}

Monday, June 30, 2008

Fundamentalist mischief?

One of the leading far right fundamentalist christianist groups in the US is Focus on Hate the Family. It’s leader, James Dobson, has repeatedly used lies, smears and distortions to promote an agenda that is so rabidly anti-gay that it deserves the word “homophobic” in a clinical sense. Dobson himself claims that John McSame isn’t “conservative enough” for his vote, but uses most of his venom to attack Democrats and Barack Obama.

The New Zealand branch office of the group recently sent secondary schools materials promoting the religious creation story, asking that the materials be made available in school libraries and to science departments. The Education Ministry said that the materials, while unsanctioned, do not breach the Education Act, so they don’t plan to ban distribution in schools. They added, however, that evolution underpins the science curriculum and schools have a responsibility to teach theories that are subject to accepted scientific scrutiny, and the religious creation story clearly is not.

As hostile as I am to the pseudo-science of the religious creation myth, I actually don’t have a problem with the materials being available in school libraries, provided that it’s not included in the science curriculum. If religionists want to come to the school to teach their religious dogma when school isn’t in session—before the day starts, after it ends or on weekends—I can live with that, too, as long as they arrange room rental on the same basis as any other group and as long as there is no compulsion for any student to attend.

The issue, for me, isn’t the availability of the materials, but whether religious indoctrination should be taught alongside science. Clearly it never should be.

The Stuff website in New Zealand ran a poll on this issue that had interesting results. They asked, “Should schools be allowed to teach 'intelligent design'?” Note the word “allowed” rather than “compelled”. The results were No (17,812 votes, 54.0%) and Yes (15,201 votes, 46.0%). At one point during the day, the results were actually 2-1 against.

These polls are completely unscientific and unrepresentative, so I normally take no notice. But here’s the thing: These polls are nearly always skewed dramatically to the right and even far right opinion. So if a majority of respondents were against simply allowing the teaching of religious creation in schools, that indicates that conservatives in New Zealand are nothing like their American counterparts. Dobson and his minions should take notice.

Still, given its agenda, Focus is hardly a neutral organisation, so I have to admit that when I read about this it occurred to me that there might be a bit of right wing mischief at work here. New Zealand faces an election in a few months, and the far right wants to rally its troops. If Focus on the (sort of) Family had been able to manufacture a clash with the Ministry of Education and, by extension, the Labour-led government, it would’ve helped them energise the evangelical voters that right wing parties will need. Unfortunately for them, the Education Ministry is far more sensible than the right gives them credit for and they took the proper position.

Still, this won’t be the last such tactic in the run-up to New Zealand’s election, and the efforts will be spread among a variety of far right and fundamentalist christianist groups. I’ll be watching as this story—ahem!—evolves.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Reflections on Gay Pride Day

On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, as was routine back then. This time, however, the patrons fought back. The rioting that ensued is credited as the birth of the modern gay/lesbian rights movement in the United States and other countries around the world. The last Sunday in June is celebrated as Gay Pride Day (also simply, “Gay Pride”) in many American cities, unusually involving a parade and festival of some sort.

Not surprisingly, a lot of podcasts and blogs have been talking about Gay Pride, since it’s Gay Pride Month in the Northern Hemisphere (some cities hold their events on other weekends, so as not to conflict with bigger cities’ events, or because of other reasons, like local climate). Some of the commentary I’ve seen has been about how Gay Pride’s time has passed. Some have said that it’s all well and good for younger people just coming out, but for those who’ve been out awhile, well, it’s all just so passé.

To be sure, the online world has changed everything. Gay men can log onto any number of online sites where they can find other men to hook-up with. How this is in any way evolution from the days of cruising in bars is beyond me, but it’s a fact. As gay men have left the bars for their keyboards, bars have closed, taking with them not only the vibrant nightlife, but also the community they supported, including GLBT newspapers and even community organisations.

“Well,” some will say, “we’re all beyond that now, and we don’t need those institutions. We’re far more accepted now.”

Oh, really? Recently I wrote about a young gay man who was killed in a hate crime, but his killer will serve only 18 months in jail. I wrote how a shameful 36 percent of Americans feel that there should be NO legal protections for gay relationships.

Then, too, the news recently reported how researchers confirmed the existence of structural differences between the brains of gay men and heterosexual men, and between lesbians and heterosexual women. Speculation resumed immediately that this difference may be caused by hormones, and that means that one day they’ll be able to “fix” it.

GLBT people are not accepted by the mainstream in America: It doesn’t value our lives, our relationships or even our very existence. If you think otherwise, you’re fooling yourself.

And what of Gay Pride Parades? For years they were a sources of strength, the one place and time in which the queers would outnumber the straights by hundreds—or even thousands—to one. There was a power in that, even though the effect was, more often than not, simply to make people feel better about themselves. When the crowds cleared, people returned to their lives, and even those who were more cloistered than closeted nevertheless adopted a cloak of invisibility to the rest of the world.

When I was young and newly out, and also newly out in the bars, people would comment on the guys who’d get a boyfriend and retire from the scene. As an activist, I used to wish mightily that gay couples—especially those who’d been together for years or decades—would come out to the bars sometimes to show the rest of us this was rather common.

I was reminded of this recently when I heard some people say that they don’t need Pride Parades because they’re happily coupled. That’s probably true, but just maybe the Pride Parades—and those who are attending for the first time—need them.

I know that I’ll never convince anyone that Pride Parades are necessary, nor that everyone should take part in them if they can. But there’s one last point I’d like to make about them.

Very often you’ll hear some gay person complain about how the only people who go to the parades are drag queens or leather daddies. They won’t, as so many have suggested over the years, go to the parades to change the ratio.

But our enemies don’t make those distinctions. To them, we’re all the same defectives, and they truly believe that at any moment we’ll live up to their stereotyped images of us. So, my final question is this: If our enemies see us as all the same, as one big colourful community, why can’t we?

Happy Pride!

Related: A long and powerful post, "Watching the Defectives" over at Joe.My.God

Editing out guns

In a brilliant editorial calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, the Chicago Tribune suggests that all this trouble with guns in America, and the deeply wrong Supreme Court ruling, could have been avoided if only the authors of the US Constitution had editors:

If the founders had limited themselves to the final 14 words, the amendment would have been an unambiguous declaration of the right to possess firearms. But they didn’t and it isn’t. The amendment was intended to protect the authority of the states to organize militias. The inartful wording has left the amendment open to public debate for more than 200 years. But in its last major decision on gun rights, in 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that that was the correct interpretation.

