Wednesday, October 28, 2009

11 years later, Hate Crimes Bill Passes

This blog post contains an excerpt from something I posted back in March. I'm reposting it because there is cause to celebrate today. 11 years after his death, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill that was fought so hard for has been approved by Congress and today signed by the president and sealed in law.

I cannot overstate the importance of this moment. This is the first time ANY federal equality measure protecting LGBT rights has become law. The very first time.

However, in stating this there cannot only be celebration but an effort to talk about why this was necessary in the first place. For example on NPR even, people are asking questions about why you need additional laws for already illegal crimes.
Example: "We have laws already that protect everyone. Is murdering someone who is a black gay women worse than murdering a white man? If people want to be treated equal then the laws should be equal."
Questions like these at first seem logical when you think of sin (or wrongdoing if you like) as purely individual. However, sin isn't just an action that is personal, but it can also be systemic. This systemic injustice is at the heart of what makes a hate crime so dangerous. So here we go...

from my blog on March, 11 2009:

Larry (Lawrence King), 15, had said publicly that he was gay, classmates said, enduring harassment from a group of schoolmates, including the 14-year-old boy, Brandon, charged in his death. Larry asked Brandon to be his valentine and the following day the 14-yr-old came to school and shot Larry in the head.

“God knit Larry together and made him wonderfully complex,” the Rev. Dan Birchfield of Westminster Presbyterian Church told the crowd as he stood in front of a large photograph of the victim. “Larry was a masterpiece.”

'Why we can't wait'

Your vote this year has the power to save lives and will affect millions of homosexual people in this country. This is why the Matthew Shepard Act matters, and why a position against it as a Christian is not just debatable but unconscionable...

Hate crimes differ from conventional crime because they are not directed simply at an individual, but are meant to cause fear and intimidation in an entire group or class of people.
All violent crimes are reprehensible, but hate crimes require additional emphasis in the justice system because they target a whole group and not just the individual victim. A violent hate crime is intended to "send a message" that an individual and "their kind" will not be tolerated, many times leaving the victim and others in their group feeling isolated, vulnerable and unprotected. Our justice system should then be able to "send a message" right back that there are not "less than human" unprotected members of society.

The Supreme Court ruled that, "bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest." And stated that, "When the core of a person's identity is attacked, the degradation and dehumanization is especially severe, and additional emotional and physiological problems are likely to result. Society then, in turn, can suffer from the disempowerment of a group of people."

If that all seems too heady, here's the more practical component. Hate crime legislation gives federal authorities greater ability to engage in crime investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue, and allow courts to consider and present motive in cases in which it previously went unheard. It supports appeals from cases dismissed due to local bias or foul-play. There are countless cases of crimes against individuals dismissed or lessened due to bias. Take the Jena 6 story right now. Without hate crime legislation, it is often harder for victims to have recourse when justice isn't served. This is not only sensible but completely necessary and it should undoubtedly apply to sexual orientation considering that 20% of hate crimes apply to it.

The church is moving forward in many of the arenas in which it has exercised poor judgment. The Catholic church recently unveiled its list of "social" sins declaring that the individual not only sins against him/herself but also systemically against portions of society in a globalized world. Even the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention recently stated that on Global Warming that if it didn't change its stance that it would be disregarded as "uncaring, reckless, and ill-informed johnny-come-lately's just as it had during segregation and slavery and that the poor would be the first to suffer. But despite all of this understanding of implication, nearly everyone, even progressive Christian ethics groups like Sojourners are steering clear of "the gay issue" in America. Why? Why can Christian America love anyone except for their gay neighbor (or mexican one for that matter). Why do Christians in America so hate gays? Christians have to step up on this even if they don't agree with homosexuals. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, demands care for the "other," and declares the ramifications for those who don't. Regardless of an individual's views on the issues, the church has to be out front on human rights abuses. Are murder, violence and abuse ever acceptable toward anyone? Even more fundamental: Is Love Conditional? These shouldn't be questions the church is allowing to go unanswered. You can't play neutral on this one and come out clean.

"I join the oppressors of those I choose to ignore,
and that's not just murder,
it's suicide."

- derek webb

Further thoughts:

MLK's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" :

a must see film on the issue:

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Did he deserve it?

"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," the Norwegian committee said in its statement announcing the prize. "Paramount in the committee's decision has been the president's commitment to diplomacy over warfare, and even more significantly a daring and imaginative idea to rid the world of the ultimate terror with which humanity has lived since Hiroshima."

