Saturday, October 31, 2020

Pic of the Day (with a Poem)


Black Cat 

By Rainer Maria Rilke


Translated by Stephen Mitchell


A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place

your sight can knock on, echoing; but here

within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze

will be absorbed and utterly disappear:


just as a raving madman, when nothing else

can ease him, charges into his dark night

howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels

the rage being taken in and pacified.


She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen

into her, so that, like an audience,

she can look them over, menacing and sullen,

and curl to sleep with them. But all at once


as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;

and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,

inside the golden amber of her eyeballs

suspended, like a prehistoric fly.


Schwarze Katze

By Rainer Maria Rilke

The original German


Ein Gespenst ist noch wie eine Stelle,

dran dein Blick mit einem Klange stößt;

aber da, an diesem schwarzen Felle

wird dein stärkstes Schauen aufgelöst:


wie ein Tobender, wenn er in vollster

Raserei ins Schwarze stampft,

jählings am benehmenden Gepolster

einer Zelle aufhört und verdampft.


Alle Blicke, die sie jemals trafen,

scheint sie also an sich zu verhehlen,

um darüber drohend und verdrossen

zuzuschauern und damit zu schlafen.

Doch auf einmal kehrt sie, wie geweckt,

ihr Gesicht und mitten in das deine:

und da triffst du deinen Blick im geelen

Amber ihrer runden Augensteine

unerwartet wieder: eingeschlossen

wie ein ausgestorbenes Insekt.



“Black Cat” was originally published in Rilke’s 1923 collection Duino Elegies. Rilke began writing this collection in 1912, but it remained unfinished for a decade before being completed and published.

Happy Halloween!

Moment of Zen: Happy Halloween

I love Halloween; although it's subdued this year due to the pandemic, I still love the holiday. I have a few Halloween movies I love to watch, such as Hocus Pocus and the gay thriller, Hellbent (which if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it) oh, and let’s not forget, the campy Rocky Horror Picture Show. Horror movies have never been great cinema, but they can be fun to watch. Many years ago, I used to love when AMC (when it still played classic movies) and TCM would play all the classic monster movies, especially those from Universal Pictures. I loved films like Dracula with Béla Lugosi, Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, The Invisible Man with Claude Rains, The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr., The Raven, starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff, and even the silly horror-comedies with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. How can you not love these classic movies for a little Halloween fun? I never cared for many of the more recent horror movies. Many of them tend to the more grotesque than the scary, but the 1993 Disney classic, Hocus Pocus, has one of my favorite scenes when Bette Midler sings “I Put a Spell on You.” Enjoy: 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Pic of the Day


LGBTQ+ and Halloween

 Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, but this year, it is different. Almost all of the usual parties and plans have been called off because of the coronavirus pandemic. Halloween is mostly just a no-go this year. The pandemic is putting a damper on a holiday known for trick-or-treating children and festivities for adults. Vermont is allowing some socially distanced events for kids, but what we generally enjoy as adults have all been canceled. This year, there are no haunted houses, although there are some haunted trails with distancing restrictions and even haunted carwashes. For many in the LGBTQ+ community, the pandemic means missing out on their most beloved holiday, a celebration that for generations offered a chance to dress however we please and to be whomever we want. Usually in Vermont, there are a half dozen or so parties, costume contests, and drag shows at bars and restaurants across the state, though most are in Burlington.

For generations, Halloween has been closely intertwined with LGBTQ+ culture. Halloween might seem like a silly, over-commercialized day that exists for the sole purpose of encouraging us to buy things (sound familiar?). But for LGBTQ+ people, it can be a lifeline – a rare moment where we can express ourselves freely and subvert norms that restrict us for the rest of the year. Long before Pride parades were embraced by mainstream society, Halloween was the time of year when those in the LGBTQ community could freely express themselves with less fear of harassment. In the 1960s, in places such as New York and San Francisco, the gay community threw massive parties and street parades. At a time when many states still had laws prohibiting cross-dressing, it was the only day you could wear drag and not be arrested. Before gay people became more accepted, people in gay communities needed to be invisible to be safe, but you needed to be visible to other gay people at the same time. A public Halloween party in New York, San Francisco, or New Orleans would be the perfect place for gay people to dress up and meet other people. 

Probably the first time I saw large numbers of gay people was when I went to New Orleans one Halloween with my parents to see a Saints football game. This was long before I came out, but gay people were everywhere and in fabulous costumes. With its history of voodoo, stories of ghosts and vampires, and beautiful above-ground cemeteries, New Orleans becomes one giant city-wide Halloween party. I remember sitting in a restaurant one night on that trip, and a woman (possibly a man) rode by on a horse with nothing on but a long blonde wig. Later, when we went to Pat O’Brien’s Piano Bar, there were many gay couples having fun like the rest of us, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It was an eye-opening experience for me.

I think Halloween often is a favorite holiday for many gay people, not because it allows us to put on fabulous costumes, but because it allows us to be more ourselves. In the LGBTQ+ community, Halloween gives us a chance to come out of respective shells and try out something beyond our current comfort zones. For many LGBTQ+ people like me, we grew up having to wear a mask, and to many of us, every day was Halloween until we opened our closet doors. We are highly trained at hiding our true selves, so the celebration of costume and disguise is a natural combination. For today’s generation, “queer” is hardly the horrifying condemnation and accusation that it once was. However, queer has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community, and this explanation may no longer carry much weight. Still, many in our community welcome the chance to express ourselves in ways that society usually deems lewd, weird, or inappropriate. Halloween is one holiday that praises all the frights and fetishes that we are told to cover up. 