Without crystal-clear wording, the conservative majority on the Court scratched around desperately trying to carve out a right where none existed. They failed. As the Tribune said,

As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in a compelling dissent, the five justices in the majority found no new evidence that the 2nd Amendment was intended to limit the power of government to regulate the use of firearms. They found no new evidence to overturn decades of court precedent.

Instead, the Court ended up making law—this is called “judicial activism”. This ruling shows how willing—eager, even—the right wing is to embrace “judicial activism” when it’s to their benefit. The far right is either lying or deluded if they deny this. These right wingers get upset about “judicial activism” only when a court upholds concepts of fairness and justice that they oppose. But if judges create new law to benefit their conservative ideology, that’s a great thing for them—and bad for everyone else.

The right wing has been successful in framing this whole issue in terms of law-abiding citizens being able to defend themselves, completely ignoring that the average American will never see “street crime”, much less need a gun for defence. Indeed, guns in homes are far more likely to shoot a friend, family member or child. What about the right of elected officials to protect their citizens from the harm of handguns? That no longer exists; the Supreme Court shot and killed fundamental democracy.

So, I agree with the Tribune: Maybe we do need to repeal the Second Amendment. Like them, I don’t see it happening, but, thanks to the Supreme Court, it’s now the only debate about guns American citizens are allowed to have.


The full text of the Second Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Court shoots Constitution

There are times when we get to see events that are historic, some good, some not. The US Supreme Court ruling on guns is certainly historic, but it’s also the worst Court ruling of my lifetime.

To be sure, I’ve never been a fan of guns. I’ve also never believed that the US Constitution’s Second Amendment gives people the right to own handguns. Despite the US Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision that it does, I still don’t believe that.

At the heart of the issue is the wording of the Amendment: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Like many people, I believe that the “militia” part is critical, that the authors of the Constitution intended for guns to be kept as part of an organised and regulated defence force. If so, then the elected government has the right and power to ban handguns (which, let’s get real here, were not on the authors’ minds when they drafted the Constitution).

Writing for the majority, Antonin Scalia disagreed, as he would. I don’t know if there’s a single issue on which I agree with him; I doubt it. But it was supreme irony that the champion of turning to the authors of the Constitution to determine “original intent” chose to frame the Court’s opinion in term of what’s now popular (handguns), and not on the state’s compelling interest in promoting both safety and the general welfare.

In was predictable, too, that Clarence Thomas, the intellectual lightweight of the court, and Bush-Cheney appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito, the most fiercely ideological members of the Court, would back this decision. It’s disappointing that Anthony Kennedy sided with them, but he is often a swing vote.

Those who think this ruling decides the meaning of the Second Amendment once and for all are delusional. It’s entirely possible that a future Court will reverse this decision. After all, the Supreme Court once decreed that African Americans were not human, but mere property.

We know for certain that state and federal courts will be tied up for decades with challenges to each and every gun regulation, no matter how reasonable. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent (not that this worries America’s NRA and it’s very deep pockets). The Supreme Court will no doubt be asked many times to rule on some of those challenges, so this ruling will evolve over the next generation, at least.

We know something else, too: More than 30,000 Americans die from gun violence every year. With easier access to guns, this death toll can only soar.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley asked, “Why don't we do away with the court system and go back to the Old West, you have a gun and I have a gun, and we'll settle it in the streets…" Good question. Quickly after the ruling, Illinois gun groups filed a legal challenge to Chicago’s quarter-century-old ban on handguns. City lawyers express confidence because the Court’s ruling doesn’t necessarily apply to individual states and cities. We’ll see.

There’s one more thing that’s certain: This ruling greatly reinforces the world’s view of the US as a gun-mad, trigger-happy nation of cowboys. And really, can anyone blame them for holding that view? I can think of 30,000 reasons why they should.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Comment spam

I’ve been pretty luck, really: In nearly two years of blogging I’ve had very little comment spam. That word verification system, annoying though it may be, keeps spambots (automatic comment spamming software) away, so it takes a little more time and effort to spam the comments of any post.

Up until now, the comment spam I’ve had here has been easy to spot: It’s usually a vague comment that may, or may not, have anything to do with the post—or any other post. The give away has been that they always include a link to the site(s) they want you to visit.

Wordpress filters (like over at amerinzpodcast.com) automatically tag comments with a lot of hyperlinks so I can review them before they’re posted. At the other extreme, at Podomatic I used to get a lot of gaming spam, plus a lot of Chinese spam that was promoting, well, I have no idea what it was promoting (the huge numbers of links told me it was spam). Blogger has been somewhere between the two extremes.

Last night, I got one with a new twist (for me, at least): Someone placed a vacuous comment totally unrelated to the post, but there were no links; instead, where one normally clicks to go to the user profile there was a link to a site selling stuff. Naturally, I deleted the comment. I’ve since seen the same comment on other blogs, too.

Fighting spam seems to be a fact of online life now, and blog comments are no exception. To be clear, I have a simple policy about comments: Virtually any comment is acceptable, including anonymous comments. However, a comment that tries to trick people into visiting some shady site—commercial or otherwise—will be deleted. Of course, all comments ultimately remain at my discretion, but it would take extreme language for me to censor ordinary content—and then I’d tell you about it.

Sadly, in this world filled with spam, I have to be vigilant when I’d rather just have a conversation. Must be the price to pay.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

AmeriNZ 96 – A few words



Episode 96 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

Today I try and use all seven of the words that George Carlin noted one cannot say on US television. It’s not as easy as you may think.

I go over a few items from New Zealand’s news. That lets me expand on a number of issues, including Australians’ obsession with sports people. Next, I talk a bit about the change in my podcast hosting. I then go over some emails, since the comments related to the change in podcast hosts.

Leave a comment or ring my US listener line on (206) 339-8413. You can also email me at arthur{at]amerinzpodcast.com (or the old address at amerinz(at]yahoo.com).


Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Seven words


The “seven words” routine is one of my favourite George Carlin bits. It’s all just words—right?

I told you so—again (again)

New Zealand’s anti-smacking legislation is now one year old, and its opponents are still determined to try and repeal it. Despite having failed in their first attempt, they’re still trying to force a citizen-initiated referendum to do just that. Now, they’re running out of time.

The legislation was proposed Green Party MP Sue Bradford. It amended section 59 of the Crimes Act to remove the defence of “reasonable force” for parents who physically discipline their children. In practice, parents could severely beat their children and not face penalty because it was, they said, “reasonable force”.

