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I don't know what the hell bizarro universe I woke up in today, but I kinda like it. Democrats proposing tax cuts? In my Congress? It's more likely than you think...

Don't miss the money shot at 5:11 -- "particularly when we're using a Chinese credit card to pay for it all." Boo yah.

This should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway -- call your Congresscritters. Make this happen.

(h/t [ profile] rialian)
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I have a favour to ask of all of you. It will take about half an hour to an hour of your time in the next week, though first, for context, you should go read about what happened to Peter Watts.

TL,DR: Canadian science fiction author is accused by Michigan border guards, while he's on the way back to Canada, of having assaulted them. In court, it came out that although the guards struck Watts several times, Watts never raised a hand against the guards. However, he was still found guilty because the law places "failure to comply with a lawful command" -- in this case, a guard's ordering him to lie down -- as "obstructing a federal officer," and "obstruction", by the wording of the law, is considered to be as much of a crime as assault is.

Yes, Americans, Michigan just convicted a man for not lying down and groveling fast enough. The jury, at one point during deliberation, sent a question to the court: "Is failure to comply sufficient for conviction?" It doesn't get a lot clearer than that. And one thing that's especially clear to me is that this is a jury that had no idea what jury nullification is.

See, one thing the American court system has fallen all over itself to hide from the people in the last several decades is the fact that jurors are not only triers of fact: they are also triers of law. The jury is charged not only with determining whether the facts of the case indicate that the defendant did what he was charged with or not, but determining whether the law is a valid one or not. If the jury decides that the law is unconstitutionally vague, or unjust, or applied unjustly, the jury has the right and the authority to find the defendant not guilty, whether the facts of the case support the allegations against the defendant or not.

Jury nullification is one of the oldest components of the common-law tradition upon which US law is based; it dates back to at least the 1500s and probably earlier. It has been applied in the United States both before and after the country was founded; it has been used to acquit Underground Railroad conductors accused under the Fugitive Slave Act, bootleggers during Prohibition, and, less admirably, whites accused of murdering blacks during the era of the Civil Rights movement. (It's a tool. Like a hammer or a gun, it can be used for good or for evil, but the tool itself is morally neutral.)

If the jury in the Watts case had known about jury nullification, they could have said, "It's ridiculous to convict someone of a felony for not lying down fast enough; the law is worded unjustly, and we're not going to convict, on those grounds."

"But, Meredith," I hear you say, "how do you know that the jury didn't know about nullification?" I don't, but I'd put the chances at greater than 80%. The easiest way to get removed from juror selection is to let it slip to the judge or the prosecutor that you know that jury nullification exists. In 1969 and 1972, the Fourth Circuit and the District of Columbia (respectively) ruled that the court may deny the defense the ability to instruct the jury about the possibility of nullification, and in 1988 the Sixth Circuit (which unfortunately includes Michigan1) upheld a judge's instruction that "there is no valid jury nullification".

Let me spell that out again: the court has recently granted itself the right to refuse to even let the jury know about one of its powers that has a tremendous ability to affect the outcome of a case. The courts are deliberately depriving jurors of one of their most traditional rights, and deliberately depriving defendants of one of the most traditional, if rarely exercised, opportunities for acquittal.

However, the fact that the courts want to put jury nullification down the memory hole doesn't mean that it's going to go there quietly. We have the ability to keep it alive, but we're going to have to work for it.

So here's what I want you to do.

This week, I want you to find three people who don't already know about and understand jury nullification, and explain it to them. They can be Americans, Canadians, Britons, Australians, or anyone else who lives under a legal system derived from the British common law. You don't have to get them to agree with it; just get them to understand it, and to understand that this is a legal right, enshrined in over 400 years of jurisprudential history, that the courts have attempted to dispose of in the last 40 years. You can send them an email or link them to this post if you want, but it's best to do it in person. And get them to promise that they will also find three more people who aren't familiar with jury nullification, bring them up to speed on it, and get those people to spread the word. And so on, and so on.

It is said that rights exist only so long as they are exercised, but more fundamentally than that, a right can only be exercised if people know it exists. I am not asking you to exercise the right; I am asking you to help make sure that this right is not banished into oblivion by such an odious little thing as ignorance.

If you will do this, please leave a comment.

1I still need to read the decision in U.S. v. Krzyske, whence comes that ruling. If a Michigan jury were to nullify a law, must a mistrial be declared? If subsequent juries continue to nullify, does that mean that they just have to keep retrying and retrying until someone runs out of money?

Creative Commons License
This work by Meredith L. Patterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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Warren Ellis, in Planetary #7, January 2000:

Jack always said it was difficult for us Americans to understand what it was really like [in Britain] in the darkest parts of the eighties.

We had a doddery old president who talked about the end of the world a little too often and was being run by the wrong people.

