Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Credibility Gap

DSK was acquitted because of the victim’s “credibility issues.” But a closer look reveals a deep-rooted problem in the American justice system.

He, a famous European economist and politician. She, an illiterate immigrant hotel worker. Forensic evidence says that a sexual encounter occurred, and by established timeframes could have lasted no more than nine minutes from beginning to end. Dominique Strauss-Kahn would have you believe that Nafissatou Diallo walked in to his hotel room, where he seduced her using his notorious “charm” and had a quickie with the maid before grabbing lunch with his daughter. Diallo, on the other hand, mustered the courage to stand up, and tell her side of the story to Newsweek in a July Twenty-Fifth front-page article.
She detailed her experience in a moving, at times nauseating account of that day, from the moment “a naked man with white hair suddenly appeared” to when she went with authorities to Rm. 2806 to show them where she had spit while fleeing Mr. Strauss-Kahn. They recovered some of her saliva from the carpet of the hotel room, and it contained the semen of Strauss-Kahn. Her coworkers found her distraught and inconsolable minutes after the alleged attack, and a security officer told her that if they were in her position, they would call the police.  
All of this evidence was cast aside in the highest-profile rape case perhaps since Roman Polanski in 1977. It became a case based on perceived “credibility.” Oddly enough, it was not the phony credibility of the attacker that was called into question, but that of the victim. Like so many other rape cases in this country, the victim was effectively put on trial while the perpetrator breathed easy. In truth, the D.A. Cyrus Vance and Asst. D.A. Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, who had never worked a Sex Crimes case before Diallo’s, realized that even though the victim was being honest about the attack, it would be a hard-fought case that might get a little ugly. The defense would attack her history relentlessly, making an inquisition out of the proceedings and focusing the jury on petty, false immigration statements and connection to sketchy characters. Going to trial was a risk they were not willing to take, a risk that could end up putting a black mark on their win/loss record forever.
This case could have been a landmark success for the American judicial system. It could have shown the world that American justice is one of true dedication to fact, law and fairness. Instead, it exposed a few things about our courts that many of us have ignored for years.
First, prosecutors and the media want rape victims to be pretty, white, rich, perfectly innocent girls, because those are the ones who are easy to argue for and who sell newspapers. The reality is that more often than not, female victims of rape are poor, minority, working people who have more at stake than most of us can imagine. The vast majority of rapes go entirely unreported, as entering the circus that is an American rape trial could literally destroy a victim’s livelihood. If we want to stop violent sex crimes, we must start giving rape victims the benefit of the doubt, and try to have a little empathy. Then move on to physical and circumstantial evidence to determine guilt or innocence.
Second, prosecutors are treated like starting pitchers, and that needs to change too. No rape case is as easy as win or lose. There is collateral damage all over the place, and a lawyer can lose a case and still be a good lawyer.      
Third, money still matters in American justice. After all, it was the head of the International Monetary Fund versus a low-level hotel employee, and the former had virtually unlimited resources with which to attack his victim again, only this time through lawyers and the media. This poor woman couldn’t get a fair shake in our courts, even in a high profile case that captured the entire world’s attention. Our Justice system is one where the playing field is supposed to be balanced, where a king and a bum would be respected equally. Instead, the court and the culture turned this case into a battle between rich and poor, white and black, man and woman. And once again, the rich white man has won.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Battle for the Republican Party