It seems clear that the award given to the President today was part symbol, part down-payment on a promise, and part reward for successful efforts. Was he the most deserving of the award? It's hard to say. I would argue that he was probably not the best candidate based on actions achieved (the President said so himself: Preliminary Acceptance Speech), but perhaps he was the best candidate based on what could be accomplished through the giving of the award. I have only my opinions and my own education to serve me and nothing more. Some of his actions have been very successful, while many of his policy efforts have yet to bear fruit, or are only just beginning to do so. I can tell you however what he didn't deserve: The lambasting from his critics; the disdain from the "know-nothings" who continue to dominate the public debates.

Constructive criticism is a positive part of democracy, but Destructive criticism for the sake of attack, and often void of logic, is pure politics. Most people who don't follow politics have asked, "what has he done?" There will always be those who take no time to educate themselves yet enjoy throwing stones and operate out of pure dissonance. There's no point even addressing them. However, those who do understand the way our government works and still attack the president are just out to get him. They are not going to give him a chance and they never intended to.

For those who desire to be better than their ideologue counterparts, for those interested in being thoughtful, being permeable, and being informed, the following is a short list of only some of the Obama administration’s recent accomplishments:


"The basic bargain is sound: Countries with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy. If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade materials that create them. That's the first step." - President Obama (in Prague, April 5, 2009)


  • Appointed Special Envoys for Climate Change, Southwest Asia, the Middle East, Sudan, and a Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Announced a plan to responsibly end the War in Iraq.
  • Announced a new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • Announced a strategy to address the international nuclear threat. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Non-proliferation talks have been renewed, and a global summit on nuclear security has been hosted. He has strengthened the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by providing resources for international inspections and establishing "real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the treaty without cause." He will also boost support for the nation's Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism to make them into "durable international institutions."
  • Agreed to negotiation of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia.
  • Established a new "U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue".
  • Announced new policy steps towards Cuba.
  • Multilateral diplomacy with partnering international bodies/states has regained a central position. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.
  • His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.
  • Renewed dialogue with NATO and other allies and partners on strategic issues.
  • Set a completely new agenda for the Muslim world and East-West relations.



  • The President signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
  • “The massive stimulus package passed last year to blunt the impact of the worst U.S. recession in 70 years created up to 2.1 million jobs in the last three months of 2009, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday.” It also lowered the unemployment rate by 2.1% and added 3.5% of economic growth during said quarter. “In CBO’s judgment, that outcome reflects greater-than-projected weakness in the underlying economy rather than lower-than-expected effects” of the stimulus, the research office said. The package is likely to have the greatest impact this year, according to CBO. It is expected to boost GDP by between 1.4 percent and 4 percent and bring down the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percent and 1.8 percent in 2010, higher figures than last year when many of its programs were being set up. The impact is expected to trail off over the next two years. Direct purchasing of goods and services by the federal government and states have been the most effective provision of the act, CBO said. Among the least effective: a tax cut for the wealthy." [}
  • The President announced the "Making Home Affordable" home refinancing plan.
  • The President launched a $15 billion plan to boost lending to small businesses.
  • The President and Secretary Geithner announced the details of the Financial Stability Plan.
  • President Obama played a lead role in G-20 Summit that produced a $1.1 trillion deal to combat the global financial crisis.
  • The President signed the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act which gives the federal government more tools to investigate and prosecute fraud, from lending to the financial system, and creates a bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to investigate the financial practices that brought us to this point.
  • The President signed the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, expanding on the Making Home Affordable Program to help millions of Americans avoid preventable foreclosures, providing $2.2 billion to help combat homelessness , and helping to stabilize the housing market for everybody.



The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included a number of provisions of particular concern to people with disabilities.

  • The Act included $500 million to help the Social Security Administration reduce its backlog in processing disability applications.
  • The Act supplied $12.2 billion in funding to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  • The Act also provided $87 billion to states to bolster their Medicaid programs during the downturn; and,
  • The Act provided over $500 million in funding for vocational rehabilitation services to help with job training, education and placement.





The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invested heavily in education both as a way to provide jobs now and lay the foundation for long-term prosperity.

