Thursday, July 28, 2016

Be Careful what you wish for...

I fell in love with a house back in 2007. It had been on the market for five or more months. The price had been reduced a few times. It was the start of the Great Recession and nobody knew how bad it was going to get. The bank owned the house and had to approve the sales price. During the six months that we went back and forth with the bank trying to close the deal my love affair increased. I brought in contractors, had schematics drawn, estimates made, etc. In the end I gave up, fell in love with another property a few blocks away and closed in 21 days. It turned out beautifully as I rehabbed the house to my exact specifications and enjoyed the process and my time there. It wouldn’t have been so had I got what I originally was seeking.

Many months after that the original property sold I was walking my dogs through the neighborhood and the winning owners were outside tidying up. I introduced myself and congratulated them on doing what I couldn’t – beating the bank.  The homeowner sighed and told me the tale of their winning the house only to discover structural problems and damage that couldn’t previously be seen that carried with it a repair bill nearly half of the purchase price – making the “deal” they got a raw one. Within six weeks the ‘for sale’ sign was up again, months later the property was in foreclosure again and out of curiosity a few years later I saw that it was basically knocked down and rebuilt after the Great Recession receded.

In November 2008 when Barack Obama won the Presidency there was a slew of editorials outlining the list of crises that the nascent President would have to tackle. The conclusion asked why would anybody want the gig with so many problems.

Donald J. Trump’s campaign elicits a similar question. Like so many others I thought his entry into the race was a sideshow, a distraction, a lark. Then he began breaking all the norms of running for the office: racist stereotyping, misogynic statements and a refusal to be ‘politically correct’ by throwing tantrums and calling his opponents names. He has steadfastly refused to educate himself on the issues of the world and is proud to ‘shoot from the hip.’ His flip-flopping on major policies would have tanked any other office seeker long ago.

Since accepting the GOP nomination his public comments have bordered on treason. He’s advocated for the U.S. to violate the basic tenets of the NATO alliance by suggesting that under his Presidency the U.S. would not come to the aid of member nations. In the midst of the Democratic convention he publicly encouraged Russia to release any information from Hilary Clinton’s server that they got from hacking. Encouraging a foreign country to break the law for political gain is a direct violation of the Constitution.

Trump is not a stupid man. He may be many things, but he always knows what he’s doing. He’s pushed the envelope so far that it’s bizarre to half of the country that the other half support him. Perhaps Trump’s as surprised as anybody? This may be wishful thinking, but maybe his mega-ego is in conflict with his true feelings? Maybe he really doesn’t want to be President and he keeps shooting off missile after missile thinking one will blow up this campaign only to discover that they have turned into fireworks.

A Trump victory is likely to be what happened to that house I loved. It’s gonna get knocked down and rebuilt. That may not be a bad thing in concept as Jefferson said: “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” Let’s be careful what we wish for.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Best laid plans

I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going to happen. That makes me a good strategist. It also means that I’m not necessarily the most spontaneous person in the world. The trick, of course, is when life happens and things interrupt well laid plans – how nimble one is in adapting is critical. Like most of us I’m a work in progress as to being flexible. In some areas of my life as I age I am much more ‘go with the flow’ while other areas I seem to be getting less amenable. Politics requires a lot of pliability and if you’re planning a coup – you really do need to have your ducks in a row.

On July 15 for several hours there was an attempt to take over Turkey’s government. According to the BBC: “It looks as if the coup attempt was staged mainly by the gendarmerie [national police] and air force personnel.” The rest of the military were not on board and ‘order’ was restored within a day.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fired tens of thousands of workers and thousands of military personnel in a purge to rid the country of traitors. To many it looks like the megalomaniac President who just declared a three month “State of Emergency” is using the failed coup as a way to solidify his power.

Most U.S. news outlets and indeed the State Department itself seemed surprised by the uprising. I wasn’t. In 2015 the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (where I serve as Executive Director) became the first LGBTQ chorus to perform in Turkey. It almost didn’t happen. A short documentary tells of all the details – but the top-line narrative  was that the President of Turkey in his re-election bid canceled the concert. The event went on with thousands in attendance though the state media were prevented from covering it.