   There's trouble brewing in the Republican Party. For decades, wealthy fiscal conservatives have run the show, using the devoted masses of social conservatives for voting power. With the Tea Party uniting social conservatives, they have begun to see the non-Tea Party Republicans as just as bad, if not worse, than the hated liberals. In two places is this divide manifested blatantly.
   The first is the debt limit crisis. The United States government has incurred some 14 trillion dollars of debt over many years, debt that it promised to pay back. Debt that the Constitution says "cannot be questioned." The congressional Republican leadership knows that defaulting on government debt and ruining the nation's rock solid credit would be enough to sway voters to the left in next year's elections.
   The Tea Partiers, however, feel obliged to their misled constituencies to enact what they see as fiscal responsibility. Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, has announced a plan to give President Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling without congressional approval. House Speaker John Boehner tentatively supported the plan as a last resort. The freshmen, of course, have roundly rejected this plan, as they would anything that gives a shred of power to the President. Meanwhile, Standard & Poor's rating agency has put the U.S. credit rating on "negative watch" due to the lack of progress in Congress.
   The second divide will become more and more evident in the coming year. It will determine who controls the Republican Party. It's the GOP Presidential primaries, and whether Mitt Romney will hold on to win the nomination or be kicked to the sidelines by Tea Party band wagoner Michele Bachmann. He will undoubtedly raise more money than her, but she has much ammunition against him when it comes to social conservatives.
   Romney was governor of the first state to legalize gay marriage. He passed landmark healthcare legislation that is now seen as the biggest drawback of any of the legitimate Republican candidates, among them a pizza mogul, the architect of a government shutdown, and a man whose name is synonymous with filth, thank you Dan Savage.
   Romney's only possible route to victory is to convince Republicans to forget the social issues and focus on the economy. The only thing standing in his way is the question of whether social conservatives can sacrifice their extremism for the long-term viability of their party.     

Sunday, July 10, 2011

USA Soccer: Why the Women Can Compete, and the Men Can't

   The USA Women's National Soccer Team defeated Brazil this morning in an incredible, exciting, legendary match. The Americans scored the latest goal in Women's World Cup history, in the 123rd minute, to tie the game and send it to penalty kicks. After a phenomenal save by U.S. keeper Hope Solo and five straight goals by the United States team, they eliminated Brazil from the tournament and now move on to the semi-finals.
   But why can the USA Women's National Team compete with the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, England, France, and Spain, while the Men's National Team had to fight tooth and nail to beat Slovenia in last year's World Cup?
   The answer turns out to be, unsurprisingly, talent. The best male athletes in the United States end up playing football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, with a few here and there going into the MLS. Soccer is the most popular sport among high school females, and youth soccer organizations like the AYSO boast millions of female athletes. The USA Women's Team is an international powerhouse because of hard work by players, encouragement and guidance of coaches, the wholehearted devotion of countless fans, and every woman and girl who play the game from the backyard to the World Cup.
   The way to get the Men's Team to be as competitive globally as the Women's is to replicate in America the emotion and investment that fans everywhere have in their teams. We need to fall in love with the game of soccer, just like the whole world.
   And to do this we need to prove that America has the talent and the endurance to make exciting plays and win big matches in extraordinary fashion. Ladies, thank you for showing the nation and the world what we can do. With our 300 million people and our love for sports, we can win every Men's and Women's World Cup for the rest of time, but only if we make soccer the sport that binds us to the world.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is History on the Side of Conservatives? In Their Dreams

   Why do conservatives believe history is on their side?
   From the Founding Fathers to slavery to the Great Depression, they continually draw false conclusions or simply ignore the facts altogether.
   The Tea Party started out as an ode to the Sons of Liberty's Boston Tea Party of 1773. They deluded themselves by thinking their protests were in the same vein of the exploited American colonists. The colonists' central argument was the fact that they were taxed by a foreign Parliament in which they had no representation. They fought because they could not vote, a right that the modern Tea Party has had from the beginning.
   It is also a tendency of the right to fictionalize historical figures. The fact is that some of our most revered Founding Fathers made mistakes, they contradicted themselves and each other, and they had relatively little understanding of the eventual consequences of their actions. In other words, they were human beings. They totally flubbed the issue of slavery, setting up close to a century of petty political games before an inevitable Civil War. The Sons of Liberty committed heinous acts upon British tax collectors and peacekeepers, often burning them to death in their homes or tarring and feathering them on the docks. John Adams, future Second President of the United States, successfully argued the case of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre in 1770. He proved that the supposed massacre of the innocent was actually incited by the mob, who threw ice, oyster shells and clubs at the soldiers and screamed at them to shoot. The founding of our nation was not a pretty portrait of a conservative people standing up to an unfair government. It was a largely-improvised affair led by conflicted men, and was fueled by the sacrifice of people who envisioned a better future for their children, but not the children of slaves.
   If we are to rise above current economic woes, we have to look at the lessons we learned from the Great Depression. Namely, that government spending combined with a private-sector boost in domestic manufacturing creates jobs, protects livelihoods and strengthens the middle class. Republicans in Congress refuse to permit either of these, arguing that increased government stimulus will wreak havoc on our debt situation and higher taxes on corporations that manufacture overseas will hurt consumers in the U.S. The only possible result of this concoction is a widened gap between the rich and poor, and eventually, the dismantling of the middle class.
   Michelle Bachmann praised John Quincy Adams as a Founding Father, even though he wasn't, then said that his position as his father's secretary (John Adams had his own, professional secretary) qualified him as an influential figure. The puzzling thing was that she made no mention of Abigail Adams, widely considered the most influential woman of the Revolutionary Era. Perhaps historical examples of female empowerment don't support modern conservative positions on abortion rights or an Equal Rights Amendment.
   After the 2010 Midterms, the new Republican majority had the U.S. Constitution read aloud on the floor, apparently in an effort to remind the Congress of their original duties. Unfortunately, they chose to omit certain portions deemed "unnecessary", like the one that said that slaves were to be counted as three-fifths of a whole in representation, even though they couldn't vote. The Founding Fathers wrote into the Constitution that slaves were slaves, not citizens, they couldn't vote or hold property, but they did count them in their districts in order to fatten Southern influence in Congress. This goes to show that conservative revisionist history has no limits, and they will edit even the Constitution if it doesn't fit their fiscal or social agenda.  

