For many of us, the State of the Union is more than just an opportunity for President Obama to publicly frame his policy priorities for the year. It's a moment when all the hopes, struggles, fears, and anticipation of the nation's citizenry crystallize, a moment of reflection and national self-reckoning. And coming after a year of unprecedented congressional gridlock, when continual attacks on the Affordable Care Act resulted in a shutdown of the federal government, and when Edward Snowden exposed the NSA's horrifying breach of public trust, there seems to be a particular urgency associated with this year's address among those who will feel most its repercussions. For those of us in such circumstances, tonight's address is anything more than just a speech.
To that end, we asked a few of our authors, engaged citizens themselves, to speak on behalf of those caught in the political crossfire. What follows is what we hope to hear from our President and what we are afraid we will not hear, both tonight and moving forward into the contested future.
At the risk of being labeled a Tea Party toady or
right-leaning deviationist, I have to ask if the severing of the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) from the
Farm Bill by the Republican House Majority isn’t an opportunity worth taking
advantage of. And in the same breath, I have to ask if the lockstep resistance
to that move and piling on of liberal vituperation isn’t yet more evidence that
the left-leaning social policy machine is running on empty.
Federal spending on the food stamp program has been pushing
north of $70 billion a year. It has been justifiably credited with keeping many
people’s heads above water during the Great Recession while modestly
stimulating local economies. Representing some 70 percent of the current Farm
Bill– the rest being divvied up between the much reviled agricultural commodity
programs and the much beloved conservation and sustainable farming programs– food
stamp support has allegedly relied on an unholy alliance of sorts between Big
Agriculture and anti-hunger advocates. “I’ll support billions in agricultural
subsidies if you support tens of billions in SNAP benefits. That way we can eat
our food stamps and high fructose corn syrup too!”
By tearing asunder that which unlikely partners hath joined
together, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor put a lot of federal spending in
play for the government downsizing Neanderthals. As Emerson once noted, “There
is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatives,” and what can be
meaner than taking food away from hungry children? Though doing marginally
little to pull the current 50 million food stamp recipients out of poverty, the
program is one of the few tools that government has to mitigate it worst effects.
That being said, one can’t help but ask if we didn’t see
this dramatic House action coming. After all, food stamps have been under siege
for years, even before their association with President Reagan’s nefarious
welfare queen remark. Getting their start in a somewhat different form during
the Great Depression (not Recession),
and codified in its present form as the first executive order of President
Kennedy, food stamps and the food benefits they bestow reflect two sides of the
American character. Being as compassionate as any people, we simply don’t have
the heart to let anyone starve to death. But being up-by-the-bootstraps
individualists, Americans generally blame the poor for being poor and don’t
trust them to spend the taxpayer’s largesse wisely. Hence food stamps can only
be spent on food, and not any other of life’s necessities.
But even then the hapless food stamp user must run a
gauntlet of consumer scorn. The smug conservative shopper will ask aloud why
“those people” are buying filet mignon with their food stamps, while righteous
foodies ask why “they” are allowed to buy Coca-Cola, Twinkies, and host of
other highly disparaged processed food products.
Being a food stamp recipient isn’t for sissies. Not only do you
wear a bull’s eye on your back for every cost-cutting politician to take aim
at, your purchases are relentlessly scrutinized and the subject of a never
ending public critique. You endure derision from every quarter all for the
princely sum of about $5 a day.
Whether we have more food stamp spending or less begs the
question of why such a major act of social policy that nobody, including the
recipients, seems to like, continues unreformed and unevaluated. With a national poverty rate locked at 15
percent and a near-poverty rate bringing the combined numbers to well over 30
percent, food stamps provide some relief but no solutions. With overweight and
obesity affecting 65 percent of the population and eclipsing hunger as
America’s number one diet-related health problem, food stamps do little to
encourage healthy eating and less to discourage unhealthy eating. And with high
unemployment, low wage jobs, and few prospects for growth— other than big box
stores and casinos— leaving the economy stuck in neutral, the $70 billion in
federally generated buying power helps Kraft Foods (food stamps are 1/6 of its
sales), but nearly nothing to infuse local economies with new energy.
But the anti-hunger orthodoxy that SNAP is a vital part of
the nation’s safety net and must never be altered goes unchallenged. Whenever
an innovation is proposed, e.g. Mayor Bloomberg’s request to prohibit the use
of food stamps to purchase sugary soft drinks, the program’s pit bull defenders
bare their teeth threatening to rip the limbs off heretics who might modify even
one of SNAP’s holy sacraments. It may be that they are in bed with Wal-Mart and
others who have tragically dumbed-down American wages and whose workers are
subsidized by the food stamp program, or it may be that they are riveted to the
notion that they are all that stand between a modicum of food sufficiency and
mass starvation. Either way, the tenaciousness of their enterprise, which
opposes food stamp change at any cost, is only matched by an equally fervent
brand of conservatism embodied by the Tea Party. The result: A program now more
than 50 years old remains largely unchanged even though the nation that it
helps feed has changed in myriad ways.
Imagine a corporation or major private institution that did
not conduct research and development, kept the same product line for
generations, and never engaged in strategic thinking. That enterprise would be
out of business (or subsidized by the federal government). While a nation’s
social policy is albeit more complicated and subject to a host of conflicting winds,
it cannot go unexamined by those who genuinely care about people and their
communities. Anti-hunger advocates will say that any meaningful examination of
the food stamp program opens a Pandora’s Box that allows Tea Party-ites to
wield their machetes, but that process is underway already; better to get out
front with new ideas and positive energy.
Both history and biology amply demonstrate that change is
inevitable, and that those who resist the need to adapt and reinvent in the
face of new exigencies are eventually subject to denigration, decay, and
decomposition. While we cannot realistically count on the Republicans (though I
think exceptions do exist) to enthusiastically embrace a food stamp reformation
that places poverty reduction, nutritional health, and sustainable agriculture
above basic caloric intake, we might expect more from food stamps’ stalwart
defenders as well as progressive forces within the food movement.
The time to re-think food stamps is upon us. If the best and
most compassionate don’t do it, if we don’t find a way to build a model 21st
century social program around the bones of an aging 20th century
program, food stamps will become nothing more than carrion for circling vultures.
A narrative history of the John Birch Society by a daughter of one of the infamous ultraconservative organization's founding fathers
Long before the rise of the Tea Party movement and the prominence of today’s religious Right, the John Birch Society, first established in 1958, championed many of the same radical causes touted by ultraconservatives today, including campaigns against abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, labor unions, environmental protections, immigrant rights, social and welfare programs, the United Nations, and even water fluoridation.
Worshipping its anti-Communist hero Joe McCarthy, the Birch Society is perhaps most notorious for its red-baiting and for accusing top politicians, including President Dwight Eisenhower, of being Communist sympathizers. It also labeled John F. Kennedy a traitor and actively worked to unseat him. The Birch Society boasted a number of notable members, including Fred Koch, father of Charles and David Koch, who are using their father’s billions to bankroll fundamentalist and right-wing movements today.
The daughter of one of the society’s first members and a national spokesman about the society, Claire Conner grew up surrounded by dedicated Birchers and was expected to abide by and espouse Birch ideals. When her parents forced her to join the society at age thirteen, she became its youngest member of the society. From an even younger age though, Conner was pressed into service for the cause her father and mother gave their lives to: the nurturing and growth of the JBS. She was expected to bring home her textbooks for close examination (her mother found traces of Communist influence even in the Catholic school curriculum), to write letters against “socialized medicine” after school, to attend her father’s fiery speeches against the United Nations, or babysit her siblings while her parents held meetings in the living room to recruit members to fight the war on Christmas or (potentially poisonous) water fluoridation. Conner was “on deck” to lend a hand when JBS notables visited, including founder Robert Welch, notorious Holocaust denier Revilo Oliver, and white supremacist Thomas Stockheimer. Even when she was old enough to quit in disgust over the actions of those men, Conner found herself sucked into campaigns against abortion rights and for ultraconservative presidential candidates like John Schmitz. It took momentous changes in her own life for Conner to finally free herself of the legacy of the John Birch Society in which she was raised.
In Wrapped in the Flag, Claire Conner offers an intimate account of the society—based on JBS records and documents, on her parents’ files and personal writing, on historical archives and contemporary accounts, and on firsthand knowledge—giving us an inside look at one of the most radical right-wing movements in US history and its lasting effects on our political discourse today.
Claire Conner’s father was a national spokesperson for the John Birch Society for more than thirty years; her mother was also a staunch follower. Conner holds a degree in English from the University of Dallas and a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin. Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right(coming in July from Beacon Press) gives an inside look at one of the most radical right-wing movements in American history and shows how it impacts our politics today.
Every year, during
Holocaust Remembrance Week, the people of the United States promise to “never
forget” the six million who perished in Hitler’s death camps. I make the same
promise. Then I add my own personal vow—to never forget Dr. Revilo P. Oliver, a
classics professor from the University of Illinois and a founding member of the
John Birch Society. Using an energized, anti-Communist right wing network,
Oliver peddled his revised history of World War II; one in which the Jews
invented the Holocaust and foisted the story of their imaginary persecution on
an unsuspecting world. I heard Oliver spin his vile “Holohoax” ideas right in
my parents’ living room.
