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Support LGBT Rights: Why the Fight over Indiana’s RFRA Is Important to non-Indianans

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Since Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed into law the Indiana Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA for short), there has been a firestorm of controversy. Those on the right don’t seem to understand why people are so upset, while those on the left can’t understand why those on the right are so clueless (yes, I’m being polite in my characterization).

So I thought I’d try to break it down for you all as to why I, personally, believe the fight over Indiana’s RFRA bill is so very, very important for everyone.

It’s simple, folks: LGBT rights matter. And the RFRA that the Indiana Legislature passed not only grants individuals and businesses the right to deny anyone anything under the law unless there is a specific reason in the governmental interest as to why the individuals or businesses shouldn’t do it. But gender discrimination apparently isn’t in the “governmental interest.”

What does that mean, exactly? In not-so-veiled language, it means the RFRA as passed by the state of Indiana didn’t give any protection whatsoever to same-sex couples or transgendered individuals. So if you happen to be gay, and you walk into a pizza parlor with your boyfriend in Indiana, you could be denied service with no repercussions (other than most of the rest of the neighborhood shunning you for your utter stupidity, of course).

The reason that business leaders in Indiana, including the Chamber of Commerce and the NCAA (headquartered in Indianapolis), were against the RFRA is because it will keep business away from Indiana. Most people believe that LGBT people are people like anyone else and should be allowed to love whomever they please without anyone giving them problems over it. And the businesses are aware of this.

Or to put it in even plainer terms than this: Refusing to serve anyone anything for any reason in Indiana (or anywhere else) is bad for business. Period.

It’s a sad day when it takes businesses and corporate leaders to tell politicians that something is a bad move for their state. But in this case, their ruthless pragmatism happens to match the growing sentiment that LGBT rights are of profound importance. Most people have at least one LGBT relative or friend. Some, like me, have more than one (I have several, including a transgendered cousin; in addition, my late brother-in-law was gay). And none of them — not one — should be denied service simply because of who they love.

Much less exalting such discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.”

But I’d rather go back to ruthless pragmatism, here. I want you to consider this from a business perspective. If you are allowed, as a businessperson, to discriminate on the basis of gender, does that mean if I go into a business with my sister, you’re going to deny me service? Or if I go into a restaurant with a friend who’s a retired nun, you’re going to deny me service?

How can you tell what my gender is just because I walk into a restaurant with another woman?

By the way, if my brother goes into a restaurant with a friend who happens to be a Catholic priest (but isn’t wearing his clerical collar), are you’re going to deny him service, too?

Let’s get real. There’s no reason for any business to deny any of us — straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or Martian — service. Not if that business wants to make a profit. And the businesses know this if they’re smart. Which is why most of them have come out firmly against the RFRA.

I’ve had some friends on the right tell me that much of the hoopla over the RFRA is overblown. There are legitimate religious liberty concerns. There needs to be a way for someone who’s Muslim and wearing a headscarf to not be denied service because of her religion. And there needs to be a way for a Sikh child to not be prevented from wearing his religious dagger (blunted) next to his body when he goes to the public school.

But Indiana’s version of the RFRA goes way too far. It doesn’t just protect people of faith from being able to safely and freely partake in their religion. Instead, it looks as if it’s meant to discriminate against certain classes of people, most especially the LGBT community, on the basis of gender identity alone. And whether it actually will allow discrimination under the law is now irrelevant, as the perception has grown so large that it will that it’s become well-nigh irrefutable.

Or in even plainer, starker language: The belief is that it will hurt LGBT people because it’s OK under the law to do so. Which has de facto created a second-class citizen approach for the LGBT community, or anyone believed to be a part of that community…and that is deeply destructive to the social covenant, at absolute best.

And that, my friends, is why this RFRA is so divisive. It hurts my LGBT friends and family members just by its existence.

And that’s why so many are protesting Indiana’s RFRA.

But it’s law in the state of Indiana, at least for now. Which is why so many people across the United States are vowing not to spend one dime in Indiana until this law is either fixed or repealed.

How any politician can’t understand that’s exactly what would happen before he signed a controversial bill like this into law, as Gov. Pence did last Friday, is beyond my comprehension.

