Jocelyn's Other Desk

The writings of Jocelyn Smith, aspiring author, soon-to-be lawyer, once and future politician, all-around opinionated twentysomething.

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Location: Orlando, Florida, United States

I'm a lawyer in Florida, working on three novels, a screenplay, and half a dozen pieces of fanfiction at any given moment.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bush's Ratings Are Dropping...But It May Already Be Too Late For America

Or at least for REAL American values.

"Right to Refuse" Acts: Not Just Birth Control Anymore!

Health workers may get the right to refuse to act

By Rob Stein

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — More than a dozen states are considering new laws to protect health workers who do not want to provide care that conflicts with their personal beliefs, a surge of legislation that reflects the intensifying tension between asserting individual religious values and defending patients' rights.

About half of the proposals would shield pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control and "morning-after" pills because they believe the drugs cause abortions.

But many are far broader measures that would shelter any doctor, nurse, aide, technician or other employee who objects to any therapy. That might include in-vitro fertilization, physician-assisted suicide, embryonic stem cells, and perhaps even providing treatment to gays and lesbians.

The flurry of political activity is being welcomed by conservative groups that consider it crucial to prevent health workers from being coerced into participating in care they find morally repugnant — protecting their "right of conscience" or "right of refusal."

"This goes to the core of what it means to be an American," said David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. "... Doctors, dentists, nurses and other health-care workers should not be forced to violate their consciences."

The swell of propositions is raising alarm among advocates for abortion rights, family planning, AIDS prevention, gays and lesbians, and the right to die, and others who see the push as the latest manifestation of the growing political power of social conservatives.

"This a very significant threat to patients' rights in the United States," said Lois Uttley of the MergerWatch project, who is helping to organize a conference in New York to plot a counter strategy. "We need to protect the patients' right to use their own religious or ethical values to make medical decisions."

Both sides agree the struggle between personal beliefs and professional medical responsibilities is likely to escalate as more states consider approving physician-assisted suicide, as embryonic stem cell research speeds forward and other advances open more ethical fault lines.

"We are moving into a brave new world of cloning, cyborgs, sex selection, genetic testing of embryos," Stevens said. "The list of difficult ethical issues ... is just continuing to increase."

Most states have long had laws to protect doctors and nurses from being fired, disciplined or sued, or facing other legal action if they do not want to perform abortions.

Conflicts over other health-care workers emerged after the "morning-after" pill was approved and pharmacists began refusing to fill prescriptions for it, with the result that some lost their jobs, were reprimanded or were sanctioned by state licensing boards.
That prompted a number of states last year to consider new laws that would either explicitly protect pharmacists or require them to fill such prescriptions.

At least seven states are considering laws that would specifically protect pharmacists or pharmacies.

"Every other day I hear from pharmacists who are being threatened or told they have to sign something that says they are willing to go along with government mandates," said Francis Manion of the American Center for Law & Justice, which is fighting an Illinois regulation implemented last year requiring pharmacies to fill all prescriptions, which led to a number of pharmacists being fired.

Opponents argue that such laws endanger patients by denying them access to legal drugs, particularly "morning-after" pills, which must be taken soon after unprotected sex.

"Women all over the country are being turned away from obtaining valid and legal prescriptions," said Jackie Payne of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "These kinds of laws would only make the situation worse. It's shameful."

Planned Parenthood is supporting efforts in at least six states to pass laws requiring pharmacists to fill all prescriptions.

At least nine states are considering "right of refusal" bills that are far broader. Some would protect virtually any worker involved in health care, while others would also extend protection to hospitals, clinics and other facilities.

At least five bills would allow insurance companies to opt out of covering services they say they find objectionable for religious reasons.

"These represent a major expansion of this notion of right of refusal," said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies reproductive health issues and is tracking the legislation. "You're seeing it broadening to many types of workers — even into the world of social workers — and for any service for which you have a moral or religious belief."

I don't think the Psychotic Conservative Fundamentalist Revolution will end with Bush anymore. There's something a lot deeper and scarier going on in the minds of Americans to the point that they're completely forgetting that this is America--or they just don't care anymore. Their idea of "freedom of religion" is freedom to force their sick, twisted versions of Christianity onto the actions, opportunities, lives, and minds of everybody else.