In late 1958, my
parents became the first two members of the John Birch Society in Chicago. They
were welcomed into the brand new organization by founder, Robert Welch, who
introduced them to Oliver. Welch and Oliver were personal and professional
friends. Over the years, Welch often described Oliver as one of the “ablest
speakers on the Americanist side.”
Any friend of Welch
got a warm welcome from my parents. The first time I met the man, however, he
gave me the creeps. His long face was exaggerated by black hair slicked back
with greasy pomade, bushy eyebrows and beady eyes and wide handlebar mustache.
I never saw Oliver smile. But his lips often curled in a nasty snarl,
especially when he was berating someone who dared to disagree.
Oliver was a frequent
contributor to National Review,
William F. Buckley’s magazine, and to the John Birch Society’s magazine, American Opinion. In the pages of these
journals, he expressed some of his most controversial positions including a
1965 slam against the United States for “an insane, but terribly effective,
effort to destroy the American people and Western civilization by subsidizing .
. . the breeding of the intellectually, physically, and morally unfit.”
Oliver peppered his
speeches and his articles with racial slurs and discredited historical
assumption. In his role as a member of the John Birch Society speakers’ bureau,
he railed against Communist subversion inside our government while insisting that
President Roosevelt tricked the United States into World War II in order to
help his friend, Joseph Stalin, the Russian dictator.
Along with this
interpretation of World War II, Oliver peddled his version of the Holocaust,
one in stark contrast to everything I’d learned from our Jewish neighbors and
my own father. Gone were the yellow stars and the death camps. Gone were the
gas chambers and crematoria. Even the witness of American soldiers who
liberated Buchenwald and Dachau was repudiated. Instead, Oliver said that there
were no gas chambers and no exterminations.
My parents parroted
Oliver. The Holocaust stopped being so terrible, the death camps turned into
detention camps. Jews were imprisoned because they were traitors, not because
of their faith. The “Final Solution” became fiction, and the Nazis were loyal
military men following orders.
I’d met Jews with
tattoos on their arms. I’d seen photographs from Buchenwald. I knew that
millions of men, women and children were gassed and their ashes coated everything
when the fires roared. I knew all of this as well as I knew my name. I was not
even 14 and I thought my parents had lost their minds. Dr. Oliver had helped
No matter what Revilo
Oliver said, he continued to serve (with my father) on the John Birch Society
National Council, the inner circle of the organization. My parents drank in
everything he said and repeated most of it, almost verbatim. Robert Welch heaped
praise on Oliver for his outstanding contributions to the Birch cause.
All of this Oliver
devotion stopped abruptly in July of 1966, when Oliver headlined the New
England Rally for God, Family, and Country, an annual Birch-sponsored festival
held in Boston and billed as a reunion for conservative Americans. In his
speech, “Conspiracy or Degeneracy, Oliver talked about “vaporizing” Jews as
part of the “beatific vision.”
generated an avalanche of negative press, followed by internal Birch turmoil on
how to respond. Oliver had said all of this and more for years and every single
member of the Birch leadership had heard him. But time this was different. Oliver’s
public and blatant racism sounded like it echoed John Birch Society policies.
And the press covered it.
In early August,
Welch told council members that Oliver had resigned. In a split-second, he
vanished from my parents’ conversation. They pretended that Oliver had never
been a Birch leader or a personal friend.
Revilo Oliver lived
the rest of his life as a hero to neo-Nazis, skin heads and white supremacists.
His views never moderated. In 1982, twelve years before his death by suicide,
Oliver wrote that democracy would only be possible by “deporting, vaporizing,
or otherwise disposing of swarms of Jews, Congoids (Africans), Mongoloids and
mongrels (mixed-race) that now infest our territory.”
Oliver put an
indelible mark on the John Birch Society, built a network of Holocaust deniers and
recruited countless followers to spread his message of hate. This year, the theme of the Holocaust
Remembrance is “heeding the warning signs.” There is no warning sign of more
significance than the continuing presence of Holocaust denial in our public
life. We can’t begin to understand today’s deniers if we don’t take a hard look
at the man who fueled the denial movement.
An examination of the failure of the United States as a broker in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, through three key historical moments
For more than seven decades the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people has raged on with no end in sight, and for much of that time, the United States has been involved as a mediator in the conflict. In this book, acclaimed historian Rashid Khalidi zeroes in on the United States's role as the purported impartial broker in this failed peace process.
Khalidi closely analyzes three historical moments that illuminate how the United States' involvement has, in fact, thwarted progress toward peace between Israel and Palestine. The first moment he investigates is the "Reagan Plan" of 1982, when Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin refused to accept the Reagan administration's proposal to reframe the Camp David Accords more impartially. The second moment covers the period after the Madrid Peace Conference, from 1991 to 1993, during which negotiations between Israel and Palestine were brokered by the United States until the signing of the secretly negotiated Oslo accords. Finally, Khalidi takes on President Barack Obama's retreat from plans to insist on halting the settlements in the West Bank.
Through in-depth research into and keen analysis of these three moments, as well as his own firsthand experience as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation at the 1991 pre-Oslo negotiations in Washington, DC, Khalidi reveals how the United States and Israel have actively colluded to prevent a Palestinian state and resolve the situation in Israel's favor. Brokers of Deceit bares the truth about why peace in the Middle East has been impossible to achieve: for decades, US policymakers have masqueraded as unbiased agents working to bring the two sides together, when, in fact, they have been the agents of continuing injustice, effectively preventing the difficult but essential steps needed to achieve peace in the region.
Rashid Khalidi is the author of several books about the Middle East, including Palestinian Identity, Resurrecting Empire, The Iron Cage, and Sowing Crisis. His writing on Middle Eastern history and politics has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and many journals. For his work on the Middle East, Professor Khalidi has received fellowships and grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the American Research Center in Egypt, and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. He is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York.
In the Media
Click here to read a post by Khalidi at the Foreign Policy website.
“Unpacking these episodes in sharp, take-no-prisoners prose,
Khalidi maintains that the U.S. and Israel, ‘by far the most powerful actors in
the Middle East,’ through successive administrations and a variety of key
officials … have conspired to deny Palestinians any semblance of
self-determination. A stinging indictment of one-sided policymaking destined,
if undisturbed, to result in even greater violence.” —Kirkus Reviews
“What has happened to the Palestinian people since 1948 is one of the great
crimes of modern history. Of course, Israel bears primary responsibility for
this tragedy. However, as Rashid Khalidi shows in his smart new book, American
presidents from Truman to Obama have sided with Israel at almost every turn and
helped it inflict immense pain and humiliation on the Palestinians. At the same
time, they have employed high-sounding but dishonest rhetoric to cover up
Israel’s brutal behavior. As Brokers of Deceit makes clear,
the United States richly deserves to be called ‘Israel’s lawyer.’” —John J.
Mearsheimer, coauthor of The Israel Lobby
Drawing on his own experience as a Palestinian negotiator and recently released
documents, Rashid Khalidi mounts a frontal attack on the myths and
misconceptions that have come to surround America’s role in the so-called ‘peace
process,’ which is all process and no peace. The title is not too strong: the
book demonstrates conclusively that far from serving as an honest broker, the
United States continues to act as Israel’s lawyer—with dire consequences for
its own interests, for the Palestinians, and for the entire region. Professor
Khalidi deserves much credit for his superb exposition of the fatal gap between
the rhetoric and reality of American diplomacy on this critically important
issue.” —Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford
and author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World
“Khalidi has combined history, common sense, and his firsthand understanding of
Arab-Israeli peace talks, as brokered by Washington, to make the case that
American national security interests would be best served by a just peace in
the Middle East. Instead, he writes with great sadness, Washington’s efforts to
be an honest broker fall ‘somewhere between high irony and farce’—and put
democratic America, with its avowed commitment to freedom for all, in the
position of enabling the continued subjugation of the Palestinian people. This
is an important book” —Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker
“For those of us who believe that a two-state solution is the path to justice
and peace for Israel and Palestine, Rashid Khalidi’s trenchant analysis is
powerful and disturbing. The United States has failed repeatedly to be an
honest broker, accepting the status quo of Israeli occupation and settlements
when a true peace agreement would be deeply in the interest of all parties,
Israel, Palestine, and the US itself. Khalidi emphasizes that the deceptions of
language and deed have serious long-term costs and that the United States might
soon impose and incur still greater costs through ill-conceived policies
vis-à-vis Syria, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East.” —Jeffrey D.
