Archive | October, 2012

Chris Christie: Storm Damage and Broken Clocks

30 Oct

Governor Chris Christie (R – NJ) has never been shy about his criticisms of the Obama administration. It’s especially notable, then, to see him set aside politics this week as his state copes with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. Noting the importance of Federal assistance as New Jersey copes with natural disasters the like of which it seldom sees, Christie praised the President and his hands-on approach to the storm.

The president has been all over this and he deserves great credit. I’ve been on the phone with him, like I said, yesterday, personally, three times. He gave me his number at the White House, told me to call him if I needed anything, and he absolutely means it. It’s been very good working with the president, and he and his administration have been coordinating with us great. It’s been wonderful.

Truly a broken clock moment for Gov. Christie, who deserves credit for doing everything he can for the citizens of his state.

Hurricanes don’t have politics; they devastate everyone in their path. Sadly, the GOP ticket for the White House has indicated an approach that would have left New Jersey in a very different situation. Remember nearly a year ago when “severely conservative” Mitt Romney was wreaking devastation on his primary opponents? He actually indicated that he found Federal disaster programs “immoral” because of their impact on the budget. His running mate, Paul Ryan, is a primary architect of a proposed Federal budget that would gut the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As the New York Times notes:

Over the last two years, Congressional Republicans have forced a 43 percent reduction in the primary FEMA grants that pay for disaster preparedness. Representatives Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have repeatedly tried to refuse FEMA’s budget requests when disasters are more expensive than predicted, or have demanded that other valuable programs be cut to pay for them. The Ryan budget, which Mr. Romney praised as “an excellent piece of work,” would result in severe cutbacks to the agency, as would the Republican-instigated sequester, which would cut disaster relief by 8.2 percent on top of earlier reductions.

In spite of this, the President has worked with his administration to significantly improve disaster response protocols, making the aftermath of Sandy easier to bear despite the horrific devastation. This storm provides a sad, practical illustration of the importance of this election.

TSM wishes the best for everyone feeling the effects of Sandy and sends all our positive energy to the storm-struck states.

Making the World Better

29 Oct

As election day grows ever nearer and as I challenge myself daily on the issue, I am charging everyone with the task of reflection. We must each ask ourselves: “What are we doing to make the world a better place for all?”  I suspect many TSM readers fail at this task as often as I do, or perhaps I fail more often than TSM readers.

I have been reflecting a great deal of what life was like in the very early 1970s and how the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the Black Panthers, Gay Liberation, and the American Indian Movement all collectively helped to challenge a dominant white heterosexual discourse, helping marginalized voices to gain strength, visibility, and respect. I will also admit that watching old episodes of Maude and the Sonny and Cher Show helped spark this reflection.  The United States seems to have dropped the conversation of what am I doing for my country and what am I doing to heal the world.

As people are getting ready to cast their ballots on November 6, 2012, I would ask that each person reflect on the following issues: Am I working to ensure that women get the health care they need and not blaming them for being raped? Am I part of the conversation to end racism, or does my silence implicate me? Do I stand with LGBT brothers and sisters for equality, or am I working to deny my fellow human beings basic civil rights? Do I take the time to address issues of poverty and work to create policies that create a level playing field, or do I subscribe to the very false notion that people need to pull them selves up by their boot straps?

I encourage Americans to think about how do we heal a nation so divided while also thinking about how do we help all of our brothers and sisters.

Hero of the Week Award: October 26: John English and company

26 Oct

Hero of the Week

Once again the lies of a Republican politician have forced an everyday American to come face to face with vicious hypocrisy; once again an everyday American has found the strength to speak truth to power. It started with an ordinary political ad.

Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren is running a spot featuring three people who lost loved ones to mesothelioma resulting from exposure to asbestos. The three thank Warren for her work representing their families and achieving a settlement from the corporations that refused to take responsibility. They also mention Sen. Scott Brown, Warren’s opponent, and his attempts to lie about her record of defending corporate victims.

When asked about the ad, Scott Brown brushed it aside, claiming, “A lot of them are paid. Listen, you can get surrogates and go out and say your thing.” REALLY? Three decent people relive their personal tragedies to stand up for something they believe in and you call them liars and whores? You are Klassy with a K, Sen. Brown.