The main reason Halloween is a national LGBTQ+ holiday is the fact that being gay or trans is an extension of expressing who you want to be, in spite of who fears it. Gay people are often wary of visually expressing their sexuality or dressing too flamboyantly on a day-to-day basis. Regardless of how liberal the community we live in may be, the global reality is that being any part of the LGBTQ+ community is still considered a perversion, a subversion, and even an abomination. Some of us may rarely have to address this reality, living in progressive hubs where LGBTQ+ may not be the norm, but it isn’t shocking or looked down upon. Others know all too well that a disturbingly large number of people in the U.S. still think our “lifestyle” is to blame for all that’s wrong with the world. Living in Alabama and Mississippi most of my life, I know full well what that feels like. You constantly have to put on that mask to be accepted by others and even to get a job or participate fully in the community. People may gossip about your perceived sexuality, but as long as you don’t confirm it for them, they will often overlook and ignore it. However, those same people who may ignore us will still exclude us from most things.


Being LGBTQ+ isn’t a fetish. But for many, especially those who are still closeted, it is a fantasy. For those who are out, facing the fear of exploring our fantasies, which in turn become reality, can almost be second nature. When Halloween comes around, many of us on the LGBTQ+ spectrum aren’t afraid to revel in our proclivities, whether they are ghoulish, garish, or slutty as hell, because, in the eyes of the judgmental peanut gallery, we already represent those things every day. But Halloween is the one time of year when everyone is allowed to be whoever they want to be. Even boring straight people put on outlandish costumes and “go queer” for a night to take a walk on the wild side. Those who feel they have to be in a closet the rest of the time can bust out in all their glory on Halloween. And anyone questioning their current identity has the chance to try another out in public without fear of reprisal. When dawn breaks, some of those folks will have to turn back into pumpkins while we fairy godmothers get to keep being fabulous.

Many LGBTQ+ people spend their youth suppressing their sexuality and trying to fit in with the crowd. While our friends were experimenting with embodying their sexualities openly, we were often left behind, trying to maintain a façade of normality. While Christmas and Thanksgiving can be challenging and awkward for LGBTQ+ people, particularly those who don’t feel like they can be their authentic selves around their families, Halloween is more easily spent with a self-assembled LGBTQ+ family. Dousing yourself in glitter with friends is certainly easier than pretending you’re someone you are not to keep peace in your family. Yet this is not to say that Halloween is universally popular among LGBTQ+ people. Not all gay people have fond memories of Halloween. To some, it was and is the nightmare before Christmas.


At some point in our lives as LGBTQ+ individuals, we realize that we will always be a freak to some, whether they have confirmation that we are gay or not. Regardless of how good we are at donning costumes, we eventually figure out that changing ourselves into someone else is impossible. We might as well relish in our freakdom and celebrate Halloween as the one time of year onlookers creep closer to our side of the line. If we show those ghouls a good time, you never know who might realize they are also part of the LGBTQ+ community. *


I’ll never forget the time I was in Thibodaux, Louisiana, visiting my best friend. She and I always put on the best Halloween parties. We had been out to the bars in town dressed in our costumes. (I was a Scotsman in a kilt—fun was had by all with that costume.) On our way home, we shared a taxi with some fraternity boys from the local university. One of these guys was in drag, and I have to say, he did a damn good job at it. He was beautiful, as I am sure he was out of drag as well. I always wondered if he was one of those gay boys who took the opportunity to put on drag in public for the first time and used Halloween as an excuse, or if he was just that secure in his masculinity that he could wear a dress. He didn’t appear to be doing it to be derogatory to gay men or drag performers. So, I always wondered if he ever came out or if he just went back to being a straight, everyday frat boy the next day.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Pic of the Day

A Vision of Two Americas: Part II

Hopefully, a new day is coming and there will be a sunset on tyranny in the United States

