Separate and Not Equal in America’s Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

November 4, 2008

prcoqAs Americans head to the voting polls today to decide who will be the 44th President of the United States, four million American citizens who are residents of Puerto Rico will be barred from casting their ballots.

A Spanish colony from 1493 to 1897, Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris in December 1898, putting an end to the Spanish-American War. It marked the end of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and signaled the rise of U.S. colonialism.

In 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship and in 1947, the right to democratically elect their own governor (previously an appointed post). In 1952, they drafted their own constitution which was ratified by Congress and approved by President Truman.

Today, Puerto Rico is officially an Estado Libre Asociado (which translates into “Free Associated State”) or Commonwealth: a self-governing territory — with its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches — that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sovereignty. It belongs to the U.S., but is not part of the U.S. It has limited (non-voting) representation in Congress. Its head of state is the President of the United States — who it can nominate in party primaries (as we saw on June 1st), but NOT vote for in presidential elections.

So, today Americans vote for President. And Puerto Ricans vote for Governor: not-quite-equal-citizens in a not-quite-independent, not-quite-common land for almost a century.

It’s definitely time for change. We’ve waited far too long. Here’s hoping today is the day change makes history. Vote OBAMA.

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Supreme Court Justice Blames Al Gore for 2000 Election Mess

June 27, 2008

Yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia led a 5 – 4 vote to lift a ban on handguns in D.C. — a decision welcomed by many Republicans but criticized by many law enforcement officials around the country. Today, the conservative, originalist judge is spouting nonsense again.

The UK’s Telegraph reports that Scalia blames Al Gore for the outcome of the 2000 presidential elections. Apparently, Gore should have conceded without resorting to the courts, without pushing it up to the Supreme Court. Just like the honorable Republican president Richard Nixon.

In an interview about his book “Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges”, Scalia told the Telegraph:

Richard Nixon, when he lost to [John F.] Kennedy thought that the election had been stolen in Chicago, which was very likely true with the system at the time…

But he did not even think about bringing a court challenge. That was his prerogative. So you know if you don’t like it, don’t blame it on me.

I didn’t bring it into the courts. Mr Gore brought it into the courts.

So if you don’t like the courts getting involved talk to Mr Gore.

Nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Scalia is one of the leading conservative justices on the Supreme Court. He insists that the controversial 5 – 4 decision to stop the Florida recount was “absolutely right”. Because of these 5 justices, Bush prevailed in Florida by just 537 votes.

I can’t help thinking where we might be today had just one justice changed his or her mind. I guess Scalia’s new book on how to speak and write persuasive arguments will come in handy next time.

(Here’s an interesting video interview with Scalia on CBS News back in April 2008.)


Supreme Court Lifts Ban on Guns, Upholds Right to Bear Arms

June 26, 2008

An historic and controversial ruling this afternoon in Washington D.C.: a 5-4 vote by Supreme Court justices has lifted a ban on individual ownership of handguns by D.C. residents. This is the first time the court has ruled on the issue since 1939.

Seeking to clarify the ambiguous wording of the Second Amendment, the majority ruled that the Constitution protects an individual’s — not just the state militias’ — right to own guns for self-defense and declared the ban unconstitutional.

The Second Amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

The decision to lift the ban was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. He was joined by the most consistently conservative justices — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Each was nominated by either Reagan, Bush Sr., or Bush Jr. Not surprisingly, the current administration and the NRA are thrilled.

The dissenting votes were cast by the most consistently liberal justices: John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Each was nominated to the bench, respectively, by the following presidents: Ford, Bush, Clinton, Clinton.

The ideological divide stresses, in no uncertain terms, the importance of the next U.S. president — who may be in the crucial position to nominate 2 or even 3 new justices.

McCain, presumptive Republican nominee, makes his position clear:

I applaud this decision as well as the overturning of the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns and limitations on the ability to use firearms for self-defense.

Obama, presumptive Democratic nominee, takes a more nuanced position:

I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures.