John English, who lost his father to the disease, was outraged and refused to let Brown get away with it. Taking time from his workday to set the record straight, he was very clear.

After taking care of my father for so long, it’s a little insulting. I’m not an overpaid actor. I’m an ordinary construction worker just like my father. […] Let Scott Brown tell me to my face that I am nothing but a paid actor, and I’ll set him straight on what it was like to watch my father suffocate to death.

Thank you, Mr. English. Thanks also to Ginny Jackson, who lost her husband and was subjected to the same outrageous abuse. Ms. Jackson replied

Sam and I were childhood sweethearts and we had been together since I was 15 years old. I came forward in this campaign because Massachusetts voters need to know the truth about what Elizabeth Warren did to help families like mine who were affected by asbestos poisoning, rather than Sen. Brown’s misleading attacks.

It’s horrifying that these people should have to defend themselves, but gratifying that they took the time to do so. If more people like Scott Brown were called out on their lies regularly, they might start to think before they speak.

Bigot of the Week Award: October 26: Richard Mourdock

26 Oct

Bigot of the Week

This week yet another Republican forgot his talking points and actually said what he meant. Thanks to my friend Jennifer Carey for pointing out this easy winner of this week’s BWA. Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock unseated long-time Indiana Republican Senator Dick Lugar in this year’s primaries. In the debate for the Senate race on Monday, Mourdock — currently the state Treasurer — was asked about abortion and came up with this astounding answer.

Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

That’s right, folks, if a woman is raped and discovers she is pregnant, she should just smile and know that she’s carrying a gift from God. Now that’s some compassionate conservatism!  I wonder if some intelligent person cut Mourdock’s penis off, would we just saythat God intended that to happen?

Mourdock is just the latest in a series of Republicans who forgot to dissemble when asked about abortion and rape. Todd Akin and Linda McMahon have both put their electoral hopes on the skids with their spouting off. Let’s hope that Mourdock has done the same and that the extremist nominees put forward by the Teahadists dash any chances the GOP had of taking the Senate in November.

Dishonorable mention goes to the great dissembler himself, Mitt Romney. The Mittbot had just released a 30-second spot endorsing Mourdock before the debate. This is the only Senate race in which Romney has so actively inserted himself. Faced with Mourdock’s comments, Romney issued a bland “I disagree” and has since gone silent; he has not, however pulled the ads. Which is it Mitt?

The Power of Civil Discourse: Strengthening Marriage

25 Oct

This is the story of two men who had radically opposing views. By making an effort, and engaging in a real conversation, they came to an understanding that shifted the course of their relationship and of an organizational mission. Thanks to regular TSM reader Bruce Kestelman for pointing me to their tale.

Jonathan Rauch is a well-known political activist, speaker, and writer. He is also a gay man and a staunch advocate for marriage equality; foes have called him “the most formidable and persuasive voice for same-sex marriage.” David Blankenhorn is a conservative fathers’ rights advocate and the founder and president of the Institute for American Values. He has been a strong advocate of “mother-father marriage” and a vocal opponent of equality. The two men have naturally been long aware of each other and have traded barbs in the press. Something fundamental began to shift in their interaction in 2004.

They shared the stage at a 2004 promoting Rauch’s book, Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. Blankenhorn intended to make his usual (flawed) pitch for marriage as a procreational institution but got caught up in his emotions and engaged in some nasty attacks on Rauch. Shockingly, he called Rauch the next day to apologize, something Rauch says had never happened before. They began talking and over the course of years realized that fundamentally they shared a goal: making marriage a stronger and more viable institution in the United States.

Through their dialogue and growing friendship, Rauch learned the value of finding common ground with an opponent (if possible). Blankenhorn underwent an even more fundamental shift, and has changed his position on marriage. While he still believes in the value of “traditional” marriage, he sees the value in sharing basic civil rights to provide a solid foundation to the institution he values. In June of this year, he published a passionate editorial endorsing marriage equality. That move has cost his organization donors and Board members, but he firmly believes it was right.

There are a couple of valuable lessons here. First, it’s helpful to listen to what your perceived opponents are really saying. Finding common ground may result in real dialogue and create an opportunity to change hearts and minds. (That’s not always possible, of course. Some people will hold onto their positions without thought or care. Discussions with such people become much like the legendary time-waste of teaching a pig to sing. A second — and very valuable — lesson for the LGBT community is the power of visibility. Blankenhorn changed his mind because he got to know a gay man and came to realize that his position was untenable given its impact on his friend. Fear breeds in ignorance; knowledge is power.

