Nel's New Day

May 31, 2011

Elizabeth Warren at Risk

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 4:50 PM

It’s cloudy and stormy here today, perhaps trying to match the Republicans’ approach toward governing the country. Earlier this month the Senate Republicans drove off a superb candidate for the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now they have vowed to attack anyone appointed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a piece of the Dodd-Frank law passed last year before the Tea Party legislators swamped Washington. That legislation was intended to repair the loopholes that permitted big banks to take on too much risk and prevent another financial collapse.

Almost three years ago, Elizabeth Warren came out of relative obscurity to head the Congressional Oversight Panel. Until then the $700 million bailout, started by George W. Bush, was operated in a chaotic manner with no guidelines for money expenditure. Warren brought it out of morass and appeared to be the ideal choice to head the CFPB. Ideal anyway, for any rational person. But no one said that most of the current Senate Republicans are rational. They are not only totally opposed to Warren heading up the bureau but also to anyone else, promising to filibuster (the conservatives’ typical temper tantrum toward anything they don’t like) anyone appointed to this position.

The Republicans’ desire to attack Warren in a recent Congressional hearing was so strong that House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) told her that she was lying about the amount of time that she was supposed to testify and lying about her activities earlier in the year—in midst of the hearing. Earlier in the day he had also accused Warren of lying when he appeared on CNBC.

Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) and Jackie Speier (D-CA), joined by Democratic Members of the Subcommittee on TARP and Financial Services, sent a letter to McHenry asking him to apologize for his “disrespectful treatment” of Elizabeth Warren during last week’s hearing. A Democrat on the subcommittee also apologized “for the rude and disrespectful behavior of the chair.” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) told Warren that McHenry’s accusation “indicates to me that this hearing is all about you, because people are afraid of you and your ability to communicate in very clear terms the threats to our consumers.”

Warren was not previously been nominated to head up the CFPB because of the Republican hostility toward someone who might take the big banks’ unethical practices to task. Since the creation of the bureau, she has been acting as a special assistant to Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner, trying to cut down on predatory lending.

Republicans (and some Democrats) are friends of big banks, so their goal is to weaken or eliminate the bureau. Three bills passed in the House Financial Services Committee toward that end are to oversee it with a bipartisan commission, make it easier for other regulators to veto any of its rules, and stop its independent status until the director is confirmed by the Senate where Republicans want congressional approval over its budget and greater veto power by banking regulators. The fox isn’t even guarding the henhouse; it just watches.

Warren has described why conservatives are dead-set against the bureau. “This little government agency has the opportunity to make consumer financial markets work better for families, better for responsible lenders, and better for the economy as a whole,” Warren said in prepared remarks for a commencement address Friday at the Rutgers School of Law in Newark, N.J. “This agency is built on the faith that when the rules are fair, when anyone can see prices and risks up front and when fine print can’t be used to hide nasty surprises, then we have the chance to build stronger families and a stronger America.” Evidently Republicans don’t want the transparency for and protection of the consumers–not really a surprise to those of us who watch their tactics.

Republicans have come out openly with the real reason for their opposition. Rep. Last year Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL)—chairman of the House Financial Services Committee–said, “My view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.” When Bachus spoke to a group of 100 financial services lobbyists, he told them that the banks they work for should make campaign contributions to Republicans because of the way that Democrats “hammered” the banks by enacting the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform law. I’m amazed that people voted for the legislators who supported the unethical big banks who take the money from the voters.

McHenry’s constituents are furious about his behavior. “I ‘like’ the fact that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Americans are appalled by your behavior,” wrote Jill Budzynski on his Facebook. “You are an insult to the title of chairman of any committee. It is out of order to abuse a loyal public servant who is trying her best to accommodate your flip-flopping of schedules. How reprehensible to accuse her of lying. Apologize now.” (For more of McHenry’s issues, just Google him.)

Even the Republicans aren’t happy with McHenry. But this probably won’t stop him.

May 30, 2011

Allow Lesbians and Gays to Openly Mourn Their Loved Ones

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 5:49 PM

Today is Memorial Day—the real one that is on May 30 because the date and the last Monday in May coincide. Originally called Decoration Day, this was intended to be a day of remembrance for the 1.8 million men and women who have died in serving the country since 1775.

Since 2003, 4454 people have died in what George W. Bush called the Iraq War. Sixty-four of these casualties are gays and lesbians. I am spending today mourning the people who died in the military despite the rights that they are denied by the country they served.