* * * Edited to add:

As of this hour (5:30 a.m. CDT), according to the Indiana Star, a revised version of the RFRA has been drafted. The Star says:

The compromise legislation specifies that the new religious freedom law cannot be used as a legal defense to discriminate against patrons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The proposal goes much further than a “preamble” that was proposed earlier in the week, and, if it stands, would be the first time any protections against discrimination have been extended to gays and lesbians in state law. But it doesn’t go as far as establishing gays and lesbians as a protected class of citizens statewide or repealing the law outright, both things that Republican leaders have said they could not support.

So it’s one tiny step forward. But it’s not likely, as the Star says elsewhere in its article, to make anyone happy on the left or the right, and more battles loom over LGBT rights in the not-so-distant future in the state of Indiana.

Stay tuned.

Do Your Civic Duty — Get Out And Vote!

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Folks, it’s Election Day. I’m proud to say that I voted over an hour ago.

And even though it’s nearly 5:30 PM in the Central Time Zone, there’s still time for you to get out and do your civic duty by voting if you haven’t done it already.

Now why should you do this? It’s simple. Since we live in a democratic republic, the best way we have to affect the outcome is by voting.

Now, you might be saying, “Hey, Barb. I know I should vote, but I haven’t a clue who to vote for. Can you help me out a little?”

Well, sure. Here’s a quick-and-dirty summation of how and why I vote.

If I like what’s going on in my state, I tend to vote for incumbents.

If I do not like what’s going on — and I think I’ve made it clear over the past four years that I do not — I vote against the incumbents.

(Or in plain language: Yes, I proudly voted against Scott Walker for the third time. Let’s hope the third time is the charm.)

In the other races, I used the same strategy unless there was someone I truly wanted to vote for. (In this case, as I like John Lehman and Rob Zerban, I voted in their favor for Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Representative accordingly.)

And in the referendums, I used my best judgment.

As Robert A. Heinlein once put it (this being my best paraphrase), it’s better to go vote against than not to vote at all. So please, do go out and vote.

Voting matters, you see. Even if you vote against what I think — or used what I just said as a primer in how not to vote (which is another thing RAH said, long ago) — it’s still important.

Thus concludes tonight’s public service announcement.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 4, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Shirley Temple Black Dies at 85

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Yesterday evening, Shirley Temple Black passed away at 85.

As I don’t normally write about movie stars, you might be wondering why I’m writing about Mrs. Black. I’ve made an exception for her, mostly because of her second career as a diplomat for the United States . . . and partly because she was an extraordinary woman in her own right, someone most people could use as an example to emulate.

This obituary from the New York Times clearly illustrates why Mrs. Black was such an astonishing woman. Here’s a few words from that obit:

Mrs. Black returned to the spotlight in the 1960s in the surprising new role of diplomat, but in the popular imagination she would always be America’s darling of the Depression years, when in 23 motion pictures her sparkling personality and sunny optimism lifted spirits and made her famous. From 1935 to 1939 she was the most popular movie star in America, with Clark Gable a distant second. She received more mail than Greta Garbo and was photographed more often than President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

. . .When she turned from a magical child into a teenager, audience interest slackened, and she retired from the screen at 22. But instead of retreating into nostalgia, she created a successful second career for herself.

After marrying Charles Alden Black in 1950, she became a prominent Republican fund-raiser. She was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969. She went on to win wide respect as the United States ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, was President Gerald R. Ford’s chief of protocol in 1976 and 1977, and became President George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989, serving there during the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

The obituary also discusses Mrs. Black’s public discussion of her own breast cancer — widely credited for popularizing the need for breast cancer care, treatment, and discussion (as it used to be stigmatized, and women often suffered in silence — hard to believe in 2014, but real nonetheless), her divorce (she was married to John Agar, Jr., before marrying Mr. Black at age 21), and how difficult it was initially to come down from the dizzying heights of child stardom to become her practical, level-headed adult self.

Mrs. Black was a Republican at a time when you could be a moderate and still be successful in politics. She was a powerful woman because she was smart — she was well-regarded by Henry Kissinger, who was himself no fool — and because she never stopped trying to improve herself, her mind, and the world around her.

