As some readers might remember, last week I wrote a piece questioning why the GOP-led House of Representatives was spending tax dollars to retain private counsel to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the courts after the White House instructed Attorney General Eric Holder not to to do so.
Except for one paragraph, I pretty much left my personal feelings about the matter out (yes, I pro-same sex marriage) and focused on the absurdity of the fact that so many GOP leaders talk about nothing but how much the government is adding to the deficit while apparently having no problem about shelling out millions of tax dollar to a private firm to go to bat in the courts – an area that the legislative branch has no business getting into.
As I always do when I write about legislative matters, I sent a copy of the article to my Congressman, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), who has been a pretty unremarkable voice in the House whose career has been pretty much about being a party-line voter with the record of introducing a single bill during his first term – the renaming of a Staten Island post office after fallen Vietnam war marine sergeant Angel Mendez, a native of the borough.
The replies I get from Congressman Grimm’s office are usually very evasive and highly partisan, but this one takes the prize. Not only did he skirt my entire question on taxes, but he also failed to even give his own position on the matter at hand (the expense). On his introduction, he mentions that “the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA was passed into law fifteen years ago, and stipulates that no state shall be obligated to recognize any same-sex marriage from any other state as legally valid.” He adds (correctly) that “the law was passed with an overwhelming majority in Congress and with widespread support throughout the 50 states.”
My piece did not question that. I did mention that DOMA was passed in a hurry to get the problem out of the way. But he makes no mention of that. Instead, he states that “President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder recently revealed that the Justice Department would halt legal defense of the act’s third section, which defines marriage in legal terms as only applying to a man and a woman joined together as husband and wife, finding the provision to be unconstitutional.” In the same paragraph, he states that the president’s decision to halt any action against DOMA “is quite troubling.”
He concludes that “as your representative, I hold the oath that I took to uphold the Constitution very seriously. For that reason, I like you am very wary of any efforts to subvert our founding document and the rights of states to make their own decisions regarding marriage.”
I don’t understand why someone who says he or she takes the Constitution so seriously would ignore the fact that eight Federal justices ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional as it goes against the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment. He also talks about ‘states’ rights,’ but fails to recognize that the basic principle of the law is to deny equal federal rights to same-sex coupl
Mr. Grimm’s response is evidence that most of the GOP in the House (not only those representing the South) are incredibly out of touch with this country’s changing demographics. By sticking to an agenda instead of listening to their constituencies, they are simply becoming more and more isolated in the national scene. The congressman’s inability to answer a simple question is appalling. Is giving a straight answer that hard?
Why Are My Tax Dollars defending DOMA?
By Ernest Barteldes
When President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage act back in 1996, it was nothing but a political move: with the general election looming, he wanted the topic (which was beginning to make some waves back then after Hawaii allowed civil unions) out of the way, since there was enough controversy as he faced another election just a few months down.
Over a decade and a half later, the law is facing numerous challenges as attitudes towards same-sex marriage change in the US. Last year, President Obama instructed the Attorney General to no longer defend challenges to the act as the White House no longer believes that marriage is meant to be a sacrosanct act between a man and a woman.
That order would arguably clear the path for marriage equality for all, but then the Republican-controlled House of Representatives decided to pick up the White House’s slack and retain an independent law firm to defend DOMA in the courts – on the taxpayers’ dime.
Every time I tune into political shows like Face the Nation or Meet the Press, all Republican representatives and senators talk about is government spending, entitlements and the like. However, these same men and women who talk so much about the deficit have approved shelling out $ 520 an hour (with a cap of 1.5 million that can be raised at the GOP’s leadership discretion) to pay for former Solicitor General Paul Clement to keep ‘traditional’ marriage in the books.
I would have no problem if Mr. Clement were working pro-bono or being paid through private donations from conservative organizations on behalf of the House, but this is not the case. Instead, his expenses are being footed by public funds with the support of the same politicians who apparently are supposed to curb spending in any way they can.
The fact is that DOMA is a clear affront not only to individuals but also to states’ rights (two points so eagerly argued by right-wing politicians). As a straight man, I can even get married overseas and my certificate will still be recognized in all 50 states, but if a gay couple does the same in New York, they still cannot claim federal benefits like joint taxes. It is also good to remember that eight Federal courts have declared that DOMA act violates Constitution’s the equal protection clause – which has motivated the Supreme Court to take up the issue during this judicial session.
