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    Ann Rostow: It Was a Dark and Stormy Year

    By Ann Rostow–

    It Was a Dark and Stormy Year

    One of the first steps to reliving anxiety or to dealing with problems is to identify exactly what’s wrong. Do you have a vague sensation of inner discord that you can’t exactly pinpoint? Doesn’t it help to stop and recognize that a) you’re upset about gaining weight, b) you’re worried about what to get your parents for their anniversary, c) you’re still bothered by an awkward conversation from several days ago, d) you’re disturbed by some political situation, e) you’re scared of the dentist, f) you did a mediocre job on a work project, etc. You get the picture. Once you determine the underlying cause of the inner discord, you’re halfway towards fixing your state of mind.

    This little trick is no longer working for me.

    The source of my inner discord is nothing I can solve. It’s insane Republicans, Biden’s poll numbers, the war in Ukraine, inflation, the financial markets, totalitarian states like Hungary and Turkey, and the rise of the far-right in Italy. It’s gun violence, the Supreme Court, the state legislative attacks on gay and transgender Americans, the book censorship, and horrible school board policies. It’s the paralysis in Congress. It’s nothing I can solve and nothing I can even mitigate. 

    I guess I used to feel better by giving a few bucks to a candidate I liked. I remember going to the women’s protests in the early Trump years and feeling empowered by the solidarity. Mel and I wrote postcards for Beto O’Rourke when he ran for Senate. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Now, I feel as if there’s nothing I can do. Every new article compounds the dilemma. Every day seems to bring some new source of distress. Mel and I sink into binge watching our British cop shows, which we have conveniently forgotten and can therefore revisit with only a dim recollection of plot lines. We are not exactly good citizens, although Mel is an election volunteer and still does a bunch of things while I lounge around idly bemoaning the state of affairs.

    As for GLBT civil rights, I’m having a hard time focusing on our many challenges in the midst of this general devolution. It’s as if I’ve been on a long difficult run and have been pushing myself because I’ve almost reached the finish line, when all of a sudden, I come around the bend and I see the road goes on for miles. Oh, and there’s a picturesque little outside bar off to the side in a little woodsy area. Maybe I’ll just stop for some refreshment. (Hey, that looks like Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway discussing a case at that side table!)

    Here’s my new trick, dear Readers. I look at the big picture. Once a year, columnist Nick Kristof used to write a piece on all the positive developments that had taken place while the rest of us were going on about the world’s ills. Poverty down, fewer wars, maladies cured, and so forth. If you look at the crime rates, they are up for recent years, but way down from recent decades. If you look at your retirement account, it’s flashing red this year, but way up from 2020. And plus, you have a retirement account to begin with! Gay rights are in trouble now, but the House just passed a bill protecting same-sex marriage with significant Republican support. Twenty years ago, that would be laughable and gay sex was illegal in a dozen states. 

    Does the immediate political future look grim? Definitely, so let’s root for the near term. Let’s avoid despair, sit in the shade with a cold cider, and eavesdrop on Lewis.

    “Did we ever get the tox report on that chap living rough by the slurry pot?”

    “Guv?”

    “For Christ’s sake, Sergeant! That should’ve been done yesterday!”

    Round and Round We Go

    I don’t know what to think of the news that Biden’s Health and Human Services department has formalized policies to restore and advance rules against GLBT discrimination under Obamacare and Medicare. Good for us, right? 

    Yes, but we seem to be on the agency merry-go-round where Obama sets a policy, Trump reverses it, Biden restores it, and bad guys file suit. Biden’s version, which also enforces GLBT civil rights under Medicare B for the first time, goes beyond Obama’s gay-friendly dictates. But not only do we have to wait for public comment and other bureaucratic delays, but we’ll also face lawsuits. One Trumpy judge and the latest advances will be put on hold. Meanwhile, what’s to stop a GOP administration from rolling the whole thing back to square one?

    Further, the High Court has reservations about the role of executive department agencies in setting national policy, particularly when it conflicts with state law. A directive that gay and transgender patients require equal treatment from doctors and hospitals flies in the face of several new anti-trans state statutes and would draw a legal backlash based on the, um, “religious rights” of red state medics.

    Look at the similar situation where Title IX is concerned. Last year, the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that GLBT discrimination was outlawed in schools receiving federal funds, leaning on the Supreme Court’s (surprising) 2020 gay-friendly interpretation of Title VII. Title VII is to the workplace what Title IX is to education, and both federal civil rights laws prohibit sex discrimination. Two years ago, the 6–3 Court ruled that sex discrimination encompassed gender and gay bias, ergo, it seems that not only are we protected by Title VII, but we should also be covered under Title IX.

    On July 15, however, a Trump-appointed federal judge gave the green light to a lawsuit filed by some 20 red state attorneys general and blocked enforcement of the Title IX anti-bias rules while the litigation meanders through its sinuous path. Will the same thing happen to this latest effort? Probably.

