Gender Identity Bill is a Legislative Priority for Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley

With the start of a new legislative session in Maryland right around the corner, this report from Sharon Brackett, Board Chair for Gender Rights Maryland, is welcome news indeed:

Last evening I had a brief moment to chat with Governor O’Malley just after he had finished a rare and wonderful performance with his band O’Malley’s March in Annapolis. I asked him about the upcoming Gender Identity legislation and he stated clearly “The gender identity bill is a legislative priority!” I could not be more encouraged to hear this.

Gov. O’Malley’s statement is a natural follow-on to the powerful call to action he issued in May, 2011 in the wake of the brutal attack on Chrissy Lee Polis, a trans woman, in a McDonalds in Rosedale, Maryland.

[M]ore must be done to protect the rights and dignity of transgendered people. In the struggle for justice and equality for all, I’m committed to working with the Maryland General Assembly during the next legislative session to increase awareness and provide even greater protections for transgendered people.

Gender Rights Maryland was awarded “Best New Organization” of 2011 by Baltimore Outloud editor Steve Charing, who said of GMRD, “it’s motivated, mobilized and already has a victory to tout”. That victory was the passage of gender identity and expression anti-discrimination legislation in Howard County, Maryland earlier this month.

The outlook looks bright for passage in 2012 of a statewide law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. With Howard County joining Montgomery County and Baltimore City as Maryland jurisdictions supporting gender rights, with a vibrant and effective new organization on the scene dedicated to passing comprehensive statewide legislation, and with Governor O’Malley’s continuing commitment, momentum is on the side of civil rights.

New Year’s Eve News Dump: Obama Signs Defense Authorization Bill

Greed. Lies. Torture. (image: twolf1)
The President signed the defense authorization bill today, appending a signing statement expressing concerns with the detainee measures in the bill. The White House had earlier stated they would not veto the bill, so this was no surprise.

“I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists,” Obama said in a statement accompanying his signature […]

“Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people,” Obama said in Saturday’s statement.

Responding to the White House’s concerns that the provisions would limit the flexibility of law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials, lawmakers added written assurances the bill would not affect existing waivers of the FBI or any other domestic law-enforcement agency. They also gave the president the authority to waive the military-detention provisions, and dropped language requiring military tribunals for all cases.

The problem with this bill was always about the codifying of indefinite military detention into the law, available for any future President to pick up and use. The vagaries of the language in the statute, which allows for detentions of people “associated” with Al Qaeda, and the burden on Presidential waivers to avoid military detentions rather than an opt-in kind of process, make the language extremely unadvisable from the standpoint of the civil liberties community. However, it’s important to recognize that the Obama Administration really was already in practice allowing for the indefinite military detention of terrorist suspects. They didn’t want language that hindered their counter-terrorism processes, particularly those of the FBI. That’s what they got out of the changes, so the codification really didn’t matter to them at that point. There are painfully few political actors in Washington opposed to this complete breach of the Constitutional right to due process.

A less-noticed portion of the NDAA imposes significant restrictions on Iran’s central bank, by banning financial institutions from doing business with it. This places a serious strain on Iran’s ability to process payments to sell their oil and gas. Iran responded to this policy by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil shipping, which would impact 15 million barrels of Persian Gulf oil per day. The Administration holds the ability to waive the sanctions based on the global supply of oil and whether it can make up for oil Iran would be unable to sell. So I doubt this provision will have much impact, unless they want to use it as a lever for negotiations. Iran, in fact, made a proposal to the UN to reopen talks on its nuclear program with the West. So the waiver of sanctions could become a goodwill gesture if talks did restart.

Gender Identity Bill is a Legislative Priority for Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley

With the start of a new legislative session in Maryland right around the corner, this report from Sharon Brackett, Board Chair for Gender Rights Maryland, is welcome news indeed:

Last evening I had a brief moment to chat with Governor O’Malley just after he had finished a rare and wonderful performance with his band O’Malley’s March in Annapolis. I asked him about the upcoming Gender Identity legislation and he stated clearly “The gender identity bill is a legislative priority!” I could not be more encouraged to hear this. 

Gov. O’Malley’s statement is a natural follow-on to the powerful call to action he issued in May, 2011 in the wake of the brutal attack on Chrissy Lee Polis, a trans woman, in a McDonalds in Rosedale, Maryland.

