Nel's New Day

April 30, 2011

Bullying Effects

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 1:49 PM

Although bullies have always been with us, the media covering suicides during the last year have brought this issue to the forefront. “Oh, kids are just like that,” some adults say. But that’s not true. Bullying can cause long-lasting health issues that cost billions of dollars.

The deliberate attempts to hurt, threaten, or frighten someone with words or actions can come from one person, a number of people, or a group, usually in repeated actions. It is the difference in power between the bullies and bullied that make this possible. Examples are teasing, calling names, keeping others from going where they want or doing what they want, or hurting others physically. Bullies can do this directly, through others, or with technology such as the Internet and texting.

Some people estimate that one in seven American school children is either a bully or a victim. Others guess that one-fourth of school kids are bullied. Some estimates are as high as three-fourths of school kids being affected by bullying. Studies show that 160,000 children skip school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated. LGBT teens are bullied two to three times those of their peers, and nine out of ten LGBT students have experienced harassment at school.

The result of all this persecution is bad health. According to one study, children bullied by peers are over twice as likely to experience psychotic symptoms at age 12 when this group is compared with children who did not undergo this trauma. These psychotic symptoms can evolve into mental illness affecting people throughout their lives.

Physical health for both children and adults is also endangered by childhood bullying. In “The Poverty Clinic” (The New Yorker, March 21, 2011, pp. 25-32), Paul Tough discusses the use of stress physiology and neuroendocrinology to study the physical effects of anxiety and its chemical changes in a person’s brain and body.

The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study from 1994 and 1998 used patients enrolled in the San Diego Kaiser HMO by sending a questionnaire to patients who came for a comprehensive medical exam. They were asked to indicate their childhood experiences of suffering ten categories of “adverse childhood experiences”—emotional neglect, sexual abuse, etc.  Over 17,000 patients—almost 70 percent—responded. Of these the majority were Caucasian, educated, middle-aged, and middle-to-upper-middle-class.

Each one of the categories was assigned the number one for the ACE score. The patients’ health from addictive behavior and/or chronic disease increased with the ACE score. A score of 4 or higher indicated people were twice as likely to smoke and to have been diagnosed with heart disease and cancer as those with 0. They were seven times as likely to be alcoholics. Childhood trauma can also result in early death.

Because the study relied on memory, it was criticized as being faulty. But more people will under report trauma than over report it. Another study recording adverse experiences of children supported the finding that kids suffering from early trauma were almost twice as likely to have a greater risk of heart disease.

Researchers found physical reasons for the heightened risk of illness because of trauma. The brain’s reaction to stress can be helpful in a “fight or flight” survival. But the emotional fear and anxiety accompanied by increased blood pressure and heart rate, activated neurotransmitters, and inflammatory proteins surging throughout the body can lead to negative physical changes. The change in brain DNA prevents it from properly regulating response to stress, thus children may not be able to sit still and follow directions. Adults may demonstrate more aggression, impulsive behavior, and weakened cognition. Disrupted brain circuits lead to literacy and learning problems while it heightens the risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, depression, and substance abuse.;

So what to do about bullying? There are millions of hits on the Internet about this. A beginning comes from the need to educate the community about the importance of this issue and not say, “Oh, it’s just kids being kids.” The most important thing adults can do is not to just stand by—take action. Some programs teach young people to become more assertive and talk about their problems without criticizing them. Adults need to listen to their kids instead of thinking that they’re always telling on someone else.

Julie Anne Peters has written what may be the best book on teen bullying and suicide, By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead (Hyperion, 2010).  In this novel Peters describes Daelyn Rice’s determination to be successful in committing suicide after several botched attempts, one which left her unable to speak because she scarred her throat drinking a caustic chemical in a suicide attempt when she was ten years old. After that she could barely speak, and her parents tried to monitor her every move. Her solution five years later is a blog for “completers” that gives advice about killing oneself but requires her to wait 23 days. The people on the blog share stories show the tragic effects of bullying about body size and gender identification as well as interpersonal relationship failures. What Daelyn doesn’t realize is that the information is actually discouraging because it describes the pain endured by those who commit suicide and the serious issues if the attempt is a failure.

The subject is grim and the writing intense, but Peters shows Rice’s growing sense of optimism as she grudgingly makes friends with a dying boy and begins to change her mind about her end goal. At the conclusion of the book is a no-nonsense guide to bullying, defining it and then giving common-sense advice for stopping it. The website cited in the book provides information about the book, discussion questions, and information about bullying and suicide. This book should be required reading for all young adults and adults.

