Archive | January, 2014

Bigot of the Week Award, January 31: Thomas Perkins and the Wall Street Journal

31 Jan
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

Sadly, there was yet again a plethora of bigots to choose from this week, but none  so clearly sank to such a nasty level as this BWA, making this week’s winner  an easy choice. Venture capitalist Thomas Perkins wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal complaining about the way the rich are treated in the United States. Yes, you read that correctly, this rich, straight, white guy is feeling mistreated because a few progressive voices are complaining about the lopsided distribution of wealth and inequitable treatment of people based on their net worth.

The myopia and hypocrisy would be tragically laughable, but Perkins managed to work in a bizarre Nazi reference and some aggressive anti-Semitism.

Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.” … Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?

Did anyone else throw up while reading that? What is this man smoking? American progressives are the “descendants” of the Nazis? Jews in 1930s Germany were the equivalent of Perkins, Romney, Koch, and the other malevolent 1%ers in America? Perkins has no shame, no sense of history, and a stunning lack of awareness of his own power and privilege.

Perkins’ writings were horrific enough. Sadly, the Journal saw fit to print them. Going one step further, after an unprecendented wave of protest hit the paper, the editors published a feature entitled “Perkinsnacht.”  They called his letter “unfortunate, albeit provocative” — begging the question of why they published it — and then stepped up the hypocrisy with this gem:

the vituperation is making our friend’s point about liberal intolerance — maybe better than he did.

So, people calling a nasty bigot a nasty bigot is intolerant? Blasting anti-Semitic, hyper-privileged nonsense as nonsense is intolerant? I don’t think that word means what the editors think it means. This is such a grotesque situation that it leaves me in despair.  Are we to really supposed to pity people who carry enormous amounts of power, wealth, and privilege? I worry that not only does Perkins have no moral compass, but that the Wall Street Journal also lacks any sense of proportion or irony.

Dishonorable mention goes to long-time conservative hack Michelle Malkin, who opted to use her column inches this week to defend Perkins. Wringing her hands about the “grievance industry” of “wealth-shaming,” she accused Perkins’ detractors of participating in a “bullying epidemic.” Just a note, Ms. Malkin — the last refuge of a bully is accusing others of bullying…

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Farewell Pete Seeger, Social Justice Activist

28 Jan

Pete Seeger at his home in Beacon NY 9.14.2005Yesterday the world lost one of its longest-lasting voices for social justice. Pete Seeger — singer, songwriter, environmentalist, peace activist, and social justice pioneer — died at the age of 94. His long musical career was inextricably interwoven with his passion for equity and basic human rights.

Seeger was born in Manhattan in 1919. His father, Charles Seeger, founded the first collegiate musicology program in California in 1912 but was forced to resign for his outspoken pacifism during the first World War. His stepmother, Ruth Crawford Seeger was a noted composer and one of the most important resources for folk music in the early 20th Century. Pete blended what he learned in his youth into a long, beautiful career.

He learned banjo and began singing, passions that derailed his attempt to pursue a journalism degree. While he considered his future, he began working with the legendary Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress, cataloging early folk and protest music. He joined the integrated cast of the radio broadcast Back Where I Come From, joining Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, Leadbelly, and other luminaries. Although the ensemble was well received — including an invitation by Eleanor Roosevelt to perform at the White House — the racially integrated cast kept the show from national syndication.

An avowed socialist, Seeger had first met Guthrie at Will Geer’s Grapes of Wrath concert for migrant workers’ rights. His politics became an ever-stronger part of his music. He sang with the Almanac Singers, a group designed to function as a singing newspaper promoting the industrial unionization movement, racial and religious inclusion, and other progressive causes. That group evolved into the Weavers, which had a huge hit with Leadbelly’s Goodnight Irene in 1950. Throughout the music, he attended and organized many protest and activist events.

Although he decried Stalin’s perversion of socialist values, he remained committed to equity and workers’ rights, causes that brought him before the House Unamerican Activities Committee in 1955. Refusing to bow to pressure, he summed up basic American values in his famous response to the Committee’s questions:

I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.

