Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Return, A Plan, and an Agenda

Two months since I posted. Yeah, about that...

No excuses. I've had time, I've had ideas, I've been lazy. But, in the words of Baldrick, I have a cunning plan. In honor of the inauguration of Barack Obama, I will examine each item under the "Agenda" section of the new White House website. There's an ambitious level of policy in there, and I want to look at it, top to bottom.

Section 1: Civil Rights

There are several general items here, and one large sub-heading with specific agenda items. I'll take each in turn, quoting the relevant sections.

Combat Employment Discrimination: President Obama and Vice President Biden will work to overturn the Supreme Court's recent ruling that curtails racial minorities' and women's ability to challenge pay discrimination. They will also pass the Fair Pay Act, to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

This is a good start. The ruling in question was egregiously bad, basically saying that you have to sue over pay discrimination soon after it is initiated, regardless of when you become aware of it. It was bad law and worse policy in a just society. The fair pay act I'm less enthused about. While it extends equal pay rights beyond gender, it also demands equal pay based on "value" of work in dissimilar jobs. I'm iffier on that proposition -- value of work is often subjective, and I can see where that provision could lead to lawsuit abuse. The ENDA is sound policy, and just a warm-up when compared to what's going to hit farther down the agenda. Rick Warren may regret giving the invocation.

Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: President Obama and Vice President Biden will strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice's Criminal Section.

I've never been much of a fan of "hate crime" legislation. I guess I still draw a distinct line between "having hateful motivations" and "infringing on civil rights". While motive is key to prosecution, hate laws edge too close to thoughtcrime for my tastes. You're allowed to be a douchebag racist homophobe, because freedom of speech does not just pertain to the speech we agree with. However, if hate crimes are going to be part of the law, you've got to bring them across the board. Beefing up the DoJ's civil rights division can't hurt, either.

End Deceptive Voting Practices: President Obama will sign into law his legislation that establishes harsh penalties for those who have engaged in voter fraud and provides voters who have been misinformed with accurate and full information so they can vote.
I like this. Honestly, election reform is one of my big issues in general. Here in North Carolina, for example, we have ballots that seem actively designed for undervoting during Presidential elections. Of course, coming from West Virginia, where voter fraud and intimidation is a way of life, I may be occasionally wistful when looking at old-school dirty politics. Mean is fine, in my opinion -- Robert Heinlein covered some great tactics in his story A Bathroom of Her Own, from Expanded Universe. Mean, ugly tactics, but still legal.

End Racial Profiling: President Obama and Vice President Biden will ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal incentives to state and local police departments to prohibit the practice.
All I can say is good luck. Cops have been coming up with excuses on this one for ages, because our legal code is so byzantine that virtually anyone is doing something illegal at any given moment, and that's the cover. Then again, sometimes there's just not enough excuse to possibly cover all the stupid.

Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Support: President Obama and Vice President Biden will provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, so that they are successfully re-integrated into society. Obama and Biden will also create a prison-to-work incentive program to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates.
A good idea, if it works. Part of the problem in recidivism is that no one wants to hire cons, so they go back to crime to survive. Add to that the idiotic minimum-sentence laws, and our system often turns a nonviolent offender who made a mistake into a much more brutal, nigh-unemployable person coming out. It's a vicious cycle that virtually no one has done any serious work on.

Eliminate Sentencing Disparities: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated.
Can't argue here.

Expand Use of Drug Courts: President Obama and Vice President Biden will give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior.
Coupled with the item two previous, I think this is a good one. Prisons are no good for rehab, and again feed the cycle of recidivism and escalation.


From here, the Agenda applies to the LGBT community in particular.

Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.
See above.

Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees' domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
I can't argue with this. It's sad that it takes a law to guarantee basic civil rights, but you do what it takes.

Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
I'm of two minds here. On one hand, this is great; enshrining this right in federal law spanks all the little discriminatory provisions that the small-minded have driven through in the past few years. The DoMA is a piece of silly legislation that wasted a lot of time that could have been better spent on things like the economy, and it was introduced solely to gain favor with a religious base. However, I'm of the opinion that the government should get out of the "marriage" business altogether, or at the very least eliminate the ability of any official outside the government to be the authority granting one. As far as the government is concerned, "marriage" is a binding legal contract that confers certain status and privileges. Fine. Why are clergy involved in this again? I can have a perfectly legal marriage solidified by the county clerk. I'd say that's the definition of a "civil union" right there. as far as the government is concerned, all marriages are "civil unions", in that they are a union of two people under civil law. Now, if a couple feels the need to be joined in "holy matrimony", that's their prerogative. Please do so at the church, temple, or Elvis chapel of your choice. However, if you want any of the legal benefits, you better damn well have certified your civil union with the government. A religious institution should have no say as to who is joined in the eyes of the law, and the law should have no say as to who is joined in the eyes of any god, goddess, tree gnome, or quasi-eternal spirit of the color blue.

Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
See above. Opposition is the right stance here, but the whole idea is a waste of time.

Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
Excellent move. "Don't ask-don't tell" an unworkable "compromise" jury-rigged to allow an outdated discriminatory policy to stand in place. Gays are in the military. They always have been, and always will be. The military needs to catch up with the rest of us, and I think we have the environment to get this one rolling fast. I don't know if it'll happen before the midterm elections, but I'd say it'll hit in this four-year span.

Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
An easy and basic move. Hell, even the courts down in crazy-ass-conservative Florida are seeing the light on this one.

Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
This is under the LGBT heading, but let's face it; AIDS is a universal issue. The rolling back of foolish and shortsighted sex-ed policies from the last eight years will help everyone. So much more than AIDS/HIV is affected; other STDs can be curtailed, unwanted pregnancies reduced (and, hey, right-to-lifers -- guess what the best way to reduce abortions is), and frankly, just having a coherent policy will be a major step.

Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.
Okay, I get this one, but I don't know how high-importance it is. I'm not sure how much value this technology really has, as I've never heard of it before. I would assume some sort of gel or applied substance, given that barrier methods already exist. It seems that, even with a microbial barrier, you're still at a lot of risk, given factors like application, wear, time of effectiveness, or any other factor that might apply to a topically applied medicine. As a supplement to other methods of prevention, perhaps -- again, I don't know enough about the product-- but I don't see something like this as being as effective as the methods already available ("No wrap, no ride", and "No"). If there's more to the technology than I seem to know, great, get cracking.


Well, that's the first of the Agenda categories on the new Presidential website. It got me thinking, if nothing else. Take the time to read the whole thing; there's a contact page for policy questions, and an office whose job it is to answer them (an improvement over anything the previous administration had). I've already used it, and I encourage you to, as well. See you back here for my examination of the "Defense" heading.


Other posts in this series can be found at the Agenda Index.


Coralius said...

The AIDS prevention section was probably under the LBGT umbrella because they didn't have anywhere else to stick it. Either that, or they've got a reactionary buried somewhere in the back office.

Ranson said...

There's a good bit of cross-pollination between headings on some the policy items. Women's Issues and Health Care had a lot, in particular