Phelps Teaches Tolerance

Edgy performance artist, Fred Phelps came to Rhode Island with his traveling troupe to put on the show they have been doing nationwide. The response was gratifying. Phelps’ dramatization of the ugliness of hatred and the destructive and irrational face of religious bigotry taken to its logical extreme spurred Rhode Islanders to unanimously reject prejudice and violence.

We are, after all, the state founded by Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson.

It was heartwarming to see high school students on the front page of the Journal rallying for tolerance, supported by school superintendent Mario Cirillo, who is a military veteran.

Despite the effectiveness of Phelps’ strategy for promoting gay rights and discrediting prejudice, I can’t endorse his tactics. I have to say as a gay rights supporter that the end does not justify the means. Phelps’ performances are not nonviolent.

It’s a kind of accomplishment in reverse that in the 21st century someone has managed to invent a new form of disgraceful conduct, forcing states to pass laws against behavior that no one had thought of before.

I’m referring, of course, to harassing bereaved families at funerals. Nothing, not world peace and a cure for AIDS, and baldness, can justify such a tactic. That is violation of the worst kind. Phelps may be carried away with his urgent mission to discredit religious fundamentalism, particularly Calvinism. But like many performance artists he takes it too far.

Some might be led to think that he really believes the hateful slogans he and his fellow actors paint on signs.

Although he succeeded in organizing pro-gay rights demonstrations on short notice, and ensuring the demonstrations would be well-covered in the news, I wish he would go home. He has business of his own to take care of, unless the Lord takes him before the lawyers do.

Cornel Young

This brings up painful memories of the death of Sergeant Cornel Young Jr., shot in 2000 by other officers who had mistaken him for a suspect.

NEW YORK (AP) — A plainclothes policeman who drew his gun while chasing someone he had found rummaging through his car was shot and killed by a fellow officer who was driving by and saw the pursuit, the police commissioner said.

Sorry to see this happen again, and my condolences to the family of Officer Omar J. Edwards, and to the family of Sergeant Cornel Young Jr., who have not forgotten.

Men of Honor

I got this link from tomp93 who was commenting on Rhode Island’s Future, just seemed like a good thing to mention today. Let’s give credit to the deserving and ignore disgraceful behavior.

The Patriot Guard Riders started attending funerals and forming a line of flags and motorcycles to block people attending military funerals from having to see protesters who began appearing at military funerals. But as the group has grown and more families request the honor cordon, the riders now attend all funerals of fallen servicemembers when asked, Mayer said.

Mayer emphasized that the group attends funerals only at the family’s request. “We recognize that this is a very private affair, and we ensure that the family wants us to be there and that we’re not intruding on their feelings,” he said.

The goal, he said, is to show respect for fallen servicemembers and “to show a grieving family and a sometimes shocked community that America still cares.”

Self-discipline, respect and decency speak louder than all the shouting of those who abuse our freedom of speech. When the shouters have worn themselves out, good people like the Patriot Guard will still be there.

Free the Starving Artists!

Excellent article in the Washington Monthly about the liberating potential of accessible, affordable, universal health insurance. Small business owners, entrepreneurs, and creative people like artists and musicians often have to take their chances because health insurance is unaffordable or unobtainable.

There are many people who are willing to sacrifice, live on little and invest in a dream, but one accident or health emergency can ruin everything they’ve worked for. Others resign themselves to staying in a job for the health insurance benefits.

Universal health insurance, far from suppressing entrepreneurship, could be a boon to it.

The main reason for this is a phenomenon known as “job lock,” a term coined during the last round of debate over universal health coverage in the early 1990s. Job lock refers to the fact that workers are often unwilling to leave a current job that provides health insurance for another position that might not, even if they would be more productive in that other position. This is because employer-provided insurance is traditionally the only reliable form of fairly priced private insurance coverage available in the U.S. The alternative is to purchase insurance in the nongroup market, where insurance prices and availability are typically not regulated, so insurance companies can drop individuals when they become ill or charge them exorbitant prices. As a result, individuals feel “locked” into less productive jobs.

We have a generation of college students who already have loans to pay off. Let’s insure everyone so that they can make the best choices to reach their potential.