I’ve admired Mrs. Black’s adult career for years, but I admire it even more now that some of the missing pieces (like her early divorce) have been filled in thanks to the excellent obituary at the New York Times.

We have lost an extraordinary woman with the passing of Mrs. Black. She was an American original, and she will be greatly missed.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 11, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Government Shutdown Finally Ends (with a Whimper, not a Bang)

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Well, folks, it’s official: the federal government has re-opened for business.  And it only took sixteen days for the United States Congress to get it done.

Consider me underwhelmed.

During the past sixteen days, many people far from the halls of Congress were hurt due to the Congress’s collective intransigence.  The law of unintended consequences seems to apply, considering people as diverse as mollusk fishermen in Maine and Alaska, restaurant owners in rural Wisconsin and Oregon, and federal park goers the nation over had their lives interrupted.

And what good did all this do?  Not a blessed thing, as it made the United States look like idiots — far worse than laughingstocks — in the eyes of the world.  Here are just a few things pointed out by Ed Schultz on his “The Ed Show” program on MSNBC in the past few weeks: Most countries around the world are appalled by how the Congress shut down the federal government, including Germany, France, Russia, and the UK.  Even Syria said they do better by their federal employees than we do, and that’s pretty bad.

But guess what?  There’s one organization or country that’s known to be even worse than Syria, and even they are taking potshots at the United States.  None other than the Taliban (yes, that Taliban) actually said Congress is “sucking the blood” from the American people.

(Words fail me, knowing that.)

So how low can this Congress go, anyway?  They’ve already proven by this latest fiasco they’re all about petty political gamesmanship rather than doing the will of the American people.  If they had been about the will of the people, the government wouldn’t have been shut down for one hour, much less sixteen whole days.

Because of the Congress’s obduracy,  we now have China, of all nations, wondering why the American people aren’t in open revolt.

And that’s saying something.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are still some good legislators, though not many.  (My personal favorite Senator is Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent.)  These legislators want to do their jobs and work for the best interests of the American people by doing “the art of the possible,” (read: compromise) and they’re no doubt just as tired of these stupid partisan games as the rest of us.

But there are way too many sitting in Congress right now who don’t want to do anything at all.  These are the ones actively harming the country.

I blame Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) for most of this latest mess.  I realize he didn’t start it — Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is usually credited instead — but Boehner had the power to bring a vote to the floor at any time in the past sixteen days.  He just didn’t do it.

When a politician would rather pursue his own agenda instead of the good of the country, it’s time for that politician to go.

I’m not the only person ever to think this, either.  The words Oliver Cromwell spoke in 1653 certainly seem to apply.  But if you don’t have time to read all of Cromwell’s historic speech, you should at least read this one (a paraphrase of Cromwell’s), delivered by British Conservative Member of Parliament Leo Amery to outgoing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1939 after Chamberlain’s policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler hadn’t worked.  Consider, please, that Amery was one of Chamberlain’s best friends when you read the following words:

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

Honestly, isn’t this what all Americans want to say to Speaker Boehner right now?  (If it isn’t, what planet are you living on?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 17, 2013 at 4:15 pm

‘This is a Disaster:’ Federal Government Shuts Down

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What a mess.

The federal government has been shut down, all because the Congressional Republicans wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act (popularly known as “Obamacare”).  The Rs did not get their wish as the ACA was funded anyway . . . but the government is still shut down until further notice.

Does this make any sense to you?  Because it surely doesn’t make any to me.

“But Barb,” I can hear you saying now.  “You’re a political junkie.  Surely you knew this was coming, so why are you so bemused?”

I did know this was coming, yes.  But I don’t understand why anyone — especially a cool political operator like Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) — would want to shut down the United States government.  Because, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said on Rachel Maddow’s Monday evening late night show at 11 p.m. CDT, “This is a disaster.”

Now, Schakowsky was talking specifically about the people who will be “furloughed” due to the Congress’s overall inaction tonight — many of them making less than $30,000 per year.  Those are the people who do not have the resources to withstand even a day without pay, much less weeks or months . . . and the knowledge that the current Republican leadership has absolutely no endgame in progress (that is, any way to avoid doing what they’ve just done) makes this even worse.