Most reasonable people would think that defence was absurd and wrong, and should be removed. But the opponents felt otherwise, arguing that “good parents” would be prosecuted for ordinary discipline. It never happened.

Early reviews found a number of cases reported to the police for investigation, but that number has declined over time. No one has been prosecuted under the law. According to NewstalkZB, Murray Edridge, chief executive of children’s agency Barnardos, said that the review clearly shows police are not picking on good parents, and that police and courts are exercising sensible judgement, and using their discretion under the law change. As we’d expect them to.

So, if “good parents” aren’t being hauled into court and sent to prison, what’s the problem? Why are the opponents—the christianist right in particular—so adamant in their opposition?

Some of the opponents have formed a new right-wing, religiously-oriented political party that wants media attention. But among right-wing christianists in general, the act represents a threat to their worldview, that the father has the ultimate authority in determining what happens in the family, and with children in particular (with the support of the mother). Whether they would personally use excessive (and now illegal) force on their children is beside the point. For them, it’s about their authority and their right to not use illegal force.

Which is why no dose of reality will ever be enough to satisfy the opponents of this law. One day, however, they’ll give up trying to force their views on the rest of us, and children will be safer for it.

I also wrote about this in December, 2007: I told you so (again)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mugabe must go

I’m going to say something that most people won’t say, but know is true: Zimbabwe’s brutal dictator Robert Mugabe will only end Zimbabwe’s suffering by dying or being driven from office. It’s now abundantly clear, as I said last April, that he will never give up power willingly.

So, what are the options? The world community could unite and invade to topple him. That won’t happen because the country’s neighbours would never permit invasion armies to mass in their territories and without that, invasion isn’t possible.

The world community could send in hit squads to assassinate Mugabe. That’s a really bad idea, too, since the country would descend into chaos and anarchy that would make ordinary people’s suffering even worse. So, even though his death will be celebrated by freedom-loving people everywhere, the world community shouldn’t hasten its arrival.

What’s left? Clearly sanctions against Zimbabwe have resulted in nothing. So, the next logical step is to impose sanctions on any country that aids or abets Mugabe or his regime—yes, that probably means sanctions against South Africa.

Mugabe also must be declared an international pariah, subject to arrest for crimes against humanity anywhere in the world he travels to, though with the certainty of dying in prison for his crimes, Mugabe wouldn’t dare go to any country that would arrest him.

As tempting as it may be to meet brutality with brutality, violence with violence, the world community must resist. But it must also ramp up the pressure by working to undercut the dictator’s support.

One thing we do know: If Zimbabwe had large oil reserves, he’d have been toppled long ago.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Let the re-subscribing begin!

Well, a little later than I would’ve liked, but I have a new iTunes link for my AmeriNZ Podcast. If you haven’t done so already, click “unsubscribe” to the old iTunes link. Then, click the link below and click “Subscribe”.

And while you’re there, why not leave a 5-star review? I know, I know, I’m not paying any attention to those anymore, but to be a featured podcast, apparently I need some reviews.

It may take awhile for it to show up if you do a search, but the way to tell if you have the new or old podcast is that the new one is by "Arthur the AmeriNZ", while the old one is just by "Arthur".

The good news is that you won’t have to subscribe again. Regardless of where my files are actually stored, this subscription will remain valid. Thanks for your support during this difficult transition—and thanks for listening!

Update: I've changed all the iTunes links in all the old shownotes, so clicking them will take you to the new page on the iTunes Store.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Republican spin (again)

Last week, you couldn’t miss how John McCain and the Republicans were tripping all over themselves to condemn Barack Obama for deciding to decline public financing of his general election campaign. As usual, McCain and the Republicans weren’t being honest with American voters.

The truth is, as of May 31, Federal Election Commission records show that McCain and Obama are virtually tied for primary election fundraising ($31.6 million for McCain, $33.3 million for Obama). However, the Republican Party had raised $53.5 million to the Democrats’ $4 million.

With such a huge lead in money, McCain can easily afford to limit himself to the $84.1 million in taxpayer money (plus McCain raised $2.2 million for “legal and accounting costs”, and is free to raise more). If Obama accepted public financing, he’d be starting out $50 million behind McCain and the Republicans.

So, it’s easy—and awfully dishonest—for McCain and the Republicans to attack Obama for deciding to try and match their warchests. Money matters in American elections, and it would’ve been stupid for Obama to accept a financing deficit of more than $50 million.

It’s also worth noting that Obama will not accept donations from registered lobbyists; McCain has had them working on his campaign. McCain will also benefit from “527” organisations that will run smear campaigns against Obama and the Democrats. Most of Obama’s contributions have been $100 or less.

Once again, McCain and the Republicans have tried to spin a story to try and hide the truth: They have a huge lead in fundraising, and their goal is to try and keep it that way. This time, we won’t let them get away with the same old games.

Lessons at the mall

Today I went to the mall with Nigel, and at one point I sat on a bench waiting for him. I was across from the checkout lanes for one of the grocery stores in the mall.

A young family was checking out as I sat down—father, mother, girl of about 10 (it’s hard to tell these days) and a small boy of about four. The father and children moved to the side as the mother paid. The girl moved off slightly, absorbed by the magazine she was holding.

“Come here,” the father said to the boy. He spoke softly to him, then picked him up. His son wrapped his legs around his father’s waist, his arms around his neck. They stood together like that for a few minutes, quietly talking with each other. When the mother joined them, the father sat the boy on the handle for the shopping trolley. As they moved away, the boy kept his arms wrapped around his father’s neck.

When I was that boy’s age, that scene would have been impossible for so many reasons. In the early 1960s, the social convention was that once children could walk and talk, fathers were to show little affection for their children, sons in particular, except on certain special occasions—Christmas, birthdays, and maybe a handshake on days of special achievement. It was certainly not to be demonstrated in public.

So I can’t remember a time when I held onto my father that way; perhaps I did, but before I can remember. But neither can I remember ever thinking that was something I would want to do. It’s so much better that nowadays fathers can express affection toward their children, and that children can receive it, and today was hardly the first time I’ve seen it.