But they had a prime minister who was genuinely mad. [...] She wanted concentration camps for AIDS victims, wanted to eradicate homosexuality even as an abstract concept, made poor people choose between eating and keeping their vote ... ran the most shameless vote-grabbing artificial war scam in fifty years ... England was a scary place. No wonder it produced a scary culture.
England during the Thatcher years vs. the US under Bush II, and/or Falklands vs. Iraq: compare and contrast?
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Not often does an observation made about a zeitgeist at the time of its occurrence turn out to be true, but this one certainly has:
The heirs of the French, English, and American revolutions had partly believed in their own phrases about the rights of man, freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the like, and have even allowed their conduct to be influenced by them to some extent. But by the fourth decade of the twentieth century all the main currents of political thought were authoritarian. The earthly paradise had been discredited at exactly the moment when it became realizable. Every new political theory, by whatever name it called itself, led back to hierarchy and regimentation.
--George Orwell, writing in 1949
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Via [ profile] mellowtigger, up before Congress this session we have H.R. 3501, the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years Act. It's super short -- you can read it in the time it takes me to explain it -- but I'll summarize anyway: if this bill passes, if you itemise deductions you can deduct pet care expenses up to $3500. This means vet bills, food, litter, a cage, &c for your cat, dog, bird, lizard, fish, hedgehog, whatever -- it just has to be domesticated and alive. Buying the pet does not count as a qualified expense, research animals and animals "utilized in conjunction with a trade or business" (uh, a mascot?) don't count, and you can't double-dip if you've claimed deductions for the animal in the last three years, but that's it.

It's a tax cut that helps individuals first and foremost. It encourages people to take good care of animals. I like these things. If you do too, write your representative and ask him or her to support this bill.
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Via [ profile] fjm, British government finally apologises for its appalling treatment of Alan Turing and other gay men.

By any sensible definition of sainthood, Alan Turing ought to have been canonised long ago (along with Alonzo Church, Haskell Curry, John Backus, John von Neumann, and a small host of other dead computer scientists, but that's another story for another time). The ability to capture something as powerful and as potentially complex as recursively enumerable computation in an idea as straightforward and easy-to-understand as the Universal Turing Machine is the stuff of legends, and the sheer breadth and depth of innovation that the Von Neumann architecture -- inspired pretty much directly by the Turing machine -- has made possible over the last sixty years is nothing short of miraculous. (Well, apart from the fact that we can trace the developments and where they came from, all the way back to the source, which is not common with miracles in the traditional sense. But I digress.)

No, I'm not asking the British government to fall all over itself in self-flagellation for what it did. Gordon Brown's apology is frank and dodges no bullets, and the lack of weaselling is commendable. I am asking, though, that the government keep in mind, moving forward, that it drove one of the most brilliant minds of his generation or any other to suicide over the crime of being different, and to adjust its policies accordingly.

I do not know, and cannot reasonably predict, what Alan Turing would have made of the rest of his life had he lived it to its natural end. Like all the great hackers, curiosity was forever nipping at his heels, and it could have driven him anywhere. Perhaps he would have pursued his passionate interest in human consciousness, or come up with a formalism for an even stronger computational mechanism -- the kind of thing we've blackboxed as an "oracle" for the last sixty years. Perhaps he would have settled down with a nice boy and taken up gardening. That would have been great too, because hey -- it wouldn't have been a life full of undeserved surveillance and forced chemical castration. People do better things with themselves when they're not under that kind of stress.

No, British government, it does not make it any better when you go from just keeping the queers under surveillance to putting everyone under surveillance.

And for everyone else -- let this serve as a lesson to you. Keep an eye on what your watchmen are doing to the different among you, because you're next. This is how social control works: test your procedures out on an "undesirable" sector of society, because who cares about them anyway, and refine the procedures to the point where they're still useful but are statistically unlikely to provoke much in the way of outrage. If the undesirables later lose their undesirable status, apologise for the ones you killed, and keep on going.
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As most of you have probably picked up on, I'm among that minority of computer scientists who actually writes code, and often prefers it to writing papers (much to the chagrin of my advisors and colleagues). I enjoy my theoretical work, but if I spend too much time on theory alone, the joy turns hollow; I want to build things that people can use. Things that are better than what we have now. Things that are founded on sound principles and elegant proofs, that run fast, scale efficiently, are easy to use and extend, work well, and fail gracefully.

I'm often torn, rather badly, between two motivations, which I'll call the Mathematician and the Engineer. The Mathematician loves elegance and correctness, and is willing to spend exponentially increasing amounts of time to get them. The Engineer respects elegance and correctness, but is far more aware than the Mathematician of the fact that there's a lot of work that needs to get done yesterday, and just wants to get the fucking code out the door. With unit tests and regression tests and a decent build system, sure -- the Mathematician likes those too, they're a good way to demonstrate correctness -- but the Engineer recognises that nobody can use the code we don't ship, and sometimes there comes a point when you just have to take a deep breath, commit the changes and call it a release.

I submit that political decisionmaking is subject to its own Mathematician/Engineer conflicts. And it's often hard, damn hard, to switch between one perspective and the other or to find a point of harmony between them, especially when the brokenness of a system is obvious to both Mathematicians and Engineers. The argument isn't so much over that something needs to change, but what needs to change, and how much work under the hood it's going to take to ship something that is at least less broken and scales better, and what the balance is between getting it more correct and getting something that will fix at least some of the short-term problems out the door at all.

(This post brought to you by the fact that the Haskell parser generator doesn't have precedence settings for attribute rules, the realisation that my life would be so much easier if it did, the further realisation that if I want it, I'm probably going to have to put it there myself, and the nagging knowledge that there's a less elegant way to do it.)
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In the comments to my last essay, [ profile] editer writes:

Given [the fact that extremist right-wing radio and TV hosts are encouraging people to show up armed to Obama speeches, among other things], is it any wonder that the sight of gunmen at Democratic events makes a lot of us nervous?

