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Civil Rights: Ending Discrimination One Inch At A Time
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Civil Rights: Ending Discrimination One Inch At A Time

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote employees simply based on sexual orientation.

OCTOBER 23, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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CIVIL RIGHTS

Ending Discrimination One Inch At A Time

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote employees simply based on sexual orientation. While the vast majority nearly 90 percent — of Fortune 500 companies prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, there are surprisingly no federal prohibitions against such discriminatory behavior. On Wednesday, the House is expected to vote on this legislation, ensuring for the first time ever that gay and lesbian employees are afforded this critical federal protection. The ENDA legislation originally included all members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, but lawmakers removed gender identity from the bill because it did not have the requisite support in the House to pass. “We do not have the votes to pass the bill with transgender” protections, said Frank. The relevant choice now facing progressives “is not between a limited ENDA and a comprehensive ENDA. It’s a choice between a limited ENDA and no ENDA.” Dale Carpenter of the Independent Gay Forum writes in support of passing a limited bill: “It’s hard to see how [ENDA] serves any principle at all if it can’t be enacted.” Indeed, while passing legislation that prohibits only discrimination based on sexual orientation may not be the perfect strategy, it will likely hasten — and be a critical predicate for — legislation that protects the entire LGBT community over time. Urge your senators to support ENDA here.

TRANSGENDER EXCLUSION: Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is expected to offer an amendment to include gender identity protection in the bill on the House floor. Gaining the needed votes to pass this amendment will be difficult, but the vote in itself will be an important step in the congressional education process. ENDA’s omission of gender identity protection has splintered the LGBT community’s support for the bill. Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese issued a message in which he described the last two weeks as the “most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching of my life.” But ultimately, he argued, “our community can work with the people who want to help us, or we can walk out on them.” The question becomes: “Should gays wait for civil rights until transgendered people can be included?” Winnie Stachelberg of the Center for American Progress argues the LGBT community should accept a limited ENDA because it will “build political momentum for more advances later, including eventual coverage for gender identity.” She notes, for example, that Rhode Island passed sexual orientation discrimination laws first and followed them with gender identity protections later when there was more public knowledge and support.

THE LONG ARC OF PROGRESS: While the current limited ENDA legislation leaves much to be desired, it should not obscure the remarkable progress that is in the process of occurring. “Passage of ENDA is possible only because gay people have organized politically to educate Americans about homosexuality and to elect sympathetic representatives.” Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D-NY) first introduced a nondiscrimination bill that included employment protection based on sexual orientation in 1974. At that time, ENDA was “an exotic cause.” Nearly two decades later, in 1996, it looked like a version of ENDA that did not include gender protections was set to pass Congress, but instead, it suffered “a nail-biter 49-50 defeat” in the Senate. More than a decade later, “the votes are finally there.” Should ENDA finally pass, it would follow recent successful votes in the House and Senate to add hate crimes protections based on gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. The gains are tremendous, particularly considering that “only a little over a year ago, the U.S. Congress was casting votes on whether to write LGBT discrimination into the Constitution in the form of a ‘marriage protection’ amendment.”

WHITE HOUSE INVOLVED IN CRAFTING ENDA BILL: To get widespread support for ENDA, lawmakers compromised by exempting “small businesses, religious organizations and the uniformed members of the armed forces” from the bill. Even still, many in the LGBT community fear Bush will issue a veto of the legislation. But in a hopeful sign that the White House is prepared to accept the ENDA legislation, WorldNetDaily — a publication that serves as a mouthpiece for the far right — reports that a White House official recently told “pro-family leaders attending a private administration briefing that White House staffers were involved in the negotiations to craft expanded religious exemption language for the new ENDA bill.” John Aravosis, a political consultant who blogs on gay rights issues, writes that news of White House involvement “means that the White House either isn’t sure whether it will veto ENDA…or it means that the White House isn’t sure that they can stop ENDA.”

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — BUSH’S $46 BILLION REQUEST SENDS YEARLY SPENDING IN IRAQ TO ALL-TIME HIGH: Yesterday, President Bush requested an additional $46 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If approved, Bush’s request would bring the yearly budget for our wars there to an all-time high of $196 billion. “Iraq now consumes almost twice as much funding as is allocated for homeland security, diplomacy, and international assistance combined,” according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. Bush’s war in Iraq continues to balloon not only in yearly cost, but also in length. Gen. David Petraeus said recently that “historically counterinsurgency operations [like Iraq] have gone nine or 10 years.” With that scenario, the Center for American Progress estimates the total cost of the war in Iraq to be between $1.1 and $1.5 trillion. Including Afghanistan, the cost of U.S. wars waged overseas since Sept. 11, 2001, has already exceeded $806 billion. That total is more than what the United States spent in the Vietnam, Korean, or Gulf Wars. Currently, only 26 percent of Americans approve of the way Bush is handling the war in Iraq.