Sachs, author of The End of Poverty
“Rashid Khalidi is arguably the foremost U.S. historian of the modern Middle
East.” —Warren I. Cohen, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“With a deep knowledge of the Middle East and a felicitous literary style,
Khalidi . . . examines the history of U.S. involvement in the area against the
backdrop of European colonialism.” —Ronald Steel, The Nation
“Khalidi’s role is as a historian, working to show how historical forces,
largely ignored in the U.S., have shaped the modern Middle East. He takes
particular delight in demolishing the various clichés used to describe the
Middle East, bred out of what he terms ‘America’s historical amnesia.’” —Chris
Hedges, New York Times
A scene from the million-person march in Los Angeles in 2006. (Photo: David Bacon)
need an immigration policy based on human, civil and labor rights, which looks
at the reasons why people come to the U.S., and how we can end the
criminalization of their status and work. While proposals from Congress and the
administration have started the debate over the need for change in our
immigration policy, they are not only too limited and ignore the global nature
of migration, but they will actually make the problem of criminalization much
worse. We need a better alternative.
alternative should start by looking at the roots of migration - the reasons why
people come to the U.S. in the first place. Movement and migration is a human
right. But we live in a world in which a lot of migration isn’t voluntary, but
is forced by poverty and so-called economic reforms.
Our trade policy, and the economic
measures we impose on countries like Mexico, El Salvador or the Philippines
make poverty worse. When people get poorer and their wages go down, it creates
opportunities for U.S. corporate investment. This is what drives our trade
policy. But the human cost is very high.
In El Salvador today, the U.S. Embassy
is telling the government to sell off its water, hospitals, schools and
highways to give U.S. investors a chance to make money. This policy is enabled
by the Central American Free Trade Agreement, whose purpose was increasing
opportunities in El Salvador for U.S. investors. It was imposed on the people
of that country in the face of fierce popular opposition.
Alex Gomez, a leader of Salvadoran
public sector unions, came to San Francisco in February to explain what the
consequences of this latest free trade initiative will be. He says if these
public resources are privatized, tens of thousands of workers will lose their
jobs, and their unions will be destroyed. They will then have to leave the
country to survive.
According to Gomez, four million have
already left El Salvador. Two million have come to the US, not because they
love it here, but because they can’t survive any longer at home. These migrants
come without papers, because there are no visas for two million people from
this small country.
The North American Free Trade Agreement
did even more damage than CAFTA. It let U.S. corporations dump corn in Mexico,
to take over the market there with imports from the U.S. Today one company,
Smithfield Foods, sells almost a third of all the pork consumed by Mexicans. Because
of this dumping and the market takeover, prices dropped so low that millions of
Mexican farmers couldn’t survive. They too had to leave home.
Mexico used to be self-sufficient in
corn and meat production. Corn cultivation started there in Oaxaca many
centuries ago. Now Mexico is a net corn and meat importer from the U.S.
During the years NAFTA has been in
effect, the number of people in the U.S. born in Mexico went from 4.5 million
to 12.67 million. Today about 11% of all Mexicans live in the U.S. About 5.7
million of those who came were able to get some kind of visa, but another 7
million couldn’t. There just aren’t that many visas. But they came anyway
because they had very little choice, if they wanted to survive or their
families to prosper.
Our immigration laws turn these people
into criminals. They say that if migrants without papers work here it’s a
crime. But how can people survive here if they don’t work? We need a different
kind of immigration policy - that stops putting such pressure on people to
leave, and that doesn’t treat them as criminals if they do.
What would it look like?
First, we should tell the truth, as the
labor-supported TRADE Act would have us do, which was introduced into Congress
by Mike Michaud from Maine. We should hold hearings as the bill says, about the
effects of NAFTA and CAFTA, and collect evidence about the way those agreements
have displaced people in the U.S. and other countries as well.
Then we need to renegotiate those
existing agreements to eliminate the causes of displacement. If we provide
compensation to communities that have suffered the effects of free trade and
corporate economic reforms, that were intended to benefit U.S. investors, it
would be more than simple justice. It might give people more resources and more
of a future at home.
It makes no sense to negotiate new
trade agreements that displace even more people or lower living standards. This
administration has negotiated three so far, with Peru, Panama and South Korea. It
is now negotiating a new one -- the Trans Pacific Partnership. These are all
pro-corporate, people-displacing agreements. We should prohibit these and any
new ones like them. Instead, we need to make sure all future trade treaties
require adequate farm prices and income in farming communities, promote unions
and high wages, and don’t require the privatization of public services.
Increasingly these international
agreements, like Mode 4 of the World Trade Organization, treat displaced
migrants as a cheap and vulnerable labor force. Our trade negotiators call for
regulating their flow with guest worker programs. This is exactly the wrong
direction. We should ban the inclusion of guest workers in any future trade agreement
or treaty instead.
When diplomacy doesn’t work, U.S.
military intervention and aid programs are to support trade agreements,
structural adjustment policies or market economic reforms. This has been U.S.
policy in Honduras and Haiti, for instance. This also must stop. If the U.S.
Embassy is putting pressure on countries like El Salvador to adopt measures
that benefit corporate investors at the expense of workers and farmers, the
Ambassador should be recalled and the interference halted.
Finally, we should ratify the UN
Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families. This
international agreement would give us an alternative framework for recognizing
the rights of displaced migrants, and the responsibility of both sending and receiving
countries for their protection.
The failure of successive U.S.
administrations to even present this agreement to Congress for ratification
highlights the unpleasant truth about the real effect of our immigration
policy. When millions of migrants arrive here, they are criminalized because
they lack immigration status, especially when they go to work.
Labor and civil rights advocates often
fondly remember the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act because of it had
an amnesty, signed by President Ronald Reagan, which gave legal status
relatively quickly to almost four million people. But the law also contained
employer sanctions for the first time, which we often forget. That provision
says that employers will be fined and punished if they hire undocumented
This provision was promoted by those
who said that if work became illegal, then undocumented migration would end. This
clearly failed, since the number increased many-fold in the years that
followed. Compared to the pressure to leave home, criminalizing work was not a
deterrent to those who sought work here so that their families at home would
This provision sounded like a law
against employers, but it was not. It became an anti-worker law. No boss ever
went to jail for violating it. The fines were not great. When the government
agents seek to enforce it, employers who cooperate with them are forgiven. But
over the last four years alone, tens of thousands of workers have been fired
for not having papers. The true objects of punishment under this law have
always been workers, not employers.
Now Congress is talking about a new
reform, and we have to use this opportunity to push to repeal this law. Some
think that since a new legalization will hopefully give many undocumented
workers legal status, sanction won’t really affect anyone anymore.
But even the most positive predictions
about a new legalization still assume that millions of people will not quality
because of stringent qualifications, high fees and decades-long waiting
periods. Those people will still be subject to the sanctions law. And the day
after a new reform passes millions more people will come to the U.S. because of
the same pressures that caused past waves of migration. This is especially true
if a new immigration reform ignores the need to renegotiate trade agreements
and eliminate the huge displacement of people.
These future migrants are not
strangers. They are the husbands and wives, parents, and cousins of people
already here - people who are already part of our communities. They come from
the same towns, and are linked to neighborhoods here in the U.S. by the ties
that have been created by migration, work and family. They will work in our
workplaces, participate in our organizing drives, and belong to our unions. We
need to keep the sanctions law from being applied to them, making it a crime
for them to work. Unfortunately, however, Congress members aren’t talking about
getting rid of sanctions. In fact, they and the administration want to make the
current application even worse.
So let’s do a reality check. Let’s tell
the truth about how has this law been used.
One method for enforcing sanctions
happens when an employer uses it to screen people it is going to hire, using an
error-filled government database called E-verify. Congress and the
administration are calling for making it mandatory for all employers to use
this database, and refuse to hire anyone who it flags as undocumented.
For people who are currently working
now and have no papers, what it means is that if they lose their jobs, it will
be much hard to find others. That will make people fear taking any action that
offends their boss, like joining a union or complaining about illegal
conditions. That’s good for the boss, but bad for the workers.
Employers today not only use this
database to screen new hires - they also use it to reverify the immigration
status of people who are already working. This is a violation of the law. Once
it accepts the form filled out by a job seeker (called the I-9), along with
their ID, the employer can’t reverify it all over again at some point in the
future. But they do. Sometimes it’s convenient to get rid of workers who have
accumulated benefits and raises over years of service, and replace them with
new hires at lower wages.
Reverification just happened, for
instance, to three workers who belong to the International Longshore and
Warehouse Union at Waste Management, Inc. in San Leandro, California. The union
has gone to the Oakland City Council to protest these illegal firings, because
WMI operates under a city garbage contract.
Employers sometimes announce they
intend to begin using the E-Verify database when their workers start to
organize. That’s what managers announced at the Mi Pueblo supermarkets in
northern California. There E-Verify checks are being used to terrorize workers
to keep them from supporting a union, Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial
Another method for enforcing sanctions
against workers is even more widespread. Immigration agents, working for the
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), go into the personnel records of an
employer. They then compare the information given by workers on the I-9 form to
the E-Verify database, looking for workers who don’t have legal immigration
status. ICE then makes a list of those workers and sends it to the company,
telling the employer to fire them.
