Labor Day

The most memorable Labor Day weekends I’ve spent so far were in Albany, New York, when my wife and I would walk over to the lawn west of the State Capitol to see Pete and Toshi Seeger. Pete sometimes came up the Hudson River on the sloop Clearwater. Other times they drove up from Beacon in Dutchess County in their little station wagon.
Pete was always mobbed with people the instant they arrived, but Toshi worked in the background taking care of the details Pete may never have noticed. She set up the tables and had copies of the most recent Sing Out! spread around. There was always information about the Clearwater and the latest fund-raising efforts to clean up the Hudson. Sometimes there were homemade cookies.
They were always cheery, family oriented, fall picnic days. Politics didn’t dominate, but discussions were in the air along with the music from local folks whose careers had been supported in so many ways by Pete and Toshi. Ruth Pelham was there from Music Mobile, and Cathy Winter, and lots of others I just don’t remember.
My wife Liane Davis’s history with Pete went back to her childhood. Liane was the daughter of Leon Davis, founder of 1199, the finest health care worker’s union there ever was. When Pete was blacklisted in the 1950 and 1960s, the precursor of 1199’s Bread and Roses project hired him, the Weavers, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, and so many more to entertain union members and their children. Pete visited Liane’s home frequently. When Leon Davis died, Pete sang at his funeral in Lincoln Center.
So, we were always treated like family at those small gatherings. I mean that, just like family. So we helped Toshi set up the tables, or went to get supplies someone had forgotten. And no, we didn’t get to have long conversations with Pete, because he was on stage. Well, there was no stage, just an expanse of freshly mowed lawn sometimes spotted by early fallen leaves. But there were always crowds of folks between him and us. He always managed to say how great it was to see us but then he was off to meet and greet. Not that he was so good at that. He personified the concept of a shy gregarious human being. He clearly felt more comfortable playing with children than talking with their parents.
My memory of those days is clouded by time. These recollections are nearing 40 years old. So, they might be a bit embellished. But, the events, and those afternoons with Pete, instilled in me a very special feeling and appreciation about labor day.
The message of the day was always that we are better when we work as family and take care of each other. There was a shared feeling of an obligation to watch each other’s back; to look to each other’s strengths and build on them. Yes, together we are stronger working to improve out lots in life than we are working alone. There was an understanding, a basic tenant in our lives, that selfishness and me first attitudes were abominable and unimaginable.
Today, what I see is unmitigated greed, selfishness and lack of concern for our fellow human beings. I fear perhaps, the tide of time has passed me by. I fear he way of living that I hold so dear, the way of caring, the way of being part of a universal struggle, the way of working together for a public good, has no currency in this modern world.

When I can put my anger and sadness aside, I get nostalgic and wistful. It is Labor Day, the time to celebrate what I hold dear. So, I join my current wife, Mary Klayder, in a traditional Labor Day vodka toast to my deceased father in law in his old shot glasses. And, I sing, with pride, “Oh you can’t scare me, I’m sticking with the union, I’m sticking with the union, ‘til the day I die.”

September 3, 2017

Trump has attacked the LGBTQ community since day 1; ban on trans folk in the military is no surprise

Today’s mean-spirited, wrong-thinking, insulting, discriminatory tweet by Donald Trump saying that no trans person may serve in the military is garnering a lot of attention on social media and elsewhere. The order will affect some 2,450 persons already serving openly and an unknown number of potential recruits and unidentified trans persons in the military.

Some commentators are calling the announcement a surprise.

Unfortunately, it is less of a surprise and more of a continuation of what has been a steady attack on the advances that the LGBTQ community had made under President Obama’s administration.

To put today’s news in perspective, here is a brief history of the Trump assaults on LGBTQ advances:

● On January 20 (hours after he was inaugurated, the President had all mentions of LGBTQ issues removed from the official White House webpage.

● On January 23, Trump’s State Department removed former Secretary of State John Kerry’s apology for the infamous “Lavender Scare” (the 1950s and 1960s efforts to purge LGBTQ persons from federal employment), and other content LGBTQ content, like information on pride month observances and the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, from its website.

● On January 30, the first rumors from the White House emerged about an impending announcement of Trump’s plan to roll-back President Obama’s executive order extending protections for LGBTQ federal workers.

●On January 31, President Trump nominates Judge Neil Gorsuch, an established opponent of LGBTQ rights, to the Supreme Court.

● On February 3, 2017, a leaked memo from the White House showed an internal policy document that the President was considering an Executive Order that would allow rampant governmental discrimination – LGBTQ people would lose their jobs and denied service. Under the proposal, government employees would be able to decline to deal with LGBTQ persons in the name of “religious liberty.”

