Progressive responds to one of its agents promoting bigotry in Plano

Plano hatredProgressive Insurance sent a response — really a non-response — to one of their agents promoting hatred in Plano.

Although the Plano nondiscrimination ordinance has religious exemptions that include not only churches, but also nonprofit organizations and just about anyone else who really, really wants to discriminate, extremists have begun a recall campaign.

Plano residents found a flyer on their doors sponsored by a church located in neighboring Wylie. A Progressive insurance agency located in Plano is collecting signatures for the recall petition. Just 3,700 signatures are required to place the ordinance on the ballot. Progressive is one of Human Rights Campaigns large donors and received 100 percent on the Corporate Equality Index.

Over the weekend, Progressive sent a response to my inquiry about whether this represents their values or if they were even aware one of their agents was promoting bigotry. Here’s the answer I received:

“At Progressive, we’re committed to creating a diverse work environment where all of our employees can successfully thrive, and where their uniqueness is celebrated. The views of our more than 35,000 independent agents are their own and do not always reflect the views of Progressive.”

—  David Taffet

‘Perform or provide’

DADT repeal gives progressive chaplains a chance to counter evangelical clergy in the military


CATCH-ALL CHAPLAIN | Chaplain Chris Antal (Lt.) attended the meeting of the Forum on Military Chaplaincy at Cathedral of Hope in October. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
When a soldier recently came to Chaplain Chris Antal, a lieutenant in the Army National Guard in New York and a Unitarian Universalist minister, and asked if he’d pray with her even though she was a pagan, he said he replied, “Of course I will, but you’ll have to show me how.”

Several weeks later, when he saw her again, she told him that the day she had come to visit him, she had hit rock bottom. He had, she told him, saved her life that day.

But Antal said he was only doing his job — helping any soldier who comes to him.

“I’ve earned the nickname, the Catch-all Chaplain,” he said, explaining that it means he takes everyone the other chaplains don’t want to deal with.


Capt. Tom Carpenter (ret.) and Col. Paul Dodd (ret.)

Being there to help a soldier in need is what it’s all about for a military chaplain, said Col. Paul Dodd, a retired chaplain who now lives in Austin.

“The duty of a military chaplain is to perform or provide,” said Dodd, adding that he once sponsored an Islamic conference.

Dodd said that no chaplain can perform every service needed by every member of the military. But if a chaplain can’t perform the service requested, he or she must provide that soldier with a referral to someone else who can.

Antal said that chaplains who enlisted knew what they were getting into — to some extent. But none of them really expected the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And for many, that repeal was a game changer.

In October, a group of active and retired chaplains and military personnel and other people of faith, such as the Rev. Steve Sprinkle from Brite Divinity

School in Fort Worth, met at the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope to begin looking at ways of addressing the issues that arose for military chaplains around DADT repeal.

Dave Guy Gainer said The Forum on Military Chaplaincy is not exactly new. It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.

Sprinkle said people in the Pentagon, up through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, knew about their work and considered their statements throughout the DADT repeal process.

And now, with repeal complete, the group met to “come out.” At their meeting in Dallas, forum members considered ways to become an independent organization helping to ensure newly out service members receive the pastoral care they need while serving in the military.

Susan Gore, principle of The Mentor Group and editor of the book Coming Out In Faith, moderated the Dallas conference. She said the group started with several retired military officers “who wanted to push back against the far-right skew.”

Sprinkle has been part of the forum for four years and said he was recruited to participate because of his work on hate crimes.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sprinkle said, more and more members of the Chaplain Corps have come from just one school — Liberty

University, founded by far-right evangelical Jerry Falwell. Today, Sprinkle estimated, one-third of military chaplains come from Liberty University.

“They instituted a program that barely meets minimum requirements,” he said of the evangelical school. “It’s an online course.”

And, Sprinkle said, Liberty University’s goal is to take control of the Chaplain Corps and use the military as a pool for religious recruits.

“This is fertile ground to bring people to Jesus at taxpayer expense,” said Tom Carpenter, a retired Marine captain and one of the forum’s founders.

“I’ve heard stories of them holding the hand of someone who’s dying and trying to bring them to Jesus.”

And although such actions contradict military policy, no one in the corps has been disciplined or dismissed for it.

“They give chaplains a lot of leeway,” Carpenter said.

Gainer said the military is looking for well-rounded ministers who bring experience with them to the military.

According to the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School in Fort Jackson, S.C., candidates must be endorsed by their denomination or faith group and be “sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army.”

But Sprinkle said that Liberty University is transparent about its goals, and those goals do not line up.

“They’re not committed to pluralism or serving all the troops,” he said.

Gainer said that the greatest opposition to repealing DADT came from the Chaplain Corps because military chaplains answer to two groups — the military and their denomination. Those chaplains that didn’t adhere to a strict stance of maintaining the ban on gays and lesbians were threatened with losing their accreditation from their endorsing religious body — and with it their livelihood and their pensions.

But that contradicts the stated goals of the Chaplain Corps.

“Someone has to say, ‘Either you comply and serve all the troops all the time or get out,’” Sprinkle said.

Gore said that one of the goals of the newly public forum is to “rebalance the Chaplain Corps by bringing in more mainstream faiths.” She said that for many who come from more liberal traditions, questions of what’s a just war make it hard to serve in the military. Antal, for example, is one of just four Unitarian Universalists in the Chaplain Corps.

During its push for repeal of DADT, members
said, the forum had several successes working behind the scenes.

Despite the assumption of confidentiality between parishioner and clergy, that wasn’t always the case between gay soldier and chaplain. Dodd said that a number of discharges under DADT occurred after a soldier talked to a chaplain and the chaplain turned them in.

In fact, he wrote a white paper on the practice. After he submitted it, the military tightened up on chaplain confidentiality, Dodd said.

