The 2011 State of the Union: Meh

Last night’s State of the Union was fine. It was certainly an interesting experiment to have the members of Congress intermingled and I doubt anyone was bothered the applause was greatly muted as a result.

For everything President Obama said that I liked, I felt there was something else he said or something he didn’t say that canceled it out. If his goal is to appear more centrist, then I suppose the speech was a success. His quip about not thinking about the next election—we just had one—was perhaps a bit too obvious.

I liked how he put pressure on parents and defended teachers. I didn’t like how he didn’t say anything about supporting education infrastructure so the teachers have something to work with nor how he didn’t say anything about making schools safe and conducive to learning. (It’s hard to win either the football game or the science fair if you experience every day feeling like your life has no value.)

I liked how he talked about bringing troops home, but I didn’t like how he talked (with almost a sense of pride) about the importance of continuing to fight. Similarly, I appreciated his call to reduce—nay, freeze—excessive spending, but don’t understand why it didn’t involve ending the two wars that destroyed the surplus Clinton left us 10 years ago. If the US is so grand and important, shouldn’t domestic spending take precedent over unnecessary combat?

I like how he emphasized renewable energy, but don’t understand why clean coal deserved mentioning. The State of the Union should be an important enough speech to not include oxymorons.

And while I appreciated his follow-through on certifying repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this year (another year of discrimination isn’t hurting anyone), I was appalled by his rebuke of college campuses. Let recruiters on? I’m sorry, but while things might be clearing up for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the military, trans folks are still quite unwelcome. If a campus didn’t welcome recruiters because the military discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation, why should a campus welcome recruiters if the military still discriminates on the basis of gender identity? It sounded pompous and desperate, and as someone working to be a better ally for the transgender community, I was really bothered by it.

Of course, there was nothing new for LGBT folks, just a rehash of last year’s talking point. I would have loved to hear the President say that gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity should no longer be valid criteria for employment decisions, but apparently we’re not there yet. A lot of people seemed to want a mention for marriage, but his opinion on that must still be “evolving.” Hopefully with all the pressure growing about his 1996 support for marriage equality, he’ll evolve a little quicker. Maybe it’s something we can hold out for in the 2012 State of the Union.

But it didn’t take long for Republicans and Tea Partiers to jump right back to blaming Obama for things that started happening in the economy before he even took office. It’s just another day in the United States of America. The state of our union is… meh, okay, I guess.

If Money is Speech, Then Speech Isn’t Free

The sudden departure of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC on Friday (so sudden that the network was still running promos for his show after his final sign off) requires, I think, that we consider the notion of speech in society.

Olbermann was obviously quite a raucous voice, and there was that little “violation” of his with the political donations (the same “violation” Joe Scarborough seemed to get away with—twice). Some say he wasn’t easy to work with; that may be. But he and his show were smart and provocative. They were also the top-rated show on MSNBC, a fact that remains unchanged even if his viewership had “peaked.” Regardless of who made what decision or why, we can conclude that someone thought that MSNBC (or Comcast/NBC/Universal) was better off without his top-rated show than with it.

It’s no secret that liberal perspectives are usually not in the best interest of people with lots of money, like heads of corporations. So, our best guess about Olbermann’s departure must be that what Olbermann says is not worth as much as Olbermann’s show made.

Speech isn’t free.

It’s amazing to me the way the United States has embraced a new royalty: capitalism. And the way we’ve decided speech ought to be limited or conditioned doesn’t even violate the 1st Amendment, at least not at face-value. Congress hasn’t directly abridged the freedom of speech; we’ve done it to ourselves.

When our old white forefathers were writing the Bill of Rights back in 1789, I wonder what they were thinking. Did they imagine a society with a “media” controlled and distributed by huge corporations? Or an Internet? Or were they thinking about a society where a pamphleteer like Thomas Paine can cause as much trouble as anybody else?

Sure, a modern day Paine could find some readers. If this little ol’ blog of mine reached a proportional audience in 1790, I’d have 10 weekly readers. But the difference today is trust. Who does the average citizen trust for information? In general, the answer is the organization with the most power to distribute it.

Mix in the Citizens United decision from last year, and it’s actually quite alarming how oligarchical we’ve become. We are right now living through the flashback scenes from the science fiction dystopias in which the people trusted the companies just a little too much. (Have you seen Visioneers with Zach Galifanakis? Watch it on hulu.) If the company says there’s a voice that should be heard, we hear it, and if there’s a voice we shouldn’t hear anymore? Well, gosh, I guess it’s their decision; it’s their company.