The thing is -- if they succeed in making you nervous, you're letting the terrorists win. That's right, I just called Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their scum-sucking ilk terrorists, because that's what they are: they preach divisiveness from their bully pulpits in order to inspire hatred in their followers and fear in their targets. Those are terrorist tactics. And they have every expectation that their targets' response to this particular fear tactic will be to recoil in horror and redouble their efforts to restrict or ban firearms, thus further angering the Loyal Followers and driving even more of a wedge between what they view as their useful minions -- the right-wing authoritarian followers -- and their useful targets, which is to say, people like you and me.

Nothing -- I repeat, nothing -- would turn the tables on the Limbaughs and Coulters of the world more than a group of peaceful, armed progressives showing up at one of these rallies. It's just not in the script. They haven't planned for it, they wouldn't know what to do with it. And they'd do exactly what they've always done when someone goes off script and throws them for a loop: rage, fume, and weaken their own credibility. They're hilariously predictable in this regard.

Now, as Bob Altemeyer explains quite lucidly -- I'm a convert, I'll admit it, the science sold me -- this doesn't mean that they'll end up driving away their flock. Authoritarian followers will perform truly amazing contortions to avoid having to come to the conclusion that one of their Chosen Leaders is wrong. But you don't have to strip away the followers to strip away the power; point of fact, it's more effective to strip away the money. And when these bozos flip out, they go off script and say dumb, offensive things. We can use this against them. ELEVEN major corporate advertisers have dropped their sponsorship of Glenn Beck's show thanks to pressure from citizens like you and me who object to Beck calling Obama a racist. ConAgra. Geico. Sanofi-Aventis. LexisNexis. These are big companies with lots of money in their pockets, and the more we can inspire the Becks of the world to show what giant assholes they really are on nationwide television, the greater the likelihood that we can convince these major corporations to pull out of Fox News entirely. Do that enough, and they're gonna have to start firing some people.

So why not show them that we're not afraid of them, and let them hang themselves with their own rope?

Seriously. I want to see a dozen gay couples show up to one of these events, carrying signs that read "Health Care For All", "Right to Keep and Arm Bears", and "Gay, straight, black, white: marriage is a civil right", every last one of them with a holstered pistol. Now there's a front-page photo for you.
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So apparently a guy decided to show up today to an Obama speech in Arizona while carrying a pistol and a semiautomatic rifle. (He didn't want to give reporters his name, but that's him in the foreground in the picture over there.) Good for him! He and William Kostric have both conducted themselves admirably, declaring for all to see, "I am a citizen who is well-informed of my rights and responsibilities under the law, and I will acquit myself in a law-abiding fashion." We need more upstanding citizens like these guys.

This afternoon, on Twitter, I was reminded of why.

See, although I've never hidden the fact that I love the Second Amendment and believe that it's one of the most important founding principles of American government, I've never really gone out of my way to engage people about it like some of y'all are wont to do. I prefer to do my activism on a one-on-one basis, by shaking up people's expectations. If you've never been around guns, if none of your friends are gun owners, if your only exposure to guns has been violent movies and reports on the six o'clock news about people being shot during robberies, it's easy to think of gun owners as Those People who Aren't Like Us. It's easy to conflate gun owners with closed-minded rednecks who would rather put a bullet through a queer or a feminist or an anti-war protestor than have to live in the same society as them.

It's a bit different when you find out that the woman who just walked three miles through the streets of San Francisco with you in the Trans Pride March, who goes to raves with you and wants drug laws to be completely overhauled and blogs in favour of gay rights, is just as proud of being a responsible gun owner.

I found out about the fellow in Arizona through someone I don't actually know: some guy on Twitter who started following me yesterday. He had some interesting links, so I followed him back, and he tweeted a link to an article about the guy in Arizona. I tweeted back that as long as he conducted himself peacefully, that was great news. This kicked off an hour-plus-long debate which, apart from a couple of interchanges with antagonistic people at a Diversity Fair at the University of Iowa where some friends and I had a booth representing the gun culture, was really the first frustrating conversation about guns I've ever had. I guess I'm lucky.

See, in the Sassaman household we have two rules for houseguests: if you use the stove, make sure you turn it to the "off" position that really is "off" and not the "off" that leaks gas, and you must understand the four rules of firearm safety and show us that you can safely unload the guns we keep in the house. That's it. You can use our shampoo, if it's in the fridge it's fair game, we don't mind if you walk out of the shower in the altogether -- but we expect and require you to know how to be safe with the two dangerous things in the house. We'll teach you basic gun safety and step you through all the physical stuff, as many times as you need or want, but if you're not willing to do that, you're going to need to find somewhere else to crash. (We'll help with that too.)

It's pleasantly surprising just how much this opens people's eyes: discovering that wow, there actually are People Like Us, people who share Our Values and fight for the same things we fight for, who are also passionate about gun rights. I don't know exactly what goes through their heads, but I like to think it's something along the lines of, Huh. Maybe guns aren't as scary and alien as I always thought they were. Maybe they really are just tools, just inanimate objects that take on meaning only in the context of whoever's holding them.