I took myself to law school because I loved the freedoms and the values behind this country's Constitution, but it's being burned right before my eyes by people who call themselves good, patriotic Americans. When those rights are gone, what place will there be for people like me in this country anymore? Should we just keep laboring under an illusion that those rights still exist, even though the Constitution has become a symbol as empty as the ragged 9/11 flags still stuck to so-called patriots' cars?

The pharmacist birth control issue was frightening enough to me as a woman, but the scope of these bills is utterly terrifying, not just for women but for all Americans, and for America itself. We won't be America anymore if we throw away the freedoms we claim to be fighting for.

Maybe they won't pass. Hell, most of them probably won't. But the mindset behind them is what frightens me, and that attitude seems to be growing.

I love this country--I'd wager I love it a lot more than those idiots who wave the flag and scream about American values but have no idea what the flag represents or what those values really are. I'm frightened for it now.

What the hell is happening to us? What the hell is going to happen to us if this insanity doesn't stop?

What will we have become?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Righteous Wrath-Inspired Book Recommendation!

As if I wasn't ornery enough already, I had to go read Tod Goldberg's blog!

Fucktards Rebuked At The Gate (The Latest Round of Book-Banning in Dear Ol' Kansas)
The news story that inspired Tod's wrath (and mine)

It's about the latest effort by American Fascists United (also known as Citizens For Literary Standards In Schools) to ban certain books from high school reading lists.

The challenged books?

  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison(yeah, heard of it, that one's getting attacked all over the country)
  • Boy's Life by Robert McCammon (don't know anything about this one)
  • The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy. ('t.)

Yeah. As you can guess, I shall now write you my recommendation of Mr. Conroy's novel...and give my most articulate thoughts on this latest campaign against it.

My History With This Book

I read The Lords of Discipline for the first time at the oh-so-tender age of 16--in 11th grade AP American Lit. Yep, I'm ClassKC's poster girl: "the innocent teenaged child."

Some relative of ClassKC had obviously got their nosy claws into my teacher too, because I still remember what she told us about The Lords of Discipline. She was including it in a collection of books we could choose from to do a project about (other books in the selection included Catch-22, My Antonia, Snow Falling On Cedars, and The Awakening, if I recall). She gave us a little summary of each, and it came to LoD, she told us, "I've gotten in trouble with parents for including this book. They accuse me of trying to 'entice young men' with it. It is very graphic, with sex, violence and profanity--but it's about military school."

I knew that was going to be my book. My teen rebellion consisted of reading "age-inappropriate" books. I smuggled Jurassic Park and Christopher Pike's cheap mysteries around in my backpack when I was twelve because my folks didn't approve.

In high school Lit, I hated much of what we were assigned. Hated Hemingway (that thrice-damned For Whom The Bell Tolls project in the spring semester nearly gave me a nervous breakdown from sheer boredom), hated Faulkner (As I LayDying, I thought I was dying), hated Winesburg, Ohio (indescribably bad), hated The Glass Menagerie (I didn't sympathize with a single character.)

The Lords of Discipline wound up being one of only two books from my entire high school reading career that I ever read again (Pride & Prejudice was the other.) It remains one of my favorites.

The (to use Tod's most accurate descriptor) Fucktards

The parents said Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon," Robert McCammon's "Boy's Life" and Pat Conroy's "The Lords of Discipline" contained profanity, vulgar language, sexually explicit scenes and violence.

  • Yes, they do. But is the presence of those things the only factors that should be considered when determining the quality of a book?

Must we wallow in the sewer to recognize filth?" asked Sherri Millen, who challenged the McCammon and Conroy books.

  • To shallow individuals like this, obviously not. Then again, Filthy people tend to see filth everywhere, so it makes sense.
  • In other words, she didn't read the books.

Parents who wanted the books removed from the lists read many passages from them.

  • HA! Both in the board meeting AND at home, I'll wager.
  • In these cases, you'll find that the Prude Police will at most scan the book for "naughty content" and never actually read them.

From's description of The Lords of Discipline:

This book purportedly describes life in a fictional military academy, similar to The Citadel in South Carolina. The student requirements include endless marching, battle drills, memorizing of useless information, dress codes, bedroom checks, humiliation/hazing by upperclassmen, etc. Some may argue that this is a “true picture of life in the military.” But is it necessary for our minor children to be asked to read and study this crude content in order to understand one man’s idea about military school?

  • Emphasis not added. The presence of that emphasis says a lot, don't you think? Objections aren't only to the crude aspects, I think. Sounds like ClassKC prescribes to the Bush Administration definition of free speech--should I be surprised?

