Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Thursday, December 22, 2005  

Law: Gravelles abused caged children

Today, a judge in the Midwest ruled correctly in a child abuse case that I believe is revealing evidence of the insensitive attitude many white Americans have toward African-Americans. Michael and Sharen Gravelle are a white couple with a history of child abuse. However, their obvious unfitness did not prevent Ohio officials from allowing them to adopt eleven black children. Local officials knew that some of the children were being kept in cages for at least two years before finally taking action to remove them from the Gravelles in September. The climax to the drama is a ruling that the Gravelles abused eight of the children.

CBS News reports.

(AP) A couple who adopted 11 children with a host of health and behavioral problems abused some of the youngsters by making them sleep in wooden cages without pillows or mattresses, a judge ruled Thursday.

The children will remain in foster care until Juvenile Judge Timothy Cardwell holds a hearing on who should get custody.

Their adoptive parents, Michael and Sharen Gravelle, have not been charged with a crime and denied abusing the youngsters. They said they built the cages in 2003 to protect the children from each other and themselves.

. . .The children were taken from the Gravelles in September after a social-services investigator visited the home and examined the wood and chicken-wire cages she likened to a kennel.

Prosecutor Russell Leffler said his office was pleased with the ruling. His investigation continues and he said he's unsure whether criminal charges will be filed.

The Gravelles, blue-collar people with no qualifications for caring for special needs children, apparently adopted the children as a way to increase their income. They were paid at least $500 per month in adoption subsidies for each child. Their costs were limited since the children did not attend school, slept in their cages, were fed only when the Gravelles unlocked the kitchen and rarely wore shoes.

Michael Gravelle previously lost custody of his biological daughter after allegations of sexual abuse. She says he molested her when she was a pre-teen, and, again, after she was returned to him when she was 15. Gravelle's biological son says he was physically abused by his father. Both adult Gravelle children, now in their early 30s, say they have had no contact with the Gravelles since fleeing their abuse as teenagers. Sharen Gravelles' daughter, who sought custody of the adopted children, has had problems with the law and shares a trailer with a drug addict with a rap sheet of drunken driving arrests. His three children live with them in the trailer.

The evidence reveals that the Gravelles are about as unsuitable to be adoptive parents as anyone can be. But, a movement to support them sprung up among conservative white Christians who homeschool their children. Members of the movement described the Gravelles as 'angels' and 'heroes.'

I find it amazing that anyone could look at the circumstances of this case and not see the obvious. But, I fear I underestimate the role race can play in blinding people when it comes to even basic decency. The people defending the Gravelles see nothing wrong with their treatment of the children, much as slave owners saw nothing wrong with the often brutal treatment they meted out to their slaves.

Considering that the Gravelles also abused his biological children, who are white, I suspect they are crude, mean-spirited people, period. But, the fact the adopted children are black may be the reason the Gravelles were allowed to mistreat more children without intervention for years.

What's next?

The judge must decide whether to sever the Gravelles' parental rights. He could return some or all the children to the couple, but that would just be asking for more trouble. I believe the children should be kept in foster care with their eligibility for adoption reopened. Any families seeking to adopt them should be subjected to rigorous home studies.

I also believe that criminal charges should be brought against the Gravelles. This situation is the second time they have been found to be abusive. A conviction on criminal charges would prevent them from using subterfuge to become foster parents or adopt again.

posted by J. | 10:15 PM

Friday, December 16, 2005  

News: Poll shows shift in discrimination claims

Information gathered earlier this year provides a picture of current trends regarding discrimination in the American workplace. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports.

WASHINGTON -- Nearly one out of every six U.S. employees claimed to have faced discrimination at work in the past year, with women more than twice as likely as men to claim bias over hiring and pay, according to a poll.

The poll released last week by the Gallup Organization found that middle-aged women and minorities were more likely to report being victims. Out of the part-time and full-time workers interviewed by telephone, women were more than twice as likely to claim discrimination (22 percent) as men (9 percent).

Among racial groups, Asians and blacks led the pack (31 percent and 26 percent, respectively) in saying they were treated unfairly, followed by Hispanics (18 percent) and then whites (12 percent).