This is what happened at Pacific Steel
Castings in Berkeley, California, last year. Two hundred and fourteen workers
were fired as a result. Some had worked in the foundry for over 20 years. Many
lost their homes, and their children’s dreams of going to college were
Over last four years, hundreds of
thousands of workers have lost their jobs in these enforcement actions, called
I-9 audits. Almost five hundred janitors in San Francisco, and over a thousand
in Minneapolis. Thousands of workers doing some of the hardest work imaginable
in meatpacking plants around the country. Farm workers. Construction workers. But
the employers all given reduced fines, and many immunity from punishment
entirely, if they cooperated in firing their own workers.
If unions and communities mount a fight
that exposes the terrible human cost of these firings, it is possible to stop
them. The young Dreamers showed that this is possible. These courageous young
people convinced the administration to stop deporting students brought to the
U.S. without papers as children. They forced the administration to change the
way it enforces immigration law. It can be done for workers too, if there’s a
But we must also change the sanctions
law. Otherwise, our experience over the 25 years since it passed shows that
immigration authorities will simply find another method for making working a
crime for people who don’t have papers.
The other unpleasant truth about
sanctions is that they are linked to the growth of guest worker programs. One
of the main purposes of making it a crime to work without papers is to force
people to come to the U.S. with visas that tie them to their employers and
recruiters. These workers are often more vulnerable than the undocumented,
since they get deported if they lose their jobs or get fired. Guest worker
programs have been called Close to Slavery by the Southern Poverty Law Center
and others who have documented their extreme exploitation. The sanctions law
functions as a way to pressure people into choosing that path to come to the
U.S. to work.
When employer sanctions are used to
make workers vulnerable to pressure, to break unions or to force people into
guest worker programs, their real effect is to force people into low wage jobs
with no rights. This is a subsidy for employers, and brings down wages for
everyone. The sanctions law makes it harder for all workers to organize to
improve conditions. This doesn’t just affect the workers who have no papers
themselves. When it becomes harder for one group to organize, other workers
have a harder time organizing too.
Some Washington lobbyists accept as a
fact of life that the sanctions law will continue, or even worse, that E-Verify
will become a mandatory national program for all employers. But for unions and
workers who have had to deal with its effects , it would be much better to
immediately repeal it, and dismantle the E-Verify database.
The use of the sanctions law against
workers and unions is what led the California Labor Federation to call for its
repeal as early as 1994, a position it continued to adopt in successive
conventions. Other unions joined it including the garment unions and service
employees. Finally labor councils in California and then around the country
passed resolutions making the same call, and sent them to the historic AFL-CIO
convention in Los Angeles in 1999. This led to an historic debate and the
adoption of a new, pro-immigrant policy. Delegates at that convention believed
that we have to stop enforcing immigration law in the workplace, because its
real effect is to make workers vulnerable to employers, and to make it harder
for all workers to organize to improve conditions.
In addition to repealing the national
sanctions law, we should also prohibit states from enacting copycat measures. These
laws have passed not just in Arizona or Alabama or Mississippi. California
passed a state employer sanctions law before the federal law took effect in
What would really help workers to raise
wages and improve conditions is much stricter enforcement of worker protection
and anti-discrimination laws, for everyone. Funding used for immigration
enforcement on the job should be given instead to the Department of Labor, the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Labor Relations
Board and other labor law enforcement agencies. It will be a good day for all
workers when ICE agents instead become wage and hour inspectors.
Threats by employers who use
immigration status to keep workers from organizing unions or protesting illegal
conditions should be a crime. That makes it necessary to overturn two Supreme
Court decisions, Hoffman and Sure-Tan. In these cases the court said that if
workers are fired for union activity and have no papers, the boss doesn’t have
to rehire them or pay them lost wages, because the sanctions law makes it
illegal to employ them to begin with. But when there’s no punishment for
violating labor rights, workers have no rights. This also hurts other workers
in the same workplace who want to organize a union, since it makes the
undocumented so vulnerable. Instead, we should increase workplace rights by
prohibiting immigration enforcement during labor disputes or against workers
who complain about illegal conditions.
To ensure that in the workplace we all
have the same rights we also have to eliminate the way undocumented people get
ripped off by funds like Social Security and unemployment. All workers
contribute to the Social Security fund, but because undocumented people are
working under bad numbers, they pay in but can never collect the benefits. This
will come back to haunt us when those workers need disability payments or get
too old to work - something that happens to us all. This is the reason we set
up the Social Security system to begin with - because we don’t want old people
eating dog food, regardless of where they were born.
Instead today the Social Security
number has become much more a means to check immigration status, harming
workers instead of providing them the benefits that were its original and true
purpose. There is a simple solution to this problem as well. Social Security
numbers should be made available for everyone, regardless of immigration
status. Everyone should pay into the system and everyone has a right to the
benefits those payments create. By the same token all workers should be able to
receive unemployment benefits regardless of status, since they and their
employers pay into the funds.
In the end, we need an immigration
policy that brings people together, instead of pitting workers against each
other, as our current system does. During a time of economic crisis especially
we need to reduce job competition, rather than stoking fears. In 2005
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston made an innovative proposal that
would have set up job creation and training programs for unemployed workers at
the same time that it would have given legal status to workers without papers. This
proposal put unemployed workers and immigrants on the same side, giving them
both something to fight for whether they were out of work, or working without
This proposal, and the others made
here, are part of the Dignity Campaign, a plan for immigration reform based on
human, civil and labor rights. In the last three years, local unions and labor
councils in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Alameda County adopted
resolutions supporting the Dignity Campaign, arguing that trade policy is
linked to the increasing vulnerability of immigrant workers because of the
sanctions law and guest worker progrsms. The Labor Council for Latin American
Advancement adopted a similar resolution.
An immigration policy that benefits
migrants, their home communities, and working people here in the U.S. has to
have a long term perspective. Instead of just trying to please interest groups
well-represented in Congress, we need to ask, where are we going? What will
actually solve the problems that we experience on our jobs and in our homes
with current laws and policies?
We need a system that produces
security, not insecurity. We need a commitment to equality and equal status -
getting rid of color and national lines instead of making them deeper. We need
to make it easier for workers to organize, by getting rid of what makes people
vulnerable -- to end job competition we need full employment, and to gain
organizing rights we need labor law enforcement together with eliminating
sanctions and firings. It’s not likely that many corporations will support such
a program, so the politicians who represent us have to choose whose side they’re
Working people in Mexico, El Salvador,
the Philippines, the US and other countries need the same things. Secure jobs
at a living wage. Rights in our workplaces and communities. The freedom to
travel and seek a future for our families, and the ability to stay home and
have a decent future there too. The borders between our countries, then, should
be common grounds that unite us, not lines that divide us.
At today's Inauguration, President Obama will be using the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's bible. The symbolism of the president's choice is striking. King was of course profoundly religious, although this is sometimes lost in our thinking of him as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. In reality, however, these two aspects of King's character--the religious man and the secular leader--were intertwined, as is illustrated in the story behind the collection of his best-known homilies.
As Dr. King prepared for the Birmingham campaign in early 1963, he drafted the final sermons for Strength to Love. King had begun working on the sermons during a fortnight in jail in July 1962. Having been arrested for holding a prayer vigil outside Albany City Hall, King and Ralph Abernathy shared a jail cell for fifteen days that was, according to King, ‘‘dirty, filthy, and ill-equipped’’ and “the worse I have ever seen.” While behind bars, he spent uninterrupted time preparing the drafts for classic sermons such as “Loving Your Enemies,” “Love in Action,” and “Shattered Dreams,” and continued to work on the volume after his release.
Beacon Press recently brought out, as part of the King Legacy Series, a new version of this book. A Gift of Loveincludes these classic sermons, along with two new preachings. Collectively they present King’s fusion of Christian teachings and social consciousness, and promote his prescient vision of love as a social and political force for change.
The following passage, "Loving Your Enemies," is an apt meditation for today. The inauguration puts to rest a combative campaign season even as we watch our leaders, having narrowly avoided the fiscal cliff, square off for battles over the debt ceiling and gun control on Capitol Hill. Perhaps if they could take to heart King's exhortation to "discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives," we might enter an era of more civil, productive discourse in Washington.
From "Loving Your Enemies"
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven. matthew 5:43–45
Probably no admonition of Jesus has been more difficult to follow than the command to “love your enemies.” Some men have sincerely felt that its actual practice is not possible. It is easy, they say, to love those who love you, but how can one love those who openly and insidiously seek to defeat you? Others, like the philosopher Nietzsche, contend that Jesus’ exhortation to love one’s enemies is testimony to the fact that the Christian ethic is designed for the weak and cowardly, and not for the strong and courageous. Jesus, they say, was an impractical idealist.
In spite of these insistent questions and persistent objections, this command of Jesus challenges us with new urgency.
Upheaval after upheaval has reminded us that modern man is traveling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction and damnation. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist: he is the practical realist.
I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who talk glibly about the easiness of the moral life. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God. So when Jesus said “Love your enemy,” he was not unmindful of its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it. Our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.
Let us be practical and ask the question, How do we love our enemies?
First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.” Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.
William Ayers is Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the founder of the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society, and he is the author of many books on education, including Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom, On the Side of the Child, and A Kind and Just Parent. His new memoir, Public Enemy: Memoirs of Dissident Days, will be published by Beacon Press in Fall 2013.