A Dirt That Just Won’t Wash Clean: Log Cabin Republicans

24 Oct

I fear I have to lambaste the loathsome, lethal, lugubrious, loony Log Cabin Republicans.  Is it just greed, or a combination of stupidity, self-loathing, and greed that make up the character(less) folk in the Log Cabin Republicans?  Today, a foul stench wafted over the country from the LCR as they endorsed the Romenybot.  What will be next? Will African-Americans propose  David Duke as a write-in candidate?  Will Native Americans propose we have a national holiday celebrating Andrew Jackson as Planned Parenthood pursues an Akin/Schlafly ticket? What can explain this bat shit crazy behavior?

They say that the endorsement has something to do with improving the economy. Need we revisit that the Romney/Ryan economic plan is not worth the paper it was printed on? That his plan mirrors the eight horrific years that got us into the mess that our current president has actually started to reverse? Oh, and how about that pledge Romney signed to REVOKE all rights gained by the LGBTQ community and WASTE tax payer money defending DOMA? He may dance around it in public, but it’s still front and center on his website…

Please, I eagerly await some type of intelligent response from an LCR spokesgibbon.  I know this group is sharing a brain, but whoever has it currently, could you get back to my readers and me on this one?

P.S. Thanks to the always thought-provoking and bracingly honest Rep. Barney Frank (D – Sorry to see you retire!) for taking the time to demolish the lame mediocrities included in the LCR endoresment.

Defense of Marriage Act Gets Even More Indefensible

22 Oct

Chief Judge Jacobs insists on Heightened Scrutiny

This week yet another court rejected the horrific “Defense” of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA. Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Thursday that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional. That’s the section that forbids the Federal government from providing benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their state of residence.

There are a couple of remarkable things about this ruling. The first is Chief Judge Jacobs himself. He is an extremely conservative judge, first appointed to the federal bench by George H.W. Bush, not known for his prowess in appointing judges, a la Clarence Thomas. His rulings over the years are aggressively pro-business and have little regard for marginalized populations. His opinions are often in the mode of people like Antonin Scalia.

Even more remarkable, Jacobs is the second judge in a few weeks not just to strike down DOMA, but to do so by invoking “heightened scrutiny” for LGBT Americans. This is a particularly strong ruling, requiring that laws negatively impacting the gay community must pass several tests relating to government interests before even being considered constitutional. It’s the same level of scrutiny required when looking at laws that impact people based on their race. In all four factors in Windsor v. United States, Jacobs finds that the matter requires heightened scrutiny.

A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.

This is the fourth case this year to strike down one or more parts of DOMA. Three have been decided by fairly conservative justices, using rationale that relies on states rights and other principles tied to conservative jurisprudence. All four are bound for appeals to the Supreme Court. Given the way things have been set up, there’s a reasonable chance that at least one of the conservative justices would uphold the ruling(s), gutting or overturning DOMA. It’s not over ’til the fat justice sings, but something significant is bound to happen during this SCOTUS year.

As the country grows increasingly supportive of marriage equality, the Republican tactics of marginalization look more vicious and archaic than ever. John Boehner’s House has spent nearly $1.5 MILLION in taxpayer funds to defend DOMA. He’s lost every time and has just about expended the whole amount budgeted for bigotry. Will he try to authorize more to argue his case before the Supreme Court?  To add to further to the tragedy that is Boehner, we have Presidential candidate Romney running on a platform to strip people of civil rights, specifically women, the LGBT community, and anyone that might fall into the sad 47%.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

21 Oct

While I usually leave movie reviews to my friend and fellow blogger, Feminéma, I felt very compelled to review Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  This movie fits perfectly into the issues addressed by TSM — issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and social justice.

The tremendously talented ensemble cast make this movie an extraordinary treat, as they tackle aging, racism, marginalization, homophobia, and end of life issues. Tom Wilkinson is exceedingly convincing as a gay retired man returning to India to reconnect with the love of his life.  Wilkinson’s real life wife, Diana Hardcastle, plays the delightful easygoing Carol, who is eager to embrace her life. Former Absolutely Fabulous star, Celia Imrie, does an amazing job of a woman also wanting to reinvent herself, but also scared of what that might look like.