The NYT reports that this case has clearly “generated emotional as well as intellectual sparks at the court”. Apparently, Justice Scalia looked at “various state constitutions and the use of language in the 18th and 19th centuries to support his view…”

I wonder if he might also have looked at 21st century videogames (for starters). Since the founding “fathers” penned these inalienable rights, the media and cultural landscape have changed significantly. The impact of one individual’s actions has grown exponentially as well due to technological advances. These need to be considered seriously, particularly with regards to objects created with the exclusive function of inflicting harm or death.


Same-Sex Weddings See First Light of Day in California

June 17, 2008

ringsLast month, California’s Supreme Court issued a landmark decision to overturn state laws that restricted marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Today, county clerks in 58 counties across the state began issuing official marriage licenses to hundreds of same-sex couples. YES!

It’s an historic day and the media has been running incredible photos and stories of newlyweds. The first marriage was performed by San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom, for a couple in their 80s. The couple had married in 2004, only to have this right stripped away, and their license invalidated.

This points to the still-precarious legal status of same-sex weddings in California and the rest of the United States. In November, voters in California decide whether to rescind the Supreme Court’s decision through a ballot measure that could revert the definition of marriage back to heterosexual unions.

Exclusionary efforts are underway. In a condescending statement quoted in NYT, a Florida-based group called Liberty Counsel said the ceremonies “make a mockery of marriage.” An Arizona-based group called Alliance Defense Fund is inciting discrimination and succeeded in getting one county clerk to cancel all same-sex weddings.

LA Times reports that very protesters showed up physically today because they are focusing on the ballot measure later this year. Another conservative group, protectmarriage.com, emailed supporters that they will fight in November and cautioned against protesting Tuesday’s ceremonies. The group warned: “Media outlets would love to see us engage in fierce protests and hostile demonstrations of outrage. … We must not fall into this trap.” Already, the group has submitted 1.1 million signatures earlier this year for the ballot measure to amend the state constitution. Now THAT’s a mockery of human rights.

Today, California opened a window to a new day in America. But the fight for equal rights for all is not over. Keep that window open! We need lots more happy days like today.

Here are just a couple groups that could certainly use your support: Human Rights Campaign and in New York, Empire State Pride Agenda. Feel free to add in comments.


Selling Cars in Missouri with God, Guns, and Gas

May 23, 2008

maxmotorsMax Motors, a car dealership in Butler, Missouri, has been making headlines with a controversial new promotion: buy a car, get a free gun or gas. It seems their usual sales pitch of “guaranteed lowest price in the nation” was no longer enough to get people in the barn door. So they looked at the bigger issues and tried to get proactive. Max Motors’ website patriotically claims: “We are aware of the gasoline and crime problem in America. Max Motors, the Country Dealer wants to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” This has landed them on Fox News, ABC, MSNBC, BBCNews, NBC, Reuters, and surely more to come. The dealership has even set up another website, http://www.GunsAndGas.com, to capture support, defend the right to carry guns, and very interestingly, pontificate about America’s “real roots”, the Christian Bible.

According to BBC News, the dealership (with “no big city tricks”) has sold more than 30 cars and trucks in the past three days, apparently because of the “God, Guns, and Gas” pitch. Only two of the 30 buyers have chosen the free gas (in the form of a $250 gas card) over the free handgun.

Owner Mark Muller credits Barack Obama for the promotion: “We did it because of Barack Obama. He said all those people in the Midwest, you’ve got to have compassion for them because they’re clinging to their guns and their Bibles. I found that quite offensive. We all go to church on Sunday and we all carry guns.”

I love country air, oh yes I do. But sentiments like this sure stink it up bad. How does one qualify “love thy neighbor” and “thou shalt not kill” with the right to defend property? Just another one of those big mysteries in life that seem to get more incomprehensible the farther away one gets from the city.

Note: For your protection, this post contains no links to the dealership. The image above is a screenshot from Max Motors’ website, which you can search for yourself, although I suggest not giving them the pageview.