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The GOP's California Conundrum

   With the new Congressional districts drawn out  (plus a few minor changes in the near future) and the shrinking percentage of registered Republicans in California, experts from both parties and from non-partisan groups are saying what many of us have known for a long time, that if Republicans want to compete in this state, they are going to have to move toward the center. But this raises a few important questions for the party in California and in Washington, D.C.: How can California Republicans successfully become more moderate while the national Republican Party becomes more and more conservative? And is California worth all the trouble for Republicans?
   For a very long time, Republicans could reasonably rely on California to vote their way when it counted. Richard Nixon is the only California-born American President. Ronald Reagan governed the state for two terms in the late-60's/early-70's. The thing is, both of them were fairly moderate at the time, Nixon through his limited support of the Civil Rights Movement (if not his notorious red-scaring) and Reagan through his legalizing abortion in California.
   Nowadays, things have changed. Many conservatives, lauding Reagan as the father of new American conservatism, have become more conservative than Reagan himself. No Republican Governor today would even look at a bill that were remotely pro-choice.
   Even worse, Republicans have a history of alienating Latinos in California. They underestimated the political power of Latinos, especially in southern California. They also underestimated the majority opinion on immigration, and just how far from the norm they were in their positions. Latinos accounted for 90% of California's population growth in the last ten years, so obviously, Republicans will have to try to garner some substantial amount of Latino support.
   And even worse than that, "illegal immigration" seems to be an issue on which the national Republican Party refuses to budge. None of the Republican candidates for President have a moderate stance on documentation for students or on paths to legalization for immigrants living in the U.S., and Republicans in the House recently voted down the DREAM Act. The few Republican Congress members representing southern California now find themselves with districts containing more Latinos than they had before, raising concerns that Democrats will unseat them next year.
   California is the most populous state in the nation by millions, it sends the most members of Congress to the House, and it has the eighth-largest economy in the entire world. It's simply too big a whale for Republicans to just give up on. They have no choice but to take up more progressive positions on a variety of issues, including immigration, budgets, taxes, and social safety nets, or become politically obsolete.
  But they have something bigger to fear than their new constituents. And it turns out, the call was coming from inside the house. It's their fellow Republicans, in Washington and in the multitude of conservative PACs, who will fight them in primaries, sending vital campaign cash to their far-right challengers.
   Throughout the 2010 election cylce, the recurring theme of Tea Partiers and conservatives was "principle over party." For Republicans in California, neither principle nor party offer hope of further influence. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