Additionally, the conservative argument against 'redefining' marriage is just as wrong: for years we have changed laws regarding this: in the past, a female U.S. citizen was barred from marrying a foreign man under penalty of losing her own citizenship, and until 1967 thirteen states banned interracial marriage. Considering we have changed those laws, why would accepting same-sex marriage be such a blow to the "American way of life?"
It is time to have common sense about this issue. The House has no business getting into judiciary matters, and if the general public – especially fiscal conservatives – knew about this, I am sure that they would agree with my point of view even if they personally disapprove of same-sex marriage.
Given all the controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in Lower Manhattan and all the discussion over immigration reform, a more liberal-minded person would probably think that the United States has suddenly become bigoted thanks to the likes of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and their Tea Party supporters.
However, looking at the history of this country right back to the Colonial days, you realize that we have always had something against this or that group, beginning from the colonial days. And if you are thinking solely about slavery and Jim Crow after the Reconstruction, you might be surprised that many others were persecuted for their religious beliefs, their origins or skin color.
For instance, the same settlers who came to this continent to pursue religious freedom did everything they could to ban Roman Catholics from immigrating here, as they were suspicious of the fact that those believers followed the instructions of their “Prince in Rome” (this being a term used during the Civil War when Irish-Americans joined the Union Army). Such distrust continued into the 20th century, when then-candidate John F. Kennedy had to go public to ‘explain’ his religion to the voters, stating that he was “not the Catholic candidate for President,” but the “Democratic Party's candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic.”
Asians were also targeted by this country from the late 19th century all the way to the end of World War II. While several other ethnic groups could freely immigrate to this country, the Chinese (and later all Asians) were denied entry here via a law called the “Chinese Exclusion,” which not only banned new immigrants from that continent but also excluded those who were already here to gain citizenship. That only changed in 1965, when a reform did away with the cruel quota system established in 1943 that kept ‘undesirable’ groups from pursuing their happiness here.
Of course, other groups were ridiculed or branded unfit in some way, such as the Irish (who ‘did not need apply’ for job openings), Hispanics (yep, they have been scapegoats since way back when - just watch Giant) or others - remember that until The Civil Rights Act, interracial marriage was forbidden in a great number of states.
I do not think bigotry is a good thing, but looking back at all this history, I think that I can now understand (but still deeply disagree) with all the current emotions going on in the United States. Maybe in another century or so, this country’s races might become mixed enough so that this kind of thing won’t matter. In the meantime, we will continue, to a degree or another, continue to see the sad spectacles displayed in the daily papers these days.
In spite of the fact that I have enjoyed blogging in these pages, I have decided that it would be better to move my weekly rant space to another website. The reasons for this have nothing to do with the quality of readership, traffic or anything like that.
I was recently informed by one of my editors in the area that I cannot contribute to two newspapers in the same market - even if it is simply a readers' blog. Since I do write for a living (sort of), I felt compelled to move the blog to a non-commercial server.
I will continue, however, to comment on the various articles that appear on this space, and I invite everyone to visit my new blog at http://ebarteldes.wordpress.com, where you can see a piece in support of the campaign to remove Lou Dobbs from his chair at CNN
See you all soon
Last weekend, my wife and I paid yet another visit to the City of Brotherly Love – being my fifth time since relocating to the United States almost nine years ago. Philadelphia is one of those towns that is always pleasurable to visit, not only because most of the local attractions are pretty much located just blocks from each other (The Philadelphia Museum, The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall), but also due to the fact that most of them are completely free of charge.
On our last stop there, we paid a visit to Franklin Court, http://www.ushistory.org/tour/tour_fcourt.ht which is located at the spot where Benjamin Franklin's house once stood (it was demolished in 1812). There you can visit an ancient, still-active post office an underground museum with information about the great Founding Father, inventor and diplomat, including three short films about his life, including the Academy Award-nominated “Ben and Me,” a 1953 Walt Disney fantasy about a Revolutionary War-era mouse who 'assisted' Franklin in many of his endeavours.
