What the state can gain from marriage equality

April 29, 2013

About a month ago, the Supreme Court decided to hear two separate cases related to marriage: a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a ballot measure that nullified the legalization of gay marriage in the state of California.

That day, my Facebook page lit up with people coming out in favor of gay marriage, which heartened me. They started changing their profile pictures to a red square with two, pink, parallel bars depicting an equal sign. It showed their support of marriage equality.

But while I appreciate my very progressive friends with whom I agree, I also, unfortunately, have a minority of friends who would every so often post the link to a poorly researched blog post arguing against gay marriage.

Reading them made me feel like this.

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I couldn’t reply or post to any of it without ruining my journalistic street cred, so I had to vent to patient best friends instead. Then I remembered I had a fairly anonymous blog.

One of my Facebook friends posted an article entitled “The secular case against gay marriage” in which the writer makes a case against gay marriage because it serves no quantifiable purpose to society.

When a state recognizes a marriage, it bestows upon the couple certain benefits which are costly to both the state and other individuals. Collecting a deceased spouse’s social security, claiming an extra tax exemption for a spouse, and having the right to be covered under a spouse’s health insurance policy are just a few examples of the costly benefits associated with marriage. In a sense, a married couple receives a subsidy. Why? Because a marriage between two unrelated heterosexuals is likely to result in a family with children, and propagation of society is a compelling state interest. For this reason, states have, in varying degrees, restricted from marriage couples unlikely to produce children.

Except for the fact that no one has restricted old people from getting married. But whatever.

He continues.

Homosexual relationships do nothing to serve the state interest of propagating society, so there is no reason for the state to grant them the costly benefits of marriage, unless they serve some other state interest. The burden of proof, therefore, is on the advocates of gay marriage to show what state interest these marriages serve. Thus far, this burden has not been met.

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Some background. In my last reporting job, I did a huge enterprise/feature project on foster care. In the reporting process, I learned some startling statistics. For example:

  • On any given day, there are approximately 400,000 children in foster care in the United States
  • This means the U.S. spends $5 billion every year to take care of these foster children (and it’s not nearly enough)
  • 11 percent (26,000 children) age out of the system every year, and most of them have no safety net in place upon aging out
  • Because there is no safety net, the majority of these children usually don’t graduate high school and end up in jail (or dead)

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Yeah. Exactly.

So here are some gay adoption statistics:

  • According to a 2011 story in the New York Times, 19 percent of gay couples raising children have adopted
  • But only 4 percent of adopted children in the country live in a household led by a gay couple

There are only two states in the country that forbid gay couples from adopting: Utah and Mississippi. So why are the numbers so small? Because adopting without a valid, state-recognized marriage is damn near impossible. And guess what? There are still too few states who recognize gay marriage.

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(No, Tom Hiddleston. I’m not joking.)

There aren’t any hard or fast numbers, and I don’t purport to be a clairvoyant, but I’m willing to bet if you legalized gay marriage it would possibly mean:

  • A larger pool of couples able to adopt children who need loving homes which would possibly mean less foster children
  • Which would also possibly mean the government would have to spend less (taxpayer) money on fostering programs
  • Which would also possibly mean less former foster children in prison
  • Which would also possibly mean the government would have to spend less on prisoners

So I think it’s safe to say the state has a lot to gain by legalizing gay marriage.

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2012 Election: Rant No. 1

September 4, 2012

So remember how I warned all y’all that there were going to be more rants about voting as elections come ever closer?

Brace yourselves.

<rant>

I hate, hate, HATE how my generation seems so ignorant and unmotivated about elections! And as most of my blog readers know, I also hate the use of exclamation points, but I had to use one to close the last sentence because there’s really no other punctuation mark that accurately expresses my total, utter loathing and disdain for people — especially young people — who refuse to vote.

And maybe it’s just because I represent the tiniest fraction of people who happen to be hyper-informed about most everything. News quite literally is my life, and political news is my specialty. I am plugged into the 2012 election practically 24/7. I’m two weeks away from turning Politico into my homepage.

I understand to some degree that people can’t afford to be as informed as I am. I acknowledge that there are people out there who have lives that do not revolve around campaigns, press releases and proposed legislation. I get that.

