Tag Archives: Power

National Coming Out Day: Obsolete?

11 Oct

national_coming_out_day-395x400I know many of you will be clutching your pearls and grabbing your smelling salts when you now realize I am gay! Yes, there I said it.

I cannot underscore enough how important it is for LGBTQ people to be out and visible and I also realize there are still yet so many places in the United States and around the world where it is not safe to be visible. The more visible we are as a community, the more difficult it is to marginalize us and treat us as sub-human, or second class citizens, denied over 1,300 rights that our heterosexual brothers and sisters are granted just for being heterosexual. NO! National Coming Out Day is not obsolete, for it is still quite relevant and needed.

Much has improved! Watching President Obama advocate for LGBTQ rights during his inaugural speech brought me to tears, for I never thought in my lifetime I would witness the President of the United States talk about issues of equity for my community. Despite the fact that the LGBTQ community has made great strides in the past year, however, we are far from eradicating homophobia and all of the intersections that are linked to homophobia, such as racism and misogyny.

I actually think marriage equality is on the horizon for the United States and I caution people to remember this DOES not mean the end of homophobia.  While I am a great supporter and beneficiary of marriage equality, I also know we have to address the constant inequities for people who do not choose marriage. I would also encourage people to look at the many barriers transgender people still face, not to mention the increase in violence against the LGBTQ community in the past four years.

I hope that today there will be much celebrating as people find the courage to use their voices individually and collectively to be Out and Proud as a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, or Transgender person.  Living one’s life authentically allows for great freedom and of course supports the Gay Agenda!

 

Ferguson and the War on Human Rights

15 Aug

FergThe scenes and stories from Ferguson, MO are both tragic and profoundly disturbing.  The death of Michael Brown, Jr., shot in the back by officer Darren Wilson, resonates deeply and clearly sends the message about how black male youth are disproportionately targeted and profiled. That his death sparked brief but significant street violence is understandable, but also sad. That hundreds of people exercising their rights to peacefully demand answers and inform the public have been brutalized by the police takes things to another shocking level. I find myself despondent and distraught, and the whole situation has me reflecting on the intersections of racism, violent culture, and hypocrisy.  It feels to me as though we have learned nothing from history.

I still cannot believe that anyone claims we live in a post-racist society. If anything, the election of President Obama has proved just how deep racism runs and how willing people are to exercise it. From the halls of power to the streets of America, the story is the same. The thread that binds Michael Brown, Jr. to Trayvon Martin to Rodney King is unravelling from the uneasy tapestry of the Civil Rights movement. Sure, we’re all equal now, but if an African American man is someplace that authorities don’t think he should be, that equality evaporates very quickly.

Sadly, the force used to apply that racism is growing exponentially. As the NRA-sponsored culture of guns and violence expands, the reaction to any perceived threat is to shoot first and ask questions later. The officer who shot Michael Brown, Jr. may have felt justified in using his firearm, although that justification is difficult to understand. Even if he did, why did he keep firing until Brown was on the ground dead? How can justice be had for anyone when presumptions of guilt end in the cold facts of death?

The very language we hear from our leaders is steeped in violence. We can’t simply deal with substance abuse, we need a war on drugs. Want to justify endless military action? Start a war on terror. Nothing helps build the prison industrial complex like a war on crime. By waging war on abstractions, we use language to justify needless violence. Those with the least power naturally suffer the most, creating a vicious cycle of loss. When the federal government offloads military supplies to local governments, it is no surprise that those who feel they are fighting these supposed great evils act like combatants rather than civil servants and keepers of the peace.