April 29, 2011

Oil Subsidies Elect Conservatives

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 2:04 PM

Two days ago, I criticized the large subsidies that oil companies received on top of the huge profits they reap. Two days before that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) went on record, agreeing with me, that not only should the oil industry not need at least on of the subsidies that the Democrats are attempting to terminate but also that oil companies should pay their fair share of taxes. His sanity didn’t last long. The next day his spokesman corrected Boehner’s statement, the second time he has done so in the past few weeks.

Spokesman Michael Steel sent an email on Boehner’s behalf that stated, “The Speaker wants to increase the supply of American energy to lower gas prices and create millions of American jobs. Raising taxes will not do that.”

By yesterday Boehner was refusing to allow legislation eliminating tax breaks for these wealthy corporations.

An article in The Hill about Boehner’s changing philosophies (can we say flipflop? or backtracking?) drew great criticism from what is typically a conservative readership. Angry references such as “fat cat companies” were followed by questions such as the one asking why the taxpayers’ forced to subsidize “the companies on the hill” because capitalism is the survival of the fittest. One responder ridiculed Boehner for not being able to tell the difference between a tax and a subsidy.

My favorite response was the person who said people need to pay higher gas prices to maintain people’s retirements. There is a certain irony here when conservative politicians are fighting to eliminate salaries and benefits for the public sector because taxpayers have to pay for these. Someone finally understands the connection between higher prices supporting “people’s retirements.” And they didn’t even mention that no one in the public sector receives the tens and tens of millions of dollars in annual salary that many corporate people do.

Meanwhile Exxon-Mobil is complaining about the possibility of losing its subsidies on the same day that they announced almost $11 billion (yes, that is a b for billion) in only three months. At the same time  they had a 70 percent increase in profit from the first quarter last year, gas prices rose 30 percent. 

While not making as much as Exxon, the other four top oil companies—Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and BP—managed $21.7 profit in the past three months.

To put this into slightly more manageable terms, the profit from these five companies is $15 million an hour—every hour.

Congress is taking away food from women and children because they give nearly $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies each year. Reducing that $4 billion in subsidies could have reduced the most recent deficit cutting by ten percent.

Why do Republicans refuse to even vote on lowering or eliminating oil subsidies? Because the money from these companies will get them re-elected. How much, we won’t know any more because the conservative U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend as much money as they want on advertising for the same people who will keep on giving them subsidies. And the more money they give, the more corporate politicians will be elected. At this point it appears to be a no-win solution because advertising doesn’t have to be accurate or truthful—it just has to persuade.

April 28, 2011

Transgender Woman Beaten

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 3:18 PM
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What would you do if you saw someone getting beaten up in a restaurant where you were eating? Ignore it? Stare? Or jump in and try to stop it? All those things happened last week when two young women, ages 18 and 14, assaulted a 22-year-old woman. In this case assault means punching her in the nose, ripping her earrings out of the lobes, throwing her on the floor, kicking her in the face, and spitting on her—before dragging her across the floor. They stopped when the bloody 22-year-old went into an epileptic seizure and an older woman intervened. All this because the 22-year-old is a transgender woman.

Meanwhile a McDonald’s employee filmed the assault with the sound of people, some of them other employees, cheering on the assailants. The video was subsequently posted to the Internet, and the employee justified the assault because the beaten woman “was a man dressed like a woman.” A week after the assault, he was fired, but change.org is asking people to sign a petition asking that McDonald’s hold all the employees who witnessed the event and did nothing to be held accountable–something that has not happened yet.

Vicky Thoms, the 55-year-old witness who tried to help the woman beaten at a McDonald’s, was also pushed and punched when she tried to stop the two young women. The only person who tried to help the victim, Thoms is also recovering from a back injury. At a rally last Monday night outside the McDonald’s, she said she was overwhelmed by the positive response from people, that strangers came up to her and hugged her.

The 22-year-old victim said that she had gone into the Rosedale McDonald’s to use the bathroom immediately before the two teen-aged girls attacked her. She called this a hate crime. We agree although the police are still not sure.

The assailants are being kept in jail without bond. The older one had attacked another woman in the same McDonald’s last year. The judge asked her why she was accused of only assault—why not attempted murder.

This assault happened in Rosedale, Maryland, the state in which the Senate failed to vote on a bill that would give housing and employment anti-discrimination protections to transgender people. Although the state’s hate crime law includes crimes against transgender people, a bill to provide more extensive protections disappeared after being passed by the House.