Our ability to have our ideas heard in the mainstream should not be conditioned on our ability to make other people money. It’s no secret that much of journalism has been reduced to this. If all the “breaking news” updates for the most mundane things (remember Balloon Boy?) weren’t enough, all you had to do was watch AC360 Friday night. Just one hour after Keith Olbermann signed off, Anderson Cooper devoted a whole third of his show to talking about Keith Olbermann! CNN decided they had more to gain by bringing attention to a competing network by having on a bunch of random people to gossip about it than to actually report on other news!

The situation is spiraling, primarily because the mainstream doesn’t see a problem. The only rays of light seem to be The Daily Show and Colbert Report, and despite their biting media commentary four nights a week, they don’t want to take much responsibility, because hey, they’re just comedy shows.

Until we demand greater regulatory control over big business, corporations are going to continue amassing power over our communications. Why are conservatives always trying to shrink the federal government? To give more power to the corporations. Think it’s just a coincidence Republicans want to privatize social security or cut funding for public radio? I don’t. I think any obstacle (including federal regulation) to corporations doing whatever they want to do to make as much money as they can is one Republicans want to eliminate.

And if we keep buying into the fear-mongering and propagandist lies of FOX News, they just might.

We need more Keith Olbermanns, and we need more platforms for them. Let’s keep asking the questions until the truth comes out.

(AMERICAblog is hosting an “I stand with Keith” petition. Sign it to show Olbermann your support.)

Meditating on the Arizona Shooting

This weekend was an important weekend for me, committed wholly to reconnecting with one of my very best friends in the world, who I had not seen in close to two years. When we first saw the news of the Arizona shooting Sunday morning, I think we both kind of buried it so as not to let it interfere with my visit. Now, however, I am home and trying to resume blogging, and I simply cannot ignore it.

It should go without saying that my thoughts and hopes are with the families and loved ones of Rep. Giffords and all the others affected by this tragedy. I can only imagine dealing with such a traumatic experience, let alone with the public and mainstream media trying to peek inside your window. If I were in such a situation, the one thing I think I’d want most is privacy to grieve and work through the aftermath.

In that light, I’d like to use this post to meditate on how the rest of us react. I was beyond inspired by Jon Stewart’s special comment last night, so I would like to invite you to watch that first before I offer some comments of my own.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona Shootings Reaction

“Crazy always seems to find a way.”

One of the quirks of the way the human brain evolved is that we are constantly searching to find meaning in everything that happens in life. It’s a primal survival instinct; the Homo erectus who thought the stick was a snake was more likely to survive than the one who thought the snake was a stick. Unsurprisingly, the more significant the stimulus, the more reactionary the impulse, and in modern day life, that leads us to jump to some conclusions that often make no intellectual sense whatsoever.

Mix in the fight-or-flight response triggered by trauma, and you have a recipe for chaos. I’m particularly glad that I was far removed from media (especially the Twittersphere) when the shooting took place. There were so many false reports that floated around in the ether. I hope some anthropology graduate student does a study about whether the Internet helps or hinders the spread of good information when national tragedies like this take place.

Naturally, the media’s first reaction is: Why did this happen? I can’t think of a scarier question in modern society.

We grossly overcompensate when we try to answer that question. Look at airport security. It’s complete security theatre, a pretty obvious sacrifice of liberty for an artificial sense of security. We jump to every conclusion and then try to cover every base. Ban this, limit that, cap this, restrict that, condemn this, reinforce that. Of course, we only really care when people of a certain race, socioeconomic status, or privileged position are victims, which is why airport security is over-the-top but bus security hardly exists. And it’s why the tragic deaths and injuries of a few particular people at one particular time bother us a lot more than the murders and tragedies we hear about every night on our local news.

If we really cared about gun violence, we’d act like it. If we really cared about dangerous political rhetoric, we’d act like it.

I was listening to NPR last evening and Michelle Norris was interviewing University of Arizona law professor Gabriel Chin about Arizona’s gun laws. It is appalling to realize just how easy it is to buy a gun. As long as you haven’t been committed or dishonorably discharged (sorry DADT victims!), you can buy a gun, and in Arizona, you can carry as many bullets in it as you want too! How naïve and primal are we in the year 2011 that we all need to own a gun and carry it around with us. Are we so uncivilized that we still care that it be easier to obtain guns than harder? What does that say about how much we trust each other? What does that say about how committed we are to a peaceful society? What does that say about how insecure so many people are about their own safety when we live in a society that is more comfortable than probably any society has ever been in the history of our species?