On Honduras, American Media Fails

Graffiti in Tegucigalpa, 2010. Photo: Allison Kielhold

   On Saturday, ousted Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya returned to his country after signing a conditional agreement with current President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo. The agreement will allow Zelaya free political participation and Honduras reentry into the Organization of American States.    
   In late June, 2009, Zelaya awoke to soldiers baring guns, handcuffs, and an order to arrest him by the nation's then-military leader, Lobo. He was pulled out of bed in his pajamas and forced onto a plane bound for Costa Rica. On that very same morning was the vote on a national referendum to hold a constitutional convention, a ballot measure that had outstanding public support.
   A year after the military coup, in July, 2010, I arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras's capital, with the United Methodist organization Sierra Service Project. There, we helped construct two homes for families in the slum of Fuerzas Unidas, which sits on a hillside overlooking the city. We also met with local religious groups, economists, human rights groups, and peasant farmers to learn about the country and its people, of which 68.9% live in crippling poverty and seemingly endless exploitation.
   If they report it at all online (New York Times has nothing after the 23rd, Huffington Post has one whole sentence and Fox News has six), media publications paint the coup as a misguided attempt at corralling an out-of-control head of state. This perspective is correct in a dark, sinister way.
   The coup was misguided in that it overthrew a democratically elected representative who had widespread popular support. Zelaya was out of control in that he sought to reform both domestic and foreign policy to better reflect the humble needs and aspirations of his people, and secure his position as elected leader.
   But the biggest, most egregious oversight is the fact that no news outlet has yet mentioned the true root of the coup, as told by those who witnessed it: CAFTA. The Central American Free Trade Agreement, along with various treaties and loan agreements with the U.S., essentially forbids the Honduran government from subsidizing anything produced inside its nation and erases tariffs and taxes on American goods. The result is communities of campesinos, or poor, peasant farmers who work for foreign corporations, primarily the Dole company, for less than the equivalent of three American cents for a fifteen-hour day of manual labor. They can neither compete with the price of subsidized American foods nor afford to purchase the food grown by their neighbors. In the end, American executives win, and Central American peasants work themselves to death. A large part of the reforms Zelaya was pushing was Honduras's removal from CAFTA, which angered both American companies who profit from poverty and Honduran aristocrats who cut a little off the top.
   When I was there, there was public consensus that the CIA, which is proven to have trained, equipped, and facilitated the infamous Battalion 316 during the Ronald Reagan Administration, was the machine behind the coup. The Battalion, which kidnapped, tortured, and killed hundreds, if not thousands (the number is unknown) of Honduran socialists, communists, and dissidents, was supported by the CIA and Reagan, who awarded the secret battalion's leader, Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, the Legion of Merit in 1983.
   The organization COFADEH is a Honduran group for families and friends of "los desaparecidos", or "the disappeared", victims of the Battalion. Since the 2009 coup, though, they have focused on the murdered demonstrators who came out on the streets to protest Zelaya's ouster and were met with deadly force. When we visited their headquarters almost a year ago, they told us that military forces had tried several times to scare them into silence, throwing tear gas through their windows or simply firing rounds into the building's facade.
   It is unclear whether media outlets simply did not dig deep enough while reporting on this story or did not care to publish the details of America's role in Honduras's history, military, government, and economy. What is clear, though, is that the tides are turning, and Honduras has a new hope for economic improvement and governmental trust. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why I Can't Wait Till Next Year

   "Wait till next year."

   The mantra that kept Brooklyn Dodgers fans going for decades now rings truer than ever. Only these days, less people show up to the games. Back then, the enemies were traditional, they were fierce, and they were conquerable. The daunting, dynastic Yankees, always crushing the Dodgers' World Series dreams, have now been replaced by the mad dealings and embarrassing controversies of the machinating McCourts instead of the stacked and starry Phillies. The owners' very public divorce proceedings have distracted players from the game, and Frank's imminent inability to make payroll has forced the roster to focus on their livelihoods as opposed to the next home stand. In the standings, the Dodgers are hanging above the cellar by a thread, and the aspirations of both the 2008 and 2009 seasons feel farther away than 1988.
   It seems that we are entering a new Dark Age for the Dodgers, ushered in by the horrifying Opening Day attack on Giants fan Bryan Stow. Last weekend, the LAPD arrested a man they suspect of being one of the two attackers, but doubts remain as to the veracity of the allegation, especially as McCourt grasps frantically for any shred of legitimacy that remains. Attendance is sliding, in part because many are literally afraid to go near the stadium and its threatening fans. The "LA" symbol, "L" crossed over "A", has become synonymous with the many gangs that operate in and around Los Angeles, culturally associating the team with aggression, fear and violence. This gang mentality among a significant portion of Dodgers fans, many being actual gangsters, results in characteristically gang-like activity, like beating a rival half to death in a parking lot.
   In order for the Dodgers to avoid becoming more of a gang than a ball club, the organization must take unprecedented steps to revive its image. Next year, after the McCourts are out, MLB has left the front office and the team is sold, the Dodgers must reinvent themselves as a community force for good. A PR campaign against gang violence would be a good place to start, and even though it might alienate fans who belong to a gang, it will coax former attendees into purchasing tickets once again. It is time to acknowledge the fact that to many of us, the Dodgers are more than just a baseball team. They are an identity, and part of that identity must be a shared aversion to violence and vitriol.          