Bigotry is rampant across the country even among those who suffer discrimination. After Richard Raskind transformed himself into Renee Richards, he had to fight to compete in tennis because of the “he/she” controversy. This was 35 years ago. But as recently as four years ago, Richards said that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Last Sunday’s entry included two books about the pain of a transgender teen, one of them I Am J. There are others that explain the torture that transgender people suffer. No one can read these books and look at the transgender experience in the same way again.

Cris Beam’s book Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers (Mariner Books, 2008). In passionate, clear writing, Beam tells of her experiences with four transgendered girls during her volunteer work at a school for gay and transgender students in Los Angeles. She shows, through her experiences with individual girls, the problems that transgenders suffer; i.e., a clerk refusing to change a name on a driver’s license and the need for lying to the police after a rape because of the fear of discrimination.

Brian Katcher’s  Almost Perfect , comes from the perspective of a boy who discovers that Sage, the new girl of his dreams, is a transitioning male.  The novel explores Logan’s evolving emotions from fury and fear that people will think he is gay to dismay when he sees how Sage’s father shuns her because of her decision and his frustration that his love for her cannot overcome the realization that he cannot get past Sage being born a boy. Painfully funny, the narration realistically describes Logan’s roller-coaster feelings as he rises to the top before being plunged into the depths of despair and helplessness. Reading about Sage’s attempting to commit suicide and then trying to decide whether she should return to her biological male appearance despite her knowing that she is a female shows the agony that transgenders endure.

Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Jumpstart the World, also tackles the issue of surviving as a transgender from the perspective of a straight person, this time a 16-year-old girl. Her growing knowledge about Frank’s background shows the serious problems of changing genders, especially when one has no money and cannot go to a hospital for a serious illness even because of a serious illness.

April 27, 2011

Privatization/Deregulation

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 3:11 PM

I live in a small (by some people’s definition) town with only one newspaper that is published twice weekly. When I moved here a couple of decades ago, it came out only once, but that changed when a large retail chain insisted on putting out its advertising on Friday. Also when I moved here, the newspaper was a respected part of the community with a professional editor who trained the new people in journalistic style and content. After her departure, the newspaper was purchased by a company owned by a wealthy, conservative man.

The newspaper is now composed primarily of press releases with little real news. There is no longer even an editorial on the “Opinion” page, but the owner does write a regular column for all the newspapers that he owns. He starts the column by describing all the exotic South Sea islands that he visits before he launches into virulent anti-progressive rants. The most recent one, “reducing government costs,” touts the virtues of privatization and deregulation in saving money.

Some quotes from the column: “Cost control and management of resources is tighter and more efficient in a for-profit company.” “Private companies pay far less in wages, benefits, and pensions.” “Goods and services are produced more economically by free enterprise.” “Deregulating oil company caused oil prices to plunge.”

An example of  money-saving privatization was made clear when the government used private companies to manage government grants after Hurricane Katrina. Hired to do this, Witt Associates subcontracted the job to Indiana-based PinPoint Resources which then hired workers for an hourly wage of $19 to $20. PinPoint subsequently billed Witt Associates $37.50—an hour. Witt turned around and billed the government $75 an hour for processing the paperwork. Public workers in the public field may consider themselves fortunately to be getting what these private workers did, but they certain don’t get $75 an hour.

Another investigation showed that a private engineering firm billed the government for, among other things, theater tickets and a flight to Las Vegas when it was hired to oversee the reconstruction of New Orleans buildings and infrastructure. That company doesn’t get credit for tighter and more efficient cost control and management of resources.

Halliburton has consistently overbilled the Pentagon by millions, and Enron CEOs have gone to jail for defrauding stockholders. Medicare patients who have taken the HMO option cost the country far more than those with the public option. A study in Texas has shown that 98 percent of their public schools met state standards as compared to only 66 percent of the charter (read “privatization”) schools did. It spears that these free enterprise examples are not producing goods and services more economically.

Excessive costs are not only monetary. The government has discovered that with the use of Blackwater and other private military forces inIraq. There is no way to control these forces because they are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and cannot be prosecuted under civil law. When they leave their posts, which they have, they cannot be considered AWOL. Even worse were the abuses in Bosnia where these private military contractors participated in purchasing young girls, some not even teenagers, and sold them into sexual slavery.

Recently Paul Ryan has been described as “courageous” because of his solutions for the removing the deficit. His statements about saving money through privatizing Medicare are lies. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has stated that in the first year of Ryan’s plan, the costs will be far higher using private insurance than the existing Medicare program. Specifically, Medicare can provide health care for 11 percent less than the expenses required by private insurers. For the increased amount of money required through privatization of Medicare, beneficiaries would get less care.