  • The Act includes $5 billion for early learning programs, including Head Start, Early Head Start, child care, and programs for children with special needs.
  • The Act also provides $77 billion for reforms to strengthen elementary and secondary education, including $48.6 billion to stabilize state education budgets (of which $8.8 billion may be used for other government services) and to encourage states to:
    • Make improvements in teacher effectiveness and ensure that all schools have highly-qualified teachers;
    • Make progress toward college and career-ready standards and rigorous assessments that will improve both teaching and learning;
    • Improve achievement in low-performing schools, through intensive support and effective interventions; and
    • Gather information to improve student learning, teacher performance, and college and career readiness through enhanced data systems.
  • The Act provides $5 billion in competitive funds to spur innovation and chart ambitious reform to close the achievement gap.
  • The Act includes over $30 billion to address college affordability and improve access to higher education.


"So we have a choice to make. We can remain one of the world's leading importers of foreign oil, or we can make the investments that would allow us to become the world's leading exporter of renewable energy. We can let climate change continue to go unchecked, or we can help stop it. We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad, or we can create those jobs right here in America and lay the foundation for lasting prosperity."

-President Obama, March 19, 2009


In his first 100 days, President Obama reversed or put on hold a number of misguided Bush administration policies, signaling a more balanced use of public lands. He also put muscle behind campaign promises to reinstate science in federal decision making and to advance a clean energy future. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting.

    • $11 billion for a bigger, better, and smarter grid that will move renewable energy from the rural places it is produced to the cities where it is mostly used, as well as for 40 million smart meters to be deployed in American homes.
    • $5 billion for low-income home weatherization projects.
    • $4.5 billion to green federal buildings and cut our energy bill, saving taxpayers billions of dollars.
    • $6.3 billion for state and local renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts.
    • $600 million in green job training programs – $100 million to expand line worker training programs and $500 million for green workforce training.
    • $2 billion in competitive grants to develop the next generation of batteries to store energy.
    • $2.3 billion in tax credits for the clean energy manufacturing sector, a move aimed at creating 17,000 jobs. (
  • The President issued a memorandum to the Department of Energy to implement more aggressive efficiency standards for common household appliances, like dishwashers and refrigerators. Through this step, over the next three decades, we’ll save twice the amount of energy produced by all the coal-fired power plants in America in any given year.
  • Supporting the first steps of a legally-binding treaty to reduce mercury emissions worldwide.
  • On Earth Day 2009, the President unveiled a program to develop the renewable energy projects on the waters of our Outer Continental Shelf that produce electricity from wind, wave, and ocean currents. These regulations will enable, for the first time ever, the nation to tap into our ocean’s vast sustainable resources to generate clean energy in an environmentally sound and safe manner.
  • Executive Order Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration

  • Utah oil and gas leases put on hold:
    The Department of the Interior withdraws from sale 77 disputed oil and gas leases sold by the Bush administration on environmentally sensitive lands in Utah. Some of the leases were in areas proposed for designation as wilderness.
  • Closed–door policy overturned:
    The president signs executive orders that would improve the transparency of rulemaking. These orders require his staff to consider the non-market benefits of rulemaking, such as the environment and public health.
  • “Look before you lease” policy:
    The Bureau of Land Management directs land managers to more carefully review environmentally sensitive tracts of federal lands proposed for oil and gas development before offering them for lease sale, especially if such tracts contained wilderness values, sensitive species, or other environmentally significant attributes.
  • Oil shale lease solicitation withdrawn:
    Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announces the withdrawal of a Bush administration proposal to issue more oil shale “research, development and demonstration” leases in the West, seeking more public input about this energy- and water-intensive fuel source before any decisions on further leasing are made.
  • Greater funding for conservation proposed:
    The administration proposes budget for fiscal year 2010 calling for increased appropriations for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, national wildlife refuges, national parks, wildfire management, and other environmental programs that have suffered from chronic underfunding.
  • Off-shore leasing delayed:
    The Secretary of the Interior extends the comment period on the Bush administration’s hastily prepared Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program, and prepares to embark upon an April series of public meetings on the East, West, and Gulf Coasts to solicit more public input before making any new OCS leasing decisions.
  • More than 2 million acres of wilderness designated:
    The president signs the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, designating more than two million acres of federal public lands as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The law also codifies the National Landscape Conservation System and designates 86 wild and scenic rivers.
  • Bush’s northern spotted owl plan withdrawn:
    The Obama administration asks a federal district court for permission to withdraw the Bush administration’s deeply flawed northern spotted owl recovery plan and revision of that species’ critical habitat.
  • Energy/climate change task force formed, renewable energy given priority:
    Secretary of the Interior Salazar issues a secretarial order making environmentally-sensitive renewable energy development a top priority on public lands. The order establishes a task force led out of the Secretary’s office that will identify preferred areas on the public lands for renewable energy development.
  • Gray wolf removed from the endangered species list:
    The administration takes the gray wolf off the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho, while leaving the predator under federal protection in Wyoming. The administration said that wolf populations and management prescriptions met the original goals for the recovery program established by the Clinton administration in Montana and Idaho.
  • Endangered Species Act revived:
    The administration reinstates requirements that federal agencies consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before undertaking projects that might affect threatened or endangered plants and animals.
  • EPA finds greenhouse gasses a danger to public health:
    The EPA issues a draft finding that, under the Clean Air Act, greenhouse gasses are a danger to public health and welfare, the first step in regulating these pollutants under that act.
  • Coal strip-mining precautions reinstated:
    Before departing office, the Bush administration gutted a federal regulation adopted during the Reagan administration that prohibited coal strip mining activities within 100 feet of streams. Secretary of the Interior Salazar announces that the 100-foot buffer zone rule would be reinstated.



