Sunday, July 31, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

The Other Half and I have seen all of the Harry Potter movies, and I have read all the books. The final installment in the movie franchise is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, which was also released in 3-D. I wasn't that enamored with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 but since I had read the books I knew that more than 2/3rds of the action in the book was going to happen in Part 2. We decided to splurge for the 3-D since it was the last time we would be seeing a Harry Potter movie in the theaters plus it was garnering rave reviews from most critics (96% on 

Surprisingly, the last movie in the Harry Potter series is also the shortest in the series, coming in at a zippy 130 minutes. Also, another surprise about this installment is that it is basically a war movie. There are two competing armies, a large one on behalf of the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort and a small one on behalf of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, called Dumbledore's Army. This movie is so different from the early Potter films which were filmed with the hijinks of school children and featured games of Quidditch.

For the last two movies we have been following the quest of Harry, Ron and Hermione as they chase down magical objects called Horcruxes, which contain the soul of Voldemort. If the horcruxes are destroyed, Voldemort will cease to exist. We think that there are six horcruxes, but one of my major quibbles with the the movie adaptation is that it doesn't really do a very good job of keeping the audience on track on how much progress is made on destroying all of the horcruxes.

Another aspect of the story is that when the audience discovers that Harry Potter must die (spoiler alert) we also see that he has the Resurrection Stone, but Harry drops the stone to the ground instead of carrying it with him to his death. It's unclear to the audience (or at least, me) why Harry couldn't just use the stone to die and then be resurrected and the movie doesn't do a good job of answering that question either.

There are several things that the film does do very well. I did think the 3-D effects were used sparingly but very effectively. Alan Rickman, as always, is excellent as Snape, although some have complained about the nature of his character's demise. My favorite character has always been Hermione, and Emma Watson plays her well. Daniel Radcliffe has most definitely grown into the leading role of Harry Potter. Rupert Grint has also grown, and is no longer cringe-worthy.

Overall, the final movie in the series works well as an action film and also has an excellent pay off for those of us who either read all the book or saw all the movies (or both). It is doubtful we will see a more successful adaptation of successful fantasy novels into successful fantasy films in my lifetime.

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.
Director: David Yates.
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Release Date: July 15, 2011.
Viewing Date: July 17, 2011.

Plot: A.
Acting: A-.
Visuals: A.
Impact: A+.

Overall Grade: (4.0/4.0)

Serena Beats Bartoli To Win 38th Title

Serena Williams won her first non-major title since the 2009 Tour Championships by withstanding a stiff early challenge from Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli to win  the championship match 7-5 6-1 at the Bank of the West classic in Palo Alto, CA.

Bartoli came out strong early, serving well and out-hitting Serena by blasting balls into the corners of the court. She was consistently hitting her second serve well above 100 mph and her first serve even harder. Bartoli quickly broke Serena to go up 2-1 and both players held serve until 4-2. In the seventh game of the match Bartoli had multiple chances to go up 5-2 (win the "insurance" break) but Serena prevailed and managed to stay just one break behind. Serving at 4-3, Bartoli opened with a double fault and Serena  started playing longer, more controlled points and Bartoli's balls started landing less deep in the court, eventually leading Serena to get the break back to even the match at 4-all. Both players held relatively easily the next two games. Then Serena quickly fell behind 0-30 in the 5-all service game but managed to get out of trouble to force Bartoli to hold serve in order to play first set tiebreaker. Unfortunately for Bartoli she started missing her first (and second) serve and began pressing a bit much from the back of the court, leading to Serena getting a break point (and set point) at 5-6, 30-40. They then played a very long point with Serena ending up at the net and Bartoli missing a backhand pass. First set Serena, 7-5. The second set was all Serena with Bartoli having called for the trainer to look at her right hand during the set break and the French player repeatedly looked down at the hand and shook it but quickly fell behind 3-0. Bartoli again started putting up resistance in the second set's 4th game but Serena was in full flight and won the insurance break to go up 4-0 and then easily won her own service game to hold a 5-0 advantage. Bartoli was finally able to hold serve and Serena closed out the match relatively quickly with a service winner.

This was a pretty important match for Serena and must be pretty terrifying for the rest of the field. In just her third tournament back after not playing for a year, Serena beat three of the players who performed the best in the last major tournament, in a row: Maria Sharapova (finalist), Sabine Lisicki (semifinalist) and Marion Bartoli (quarterfinalist), losing a mere 13 games. Her hardest match of the tournament was against an in-form Maria Kirilenko, which she gutted out with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 win following her 6-0 6-0 blowout to begin the week.

She's also committed to playing several of the North American summer hard court tournaments (Canada and Cincinnati) and should be considered to win her 14th major title in New York in September.

Serena Demolishes Lisicki and Sharapova To Reach Final

Serena Williams ranked #169 in the world, beat World #5 Maria Sharapova and World #26 Sabine Lisicki in the last two days, losing a stunning total of 7 games over four sets. First she beat 2011 Wimbledon finalist Sharapova 6-1 6-3 on Friday night and followed that performance with a 6-1 6-2 drubbing of 2011 Wimbledon semifinalist Lisicki 6-1 6-2 in 59 minutes.

