Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

A Few Days’ Respite

March 31st, 2010 No comments

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be away from Internet access (OK, I’ll still have my iPhone) for a few days. So I’ve decided to take a few days off from blogging — for the first time since I’ve started, really. In my absence, several of my favorite posts from the past year-plus of blogging will re-run, with original posting dates at the bottom. The site has many more readers than it did at the start, so I thought I’d run a few of my favorites (not necessarily the ones that received the most comments).

I hope you enjoy them. Meanwhile, for something new, check out tomorrow’s column over at 365gay.com; the topic is a bullying case from upstate New York, and my take on the Obama Administration’s positive role in bringing about a settlement. It should post in the late morning or early afternoon. If I can, I’ll alert readers when it goes up.

May you all enjoy some time with friends and family during these few days that have religious significance for so many.

Categories: 365gay column, blogs Tags: , ,

Who’s Left to Love?

February 15th, 2010 No comments

This depressing article in today Philadelphia Inquirer relates a familiar tale: The poor are being vilified for taking government money, blamed for having made bad choices, called “breeders” for having kids they can’t support (with an icky overlay of moral disapproval for having many of these children out of wedlock). As the story points out, much of the anger is diffused and untroubled by facts: welfare rolls have been slashed mercilessly since the so-called Welfare Reform Act of 1996; the payments are so meager that no one would seek this as a viable means of support (and it lasts five years, max, anyway); most of those receiving assistance are children.

The anger is sometimes startling, as when South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer recently compared the poor to “stray animals who breed,” or when pandering, no-nothing politicians make symbolic shows of making life even more humiliating for people who can’t get by:

Pennsylvania State Rep. Garth Everett (R., Lycoming) has tried for a year to pass a law that would have [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families] recipients drug-tested and fingerprinted, a practice in some states. “People’s wallets are tighter these days, and they don’t want funds going to folks with drug problems,” he said.

Asked to back up his claims, Everett said, “I don’t have evidence that people are using it [TANF money] to buy drugs. I do get feedback from a significant part of my constituency that they have the feeling that folks on welfare are using drugs.” He added that his proposed bill “is not going anywhere” because Democrats oppose it.

His constituents “have the feeling” that folks are using money — some of the very generous $403, per month, for a mother and two kids — to buy drugs. That’s enough for Everett, who can make a political show of his solidarity with the angriest elements of his constituency without having to deal with the consequences. Among them is the likelihood that the money spent on drug testing and fingerprinting would far outweigh any cost savings from denying benefits to those using drugs, and thereby end up costing the state more money. As a bonus, it would feed into the discredited view that  drug addiction is a matter of choice and not a medical, public health issue that requires complex intervention.

Given that the poor take such a tiny percentage of the state’s money, the anger isn’t really about the money. It’s more the product of a deep and justifiable frustration by the broad swath of the increasingly left-behind middle class that they’ve done everything right, but can’t get ahead. Like a tire skidding endlessly on ice during our tundra-like winter here in the Mid-Atlantic, they work harder and harder and fall further and further behind. So to them, anyone who gets anything for “nothing” is bound to be the target of some vitriol. But would they change places with those they condemn?

No, they’d rather change places with the Wall Street bankers and financiers whose complex machinations were a significant contributing factor in the national and global meltdown that continues apace. But they know that’s not possible, and they’re too beaten down — and realistic — to think that people as well-connected as these modern-day robber barons (there! I said it! let the angry responses begin) will be brought to heel, or even asked to cut back by one yacht. Government is detested, but there, too, the problem seems too big and complex for them to have any effect.

This culture of fury and jealousy, whatever its understandable origin, isn’t healthy. I might want to blame right-wing talk show hosts like the morbidly obese Rush Limbaugh who, without apparent irony, recently wailed about how food stamp recipients are spending their money on unhealthy choices (including the outright lie that some of it is going to booze; it can’t), but the most accurate thing to say is that they’re only amplifying resentment and confusion that’s already out there. (If you want to make a symbolic stand against the worst (and most effective) offender, join this Facebook group).

