30 January, 2010

The 2010 State of the Union Address in Our Own Lives

By Jorge Reyes

On Wednesday like many of you I watched President Obama's State of the Union Address of 2010.

With great expectancy I tried to make sense of all the promises he made, promises similar to the ones he made as candidate. He talked about the healthcare mess, terrorism, lobbyist reform, among others. One resounding theme was his tackling of the thorny issue of jobs, jobs, jobs. But as we all know, promises and reality are often at war with one another, and despite his best efforts to explain the current state of our economic malaise, I'm afraid that Obama fell short.

Most of the economic problems we now face are not new, especially to working families. These problems have been accumulating for many decades, simmering just below the surface of our conspicuous consumption.

How did we get to this economic mess? That's a problematic question many have tried to answer, to no satisfactory answer. What does seem conclusive is that since the 1970's productivity hasn't risen at the same level as real wages, leaving most middle class workers behind. Again, to the vast number of people who know what I'm talking about none of this is new.  To aggravate this problem, tax laws rewritten to benefit a small percentage of Americans caused a one-sided shift in capital accumulation benefiting the rich. The changes to these tax laws and deregulation were subtle, leaving the rich far richer and that healthy middle class sector which has always been the backbone of our economy poorer. Much poorer.

Some of us grew up with the belief that capitalism would continue to provide us with riches far beyond our dreams. All of us were under the impression that we would be employed for most of our lives earning livable wages. More, we taught our children that they'd be better off than we were.  And that with enough hard work and dedication throughout our lives, we'd be able to retire with enough means to be financially stable for the rest of our remaining days. 

Let's face it, we all bought into this dream. But this dream, like every idyllic dream, had a dark side. In fact, it had a much darker side; a side that hit us in the face in September 2008 when the economic meltdown took a dive for the worse affecting and dragging down many of us to the edge of financial precipice. Jobs were lost. Homes were closed to foreclosures. For the first time perhaps, more and more Americans were in desperate need for social safety programs. The middle class became, in fact, a homeless class. If and when people reentered the workforce they started their new careers at entry-level jobs, or at salaries far less than their previous jobs.

But then something miraculous happened: while many of us were hit hard, another group of people, the super rich, asked for a handout and got it.

What Obama didn't explain to the nation was this: how this economic turmoil got started by those who asked for the handout, how it was a gradual process decades' old in the making caused mostly by tax policies benefiting them, the rich, with deregulation of financial markets, hubris and greed; yes, Wall Street hubris and greed; and how he intends to make sure that this rampant greed doesn't happen again. After all, during his first term in office Obama did what was the simplest thing of all: pour money into a dysfunctional system to the tune of an estimated $4.0 trillion dollars. Oh yes, while he did it, he admonished the super rich and greedy for their greed and avarice while berating himself for being forced to do it. You have to admit, it made for great drama.  Unfortunately, it didn't address fundamental issues that affect us all as a nation.  Not only how to prevent something similar from happening again, but how to make sure that middle class America isn't dragged down again into it. 

The question now becomes: where do we go from here? And, if despite the government's bailout the financial system continues to operate in the same irresponsible ways as in the past, what does that mean for the future and health of our nation for both rich and poor alike?

In Miami-Dade County, where I live, I've spoken to many families whose homes have been foreclosured upon. Some of these families have legitimately lost their jobs. Others simply were just unable to keep up with their high mortgage payments, especially if they lived in a house that is worth less than they paid for. Interesting enough, about a dozen of these families purchased their homes with predatory and subprime mortgage lenders and they are, by far, victims preyed upon by a truly predatory system, pardon the redundancy. These outrageously unregulated mortgages were tagged on with high interest payments, high pre-penalties and other high hidden fees, which balloned already high monthly mortgage payments. (In one instance pre-penalty fees was $30,000 just to get out of the toxic mortgage.) As expected, these mortgages defaulted.

The economic nightmare isn't over and I'm afraid that President Obama needs to do more to educate all of us about specific plans to get us out of this mess. While he's at it, he should continue to speak with the vision and moral authority he had as a candidate for the presidency. If his populist theme is lost in his economic package, he's lost as president and he'll take us further down the precipice, too, or as George W. Bush said in 2008, “This sucker could go down.”

Being a pragmatist, I can only add to that: “only time will tell.”