Rainbow formed from the water canon used against LGBT people @ Pride Parade 2015

The next day the Chorus was scheduled to lead the annual LGBTQ pride parade. When we arrived at the starting point we were turned away by the police who informed us the parade was cancelled and unless we disbursed everybody would be arrested and detained. We complied though many then went back individually and watched water canons and tear gas used against Turkish citizens by the police.

The LGBTQ community in Turkey fiercely stood up for themselves and in the election that followed Erdogan didn’t win a plurality – and was forced to form a coalition government. LGBTQ forces helped sway the election 18%. When that effort failed new elections were held. ISIS attacks began in-country Erdogan used the politics of fear to win a majority in the new elections. He immediately began instituting new policies and was working on a new constitution giving him more authority.

PRI, a leading international publication wrote in July 2015 “How Erdogan Spurs LGBT Hatred for Political Gain.” A year later the police shut down the LGBTQ pride parade for a second year in a row.

In addition to being courting the extreme right Islamists in Turkey, President Erdogan has a low tolerance for criticism. And he keeps track. In 2015 Reuter’s reports: “Stephen Kinzer, a former Turkey bureau chief for the U.S. daily, traveled to the southern city of Gaziantep expecting to be made an honorary citizen for his reporting 15 years ago which helped save endangered Roman mosaics. His embarrassed hosts at the city council had told him the award had been canceled on the personal orders of Erdogan due to a column he wrote in the Boston Globe in January.”

In 2014 the Presidential Palace that Erdogan designed and cost $615 million was under criticism from the opposition party for excessive spending. The President’s response to the accusations was to threaten to sue and jail those who made the claims.

Politico reports: “Turkey is a longtime strategic partner of the United States that houses a vital U.S. airbase and a small U.S. arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons.”

When a country is taken over by a megalomaniac who responds to criticism by lashing out and jailing people, it is a problem. When a President lashes out against a community of people (like the LGBTQ community) to pacify his right flank, it is a problem. That’s all true in Turkey and in the United States. Now let's plan that next coup.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Random Acts

I’m going gray. Technically my strawberry-blonde / red locks are transforming into white – but there’s still a good amount of each. The transformation has been happening for years. My Dad once told me that his hair turned to white in a matter of weeks so once I found that first strand some twenty years ago I’ve been looking at the rest of them for years wondering when the switch will occur. (Dad’s probably looking down with his crinkly eyes and wry smile, happy he got one over on me.) Every now and again I will catch myself in a reflection and marvel at the shift in proportions. There’s nothing to do about it and I have plenty else to worry and obsess about – but it’s one of those things that incrementally been happening and one day soon I’ll notice that one color will predominates any other. I think that’s a metaphor for race relations and violence in the U.S. right now.

From our earliest days as America has been a mix of people. It started with Native Americans and European settlers and then African Americans were brought to these shores unwillingly as slaves. Others came to explore the bountiful opportunities and riches that the land offered or to escape persecution.

We have not handled the differences we have with each other well. There has been prejudice, discrimination, retaliation and fear throughout American History. Try as current columnists might, there is no point to go “aha! This all started with…” without literally starting with the arrival of The Mayflower.

In the past few years the level of violence has increased. Has it? Native Americans were slayed by the thousands in the colonists land grabs in America’s earliest days. The U.S. Government quarantined Japanese people during World War II. More recently black people were lynched (hung from tree posts) in the U.S. for decades before there was a movement to stop that violence. There are too many examples of violence against one group of people based on their difference.

The social media impact on our lives is more reflective of how things have changed. One of the incidents in July 2016 was aired lived on Facebook as the victim died. Everything is happening in real time and is available for immediate consumption instead of a news story that took even a day or two to wend its way through the country. It now takes seconds. Events happen so quickly now that the murders of 49 people in Orlando one month ago (June 2016) now seem distant compared to the fresh events of police shooting citizens and a sniper killing police officers.

There are differences between the races. There are differences between classes of people. If we wanted to we could find and focus on those differences. What we don't do enough of is look at what we have in common.

Are we a more violent society? Or do we just have access to more weapons and they’re more sophisticated?