Insurance companies also show the benefits—to insurance companies—of deregulation. With no oversight the costs would be highly astronomically, instead of just standard astronomical. For example, last year California Anthem Blue Cross tried to raise its rates 39 percent—in one year–before the company was reigned in.

The newspaper column listed oil deregulation specifically as a cost-saving program for U.S. taxpayers. In the past decade the top five multi-national oil companies “earned” almost $1 trillion in profit—at the same time that they plan to collect $36.5 billion over the next decade because Paul Ryan and the rest of the conservatives won’t touch the oil companies. During the next 25 years they will also reap $53 billion by not paying royalties on someGulf of Mexico production. Gas prices have increased 20 percent within the last four months. That’s what oil deregulation has given the U.S. taxpayers.

I’m guessing that privatization and deregulation believers would claim that these are just isolated examples. I think they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Note: House Speaker John Boehner slipped and said that he might consider removing the agreement to pay subsidies to the oil companies. When President Obama quickly agreed, Boehner made back-pedaling noises.

Update of the “Birthers”: Donald Trump is euphoric after he single-handedly forced President Barack Obama to release the long version of his birth certificate. “Today, I’m very proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish,” Trump said. “I am really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role in hopefully getting rid of this issue.” The President sent a person to Hawaii to get a copy, another unnecessary expense forced on the country by conservatives. And I’m guessing that the “birther” discussion is not over.

April 26, 2011

Wisconsin Protest Update

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:10 AM

What’s happening in Wisconsin these days?

First, there was a bit of joy on April 21 with the wedding between protesters Heather and David.

Second, a majority of 7,500 votes for the state supreme court candidate would keep Wisconsin from an automatic recount. Despite the magical 7,582 majority that a certain county clerk found for the conservative candidate, enough votes showed up throughout the state to take the majority below 7,500. There will be a recount—and an accounting regarding potential fraud—due by May 9.

Third, it seems that the signature-gatherers for the recall of Democrats are getting paid $700 a day. Evidently the Koch brothers have very deep pockets.

Fourth, at least five—and possibly eight—Republican state senators who backed Walker’s assault on collective bargaining rights are now all but certain to face recall elections this summer. Signatures on the petitions filed to recall three Democratic senators are being questioned. Recalls for another two Democratic senators have failed.

Fifth, Wisconsin now has only 250 days before they can start collecting signatures to recall Gov. Scott Walker.

Sixth ( something I’m looking forward to), there’s another protest this Saturday (4/30, 1-5 pm) in Madison. Remember the tractors that came to town? This protest will be “Motorcyclists for Wisconsin Workers.”

Seventh (a magic number), Sarah Palin has gone home after she failed to bring out the huge crowds in Madison—except for the pro-worker group—and the capitol is still under high security. Now people just seem to be waiting for the results of the election recount and the recall.

Remember the claim that the protesters caused $7.5 million in damage? It’s down to $100,000 with an on-going evaluation that may reduce even that sum. Could part of the damage be Gov. Walker’s demand that the windows be welded shut to keep anyone from going into the capitol? Or perhaps they just wanted to do some sprucing up. There has been a request for more money, but it seems that another $400,000 would be used to fix the irrigation system. Meanwhile Gov. Walker has directed that all legal aid for the indigent—translate poor and elderly—will go into the general fund. (Maybe for the irrigation?)

When the Great Depression started, people in the United States had no safety net. During the first 100 days of his presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the bold step of creating programs to take the country out of the Depression, strengthen the country, and make life better for all. Tonya Bolden has chronicled these 100 days in FDR’s Alphabet Soup:  New Deal America, 1932-1939 (Knopf, 2010). Social Security, buildings, roads, rural electricity, recreational facilities, water dams, bridges, insurance for bank deposits, artists’ works—these are only a few of the benefits resulting from Roosevelt’s 13-year presidency. The term “alphabet soup” describes the collection of initials for each program.

Bolden’s book is designed for teenage readers, making it easy for everyone to see the changes that we may lose in this volatile time of conservative takeover.  The 2009 financial situation is eerily mirrored by that of the late 1920s, and Franklin faced the same political fights that the current administration does to effect success in helping women, the poor, the elderly, the middle-class—in short, everyone except the corporations and the wealthy who seem to be doing just fine on their own.