26 January, 2010

Gay couple wants to help Haitian community in times of crisis

by Jorge Reyes

Let's just call one of them Claudio, named after his father. For the last fifteen years Claudio has been in a committed relationship with his partner, also a man who did not want to be mentioned by name due to a pending legal case with the State of Florida. Both, however, have been foster parents for needy children for over 15 years. Most recently they are foster parents to three children, all of whom they have raised since their births. One of the children just turned eight and is now available for adoption, and Claudio and his partner want to adopt him. Unfortunately in the State of Florida, they are unable to adopt because they're both gay.

For Claudio and his partner, not to mention for the three children, this is a family nonetheless; a family based on love and respect. The children haven't known any other parents. Two of them is HIV positive, while the third was born with HIV but he no longer tests positive. When Claudio is at work, his partner stays at home to care for the children. One is a respected medical provider, Claudio is a real estate broker and works mostly from home.

Florida's Department of Children and Families admit that there is a shortage of adoptive parents. Many children, even under the best of circumstances, age out of the foster care system without ever being adopted. While Florida allows gay couples to become foster parents for the short time, it prevents them from adopting children they have formed a family bond with.

Despite their current legal issues, Claudio and his partner are determined to bring some relief to needy children the world over.

One recent afternoon while watching the devastating effect of the Haitian earthquake, Claudio and his partner contacted a local parish to see how they could take care of homeless children. Armed with nothing but their commitment towards the welfare of children everywhere, they were careful what they said to the parish, how they referred to one another. Both were placed on a wait-and-see list. They were asked to call in a week's time.

With the massive catastrophe following Haiti's quake, many families worldwide are taking proactive steps trying to assist the Haitian community by at least fostering on a temporary basis some of the affected children. According to news reports, 15% of Haiti's children were orphaned or abandoned before the earthquake. In Port-Au-Prince alone there were an average of 380,000 orphans. Post earthquake and that number could double or triple. Like other groups of people, the LGBT community responded to this crisis by opening its heart, and wallets. The Rainbow World Fund originally pledged $35,000 in contributions. Thus far they have raised an additional $75,000. (Claudio alone pledged an undisclosed amount of money to a private agency.)

Days after the catastrophe, the archdiocese of Miami suggested a kind of Peter Pan program for Haitian children modeled after a similar 1960's-era airlift that brought more than 14,000 Cuban children from Cuba. This interested Claudio's partner, who is Cuban and was part of that airlift. The proposal has been taken with a great deal of interest by Americans, though the state department seems to be resisting it due to logistical problems.

There are many issues both pro and con for a massive airlift of Haitian children, but if this is necessary then the program should be done carefully, with measured steps, and be of a temporary nature, not a permanent one. After all, it can take years after some natural disaster for parents to locate their children. Therefore it is to everyone's interest to make sure the children do not remain interned in camps indefinitely or until they can be reunified with either their biological parents or families. During this time, though, gay couples like Claudio and his partner should not be turned down by governmental and private agencies solely based on their sexual orientation. For more than three decades, an impressive group of medical and psychological associations have demonstrated that placing children with gay parents does not harm or disadvantage children emotionally or physically.

But don't you worry. Just in case sexual orientation becomes a thorny issue, Claudio and his partner have already consulted with an attorney to get the ball rolling. Whatever bureaucratic hurdles they may find along the way, they're ready to challenge them head-on. They want to help but they also want to be honest about who they are. What they do not want, and won't do, is to do what many gay couples have done in the past, misrepresent themselves to adoption agencies pretending to be heterosexual “single parents.”

It's too early to tell, but what these Haitian children need are established, structured and healthy family surroundings that will help them cope with any post-traumatic trauma. And should the need arise, it would be a shame if certain groups of people are precluded from assisting simply because of their sexual orientation. To do this won't be in the best interest of the child, any child, worldwide.

21 January, 2010

The Haitian earthquake- the human tragedy leaves me with more questions than answers

by Jorge Reyes

I don't know about you, but the Haitian earthquake is unlike anything I've seen in my lifetime.  Sure, I've seen the effects of earthquakes and hurricanes, but nothing like this. The closest thing I've been to surviving a natural disaster was during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which I slept through, only to find the next day that a huge tree had crashed through the roof of the house and landed on the kitchen floor, pigeon nets and all.

Living in Miami there have been other incidents I consider tragic and momentous in nature, such as hearing about Cubans who have risked their own lives by jumping onto rafts in the hopes of making it to the good ol' United States, or "la yuma," never mind that so many of their brethens have drowned along the way.  Tragedy, in fact, seems to be part of human nature. After all, the untold suffering, the rapaciously bad ways we sometimes treat one another, the inequality that still exists in the world, are all tragic things we witness almost on a daily basis. At my age, I thought I'd seen everything. Again, I was wrong for the Haitian earthquake is unlike anything I've ever seen, heard or felt in my lifetime. 