[M]ore must be done to protect the rights and dignity of transgendered people. In the struggle for justice and equality for all, I’m committed to working with the Maryland General Assembly during the next legislative session to increase awareness and provide even greater protections for transgendered people

Gender Rights Maryland was awarded “Best New Organization” of 2011 by Baltimore Outloud editor Steve Charing, who said of GMRD, “it’s motivated, mobilized and already has a victory to tout”. That victory was the passage of gender identity and expression anti-discrimination legislation in Howard County, Maryland earlier this month.

The outlook looks bright for passage in 2012 of a statewide law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. With Howard County joining Montgomery County and Baltimore City as Maryland jurisdictions supporting gender rights, with a vibrant and effective new organization on the scene dedicated to passing comprehensive statewide legislation, and with Governor O’Malley’s continuing commitment, momentum is on the side of civil rights.

New Year’s Eve News Dump: Obama Signs Defense Authorization Bill

Greed. Lies. Torture. (image: twolf1)
The President signed the defense authorization bill today, appending a signing statement expressing concerns with the detainee measures in the bill. The White House had earlier stated they would not veto the bill, so this was no surprise.

“I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists,” Obama said in a statement accompanying his signature […]

“Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people,” Obama said in Saturday’s statement.

Responding to the White House’s concerns that the provisions would limit the flexibility of law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials, lawmakers added written assurances the bill would not affect existing waivers of the FBI or any other domestic law-enforcement agency. They also gave the president the authority to waive the military-detention provisions, and dropped language requiring military tribunals for all cases.

The problem with this bill was always about the codifying of indefinite military detention into the law, available for any future President to pick up and use. The vagaries of the language in the statute, which allows for detentions of people “associated” with Al Qaeda, and the burden on Presidential waivers to avoid military detentions rather than an opt-in kind of process, make the language extremely unadvisable from the standpoint of the civil liberties community. However, it’s important to recognize that the Obama Administration really was already in practice allowing for the indefinite military detention of terrorist suspects. They didn’t want language that hindered their counter-terrorism processes, particularly those of the FBI. That’s what they got out of the changes, so the codification really didn’t matter to them at that point. There are painfully few political actors in Washington opposed to this complete breach of the Constitutional right to due process.

A less-noticed portion of the NDAA imposes significant restrictions on Iran’s central bank, by banning financial institutions from doing business with it. This places a serious strain on Iran’s ability to process payments to sell their oil and gas. Iran responded to this policy by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil shipping, which would impact 15 million barrels of Persian Gulf oil per day. The Administration holds the ability to waive the sanctions based on the global supply of oil and whether it can make up for oil Iran would be unable to sell. So I doubt this provision will have much impact, unless they want to use it as a lever for negotiations. Iran, in fact, made a proposal to the UN to reopen talks on its nuclear program with the West. So the waiver of sanctions could become a goodwill gesture if talks did restart.

Wisconsin Prosecutor Formally Requests Re-Opening of Lawsuit Against Anti-Union Law

Last week we heard that Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne was considering asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to re-hear a case against violations of the open meeting requirements in the state’s anti-union law. The case, which the state Supreme Court threw out in a 4-3 ruling, included the participation of Michael Gableman, the Supreme Court justice who received thousands of dollars in free legal services from a high-powered conservative law firm in the state which frequently works on cases before the Court (in a fitting twist, Gableman secured the law firm’s services to defend him in an ethics case). In fact, Michael Best & Friedrich, the law firm in question, worked for the state and Walker’s administration in the case of the anti-union law. Gableman never recused himself from the case, and provided the deciding vote, overturning the ruling from a Dane County district court judge.

Yesterday, Ozanne formally requested the re-opening of the case, arguing that Gableman’s participation represented a conflict of interest.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne argued in filings with the court that it should vacate its decision because Justice Michael Gableman never disclosed his arrangement with the Michael Best and Friedrich law firm. Wisconsin’s ethics code prohibits state officials from accepting free gifts, and the judicial ethics code bars judges from accepting gifts from anyone likely to appear before them.

Ozanne asked the court to reinstate a circuit judge’s earlier ruling declaring the law void and disqualify Gableman from participating in further proceedings if he won’t recuse himself.

“Reasonable, well-informed people would reasonably question Justice Gableman’s ability to be impartial under the facts presented here,” he wrote. “Respectfully, any litigant in any case deserves to have his case heard by a judge who has not secretly received a valuable gift from the other side’s lawyer.”

It’s hard to argue against Ozanne’s contention here. Gableman clearly received free services from the law firm, the firm worked on cases on which Gableman ruled, and state ethics laws are pretty clear.