When conservatives pine for some mythological “better” past, a time that existed only on black and white television progammes and in their own imaginations, what they’re saying is that they want that boy I saw today to be worse off. We’ll never know how much better off the world would be if my generation had grown up in a less frigid emotional atmosphere, but we know enough to realise it’s nothing we should ever go back to. That boy, and the millions of boys and girls like him, deserve better. It’s up to all of us to make sure they get it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Unintentional irony

A joke that has to be explained isn’t really funny, but the reason this amused me was that Huckabee believes in divine creation, doesn’t believe in evolution, and that means, according to his religious beliefs, the earth is only thousands of years old. So, placing his name next to a story about a 148 million year old dinosaur bones is hugely ironic. I never saw these two stories side-by-side again.

Huckabee, meanwhile, has signed to be a commentator for—quelle surprise—Fox Noise. Reportedly, he’s still on the list of possibilities for John McSame’s running mate. I will not make any dinosaur jokes about that—nope, not me.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why McCain wants drilling



We all know why George Bush wants to drill for oil off the US coast: It would mean more profits for his buddies. After all, the Bush-Cheney regime is filled top to bottom with people with ties to the oil and gas industry, most notoriously Dick "Halliburton" Cheney and Condi "Chevron" Rice.

John McCain, again marching in lock-step with the Bush-Cheney regime, has flip-flopped on offshore drilling and endorsed it. Why? Because it turns out that, just like the Bush-Cheney regime, he's in the back pocket of the oil and gas industry.

McCain has received over US$1 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. This video reveals McCain's closest advisers who have close lobbying ties to the same industry.

Let's be honest here—something that Bush-Cheney-McCain cannot be: We cannot drill our way out of these high pump prices. If the permits that Bush-Cheney-McCain want were granted today, it could be a decade before it reached the petrol pumps of America. Clearly that's of no help now.

And, anyway, if this is such a great idea, why didn't the Republicans do this when they controlled Congress? They didn't do it because it's a colossally bad idea.

Instead, the US desperately needs research toward energy independence. That will require federal involvement, as Barack Obama has proposed. McCain, like Bush-Cheney, wants to leave it to the states and to "the market". Yeah, and that's worked out so well already.

But McCain doesn’t just want to drill off the US coast; he wants to build 45 new nuclear reactors—what decade is this guy in again? If McCain doesn’t understand the realities of the 21st Century, or is unwilling to address them, then he needs to get out of the way of those who do, no matter what his buddies want.

Thanks to a friend for posting the video.

Not Alex

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

AmeriNZ 95 - Changes abound



Episode 95 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

Today's episode is all about changes, some major, some not.

I talk a bit today about the beginning of marriage equality in California and what that means. While it's a very good day, the war is far form won.

But I begin this episode with an important announcement: It's time to change the feed you subscribe to for this podcast. On June 19, I'll be downgrading my Podomatic account to a free account and that could mean that access to my podcast through iTunes might be interrupted.

To avoid that, point your feedcatcher, including iTunes, to: http://feeds.feedburner.com/AmerinzPodcast

A phone message allows me to talk a bit about superstition in the US and New Zealand. Then, it's on to other comments followed by another phone comment and written comments about episode 94: That episode was screwed up and it was because of, yep, Podomatic. Nevermind, that'll be over soon.

Leave a comment on the new site, or ring my US listener line on (206) 339-8413. You can also email me at arthur{at]amerinz.com (or the old address at amerinz(at]yahoo.com).

Time to change feeds

As part of the change to my podcast hosting, it’s now time to change the feed you subscribe to. On June 20 (early June 19, USA time) I’ll be downgrading my Podomatic account from paid to free. Given all the problems with Podomatic lately, it’s entirely possible that it may become impossible to download my episodes hosted on Podomatic, at least in the short term.

All podcast episodes are listed on the new site, and new ones are posted there first. So, to see if a new episode is posted, you can check there. While you’re there, you can subscribe to the RSS2 feed, as listed on the right-hand sidebar of the site.

However, for best results—and to help protect you in case I move the host again—I suggest using my Feedburner feed:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/AmerinzPodcast

To re-subscribe in iTunes, go to the “Advanced” menu, and go to the second item, “Subscribe to Podcast”, as shown below:



In the pop-up window that will open, enter the Feedburner address and click “OK”:



Your iTunes will then check for the most recent episode for this feed.

There will eventually be an option to subscribe through iTunes, and it’s possible the old feed will still work, so you may choose to wait. I’ll post a short test message sometime Friday morning (my time), which is another way you can tell if the iTunes feed is still working. As I said earlier, you can always check the new website to see if there have been any new episodes posted, and you can always listen to them online or manually download them. And, if I dump Podomatic completely, I’ll let you know first.

That’s it. Feel free to email me if this doesn’t make sense.

Consequences of inequality

Marriage equality will be an issue in the 2008 US elections, not just because of the ballot amendment in California that, if passed, will revoke same-sex couples’ right to marry. It’s also because the Republican Party has often used it as a wedge issue to divide Americans, and they’ll try anything to gain power.

The video above (via Joe.My.God) shows one consequence of denying marriage equality: Same-sex couples in America, in which one partner is a different nationality, are forced to choose between their relationship and moving to one of a handful of countries that recognises their humanity—if that’s even possible. In this case, the couple involved is an American and a New Zealander who decided they had to live in New Zealand. Yeah, I thought that sounded like a familiar story, too.

But that couple, like Nigel and me, are lucky because for the American partner moving overseas was an option, and because the other partner was a citizen of a country that recognises the humanity of GLBT people. What happens when that’s not the case? Under current American law, the couple is ripped apart. Sometimes, children lose a parent in the process. How can this be justified by a civilised nation? How can a society call itself “free” when it denies freedom of the most fundamental and personal kind to its citizens?

CBS News reported on Sunday that a majority of Americans now support some sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples, though only 30 percent favour marriage equality. However, a shameful 36 percent of Americans oppose all legal recognition of same-sex couples. This video shows one consequence of their intransigence on the issue.

In some countries, like New Zealand, couples—whether same-sex or opposite-sex—don’t have to be in a legally-recognised relationship for one partner to be able to bring into the other into the country. This is, of course, a non-marriage option that the US could adopt, but in a country tripping all over itself to forbid any legal recognition of same-sex relationships, can anyone seriously believe that Congress would authorise non-legally recognised same-sex relationships to be considered in immigration?

So when people oppose marriage equality, one more thing they’re saying is that they support ripping loving couples apart.

This year, hatred and intolerance don’t have to win. This time, we can ensure that the forces of justice and fairness prevail. It won’t happen by accident, or easily, but it can happen if we want it to. Do you want it to? Just start by saying, “I do”.

