Friday, June 09, 2017

Meanwhile over in the UK...

So what happened in the UK last night? 8 short weeks ago pundits were talking about a 100+ Tory seat gain and how Labour under Corbyn was completely unelectable and was facing the largest Conservative Landslide since Thatcher.... Well a number of things happened. The first is Theresa May honestly thought that she and the Conservatives could just coast to a victory on Jeremy Corbyn's unpopularity. The Torys didn't run FOR anything as much as they just ran AGAINST Corbyn. The Prime Minister's decision to not participate in any actual face to face debates just reinforced the idea that the Conservatives were a bunch of arrogant, out of touch twits who just assumed people would vote them in because there wasn't really any other choice.... Oops.

Then there is Brexit. Which didn't mean what most people outside the UK think it did. The conservative defeat is not a vote of Brexit Remorse,  as much as it was a vote against the Tory loony toon back benchers idea that a "hard Brexit" would be some sort of expression of British power and resolve. Instead of what it really would be; Economic Suicide.  The Government has never articulated a clear or even moderately coherent plan for Brexit other than the Prime Minister saying she would be a "Bloody Difficult Woman" to deal with in the negotiations .

Funny how voters didn't find that comforting...

Then there were the Manifestos. The Tory Manifesto read like a chapter out of a Charles Dickens novel. It was so bad that even the largely inept Labour PR team was able to point out that taxing dementia  patients to fund tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires was a bad idea.  The Torys may idolise Thatchernomics but the electorate has moved on and sees it as a massive scam that is nothing more than Robin Hood in reverse.

Rather than defend their plan, the Conservative response was incoherent mumblings of how "Labour's numbers didn't add up", and when that didn't work they basically gave up and ran away from their own party platform.
Contrary to what some American pundits are saying this morning, terrorism really didn't play a role in how people voted. The attacks in Manchester and London were not foremost on voters minds. The Conservatives attempts to paint Corbyn as weak on defence and not willing to combat the threat from radical extremists came across to voters as a crass and vulgar attempt to capitalise on a national tragedy. It actually served to damage the Conservatives on an issue they should have had the advantage on.

But clearly the biggest reason for the wreckage in Westminster this morning is the Prime Minister herself. She called this snap election after repeatedly saying she wouldn't. She never had a real message other than "Brexit will be great, and Labour is bad!" A problem compounded by the Prime Minister being unwilling to do any real campaigning beyond carefully staged photo ops. It became a national drinking game to see how Theresa May could only answer questions with some word salad of a response that desperately tried to work in the words "Strong and Stable" as many times as possible.

Whereas the UK voters may not like Jeremy Corbyn, what is crystal clear this morning is, they simply didn't trust Theresa May.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

My Annual Response to "Why isn't there a Straight Pride Month?"

It's June... so we all know what that means...

As the rainbow flags go up on Market Street in San Francisco , the annual debate over the merits of LGBT Pride celebrations re-surfaces like a perennial weed that just won't stay down. It's a debate that rages both inside and outside the broader LGBTQ-XYZ123-whatever-else-you-want-to-add-on... community.

Inside the community the question always gets asked ; does some of the imagery of Pride celebrations hurt the cause of equal rights? In addition, in the wake of significant legal victories for LGBT rights, especially around Marriage Equality; Some are asking do we even need pride celebrations anymore?   

While outside, critics and opponents love to point to that same imagery as evidence of Gay folks wanting "special rights", and then pull out their favorite chestnut, of asking why are Gay Pride Celebrations acceptable but Straight Pride celebrations are not?

Sigh.... Really? It's like asking why isn't there a "White History Month". I get tired of trying to explain to people who really do know better, but get enamored of Fox News talking points, just how stupid they sound whey they try to make these types of arguments. But fine, since clearly there is some "genuine" confusion out there as to the reason for LGBT Pride celebrations , allow me to clarify.

The number of states in the USA where you can be fired  for  being  Straight = 0
The number of states in the USA where you can be fired for being Gay = 29
Number of countries that will execute you for being Straight = 0
Number of countries that will execute you for being Gay = 10

Growing up, how many books, songs, television programs, and movies did you see that featured straight couples meeting, falling in love and living happily ever after?  Pretty much all of them. Ask someone who is Gay how many positive images in popular culture they had growing up that affirmed who they are? The answer is, none, or at best few, if any at all.