That irony leads to violent hypocrisy. In the name of protecting the people, suddenly we must gas them. In the name of freedom, journalists must be arrested for being in a fast food restaurant. That hypocrisy is modelled by authorities every day. When George W Bush exercised his executive authority, he was a bold leader; when the President of color does the same thing, he is a malevolent tyrant who must be sued and stopped.When white rancher and known tax criminal Cliven Bundy stands off federal officials, he is left in peace. When people of color peaceably assemble to request answers, they are shot with rubber bullets, gassed, and arrested. And quite sadly, the Mayor seems not to have a clue about racism.  Mayor James Knowles III continues to assert that Ferguson has no racial tension.  Really? The evidence would certainly point to the contrary. Adding to the horrific irony is that Hedy Epstein, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, was arrested yesterday along with 8 other protesters demanding justice for Michael Brown in St. Louis.  If this is not a cry for how we look at justice and the intersections of race and power, I don’t know what is. 

And so the cycle spins, with racism, violence, and hypocrisy grinding the marginalized and rewarding the powerful. In the end, the only thing that’s really surprising about Ferguson is that anyone is truly surprised. Sadly, every time we have another violent crime against a person of color from those in power, it is an excruciatingly painful reminder that we do not all start from a level playing field. People of color and other targeted populations are barraged with messages that this is not a safe place; that equity and equality are concepts reserved for those occupying the space of the dominant culture.

Bigot of the Week Award, November 15: Richard Cohen

15 Nov
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

This story weighed heavy on my heart, for it is a very painful reminder of just how racism lives and breathes in the 21st Century. Richard Cohen has a problem with words. That’s more than a little ironic, given that he’s been a reporter and columnist at the Washington Post for 45 years and had his column nationally syndicated for over 30. In his latest effort, however, he conjures up an aggressively racist image (and tosses in a bit of homophobia) and labels it “conventional.” The column is an analysis of how the Tea Party drives the GOP featuring a comparison of Chris Christie and Ted Cruz. After some reasonable dissection of why moderates are at risk in the modern Republican party, he takes a sharp turn away from reality and presents his readers with this paragraph:

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?)

Wow. Where do I even begin to address the great trespasses committed here? Arguing that racism is absent from the GOP is not only categorically false, but shows just how much of the Kool Aid (Tea) Cohen has consumed. Sadly he gets even more offensive. Let’s set aside “mainstreaming…avant-garde” for a moment (presumably a reference to treating the LGBT community like people) and focus on one stunning phrase.

People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex…

So the idea of a mixed race family is so horrific that a normal person will be brought to the edge of vomiting just by seeing a picture? How did this column get past Cohen’s editors? Of course Cohen — faced with justifiable anger over his horrific image — offered a nonpology.

The word racist is truly hurtful. It’s not who I am. It’s not who I ever was. It’s just not fair. It’s just not right … The column is about Tea Party extremism and I was not expressing my views, I was expressing the views of what I think some people in the Tea Party held.

Again, wow. Let’s ignore the de Blasio / McCray family’s feelings because calling racist writing “racist” is hurtful to poor Mr. Cohen. Then let’s have fun with the “out of context” excuse. Really?! Sorry, Richard, but you didn’t say “extremist;” you said “conventional.” Whether this is YOUR view or not, you made it clear that you believe that choking on one’s own bile is a reasonable response to seeing a loving multi-racial family. That’s racism.

As a bonus non-sequitur, he also defended himself by noting “you’re talking to somebody who has written, I don’t know, 100 columns in favor of homosexual rights.” Sorry, Richard, but that has NOTHING to do with the racism in your column. Oh, and by the way, “used to be a lesbian” rather erases your claim of support for “homosexual rights.”

Of course, Mr. Cohen has a checkered past around race anyway. Just one week earlier he wrote about the movie 12 Years A Slave, noting his ignorance of how bad slavery was.

I learned that slavery was wrong, yes, that it was evil, no doubt, but really, that many blacks were sort of content. Slave owners were mostly nice people…

In addition to proudly trumpeting his ignorance of basic history and humanity, he supports racial profiling. He defended the Zimmerman verdict describing Trayvon Martin’s clothes as “a uniform we all recognize” and defended THAT gem by saying “I don’t think it’s racism to say, ‘this person looks like a menace’.” Clearly, he doesn’t have a clue what racism means.