The "review" continues on with nothing but quotes from the book--all containing the provocative words. Feel free to read them on the website, I'm not going to bother reproducing that here.

Rather, I shall give you some DIFFERENT quotes. The ones that stuck in this teenaged reader's mind:

Though I will always be a visitor to Charleston, I will always remain one with a passionate belief that it is the most beautiful city in America, and that to walk the old section of the city at night into the bloodstream of a history extravagantly lived by a people born to a fierce and unshakable advocacy of their past.

  • You see, this book is about history, and society's endless fascination with and search for it--and both the good and bad results of those searches and the fascination and the desire to recapture history.

At first, I thought I had wasted my college years, but I was wrong. The Institute was the most valuable experience I have ever had or will have. I believe it did bring me into manhood: the Institute taught me about the kind of man I did not want to be.

  • This book is about Vietnam-era military education.

My virginity was settling in hard on me. It seemed both silly and rather affectingly pitiful that a twenty-one-year-old male with awesome enthusiasm and all his parts intact had not managed to make love to a single woman.

  • This book is devastatingly (and often comically) accurate about the mentality of 21-year-olds. I find that I have learned new lessons from this book as I have gone from high school to college, starting out younger than Will, the narrator, going through the years he did in the story, and then looking back at them as the past--as he does in the story.

"My support of the war is simply an act of faith in America..."

  • This book pays due attention and empathy to the other points of view that existed at the time, and still do today.

"Do you need to have the clap to know you don't want it?"

  • (Chuckle) Maybe I'd be more sympathetic to the attitude of Sherri Millen if she'd said THAT!

"Are you a coward, Will?"
"Of the trembling, quivering, knees-knocking, teeth-chattering variety."

  • This book is witty.

"Have y'all noticed that everytime a knob brings cookies, cakes, sandwiches, or candy into the barracks, the upperclassmen take it and eat it all?"
..."What are you going to do, Tradd?" I asked, "Lecture the upperclassmen on rights of property?"
"I plan to smuggle some food into the barracks."
"So what?"
"It's going to be something delicious," he said.
"So what?"
"It's going to be something we make."
"So what?" Pig asked.
"It's going to be something we want them to eat."
All of us screamed the same word at the same time.

  • This book is funny.

I loved the train. It passed through my dreams at 11:42 every night and at different times it passed through malarial jungles, arguments with my mother, the slopes of mountains, the gardens of Annie rumbled through my dreams each night at the exact same time and I am sure I would have known if some accident had derailed it somewhere along the desolate tracks that cut through the marshes...

  • This book has a way of connecting the reader with their own life. (I-395 isn't quite as romantic, but it invades my dreams every night.)
  • It's also beautifully written.

Athlete. The word was beautiful to me. When I played basketball, I was possessed by a nakedness of spirit, a divine madness when I was let loose to ramble between the lines. Always I was reckless and moving at full speed, and I had never learned the potency of stillness, the craft of subtlety.

  • This book connects with any athlete. I was in my third year of the high school cross-country team at the time of that First Read, and it was at this passage that Will and his story went from Very Good to Profound Impact.

"I believe The Ten exists, Mr. McLean...I believe they exist and I am afraid of them...If it was just a club they would not censor history books. They would not enter a man's house to steal letters. Nothing else was moved or disturbed. One single letter disappeared...That they stole the letter is unspeakable. That they eradicated their name from my historical account is unspeakable."

  • This book is a mystery novel.
  • This book also teaches a serious lesson about wrong and right, about morality and decency and honor. About "American values," if you will.

"Did you interview any boys or men who were run out of the Institute?"
"Of course not...I was writing about the men who made the Institute great, not the swine who could not bear the stern test of her ministries!"
..."Yes, sir," I said...."But they might be able to reflect directly onto the history of The Ten."
"Scoundrel!" he cried out, thumping me on the shoulder. "There is a very minor historian beating his way out of that thick Irish skull of yours. Very, very minor, but a presence nonetheless."

  • This book is about teachers and the impact they have: good and bad.

"One last thing, Mr. McLean. Do you ever think about your place in history? What do you think your place will be in the history of the Institute? I already know my place. But what about yours? Tell me about your place in the history of the school."
He was laughing at me, mocking me, and I turned, loathing every single thing he stood for on earth. "General," I said. "I want you to hear this and I want you to think about it."
"What do you have to say, Mr. McLean?"
"I plan to write that history, sir."