If the numbers are correct, there are over 200,000 missing/dead people in Haiti and only about 70,000 who have been accounted for. But even in death, the dead don't seem to have any comfort. In a country which is missing so many things (even the most basic infrastructure), the dead seem to be as much a part of daily life, creating an inferno not fit for human eyes, as the living. As these corpses are picked up like animals and thrown in the back of trucks, they are simply disposed of in a dump. Some have no time for that, but can bury their dead in the most humane fashion possible: anywhere they find a piece of land, such as a public park. The dead, of course, don't care, but those who go on living do. How will they look back on these events? How will they judge God?

I don't know about you, but in my lifetime I have never seen anything so indecent, so ugly, so morally cruel. The misery is unwarranted. It can't be justified. If this earthquake had happened somewhere else, perhaps some of the buildings that now bury the hundreds of thousands may have saved them. The houses that sheltered them proved to be their catapult.

This is what's so sad: from now on as the days progress the muted whispers of those half-buried alive under the rubble will turn ever more silent. What a terrible way to die. Hopefully at the end of the tunnel, there is eternal love as some say and these victims accepted their deaths in peace, not once looking back at this curious world of ours.

But I'm realist and I consider this tragic. If there's a loving God out there, then this is not a tragedy for we go on living to a better world. Still, I can't reconcile these two ideas. Can you?

Am I picking an argument with God? I think I am. God has a lot to answer for, if such a thing exists for it is not only those who died in the slaughterhouse of January 12, 2010, but those who stayed alive, the broken families, the orphaned children, the displaced existential homelessness of the human spirit. Imagine the hundreds of thousands of children who have no place to go, no one to turn to, who are just wandering aimlessly through a hell they don't understand, a hell they don't deserve. These are the innocent children, remember. Sorry, God, you have a lot to answer for.

I began by saying I have never seen anything as bad as what happened to Haiti. I hope this is something I won't see again ever again in my lifetime. No matter how much I try to go on with my life (after all, I'm not affected except at an emotional level) I can't get used to what I see on TV. I can't get used to seen the rotting corpses lying in every street corner, some with their arms sticking out from under rags as if asking for divine intervention. I can't get used to hearing about the so-called “micracles” or those still alive who are pulled from under collapsed building, only to die a few minutes later from dehydration, physical strain and emotional shock. I can't get used to seeing the woman who, prostrating herself in the middle of a busy street, asks the trucks and cars passing by to run her over and kill her. Her entire family was dead. She had no one else to live for. Then there are some very touching moments, equally macabre though, like two sisters who rescued their dead sister's body and refusing to bury her were keeping her inside their house. As they told a local newspaper, they were dousing her decomposing body with salt and vinegar hoping that she would wake up and come back to life.

These are heartwrenching stories, as real and as full of horror and I'm sure they are to you. As I write this in the comfort of my room, they are stories that are still unfolding; each second ticking and turning into another minute filled with death, agony and pleas. I break out in chills thinking of them.

I would like to think that something good can come out of so much pain. The international community could come together and try to rebuild a country that seems to have been forgotten. Perhaps we could use the guilt we are currently experiencing in order to build in Haiti functioning schools, roads and infrastructure that are sorely lacking.  While the international community is at it, we could also end the political cronyism that has turned Haiti into a throwback of the eighteenth century instead of a twenty-first century country. But we must also do something equally important now, take care of those who go on living. That, perhaps, is the real miracle, that people's resiliency can be turned into the very thing that will save them. Why it takes something so destructive, so lacking to basic human understanding, before we make substantial changes to how we treat one another is still a puzzle to me.

15 January, 2010

EARTHQUAKES: Why Haiti? Answering the unanswerable question

"And so the Devil said, 'OK it's a deal.' "
By Jorge Reyes

On November 1 1755, a terrible earthquake approaching magnitude 9 destroyed the city of Lisbon, in Portugal. It has since come to be known by historians as the Great Lisbon Earthquake. For ten long minutes, the inhabitants of this important and bourgeoning European city seemed as if it was being witness to the end of the world. Seeking refuge many citizens of Lisbon who were fleeing the fires, the smoldering burning choking heaps of smoke and had hoped to save themselves had taken refuge aboard ships docked in the city's port. Right after the fire, though, a tsunami of huge tidal waves followed taking them all down to the bottom of the sea without as much as a whimper. These turn of events didn't escape the attention of the superstitious, the catholic church.