In their mythical trail toward smaller government, the House Republicans have passed the infamous Paul Ryan “dump Medicare” bill and moved onto a new issue. Now their sabers are rattling to void the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law which was passed and signed last year. The repeal would allow lesbians and gays to openly serve in the military; the Republicans tactics would slow this process down to molasses speed.

Last week the National Defense Authorization Bill passed the House, 322 to 96, with three anti-gay amendments. The first of the three amendments, sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), requires that four people be added to the certifications required from the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of  Staff: all four military service chiefs would also have to certify that the DADT repeal would not impact combat readiness. These four people don’t want to provide certification, and the law demanding this bureaucracy would take a great deal of time.

From Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the second amendment confirms that DOMA (defense, of course, meaning that lesbians and gays cannot be legally married) applies to Defense Department regulations and policies. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) introduced the third amendment that neither military facilities nor personnel may be used in same-sex marriages. Military chaplains and civilian Defense Department employees also cannot officiate at gay weddings.

This latest fight enters the Senate in June, but it’s been going on in the Navy for a month. After the chief of Navy chaplains, Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, issued a directive last month that stated same-sex marriages would be allowed in chapels where marriage is legal, the Republicans became furious. The announcement allowing same-sex marriages in chapels was released on May 9; the announcement that the policy was being rescinded until further notice came out two days later. Republicans say that same-sex marriage is illegal. Five states and the District of Columbia disagree.

The infamous Leviticus argument frequently used to oppose homosexuality is now being used to defend the DADT repeal by a group of active-duty military Chaplains. The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy has filed an amicus brief in support of the repeal of DADT. In the brief they point out that Leviticus opposes many practices that Christians accepts, such as eating rabbit, pork, or shellfish. They continue, explaining that military Orthodox and Conservative rabbis serve all members of the military, not just those of their own faith and beliefs. “If an Orthodox or Conservative rabbi’s religious liberty is not threatened by the military service of many Christians and Reform Jews—who tend to openly ignore Levitical dietary rules—it is difficult to see why religious liberty of Orthodox Jewish chaplains, or even of evangelical Christian chaplains, might be seriously threatened by the presence of military personnel who do not pretend to follow the Levitical holiness code in other respects.”

I am also spending Memorial Day hoping that gays and lesbians in the military will soon receive the right to serve openly and that the loved ones of casualities can mourn them openly.

May 29, 2011

LA Puts School Librarians in Basement

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:51 PM

“There’s no better use of limited funds than paying attorneys to harass educators who’ve devoted their lives to helping our children,” Bennett Tramer of Santa Monica, California, said in a letter published May 17 in the Los Angeles Times. His tongue-in-cheek response to the egregious treatment of Los Angeles Unified School District librarians concluded: “I also applaud the valuable presence of armed police officers at the hearings; you never know when a librarian will pull out a book and start reading.”

With the $640 million shortfall for next year, LAUSD officials laid off thousands of teachers. They also decided that only a “certified teacher-librarian” was able to manage the school library. If the person employed in that area was unqualified, according to their guidelines, then the school library could be shut down.

All California middle and high school librarians are required to have a state teaching credential in addition to a librarian credential. Therefore all librarians should be considered a “certified teacher-librarian.” The district, however, has made any transfers—including those of librarians—contingent on having taught students in the district within the past five years—according to the district’s definition of “teaching.”

Thus the district called in 85 school librarians into a basement with court reporters, judges, attorneys, and armed police officers. The librarians went to the witness stand, one at a time, and answered the attorney’s questions.

“When was the last time you taught a course for which your librarian credential was not required?” “Do you take attendance?” “Do you issue grades?” “Have you ever taught physical education?” These are some of the questions asked the librarians. District officials define “teaching” as taking attendance and issuing grades. One librarian said that she taught the students “Reading Counts.” He asked her if there is a district course called “Reading Counts,” and she said no. According to the district, she is not “teaching.”

Robert Stevens, president of the American Library Association, wrote a letter on behalf of ALA that stated:  “If the elimination moves forward, only 32 of approximately 700 schools will have full-time school librarians and only 10 will have part-time school librarians. This means that approximately 600,000 students will be deprived of one of the most valuable educational resources needed for students to compete in today’s 21st century workforce – a school librarian. LAUSD must not ignore the countless studies that demonstrate that students in schools with strong school library programs learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized tests.”