But I also have to argue that it is SO DANG EASY to stay even marginally informed nowadays. It wasn’t like in the past when the public’s only access to election information was one hour every night on the television, or when it came in the form of a newspaper delivered every morning. With the Internet, people can stay on top of the election just as well as I can. And just learning the basic facts about any given candidate is too easy. With information as accessible and affordable as it is now, there really is no excuse for anyone not to stay informed about the elections in their area.

The advent of this rant comes from a conversation I had with a friend from back home. I told her that I had been focusing on a lot of election coverage at work lately, since the election day is 10 weeks away. Her reply was:

“I’m not registered to vote.”

I almost popped a vein, I was so angry. And I was angry for several reasons:

  1. She’s my age
  2. She’s my friend
  3. She’s a woman
  4. She lives in Texas

Admittedly, on the surface these reasons make no sense whatsoever. So let me explain them.

She’s my age, which is obviously old enough to vote. But not only that, she was old enough to vote in the last presidential election in 2008. WHICH MEANS SHE WASN’T EVEN REGISTERED TO VOTE FOR WHAT WAS PROBABLY THE MOST EXCITING AND HYPED UP ELECTION OF OUR GENERATION. I mean, seriously! The 2008 election happened while we were both in college, so even though I voted for the guy who lost, I still got swept up in all of the excitement and hopeful rhetoric. AND SHE DIDN’T EVEN VOTE IN IT. I’m retroactively pissed.

Second of all, she’s MY friend. She knows I’m a political reporter. She knows I’ve been a political nerd since fucking high school. She knows how passionately I believe in democracy and elections. And most importantly, she’s heard me rant about all of the above more than once.

Third of all, she’s a woman. SHE’S A WOMAN. Do you know how hard our founding mothers fought for suffrage? Real role models like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton picketed, marched, lobbied, rallied and even got arrested just to give women the chance to vote. They fought long and hard so that their sisters and their daughters could have the chance to make their voices heard. And their sacrifice is just taken for granted nowadays. My friend doesn’t properly appreciate what it took to give her the opportunity to vote. She just throws away that opportunity like it’s a fucking nuisance.

Fourth of all, she lives in Texas. This is the last year before senior republican senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison retires. That means her seat is up for grabs next year. The race is between Democrat Paul Sadler and Republican Ted Cruz. But here’s the catch: Ted Cruz is a Tea Party Republican, meaning he’s on the far right extreme. My friend gets to vote in one of the most contentious Senate races of 2012 and she doesn’t even appreciate the importance of it. And how can she when she purposely chooses to remain uninformed?

And to further add to my anguish and ire, I saw another friend of mine post this as his Facebook status the other day:

“[friend’s name] has noticed a tangible sense of excitement in the air from many people regarding something called an “election season.” He appreciates and shares that enthusiasm, but how are so many people misspelling “football” so badly?”

I almost flipped my shit. And by “my shit,” I actually mean the desk that my computer was sitting on. I wanted to throw everything within arm’s reach.

And perhaps I’m blinded by my own ignorance of what really matters to people my age. Maybe I’m just too close-minded to try and understand their wants and needs, what drives their decision-making impulses.

BUT HERE’S THE THING.

The elections that my peers have such cavalier disdain and apathy for decide our entire fucking livelihoods. Take the 2010 mid-term elections as an example. The American people practically overthrew their congress and elected handfuls of Tea Party candidates to the House of Representatives. Since then, our Congress has:

  1. Played an incredibly detrimental game of Chicken over the debt ceiling which resulted in America’s credit downgrade and the loss of millions of jobs
  2. Enacted the rule of sequestration, which would automatically cut $500 billion in defense spending by January 2013; If sequestration cannot be stopped, military installations all over the United States would GREATLY diminish in size, and there’s no telling what would happen to the communities surrounding them
  3. Earned a collective disapproval rating that has remained below national record since 1974

And this is just our federal legislators. What a lot of people also fail to recognize is that our local legislators have MUCH more power and influence over our daily lives than our federal legislators. Our local legislators decide the state of our roads, how much we’ll pay in taxes in any given fiscal year, and they get to decide how to spend the tax revenue. These are decisions that directly affect us, and yet no one seems to give a flying fuck.

So I posted this on my Twitter account the other day, in response to my ignorant friend and to express my general frustration with such a disinterested electorate:

“There’s no telling what this country could accomplish if people were half as excited about election season as they are about football season.”