One small action: TrueMajority.org offers an online message of support for marriage equality (tip 0' the hat to Spikey for the link).

One bigger action: VOTE!

Monday, June 16, 2008

One month, still good

Today I had my one-month check-up for my LASIK eye surgery (which, technically, is one month after the first week check-up—five weeks since the surgery, in other words). Things are good and they’re very pleased at the ol’ eye clinic. Basically, my vision is still normal and so far relatively stable. More importantly, my corneas are healthy and healing has gone well.

The only side effect I’ve experienced so far is a common one: Night vision problems, specifically, halos and starbursts. The halos are more pronounced than when I wore contact lenses—they look kind of like fuzzy snowballs around street lights, traffic lights and car tail lights. It’s a little weird, but not a real problem.

More concerning are the starbursts I get from some car headlights—the newer, brighter and bluer halogen and similar ones. The “rays” of the starbursts sometimes fill my whole field of vision, which can be a bit scary if I don’t ignore them to concentrate on the road. This could very well disappear over the next couple months (which is why I’m not worried about it) and, if they don’t, I may get some coated lenses to filter out the blue lights.

Other than that, everything’s good—I can even read normally now, which I couldn’t do at first. My next check-up is in two months.

So, I still say as I have all along: If I’d known I’d have such dramatic and life-changing results for so little difficulty, I’d have done it years ago. It’s definitely worth it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Death and justice in South Carolina

A story out of South Carolina shows how far the US has to go before there really is equal justice under law.

On the evening of May 16, 2007, a young gay man, 20-year-old Sean Kennedy (pictured), was in the parking lot of a bar in Greenville, South Carolina, heading toward his car. Another car pulled up, and Stephen Moller, 18, jumped out, made remarks about Kennedy’s sexual orientation, punched him, then jumped in the car and drove off. Kennedy, meanwhile, fell to the ground and hit his head, suffering injuries from which he would die 20 hours later.

After interviewing witnesses and investigating the circumstances of the attack on Kennedy, the Sherriff’s department believed the crime was a hate crime, and provided the information to the FBI for possible prosecution (South Carolina has no hate crimes laws). Murder charges were prepared against Moller.

In October 2007, prosecutors reduced the charges against Moller from murder to involuntary manslaughter, which carries zero to five years imprisonment (murder carries a sentence of 30 years to life). Without hate crimes laws, they said, it was the best they could do. The prosecutor later joined the call for hate crimes laws in South Carolina.

The following month, Moller was released on $25,000 bond and ordered to home detention, meaning he could only go to work or church. In reporting the release, WYFF Greenville, whose website had previously carried balanced reports, for the first time referred to Kennedy as “an open homosexual.”

On Wednesday, June 11, 2008, Moller pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge. The judge sentenced Moller to five years in prison, suspended to three years and deducted seven months for the time Moller served awaiting trial. His attorney said he will probably serve about a year and a half. For killing someone.

By contrast, torturing and killing animals in South Carolina carries a sentence of up to five years, with typical sentences ranging from 180 days to five years. Moller will serve about 18 months for killing a gay man. Cockfighting in South Carolina is punishable with sentences ranging from one to three years and/or a $1,000 fine. But Moller kills a gay man and will serve 18 months. Apparently, animals have more worth more in South Carolina than a gay man.

Addressing the court at his sentencing, Moller said, “I wish that young people weren't allowed to be out late at night and the bars were not allowed to serve them alcohol. I think if that hadn't taken place, we wouldn't be here. We wouldn't be here today.” Kennedy’s family released a transcript of a phone call Moller made with anti-gay slurs as evidence of Moller’s anti-gay bias, including referring to Kennedy as “the fucking faggot”.

Despite the transcript, and despite witness statements attesting to Moller’s anti-gay slurs, Moller’s defense attorney, Ryan Beasley, said “After several months of investigating and getting statements from Sean's friends, there was no evidence whatsoever that there was any kind of hatred toward Sean Kennedy or hatred toward gays. I mean, Stephen had no idea he was gay until after the fact. It's just a freak incident that should never have happened.” In the rest of the world, “freak accidents” don’t involve one person jumping out of a car and deliberately punching someone.

The attorney also said, "In my opinion, I think [the sentence] is too much because he's a kid. And he punched somebody just like anybody else has punched somebody in a bar. It's always wrong and he does deserve to be punished. But I think it's just a freak incident that he died…” So hitting “the fucking faggot” is just what people do in South Carolina? “It doesn't matter how much time he [Moller] got,” Beasley went on. “He's going to be devastated by this for the rest of his life."

And Sean Kennedy is beyond “devasted”: He’s dead.

This story points out why hate crimes laws exist. They protect for innate characteristics, and they state clearly that singling someone out for hatred and violence based on those characteristics cannot be tolerated by a civilised society. They also provide some small measure of protection for the most vulnerable members of society.

When prosecutors reduced the charges against Moller, Kennedy’s mother said, “My son was violently murdered because of hate, and as his mother, I want justice.” In South Carolina, it seems, that was never a real possibility.

Photo of Sean Kennedy provided to WYFF by his friend, Matthew Wilbanks. I include it here so we can all see—and remember—what we lose because of hatred.

Friday, June 13, 2008

AmeriNZ 94 - Auckland and stuff

Episode 94 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can get it here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it through the player on the right hand side of this blog, or on my MySpace page. You can also download the file directly from the player at the bottom of the post here.

On today’s episode I tell you a bit about Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, and where I’ve lived for most of my years in New Zealand. There’s a lot to like about Auckland. But what are the two things I don’t like about it?

Then it’s on to a little discussion of gout, because I had an attack this week, the first in nearly two years. I tell you what it is, what causes it and what it’s like to endure an attack.

A catch-up with comments allows me to expand on some things I’ve talked about recently. I even tell you a bit about what I’ll be up to this weekend

Leave a comment at amerinzpodcast.com, or ring my US listener line on (206) 339-8413. You can also email me at arthur{at]amerinz.com (or the old address at amerinz(at]yahoo.com).

Update 14 June 2008: Tonight I replaced the MP3 file on Podomatic, so if you subscribe through iTunes and got a corrputed episode, try deleting it and re-downloading (you may need to do this manually, as I described awhile back). It's also time to change your subscription to the new feed, http://feeds.feedburner.com/AmerinzPodcast.

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Best possible outcome

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling against the Bush-Cheney regime’s illegal military trial and detention system at Guantanamo was the best possible ruling in favour of the rule of law and the US Constitution. But it’s also pointed out—again—how much is at stake in the November election.