April 25, 2011

“Fair” Taxes for Americans

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 5:33 PM

The Congressional recess is over, and we can look forward to hearing more rants from Republicans about “the path to prosperity” through both program and tax cuts. Most people in the polls want to increase taxes for the wealthy; most Congressional politicians want to cut taxes for the wealthy. Why the disconnect?

An argument that I frequently hear is that the wealthy are already paying more taxes than the rest of the population. Yes, the wealthiest one percent of Americans pay 38 percent of income tax but receive only 24 percent of income. Only 24 percent of income for one percent of the people in the United States? The same top one percent also has 34 percent of the net worth and holds 42.7 percent of financial wealth (net worth minus the value of their homes). Those statistics are five years old; I cannot imagine how much more income, net worth, and financial wealth that they have now. Meanwhile, since the bubble burst this past decade, the wealth of the media household has decreased 36 percent while the top one percent (remember them!) has gone down only 11 percent.

And how about the income for all these people? In 2005, reported income increased almost 9 percent, but that’s because the top 10 percent went so sky-high. In the same year, average income for the bottom 90 percent went down from 2004, .06 percent. The high reported income came from the top one percent (them again!). Their income went up an average of $1.1 million each—about 14 percent. The top ten percent of Americans gathered almost half of all reported income in the same year. The top 1 percent got 21.8 percent of all reported income, up from 19.8 percent in 2004, and the highest since 1928 when they received 23.9 percent. (Let’s see—that was the year before the Great Depression started.)

What about taxes? Over the past four decades, the people making the most money saw their taxes fall by one-half. The middle class didn’t see any change in their taxes.

There are tons of statistics to show that the income in the United States is severely unbalanced, closing in on the tipping point. Why should Republicans want to decrease taxes for the wealthy? (Here’s where we find the disconnect.) The wealthy give almost three-fourths of campaign contributions. The more the Republicans lower taxes for the wealthy, the more campaign contributions they can get. This  money often determines the results of an election. It’s as if these politicians are on retainer.

Back to whether it’s “fair” that the wealthy have a higher tax rate than the poor—although everyone knows that the tax cuts for the wealthy are far greater than for anyone else. Perhaps “fair” would be if everyone made the same salary. Then taxes would be “fair.”

Update for the John Boehner/Paul Clement story on April 21: King & Spalding are bailing from their fight against the Defense of Marriage Act but Paul Clement is staying. This story is worth following! (The evangelical right thinks that this is not “fair.”)

April 24, 2011

Young Reader LGBTQ Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:55 PM

A recent study of 32,000 young people shows that suicide is less prevalent in communities that value diversity. [More about this in the next few days.] One way that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth can begin to believe that they may be accepted is through the books that they find on library shelves. While it is the librarians’ responsibility to select and purchase these books, other adults in the community have an equal responsibility to help locate these books and request their purchase, especially because many school libraries lack professional staffing.

The American Library Association provides recommendations for LGBTQ books through the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. Two sources of book titles for young readers are The Rainbow Project, which provides an annual list of recommended LGBTQ books, and the Stonewall Book Award Committee, that annually honors up to five LGBTQ titles.

To find more recommended books, check out Carlisle K. Webber’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teen Literature:  A Guide to Reading Interests (Libraries Unlimited, 2011). This slim, 131-page volume is slim contains information about 300+ books—summaries, suggestions for each book’s audience, and reading levels from middle school through adult/young adult. A list of terms also explains  traditional ones such as intersex and emerging literary forms  such as femslash and new terms for specific manga.

Young children’s books rarely have any overt LGBTQ content, but some picture books have content that showing diversity and gender fluidity. For example, C.K. Williams and Stephen Gammell’s How the Nobble Was Finally Found (Harcourt, 2010)  illustrates how courage can help someone discover a soulmate. When the lonely Nobble, “with huge eyes and dangly ears and long hair and two lovely wings and little claws on his fingers,” sets out into a fantastical world to find company, he follows a magical journey to a scary city. There, a young girl teaches him lcultural necessities like using a telephone and knocking on a door. Playful language and whimsical illustrations will delight all young readers as they learn that they can find someone just like themselves.

Many times,picture books use animals to discuss issues. Biff, a pug dog, in Anna Kemp’s Dogs Don’t Do Ballet  illustrated by Sara Ogilvie (Simon & Schuster, 2010) succeeds in breaking out of his male gender identity. He works on his dance technique until he lightly dances across the stage, saving the ballet after the prima ballerina falls.  Funny brown-lined drawings filled with a variety of colors—pink for Biff’s tutu—trace Biff’s desire to follow his dreams and become a ballerina.