We also took a tour of Independence Hall, where we saw the very halls where both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed. Among the several items of furniture in the room is the very chair where George Washington sat as he presided over the Constitutional sessions. http://www.independencevisitorcenter.com.
It is specially thrilling to revisit this place, specially in the troubled times we are living now. Would the Forefathers – most of whom were slave owners – that one day we would have an African American President in the White House? Or that the nation would be so divided between red and blue states, white, black and Latino?
A few blocks down Chestnut street is the National Liberty Museum, a four-story structure dedicated to the history of the fight for freedom both here and abroad http://www.libertymuseum.org. One of the sections dedicates an entire wing to unsung WW2 heroes who risked their lives by helping Jews hide from the Nazis. The section also honors those who fought against dictatorship, tyranny and cruelty.
We had most of our meals at Rotten Ralph's, an inexpensive dining spot on the Second Street Bar district. I discovered it quite by accident when I traveled to Philadelphia to get my passport (you can get it processed faster there) renewed before a trip to Brazil. In subsequent visits, I have always made sure to make a stop there http://rottenralphsoldecity.com for a bite or a drink.
There is so much to see in Philadelphia – every time I go there, I discover something new that I hadn't even known about before – make sure to check the travel guide www.gophila.com before you go – they have various visit plans even for those of us on a budget. Now only if I could get their local editors to get me an assignment there...
CLEVELAND: WHY NOT?
By Ernest Barteldes
When I told friends that my wife and I had booked a trip to Cleveland for Labor Day weekend, most of our friends gave us a puzzled look. “What's in Cleveland? ” many asked. Others wondered why we hadn't booked a trip to say, Myrtle Beach or Las Vegas, where surely I would have more things to do than in the Ohio city by the shores of Lake Erie.
My response was easy – for the last few years, I have been contributing music articles to the city's local alternative newspaper, the Cleveland Scene (www.clevescene.com), and I wanted to get to know the people I had been exchanging e-mail messages with since I began writing for the paper. Also, I felt like I owed Cleveland a visit, even if it just meant checking out all the music venues whose shows I'd been previewing all this time.
We got up before the sunrise on Saturday morning and headed to LaGuardia airport, where we took an early flight that reached Cleveland at about 10:00 AM. We then headed to the local RTA train http://www.riderta.com, which got us to the Downtown area in less than 30 minutes (why the NY subway does not reach either of the international airports here is beyond me), checked into our hotel and started planning our day.
The first thing we did was get some lunch, and the place we chose was the nearby Flannery's Pub located on the East Fourth St. restaurant district (http://www.east4thstreet.com, where they also have an outpost of the House of Blues). After satisfying ourselves with a tasty meal and a couple of local microbrews, we headed to Cleveland's best-known attraction, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame an Museum (www.rockhall.com).
In spite of the high admission prices ($ 22 at the door, cheaper if you book with your trip), the Rockhall did not disappoint. There are plenty of memorabilia, movie screenings, multimedia and much more to see and hear. My personal favorites were the Woodstock 40th anniversary celebration, the R & R history chronology and the Elvis Presley display. I also liked the Les Paul tribute, the current exhibit on the life and work of Bruce Springsteen and of course the striking views of the lake, which can be seen from the glass panels of the building's pyramid-like setup. After visiting the Hall, we hung out at the neighboring park, where there a street fair going on.
Later that evening, we checked out a foodie event called A Taste of Cleveland and ended the evening by paying a visit to Wilbert's http://www.wilbertsmusic.com, where we caught a fiery performance by bassist Doug Johns, who played backed solely by a drummer.
It was a lucky break that the National Air Show http://www.clevelandairshow.com was taking place that weekend. There we saw Air Force Thunderbirds and several acrobatic acts in addition to a collection of both civil and military aircraft. After that we met with a friend at Zocalo http://www.zocalocleveland.com, an upscale Mexican-style restaurant. After resting for a few hours, it was time to head to the Waterloo Cafe http://www.thewaterloocafe.com , where we saw a great performance by banjoist Tony Furtado (review below). There we also met with one of my local editors, who after the show took us on a drive around town.
On our last day there, we went over to The Great Lakes Science Center http://www.greatscience.com, where they have many interesting attractions, such as flight simulators and other curiosities. We ended our visit by having lunch at a sports bar and restaurant called The Winking Lizard http://www.winkinglizard.com, where we enjoyed a wonderful meal accompanied by even more microbrews.