Are we less tolerant? Or do we now have ‘permission’ to express our fear and dislike of anything different because we know there’s others like us out there?

Is it ever going to stop? No, probably not. It's been going on too long and too many people seem invested in their way and their interpretation.

Can we do anything? Absolutely. These past weeks and months (and years) have been a barrage of random acts of violence and hatred. The optimistic pacifist side of me wants us to all to get along. The more practical side of me will settle for us each taking on a random act of kindness instead. That feels more achievable. It's a long stretch of a metaphor, but accepting that my hair isn't all one color or the other - that it's a true mix and combination is very much like accepting that the world isn't just like me. 

What random act of kindness will you take that on?

Thursday, July 7, 2016


I’ve spent most of the past two weeks at a convention/conference. It’s not dissimilar to any other one – there’s great opportunities to meet other people from around the country who work and have interests in the same field. There’s silly hats, branded clothing and the constant crush of people moving from one event to the next. For those of us who work in the field, it’s a wonderful opportunity to feel important, connected and aligned. In the weeks ahead the political world will hold their quadrennial conventions and we have let the parties take over the airways.

Political conventions for the major parties are critical cogs in the wheel of democracy. Delegates make official the presumptive nominees as their candidates for President and Vice President. While technically true it’s the candidate themselves who choose their running mate and then present it to the delegation for approval. Party platforms are approved though it’s the policies of the nominees which govern what may or may not happen if they’re elected far more than statements of principles in the platform.

For decades these conventions have been designed for television viewers. There’s little controversy and the packaging becomes a four day infomercial for each party. According to The Museum of Broadcasting “Critics allege today's nominating conventions are undemocratic spectacles and propose replacing them with a national presidential primary system. Despite these critiques, convention reform is unlikely. Today's streamlined convention regularly attracts 30% television market shares, providing an audience for television news divisions, political parties and presidential candidates, alike. While television coverage has brought many cosmetic changes to the convention, it has not interfered with its basic functions.”

The GOP convention in Cleveland could provide that convention reform. The Washington Post reports: “ ‘This is not going to be your typical party convention like years past,’ said Trump spokesman Jason Miller. ‘Donald Trump is better suited than just about any candidate in memory to put together a program that’s outside of Washington and can appeal directly to the American people.’”

The article continues quoting the presumptive nominee: “ ‘My children are all going to be speaking: Ivanka, Tiffany, Don, Eric. They’re going to be speaking,’ Trump said Friday during an appearance at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. ‘My wife is going to be speaking at the convention. We’re going to have a great time.’”

On the Democratic side the article states: “Along with Clinton and her eventual vice presidential pick, there are sure to be speeches from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and, of course, the candidate’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.”

Some will see a huge difference of Trump having his family speak while Clinton will have elected leaders speak while others may note that she too is having her own family speak.
The divide in the country will continue, but the election goes on. 

The official transition into the General Election campaign occurs when the candidates become actual nominees. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be raised, likely more than the $1 billion spent in the 2012 cycle.

The airways are public and it is vital that the nuts and bolts of the convention are covered and seen. The cost of  that transparency (which only CSpan actually does) is four days each of free advertising and lots of talking heads and hyperbole. The era of Infotainment continues.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Bartering Beliefs

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you took a bit of a short-cut to get it? Perhaps it was jumping ahead in line to get a better seat at an event. Ever bob and weave through tough traffic? Perhaps it was fibbing to a maitre’d to get a better table or a reservation moved around to your convenience. It’s not always selfish - family and friends who are parents often make little deals with their offspring – finish 2 more carrots and then you can have dessert – or clean up your room and you can have 15 more minutes on the iPad. Most of these things are relatively harmless – some might even categorize them as incentives. David Cameron showed the world last week what happens when you barter your beliefs away.

The United Kingdom’s decision to remove itself from the European Union  in a referendum in June 2016 has the world aflutter. Stock markets dropped, the value of the pound crashed and political analysists who didn’t foresee it happened are agog with hyperbole.
How did this happen? Sure there are issues of xenophobia, isolationism and other elements at play. Before making that judgment, however, let’s go back in time to see how this could happen.