One of the most important young adult novels of the year is Cris Beam’s I Am J (Little, 2011) about a boy born as Jennifer who knows that he is actually male. Thousands of children suffer from gender dysphoria: this book about J illustrates their anguish. Frustrated in the frilly dresses that his Puerto Rican mother forces on him, teenager J finally rebels and confides in his mother. Appalled by his con-fession, she tells him that his father won’t accept him and that he must move from their home. At first J lives with a friend, but after an argument with her, he sets out on his own. Fortunately, he finds support from strangers and attends classes in a school for LGT students. Beam shows the pain that J endures as he tries to get testosterone shots and dates a straight girl who doesn’t know his biological background. J’s journey into the darkness of self-hatred and anger is unrelieved throughout the novel until the end when he finds a solution. The author’s background of working with transgender teens is described in her nonfiction book published for adults, Transparent.

In a novel about a transgender girl, Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect (Delacorte), tells about a boy who falls for beautiful Sage and breaks down the wall between them before he discovers that she was born biologically male and must cope with his new knowledge.

Bisexuality is a subject little addressed in young adults books. In Lili Wilkinson’s Pink (HarperTeen, 2011) Ava, tired of playing dumb in school and wearing Goth black to please her jaded girlfriend, Chloe, changes schools and considers switching from being a lesbian to going straight at a posh private school. Ava hides her wardrobe of pink cotton-candy cashmere from both her girlfriend and her feminist parents while she wonders that it would be like to kiss a boy. Her struggles are not only about gender but also about her confusion about the problems with conformity as her new friends are the “popular” group until she joins the outcasts on the drama stage crew. The strength of the plot comes from her dishonesty in searching both lesbian and straight identities. And the book is funny—a real bonus—and lacks an easy solution.

What happens when teenagers have gay or lesbian parents? Tina Fakhrid-Deen’s book written in college with with COLAGE, Let’s Get This Straight:  The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parents  (Seal Press, 2010) is designed to help the millions of children who have one or more lesbian, gay, bi, or trans parent(d).  This book shows tells these young people that they are not alone, giving them assistance in coping with their lives–how to demonstrate their pride in their families and protest the injustice of homophobia.  With the assistance of Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE), the author has brought together the voices of 44 people with LGBTQ parents to discuss how to talk to people about these families and how to communicate with parents through the development of a community that overcomes the feelings of isolation.  Simple and sometimes funny, the book shares experiences and gives advice about overcoming challenges.

At the age of 26, Johnny Weir, the famous ice-skater with a TV series on Sundance, has written Welcome to My World (Gallery, 2011) that shows his wrestling with being gay while he climbs to be a top performer. His personality shines through the writing, and his passion for life and work demonstrates the value of inner strength. Vivid descriptions and detail are combined with humor to show how a gay boy from a smallPennsylvania town can rise to the top. Kids reading this will appreciate the value of going for their personal “gold” without worrying about what people think.

April 22, 2011

Earth Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 3:48 PM

The first celebration of Earth Day was 41 years ago in 1970. Twenty million people demonstrated, and later that year Congress established the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee air quality and other environmental issues.  Since that time over 60 percent of the dangerous air pollutants that caused smog, acid rain, and lead poisoning have been eliminated.

From award-winning photographer Ann Hubard come these images of Oregon that might not be here in 2011 without the first Earth Day.

Sauvie Island in the Winter

Wahclella Falls in the Gorge

Grass Widows at Catherine Creek

Mt. Hood from Portland

View from Cascade Head

Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Tulip Farm near Woodburn

Iredale Wreck North of Warrenton

April 21, 2011

Defense of Marriage for All



According to the conservatives, America is very poor, on the verge of being broke. But U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (pronounced “Baynor” and not how it looks phonetically) has decided to spend taxpayers’ money on his personal issue–The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Incensed because the Department of Justice (DOJ) is not defending the law before the U.S. Supreme Court, he has managed to pass a bill that will hire former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and the King & Spalding law firm to defend the 1996 law that defines and recognizes marriage only as the legal union between a man and a woman. And he wants to take money from the DOJ to pay for his decision to fight at least eleven cases surrounding this issue.

When former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the amount of this expenditure, Boehner didn’t answer. But the contract with the law firm shows that he is getting a discount for their services, $520 per hour instead of the usual $1000. According to the contract, the cap for the cost approved by House Republicans is $500,000 but can be raised “by written agreement between the parties with the approval” of the House. Compared to other government expenditures, this may seem a pittance, but a women who has been denied WIC monies for her starving child will think differently.