● On February 7, Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee as Secretary of Education, is confirmed after Vice President Pence breaks a Senate tie. DeVos’ family foundation funded major anti-LGBTQ organizations and campaigns. Her anti-equality record was denounced by major civil rights organizations, including HRC, which actively worked to stop her confirmation.

● On February 8, Jeff Sessions, a life-long opponent of LGBTQ legal rights is confirmed as President Trump’s Attorney General.

● On February 10, Tom Price, Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee is approved. Price spent years in Congress opposing every LGBTQ equality measure.

● On February 22, at the President’s direction, the Departments of Education and Justice withdrew important guidelines that required schools to treat transgender boys and girls like other boys and girls under Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

● On March 2, the Senate confirmed Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Carson’s  harmful rhetoric has included: equating marriage equality with bestiality; opposing laws that protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination; and, suggesting transgender people be required to use separate bathrooms.

● On March 10, Trump’s HUD withdrew a requirement for emergency shelters receiving HUD funding to post information about LGBTQ people’s rights to access the shelter safely and in accordance with their gender identity. Then, they withdrew critical data collection and evaluation guidelines for a homelessness prevention initiative targeting LGBTQ youth.

● On March 20, Trump’s Health and Human Services changed two surveys of older Americans, removing a question about sexual orientation. The department uses the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants to decide how to provide federal funding to groups working with the elderly, and removing the sexual orientation question was the only change made to the survey.

● On March 27, President Trump signs an Executive Order rescinding an Obama order that required federal contractors to provide proof of compliance with federal laws protecting LGBTQ persons in the workplace.

● On March 28, The Trump Administration cancelled a plan for the Census Bureau to collect data regarding sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the next Census. It was Trump’s latest move to erase LGBTQ people from federal surveys and disrupt programs providing direct assistance to the LGBTQ community.

● On April 1, Trump nominated anti-LGBTQ extremist Mark Green as the next U.S. Secretary of the Army to replace Eric Fanning, the first openly gay person to lead a branch of the U.S. military. When a Tennessee state senator, Green supported allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ persons and encouraged Tennessee to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that such marriages must be allowed. He has said that being transgender is suffering a “disease.” (Green withdrew from consideration for the post on May 5.)

●June was “Pride Month.”  For the first time since President Obama took office, the President of the United States failed to recognize or even mention the commemoration.

● On June 9, President Trump addressed  Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” and said he said he would “promote and protect family values” and “ protect religious liberty in America.” The Faith and Freedom Coalition is an anti-LGBTQ group that vocally opposes same-sex marriage, and has even joined a campaign against gay Boy Scouts of America leaders, in the name of their interpretation of the Bible. Trump praised Ralph Reed and James Dobson, who opposed same-sex marriage, call homosexuality “preventable and treatable,” and promote ex-gay therapy.

● On June 29, the Trump administration appointed Bethany Kozma, an activist who led a campaign to restrict bathroom access for transgender students, to the office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the US Agency for International Development.

● President Trumps continued efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are, in part, a clear threat to the health and well being of the LGBTQ community. Trumpcare hurts LGBTQ individuals in several ways, for example: it guts Medicaid expansion (historically, a lifeline to many LGBTQ persons – 1.8 million LGBTQ adults have Medicaid coverage), it threatens those with HIV/AIDS;  and it will make health insurance unaffordable for lower income LGBTQ persons.

This list is not all inclusive. But it shows there is no reason to believe Mr. Trump’s campaign promises about protecting the rights of LGBTQ persons.

While the LGBTQ community enjoyed years of advances during the Obama administration, it has taken only 6 months to set the movement back and undermine the foundation of positive change we had hoped would remain unshaken.

No one should be surprised by the Trump administration’s determination. The vituperative approach of his administration to the LGBTQ community should not be underestimated.

Those who ignore the history of Mr. Trumps first six months and do nothing, may be forced to repeat it, over, and over, and …. RESIST.

Posted: July 26, 2017

Senate health care bill is obscene, morally indefensible; and oh, bad for my clients and Kansas