I’m sure this is a moment you want to savor, a time to take a deep breath, get some rest, hydrate, regain your balance, and take a long walk in the sunshine. It might be as well a good time to reflect, rethink, recharge, and perhaps reignite. I sincerely hope that it is, and I urge you to put education on your reflective agenda.
The landscape of “educational reform” is currently littered with rubble and ruin and wreckage on all sides. Sadly, your administration has contributed significantly to the mounting catastrophe. You’re not alone: The toxic materials have been assembled as a bipartisan endeavor over many years, and the efforts of the last several administrations are now organized into a coherent push mobilized and led by a merry band of billionaires including Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Sam Walton, and Eli Broad.
Whether inept or clueless or malevolent—who’s to say?—these titans have worked relentlessly to take up all the available space, preaching, persuading, promoting, and, when all else fails, spreading around massive amounts of cash to promote their particular brand of school change as common sense. You and Secretary Arne Duncan—endorsed in your efforts by Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, and a host of reactionary politicians and pundits—now bear a major responsibility for that agenda.
The three most trumpeted and simultaneously most destructive aspects of the united “school reform” agenda are these: turning over public assets and spaces to private management; dismantling and opposing any independent, collective voice of teachers; and reducing education to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person through a test score. While there’s absolutely no substantive proof that this approach improves schooling for children, it chugs along unfazed—fact-free, faith-based reform at its core, resting firmly on rank ideology rather than any evidence whatsoever.
The three pillars of this agenda are nested in a seductive but wholly inaccurate metaphor: Education is a commodity like any other—a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screwdriver—that is bought and sold in the marketplace. Within this controlling metaphor the schoolhouse is assumed to be a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads.
It’s rather easy to begin to think that “downsizing” the least productive units, “outsourcing” and “privatizing” a space that was once public, is a natural event. Teaching toward a simple standardized measure and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes” (winners and losers) becomes a rational proxy for learning; “zero tolerance” for student misbehavior turns out to be a stand-in for child development or justice; and a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools—but never on lawmakers, foundations, corporations, or high officials (they call it “accountability")—is logical and level-headed.
I urge you to resist these policies and reject the dominant metaphor as wrong in the sense of inaccurate as well as wrong in the sense of immoral.
Education is a fundamental human right, not a product. In a free society education is based on a common faith in the incalculable value of every human being; it’s constructed on the principle that the fullest development of all is the condition for the full development of each, and, conversely, that the fullest development of each is the condition for the full development of all. Further, while schooling in every totalitarian society on earth foregrounds obedience and conformity, education in a democracy emphasizes initiative, courage, imagination, and entrepreneurship in order to encourage students to develop minds of their own.
When the aim of education and the sole measure of success is competitive, learning becomes exclusively selfish, and there is no obvious social motive to pursue it. People are turned against one another as every difference becomes a potential deficit. Getting ahead is the primary goal in such places, and mutual assistance, which can be so natural in other human affairs, is severely restricted or banned. It’s no wonder that cheating scandals are rampant in our country and fraudulent claims are commonplace.
Race to the Top is but one example of incentivizing bad behavior and backward ideas about education as the Secretary of Education begins to look and act like a program officer for some charity rather than the leading educator for all children: It’s one state against another, this school against that one, and my second grade in fierce competition with the second grade across the hall.
You have opposed privatizing social security, pointing out the terrible risks the market would impose on seniors if the voucher plan were ever adopted. And yet you’ve supported—in effect—putting the most endangered young people at risk through a similar scheme. We need to expand, deepen, and fortify the public space, especially for the most vulnerable, not turn it over to private managers. The current gold rush of for-profit colleges gobbling up student loans is but one cautionary tale.
You’ve said that you defend working people and their right to organize and yet you have publicly and noisily maligned teachers and their unions on several occasions. You need to consider that good working conditions are good teaching conditions, and that good teaching conditions are good learning conditions. We can’t have the best learning conditions if teachers are forced away from the table, or if the teaching corps is reduced to a team of short-termers and school tourists.
You have declared your support for a deep and rich curriculum for all students regardless of circumstance or background, and yet your policies rely on a relentless regimen of standardized testing, and test scores as the sole measure of progress.
You should certainly pause and reconsider. What’s done is done, but you can demonstrate wisdom and true leadership if you pull back now and correct these dreadful mistakes.
In a vibrant democracy, whatever the most privileged parents want for their children must serve as a minimum standard for what we as a community want for all of our children. Arne Duncan attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (as did our three sons); you sent your kids to Lab, and so did your friend Rahm Emanuel. There students found small classes, abundant resources, and opportunities to experiment and explore, ask questions and pursue answers to the far limits, and a minimum of time-out for standardized testing. They found, as well, a respected and unionized teacher corps, people who were committed to a life-long career in teaching and who were encouraged to work cooperatively for their mutual benefit (and who never would settle for being judged, assessed, rewarded, or punished based on student test scores).
Good enough for you, good enough for the privileged, then it must be good enough for the kids in public schools everywhere—a standard to be aspired to and worked toward. Any other ideal for our schools, in the words of John Dewey who founded the school you chose for your daughters, “is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy.”
By now everyone knows there are four same-sex
marriage ballot initiatives coming up next month. Minnesota’s is the
old-fashioned kind—a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Maryland
and Washington will vote on whether to keep from going into effect legislation
passed last term allowing same-sex couples to marry. In Maine, voters will
decide whether to enact marriage equality by popular vote; if it passes, it
will be the first state to grant marriage equality this way. Three years ago,
Maine voters rejected a marriage equality law passed by the legislature.
Of course I hope the Maine initiative is
successful (and that the other measures fail). But I am deeply troubled by an
apparent switch in focus by the campaign for marriage equality. According to
Thursday’s Los Angeles Times, the
campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage, Matt McTighe, reports that
campaign volunteers going door-to-door talking to voters “talk less about gay
rights and more about marriage as a stabilizing force in society.” In other
words, this fight for marriage equality is less about equality and more about
But what does it mean to sell same-sex
marriage because marriage is a stabilizing force? If we denominate
those who marry the virtuous ones, then those who don’t marry must be
de-stabilizing. I have never understood how this can be a pro-gay message, when
up until recently there have been no same-sex marriages but there have been a
whole lot of long-term same-sex relationships, with and without children,
contributing to civic life and their communities. The gay rights message can’t
be that we think those families were a de-stabilizing force on society because
they weren’t married. So the message must be a dig at heterosexuals who don’t
marry, and that’s the same message right wing organizations use when they blame
single mothers for all our social problems, thereby displacing responsibility
from the income inequality, inadequate education system, race and sex
discrimination, and lack of public support for childrearing that really cause
our nation’s problems. (For more on this, read one of my early blog posts here.)
Long-time marriage equality opponent David
Blankenhorn got a lot of attention this past summer for his conversion to
marriage equality supporter. In a recent video opposing
Minnesota’s constitutional amendment, Blankenhorn explains that he dropped
his opposition because opposing gay marriage was not helping achieve his goals
of having “society renew its commitment to the marital institution” and having
more children grow up in stable two parent homes. In his New York Times
piece explaining his conversion, he called
for a coalition of gay and straight people who want to “strengthen marriage.” And
he tells us what that means. His agenda is: people should
marry before having children and should marry rather than “cohabit.” He
also hopes this coalition will agree that children born from assisted
reproduction should have a “right to know and be known by” those who donated
the semen or eggs that resulted in their birth. (He calls those people “their
biological parents,” but I am more critical of using the word “parent” in this
context.) So by his account, same-sex couples should not live together until
they marry; should not have children unless and until they marry; and should
not use anonymous sperm or egg donors to procreate. With friends like that....
I’m not saying that Mainers United for
Marriage believes those things. But consider its name. Not Mainers United
for Marriage Equality, or even Mainers United for the Freedom to Marry. Mainers
United for Marriage. If you didn’t know otherwise, that could be the name of a
group opposing marriage for same-sex couples, because, after
all, those groups say they are for marriage. I, on the other
hand, am for equality. And proud of it.
*This campaign is intended for parody only. Beacon Press does not endorse any one candidate, especially Tweet Laureate, since it doesn't exist. The book, however, is real, and you can win a copy!
In June 2011, much-loved novelist Elinor Lipman made a pledge to post one political tweet poem a day until the presidential election. For over a year, she has risen early to read the headlines and track the latest political debacles, then brought the tumult of the election season to the Twittersphere in the form of one 140-character rhyming poem every day.
Elinor Lipman's proven track record of providing a daily dose of much-needed humor in verse makes her the best (and, as far as we know, only) candidate for Tweet Laureate. Tweet your support and be entered to win a campaign button and a copy of Tweet Land of Liberty!