As Sarah Palin understands (and she doesn’t understand much), there’s a fortune to be made in tapping into this anger. Obama, meanwhile, has the more difficult responsibility of connecting with our deeper but often less accessible sense of community and collective responsibility. He’s not always done this effectively, unfortunately, but this is the area in which we really need that “hope-y, change-y” thing. Otherwise, I fear that “the centre cannot  hold.” While I’m on Yeats, here’s a tired but apt close:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Public Health and Welfare in State of the Union Speech

January 28th, 2010 1 comment

State of the Union

Despite my current frustration with Obama — or maybe because of it — I watched the entire State of the Union speech. I’m sure it’s being endlessly picked apart by all kinds of talking heads, bloggers, and the like. Me, I’m watching the Australian Open. (The indomitable Serena Williams just beat back a tough challenge from the letter-limited Li Na to advance to the final. No news there.) But I do want to pause to grant some limited props to Obama for mentioning two of my pet issues: Public health and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The promise on DADT had generated an anticipatory, bloggy buzz, and it was heartening to hear the President speak to it. I’m confident it will happen. (Missing, though, was any mention of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which I had thought was also likely to pass into law this year. I was reminded that this issue had been raised in a State of the Union as long ago as the end of the Clinton Administration. Can we please get there? The goal seems to shimmer and recede….)

The DADT comment came towards the very end of a pretty good speech, and very close in time to another issue near and dear to me: public health. Of course, everything the President mentions is public health to me (health care reform is just the most obvious example, but I can’t bear to talk about it right now). But to hear him pledge energy, money and effort to public health efforts to fight terrorism and infectious disease — now that was something. My night was made in five minutes.

Now, to bed. Oh, wait…the recently unretired Justine Henin is taking the court….

“Gavin, Gorby”; “Gorby, Gavin”

January 22nd, 2010 No comments

Glasnost. Perestroika. Marriage equality.

Gavin, meet Gorby. Gorby, meet Gavin. (“Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah. )

Sometimes it happens that leaders of social change are left behind by the very forces they helped unleash. After Mikhail Gorbachev awoke the sleeping Soviet bear, he was quickly — rudely — brushed aside by the faux-democratic Yeltsin, who twisted the great visionary’s call to greater democracy into cynical manipulation: Appear to be more democratic while playing to populist fears that will enable you to consolidate power. Things have of course gotten exponentially worse under Putin and his “successor” Medvedev.

So too has San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom been unceremoniously elbowed aside — eclipsed, as Maureen Dowd noted earlier this week — by old school forces that see him as the “gay marriage” one-trick pony. He might as well have acted the role of Superman: With apologies to Chaucer, The Reeves’ Tale  (George and Christopher Reeve(s), that is) did not end well for either guy.1 Newsom’s quest for the state house has stalled, despite his similar charm and good looks. According to this expansive and wise letter in today’s NY Times, it seems he can live with that:

From the moment we issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples six years ago, I knew we were beginning a long-term battle that would ultimately be taken up one day in courtrooms in California and Washington. The federal trial in San Francisco this month is the latest chapter in that battle and a logical result of the events that have unfolded since San Francisco wed more than 4,000 same-sex couples in 2004.

But victory in the fight for marriage equality is as much about changing people’s hearts and minds as about changing the law. That’s why we first married Phyllis Lyon and the late Del Martin, together for more than 50 years, to give a much-needed human face to the struggle for marriage equality.

In that sense, your article is correct that I have been “eclipsed” in the fight for marriage equality. Indeed, all of us, whether politician or lawyer or advocate, are eclipsed every day by the stories of Phyllis and Del and the thousands of same-sex couples who have married since 2004. Because the fight for marriage equality is about them — the men and women whose loving, committed relationships are still treated as unequal in the eyes of the law.

I have never been prouder of our decision in 2004 to defy California’s unjust marriage laws and do our part to carry the banner for civil rights. And we will never step back from our commitment to marriage equality until justice prevails in California and in our nation’s capital.