After a review of the Senate’s latest proposal for repeal and revision of the Affordable Heath Care Act (“Obama Care”), it is clear the bill will be bad for all of my clients. For the record, it will also be bad for Kansas.
Some argue government should not be in the business of providing health care. The argument makes no sense. If it were true, no government would provide universal health care. But, the opposite is true. All industrialized nations, with the exception of the United States, implement some form of universal health care. Good health, and by extension health care, is a human right.
Despite changes in the earlier Senate effort, the new bill is essentially the same as the old bill in that it will make the poor poorer and the rich richer. And, while it is so easy to say that, it is important to stress the middle class, the majority my clients, will suffer under this proposal as well. A government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, where there is no sense of social responsibility, is obscene and immoral. There really is no other way to view it.
Kansas has one Senator, Jerry Moran, who has not taken a stand on this bill. I encourage all my clients to contact Senator Moran as quickly as possible to encourage him to vote no. Ironically, there is more time to do this because Senator John McCain is absent from Washington due to his health care issues.
While I doubt any reasoned argument would change Senator Pat Roberts’s opinion or determination to vote for the bill, he should be told that Kansans do not support this effort to harm Kansans. Everyone should let Senator Roberts know his position on this issue is morally wrong.
Some of the reasons I oppose the Health Care Security And Freedom Act Of 2017:
●Those in their 60s can be charged 5 times or more what folks in their 20s are charged for the same coverage.
●As a result of new caps on aid to states, folks in nursing homes receiving support form Medicaid face reductions in support and the risk that they will be refused care with no viable options for living spaces.
●Medicaid covers at least 1.8 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults including 31 percent of LGBTQ adults living with a disability and 40 percent of LGBTQ adults with incomes under 250 percent of the federal poverty level. An estimated 560,000 LGBTQ adults will lose coverage if Medicaid expansion is ended.
●Removal of the mandate for health insurance coverage is predicted to mean that healthy folks won’t buy insurance forcing premiums up for those who decide to maintain coverage for themselves and their families.
●Elimination of funding for Planned Parenthood would result in loss of contraceptive assistance and education, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/Aids treatment and counseling.
●The bill will allow sales of reduced coverage insurance plans that will give some folks the sense they are covered, but will in reality mean they pay far more for health care than they would under the existing law. Services that are now required, but wouldn’t be under the new law include vital medical services such as mental health care; treatment for conditions such as cancer; and maternity care.
●The much-loved regulation about pre-existing coverage remains, but states could waive other insurance rules that could weaken protections for medical conditions, such as the basic benefit package and the minimum payments insurers must make toward medical bills.
●Loss of required coverage for mental health and substance abuse issues would seriously impact the LGBTQ community where some studies show the need for depression, eating disorder, drug abuse treatment and general mental health counseling is twice the need of the heterosexual community.
●Middle-income families (most of my clients) — those making between $50,000 and $75,000 a year — would lose an average of $150 when the tax cuts and benefit cuts are combined. Families making less than $10,000 annually would lose more than$2,500 in annual benefits under the bill, once the plan is fully phased in. Proponents of the plan claim there are tax cuts for the poor, but fail to point out that
the cuts would be overshadowed by increased in health care costs for those same folks.
●Families making more than $1 million a year (none of my clients) would get tax cuts averaging about $50,000, according to an analysis released by two nonpartisan research groups, the Health Policy Center and the Tax Policy Center.
●If passed, the number of uninsured Kansas adults and children would jump from 343,000 now to 463,000 in five years.
●Health economists estimate the Senate bill could lead to 208,500 additional deaths by 2026 due to loss of coverage or reductions in Medicaid assistance.

Make certain you are counted

The Census Bureau is preparing  questionnaires for the next census and planning to leave most questions about gender identity and sexual orientation off the forms. This is wrong. It is time for everyone to stand up and insist that populations in our country be accurately counted.

The Census, which every ten years counts every person in the United States, was mandated by the Founding Fathers and has been called a keystone of American democracy. The government uses it to allocate public resources; businesses use it to choose where to invest; and the count affects congressional redistricting.

The U.S. lacks simple, reliable information about the LGBTQ community. How big is it? What is the average income level, life expectancy, or unemployment rate? Without data, policymakers can ignore the entire community and pretend it doesn’t exist.

At national level census information is used to plan the provision of health care, education, employment, transport, etc. It is used to help determine where to build new schools, roads, health care facilities, child-care and senior centers.

The Census is also an important economic tool.  One of the greatest strengths of the census is the provision of detailed population figures at local level. It counts the number of people in each region, county, town and local area and this helps local authorities to make better decisions about the whole range of their activities including the provision of utilities, transport, healthcare requirements and education facilities.

Census data is extensively used by interest and representative groups who have power to influence the authorities in campaigning for the interests of those whom they represent. The use of Census data in the reports and submissions of these groups is a convincing and powerful tool in influencing political and social leaders.

In short, this is about money and representation. If data isn’t collected showing that the the LGBTQ community exists, when it comes time to allocate governmental resources, there will be no basis for awarded those resources to the LGBTQ community.

Understanding the size of the LGBTQ population is a critical first step to informing a host of public policy and research topics. States and governments are often testing grounds for the implementation of new LGBTQ related public policies or can be directly affected by national-level policies. Adding sexual orientation and gender identity questions to national data sources that can provide local-level estimates and to state and  municipal surveys is critical to assessing the potential efficacy and impact of such policies.

The Census Bureau wants to appear neutral and above the fray, but its work is inherently political. Members of the LGBTQ community and all supporters should demand a count in 2020 that is accurate and fair to all.

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