Even more to the point, however, is the following letter from Jane Yolen to the LAUSD superintendent:

Dear Mr. Deasy:

As the author of 300 published books (yes, that is not a typo!),  many of them winners of the highest awards given for children’s and adult books, I have to commend you for closing libraries. You are turning out the lights in children’s minds. It will make them much easier to recruit as cannon fodder, much easier to move them on conveyor belts, much easier to treat them as cattle.

Of all the people who work in a school, teachers and librarians are the heart and soul of the place. Not administrators. My late husband was a professor and later on an administrator. You should have heard what he had to say about top-heavy administrations. I suggest you take the administrators (yourself included) and ask them the same questions the lawyers are asking the librarians in the basement: do YOU take attendance? Do YOU teach in the classroom? Perhaps you should fire the administrators first. And the overpriced lawyers. And when you do, you will no doubt find you have the money to keep the librarians.

And the library.

The ones who turn on lights in children’s minds and guard the flame in their hearts. With or without taking attendance.

Yours very truly and to tell the truth angrily as well,

Jane Yolen

The response via email to Yolen from Patricia Carranza on behalf of Dr. John E. Deasy, Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District (213-241-7000): “Thank you for your email and sharing your thoughts. As you are most likely aware our school district, state, and nation are currently facing a serious budget shortfall. While librarians and library aides are extremely important, there is not an area in the school district that has not been cut. If all Unions agree with the Furlough Agreement, we may be able to rescind notifications.”

As might be expected, Carranza’s response was to blame the system, the budget, the unions. Not my fault. Etc. But Jane Yolen still wonders who forced the district to send the lawyers down into the basement to interrogate the librarians under armed guard.

Librarians are vital if young people are to find books that make a difference in their world. The elimination of librarians means the gradual disappearance of quality books that change people’s lives. The weekend of Memorial Day is a time that this death should be noted. We need to reflect upon the future of our country if people stop reaching out for knowledge because they no longer have “teacher-librarians.”

As of last Thursday, the Los Angeles School district and teachers have reached a tentative agreement which could enable the school board to rescind about 3,400 layoff notices. This action does not remove the memory of  LAUSD’s shameful behavior toward the librarians in the basement.

May 28, 2011

Update: Same-Sex Marriage, Photo ID for Voting, Rapture, & Michigan Schools

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:41 PM

Update: Minnesota’s vote to ask its population to amend the state constitution preventing same-sex marriage elicited the following from the White House:  “The President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples or to take such rights away. While he believes this is an issue best addressed by the states, he also believes that committed gay couples should have the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country.”  The Minnesota Family Council has also tried to scrub its website clean of the most vicious accusations about LGBT people, but these attacks can be found elsewhere on the Internet if your stomach is up to it.

Update: Wisconsin’s  Gov. Scott Walker has just signed the most restrictive photo ID law in the nation, effective immediately to be in force for the recall elections of Republicans this July or August. Although a photo ID won’t be required until 2012, the necessity for voters to have lived at their address at the time of voting for 28 days instead of ten days goes into effect immediately. One of the other requirements is that Wisconsin absentee voters mail a photocopy of their ID when they submit their ballots. Opponents may challenge the constitutionality of the law, but it is uncertain whether this would happen before the summer election. Walker and the Republican legislators are working very hard to get all the negative bills passed before the election, especially after a judge declared that they broke the law when they rushed through the anti-union bill.

Update: Those of you who felt relief that the rapture did not occur a week ago may want to get uptight again. Harold Camping, the person who asserted that the rapture would come on May 21, 2011, has now admitted that he is wrong: the definitive date is October 21, 2011. Prepare yourself! (The website announcing this is also incorrect about the spelling of “judgment.”)

Update:  One Michigan school superintendent is so fed up with the state budget cuts in his state that he suggested students become prisoners to get more benefits—meals, health insurance, computers, Internet access, library books, a weight room, etc. The state budget allocation for each prisoner is almost 500 percent more than for a child in school. Thank you, Nathan Bootz of Ithica (MI) for the information!

May 27, 2011

Eric Cantor’s Callousness

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:09 PM

When former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) was in office, Hurricane Katrina wreaked devastation across the southern part of the United States. After the government understood that this hurricane was an immense disaster, Delay argued that the people should receive aid as rapidly as possible even if the relief monies had to be added to the national deficit.

We’re living in a different time. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-KY) is perfectly willing to provide financial relief to the victims of the recent tornadoes in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas—if commensurate funding in other areas is cut. No aid until that’s taken care of.