But because the effect of adopting Ozanne’s request would be to stay the anti-union law again while the Supreme Court re-heard the open meetings case with six instead of seven Justices, I’d be shocked if the majority-Republican Court complied. Gableman has said through his lawyer that he disputes the contention that Michael Best & Friedrich’s free legal services were a gift. And really, only Gableman has the power to recuse himself; surely the Court would not want to set the precedent of determining another Justice’s recusal.

Just perusing the crazy reasoning in the open meetings case, where they basically said “if the Legislature does it, then it’s not illegal,” gives you enough information to determine how they will react to this request. Still, it’s worth Ozanne giving this a try, if for no other reason than to highlight the blatant corruption at the heart of the Wisconsin conservative establishment, across the political, corporate and judicial arenas.

There are actually other cases pending to invalidate the anti-union law, which strips most collective bargaining rights from public employees, on the merits, including two in federal court. But I’d guess they have far more of a chance of succeeding than appealing to the better natures of Michael Gableman and his Republican colleagues on the state Supreme Court.

One other thing here: Gableman’s attorney, who has been responding to media queries in the case, is none other than Viet Dinh. Yeah, THAT Viet Dinh. The author of the Patriot Act. He’s also on the Board of Directors of News Corp now. The conservative operative family tree has a lot of gnarled branches.

VIDEO:Glenn Greenwald Explaining Ron Paul to Progressives

this video is about Glenn Greenwald explaining the importance of Ron Paul to the masses. Have always liked Greenwald.

http://www.salon.com/2011/12/31/progressives_and_the_ron_paul_fallacies/singleton/

Glenn Greenwald “(Paulwho advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial.”

He then quotes:

“the anger [Paul] inspires comes not from his positions, but from the tensions that modern American liberals bear within their own worldview.”

Occupy Houston Update.

Occupy Houston Update.

I delivered the most recent box of Occupy Supply goodies on Christmas Day but far more timely was the hot meal. It had been raining hard for much of the previous 48 hours and our Occupiers were wet and cold. Someone had brought in an elevated fire pit and some firewood so at least temporarily they had heat to help them dry out.
Christmas Dinner At Occupy Houston

Occupy Houston has limited cooking facilities. There are a few power outlets in the park they can tap into but the fire marshal has determined that extension cords are a fire hazard. This limits their ability to prepare hot food.

When I received the Occupy Supply gift card the weather report suggested that a hot, ready to eat meal would be appropriated. My daughter and I visited Kroger on Christmas Eve and came away with $105 worth of groceries. Fortunately, temperatures in the forties meant I did not have to squeeze everything into my refrigerator. Best deals of the day were sweet potatoes at $0.68 per pound, 15 pound bags of russet potatoes for $3.97 and a 16 pound turkey for ten bucks. We also bought a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and a greatly reduced spiral ham. (more…)

Regulation Is the Tool That Democracy Uses To Allow Capitalism to Exist Within a Democratic Society

Democracy and capitalism are in direct opposition to each other philosophically. Democracy will, by majority rule, create a government that works for the majority. Capitalism, left to its own devices creates financial serfdom. Regulation is the tool that democracy uses to allow capitalism to exist within a democratic society. When the capitalists control the political process, the government works for the corporate aristocracy in direct opposition to the will of the majority. This is accomplished through deregulation and tax legislation that favors the aristocracy. Democracy must take precedence over capitalism if democracy is to survive. The current dynamic in politics allows the aristocracy to treat politicians as a commodity to be bought and sold.

The only enumerated power in the Constitution dealing with the economy is the “Interstate Commerce Clause.” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) and states that “the United States Congress shall have power to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”

The founding fathers knew that for the Republic to survive with a market economy, the federal government would need to regulate those markets. The concept that regulation of the economy is in some way contrary to the original intent of the founding fathers is clearly refuted by the “enumerated powers of the United States Congress” in the Constitution.

As a nation, we are at a philosophical crossroads. We are going to have to decide which we will be, a “Democratic Society” or a “Capitalist Society” Whether we will be defined by our money or our ideals.

The Dissenter’s Top Films of 2011

For the past six months, I have reported on the Occupy movement and regularly covered WikiLeaks. I covered Pfc. Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing with great detail just over a week ago. But, now, I would like to take a moment to share with you some of the films I most enjoyed this year.

Why is The Dissenter posting a top ten list (in no particular order) of films?

I graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a Film/Video degree. I enjoy writing about film. I especially enjoy writing about films that help call attention to important political or social issues in society (see my review of The Whistleblower this year, which happens to be on the list below).  I am by no means a professional movie critic, but I do like to use film to interrogate the world and I also appreciate directors/producers/screenwriters, etc, that dare to interrogate the world or provoke thought in society through film.