The Court’s decision will force the Bush-Cheney regime to obey the Constitution and rule of law. It will allow people detained at Guantanamo to challenge their imprisonment, to see secret evidence and to call witnesses—in other words, all the things that the Constitution guarantees. Predictably, the right wing was scathing in its condemnation, with Scalia being particularly frothing in his dissent. He was, in fact, too silly to respond to.

But let’s take a quick look at the core rights the court upheld: The right to challenge imprisonment is vital, since the “war on terror” is by definition a war that will never end. Some detainees have been held for six years without charge or trial.

Similarly, the right to see secret evidence will force the Bush-Cheney regime to present evidence that meets the legal minimum. The regime used lies and deception to start their Iraq War, so why should we believe they’re telling the truth in their evidence? That’s especially true since many of the detainees were “sold” to the American military by Afghan warlords cashing in on the bounty the US offered. For the same reason, detainees need to be able to call witnesses who could establish their innocence or dispute false allegations.

Does the right wing really have so little faith in America’s justice system that it fears allowing people to have their day in court? And isn’t the legal system of the entire Western world based on the presumption of innocence? Or does the right wing want to change that, too?

The frothing right, like Scalia, is being alarmist in their opposition for its own sake. All five dissenting justices support the bizarre legal notion called the “unitary executive theory” which holds that the US president is a virtual dictator. In fact, that’s why Bush-Cheney appointed John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the court.

Barack Obama praised the ruling, McCain, of course, denounced it. Obama, who once taught Constitutional Law, said awhile ago, "Part of the role of the courts is that it is going to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority, those who are vulnerable, those who don't have a lot of clout." That’s clearly what the court did in this case.

Which brings us to the November election. The next president will likely appoint one or two justices to the Supreme Court. Obama’s intention to appoint fair-minded jurists who will uphold the Constitution is obvious. McCain, meanwhile, said that the Bush-Cheney appointees are exactly the sort he wants to appoint (and he wonders why everyone says he’s running for a “third Bush term”).

McCain and other right wingers often says they’re opposed to “activist judges”, but they’re lying about that. The truth is, they want activist judges, but ones who are active in favour of right-wing causes including unbridled presidential power. That’s what Bush-Cheney wanted, and that’s what John McCain wants, too.

If one more Bush-Cheney-McCain style judge had been appointed to the Supreme Court, this ruling would have been the other way. We simply cannot risk the Constitution in the hands of someone like John McCain who, just like Bush-Cheney, doesn’t believe in the rule of law.

So this was a great ruling. But it also demonstrates the importance of electing Barack Obama president in November. The stakes are simply too high for anything else.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Auckland hits a five

Auckland has come out fifth best city in the world for quality of life, according to an annual ranking. It’s the same position as last year. Wellington was ranked 12th best. The survey looked at 215 cities and was conducted by Mercer Consulting, reportedly to help governments and major companies place employees on international assignments.

Interestingly, the top Australian city was Sydney, at 10th place. Sky News Australia ran a teaser declaring, “Sydney is the 10th best city in the world, according to a new survey,” completely ignoring the fact that Auckland was rated higher than any Australian city, and that Sydney was the only Australian city to rank higher than Wellington. Big surprise, I know. Still, Australian cities—highly competitive with each other—aren’t very happy about their rankings.

My old hometown of Chicago was at 44th-equal, along with Washington, DC, Osaka and Lisbon. Last year Chicago was also at 44th. New York City was 49th, and Los Angeles wasn’t in the top 50.

To be honest, I don’t really care that much about these rankings, though others clearly do. And, I’m not even sure how warranted any particular spot is. However, I’m just Kiwi enough to feel a little glee about Auckland rating higher than any Australian city.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

AmeriNZ 93 - More moving to NZ and expats

Episode 93 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can get it here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it through the player on the right hand side of this blog, or on my MySpace page. You can also download the file directly from the player at the bottom of the post here.

Today I tell you a bit more about moving to New Zealand, including some things I didn’t mention in Episode 92. Then, I talk a bit about being an expat, inspired by a recent article, and I finish up with some bits and pieces about the podcast and some things that happened recently.

Leave a comment at amerinzpodcast.com, or ring my US listener line on (206) 339-8413. You can also email me at arthur{at]amerinz.com (or the old address at amerinz(at]yahoo.com).

Article I mentioned: With U.S. in slump, dual citizenship in EU countries attracts Americans

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hockey Talk

Okay, this post actually has nothing to do with hockey, really, but it was inspired in part by yesterday’s post. As Mark pointed out in the comments, ice hockey is part of Canada’s cultural identity. It is in parts of the US, too—primarily the coldest parts.

But it turns out I had a brief connection with it, too.

When I was nine (a month short of ten), my parents moved us to another town so my dad could be pastor at a different church. It was a completely different sort of town—far more suburban, mostly much newer, and with more kids my own age.

When you’re nine or ten pretty much nothing is more important than to be accepted by the other kids. These kids were always doing something active, it seemed. It was easy enough to fit in at first: There was a hill behind the house where all the neighbourhood kids went sledding—until it iced over and then they’d slide down without a sled.

There was a toboggan slide in town and, even though my family didn’t own one, I got to go along with some kids. Their families were members of my dad’s church, I think, so they probably had to bring me. At any rate, toboggans were expensive, so my parents couldn’t really buy one.

The local kids were also into ice hockey for a year or two. My parents bought me a hockey stick and ice skates. I’d never had any skates before, and didn’t really know how to use them, but my parents wanted to encourage me, and to help me fit in, so they bought them.

In the end, I don’t think the blades of those skates ever touched ice—well, maybe once. And the stick? Well, the other kids wrapped the blade in black electrical tape, but I didn’t want to do that—I liked the way mine looked with just the black fibreglass mesh on each side. Yep, I was a totally gay kid. The stick served out its days in a wardrobe.

The attraction of ice hockey faded for me after one winter in the new town. I think the other kids were over it about the same time. Skating, sledding and tobogganing also faded quickly, though our getting older probably affected that, too.

What I remember most about that time was how willing I was to try and fit in (up to a point), and how my parents were willing to try and help me do that (as much as they could). In the years that followed, I became less willing to work at fitting in, but my parents’ willingness to help and support never changed.