Carpenter, an attorney, wrote an amicus brief for the Log Cabin Republicans’ lawsuit against DADT. The court found in favor of declaring DADT unconstitutional, but Congress repealed the law before the decision could be enforced.

Carpenter said that the repeal allows gays and lesbians to serve with no protection. The legal decision, had it not been vacated upon repeal, would have allowed gays and lesbians to serve equally.

Now that DADT is gone, the forum is examining how to ensure LGB personnel receive the same services as other troops from chaplains.

Dodd said that right-wing chaplains charge that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military will force them to act in ways that go against their beliefs. Some have said they would be required to perform same-sex weddings.

Dodd called that ridiculous. Chaplains are never asked to perform duties that go against their religious beliefs, he said.

“I turned down weddings,” he said. “An officer came to me who wasn’t divorced.”

He said the officer tried to pull strings and force the issue, but Dodd wasn’t going to discuss marrying someone who was still married to someone else.

“But we’re insisting chaplains have the authority, if it’s in keeping with their faith, to marry same-sex couples,” he said.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the repeal provides no family benefits. For some issues, Dodd and Carpenter suggested work-arounds.

Issuing ID cards would be extremely helpful, especially to same-sex couples with children, Carpenter said, noting that “That way either parent could get on base to get a child to the hospital.”

In another example, joint assignments can be offered at the discretion of a commanding officer, and married couples are often assigned together when they both qualify for positions that are available at the same base. Same-sex couples could be given the same priority.

As the forum looks ahead, rebalancing the Chaplain Corps with members from a more diverse background to reflect the membership of the military is a priority.

“And we need to take care of our trans brothers and sisters,” Carpenter said.

The repeal of DADT did not address any transgender issues and does not allow transgender men or women to serve in the military.

Gainer believes representatives of the forum need to sit down with far-right members of the Chaplain Corps and agree to disagree. He said that before the repeal of DADT, they talked to people at Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. While both groups testified against the repeal, they met with some success.

“The president of the VFW in Pflugerville said it was the right thing to do,” Gainer said.

That dialogue, he believed, would help chaplains perform or at least provide a useful referral, rather than doing more damage to a soldier seeking help.

Gore thought that the focus of discussion should be with the majority of chaplains “who want to do a good job and are part of the moveable middle.”

“We have to convince administrators and educators in divinity schools to encourage some of their best and brightest to serve,” Sprinkle said. “So many schools dropped what they were doing during the Vietnam era.”

Antal thinks that gays and lesbians will gain more acceptance as they tell their stories in non-confrontational settings and others see “their identity as professional service members is primary.”

While the work of the forum will concentrate on helping LGB military personnel, creating a more diverse Chaplain Corps may help a majority of service members. Recent polls show that a majority of troops find the chaplaincy irrelevant.

Sprinkle called the work of the forum a gift from the LGBT community to the nation.

“You wouldn’t think we’d be the ones opening the doors so that all troops will be served with dignity, integrity and respect,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.


—  Kevin Thomas

‘Spring Awakening’ tonight at WaterTower

Coming of age

“This rock musical adaptation of an 1891 German play is set against the backdrop of a progressive and provincial late 19th century Germany.  Spring Awakening tells the timeless story of teenage self-discovery and budding sexuality through the eyes of three teenagers.  Haunting and provocative, Spring Awakening celebrates an unforgettable journey from youth to adulthood.  The musical won multiple Tony Awards (8 awards including Best Musical).”

— from

DEETS: WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. 7:30 p.m. $20–$50.

—  Rich Lopez

The President meets with progressive bloggers (w/full transcript)

UPDATE: Joe passed along the transcript of the meeting. It’s below the fold.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. You know the President perceives political trouble when he turns to the Cheetos-stained pajamas set, lol. He should have been meeting with the Netroots earlier on, before the house was on fire.

Five progressive bloggers were ushered into the White House for a 45-minute meeting with the President today. Here’s a snippet of Sam Stein’s report on Huff Post.

The invitees fall more under the rubric of ideological or issue-oriented activists as opposed to online reporters, though the names are familiar to most political junkies. An administration official confirmed that Joe Sudbay of AMERICABlog; Duncan Black (“Atrios”), who runs the site Eschaton; Barbara Morrill, who writes for the DailyKos; Jon Amato, who is the founder of Crooks and Liars; and Oliver Willis, who runs an eponymous site, spoke with the president on Wednesday.

What was discussed will, undoubtedly, find its way to their respective sites — all of which are worth a read.

And indeed it has. My friend Joe Sudbay was on the invite list (no, I didn’t get an invite; sorry kids), so I was happy that there would be a good account for us to peruse, given our shared skepticism and criticism of this administration. Here’s a snippet of the first pass, dictated to John Aravosis.

Photo courtesy of ABC News’ Jake Tapper

Joe started by telling the President how disappointed and disillusioned the gay community is. Obama told him that gays shouldn’t be disappointed (we’ll have to see the transcript to see why).

Joe then asked about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Does the President think DADT is unconstitutional? It’s a simple question, Joe said, yes or no? Obama answered that it was a difficult question, and that he’s not a Supreme Court justice. (The problem is that this White House has outright avoided this question for weeks, and it keeps being asked. How can the President be defending a law that his lawyers haven’t even determined the constitutionality of?)

Joe’s next question was about same-sex marriage. President said he’s not going to make news today on the question, but that he agreed times are changing, and he said he’s thinking about the issue (again, we need to see the transcript to get the nuance here).

When the transcript comes out, it will be easier to gauge how the President finessed his way around direct questions.
Joe’s questions are in bold.


Office of the Press Secretary


Internal Transcript                        October 27, 2010



Roosevelt Room

3:14 P.M. EDT

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, listen, I know we’ve got limited time, so I’m not going to give a long speech on the front end.

    I thank you guys for coming in.  Obviously a huge part of my base reads you guys, cares about what you do.  The staff does as well.  I think that what the blogosphere has done is to create a conversation that encourages activism across our citizenry, and I think that’s absolutely crucial.

