This Primary Day, Democrats Can Control Who Runs the New York State Senate. The Future of Progressive Social Causes is at Stake

Posted in Editorials on August 13th, 2014
by
Tags:

September 9th is Primary Day in New York State. While primaries have lower turnouts and generally receive less media scrutiny, they are often very significant races that determine the policy direction a party takes. In some cases, as in the June Congressional primary between Rep. Charles Rangel and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, it determined the person who will ultimately serve in the next Congress.

Next month’s primary is an important one for Democrats. Conventional wisdom holds Andrew Cuomo, Kathy Hochul, Eric Schneiderman and Tom DiNapoli will all be serving in Albany next year. What’s less certain is who will control the State Senate.

Some are surprised to learn that the Senate is currently in Republican hands when one considers the lopsided advantage that Democrats hold in party registration in our state. As of this past April, there were 5,873,844 Democrats and 2,785,773 Republicans. Yet Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, controls the Senate, in part due to a power-sharing agreement made with Jeff Klein, a senator from the Bronx who defected from the Democratic caucus to form the “Independent Democratic Conference” (IDC). Joining Klein to form the IDC were Malcolm Smith of Queens, Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Valesky of Oneida, and David Carlucci of Rockland. Sen. Smith was forced to leave the IDC after he tried to bribe his way into the New York City Mayor’s office.

Smith was soon replaced by Sen. Tony Avella, who joined the IDC earlier this year. While Avella acted like he was joining the IDC for benevolent reasons alone, his staff got raises as a result, Avella himself became Chair of the Social Services Committee, and his campaign was given $50,000 by other senators for his good will.

Albany works different than real life, it seems.

On February 26th, Avella told the New York Daily News:

“Under Sen. Klein’s leadership, the [Independent Democratic Conference] has developed a clear, progressive agenda for New York’s working families.”

Odd that he didn’t feel that way before the raises, chairmanship, and 50 grand. Details…details.

This statement, though, makes September 9th so important for Democrats in New York.

Leaving the Democratic Caucus, led effectively by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester, in order to best promote a “clear, progressive agenda” is like Michael Bloomberg saying he could most effectively support gun control legislation by writing a check to the NRA. It just doesn’t make sense.

Maybe if the NRA offered Bloomberg’s staff raises and made him chair of a policy committee he’d reconsider. That would be benevolent, right?

No greater proof is needed to rebut the claim that the IDC and its alliance with the Republicans is promoting a “clear, progressive agenda” than three bills which never saw the light of day thanks to the “power-sharing agreement”: the entire Women’s Equality Act, GENDA and a ban on conversion therapy.

The Women’s Equality Act, all-encompassing legislation that would have ensured equal pay, cracked down on human trafficking, and safeguarded reproductive health was apparently deemed “extreme.” As was the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned discrimination based on gender identity or expression. The third bill, to ban conversation therapy, would have made it illegal to try to “cure” children of homosexuality, a “treatment” that has increased depression and suicide rates. In fact, Gov. Chris Christie helped ban it in New Jersey and is quoted saying he

believe[s] that on the issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards…I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.

All of these bills should have passed, reflecting the substantial registration advantage that Democrats have over Republicans in New York. But they weren’t even given a vote on the floor. The reason they were not given a vote is clear: because Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans would not allow a vote.

Why do Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans have this say? Because they were given it by members of the IDC who were given plum committee posts and financial benefits in exchange for their allegiance.

As a result, any chance of progressive social policies passing in New York came to a halt.

You see, according to the “power-sharing” agreement, both “co-leaders” Skelos and Klein need to approve bills that go to the floor.

Democracy has a different definition in Albany.

What many people don’t realize is that the Senate Republicans have a second master: the New York State Conservative Party. Many of their members could not win without the backing of the Conservative Party, and rely on it for votes, GOTV and fundraising. The Conservative Party has been openly hostile to women, to minorities and to the LGBT community, and doesn’t hesitate to punish those who run opposed to its dogma. The party is closely aligned with the Catholic Church, including its belief on the role of women in society, the rights of said women, and its narrow interpretation of the Bible to meet its own agenda – regardless of who is harmed.

This can be remedied on September 9th, though. Many members of the IDC face primaries. Two races in particular can have a significant impact on the future of the IDC and the State Senate. In Queens, Tony Avella is being challenged by John Liu. In the Bronx, Jeff Klein is facing Oliver Koppell.

If the Democrats can regain control of even one of these seats, it will send a clear message that Democratic voters didn’t go out and vote on Election Day 2012 so that Dean Skelos could be left in power.