The conversation in the media has focused on the language and tactics of pundits. While we mustn’t conflate correlation with causation, I think it’s fair to say that such rhetoric is at least a symptom of the greater problem. The Tea Party has been riddled with language of violence from the outset—that’s not news. Is such rhetoric culpable? I think so. But is it responsible? Did Loughner shoot Rep. Giffords and the others in attendance  just because Sarah Palin had her in crosshairs? Probably not. We’re talking about a system and a culture here, and such black-and-white conclusions are neither realistic nor productive.

What they do tell us is a lot about our expectations for each other. As interconnected as we’ve gotten and as complex as our communications now are, we’re still just a group of people trying to coexist and live happy lives. If we’ve got people clinging to their guns, that should give us pause. If we’ve got people trying to obliterate each other (even as a political metaphor), that should give us pause. A peaceful society is supposed to become more sensitive to violence, not less. And while it’s true we are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s the war at home that concerns me more.

And no, I’m not talking about video games.

In addition to Al Qaida, we’re also at war with drugs, poverty, and terrorism itself. And let us not forget that the past century has seen us at real war pretty constantly, whether it was a World War or two, a war in Vietnam or Korea, a Cold War, or a Desert Storm. We invite violence to be a part of our culture, and it comes from our political leaders themselves. And honestly, I thing this is just a modern-day extension of manifest destiny and Christian imperialism. People who think they know what is best get into power and then they try to force their change rather than invite change from within society itself. The result from any embrace of war, even something as seemingly noble as a war on a concept, is an acceptance of violence as part of life.

Can you imagine how much less gang violence there would be if drugs were legalized? It’s not going to happen; I get that, and maybe it shouldn’t. But with alcohol, we made the opposite decision. Prohibition led to incredible violence, so we legalized it and regulated it. Now we deal with the consequences of its use, which isn’t good either, I admit. But in a world where absolute ideals are unrealistic, are we better off treating alcohol abuse or continuing to kindle Prohibition-era violence? I think we have the less-awful of the two outcomes for alcohol, but so long as we’re still at “war” with the rest of drugs, the violence of that war will continue to be realized.

If we want to have a real conversation about the impact of political rhetoric, I think it demands we look at how uncivilly we treat each other. Looking at just the past two years, I think the obstinacy of Republicans in Congress and the narrow-minded reactionary cries of The Tea Party are far worse influences on our culture than any simulated violence in a video game. In fact, leadership across all parties and movements is being treated like war. We have leaders and parties who are so obsessed with power and agendas that they can’t actually be bothered to consider what might actually be best for their country and their constituents. Now that’s a dangerous message: care only about yourself and stop at nothing to block the opposition.

Some people can see through the politics; but others might just see simple motive. We can’t always count on everyone to appreciate the nuance. Any public message has to consider how the Loughners of the world are going to receive it.

That’s the scary thing about the Arizona shooting: we weren’t really caught off guard. It’s certainly tragic, but let’s be honest folks: we’re not really surprised that something like it happened. We’ve been primed for it. Loughner’s mental status and capacity for violence are, of course, exceptional, and while we can discuss culpability until the cows come home, he will always be the one to blame. But he did what he did in a society and a climate in which we can actually make sense of his actions, and that’s the discussion nobody wants to have.

Of course, as we deal with the grief of this latest American atrocity, there are gleams of hope. There is obviously the heroic story of Daniel Hernandez who probably helped save Rep. Giffords’ life. The LGBT and Latino communities are rightfully celebrating him; when communities are prejudged against (as both are), heroes are important opportunities to stand against stereotypes.

And as Jon Stewart pointed out, there are many stories about the various victims and the lives they’ve led that can and should be heard and cherished.

For me, there is something positive I’ve seen in the media that I think, for as subtle as it is, gives me reason to be optimistic. I think it says a lot about our society that we are most upset with the death of nine-year-old Christina Taylor Greene (such as Whoopi Goldberg on yesterday’s The View). There was a pastor who died, a federal judge, and of course we are concerned for the recovery of Congresswoman Giffords and the well-being of all affected by the shooting. But if we just step back and think about how people have reacted to this young girl’s death, I think we are reminded about the value of life. We might even mourn her more death in a different kind of way.