You know, like a dude in Arizona carrying a pistol in a holster and a semiautomatic rifle in a resting position over one shoulder with the barrel pointed safely at the ground.

What I didn't expect, today, was just how much context some folks want to assume, even in the absence of any evidence whatsoever to support those assumptions. Twitter-guy ranted, angrily and at length, about a "greasy redneck cowboy" he'd seen in a grocery store the other day, openly carrying while doing his shopping. He accused this man -- who he didn't exchange a single word with -- of being "afraid" and "paranoid", and said that he "was sorely tempted to grab it and make him shit his cowboy pants."

I was flabbergasted. "Wait," I said, "so you think it's OK to just walk up to some dude in a supermarket and assault him if you don't like what he's holding?" Well, yeah, apparently he did. That blows my mind. If you wouldn't walk up to some dude in a supermarket and snatch his backpack off his shoulder, why on earth would you walk up to some dude in a supermarket and snatch his gun off his hip? (Uh, or try to. Good luck with that, by the way.) 

The conversation continued, with Twitter Guy launching invective left and right, while I did my level best to answer his rhetoric with reason, his anger with level-headedness. I won't recap the whole thing here -- you can go read it on Twitter if you really want to -- but the one thing that really struck me, throughout the conversation, was the sheer depth of his conviction that those of us who support gun ownership and the right to carry in public do so out of fear. He labelled me "insane", he labelled gun owners of his acquaintance as "paranoid" and "nutcases". I shrugged off the name-calling -- dignifying it with a response never helps -- but he kept coming back to it, again and again, demanding to know why someone would carry a gun in public if they weren't afraid of something.

At the end of the conversation, just before I called a halt and went to dinner, we were on the subject of when it would or wouldn't be appropriate to use a firearm in self-defense in a built-up area. "If there's a rapist in my face," I said, "I'll take that chance." And when I got back from dinner, what do you know, a snarky response about "See, you claim you're not afraid, but your words say differently."

That, ladies and gentlemen, pissed me the hell off. I don't know about the rest of y'all, but I do know women who have been violently raped by complete strangers. (I won't out them here; that's their choice, not mine.) I'd trade my right arm for the chance to go back in time and make sure they had a loaded handgun and the skills to use it on the night they were raped. You know why? Because trying to frame the discussion about self-defence rights in terms of "fear" versus "lack of fear" is more than disingenous, it's an out-and-out lie. English has words like "concern" and "qualm" and "doubt" and "dread" and "paranoia" and "unease" because fear is not a binary, it's a continuum. We have the phrase "healthy concern" because there is such a thing. I'm "afraid" of being in a situation where I might need to defend myself with deadly force the same way I'm "afraid" of having my bad ankle go out under me and dump me on my keister in the street: I wear stiff boots to keep my ankle from buckling, and when I'm in a situation where it's lawful for me to do so, I carry a handgun. 

So I told him his male privilege was showing, and that was the end of that.

I support gun rights because I support civil rights, plain and simple. I cheer every time a woman plugs a would-be rapist, every time a PoC plugs someone trying to assault them because of the colour of their skin, every time a queer plugs a would-be gay-basher. It's not that I especially like violence; the bare truth of it is that some people will listen to nothing else. Some people hear "it's wrong to physically harm people because of the colour of their skin, or what's between their legs, or because of who they love" and it just slides right off as if they'd never heard it. Am I saying "let's go shoot all the racists"? If you think that, you haven't been listening: firearms are a tool for self-defence, and I don't mean "the best ~ is a good offence". Nobody likes to admit it, but if you're a minority in the United States, there are people who believe, as surely as they believe that the sun will come up in the east tomorrow, that your mere existence is a killin' offense. These people are wrong, and if one of them attacks your person, then for God's sake just shoot the motherfucker. If just ten percent of the gays and lesbians in America were to learn how to shoot and carry handguns, there'd be a lot fewer Matthew Shepards or Paul Broussards or Brandon Teenas or ... well, you can read up for yourself if you don't already know.

This is what William Kostric means, by the way, when he says "an armed society is a polite society." And so do I.

But I wonder, because I know some of you reading disagree with me -- what is it you think we're afraid of? 
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Tonight I'm reading Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians, and less than a chapter in, I already recommend it wholeheartedly. (You can download a PDF for free at that link.) Altemeyer is a psychology prof at the University of Manitoba, and he is a social scientist of the first water, emphasis on the scientist part: he is a stickler for the scientific method, and he's all about repeatability and achieving high confidence levels. The book fairly oozes methodology, and is also eminently conversational and readable, with a quirky sense of humour that suits me just fine. (If you like my corny jokes, you'll like his.)

Altemeyer's research for the last thirty-odd years has focused on the personalities of authoritarian leaders, but the first chapter focuses on "authoritarian followers" -- the people who support authoritarian leaders -- in order to provide a backdrop for the rest of the book. In it, he describes a poll he has used through much of his research, which examines the degree to which individuals are likely to follow traditionalist, or "right-wing" authoritarian leaders. (He uses "right-wing" specifically to denote traditional authority; a left-wing authoritarian leader is an authoritarian leader who uses his authority to incite revolution and overthrow traditional, entrenched power structures. "Don't forget to smash the state on your way out!")