There is much more to see in Cleveland. I surely hope we get the opportunity to stay there again soon.
Our visit to Cleveland would not have been possible without the help of some local (new) friends we knew via emails but who we had never met in person before. I'd rather not mention their names on a public newsletter, but let me tell you that Renata and I owe you big – you know who you are.
“My Soul Sings/I See Rio de Janeiro I miss it so much/ Rio, your sea, endless beaches/Rio, you were made for me” Antonio Carlos Jobim,
I can't say that I was surprised when I heard that Rio de Janeiro was voted “the world's happiest city” by Forbes Magazine earlier this week (runner-ups including Sydney, Barcelona and San Francisco). From what I've seen from my various visits to the former Brazilian capital, there is a certain feeling of happiness that comes from that town. It is little wonder that Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote so fondly about it in songs like “Corcovado” and “Samba do Aviao.” Rio de Janeiro is really a wondrous city, not only because of its natural beauty, but also due to their friendly, amiable inhabitants.
Just last May, my wife and I took a two-week vacation to Brazil, and spent the first half of that in Rio. In addition to checking out the usual tourists spots, we were also able to check out some of the music spots there, and also made a few friends at a boteco (corner bar) close to our hotel , where between several glasses of beer we were able to chat with the locals about life there.
Through those conversations, we could feel that in spite of the crime, poverty and political corruption and other problems that afflict the nation, Cariocas (as we call the people from Rio) are really content with their lives in a way that is unimaginable to Americans.
The first thing you get there is the weather: temperatures are always mild, and unlike Florida, there are no hurricanes or any other natural disasters to speak of. And the city has a pretty reliable public transportation system. And of course there are the miles and miles of beautiful beaches. I remember that on our first day there, we went on a stroll after drinking cafezinho (espresso-like coffee) at a nearby food stand. We walked about half of the extension of Copacabana beach, stopping every now and then for a chopp (draft beer) at one of the many food kiosks located near the sand.
There is also the Carnaval, when for four days revelers throw their cares to the wind and enjoy the never-ending samba parties, lazy mornings and pretty much everything else the city has to offer.
Who wouldn't be happy with that?
The 25th Anniversary of Brazilian Day in New York
by Ernest Barteldes
Sunday, September 6
W 46th Street and 6th Ave.
Ever since I moved to New York almost nine years ago (though it doesn't seem that long – time really flies), I have looked forward to Labor Day weekend, when the annual Brazilian Day Festival takes place. It is an opportunity to reconnect with the spirit of the country I left behind through its music, food and language.
Among the most memorable moments I can recall was Daniela Mercury (2001), who at the time was touring in support of her crossover pop album Sou de Qualquer Lugar, a disc that broke from the usual Axe music content she'd been doing until then. It was a rainy afternoon, and the crowd was not as numerous as it had been before, and it was great fun. Another was when Ivete Sangalo serenaded the crowd (2003) with a mix of dance-friendly songs and also some tunes that reminded all of us of lazy, sunny days by the beach.
Not all the memories were that great, though. I recall cringing in 2003 when the US National Anthem was interrupted by an unruly crowd who screamed the Brazilian anthem over it – which prompted the event's organizer, Mr. Joao de Matos to take the microphone and admonish the audience, who had to be reminded that they were in American soil after all, and that they owed respect to the nation that had received them so well.
But such incidents were isolated. As I have written in numerous publications in the past, the Brazilians who come to the party are mostly well-behaved. Few arrests (if any) are ever made during the day, and everybody has lots of fun as the day goes on – and also during the various after-parties that take place all around Manhattan – which makes Brazilian Day a must-see festival for those who happen to be in New York that long weekend.
The lineup this time around - the 25th anniversary of the event – includes samba/soul diva Alcione, percussion innovator Carlinhos Brown (who has worked with various big names in the industry both in Brazil and abroad), controversial punk rocker Marcelo D2 and singer Elba Ramalho, one of the principal acts that helped northeastern music reach mainstream radio during the 1980s.
