Nelson Mandela: LGBT rights champion
As we celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at the age of 95, I want to make sure he is heralded for doing something no other head of government has ever done. As the first president of post-apartheid South Africa in 1996, Mandela ushered in that nation’s new constitution, which included protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The first of its kind.
Chapter 2, Section 9 of the Bill of Rights is clear. “Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.” This is an echo of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified in 1868. But the South African constitution goes a step farther. “Everyone is equal before the law” is defined in subsection 3.
The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
The antecedents of this historic action were chronicled by Phumi Mtetwa, co-founder of the South African National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE), and by Albie Sachs, who was appointed to the Constitutional Court of South Africa by Mandela in 1994 and served until 2009. In short, a policy of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation was adopted during an African National Congress conference in 1990. “[S]o when it came to the drafting of the new constitution,” Sachs said in an interview last year with the magazine Global, “the ANC recommended that the grounds of unfair discrimination which included race, colour, creed, sex and disability also included sexual orientation.”
The new constitution, adopted in May 1996, led to the end of the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the South African military. And that historic document laid the groundwork for a historic 2005 court ruling written by Sachs that legalized same-sex marriage in the Rainbow Nation.
This is why leaders of American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups were quick to mourn Mandela’s loss. As Kevin Cathcart of Lambda Legal told the indefatigable Chris Geidner of BuzzFeed, “Every one of us who continues the fight for equality and civil rights in our own communities labors in the shadows of this man.”
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
The Insiders: Washington is busy, but it’s not productive
The latest issue of Politico magazine includes a story that shocked even me. The piece reports that President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had “zero” one-on-one meetings between July 12, 2010 and November 30, 2013.
While that fact is shocking on its face, it is a good example of a persistent problem in Washington. That is, it is easy to be busy, but it is hard to be productive. This is especially true if your job is in the West Wing of the White House. You don’t have to do anything and your inbox will fill up, a lot of people will want to see you, and you will be asked to attend a lot of meetings. Before you know it, you will be “working” 16 hours a day. This phenomenon suits many in Washington because, for a lot of people, it’s all about having the job, not necessarily doing the job. Perhaps this attitude captures the president’s approach to his role. After all, the White House and the rest of the administration ultimately reflects the personality of the president.
The fact is, for much of the time, government runs itself -- except when it doesn’t or when there is a surprise crisis. If you don’t have the right people in place and haven’t done the right planning, you can’t execute. And presto, you have a Katrina or red lines in Syria or Obamacare or whatever.
I’m sure President Obama and Secretary Sebelius have both been “working” very hard. But really, they have just been busy. Obviously they haven’t been productive. Everybody in Washington is busy these days, even though not much is getting done.
Follow Ed on Twitter: @EdRogersDC
Rest in peace, Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela was a saint. Imprisoned for 27 years in a tiny cell for having the temerity to demand freedom, justice and equality for the black majority of South Africa. Yet, Madiba emerged in 1990 without anger or bitterness. And as its first black president, Mandela transformed his nation from an oppressive regime to one of the most inclusive democracies on the planet.
The Post’s editorial gets at my overall thoughts on Mandela: “In his person and his policies, he set out to show those on the other side that they had little to fear. He sought unity rather than revenge, honesty and understanding rather than the naked exercise of power. These are all fine abstractions, of course, but never so clear to us as when there is a living figure to exemplify them.”
People lead movements all the time. Few people see their movements lead to real change. Fewer still achieve what Mandela achieved. Through sacrifice and determination, perseverance and patience, he led a successful movement for change that is the new South Africa. Most importantly, Mandela was not taken by an assassin’s bullet. He departed this life at a time of his choosing. May he rest in peace.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
PostScript: E.J. Dionne and economic inequality
PostScript has, and is, an odd job. PostScript is tasked with synthesizing the comment responses to Post Opinions op-eds, editorials and columns into a form palatable to those who disdain the actual comments section. But PostScript gets uneasy about some comments, which, as everyone familiar with the Internet knows, can very quickly get racist, misogynist and offensive. But the fact of these comments should not be swept under the rug, should they? Should PostScript just include an asterisk on particularly racist days? It is useless to seek the counsel of other or former PostScripts, since, solipsistically, there is and has always been only one PostScript, and she is not widely celebrated for her own taste or wisdom.