What I just now found particularly interesting was an account of the results of this poll as applied to a representative sample of 1000 Americans and cross-referenced with polls (of the same group) on social and economic attitudes. I'll let Dr. Altemeyer talk now:
RWA scale scores (higher == more authoritarian -- Ed.) correlated highest with attitudes against same-sex marriage, abortion, drugs, pornography, women’s equality, unconventional behavior and free speech, and with support for the Patriot Act and America’s “right” to spread democracy by military force. In contrast, the relationships with economic issues (taxation, minimum wage, the public versus private sector, free trade) proved much weaker. The data thus indicate, as do a lot of other findings, that high RWAs are “social conservatives” to a much greater extent that they are “economic conservatives.”
So ... there's a strong correlation between thinking that people should sit the hell down, shut the hell up, and let the government decide what's best, and thinking that 19th-century attitudes toward human rights are okay ... but all bets are off when it comes to thinking about how the government should obtain and spend money?

Suddenly the last eight years make a whole lot more sense.

I miss Republicans. For that matter, I still miss Republicans.
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Worth exactly what you paid for it, so hey, if I piss you off, all you wasted was your time.

Anyway. I recently read some discussion in a trans* community about the following excerpt from an HRC newsletter:
Getting the truth in front of the American public is no small undertaking. Extremist groups are not only attacking equal rights we've already won – they are raising millions to shut down progress on victories yet to come.

Backed by supporters like you, here's how we're making a stand:

* In Maine, preparing to defend marriage equality at the ballot – sure to be a major fight;
* In California, rolling out a massive initiative to organize clergy and religious communities in support of marriage equality;
* In New Hampshire, building grassroots pressure behind the marriage bill now making its way to the governor's desk;
* In New York, working with state groups to organize support for a marriage bill scheduled for a vote in the state Assembly today;
* In Iowa, ensuring elected leaders continue standing strong against the radical right's relentless campaign to overturn the recent court ruling;
* In Connecticut and Vermont, ensuring that marriage equality is protected forever.

Every single one of these efforts is being threatened. The truth is on our side, but we need YOUR support to broadcast it, talk face-to-face with Americans, and win hearts and minds.

The discussion was critical of the fact that transgender rights were not being addressed by the HRC's efforts at all. Now, this is a thing worth being concerned about, because there are some major issues going on in the US with respect to access to health care, access to housing, fair treatment in the workplace, fair treatment by the State Department, &c with respect to trans* persons. As an organisation which deals with sexuality-based discrimination issues, it is reasonable to expect the HRC to engage with trans-rights issues.

The HRC also has a lot of money, and it is tempting to assume that it can take on any goal it wants to. Making this assumption can lead to the conclusion that HRC is therefore deliberately ignoring trans* issues in favour of same-sex marriage. However, I submit that it is flawed reasoning to assume that the HRC's resources are unlimited; in fact they most certainly are limited compared to, say, the aggregate resources of the Republican Party and its supporters. This means that the HRC must pick its battles.

It is presently the case that there is legislation related to gay rights, and in particular to same-sex marriage, being considered in several state legislatures at this time. It is also the case that there are ballot issues and judicial issues related to same-sex marriage coming up that immediate, decisive action -- often in a grassroots fashion, as in the case of making sure people get to the polls in order to vote on important issues, or encourage their friends in areas of important ballot measures to get to the polls -- can make a major difference on.

Now, here is my question. What are some major trans* issues currently in front of the courts or the legislatures that I can have some impact on?

I ask that in all seriousness as a US citizen who maintains a residence in California. Offhand I can think of several government issues that I can affect, in California and in the United States as a whole, some of which have to do with same-sex marriage, some of which have to do with other issues with which I concern myself (e.g., privacy, copyright, open-source biology). For instance, if the petition for a rehearing in Strauss v. Horton is granted, I can write an amicus curiae brief -- a "Friend of the Court" letter. Is there a trans-rights case currently going before a state or federal court that I can research and submit a brief about?

How about a trans-rights referendum in some upcoming municipal, county, or state election? Is there, say, a proposition in San Francisco to require the City and County to cover HRT and SRS for trans* government employees? If so, I could encourage all my San Francisco readers -- and there are a lot of them -- to get out the vote. And they'd do it. That's the kind of people I make friends with. I could do the same for Houston, Austin, Iowa City, Chicago, Washington DC, Seattle, Miami, NYC, Boston, just by speaking up and getting the word out, thanks to my diverse group of friends. I can also write letters and make phone calls to Congresscritters, state and local representatives, and ask people in all sorts of places to do the same and get the word out themselves.

So I ask you, what are some time-critical issues that I can help spread the word about? Because HRC is going to have to focus on things that it can affect immediately, and really, that's the kind of thing I can help with too.

Is there a website I can go to that tracks trans* issues before the courts or legislatures? When I go to GovTrack and search using the keyword "transgender", I get seven results for the current session of Congress, six of which are memorial resolutions of one kind or another, the other of which is the National Hate Crimes Hotline Act of 2009. That's nice, but GovTrack only follows the US Congress, not state issues, and it doesn't do elections or courts. Is there a centralised repository of up-to-the-minute (-day would be fine, actually) breaking trans* political issues? Preferably one where I can send emails to my representatives with a convenient dropdown menu?