If you want the chance for a true progressive agenda on social issues, you need to express yourself on Primary Day.

The alternative is a State Senate that is to the right of Chris Christie.

Earth Day 2013 – Hope Springs Eternal?

Posted in Editorials on April 22nd, 2013
by
Tags:

Despite my pessimism and cynicism about the Keystone XL Pipeline, I decided to submit a public comment anyway. This tip from a Council on Environmental Quality document called, “The Citizens Guide to NEPA” is in keeping with my understanding of the process:

Commenting is not a form of “voting” on an alternative. The number of negative comments an agency receives does not prevent an action from moving forward. Numerous comments that repeat the same basic message of support or opposition will typically be responded to collectively.

So I did not sign the numerous petitions that will be submitted today. Instead, I wrote a comment focusing on what I thought were the weakest part of the dEIS.

Dear Ms Genevieve Walker,

I am writing to voice concerns about the Keystone XL Pipeline draft Environmental Impact Statement. I have two main areas of concern – the impact of the project on climate change, and the ability to clean up any future oil spills.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement states that the impact on the climate will be negligible because the no action alternative assumes that the production and consumption of tar sands oil would remain unchanged. This is quite a large assumption to make considering the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that would be emitted from burning the tar sands and is resulting effect on our climate. It is my understanding that the no action alternative is meant to serve as a baseline/control measure, not as conjecture. Therefore I find it not only tremendously irresponsible to make this assumption but highly disingenuous. Although this dEIS appears to comply with the letter of the law I believe it to be incomplete until another scenario is added to the alternatives section which considers not building the Keystone Pipeline and no further development of the Canadian tar sands. I know that the United States has no control over Canadian companies, but the analysis is not complete without consideration of this scenario.

Secondly, I am concerned about the possibility of an oil spill within the United States. The dEIS states that measures would be put in place to prevent such a spill and that if one were to occur, procedures are in place to respond . However, the current spill of tar sands oil in Mayflower, Arkansas makes this plan highly suspect. It seems that the technology does not yet exist to adequately respond to a spill of tar sands oil.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Happy Earth Day.

Letter Writing: Support The Shield Act!

Posted in Editorials on March 7th, 2013
by
Tags:

When I had first heard about patent trolls, I thought that it was some kind of sick joke. But recent coverage on The Majority Report and WTF with Marc Maron have informed me that they are real, and someone who claims to own the idea of podcasting has been suing popular podcasts. This is an outrageous abuse of the system. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a web page where you can contact your elected officials and ask them to support The Shield Act.

The SHIELD Act spears patent trolls’ incentives right through the heart: if a patent troll sues someone, they better believe that the defendant actually infringes a valid patent. If not, the troll could be on the hook for the winning party’s full litigation costs, which often stretch into the millions of dollars.

This “fee shifting” system would empower innovators to fight back, while discouraging trolls from threatening lawsuits to start.

Please visit the Electronic Frontier foundation website today to email your Congressional Representative and Senators about this issue. If you are feeling ambitious, print out the sample email and send it to them via snail mail as well!

Politics Matter

Posted in Editorials on November 13th, 2012
by
Tags:

Last week in his election night victory speech, President Obama said, (emphasis added)

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you “ever
get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late in a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.

You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

This portion of his speech really resonated with me. I’ve written before about my frustrations with people who can’t be bothered to vote. It’s important to talk about why politics matter, and that it’s okay to disagree. Disagreement, even vehement disagreement means we care about what’s important.

Why I’m Donating to The Family Place

Posted in Editorials, Links, Personal Essays on October 16th, 2012
by
Tags:

Note: This is modified from my post in /r/RedditBomb

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few weeks trying to clean up Reddit, but it’s important to make an impact in real life also. When I heard about Redditors making donations to Violent Acrez to help support his disabled wife after being fired because he was outed, I was shocked, but I knew that his supporters aren’t the only people who can make a difference.

We can have a debate about doxxing and whether or not what Adrian Chen’s article was appropriate (my take = doxxing bad, Chen = not doxxing = good). We even disagree with Violent Acrez employer’s decision to fire him for his online activities, or feel conflicted about how this article has impacted Michael Brutsch’s life (I’m kind of disturbed by the amount of schadenfreude I am experiencing) without also supporting the things he said and did on Reddit. The now defunct /r/jailbait (which he created), /r/creepshots (which, as he insists, he only moderated!) and the still going /r/beatingwomen (which he also created) contribute to a culture of misogyny and violence against women.