    We benefit from the constructive feedback and criticism that we get, and it helps hold us accountable.  But you guys obviously have also done a great job holding the mainstream press accountable, and that’s really important to us.

    So I’m glad that I’ve got time to sit down with you guys.  This is completely open, so you guys can take it wherever you want.  And what I’ll do is I’ll just go down the line, everybody gets a question, and then we can just mix it up.  How does that sound?

    Q    Sounds great.

    THE PRESIDENT:  Sounds good?  All right.  John, we’ll start with you.

    Q    Thanks for having us here, Mr. President.  Just to start off, because the news of the day is obviously what just happened in Kentucky.  What’s your feelings on the thought of a Rand Paul supporter actually stepping on the neck of a female MoveOn supporter?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, I think that one of the things that I’ve always tried to promote is civility in politics.  I think we can disagree vigorously without being disagreeable.  And what we saw on the video was an example of people’s passions just getting out of hand in ways that are disturbing.

    In fairness, I don’t expect every candidate to be responsible for every single supporter’s actions, but I do think that all of us have an obligation to set a tone where we say the other side is — may be wrong but it’s not evil, because when you start going down that path of demonizing folks, then these kinds of incidents are more likely to occur.  And my expectation in the remainder of this campaign is that all candidates out there are a little more careful about making sure that they’re framing the debate around issues and sending a clear message to their supporters that our democracy works when we disagree, we debate, we argue, it gets contentious, but that there are certain lines we don’t cross.

    Q    Mr. President, you’ve said that you want to work with Republicans after the election, but there’s probably a pretty good chance that they’re not going to advance with you.  Is there sort of a breaking point you have of where you try to work with them and they just refuse to budge, which they’ve indicated so far?  Is there a breaking point for you just like you’re going to have to go off on your own and find a way around them?

    THE PRESIDENT:  Look, the — I’m a pretty stubborn guy when it comes to, on the one hand, trying to get cooperation.  I don’t give up just because I didn’t get cooperation on this issue; I’ll try the next issue.  If the Republicans don’t agree with me on fiscal policy, maybe they’ll agree with me on infrastructure.  If they don’t agree with me on infrastructure, I’ll try to see if they agree with me on education.

    So I’m just going to keep on trying to see where they want to move the country forward.

    In that sense, there’s not a breaking point for me.  There are some core principles that I think are important for not just me to stick with but for the country to stick with.  So if the Republicans say we need to cut our investments in education, at a time when we know that our success as a nation is largely going to depend on how well trained our workforce is, I’m going to say no.  And there are going to be areas where, after working very hard, we just can’t find compromise and I’m going to be standing my ground, then essentially we debate it before the American people.

    But I don’t go into the next two years assuming that there’s just going to be gridlock.  We’re going to keep on working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible because folks are hurting out there.  What they’re looking for is help on jobs, help on keeping their homes, help on sending their kids to college.  And if I can find ways for us to work with Republicans to advance those issues, then that’s going to be my priority.

    Q    Along those lines, Mr. President, on the economy, we do have 9.6 unemployment; economic projections aren’t looking very positive from anybody, with the ongoing foreclosure crisis, as you suggested.  Can we expect further initiatives coming out of the administration and maybe Congress post-election?

    THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.  We can’t stop.  A concern I have right now is that the main economic idea that the Republicans seem to have is continuing the tax cuts for the top 2 percent, and then a vague statement about cutting spending without identifying what those spending cuts might actually be.  And I don’t know any economists who would say that’s a recipe for more job creation.

    We have to deal with our debt and we have to deal with our deficits in a responsible way.  As you know, most of the problem with our debt and deficits is structural and has to do with the medium and long term.  So my hope is, is that we can find a sensible way to deal with it that doesn’t squelch economic growth, because a single-point increase in economic growth actually has as much impact on the debt and deficits as all of the Bush tax cuts.  I mean, it’s trillions of dollars over the life of the economy.  And so we’ve got to emphasize economic growth.  

    Now, we were successful in reversing our descent into a depression.  The Recovery Act worked in stopping the freefall.  We followed up with that with everything from a package to cut taxes for small businesses to providing additional assistance to states so that they could keep teachers and firefighters and police officers on the job.

    I’ve already put forward proposals for infrastructure, which I think can have a huge long-term ramification — putting people back to work right now, doing the work that America needs done, laying the foundation for long-term competitiveness.  

    I think that there may be additional ideas that traditionally have garnered some bipartisan support that we can move forward on.  But the point that you’re making I think is really important.  Yes, people are concerned about debt and deficit.  But the single thing people are most concerned about are jobs.  And those jobs are going to come from the private sector.  We’re not going to be able to fill the hole of 8 million jobs that were lost as a consequence of the economic crisis just through government spending, but we can strategically help jumpstart industries.  We can make a difference on clean energy.  We can make a difference on getting businesses to invest in 2011 as opposed to deferring until 2012 or ’13 or ’14.

    And there should be ways that we can come to some agreement with Republicans if their focus is in fact on improving the lives of the American people as opposed to just positioning for the next election.

    Q    Mine is an easy question.  Will you rule out raising the retirement age to 70?

    THE PRESIDENT:  We are awaiting a report from the deficit commission, or deficit reduction commission, so I have been adamant about not prejudging their work until we get it.

    But I think you can look at the statements that I’ve made in the past, including when I was campaigning for the presidency, that Social Security is something that can be fixed with some modest modifications that don’t impose hardships on beneficiaries who are counting on it.

    And so the example that I used during the campaign was an increase in the payroll tax, not an increase — let me scratch that.  Not an increase in the payroll tax but an increase in the income level at which it is excluded.

    And so what I’ve been clear about is, is that I’ve got a set of preferences, but I want the commission to go ahead and do its work.  When it issues its report, I’m not automatically going to assume that it’s the right way to do things.  I’ll study it and examine it and see what makes sense.