Sadly, he has an international forum for presenting his twisted, oppressive words. I am truly nonplussed as to how he still has a job.

Boycott Ender’s Game: My Disappointment with Harrison Ford…

31 Oct

Ender's Game (2013) trailer HARRISON FORD (Screengrab)Let’s be clear from the outset. Every ticket sold for the movie Ender’s Game enhances the wealth and well-being of a notorious homophobe. Orson Scott Card has been an enormously successful science fiction and fantasy author and has used his wealth and fame to denigrate and oppose the LGBT community at every turn. Every outlet that promotes the film without acknowledging Card’s opinions and influence is colluding with his vile efforts.

I write this article with a great sadness and heaviness upon my heart, given the first major promotional piece I saw for the film. I was watching the Graham Norton Show as Harrison Ford was promoting the movieShame on Graham Norton for even giving airtime to the nefarious Card and sustaining a heterosexist culture. How ironic that precious minutes of his show were so exceedingly harmful to the LGBT community, including Norton himself.

As we were watching  Ford promote the movie, my husband wondered if perhaps Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, and Ben Kingsley (all three of whom I love and respect) were unaware of the harm done by the homophobic hypocrite Card.  Their ignorance of Card’s harm is quite possible, but this in and of itself speaks to a great amount of privilege that comes with obliviousness.

Sadly, Ford acknowledges the atrocities of the awful Card, but rationalizes and justifies the work by saying, “the movie is not homophobic.” I have considered Ford and the others to be allies of the LGBT community.  Sadly, even our allies have the luxury of retreating to the safety of the dominant culture and thus contribute to the oppression of LGBT folk around the world.

Orson Scott Card has referred to LGBT folk as “mentally ill,” and in his now famous essay from 1990  advocates making/keeping homosexuality illegal.  In 2008, Card actively joined the Prop8 movement and called same-sex marriage a “mortal enemy”  that he would seek to destroy.  Of course, he pulls out the pedophilia notion and tries to claim that homosexuals are pedophiles. He was a board member of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) until just recently and apparently resigned to minimize controversy before the film opened. The fact that Card asserts that paraphilia and homosexuality are linked, is evidence that this man is obsessed with man on man sex.  One wonders what is hiding in Card’s closet.  He and Ken Cuccinelli would make a great couple.

Lionsgate, the studio releasing the film, is pushing the “not a homophobic story” meme, hoping that the success of the novel will overwhelm the nastiness of its author. Card is suspiciously quiet, avoiding a screenwriting credit and avoiding the convention panels that an author would typically attend to promote a film. Even the details of his compensation are less public than usual. All of this smacks of an effort to quell controversy, so as to allow for greater income–income that will be used to hurt LGBT people.

Even if Card does not make another dime from the film itself, he has already profited from selling the rights. His books will sell because of the movie. He certainly will profit from the toys, games, and other merchandise. The more successful the movie, the more he is rewarded. For anyone who believes in fair and just treatment of the LGBT community, this is unacceptable.

Artists and their creations are separate things, and it is sometimes possible to appreciate a song or story or painting regardless of its creator’s personality. Sometimes however, the person overwhelms the work. Card’s steadfast efforts to destroy the lives of LGBT people around the world is such an example.

CALL TO ACTION: Boycott this film. Encourage others to do the same. Show the studios and moguls that promoting the work of a notorious homophobe is not profitable.

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Tama Seavey

23 Sep

Tama and I became friendsTama through social media and we both do the same type of work. I had posted a story about Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin and received a great deal of rather nasty resistance from a particular white heterosexual male.  His comments opened the door to meet a great number of lovely people such as Tama. We both run companies that provide Diversity/Inclusion and Racial Equity workshops. Sadly, we are across the country from each other, but I still hold out some hope that we will get to work together.  As you will see from this interview, it is difficult not to fall in love with Tama.