And finally, if there aren't any trans* issues before the courts or on the ballots at the moment, I strongly recommend putting some there. The issues exist, but in order to get them the attention they need in order to be addressed, they're going to have to be forced in the spotlight by someone taking a discrimination issue to trial, or by getting a legislator to propose some form of legislation, or by grassroots effort to get a proposition on a ballot somewhere.
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[ profile] joedecker points out that Obama has asked SCOTUS not to hear a DADT case currently being considered for certiorari.

This annoys me, but Joe, as usual, has accurately captured my annoyance, so go read his post if you want that. Here's my thing. This is only one of several times in the last few weeks that I've read an article about Obama asking SCOTUS not to hear a case. We've got the administration asking SCOTUS not to hear appeals from Valerie Plame and her husband vs. several Bush II officials, families of people killed during 9/11 vs. Saudi Arabia and several Saudi princes (yes, that's a forum, but go read the brief), and some Uighur Muslim Gitmo detainees who want to be released into the US. He's also asked for an overturn of Michigan v. Jackson, which would allow police to interrogate a defendant who has a lawyer (or who has asked for one) without that lawyer being present, which of course opens up all kinds of nightsticky opportunities. (Yeah, [ profile] txtriffidranch, I know -- use a length of garden hose filled with lead shot and that nun won't have a mark on her. It's the principle of the thing.)

And, of course, despite having promised that, if elected, he would end warrantless wiretapping, he's already broken that promise (though, to be fair, we did see this one coming last summer when he was still a senator.)

What. The hell. Is up. With that? Historically, I know Presidents have clashed with SCOTUS before -- FDR, Nixon -- but since when does the President run around telling the court what to hear and not to hear? Was this just something that didn't get a lot of coverage the last few presidencies, or is Obama actively continuing the monstrous power grabs that eight years of Bush softened us up for?

(Yes, yes, I know the articles all say he's "asking", but really, grow up -- they're putting it nicely.)


Mar. 5th, 2009 09:17 pm
maradydd: (Default)
Wow, that was a really tiring three hours -- but so rewarding! Thanks to the California Channel and SFGTV for broadcasting the proceedings of the arguments. [ profile] joedecker, the ACLU, quite a few other Twitterers and I had a rousing discussion going the entire time, and a big thanks to the folks at Twitter for providing us with such a great platform for discussion!

I'm going to go catch the last showing of Watchmen tonight, but after that, I've got a big post brewing on my take on the proceedings. A lot of the endgame arguments dealt with what constitutes an inalienable right and what doesn't; one of the Justices in fact framed it as a dispute between the right of the California people to amend their Constitution and the right of individuals to enjoy equal protection under the law.

Protip: One of these rights is inalienable and the other one isn't. Pop quiz for my readers: which is which, and why does it matter?

Discuss in the comments. I'll be back in a few hours.
maradydd: (Default)
Sorry for the late announcement, folks, but I wanted everyone to know -- the California Channel will be broadcasting (and webcasting) the oral arguments in the three Prop 8 cases, starting at 9am Pacific time. (That's about an hour from now.)

You can follow the live stream on the web, and [ profile] joedecker and I will be Twittering the proceedings at Come join in the dialogue!

(No, I will not be LoudTwittering anything back here.)

ETA: If the Cal Channel isn't working for you, SFGTV2 will also be broadcasting. Go here and click on the SFGTV2 link. (At the moment I'm watching the Black History Month Kickoff Celebration -- uh, a month late? -- and at 9am the Prop 8 coverage starts. Shanaka Hodge is a good poet, btw.)
maradydd: (Default)
I did not realise, until [ profile] evelien mentioned it, that if you are a non-US citizen and are travelling to the US, even if you are a citizen of a country covered by the Visa Waiver Program, you must now apply for entry to the US online at least 72 hours before you travel. Yes, even if you are only there for a short time. Yes, even if you are only transiting through the US on your way to another country -- that's right, even if you never leave the airport.

Seriously, State Department, what the fuck? US-VISIT wasn't enough of a pain in the ass, so you shut it down and put together an even more annoying program?

I do have to wonder how long this is going to last; this will without a doubt increase the number of deportees (thanks to people who don't find out about the need to apply for authorization, or who forget to do it, or who don't realize that infants who are flying without a ticket still have to have an authorization, &c, &c), and the airlines are going to be extremely nonthrilled about having to mule them all back home.

It's not quite clear from the ESTA website what the goals of the program are. The FAQs seem to indicate that they're trying to keep out people who have been convicted of crimes of moral turpitude and people with communicable diseases. Fun fact: six of the eight communicable diseases that are grounds for denying someone entry to the United States are sexually transmitted diseases. This includes HIV.

Now, I don't know about the rest of y'all, but it has never been my experience that foreign nationals view the US as the place to go on mad fucking sprees. Denying an HIV-positive person the ability to enter the US simply because of his or her medical condition is discrimination, plain and simple, and it just isn't right. There is a DHS "final rule", issued last October, which specifically applies to HIV+ folks, under which they can enter the US for a mere 30 days, rather than the 90 days that everyone else gets on a nonimmigrant tourist visa, but this is small comfort: HIV+ foreign nationals are considered second-class persons under these rules.