Serena reached her first final since the 2010 Wimbledon final and her first final on U.S. soil since the 2010 Sony Ericsson Open (which she lost to Victoria Azarenka). She will face Marion Bartoli, the player who shockingly dismissed the defending champion from this year's Wimbledon in straights sets in the fourth round. Bartoli has actually lost even less games than Serena in her last two matches because she's only had to play one set: both Dominika Cibulkova and Ayuma Morita have had to witchdraw, the former without playing a single point.

That being said, Bartoli does have the power to match Serena stroke for stroke, but it is doubtful she has the stamina or agility. Serena hates to lose to a player twice in a row, and I doubt that will happen Sunday afternoon in Stanford.

MadProfessah's prediction: Serena in two sets.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

New Poll On New York Marriage Law

There is a new poll which asks Americans nationwide whether the legalization of marriage equality in New York state on July 24th is a positive or negative development. The results show that it depends on whether you are conservative Republican (and/or white evangelical Protestant) or not. If you are, you generally oppose it, if you're not you think it's a positive development.
Democrats and Republicans react in opposite ways to the new law, each facing stark internal divisions that may present challenges to building a winning coalition in 2012. Among Democrats, the divide is between the liberal base and those with conservative or moderate stripes. Liberal Democrats view the law positively by an overwhelming 74 to 25 percent margin. A smaller 54 percent majority of moderate and conservative Democrats say the same. Among African Americans, another loyal segment of the Democratic party coalition, more than six in 10 say the law is a negative development, while roughly one in three see it positively. Republicans broadly reject the law by a 2 to 1 margin, but alignment with the tea party movement complicates political calculations concerning the issue. More than seven in 10 Republicans who support the Tea Party movement view the New York law as a negative development.
This partisan divide in the electorate about marriage equality has been a frequent topic at this blog. Many people believe that the tipping point in favor of marriage equality becoming the law of the land has already reached.

Recently, researches at my alma mater have produced a model of conversion which indicates that when just 10% of a population has an implacable, unalterable position that view will eventually become the majority position, given enough time.

Friday, July 29, 2011

CA Sup Ct Sets Prop 8 Case Oral Arguments Date: 9/6/2011

Good news! The California Supreme Court has finally set a date of September 6 at 10:00am for the oral arguments in the Perry v. Brown lawsuit (informally known as "The Proposition 8 case") in which the question at hand is a very limited one. Namely,
Whether under Article II, Section 8 of the California Constitution, or otherwise under California law, the official proponents of an initiative measure possess either a particularized interest in the initiative's validity or the authority to assert the State's interest in the initiative's validity, which would enable them to defend the constitutionality of the initiative upon its adoption or appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative, when the public officials charged with that duty refuse to do so.
Although the question is limited, the stakes are not. If the state Supreme Court rules, most likely within 90 days of oral arguments, that the heterosexual supremacists who drafted and promulgated Proposition 8 now have no legal standing to defend its constitutionality, it is very likely a 3-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will follow that decision and rule that the Proposition 8 proponents have no standing to defend the measure in federal court, either.

In that case, the lower court's decision would go into effect and federal Judge Vaughn Walker's brilliant ruling determining that Proposition 8 violates the United States Constitution would go into effect. Of course the bad guys would probably appeal to the Suprem Court but since the case would only be about California (and California law) it is unlikely that SCOTUS would take the case. There is a possibility that SCOTUS would take the appeal to try to clarify once and for all whether proponents of state ballot measures who are not named plaintiffs in lawsuits have a right to continue appeals when the named plaintiffs fail to appeal but there's already a decision called Arizona for Official English vs Arizona in which SCOTUS basically says you need a particularized interest under state law in order to pursue a federal appeal. And it is precisely that question of whether a particularized interest exists under California law that the California Supreme Court will decided, by the end of 2011.

Another wrinkle is that the 7-member Supreme Court has recently lost its most pro-gay member, Carlos Moreno, and Governor Brown only announced his replacement, Goodwin Liu, who is probably as similarly pro-equality as Moreno, this week. If Liu is not on the court by September 6th, the court will probably name a state appellate judge to hear oral arguments and participate in the decision.

Hang on to your hats, folks, it's gonna be a bumpy ride!

WATCH: MA Congressional Delegation "It Gets Better"

Note, it's almost the entire congressional delegation of Massachusetts. Missing is U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) who surprisingly won a special election in January 2010, thus giving the Republicans a filibuster-sustaining 41 votes in the United States Senate.

To date, not a single Republican elected official has made an It Gets Better video. Instead, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has started verbally attacking Dan Savage, who has made his feelings about Republicans known. Scott Brown explains his absence from the MA congressional delegation IGB video:
"Senator Brown believes all people regardless of sexual orientation should be treated with dignity and respect. He has been a leader in fighting for anti-bullying legislation at the state and federal level. His main focus is creating jobs and getting the economy moving again. In this case, the individual behind the video has made vile and sexually crude comments about Senator Brown. It's reprehensible for Senator Brown's opponents to associate with this person in order to score cheap political points." -- Eric Fehrnstrom, political adviser.