And that’s because we measure life by the potential to live it. In a society consumed with obsessions with money, fame, power, possessions, and the latest Jersey Shore or Real Housewives petty gossip, isn’t it nice to think about the fact that… life isn’t measured by what you have or what you have done, but always by what you can yet still do? The past is set in stone, but the future of our lives is always a wildcard of possibilities for living. The rest of us have to keep moving forward; we have to keep living our lives. If all of us assume just a tiny piece of the responsibility for living the life Christina will not now lead, I think we can make this world a much better place.

Power That Doesn’t Listen Fails/The Starving of the LGBT Community

With all the lame-duck kerfuffle over repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I’ll admit I’ve been a little uninspired when it comes to what exactly to write. I like to use this space to make sense of things, but so much of what’s happened has felt so superficial. Did Senator Collins wait until after she knew the vote would fail to vote Aye last week? Maybe. Do General Amos’s comments about Marines losing legs if DADT is repealed amount to insubordination? Probably.

But there is nothing left to say about whether DADT should be repealed. There are no more arguments that need to be made about whether it affects unit cohesion or whether now is the time or whatever. We’re past that, and the rest has been largely political theater.

So as we continue to struggle to make it actually happen, we have to make sense of why it hasn’t yet. As I wrote last week, we always have to hammer home that Republicans are quite responsible for obstructing a number of important and worthwhile measures. But that answer doesn’t help us make sense of things, because we already knew to expect that. It’s like running right into the goomba and wondering why you died. You know the goomba’s role; the question you have to ask is, “Why didn’t Mario jump?”

The issue that wears down on our community isn’t necessarily blame so much as it is disappointment. If we look to President Obama or Senator Reid or HRC or whomever we were counting on, we need some kind of answer as to what went wrong. We need confessions of responsibility for missteps. We need apologies. We need something that resolves the conflict we have.

Power is so often misunderstood. When individuals attain power in a democracy, there are assumptions of trust. There are assumptions of authority and responsibility. We’re giving them this power because we have confidence that they will use it on our behalf. If our situation doesn’t improve, then they have to explain how they’ve let us down, and if they don’t take responsibility for that, then their leadership is compromised, because they no longer represent the constituency they claim to.

That’s why Pam Spaulding’s call for Joe Solmonese’s resignation last week made sense. In exchange for the community’s financial support, HRC made specific promises and commitments to achieving equality. Instead, they acted largely unilaterally, pandered to the very leaders they needed to apply pressure against, chided all criticism from the community, and ultimately failed to deliver on their promises. That is failure of leadership.

Power needs to listen. Power does not get to assume it can do no wrong because it has the power. Power is entrusted, and it must honor that trust. It must continue to listen.

If President Bush’s legacy was repeating false statements over and over in hopes of them being perceived as true, President Obama’s legacy will be ignoring true statements over and over in hopes of them being perceived as false. He continues to disregard cries from the LGBT movement that he has failed to be the fierce advocate he committed to being; in fact, he takes umbrage in response to such accusations. But now even Democrat leaders are calling him out on this, as Senator Levin did earlier this week. Until the President is truly willing to expend political capital on our behalf, he will continue to be a disappointment.

In this light, I have a bit more respect for Nancy Pelosi. At Netroots Nation over the summer, she told us that she agrees with us, but now we need to make her act. At the time, I was quite put off. Make you do it? It’s your job. Do it. But in some ways, what she said makes sense. She was calling for the same accountability from progressives that inspires the President’s umbrage—inviting it, in fact, and welcoming it. She was listening. She was appreciating. She was validating. Perhaps her hands were tied until other leaders were willing to take the same action; maybe she needed us to push others in the same way we were pushing her. But she was at least listening. (Why the House couldn’t have pushed through an ENDA in the same way they’re pushing through a stand-alone DADT Repeal this week is still beyond me.)

What I think these leaders do not fully appreciate is that as long as the LGBT community is treated as legally inferior, our health and well-being are not stagnant. If we are not moving forward, we are moving backward. We are starving. Feeding us a few baby carrots might sustain us a bit longer, but it doesn’t save us from our condition. In fact, we might get worse; we might face new complications. Our young people might not have the fortitude or endurance to persevere until it gets better. Those fighting the most on our behalf might falter; friend of the blog Dan Choi has recently been hospitalized, worn down by the sacrifices he has made at war and as a truly fierce advocate for our community. We wish the best for him, but his situation reminds us that continuing to push and continuing to fight are sacrifices; there are consequences.