Right after the earthquake, pandemonium set in almost immediately. Who wouldn't? Thousands of corpses lined the streets of Lisbon, bloated and putrefying under the sun. Estimates of the death toll neared 100,000 people. The destruction caused by the fire still threatened many of the few remaining buildings, though they all posed great structural dangers and they were inhabitable, so the people camped out in the streets. The port had ceased to exist. There was no commerce to speak of. Society, it seemed, was reverting to a state of brutal desperation. No wonder that historians call this the most destructive earthquake in history.

When the Prime Minister of Portugal, a man named Pombal, was asked what he intended to do he is rumored to have said: “bury the dead and heal the living.” There was no time to waste because all of a sudden life seemed to be subsisting almost if by a miraculous thread that could snap at any moment. So the government of Portugal did what any modern person in his position would do, come up with a plan to rebuild Lisbon.

Immediately a search-and-rescue plan was put in motion. The hapless victims and the innocent were prevented from fleeting the near-destroyed city and, instead, were rounded up and used to rebuild their city. To avoid an imminent plague, the corpses were placed on barges and buried at sea. The Portuguese Army, an integral part of the reconstruction project, publicly executed over thirty people convicted of being looters. Pirates were kept at bay. A stock full of grains was rationed and distributed to the people. Equally important, the weekly newspaper was published without missing a single edition, an amazing feat during times of widespread illiteracy.

Years later a new city seemed to have been erected atop the old, as if by a miracle. But it wasn't a miracle. It was hard work, diligent planning, and the mechanisms of a bureaucratic, yet enlightened, government.

By today's standards, all the measures implemented by the Portuguese government seem very modern. You'd be surprised to know, however, that they were heavily criticized by the church, something that unfortunately doesn't seem to have changed in modern times.

Right after the 7.0 Haitian earthquake of January 12, 2010, the American Christian televangelist, Pat Robertson, said that Haitians need to have “a great turning to God.” He went on to say in his TV show, the 700-Club, that “something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it.” But Robertson didn't stop there. He embellished on what he meant: “They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact of the devil. They said 'we will serve you if you will get us free from the prince. True story. And so the Devil said, 'OK it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.”

Robertson has his historical counterpart. After the Lisbon earthquake, an Italian man named Malagrida challenged Pombal publicly hoping to derail the rebuilding of the city. Instead of seeking common ground, Malagrida called upon the people of Lisbon to fast and pray, after all, what was important was not to save earthly life which was transient and sinful, but to save souls. As he said in one of his sermons: “It is scandalous to pretend the earthquake was just a natural event, for if that be true, there is no need to repent and to try to avert the wrath of God, and not even the Devil himself could invent a false idea more likely to lead us all to irreparable ruin.” In Lisbon, it wasn't the Haitians that were blamed for the earthquake but the Jesuists.

I, personally, happen to agree with both of those religious cranks, though for totally different reasons. Haiti does seem to be cursed on all levels-- historically, economically, and geographically. For starters, it is a very poor nation, the poorest in the western hemisphere. On average, Haitians earn less than a dollar a day. There is no middle class. The majority families live in adject poverty, while a very minuscule minority belong to the high class. Politically, Haiti's history has been beset by a tiddle wave of civil wars, brutal dictatorships, political corruption and murderous gangs. To add to this seeming curse, Haiti's geography hasn't helped it one bit. In less than twenty years it has seen Tropical Storm Gordon (1994), Hurricane Georges (1998), Tropical Storm Jeanne (2004), Hurricane Dennis (2005), Tropical Storm Alpha (2005), Hurricane Wilma (2005), Hurricanes Fay and Gustav (2008).

A friend of mine from Haiti, Paule Romulus, asked me the question I hear the most: “What does God have against the Haitian people? First we were brought to Haiti in shackles, and then the rest of our history has been just as miserable.” Good question, of course, but one that doesn't answer the issue at hand, which is “to bury the dead and heal the living.”

What we do know about natural events are just the facts, and the facts don't lend themselves to explain anything outside the natural world. Providence, god, or bad karma is just not part of the question and, in fact, should remain totally outside our explanation of what is happening in Haiti. However, what is at issue and what is important is how we, as members of the world community, will respond to this and other disasters. An international mobilization and quick response to solving some of our most pressing problems, despite where these may happen, is what's crucial in Haiti from this moment forward. The choices we make in Haiti and others is what will ultimately decide the type of world we want to leave behind: one alien and hopeless or one that is left off better as a result of our human intervention. That's why Pombal in 1755 was such an important historical figure and why Pat Robertson in 2010 is such a dangerous man.