I'd like to hear from the Log Cabin Republicans an explanation for why not a single Republican elected official can not seem to appear in a video whose intention is to help students who are being bullied (probably because they are LGBT or are perceived to be LGBT) survive the experience and reduce teen suicide.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Celebrity Friday: Serena Returns To Tour With 6-0 6-0 Win

Serena Williams returned to the WTA Tour this week after her 4th round loss at Wimbledon to Marion Bartoli to defeat Anastasia Rodionova 6-0 6-0  (ouch) at the Bank of the West tournament in Palo Alto, CA. It was her first hard court match on U.S. soil since the 2009 U.S. Open semifinal where the defending champion was eliminated from the tournament by a point penalty on match point after verbally berating an official who inexplicably had called a foot fault on a second serve at 4-5, deuce.

Bartoli won this tournament by defeating Venus Williams last year, so we shall see if she has to go through another Williams sister to defend her title.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brown Nominates Goodwin Liu To CA Sup Ct!

Charles Dharapak / AP Photo
Goodwin Liu, 40, was rejected by a Republican United States Senate filibuster for a coveted position on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but has received a pretty nice consolation prize: a nomination by Governor Jerry Brown to the California State Supreme Court (from which he could still be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court before he's 50).

The Los Angeles Times reports:
Liu, a graduate of Yale Law School, is the son of Taiwanese immigrants. He was born in Georgia, grew up in Sacramento and has a history of public service.
“I’m deeply honored by Gov. Brown’s nomination and look forward to the opportunity to serve the people of California on our state’s highest court,” Liu said in a statement.
Before joining the Berkeley Law faculty in 2003, Liu was an appellate litigator at O'Melveny & Myers in Washington. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and for Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He also served as special assistant to the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and as senior program officer for higher education at the Corporation for National Service (AmeriCorps).
Brown has forwarded Liu’s name to the State Bar’s Commission of Judicial Nominees Evaluation. The appointment will not become final until the Commission on Judicial Appointments -- consisting of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, senior presiding justice of the state Court of Appeal -- confirms the nomination.

Liu will replace Associate Justice Carlos Moreno, who retired from the court earlier this year.
Justice Moreno was a very strong advocate for the LGBT community, voting with 4-3 majority to end marriage discrimination in California's landmark In Re Marriage cases in 2008 and was the lone dissenter in 2009's California Supreme Court decision which upheld Proposition 8 as not violating the California constitution.

Goodwin Liu has previously expressed his belief that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional so it will be interesting to see if he can get confirmed in time to participate in the case now before the case as to whether the heterosexual supremacist supporters of Proposition 8 have legal standing to defend it in court when the elected representatives of the people of California have decided not to defend a voter-approved ballot measure.

Another interesting feature that Liu, if confirmed will produce a court with an Asian American majority and no Black or Latino members, in a state which has Latino plurality in the population. Things that make you go Hmmmmmm! That being said, Liu is a great choice, since he can't get through the Senate to a federal judgeship while Republicans have more than 40 votes and no compunctions about filibustering extremely qualified judges purely based on ideology, a state supreme court seat is fantastic.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Who Caused The Debt: Bush or Obama?

This graphic tells the story of how we got to this point where the Republicans are holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to their fact-challenged disastrous policy viewpoints taxes and finances.

1st Anti-Gay Ballot Measure (To Repeal SB48) Ready To Go

Bad news about SB 48, the FAIR Education Act Governor Brown signed into law on July 14, 2011. The heterosexual supremacists who brough California Proposition 8 have filed a referendum challenge to the law and received approval from Attorney General Kamala Harris to start circulating petitions in order to gather the 504,000 valid signatures to submit to Secretary of State Debra Bowen to place the question of the measure's legality on the June 2012 ballot.

Karen Ocamb of LGBTPOV has the scoop:
Referendum to Overturn Non-Discrimination Requirements for School Instruction.
Summary Date: 07/25/11 | Circulation Deadline: 10/12/11 | Signatures Required: 504,760
Proponent: Paulo E. Sibaja (909) 996-9391
If signed by the required number of registered voters and filed with the Secretary of State, this petition will place on the statewide ballot a challenge to a state law previously approved by the Legislature and Governor. The law must then be approved by a majority of voters at the next statewide election to go into effect. The law would require school instructional materials to recognize societal contributions of various groups; and would prohibit school instructional materials that reflect adversely on persons based on their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other characteristics. (11-0023.) (Full Text)
By a referendum, all passage of the measure would do is take back the laws of California to the way they were prior to July 14, 2011. LGBT people and the disability community would not be required to be included in instructional materials. Previously the law mandated the teaching of many other groups, mainly racial and ethnic minorities and Equality California and Mark Leno sponsored legislation to add LGBT and people with disabilities to the list (and change American Indian to Native American and Asian Pacific to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders).