Gay characters in movies and television were either creepy villains or camp comic relief. If you doubt that, you really should check out the groundbreaking HBO documentary, "The Celluloid Closet". It shows clearly the disparity in popular culture where messages about sexual orientation were concerned.

Then there is the area of religion. The number of straight kids who have been told they are going to hell simply for being heterosexual = 0. The number of LGBT kids who have been told that they are going hell simply for being homosexual = too many to even try to count.

In the light of LGBT rights victories in the U.S. over the past few years, it is easy to laugh at the various American Talabangelicals who shrieked hysterically how the US Supreme Court ruling on Same Sex marriage back in 2015, would result in nothing less than some sort of Gay, Nazi... apocalypse. But for a young person struggling with issues of identity and self acceptance,  these toxic messages of hatred and bigotry could cut right through you .

To my Straight friends, I have to ask, how many times have "respected" public figures, politicians, pundits and clergy gone on national television demanding that everyone be given the chance to VOTE on your civil rights?  How often has someone told you that not being able to discriminate against you was somehow an attack on them?  When was the last time you heard a member of the Supreme Court saying that simply by being allowed to exist, you were "an attack" on the moral fiber of America?

Anyone?? Yeah...I didn't think so... I have a flash of the obvious for you, every month is "Straight Pride Month."  There is a word for someone who truly feels that equal rights for people they don't like is somehow an attack on them. That word is "Bigot".

Saying LGBT people are human too, isn't an attack on straight people. Those people who really think it is, I want to ask them if they are really that stupid, or just that bigoted? People who say LGBT Pride celebrations need to be stopped, are in fact, the exact reason they all started in the first place.

Are pride celebrations good or bad for the cause of equality? The answer is both. With visibility comes closer examination. Anti-gay bigots love to show images of drag queens, leather daddies and nearly naked porn stars dancing on parade floats, and scream "See! it's not about equal rights! They just want to recruit your kids into THIS!!"

They never show the families, advocacy groups, welcoming and inclusive religious denominations, and workplace affinity groups who participate in Pride parades. After all, that wouldn't fit their desired narrative.

Media outlets are complicit in this, by the way.  CNN loves to show the drag queens  and semi-naked boys in their coverage, but when straight allies like the CEO of  the largest health care company in the United States rides in the San Francisco Pride  parade every year, along with his LGBT employees,  you'd think the guy was invisible.

Likewise, critics of  the concept of LGBT Pride , never talk about the rates of divorce, unplanned pregnancy, child abuse and neglect and domestic violence in Straight relationships.  You never see  folks like Tony Perkins, head of the certified Hate-Group, the "Family Research Council" on Fox News talking about Mardi Gras, or "Girls Gone Wild" on Spring Break.

That would be admitting something of an inconvenient truth.  It's much easier to just point at a group of shirtless men on a flatbed truck or women on motorcycles and say that they are the real threat to families.

I have always said that Pride celebrations are not really for the people who attend them. Instead they are for the people who cannot attend them. Growing up as a Gay kid in a small town in South Central Wisconsin, there were times when I was convinced I was the only gay person on Earth. The constant message from popular culture, religion, family and peer groups was "boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married (or not) and have kids and live happily ever after". There was no happily ever after for someone who felt what I was feeling.

Then, for one weekend in June, I would turn on the TV News and see thousands of people just like me, in places like New York, San Francisco and Chicago saying "No, that's not true, you are not alone, and there is a big wide world out here beyond Sun Prairie Wisconsin. So hang in there .... we're here and we're waiting for you!"

Now 30 years later, I watch coverage like this and it seems so endearingly cheesy. Yet at the time, it was a lifeline to people like me, living with the fear and isolation of being "in the closet".

Pride Celebrations are the original  "It Gets Better Project". 

My straight friends never needed to be told that being straight was okay, and that they were okay because nobody ever told them they weren't. Pride isn't about celebrating being Gay, it's about publicly showing that being LGBT is just as much a part of the the human experience as being straight is. I for one would love to see the day when Pride is obsolete. When that scared closeted gay kid, in some small town doesn't need to be told that he or she is fine just the way they are.

