Happy Birthday America (thanks for all the memories)!

Embarrassing disclaimer: I used to think the 4th of July celebrated the end of the World War Two.

Pretty fireworks in Boston

The only Fourth of July that I distinctly remember was almost eight years ago with my college boyfriend. We were on the Cambridge side of the Charles River in Massachusetts, watching the fireworks together despite months of talk about how our relationship was coming to an end. The wind blew, making the ashes fall over us in gentle flakes, and like a sad romantic movie we hugged before walking back to the apartment we shared. A month later I left the country for three years and that was the end of that.

The years abroad there were no big celebrations; and every year since it was always more trouble to go see the fireworks than it would have been worth it, especially since I associated the whole display with a melancholy feeling of a young woman’s broken heart. This year– i.e. today– I am at a desk, working in the CNN news room, watching Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest with the rest of my coworkers. News doesn’t take a holiday; someone’s gotta cover this shit.

Which has got me thinking about what Independence Day means for me, personally. Since that Fourth of July years ago on the Charles, my perspectives on life and freedom have changed drastically: a war started and ended but the country’s state of emergency has remained; a recession came and stayed; a historically first presidential election passed; women ran for Presidency; unrest in the U.S was looking like the Arab Spring in the West; there was such a thing as an Arab Spring…

In outlining their general philosophy of government, the Framers write that it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish the government when it becomes destructive. “It is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security,” says the Declaration.

 

But in the course of history, it has become so that those who think conversely to the government are viewed under a suspicious eye. At best they are labeled (un-American, ‘communists,’ and more recently– ‘dirty hippies’); at worst, they are incarcerated (sometimes without due process of law). And they are marginalized: those silly, pesky unsatisfied kids who need to get a job; those terrorist-friendly socialist liberals; those crazy right-winged gun owners.

 

It sounds all too familiar. Remember that the British Government during colonial times saw American opposition as the opinion of only a vocal minority.

I recently watched a three year-old clip of Jesse Ventura (yes, Jesse Ventura!) on a t.v. morning show being chastised by the host because Ventura questioned the events of September 11, 2001. Ventura replied, “Unpopular speech is why we have [the First Amendment].” Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote, in referencing philosopher Voltaire, “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.” The First Amendment does not just protect words– it protects thoughts, ideas, religion, the right to gather and to assemble– it’s an amazing doctrine. And it’s no coincidence it’s the First Amendment. The Framers wrote it because it was under that philosophy that they severed colonization from Britain.

This year, my birthday gift to America is a promise– as best I can– to uphold the principals the country was born out of:  that all citizens, equal in the eyes of God and the government, have a self evident right to expect basic protections and freedoms from the government, and that those who stand up for these rights are as patriotic–and brave–as the dissidents who got us out from under the thumb of the King. This election year, when politicians will be undoubtedly and most certainly lying to us, I will keep America forever young by remembering that it was a few men with ideas of change who brought about our independence.

 

Paul Revere

 

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A Child Protection Bill Opposed by the Church?

A Massachusetts child sex abuse protection bill being discussed on Beacon Hill is getting considerable push back from the Archdiocese of Boston. Similar bills being presented around the nation have been strongly opposed by the Catholic Church.

The Massachusetts bill titled Comprehensive Child Sexual Prevention Act 2011 (House Bill 496) proposes the drastic repeal of the statute of limitations on civil and criminal sex abuse suits—meaning victims at any age and any time period can file suit against their alleged abusers. Lawmakers are discussing ways to modify the reformative bill, one scenario being that victims may have a two-year window to bring old cases to court even if their statute of limitation has passed.

Currently in Massachusetts, a victim can file a criminal suit up to 27 years after the alleged abuse occurred; in a civil suit a victim has only three years after he or she understands the act to have been abuse.  

Another provision in the bill is the eradication of the charitable immunity doctrine. Since 1971, Massachusetts holds that charitable institutions and non-for-profits, such as the Catholic Church, are not liable under tort law and cannot be sued for more $20,000 per plaintiff in civil court.

“The Church been able to use the charitable immunity to carve out private deals with victims,” says Jetta Bernier, Executive Director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children. “That’s how they were able to make these confidential agreements over the years.”

For decades, the Boston Archdiocese has been confronted with allegations of sexual misconduct towards young Church members. In 2002 alone, 542 victims came forward accusing multiple Church clergy of childhood abuse. In 2004 the Boston Globe reported that the Archdiocese of Boston spent $85 million dollars in settlements; the Church had to sell property to Jesuit college Boston College to help absorb the costs.

 

Attorney Carmen Durso, who has been working on the bill for the past ten years with Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, said the proposed legislation is not about money, it’s about preventing future victims and giving justice to the abuse survivors. For example, a statute of limitations does not take into consideration when a victim is personally ready to confront the abuse and his/her abuser. According to a survey Durso conducted of his clients, most victims do not come forward until they are in their forties.