David Cameron took over the leadership of the Conservative Party in April of 2010 after Gordon Brown resigned as Prime Minister. Per Wikipedia: “The election resulted in a hung parliament, no single party having an overall majority in the House of Commons, the Conservatives having the most seats but 20 short of a majority. In the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition agreement of 11 May 2010, the two parties formed a coalition government.”

The British Parliamentary system operates differently than the U.S. system, but the essential comparison for Americans is that no party won an outright majority so they had to bring together another party to get enough support to govern. The nearest comparison would be the GOP didn’t quite win enough votes to rule so they had to make a deal with the Green Party to be able to run the government. That’s how different and far apart the parties are in policy, but it was the first opportunity that the Liberal Democrats had to have a seat at the table and they took it.

The Coalition Agreement between the parties outlined the policy areas where they agreed to cooperate and the actions that they’d take. There was plenty of give and take from the parties that are so divergent in philosophy. So long as the Agreement was followed then the rest of the issues and policies could be supported. “Settling” on a few items in order to rule seemed worthwhile. The European Union was part of the Agreement and that began the process of placing a referendum on the ballot.

Not much happened in those first few years around the EU and the Conservatives were frustrated with the difficulty of ruling by coalition, Cameron made another deal in 2012 in a bid to bolster Conservative votes in the next election. Wikipedia: “While attending the May 2012 NATO summit meeting, British Prime Minister David Cameron, William Hague and Ed Llewellyn discussed the idea of using a European Union referendum as a concession to energise the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party. In January 2013, Cameron promised that, should his Conservative Party win a parliamentary majority at the 2015 general election, the UK Government would negotiate more favourable arrangements for continuing British membership of the EU, before holding a referendum on whether the UK should remain in or leave the EU.”

The tactic worked and Cameron and the Conservatives had a strong showing in 2015 – enough so that his second cabinet came together without the need of a coalition agreement. He then did negotiate more agreeableterms for staying in the Union as he had promised. But there was still a matter of the vote.

The June 23rd Referendum went forward and by 1.3 million votes the U.K. decided to leave the Union. Cameron immediately resigned in what many consider a statement of leadership and integrity. What they forget is that Cameron wouldn’t have had to resign if he hadn’t made the deals he did to gain power in the first place.

Many analysts in the U.S. have tried to draw a parallel between a vote to isolate and the Trump movement. They see it as foreshadowing for the November 2016 election. I don’t. I see it as another example of when people compromise their principals then there are consequences. Cameron bartered his beliefs and the Brits now leave the European Union.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Super Soaked

I got my nephew the Nerf Super Soaker Zombie Strike Splatterblast Blaster for his birthday. The description: “One-handed Splatter blast water blaster;  Lets you soak your target from up to 30 feet away with 4 streams of water; Water tank lights up; Holds up to 35 fluid ounces.” It’s perfect for an energetic kid. To break in the blaster, my nephew invited his father to play and gave him a squirt gun to defend himself. Smart young man – he gets the Super Soaker and only has to fend off a squirt gun. (There must be something to genetics!) Being outgunned is an apt metaphor for what’s happening in Washington these days.

Ten days after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history the U.S. Senate defeated four bills aimed at limiting assault rifles. They were largely on major party line basis. CNN reported: “Tough election year politics, paired with disputes over the effectiveness of each party's ideas, proved too powerful to break the longstanding partisan gridlock that's surrounded gun issues for years.”

Democrats in the House staged a sit in demanding a vote on two of the four bills that were already defeated in the Senate. It was a masterful public relations move – if pointless legislatively since even if the House miraculously passed them the senate already had defeated them.

The Boston Globe wrapped its paper on June 16, 2016 with a 4-page Opinion piece entitled “Make It Stop.” Included is a rich variety of statistics supporting their thesis: “Greed, legislative cowardice, advanced technology — that is how we got here. The United States has been pummeled by gun violence since the assault weapons ban expired in 2004. One class of gun, semiautomatic rifles, is largely responsible. But this nation cannot be a hostage of fear. We can make it stop.”

There once was an assault weapons ban. From Wikipedia: “The ten-year ban was passed by the U.S. Congress on September 13, 1994, and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton the same day. The ban only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban's enactment, and it expired on September 13, 2004.”