I support a funnier America! @ElinorLipman for #TweetLaureate: http://goo.gl/Bjnjp #TweetLandofLiberty
Lipman has already gathered endorsements (if not generous financial contributions to a shady Super PAC) from a wide range of supporters:
"First I laughed my way through Elinor Lipman's book of political tweets. Then I put my ear to the ground and listened to Molly Ivins guffawing from the grave. Lipman is a piquant poetic rock star! " —Wally Lamb
"This year, has there any better way to revel in the political process than to pour a cup of coffee, log into Twitter, and read one of Elinor Lipman's clever, catchy tweets about the race for the presidency? With humor, wit, and no small share of brilliance, Lipman has cataloged the 2012 election in delectable sound bytes that manage to capture what we're all secretly thinking—in rhyme, and in less than 140 characters." —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Lone Wolf and Sing You Home
"If brevity be The soul of wit/ Then Elinor has A surefire hit." —Alex Beam
"Devilishly and deliciously witty. We could all use a laugh a day and Elinor Lipman has given me that." —Judy Blume
"It's nice to see that Lipman's wit has escaped the hell of Twitter and collected itself in a book." —Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom
"A devotion of fearless, sassy, sublime insights, that should be carried into the voting booth of our daily lives—each poem read again and again—before any lever is pulled." —Nikky Finney, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry
"So it has come to this! Of thee I zing. I love it." —Lois Lowry
"The only sane, smart and witty thing to come out of the Republican primaries." —Stephen McCauley
"Jon Stewart in 140 characters -- and in the morning. What could be better?" —Stacy Schiff
"Winsome, witty and winning! I don't know how she does it!! " —Anita Shreve
"Elinor Lipman tweets like a nightingale with an eagle eye." —Cathleen Schine
Liberals seem to get all the attention for investing and shopping according to their ethical values, perhaps because the Civil Rights movement began with a boycott of the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. And since then, the most famous consumer actions have tended to tilt leftward—against Dow Chemical for making napalm during the Vietnam War, or against Nike and now Apple for dreadful working conditions at overseas factories.
So it’s only fair that it’s finally the conservatives’ turn.
Accordingly, gay rights groups have called for a boycott, while Christian conservatives promised to eat more chicken than ever and declared a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” Conservative politicians like the former presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are leading the charge.
Rare though it might seem to be, Chick-fil-A isn’t the first right-wing consumer cause. For instance, there are socially responsible investment vehicles from all sides of the values spectrum. Some religious-based funds avoid companies in the business of selling alcohol, tobacco, and military equipment—seemingly liberal causes—but others shun anything to do with abortion or birth control. The Republican state treasurer of Missouri launched a “terror-free fund” a few years back, to bam companies that have a financial relationship with countries on the federal government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Years ago, Pepsi was known as the “Republican” cola, and Coke was the “Democratic” alternative, because of the political campaigns to which each manufacturer supposedly donated.
As it happens, I’ve never eaten at Chick-fil-A. Until this controversy, I was only vaguely aware of the company, and there are no outlets near me.
On the other hand, I also don’t live near any In-N-Out Burger sites—I’m in New York, and the chain is located only in the West—but my family makes a beeline whenever we are within 10 miles of an In-N-Out restaurant, because we love the high-quality beef and secret sauce. Never mind that this brand, too, could be considered a fundamentalist Christian company, because the late president, a born-again Christian, instituted a practice of referencing Biblical chapters and verses on its paper cups. (Who even looks at the bottom of the cups?)
It’s too soon to tell which side will win the current chicken war. As a liberal, of course I hope the pro-Chick-fil-A movement flounders. I am troubled by the intolerance—indeed, the avid and self-satisfied intolerance—of the chain’s owner. If I ever stumble across an outlet, I will stay away.
Yet in a weird way, I’m glad to see the concept of ethical shopping gaining favor among conservatives.
True, right-wing activism will probably lead to more union-busting or anti-gay bias in the short run, if consumers flock to companies that engage in those practices. Chick-fil-A would undoubtedly rake in less profit if people like Huckabee and Santorum weren’t making such a concerted effort to dine there.
However, in the longer run, this trend could mean a chance for dialogue. With both sides now talking the language of ethical consumption and activism, maybe we can change some minds or find common ground.
We all win when consumers realize that every dollar has a larger meaning.
Obama’s announcement is absolutely huge. I think it will go down in history as an instance when a president had the courage to throw his weight behind an initiative that he believed in—that he wanted to be on the right side of—even if the political consequences were uncertain. It will definitely energize the LGBT community, as well as a lot of young people who are strong supporters of gay marriage. Lots of people are saying, “This is great. The guy I voted for in 2008 is back—somebody who’s committed to change and somebody I can believe in!”
I think it also will have impact on some people who are still on the fence on the gay marriage issue. Obama’s announcement will nudge them—people who respect him—to commit themselves to this issue.
It is very gratifying to have the president of the United States recognize the full humanity of lesbian and gay Americans. I am not surprised. I am reminded of President Clinton being called “the first black president.” President Obama could be called the “first gay president.” He is slowly dismantling the institutions of discrimination at the federal level. After ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and choosing not to defend DOMA, declaring his support for full marriage equality seems like the next logical step. We should congratulate our movement—and the bravery of millions of gay and lesbian people who over the last thirty years have chosen to come out and fight for their rights. It is amazing that it has been not quite 20 years since the first court—in Hawaii—declared heterosexual marriage laws discriminatory. We still have a long way to go, as the North Carolina vote indicated on Tuesday. But I think we can all rest assured that when the President supports equality, we are moving toward justice for all. (Photo by Marilyn Humphries.)
OnLate Night With Jimmy Fallon last night, the President joined Fallon and the Roots to slow jam on the need to keep rates from doubling on Stafford Loans this summer. POTUS got his groove on and the audience--many of whom are probably dealing with their own crippling student loan debts--went wild. The "Barackness Monster" (who paid off his own student loans only eight years ago) and Fallon aren't alone in their advocacy on this issue: an editorial in the New York Times points out that, "At a time when many graduates are desperate for jobs, the interest rate increase would add an average of $1,000 a year to their debt." The Occupy Movement has taken on student loan debt as a signature cause this spring. And even Mitt Romney, "voiced support for keeping federal student loan interest rates from going up – a position that puts him at odds with Republicans in Congress." (Politico)
Nine years ago, I encountered a man from Ohio on a flight from LaGuardia to the Akron-Canton Airport just as the Iraq War was starting. I wish I could talk to him again.
While sharing armrests but diverging on political leanings, we had a rather heated tête-à-tête about war in Iraq. He was firmly in favor of the war, and, in fact, wanted all the shock and awe the U.S. could deliver. He reasoned that Iraq was linked to al Qaeda and 9/11, and we couldn't let them get away with it.
I was fresh from the massive anti-war marches in New York and questioned the truth of any connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, although President Bush and Vice President Cheney had drawn the association with regularity. My seatmate's whole body leaned over to the right -- literally. "I feel so sorry for you," he said. "How cynical you must be to think that the president would lie."
Now, nine years later, I feel sorry for all of us. If only, like the Beatles' Revolution 9, played backwards by disc jockeys of the day, we could rewind this tune. The false statements and lies that were used by President Bush and his team to drive the nation to war and occupation in Iraq have caused immeasurable heartbreak with thousands upon thousands of lost and damaged lives -- U.S. and allies' personnel, Iraqi civilians and military, international journalists and bystanders. The financial costs to the U.S. have reached $800 billion, according to the American Progress Center's Iraq War Ledger, and the ticker is still going.
Now we know that President Bush and his team lied repeatedly -- investigative researchers at the Center for Public Integrity documented 935 false statements about Iraq in the two years after 9/11 (memorialized in a song by Harry Shearer). More than mere harmless "pants on fire" posturing, these statements violate the federal criminal law.
Now that Bush and Cheney are no longer in office, the law can reckon with them on this and other outrageous incursions, such as wiretapping without warrants and torture. And prosecuting is a mighty good idea if we are to have a robust democracy down the road.
President Bush deceived Congress in two direct ways -- one was a speech; the other was a letter sent to Congress, stipulating that he had met the prerequisites set by Congress in order to launch a war into Iraq.
The speech came on January 28, 2003 : the State of the Union message personally delivered to both houses of Congress. Two-thirds of the speech was devoted to Iraq, and much of what the president said was simply false. It was here that President Bush asserted that Iraq was buying the uranium needed to build a nuclear weapon from a country in Africa. The "sixteen words," later retracted, were known to be untrue. Their deceptiveness was unmasked when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote that he had traveled to Africa before the war at the behest of the Bush administration and had reported back that Iraq was not buying uranium. (As told in Fair Game, Wilson's statements spurred a vicious White House reaction targeting his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame.)
President Bush also said that Iraq was procuring aluminum tubes for nuclear weapons, but that matter had already been dashed as wrong by the International Atomic Energy Agency, noted Joby Warrick in theWashington Post. Finally, President Bush said, as my Ohio seatmate parroted, that "Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda," but those connections had been debunked immediately after 9/11 by counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke.
Things only got worse in the weeks after the State of the Union. Congress, as the branch of government charged with declaring war, had set stipulations in October 2002 that President Bush had to satisfy before a war could be launched in Iraq. Rather than meet them, the president flouted them. That is, he lied. On March 18, 2003, the president literally signed, sealed and delivered letters stating that a war in Iraqwas a "necessary" action against those who "planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." Not only was war not necessary, Iraq had not aided in the attacks of 9/11.