Additionally, on a much more personal level, I am able to produce the writing that I post here regularly because I take time to pause and consume art. I can immerse myself in a story, like the Pfc. Manning’s hearing or the “Cablegate 2″ release from WikiLeaks in August, spending day after day doggedly reporting each aspect or sifting through a major release of important government documents. I can feverishly follow Occupy camps and work to be the first to have live video streams of evictions or protest action in the live blog here. But, I always pull back at some point and do a refresh by consuming art or entertainment.

Here is the list. I did not get around to viewing Drive or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which I suspect would be in the top ten if I had seen them. Also, I do not separate documentary from film. There should not be best films and then best documentaries. Documentaries are films and the one documentary I put on my list deserves to be considered one of the best films of the year.

 

Another Earth:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqBGh2kMiac

Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), a student who has just been accepted into MIT, is driving down the street one night as she sees a duplicate Earth has appeared in the sky. Distracted, she does not see John Burroughs (William Mapother), a composer, and crashes into his car killing his child and wife and injuring him severely. She goes to jail and upon her release she wants to apologize to Burroughs but cannot bring herself to tell him. She also finds out about an essay contest that could win her a trip to the other Earth.

The other Earth is supposedly a parallel Earth where you could have possibly done something differently than what you did here on this Earth. On a shoestring budget, first-time director Mike Cahill does a wonderful job of telling this story that like many science fiction stories is about escaping one’s world for a new world where the problems one has experienced can be forgotten or even erased permanently.

The Artist:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMUsZVb1zQ0

It is 1927. The era of silent movies is about to come to an end as the technology for “talkie” motion pictures becomes available to film studios. Enter silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who does not want to have anything to do with this new era of film because he cannot “talk” on camera. Contrasting Valentin is Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), an extra whom he bumps into and kisses in front of the press. She is set on being a movie starlet and has nothing but love for acting. She especially longs to be in pictures with Valentin and will do everything to try to save Valentin as his career and life goes downhill.

The love story is a celebration of an art form that has long been lost: the silent movie. The bold concept takes a huge risk and succeeds. With no dialogue (save for the few lines at the end of the film), it masterfully employs music, sound and charming performances. What makes the movie even better is that the actor playing Valentin could scarcely speak English and in 1927 would have been the kind of actor to dread the new business of “talkie” motion pictures.

The Descendants:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5C8puKGo6Q

Matt King (George Clooney) owns quite a bit of Hawaiian land that has been passed down from earlier generations in Hawaii. He faces a decision on whether to sell the land, along with an even tougher decision: whether to let his wife on life support die because there is little chance of her recovering from injuries she suffered in a boating accident. Also, as King is trying to reconnect with his daughter, Alexandra King (Shailene Woodley), he finds out that his wife was having an affair before the boat accident.

The story could be a heavy drama that is almost unbearable to watch. Director Alexander Payne, one of the best screenwriters in the business, goes another route and infuses this dark story with wit and a bit of charm. The characters say what they should say in the worst of situations and the film is superb because the people in the movie are honest. They say the things we wish we would say in the toughest of situations so we would no longer be lying to ourselves or ignoring that close family member that needed to know how we really felt.

The Interrupters:

“The Interrupters” are a group in Chicago committed to preventing gang violence in communities. Many of the leaders are, in fact, former gang leaders, who went to jail. In seeking redemption in society they have chosen to give back by impressing upon young people the importance of violence not being the answer to every argument or problem. The film opens with the violence that killed Derrion Albert at Fenger High School and then follows this bold and courageous group of people  for a year, as they work with Chicagoans on the south and west side of Chicago.

Snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, this really should be nominated for Best Documentary of 2011. The film produced by Kartemquin is made by a crew that manages to earn intimate access into the day-to-day conflicts the Interrupters find themselves disrupting. The opening sequence shows the volatility of parts of the south side of Chicago as a young person runs around wielding a butcher knife because the person believes her brother has been insulted. A hunk of concrete than comes flying. The camera crew is right in the middle of all this. They are also right there in counseling sessions as we watch younger people try to find a better way to live that does not always involve resorting to violence.

Margin Call:

Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) has just been fired from a trading firm. As he leaves the firm for good, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) is handed a USB drive with a project Dale has been working on. Sullivan takes a look at the contents and discovers market capitalization will be significantly lower than future losses. The assets need to be dumped and the firm holds a meeting immediately on unloading them.