What if Joe Biden is elected President on November 3, 2020? What can we expect? When he formally announced his entry into the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden declared he stood for two things: workers who "built this country," and values that can bridge its divisions. As the U.S. faces challenges from coronavirus to racial inequity, his pitch is to create new economic opportunities for workers, restore environmental protections, healthcare rights, and international alliances. In this quote from a speech recently given in Gettysburg, PA, Biden said:
I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president. I will work with Democrats and Republicans, and I will work as hard for those who don’t support me as for those who do. That’s the job of a president. It’s a duty of care for everyone.
Biden will not be a president for blue states only, in contrast to Trump’s helping only red states and excluding blue states from federal aid. Biden will be a president for all Americans.
Biden's approach to tackling coronavirus, the most immediate and obvious challenge facing the country, is to provide free testing for all, and hire 100,000 people to set up a national contact-tracing program. He wants to establish at least ten testing centers in every state, call upon federal agencies to deploy resources, and give firmer national guidance through federal experts. He says all governors should mandate wearing masks. Many voters will see this as an overreach of government authority, but many Americans have shown they are too stupid and selfish to care about their fellow Americans. Some right-wing politicians have even said if elderly Americans die, it’s their time not because people did not take precautions. Americans have shown the government must take more decisive steps to ensure the safety of all Americans.
To address the immediate impact of the coronavirus crisis, Biden has vowed to spend "whatever it takes" to extend loans to small businesses and to increase direct-money payments to families. Among the proposals are an additional $200 in Social Security payments per month, rescinding Trump-era tax cuts, and $10,000 of student loan forgiveness for federal loans which won’t put a dent in my student loans. Still, it would be something. With Biden as president, student loan forgiveness programs are almost guaranteed to be expanded. Biden's broader economic policies, dubbed his "Build Back Better" plan, try to please two constituencies who traditionally support Democrats: young people and blue-collar workers. He supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. He also wants to invest in green energy arguing boosting green manufacturing helps working-class union workers who perform most of those jobs. There is also a $400 billion pledge to use federal dollars to buy American goods alongside a broader commitment to enforcing "Buy American" laws for new transport projects. His 2020 plan calls for the federal government to invest $300 billion in US-made materials, services, research, and technology.
In the wake of the race protests gripping the country this year, he said he believes racism exists in the U.S. and must be dealt with through comprehensive economic and social programs to support minorities. Part of that is his "build back" program to create business support for minorities through a $30 billion investment fund. On criminal justice, he has moved far from his much-criticized "tough-on-crime" position of the 1990s. Biden now proposes policies to reduce incarceration, address race, gender, and income-based disparities in the justice system, and rehabilitate released prisoners. He would now create a $20 billion grant program to incentivize states to invest in incarceration reduction efforts, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, decriminalize marijuana and expunge prior cannabis convictions, and end the death penalty. He has rejected calls to defund police saying resources should instead be tied to maintaining standards. He argues that some police funding should be redirected to social services like mental health and calls for a $300 million investment into a community policing program.
Biden has called climate change an existential threat and says he will rally the rest of the world to act more quickly on curbing emissions by rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. The agreement, from which Donald Trump withdrew, committed the U.S. to cut greenhouse gases up to 28 percent by 2025 based on 2005 levels. Though he does not embrace the Green New Deal, he is proposing a $1.7 trillion federal investment in green technologies research some of which overlap with the funding in his economic plan to be spent over the next 10 years. He wants the U.S. to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The investment in a greener America complements his economic plan to create jobs in manufacturing "green energy" products.
As president, Biden says he would focus on national issues first. That said, there is little to suggest Biden's values on foreign policy have shifted away from multilateralism and engagement on the world stage in opposition to Trump's isolationist and xenophobic policies. Biden has also promised to repair relationships with U.S. allies particularly within the NATO alliance which Trump has repeatedly threatened to undermine with funding cuts. Biden has said China should be held accountable for unfair environment and trade practices. Still, instead of unilateral tariffs (which are paid for by Americans not the Chinese), he has proposed an international coalition with other democracies which China "can't afford to ignore.”
Biden says he will expand the Affordable Care Act and implement a plan to ensure an estimated 97 percent of Americans. Although he stops short of the universal health insurance proposal on the wish lists of his more left-wing party members, Biden promises to give all Americans the option to enroll in a public health insurance option similar to Medicare which provides medical benefits to the elderly and lowers the age of eligibility for Medicare itself from 65 to 60 years old. While many on the left advocated for universal healthcare, Biden won the Democratic nomination by promising to provide this public health insurance option. I also believe he will reform some of the most significant excesses of health insurance providers by allowing doctors to decide their patients’ care, Currently, health insurance providers control the health of millions of insured by arbitrarily refusing to pay for more costly procedures and medicines.
In his first 100 days in office, Biden has promised to reverse Trump policies that separate parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexican border, rescind limits on the number of asylum applications, and end the bans on travel from several majority-Muslim countries. He also promises to protect the "Dreamers" and ensure they are eligible for federal student aid. The United States is a nation built on immigrants. It is what makes the U.S. such a diverse and richly multicultural nation. The diversity of the United States is one of its greatest strengths. We need a president like Biden who will encourage diversity and equality in America.
Biden has also endorsed several significant pieces of education policy which have become popular within the party. He is a proponent of an expansion of student loan debt forgiveness programs. Under the Trump administration, those loan forgiveness programs have become non-existent as applications have routinely been rejected for minor issues if people are given a reason at all. Under the Biden plan, individuals making $25,000 or less per year will not owe any payments on their undergraduate federal student loans and will not accrue any interest. If this plan included graduate school student loans, this would have been tremendously helpful to me when I was a teacher making less than $25,000 a year and paying more than half my salary to student loan lenders. Everyone else will pay 5 percent of their discretionary income (income minus taxes and essential spending like housing and food) over $25,000 toward their loans. After 20 years, the remaining loans for people who have responsibly made payments through the program will be 100 percent forgiven.
Additionally, Biden will fix the existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness program by securing passage of the What You Can Do For Your Country Act of 2019. He will also make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all families with incomes below $125,000. He wants to invest in community colleges and training to improve student success and grow a stronger, more prosperous, and more inclusive middle class. By strengthening colleges, he wants to create a reliable pathway to the middle class not an investment that provides limited returns and leaves graduates with mountains of debt they can’t afford. Furthermore, he will provide universal preschool access. These would be paid using money gained from withdrawing the Trump-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Joe Biden believes every human being should be treated with respect and dignity and live without fear no matter who they are or who they love. During the Obama-Biden administration, the United States made unprecedented advancement of protections for LGBTQ+ Americans at the federal level—from the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to Biden’s historic declaration in support of marriage equality on Meet the Press in 2012.
“Who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out is what all marriages, at their root, are about.”
 —Joe Biden, “Meet the Press,” May 6, 2012
Donald Trump and Mike Pence have given hate against LGBTQ+ individuals safe harbor and rolled back critical protections for the LGBTQ+ community. By blocking the ability of transgender individuals to openly serve their country, denying LGBTQ+ people access to critical health care, proposing policies allowing federally-funded homeless shelters to turn away transgender people and federally-funded adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples, and failing to address the epidemic of violence against transgender people—particularly transgender women of color—the Trump Administration has led a systematic effort to undo the progress the Obama-Biden administration made.  Hate and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people started long before Trump took office. Defeating them will not solve the problem, but it is an essential first step to continue our march toward equality. 
As President, Biden will stand with the LGBTQ+ community to ensure America finally lives up to the promise on which it was founded: equality for all. He will provide the moral leadership to champion equal rights for all LGBTQ+ people, fight to ensure that our laws and institutions protect and enforce their rights, and advance LGBTQ+ equality globally. Biden will protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, support LGBTQ+ youth, protect LGBTQ+ individuals from violence, expand access to high-quality health care for LGBTQ+ individuals, ensure fair treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals in the criminal justice system, and advance global LGBTQ+ rights and development. If elected president, former Vice President Joe Biden has promised to immediately reverse the transgender military ban and reissue an Obama-era guideline allowing trans students to use the correct bathroom. This would effectively end litigation in the military ban cases and change the complexion of the bathroom cases.
I will repeat what I wrote yesterday: the choice is obvious. Former Vice President Joe Biden is well-suited to be president. An undecided voter can disagree with some of the policies he supports — that’s fine. Undecided voters should weigh their concerns about the unknowns of a Biden presidency against the inevitable dangers of a second Trump term. On the one hand, a tax, a minimum wage, an energy policy you might not like; on the other, the demise of U.S. democracy, prosperity, and global leadership. It shouldn’t be a difficult call. 

