Saturday, November 28, 2009

Protecting the President

The Obamas hosted their first state dinner this week, in honor of Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. The most interesting aspect of the event was not the menu or the decor, rather it was the breach in security by a Virginia couple: Michaele and Tareq Salahi.

The Secret Service has since apologized. However, it is more than slightly disturbing that two people can pass security screening and come face to face with two heads of state inside the White House.

On an unrelated note, I also was disturbed by The New York Times story on the breach, which devolved into a story about the Salahi's quest to star in The Real Housewives of DC. I love the Times and have been a lifelong reader, but seriously? These tangents belong in a separate feature story, not in a story of potential national significance.

Photo credit: White House photo taken from TalkingPointsMemo

Friday, November 27, 2009

Check out...

By Pilar Oberwetter
...a blog that the NY Times picked up on. I dug it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Give Thanks

By Pilar Oberwetter

Some say that New Year's Eve is the time to reflect upon the last year and to plan for the coming years. This ReGenerate prefers to review her life in the present and her year that has passed on Thanksgiving.

For me, spending a day with family and friends and preparing food in my home or elsewhere, reminds me of how blessed I am that my basic needs are met. However, I also remember that not everyone in this world has a home, a family, food, or any other of the myriad of good fortunes that I enjoy. So, while I give thanks, I am also compelled to consider the things that I could be doing to share a bit of my own gifts of thanks with others.

Happy Thanksgiving to our readers in the United States-- let this day remind you that to 'give' is a part of being thankful.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Useless Hand Outs (UHO)

A "homeless" organization is exposed in New York.

Marriage for All (Who Choose)

Last week's highlight was hearing news that a good friend got engaged! It is wonderful when two people who love each make a commitment to spend their lives together. I wish her and her future husband all the best in their new life together.

I am looking forward to the day when ALL of my friends (those who want to) can not only get engaged, but also have the legal sanction to spend their lives together.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Sincere Plea

There's no doubt I'm in a compromised position at the moment. An employee of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, and a gay one at that. Oh, the irony runs so deep.

I'm not going to preach but I am going to plead.

Putting aside my own personal situation and even my pride, I would simply like to implore the Archdiocese of Washington to find a way to negotiate with the DC City Council as many other archdioceses around the country have done around the issue of same-sex marriage.

Respecting the long-standing position of the church, it certainly seems that common ground can still be found.

So many people are suffering through this ordeal on both sides of the debate. But many, many more will suffer a much worse fate should no compromise be found.

Wake up. The world is watching.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Equity without Retribution

I am a huge fan of good books! However, I don't often read books I enjoy so much that I spend my week reflecting and discussing after finishing them. Helene Cooper's The House at Sugar Beach is one of those rare books. Cooper's memoir is so well written and the story so fascinating that the reader loses sense of time. The New York Times White House correspondent writes about growing up as the child of elites in Liberia, prior to the country's descent into militarized decay - a decay that resulted from manipulating institutionalized class divisions.

For historical note, Liberia is a West African country that was settled by free African Americans in 1820. The "Congo" people, as the Liberian descendants of African Americans were called, made up the upper class in Liberia while the "native" Liberians struggled to make ends meet. Following a military coup (takeover) in 1980, the fate of the Congo people turned for the worse. They were persecuted (killed, raped, disposed) by the new military class. The coup leader, Samuel Doe, began his 10 year reign by executing the president and his top cabinet members. The cabinet's execution - death by firing squad - was publicly televised. Fastforwarding the story of Liberia, Doe was replaced by Charles Taylor, another despot who was eventually charged with war crimes (for his role in Sierra Leone, a neighboring West African nation).

As the child of "Congo" people, Cooper lived a privileged life in Liberia, until 1980 when the country began to take its downward turn. Her uncle was among the cabinet members publicly executed by Doe. What I found most intriguing about her book was the punishment of elites - class warfare to an extreme. Doe and his successor, Taylor presided over tyrannous regimes under the guise of paying the "Congo" people back for their oppression of native Liberians.

As a firm believer in social justice, I struggle with the notion of institutionalized class divisions. While it was in no way, her doing, as a child, Cooper benefited from a system in which her family had all they wanted (and more), while a majority of Liberians did not. However, what is most powerful about her book is that we see the consequences of retribution: taking away the resources of the elite under the pretense of creating equity and paying back the "oppressors." We also see that having one person presiding over justice is problematic. In fact it's how despots are made. If that's not enough, we see the economic vacuum that is created when the upper class (i.e tax base) flees the country for fear of retribution.

Cooper, while fortunate enough to end up in the United States, witnessed (from another room) her mother's rape. Her childhood, and that of many others were destroyed by Doe and his "justice seeking" soldiers. While reading this, I found myself asking how one creates a system of equity, where "Congo-Native" divides don't exist. At the same time, a system that does not punish children like as Cooper and many others.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Roots, Rock, Reggae ... and Wealth?

By Pilar Oberwetter

CNN notified us today that Bob Marley is reported to be the world's wealthiest dead celebrity.