I whole-heartedly believe this. America is special in the fact that, of all the many democracies in the world, we consistently have the lowest voter turnout. How can we possibly call ourselves the greatest nation in the world when our own electorate doesn’t even give a shit about how it’s run?

We have a unique opportunity to have a say in who leads us, and there have been men and women who have died in the fight for these opportunities.

Don’t allow your ignorance to waste their sacrifice.

</rant>


Aspirations of a military reporter

August 21, 2012

This post is dedicated to a reader who’s in for a long day. He says my blog posts make him laugh and think at the same time, so I hope this cheers him up and comforts him at the same time.

So with that said…

I never used to care much about the military.

I was a supremely unathletic girl growing up in the suburbs of north Texas. I liked stay ing inside and reading during recess. I liked glitter and unicorns. I liked writing more than I liked playing sports. So the idea of people torturing themselves on purpose and learning how to shoot guns disinterested me.

I probably should have cared more. My maternal grandfather was an officer in the Philippine Air Force. He signed up to fight in WWII when he was just 14 years old. My paternal grandfather was an officer of the Philippine Army, and he survived the Bataan Death March. My family has a storied military past, and I was raised to respect it. But I never gave the military much thought.

Then I came here. I was lured by the promise of a government reporting position, only to learn after moving that I would also have to be a military affairs reporter. All of a sudden, I could no longer afford not to care about the Army. It was my responsibility to give a shit about our uniformed personnel.

What I didn’t expect was that it would be so easy to care.

In my short tenure as the military affairs reporter, I’ve shed my armor of apathy and developed a deep, abiding appreciation and respect for the Army. I’ve met families and friends of people who risked it all. I’ve heard tales of valor, bravery and courage that I never believed was possible. I’ve been in the presence of some of the Army’s most brilliant leaders. I’ve listened to speeches that made me laugh and cry at the same time.

This past week was a celebration of the local Army division’s anniversary, and one of the command sergeant majors decided to hang up his fatigues after a 37-year-long career. CIA Director and retired general David Petraeus came for the ceremony to speak about his dear friend and how proud he was to have served with him.

I cried during the ceremony. And so did nearly everyone in the audience.

I no longer don’t care. I care a lot.

Which is why I want to embed.

For those of you who don’t know, units of the U.S. Army takes journalists with them when they deploy. It’s a way for the media to see how the United States is fighting the war while also protecting the civilian journalists. They call it embedding. Three units of the division here have begun deploying to Afghanistan, and I hope to go with them by the beginning of next year.

I haven’t even gotten approval from our publisher yet, and I don’t know if I will. Even if I do, I know it will be a long and difficult process because everyone knows bureaucracies are pains in the ass. But I’m excited for the stories I’ll be able to tell, the things I’ll get to see and the people I’ll get to meet.

However, the problem with embedding is it’s almost treated like a curse word among journalists. Some of the sharpest, most brilliant minds in my industry look upon the practice with disdain. They say it’s nothing but a way for the Army to perpetuate its propaganda machine. They say the Army is using the media to portray only the stories they want told. They say not much real war reporting can be done using a U.S. soldier as your shield.

That all may be true. I wouldn’t know. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be a war correspondent. I want to be a military reporter. I am a military reporter.

The truth of the matter is I work for a community newspaper. We write and report stories that are meaningful to the community. Our community just happens to have a disproportionate amount of soldiers. And if a large percentage of the population in our community spends nine months out of the year getting shot at overseas, then it’s worth a look.

I don’t want to write about Middle East politics, because quite frankly I don’t know a thing about them. And I’m sure there are a lot of Afghanis who have amazing stories just waiting to be told by some intrepid, fearless reporter who works for a national paper of record, not a community paper.

Afghanistan is not my community and the Afghan population is not a part my coverage area.

The Army is my community, and the soldiers living in Afghanistan is a part of my coverage area. And there are stories to be told overseas, stories that a great deal of children, wives, mothers and fathers care a lot about and have a stake in.

I hope that makes sense.


Unwanted networking

August 11, 2012

August.

August means three months ’til election. Ninety days left for desperate politicians to vy for the affections and votes of undetermined or disinterested voters. In the political realm, this means crunch time.

This particular week was a good one for U.S. congressmen and women because the congressional session ended two weeks ago, which gives pretty much every representative in the U.S. House time to go back to their districts and kiss up to voters.