More people other than those victims are suffering from the Republican takeover last fall. (Remember? Elections have consequences.) On the same day that Cantor announced his trade-off plan, the House Appropriations Committee brought out their plan to cut nutrition and food safety programs by 10 to 15 percent. Those cuts include a loss of $832 to WIC (Women, Infants and Children) food assistance program and $285 to the Food and Drug Agency.

Republican politicians are becoming more blatant in telling their constituents that it’s not their job to help them. In a recent townhall meeting, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) announced, “When do I decide I’m going to take care of me?” He was responding to a woman who asked what she should do for insurance if she didn’t get Medicare. When she pointed out that he had government-provided health insurance, Woodall said, “Yes, but it’s free.”

People like Woodall do not understand that the term “citizen” means a person who has responsibilities as well as rights, responsibilities to support the community through service and economic participation so that everyone’s life is bettered. Even the kids in Missouri understand this concept. One Missouri high school graduating class is donating its entire party fund, $14,000, to the tornado victims in keeping with the Missouri state motto, “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.”

In her graphic narrative, American Widow, Alissa Torres tells about the problems in dealing with the government following a disaster. After problems with unemployment, Torres’ husband, Eddie, a Colombian working as a currency broker in theUnited States, began his new job at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 10, 2001, in the World Trade Center. All 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees in that office died on September 11, 2001.

The book exhibits a gamut of emotions as Torres describes her loss. The connecting piece for me to Eric Cantor’s response to the recent tornado victims, however, is the insensitivity and ineptitude shown by agencies as she looks for the help that had been promised to the victims’ survivors.

We like to look back at 9/11 as an time when people stepped up to fill in all the gaps. Torres’ book displays her perception of how most people failed to deal with such devastation and with the people connected with it.

American Widow is much more than a critique of mismanagement: it depicts the isolation of grief and the resulting enervation. Artist Sungyoon Choi adds to Torres’ experiences before and after 9/11 in simple black, white, and light blue drawings. This is a valuable book showing the individual pain of a collective tragedy, one which Eric Cantor has made worse with his heartless response.

May 26, 2011

Conservatives Drive Off Goodwin Liu

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 1:52 PM

A common Republican complaint to me these days is that Democrats don’t get anything accomplished even if they are in the majority. Conservatives refused to admit that the new majority in the Senate is 60 votes. That number 60 came into play during the past few days when Republicans filibustered against judicial nominee, Goodwin Liu, for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In some worlds, a 52-43 would be a majority to accept Liu’s nomination, the filibuster means the Liu loses.  The vote was along party lines except for two senators: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted against the filibuster; Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) voted for the filibuster.

Six years ago Senators—both sides of the aisle—agreed that there would be no filibusters against judicial nominees except in “extraordinary” cases. Of course, that was when the Republicans were in the majority and frustrated by the Democrats that opposed Bush’s court nominees. No filibustering was done then against judicial nominees, or since then—until now. Murkowski’s ethical stance created her vote against the filibuster.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) decided that these are “extraordinary” circumstances. “His record reveals that he believes the Constitution is a fluid, evolving document with no fixed meaning.” (Sessions might like to keep only white, male property owners as voters and retain control over slaves.) Sen. John Corbin (R-TX) objected to Liu because he “would use his position as a federal judge to advocate his ideological theories and undermine well-settled principles of the . . . Constitution.” (Sounds to me like the approach that Supreme Court Justices John Robert and Samuel Alito use.) Sen. Dick Durbin (R-IL) was more blatant in their objection to Liu. According to Durbin, No. 2 Senate Democrat, Republicans are just keeping judicial vacancies available, hoping that a Republican is elected president in 2012. (At least he’s honest about it!)

Liu has been a Rhodes scholar and Supreme Court clerk; the American Bar Association gave him its highest ranking; he is known to be an authority on law and the Constitution. He has also gained bipartisan support. Richard Painter, Bush’s chief ethics counsel who worked on the confirmations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, wrote that Liu is an “exceptionally qualified, measured, and mainstream nominee” that the Senate should “vote to confirm.” Kenneth Starr, known for his incessant prosecution of former President Bill Clinton, called Liu “a person of great intellect, accomplishment, and integrity” and “an extraordinarily qualified nominee.” Fox News anchor and legal analyst Megyn Kelly said, “His qualifications are unassailable.” Norman Mineta, who served as secretary of Transportation for former President George W. Bush, wrote a passionate defense of him in The Hill.

Liu’s major sin is that he testified in opposition to the confirmation of Samuel Alito. He’s also only 40 years old: he might be around too long for the Republicans. The conservatives may not like his being a law professor at UCLA, therefore making decisions that they don’t like. Liu also believes in civil rights and shown support for individual rights to education and child care, a real downer for any conservative.

Ironically, the Republicans have criticized President Barack Obama for his not promptly filling judicial vacancies. Of the 87 judicial vacancies, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has designated 34 as “judicial emergencies” because they lack a sufficient number of judges to deal with the caseload. The Constitution guarantees people a speedy trial, something they won’t be getting because the Republicans are waiting for 2012. Liu was nominated the first time almost two years ago; during that time the Senate has confirmed only 62 percent of Obama’s nominations.

Liu has decided to move on, submitting his resignation to President Obama because of the filibuster. The United States has—at least for now—lost another great man who might help the nation out of its quagmire.

May 25, 2011

Minnesota’s Anti-Gay Marriage Bill

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:46 PM

“I don’t have a penis so I can’t marry my Venus.” This was one of the more amusing signs protesting the Minnesota legislators’ move toward putting a constitutional amendment on the Fall 2012 ballot that would ban same-sex marriage.

The people who opposed doing this—including Republicans—did not go down quietly. Republican Rep. John Kriesel, a decorated Iraq veteran who has lost both legs, said, “This amendment doesn’t represent what I went to fight for.” In his speech on the floor of the House, Kriesel held up a photo of a gay soldier who died in Iraq on February 27. “I cannot . . .  say ‘You know what, corporal, you were good enough to fight for your country and give your life, but you were not good enough to marry the person you love.’” Kriesel is a person who understands love: “I love my wife more than anything. I couldn’t imagine my life without her. She makes me happy. I could not ever live with myself to vote to take that away from someone else,” he said.

As always when same-sex marriage is argued, people used religion to oppose it while others rebutted their arguments. Rep. Steve Simon eloquently addressed religion: “How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?” Rabbi Moshe Feller of St. Paul supported Simon’s position when he said, “It’s not simply a religious tradition, but also a human tradition.” University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter said, “As a matter of law and as a matter of public policy, this proposed amendment will not help one single family in Minnesota, but it will hurt many families.”

Their pain obvious, Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt, parents of the slain corporal Andrew Wilfahrt, tried to persuade the stoic Republicans that they were doing the wrong thing by voting yes on the amendment. This spring, after Mr. Wilfhart testified before the Minnesota State Senate, he said, “It was pretty obvious watching most of the Republican members of that [Senate] committee fiddle with papers and otherwise be distracted that they were not listening. When I came to the House, I decided that there was no point in making an appeal directly to these people because their minds were set up. They’re in lockstep. Most of them are freshman class, far right. They don’t want to hear the arguments.” He was talking to them about the death of his son.

It’s going to be a very nasty fight. The Minnesota Family Council’s website posted material linking homosexuality with bestiality and “other deviant behaviors,” including pedophilia. (I won’t mention the others accusations that are possibly even more disgusting to some people.) After the Family Council’s president Tom Prichard said that he hoped for a “respectful debate,” the material was removed. Perhaps someone defined “respectful” for him.

Minnesota for Marriage, a joint venture of Catholic and evangelical churches, is leading the same-sex marriage naysayers into the fray. Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said they’d try to mount “the largest and most intensive grassroots political campaign the state has ever seen.” (“Grassroots” these days means lots of outside money.)

Those opposed to same-sex marriage may lack the support they think they have. Rep. Rod Hamilton claimed he wanted to giving voters the ultimate say. (I guess the voters didn’t have a say when the original Minnesota“defense of marriage” law was passed in 1997.) Hamilton reported that his daughter told him that she would turn 18 before November 2012 and would vote against the amendment. She told him, “Dad, I think a person should be able to marry whomever they love whether it’s the opposite sex or not.”

November 2012 is a long way away. Although Kathryn Cuhlmann, a 20-year-old massage therapist, might believe now that marriage is only for opposite-sex couples because of her interpretation of the bible, she also found out that her closest friend, who recently died, was a lesbian. Cuhlmann said her views might be evolving.

On the “support same-sex marriage” side, Project 515, which advocates for same-sex couples inMinnesota, and Out Front Minnesota are the lead organizations in the coalition Minnesotans United for All Families. The national LGBT civil-rights group Human Rights Campaign will also work with Minnesotans United to defeat the amendment.

Monica Meyer, executive director of Out Front Minnesota, said, “We’ve got this $6 billion deficit here, and leadership says they want to work to improve the economy, and this is the only issue they get done,” she said. “It’s a sad statement for our state.”

Sen. David Hann tried to answer the question of how a political party that fights for small government insists on supporting a huge number of laws intended to control people. If you want limited government, Hann explained, you need “moral virtue” and “discipline” and other verities that “reinforce the idea of individuals being accountable.” Evidently his argument is that small government requires very large government to create small government. I’ll have to work on that one to figure it out.

The House proceedings took on an almost carnival (carnival noir?) atmosphere on the night of the vote when Pastor Bradlee Dean gave the prayer for the day. Well-known for his approval of the death penalty for gays, Dean did not reference same-sex marriage in his prayer. He did, however, state that President Obama is not a Christian, requiring the House Speaker to apologize. Since then Salem Communications has dropped Dean’s “Sons of Liberty” radio show, and Wal-Mart has told Dean that his ministry, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, can no longer fundraise in itsMinnesotaparking lots. One step at a time.

The amendment has a good chance of failing. Despite the Minnesota conservative’s poll, run by a Mormon, citing that 57 percent of the state’s voters are opposed to same-sex marriage, Gallup says differently. A majority of people in the United States now support same-sex marriage, a percentage that grows each year. And there are 18 months until the vote.

May 24, 2011

Progressive Tipping Point

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:46 PM

Today may be the tipping point toward democracy in the United States. Today a progressive won District 26 in New York for the U.S. House of Representatives. After former Rep. Chris Lee was discovered looking for dates on the Internet by sending photos of himself naked to the waist, he resigned. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called a special election for today. The four candidates represented the Republicans, the Democrats, the Greens, and the Tea Party. (Some people say that the Tea Party candidate was really a past Democrat ringer. Who knows.) Democrat Kathy Hochul won.

The amazing part about a Democrat win is that New York District 26 is traditionally staunchly Republican. Jane Corwin, the Republican candidate, was so convinced that the election would be close that she got a court order barring the certification of a winner if that were true. It wasn’t. Hochul won the election with 48 percent of the votes; Corwin trailed with 42 percent. No problem. It took only 15 minutes to declare the winner of the race.

The conservatives campaigned last year on the platform of finding jobs for people and saving them money. The minute that they stepped into office, they attacked legal abortion and voted to eradicate Medicare. Nothing about jobs or helping people–just giving money to corporations and the wealthy.

Republicans are saying that the results of one district doesn’t really count, but no event happens in a vacuum. The tipping point of the conservatives’ hypocrisy may have arrived. This may be the country’s “new day.”

May 23, 2011

Photo IDs for Voting

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:53 PM

The right to vote has had a long history of discrimination in the United States, starting with the decree of the Founding Fathers that only white, male property owners—less than 16 percent of the population at that time—could cast a vote. Although the requirement for being a property owner was abandoned in 1850, the white male requirements still stood. Other discriminatory requirements rapidly crept into law: Connecticut in 1855, followed by Massachusetts two years later, introduced literacy test requirements for voter registration. After the Civil War, when white people panicked about black people voting, poll taxes appeared in a number of states until they were outlawed for federal elections. Native Americans didn’t gain the right to vote until they became citizens in1920, the same year that women gained the vote.Texas has gone so far as to hold white primaries, privately operated, until the federal government stopped them.

Almost fifty years ago, the Civil Rights movement made great changes by outlawing both poll taxes and literacy requirements for voter registration as well as monitoring counties with historically low voter turnout. Now the conservatives who want to keep progressives from voting have discovered a new way to increase the wealthier, whiter vote: the requirement for voter picture ID. Three years ago, low-income people, students, rural residents, and seniors were a strong force in putting Barack Obama into the White House. Conservatives are disenfranchising these groups by demanding photo identification before voting.

Right now, state laws for voting are all over the place and sometimes really inconsistent. For example, Delaware includes both photo ID and a utility bill as acceptable identification. In other states such as Hawaii, photo ID is required, but a person without it can state date of birth and residence address for proof. These laws, however, are rapidly changing into horrifying, restrictive ones.

Some states such as Georgia passed mandated photo IDs for voting before the 2008 election, but the mainstream media didn’t focus much on their law. By 2011 ten states had passed laws requiring photo ID for a person to vote.

Last week Ohio passed a highly restrictive law which even refused to allow photo student IDs from state institutions as one of the mandated photo IDs. Fraud was cited as justification although no one could present any examples. One state legislator said that there was probably a great deal of fraud that was never reported. Some black Democratic lawmakers protested that the legislation targets blacks citing a study from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law showing that 25 percent of voting-age blacks lack a current government-issued photo ID. Another state legislator said he didn’t believe the study, that this number was way too high.

Kansas has already passed a highly restrictive law that goes into effect on January 1, and New Hampshire is gearing up for one.

Conservatives such as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley claim that people should have no trouble getting ID for this—they should just use drivers’ licenses, for example. At this time 178,000 South Carolina voters lack the mandated ID. To get this ID, a person needs “proof of citizenship.” A birth certificate costs at least $12. If people are forced to make a choice, would they rather buy food or a birth certificate? Pretty simple answer. And they not only need to put together the money. They also have to take time away from a job and find transportation to a motor vehicle office. South Carolina has 60 of those in a state with more than 30,000 miles.

Some states are paying for the ID although not for the time, effort, and cost to obtain one. These are states that have serious money shortfalls but are willing to pay more to keep people from voting. North Carolina with its $37.6 shortfall could lose over $20 over the next three years for IDs and publicity. Other states predict similar amounts. There’s also the cost for individual counties to update forms and websites as well as hire and training staff to inspect IDs and handle provisional ballots. In 2009, Maryland estimated that just one county would have to pay over $95,000 for each election.  All this expenditure from states that claim to be broke and broker.

Voter IDs are not the only way that states are eliminating people’s right to vote. Florida’s bill requires volunteers in registration drives to register with the state and mandates that all voter registration cards be provided to the state within 48 hours after it is signed. The person getting the registrations would have to pay a $50 fine for every late card. So much for spontaneous get-togethers in the park where one person has a batch of cards and unregistered people can fill them out. Even the League of Women Voters refuses to have any more registration drives.

Wisconsin’s new restrictive law requires everyone who registers voters be certified by the municipality where people are being registered. That means that anyone who wants to register people in ten different towns must visit each municipality to get certified by that municipality. Forget registering at that friendly get-together in the park where someone came from another town.

Conservatives forcing these laws through state legislatures always claim that they are trying to stop voter fraud. (This from the party that continually “loses” ballots or “finds” them—always to the benefit of the Republicans.) The greatest fraud in voting now comes from those trying to get rid of voters. In last fall’s Texas election, poll watchers who some thought had ties to a tea party group called “True the Vote” came to minority polling sites in Houston. They supposedly watched people vote, followed them and then verbally confronted them although state law prevents poll watchers from speaking to voters. Perhaps it’s only intimidation instead than fraud.

Minnesota’s tea party-backed “Election Integrity Watch” offered $500 bounty to anyone providing tips about fraud and urged volunteers to photograph and videotape voters at the polls. They also told volunteers to follow buses at the polling place and videotape them as well as search for non-citizen voters—whatever they look like.

Over 11 percent of U.S. citizens with the legal right to vote may be refused this constitutional right. If you don’t mind getting scared, just Google “photo voter ID state” for more information. It’s time for a Civil Rights movement!

May 22, 2011

Lesbian Columnists

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 2:15 PM

The Stonewall Riots of 1969, a three-day protest at a New York gay bar fighting police oppression, have been given credit for changing the gay culture of this nation. They were an important milestone, but I give credit to communication that came from the LGBTQ newsletters that have spread across the country and the LGBTQ columnists who are syndicated in mainstream media for the changes in the last half of the twentieth century. With that communication LGBTQ people really learned that there were lots of other people like them, that they were not alone.

Love this next story! The first identified lesbian newsletter came from a Los Angeles secretary who used the pseudonym “Lisa Ben.” (Sounds like?!) Her movie studio boss told her to “look busy” to make him appear important. Starting in June 1947, she “looked busy” by twice-monthly typing out five carbons and one original of Vice Versa. I saw one of the original carbon copies at the Lesbian Herstory Archive in Brooklyn. The nine-month “publication,” with its mix of lesbian fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, set the pattern for the multitude of lesbian/gay newsletters to come.

Vice Versa was followed in 1956 by The Ladder, a creation of the newly formed Daughters of Bilitis. Published monthly until 1970 except for 1971 and 1972 when it came out every two months, it used the same lesbian mix as Vice Versa, adding a cover and simple line drawings.

Three years before The Ladder, One, a spinoff group from the advocate Mattachine Society for gays, came out with the first edition of One Magazine. Instead of the literary bent of the lesbian magazines, One’s intent was to be educational and activist about gay issues. Then the first copy of The Advocate rolled off the presses in 1967, two years before Stonewall, and the world of LGBTQ publishing opened up.

Now the Internet allows millions of LGBTQ people to express their ideas to a vast audience. Sifting through these blogs can be time-consuming, but a start is one person’s  list of 30 “best” lesbian blogs running the gamut from political/activist to humor/advice.

Yet  few lesbian columnists publish openly about  LGBTQ issues in the mainstream press or collect their columns in books. I confess ignorance in this area so information will be very helpful.

An openly lesbian feminist freelance journalist in the UK, Julie Bindel, regularly publishes in The Guardian. Her acid tongue can infuriate readers, for example when she ridicules transgenders and their experiences.

A contrast to Bindel’s acerbic style comes from Dana Rudolph, known for and her prolific columns with the Huffington Post, Washington Post,,, a variety of LGBTQ newsletters including Bay Windows (Boston), etc.

Much as I love to read these columns, however, I like collections of columns even more. I was reminded of this when I picked up Fay Jacobs’ newest book, For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries. This is one of those books that not only warm our hearts about the gay community but also educate people unfamiliar with the “gay agenda” (translate every day mundane experiences). It is in these columns that we read about the joys of a quiet day, the fun of getting together with friends, the frustrations of owning pets, the adventures of travel—and I could go on and on.

Although I make her book sound dull, Jacobs’ columns make me laugh, even when she talks about subjects that can madden me, such as the current state of politics during the past decade. Her perspective personalizes issues that affect all of us from the beginning entry about her move from the glamorous Big Apple to the finishing acknowledgements that include a tribute to her father: “he . . .taught me that even the worst event is not so bad if you can eventually tell a compelling story about it.”

I finished the book and pondered the publisher, A&M Books. With hundreds of small publishers going in and out of business and thousands of people publishing their own books, it’s hard to keep track of all these “houses.” Back to the Internet. A&M Books was founded in 1995 by Anyda Marchant and her partner Muriel Crawford. (Get it? A&M? Anyda and Muriel?) Before you yawn, I need to explain that Marchant’s pseudonym was Sarah Aldridge, who is considered one of the best American lesbian storytellers in the twentieth century. And that she originated the Naiad Press, the most famous lesbian publishing house of its time. Sadly Marchant, 94, and Crawford, 91, died in 2006. Jacobs now has the press.

Reading For Frying Out Loud took me back to when I found And Say Hi to Joyce. This 1995 collection is from Deb Price’s long-running column which began in 1992 in the conservative Detroit News—the first gay column to regularly run in a daily newspaper. Like Jacobs, Price writes in her column about her long-time partner, Joyce Murdoch, as she addresses gay and straight issues, but a delightful addition to And Say Hi to Joyce is Murdoch’s response to Price.

Once described as a blend of Erma Bombeck, Armistead Maupin, and Anna Quindlen, Price’s columns humanize gay issues, again providing a very gentle education for straight readers. It’s a continuing saga of a long-term, same-sex relationship despite the way that some of society tries to negate its legality.

In 2010 when Price and Murdoch moved to Massachuetts, Price talks about her dilemma when she started writing a nationally syndicated, weekly column in mainstream newspapers about life from a gay perspective”: “So tell me,America, how do I introduce Joyce?”

“Over the next 18 years — and about 900 columns — I introduced my readers, mostly heterosexuals, to a gay couple — Joyce and me — and countless other wonderful people we met along our journalistic adventure. Others were angry to find a lesbian columnist in their hometown paper: ‘How dare you make your life seem interesting and worthwhile.” (Just think back over the changes during the past two decades!’)

The longest-running syndicated gay column, “The Amazon Trail,” started in the mid-1980s. In addition to still writing this column, the author, Lee Lynch, continues to come out with new fiction. Most of her first four years of columns compiled in The Amazon Trail Naiad Press, 1988) which begins, “Thirty years of being gay.” Let’s see. That was 33 years ago.

Lynch reminiscences about the girlfriends of her youth, the state of gayness during that time in Oregon, people in her life  (including a couple of partners), pets, food—all the minutia that put together a complete life. It’s a great history of the 1960s-1980s. Maybe she’ll cover the next 33 years one of these days. [Although Lynch’s book is out of publication, you might be able to snag it on at a used bookstore or buy one from her.]

Sorry I’ve skipped all the guys. Maybe another day!

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