As for myself, I will be skipping Brazilian Day this year. Instead, I will be paying a visit to Cleveland, the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. Their local alternative paper, the Cleveland Scene, has been continuously been publishing my work for quite a long time, and I think it's due time for me to get to know it...
In my experience, when there is a debate going on and one of the sides begins screaming just to try to shut the other side up, it means that the discussion is over. The screaming side has lost, and their reaction is clearly a desperate way to try and turn things around. And this is exactly what the extreme right in the United States (I will not say Republicans, because there are many moderate members of the GOP who abhor this kind of behavior) is doing – they are trying to drown out any form of intelligent discussion on the issue of health care reform.
For those outside the US who are reading this, let me quickly summarize what is going on: President Obama has proposed a major overhaul on health insurance in this country to allow 40 million uninsured Americans to receive affordable coverage. Unlike many other nations, if you need to see a doctor here and you have no insurance, it will cost you a lot. There are no “public” hospitals where you can be taken care inexpensively, because private health providers have the system in a choke hold. The President's proposal will dramatically change that situation, but right-wing conservatives are battling them by spreading lies and false rumors meant to scare the less informed. And surprisingly, those tactics have been working quite well, and as a result Town Hall meetings across America have become shouting matches where right-wing nuts scream at their Congressmen and women with idiotic threats, unrelated statements and things like that.
In the meantime, those who support the initiative have done very little to turn the tide to avoid going down to the wingnuts' level. A recent effort was a page on the President's website that countered the false rumors. http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/settingtherecord.
I think that having a bipartisan effort in this matter is nothing but a pipe dream. Members of the GOP in Congress are fearful of going against the party line (they have pretty much opposed all of the President's proposals so far) because they know that this might cost their seat, even if it is for the good of the country. They should look at the example set by Pres. Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act even though he knew that would cost any support he might have in the racist South. He just did the right thing, and he is remembered fondly for that single act.
You see, unlike what Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) said in Wall Street, greed is not good. Greed keeps us from reasoning, and also blinds us. What I think the President should do is to turn a deaf ear to the GOP in Congress and go at it alone with the support he has today. At this time, a coalition will not work. Bipartisanship will not make a health reform come true.
At a recent BBQ outing with my wife and a couple of friends, someone I was talking to was surprised by the fact that I don't eat beef. “How do you live?” she asked with a genuine tone of surprise in her voice. What I responded was the same thing I always tell everyone when this kind of topic comes up:
Growing up in Brazil, I frequently attended outdoor parties, and beef was always consumed in large quantities. Not only that, but my parents were very fond of rodizio churrascarias, the countr'ys traditional all-you-can eat restaurant, where countless servings of choice meat cuts are brought to your table until you are, well, bursting.
Just over a decade ago, I began to abstain from beef (later the same thing with pork), and started feeling much better. No longer did I feel that heavy feeling in my stomach that always came after having a meal. And also, I discovered that there were so many other options on the menu that included poultry, seafood or simply vegetables.
Not that it was easy for people to get it. I recall that ten years ago I made a stop to Sao Paulo, Brazil as I made my way back to Fortaleza after a few weeks in New York and Kansas (this was before I relocated here). I was with a girlfriend at the time who pretty much kept a diet similar to mine, and on the first night my mother invited us to have dinner at a local restaurant. Brazil's biggest city prides itself for being the capital of gastronomy there - in fact, you can find the best of international cuisine in the entire country.
I told my mother that we ate “everything but beef,” and she took us to Avenida Angelica Grill (Av. Angelica, 430 in the fancy neighborhood of Higienopolis), which is considered one of the best steak houses in the entire city. Not that I was complaining – their salad bar is as stupendous as their service is impeccable. But I thought it was a waste to sit there and watch all that beef glide by without even touching it.
When I met my wife Renata, she was a bit surprised about my diet, too. Having come from a culture where beef is part of everyday life (look at a Polish cookbook – how many recipes do NOT have beef in them?). But she got along with it fine – since I'm the cook of the house, I get to do the food shopping. But she does ask for kielbasa every now and then, and of course I oblige.
Today, I still stay away from beef (with the exception of an occasional summer hot dog at Nathan's whenever I go to Coney Island), even though some look at me like I'm crazy at times. I have no problem with other people eating beef in front of me. Just don't ask me to have a piece.