As a result he was indicted and tracked by Congressional officers for the better part of a decade, losing many performing opportunities. This did not stop him from performing and speaking out, including early work in the growing civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Seeger sang and spoke out for decades, providing wonderful music and powerful messages. He and Joan Baez helped popularize the use of We Shall Overcome as a civil rights anthem. He co-wrote famous protest and equality songs like Where Have All the Flowers Gone, If I Had A Hammer, Turn! Turn! Turn!, and The Bells of Rhymney. He championed disarmament, opposed American intervention in Vietnam (and all subsequent wars and military actions), fought for environmental justice, and demanded quality education (including the teaching of music) for all children.

Seeger never slowed down. In his 94th year he appeared at concerts and events for Farm Aid, activist Leonard Peltier, and a protest commemorating the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. quietly passionate, firm in his beliefs, and actively engaged over a more than 80-year career, Seeger was a model of social justice and civic engagement. His legacy is indelible and his witty, bright presence will be sorely missed.

Bigot of the Week Award, January 24: Sarah Palin

24 Jan

sarah-palin-finger-485x322Wow! I’m not quite sure where to even start here but I over heard a member of the KKK saying to one of his fellow Klan members: “Palin is really racist.” On MLK Day, a day one hopes people are doing some reflection about equality, equity, and new ways to eradicate racism and hate, Sarah Palin decided to exert her white power and privilege, showing just how racist she really is.

Palin addressed President Obama on her Facebook page with:

Happy MLK, Jr. Day!

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. President, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all who commit to ending any racial divide, no more playing the race card.

Not only does Palin manage to desecrate Dr. King’s sentiments, but she tells President Obama and all black people in the United States that racism must be over, so “quit saying you have experienced racism.” I can’t even imagine a more encompassing way to dishonor people’s history and narratives — to be completely ignorant of both history and current events. If possible, Palin has sunk further into the mire of the rancid tea leaves.  Her obliviousness speaks to overwhelming power and privilege.  Even just writing about her, I feel as though I will need a Silkwood Shower afterward. I will recommend that Palin do some reading about racism in the United States.

I need to thank my dear friend, Jennifer Carey for this week’s Dishonorable Mention.  Republican congressional candidate Susanne Atanus continues to prove how very charm free she really is. Atanus, who is running for Representative in Illinois’ 9th congressional district covering Chicago’s Far North Side and the North Shore suburbs, is working hard to corner the market on hate and fear mongering. Atanus feels quite comfortable speaking for God, as she wants everyone to know God controls the weather, and that autism and dementia are his punishments for the gay rights movement and abortions. Well that seems completely logical to me.

Atanus stated:

God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions,” she added, blaming natural disasters like tornadoes and diseases including autism and dementia on recent advances in the LGBT movement. “Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it’s in our military it will weaken our military. We need to respect God.

I left rather speechless here. All I can say is that it might be a good idea for Atanus and Palin to get married, for they make quite the couple.

Katie Couric and the Transgender Community

23 Jan

Katie CouricI need to thank my friends Nel Ward and Jodi Sisson, both of whom have amazing voices for social justice, for inspiring me to write this story.  I have always appreciated Katie Couric, never more than when she interviewed Sarah Palin. Couric was one of the very few who actually approached Palin as a journalist, for which I will always be grateful. Sadly, this story brings up many questions for me around Couric’s intent and impact on the targeted transgender population.

Katie hosted  Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) and model Carmen Carrera. While there was a little space for each woman to talk about their current respective projects, Couric seemed unpleasantly focused on genitalia and sadly kept showing pictures of Carrera in bandages — a constant reminder of surgery. What a sad loss of the opportunity for Couric to have demonstrated some solidarity with the transgender community. Can we focus on “hearts not parts?”

What was lovely was how Laverne Cox handled the interview.  She was exceedingly gracious and did a marvelous job of highlighting her activism within the LGBTQ community. Brava!

I don’t want to judge Couric too harshly here. I don’t presume to know the workings of her heart. I am trying to give her the benefit of the doubt and allow for: perhaps she was trying to set the stage for Cox and Carrera to educate the general population around transgender issues and how transgender people have to navigate the world very differently from cisgender people. I hope this was the case, and that Couric was just clumsy in this attempt.  Cox does a marvelous job of addressing the bizarre focus on genitalia:

That preoccupation…objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we’re targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community and our unemployment rate is twice the national average…When we focus on transition, we don’t get to talk about those things.