This feature film is essentially a fictional version of Lehman Brothers’ role in the 2008 economic collapse. The time that elapses in the film is only 24 hours. Characters like Sullivan slowly realize how much power they have to impact regular Americans’ lives and how that is incomprehensible to most citizens. And, this clearly all happens because they have fallen victim to their money or stock trading addiction. As CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) says, “So what you are telling me is that the music is about to stop and we are going to be left holding the biggest bag of odorous excrement ever assembled in the history of capitalism”?

Midnight in Paris:

Screenwriter Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is struggling to complete his first novel. He has gone on vacation in Paris with his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. Pender, a romantic, thinks they should move to the city but Inez doesn’t share his passion. Pender goes on a walk at midnight and finds an older car that stops and invites him to a party. He gets into the vehicle and finds he has been transported to the 1920s, a time period of great artists, musicians and writers. And, in fact, he finds himself encountering these people: Cole Porter, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, etc.

The film by Woody Allen centers on themes of nostalgia. Pender People, especially romantics, tend to idolize the past and believe they would have enjoyed life more in earlier eras. He falls for Picasso’s mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who does not romanticize the 1920s like Pender. She longs to live in an earlier era in the late 1800s. All of which makes the film as much about idealizing periods of history in addition to the sheer entertainment of watching Gil meet icons of the 1920s.

Shame:

Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is a sex addict. Sullivan’s life is a ritual dominated by sex—ordering hookers, watching porn, masturbating and womanizing on train rides. His private but miserable sex addict life is thrown into disarray when his sister, Sissy Sullivan (Carey Mulligan), pressures him into letting her stay in his apartment. Her presence makes it hard for him to keep up his sex addiction in privacy further complicating his life and compounding his torment.

This is a character-driven film that aesthetically puts the viewer into the mind of Brandon. Many times the camera hangs on the face of Brandon allowing viewers to take in the pain, anguish or engrossed feelings that he is experiencing. The film is rated NC-17 so the story does not shy away from showing us the most raw and depraved aspects of Sullivan’s life. He is a tragic hero. It is likely Sullivan never overcomes his addiction, but his story isn’t compelling because it appears he could take control of his destructive lifestyle. It’s compelling because he appears to prefer struggling to actually changing the way he lives.

Source Code:

US Army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself on a Chicago commuter train. The train explodes eight minutes later. He “wakes up” after the blast and is in a pod. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) notifies him through her headset that he is to locate the person who set off the bomb on the train by using the “source code,” which is essentially a time loop program that allows someone to take over the body of someone during the last eight minutes of their life. They send him back again and again to find this person, but more important to Goodwin is who he is and why he is being forced to accomplish this hyper-technological mission.

The film, directed by Duncan Jones, uses time in much the same way that Harold Ramis used time in Groundhog Day. Goodwin has eight minutes each time he is on the train to try and figure out what exactly has happened to him without officers back at the station knowing. There’s also a girl, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), on board, who he falls in love with during his operation in the source code.

Trust:

Fourteen-year-old Annie (Liana Liberato) meets someone online, who says he is sixteen-years-old and named Charlie. They chat constantly every day. Their conversation becomes tense as he tells her in the chat that he isn’t really sixteen but twenty. They plan a time to meet each other and she realizes he isn’t twenty but thirty-five. She cannot understand why he lied to her. She goes with him to a hotel room and puts on a bra and panties for him. He then proceeds to take advantage of her.

The film, directed by David Schwimmer, would be a straight up to catch a predator story. But, when the FBI comes in, Annie’s father, Will (Clive Owen) grows impatient and begins to take matters into his own hands. Will and her mother, Lynn (Catherine Keener), try to get Annie help, but it just frustrates her because she believes she was in control when he had sex with her, which means she was not really raped. The drama that unfolds is intense and the conflict profound.

The Whistleblower

Inspired by a harrowing true story, Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is a former police investigator from Nebraska who takes a job as a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia in 1999. She begins to discover the extent to which UN peacekeepers are complicit and involved in the sex industry. She happens upon two Ukrainian teenagers, Raya and Luba, who become ensnared in the sex industry after being promised a job at a hotel. The girls and women, as one top agency commander says in the film, are regarded as “whores of war.

The people shown are so depraved that nobody is willing to speak up for the abused girls and women—except for Bolkovac. The people shown are so depraved that nobody is willing to speak up for the abused girls and women—except for Bolkovac. And, it is a powerful portrait of what happens when an employer pins someone in a position where they have to become an activist to do their job. Also, in the age of WikiLeaks, it shows why whistleblowers deserve protection, not prosecution.