I met and interviewed Newsom some months ago. He’s a relaxed guy who makes everyone feel comfortable. Except, it appears, other politicians. As he steps aside, he unleashes this parting salvo against Obama (as related to Dowd):

I want him to succeed. But I am very upset by what he’s not done in terms of rights of gays and lesbians. I understand it tactically in a campaign, but at this point I don’t know. There is some belief that he actually doesn’t believe in same-sex marriage. But it’s fundamentally inexcusable for a member of the Democratic Party to stand on the principle that separate is now equal, but only on the basis of sexual orientation. We’ve always fought for the rights of minorities and against the whims of majorities.”

He said the promise of Obama sparking an “organic movement” has faded and “there’s a growing discontent and lack of enthusiasm that I worry about. He should just stand on principle, put this behind him and move on.”

What’s to add?

  1. The actual reeve of the Canterbury Tales was quite a nasty fellow.

An End-Run Around Legislative Paralysis: EPA Will Control CO2 if Congress Won’t

December 7th, 2009 No comments

Today’s news that the EPA has found greenhouse gases to be a public health danger (i.e., hazardous to both human beings and the environment) gives the Obama Administration leverage it didn’t have yesterday. If Congress won’t get behind laws to regulate carbon dioxide and other gases, the EPA can simply regulate the stuff. Legally sound? Probably. Good policy? Probably not. But it might be the only way to get anything done.

Once upon a time, a President with solid majorities in both chambers was considered to have a mandate to actually get laws passed. But that was before the U.S. Senate, already designed to be obstructionist, transformed the “filibuster” from a rarely invoked, desperate, and rear-guard action into an inviolate requirement that nothing can happen without the super-majority of 60 that’s needed to invoke cloture and stop the debate. No one needs to bother filibustering; the threat of it is sufficient. (Of course, there is something to be worried about: Endless debate by U.S. Senators is a prospect you should  keep from small children.)

Things have now reached such a ridiculous pass that, on health care reform, even members of the majority party threaten to vote against cloture, thereby threatening to defeat their own party’s initiatives without even letting them come to a “regular” vote that would require a bare majority. (Maybe this isn’t so bad, though. Who wants to see these people bare?)

One way out of this frustrating logjam is to go the regulatory route. By declaring what most sane people know (despite the distracting email kerfuffle), the EPA has given itself — and the Administration for which it works — an  insanely powerful, practical, and political too.  It reminds me of Tweetybird, hiding that huge mallet behind his head and then slamming the hapless Sylvester. Businesses won’t know what hit them.

But it’s hardly the best way to proceed. The EPA can limit the emissions, but can’t impose a tax or develop a cap-and-trade approach (to name two competing legislative proposals). There’s a notice and comment requirement to regulations, but these can’t stop agencies from doing whatever their statutory authority allows.  Given the dysfunction of the U.S. Senate, the threat of a command decision by an agency accountable only to the Executive branch might be needed to get legislation passed. But the situation should be yet another reminder that something needs to be done about the Senate, before it becomes unable to function at all.

Boiled in Oil

November 29th, 2009 No comments

A few years ago, Martina Navratilova was asked about how her openness about being a lesbian had affected her tennis career. In characteristically honest and amusing fashion, she had this assessment (and here I paraphrase): Well, it wasn’t great. It cost me some fans, I took some heat for it, and I lost almost all of my endorsements. But it could have been worse. In the Middle Ages, I would have been boiled in oil.

A great line from a terrific and warm champion. (I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago at yet another event where she was being honored, and she was both humble and funny in accepting.) But, with all respect: Worse things are happening to gays today.

Jamaica’s horrendous treatment of gays — by both officials and the public — has been well-documented, and is (again) sometimes justified by religion. In addition to the legion of under-noticed stories on the brutal murders and beatings of gay men goings on there, there is this “gem” from Wayne Besen at Huff Post, which chillingly attests to the extent of the homophobia:

[T]he Jamaica Cancer Society has raised concerns that the fear of being labeled gay is causing some Jamaican men to avoid prostate examinations, causing one of the highest prostate cancer rates in the world.

