The Rights Stuff

Plot Thickens in Sonoma Discrimination Case

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 9:14 AM PDT

I appear to be having my own personal little pride week over here. In part three of my recent gay-rights rampage, let's talk about the case of Harold Scull and Clay Greene.

Last week the story of Sonoma County's treatment of this elderly gay California couple came out: When Scull was hospitalized in 2008, county workers kept Greene from seeing him, despite the couple's legal medical directives, put Scull in a nursing home without consulting Greene, detained Greene against his will in a different nursing home, and seized and sold all of both men's belongings to pay for the care of Scull, who died a few months later. Greene, naturally, is suing. Sonoma County is saying it did what it did because it was afraid Scull was being abused.

I've made clear before that I have trouble being sympathetic toward spouse-abusers, but discrimination is discrimination, and discrimination is never right. Or as one of Greene's lawyers, Shannon Minter, more articulately put it, "The county was certainly right to take initial measures to investigate and determine whether there was abuse, which is a serious issue...But they did not treat this case as they would have for a heterosexual couple."

That last sentence is key, and it needs a little unpacking. What's the difference, I asked Minter, in the way the county would've handled the case were this a heterosexual couple dealing with allegations of abuse?

Ordinarily, they would have sought conservatorship of Harold's person. They did not. They sought conservativeship of Harold's estate only. That is peculiar right out of the box. Then what they did subsequently was just try to get rid of Clay [Greene], get Clay out of the picture, without any recognition that these two people had been together for so long.

Then they did something you see in nightmares and scary movies:

They had Clay put into a secure nursing facility and claimed that he had dementia when he did not. And they did not follow the legal procedure for putting someone in a secure nursing faciliity. You cannot do that without having the person evaluated by a doctor to determine whether they're capable of making their own decisions. He tried to leave. He tried to walk away, to climb over the fence, but they would physically prevent him from leaving.

Then the county sold all Greene's possessions, along with Scull's. Greene's pickup truck, his mementos from when he worked in the movie industry. When the county originally requested conservatorship of Scull's estate, a judge denied it. It's not clear whether it got legal control of his property eventually, but it certainly never had legal control of Greene's. So even if Greene had been abusive, it seems the county was alarmingly out of line. "If this had been a married heterosexual couple," Minter says, "they couldn't have done these things. And wouldn't have done these things."

In a recent twist, it's looking more than ever like Greene wasn't abusive, anyway. The DA had already come to the conclusion that there wasn't enough evidence of abuse to prosecute. It's not clear if the county investigated further before deciding to force Greene into a home and sell all his stuff, but if it did, it must not have consulted the allegedly-abused's best friend and executor of estate: Yesterday, she published an op-ed in the local Press Democrat saying that the allegations are totally unfounded. She's become a plaintiff in the case against Sonoma.

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Map of the Day: Cousin Lovin'

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 9:40 AM PDT

As a research nerd, and kind of a weirdo, writing a post about gay marriage inequality and sulking about how many states I can't marry my ex-girlfriend in got me wondering: Hm, how many states could I marry my cousin in? Turns out the answer, despite all that stigma and a slightly increased risk of birth defects in offspring, is, most states. Some have caveats, like that we wouldn't be allowed to get married unless we were really old or unable to reproduce, and some wouldn't let us get married but WOULD legally recognize our marriage as long as we had the ceremony somewhere else. Way to not extend that courtesy to the gays, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming!

I am absolutely not saying that I think first cousins shouldn't be allowed to get married. What I am saying is, I made a map.

Cousin Lovin' Map

Scenes From the Gay Marriage Battle

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 5:51 PM PDT

Here at Mother Jones, we're all about keeping pictorial tabs on the United States' ongoing wars. My contribution today is a photo essay about a different kind of fight, courtesy Geoffrey King and Sunny Angulo's Such a Bittersweet Day: Marriage Equality in the Wake of Prop 8.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera says that this collection of photos and oral histories about California's marriage equality movement "brilliantly capture[s] the humanity and passion of what is perhaps this generation's preeminent struggle for civil rights in America." And what a struggle it's been, even in just the last couple of years: The California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, but then Prop 8, which bans gay marriage, passed thanks partly to meddling Mormons, so that now there's the discrimination within the discrimination that some same-sex couples—those who got in under the wire—can be legally married but others can't. And of course the battlefield exists way beyond California and beyond just the issue of marriage equality, with casualties like this and this and this every day.

Click on the photos below for captions.



Rights Stuff to Read

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 9:30 AM PDT

It's been an exciting and unsettling week:

Obama ended hospital-visitation discrimination for gays. The first lady went to Haiti, and there are pictures!