"I'll be a President for All America" 

If you have not seen Joe Biden's very moving speech from Gettysburg on October 6, 2020, please watch it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Pic of the Day


A Vision of Two Americas: Part 1

A Possible Look Ahead

Election day is next Tuesday, but millions have already voted. I received my ballot in the mail as all registered Vermonters did, but I’ve decided to go to the polls and vote in person on November 3. While there are several crackpot third-party candidates, there are only two real choices: Joe Biden and Donald Trump. If you vote for a second Trump term, you are voting for the continued decline of the United States and for putting democracy in danger. At best, the demise would be gradual — a descent into diminished prosperity, constricted opportunity for your children and grandchildren, waning influence overseas, and the continued erosion of democratic norms at home. This is not a matter of speculation; it is a conclusion based on Trump’s record and promises.
The United States has been a prosperous nation since it emerged from World War I as the world’s greatest creditor nation. We had a setback during the Great Depression, but our military strength during World War II cemented our position as a world leader. The U.S. generates more than 15 percent of the global economy, with just over 4 percent of the world’s population. For decades, the U.S. has been prosperous because we have a predictable rule of law, a professional civil service, a position as a global leader that lets us help set the rules and have the U.S. dollar accepted as the only true international currency, and high, if not world-leading, standard of health care and education. Also, key has been a commitment to fairness and equal opportunity even if we argue about how to turn that commitment into policy. The U.S. has prospered while other developed nations have begun to stagnate. We attract talented, entrepreneurial, and ambitious immigrants from all over the world. Our commitment to freedom has allowed immigrants and native-born alike to contribute to the fullest extent of their abilities.
Under Donald Trump, all of this has gone by the wayside. He replaced the rule of law with presidential whim picking and choosing corporate favorites and twisting the criminal system to favor his friends. At an accelerated pace, he is politicizing, corrupting, and sapping our government's morale: our foreign service, our health and scientific agencies, our keepers of statistics. Many will hesitate to invest — to build new factories or create new jobs — if law and governmental power become unpredictable and wielded to reward cronies and punish the disfavored.
Trump and his administration’s disregard for the law is unmatched in American history. He has flaunted his contempt for laws like the Constitution's emoluments clause by refusing to divest himself of his business holdings. He has used the Justice Department as his own personal lawyer and has claimed immunity from lawsuits because of his position. The Constitution established that no American would be above the law; Trump disregards that and does place himself above the law. Republicans across the country, from average voters to members of the Senate, have supported and propped up his illegal behavior creating a mockery of the American judicial system. His lack of paying his fair share of taxes is outrageous and shows the desperate need for tax reform in the United States.
Trump just signed an executive order that overhauls/destroys the civil service system by giving those in power the authority to fire more or less at will as many as tens of thousands of civil service workers from managers to lawyers to economists to, yes, scientists. In 1883, patronage (the practice of all government employees being appointed) was replaced by a professional civil service with the Pendleton Act. If Trump has his way, patronage, and loyalty to him will be the job qualifications for thousands of government jobs. The civil service will cease to exist. No longer will government jobs be based on a merit system. We have already seen how vindictive Trump can be for those whom he sees as disloyal and how he rewards loyalty with positions for which people are wholly unqualified. Just look at Betsy Devos. In Trump’s America, political rivals are traitors who must be prosecuted and jailed. Congressional oversight is an inconvenience that can be ignored and, eventually suppressed. Journalists seeking to report on his administration are enemies of the people. He welcomes foreign interference to help his campaign, undermines confidence in the election, and threatens not to accept its results. If he remains in power, fairly or fraudulently, there is no reason to believe Trump will not act on his authoritarian impulses in a second term. His incompetence in government, though real, will be no protection; he has shown himself, in the past year, increasingly adept at evading the checks and balances we thought the Constitution guaranteed.
Though the United States' prestige around the world has waxed and waned since the presidency of George W. Bush, our status as a world leader was boosted by the election of Barack Obama. That boost has wholly disappeared under Donald Trump as he has railed against our allies in NATO, criticized the United Nations, and withdrew from the World Health Organization. Instead of being a leader for democracy, Trump has saddled up beside dictators like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin. He craves the approval of autocrats who wish our country ill while abandoning and insulting allies; the latter will not stand by and take his abuse for four more years while the former will exploit his gullibility. World leaders openly laugh at him when they are meeting with him. Already the United States finds itself humiliatingly isolated on key issues like relations with Iran. As Trump fulfills long-held ambitions to undermine alliances with Europe, Japan, and South Korea, the United States will be further weakened, China, increasingly dominant, the world ever less stable. We are no longer a world leader, and that status will continue to decline with four more years of a Trump presidency. We will descend into a new era of xenophobia and isolationism which the United States has not seen in over a century.
The United States has some of the most trusted hospitals and prestigious universities in the world. Yet, if Trump is reelected, access to those hospitals and universities will be in jeopardy. If he succeeds in destroying the Affordable Care Act, we will once again find health insurance difficult to find if we have a preexisting condition. I am diabetic, and I saw firsthand how difficult it was for the lawyer I used to work for to find affordable health insurance because she had diabetes. I suffered for many years with migraines without any treatment because it was not covered as a preexisting condition. With my current Botox injections for my migraines costing over $6,000 without insurance, I will never be able to afford them if they are allowed to be denied as a preexisting condition.