This also means that doctors are complicit in some way, which is worse – but not surprising. Both straight and gay men who undergo a prostate exam in the U.S. often hear snarky comments about the exam from their docs, an artifact of the fear of gay sex.

In Iraq, an unintended consequence of our “liberation” the people has been the coordinated — and militia-supported — murder of many gay men. Things were better for gays under Saddam Hussein. Again, the fear of gay sex is the driver: The linked story relates stories of gay men having their anuses glued shut, and then force-fed laxatives; a painful death ensues.

These heartbreaking stories find expression in the U.S. as well, where a collision of religious belief and homophobia lead to actions that are equally repugnant, yet little noticed.

The creepy, secretive  cabal known as “The Family” is supporting the Ugandan government’s push to make homosexuality punishable by death. This story is a good primer on this corrupt, politically powerful, organization, which uses religious belief chiefly to gain tax advantages and to support the opulent lifestyles of its members. Jeff Sharlot’s exhaustive account of the group, The Family, would be expected to drive these nuts out of business — but this is a nation where torture is redefined and no one who authorized blatantly illegal practices gets prosecuted for it, so I’m not optimistic.

You’ll notice that the stories, and the actions of these anti-gay groups, focus on gay men, not lesbians. While there’s plenty of anti-lesbian sentiment to go around (and well-documented economic costs to being lesbian), sex between males remains particularly transgressive. A few years ago, a colleague introduced me to a list serve for Constitutional Law professors (after about two days of endless, theoretical postings, I got out of there), and I was astonished to see a comment from one anti-gay law professor joking that he, himself, didn’t understand male sex (the comment was much worse than that; I’m sanitizing for your protection).  And this is a supposedly respectable law professor.

Of course, Obama would never make such a comment. But he would — and has — ignored the 720 murders of gays in Iraq, despite clear and persuasive reporting on the topic. As far as I can tell, he’s said nothing about Jamaica, either (and has not responded to this suggestion, either).

I’m not naive enough to think that the Administration can get involved in every controversy, or that it should put issues of concern to the gay community ahead of other diplomatic goals. But we’re not talking about small stuff here. People are being killed, with something at least close to official approval, and…silence. With no other group would this be considered business as usual.

There’s something else. It’s hard to say much about what’s going on in other countries when your own domestic record is less than exemplary. Here’s where all of this ties back to marriage equality, if only in theoretical political terms. By not committing himself to that goal, Obama is stating, in effect, that he doesn’t favor full citizenship for gay and lesbians. So even though Obama is leagues away from dangerous right-wing nuts like the members of “The Family,” his credibility on gay issues is compromised. Perhaps that explains his otherwise puzzling silence.

The AMA v. Focus on the Family

November 16th, 2009 No comments

Last week’s resolution by the American Medical Association that supported overturning the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was widely praised. Somewhat less noticed was the AMA’s conclusion that barring same-sex couples from marrying has negative health consequences. Since employers often tie health benefits to marriage, same-sex couples (like other legally unmarried couples) are left out.

It’s not surprising that married folks live longer and have better outcomes; the deck is stacked in their favor through a host of legal, institutional, and corporate practices. It might also be that entering into a long-term, committed relationship changes behaviors in ways that lead to better health outcomes for both members of the couple; the point is disputed by social scientists, and wasn’t the basis for the AMA’s statement. I’ve written about the issue in this law review article.  One of the central arguments there is that if marriage does good things for people’s behavior (on the average), there’s reason to think the same would be true for gay and lesbian couples, as well.

The AMA’s position elicited the usual response from Focus on the Family. According to spokeswoman Jenny Tyree, this health insurance problem should be fixed without “messing with marriage.” But how? Not by granting benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees under any circumstances, apparently. Here’s what the organization had to say about Obama’s recent memorandum extending a paltry few benefits (not even including full health care, but extending some health-related benefits) to same-sex partners of federal employees:

“The president thumbed his nose at the rule of law and continues to undermine marriage as society’s most pro-child institution,” said Tom Minnery, senior vice president of government and public policy for Focus on the Family Action.