Another quite lovely and somewhat complicated story line is that of Penelope Wilton’s character, Jean and the demise of her marriage to Douglas, played by Bill Nighy (who was also brilliant in Love Actually). The story of Jean and Douglas is bittersweet and at times difficult to watch as they both wrestle with what they want their respective lives to look like during the autumn of their lives.  Penelope Wilton does a marvelous job of showing how many women of her age live fear based lives that can be paralyzing.  Juxtaposed with Jean, we have the recently widowed Evelyn, played by Judi Dench.  Evelyn is a picture of the complexities of a woman experiencing grief and at the same time living with great intentionality and pushing herself to forge a new life on her own terms. Rounding out the cast is the always marvelous Maggie Smith, whose racist character shows hidden depths as the bitterness of her first scene is explained and we get to watch her grow in ways that surprise even her.

In total, I found the movie to be inspirational and offers great hope.  There are times when it is nice to just watch a movie and leave feeling fueled.  I felt very nourished after watching this film, and extend an invitation to TSM readers to rent Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  

Hero of the Week Award: October 19, Timothy Kurek

19 Oct

Hero of the Week

Just over two years ago, Timothy Kurek was what he describes as a “homophobic Christian.” He believed that the Bible prohibited homosexual behavior and made no effort to reconcile that with true Christian love and charity. Then a close friend came out to him and told him the story of her estrangement from her entire family. That made him think again.

Inspired to take a journey of true empathy, Kurek decided to spend a year masquerading as a gay man. He came out to friends and family and tried to integrate himself into the gay community in Nashville. The experience was more difficult and enlightening than he expected.

He has just published a book about his experiences, The Cross In the Closet, and is touring the country describing the work he did not just to wear a mask, but to open hearts and minds. Although his “coming out” was difficult for his family, he describes them now as active supporters of the LGBT community, a major change from their perspectives before his adventure. Those attitudes have stayed positive even after he revealed the nature of his project.

In less capable hands, the whole thing could come off like a media stunt. Kurek, however, is very genuine. He felt a true calling to understand his brothers and sisters and describes his difficulties as a “gay man” in terms of true struggle and oppression. Significantly, he realizes that his experiences, while enlightening, were still relatively safe.

I will be the first one to say that my experience is severely limited. There is no way I could possibly understand what it’s like to be actually gay. And the book itself is not at all about what it is like to be gay, but only about how the label of gay impacted my external life and how those things kind of altered my faith and challenged my beliefs.

What a wonderful sentiment and expression of true charity and love.

Bigot of the Week Award: October 19, Jason and Tommy Thompson (with a dash of Linda McMahon)

19 Oct

Bigot of the Week

This week the Wisconsin Senate campaign of Republican Tommy Thompson hit a new low. At an RNC fundraiser Thompson’s son Jason, campaigning for his father and for Mitt Romney, decided to inject a little racism into things.

[Let’s] send President Obama back to Chicago—or Kenya.

REALLY? Are the Republicans still hooked on the racist themes of birtherism? Have they no real issues to run on? Jason Thompson offered a nonpology saying that his boss and his dad were irritated with him and he is sorry if anyone was offended. Nice way to avoid responsibility for the actual racist words you said. Tommy Thompson, meanwhile, has denied that his son actually said anything offensive, despite the ample online evidence of him uttering those very words. Not too big a shock from a man who has also violated a campaign pledge to stick to issues but consistently points out his opponent’s, Tammy Baldwin’s, sexual orientation–nothing like good old racism, homophobia, and misogyny coming from the Republicans.

Not wanting to be left behind, Connecticut Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon dished out some crazy this week too. (Thanks to my friend Jennifer Carey for this dishonorable mention.) Trying to pretend she’s pro-choice while placating her far-right base, McMahon argued against asking religious hospitals and employers to provide contraception. Dancing around the issue, she managed to create a whole new phrase: “emergency rape.” Nobody’s quite sure what she meant or how it differs from other GOP constructions like legitimate, honest, easy, or forcible rape. But of course words don’t have to mean anything as long as they get you votes.

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