  • This is a book for writers of all ages and experience.

Only a complete mental defective could read this book--REALLY read it, not just flip through searching for dirty words--and say that it is inappropriate for a 16-year-old.

From Some of the language includes motherfucker/fucker/fuck/fuckstick, pussy, cunt, douchebag, poontang, slut, suck my dick, shit, piss, asswipe, bastard.

According to a Blue Valley West CA IV syllabus, this book is "a huge student favorite."

  • Ever bother to really read it and ask WHY?!

My Final Review

To sum up this rambling condemnation of censorship, Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline is a compelling, powerful story for any person of any age, but not only is it not rendered inappropriate for a minor teenager by its language, its message is what makes it vastly MORE appropriate than some of the insipid "classics" that no high school student will ever read by choice.

It is about youth and adulthood. It is about education--the purpose of it, the realities of it, the use and misuse of it. It is about love and all its varieties--and its twisted, debased imitations. It is about honor--and the self-delusion of honor. It is about history.

The profanity was heavy, but by the second chapter, I pretty much didn't notice it. Use a word often enough in a book and it gets filtered out. There is violence, very graphic violence, but not gratuitous, and its description served the purpose to (successfully) show both the realities of a twisted, self-righteous way of life and the hideous results of racism and elitism. There is graphic sex once (and a lot of graphic discussion of sex) that might incite giggles in some less mature readers, but honestly, it wasn't that important to the plot or the characters (other than Will.) So I didn't really focus on it because I was too busy thinking about the more powerful plot devices.

There is tragedy and ugliness and every depth that human beings can sink to. But in the end, there is hope, and there is a keeping of faith to the values of right and honor and loyalty.

Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline is a good book. I recommend it to any reader.

I especially recommend it to teenagers.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I've Been Sayin' It With An LJ Icon!

On my LiveJournal a couple of years ago, I created with primitive old Microsoft Paint an icon of His Royal Presidency sporting a silver crown entitled, "The Madness of King George." I really should enlist a more graphics-savvy friend to make me a decent-looking one, but I'm rather attached to it, kind of like keeping a grade school finger painting.

But the latest power-grabs and dismissals of fundamental American values and rights by the Bush administration has started to put that historical metaphor into somewhat wider use:

The Power-Madness of King George: Is Bush Turning America into an Elective Dictatorship?

It's tempting to dismiss the debate about the National Security Agency spying on Americans as a technical conflict about procedural rights. President Bush believes he has the legal authority to order electronic snooping without asking anyone's permission. Civil libertarians and privacy-fretters think Bush needs a warrant from the special court created to authorize wiretapping in cases of national security. But in practice, the so-called FISA court that issues such warrants functions as a virtual rubber stamp for the executive branch anyhow, so what's the great difference in the end?

Would that so little were at stake. In fact, the Senate hearings on NSA domestic espionage set to begin next month will confront fundamental questions about the balance of power within our system. Even if one assumes that every unknown instance of warrant-less spying by the NSA were justified on security grounds, the arguments issuing from the White House threaten the concept of checks and balances as it has been understood in America for the last 218 years. Simply put, Bush and his lawyers contend that the president's national security powers are unlimited. And since the war on terror is currently scheduled to run indefinitely, the executive supremacy they're asserting won't be a temporary condition.

This extremity of Bush's position emerges most clearly in a
42-page document issued by the Department of Justice last week. As Andrew Cohen, a CBS legal analyst, wrote in an online commentary, "The first time you read the 'White Paper,' you feel like it is describing a foreign country guided by an unfamiliar constitution." To develop this observation a bit further, the nation implied by the document would be an elective dictatorship, governed not by three counterpoised branches of government but by a secretive, possibly benign, awesomely powerful king.

According to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the putative author of the white paper, the president's powers as commander in chief make him the "sole organ for the Nation in foreign affairs." This status, which derives from Article II of the Constitution, brings with it the authority to conduct warrant-less surveillance for the purpose of disrupting possible terrorist attacks on the United States.

That power already sounds boundless, but according to Gonzales, this sole organ has garnered even more authority under the congressional authorization for the use of military force, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. This resolution is invariably referred to by the ungainly acronym AUMF—the sound, perhaps, of civil liberties being exhaled by a democracy. In the language of the white paper, the potent formula of Article II plus AUMF "places the president at the zenith of his powers," giving him "all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate."