Education at colleges and universities is already too expensive. When I looked at attending private universities like Vanderbilt, Tulane, Emory, or Duke when I was in high school, my family and I couldn’t afford any of those schools. Tuition was over $25,000 25 years ago. Now, those schools range from Emory now at over $72,000 a year (room, board, and fees), to Vanderbilt, whose tuition (room, board, and fees) is over $92,000. The university where I work is around $40,000 a year. Even state schools like the University of Alabama at $31,080 (in-state) and $51,424 (out-of-state) are more expensive today than the private universities were back when I was attending college. My alma mater is now $24,992 a year, while it ranged from $2,300 to $2,900 in the four years I was there. We won’t even discuss the higher tuition of graduate schools. Under a second term of Trump, you can expect these prices to go higher and for student debt to expand exponentially.
Immigration will also become harder than ever for people coming to the United States if Trump is reelected. He pretends to object only to undocumented immigration, but he has cut legal immigration in half. The most talented scientists and computer engineers of the next generation are choosing Canada, Australia, China — anywhere but Donald Trump’s America. In Trump’s vision, America is one in which groups are pitted against each other not encouraged to cooperate. States and cities with Democratic-leaning populations are enemy territory. He is contemptuous of any movement for equal justice and friendly to white supremacists. He has named 56 men and women to the nation’s highest courts—the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts. Not a single one is Black.
In Trump’s America, science and truth are treated with contempt. With his incompetent response, the novel coronavirus has claimed more lives here than in any other country, and the pandemic and its accompanying recession could drag on long into a second Trump term. The contempt for science and intellectual pursuits likewise shapes Trump’s utter failure to respond to climate change. The Earth is ailing; the damage from four more years of regression could be irreparable. Trump has proven himself, in the COVID-19 catastrophe, incapable of leading in a crisis. What if the next virus is far more deadly which health experts say is entirely possible? What if the next emergency involves a risk of nuclear war given Trump’s failure to rein in the nuclear programs of Iran or North Korea? Can anyone trust him to manage such a challenge atop an administration from which he has hounded almost all knowledgeable and experienced officials?
Most important to many of us, the Trump administration has been anything but LGBTQ+-friendly. Vice President Mike Pence has a long record of anti-LGBTQ+ lawmaking and rhetoric. LGBTQ+ advocates have already called the Republican Party platform — a holdover from 2016, as the GOP did not write one for 2020 — one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ in the party’s history. A second Trump term could further turn the clock back for LGBTQ+ people. Trans people have been a target of the Trump administration from the beginning. In its first year, the administration rolled back an Obama-era memo directing schools to protect trans students from discrimination, and Trump banned trans people from serving in the military. This summer, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule that would allow homeless shelters receiving federal funding to house trans people according to their birth-assigned sex. All LGBTQ+ people have also been under attack. Though marriage equality is the law of the land, the White House has taken steps to limit or undo gay rights in several key policy areas such as lobbying to give religious adoption agencies the right to refuse same-sex couples. Most critical, perhaps, was the administration’s attack on the Affordable Care Act’s LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections in a rule released on June 12th. Though it has been put on hold due to a federal court stay, the rule would allow doctors and insurance companies to refuse care to LGBTQ+ people.
Meanwhile, Trump has nominated three conservative Supreme Court justices during his presidency. Still, in a surprising turn of events, a recent major LGBTQ+ victory threw the administration for a loop: The Supreme Court decided in June that LGBTQ+ people are protected on the basis of sex under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The decision in Bostock v. Clayton County means queer and trans people cannot be fired for being LGBTQ+, and the ruling could end up as precedent for expanding rights into other issue areas such as education and health care. Still, this likely will not stop Trump from trying to chip away at the legal protections LGBTQ+ people currently have. It would be similar to the approach taken by religious conservatives with regard to Roe v. Wade — passing anti-abortion legislation at the state level in the hope that related cases work their way back to the Supreme Court especially now that Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed. According to activists, Trump and his cronies will likely try to attack across three different fronts in their efforts to chip away at LGBTQ+ rights: by continuing to reshape the courts, by attacking health care access, and by continuing to limit immigration and asylum to LGBTQ+ people fleeing violence in other countries. A second Trump term would mean more anti-LGBTQ+ federal judges appointed, another Supreme Court justice (maybe even two), and an escalation in the legal arguments against trans rights. As of July, 194 of the 792 active federal judges were appointed by Trump, a quarter of the federal judiciary. Many of them were either previously anti-LGBTQ+ activists or have openly expressed anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments.
The choice is obvious. Former vice president Joe Biden is well-suited to be president. An undecided voter can disagree with some of the policies he supports — that’s fine. Undecided voters should weigh their concerns about the unknowns of a Biden presidency against the inevitable dangers of a second Trump term. On the one hand, a tax, a minimum wage, an energy policy you might not like; on the other, the demise of U.S. democracy, prosperity, and global leadership. It shouldn’t be a difficult call. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Pic of the Day