Friday, May 20, 2011

Union Blues(?)

   On Friday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlined the union's future position in national politics, saying that "Our role is not to build the power of a political party or candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country." He warned Democrats that if they continue to stand beside "the wrecking ball" and fail to protect the rights and interests of working-class Americans and union members, unions will pull their support from Democratic candidates in 2012.
   This is a huge lapse in judgement by Trumka and union organizers supporting him. They are upset, justly, that certain rights and privileges of union members are being destroyed while corporate executives rake in more cash than ever and profits are on the rise. However, withdrawing money from Democratic candidates would only hasten this process, pushing the American economy toward something resembling serfdom.
   Democrats do not have the political power to improve conditions and benefits for workers.  Republicans gained sixty-three seats in the House of Representatives last election, and they got there in part by promising an attack on unions and bargaining powers. It is very clear, as it has been since the Great Depression era, on which side of the labor-management divide the Republican Party stands. So in order to secure rights for workers, unions must first work to secure seats for Democrats.
   The 2012 election is a golden opportunity for unions to try to undo some of the damage visited upon them in recent months. The Republican Party has yet to produce a viable presidential candidate, and whoever they end up choosing will likely have been in the race for a short time and will have limited experience and appeal. The candidate for president is almost always the face of the entire party during an election season, so without a strong and unifying voice, the Republican effort will likely be trumped in both the Executive and Legislative branches.
   It is a lose-lose situation for unions and their members if they choose to relinquish their support for the Democratic Party. In our two party system, people and organizations in pursuit of influence (whether that influence is good or bad) must pick a side. If they stop funding Democratic campaigns and the Democrats win a majority, those Democrats might not feel obligated to protect the interests of unions and workers. If they stop funding Democratic campaigns and Republicans take control of more votes in Congress and state governments, the unions that will help fund campaigns in 2016 might not exist.    


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gingrich Gets Glittered

   On Tuesday, Minnesota activist Nick Espinosa surprised Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and current wife Callista at a book signing, covering the pair with a box's worth of rainbow glitter ( The stunt was a tasteful, if inappropriate, lampooning of Newt, his homophobic platform, and the anti-gay conference that brought him to town. This type of comedic criticism can prove more effective than traditional rhetoric, which too often fails to turn heads.
   Such an embarrassing moment comes at an especially bad time for Gingrich. Last week, a Republican voter in Iowa greeted the candidate with a bold, in-your-face condemnation of his candidacy and Gingrich's recent criticism of Congressman Paul Ryan's proposed healthcare plan. The video ( ends with the anonymous man calling Newt "an embarrassment to our party" as Gingrich attempts to exit the uncomfortably one-sided handshake. Newt, in his attempt to come off as a moderate, has succeeded in alienating just about everyone that could help him win the GOP nomination.
   Gingrich's falling flat comes as welcome news to Democrats, who feel more secure than ever in Obama's ability to win reelection. Gingrich was seen as one of the few Republicans with the critical combination of name recognition, political experience, and fundraising ability. However, with donors falling by the way side and a lack of Tea Party support, the meteoric campaign Newt imagined for himself is quickly becoming a pathetic slide into oblivion, with voters on both sides glad to see him fade from the national spotlight.

My New Blog

No one is reading this yet, but I'm still really excited to start posting comments, articles, essays, opinions, quotes and news. I believe young voices (even those too young to vote, myself included) should be heard and I'm hoping this will become a popular spot for people to read and share their ideas and thoughts. I've started just in time for the primary season and will no doubt start writing about national politics and current events. Share it with your friends through facebook or email, and feel free to comment on any post.

Jeremy W. Arnold