Our representative for this district was particularly hard at work. I don’t know why, since he’s been in office about as long as I’ve been alive and the guy running against him is…well, let’s just say he’d never make it in Washington. Ever.

Anyway, so our representative has been campaigning pretty hard. He made three appearances in our coverage area this week alone. In fact, I saw him so much I felt like I was stalking him.

One of the appearances he made was at this minority business conference. He gave some opening remarks, then he split the minute it was over because he had to drive to the next county over to speak at their rotary club.

The congressman was scheduled to speak at 9 a.m. I got there super early because the press release said he’d be there an hour earlier. Whatever. That wasn’t what bugged me.

What bugged me was one of the conference-goers who thought I was a fellow conference-goer.

From the minute I spotted him, I knew he thought he was hot shit. He was dressed in this really tacky, khaki suit with a deep blue shirt that didn’t match at all. He was kind of a squat man with a well-groomed, but dated mustache. And he wore this self-satisfied grin, like he knew all the tips and tricks for making it in this world and he wanted to share them with everyone.

He zeroed in on me the minute he walked into the room. I, having no reason to formally suspect him of being a gigantic asshat, grinned and shook his hand when he offered it. It was clear from the beginning of this conversation that he thought I was a conference-goer, just like him. So I introduced myself as a reporter right off the bat.

“I’m with the local newspaper. I’m covering this event, I’m not attending it.”

He still kept smiling at me and nodded. “OK. Well let me give you my card.”

For the record: I didn’t want his fucking card. I wasn’t looking to network with anyone at this thing because 1) I’m not a business owner and 2) I WASN’T ATTENDING THE EVENT, I WAS COVERING IT. But whatever. It’s just a card.

Then he went on to brag about how he was a journalist, too. He’s a “blogger” and he writes about news and entertainment, blah blah blah.

First of all, I haven’t really ranted about how I feel about bloggers calling themselves journalists yet (because that probably deserves a book by itself), but in a nutshell: I don’t consider bloggers journalists.

Second of all, he was being a condescending douche about it. Granted, he was probably twice my age, but that didn’t mean that he was a better “journalist” than I was. I told him I was there to talk to the congressman, and he replied that he wanted to talk to him as well.

Well the congressman made his remarks, then he split the minute he was finished. I ran out to catch him and ask a couple of questions before he could go, and the blogger guy followed me. We waited while the congressman took care of some business in the conference hall offices, and the douchey blogger regaled me with more tales of his own awesomeness.

“My business has taken me all over the world. I’ve talked to all different kinds of people,” he said.

Oh, really? “That’s cool,” I responded.

“Have you ever considered radio or television news?”

I’d rather gouge my eyes out. “No, I haven’t.”

“Hmm. Well you should. You have the voice and you have the look. And it’s been my experience that when you know more, you get better jobs. People will be more willing to hire you if you know a lot about different mediums.”

OK, first of all, the plural of “medium” is “media.” That’s why we’re called THE MEDIA.

Second of all, WHAT THE HELL. Do I look like I need your help? I already found a job, thank you very much! And yeah, I don’t plan on staying here forever, but I think I know what it takes to get hired in this business. I want to THE best school of journalism in the world. I studied under numerous Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and I worked alongside some of the best reporters and editors of my generation. I’m perfectly capable of understanding what it takes to compete in my chosen profession. Thank you.

But it didn’t stop there. Oh, no. When the congressman finally came back out to answer our questions, Bloggy von Doucher graciously allowed me to ask my questions first. So I immediately pounced.

“Mr. Congressman, why did you decide to make an appearance at the Minority Business Conference today?”

[Insert trite platitudes about encouraging small business owners who happen to be minorities here.]

“Mr. Congressman, one of the speakers mentioned an interesting statistic. He said that soon the minority population would overtake the white population. What did you make of that?”

[Insert more drivel about how awesome and diverse America is.]

“Mr. Congressman, the same speaker also mentioned that without immigration, America would actually experience a population decline, and that instead of closing our borders, we should be opening them. What do you think about that?”

[Insert meaningless talk about how illegal immigration is a problem, and we value diversity, we just wish people would immigrate legally.]

“Mr. Congressman, the same speaker also mentioned that government should invest in businesses by entering into contracts with them. He offered the example of IBM supplying the government with computers. How do you feel about that assertion?”