Many of you may already know Tama by her last name or by the work she does. Her first husband was Neal Seavey, a news reporter for WNBC who died of AIDS in 1983.  Tama lights up when she talks about Neal and it is clear she was drawn to him because of his dedication and commitment to civil rights and social justice, core values which Tama shares. Her experience being married to a gay man helped Tama become a fierce LGBT ally and understand the intersections of oppression.  Her amazing compassion demonstrates that she operates from a place of abundance rather than deficit.  Like her late husband, Tama  challenges:  racism, heterosexism and the abuses against targeted people wherever she can.

Here is the interview with this lovely and amazing woman, Tama Seavey.

Tama is a black woman who will celebrate her 57th birthday in October.  She lived with her mother and her family in Newark, NJ until she was 11.  She left home at the age of 12 and lived in 14 different homes within the foster care system.  All 14 of the homes were white.  While Tama describes herself as “being a handful,” I suspect she was using all of her resources just to survive.  She managed to graduate high school with honors at 16. She was married at age 19 and graduated from the University of New Hampshire.  She has three daughters — she lights up when she talks about her daughters.

Tama, what brings you to the  work of social justice? 

I worked for a number of years in administrative capacities in human service agencies noting the great disparity between their stated missions/social justice agendas and the reality of how people of color and other disenfranchised people were treated both staff and clients.  All of the isms were present internally and demonstrated to the clients. The stated agendas were there with the funding dollars flowing freely to the agency based on the missions, yet the reality was every agency failed dramatically to “live to the missions/visions.”

I was outraged at what I saw as mini racist and exclusionary societies supported and functioning primarily with government dollars and realized the true meaning of systemic racism.  How systems were linked together – networked together to bring about a complete system of organized oppression against targeted populations.  The understanding of this fueled my drive to turn it around, one agency at a time, sometimes one individual at a time and to be a voice of freedom from oppression.  I decided to work as a change agent in every aspect of my life.

Over the course of the following years, I have brought education, training, insight, and management change to boards, executives, and managers of diverse non-profit human services organizations working to create systemic change while teaching to build effective bridges between the mainstream population and those who have been denied access in our society.

Do you consider yourself an activist?

Yes, very much so.  My roots are in activism and I believe in activism at the grassroots level.  I am an effective trainer, writer, speaker and have worked for years studying organizations, systems and the responses of systems to the pressure of duty and responsibility to be inclusive entities and non-supporting of racism and injustice.  I believe that change – the sustained change we are looking for — that will create change for excluded populations will only come as a result of grassroots activism and by those people who work outside of the systems that keep exclusionary/unjust behaviors in place.

People comprise the systems that keep racism, discrimination, harassment and overall exclusion in place.  This condition in our country does not come from some huge overall entities without names and faces.  Those people sitting in the positions of power need to be called to task for maintaining the power imbalance, the privilege imbalance and for denying opportunity to all people.  This tipping of the scale, I believe, can only be accomplished through grassroots activism work.

What should marginalized communities do to have a stronger voice?

Oh, the list is very long.  At the top though is that they must speak and must speak the truth of their experience (no sugar coating, no finding the exact perfect words to appease mainstream society’s [white men and women with power] delicate sensibilities) – they must speak the truth of the experiences of exclusion.  Marginalized communities must stop tolerating their experiences and “challenge with the purpose to change” when presented with discrimination and harassment.  They must use every resource available to seek compensation and force as much justice as is available.  We, as minority individuals, walk away from challenging what we meet up with far too often saying to ourselves “we must pick the right battle.”  This walking away and waiting for the right battle plays a part in strengthening the system of injustice.  Every instance is a reason to speak and every act of discrimination and harassment is actionable.  So, getting educated to your rights is probably number 1 with the rest following.  The system of injustice will not end/will not be changed until there are penalties in place and the penalties are paid by those who perpetuate it.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I believe there is a difference between duty and responsibility.  I have worked towards a legacy that will be that I fulfilled my responsibilities for the choices I made in my life and I lived up to my duty to humanity by being of service to others.