When asked to comment about the Church’s stance on the bill, Jim Driscoll, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference addressed the issue of charitable immunity. “House Bill 469 is a complex piece of legislation which seeks to retroactively alter rules governing claims against charities and other non-profit institutions, that if passed by the Massachusetts Legislature will have an immediate and harmful impact on the ability of all nonprofits, not just the Catholic Church, to serve thousands of people who rely on these organizations,” he said in a statement. “It does not propose to change similar laws already protecting public institutions such as municipalities and public schools and in doing so, places a greater burden on nonprofits and their employees, volunteers and trustees.”

Durso is doubtful that the charitable immunity provision will end up in the bill’s final draft, but said he will not stop pushing for it until it is part of Massachusetts law. He and Mariano have attempted several times to get the bill through the judiciary committee, he said, but were blocked every time. Although the Church’s political and social clout has waned over the years since the sex abuse allegations, the Church is still a stronghold in Boston—a city with deep Roman Catholic roots.

Catholic Bishops have been opposing similar legislation showing up in State capitols across the country, according to Marci A. Hamilton, Chair of Public Law at Cardozo School of Law. “They [the Church] have fought extensions and elimination of the statute of limitations, as well as the window legislation that is likely to be considered in Mass. They argue that they are concerned about the money, but in fact, they fight much more over releasing the secrets still in their secret archives than they do over compensating the victims in these cases,” she said.

New York assemblywoman Margaret Markey has made the renewal of statute of limitation laws a central part of her politics. “The laws have been protecting abusers for many years,” she said. “As a society we have to protect children, not pedophiles.” The biggest opponents of her efforts to change the statutes are a conservative Judaic organization Agudath, and the Catholic Church. She has tried many times to pass new legislation but her peers are “intimated by religious institutions,” she said.  

“We believe that House Bill 469 should not be passed in its current form,” Jim Driscoll said. “The Church welcomes the opportunity to have a voice in this legislation.”

 *Interviewees for this article spoke to CNN wires*

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Let’s Be Fair To… Laura Bush

Former first lady Laura bush has come under significant criticism lately after Sewell Belmont House and Museum awarded her the Alice Award–an award honoring women who have helped women. Past recipients have been Hillary Clinton, Katie Couric, Nancy Pelosi and Olympia Snowe.
Her criticizers swear their disapproval  is not political.  “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Sonia Pressman Puentes, co-founder of the National Organization for Women. “It’s not partisan. I’m not complaining that she’s a Republican. I’m complaining that she’s never done anything for women to get this award.”
Puentes even says Michelle Obama isn’t worthy of the award. “Here you have a woman who was a brilliant attorney,” Fuentes said. “She’s just published a book about how to garden.”

Laura Bush flexing her muscles

(Wait, and what’s wrong with gardening? Are brilliant attorneys not allowed to like gardening?)

To be completely honest, when I think of Laura Bush I think of libraries, wife to a man who though an avid reader often spoke as though somewhat illiterate. So I did some research on what Laura Bush did as First Lady for 8 years:

  • Launched a breast cancer research and treatment initiative in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, where affected women were often abandoned by their husbands.
  • Championed the plight of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, at a time when the Burmese government atrocities remained under the media radar
  • Was instrumental in helping women advance in Afghanistan through education and professional training programs she shepherded through the Bush Institute
  • No Child Left Behind Act – and a staunch supporter of NCLB’s Reading First program, which is the largest early reading initiative in American history
  • Made five trips to Africa alone in support of life-saving global health initiatives, including the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
  • Was wife to Dubwya

Holy Mother of Cow. I find it almost more impressive that Mrs. Bush was “only” a librarian, because it goes to show that you don’t have to be a steel toed Hilary Clinton to get things done in the world.

So why the resistance against Laura Bush? Do liberals think that conservative, rich, white Republican ladies don’t deserve honor? Are we looking at her political affiliation rather than at the deeds she did that merited the award? Worse maybe– are we judging her because of her husband?

Talk about war on women.

This isn’t about who you voted for in the past presidential election. This is about honoring women who honor women, and any woman who has championed for literacy and spread health awareness merits an award.

 

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Teaching Your Kid ‘You don’t have to hug grandma if you don’t want to’ Helps Prevent Future Unwanted Touching

As the Sandusky case unfolds, and after reading raw testimony for the past week from Sandusky’s alleged victims, I’m perplexed at how conscientious, early-teen kids were able to be the victims of molestation–some of them for years. Then I remember that they were targetted by a predator in every sense of the word: they were easy prey (in this case, these were boys whose fathers were not present, who did not have very much money or a strong family life); they were groomed and manipulated (these young boys enjoyed the perks of hanging out with an ‘important’ man like Sandusky who lavished them with gifts and special treatment), so when Sandusky began inappriate touching/rubbing/groping/hugging, the boys were confused and let it happen. Allegedly.

Big no-no! Don’t do it!