This is basically a proxy fight over gay rights the right wing is hoping to use to increase conservative turnout in the June 2012 election which will be an incredibly important election (maybe more important than the Presidential election in California) as (almost) every single district-based political office in California will be up for election for the first time in a redrawn district.

I've also heard rumors of a second anti-gay ballot measure which would attempt to divorce the 18,000 same-sex couples that got married in California prior to Proposition 8 and preempt any positive decision striking down Proposition 8 as violating the federal constitution. This second measure seems like even more folly because any measure seeking to replicate or even out do Proposition 8 in anti-gay fervor would clearly also be subject to a similar lawsuit which will probably nullify that measure.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Eye Candy: "Frank from Canada"

Found these pictures of this smoking hot unknown guy at Gorgeous Sexy Guys but have been unable to find much information about him except what is at Sambag's Blog:
Canadian hunk, Frank, 25, has been told for a while that he's photogenic (well, they're right!) and so he decided to give modeling a shot. A natural jock, he enjoys going to the gym, playing football, hockey, basketball, any and every sport. He stands 5' 8" at 154 lbs.

Frank currently attends University of Toronto.
Anyone have any idea who this Canadian hunk is? Even without a full name, he is definitely eye candy material.

The view outside my window

It is crazy hot and humid in Washington!

Purple-thorned ferocity: Euphorbia ferox

It's summer, and Euphorbia ferox -- the ferocious spurge -- pushes forth new growth, including fresh thorns in Easter-egg colors of pink and lavender.

This succulent -- superficially resembling a cactus -- is vigorous and easy to grow. This small plant will eventually form a large clump. Its vigor and adaptability have contributed to its continued success in its South Africa habitat, where it is not endangered.
Euphorbia ferox showing purple and pink thorns.
Obtained from J Hanna CSSA Show & Sale 2011.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Maryland Gov Announces Push For Marriage Equality

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley announced new plans to make the legalization of marriage equality in the 2012 legislative session an administration priority for him. You may recall that a marriage equality bill passed the state senate earlier this year but at the last minute was recommitted (and killed) instead of being voted on in the House of Delegates. Governor O'Malley announced that he will using his political capital to ensure a bill reaches his desk next year.

ANNAPOLIS, MD (July 22, 2011) – Governor Martin O’Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown today released the following statements regarding the Governor’s decision to sponsor same sex marriage legislation in the 2012 legislative sessionLast year, same sex marriage legislation was proposed and sponsored by Senator Rob Garagiola, Delegate Kumar Barve and Delegate Ben Barnes:

Governor O’Malley:

“Marylanders of all walks of life want their children to live in a loving, stable, committed home – protected under the law.  As a free and diverse people of many faiths, we choose to be governed under the law by certain fundamental principles or beliefs, among them “equal protection of the law” for every individual and the “free exercise” of religion without government intervention.  Other states have found a way to protect both these rights.  So should Maryland. The legislation we plan to introduce in the 2012 legislative session will protect religious freedom and equality of marital rights under the law.” 

Lt. Governor Brown:

“All Marylanders deserve to be treated equally under the law, and I look forward to joining Governor O’Malley in working with the General Assembly to pass a Marriage Equality bill that will provide the same opportunity for all who wish to marry while fully protecting religious freedoms and views.  Every member of our community should enjoy the same freedoms and share the same responsibilities.”

Do the heterosexual supremacists really think they are going to win this fight? Since 2004 there have been more same-sex couples who have access to legal civil marriages every year and there's no sign that the trend will not continue for the foreseeable future.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Another Gay Rights Win For Obama: DADT Ends 09/20/2011

Today, President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen all certified that the lifting of the ban on open service by lesbian, gay or bisexual Americans in the U.S. Armed Forces will not negatively impact national security. The certification was the last step to be taken after DADT repeal legislation passed the Congress last December and was signed into law by the President in front of a crowd of cheering supporters. The military's anti-gay policy will cease to be in effect 60 days after today's certification, or on September 20, 2011.

This is the another huge gay rights win which must be credited to Obama, following his enactment of the federal hate crimes act in 2009, his determination by the federal government that laws affecting sexual orientation must receive heightened scrutiny and thus declaring DOMA to be unconstitutional earlier this year and now the enactment of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

The main thing left on the gay rights agenda is some forward movement on federal government forcing it's contractors not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, since it is unlikely that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) will be passing Congress any time soon.

Statement by the President on Certification of Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Today, we have taken the final major step toward ending the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality.  In accordance with the legislation that I signed into law last December, I have certified and notified Congress that the requirements for repeal have been met.  ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will end, once and for all, in 60 days—on September 20, 2011. 
As Commander in Chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness.  Today’s action follows extensive training of our military personnel and certification by Secretary Panetta and Admiral Mullen that our military is ready for repeal.  As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country.  Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.
I want to commend our civilian and military leadership for moving forward in the careful and deliberate manner that this change requires, especially with our nation at war.  I want to thank all our men and women in uniform, including those who are gay or lesbian, for their professionalism and patriotism during this transition.  Every American can be proud that our extraordinary troops and their families, like earlier generations that have adapted to other changes, will only grow stronger and remain the best fighting force in the world and a reflection of the values of justice and equality that the define us as Americans.

