugaardʼs veto despite Deutschʼs request. A two-thirds majority of elected senators and representatives voting to override Daugaardʼs veto.

That alone is a painful reminder that the threat of bills such as this still exists, particularly in places that are hostile grounds for anyone who identifies as LGBT.

Itʼs certainly good news that Daugaard vetoed the legislation, even if it may have been done more out of fear of potential litigation than out of a heroic need to protect an especially vulnerable minority of South Dakotans. However, if the legislature voted strictly along party lines to override Daugaardʼs veto, it would serve as little more than hollow symbolism.

Regardless of the outcome in Pierre, the task for all LGBT people and their allies remains painfully obvious.

In the immediate wake of a bill that came perilously close to becoming law, now is not the time for advocates within the LGBT community to broach the prospect of removing the “T” for transgender people, as Iʼve seen some discussion sites ponder on Facebook.

Every fight for equality by any oppressed minority has needed help from people in a position to provide it, such as whites marching in Selma, Ala., men fighting for equal rights for women or straight people fighting for marriage equality. “Dropping the T’ would be irresponsible at such an early stage in the battle for transgender equality.

Until the ugly attitudes such as Omdahlʼs and people like him espouse become a footnote in history, the fight for full equality is anything but finished. Attitudes such as his prove that the real fight is just beginning.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Cosby allegations take another damning turn

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby has been accused of sexual assault by at least 30 women. The statute of limitations has passed in many of the cases, but the release of sworn testimony where Cosby admitted to obtaining quaaludes in an effort to drug women for sex lends credence to the accusers' stories, one accuser said.

Sexual abuse allegations against comedian and actor Bill Cosby, which gathered steam in November, gained even more ground Monday as testimony Cosby gave in 2005 where he admitted to obtaining quaaludes to women he was looking to have sex with was unsealed.

The testimony came to light after the Associated Press went to court to require the release of Cosby's testimony. Over the objection of Cosby’s attorneys, U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno released the records.

“The stark contrast between Bill Cosby, the public moralist and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations concerning improper (and perhaps criminal) conduct, is a matter as to which the AP — and by extension the public — has a significant interest,” Robreno wrote, according to the AP.

The AP reported Tuesday that Cosby, 77, has dealt with accusations of sexual assault over a four-decade span and has never been formally charged with a crime. In addition, the statute of limitations for most of the alleged sexual assaults has passed, meaning that the courts would no longer have any jurisdiction to try Cosby on charges related to the alleged sexual assaults.

The records released pertained to a lawsuit filed by former Temple University employee Andrea Constand, who agreed to be identified in print by the AP, but chose not to comment. According to a timeline of the accusations that was published on Vulture.com in March, 30 different women accused Cosby of sexual assault.

Constand allegedly met Cosby for the first time in November 2002, when Vulture.com’s timeline begins, and a meeting in Cosby’s Cheltenham, Penn. home in January 2004 led to the first report of sexual assault found in the timeline. Cosby was accused of giving Constand “herbal” pills to ease her anxiety, then he “touched her breasts and vaginal area, rubbed his penis against her hand, and digitally penetrated” her, according to her civil lawsuit.

Some in Hollywood have condemned Cosby, while others, including TV wife Phylicia Rashad and Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show, defended the actor.

“Forget these women,” Rashad told reporter Roger Friedman. “What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s [about] the legacy.”

Maybe if one person accused Cosby of sexual assault and the truth were to come to light, it might be easily dismissed as a money grab or a play for attention. But 30 different accusations, with some women even agreeing to lend their real names to the accusations, something even the bold Victim No. 4 didn’t do during Day 1 of the trial of former Penn State defensive coordinator and convicted child abuser Jerry Sandusky back in 2012, leaves much more room for belief of each of these individual stories.

To put it bluntly, the duck test is in order. To be clear that Cosby hasn’t been found guilty of a crime as of yet, but it’s hard to dismiss 30 accusations of sexual assault as mere coincidence, or as 30 women seeking a large payday or attention.

Meanwhile, an accuser hailed the release of Cosby’s sworn testimony.

“I’ve been called a liar,” said Joan Tarshis, one of Cosby’s accusers. “I mean, he called me and the other women a liar. In the press. And now people will know we’re not liars anymore,” Tarshis said.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote between the liberal and conservative blocs on the Court, wrote the majority decision in Obergfell v. Hodges that made marriage equality the law of the land in the United States.

Months of waiting and discussion of the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case where the Court was debating whether or not same-sex couples were entitled to marry each other across the country, and also whether or not states where marriage equality was not on the books were required to recognize same-sex unions performed in states where the practice was legal.