The Supreme Court decided not to hear the case of a man on death row whose judge and prosecutor were literally in bed together.

A 10-year-old girl in Mexico is being forced to carry the child of her molesting stepfather.

No one knows why maternal mortality's going up among African Americans in NYC.

Free speech won some additional protection, although at the expense of rodents who get crushed by chicks in high heels for fetish videos.

Berkeley students can now wipe their asses with John Yoo's ethics.

Happy World Malaria Day

| Thu Apr. 22, 2010 9:12 AM PDT

Sunday is World Malaria Day, and I got you two presents.

One is a crazy tidbit about malaria that you can use to impress anyone you're having coffee or cocktails with this World Malaria Day weekend. Here it is:

In the 1930s, malaria infected 5 million people annually in the US. (The marshy South was a big source of the scourge, until dam-building dried it up and economic progress brought better housing.) In the interest of wiping the disease out the world over, the US spearheaded a campaign in the '50s, endorsed by the World Health Organization, to wrap the planet in a big wet blanket of DDT. One of the countries that signed up was Nepal, which had a malaria problem so serious in the west that the only people who could live there were an ethnic minority called the Tharu that had developed a genetic tolerance to the disease. But with the gift of DDT, western Nepal suddenly became habitable to all Nepalese, who promptly moved in, displaced the Tharu, and forced them into permanent bonded servitude, which remained the status quo until the Nepalese government eventually outlawed the exploitation—in 2000. And that's how a mosquito in the United States flapped its wings and a minority group in Nepal got disenfranchised and remained enslaved right up to the 21st century.

Your other present is a link to a page that tells you, in the event that you're wondering, what you can do to help fight malaria, from making donations to organizing dance-offs (yep, really). Annual global funding for malaria eradication is $2 billion, but getting the disease under control, says the United Nations, will take three times that. 

A Few Good Documentaries

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 1:45 PM PDT

Man, it's been, like, four days since I talked about Burma. But this time I bring it up only as your helpful human rights TV guide. Burma VJ, the Oscar-nominated documentary (it lost to The Cove) about the underground video journalists from the Democratic Voice of Burma who captured and smuggled out footage of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, airs on HBO tonight at 9:30. Which reminds me to recommend also checking out Total Denial, an excellent film about Burmese civilians vs. a US oil company plundering the country's vast resources that, as a bonus, does not end on a note of complete soul-crushing despair. And that recommendation led me to ask some MoJo staffers for other not-to-be-missed movies about human rights.

Jen Phillips suggested the exposé of NY's subway-dwelling homeless, In Search of the Mole People, and Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, the film that kicked off more than a decade of activism around the West Memphis Three. She also recommended Born Into Brothels, as did several other staffers. For an amazing doc about South Africa, Dave Gilson submitted Amandla!, and The Farm for a look into life at Louisiana's Angola prison, which has held several men of questionable guilt in solitary for several decades. David Corn brought up great oldie-but-goodie Vietnam pic Hearts and Minds, as well as the more recent Taxi to the Dark Side and Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke. Monika Bauerlein's fave The Times of Harvey Milk is conveniently watchable on Hulu. Anna Pulley likes Border Echoes, a documentary about the Juárez women's murders, for the will-make-you-cry-in-public win.

That's a lot of quality TV-learnin'. And tonight's HBO airing comes at a good time. Aye Chan Naing, executive director and chief editor of Democratic Voice of Burma, tells me the video journalists are still at it and have already started extensive coverage in the run-up to the coming elections—Burma's first in 20 years. "We are broadcasting several different election-related programs per week, such as debate and round-table discussion with oppositions and politicians from inside Burma, interviews with journalists and writers, et cetera," he says. Obviously, only freaks like me are interested in that kind of stuff right now, but if you'd like to meet the sources media will rely on for footage when the election shit hits the fan—and the front pages—later this year, Burma VJ will introduce you them.

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Stat of the Day: Capital Punishment Club

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 5:12 AM PDT

From Amnesty International's analysis of last year's death penalty statistics:

One hundred and seventy-nine countries had no executions last year.

That makes the United States one of less than 20 countries that did execute people, which is pretty staggering. I wonder if Burundi and Togo, which both abolished the death penalty in 2009, are pitying us for being backward.

Rights Stuff to Read

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 6:15 AM PDT

A roundup of some stories from the past week you might like to check out:

• When it comes to foreign policy, Obama puts human rights in a corner.

• Good green news from an often bad and bloody scene.

• Saudi ladies might finally be allowed to become lawyers.

• The NYT reports that maternal-mortality numbers are dropping around the globe, but leaves out that in the United States, they're up.