DADT Certification

POLL: CA Voters Reject "Tough On Crime" Policies

Excellent news from California! In the midst of a financial meltdown California voters are beginning to realize that they can not continue to spend billions of dollars locking up non-violent criminal offenders in more and more prisons.

The Los Angeles Times reports:
The ailing economy far outweighs crime as the top concern for most people today, the pollsters said. That, along with the court order, could help explain voters' new receptivity to changes long sought by prisoner-rights advocates:

— More than 60% of respondents, including majorities among Democrats, Republicans and those who declined to state a party preference, said they would support reducing life sentences for third strike offenders convicted of property crimes such as burglary, auto theft and shoplifting.

— Nearly 70% said they would sanction the early release of some low-level offenders whose crimes did not involve violence.

— About 80% said they approve of keeping low-level, nonviolent offenders in county custody — including jails, home detention or parole — instead of sending them to state prisons. The same percentage favors paroling inmates who are paralyzed, in comas or so debilitated by advanced disease that they no longer pose a threat to public safety.

The pollsters noted that people don't generally favor the release of convicted criminals. But "when it comes to prisons," said Linda DiVall of American Viewpoint, "voters are looking for solutions that don't raise taxes or take money from other priorities like education."

Only 12% of respondents said they'd be willing to accept less state spending on healthcare or education to pay for more prisons. And less than a quarter of voters want to pay higher taxes to build prisons or ship inmates to private lockups in other states to comply with the courts.

This year the state plans to spend $9.8 billion on prisons, making it the third-highest general fund expenditure, behind education and healthcare.

"We spend such a large portion of our budget on crime and prison systems, and we get so little for it," said Amanda Hixson, 59, a Democrat from Sacramento.

Politicians determined to burnish their law-and-order credentials try to scare the public about releasing inmates early, Hixson said, "but some guy who's got three pot busts just isn't going to be that terrifying on the street."
I look forward to voting on ballot measures in 2012 which will finally end this madness which seeks o bankrupt the state by spending ridiculous amounts on criminal justice as compared to education.

Celebrity Friday: Luis Lopez, Latino LGBT candidate for AD-45

Luis Lopez is an openly gay, Latino candidate for the 45th
 Assembly District, which is located in Los Angeles
Luis Lopez, a friend of mine, is running for a state Assembly seat in California (he would actually represent the 45th Assembly district in which my house and work is located).

Recently, Luis won the endorsement of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the national organization devoted to promote the election of openly LGBT candidates.

Also, this week The Advocate ran an article called "The Other Gay Contenders" which includes Luis:
Sacramento politics are not for the faint-hearted, but Luis Lopez just may have the chops to effectively take on such an unwieldy beast. Running next year to represent California’s 45th state assembly district, Lopez currently serves as a planning commissioner for the funky, diverse L.A. neighborhood of Silver Lake, where he lives with his partner. Lopez, 38, is also part of a parks oversight committee for his city, co-chaired his neighborhood council, and started a Latino LGBT political action committee (his full-time job is as a communications director for a health center).
Aside from that impressive resume, Lopez has some powerful friends who will help him when he faces a primary in June. Jackie Goldberg, a lesbian who represented the Democrat-friendly 45th district from 2000 to 2006, is supporting Lopez in his race, and Lopez’s good friend, John Perez, the out California Assembly speaker, will likely endorse him as well. It’s not yet clear who Lopez will face off against as the current assemblyman, Gilbert Cedillo, is termed-out next year and possible candidates are still coming forward.
“We need to look at leaders who’ve earned the respect of their peers,” Lopez says. ”People who are respected can move an agenda along—there were many times when my colleagues on a given board haven’t agreed with me, but we were still able to make decisions.”
Protecting labor is paramount to Lopez, who grew up in East Los Angeles and started working not long after his mother passed away when he was eight. Voters in his district, which stretches from Hollywood to Chinatown to East L.A. and includes thousands of diverse gay people, are inline with his platform, he says.
I strongly encourage all readers, especially if you live in the 45th Assembly District to support Luis Lopez.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Williams Institute Estimates 581,300 U.S. Same-Sex Couples

Yesterday was an historic day in which the United States Senate held a hearing on a pro-LGBT piece of legislation, the Respect for Marriages Act, which would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, an LGBT public policy think tank, submitted written testimony for the hearing.

Included in the testimony are the following findings from Williams Institute research  about same-sex couples:

• There are 581,300 same-sex couples in the United States, including 50,000 to 80,000 legally married same-sex and another 85,000 who are in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships.
• Approximately 20% of same-sex couples are raising nearly 250,000 children.
• Almost one-fourth of same-sex partners are people of color.
• Over 7% of individuals in same-sex couples are veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
• Same-sex couples live in every congressional district and in almost every county in the United States.