Tama, thank you for sharing just a part of your narrative. I hope we get to hear more narratives like yours and that we all can take action.  How lovely it would be if all targeted people could stand in solidarity with one another.  I am very grateful that I have Tama in my world.

Defining Racism in the United States: A Starting Point

29 Jul

racism_logo_sqThere has been an amazing amount of discussion after I posted my Paula Deen/ Trayvon Martin story.  While I am so appreciative of much of the conversations, I have to admit a few items gave me pause.  I shared this article on LinkedIn’s Diversity A World of Change group and I’m not sure that several people, while prolific in their comments, truly understand the definition of the word Racism.

Sadly, Racism, Prejudice, Discrimination, and Bigotry seem to be used a great deal as though they are interchangeable.  These words are not interchangeable — they are not all synonyms for Racism.  Racism has to contain an institutional and structural power dynamic.  Here in the United States that power dynamic is held primarily by white, heterosexual, middle-aged, Christian, well educated men; these are the people who establish norms in our society and have a great deal of unearned privilege because of the color of their skin.  This group, called the dominant culture, creates laws and policies — laws and policies that have an ugly history and were designed to help white folk while oppressing folks of color. Thus, Racism is: structural, institutional and systemic power that allows for discrimination and bigotry affecting someone’s health, well being, safety, and livelihood based on real or perceived racial or ethnic affiliation.

Perhaps a bit of a history lesson might be useful here.  Let us keep in mind the multi-generational impact of these laws both economically and emotionally.  1857 the Dred Scott Decision: The Supreme Court said that all people of African dissent were not and could not be counted as citizens of the United States.  Let us jump to 1935 with the start of Social Security — a great act to be passed, but sadly it did not initially apply to anyone who was not white, a significant economic impact.  Now let us move to the 1945 GI Bill — great opportunity for soldiers returning from WWII. Sadly, this bill did not initially apply to any of the soldiers of color returning from WWII.  Here we see a HUGE economic impact for generations of whites with great advantage and thus a huge disadvantage for multi-generations of people of color.  The GI Bill allowed for white soldiers to buy their first home and get a college education; this would qualify as unearned privilege due to one’s skin color.

Let us jump to 1954 when we witness the Termination Act.  The Termination Act stripped ALL Native Americans from their identities as our government told all of these people: “Okay, you are white now, so you must live in the cities and turn over your lands to the U.S. government.”  The cultural and financial impact on Native Americans was and remains profound.

Even more recent and disgraceful is SB1070 adopted by Arizona in 2010 and then adopted by Alabama in 2011, which demands that ALL Latinos/Hispanics must have proof of citizenship on them at all times.  If someone with dark skin that is, or is perceived, to be Latino/Hispanic and cannot provide documentation of citizenship, they can be put in jail.

I approach the work of equity and marginalization as a gay man.  Working as an agent of change means I am also obligated to know about the start of Gay Liberation in 1969.  The LGBT community has a long history of being targeted and imprisoned.  Until 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas, it was against the law to be gay in the United States.  Sadly, regardless of Lawrence v. Texas, it is still against the law in most states in the south.  In fact, the LGBT community have zero rights and protections in almost all of the South.  My personal call to action is to stand in solidarity with all those that are oppressed by the dominant culture and to honor their narratives–to understand how LGBT people of color are targeted and why.

This history is carried with all targeted people and passed down from generation to generation, much like if you are Jewish your family knows about the Holocaust because it affected your family for many generations.  Of course, the impact is more severe if one carries more than one of these identities.  For example, if you are a woman and a woman of color or if you are a man and a gay man of color, the impact is far worse.