This somewhat daffy monarchical undertone accompanies legal reasoning that recalls Alice's conversation with the March Hare. "AUMF" is understood by the Justice Department to expressly authorize warrant-less surveillance even though the resolution that Congress passed neither envisioned nor implied anything of the kind. The president's insistence that he alone can divine the hidden meaning of legislation is of a piece with his recently noticed practice of appending "signing statements" to bills—as in, "by signing this anti-torture bill into law, I pronounce it to signify that it has no power over me." Similarly, in his white paper, Bush as much as declares: "I determine what my words mean and I alone determine what yours mean, too."

Twisting vague statements into specific authorization is a stretch. But it is in inverting specific prohibitions into blanket permission that Gonzales reaches for the genuinely Orwellian. The Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 not only does not authorize Bush's warrant-less snooping but clearly and specifically prohibits it by prescribing the FISA court system as the "exclusive" method for authorizing electronic surveillance for intelligence purposes. With a little help from the white paper, however, that protection goes aumf as well; Gonzales proposes that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act must either be read as consistent with the position that King Zenith can wiretap whomever he wants (thus becoming meaningless) or, alternatively, be dismissed as an unconstitutional irrelevancy.

Bush's message to the courts, like his message to Congress, is: Make way, subjects. His quiet detour around the federal judges who sit on the FISA court is entirely consistent with the
White House position in the big terrorism civil liberties cases that federal judges lack jurisdiction to meddle with presidential decisions about whom to lock up and how to treat them. In the Hamdi case, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 8-1, curtailed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's ability to detain "enemy combatants" indefinitely without a hearing. In a plurality opinion, O'Connor wrote "a state of war is not a blank check for the President." The Justice Department memo, however, cites Hamdi as ballast for its stance that when it comes to spying domestically, Bush has not only a blank check but a wallet full of no-limit platinum cards.

The final problem with Gonzales' theories of unfettered executive authority is that they, as the lawyers say, prove too much. The Article II plus AUMF justification for warrant-less spying is essentially the same one the administration has advanced to excuse torture; ignore the Geneva Conventions; and indefinitely hold even U.S. citizens without a hearing, charges, or trial. Torture and detention without due process are bad enough. But why does this all-purpose rationale not also extend to press censorship or arresting political opponents, were the president to deem such measures vital to the nation's security?

I don't suggest that Bush intends anything of the kind—or that even a Congress as supine as the current one would remain passive if he went so far. But the president's latest assertion that he alone can safeguard our civil liberties isn't just disturbing and wrong. It's downright un-American.

THANK YOU, Mr. Jacob Weisberg (author of the article).

For an administration that loves to throw around accusations at its opponents of being "unpatriotic, un-American" and failing to live up to "traditional American values," Bush and his lackies--or rather his court--sure don't have a problem with brushing aside the most fundamental and sacred American value of all:


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Way To Go, Congresswoman Brown-Waite!

(Cross-posted to my LJ because it's just so damn funny!)

"Oops, Did they send that?"

When Clermont resident Scott Brown sent U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite a recent e-mail complaining about domestic spying, he was hoping for a response.

He got more than he hoped for.What Brown received was a reply from Brown-Waite (no relation) that included both a pre-edited and final e-mail version -- with very different messages.For instance, the first draft had the Crystal River Republican saying: "Please know that I will continue to monitor the developments of this situation with the security of our nation and the rights of our citizens in mind."

But in the final version, the promise to keep tabs on the situation was struck out (as evidenced by the red text with a line through it).In place of it was the following (underlined in blue): "Those who attack the President for this operation are reckless partisans and should know better. They are putting political gain ahead of the security of this nation."

Brown said Monday that he wasn't really upset by the response -- just amused. "I give them credit. They did make an effort to correct a whole bunch of the typos," he said, "including misspelling Vice President Cheney's name."Charlie Keller, a spokesman for Brown-Waite, apologized for the mistake, explaining that staffers write early drafts and that the congresswoman signs off on the final version.

Pfft. In the office I worked in, the staff would not be so incompetent as to allow something like THAT to leave the office, and such an asinine statement would not have been made in the first place (and yes, for those who don't know, the office I worked in was that of Congresswoman Karen Thurman. You do the math about my motives.)

Seriously, Brown-Waite is the creature who wanted to trot over to France and dig up our World War II veterans when the French wouldn't blindly follow us into Iraq in 2003. She takes the political lemming thing seriously: patriotism and sheepdom are one and the same for both citizens and allies.