    But I’ve said in the past, I’ll say here now, it doesn’t strike me that a steep hike in the retirement age is in fact the best way to fix Social Security.

    Q    Thank you.

    Q    I was glad to hear that you and your staff appreciate constructive feedback.

    THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, that’s something we enjoy.  (Laughter.)

    Q    We’ve been more than willing to offer that.  We’ve certainly been more than willing to offer than from AMERICAblog, particularly on issues related to the LGBT community, which, you know, there is a certain amount of disillusionment and disappointment in our community right now.

    And one of the things I’d like to ask you — and I think it’s a simple yes or no question too — is do you think that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unconstitutional?

    THE PRESIDENT:  It’s not a simple yes or no question, because I’m not sitting on the Supreme Court.  And I’ve got to be careful, as President of the United States, to make sure that when I’m making pronouncements about laws that Congress passed I don’t do so just off the top of my head.

    I think that — but here’s what I can say.  I think “don’t ask, don’t tell” is wrong.  I think it doesn’t serve our national security, which is why I want it overturned.  I think that the best way to overturn it is for Congress to act.  In theory, we should be able to get 60 votes out of the Senate.  The House has already passed it.  And I’ve gotten the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to say that they think this policy needs to be overturned — something that’s unprecedented.

    And so my hope and expectation is, is that we get this law passed.  It is not just harmful to the brave men and women who are serving, and in some cases have been discharged unjustly, but it doesn’t serve our interests — and I speak as Commander-in-Chief on that issue.

    Let me go to the larger issue, though, Joe, about disillusionment and disappointment.  I guess my attitude is that we have been as vocal, as supportive of the LGBT community as any President in history.  I’ve appointed more openly gay people to more positions in this government than any President in history.  We have moved forward on a whole range of issues that were directly under my control, including, for example, hospital visitation.

On “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I have been as systematic and methodical in trying to move that agenda forward as I could be given my legal constraints, given that Congress had explicitly passed a law designed to tie my hands on the issue.

    And so, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that the disillusionment is justified.

    Now, I say that as somebody who appreciates that the LGBT community very legitimately feels these issues in very personal terms.  So it’s not my place to counsel patience.  One of my favorite pieces of literature is “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and Dr. King had to battle people counseling patience and time.  And he rightly said that time is neutral.  And things don’t automatically get better unless people push to try to get things better.

    So I don’t begrudge the LGBT community pushing, but the flip side of it is that this notion somehow that this administration has been a source of disappointment to the LGBT community, as opposed to a stalwart ally of the LGBT community, I think is wrong.

    All right, now, at this point we can just open it up.  I just wanted to make sure everybody got at least one question, and then you guys can —

    Q    I have one.  Crooks and Liars, we’re very proactive for the Latino community and rights, for immigration reform.  And you’ve just gone on Spanish radio and said how we need comprehensive immigration reform.  I guess I have two points.  One is, will you — how far will you go on helping to get the DREAM Act passed?  Because it’s very important.  And also — and it’s been mentioned in these questions — with the conservative movement not governing to us appears — as far as helping the American people more on ideology — how do you expect or hope to get conservatives onboard with truly doing immigration reform?

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, this is a challenge.  I mean, right now, I’ll be honest, we are closer to getting the votes for “don’t ask, don’t tell” than we are for getting the votes for comprehensive immigration reform.  That’s a reversal from four years ago when you had John McCain and Ted Kennedy cosponsoring comprehensive immigration reform.

    The center of gravity within the Republican Party has shifted.  And so out of the 11 Republicans who are still in the Senate who voted for comprehensive immigration reform, I don’t know that any of them came out in favor publicly of comprehensive immigration reform during the course of the last couple of years.

    And that’s a problem, because unfortunately we now have essentially a 60-vote requirement on every single issue, including trying to get judges confirmed who’ve passed through the Judiciary Committee on a unanimous basis.

    Having said that, I think the logic behind comprehensive immigration reform is sufficiently compelling that if we are making the case forcefully — that we’ve increased border security, we have more Border Patrols down on the border than we’ve ever had before, we’ve got more resources being devoted to enforcement than before — and yet the problem continues, that means that we’ve got to try something different.

    And that involves, on the one hand, being serious about border security, but it also involves being serious about employers and making sure that they’re not exploiting undocumented workers, and it means getting the 10 to 12 million people who are in the shadows out of the shadows and giving them an opportunity to get right by the law so that we can create an orderly process in which this is still a nation of immigrants and it’s a nation of laws.

    So I’m going to keep pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.  It is going to continue to be a priority of my administration.  I’m going to try to make the case to Republicans and to the American people that it’s the right thing to do.

    The DREAM Act is one component of it that I’ve been a strong supporter of.  I was a sponsor — a cosponsor of the DREAM Act when I was in the Senate, and what I told Piolin when I was on his radio show, and what I’ve said repeatedly, is that my strong preference is to do a comprehensive piece of legislation.  But I’m going to consult with immigrants’ rights groups and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.  If they see an opportunity for us to get the DREAM Act and they think this is something we should go ahead and do now and that it doesn’t endanger the possibilities of getting comprehensive immigration reform, the other components of it, down the road, then that’s something I’ll consider.  But my goal right now is to do a broader approach that allows everybody to get out of the shadows, paying their taxes, and contributing to our society.

    Q    Mr. President, you’re often pressured from both the left and right on one issue or another, and then even within the Democratic Party you get pressured from the more conservative, more progressive side of the party.  So I’m curious, you sort of govern as a — sort of as a pragmatist, and I’m wondering if you view yourself as a progressive.

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I mean, the problem with labels is everybody thinks they mean different things.  So I would define myself as a strong progressive in the sense that I believe in that essential American Dream that everybody gets a chance to make it if they’re willing to work hard, that government has a role to play in ensuring opportunity by making sure kids get a decent education and can afford to go to college; that workers are able to train and retrain for the jobs of the future; that we’re building strong infrastructure; that we are using our diplomacy alongside our military to protect our national security; that we believe in the Bill of Rights and we actually act on it, even when it’s inconvenient; that we are promoting the equal treatment of citizens under the law.