In addition, the testimony summarizes Williams Institute research documenting a number of ways that DOMA results in legal, financial, social, and psychological hardships for many same-sex couples and their families.  These include:

• Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Benefits.  Nearly 430,000 same-sex partners remain barred from taking leave to care for a same-sex spouse under the FMLA, even if they marry.

• Benefits for Spouses of Federal Employees.  The same-sex spouses and partners of over 30,000 federal employees are ineligible for important benefits available to different-sex married spouses.

• Veteran Partner Benefits.  Same-sex spouses and partners of nearly 68,000 veterans are barred from a variety of benefits including pensions, educational assistance, and vocational training available to different-sex spouses.

• Taxation of Employee Health Benefits for a Same-Sex Spouse.  When private employers offer health insurance to same-sex spouses and domestic partners, federal law taxes these benefits. Approximately 41,000 employees with a same-sex spouse or domestic partner pay, on average, over $1,000 more in taxes per year than an employee receiving the same health benefits for a different-sex spouse.

• Spousal Impoverishment Protections for Medicaid Long Term Care (LTC).  Medicaid LTC beneficiaries may have to use some of their spouse’s income and assets to pay for LTC. Federal law requires states to allow different-sex spouses to retain income and assets to protect them from destitution. However, about 1,700-3,000 individuals whose same-sex spouses or partners receive Medicaid-financed LTC are not protected by these spousal impoverishment provisions.

• Estate Tax.  Over the next two years, members of same-sex couples who will pay the federal estate tax, will pay, on average, more than $4 million more than a survivor of a different-sex spouse because they do not qualify for the federal estate tax spousal exemption.

• Social Security Survivor Benefits.  Unlike different-sex spouses, same-sex spouses cannot continue receiving their spouse’s social security payments after their spouse’s death. This results in a loss, on average, of over $5,700 for a same-sex spouse that receives lower social security payments than the deceased spouse. 

• Immigration for Bi-National Couples.  Nearly 26,000 same-sex couples in the United States are bi-national couples who could be forced to separate because they cannot participate in green-card and accelerated citizenship mechanisms offered to non-citizen spouses of American citizens. 

• Social Stigma.  Research shows that laws such as DOMA produce stigma that has serious adverse impacts on the health of LGBT people by causing stress and disease. A Williams Institute survey of people married to a same-sex spouse in Massachusetts found that couples gain social support from their families and have a greater level of mutual commitment when they are allowed to marry.  

The Williams Institute testimony concludes that DOMA has also impaired the ability of researchers to assess its impact on same-sex couples and their families. Although the U.S. Census Bureau has begun to reevaluate its policy of not counting married same-sex couples as such, a legacy of DOMAis evident in a general resistance on the part of federal statistical agencies to collect detailed, accurate, and reliable data on same-sex couples and their families. This means that, in spite of the efforts of the Institute, policy debates on laws like DOMA have too often been driven as much by anecdote and stereotype as by sound social science research and facts.

It's great that we can get the factual and actual impact of anti-LGBT public policy like DOMA in to the Congressional Record so that this will increase the momentum to pass legislation to end the discrimination. Apparently all 10 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee support repealing DOMA, so they could vote to move it to the Senate floor, where it will almost certainly be killed by a Republican filibuster.

Obama Names 4th LGBT Judicial Nominee

Michael Fitzegerald becomes President Obama's
4th openly LGBT nominee to the federal judiciary
Wow! Just days after Paul Oetken became the first openly gay man was confirmed as a U.S. District Court judge to the Souther District of New York, President Obama has named a 4th openly LGBT individual to become a federal judge with lifetime appointment. He is Michael Fitzgerald and joins Ali Nathan, J. Paul Oetken and Ed Dumont as openly LGBT federal judicial nominees of the Obama administration. The Oetken nomination has passed the Senate, the Nathan nomination is on the floor and there is no scheduled action on the Dumont nomination planned.

Here's the press release from the White House on the Fitzgerald nomination:

Office of the Press Secretary
July 20, 2011

President Obama Nominates Michael Walter Fitzgerald to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Obama announced his nomination of Michael Walter Fitzgerald to the United States District Court for the Central District of California. 

"I am honored to nominate Michael Walter Fitzgerald to the United States District Court," President Obama said.  "His impressive career stands as a testament to his formidable intellect and integrity.  I am confident he will serve the people of California with distinction on the District Court bench."

Michael Walter Fitzgerald: Nominee for United States District Judge for the Central District of California

Michael Walter Fitzgerald has been a named partner at the law firm of Corbin, Fitzgerald & Athey LLP in Los Angeles, California since 1998, where he handles civil and criminal litigation in both federal and state courts.   Previously, he worked at the Law Offices of Robert L. Corbin PC from 1995 to 1998 and at the law firm of Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe from 1991 to 1995.  Between 1988 and 1991, Fitzgerald served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Los Angeles.  Upon graduation from law school, he clerked for the Honorable Irving R. Kaufman of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  Fitzgerald received his J.D. in 1985 from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) and his A.B. magna cum laude in 1981 from Harvard University.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wolfson Testimony At DOMA Repeal Hearing

Black Man Perceived To Be Gay Barred From Donating Blood

Aaron Pace, a self-described effeminate straight man, was prevented from
donating blood due to his perceived sexual orientation
I have previously blogged abuut the ban on gay people from donating blood in the United States and have expressed my opinion that the ban should be lifted. The alleged rationale by the Food and Drug Administration is that a man who has had sex with another man even once since 1979 has blood which is riskier than other people's despite the fact all blood that is donated is tested by the American Red Cross for the presence of HIV antibodies and other STDs.