Professor Donna Hughes on ‘Happy Endings’

Donna Hughes, an expert on human trafficking and one of the speakers at the community forum that started the Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking attended a screening of ‘Happy Endings’ at AS220 this Sunday, May 24.

I have differences with Dr. Hughes, and left the Coalition because I didn’t want to be a source of dissension. After the first year, the Coalition seemed on course to support a bill that would ‘close the loophole’ and facilitate arresting alleged prostitutes and customers.

Dr. Hughes supports bill H5044A, which would criminalize selling or buying sex, and offer exemptions for people who were forced or threatened. The bill would close the loophole but what next? Will it be enforced to rescue trafficked people, or to close sex businesses that are a nuisance or economic liability to their neighborhoods?

To detect and prosecute human trafficking will take political will, and a Coalition that won’t disperse once the bill is passed. Anyway, here is Dr. Hughes’ commentary, via her listserve, Dignity–

Donna M. Hughes
Professor, University of Rhode Island

May 25, 2009

Several people have asked me for my opinion about the film “Happy Endings?” On Sunday, I had the opportunity to see the entire film. Here are my comments.

The film should not be viewed by underage children because it includes a sex act filmed in one of the spa-brothels. Some adults may be offended by this.

This is not a film that should be used for education on sex trafficking.

Tara Hurley, the filmmaker, has testified before the RI House Judiciary Committee and said on talk shows that based on observations making the film, there is no sex trafficking in Rhode Island. This is the view that is conveyed by “Happy Endings?”

There are serious omissions of information about the people in the film and political biases that the filmmaker does not acknowledge.

The filmmaker does not identify the three Korean women interviewed in the film as brothel owners or operators. They are not the women doing the sex acts. By definition, the women interviewed in the film are women pimps and possibly traffickers. The women-pimps have a vested interest is saying that the women are there voluntarily. (Letting the women-pimps speak for the women doing the sex acts is like letting the owners of a sweat shop speak for the people running the sewing machines. Of course, they say the workers are content.)

Much of the film was made at an Asian spa-brothel called Central Health (76 Derry Street, Providence). This brothel was included in a federal investigation of Asian Organized Crime for sex trafficking and money laundering. It was one of 31 brothels in an organized crime network operating along the east coast from Boston to South Carolina. (U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York v. Tae Hoon Kim, Sung Chul Il, Fnu Lnu, Tae Jun Park, Kyong Polachek, Byong Il Son, Jin Sook Kim Lee, and Miae Choi-son, August 14, 2006.) During this investigation victims of trafficking were identified. They were controlled with threats to their families in South Korea.

One woman-pimp who is interviewed in the film tried to open a spa-brothel in Fox Point (and was defeated by community organizing against it). She was the operator of Asian Fantasies spa-brothel in Warwick (1550 B Post Road), which was raided last month (April 11, 2009).

The third woman says at the end of the film that she is going to open her own spa-brothel.

We never hear the voices of the women at the bottom, the ones who are sexually exploited and often abused, and sometimes trafficked. We only hear the voices of the women-pimps and two male pimps.

Filmmaker Hurley does not identify close relationship to the sex industry. According to her own blog she has been asked by the Erotic Service Providers Union to be their representative in Rhode Island. A convicted madam from this organization visited her in February. They discussed strategies to decriminalize prostitution.

Hurley has been showing her film in sex industry venues (not human rights film festivals). The film “Happy Endings?” premiered at an erotic film festival (Cinekink) in New York City in January. Next it will be shown as part of a Sex Workers Film Festival in San Francisco in June. (The hostess of the festival is Carol Leigh, also known as “The Scarlet Harlot,” who recently published a book entitled The Unrepentant Whore.)

The film has a grotesque quality to it. All the faces are blurred out, the voices are disguised. The camera often focuses only on the mouth or body of the speaker. There is grainy black and white footage from surveillance cameras inside the spa-brothel. For a number of scenes of men coming to the brothel, Hurley filmed from an upstairs window of the brothel.

If you already know something about sex trafficking in Rhode Island, you can pick-up a few interesting details from the film, but overall, most viewers will leave confused, or worse, they will believe what the women-pimps that say about women choosing to work in the brothels. It is not fair to the exploited and abused women to pretend that this film represents their lives.