So as a symbol of my opposition to Violent Acrez’ legacy, I’m going to make a donation to The Family Place, a women’s shelter in Dallas, Texas – and I hope you will too. If you would like, send me a tweet, email, comment or PM on Reddit and let me know how much you donated so we can keep track of our collective impact.

The Family Place is the largest family violence service provider in the Dallas area reaching out to thousands of victims of family violence each year with award-winning programs that keep women and children safe. Since 1978, our mission to end the epidemic of family violence has remained constant. We believe that intervention, emergency shelter, and crisis counseling for all victims—women, children and men—will save lives and that transitional housing and case management will transform lives for the better.

In 2011, we provided 11,826 clients with more than 187,547 service hours. When families are in our care, we work to meet all of their needs. At our Safe Campus, we feed more than 50 kids every day, providing meals and after-school snacks—that’s 18,250 after-school snacks a year! We go through more than 3,000 tubes of toothpaste and 3,600 bottles of shampoo each year.

We couldn’t meet the great need without help from the entire community. Few things have the power to change the shape of our world more than the act of giving.

Donate Here

Project Panda: Updates

Posted in Links, Personal Essays on October 10th, 2012
by
Tags:

Today was a huge day on Reddit.

Last night, a new Reddit Moderator had an extensive conversation with Shit Reddit Says members. Both on the thread announcing his new job, and over at the SRS Busines subreddit.

I woke up this morning to find that ViolentAcrez, creator of /r/jailbait and moderator of /r/CreepShots deleted his account. There is a rumor that this is because Gawker media is or was planning to write a story about him.

Around lunchtime (Eastern Standard Lunchtime) /r/Creepshots suddenly went private. There are claims that this happened because the subreddit’s creator “CreeperComforts” was coerced into doing so. I really don’t know what to make of this statement. It’s possible that it is exactly what it appears to be, or it could be a false flag attack.

Later in the afternoon, Jezebel published an article detailing the work of an anonymous women who is releasing personal information about men who posted to /r/creepshots. The website is a Tumblr called “Predditors.”

Then, sometime after I ate dinner and watched an episode of Doctor Who, /r/Creepshots was banned.

This doesn’t mean that Project Panda/Reddit Bomb is over. Reddit has not changed its policy to ban creepshots, and subreddits encouraging violence against women still exist. Already, many subreddits for creepshots have popped up and are filling up with posts and members.

The reason I’m a part of this project is because creep shots support rape culture. The men who are doing this say that there is nothing wrong with what they do, because if the woman is over 18, and they are not photographing her underwear, they are not breaking any laws. Furthermore, the argument goes, if a woman is out in public she should expect it.

It would be ridiculous to object to men looking at women, and I would never suggest it! I wouldn’t even object to men looking at pictures of beautiful sexy women on the internet! There’s dozens of places even on reddit itself where people post naked pictures of themselves for the whole world to admire. Go forth, and enjoy yourselves!

But, say the creepers,

“Creepshots are CANDID. If a person is posing for and/or aware that a picture is being taken, then it ceases to be candid and thus is no longer a creepshot. A creepshot captures the natural, raw sexiness of the subject without their vain attempts at putting on a show for the camera. That is the essence of the creepshot, that is what makes a true creepshot worth the effort and that is why this subreddit exists.

Actual text on now defunct /r/CreepShots sidebar.

To them, a woman’s consent is not wanted. Her participation spoils their fun. The entire creepshots mindset is the idea that a woman’s will means nothing, and that her body can and should be enjoyed without it. That’s rape culture. And that’s why I moderate /r/RedditBomb.

Update: This post has been edited since it was published. The “Predditors” Tumblr has been deleted.

Update 2: The Predditor Tumblr has been reinstated.

Update 3: A bunch of the creepshots subreddits have been shut down, but others still remain. Additionally, PIMA, who was a moderator of creepshots has been banned.

Update 4: Adrian Chen has published his piece revealing the identity of Violent Acrez.

Why I’m Taking Part In Project Panda: Reddit Bomb

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on September 25th, 2012
by
Tags:

If you use Reddit, you might have seen me around “Shit Reddit Says” and the related subreddits, which we sometimes call “The Fempire.” SRS is a community of people dedicated to social justice, and the main way we do this is by calling out racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, transphobic, classist, and otherwise generally shitty upvoted content on Reddit. The main subreddit is a place to both call attention to these comments and for people to mock them. SRS has its own sense of humor with lots of hyperbole and inside jokes about dildos and Lady Gaga, but it’s easy to catch on. Serious discussion takes place in the other forums.