Although King & Spalding’s policies indicate its support for diversity, the conservative Focus on the Family is extremely pleased by the choice. They believe Clement has an excellent chance of winning the case before the Supreme Court. They might be able to show this chart to reveal the dangers of legalized same-sex marriage.

Currently Congress is moving forward with The Respect for Marriage Act to repeal DOMA. Sen. Herb Kohl (WI) has become the tenth and final senator necessary to move S.598 out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Maybe there is hope for Wisconsin!)

Update 4/22/11:  All of King & Spalding’s employees – lawyers and non-lawyers – are barred from advocating for the Respect for Marriage Act – the bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act – in the 112th Congress, according to the terms of the contract to defend DOMA that King & Spalding partner Paul Clement signed on the firm’s behalf on April 14. In 2010 King & Spalding had more than 800 lawyers and offices worldwide.

An excellent book about same-sex marriage that disproves many of the negative myths about it is M.V. Lee Badgett’s When Gay People Get Married:  What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage (NYU, 2010).  A blend of personal stories from couples in the Netherlands and extensive data from several countries surrounding the issue of gender-neutral marriage, this provides political, social, and personal stakes in the fluid shifting of legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples. She discusses issues that I had not considered, such as the increased monogamy resulting from gay marriage decreasing the incidence of venereal disease. According to her research, more people get married in theU.S. than inEurope to obtain their health care situation and support their religious viewpoint. The Netherlands has a four-tiered system:  1) living alone; 2) living with someone else without written agreement which gives them certain rights; 3) partners; and 4) marriage.  The research also shows that marriage has not destroyed the institution of marriage.

On another subject, the White house has begun circulating a draft executive order that would require companies seeking government contracts to disclose contributions—including the secret ones—to groups that air political ads attacking or support candidates. This is its answer to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to donate unlimited monies anonymously to candidates. The Koch-owned companies may be impacted by such an order.

Progressives also need your help in supporting the new version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)—HR 1397—and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Mark Kirk (R-IL)—S. 811, the bill would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Currently, it is legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation in 29 states, and it is legal to fire someone because of their gender identity in 38 states. PFLAG encourages everyone to contact their representatives and senators to educate them about the importance of passing this bill.

Tomorrow’s blog for Earth Day will be cheerier!

April 20, 2011

GOP “Small Government”

Conservatives pride themselves on pushing for smaller and smaller government whereas liberals are known for “big government” (aka regulations that help people be safer and more comfortable). But just look at some examples of the GOP’s “small government” concepts.

Imagine that you lived in a town that could be taken over by the state with no voter rights. That’s what happened in Michigan after GOP Governor Rick Snyder signed, on March 16, the Local Government and School District Financial Accountability Act. The law gives the governor the right to rule towns and cities with neither legislative oversight nor residents’ consent. By declaring that the town or city is in financial distress, he can legally appoint an emergency manager, answerable only to the governor. This person can then dismiss elected officials, close or reorganize schools, alter or abolish government contracts and collective bargaining agreements, control taxes and spending and even dissolve the town as if it never existed.

It seemed impossible that this would actually happen, but Gov. Snyder did exactly that when he appointed Joseph L. Harris as Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) of Benton Harbor, Michigan. With that appointment, elected officials are permitted only to call meetings to order, approve minutes, and adjourn meetings. Why would Gov. Snyder want to do this? When Whirlpool closed its plants and decided to convert old manufacturing land into Harbor Shores, a $500 million golf course and residential development, the development company wanted Jean Klock Park, a beautiful shoreline donated as a park for the public good and a children’s park in 1917.

The bill that allowed Gov. Snyder to take over Benton Harbor was sponsored by Al Pscholka, who has some interesting connections to the town. The former aid to Congressman Fred Upton, a Whirlpool heir, he represents the area that includes Benton Harbor, he is the former vice-president of the development company responsible for building Harbor Shores, and he was on the Board of Directors for a nonprofit involved in the Harbor Shores development.

Once appointed, EFM Joseph Harris didn’t waste any time in moving ahead with his plans. He first replaced people on the Benton Harbor Planning Commission, involved in decision-making about Benton Harbor real estate development, with his personal choices. These hand-picked people decide who gets permits, what the developments will look like, and who gets the best parts of Benton Harbor.

This is just the beginning. Snyder has over 200 EFMs in training, just waiting to take over more Michigan towns and cities. Financial distress in Michigan cities and towns will increase greatly because the state is withdrawing its support of them. And the mainstream national media is not reporting this!