Variation on the Word Sleep

Variation on the Word Sleep 
By Margaret Atwood


I would like to watch you sleeping,

which may not happen.

I would like to watch you,

sleeping. I would like to sleep

with you, to enter

your sleep as its smooth dark wave

slides over my head


and walk with you through that lucent

wavering forest of bluegreen leaves

with its watery sun & three moons

towards the cave where you must descend,

towards your worst fear


I would like to give you the silver

branch, the small white flower, the one

word that will protect you

from the grief at the center

of your dream, from the grief

at the center. I would like to follow

you up the long stairway

again & become

the boat that would row you back

carefully, a flame

in two cupped hands

to where your body lies

beside me, and you enter

it as easily as breathing in


I would like to be the air

that inhabits you for a moment

only. I would like to be that unnoticed

& that necessary.



The poem is for my usual Tuesday poetry post, but if you'd like to read why I chose it and a political commentary on the dangers of the new Supreme Court Justice, read on. 

With the Senate confirmation of Judge Handmaid to the Supreme Court last night, I thought I’d post a poem by the author of The Handmaid's Tale, Canadian author Margaret Atwood. To be fair, the religious extremist group People of Praise to which Amy Coney Barrett belongs were the first call its female advisers “hands” and “handmaids.” Their use of the term predated Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. They no longer use the term. It also appears that the group was not Atwood’s direct inspiration. Still, it looks like we are in for a dystopian future of our own with the court dominated by conservatives who want to take away all the freedoms gained by women and the LGBTQ+ community in the past 50 years.


Her silence on the most basic issues of republican self-rule tells us to be ready for the worst. In her confirmation hearings, she wouldn’t say if voter intimidation is illegal, even though it plainly is. She wouldn’t say if a president has the power to postpone an election, even though he doesn’t. She wouldn’t even say that a president should commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power, telling Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) that “to the extent that this is a political controversy right now, as a judge I want to stay out of it.” What exactly is controversial in a democratic republic about the peaceful transfer of power? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that she was nodding to the president who nominated her. He said he wanted a friendly judge on the court to deal with electoral matters, and he continues to signal that one of the most sacred concepts of a free republic is inoperative when it comes to himself. Rushing to confirm such a nominee just in time to rule on any election controversies (from which she refused to commit to recusing herself) should be troubling enough. But it is all the worse for being part of a tangle of excesses by the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Keep in mind that in Bush v. Gore, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Barrett were all Bush lawyers in that fight.


Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Gilead of The Handmaid’s Tale centers on a hierarchical system of red-clad handmaids and blue-draped wives. The handmaids are stripped of rights and forced to bear children for wealthy infertile couples. Though the wives also face patriarchal rules forbidding them from activities like reading, they enjoy significantly more autonomy than handmaids. The wives don’t merely uphold the brutal heterosexist regime; they were instrumental in its creation. Throughout Hulu’s adaptation, wife Serena, played by Yvonne Strahovski, is shown like a fictional Phyllis Schlafly, proselytizing regressive policies in flashbacks. And like The Handmaid’s Tale’s wives, Amy Coney Barrett is working to build a more unjust society for oppressed communities, despite being a woman herself.


Barrett’s confirmation will turn the clock back on human rights, but similarly to the wives in The Handmaid’s Tale, Barrett will not face the full consequences of her judicial decisions. Conservative white women have upheld and continue to support patriarchal white supremacy and punitive capitalism at the direct expense of others. Barrett’s false feminist promise of the possibility to have it all—a large family and successful career—is not a reality for many working-class women, but rather “an example to young women across America of what they can do if they have enough money.” The impact of America’s policies on Black women, women of color, low-income women, indigenous women, immigrant women, and queer and trans folks already reflect conditions similar to those in The Handmaid’s Tale.


Though Barrett skirted questions about how she would rule on abortion during Senate hearings, it is clear she seeks to erode abortion rights. Trump vowed to appoint so-called pro-life judges. Barrett’s past writings indicate she will be one. On the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett supported judicial opinions to require parental notification for abortions without exception and mandate the cremation of fetal remains.


Many pregnant women already face undue burdens when seeking abortion care. The Hyde Amendment prevents federal Medicaid funds from paying for abortions. This racist and classist policy disproportionately affects Black and Latinx patients, who are more likely to be enrolled in Medicaid. Rural patients also face barriers to care: 89 percent of U.S. counties do not have an abortion clinic. Many pregnant women seeking abortions must travel across state lines to receive care, racking up travel bills, and risking jobs when they have to take multiple days off. As Barrett has said she would do, these communities would be disproportionally harmed by further restricting access to care, even if Roe v. Wade holds.