The president's letter also certified that Iraq posed a "continuing" threat to the U.S. As the president knew, it did not -- it had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and none were in development. The president admitted this to Prime Minister Tony Blair before the war, according to leaked British memos obtained by international lawyer and author Philippe Sands.
Piling on the false statements, the president stated in the letters, untruthfully, that "peaceful means" would not protect the U.S. But weapons inspectors were peacefully in Iraq and, while they had found no WMD, they were willing to continue to look. In addition, the president blew off the UN Security Council andrefused to fulfill the requirement for a critical second resolution before going to war (it would have been vetoed). International lawyers objected vehemently to the rejection of this diplomatic process, and this has become an ongoing scandal in Britain, where the Iraq Inquiry has been taking testimony, much of it damning, on the start of the Iraq war.
Lying to the U.S. Congress is a federal crime under Section 1001 of the federal code, and working in concert with others to lie to Congress is prohibited by conspiracy laws under Section 371. These are not mothballed laws, but ones that are being used regularly to charge others with crimes. Former Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens was criminally charged for making a false statement to Congress in denying any use of steroids. The American League's 2002 Most Valuable Player Miguel Tejada pleaded guilty in 2009 to making a false statement to Congress about his knowledge of other players' use of banned substances. Of Tejada, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Durham said, "People have to know that when Congress asks questions, it's serious business. And if you don't tell the truth -- and we can prove you haven't told the truth -- then there will be accountability." Tejada was placed on probation, ordered to do 100 hours of community service and required to pay a fine of $5,000.
Not even that modest level of accountability has been applied to President Bush. Lying about knowledge of steroids is obviously a blip on the scale compared to lying about 9/11, WMD and the need for war. We still have had no clear explanation of why President Bush and his team drove the nation to war and occupation in Iraq; in fact, in his book, Decision Points, the former president said that he had no apologies even though no WMD were found, and he thought the world was better off for the war. He was completely oblivious to the suffering of so many who lost loved ones or were injured, displaced, tortured and permanently harmed.
We need to put any future president on notice -- now -- that lying to Congress about the need for war is serious business. Prosecution under the criminal laws of the United States is the best way to hold President Bush accountable. I'd like to find that man from Ohio; I think he'll agree -- we can't let him "get away with it."
Today's post is from the authors of Cheating Justice, Cynthia L. Cooper, an award-winning journalist and lawyer, and Elizabeth Holtzman, a lawyer, former prosecutor and former member of Congress who served on the House committee that investigated Watergate.
When President George W. Bush and his team left office, mounds of misdeeds were left to fester. Some of their transgressions in office were so shocking – lying to Congress in order to embroil the nation in war and occupation, illegally wiretapping Americans without warrants, authorizing torture that had been outlawed by U.S. and international law – that he and Vice President Cheney probably should have been impeached and removed from office.
Instead, they completed their terms and sped away. Even though Bush publicly announced in his 2010 memoir that he had personally authorized waterboarding, a recognized form of torture -- “Damn right,” he is quoted as saying – hardly a peep was heard about seeking accountability. But how can that be? Key to preserving our democracy is the concept that no person is above the law.
In order to ignite a national conversation on the topic, we set out to show how and why the president and vice president should be held accountable – especially, how they can be prosecuted. That meant looking at the available evidence, investigating precisely what laws are implicated and determining, as best as possible, whether a prima facie case could be made. We found enough to make a courageous prosecutor sit up and take notice, although the statute of limitations is ticking in some areas. We found clear problems under laws related to the conspiracy to deceive Congress, foreign intelligence surveillance and U.S. anti-torture laws – each of which needs prosecutorial attention.
Perhaps the most startling example of their extraordinary actions was the gutting of the War Crimes Act of 1996. This law was a healthy, robust and muscular law when President Bush took office. It had a proud history -- introduced in Congress by a Republican from North Carolina, passed by a bipartisan majority, signed by a Democratic president. The law implemented the Geneva Conventions for the U.S. and prohibited U.S. personnel from torturing detainees, and banned degrading treatment, cruelty, acts of humiliation and outrages against personal dignity.
To understand how far the president and vice president strayed from the War Crimes Act means facing what happened to some detainees. For example, at Guantanamo, Mohammed al Qahtani, a Saudi, was detained under blinding continuous light and extreme isolation, interrogated 20 hours a day, threatened by an aggressive dog, led around on all fours with a leash, exposed to life-threatening cold temperatures, subjected to beatings, forced nudity, forced enemas – and more. Other “approved” techniques included locking a detainee in a closed box and dropping in an insect. The pictures that eventually emerged from Abu Ghraib were only a sliver of the story.
The evidence shows that the president and vice president authorized and personally approved a scheme of cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees. But when the 2006 Supreme Court decision in Hamdanv. Rumsfeld said that the Geneva Conventions could not be summarily erased, Bush and Cheney knew that they might be held criminally liable under the War Crimes Act. They went into high gear to protect themselves, slipping a series of loopholes into another law, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, under the deceptive sub-heading of “implementation of treaty obligations.”
These changes shredded the War Crimes Act. Conduct that was previously illegal was suddenly made legal. For example, crimes of “cruel and inhuman treatment” were eliminated from the law in an apparent effort to legalize beatings, sensory deprivation, and the like. Even more astonishing, the law was made retroactive to 1997 -- something that may be unprecedented in U.S. history.
These examples of legal hocus-pocus are windows into the extent of the Bush efforts to create buffers of personal protection from the law. But, even in this area, other laws may still come into play, especially the U.S. anti-torture law and international human rights protections.
The actions of Bush and Cheney sully our democratic heritage and stain our constitutional system. If they are allowed to “get away with it,” nothing will be able to stop any future president or high official from similarly trampling on our rights and violating other criminal laws. It’s not too late, and people of conscience can make a case, knowing that the country as a whole will suffer if Bush and Cheney remain uninvestigated, unprosecuted and unaccountable.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced a new special unit to investigate abusive lending and packaging of mortgage risk that led to the housing and financial crisis. These abuses began years ago, under the Bush administration and possibly before. Yet since it's widely felt that impunity for banks and financial institutions hurts our economy and undermines our rule of law, the president's proposal was well received.
In the same way, treating Bush administration officials with impunity for their criminal actions undermines the Constitution and the rule of law, which is why we need a special prosecutor to investigate them. Impunity for the powerful doesn't just breed cynicism and anger in the public; it helps ensure that misconduct, criminal or otherwise, will be repeated. It creates a dual system of justice, corroding democracy itself. The longer we wait, the greater the damage and the higher the price we pay.
Take the Iraq War. The Bush team falsely told Congress that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction threatened us with a "mushroom cloud" and that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were in cahoots. They said a military effort would be a "cakewalk," lasting five months and costing $50 billion. In fact it lasted over eight years, cost more than $1 trillion, killed more than four thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and injured tens of thousands of our troops.
If it seems as though there should be a law against this, there is; it just hasn't been enforced.
Conspiracy to defraud Congress is a federal crime; a proper inquiry into whether the Bush administration violated the law is required. So is a comprehensive investigation into the origins of the war, whether or not criminal activity was involved. So far, the U.S. has refused to undertake a full-scale inquiry to ascertain "what the president knew and when he knew it."
Doing so wouldn't be quixotic or backward-looking. Other democracies have acted. Britain and the Netherlands undertook investigations of their involvement in the Iraq War, so why can't we? Britain conducted extensive hearings, calling former Prime Minister Tony Blair, among others, to testify. While the British inquiry panel has not yet issued its conclusions, the Netherlands inquiry found Parliament was deceived and that the Iraq war was contrary to international law.
Lying to Congress and the American people to sell a war is an especially dangerous thing to treat with impunity. Presidents need to know that they will suffer serious consequences if they try it -- that they could realistically be found guilty of a federal crime, or, if the misconduct doesn't rise to that level, that official inquiries and disclosures could shame them forever, damaging their standing and legacy.
Other misdeeds of President Bush and Vice President Cheney also require review: Torture and mistreatment of prisoners violate the anti-torture statue and possibly the watered-down War Crimes Act. Authorizing illegal wiretapping violates the federal anti-wiretapping law. Both would carry a criminal penalty and both must be investigated.
Refusing to review possible criminal misconduct by the Bush administration also cripples American power. It makes it harder for the U.S. to condemn impunity abroad. How effectively can we argue for the rule of law in Syria or Iraq or anywhere else if we don't apply it fully here at home?
And it leaves Americans open to foreign prosecution. If we refuse to act, other countries will investigate and prosecute U.S. officials who may have violated criminal or international law. If their citizens were mistreated in Guantanamo, or torture took place on their soil, they can claim jurisdiction. Right now, Spain is launching an inquiry into top Bush administration lawyers who greenlighted torture.
In the long run, no matter how much the U.S. tries to duck accountability, there will no impunity. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was finally prosecuted for torture and murder, despite 27 years of evading it.