In todays 5-4 ruling, a divided Supreme Court answered yes to both questions. The decision, written by swing justice Anthony Kennedy prohibits states from banning same-sex marriages and requires them to recognize marriages performed legally in other states.

“Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Kennedy wrote in the majority decision. 

Kennedy was joined by the so-called liberal bloc of four justices (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomajor and Elena Kagan), while the four members of the so-called conservative wing of the court (Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) each wrote separate dissents.

“Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration,” Roberts wrote. “But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening.”

More bothersome than this attempt at a scholarly approach to dissent was Roberts’s assertion that same-sex marriage isn’t part of the Constitution, as he included in what otherwise read as an attempt at an olive branch to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“If you are among the many Americans – of whatever sexual orientation – who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” he wrote. “Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.” 

A simple reading of the Fourteenth Amendment demonstrates how wrong Roberts is with that assertion. That amendment is often referred to as “the second Bill of Rights” because it extends many of the protections of the people against Washington to protect people against overreach by state governments.

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,” Section 1 reads in part. “Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

In making the argument on behalf of President Barack Obama's administration back in April, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. powerfully argued that preventing same-sex couples from being able to marry the people they love is discrimination.

“In a world in which gay and lesbian couples live openly as our neighbors, they raise their children side by side with the rest of us, they contribute fully as members of the community,” he said, “it is simply untenable – untenable – to suggest that they can be denied the right of equal participation in an institution of marriage, or that they can be required to wait until the majority decides that it is ready to treat gay and lesbian people as equals,” he said.

Kennedy said it best in the closing paragraph of his majority decision.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” he wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The struggle for full equality isn’t over yet. A simple look at the ongoing struggles against racism and misogyny proves it. But we’re finally one step closer to living up to our nation’s ideals as outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

For millions of Americans, their ability to pursue happiness with the life partner of their choice just became a little easier.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Riots are Just the Loudest Symptom of What Ails America

Freddie Gray
Ever since Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Mo. Aug. 9, leading to riots that turned a town that most people outside Missouri had never heard of into a household word, the nation's focus has turned to racial tensions that have simmered in the year since the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.

Make no mistake: Brown's death and the deaths of others who shared his skin color by white police officers are nothing new. Years of discussion about police brutality and racial profiling have occasionally flared up violently, such as the Los Angeles riots almost exactly 23 years ago after a jury acquitted four police officers even though video showed them pummeling King.

The latest example of tension between rioters and police came after Freddie Gray's death April 19. Gray was arrested April 12 and, his family's attorney contends that police injured his spinal cord in the incident. Police admitted on Friday they didn't get Gray timely medical attention upon his arrest.

Anger over the incident, plus accusations of rampant race-related brutality by Baltimore police boiled over during the past couple of days. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and activated the state's National Guard Monday.

The Baltimore Orioles postponed their scheduled game against the Chicago White Sox Monday because of riots near Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said the decision to postpone Monday's game was made after consulting with local officials, according to Yahoo! Sports.

"We feel like we made the decision that would provide us the greatest possible security in terms of protecting the fans, the players, the umpires, everybody involved in the game," Manfred said.

More to the point, Orioles executive vice president John Angelos, the son of owner Peter Angelos, wrote a series of tweets in which he sought to put things in perspective.

"The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance and other abuses of the bill of rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate," John Angelos wrote, "and one that far exceeds the importance of any kid's game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards."

Unfortunately, the rest of reactions around the country, and even within the state of Maryland haven't been nearly as unified. Facebook posts that decried liberals, condemnations of rioters and strong statements directed at those who support or oppose police have demonstrated yet again the great divides that plague a country that seems to be ironically called the "United" States.

Look, I get the fact that many African-Americans feel disenfranchised in reaction to abuse at the hands of white cops. I recognize that too many African-Americans deal with both open and subtle racism on an everyday basis. However, that doesn't excuse violent protesting. It doesn't justify three gangs joining forces to attack cops, as Baltimore police argue is happening.

These events also don't justify police brutality or racial profiling. Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts has refused to resign in response to questions surrounding alleged abuse, although Batts also said he wanted the authority to fire officers who perform poorly or otherwise warrant termination.

"It could have been my son at the bus stop that night that event of excessive force was used. It is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in this organization," Batts said in October of last year in response to a video of a police officer beating 32-year-old Kollin Truss in September. 

Police need to be held accountable, yes, but simply giving police the authority to fire officers is just the tip of the spear. The riots, the violence and the backlash against police are just the heaviest symptom of the wedge being driven through people in this country. Facebook statements condemning "liberals" and racist criticism of rioters are an example of our lost ability to disagree with others without resulting in enmity.