And that’s what I learned from ice hockey.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Northern sensibility

US politics are heating up, and will only get hotter in the months ahead. Canada, meanwhile, is apparently getting worked up over something very different: The CBC has announced that it will be dropping the “Hockey Night in Canada” theme music in a licensing dispute with the composer’s agents.

I freely admit that like a lot of Americans—and probably nearly all Kiwis—I don’t get the attraction of ice hockey. Never watched a game, never cared who was winning and who wasn’t. But I do understand the appeal of cultural icons, as this theme music apparently is. “Canada’s second national anthem,” the media called it.

There are many versions of the music on YouTube, but I have no idea which one is correct (so, no link). I noticed on one of these videos an American commented, “Canadians need to get a life...anyone who is that obsessed with sport is an idiot.” To that, a young Canadian wisely countered, “Better wasted on sport than religion.” Touché.

This may seem at first glance to be as fluffy as some of the US media’s obsession with “celebrities”, but this is different: It seems that at least some Canadians feel passionately about this. Contrast that with their southern neighbours’ obsession with the divisiveness of politics and, as the young Canadian noted, politics of religion.

So I just kept thinking, how great is it for the news coming out of a country and into the world being about some theme music instead of—well, just about any of the news coming out of the US these days. At the very least, it was nice to be distracted from US politics for a little while.

Bush plotting permanent occupation

George Bush is rushing to strong-arm Iraq into accepting an agreement that would lead to a permanent US occupation of Iraq, regardless of who’s elected US president in November. His main tactic has now been revealed to be extortion.

The Independent revealed yesterday that the Bush-Cheney regime has demanded that Iraq give them permanent leases to 50 Iraqi military bases, along with total immunity from Iraqi law for US military and contractors like Blackwater (which is currently facing a grand jury investigation into charges that their employees murdered innocent Iraqis). The agreement would also give the US absolute control over Iraqi airspace and the right to launch military campaigns without consulting the Iraqi government, as well as the right to arrest Iraqi citizens.

Today The Independent revealed that the Bush-Cheney regime is holding $50 billion in Iraqi money in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and won’t allow Iraq to have it when UN sanctions end unless it agrees to the Bush-Cheney demands. Most people would call that extortion, particularly since the current Iraqi government would fall without US support.

The Bush-Cheney regime is desperate to push through the agreement by the end of July so they can declare “victory”, which will also support the main cheerleader of the Bush-Cheney Iraq War, John McCain. It would also make it harder for Barack Obama to withdraw US troops as he’s promised to do.

The Bush-Cheney regime is calling this an “alliance” instead of what it really is, a treaty, because the latter would require the approval of the US Senate, which would be impossible to obtain. However, the Bush-Cheney regime has overlooked something: As a mere “alliance”, President Obama could withdraw from it. Even so, it would be yet another huge Bush-Cheney mess that the next president will have to clean up. Barack Obama will clean it up; John McCain would only add more layers to the mess.

When even friends see reality

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker couldn’t keep herself from smiling the night Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic Nominee for president. “Watching Obama give his celebratory speech Tuesday night,” she wrote, “I became aware that I was smiling. I slapped myself, of course, but the fool thing wouldn't go away.”

She went on to note, “It was simply satisfying to witness the birth of this new political offspring after centuries of labor. Bravo.” And then the zinger:

It's too bad John McCain didn't say something along those lines instead of starting off the general election with a badly delivered attack on Obama. McCain's performance Tuesday provided a glimpse of the downer aspect of competing with this particular foe.

Suddenly, the Old Warrior was grumpy ol' granddad breaking up the keg party.

McCain’s performance that night was shocking, so much so that one suspects his handlers won’t make a similar mistake again. McCain’s speech was grumpy, ill-focused, badly-timed, ungracious—and given before at most a couple hundred people. In Minnesota, Obama’s speech before some 20,000 people was all things McCain wasn’t: Gracious, uplifting, inspiring, even visionary. In this compare and contrast situation, Obama was light years ahead of McCain.

The Republican Party knows all this. They know their candidate represents the desperately unpopular failed policies of the Bush-Cheney regime, and they’re pushing party policies that have delivered well for the rich and the corporate, but nothing at all for the ordinary American. They know they have a big job ahead of them, so they’ll pull out the usual tricks: Lies, smears, distortions, wedge politics—as well as more attempts at vote suppression. Voter fraud will likely also be thrown into the mix, as will coordinated campaigns through 527 and other special interest groups. They don’t know how to win a campaign based on ideas.

But maybe this year things will be different, and the old ways and old ideas just won’t work. Maybe this year Americans who desperately want change will vote for it and elect Obama and a Democratic Congress. If Obama can make conservatives like Kathleen Parker smile, anything’s possible.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Senate to America: ‘Bush lied’; America: ‘Duh!’

In probably the most obvious Congressional finding issued in a long time, the US Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a report declaring, as a Reuters story put it, that “George W. Bush and his top policymakers misstated Saddam Hussein's links to terrorism and ignored doubts among intelligence agencies about Iraq's arms programs as they made a case for war.”

Really?!

The report looked at the pronouncements of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld in particular and found that their statements were, to be kind, not supported by the evidence or they were exaggerated. Still, the sales campaign worked and they were able to get their invasion of Iraq backed.

Their propaganda campaign was so successful that even though the vast majority of Americans now oppose the Bush-Cheney war, sizeable numbers still incorrectly believe the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line that Saddam Hussein was involved in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, even though back in 2003 Bush himself was forced to admit there was no connection.

The fact that the Senate found, as the American people already know, that the Bush-Cheney regime lied in the lead-up to the Iraq War isn’t really news. What I found interesting was that five Republicans on the committee were prepared to stand behind Bush (two voted in favour of the report). Christopher Bond of Missouri and three other Republicans denounced the report in an attached dissent.

Given what we all now know, it amazes me that any Republicans would stand behind Bush-Cheney and their lies and deception. I don’t know if those five Senators are too stubborn to admit a mistake, too proud to admit they were duped or too partisan to admit reality. But in any case, these are five people the US Senate would be better off without.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

McSame thing, different day

John McCain is upset. People keep saying he’s running for “a third Bush term”, that he represents nothing more than a continuation of the failed Bush-Cheney regime. He’s independent, he says, he’s a different kind of Republican, he says.

John McCain is many things, but independent or a different kind of Republican he’s definitely not.

Last year, McCain voted with George Bush 95% of the time. He wants to continue the Bush-Cheney Iraq War for maybe a hundred years. He champions making permanent the Bush-Cheney tax cuts for the rich. Like the Republican Party has for decades, he also opposes reform to make healthcare affordable and available to ordinary Americans. That’s not independence, and there’s nothing “different”.