Perfectly stated. Again, I will challenge us all to focus on Hearts Not Parts! Ms. Couric, if I have in any way misrepresented you, I welcome your feedback.

Sadly, we have more concrete evidence of transphobia, which Cox addressed, in Louisiana. Councilman Ron Webb of Shreveport, LA said: “The Bible tells you homosexuals are an abomination” adding that he “does not socialize with LGBT people,” in his opposition to a bill that would protect LGBT people from discrimination. Webb was using his bible as a weapon to justify his bigotry.  Fortunately, Pamela Raintree, a transgender woman, addresses Webb in a most eloquent way and causing Webb to withdraw his opposition:

“Leviticus 20:13 states, ‘If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, they shall surely put him to death,'” Raintree began. “I brought the first stone, Mr. Webb, in case that your Bible talk isn’t just a smoke screen for personal prejudices.”

Well done, Ms. Raintree!  Fortunately, here in Portland, Oregon we have several organizations that support transgender people, including TransActive, which supports transgender youth.

MLK Day 2014: Public Service

20 Jan

Day of ServiceIt’s not just another holiday. In 1994, President Clinton signed legislation – put forward by Sen. Harris Wofford (D – PA) and Rep. John Lewis (D – GA) – which transformed the decade-old holiday. The goal was to challenge Americans to use the day for citizen action and volunteer service. As noted on the official site for the day, “It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems.” What a lovely lens of social justice. Sadly, our most pressing national problems remain: racism, homophobia, misogyny, poverty, and increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness.

The legacy of Dr. King is multi-faceted. While he is known as a civil rights leader, he also maintained that these rights required the active engagement of all citizens. Civic engagement is a key component of being part of a democratic society.  There is great value in communities being interdependent.

In the era of standardized testing and teaching to those  tests rather than skills (a legacy from the George W years), civics has been sadly omitted as a part of regular curriculum. For the record, civics is “the study of the rights and duties of citizenship.” (Oxford Compact Dictionary) Social Studies is often only the residue of the rote names and dates approach to learning, leaving out the active role granted to and required of good citizens a la The Social Contract.

The Center for Civic Education is working hard to change this circumstance. The Campaign to Promote Civic Education effort is a fifty-state campaign (including the District of Columbia) aimed at restoring the civic mission of our nation’s schools by encouraging states and school districts to devote sustained and systematic attention to civic education from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

In Oregon, civics was dropped as a part of core curriculum in 1997. Recently, a concerned Legislature created the Civics and Financial Education Task Force to address the gaps in civic education. The final report of the task force articulates significant frustration with the current climate in education but does propose a small return to civics education beginning this school year.

As you enjoy the holiday, please give some thought to what you do to give back to your community. If you are not able to volunteer today, look for an opportunity in your area and commit some time. If there are young people in your life, take the time to make sure they are learning about their role in an active, meaningful democracy. And, just for fun, revisit some civic learning that might just make you smile, because being a part of a free society should also bring us joy. We must all stand in solidarity if we are to eradicate racism, homophobia, misogyny, and poverty.

The 50 Year War on Poverty: Where Are We Today?

16 Jan

LBJContinuing with my desire for an increased awareness around issues of poverty and class — which automatically addresses issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and the many other intersections of identities — I thought it might be helpful to do some reflection since President Johnson initiated his War on Poverty 50 years ago.

As we reflect on issues of poverty and class (and all of the implications therein), it might be helpful to keep in mind that today over half of the members of the United States Congress are millionaires. Yes, leading the pack is our Republican Darrell (I Hate the Poor) Issa, with a net worth of approximately $464 million dollars. Of course, Republican Obstructionist Mitch McConnell also made the list of millionaires.  When those crafting policy are so far removed from the practical concerns of everyday people, it’s no wonder that they make so little effort to improve the lives of those people.

For years, polls have shown that the top priority for Americans is job creation. Congress has done virtually nothing. Instead, congressional Republicans have wasted money fighting the Affordable Care Act, a law that ensures that the poorest still have access to necessary health services. Trying to score Tea Points, they shut down the government, again disproportionately harming the poorest, both government employees and service users.