Now a heterosexual man named Aaron Pace, who happens to be Black and describes himself as "effeminate," has been prevented from donating blood in Gary, Indiana.

The story was first published in the Chicago Sun-Times:
“I was humiliated and embarrassed,” said Pace, 22. of Gary. “It’s not right that homeless people can give blood but homosexuals can’t. And I’m not even a homosexual.”
Pace visited Bio-Blood Components Inc. in Gary, which pays for blood and plasma donations, up to $40 a visit. But during the interview screening process, Pace said he was told he could not be a blood donor there because he “appears to be a homosexual.”
No one at Bio-Blood returned calls seeking comment, but donation centers like it, and even the American Red Cross, are still citing a nearly 30-year-old federal policy to turn away gay men from donating.
The Food and Drug Administration policy, implemented in 1983, states that men who have had sex — even once — with another man (since 1977) are not allowed to donate blood.
The policy was sparked by concerns that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was tainting the blood supply. And, back then, screening tests to identify HIV-positive blood had not yet been developed.
Today, all donated blood is tested for HIV, as well as for hepatitis B and C, syphilis and other infectious diseases, before it can be released to hospitals. This is why gay activists, blood centers including the American Red Cross, and even some lawmakers now claim the lifetime ban is “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”
I should repeat what the Los Angeles Times said last year in an editorial that "there were 4 known cases of HIV transmission out of 122 million units of blood donated between 1999 and 2007." Is that infinitesimal risk worth the discrimination against all gay men in the light of a nationwide blood shortage?

I wonder if Marcus Bachmann would be allowed to give blood at Bio-Blood?

President Obama Endorses DOMA Repeal Bill!

Today is when the Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing testimony about the repeal of the so-called Defense of  Marriage Act, through consideration of S. 598, the Respect for Marriage Act.

However, yesterday the Whuite House Press Secretary Jay Carney made news yesterrday when he announced that the President was endorsing the legislation, even before its first committee hearing (a rare step for Presidents to take with legislation).

The response was to a question by openly gay reporter Chris Geidner of Metro Weekly:

The transcript of the exchange is available:

Metro Weekly: The president has said in the past that he opposes the Defense of Marriage Act, but he is yet to endorse the Respect for Marriage Act, which is the specific piece of legislation --

Carney: Senator [Dianne] Feinstein [(D-Calif.)], yeah.

Metro Weekly: -- aimed to repeal the bill. Tomorrow, the Senate will hold the first hearing into that bill. Is the administration ready to endorse that bill?

Carney: I can tell you that the President has long called for a legislative repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which continues to have a real impact on the lives of real people -- our families, friends and neighbors. He is proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced by Sen. Feinstein and Congressman [Jerrold] Nadler [(D-N.Y.)], which would take DOMA off the books once and for all. This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples.

It should be interesting how far Senate Democrats want to push DOMA repeal. They presumably have the votes to get it out of committee but probably not the 60 votes to break the inevitable filibuster. And passage in the U.S. House is a non-starter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

U.S. Senate DOMA Repeal Hearing Tomorrow!

Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is conducting a hearing on July 20th on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the Respect for Marriage Act (S. 598/H.R. 1116), which would repeal the 1996 federal law which bans the recognition of legally same-sex married couples by the federal government, among other things.

The hearing will be split into two panels. TowleRoad has the details
Panel 1

* Susan Murray, who lives in Ferrisburgh, Vt., with her spouse, Karen Murray. An attorney with the Burlington office of Langrock, Sperry & Wool, Murray was the co-counsel in the lawsuit Baker v. Vermont, which established civil unions in Vermont in 2000.
* Andrew Sorbo, a Cheshire, Conn., resident who was married to Colin Atterbury. Before dying of pancreatic cancer in 2009, Atterbury was a retired Veterans Affairs hospital administrator and professor of medicine at Yale University. Sorbo, now retired, worked for 35 years as a history teacher and principal. 
* Ron Wallen, an Indio, Calif. resident, who married Tom Carrollo in 2008 after being together for 55 years. In March, Carrollo lost his battle to cancer. After Carrollo's death, Wallen's income was compromised because DOMA prohibits him from receiving his spouse's Social Security payment. Wallen would have been able to receive these payments had he been in an opposite-sex marriage. According to the hearing notice, Wallen is unable to make payments on his family home and is faced with selling the residence, after just losing his spouse.

Thomas Minnery, Senior Vice President for Public Policy, Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO.
Panel 2

Joe Solmonese, President, The Human Rights Campaign, Washington, DC.