MILITARY — PETRAEUS MAY RENEGE ON TROOP WITHDRAWAL PLANS NEXT YEAR:
In his congressional testimony in September, Gen. David Petraeus announced that he would soon begin to withdraw 30,000 troops from Iraq, stating that progress due to the escalation permitted a reduction to “pre-surge” levels by next summer. In multiple public interviews after his testimony, Petraeus vowed to bring the 30,000 troops home by next summer. “[W]hat I showed on Capitol Hill…will take place,” he said on PBS. “Starting in mid-December and then ending in mid-July, the five Army brigade combat teams and two Marine battalions will redeploy,” he said in an interview with Fox News. But it now appears Petraeus may backtrack from this central tenet of his congressional testimony. “Redeployments of U.S. brigades — even of the surge forces — are dependent on the security situation on the ground in Iraq. If General Petraeus early next year sees the security situation deteriorating, he will have the courage to go back to the president and say he needs to keep forces that he had planned to send home,” said Col. John R. Martin, senior adviser to Petraeus. In the end, President Bush and Gen. Petraeus’s strategy has failed at its primary goal. Nevertheless, Petraeus wants to buy more time for his unsuccessful attempt to quell Iraq’s civil war.

ENVIRONMENT — CHERTOFF DODGES ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS TO PUSH FOR BORDER FENCE: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff “waived several environmental laws yesterday to continue building a border fence through a national conservation area in Arizona.” An Oct. 10 ruling by a federal judge halted construction of the fence, “finding that the government had failed to carry out the required environmental assessment.” Sean Sullivan of a southeastern Arizona branch of the Sierra Club, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, was frustrated by Chertoff’s decision: “Bulldozing the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and our important environmental protections is not necessary to manage the border,” he said. Earlier this month, Chertoff defended construction of the fence by arguing it was in fact eco-friendly. “Illegal immigrants really degrade the environment. I’ve seen pictures of human waste, garbage, discarded bottles and other human artifact [sic] in pristine areas,” he said. “And believe me, that is the worst thing you can do to the environment.”

THINK FAST

In two new reports, the State Department is “sharply” criticized “for poor coordination, communication, oversight and accountability involving armed security companies like Blackwater USA,” including an audit that shows “the department cannot say ‘specifically what it received’ for most of the $1.2 billion it” paid to one company.

Tuition and fees at public and private universities have risen this year at more than double the rate of inflation, with prices increasing faster at public institutions, the College Board said in reports released yesterday.” As a result, students and families are being forced to borrow more, driving up the use of private loans.

“With hundreds of thousands of families facing foreclosure in recent months, lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at protecting consumers against predatory mortgages.” The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA), Mel Watt (D-NC), and Brad Miller (D-NC) is “an update from similar legislation filed in 2005.”

After being attacked by the right wing, the Frost family refuses to back down from the fight for children’s health insurance. Yesterday, Graeme Frost’s mother, Bonnie Frost, “stood before a microphone at a Baltimore church, in a peasant shirt and clogs, to make a quiet appeal for broader health coverage in Maryland.”

Senate Judiciary Committee members accused the White House of allowing the Intelligence Committee to review warrantless surveillance documents “in return for agreeing that telecommunications companies should get immunity from lawsuits.” “There is no excuse for the administration to grant access only to those inclined to agree with it,” the Washington Post writes. 

President Bush’s “weakened approval ratings” have forced him to take a “much more personal role in opposing Congress.” Bush “has made 46 veto threats during the first nine and a half months of 2007, compared to 28 such threats” during his first six years. The Progress Report’s Amanda Terkel also notes, “In his first six years, Bush vetoed just one bill. In less than one year under this new Congress, Bush has been forced to issue three.”

New poll finds that in “a 12-month period during which the Taliban insurgency spread in Afghanistan and violence rose in the country’s major cities, Afghans grew increasingly concerned about security and more people came to regard it as the most serious issue facing the nation.”

Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Washington plan to join California’s lawsuit “suing the EPA for stalling on a decision about whether to let California and 11 other states force car makers to produce cleaner vehicles.

And finally: Montgomery Blair Sibley, the lawyer for DC Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey, yesterday told a DC court that his client is a victim of the U.S. attorney scandal. Sibley’s exhibits included a blog post from War and Piece and an article from Legal Times, none of which even mentioned Palfrey. Sibley also quoted Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who once said that the Justice Department was “corrupted by political influence.” Leahy’s office later called Sibley “awfully wacky.”

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GOOD NEWS

“Yahoo revealed plans on Monday to be ‘carbon neutral’ by year’s end,” offsetting “an estimated 250,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases spewed as a result of power used by the California-based firm.”

STATE WATCH

VERMONT: Forbes ranks Vermont the “greenest” state in the country.

MISSOURI: Right-wing opponents of stem cell research attempt to “change the definition of cloning to include the procedure creating the embryo, not just its implantation.”

CALIFORNIA: Controversial ballot initiative that would “change the state’s method of allocating electoral votes” may be revived.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Pentagon co-opted an independent military newspaper for a PR campaign pushing President Bush’s war policies.

MEDIA MATTERS: CNN’s Glenn Beck: “[A] handful of people who hate America…are losing their homes in a [California] forest fire today.”

MORE, BETTER LIES: In its efforts to re-brand itself, the CIA’s new “Terrorist Buster” logo comically “evokes the Ghostbusters logo.”

FEMINISTING: In an image on Facebook, anti-choice right wingers attack opponents’ looks instead of making substantive political arguments.

DAILY GRILL

“Within some months from now, I would say in seven or eight months, if we continue to see the progress we’ve seen in the last eight months, I think Americans will be generally accepting that we are withdrawing and ceding more authority over to the Iraqi military and that we are achieving quote ‘success.'”
— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), 10/22/07

VERSUS

“We’re either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months.”
— McCain, 11/12/06

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