    It’s disturbing when a really positive development like this health directive triggers a sigh of “meh,” but our community is kicking the football and Lucy is holding the tee.

    Warning! Save Your Bottle Caps or Die! 

    Have you ever fallen into the clickbait trap of headlines like “Always put tin foil on your side mirrors. Your life may depend on it!” Or: “Pack a tennis ball in your luggage. It can save you thousands!” I’m making these up, but that’s the general idea. Put your phone in a rubber glove for ten minutes. Watch out for orange paint on a fence post. Spin around three times before you eat a candy bar. Whatever it is, you are then stuck in the listicle that never tells you a damn thing about the original subject. 

    The same thing happens with celebrity news. Actress X has lost a hundred pounds. Actor Y will never marry again. Famous Name Z’s tragic story. And there’s nary a word in the listicle about the headliner. 

    Truth be told, I never make it to the end of these sadistic cyber traps, so maybe the last entry finally reveals the secret of the tennis ball or the tragedy behind Famous Name Z, but I doubt it. I used to be sucked into those long stories as well, the ones about the mother elephant who was grateful to the man who saved her baby, or the dog that barked at the wall. But I have learned to extract a key piece of information early on and then google the story in order to read it quickly rather than click laboriously from one entry to the next.

    Of course, I could just avoid all of this by never falling for the suggestive links to begin with, but I am only human and there are only a certain number of ways to procrastinate while remaining on the computer and appearing to “work.”

    ECLMNOP Commissioner Fledermaus Does Something to Orban

    So, the European Commission has asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on the status of Hungary’s antigay “Children Protection Act,” a law that looks like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” on steroids. The EC has also challenged the closure of one of Hungary’s only left-leaning radio stations, which was terminated and replaced by a group of Viktor Orban’s cronies.

    Based in Luxembourg, The European Court of Justice is the European Union version of our Supreme Court, and could provide a definitive gay rights ruling for the first time if all goes well. Although the EU is founded on lofty principles of equality, there are limits as to what the EU can impose on member states. Quite frankly, I have long been confused by the labyrinthian rules and regulations that emanate from Brussels, The Hague, Luxembourg, and who knows where, along with the mystifying array of acronyms, agencies, and official titles. 

    For example, I was sure I wrote not too long ago that some entity withheld some money from Hungary and Poland due, in part, thanks to the homophobic policies of both countries. Please don’t ask me which agency or what funds, but I think we can assume that the punishment was not onerous considering neither country has done anything positive as a result. Now, I read that there’s a chance the Court of Justice will rule that GLBT citizens are covered under the EU’s Article 2, a foundational premise that would indeed put Hungary in violation of EU law. 

    Article 2 says the European Union is based on the values of: “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” (Cue: trumpet fanfare.)

    According to press coverage, a ruling that said these ideals include GLBT people would be a seismic advance in European civil rights and would force Hungary and others to fall in line. Okay then!

    Nazi Scum Off Our Streets

    I was just looking at photos of a dozen or so young male self-described neo-Nazi white supremacists who got together in a Boston neighborhood to yell and harass some parents and kids at a Drag Queen Story Hour. It wasn’t exactly a huge crowd, but I was struck by the sheer physical ugliness of these individuals. Scruffy, unshaven, slovenly, and loud, they held a banner that read: “Pedo Scum Off Our Streets.” They looked like the quintessential incels; sad, sick, and won’t be getting laid anytime soon.

    I used to point out the Nazi rally in Skokie, Illinois, as a shining example of the First Amendment. What a testament to the power of our Constitution that we as a nation could protect the most despicable speech, confident that evil notions would be defeated, not through government controls, but through the marketplace of ideas!

    But what happens when the marketplace of ideas no longer functions, and perhaps no longer even exists? Do you still file a lawsuit on behalf of Nazi protesters like the ACLU did in 1977? Nah. I’m officially dropping the Skokie, Illinois, anecdote from my patriotic repertoire in favor of dousing naked Nazi protesters in pancake syrup, covering them with rainbow glitter, and making them slowly walk in chains behind a large float blaring disco music and featuring drag queen dancers in elaborate costumes. Once again, the Overton Window opens wider than thought possible.

    The Overton Window, of course, describes a metaphorical zone of accepted discourse and assumptions. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists were once outside the window, as were crazy notions about Democrats being child molesters and elections being stolen. Now, the window is larger. But it’s not just politics. I read an article the other day about how “cannibalism” is becoming more and more interesting as a topic of fiction and programming. Really? When did that happen? Why did that happen?

    And then there’s my pet peeve of gross discussions on television commercials, which unbelievably have gotten far worse since I first made my objections known in these pages so long ago. I thought the Charmin’ bears were bad (and I still do). But the women sitting on the toilet with their pants down and using vocabulary that I associate with my youngest grandchildren is beyond repellent. Who green lights these atrocities? Who will make it stop!

    arostow@aol.com

    Published on July 28, 2022