In the past, presumably in response the users of SRS and others (notably Anderson Cooper) Reddit has shut down /r/jailbait, a subreddit where people traded sexually suggestive pictures of teenage girls, and has articulated a “necessary change in policy” which states:

At reddit we care deeply about not imposing ours or anyone elses’ opinions on how people use the reddit platform. We are adamant about not limiting the ability to use the reddit platform even when we do not ourselves agree with or condone a specific use. We have very few rules here on reddit; no spamming, no cheating, no personal info, nothing illegal, and no interfering the site’s functions. Today we are adding another rule: No suggestive or sexual content featuring minors.

In the past, we have always dealt with content that might be child pornography along strict legal lines. We follow legal guidelines and reporting procedures outlined by NCMEC. We have taken all reports of illegal content seriously, and when warranted we made reports directly to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who works directly with the FBI. When a situation is reported to us where a child might be abused or in danger, we make that report. Beyond these clear cut cases, there is a huge area of legally grey content, and our previous policy to deal with it on a case by case basis has become unsustainable. We have changed our policy because interpreting the vague and debated legal guidelines on a case by case basis has become a massive distraction and risks reddit being pulled in to legal quagmire.

As of today, we have banned all subreddits that focus on sexualization of children. Our goal is to be fair and consistent, so if you find a subreddit we may have missed, please message the admins. If you find specific content that meets this definition please message the moderators of the subreddit, and the admins.

We understand that this might make some of you worried about the slippery slope from banning one specific type of content to banning other types of content. We’re concerned about that too, and do not make this policy change lightly or without careful deliberation. We will tirelessly defend the right to freely share information on reddit in any way we can, even if it is offensive or discusses something that may be illegal. However, child pornography is a toxic and unique case for Internet communities, and we’re protecting reddit’s ability to operate by removing this threat. We remain committed to protecting reddit as an open platform.

However, much of this content still remains. There’s /r/creepshots, a forum where men post pictures focusing on women’s private areas that were taken in public, without the woman knowing. Some of these women appear to be underage. In addition, subreddits like /r/beatingwomen and /r/rapingwomen celebrate violence against women.

Project Panda: Reddit Bomb is an attempt to bring attention to the fact that these subreddits exist, and encourage Reddit to enforce its own policy.

Just as in Adam’s discussion of Big Think’s decision to hire Satoshi Kanazawa, it’s possible to support someone’s right to free speech without wanting to hand them a megaphone. I use Reddit, and I love it. I promote my blog there, I have met some great people, learned a ton about beer and even my hometown. But I feel uneasy being part of a community, no matter how big and varied that tolerates entire forums with hundreds of subscribers that encourage rape and brutal violence.

I decided to email companies that advertise on Reddit about my concerns. It’s a market based solution, and one was highly effective in getting Glenn Beck off of the airwaves without restricting anyone’s First Amendment Rights. So far, two of them have responded. Additionally, outrage over /r/creepshots has generated a ton of media coverage, including Jezebel, the Guardian, and the New York Daily News.

Reddit has made no official response yet, but already some of the subreddits in the initial press release have been taken down.

I have been made a moderator at /r/RedditBomb, the subreddit organizing this project. I’m excited to see what will happen next.

You are quite welcome, Lisa Brown

Posted in Editorials on July 18th, 2012
by
Tags:

In the aftermath of a getting banned from speaking because she used the word vagina in defense of abortion rights, I made a donation to Lisa Brown’s campaign. Term limits prevent her from running for the Michigan State Assembly again, but I am glad to support her campaign for county clerk.

During the controversy some claimed that she was not punished just for saying the word vagina, but for the content of the entire statement,

I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’”

A powerful woman like Brown’s confident smack-down of Republican talking points probably stings rather harshly. It’s not just an awesomely snarky end to a political speech, but she is blatantly calling the bluff that this isn’t about controlling women’s sexuality, and in using the words that she did, she is refusing to acknowledge the illusion that this is not about sex. It makes sense that it would feel all the more humiliating to be talked to that way, which is why they lashed out like they did. However, the expectation that women will sit quietly while their rights are being taken away has no basis in reality, so I find it humorous how shocked many Republicans appeared.

Brown’s thank you note below.

The Apathy Problem

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on June 25th, 2012
by
Tags:

Darcy Burner said at Netroots Nation,

“I have exactly one ask for you between now and November, and that is: get women to vote.”

I got goosebumps because I knew I was being tasked with an awesome quest. But it’s also an incredibly difficult one. There are women in my life, intelligent, compassionate women who truly believe in progressive values. But whether or not they call themselves feminists or liberals, they also have the incorrect belief that everyone else thinks the way they do. A great example of this is Chelsea Handler’s “sexism is bullshit” comments. But I also see it in women with a lot less money and power than Handler.