“It’s a settled principle of moral tradition and social science that says children do best with both a mom and a dad who are married to each other.

It never changes. According to Focus on the Family: “Marriage by same-sex couples undermines society. Solve problems in some other way.”

But then it turns out that any other way you might come up with is objectionable, too. Except the ex-gay movement, of course, which Focus on the Family supports and defends (in a “kinder, gentler” guise these days). The AMA has now taken a position next to the AARP now on the wing-nut hit list (which, I regret to say, has been expanded by the actions of John McCain, if this report is accurate). Will marriage equality opponents stop seeing doctors after they “tear up” their AARP cards?

What Obama (Really) Thinks About Maine Question 1

October 28th, 2009 No comments

Where does Obama stand on Maine’s ballot Question 1, which, if  passed, would reject the state’s marriage equality law before it ever takes effect? As we used to be told in high school social studies class, compare and contrast:

1. In response to a question from the Advocate about his view on the referenda in Maine and Oregon:

“The President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples, and as he said at the Human Rights Campaign dinner, he believes ‘strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away.’ Also at the dinner, he said he supports, ‘ensuring that committed gay couples have the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country.’”

2. Attorney General Eric Holder, replying to essentially the same question from a reporter after an event at the University of Maine:

“[The president and I] are of the view it is for states to make these decisions. That federal law [DOMA] is not necessarily a good piece of legislation, and we are going to work to repeal it….”

What th–?

When I read the first (and earlier) quote above, I did notice that the question had been answered with the circumspection and avoidance that too often characterizes (and results in caricature of) the legal profession:  Read carefully, the statement doesn’t take a position on Question 1, because it’s not clear that a right is being “taken away.” One might argue that this case is different from California, where marriage equality was in effect — gay and lesbian couples by the thousands had married — and then taken away. Under Maine law, same-sex couples’ right to marry wasn’t, in a sense, “complete” until the date for challenging the the new statute through the referendum process had expired. So is a “right” being taken away by a Yes on 1 vote? Yes and no.

Given Holder’s more recent statement, though, it’s clear that Obama’s avoidance reflects a willfully agnostic position on Question 1. In short:  he’s not with us on this, at least not in any way that’s useful. Is anyone surprised? If we lose by a point or two, I’ll know exactly where to place the blame.

That hate crimes uplift disappeared quickly, didn’t it?

What to do About DADT Before It’s Repealed

October 14th, 2009 No comments

There’s some reason to be optimistic about DADT’s long-overdue repeal; maybe Obama wasn’t just talking last Saturday night, after all. This story about legislative stirring is a good sign. So is the newly “out”spoken military brass; this devastatingly effective essay against the policy by Air Force colonel Om Prakash appeared in Joint Forces Quarterly, and thus constitutes a clear (if not universal) military endorsement of the repeal. (Here‘s a more homely, yet effective brief against these inane discharges.)  Where Clinton failed to get buy-in for his “gays in the military” plan — and thereby impaled into legislation what had only been policy — Obama apparently has been doing the heavy background work needed to bring the military on board.

But no one thinks the policy will be repealed this year, and there is virtually no chance that Obama will issue an Executive Order halting the discharges in the meantime. He could, but he won’t: So let’s move on. Right now, we have the untenable situation that should remind one of, say, being the last to die in a war that’s been declared useless.

For the record, I don’t mind if actual gays use the policy to get out while they still can– come out and get out! They didn’t create this policy, and they shouldn’t hesitate to leave if military life under DADT becomes unbearable.

Most men and women in the military, though, don’t want to get out. Straight or gay, they define themselves as soldiers. (This is what’s most struck me in getting to know a few of those discharged under DADT, especially Alex Nicholson.) And it’s plain unconscionable for people to continue to be shown the door now that the policy looks dead.