In a nation where the highest court has decided that corporations are people, it comes as no surprise that those conglomerate entities wield their power to collect more wealth. The result is an increasingly skewed distribution not just of wealth but of security. People who are scrambling for a basic living have precious little time to fight for their rights. That makes the recent fast food and Wal-Mart strikes even more impressive.

War on Poverty? It seems like poverty is winning, abetted by the authorities who should be bearing arms against it. How sad this makes me for the late President Johnson, who tried so hard to address issues of poverty by creating social programs that would help lift people out of poverty without judgement and shame.

Here we are now 50 years post Johnson’s initiatives according to the Pew Research Center:

Today, most poor Americans are in their prime working years In 2012, 57% of poor Americans were ages 18 to 64, versus 41.7% in 1959.

Far fewer elderly are poor: In 1966, 28.5% of Americans ages 65 and over were poor; by 2012 just 9.1% were. There were 1.2 million fewer elderly poor in 2012 than in 1966, despite the doubling of the total elderly population.

But childhood poverty persists: Poverty among children younger than 18 began dropping even before the War on Poverty. From 27.3% in 1959, childhood poverty fell to 23% in 1964 and to 14% by 1969. Since then, however, the childhood poverty rate has risen, fallen and, since the 2007-08 financial crisis, risen again.

Poverty is more evenly distributed, though still heaviest in the South: In 1969, 45.9% of poor Americans lived in the South, a region that accounted for 31% of the U.S. population at the time. At 17.9%, the South’s poverty rate was far above other regions. In 2012, the South was home to 37.3% of all Americans and 41.1% of the nation’s poor people; though the South’s poverty rate, 16.5%, was the highest among the four Census-designated regions, it was only 3.2 percentage points above the lowest (the Midwest).

Sadly, today we see our own version of the Hunger Games being played out.  The people with the most power have the most money and continue to strip benefits from those that need it the most.  Perhaps obliviousness is their greatest privilege.

Texas: Where the Men Are Men and the Women are Property

10 Jan

G0524WARONWOMEN7I need to thank my friend Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this story. The state of Texas isn’t known as a safe place for women or a bastion of reproductive rights. A new case arising in a Texas hospital takes things to a new low, however.

Marlise Munoz suffered what appeared to be a blood clot and collapsed in her kitchen. She was rushed to the hospital but doctors were unable to revive her. They informed the family that she was brain dead. Her husband and parents sadly prepared to honor her explicit wishes and disconnect her from life support.

The hiccup? Ms. Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant. Under Texas law, care cannot be removed from a pregnant woman. Although medical ethics experts argue that the law applies to vegetative and comatose patients, John Peter Smith Hospital opted for a broad interpretation rather than risk legal action, and applied it to Marlise Munoz. As her father bluntly observes:

All she is is a host for a fetus. I get angry with the state. What business did they have delving into these areas? Why are they practicing medicine up in Austin?

He is absolutely right. The law itself is horrific and violates personal and family choice. That these doctors would take it to such an extreme clearly illustrates how every chip made in the bedrock of reproductive rights can be opened into a chasm.

The hypocrisy is palpable. The hypothetical rights of a non-viable fetus have been elevated above the clear wishes of a woman and her family — and it’s all done in the name of protecting life. Of course, if that kid manages to be born and grows up to break the law, (s)he has a better chance of being executed in Texas than anywhere else in the country.

But that’s all right. After all, Marlise Munoz was just a woman. Sadly, women have more restrictions over the governance of their bodies since 1972.  I worry about the message this sends to both women and men. It has now become the norm for our government to police women’s bodies in ways that would never be acceptable to police men’s bodies.  For more information regarding the backwards trend for women’s reproductive rights, click here.

Update:

According to the New York Times there is some good news for this family: Judge R.H. Wallace Jr. of State District Court in Texas ordered the John Peter Smith Hospital to pronounce Marlise Munoz dead and to remover her from life support. Sadly, the hospital now has the chance to appeal that ruling, which would dishonor the wishes of Munoz’ family.

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