McCain recently listed areas of supposed difference with the Bush-Cheney regime, but then neglected to mention how he failed to follow through—like on banning torture. So, he effectively backed the Bush-Cheney regime even when he was supposedly at odds with it.

Now he’ll try double-speak and deception in the campaign. He claims he’s a reformer and wants to clean up politics. Does that mean that he’ll denounce all the 527 groups that will try and smear Barack Obama and the Democrats? Does that mean he will order them to stop their propaganda campaigns of lies and distortions? Don’t bet on it. When McCain encourages 527 smear campaigns, tacitly or openly, he’ll be seen as a hypocrite on that issue.

McCain’s record indicates he’s a hypocrite on plenty of issues. His record also shows that in every way that matters, he really is running for a third Bush term, and he really is John McSame.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

When history arrives

There are times in our lives when something happens that’s so big, so important that we know it will long have a place in history. Sometimes those events are instant, sometimes they take awhile. Today we arrived, finally, at such a moment.

Today Barack Obama secured enough delegates to become the Democractic Nominee for President of the United States. Nothing in America will ever be the same.

There was a time when it was thought to be impossible for an African American to be a presidential nominee of a major party, but to me there’s something even more: I’m old enough to remember when mixed-race couples, white and black, would get stares or worse, even in my relatively modern home state of Illinois. So to see a man who is both African American and the son of a mixed-race marriage become the Democratic nominee strikes me as a singularly redemptive moment for America.

There’s much about America that’s made up of unfinished business from the past. The legacy of slavery and racism led many to believe true equality was impossible. One man who didn’t buy into that pessimism was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. On August 28, 1963, he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and declared, “I Have A Dream”.

Forty-five years later to the very day, Barack Obama will stand at the podium of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, and accept the nomination of the Democratic Party to be their candidate for President. Dreams, however long deferred, can still come true.

But this is more than just an historic event for one party or one candidate. America has long preached the possibility that anyone can achieve to the limits of their abilities and energies. Too often, that promise was false. But this year there was the reality that the Democratic Party would nominate either the first African American or the first woman to be the candidate of a major party.

Forget about how long this took, forget about how unlikely it was that the other major party could achieve this. Instead, I’d rather focus on the positive message that today brings. I’d rather feel the historic importance and the renewed hope that maybe, just maybe, America may yet live up to its promise. There are, after all, more dreams unfulfilled.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Ghost ships?

A British group has claimed that the US military maintained 17 prison ships to hold “terrorism” suspects, and allegedly prisoners were also tortured on the ships. The US Navy said the report was “inaccurate”.

Bureaucrats of all types use weasel words to avoid saying the truth, or having to lie outright, so the navy’s word choice may be important. "We do not operate detention facilities on board Navy ships,” the navy spokesperson said. Does that mean they use non-navy ships, or that others (CIA?) use the navy ships which are, technically speaking, not navy at the time?

The navy spokesperson also called the suggestion that there were 17 ships “misleading”. Why? Were there more? Fewer? In any case, that’s certainly not the same as saying there were none.

The navy has acknowledged holding “fewer than ten” people on ships “in 2001 and 2002”, and has acknowledged two ships were used. But very often when they acknowledge one thing it’s so that people stop asking about other things. The only way to be sure will be for Congressional oversight committees to investigate, even through the Bush-Cheney regime will fight Congress and stonewall all the way to January. Trouble for them is, they can’t hide the truth forever.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The big O.E.

Yesterday, our niece left on her big O.E., or “overseas experience”. She’ll be spending about three months in the United States, part of it working at a summer camp for kids with special needs, then the rest on a package tour across America.

The O.E. has become a traditional right-of-passage for young New Zealanders, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Wikipedia has an entry for it. It begins:

Overseas experience (OE) is a New Zealand term for an extended overseas working holiday. Sometimes referred to as "The big OE" in reference to the extended duration of the travel—typically at least one year, and often extending far longer. It is believed to have been coined by New Zealand cartoonist and columnist Tom Scott.

It is common for young New Zealanders to spend a number of years overseas, during their late teens to early thirties. This period of overseas travel plays an important part in the lives of many by broadening their experience in life—especially important for relatively isolated countries such as New Zealand.

All of which is true, although I don’t know if Tom Scott actually coined the phrase or not. My impression is that the O.E. has become far more common since the 1980s, when economic reforms resulted in an easing of monetary policy at the same time that international air travel was becoming easier and cheaper.

In any case, many young Kiwis now take a few months to a few years to travel and work overseas, and they—and New Zealand—are the better for it. Seems to me that the O.E. is a concept other countries—especially my American homeland—would do well to copy.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Justice denied

The Bush-Cheney regime, desperate to push through its illegal trials of detainees at Guantanamo, has struck again. The Los Angeles Times reported that the army summarily dismissed a judge who had been critical of the prosecution of a Canadian detainee, having ordered the government to turn over medical and interrogation records or he would suspend the proceedings. The Army refused, arguing that the defence wasn’t entitled to the records. Now the judge who made the order has been removed by the Army.

Most Americans probably don’t know the arcane details of the “military commissions” the Bush-Cheney regime created to try detainees, but they violate every concept of justice, including traditional military justice. It was so offensive to members of the JAG corps that some officially complained about the tribunals and the procedures, obtaining small, mostly cosmetic changes. The detainees are still not usually allowed to know the specifics of the charges against them and cannot see the evidence the government will present, in secret. Evidence obtained by torture is admissible, in direct violation of international law and treaties the US has signed, and hearsay is also admissible.

Ex-defense secretary Rumsfeld’s and Vice President Dick Cheney famously kept repeating claims that the detainees were the “worst of the worst,” and the news media dutifully reported that. Either they were lying, or they were completely deceived, but in either case, they weren’t telling the truth. It’s now been documented that hundreds of the original detainees were simply sold to the US Army by Afghanistan warlords looking to make some cash from the bounties the Bush-Cheney regime was offering. Even so, and even after the truth became clear, in many cases it took years for innocent detainees to be released, and some still haven’t been.

But the detainees and their guilt or lack of it are beside the point. The whole thing is yet another example of how the Bush-Cheney regime has declared itself above the rule of law and ordinary behaviour of civilised nations. They have worked to destroy the fundamental principles of freedom, democracy and justice, and now they appear to be using political interference to make sure their sham tribunal system produces the results they want.