In the U.S., there is no statute of limitations for certain cases of torture, including when death results. One day, there will be prosecutions for the misdeeds of the Bush administration. Then the whole story of torturing and mistreating detainees will be spread out on the table of history for all to see. The question is, how long will we have to live with impunity and how much more damage to American democracy and power will we suffer until that day comes?
Today's post is by Patricia Harman, a certified nurse midwife and author who lives and works near Morgantown, West Viriginia. Her first book, The Blue Cotton Gown, was called “luminescent, ruthlessly authentic, humane, and brilliantly written” by author Samuel Shem. Her second book, Arms Wide Open, was described by Tina Cassidy, author of Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born, as "A sparkling, vivid story of how a midwife is born-and survives."
As a nurse-midwife and women’s health care provider, I see the issue from the front-line when my patients who don’t have insurance come to me with breast problems. Follow me into my exam room and you’ll see what I mean.
Forty-five-year-old Gail Wilson lies on the table with her left breast exposed. I don’t even have to touch her to see there’s a mass. A lump the size of a quail’s egg shows in the upper right quadrant and I inwardly cringe.
“It’s bad isn’t it?” Gail asks me.
“Well, it’s not good, but not all lumps are cancer. How long have you had it?”
“About a year.”
“A year! Weren’t you worried?"
“Not at first, but finally my husband insisted I get an exam. He was laid off at the shirt factory three years ago and we don’t have health insurance…” Her voice trails off apologetically. “There isn’t a Planned Parenthood in my area and it took a few months to find a provider that would see me.” I let out my air wondering how and where I will get this woman a mammogram. I can do her visit for free, but it’s $350, at the hospital, for the scan.
It takes me four days and I’m getting worried, when I finally find a program through the health department that will fund Mrs. Wilson’s mammogram. Unfortunately the news isn’t good; the test shows breast cancer, stage 4, with metastasis into the lymph nodes. Gail waited too long. She won’t last the year.
Approximately 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop breast cancer during their life time, that’s around 300,000 new cases each year and 20% of those women don’t have health insurance.
In a nation as rich as the United States, it is a travesty that people like Gail and her family cannot get diagnostic tests when they need them, cannot get an examination when they’re ill, cannot get medication when it’s prescribed.
The Susan Komen incident should be a wake up call. There are those on the religious right who are willing to sacrifice important health care services to the poor in order to advance their pro-life agenda. Until everyone has access to care, no matter what our personal beliefs about pregnancy termination, we must support Planned Parenthood and other women’s health organizations like it. That’s Pro-life too.
“Here at last is a book for everyone who is outraged—or just bewildered—that Bush, Cheney and other top officials escaped prosecution for their many flagrant violations of the law. Will there really be no consequences for the men who lied us into war, compromised our civil liberties, and made "waterboarding" and "Guantanamo" household words? Passionately, clearly and concisely, Elizabeth Holtzman lays out how it happened, how the Bush Administration secretly sought to immunize itself from prosecution, and how we can still hold the perpetrators accountable.” —Katha Pollitt, author of Subject to Debate
“This book makes a vital contribution to addressing the abuses of power of the Bush administration. Unfortunately today, nearly three years after the end of the George W. Bush administration, our nation still labors under the many excesses of that era. Holtzman’s book offers a cogent and elaborate account of that time period and important insights into how we can prevent those from recurring.”—John Conyers Jr., author of The Constitution in Crisis
"Elizabeth Holtzman, who helped bring President Nixon to justice in the Watergate hearings, now takes on the bigger, deeper and even more crucial task of investigating—and exposing—exactly how President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney started an illegal war, subverted civil liberties, human rights and the law itself, and then used the national trauma following 9/11 to cover it up. Start to read Cheating Justice, and you won't be able to put it down."— Gloria Steinem, co-founder Ms. Magazine, writer and feminist activist
Despite the many misdeeds of and abuses of criminal law by the Bush administration, there has been no accountability. Former U.S. representative Elizabeth Holtzman pairs with lawyer and journalist Cynthia L. Cooper to explain why we can't "just move on." They lay bare how the Bush-Cheney administration broke a multitude of laws and betrayed American values, and exactly why and precisely how we, the people, must bring them to justice for their crimes, their cover-ups, and their deceit.
Backed by strong evidence gleaned from "astounding" research, Holtzman and Cooper argue that the Bush administration not only violated various U.S. laws but also changed many laws to escape prosecution for their crimes later. The authors demonstrate how a failure to hold George W. Bush and Dick Cheney accountable would set a dangerous precedent for the future leadership of America.
Bush and Cheney deceived Congress and the people to drive us into a war in Iraq; they claimed the right to wiretap illegally and to eavesdrop on citizens; and they authorized torture, upending laws and breaching international treaty obligations. Yet, both Bush and Cheney are boldly unabashed about their offenses. In his memoir, President Bush makes no apologies for his decision to start a war in Iraq, though no weapons of mass destruction, the ostensible reason for the war, were found there. And once out of office, Bush proudly said, "Damn right," about his approval of waterboarding, a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and U.S. law. Recent revelations about the extent and depth of their crimes, catalogued in detail here, make the need for accountability imperative.
As a member of Congress and part of the committee that investigated and held hearings on the conduct of President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, Elizabeth Holtzman condemns Bush's adoption of Nixon's claim that he acted in the interest of national security. Using Watergate-era reforms as a model, Holtzman details the steps necessary to undo the damage that the Bush-Cheney administration inflicted and explains how we can establish new protections to block future presidents from similarly abusing the law. Cheating Justice is not only a call to empower the American people, and a firm insistence that the nation's leaders are not above the law; it is also a blueprint by one of America's top legal minds for bringing Bush to justice and protecting the future of our democracy.
LGBT people awoke with a sense of dread to the news of Rick Santorum's near-tie with Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses. Santorum is not just the butt (pun intended) of a deservingly dirty joke; he has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to bashing gay people for political gain. He is the poster child for political homophobia.
And yet, this near-win is different, because America is different. Santorum represents not the resurgence of gay-baiting, but its last, self-defeating gasp.
Only a few years ago, homophobia was a great uniter. Short on campaign cash? Need to fire up the base? Why, flash a few images of the latest pride parade, compare same-sex marriage to bestiality, and the checks and self-rightous blog posts would flow like milk and honey. And while religiously-soaked gay-bashing wasn't the rhetoric of choice for neo-conservatives and fiscal conservatives, they went along with it, building a strong coalition between corporate capitalists and Christian conservatives.
Indeed, it has been remarked that this was Reaganism's great innovation: using social issues to convince working class people to vote against their economic interests. At first, it was the "Southern strategy," making use of coded racism. Later, it grew into gay-baiting, making use of overt homophobia. For at least twenty years, it was the winning formula for the Republican party. Enrich the rich by enraging the working poor.
Only now, things are different. Last May, a Gallup poll found a majority of Americans supported legalizing same-sex marriage. Last September, a large majority supported the end of the military's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy. And over the last year, we've seen a dramatic increase of LGBT (including T) people in the media, in politics, and in our communities.
As a result of these dramatic changes, Santorum's homophobia is more a liability than an asset. Gay people may be horrified at his near-win in Iowa, but we needn't be. His bigotry still plays to his base -- but it's only the base, only the extremists, who still soak it up.
Of course, public opinion could always turn against gay people. But I don't think that's likely, because it changed, over time, due to a very resilient and powerful force: truth. Straight folks have seen, in their own personal experience, that gay people are no more or less ethical than they are. There are lusty, libertine gays, and quiet, conservative ones. Gay people are atheist and religious, of all ethnic backgrounds, young and old, wild and mild. The stereotypes that all gay people are a certain way (lewd, anti-family, demonic, whatever) are simply not true, and anyone who bothers to -- no, allows themselves to -- get to know their gay neighbors realizes this.
And they've seen, too, that sexual orientation is a trait, not (as it has been variously labeled) a sin, pathology, "lifestyle choice," neurosis, or dysfunction. Sexuality is just part of who we are -- a good part.
That kind of truth isn't subject to the whims of political opinion. Once you see that stereotypes are lies, you don't go back to them later, especially when -- as poll after poll has shown us -- that knowledge comes first-hand. The lesbian couple in church, or the gay man raising a child, is far more potent an opinion-shifter than the latest fundraising santorum from the likes of Rick Santorum.
And by the way, this is even true within Santorum's base itself. In evangelical communities across the country, there are moderate voices questioning the way in which gay people have been singled out by the so-called Christian Right. While most evangelicals remain committed to a broad reading of Scripture regarding homosexuality, increasing numbers are voicing misgivings about whether it's really Christian to stigmatize gay people. Who Would Jesus Hate, after all?
Given the money and the races ahead in the Republican primary, there's no way Rick Santorum will be the party's nominee. Mitt Romney's PACs will destroy him just as they destroyed Newt Gingrich in Iowa, burying him under an avalanche of negative ads. But as depressing as Santorum's rise may seem to LGBT folks, this time really is different. We are not about to be victims again. On the contrary, if the polling data is accurate, the biggest victim of Santorum's homophobia will be Santorum himself.