    Those core beliefs that America prospers not just when a few people do well but when everybody has the chance to do well, when we’ve got a growing middle class, where we — people are able to live out their dreams without the barriers of race or gender or sexual orientation, those are things I deeply believe in.

    In that sense, though, I think Abraham Lincoln was a progressive.  He was a Republican.  He was the first Republican President.  And that just gives you a sense of how these categories change so much.

    It used to be that the values I just described had a home in the Republican Party as well as the Democratic Party.  I think it’s only been in recent years that you can’t find that articulation of some of these values in the Republican Party, and that in fact if you champion them that you’re considered some wild-eyed radical.  That’s a shift, and not a good shift, in terms of our public debate.

    Q    I was wondering if you’re happy with the federal response to the foreclosure crisis or if you think there’s more that either should have been or could be in the future done either through HAMP or Fannie and Freddie or various mechanisms?

    THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t think I’m happy with millions of foreclosures or millions of houses being underwater.  This is — this was both a powerful symptom as well as a cause of the economic crisis that we’re in.  So we’ve got to do as much as we can to stabilize the housing market.

    I do think that the steps that we’ve taken helped stabilize the housing market.  The HAMP program has gotten a lot of criticism, but the fact of the matter is, is that you’ve got half a million people who have gone through permanent loan modifications that are saving 500 bucks a month.  And I get letters every day from people whose homes were saved as a consequence of it.

    I think that the broader steps we took to stabilize the economy mean that housing prices are not plummeting the way they were.

    But this is a multitrillion-dollar market and a multitrillion-dollar problem.  And the challenge that we’ve had is we’ve got only so much gravel and we’ve got a really big pothole.  We can’t magically sort of fix a decline in home values that’s so severe in some markets that people are 0,000 to 0,000 underwater.

    What we can do is to try to create sort of essentially bridge programs that help people stabilize, refinance where they can, and in some cases not just get pummeled if they decide that they want to move.

    I think that we have tinkered with the HAMP program as we get more information to figure out can we do this better, can we do this smarter with the resources that we have.

    The biggest challenge is how do you make sure that you are helping those who really deserve help and if they get some temporary help can get back on their feet, make their payments and move forward and stay in their home, versus either people who are speculators, own second homes that they really couldn’t afford because they’d gotten a subprime loan, and people who through no fault of their own just can’t afford their house anymore because of the change in housing values or their incomes don’t support it.

    And we’re always trying to find that sweet spot to use as much of the money that we have available to us to help those who can be helped, without wasting that money on folks who don’t deserve help.  And that’s a tough balance to strike.

I had a meeting with Warren Buffett in my office and his basic point was there was a lot of over-building for a long period of time.  Now there’s under-building because all that backlog of inventory is being absorbed.  Some of that is just going to take time.  And we can do as much as we can to help ease that transition, but we’re not going to be able to eliminate all the pain because we just don’t have the resources to do it.  The market is just too big.

The other aspect of the housing market that is worth bearing in mind is that whereas initially a lot of the problems on the foreclosure front had to do with balloon payments people didn’t see coming, adjustable rate mortgages that people didn’t clearly understand, predatory lending scams that were taking place — now the biggest driver of foreclosure is unemployment.  And so the single most important thing I can do for the housing market is actually improve economic growth as a whole.  If we can get the economy moving stronger, if we can drive the unemployment rate down, that will have probably the biggest impact on foreclosures, as well as housing prices, as just about anything.

Q    I want to go back to the idea of working with Republicans.  And given the comments from McConnell and — well, all of them — I think that what a lot of people find frustrating is that our side compromises and continues to compromise just to get that one Republican on.  We’re going to get one of the Maine twins — whatever.  And it doesn’t happen, and then by the time health care or whatever goes through we’ve compromised; we still don’t get any Republicans.

I don’t anticipate this changing in the next two years.  I think it’s going to get worse.  How are you going to get Democrats to understand that compromise means the other side has to give something sometimes, one day?

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, obviously I share your frustrations.  I’ve got to deal with this every day.

Q    Well, I don’t expect you to talk like a blogger.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  But I guess I’d make two points.  The first is, I’m President and not king.  And so I’ve got to get a majority in the House and I’ve got to get 60 votes in the Senate to move any legislative initiative forward.

Now, during the course — the 21 months of my presidency so far, I think we had 60 votes in the Senate for seven months, six?  I mean, it was after Franken finally got seated and Arlen had flipped, but before Scott Brown won in Massachusetts.  So that’s a fairly narrow window.  So we’re right at the number, and that presumes that there is uniformity within the Democratic caucus in the Senate — which, Barbara, you’ve been around a while.  You know that not every Democrat in the Democratic caucus agrees with me or agrees with each other in terms of complicated issues like health care.

    So it is important for me, then, to work every angle I can to get as much done as I can.  If we had a parliamentary system, then this critique would make sense to me because you do as much as you can to negotiate with the other side, but at a certain point you’ve got your platform and you move it forward and your party votes for it.

    But that’s not the system of government we have.  We’ve got a different system.  I will say that the damage that the filibuster I think has done to the workings of our democracy are at this point pretty profound.  The rate at which it’s used just to delay and obstruct is unprecedented.  But that’s the reality right now.

    So I guess my answer is that there has not been, I think, any issue that we’ve worked in which I have been willing to sign on to a compromise that I didn’t feel was a strong improvement over the status quo and was not the best that we could do, given the political alignments that we’ve got.