Finally, let us illustrate the sad state of racism in the United States with the belligerent, bellicose, bigot Ted Nugent.  As of late, Nugent seems to be the appointed spokesperson of the GOP.  In response to the Zimmerman verdict, Nugent went on a racist tirade:

Why wasn’t Trayvon [Martin] educated and raised to simply approach someone he wasn’t sure about and politely ask what was going on and explain he was headed home? Had he, I am confident that Zimmerman would have called off the authorities and everything would have been fine.Why the nasty “creepy a– cracker” racism and impulse to attack? Where does this come from? Is it the same mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America, most heartbreakingly in Chicago pretty much every day of the week?…When you live in a fog of denial, usually inspired by substance abuse — you know with all the lies about dope being a victimless crime, I think you’re listening to the victims of this dopey crime, because their brains are fried. They’re either fried on substance abuse, and all of them know who I’m talking about.

The fact that the severely misguided and undereducated Nugent feels justified making these very public racist comments, along with people like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson makes it quite clear that we still have a long way to go around issues of racial and gender equity.

Call to action: Imagine how powerful we could be if all of the targeted populations joined together to stop this type of oppression and even more powerful if we enlist the support of all of our allies that are within the dominant culture?

My hope in publishing this article is to encourage and invite people to engage in a meaningful dialogue around the issues of race, gender, power, and equity.  I hope many will contribute to this conversation in a respectful manner and also correct me if I have committed any trespass in my exposition here.  That being said, I certainly appreciate all of the comments people offer on the Facebook and on LinkedIn; might I invite you to also share those comments here on the blog, so as to reach a larger audience?

Social Justice For All

7 Apr

SJALL BlogI started my blog, The Solipsistic Me, three years ago.  I must confess it started off as a lark and at that point, I did find the whole process of blogging a bit solipsistic.  However, three years later and my surprise at the success of the blog have made me reflect that blogging can be far more than just a lark.  I have found there is amazing power and impact through blogging.

The content of the blog is exactly the same, but now the name of the blog actually reflects the mission of the blog.  Social Justice for All will continue to address: misogyny, homophobia, racism, ageism, bigotry, discrimination, hypocrisy, power differentials while also celebrating the heroic acts of our fellow human beings who work to expand social justice and civil rights for everyone with a focus on the marginalized and underserved and those living poverty.  Of course, I hope most of the stories published here will also contain some humor, for if we can’t laugh at our selves and the world around us, we lose a great part of our humanity. Thus you can count on another interview with my friend the Dowager Countess Goosenberry, and we must keep vigilant, now more than ever, for that scary Gay Agenda! 

Welcome to Social Justice For All, same blog with a new name.  Let us hope that I and all of you readers learn how to create a space that provides a counter narrative to the dominant discourse and celebrates allies and those that stand in solidarity while spotlighting and embracing with joy those voices that are marginalized and oppressed.

Bigot of the Week Award: April 5, Susan Patton

5 Apr

PattonBigotAs a social worker, social justice blogger, advocate for the marginalized, and regular participant in discussions about the world around us, I should be used to things like this. Nevertheless, when I heard about Susan A. Patton’s editorial Advice for the young women of Princeton on NPR, I had to pull off the road to control my rage and disbelief — is this 1952?

Patton graduated from Princeton in 1977, one of the first women to do so. Three-and-a-half decades later she wrote a letter to the Daily Princetonian telling women at the university that they damn well better snag themselves a man right now or they’ll be miserable for life. WHAT?!? Really? There are so many things wrong with her premise that I’m not sure how to dissect it.

Let’s focus on what seems to be the core section.

For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Is she real? Is she a Phyllis Schlafly puppet? An Ann Coulter clone? That one sentence has so much homophobia, classism, misogyny, and downright ignorance embedded in it that it seems like a Stephen Colbert piece rather than serious advice from the mother of two sons at Princeton.

Patton’s piece has sparked outrage from many corners, which is reassuring. She continues to defend the advice as “retrograde” but “heartfelt” and says that if she had daughters this is exactly what she would tell them. We should be glad she doesn’t; it is bad enough her sons are hearing this crap from her. What message is she sending to all young people here?  Susan, may you find the time capsule you came here from and return to 1952, where you will feel safe in your all white, all heterosexual, oblivious world and where you can trap yourself a man and be chained to the kitchen.