A friend asks where I was on Saturday morning when the rest of the group had met for coffee. I explain that I was clinic escorting.

“What’s that?”

“Well, there are a lot of protesters at Planned Parenthood and I volunteer to be a part of a program to keep an eye on them, call security or the police if they break any laws, welcome the patients, and not let them get harassed or stopped from entering.”

“Oh…. Wait. People protest outside Planned Parenthood?”

“Yup. Sometimes they just quietly pray, but sometimes they are really obnoxious and nasty.”

“Huh… That’s so weird!”

And we will never speak of this again. Not because she’s lazy or wasn’t listening. It’s because in her worldview, what I just said was that I was trying to stop martians or microfungi from destroying the earth. The kind of misogyny that exists in our own community, or the power that Citizens United gave to the wealthy is something she doesn’t perceive or think about.

I have another friend, really caring and funny and ambitious as hell. But she doesn’t vote. She says that whoever wins or loses has no influence on her life. I tried to change her mind during the contraception debate.

Elizabeth: So here’s a great example of how the government impacts your life – right now Congress is having hearing about whether or not health insurance must cover contraception, but they aren’t allowing any women to testify

Friend: Isn’t that illegal, not allowing women to testify?

Elizabeth: No.The chairman of the committee can decide who will testify at the hearing.

Friend: Oh. But men should care about contraception too. So…

Elizabeth: Well, I don’t think the consequences of not using contraception are in any way equal

Friend: Maybe a decision like that will change social norms. If it’s not covered by insurance then maybe more women will start actually asking for money from their partners to cover half. That would probably be a good thing.

Elizabeth: Right now the law is that insurance must cover the pill in 28 states. In the other states, women are shit out of luck, and this is a response to that

Friend: Men too, indirectly. I think a law like that would be nice but I don’t expect it to be passed.

Elizabeth: That’s why you should vote!

Friend: If I got involved with politics it would take up too much of my life. I’d rather just not be bothered. It’s a lot of hassle/stress that you are inviting into your life.

Elizabeth: But the money you pay for birth control pill co-pay is a real impact on your life.

Friend: Yes but you choose your battles. If it cost like $1000 then yes it would be a problem but by the time it gets that far, many other people get involved anyway.

She pretty much quoted Ever After. “I used to think that if I cared about anything I’d have to care about everything and then I’d go stark raving mad!”

Why do I care about this? Because 39% of single women don’t vote.

I know that a record number of women voted in 2008, and we might break another record this year. But women did not vote in 2010, and that’s one of the reasons why our Congress and State Legislatures have been taken over by anti choice radicals. Even if women come out to vote in 2012, they must do so every year for real progress to be made.

It’s the reason Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign created an entire project around getting women to vote. And it’s the reason Darcy Burner made it the point of her speech at Netroots Nation.

So how do we do it? How do we reach women who don’t read feminist blogs? PSAs during Major League Baseball and True Blood? Pamphlets in locker rooms and ladies bathrooms? Cocktail napkins at bars and coffee shops? And what should these messages say? How do we explain to women why they should do something they never do?

I’m not as discouraged about this as Adam is. I’m just completely baffled.

Letter Writing Sunday: End Polluter Welfare Act

Posted in Editorials on June 24th, 2012
by
Tags:

At Netroots Nation, Bill McKibben spoke about the End Polluter Welfare Act. It was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (S-VT) as S 3080 and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) as HR 5745.

According to a press release from Senator Sanders,

The measure would do away with tax breaks, financial assistance, royalty relief, direct federal research and development and many loopholes that benefit the fossil fuel industry. Under current law, more than $113 billion in federal subsidies would go to oil, coal and gas industries in the coming decade.

The five largest oil companies in the United States earned about $1 trillion in profits over the past decade. Meanwhile, in recent years, some of the very largest oil companies in America like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, paid absolutely nothing in federal income taxes.

The bill is supported by 350.org, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, Oil Change International and Earth Justice.

350.org has a lot of great resources on this bill, and they are keeping a scoreboard of which members of Congress have gone on the record and which have not.

I am going to send the following letter to my Congressional Representative and my Senators.

How to find your Member of Congress’ contact information.

How to find your Senator’s contact information.

I am writing to ask that you please support S 3080/HR 5745, the End Polluter Welfare Act. We cannot afford to subsidize the fossil fuel industry that does so much harm to our health and environment while simultaneously making record profits.