I would hope that those in charge of his estate , which will reportedly generate over a billion dollars in worldwide annual sales by 2012, have plans to direct some of that mind-boggling sum to social justice causes that the reggae legend's music spoke so eloquently about.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hardly a Cat Fight

Ok, so I'll be the first to admit that I was appalled to see this video of a Division I female soccer player violently pulling, punching, and kicking her opponents on ESPN Sportscenter. I watched this video over and over again to try and dissect whether or not my shock was based on the gender of the player or the truly horrific lack of sportsmanship. Julie Foudy's reaction on ESPN says enough.

As a former college athlete (Division III still counts, right?), I found this level of violence inexcusable. If I witnessed a teammate treating an opponent this way, I would be ashamed and outraged.

And yet, the coverage provided on this event by the New York Times was even more aggravating. Purporting to display "Those Soccer Plays, in Context" the Times went ahead and published a poorly-written, confusing piece that provides less context than it does conjectures and open-ended conclusions.

Female athletes deserve respect. Ms. Lambert should show more respect to her opponents and her teammates and she should be punished within the context of the sport, not punished by us as uninformed consumers of her life.

It is fair to criticize her on a human-level for her behavior but why on earth do I need to know
that she is now seeing a "clinical psychologist" to work our her issues or that "the incident had been perceived by some as sexy catfighting between two women"?

This was a great opportunity for NYT to step back from the incident and illuminate the reader as to the public reaction. Instead, what resulted was a conglomerate of gender stereotyping (complete with picture of feminized Ms. Lambert and all) that serves neither female athletes nor the public.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Food Security in the U.S.

Nice to see the NYT slapping some eye-popping figures on the problem of hunger in the U.S. on the front page today.

As the number of "food insecure" households in the U.S. reaches a 14-year high (and let's be honest, it's probably still climbing) the ReGenerates would like to ReEmphasize the importance of front-line social services for those in need.

No matter the economic climate or how many agencies are providing "innovative" nonprofit services, nothing replaces a hot meal for the hungry.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How to Punish

by Gita Rayavarapu

I agree with Kehinde's earlier post saying that that no one should have the right to sentence a person to death. However, I believe that as a society and as a country, we have been using it as a last resort. That begs the question-- if not with the death penalty, how do you punish a person's heinous crimes without some sort of violation of their rights?

At all times, a suspect is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. There are many constitutional rights which are meant to protect a suspect, including: the right to counsel, the right to not incriminate oneself, and avoiding searches or seizures without probable cause, with exceptions of course. Furthermore, suspects are not required to speak unless the Miranda warnings are read to him or her, and once in custody, courts generally do not condone interrogation, though it does happen.

So again, how do you punish someone who has committed punishable violent crimes? In Kehinde's post, I was bothered by the following statement: "I would argue that as human beings in the United States, we lack creativity...if our punishment for someone who killed is to put that person to death in return." Creativity is what allows for what the government would like to call "permissible interrogation/questioning" into torture. Torture, like the death penalty, violates many basic human rights. If you believe that the death sentence is not the way to go, I would also argue that torturing criminals who have caused a great amount of pain to innocent members in the community is also not permissible.

While I agree with Kehinde's commentary overall, I ultimately wonder if "punishment " is ever possible.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Fallen

Behind the politics of every war are the soldiers who fight it. On this day in 1942, the minimum draft age in the U.S. was lowered from 21 to 18. While our armed forces serve voluntarily today, a trend towards younger and younger recruits was set when the age of the draft dropped by three years.

I think of this when I read the "Faces of the Fallen" in the papers every week, and I see pictures of teens who never saw their twenties. I think of this when I realize on Veteran's Day that I have lived almost twice as long as both surviving and deceased veterans of our recent wars. I think of this when I see unemployment rates rise to precarious rates for recent high school graduates, and I realize that joining the military is one of the few choices that many of our country's young people have.
Forty years later, also on this day in 1982, the Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated in Washington, DC. I wonder how many of those servicemen memorialized on that wall, who were drafted and lost their lives in that war, were 18, 19, or 20 years old.

By Pilar Oberwetter

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A call to open the health care season for all

'Open season' for federal employees begins Monday and lasts for five weeks. During this time, every federal employee can review all plans available and select the one that best fits their needs. As a federal employee in the DC-area, I had 27 plans available to me, and determined to demonstrate due dilligence (unlike last year), I waded through the details until I found one that seemed to match my criteria.

I find it particularly convenient that open season this year falls during what seem to be the critical days of the health care debate. As members of Congress discuss the possible upheaval of both the health care and health insurance systems (which must not be mistaken as one debate), these same members and their staff must also make their own health plan decisions, except that unlike most of their constituents, they have a plethora of choices. Surely this irony must occur to them?

Here's hoping that their own fortune in having health care options inspires our Congressional representation on both sides of the aisle to push for a similar system to be made available to all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Death is Not an Answer

At 9 o'clock tonight, the state of Virginia will execute "DC sniper," John Allen Muhammad, convicted of killing Dean Harold Meyers. While his conviction was for one murder, Muhammad was responsible for killing 10 people, along with his young accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo.