Dishonorable mention this week goes to Rep. Louie Gohmert (R – TX), who is trying to win the Texas Elected Official Scary Stupidity Award. Despite stiff competition from Ted Cruz and Rick Perry, he made major strides this week by opposing gun control because marriage equality will make bestiality legal. Yes, you read that right. Here’s the quote:

And I pointed out, well, once you make [the gun cartridge limit ]ten, then why would you draw the line at ten? What’s wrong with nine? Or eleven? And the problem is once you draw that limit ; it’s kind of like marriage when you say it’s not a man and a woman any more, then why not have three men and one woman, or four women and one man, or why not somebody has a love for an animal? There is no clear place to draw the line once you eliminate the traditional marriage and it’s the same once you start putting limits on what guns can be used, then it’s just really easy to have laws that make them all illegal.

Apparently Gohmert is the horrific offspring of Wayne LaPierre and Rick Santorum. How do these people get elected?  Do we need to worry that Gohmert seems to be obsessed with gay sex and bestiality?  I suspect there are no safe sheep near Gohmert’s home.

Fiscal Cliff Notes: The Truth About Taxes

5 Dec
Warren Buffett: A Sensible BIllionaire

Warren Buffett: A Sensible BIllionaire

Almost as soon as the 2012 Presidential election was called for Barack Obama, the media and collective punditry turned their attention to another issue, the so-called “Fiscal Cliff.” (Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Picture Harry Reid and John Boehner driving a convertible armored car, Thelma and Louise style….) It’s important to dial back the drama and look at what’s really going on with the Federal budget. The current situation is called a cliff because of the steep reductions in the deficit that will be triggered if no other action is taken before December 31. Am I the only experiencing déjà vu here caused by obstructionist Republicans? Many automatic spending cuts will begin; various safety net and stimulus funds will diminish or end (such as unemployment benefits); tax rates for all Americans will go up.

Taxation is the issue which will matter the soonest and has become the sticking point in the current debate. The other issues ease in over the year with plenty of time for Congress to (re)consider them. Tax rates will go up on January paychecks.

President Obama campaigned — and WON — on a promise to keep taxes low for poor and middle class Americans and to restore slightly higher rates for the wealthiest 2% (albeit we still do not address those living in poverty the way we should, but I shall save that for another soap box opportunity). Under his plan, nearly $1 TRILLION in additional revenue would be realized by increasing the top rate by about 4% and the dividends rate by 5%. This will happen automatically when the Bush tax cuts end at the close of the year. Unfortunately, so will tax cuts for the other 98%, resulting in a relatively more painful income reduction for most families.

Sadly, because of the way the tax code is structured, the overall impact of the change is much worse the less you make. The New York Times has some wonderfully detailed charts that explain how this happens. It boils down to three things:

  • In general, higher earners rely less on wages and more on investments which are taxed at a lower level, so raising income taxes hits lower earners harder.
  • Payroll taxes are capped at about $100,000 of income, so earning more than that does not result in higher levels of these taxes, making the overall rate lower.
  • Corporate taxes, which are disproportionately borne by higher bracket payers (and then passed along to their customers…) are also historically low and are not even on the bargaining table.tax-rates

Teapublicans and Weeper In Chief Boehner whine that taxes are too high as it is and that raising them will hurt small businesses and job creation. The facts — and a little history — call them liars. Independent analysts note that less than 8% of small businesses would pay the higher tax rates. Even more significantly, a majority of small business owners in a recent poll expressed little concern over the tax rates. They are much more worried about changes in Medicare, which is a central element in the Republican plan.

The Times site mentioned above shows that taxes are lower than they’ve been in 30 years. In fact, as this handy chart demonstrates, Republican president Eisenhower left office with tax rates significantly higher and a booming economy. Tax reform is important, but it should heed the advice of Warren Buffett: a millionaire should pay a higher rate than should his or her (mostly his, by the way) employees.