Yet, the nagging, unanswerable questions remains-- why the carnage? And that question, to paraphrase my friend Paule's, can never be answered by mere mortals like us.

13 January, 2010

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab-- New challenges call for new tactics against terrorism

by Jorge Reyes

On December 25, 2009, a rather shy young man boarded US Northwest Airlines Flight 253 bound to Detroit from Amsterdam. This young man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had purchased his ticket days before in Ghana in cash. He had a choice window seat, 19A. Asides from his shy-seeming nature and quiet disposition, there was really nothing unusual about him, except, of course, that he was carrying explosives in his underwear and had intended to detonate it during the flight in mid-air, all for the glory of Islam.

If there wasn't anything unusual about this young man, security couldn't be more wrong. All of us, in fact, couldn't be more wrong

Months earlier his father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, a very wealthy and well-connected banker in Nigeria, had already contacted the CIA concerned about his son's radical religious views. In fact, it seemed that throughout most of 2008-2009, Abdulmutallab had undergone a religious conversion of sorts, and he wasn't shy about it. As he himself wrote in a personal web-site, he had found his calling in radical Islam and was willing to die for it, if need be. That's what concerned his father. That's why he was willing to snitch out on his son with the CIA.

By the time Abdulmutallab boarded the plane bound for Detroit, the CIA office in Nigeria had already sent out a warning to the State Department through VISA VIPER. The National Counterterrorism Center (NCC), the agency that oversees terrorist suspects, in turn had also reviewed Abdulmutallab's file classifying him only with “reasonable suspicion.” In the NCC's screening process, in order for a complaint to be forwarded to the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), the agency that prevents suspected terrorists from boarding US-bound airplanes, the suspect must be directly linked to terrorism and terrorism activities, not just engage in violent ideologies. Abdulmutallab may have been a confused young man, but he didn't seem to be a threat nor a major player with Al Qaeda. TSC never flagged his name.

Shortly after the Northwest Airlines took off from Amsterdam, this shy young man went into the bathroom, where he stayed for about 20 minutes. When he walked out of the bathrrom, he came out covered in a blanket. Minutes later there was a commotion. A strange commotion, as if two people were having a physical altercation, and that's exactly what was happening. It seems that a passenger named Jasper Schuringa, a film director, saw something that resembled a fire coming from seat 19A. Realizing what was happening, a red flag went off in his head and he jumped on Abdulmutallah long enough to subdue him while flight attendants tried to extinguish what seemed like fire. Luckily for these passengers, another mass-murder like 9/11 was prevented. They had been on the brink of death. For Abdulmutallab, unlike his predecessors, he had been prevented from dying in a holy war. He had failed.

Upon landing, Abdulmutallab was detained by federal agents and taken to a federal prison in Detroit, Michigan. The next day on December 26, 2009, he was indicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan with six criminal counts, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder of 289 people on a U.S. Civil aircraft. If convicted he could spend the rest of his life in prison, all for a cause. His cause.

What is it that turns these youths into mass murderers? In the case of Abdulmutallab, asides from the years 2008-2009, nothing about his privileged past forebodes the type of radical activism he is charged with today. Is there anything in his past that can give us hints about his present? He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His past scholarly studies is enviable. He went to a very expensive high school. In 2004, he visited the US to attend the Global Youth and Leadership Conference in Washington DC and New York City. From 2005-2008, he studied mechanical engineering at University College London, where he lived in a $4 million dollar penthouse. Again, in 2008 he traveled to Houston, Texas, to take courses in theology and culture. But it was at this time that something happened, that something snapped for it was after his trip to Houston that he went on to travel to Dubai in the Middle East to complete some studies in an MBA program, and then to Yemen to study Arabic. From that moment to the day he boarded the Northwest Airlines on December 25, is still part of a big puzzle still being pieced together.

The discomfort we're feeling about this case is not just about the security lapse at the airport and the failure of intelligence reports (though both are a major issue), but the unfamiliar, yet very familiar, personal profile of Abdulmutallab. That's where the failure also lies, and where the danger is. He wasn't poor. He wasn't uneducated; quite the opposite, in fact. He wasn't unfamiliar with the US. Asides from his father's concerns before he joined Al Qaeda, there was nothing imminently dangerous about Abdulmutallab. His rebelliousness and lack of apparent calling in life, if that's what it was, didn't indicate that he would find his calling in a life by attempting to mass-murdering innocent people.