So, what PostScript wants to say is, today the comments to E.J. Dionne’s column got more racist (and a little more sexist) than usual. Dionne wrote about a recent speech by President Obama on the importance of economic equality, or at least the possibility thereof, and the need to boost the economic opportunity for people born into poverty or near poverty. Dionne’s examples were raising the minimum wage and ending the specter of crippling debt that, before Obamacare, could result from medical emergencies or chronic expensive conditions.
There was some question as to income inequality being all that much a problem:
A ladder to the middle class? The poor in this country enjoy a quality of life that far surpasses the quality of life had by 99.99999999999% of humans who ever walked on this planet.
But mostly, people wanted to talk substance:
codexjust1 says the tax rates are unhealthily slanted toward corporations (and, generally, large ones at that):
We have the lowest marginal effective tax rates in the industrialized world for corporations. As an individual, I cannot write off the cost of my upkeep or the depreciation on my goods and belongings. I can’t deduct what I pay for transportation; I don’t get a tax break on my property to stay in one city (in fact, I pay more in property taxes than Goldman Sachs does) and I can’t get low interest government backed loans to make more money. So my heart doesn’t break for the fat cats who get all those advantages, pay starvation wages and ask me to pick up the tab for the rest. And, the fact of the matter is that most corporations are sitting on piles of cash because there is no market for their goods and services.
FLWin agrees. The economy is growing, but really only for a small minority:
Conversely, in the last 30 years, income disparity radically increased. From 1978 to 2011, CEO compensation increased more than 725 percent, a rise substantially greater than stock market growth and the painfully slow 5.7 percent growth in worker compensation over the same period.
Is this good for the country or for our democracy? Is it good for our long term economic health?
This is when things began to get uncomfortable [though it got much more so]:
It’s time for Obama to stop using ‘children born in the bottom 20%’ as an excuse for class warfare, and to start telling us what he’s going to do about holding their fathers accountable.
What federal policy do you suggest?
Great question. Let’s start with requiring women who get benefits to identify the father of their child before they get paid.
Kurtmudgeon1 wonders why we are getting this speech now:
Hey. It’s worth a shot. Let’s see what this Obama fellah would do about inequality if he got a shot as president of the United States. What’s that? He’s been president for 5 years? Well then, we can see what Obama actually did do about inequality. He made it more unequal.
And finally, because PostScript has such peccable taste, a couple of weird ones.
Hermit1951 calls Obama a robot, which is a metaphor PostScript had never seen, except once, in an entirely different context, applied to then-president-elect George W. Bush by PostScript colleague Mr. Weingarten:
It’s not always like this. The libs haven’t stretched and yawned yet. They will be out in full force and support of their robot leader soon enough.
And abrooklynite attacks America where it hurts: our face.
Fretting over a website won’t even be a footnote in history, or remembered in five years. Same with government shutdowns. We have the most tremulous, flaccid upper lip of all nations. No patience, all bombast and high flying rhetoric.
And finally, PostScript has been trying to figure out why there seems to be a strong undercurrent of distaste for the notion of government fixes for income inequality in America, a concept that she believes should be popular since there are so many have-nots. She found an answer in an old quote attributed to Steinbeck: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
One more time: The bottom line on government-funding deadlines
Once again, we’re moving toward a potential showdown. So once again, I’ll remind everyone of the bottom line that both sides should keep in mind if they get close to the brink: Eventually, at the end of the day, whether before or after a shutdown, there will be a bill that passes to keep the government running. It will be signed into law by Barack Obama. And it will have the support of at least some House Republicans -- and be brought to the House floor by John Boehner.
I agree with Jonathan Chait that resistance to a deal is strong among Republicans, and with Brian Beutler that fighting will be more tempting than making tough choices. But the thing that Republicans need to remember (and given that they had it demonstrated to them in October, it shouldn’t be too hard) is that their choice isn’t between a deal or a shutdown; it’s between a deal or a shutdown followed by a deal.
And if Democrats had a structural advantage for winning the spin war in October, at least partially because the example of 1995-1996 seemed to fit the situation so well, the Democratic advantage is going to be even stronger given the much more recent debacle that everyone in the political press blamed on House Republicans.
All of which is why a shutdown this time would be a clear, avoidable mistake for Republicans. Granted, all of that was true back in the fall, and it didn’t stop them that time. So we’ll just have to see. But there is one clear difference: Only senior politicians in the Republican conference remembered 1995. This time around, one would think that they all would remember October.