Barrett’s likely rulings on abortion aren’t the only decisions she would hand down without personal consequence. Barrett sparked controversy during the Senate hearings after using the term “sexual preference” in response to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s question about Obergefell v. Hodges. Her use of this outdated term that implies sexuality is a choice caused concern among LGBTQ+ rights organizations. This problem is even more acute in light of the statement Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito penned earlier this month, indicating their desire to overturn Obergefell. While Barrett later clarified that she hadn’t meant “any offense” by her use of the term, her apparent lack of knowledge of its implication does not bode well in a nation that already undervalues and harms LGBTQ+ people, especially Black trans women.


In 175 election-related cases this year, it found that Republican appointees interpreted the law in ways that impeded access to the ballot 80 percent of the time, compared with 37 percent for Democratic appointees. The best case for the enlargement of the Supreme Court is likely to be made by the court’s conservative judicial activists themselves. It would be good for democracy if they showed some restraint. But everything about this struggle so far tells us that restraint is no longer a word in their vocabulary and that prudence is not a virtue they honor anymore.


That’s the thing about her jurisprudence—it is not aimed at making life better for systemically marginalized people. And this is precisely the problem the handmaid comparison ignores. Barrett is the oppressor, not the oppressed. She would make handmaids out of others. 


Monday, October 26, 2020

Pic of the Day


El Douche vs. Il Duce

They could almost be twins.

Massive personality defects ruled out listening to other people.  Narcissistic to a degree, he presented himself to his subordinates and to the public as all-knowing—he could reel off an array of statistics (not all accurate) —and all-wise.  A master of the media of his day—newspapers and state-controlled radio—he ruled on the basis of intuition and extemporization.  He acted on the spur of the moment, always sensitive to the need to be seen as other leaders’ equal.  Rarely did anyone ever try to talk him out of a chosen course, and when they did so they failed.  You couldn’t reason with him. He made bad choices, disregarded warnings his country was not up to the demands he was making of it, and turned a blind eye to economic realities.  Many of the failures and setbacks were his fault—though not all of them.  Had he lived to write his memoirs, he would no doubt have railed against incompetent generals and inadequate subordinates.  That would have been a smokescreen. You might almost think I was writing about Donald Trump, but in fact, this is a description of Benito Mussolini.

Following Donald Trump’s release from his three-night stay at Walter Reed Hospital to relieve symptoms of the coronavirus, he flew back to the White House (WH) on Marine One, exited the military helicopter, and ascended the steps leading to the WH second-floor balcony. Once there, he instantly removed his face mask as he turned to the flash cameras and camcorders below. Occasionally visibly gasping for air, he posed in the style of Benito Mussolini with an arrogant gaze and his head held high.

This current El Douche has much more in common with the actual Italian Il Duce than readily meets the eye and ear. While many of the social, political, and economic conditions differ today in the United States from Italy during the first half of the last century, some parallels persist. Trump rises to the level, and possibly surpasses, Mussolini’s arrogant swagger and all-consuming narcissism and sociopathy though I suspect Mussolini would beg to differ. Both figures are legendary for their predatory womanizing and frequent extra-marital affairs. 


Both leaders had trouble telling the truth in their utterances and their consciousness. Not letting the facts get in the way is the basis of both their political strategies. According to Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” In Mussolini’s case, he came to believe his lies; it’s difficult to believe Donald Trump actually believes his, but he just may be so deluded that he does. Both could be placed into the category of “Machiavellian” in their single-mindedness, scheming, conspiracy-driven, unscrupulous, and vicious actions to advance their careers and enact their policies. To them, the ends justify the means no matter who gets hurt. It’s all about power and machismo.


Trump, however, differs significantly from Mussolini in terms of interest and achievement in intellectual pursuits. Mussolini prided himself on his scholarly endeavors and command of multiple languages. He acted on strong ideological beliefs. On the other hand, Trump acts on concerns for winning at all costs regardless of ideological positions. The only book he has admitted to reading was a book of Adolf Hitler’s speeches. While he claims to love the Bible, Trump cannot tell you a single thing within the sacred text.


Even though he is amoral and shows no signs of being a Christian, Trump received enthusiastic support from evangelicals who claimed he was the modern-day King David, a flawed womanizer who God is said to have loved anyway. Evangelicals also support Trump over his stance against abortion rights. As a socialist youth, Mussolini declared himself an atheist and railed against the Catholic Church. After taking power, Mussolini began working to pander to the Catholic Church to gain wider support. He outlawed freemasonry, exempted the clergy from taxation, cracked down on artificial contraception, campaigned for an increased birth rate, raised penalties for abortion, restricted nightlife, regulated women’s clothing, and banned homosexual acts among adult men. Despite having many mistresses, he also put in place harsh punishments for adultery. In 1929 Mussolini signed an agreement with the Vatican under which the Church received authority over marriage and was compensated for property seized decades earlier. Similar to evangelicals today who support Trump, Pope Pius XI referred to Mussolini as the “man whom providence has sent us.” 


When Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States, the man who called himself a “populist” lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Over three million more voters did not support the draconian policies and vile language he uttered during the campaign. But White ultra-nationalist, fascist leaders, evangelicals, and many of their followers supported the Trump candidacy and celebrated his victory. For example, a white nationalist conference held on November 19, 2016, at the Ronald Reagan Building headlined by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, greeted attendees with a tribute to then-President-elect Trump shouting “Hail Trump! Hail victory!” from the stage. Then, before all in attendance, Spencer gestured in a traditional Nazi straight-arm salute.