• Add Senegalese Quranic schools to the list of trusted organizations that cannot be trusted with your children. Ditto the Boy Scouts. Nothing is sacred anymore.

Better Know a Bad Guy: Than Shwe

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 4:57 AM PDT

As monk-led protesters made clear in 2007 and unnamed terrorists reiterated yesterday, people in Burma are incredibly pissed at their government. Given the recent events and my obsession—I mean, expertise—regarding it, it’s only appropriate that my inaugural public-service announcement on bad guys you should know concerns that country’s dictator, Than Shwe.

First and foremost: While it’s true that every story about bloody oppression has villains, this guy ranks with the evilest of them all. To wit, here’s a video of Ellen Page drawing a Hitler mustache on him:

Or, if you prefer your information come from a half-naked bisexual stripper, you can ask Tila Tequila.

Anyway: This high-school dropout was a buddy of the now-dead leader of the 1962 coup that put Burma under military dictatorship, now the world’s longest running. Than Shwe served a stint as a postal clerk before he worked his way up to chairman of the government and commander in chief of the army, as which he currently lords violently over the citizenry. Although he personally is not as well known as his fellow World’s Worst Dictators Mugabe and Kim Jong-Il, this would be the guy whose tyranny made headlines for killing some of the aforementioned 2007 protesters, turning away US aid ships after a cyclone killed 140,000 people in 2008, and lengthening the sentence of the world’s only incarcerated Nobel laureate last year. But not in the headlines, and even more horrifying, is the completely unchecked campaign of genocide against members of the Karen ethnicity, in which five-year-olds are raped and villagers are routinely decapitated. And those on the right side of the ethnic divide just die a little more slowly, what with crushing poverty, virtually no health care system, a child malnutrition rate of 30 percent, and surreal levels of Big Brothery restrictions on thought and expression.

Factoid that might impress your friends: The country with the most child soldiers is not in Africa. It’s Than Shwe’s Burma. Remember the “God’s Army” twins?

How (Not) to Beat Him: Obama has been engaging Burma more than did previous administrations, mixing in diplomacy with the usual old sanctions to get Than Shwe to relax his military’s death grip on the place. Than Shwe decidedly will not do that, because he’s convinced that maintaining massive military force is key to Burma’s continued independence (that’s partly our and England’s bad), and because he couldn’t care less what the US thinks, so long as the rest of the world keeps making him and his cronies rich by buying Burma’s gas and rubies and other fabulous resources.

Horoscope: This aquarius might not have much longer to live, having been born in February of the early '20s, but look for him to live out his days at least with impunity, if not continue to prominently run the show, even after the Burmese election later this year since he has, as previously explained here, engineered it to be a total crock of shit.

Today's Terrorism in Burma

| Thu Apr. 15, 2010 10:20 AM PDT

Several bombs went off in Rangoon today, killing at least nine and injuring dozens more during the country’s New Year festival. As Mother Jones readers know, bombs go off all the time in Burma; it’s just that usually they’re land mines, and government-planted, and in rural areas. But though they rarely make it into Western newspapers, blasts in the capital aren’t uncommon either. No one has claimed responsibility, but the junta generally blames ethnic insurgents. For the record, civil dissent is so widespread among so much of the population that the perpetrators could just as easily be members of the ethnic majority, whose discontent continues to grow as it becomes ever clearer that the upcoming elections are a farce. But in defense of the regime’s blaming armed minority rebel groups, there are plenty of them—Karen, Mon, Shan, Kachin, Wa, Kokang—with whom there are also escalating tensions. By way of explanation, allow me to quote from my own brilliant explanation:

Burma’s dystopia breeds new [insurgents] who are looking for revenge or purpose every day. And not just in the hills; small bombs planted by unknown groups have started going off in Rangoon. Everyone in the world knows what some people will inevitably choose given the choice between battling for liberty and rolling over and dying. In the face of the demand to make their inactive militia part of the murderous Burma army’s border force, the Mon have said no, and that, further, if they are asked to disarm, they “will do something.” The Kachin who’ve been in a cease-fire since 1994, also said no, and are now actively recruiting. The still terrifying and now druglording Wa’s twenty-thousand-strong army is refusing to submit to anyone’s authority. To prove it, just in case someone wants to make them try, they are preparing for war. And the Kokang broke a two-decade truce with a firefight that sent thousands fleeing across the border into China.

And shit continues to get iller. At the very least, expect more protests, violent or otherwise; at worst, the country could be ripped apart by spreading civil war. Don’t be surprised to see more headlines, and headlines like this, from Burma this year. 

Update: The target of the bombs was a festival pavilion sponsored by Than Shwe's favorite grandson. Who's Than Shwe? This guy.