In some ways, the bigger picture of the progress we have made over the past half-century doesn’t matter. To continue the metaphor, we’ve been fed a number of times and in some important ways, but our overall circumstances are still short of sustenance. The hope of equality is not the same as equality, and the disappointment when that hope isn’t honored adds stress to an already stressful situation.

We need leaders who listen. We are not gnats; we are real people with real concerns. Our calls for accountability are not attacks; they are measures of our leaders’ success. Our message of what we need hasn’t changed nor have our own goalposts. If our leaders want to shorten the goalposts so they can call themselves effective, they can certainly try. We, however, know what true victory looks like. We know what we need to see before we can confirm success, and we will not go quiet until we see it.

Until we have leaders who are committed to listening and honoring the needs of our community as we define them, we will continue to flounder. We will continue to starve for equality.

Let’s Spin This, and Let’s Spin it Right: Against Republicans

As I write this, the US Senate is voting to begin work on the Defense Authorization bill that includes repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Senator Reid led the vote without taking any of the deals with Senator Collins, who was holding the bill hostage to the Republican tax cuts. The cloture vote has failed, meaning that DADT Repeal is dead. The Senate similarly voted down support of 9/11 First Responders this morning and tabled the DREAM Act another week. Also, in the House, the Democrats did not cave in the way President Obama indicated should happen on tax cuts.

A lot of this sucks, because there’s a lot of important progress we’re not going to make, and there are a lot of different people who deserve blame.

But let’s spin this right: It’s the Republicans’ fault. Republicans made demands and held the rest of us hostage. If everybody’s taxes go up? It’s their fault. If the military goes unfunded? It’s their fault.

They are the bullies, and we cannot let them paint this as a win-win for them.

They are holding the American people hostage, and if we’re going to call their bluff, let’s own it.

What If Republicans Didn’t Believe in an Afterlife?

It’s been quite a while since “Religious Right” didn’t sound redundant, and while plenty of folks can articulate differences between “social conservative” and “fiscal conservative,” it seems rare that anyone has to take exception to their conflation. While they might mean different things, they arguably have the same motivation.

Consider the belief in an afterlife. This single, simple, commonplace belief can easily define the context for a person’s entire life. Juxtapose 80 years with eternity and priority number one becomes getting into that afterlife, according to the prescriptive guidelines. Priority two might be a compassionate attempt to get others to abide by the same guidelines so they can get there too. And once all the ducks are in a row for the afterlife, all that’s left to do is sit back and tolerate life.

Yes, yes, this is a simplistic generalization that doesn’t recognize the nuance of belief—I hear ya. But at a basic level, it is still fair to say that believing in an afterlife can impact every single decision a person makes as the very motivation that leads them through life. This dubiously simple factor provides an important context for understanding the concept of “conservative,” particularly in the malicious way it is being employed by Congressional Republicans during this lame-duck session.

Fundamentally, there is a “me” factor: I want to go to Heaven, I want you to go to Heaven the same way, and I want God to be pleased with what we did in the meantime. Social conservatism is wanting society to abide by God’s laws… or at least not stray from them any further. (Just ignore that shifting Zeitgeist.) Fiscal conservatism is just a way to make that happen. It’s the same philosophy of unchange; let the people with money keep it. And while Jesus may have said to let go of all your possessions, having money in a capitalist society is great leverage for enforcing a social agenda. It also makes the ride incredibly more comfortable until that Rapture comes along.

So consider this “hostage situation” regarding tax cuts for the rich. Hoarding money is clearly not Christian (a memo many Christian leaders have missed), and Reaganomics (or as Rachel Maddow calls them, “Riganomics”) clearly fail. So why are they “all in”? It could be greed, which itself could be reflective of subservience to the afterlife. But it could also be for leverage. Leverage against the DREAM act. Leverage against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. Leverage against support for 9/11 first-responders. Remember, the one budget Republicans will never cut is defense; we are, after all, engaged in two wars on behalf of Christianity.

The will to impose the proper afterlife on others is not benign. Just today, a story on good old OneNewsNow complains that Liam Neeson suggested that Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia (whom he voices) represents non-Christian spiritual leaders. Because, damn it, Aslan is Christ and that’s what C. S. Lewis intended! Don’t worry, “Dr.” Marc T. Newman (whoever he is) comes to the rescue with ideas for how Narnia can be an effective evangelism tool.