    And, yes, it leaves some folks dissatisfied.  I understand that.  But let’s take the health care bill.  As frustrated and angry and dispirited as the base might have been — we didn’t have a public option, and it just dragged on for such a long time, and you’re having conversations with Grassley, even though it turns out Grassley has no interest in actually getting something done — all the complaints which I was obviously very familiar with, the fact of the matter is, is that we got a piece of legislation through that we’ve been waiting a hundred years to get through; that in the aggregate sets up a system in which 30 million people are going to get health insurance; in which we’ve got an exchange that forces insurance companies to compete with a pool of millions and will be policed so that they can’t jack up prices; that pool has purchasing power that they’ve never had before; that you’ve got a patient’s bill of rights that was the hallmark, sort of the high-water mark of what progressives thought we could do in the health care field — we got that whole thing basically just as part of the bill.

    You’ve got investments in community health centers and preventive medicine and research that’s going to help improve our health care delivery systems as a whole.  And we can build on that.

    And I know this analogy has been used before, but when Social Security was passed, it was for widows and orphans.  And a whole bunch of folks were not included in it.  But that building block, the foundation stone, ended up creating one of the most important safety nets that we have.  And I think the same thing is going to happen with health care.

    I think when you look at financial regulatory reform, there’s been a whole bunch of debates about where that could have gone and how it could have gone.  And there are folks in the progressive community who complain we should have broken up the banks, or the derivatives law should have been structured this way rather than that way.

    But the truth of the matter is, is that this is a incredibly powerful tool.  You’ve got a Consumer Finance Protection Agency that that can save consumers billions of dollars — is already saving folks billions of dollars just by having it passed.  Already you’re starting to see negotiations in terms of how mortgage folks operate, in terms of how credit card companies operate.

    You’ve got capital requirements that are being imposed on banks and other financial institutions that are much higher than they were before, which creates a cushion against the kind of too-big-to-fail that we’ve seen in the past.

    You’ve got derivatives markets that are now being forced into open clearinghouses and markets so people know exactly what’s going on.  You’ve got Volcker rule that some people didn’t think it was strong enough, but basically prohibits some of the proprietary trading that helped to create this market in securitized subprime loans that helped to trigger this disaster.

    So in each of these cases, this glass isn’t full, but it’s got a lot of water in it.  And so I guess my point is that on all these debates, my constant calculation has been, are we better off going ahead and getting this done?  Or are we — is it better for us to have a fight that may end up being symbolically satisfying but means that we lose because we just don’t have enough votes.

    And I’ll give you one last example because I know this is a famous example in the blogosphere, is the stimulus.  I mean, if folks think that we could have gotten Ben Nelson, Arlen Specter and Susan Collins to vote for additional stimulus beyond the 0 billion that we got, then I would just suggest you weren’t in the meetings.

    This notion that somehow I could have gone and made the case around the country for a far bigger stimulus because of the magnitude of the crisis, well, we understood the magnitude of the crisis.  We didn’t actually, I think, do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did, which was basically wait for six months until the thing had gotten so bad that it became an easier sell politically because we thought that was irresponsible.  We had to act quickly.

    And getting 60 votes for what was an unprecedented stimulus was really hard.  And we didn’t have the luxury of saying — first of all, we didn’t have 60 votes at the time.  We had 58.  And we didn’t have the luxury to say to the Senate, our way or the highway on this one.

    So we did what we could in an emergency situation, anticipating that we were going to have to do more and hoping that we could continue to do more as time went on.

    Q    So I have another gay question.  (Laughter.)

    THE PRESIDENT:  It’s okay, man.  (Laughter.)

    Q    And this one is on the issue of marriage.  Since you’ve become President, a lot has changed.  More states have passed marriage equality laws.  This summer a federal judge declared DOMA unconstitutional in two different cases.  A judge in San Francisco declared Prop 8 was unconstitutional.  And I know during the campaign you often said you thought marriage was the union between a man and a woman, and there — like I said, when you look at public opinion polling, it’s heading in the right direction.  We’ve actually got Republicans like Ted Olson and even Ken Mehlman on our side now.  So I just really want to know what is your position on same-sex marriage?

    THE PRESIDENT:  Joe, I do not intend to make big news sitting here with the five of you, as wonderful as you guys are.  (Laughter.)  But I’ll say this —

    Q    I just want to say, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you this question.

    THE PRESIDENT:  Of course.

    Q    People in our community are really desperate to know.

    THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s a fair question to ask.  I think that — I am a strong supporter of civil unions.  As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.

    But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine.  And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships.  I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents.

    And I care about them deeply.  And so while I’m not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that it’s something that I think a lot about.  That’s probably the best you’ll do out of me today.  (Laughter.)

    Q    It is an important issue, and I think that —

    THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s an entirely fair question to ask.

    Q    And part of it is that you can’t be equal in this country if the very core of who you are as a person and the love — the person you love is not — if that relationship isn’t the same as everybody else’s, then we’re not equal.  And I think that a lot of — particularly in the wake of the California election on Prop 8, a lot of gay people realized we’re not equal.  And I think that that’s — that’s been part of the change in the —

    THE PRESIDENT:  Prop 8, which I opposed.

    Q    Right.  I remember you did.  You sent the letter and that was great.  I think that the level of intensity in the LGBT community changed after we lost rights in that election.  And I think that’s a lot of where the community is right now.

    THE PRESIDENT:  The one thing I will say today is I think it’s pretty clear where the trendlines are going.

    Q    The arc of history.

    THE PRESIDENT:  The arc of history.  Anything else?

   Q    Well, can I ask you just about “don’t ask, don’t tell,” just following up?  (Laughter.)  I just want to follow up.  Because you mentioned it –

    THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, sure.  Go ahead.

    Q    Is there a strategy for the lame-duck session to —


    Q    — and you’re going to be involved?


    Q    Will Secretary Gates be involved?

    THE PRESIDENT:  I’m not going to tip my hand now.  But there is a strategy.

    Q    Okay.

    THE PRESIDENT:  And, look, as I said —

    Q    Can we call it a secret plan?  (Laughter.)