Broken down by age, 18 percent of employees alleging discrimination were age 40-49, followed by 17 percent for those age 50-59, and 15 percent for workers age 30-39. Complaints by those age 60 and over, as well younger workers age 18-29, were divided evenly at 11 percent.

During the 40 years employment discrimination complaints have been around, the groups most likely to claim discrimination in the workplace have shifted, partly because the laws have been amended to include age discrimination and expand protection against discrimination based on gender. Predictably, women are still more likely to believe they are mistreated than men. However, Asian-Americans have supplanted African-Americans in dissatisfaction with treatment by employers. That shift may explain the Gallop poll's finding that complaints about promotions and pay are now more common than those about hiring and work conditions. Traditionally, Asian-Americans, as a group, have earned less than white workers with similar or less eductational attainment, and, have been less likely to be promoted. Though black Americans also encounter problems with promotion and wage discrimination, difficulty with obtaining employment was often the focus of their complaints.

posted by J. | 9:30 PM

Thursday, December 01, 2005  

Opinion: Face transplant patient had right to decide

Some people find my refusal to be a champion of some causes they consider progressive perplexing. Despite my reservations about the death penalty, I will not be joining protests against the pending execution of Bloods founder, Stanley "Tookie" Williams. I would support a life sentence, if he would agree to stop posturing as a 'hero' in return. Ditto for environmental radical Michael Scarpitti (Tre Arrow) who is fighting extradition from Canada to the United States to face conspiracy charges in regard to firebombing a car dealership. His blathering about Mother Earth and Papa Sea doesn't impress me at all. Increasingly, I find myself looking at the militant activists in the disability movement with a jaundiced eye, too.

I'm thinking about the subject because of a history making operation made public this week. A French woman received the world's first partial face transplant.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports.

The same doctor who beat Louisville surgeons to perform the world's first successful hand transplant in 1998 has announced that his team conducted the world's first partial face transplant in France on Sunday.

The French team said it grafted a nose, lips and chin onto a 38-year-old woman who had been disfigured by a dog bite.

The patient, who was not identified, is in excellent condition and the transplanted organs look normal, according to a joint statement from a hospital in Amiens, where the operation was performed, and another hospital in Lyon, where the doctors are based.

The organs were taken from a donor who was brain-dead, with that family's consent, according to an Associated Press report.

Dr. Jean-Michael Dubernard, the co-head of the French team, also led the doctors who performed the first hand and forearm transplant in September 1998, edging out a Jewish Hospital-University of Louisville team that was poised to do such a procedure.

The patient, who was unable to breathe properly or eat normally, believed that her quality of life was unacceptable without the surgery. She made an informed decision to risk a new operation that may fail. I support her right to make that decision. If the word "autonomy" has any meaning, this circumstance should be one in which it applies.

Radical disability activists will disagree. The bedrock of their argument will be that there was nothing wrong with the woman. She's wasn't critically disfigured, just "differently abled." In reality, people who are significantly disabled have lost abilities that can't be replaced. Sometimes there are somewhat adequate workarounds, sometimes not. The refusal of these activists to acknowledge the reality of significant disability is perverse and makes intelligent dialogue with them pretty much impossible.

The nadir of their position may have been reached during the Terri Schiavo saga. Militant disability movement members joined Right to Life activists in deeming Schiavo merely incapacitated. They claimed that she would recover with rehabilitation therapy. You may recall that autopsy results confirming that Schiavo's life effectively ended at the time of her collapse, and that her brain had atrophied to half normal size, made no difference to those who who opposed ending life support after 15 years. Extremist disability activists were among them.

Another disingenuous aspect of the radical arm of the disability rights movement is its determination to dictate to others about what medical options they may have. The most vocal of them, Not Dead Yet, opposes both testing of fetuses to identify genetic disorders, and assisted suicide. Its members will decide who will be born and when they can die instead. I don't believe being disabled gives anyone the right to determine quality of life issues for pregnant women or other disabled people. Seems to be that the radicals' belief that they are specially endowed to make such determinations falls back on the ridiculous stereotype of the handicapped as being more virtuous than others.

The patient who received the face transplant has chosen to keep her identity confidential. Considering the mud that would be flung at her by the radicals of the disability rights movement, that is a wise decision.

posted by J. | 6:15 PM

Friday, November 25, 2005  

News: Fund seeks to bridge Digital Divide

When I think of the Digital Divide, the image is usually an American one. Students hurriedly taking notes from online content before their 30-minute time allotment runs out at the public library. Someone told to apply for a job in a store online who replies she doesn't have a computer. Poorly dressed people paying for computer access at Kinko's, while those of us who own our laptops use their Ethernet connections free. An international conference is a reminder that in most of the world, the Digital Divide is more brazen.

CNN reports.

(AP) -- An African-led initiative that will use high-speed Internet connections to treat AIDS patients in Burundi and Burkina Faso offers inspiration for those working to bridge the world's digital divide.

Its great promise lies in its linking of technology spending with existing campaigns to extinguish poverty, diseases and illiteracy, averting the need to choose one over the other.

Yet such projects remain few, despite great need. The age-old challenge remains: Who's going to pay for such works?

As world leaders convene in Tunisia on Wednesday for a U.N. summit on extending technology to the poor, the very fund that was to be its legacy still wants for support. Much of The Digital Solidarity Fund's contributions comes from African nations least able to afford it.

The challenge is huge.

Worldwide, just 14 percent of the population is online, compared with 62 percent for the United States and an even higher ratio in some Western European countries, according to the International Telecommunication Union. Less than half the world's people have telephones, even as some in developed countries are so wired they can't seem to get away from ringing phones.

The Digital Solidarity Fund has just $6.4 million in cash and pledges, pocket change compared with the $2.25 billion the United States spends a year on E-rate grants to schools and libraries in the nation's rural and low-income areas. Of the countries contributing to the world fund, all but one — France — are African.

"We still need to raise funds," said Elena Ursache, the fund's project manager. "It's obviously not sufficient to start to do a lot of activities."

Discussion of the Digital Divide in the U.S. has changed from whether people have access to the type of Internet connection available. As recently as 2002, more than 40 percent of Americans did not have home Internet access, usually because they could not afford it. Now, about 70 percent Americans have Internet access at home. Around 35 million homes now have broadband access. But, the low-income are likely to use slow, 56 bps dial-up accounts, which cost about $20 per month. Their more affluent counterparts opt for DSL, cable modems, or increasingly, T1 connections, at speeds at least four times faster than dial-up.

Meanswhile, citizens of developing countries usually lack any Internet access at home, relying on Internet cafes when they are available. Appeals of The Digital Solidarity Fund have failed to attract support so far. That may be because governments in rich countries do not associate high technology with Third World nations. The Fund's policy of linking support for Internet access with health and welfare programs may help. It makes the connection between the ability to send and obtain information efficiently and achieving important societal goals obvious.

Reasonably related

Study statistics for Internet access worldwide here.

posted by J. | 9:00 PM

Friday, November 18, 2005  

Analysis: Crosses logo and Las Cruces simpatico

I definitely favor the separation of church and state. Contrary to what naysayers would have us believe, the United States was founded as a secular nation despite the Christian beliefs of most of the founders. They had no intention of creating a theocracy. Of more importance, there is no rational reason to allow the country to become officially Christian (no one ever suggests Jewish, Buddhist or animist) today. Still, there are issues involving the First Amendment and religion that challenge even someone as steadfast as I am.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The opening phrase is interpreted to include any government, not only Congress, by application of the Fourteenth Amendment. That is the only way to prevent other forms of government from supporting establishment of religion. Issues involving the Establishment Clause usually arise at the local, usually county or city, level. That is what has occurred in one of America's most historically intriguing cities.

Fox News reports.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — In New Mexico, the city of Las Cruces, Spanish for 'the crosses,' is under fire because of the religious implications of the official logo.

A federal lawsuit seeks to have the logo, which depicts three adjoining crosses, changed to something that does not include any reference to Christianity.

Filed by Paul Weinbaum and Martin Boyd, the lawsuit claims the logo amounts to religious persecution of non-Christians.

"The last time we saw crosses on a police uniform is the examples from Nazi Germany and we got police in Las Cruces with crosses on their uniforms," explains Weinbaum. "I almost get upset spending time on this because we have other things we can be taking care of."