“But Barb,” again you say.  “The Republicans do not like Obamacare and are standing on principle.  Isn’t that a good thing?”

Um, no, it isn’t.

Obamacare was funded anyway.  So the people who aren’t going to get paid now that the government has been officially shut down are the lower wage workers Rep. Schakowsky mentioned, right along with people who work in the federal park system (shut down), much of NASA (shut down), much of the Department of Defense (yes, the active duty military will be paid, thank goodness, but the civilian analysts helping to analyze threats have all been effectively laid off for no good reason, something Boehner and his compatriots among the Rs had to know), and many, many more.

All of this gets even worse, folks, when you consider that Congress will still be paid even though most of the rest of the government is shut down.  And that is not just wrong — it’s completely and utterly hypocritical.**

All night long, I’ve tried to understand why the Republicans — supposedly the party that wants to “keep the United States safe” — would want to cause this catastrophe.  Because it’s obvious that shutting down the government is likely to harm national security.

But then again, I suppose the Rs weren’t satisfied with simply harming the people just trying to get by — those G-1 and G-2 workers out there who have been indefinitely “furloughed” (meaning: sent home without pay).

So, why did all this happen, anyway?  Was there any rhyme or reason to it whatsoever?  Or is this all the equivalent of the political theatre of the absurd?

The pundits, whether they’re on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, or some other station, all seem to blame the radical right-wing Tea Party Representatives right along with freshman Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for the current government shutdown.  (Fox News is complimentary toward these people, while the others are all condemnatory.  But the person mostly being named as being the prime mover here is, for better or for worse, Senator Cruz.)

To my mind, though, the one person who is responsible beyond a shadow of a doubt is Speaker Boehner.  Boehner’s been in the U.S. House of Reps. since 1990, which means Boehner saw what happened the last time the government shut down.  At that point, Newt Gingrich (R-GA) was the Speaker of the House, and things did not go favorably for him or his party due to Gingrich’s insistence on shutting down the government to get his own way.

Speaker Boehner knows better than this.  He has to know better than this.  But for whatever reason, he either couldn’t get his Republican caucus to listen to him, or he just didn’t care to set them straight.##

So here’s where we stand at this hour: The federal government has shut down.  The low-wage workers will be hurt badly by this, the defense contractors will be hurt badly by this, NASA will be hurt badly by this . . . and the Congress will still get paid for their overall intransigence.

It’s at times like this that I truly wonder about the state of American democracy.  Seriously.

———

Notes:

**Before anyone says it, I am aware that the Rs wanted to level the playing field and make sure that everyone in the Congress, the White House, and elsewhere in the government that’s currently exempted from the ACA would have to abide by the same rules as everyone else.  I agree that this makes sense, and had the House tried to talk about this earlier this year — long before now — I’d have been happy to entertain the idea.

Now, though?  What sense does it make?

##I’m not enamored by the way the Congressional Democrats have acted, either.  But the Ds in the House have no real power, while the Ds in the Senate have at least tried to do their jobs, as they’ve been trying to get the House to come to the bargaining table since late March or early April.  The R-driven House refused to do so, which is why I blame them far, far more than the Ds.

Quick Writing Update (and Other Stuff)

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Folks, I’ve been working on a short story for an anthology this past week.  Between that and editing, I just haven’t had time to do anything else — no books got reviewed over at Shiny Book Review (SBR), no blogs got written since early last week, and even though I’ve had much to say as there have been plenty of targets (Wisconsin’s R Governor Scott Walker actually had the nerve to compare himself to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, if you can believe that), I just haven’t had the time or energy to spare for blogging.

However, as I have sent off my story to a friend for a quick read-over, I have enough time to comment very quickly on a few things.  So here goes:

I think it’s ridiculous that people are praising Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for his “vision” and “good sense” in suspending a number of baseball players today, the most high profile player of the lot being Alex Rodriguez.  (The others include OF Nelson Cruz, SS Jhonny Peralta — yes, that’s how he really spells his name, it’s no misprint, and SS Everth Cabrera.)  As former Brewers pitcher (and current New York Met) LaTroy Hawkins said today on Twitter:

LaTroy Hawkins@LaTroyHawkins32 8h

PLEASE STOP PRAISING #BUD

And here’s my take on Bud Selig, again from Twitter:

Barb Caffrey@BarbCaffrey 6h

Already tired of people praising #BUDSELIG. He looked the other way when steroids drove baseball; he’s a hypocrite. #IHateHypocrisy

Otherwise, I’m keeping an eye on the national political scene, as per usual, even though nothing’s getting done as the House of Reps (not to mention the Senate as well) are on a five-week paid vacation right now.