And while critics of my post will argue that believing in the afterlife is not a reasonable reduction of Republican motives, I think it’s hard to find a better one. Sure, there is an obsession with power (and ascension thereof) as well as the gluttony of being lobbied, but while there might be incredible focus on their own lives, I’m not sure that conservatives are motivated by the lives, per say, of anybody else. Who cares if people have money, or food, or a job, or a house, or healthcare, or citizenship, or integrity? As long as everyone is abiding by the Bible, they’re going to Heaven, and they should be thankful for that.

It’s not a surprise that the Christian myth of an afterlife (social conservatism) and the myth of the American dream (fiscal “bootstraps” conservatism) have become so intertwined. They both are founded on self-determination. They both assume that the individual is responsible and that no other context plays a role in an individual’s success. And both ultimately help a very small group prosper while creating false hope for all the rest.

The opposite of all this, after all, would be true for progressives. Not believing in an afterlife (or at least not abiding so stringently by such a belief) makes it much easier to recognize the needs of others now, in life. Rather than a focus on “me” until everybody goes to Heaven, it’s a focus on everybody because right now is all we have. Being a social progressive means recognizing that the human species is capable of learning more about its own nature and adapting to accommodate that new information. Being a fiscal progressive means trying to help the most number of people, even if it means asking those who have to make sacrifice for those who have not, because it’s life that matters. Life is all that we have control over while we’re living.

Imagine, though, a completely different universe, altered in just the way that no one believed in an afterlife. Would these political hijinks be par for the course? Maybe. But at the very least, they wouldn’t be based on complete irrationality.

1 in 10 Americans Are on Unemployment

[Andy Szekeres is a political consultant from Denver who specializes in LGBT ballot measures and progressive candidates and causes.]

[Editor’s Note: I’m lucky that I’ve had familial support such that I haven’t needed unemployment support. Yet, as someone who has been unemployed for over a year, I personally understand the importance of this message in a near and dear way. Please heed Andy’s call for support! –Zack]

1 in 10 Americans are on Unemployment – that is a staggering fact, one that affects our fellow LGBT brothers and sisters at a high rate. With the push for DADT repeal, I hope you will also take a second to demand that Congress extend Unemployment Benefits to the millions of Americans who are out of work.

As someone who has been on unemployment before, I can personally vouch that if it were not for the support of the unemployment support I received, I would have likely lost my home and my healthcare coverage. This can be devastating for our communities and devastating to neighbors who are dependent on medications, friends struggling to keep their homes, or family-members faced with a life-threatening illness.

We all know someone who is looking for work right now, the job market is slow and even tougher for a minority. For many of us, we want to be working; we want to be contributing our fair share, but sometimes we are over-looked for openings because we happen to be trans or openly gay. We have a small window to push Congress into action and extend this crucial lifeline to tens or hundreds of thousands of our community members.

Americans for Democratic Action has launched an aggressive petition to force Congress to act now. While Congress debates tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, our community members are struggling to find work, are losing their homes and are being forced to choose between crucial medications and going hungry.

I hope you will take two seconds out of your day to sign this petition and urge your friends to do the same – this maybe a lifeline to one of your friends or even yourself, and it will only be extended in the lame duck session if we act together.

Sign the petition right now at –

Help expand the reach, Donate your facebook and twitter today with this link to tell all your friends.

Demand Congress help the 1 in 10 Americans on unemployment NOW – – #p2 #lgbt

Yes, That Sucked, But We Go On.

Well, we took some blows yesterday. For a great round-up of some of the results, check out Andy Towle’s.

I have to say I’m very sad to see Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson go, among others. Nothing is more disturbing than the ousting of three of Iowa’s Supreme Court Justices simply because they ruled (unanimously, as you my recall) in favor of marriage equality. It is incredibly petty to punish judges for doing their job (especially since it doesn’t change the state of marriage equality in Iowa), but that’s the world we live in.

But rather than sit around bemoaning a “bloodbath,” I’m here to say that I’m actually optimistic. Democrats held the Senate, and we pushed back Tea Partiers like Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and it looks like Joe Miller too. Our LGBT caucus in the House grew with the addition of David Cicilline. In California, progressive values won out over big money with victories for Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown.

And you know what? It only gets more fun from here. I’m no political consultant, but consider this…

As long as the Democrats had significant majorities in both houses, Republicans weren’t beholden to deliver. All they had to do was obstruct the Dems until they could regain some power (which they did quite well). But now the Republicans control the House and the Senate is more evenly split. If Republicans are in power, they can’t get away with just being the party of “No!” anymore. They have to try. And not only that, they have to be bipartisan about it. They have to get bills through a Democratically controlled Senate and then past, lest we forget, a Democratic President, for whose vetoes they do not have nearly enough votes to overturn.