    THE PRESIDENT:  I was very deliberate in working with the Pentagon so that I’ve got the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs being very clear about the need to end this policy.  That is part of a strategy that I have been pursuing since I came into office.  And my hope is that will culminate in getting this thing overturned before the end of the year.

    Now, as usual, I need 60 votes.  So I think that, Joe, the folks that you need to be having a really good conversation with — and I had that conversation with them directly yesterday, but you may have more influence than I do — is making sure that all those Log Cabin Republicans who helped to finance this lawsuit and who feel about this issue so passionately are working the handful of Republicans that we need to get this thing done.

   Q    Yes, I don’t have that relationship with them.  (Laughter.)

    THE PRESIDENT:  But, I mean, it’s just — I don’t understand the logic of it.

    Q    Nor do I.

    THE PRESIDENT:  You’re financing a very successful, very effective legal strategy, and yet the only really thing you need to do is make sure that we get two to five Republican votes in the Senate.

    And I said directly to the Log Cabin Republican who was here yesterday, I said, that can’t be that hard.  Get me those votes.

    Because what I do anticipate is that John McCain and maybe some others will filibuster this issue, and we’re going to have to have a cloture vote.  If we can get through that cloture vote, this is done.

    Q    On that same issue, because a lot of progressives — and you said you’re not the king — well, a lot of progressives feel that senators, especially in the minority they think — we call them the House of Lords.

    And are you in favor of any form of filibuster reform?  Because there are several bills being talked about.  And there is a unique time that — by the way, we’re also very happy that Vice President Biden went down to do a fundraiser for Alan Grayson.  He’s the type of Democrat that speaks out and fights.  And that’s what the progressive community really likes.

    But he also might have the opportunity in January to be — to help out.  And can we get — or are you for any of the bills that are out there to support — to change this rule that is paralyzing the administration?

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’ve got to be careful about not looking like I’m big-footing Congress.  We’ve got separate branches of government.  The House and the Senate have their own rules.  And they are very protective of those prerogatives.

    I will say that as just an observer of our political process that if we do not fix how the filibuster is used in the Senate, then it is going to be very difficult for us over the long term to compete in a very fast moving global environment.

What keeps me up at night is China, Germany, India, Brazil — they’re moving.  They make decisions, we’re going to pursue clean energy, and the next thing you know they’ve cornered half the clean energy market; we’re going to develop high-speed rail in the span of five years — suddenly they’ve got high-speed rail lines going; we’re going to promote exports, here’s what we’re going to do — boom, they get going.

    And if we can’t sort of execute on key issues that will determine our competitiveness over the long term, we’re going to fall behind — we are going to fall behind.

    And the filibuster is not part of the Constitution.  The filibuster, if you look at the history of it, may have arisen purely by accident because somebody didn’t properly apply Robert’s Rules of Procedure and forgot to get a provision in there about what was required to close debate.  And folks figured out very early, this could be a powerful tool.  It was used as a limited tool throughout its history.  Sadly, the primary way it was used was to prevent African Americans from achieving civil rights.

    But setting aside that sordid aspect of its history, it was used in a very limited fashion.  The big debates, the big changes that we had historically around everything from establishing public schools to the moon launch to Social Security, they weren’t subject to the filibuster.  And I’m sympathetic to why the minority wants to keep it.  And in fairness, Democrats, when we were in the minority, used it on occasion to blunt actions that we didn’t think were appropriate by the Bush administration.

    Q    On occasion.

    THE PRESIDENT:  And in fairness, there were a whole bunch of folks here who were already writing blogs at the time who were saying, filibuster, block them, do anything you can to stop them.  And so if we’re going to call for reform, it’s got to be with open eyes and an understanding that that also means that if Republicans are in power, it’s easier for them to move their agendas forward.

    But my general view is, what that does at least is it opens it up to serious public debate.  Things don’t get bogged down in the kinds of procedural nonsense that makes it just hard for us to do business.  I mean, during the financial crisis, half my Treasury slots weren’t filled — couldn’t get them filled.  And this is a time when we were worried that the entire financial system was melting down.  So that’s — I believe it’s something that we’ve got to take seriously.

    All right?

    MR. PFEIFFER:  We need to get you to your next event, sir.

    THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, guys.  I enjoyed it.

    Q    Thank you.

    THE PRESIDENT:  Appreciate it.  We’ll do it again.

    Q    Thanks a lot.

    THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  Thank you.

    Q    How about the game tonight?

    THE PRESIDENT:  Which one?  Oh, the Series?

    Q    The Series.

    THE PRESIDENT:  You know, let me not wade into this one.  (Laughter.)  I think it’s fun.  But my White Sox aren’t in it, so I just want a seven game.  But I’ve got to say, Lee looks like a pretty tough pitcher.  (Applause.)

                       END           4:05 P.M. EDT

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Polis, Progressive Caucus Push Pelosi on ENDA


Nancy Pelosi has by now grown accustomed to being the Republican and Tea Parties' enemy number one. With the House Speaker's lethargic approach to Employment Non-Discrimination, however, she's increasingly finding herself being criticized by progressives, including those in her own party.

Out and proud Rep. Jared Polis, as well as fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus members, co-chairs Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey and Rep. Raul Grijalva, all Democrats, have started what will hopefully be a chorus of Congressional opposition to ENDA with a letter urging Pelosi to enact ENDA.

Rather than focusing completely on that old, worn out equality argument, however, the letter takes aim at ENDA's economic necessity in a time of financial uncertainty. It's a shrewd move.

"As our economy works to recover, now seems the right time to thrust the American workforce into the 21st century with legislation that addresses discriminatory workplace practices," reads the missive, obtained by the Washington Blade and currently being circulated for signatories.

"Already struggling with an unemployment rate of over 9 percent, the American worker should not need to contend with an employer’s personal discomfort or bias against the sexual orientation or gender identity of an employee."