I want to acknowledge the pain and suffering that Muhammad brought on the victims and their families, as well as on the entire District of Columbia in 2002. Along with Malvo, he terrorized the city; he made residents feel unsafe, and traumatized. He should be punished for this.

However, I think there is a problem with a civilized society sanctioning death as a punishment, no matter how grave the crime. I completely agree that we as a society need to punish Muhammad for his crimes. I would argue that as human beings in the United States, we lack creativity and a clear moral compass if our punishment for someone who killed is to put that person to death in return.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tracking the Dalai Lama

The LA Times reports that the Dalai Lama is currently spending five days visiting the monastery town of Tawang, which is inside the Indian state, Arunachal Pradesh, on the Tibetan border - an area claimed by China.

The reaction from the Chinese, who have become increasingly vocal about their Dalai-Lama-conspiracy-theories, is worth noting:
"[The Dalai Lama] is always involved in activities that undermine the relations between China and other countries as well as ethnic separatist activities," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a regular news briefing last week in Beijing.
And most incredibly, "The Dalai Lama is a liar."

It's unclear whether the Dalai Lama's defiance of Chinese authority marks any significant change in his "activities that undermine the relations between China and other countries," as the spiritual leader continues to challenge people in every nation to seek the truth and to live lives of compassion.

Only a month ago, when the Dalai Lama visited Washington, DC for several speaking engagements and to accept this year's Lantos Human Rights Prize, he did not hesitate to tell a crowd of educated Americans that, even in a country established on principles of freedom, we've still got plenty of learning to do when it comes to compassion:

"Huge gap, rich to poor. This is unhealthy," he said. "You have to think seriously about those less-privileged people. They're also human beings."

With all of the overwhelming problems the US faces today (healthcare, war, economic meltdown - to name a few), let's hope we can foster a little more courage and compassion in creating meaningful solutions.

And let's sincerely hope that next time the Dalai Lama is in Washington, DC, that President Obama acknowledges his presence and actually meets with him face-to-face.

(Photo copyright: amerune)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tragedy at Home

By many accounts, this week was a tragic one in the United States. For two consecutive days, the news media covered the shootings in Fort Hood, Texas and in Orlando, Florida.

Our hearts and prayers go to the victims and families from both incidents.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ain't it Precious?

By Pilar Oberwetter

At long last-- November 6 has arrived, and Precious, a film based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire, makes its debut in mainstream theaters. Winner of the grand jury and audience awards at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, Precious has snowballed into its opening day, with glowing reviews written in almost every major news source.

I have not seen the movie yet, so no spoiler alerts here. However, when I first saw the preview several months ago, I admittedly felt tears in my eyes because even the quick, disconnected flashes of scenes from the movie completely resonated with my six years of running an adult education program in Washington, DC. Precious' character is overweight and illiterate and pregnant with her second child. This conflux of social forces is entirely consistent with my experience in adult education, where the reasons that brought my students to my adult education program-- to learn to read or to pass their high school equivalency exam-- were compounded by the presence of other complicating and often conflicting issues, including substance abuse, incarceration, parenthood, mental health problems, among others. From this first preview, I could see that Precious does not gloss over these issues, Hollywood style. Nor does it apologize for them. Instead, the character of Precious develops because of them, rather than despite them. Precious was not made in Hollywood-- it was made in a world that as a former front-line service worker, I have seen first-hand.

Again-- I have not yet watched the movie in its entirety, but the quick glimpse that the previews allowed and the collective enthusiasm of critics everywhere confirm that the movie will be worth the wait.

I am so there.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Yes, We Did

One year ago today....

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Receding Recession?

Today's NY Times reports that in the third quarter, Ford posted an unexpected profit of almost $1 billion. Readers may remember that in the rush to bail out GM and other companies, Ford was one of the few that was not on the brink of bankruptcy. Nonetheless, as the Times piece mentions, it had posted 17 consecutive quarters of losses - until this quarter.

While I am not one to make economic predictions, I will say that there have been a number of good news on the economic front lately: slower rate of unemployment, growth in the GDP, slight rise in consumer spending on nondurable goods (typical consumer products), etc. All these combined give me reasons for mild (emphasis on mild) celebrations, and hope that the economy may indeed be on the mend. Of course I would still urge readers and friends to watch the economy before going out on a spending spree. It is conceivable that this is simply a calm before the storm.

For all of our sakes, I hope it is not the case.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gift of the Week

NYC's Ali Forney Center, whose mission is to help homeless LGBT youth be safe and become independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood, received a $300,000 bequest last week from Bea Arthur, the late actress of "Golden Girls" fame.

The funds will support the new Bea Arthur Residence for LGBT Youth, which will house 12 youths for up to two years as part of the center's transitional housing programs. Funds will be supplemented by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It's always moving to witness the generosity and compassion of people like Ms. Arthur, whose commitment to improving the lives of one of the most overlooked populations of adolescents was true both during her life and after her passing.

Here's hoping that her gift will generate more attention to the plight of LGBT youth who are without family and living on the streets and to the good work that groups like the Ali Forney Center are doing everyday to support them.