Plus, there are now a few Tea Partiers in the mix now to shake things up (like Rand Paul), and from what I can tell, they are not allegiant to the Republican base. They might prove to be wild cards who create obstacles for the Republican leadership (and, well, probably everyone else too).

So, either we see all our representatives actually start working together, or we have no government for two years. That’s certainly possible, especially if Republicans/Tea Partiers obstruct raising the debt ceiling by the deadline and the whole federal government shuts down. I’d love to see the Republicans try to spin that one in 2012!

And honestly, we probably won’t beat up on President Obama as much. Speaking at least for myself, my biggest frustration has been that Obama has caved on so much in the name of bipartisan compromise when he didn’t have to. He gave away a lot to Republicans and he got absolutely nothing in return. Now, he has a bipartisan legislature, so hopefully that strategy works a little bit better. We have to lower our standard for what he can accomplish, which isn’t good, but if we aren’t all as mad at him in two years, that’s probably a good thing.

So chin up, folks! The game goes on, and this time around the other team actually has to play.

By the way, I just want to share something about Pennsylvania. I often talk about central Pennsylvania as “middle America” and people seem to react, “Oh, no! You’re on the east coast! It’s so progressive there. You’re so close to the action. It’s completely unrealistic to describe yourself as being far removed.”

Well, that person would right about Philadelphia and sometimes Pittsburgh, and population-wise those two cities help in elections. That person would be wrong about the rest of our fair commonwealth.

Here is what our Senate results looked like. Pat Toomey (R) beat Joe Sestak (D) 51-49, but look at how the counties break down (courtesy MSNBC).

Here’s the governor’s race. Tom Corbett (R) beat Dan Onorato (D) 55-45.

I’m drowning in red out here in the boonies…

Powerless: All or Nothing LGBT Support of Democrats

Let’s say you have a dog you are teaching how to sit. You can push her bottom down and say “Sit!” and then give her a treat. That’s how you show what you want. The hope is that once she understands, she will obey for verbal praise and then for no praise at all. But what if she doesn’t totally get it? What if when she hears “Sit!” she only touches her butt to the ground for a second and then comes back up? What if she only goes down halfway? Clearly, she knows what you mean by “Sit!” but she doesn’t want to sit, and she doesn’t actually sit. Do you still praise her or give her treats for showing you she knows what you want without actually delivering it?

If you do, she’ll never actually sit for you on command. It’s basic psychological conditioning. She’ll just learn that she gets rewarded for the non-action, for knowing how to sit but not actually sitting. Does this require you give away your treats to other dogs who are even less behaved? Not at all. It simply means you keep training her, but hold out the treats until she shows she can deliver, until she will actually sit, and then lay down, and then shake, and then roll over, and whatever else you think she ought to learn to do. She is your dog, after all, and treats can be expensive. You want her to be a good dog, the best dog she can be.

Given that we’re eight days from an election, a lot of blinders are on. This post will either fall on deaf ears or outrage some people, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

There are some folks in the LGBT community who don’t think Democrats deserve our votes right now. They see the Democrats as the dog in my little case study. The Democrats clearly know what issues are important to us, and some of them are even good at showing what they know with their words. But when it comes to action, they (and particularly President Obama) have fallen quite short. No action on ENDA, DOMA repeal, Safe Schools, or Student Non-Discrimination, and a complete fumble of DADT. They can’t be bothered to actually sit, regardless of how many treats we’ve given them.

To suggest we shouldn’t vote for every Democrat in every race elicits a huge backlash from a lot of people in the movement. They are quick to say, “You think the Republicans would be any better???” as if we just crawled out from under a rock completely unaware of how much the Grand Ol’ Party has unflinchingly abused our community in every single election since “homosexual” was vernacular. This suggests to me a severely dualistic point of view that equates advocating for gay rights with voting Democratic with unyielding allegiance.

To my knowledge, the big orgs rarely (if ever) support a candidate they don’t think is viable. This means a lot of “loyalty” support for unfriendly incumbents if it’s deemed that the primary challengers don’t have a chance, regardless of how much more pro-gay their platforms are. It also means very little attention paid to any third-party candidates, regardless of their positions. Are we just a crutch for the Democratic party? (And if so, why bother with the redundancy of Stonewall Democrats?) From my perspective, this approach lacks integrity and speaks of desperation. The talking points echo this sentiment: “If we let the Republicans, all hope for change is GONE!