Here, incidentally, is where things get interesting. The State Department's page on Classes of Immigrants Ineligible to Receive Visas cites Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Sec. 212(a)(1)(A)(i) states that any alien "who is determined (in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to have a communicable disease of public health significance, which shall include infection with the etiologic agent for acquired immune deficiency syndrome" (emphasis mine) is ineligible for admission to the US. HowEVah, if you check out Section 212 on the USCIS website, the bit about AIDS isn't there; it's replaced by a footnote. Turns out that the bit about AIDS was amended out on July 30, 2008.

So, in other words, (1) the State Department isn't keeping its own public information documents up to date (no surprise), and (2) the Department of Homeland Security is issuing its own prejudicial rules, simply because it can. Section 305 of H.R. 5501 removed the language about HIV, passed the House and Senate and was enrolled as Public Law No. 110-293. The jackasses at DHS turned right around and turned it into a rule under colour of their own authority, and that rule affects everyone just as much as a law passed by Congress does.

I bitched a lot during the last eight years about the ridiculous power grabs the executive branch has pulled, and this is just another one of them. AIDS activists, gay-rights activists -- if you aren't pissed off about this, you should be. The DHS's style of thinking is benighted, anti-factual and just plain wrong: they're acting like they think HIV can be contracted from casual contact, which is just as absurd as a frat boy who thinks he can catch "the ghey" from talking to a gay man at a bar. We deserve better from our government.

And just remember, folks: this is a "rule" we know about. The DHS and the TSA have a whole laundry list of "secret rules" which they still enforce, as John Gilmore and others have learned to their peril.

Demand transparency from your government. They're supposed to be of, by and for the people. It's up to us to keep them that way.
maradydd: (Default)
Prompted by a discussion with [ profile] bunnykitteh, who's good at prompting these kinds of things:

Imagine a Facebook and/or MySpace application aimed at organising flash mobs for political action (e.g., the kind of thing Anonymous might use to quickly notify members of imminent $cientology activity in a particular location). What features should it have? (Twitter gateway?)

(Note that with Facebook, especially, there are all kinds of interesting concerns with respect to privacy...)
maradydd: (Default)
By way of [ profile] joedecker: the CA Supreme Court will hear all three petitions filed in response to Prop 8, but will not stay enforcement of the amendment.

So, not the best possible scenario, but not the worst either. The Court's order, given today, is here; no opinion is given as to why the request for stay of enforcement was denied. Conveniently, the Court has provided us with an omnibus of filings related to Prop 8 in their "high profile cases" section. Each of the three cases has a section called "Letters requesting denial of petition and request for stay"; I have not had time to read through them, though I will do so later and summarize the argument as I'm able. (It's been a busy couple of weeks over here.)

Glancing over the letters, I noticed two interesting things. First, though most of those letters are calling for a denial of certiorari and a denial of the stay, the Pacific Justice Center calls for a denial of writ on Tyler v. California and City and County of San Francisco v. Horton -- but only a denial of stay in Strauss v. Horton. (The Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence wrote one letter about all three cases. From a 30-second glance, it appears that the American Center for Law and Justice sent three separate but materially similar letters, one for each case.) The PJC's argument for denying the stay in Strauss v. Horton is a status-quo argument -- "same-sex marriage was only allowed for a couple of months, the status quo for most of the history of California has been no same-sex marriage" -- but I am curious why they did not call for a denial of certiorari as well.

Second, check out who the letter-writers are under Strauss v. Horton. Most of them are law firms or policy institutes. But one of them is under the name of a nonprofit organisation which, apparently, consists of just one woman who styles herself "Heiress Of The Almighty Eternal Creator" [sic] and purports to also be filing on behalf of said Almighty Eternal Creator (!), and one of them is under the name of just one guy. (Yes, their addresses are on the PDFs. I am going to be very, very upset if I hear about people TPing their houses or something, just FYI.)

Welcome to America, folks. Follow the rules of civil and appellate procedure, make sure you provide proof of service to the appropriate parties and meet the filing deadlines, and you, too, can have anything from lucid, reasoned argumentation to ranting whackjobbery and wild claims about your divine nature entered into the court record as an amicus curiae letter. It's your right to do so and it's the court's responsibility to handle it.

Point being, though -- if you want to have your say before the Court, those are some mighty nice templates to follow. You'll probably want to check out the petitions in support of the petitioner, as well, to make sure you're serving the right folks. Their addresses, and the formal language you'll need to establish that you served the petitioners and respondents correctly, are at the back of each letter.

So what are you waiting for? Let's see some amicus curiae letters! I don't care if you're in California or not -- judging by the number at the top of the fax they sent in, the American Center for Law and Justice is in Virginia, and all three lawyers signing their letters state that they're not admitted to the California bar.

Today's order, by the way, also orders the following:
  • Secretary of State Bowen requested to be dismissed as a respondent; the Court granted the request.
  • "Proposition 8 Official Proponents et al" moved to intervene in all three cases; the motion was granted.
  • "Campaign for California Families" moved to intervene in all three cases; the motion was denied.
  • A number of state agencies and offices (including the Attorney General), as respondents, are ordered to show cause why the petitioners' requests should not be granted. (This is standard; these state agencies are the ones being sued. Can they say "Um, actually, we think they should be granted"? That's what I want to know.)
  • Anyone who wants to file an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief has until January 19th. Again, get cracking!
maradydd: (Default)
Okay, so if you're a gay person or part of a same-sex married couple in California, what happens to you?