My solution? Obama should let it be known, in whatever subtle or more directive ways are at his disposal, that discharges from now on should be limited to clear cases where someone “tells” –otherwise, the policy’s original intent that service members’ sexuality not be pursued should be revivified. This way, Obama avoids issuing an Executive Order, but stops the bleeding. I don’t care whether we know about this or not. (We’ll surely learn at some point, when the discharge numbers for 2009 and beyond are released.) Is there any reason not to do this?

On and On and On….

October 12th, 2009 No comments

Here’s a story you likely know, at least in broad outline:

During his campaign, Obama promises progress on gay rights. Once in office, his rhetoric cools and — to be charitable — he doesn’t seem to be moving very fast. Then he makes things much worse with a dreadful brief his Justice Department files in defending the Defense of Marriage Act. Critics (including this one) erupt.

Chastened, Obama signs a memorandum extending a few lousy benefits to partners of federal employees. Then the lifting of the ban on HIV-positive travelers moves closer to reality. Hate crimes law should be a reality any day now, but other promises, like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)” and (especially) the Defense of Marriage Act remain just…promises.

Then, this past Saturday night, Obama headlines the gay dinner-to-end-all-dinners — the HRC soiree in DC — where he “opens” for the ubiquitous Lady Gaga.1 His speech makes more concrete (but with no timeline) his goal of repealing DADT and of passing ENDA (the federal non-discrimination law).

Some bloggers continue continue to howl. “When”? “Give us concrete times and dates!” In this vein, Andrew Sullivan titles his post on the speech “Much Worse Than I Expected.”2   Others read it differently. Nan Hunter, for example, thinks that the focus on DADT has occluded Obama’s subtle but important move towards the language of moral equality. (Her post is really worth your time; so is her blog, in general.) Sullivan would say (and has, in almost these words): “We know the man can give a great speech. Now he needs to shut up and do something.”

There’s the story. Now the question: Where to stand?

I’m trying to find some way of accommodating these two truths: First, Obama is an advocate (except on marriage). Second, so far and perhaps for good, he isn’t willing to expend much political capital on LGBT rights; so he moves slowly or (perhaps in the case of DOMA), not at all. This is advocacy in name (and soaring rhetoric) only.

Here are a few suggestions to help maintain your sanity. So far, they are working for me:

  1. Focus on the states, where marriage equality will continue to play out. Right now, Maine is hugely important. If Question 1, asking the voters to repeal the recently enacted marriage equality law, is voted down, then the right can’t argue about courts — or, weirdly, even legislatures — subverting the will of the people. Of course, some leadership from Obama wouldn’t hurt in this regard, either. (So far, silence).
  2. Be practical — not ridiculous, as in waiting for 2017 to render judgment, but realistic. If we get hate crimes and ENDA this year, as well as the regulatory repeal of the HIV travel ban, and the end of DADT next year, I’d swallow my disappointment over DOMA (not for long) and congratulate Obama on some actual accomplishments. (As I wrote here in summarizing the remarks of Chai Feldblum and others, getting legislation through Congress is tough because of the difficulty of getting their time and attention.)
  3. Continue agitating, and criticizing the Administration. Consider supporting organizations other than the HRC, at least until they can show something, anything, for their decades of black-tie fund-raising efforts.

Maybe this is too timid, maybe I’m too critical, maybe…I should go to bed.

  1. Who sang a freshly kitted-out version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that stands with the Elton John/Bernie Taupin retread of “Candle in the Wind” (to fit Princess Diana’s memorial) in the “lazy songcraft” pantheon. I’m sure the guests would rather have heard “Pokerface.”
  2. Some context is useful here. Earlier, Sullivan had leveled HRC Pres Joe Solomonese for a letter he’d sent out supporting Obama, and suggesting that we wait until 2017(!) to evaluate his Presidency. Although some of the post is needlessly incendiary (esp. the title), Sullivan was right in the essentials, and it’s hard not to read Obama’s speech in light of the HRC’s bland acceptance of almost anything he says or promises to do.