Among those who want the logo to remain as is are Las Cruces Mayor Bill Mattiace and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

Mattiace maintains the crosses do not endorse any particular religion and are up ton individual interpretation. "Anyone can perceive what they want out of that log[o], so they have no right to change it for the others that are depicting and seeing something else in that symbol."

If this scenario were proposed, I would have no problem saying that it is forbidden by the First Amendment. I would say Las Cruces needs to choose another municipal symbol, one without religious connotations. I would be suspicious that the Christian Right is behind a plan to create a city logo featuring crosses. But the situation is not proposed, instead it is grounded in history. What became Las Cruces was explored by Spanish conquistadors in 1548. It was one of the mission towns that are common in New Mexico, Colorado, California and Texas. The name in itself, The Crosses, is religious. The specific reason for it has been lost to time, but there are anecdotes.

There are multiple theories as to how Las Cruces got its name. One theory suggests that sometime during the 18th Century, a bishop, a priest, a Mexican Army colonel, a captain, four trappers and four choir boys were attacked near the Rio Grande and only one - a boy - survived. Crosses were erected in their honor, and the name, El Pueblo del Jardin de Las Cruces, (the City of the Garden of Crosses,) evolved.

Other stories say multiple crosses were erected in the area to mark the grave sites of the many victims of Apache raids. Still another story is that a group of 40 travelers from Taos, NM were killed just as they reached Las Cruces. But some people feel that the name is simply the Spanish translation for "crossing" or "crossroads."

The city and its history are inseparable. Unless there is evidence that the logo influences how Las Cruces treats citizens or how it is perceived, I am inclined to leave the logo alone. Supporting the separation of church and state does not require ignoring the influence of religion on some aspects of American history.

posted by J. | 6:40 PM

Thursday, November 10, 2005  

News: Panty thief is a dangerous man

The blogger at Editor at Large has been reading my mind. The Portland, Oregon, area has been the host of one of those news of the weird scenarios for a couple years now. A man has been in custody for months as a result of his theft of thousands of pairs of soiled women's underwear from college dorms and apartment buildings. Funny, huh? Not really, when you learn more. Sung Koo Kim is not some kind of sartorial Robin Hood. He stole the panties for the sexual thrills he derives from handling them. He also appears to have stalked young women and was a suspect in the murder of Brooke Wilberger for a time. I agree with EAL, who has written an entry saying the man's escapades are no laughing matter.

Panty thief says religion made him sick

Sung Koo Kim, the Tigard man who was sentenced yesterday to four years in prison and 18 months in jail for stealing more than 3,000 bras and panties, said "I lived all my life in isolation, in a lonely religious prison, deprived of friends, love, intimacy, and happiness."

Religion may have played a role in Kim's sickness, but there's a lot more to the story than that. In addition to the bras and panties, investigators found in Kim's home seven assault rifles and computers containing 40,000 images of women being mutilated, raped, and dismembered.

Seven assault rifles? Forty-thousand images of women being horribly abused? These are evidence not only of Kim's sickness, but of the sickness of society as a whole. Where did he get those rifles and those images? Why do those rifles and images even exist? We know one person who was sick enough to want to own them, but what about the people who created them? Aren't they just as sick, if not sicker?

KATU-TV covered the sentencing.

McMINNVILLE, Ore. - A Tigard man who was sentenced to nearly six years in prison in a Yamhill County court on Monday apologized for stealing women's underwear from college dormitories.

. . .In court on Monday, Kim asked the community for forgiveness and said his actions arose partly out of mental illness and that he never meant to hurt anyone.

"I would like to sincerely apologize with all my heart to all the girls affected by my short-sighted, selfish, abnormal actions," he said. "It was never my intention to scare or instill a sense of insecurity in them. I want to reassure them that I pose absolutely no threat or danger to them or the community."

The judge in the case sentenced Kim to 68 months in prison, nearly six years.

Kim is accused of stealing women's underwear from several college campuses and still faces criminal charges in Multnomah, Washington and Benton counties. His pleas in those counties remain 'not guilty.'

While jailed, Kim urged his father to use his little arsenal to break him out, saying his guns were better than anything authorities had. Though he appears to have learned not to antagonize the criminal justice system now, I'm not sure how deep his sudden change of character goes. If a road to normalcy is possible for Kim, it will likely take years of therapy and behavior modification.