Attorney General Jerry Brown has gone on record that he will uphold all same-sex marriages already performed. If you were married yesterday, you're still married today. City halls in at least some towns have stopped offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples as of today. I'm not sure whether, if you could talk someone into giving you one tomorrow, it would still count.

An interesting wrinkle: what happens if you paid for your marriage license already, but haven't actually gone and picked it up yet? When L. and I got married, we paid for the license online a week ahead of time, then had our ceremony at San Francisco City Hall and had it signed and dated there. San Francisco, at least, says that if Prop 8 passes, even if the results aren't determined till after November 5th, it will (probably) be effective retroactive to November 5th. So I hope everyone who was planning on entering into a same-sex marriage did so before today.

Now for the near future. [ profile] feyandstrange shares the news that the ACLU has filed for an immediate stay of enforcement on Prop 8 (similar to what happened when San Francisco banned handguns). If the court grants the stay, then it's business as usual and you can go get your marriage license as long as all other qualifications are met (e.g., you're not already married, you're not marrying a minor, &c). The filing also requests that, if Prop 8 is determined to have passed, the Court render it null and void on the grounds that it "attempted to effect a revision of the Constitution without complying with the constitutionally mandated procedures for enactment of a revision set forth in Article XVII of the California Constitution".

So, this could go one of several ways, depending on whether the Court grants the stay and whether Prop 8 actually received a majority of votes. I think it's likely that they will grant the stay, given that two of the petitioners in the ACLU filing are a couple who have been planning to get married for a while, but one of them has a parent who has been too ill to travel for their wedding. I'm not a lawyer, but that strikes me as cause for immediate injunctive relief.

The worst-case scenario is the one where the Court grants neither the stay of enforcement nor the petition to nullify Prop 8 if it passes. That could happen. If it does, then we have to go to federal court to get this reversed, and that's going to be harder. Addressing this in federal court will either mean getting SCOTUS to consider same-sex couples a suspect class -- which thus far they've been unwilling to do -- or coming up with an argument that doesn't rely on the Equal Protection clause. The Full Faith and Credit clause won't work, because the Defense of Marriage Act specifically provides that states need not recognise same-sex marriages performed in other states (though this is a fine opportunity for a couple who's moved from Massachusetts or Connecticut to California to mount that argument against DOMA). I had this vague, crack-addled idea about using the Commerce Clause with respect to couples who traveled to California to get married, went back home, and found their California marriages invalidated, but if Brown doesn't invalidate existing marriages, then that point is moot. It's going to take hard work and a lot of research to get this before SCOTUS, if it comes to that.

That said, working this from the state angle first gives us the opportunity to stall for time; it will take several months at minimum for this to go through the courts, and while I don't think it's likely that we'll see a change in the makeup of the SCOTUS any time soon, we can still use that time to think of how to address this if it does have to go to federal court.

As a side note, one aspect of this filing that I find kind of shitty: the respondents named in the petition are the State Registrar of Vital Statistics, his Deputy Director who handles the forms for marriage licenses and certificates, and the Attorney General, all in their official capacities. The petitioners are asking that the respondents be held responsible for court and attorneys' fees. I hope this means that the Department of Public Health and the Attorney General's office have to shell out, because this is so not these people's fault personally.

[ profile] rebbyribs (and my parents, incidentally) ask, "How does the State of California determine the sex (or gender?) of a couple getting married? If Prop 8 is applied, do intersex people lose the right to marry?" This is probably based on what's on whatever form of ID you present when you apply for your marriage license. Intersexed persons generally get put into one bucket or the other at birth (and the issue of whether this is at all fair or right is a whole 'nother can of worms); those who end up identifying as the gender other than the one on their birth certificate have to go through the same giant hassle that transfolk do.

Anyway. For the next few days, keep reading the news, hold your head high, and don't give up the ship. The ACLU knew this was a possibility; nobody puts together a 64-page brief in one day, especially when there are eight different groups of counsel in three different cities involved. (If I'm wrong on that, then holy shit these people are machines.) Now is a great time to learn more about your legal process, how it works, and your rights as a citizen, and to educate your friends and family. We've spent the last several months of our lives passionately involved in the electoral process, which is a central aspect of American citizenship. We have the opportunity now to move that fire and momentum into the judicial process and just keep the train a'rollin'.

We're making history here, folks. Today, Prop 8 feels like a defeat. In ten years, it will be a footnote.

Creative Commons License
This work by Meredith L. Patterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
maradydd: (Default)
I'll say this for the No on 8 crowd -- we don't waste our time. Three lawsuits were filed today with the California Supreme Court, seeking orders blocking enforcement of Prop 8 and aimed at striking it down, and the count isn't even done yet!

"But, Meredith," I hear you say, "this is a constitutional amendment -- aren't the Supreme Court's hands tied?" Actually, due to the approach the plaintiffs are taking, the CA Supreme Court does have the ability to consider this. The legal reasoning behind the lawsuits is interesting, and if you live in California, it's worth your time to understand it.

Probably only of interest to those in California )

Next up: what's happening right now, what the next few months mean to you, and what the hell is going on with existing marriages.

Mad props to [ profile] songblaze for research assistance and getting me thinking about it from this angle.

Creative Commons License
This work by Meredith L. Patterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.


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