[Insert more talk about how government should invest in businesses, but by deregulating and limiting barriers to entry.]

I chose this line of questioning specifically because the congressman is a Republican, and the speaker who came after him brought up a lot of points typically held as platforms by the Democratic Party. So I thought his answers would be more interesting than they were. I should have known better than to expect a Washington Republican seeking reelection to provide interesting answers.

Well when I was finished with my questions, the douchetastic blogger chimed in with his questions.

“Mr. Congressman, how do you propose helping minority business owners?”

[Insert typical answer about deregulation here.]

“Mr. Congressman, why is it important to invest in minority businesses?”

[Insert another typical answer about creating new jobs to get out of the recession.]

“Thank you so much, Mr. Congressman,” we both said when he finished answering our questions. Then we shook his hand and he took his assistant and aid back to the car to go wherever they needed to go next.

When he was gone, Senor Asshat smirked at me and said, “Nice job, little lady.”

Ugh, I wanted to punch him in the face. His two questions were the most basic questions any beginner reporter could have asked and he was looking at me like I was the rookie.

After I left the conference, he sent me an email saying we should keep in touch and that I should check out his blog. Needless to say, I deleted that shit before I read through the whole thing.


Sunshine laws vs. Protecting anonymity

July 13, 2012

Sunshine laws are like a journalist’s bread and butter.

They help us preserve democracy. They help us expose corruption. They allow us to examine and inform the American electorate.

I love sunshine laws.

However, there are always, always, ALWAYS exceptions. Some exceptions are just bullshit, but some exceptions are legitimate concerns, and I think it’s all too easy to point the finger at government and immediately conclude that corrupt politicians are hiding something when really, there are more logical and less obvious reasons to withhold information for public consumption.

Case in point: There’s a huge fuss in my state over the department of family services withholding case files for a young girl in foster care who died as a result of severe abuse. There is evidence to suggest that the department had received multiple alerts from teachers and other adults who suspected what had gone on, but the department had done nothing to protect the child. The department is also fighting like hell to keep the public from viewing the records of the case.

So here’s the deal: What happened to that girl was absolutely horrible. I detest child abuse just as much as the next person, if not more. And if the coverage is to be believed, the department should be held responsible for not doing its job.

BUT (and bear with me) there is a logical explanation for why they refuse to turn over the girl’s records.

Some background. Before I got this job, I worked as a reporter in a neighboring state, and one of my pet projects was foster care. I learned everything there was to to learn about the system and the laws of that state short of becoming a foster parent myself. I hung out with foster parents for 12 hours a day. I talked to kids both in and out of the system. I listened to more terrible stories than I care to remember. I became somewhat of an expert on all of the laws and issues regarding childcare in that state, and I came to have a healthy respect for those laws. Mostly, the laws sought to protect the privacy of the children in the system. I couldn’t publish photos of a foster kid. I couldn’t even take a photo of a foster kid. I also couldn’t print their names. Here’s an example of why.

Imagine you’re a foster kid. You’ve been with your foster parents for three weeks and it’s been a huge adjustment. You’re living with strangers. You’re dealing with household rules for the first time in your life. You’re at a completely new school where the kids bully you and make fun of you all the time because you’re new and you’re also a little weird because your mom was a meth addict who died before you were six, and your dad used to beat you with a broomstick for fun. He also failed to feed you properly, so you’re skinny, and your joints are all knobby. Your clothes don’t help much with your popularity—your shirt is 10 sizes too big for you because the state doesn’t give your new parents enough to take care of you, so all they can afford to dress you in is your older foster siblings hand-me-downs. And the local paper just printed your photo and name on the front page, identifying you as a foster kid. That’s going to go over really well with the bullies on the playground. Not to mention, your father’s out on bail and now he can find where you live and take you back. What do you do now?

It’s a very real concern, keeping foster children anonymous. It’s not just because the state likes to keep secrets: It’s for the children’s protection.

Now, you may be thinking, “But Carla! That poor girl’s already dead because of state secrets! There’s no use protecting her anonymity any more!” And you’d be right.

But releasing her records sets a dangerous precedent. After it happens once, who’s to say that they shouldn’t do it every time, regardless of whether or not the foster child is alive or dead? It would snowball into a huge clusterfuck. The department has to draw the line somewhere.

In conclusion, sunshine laws are important for holding government accountable. But exceptions are also important for keeping children safe.