If someone were to touch me inapporpriately, I like to think I’d jump up and push them away immediately. Maybe me throw a punch or two. But I was once gropped on the subway and did just the opposite: I froze. By the time I realized what had actually happened, and processed it that it was not a mistake, the act was done and the guy had already gotten off. Another female friend of mine said the same thing happened to her. She fell asleep on the train, woke up to a man touching her leg with his hand. When she opened her eyes and shifted, his hands moved away. Like me she paused: did that really happen? Was it a mistake? And in confusion, she just moved seats.

I think this is a two-fold issue. How to avoid the unwelcome behavior and then how to stop it once it’s happened.

There are many ways to avoid unwelcome behavior. For example, when I was little I wasn’t allowed to sleep over friends’ houses if they had uncles or brothers living with them (I had a friend who lived in a gigantic house with her extended family: brothers and cousins and uncles and sisters…I was never allowed to spend the night.) Most kids are taught basic and somewhat obvious safety tips like, don’t accept candy from strangers, don’t go into their cars. But I wonder to what extent the mixed messages that we are sent as kids unteaches us those safety tips. For example:

  • I was told not to talk to strangers. But I was also told not to be rude and in effect, talk to peopel who address me– strangers or not.
  • I was told not to let people touch me. But I also had to give thank-you hugs to people (family or family friends) who gave me gifts.
  • I was told that some people were ‘bad guys’. But I was also told to respect adults and always speak properly to them, especially if they were friends of the family.   

This is why I particularly like this article by Katia Hetter. Hetter talks about the importance of teaching your child that their body is their own, and that they don’t have to touch anyone even if it means hurting someone’s feelings. And she stresses the importance of letting each child respect the subtle cues they pick up about “the music teacher down the street” or “Aunt Linda”. If your child shies away from somone, it’s okay. They’re allowed to.

“When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend’s feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them,” said Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a nonprofit specializing in teaching personal safety and violence prevention. “This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so ‘he’ll like me’ and kids enduring bullying because everyone is ‘having fun.’ “

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Chesty Chests Make Headlines Again

There have been so many stories lately on women getting far too much plastic surgery. Think Octomom or the lady who was kicked off of Anderson Cooper’s show because he found her repulsive (she was encouraging her seven year old daughter to get lipo and breast implants.) Well here again we see the trend continuing. Meet a woman who has L cups for breast size. They’re so gigantic she has a surgically implanted bra to support the 10ish pound breasts because her skin just wouldn’t be able to take it otherwise. Guess who also wants breast implants now too? Her daughter (not sure if it’s the one pictured below, but you’ll see her on the Dr. Drew video)

 

I could not post the other picture of her… it was too painful

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Turtle Love

Last week the Australian Times reportedthat a pair of turtles, both 115 years old, ‘divorced’ each other after over a hundred years of marriage. They had what seemed like an ideal relationship: they knew each other when they were young, grew up together, and were inseparable. But then the female Bibi bit off a chunk of her partner’s shell, and now it seems they can’t “stand each other.” They were moved to separate cages where both seem significantly happier.

Fossilized love making

In more turtle love news, BBC reports that scientists have found a fossilied pair of turtles who supposedly sank in lakebed sediments while they were having sex. The pair are 47 million years old.

“Researchers think the turtles had initiated sex in the surface waters of the lake that once existed on the site, and were then overcome as they sank through deeper layers made toxic by the release of volcanic gases.”

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Vatican Protesters Gather in NYC

NEW YORK (CNN) — A group of Catholic activists gathered in front of a Manhattan cathedral Tuesday for the latest protest over a Vatican reprimand of America’s largest organization of Catholic nuns.

About two dozen parishioners and former clergy gathered in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, protesting last month’s controversial report from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the church’s doctrinal watchdog.

Following a years-long “doctrinal assessment” investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious — which represents 80% of the Catholic nuns in United States — the report found “serious doctrinal problems” and called for major reforms.

It accused the LCWR of sponsoring “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations.”

“The sisters are wonderful people who work very hard, and yes, they do care about the poor, and they do care about social concerns, and the congregation of the dogma of the faith has come down on them really hard,” said Eileen Sammon, one of the protesters gathered outside St. Patrick’s. “It is unfair, unjust, unconscionable, and I’m here to support them.”

Sheila Peiffer, with The Nun Justice Project, a Catholic activist organization, organized a petition to rally support for sisters nationwide. “I would like to see the Vatican rescind the mandate, but i think that would be doubtful judging from past actions,” she said, “but we always believe in the power of the Holy Spirit and peace. Peace and reconciliation is everyone’s goal.”

Last week, crowds gathered in Cincinnati in a similar protest.

While praising the group’s work on social justice issues, the Holy See blamed it for remaining “silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.”

“Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching,” the report said.

It also noted public statements from nuns that opposed Catholic bishops. The LCWR disagreed with the bishops’ conference’s position on the Affordable Care Act, which they supported and the bishops did not.

The church called the LCWR’s position “grave and a matter of serious concern. “

More here: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/22/vatican-protesters-gather-in-nyc/?iref=allsearch

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