Several reports showed that there was no measurable impact on the restriction of firearms and gun violence. The Brady Center found differently: “in the five-year period before enactment of the Federal Assault Weapons Act (1990-1994), assault weapons named in the Act constituted 4.82% of the crime gun traces ATF conducted nationwide. Since the law’s enactment, however, these assault weapons have made up only 1.61% of the guns ATF has traced to crime.”

The Independent Review actually shows that whenever there is an effort to restrict guns there is a huge upshot in gun sales:

The Washington Post agreed and  2015 did a state by state comparison and came to a similar conclusion that gun laws don't necessarily curb gun violence. “This doesn’t prove that gun laws have no effect on total homicide rates. Correlation doesn’t show causation.”

So what’s to be done? I am a pacifist. I abhor gun violence. I am a constitutionalist and I believe that America should be guided by that document. While I personally don’t want weapons, I also don’t want law abiding people who feel they need them to not have them. The Second Amendment provides for that – and it also provides context by using the description “…well regulated…”

The Assault Weapon in question is one that has been designed for killing human beings, especially in war. I’m hard pressed to see how the restriction of this one style of gun becomes a slippery slope to ending gun ownership in the U.S. Erring on the side of eliminating this particular weapon won’t destroy the Constitution just as it didn’t during the ten years it was previously in place. It might just make mass shootings a less likely and less bloody. That would be a good thing. I guess the lesson is that I should have gotten my nephew a squirt gun instead.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sobering Time

May 7, 1987 was my first day of sobriety. It’s now quite a milestone that I’ve lived more years without the benefit of alcohol than with. I even take it for granted. There was a time when I was stunned to find out that not everybody’s breakfast included a Screwdriver. The root cause of my alcoholism may be biological as it runs in the family, it may be environmental, it is likely some combination. Doesn’t matter why: the bottom line is I can’t handle it. I am grateful for a life of clean living. I am also grateful for the bars that were around when I did drink. They provided a respite and were a helpful transition for me to live as an out person. Given Orlando 2016 – I’ve been reflecting on my drinking days, my life in gay bars.

It was the fall of 1986. Syracuse, New York. I went to the address and circled the block several times. I parked in the far part of the lot. I watched people go in and out of this square, warehouse type building. They looked normal enough. What if I was seen? Recognized? Fear, confusion, excitement coarsed through my body.  I left. This pattern of going to the club and not going in repeated itself for days on end, for at least two to three weeks.

Finally my courage overcame my fears. I actually got out of the Chevette and crossed the street. I walked in. It was this gargantuan space – huge dance floor, flashing lights, loud music. Four people were there. It was a Monday night after all. I went up to the bar – the only college student in sight. One of the guys checked me out, smiled and went back to his drink. I nearly chugged my beer. The bartender said “it’ll be ok kid.” I raced out of there. Mission accomplished! And it took less than 10 minutes.

I returned that weekend where there was much more activity. I even ran into people I knew. I was hugged. I was welcomed.  I even danced. I began my life as a gay person.
My story isn’t all that unique. Gay bars and dance clubs have been gathering places for the LGBT community for generations. Today in places like Boston there are still dedicated bars. Assimilation and acceptance have minimized their footprint but we continue to come together in these places.

The massacre in Orlando at Pulse – a gay bar – is terrible by any measurement. It’s the worst mass shooting in America. It’s the most egregious hate crime against the LGBT community. It targeted young Hispanics. And it has torn apart the safe space that a gay bar provides.

In 2016 people are coming out in middle school and not waiting until college like I did. Bars and clubs no longer hold the same exclusive role as they did for me, for the Stonewall generation before me or the Speakeasy time of the Mattachine Society. There’s a lot of good news in that --- and we still need our places. In Orlando Pulse was a safe space. The bullets killed 49 people, injured 53 more and punctured the bubble of security that is vital to the LGBT community and those who are questioning and exploring their identity.

There’s so much to be said about what’s happened – politically, socially, morally – in the media, in the community, in the world. Hypocrisies and ironies abound. For today, though, less than a week after the attack I’m still sober and am sobered by the events, grateful for the bars that make it safe to be who we are.