Boehner can complain all he likes, but if he does nothing, everyone’s taxes will go up. The Senate passed a fair bill months ago that is languishing in the House. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, demonstrating true leadership again, is working on an administrative process to force it to a vote so that 98% of American’s can get the fairness they deserve. President Obama has made it clear that he’ll support the bill. Will the lame duck House allow petulance to trump action? It remains to be seen. One thing they should note: the majority of Americans will hold the GOP accountable if we start heading over the cliff.

Hero of the Week Award: June 8, Jason Alexander

8 Jun

Hero of the Week

Actor and comedian Jason Alexander made a spectacular transition from Bigot of the Week nominee to HWA winner. The former Seinfeld star appeared on Craig Ferguson’s The Late Late Show on CBS last week. During a conversation about British and American sports, Alexander made a number of disparaging comments about the sport of cricket. The bulk of his jokes had to do with cricket being “gay” and “queer” with an emphasis on things he found effeminate.

After many in the gay community took offense at his comments, Alexander resisted making a knee-jerk response, instead taking the time to consider what he had said and why he said it.

…a few of my Twitter followers made me aware that they were both gay and offended by the joke. And truthfully, I could not understand why. I do know that humor always points to the peccadillos or absurdities or glaring generalities of some kind of group or another – short, fat, bald, blonde, ethnic, smart, dumb, rich, poor, etc. It is hard to tell any kind of joke that couldn’t be seen as offensive to someone. But I truly did not understand why a gay person would be particularly offended by this routine. However, troubled by the reaction of some, I asked a few of my gay friends about it…As we explored it, we began to realize what was implied under the humor.

Based on this reflection, Alexander offered a sincere, complex, and thoughtful apology via Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAAD). The entire apology is worth reading, but two parts are especially powerful.

It is not that we can’t laugh at and with each other. It is not a question of oversensitivity. The problem is that today, as I write this, young men and women whose behaviors, choices or attitudes are not deemed “man enough” or “normal” are being subjected to all kinds of abuse from verbal to physical to societal. They are being demeaned and threatened because they don’t fit the group’s idea of what a “real man” or a “real woman” are supposed to look like, act like and feel like. For these people, my building a joke upon the premise I did added to the pejorative stereotype that they are forced to deal with everyday. It is at the very heart of this whole ugly world of bullying that has been getting rightful and overdue attention in the media. And with my well-intentioned comedy bit, I played right into those hurtful assumptions and diminishments.

So, I would like to say – I now get it. And to the extent that these jokes made anyone feel even more isolated or misunderstood or just plain hurt – please know that was not my intention, at all or ever. I hope we will someday live in a society where we are so accepting of each other that we can all laugh at jokes like these and know that there is no malice or diminishment intended. But we are not there yet. So, I can only apologize and I do. In comedy, timing is everything. And when a group of people are still fighting so hard for understanding, acceptance, dignity and essential rights – the time for some kinds of laughs has not yet come.

Given how many celebrity missteps go viral, it is heartening to see Alexander acknowledge that he should have known better from the outset. Even more significantly, he refuses to rely on the standard non-apologies offered by many (like Tracy Morgan) that consist of a feeble “I’m sorry you were offended.” Instead, he took the time to reflect on his words and actions, realize his mistake, and offer a sincere apology. Let’s hope both the realization and the apology can serve as models for other celebrities.

Honorable mention this week goes to Democrats in Wisconsin. Although they lost the effort to recall their loathsome governor, Scott Walker, their efforts should be applauded. Despite spending barely 10% of what Walker did, they managed to come close to victory. Given how many voters indicated that they oppose recalls on principle, this is impressive. Even more impressive was the turnout, with Madison having 119% of registered voters appear at the polls. (Wisconsin allows same-day registration.) The loss is bitter, but the effort was valiant.

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