My take on that?  Who the Hell else gets paid for doing absolutely nothing, then goes around telling people they’re “fighting Washington” as have the House Rs (or, if that doesn’t read well to you, the House GOP as led by Speaker John Boehner)?

I’m sorry.  If you are an elected public official, as John Boehner is, you’re not fighting Washington — you are a part of WashingtonThus, you are a part of Washington’s dysfunctional culture.  And you can either fix it, or not . . . but if you refuse, don’t be surprised when you’re thrown out the door next time around.  (Or if your own seat is saved, your position may not be — which is why Boehner is likely to be the minority leader of the House next time if his inaction and lack of leadership keeps up.)

Granted, the House Ds aren’t doing much of anything, either, save bloviating and grandstanding — but they have no power, as there are far too many Rs to make anything the Ds do worth the time.  Which is why I, personally, blame the Rs far more than I do the Ds.

Finally, I’m very glad that the current Wisconsin law as signed by Gov. Walker that restricts abortions has been placed in abeyance — that is, an injunction has been filed that blocks the law — by a federal court judge.  I think that law needs to be studied in depth before it’s implemented, if it ever is.  Because on its face, it’s yet another biased law by a bunch of people who, to be charitable, don’t seem to know what the Hell they’re talking about.

More blog updates when I have ’em . . . and thanks for reading, as always.

U.S. Senate Filibusters Defense Sec. Nomination of Sen. Chuck Hagel

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Folks, sometimes I truly do not understand Washington, DC, whatsoever.

Former Republican United States Senator Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska, who has been nominated by the Obama Administration to become the next Secretary of Defense, has been effectively filibustered by the U.S. Senate on a 58-40 vote in favor of Hagel — with one Senator, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), only being willing to vote “present.”

Sixty votes were needed in order to end this stalemate.  And the Senate could only muster 58.  (Plus Hatch’s “present” vote.)

My word.

Here’s the four Republicans who voted against the filibuster and for Senator Hagel: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine.

Only four Senators voted for their former colleague, a well-respected, decorated military veteran.  And a member of their own political party.

(Plus Hatch, who voted present — thus proving he was unwilling to vote against Hagel even if by doing so he looked timid, at best.)

What is wrong with the Senate, if they can’t even vote to confirm a respectable, responsible guy like Senator Hagel?

Look.  I lived in Nebraska for several years.   I know Hagel to be a political conservative, but he is honest and principled and understands the military extremely well.  He has the courage of his convictions.

Hagel will make an admirable Secretary of Defense, as he would most likely be mighty unwilling to spend lives needlessly.  And having a former military veteran as the Defense Secretary has to help, doesn’t it?

Well, apparently not if you’re a Republican Senator.  Even when it comes to one of your own retired colleagues.

Now we get to wait ten days until another vote can be taken.

All I can say is, I remain unimpressed by what I’ve seen out of both houses of Congress this year.  And I echo what Harry Reid had to say as quoted by this article via the Huffington Post:

Reid decried the outcome immediately after the vote Thursday evening, emphasizing the need to relieve outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta of his obligations and confirm Hagel at a time when the country continues to face military challenges.

“There is nothing going to change in the next 10 days about the qualifications of Chuck Hagel,” Reid said.

“I’m going to go call Chuck Hagel when I finish here and say, I’m sorry — sorry this has happened. I’m sorry for the president, I’m sorry for the country, and I’m sorry for you, but we’re not going to give up on you,” he added.

One final thought: Hagel will be confirmed, and deserves to be confirmed.  So all of these machinations merely make most of the Republicans look foolish (save the four who voted against the filibuster, thus for Hagel).  And that doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope for our country whatsoever.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 14, 2013 at 6:36 pm

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