The signatories conclude on a surprisingly accusatory note, telling Speaker Pelosi, "Turning a blind eye to harassment and discrimination against the LGBT community has too long been a stain on our otherwise proud record of worker protection."

It's unclear whether Polis and other progressive Democrats will be able to push Pelosi further than she's gone — which isn't very far, especially considering that Pelosi has said ENDA won't be approached until after DADT's repeal, an seemingly far-off goal — but at least they're trying.

Read the entire letter, AFTER THE JUMP…

    The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
    Speaker of the House
    US House of Representatives
    H 232, the Capitol
    Washington, D.C. 20515

    Dear Madam Speaker:

    Members of the Progressive Caucus thank you for unrelenting support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and for making American jobs a top priority for the 111th Congress. Now is a dire time for the American worker and we believe, H.R. 3017, the Employee Nondiscrimination Act is a vital piece in our economic recovery. With the support of the Democratic leadership and the demonstrated commitment of the Administration, we believe this Congress will finally shut the door on employee discrimination.

    For nearly 20 years progressive members of Congress have been fighting to end discrimination and create a fair and equitable workplace for the LGBT community. In a metaanalysis conducted by the Williams Institute, statistics revealed a persistent and unacceptable trend towards open harassment, unfair hiring practices, unwarranted firings and unequal pay. As a caucus concerned with open-minded and progressive views, we take exception to this blatant mistreatment.

    As our economy works to recover, now seems the right time to thrust the American workforce into the 21st century with legislation that addresses discriminatory workplace practices. Already struggling with an unemployment rate of over 9 percent, the American worker should not need to contend with an employer’s personal discomfort or bias against the sexual orientation or gender identity of an employee. States that have adopted anti-discrimination laws report higher employee satisfaction and company morale. Unfortunately, there are only 20 states and the District of Columbia with these policies in place and 12 that also encompass thetransgender community.

    Employment, promotions and retention should be based on merit and merit alone. For the individual this means a safe and productive work environment where there is a focus on results not a preoccupation with their choice in partner or gender identity. Employers, too, should set their sights on an egalitarian workplace that encourages a sense of community and teamwork. In fact, 94 percent of Fortune 100 companies have antidiscrimination policies protecting lesbian and gay employees and 60 percent protect transgender employees. The best companies hire, promote and retain the best talent, all of which is only made possible by creating a supportive and accepting environment.

    ENDA will put the LGBT community on an even footing with every other employee. Turning a blind eye to harassment and discrimination against the LGBT community has too long been a stain on our otherwise proud record of worker protection. It is imperative to shine a light on this issue and add yet another achievement to this exceptionally accomplished Congress.

    We look forward to working with you and to enact ENDA in the 111th Congress.


    Raul Grijalva, CPC Co-Chair


    Lynn Woolsey, CPC Co-Chair

    Jared Polis, CPC Member

Image via TalkNewsMedia's Flickr.

Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright

Standing Against Islamophobia with Muslims for Progressive Values

There is enough love for you and for me, there is enough for the straight and the gay, there is enough for the people who were born in America and the new immigrants, there is enough for the blacks, there is enough for the whites, there is enough for the Latinos, there is enough for the Asians, there is enough for the Muslims, the Christians, the Jews, the Buddhists, the Hindus. There is enough for everybody.

– Rep. Keith Ellison speaking at the Unitarian Universalist National Convention, 2010

Listening to the news recently you might wonder if Rep. Ellison, the Muslim Congressman from Minnesota, is right.  Such an inclusive love is put to the test by stories of a New York cab driver stabbed after a passenger found out he was Muslim, of an Islamic center in Tennessee terrorized by a pipe bomb explosion, and most recently by the threat of a pastor in Florida  to commemorate 9/11 by burning copies of the Qur’an on his church’s front lawn.

We in the LGBT and allied community know what it feels like to be the recipient of hostility and threat.  And in HRC’s Religion and Faith program we have heard too often the painful struggle of LGBT Muslim Americans dealing with homophobia and transphobia.  This struggle is only exacerbated for LGBT and allied Muslims by the incessant, life-numbing effects of Islamophobia.

In the midst of an alarming rise in anti-Islamic rhetoric, it is spiritually rejuvenating to showcase HRC’s partnership with Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV).  MPV, an inclusive community rooted in the traditional Qur’anic ideals of human dignity and social justice, promotes accessible and theologically-sound frameworks for progressive Islamic thought.

Most recently, HRC sponsored Tynan Power adaptation of a chapter from Dr. Scott Siraj al-Haqq’s recent book, Homosexuality in Islam. This adaptation is part of a larger web resource, Literary Zikr, designed for a younger Muslim audience searching for an alternative perspective on such topics as Shari’a law, pluralism, women’s rights and sexuality.   There is nothing on the web quite like Literary Zikr and HRC is privileged to play a role in bringing this accessible yet theologically rigorous perspective on Islam to a whole new generation of Muslims.

MPV is a powerful anecdote to the violence and intolerance so omnipresent in recent public discourse around Islam. They are indeed living into Rep. Ellison’s words –“there is enough love for everybody.”

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Progressive radio show host Stephanie Miller comes out — on the air

I have to say that I didn’t see this one coming at all. My gaydar must have short circuited! But as a strong supporter of LGBT equality, I was a fan of Stephanie Miller. That she’s “family” and made her coming out in such a dramatic fashion, I have to wonder why she waited so long, since it wasn’t a state secret in her camp. (After Ellen):

Miller’s sexual orientation was not a secret among her friends and family, but she rarely talked about her private life on air – other than to make jokes about being single.

If you’re not a radio fan, you still may have seen Miller. She had a brief stint on MSNBC before Rachel Maddow came on the scene and she frequently appears on TV talk shows, often sparring with conservative hosts or guests. Since her dad is a former running mate of Barry Goldwater, Stephanie is quite familiar with the GOP.

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Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright