Friday Reads: Best of Times and Worst of Times Edition

ww1-coverI’m frequently heartened by the increasing acceptance of members of the GLBT community and recognition of their civil rights in this country even while I’m dismayed at the outright war on the rights of women and other minorities.  Here’s a few interesting things to think about in terms of GLBT rights and recognizing committed relationships as equal in the eyes of the law.  First up, a great interview  from our great blog friend Joyce Arnold.

You’ve seen the “Gay Marriage Already Won” Time covers. The lesbian couple, or as I’ve heard it described, the “kissing wives” cover (the kissing engaged guys – Russell Hart and Eric LaBonté – were good, too, of course) are Kristen and Sarah Ellis-Henderson. Kristen and Sarah were married in New York in 2011, and have co-authored a memoir, Times Two, Two Women in Love and The Happy Family They Made (Simon & Schuster), released the same year. Kristen is a member of the band, Antigone Rising. All band members are women, out lesbians and in an interview this week, talked about both the band and their music, and their take on that “kissing wives” cover, and LGBT equality in general.

A quick introduction to Antigone Rising. Or perhaps you’re among the many who don’t need an introduction. Either way, follow the link for the complete bio. Short version: in 2005 the band is in “high profile” mode, opening for Rob Thomas, Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones. Three years later, changes at the label meant “bankability … yielded to unpredictability.” But with some regrouping, Kristen, founding member, bassist/songwriter; Cathy Henderson, Kristen’s sister, founding member, and lead guitarist; Dena Tauriello, drummer; and Nini Camps, singer/songwriter “coalesced, and the band was readier than ever for the second phase of their career.”


We’ll get to more about the band, their music – including an upcoming EP and a single, That Was the Whiskey, along with some really good stories in the second part of this article, coming tomorrow. First, the “kissing wives” story. I asked Kristen how that came about, that she and wife Sarah ended up on the cover of Time. She began by talking about the memoir the two wrote, Times Two.

Just when you think things are getting much better you hear a story straight out of those horrible old days that the crazy wicked Republican Party is trying to drag us all back into. A Missouri man was arrested at hospital for refusing to leave his very ill gay partner.

A gay man was arrested at a hospital in Missouri this week when he refused to leave the bedside of his partner, and now a restraining order is preventing him from any type of visitation.

Roger Gorley told WDAF that even though he has power of attorney to handle his partner’s affairs, a family member asked him to leave when he visited Research Medical Center in Kansas City on Tuesday.

Gorley said he refused to leave his partner Allen’s bedside, and that’s when security put him in handcuffs and escorted him from the building.

“I was not recognized as being the husband, I wasn’t recognized as being the partner,” Gorley explained.

He said the nurse refused to confirm that the couple shared power of attorney and made medical decision for each other.

“She didn’t even bother to look it up, to check in to it,” the Lee’s Summit resident recalled.

In a 2010 memorandum, President Barack Obama ordered hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding to allow visitation rights for gay and lesbian partners.

For its part, Research Medical Center insisted that it does not discriminate based on sexual orientation.

“We believe involving the family is an important part of the patient care process,” the hospital said in a statement. “And, the patient`s needs are always our first priority. When anyone becomes disruptive to providing the necessary patient care, we involve our security team to help calm the situation and to protect our patients and staff. If the situation continues to escalate, we have no choice but to request police assistance.”

We need legal protection of all of our rights. I hope a few members of SCOTUS will read this story and understand what exactly is at stake in their upcoming decisions on Prop 8 and DOMA.

While the rights of ethnic and racial minorities has always been in issue, there are some important things occurring right now that will determine who be allowed into this country and who will have the right to call themselves American in our future.  There’s a very important discussion at Democracy Now! on this topic.  We’ve always been a hodgepodge nation of immigrants.  Will we continue to be welcoming to the tired, the weary, and the oppressed in our future?

As tens of thousands rallied on Capitol Hill for humane reform Wednesday, more details emerged on the bipartisan immigration plan being drafted in the Senate. The deal will reportedly require greatly increased surveillance and policing near the U.S.-Mexico border. According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. immigration officials would have to certify complete monitoring of the southern U.S. border and a 90 percent success rate in blocking unlawful entry in certain areas. Only then could the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants apply for permanent residency. The process is expected to take at least 10 years. Juan González, Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist, calls the looming congressional debate on immigration “a battle over what will America look like in the 21st century.”

AMY GOODMAN: Juan González, co-host on  Democracy Now!and columnist with the  New York Daily News on Wednesday wrote a  piece called “With Much at Stake, Gang of Eight Senators’ Immigration Bill, Due to Be Unveiled Soon, Awaits Uphill Climb.” Juan, talk about what is happening here. You’ve been covering this very closely.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think the first thing that people have to understand is that what’s at stake here, what this battle—which is going to go on for all the spring and summer and probably into the fall, is really a battle over what will America look like in the 21st century, what will be the—who is legitimately in the country, and who will be legitimately allowed to come into the country over the next several decades.

And it’s not the first kind of battle of this kind. The ’86 immigration reform bill actually was not fully comprehensive. We had a huge battle in the ’60s, 1965; in the 1920s; and then even further back, in the 1880s with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which for 60 years then excluded any kind of immigration of Chinese and other folks from Asia into the country. So, this is one of the many battles we’ve had in American history over the issue of immigration.

And I think the key thing to understand about this proposal, the Gang of Eight proposal, that no one has yet seen a bill. Everyone is talking about the agreements that have been reached, but no one has actually seen the language of the law. And the devil is always in the details when it comes to legislation, so that what we have heard so far about the compromise proposal of the Gang of Eight—and remember, there will be a separate bill adopted in the House of Representatives, which will be undoubtedly far weaker than whatever the Gang of Eight come up with in the Senate, and those have to be then reconciled and then signed into law by the president. So this is the beginning of a long process.

And—but what we do know is that this—even this bill, the so-called—the compromise bill is going to be heavy on border security. It’s going to delay the process by which those who are undocumented in the country will be able to establish their legal status, and even citizenship, a minimum of 10 years. So in the first 10 years, there will be beefed-up border security, more requirements, more spending by the government, an already enormous sum—$17.9 billion was spent last year alone on border security in the United States. That will be increased. And the border has got to be 100 percent under surveillance, according to Congress, and there have to be triggers before anyone can then be moved onto permanent residency status—not citizenship—permanent residency status.

quote-i-seem-to-smell-the-stench-of-appeasement-in-the-air-margaret-thatcher-183801The mainstream media has a total fascination with the idea of legislation crafted by a bipartisan group.  However, today’s congress is held hostage by right wing republicans and any negotiations or ideas of bipartisanship must recognize we’re dealing with terrorists.  There are so many Republicans these days that get elected to government that hate our government that it’s hard for me to understand why we consider it fashionable to negotiate with people that would destroy the very things that we hold dear.  These folks also hate nonchristians, racial minorities, LBTG people, and women that won’t obey their idea of womanly servitude.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in southern states where state’s rights is nothing more than a rallying cry of neoconfederates in the guise of the cult of Ayn. Take Tennessee, Please!!

If you’re worried about where America is heading, look no further than Tennessee. Its lush mountains and verdant rolling countryside belie a mean-spirited public policy that only makes sense if you believe deeply in the anti-collectivist, anti-altruist philosophy of Ayn Rand. It’s what you get when you combine hatred for government with disgust for poor people.

Tennessee starves what little government it has, ranking dead last in per capita tax revenue. To fund its minimalist public sector, it makes sure that low-income residents pay as much as possible through heavily regressive sales taxes, which rank 10th highest among all states as a percent of total tax revenues. (For more detailed data see  here.)

As you would expect, this translates into hard times for its public school systems, which rank 48th in school revenues per student and 45th in teacher salaries. The failure to invest in education also corresponds with poverty: the state has the 40th worst poverty rate (15%) and the 13th highest state  percentage of poor children (26%).

Employment opportunities also are extremely poor for the poor. Only 25% have full-time jobs, 45% are employed part-time, and a whopping 30% have no jobs at all.

So what do you do with all those low-income folks who don’t have decent jobs? You put a good number of them in jail. In fact, only Louisiana, Georgia and New Mexico have  higher jail incarceration rates.

From the perspective of Tennessee legislators, it’s all about providing the proper incentives to motivate the poor. For starters, you make sure that no one could possible live on welfare payments (TANF: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). Although President Clinton’s welfare reform program curtailed how long a family can receive welfare (60 months) and dramatically increased the work requirements, Tennessee set the  maximum family welfare payment at only $185 per month. (That’s how much a top hedge fund manager makes in under one second.) As a result, the Volunteer State ranks 49th in TANF, just above Mississippi ($170).

This is the vision of the future for those holding office under the guise of the Republican Party.  These are the folks Obama wishes to appease.  This are the folks that the east coast media wants to make nice with in the spirit of bipartansanship. Nowhere is the stink of appeasement bipartisanship more apparent than in the Obama budget document that sells out nearly every good, democratic principle of the last 100 years. The WSJ calls it reaching for middle ground.  I call it going way past the middle ground to the fence that divides sanity from right wing hysteria and climbing the fence, going to the other side … and starting negotiations from there.  Obama left the middle ground in the rear view mirror way way back with this budget.

Congressional Republican leaders mostly dismissed the package and described it as a nonstarter because of proposed tax increases. But other Republicans said it contained measures that could show promise.

While the nearly 2,500-page budget package is stuffed with different proposals, including higher taxes on cigarettes and spending on climate-change research, there are a handful of items the White House hopes could be the seeds of a broad deficit-reduction deal later this year.

These include slowing the growth of spending on programs such as Social Security by $130 billion over 10 years by using a different inflation measure for calculating annual cost-of-living increases, and making $370 billion in changes to Medicare through cuts to providers and raising certain fees and premiums. Many Democrats have long objected to cutting future benefits or spending on these programs, and adding them to the White House’s budget infuriated liberals and labor unions.

But the president offered no apologies. “I am willing to make tough choices that may not be popular within my own party, because there can be no sacred cows for either party,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday. At the same time, he said his offer to slow entitlement growth was conditioned on lawmakers agreeing to higher taxes, such as new limits on tax breaks claimed by wealthier Americans—something GOP leaders have recently said they won’t accept.

Since 2011, the White House and Congress have already agreed to roughly $2.5 trillion in deficit reductions over 10 years through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Many Republicans say much more needs to be done, but White House officials say their new budget would bring the total deficit reduction to more than $4 trillion over 10 years.

The minute that you accept the fantasy that the federal budget deficit or debt is the big problem, you’ve already lost the battle for what is right and good in this country.    History may associate this President’s name as the Neville Chamberlain of US economic policy.  You should not look for middle ground with folks that look to the evils of the past for inspiration.  Our country does soundly rejects the vision of becoming Tennessee or Mississippi or South Carolina in election after election.  This includes the President’s re-election.

It’s not about the middle ground.  It’s about the higher ground.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Boehner Dismissively Rejects Obama Budget

John Boehner


House Speaker John Boehner immediately dismissed President Barack Obama’s package of significant new entitlement cuts tied to new tax revenues, calling them “no way to lead and move the country forward.”

The White House had portrayed the proposal, part of the budget it will release next week, as a compromise with Congressional Republicans that could have put them on track for another run at a grand bargain.

But Boehner said he will not consider new revenues as part of the deal, arguing that “modest” entitlement savings should not “be held hostage for more tax hikes.”

Politico notes that Obama has now opened himself up to attacks from both the left (such as it is) and the right. Right wing nuts hate the increased taxes on “tax-preferred retirement accounts for millionaires and billionaires”

Already, Obama’s budget proposal goes farther than many in his own party and base said they would bear by including “chained CPI,” the adjustment that would over time reduce cost-of-living increases to Social Security and other federal benefit programs — effectively, a cut to Social Security benefits by tying them to inflation….

And Obama is already facing a backlash from liberal Democrats as he has floated the chained CPI idea. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Friday that any Social Security cuts are a no-go for him.

“While there are large portions of the president’s budget that I strongly support, I remain firmly opposed to the chained CPI,” Harkin said. “This policy is an unnecessary attack on Social Security, a program that by law is unable to add to the deficit.”

As I’ve repeatedly said, our only defense against Obama’s obsession with cutting social programs is the stupidity of the House Republicans.