  • The President signed an Executive Order on government contracting to fight waste and abuse.
  • The President launched to track spending from the Recovery Act, an unprecedented step to provide transparency and accountability through technology.
  • The President wrote to the congressional leadership calling on them to pass statutory Pay-As-You-Go rules so that any new non-emergency tax cut or entitlement expansion offset in the budget.
  • The President signed the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act to stop fraud and wasteful spending in the defense procurement and contracting system.


"I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year."

– President Barack Obama, February 24, 2009


  • The President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act protects health coverage for 7 million Americans who lose their jobs through a 65 percent COBRA subsidy to make coverage affordable.
  • The Recovery Act also invests $19 billion in computerized medical records that will help to reduce costs and improve quality while ensuring patients’ privacy.
  • The Recovery Act also provides:
    • $1 billion for prevention and wellness to improve America’s health and help to reduce health care costs;
    • $1.1 billion for research to give doctors tools to make the best treatment decisions for their patients by providing objective information on the relative benefits of treatments; and
    • $500 million for health workforce to help train the next generation of doctors and nurses.


Progress: Obama moved to curb government secrets

  • Declassified over 400 million government documents from Cold War era to present and changed the way federal agencies review how and why they mark documents classified or deny the release of historical records. This was the largest declassification in US History (
  • Government procedures all broadcast / videotaped via CSPAN



The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included a broad range of tax cuts aimed at making the tax code more fair and supporting the middle class:

  • 95% of all working families will receive a tax cut
  • 70% of the tax benefits goes to the middle 60% of American workers
  • 2 million families will be lifted out of poverty by the tax cuts in the Recovery Act
  • More than $150 billion in tax cuts will help low-income and vulnerable households during the economic recovery
  • About 1 Million jobs will be created or saved by these tax cuts alone
  • $2.3 billion in tax credits for the clean energy manufacturing sector, a move aimed at creating 17,000 jobs.

The President's Acceptance Speech Today

(abridged text - full speech in video above)
This morning, Michelle and I awoke to some surprising and humbling news. At 6 a.m., we received word that I'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

That is why I've said that I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. These challenges won't all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award -- and the call to action that comes with it -- does not belong simply to me or my administration; it belongs to all people around the world who have fought for justice and for peace. And most of all, it belongs to you, the men and women of America, who have dared to hope and have worked so hard to make our world a little better.

So today we humbly recommit to the important work that we've begun together. I'm grateful that you've stood with me thus far, and I'm honored to continue our vital work in the years to come.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

non-linked info from white,,,,

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Oh Autumn...

The heart is a lonely thing to lose in the dead of night
The heart is a sad thing to lose in the throws of a fight
The heart is the match to the fire
And the embers of desire, to keep it burning

I am a shell of the manner and the means
Mine is a story of nothing as it seems
But when we have come this far
And still don't know who we are, does it keep burning?

When it's over, and you see it with your eyes
Would you rather have the truth or a lie?

I call for angels to breathe holy on this rust
I call the snakes to come and slowly from the brush
I need a massive overhaul
A revival to fall, to keep it burning

The heart is a costly thing to sell in the prime of the years
And my heart is thinly veiled in the usual fears
The heart is the dream, and the kiss
That there could be more than this, to keep it burning.

- Caedmon's Call