As logic goes, people who think like us (the west) are not expected to pose a danger of this magnitude. Abdulmutallab, though, is representative of that hybridization between the east and the west, kids raised between the cultures of Pepsi Cola and death, who are influenced by us, behave and think like us, yet in spite of that have no qualms embracing death. As he eerily told federal agents, “I'm the first of many.” And that fact alone is unsettling.

Sadly, even a cursory reading of history demonstrates that Abdulmutallab is not an isolated incident of normal and otherwise intelligent people doing atrocious things against humanity. Take for example, Osama Bin Laden himself, a structural engineering before becoming the self-appointed leader of a religious war. Years ago the affable-seeming Phnom Penh led his Khmer Rouge group on a killing spree across Cambodia. And one cannot forget the young Japanese kamikazes during World War II whose ultimate goal was to die for the emperor at whatever cost. There are others. Too many to recount.

The ideas these youths fight and die for are all bad but powerful nonetheless. In the hands of a leader or a cult group, half-cooked ideas become the weapon of death and they must not be taken as fringe eccentricities, but as a viable way of life for many people across the globe, irrespective of wealth or poverty, education or not. The dividing line is not as clear-cut, and heed must be taken. As Abdulmutallab will continue to remind us, he's not the only one lining up for martyrdom.

06 January, 2010

Transgender Amanda Simpson-- great strides toward civil rights

In what seems like a major step in civil rights and civil liberties, President Obama nominated the first transgendered female, Amanda Simpson, as Senior Advisor to the Commerce Department.

Though an important move, the white house has been keeping a tight lip on this one. This silence is most likely in order to avoid media attention or to embolden the vitriol of right-wing religiously-affiliated groups, as we will see.

At the time of her appointment, Simpson made the following statement: "I'm truly honored to have received this appointment and am eager and excited about this opportunity that is before me. As one of the first transgender presidential appointees to the federal government, I hope that I will soon be one of hundreds, and that this appointment opens future opportunities for many others."

She is a former pilot, has been active in the aerospace and defense industry, has worked for GLTB issues for many years, and ran (unsuccessfully) for the Arizona House of Representative. A YMCA woman of the year in 2004, Simpson was instrumental convincing her employer Raytheon, a military contractor, to add gender in its equal employment opportunity bylaws. Is this a token, as Simpson herself said in a newspaper article. Hardly.

Right-wing groups are already trying to make an issue of this much-deserved appointment, which is exactly the reason why the Obama administration wants to make this a "stealth" appointment.

Americans for Truth's President Peter LaBarbera questioned the appointment calling it a new quota system in the Obama administration. Focus on the Family released a statement saying that "Simpson's nomination was forwarded through to President Obama by a gay activist group, making it appear that this appointment of a male-to-female 'transgender' activist to a high level Commerce Department position to be payback to his far-left base for their political support." Not to be outdone of course, was Matt Barber, associate dean at Jerry Fallwell's Liberty University, who said that the appointment "boggles the mind" refusing to see this as a civil or human rights issue like racial discrimination, which of course they don't question anymore.

I do see that this is a major breakthrough in civil rights, as momentous as the civil rights laws that began to be enacted in the 1960's.

From everything I have read about her job experience, education and commitment to public service, nothing about Simpson's candidacy seems to point to anything other than she deserves this appointment. This is another case of an extremely well-qualified American being called to serve her country. It would be a shame if we still thought in shades and hues of the past when only a few acceptable people were qualified to serve, only white "heterosexual" men, while other people and groups were outright excluded.

Are we still living in a country that likes to call itself equal, but separate? This is what these right-wing groups (using carefully-crafted words to ostracize some and find others acceptable) are doing. The ostracizing, of course, is now done very subtly, without any of the fighting words used just a few decades ago against African-Americans, women, and, yes, even gays.

Unfortunately many don't see gay rights on the same plain field as racial equality. Mainly this is because homosexuality is still viewed as a personal choice, which defies the imagination, thus in effect making discrimination more difficult to address.

Simpson was a man. She's now legally a female. The question most of us should ask in order to find out if Simpson should be confirmed is this: is she qualified for this job?  If the answer is yes, then 'nuff said. If the answer is no, then we shouldn't even be discussing this and should move on to other issues.  And my gawd, there are so many other pressing issues to discuss!