This all-or-nothing paranoia is disturbing, our movement’s own version of Beckian fear. First there’s the patronizing assumption that anyone in doubt about the Democrats is a conspirator for a Republican overthrow of the legislature. You’re either supporting the Dems or you’re not supporting the movement! Add to that the assumed bizarre dichotomy that Democrats are saviors and Republicans are demons. Yeah, the Republicans don’t like us, but they’re not actually going to pass a federal marriage amendment, and I don’t think Democrats deserve all that much credit just for not trying. I really appreciated what Jon Stewart said in his most recent interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross:

Beck and Palin are easier punching bags. And we can think of it as, oh my God, I’m so scared if they take over. And you know what? We’ll be fine.

You know, we had a Civil War. Just – we’re not that fragile, and I think we always have to remember that people can be opponents, but not enemies. And there are enemies in the world. We just need the news media to help us delineate.

And I think that’s where the failing is, that the culture of corruption that exists in the media doesn’t allow us to delineate between enemies and opponents. And that’s where we sort of fall into trouble.

Exactly. The whole situation is a lot more nuanced than anyone is willing to talk about it.

But what do we wind up with? The polarization I wrote about last month. While some are trying to raise the discourse above “The Dems gotta win! The Dems gotta win!” others have the hubris to call any sheep who stray from the flock “enemies.” We’re shooting ourselves! We’re poking each other’s eyes out! And the dialogue never evolves. We stay in survival mode and the movement just keeps catering to the Dems, thrilled that they at least say nice things about us, even if they don’t actually act on our behalf. (They know how to “Sit!” so who cares if they actually do?)

Life is more intricate than that, and you know what? Sometimes if you want to move forward, you have to take a risk. If Democrats can always count on votes from the LGBT community, they have no reason to ever act on our behalf. This isn’t a new revelation, either, though President Obama raised his own stakes and has faced the consequences for not living up to his “fierce advocacy.” Either the LGBT movement has power and sway or it doesn’t. If we’re always willing to throw money at every “lesser evil,” then we have absolutely no clout. It’s only if our support has to be earned that we can actually start exercising some control over how our politicians treats us.

What does this mean? Well, for this election cycle, it doesn’t mean much. We’ve already fallen into our own trap of being in the Democrats’ back pocket again. Nothing’s going to change in eight days; we have the candidates we have and we have to make the most of it.

We need to go out and vote next week. We need to remember there are other issues and communities other than our own worth considering. And maybe the Democrat is the best choice. Maybe a third-party candidate is. But an informed vote is always important.

I’d love to teach the Democrats a lesson and completely hold out any support until they step it up, but we’re not set up to communicate that right now. As long as there are so many militant folks in the movement pushing for unequivocal support of Democrats, the message won’t get across.

But after next week? I think we really need to reevaluate LGBT politics and the risks we’re willing to take. We need to stop silencing every opinion that goes against the grain of the movement (as many will undoubtedly try to do with THIS opinion). We need to consider whether being a lapdog to the Democratic party is getting us anywhere. Do we really need to back a horse in every race? Do we need to spend all of our money in every election cycle? Do we always support incumbents even if they haven’t taken action on our behalf? Does our movement have any real political sway, or are we just a fundraising/vote-rallying arm of the Democratic party? Do we ever support the candidate that actually most supports us, even if as a third-party candidate or primary challenger they aren’t as viable?  Are we really content with a paranoid “at least they’re not persecuting us” limbo?

If the movement’s movers and shakers are unwilling to change anything, then I want a new movement. What’s “good enough” for some doesn’t seem to be very good at all.

Stop throwing my treats away; hold out until the dog actually listens.

Gay Republican for President? Is This That New “The Event” Show?

When I met him at Netroots Nation, he put a lapel pin in my hand. On the packaging it said “Fred Who?” The pin was a flags pin.

Yes, flags. One American, one rainbow. Together on one pin.

And then he told me he’s an Independent Republican. Okay, I thought, this should be interesting. I started grilling him on a couple social issues, and the more I talked to him, the more I liked him.

I’m talking about Fred Karger. He’s a gay Republican from Laguna Beach and he wants to run for President.

Yes, President. You know, of the United States. Here’s his new ad:

We’ll be keeping an eye on him, to be sure!

Check out Fred for more info.

And if you’re curious, the pilot of The Event is intriguing, if not a bit overproduced. It’s not about gay Republican presidential candidates though.