David Austin R. Nimocks, Senior Legal Counsel, Alliance Defense Fund, Washington, DC.

Edward Whelan, President, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC 
Evan Wolfson, Founder and Executive Director, Freedom to Marry, New York, NY
Although I don't usually agree with Dan Choi on many things, I do agree that the lack of diversity at this hearing is shameful. 7 White guys and 1 white woman? Come on, now!

UPDATE 07/19/2011 04:57PM PST:

According to Karen Ocamb the updated witness list now includes some color (Congressman John Lewis of Georgia):

UPDATED Witness List

Hearing before the
Senate Committee on the Judiciary

“S.598, The Respect for Marriage Act: Assessing the Impact of DOMA on American Families”
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Hart Senate Office Building, Room 216
9:45 a.m.

Panel I

The Honorable John Lewis
United States Congressman
State of Georgia

The Honorable Jerrold Nadler
United States Congressman
State of New York

Panel II

Ron Wallen
Indio, CA

Thomas Minnery
Senior Vice President for Public Policy
Focus on the Family
Colorado Springs, CO

Andrew Sorbo
Cheshire, CT

Susan M. Murray
Ferrisburgh, VT

Panel III

Joe Solmonese
The Human Rights Campaign
Washington, DC

David Austin R. Nimocks
Senior Legal Counsel
Alliance Defense Fund
Washington, DC

Edward Whelan
Ethics and Public Policy Center
Washington, DC

Evan Wolfson
Founder and Executive Director
Freedom to Marry
New York, NY

WATCH: Trailer for The Skinny

There was a rare screening of his Black gay classic film Punks at Outfest 2011 on Sunday July 17th and creator-director Patrik-Ian Polk  (Noah's Arc: Jumping The Broom) was in the audience and wowed the crowd with the trailer for his next feature film, titled The Skinny. Check it out!

Understanding Redistricting, Part 1

It matters how you draw the lines
Dante Atkins of Daily Kos has a very useful article on the importance of redistricting for progressives.
In most states, the decennial maps for congressional districts are redrawn and approved by state legislatures. Why does this matter? Because partisan state legislatures are likely to divvy up the districts in a way that benefits their party. How does this work in practice? At its most elementary, let's hypothesize a state with a population of nine people: five Democrats and four Republicans. And from those nine people, the Census Bureau required creating three districts with an equal number of people. If the state legislature were controlled by Democrats, they might make a map that carves the state in a way that has a majority of Democratic seats. But if Republicans were to control the legislature—something that happens from time to time in Democratic-voting states such as Minnesota—they just might pass a map with different districts that gives the GOP a majority of the seats. 
The 2010 elections will have long-lasting consequences for control of the House of Representatives. The problem isn't just that Republicans won so many seats; the larger problem is that they won them at exactly the right time. Incumbent representatives are hard to defeat, but unseating freshmen is generally an easier task. Unfortunately, having a wave election in a redistricting year allows the new majority party to take advantage of the redistricting process to shore up vulnerable members, usually by taking some friendlier territory from a safer, better-known incumbent—serving essentially to "lock in" that majority for the rest of the decade. In addition, less scrupulous legislators can use the redistricting process to consolidate the districts of opponents to force their members into either retirement or a bruising primary fight and removing them from their seats regardless—a process playing out right now to eliminate Democratic seats in states like North Carolina and Michigan. The GOP has also shown its willingness to use redistricting to ward off potential political disadvantages at the state legislative level as well: for example, Wisconsin Republicans are redrawing the state senate lines in a hurry before the recall elections, even though doing so right now would create a bureaucratic nightmare. Clearly, the GOP is willing to use redistricting as a political weapon in spite of any resulting collateral damage.
While most states have this concern, California no longer does. In 2008, voters passed Proposition 11, which created a so-called Citizens Redistricting Commission that removed the authority to draw legislative lines from the state legislature and put it into the hands of a supposedly non-partisan commission (in 2010, a second proposition was passed that put the authority to draw boundaries for congressional districts as well into the hands of this same body). The Democratic Party opposed this measure for obvious reasons: As Democrats have a substantial majority of seats, they control the redistricting process and could use it to maximize Democratic seats while ensuring no contentious primary battles among the state's delegation. (Full disclosure: I serve on the executive board of the California Democratic Party.)Furthermore, the commission's mandated structure is hardly representative of California's population: despite the fact that California is an overwhelmingly Democratic state, the commission is required to have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans serving, with absolutely no guarantee of geographic or ethnic diversity.
The commission has had other problems, such as missed deadlines and cancellation of draft maps—and right now, the current maps are likely to face suits, especially from organizations in the Latino community who feel that the maps dilute their community's voting power and are thus illegal under the Voting Rights Act. Nevertheless, among Democrats the mood of uncertainty at the congressional level has yielded to a cautious optimism, as the commission's draft maps (should they hold) will likely result in Democratic gains of multiple seats, and defeat or retirement of several longtime Republican members. 


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