The religious sect at issue is the Jehovah's Witnesses, which is popular with the Korean immigrant community Kim is part of. He claims that the strictures of the religion prevented him from developing normally socially and sexually. I'm not qualified to render psychiatric opinions, but agree with EAL that there must be more to the story. That brings us to the issue of civil commitments for sex offenders after they complete their sentences for their convictions. The problem, of course, is that such laws assume that the parolees remain a threat to society without absolute proof that they do. I'm ambivalent. I prefer that the accused be incarcerated only after they have been found to be guilty of specific crimes. However, the prospect of waiting until more people are victimized by someone likely to reoffend is problemmatic, too.

posted by J. | 8:15 PM

Tuesday, November 08, 2005  

Politics: Washington GOP threatens voters

The Republican Party of Washington seems determined to continue making itself look silly whenever it can create an opportunity to do so. Still sucking sour grapes after losing last year's gubernatorial race narrowly, the party faithful have decided to foment trouble for today's elections. The King County GOP sent out letters meant to frighten some voters and prevent them from voting. The Republicans claim that 1,774 voters in largely Democratic King County do not live at valid addresses. The maneuver appears to be payback for the Washington GOP's failed fights in both the electoral and legal arenas. (The Supreme Court of Washington rejected its challenge to Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire's paper thin victory over Republican Dino Rossi hands down.) If Democrats can be intimidated in this election, perhaps those grapes will taste better.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the story.

The spark for the political firestorm was the delivery of certified letters Thursday from the county elections department to voters on the GOP hit list, which totaled 1,774 names after duplicates were eliminated. The letters informed the voters of the challenge and cited the state law requiring voters to register at a valid residence address.

"I'm extremely disappointed and angry at the audacity of this woman and the party she represents," said Demene Hall, who got one of the letters. Hall has lived for 16 years at the Watermarke apartment building at 320 Cedar St. in Seattle, her registration address.

Hall, who said she is "too African American" not to be a regular voter, said Friday she came of age in the civil rights era and watched her parents hand out political fliers outside polling places they were not allowed to enter.

Vance acknowledged that the inclusion of the Watermarke on the list was a mistake. Elections officials late Friday said Sotelo had rescinded 140 of the challenges.

But, [State GOP Chairman Chris] Vance said, "The overwhelming majority of our challenges are valid.

That the challenges are valid is, of course, unproven. GOP operatives skulked around buildings taking photographs of people coming and going, but, apparently, did not identify some of the buildings as residential or mixed use. If someone really wanted to know, he could obtain that information easily -- by asking. However, doing so would take the skullduggery out of the situation. Less fun? This behavior may have been amusing for Republicans playing cloak and dagger, but it wasn't for the victims. When one receives a certified letter in the mail, it often means legal trouble of some sort. So, the goal of intimidating some of the people on the hit list likely succeeded. Rather than vote under the threat of legal action if they did so, some validly registered voters probably will not submit their ballots.

The blogger at Ridenbaugh Press wonders if the bad publicity the Republican Party brought on itself might effect the atmosphere of today's election.

Mood is an important indicator of voting behavoir as election day approaches, and unfolds. What do people feel about what’s going on? Who do they feel sympathetic for, and who not?

King County’s Republicans should have borne that in mind when they launched their bad-registration effort last week. An effort aimed at pointing out hard-to-visualize flaws in the election system has resulted in scores of quite innocent and highly visible people talking about how they have been intimidated and harassed by the county’s Republican Party.

. . .What happened to her and a bunch of other people are not likely to play well around King County, as voters prepare to cast their ballots. One lesson here: If you’re going to base a good chunk of your attack on mistakes committed by the other side, you’d better be free of them yourself.

It is unclear whether the ugly situation in King County mirrors the national reputation the GOP has for sometimes seeking to suppress minority voting. Though most of nonwhite population of the area lives in King County, more analysis of the addresses targeted would be necessary to determine if race was a factor in the King County GOP's actions.

Reasonably related

The Republican candidate for governor lost his court challenges because he could not prove that the outcome of the race was the result of fraud. Some of us with cool heads and legal expertise foresaw that result even before the lawsuits were filed.

posted by J. | 2:00 PM