As evident by the sweeping tide of union-breaking across the United States after Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker started his devastation, a conservative idea in one state moves to another. Although Walker says that he doesn’t intend to follow Michigan’s example, a business group in Milwaukee is pushing to stress tests for municipalities, euphemism for erasing elected officials in Wisconsin. Over a dozen states are considering a similar law. Your state could be next.

The federal budget has been settled for this year (which ends in September), but the conflict continues, first with deciding whether to raise the deficit and then to determine next year’s budget. Much has been said in the past few weeks about Rep. Paul Ryan’s recommendation for a budget that removes money for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. while lowering tax rates for the wealthiest people in the U.S. (Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, is from Wisconsin. What is there about Wisconsin!?)

A letter-writer to The Oregonian (Portland, OR) comments that watching Eric Cantor cradling “The Path to Prosperity” document reminds him of the Twilight Zone episode about the advanced alien race landing on Earth. As they promise benevolence and peace, they also have a handbook, ”To Serve Man.” That particular handbook is a recipe book.  He concludes, “Space ships which took Americans on vacations to the beautiful alien homeworld were on ‘the path to prosperity’ for alien restauranteurs and marketers of fresh or frozen food, creating jobs jobs jobs!”

Ryan’s plan, The Roadmap for America’s Future, would give the most affluent households very large tax cuts by reducing income tax rates on high-income households; eliminating income taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest; and abolishing the corporate income tax, the estate tax, and the alternative minimum tax. The Ryan plan would cut in half the taxes of the richest 1 percent of Americans—those with incomes exceeding $633,000 (in 2009 dollars) in 2014. Households with incomes of more than $1 million would receive an average annual tax cut of $502,000. The richest one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans—those whose incomes exceed $2.9 million a year—would receive an average tax cut of $1.7 million a year on top of those from the Bush tax cuts.

At the same time, the Ryan plan would raise taxes for most middle-income families, privatize a substantial portion of Social Security, eliminate the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, end traditional Medicare and most of Medicaid, and terminate the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The plan would replace these health programs with a system of vouchers whose value would erode over time and thus would purchase health insurance that would cover fewer and fewer health care services in the future.

To offset some of the cost of these massive tax cuts, the Ryan plan would place a new consumption tax on most goods and services. About three-quarters of Americans—those with incomes between $20,000 and $200,000—would face tax increases. For example, households with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 would face an average tax increase of $900. The shift tax in burdens proposed by The Roadmap for America’s Future from the wealthy to the middle class results in people with incomes over $1 million paying much smaller percentages of their income in federal taxes.

How successful will this plan be? There are suggestions that this “roadmap to poverty” will destroy the conservatives.

Remember Arizona and its SB1070 that plans to identify illegal immigrants without profiling? (More small government?) Their latest ploy seems to be too much even for conservative Gov. Jan Brewer. Last Monday, she vetoed two bills: one would have allowed firearms onto parts of college campuses, and the other, referred to as the “birther bill,” would have mandated certain “proofs” of US citizenship for candidates running for president. The latter would have accepted a “circumcision certificate” if a long form of the birth certificate was not submitted. Is is the circumcision certificate that stopped her? Or is it the fact that John McCain might have trouble passing the “birther” law because his birth certificate was issued by the Panama Canal Health Department?

This “birther bill” concept is catching on across the nation. Thirty-seven states are considering it, and some are coming very close. Louisiana’s bill extends the birth certificate requirement to U.S. Congressional candidates. Another state wants not only the candidates’ birth certificate but also those of the candidates’ parents. And running on the birther wave, Donald Trump has a 52 percent approval rate from voting Republicans.

Unfair taxation is the topic of Iris Van Rynback and Pegi Deitz Shea’s picture book, The Taxing Case of the Cows:  A True Story about Suffrage, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Clarion, 2010).  One-hundred years after the American Revolution, women could not vote—but they could be taxed.  Sisters Abby, 72, and Julia, 77, Smith believed that this was taxation without representation, especially when town leaders taxed them an additional amount because they were single female landowners.  Their fight that began in 1869 lasted seven years during which time the sisters continually lost their cows and bought them back at auction.  They also had to sue the town for confiscating their home; supporters helped them financially by selling bouquets of flowers and hair from the cows’ tails with a black ribbon with the words “Taxation without Representation.”  These two “older” sisters show that anyone can fight unfair taxes, even when they may not think they have the backing to do so.

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