Another example is when Trump defended the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville saying they included “some very fine people on both sides,” while expressing sympathy for their demonstration against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In August 2020, Trump addressed the baseless, far-right QAnon conspiracy theory saying he didn’t know much about the online community and its followers other than “they like me very much.” In response to a question about the conspiracy community, Trump added, “I heard that these are people who love our country.” When a reporter partially summed up the conspiracy theory to him — that it revolves around a false narrative that Trump is leading a secret, government-led charge against pedophiles, cannibals, and satanic worshippers — Trump responded: “Is that supposed to be a bad thing?” Trump said, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.” He’s willing to do anything to stay in power. And, let’s not forget he refused in the first presidential debate to denounce white supremacists and instead told the violent far-right, neo-fascist, and male-only Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”


Once identifying himself as a Democrat, but never unequivocally disavowing himself from white nationalists, Trump has transformed himself into the mouthpiece of the extreme far-right wing of the Republican Party. Once a staunch socialist, Benito Mussolini was denounced by the Italian Socialist Party for advocating Italy’s involvement in World War I which countered the Party’s stance on neutrality. Mussolini severely transformed his political stance, and later, he became one of the chief architects of the fascist movement. Before his election, Trump had tapped Steve Bannon, former editor of the far-right Breitbart News, as his campaign director, and before firing him, elevated Bannon into the White House to function as his chief policy advisor, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. Bannon once boasted that Breitbart News serves as the mouthpiece for the so-called “alt-right,” a less odious and misleading term for white nationalists.


As President, Trump rolled back many of the rights and protections that minorities have tirelessly fought for over the past decades: affordable and quality health care, reproductive rights, voting rights, citizenship rights, anti-torture guarantees, rights of unreasonable search and seizure, rights of assembly, disability rights, LGBTQ+ rights in the military, free speech and freedom of the press rights, freedom of and from religion while attacking marriage equality. Now, with the Senate confirmation of the conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court seemingly imminent, he has the chance to continue these policies through the courts long after he has been driven from office.


Trump’s continual cries against “Islamic jihadist terrorists” as the number one threat to our nation (even as the FBI says racially-motivated violent extremists in the U.S. are the primary national threat). He issued presidential executive orders banning travel into the U.S. by six majority Muslim nations, called for U.S. Muslims to be placed on a “national registry,” and should be under surveillance to track their movements. These acts de facto “racializes” Muslims. I would not put it past Trump to call for passbooks, like in Apartheid South Africa, for American Muslims and others whom Trump deems a threat to him and his supporters.


Before becoming the Italian fascist dictator, Mussolini believed nationalism superseded class distinctions as opposed to a focus in socialism on class struggle which he had previously accepted. He argued that a vanguard of elites must lead society which would ultimately suppress democracy, and that the state must control “proper linguistic and racial confines.” Though Mussolini’s theories on “race” centered on the culture of a people as opposed to Nazism’s reliance on biology, he did assert a “natural law” thesis that “stronger” people had the right to dominate the “inferior.” Remember, Trump and his father Fred refused some years ago to rent their properties to black people, and too, his racist representations of Mexican people who attempted to come into the United States across the border.


Later, serving as Italy’s youngest Prime Minister in 1922 at the age of 39, Mussolini helped establish the secret police, outlawed labor strikes, and facilitated a one-party dictatorship. Favoring the wealthy classes and forming a virtual oligarchy, he passed legislation making it easier for privatization, deregulation of business and industry, and the dismantling of labor unions. Trump has proposed and forwarded similar policy directives including using the military to keep him in power and sending government agents into cities to attack and detain protesters without due process. Will his apparent parallels with Benito Mussolini hold – and even strengthen – during his presidency, or will he pleasantly surprise us by pivoting to become a healer of the national wounds he cut into the body politic throughout his career up to now? We all know Trump will never be a healer, only a divider. His divisive and derogatory nature is what seems to energize him.


If you are interested in further comparisons between Benito Mussolini and Donald Trump, look no further than their sons-in-law: Galeazzo Ciano and Jared Kushner. Both had similar privileged backgrounds before they married the daughters of Mussolini and Trump. Their fathers-in-law elevated them to positions in the respective administrations, and neither appeared to be qualified for their elevated stature. While there are many similarities, in contrast to Kushner, Ciano attempted to act as a moderating voice in Mussolini’s ear by warning the Italian leader their military was utterly ill-equipped for any serious and possibly prolonged war effort. He attempted to serve as a voice of reason throughout Italy’s doomed involvement. In response to questioning his authority, Mussolini summarily ordered his son-in-law’s execution on the charge of treason on February 6, 1943, before Mussolini was ultimately rounded up and killed by Italian socialist partisans. Kushner, likely, won’t succumb to the same fate, as he continues to act as Trump’s lapdog. He pushed forth Trump’s policies of denying the COVID-19 pandemic’s seriousness and even went so far as to attempt to block aid to “blue states.”


When affairs were going well, Mussolini considered Ciano a trusted advisor. As conditions increasingly deteriorated, and as Ciano advised a different course – specifically for his father-in-law to sign a separate peace with the allies to spare the country needless loss of life and devastation — Mussolini only distrusted Ciano more and accused him of treason. Trump has shown he will do the same thing to his cronies if they displease him as Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen, John Bolton, and many others did. The Trump administration has been a revolving door of people as Trump dismissed one after the other for the slightest disagreement. 

The lesson of this history?  Choose your leaders with great care, for they 
can do real and lasting damage.