But until that day comes, I will be adding my voice to that joyous mob in places like Market Street in San Francisco, Oxford Street in London,  Halsted Street in Chicago, and Fifth Avenue in New York City. If for no other reason to let that kid know, it really does get better. There is a world where  "boy meets boy" and "girl meets girl", where they fall in love and (f they want to) get married, and yes, even live happily ever after...

Happy Pride Everyone.

Friday, June 02, 2017

What do I think of President Trump?

Earlier today, a dear friend of mine, who lives in Hong Kong messaged me on Facebook and asked me what did I think of President Trump? It is question that American Expats get asked often these days. The answer is, like the American political system itself, rather complex.

What do I think of Donald Trump? Hmmm… okay, well it is safe to say that historians will be kept gainfully employed for decades to come, all writing books on this very topic. I can only give you my thoughts on this. There are several key points you must look at in any examination of how we all got here. As is often the case, to do that we must start at the beginning...

Donald Trump is a product of privilege. Complete, total, and unearned privilege. He is someone who was born on the second highest step on the ladder, and now lauds himself as a “huge” success story for having “gotten to the top”. This is not a criticism, nor is it an attack on wealth. It is just a fact, and a critical one to understand, as it has informed Trumps world view, and his behaviour all throughout both his personal and professional life.

When faced with trouble, or serious personal challenges it was that privilege that got him past it. Be it problems in school, problems in his personal life, or even obligations he didn’t care to fulfil. (His numerous Vietnam draft deferments for a non-existent “bone spur” and his habit of just deciding not to pay vendors, or change the terms of contracts mid-stream and then sue into submission anyone who dares try to fight back, his multiple divorces, all are manifestations of this.)

As result of this…

Donald Trump is completely accustomed to always getting his own way. Any options that are not of his making or control are inherently wrong and unacceptable. The world of New York Real Estate is truly one of dog-eat-dog. Manhattan has a finite amount of land, for which there is a nearly infinite demand. For something new to go up, something old must come down, for one person to win a deal it means someone else must be the loser in that deal. Which means…

For Trump, success is a zero-sum gain proposition. In Trump's world for one person to succeed means another person must fail. Therefore, the world is seen through the singular lens, that in all things there are, and must be, winners and losers; and to be the winner is good, and the loser is always bad. This also means…

For Donald, partnerships are never about mutual success, they are only about expedience. Every partner is still your competition, who must eventually be defeated for you to be the winner. This approach will make you a great deal of money in real estate, but it has revealed the core fundamental flaw in Donald Trump as a leader.

Donald Trump is a remarkably insecure man. As someone who got to where he is more by circumstance of birth than by intellect or ability, Trump’s ego is incredibly fragile. As a performer, Trump is obsessed with ratings. (Be it crowd sizes or polling numbers, or twitter followers).
He is a man who talks about himself in such grandiose terms, often in the third person and nearly always ends with a demand for affirmation. (“believe me!”) This is a man who is trying to convince himself as much as those he is speaking to of how great he is. Anything that contradicts that view of himself as the winner, must be, in his mind “fake”, “rigged” or “very unfair".

In that quest for affirmation Trump finds role models in bullies. Be it Vladimir Putin, or President Duterte of the Philippines, or even North Korea's Kim Jung Un. So of course, his campaign colluded with the Russians. But I won’t go any further down that road here. Instead, we have to talk about the elephant in the room. By that, I mean the question historians will be asking for years to come; How did this man get elected President of the United States?

Donald Trump told the lies people were desperate to hear. As the global economy, the march of technology and social change redrew the American social and economic landscape there was a large sector of the American population that got left behind. The core industries of the rust belt states no longer exist in the same form they did in the years following World War II.

Globalisation forever changed that steel plant in Allentown PA which sprung out of the war effort and became a piston in the engine driving America’s middle class. That coal mine, that auto plant, and all the related business that sprung up around them, were all victims of the march of time. And for the last 40 years, both political parties have been unable to tell these people the hard sad truth. That their jobs were never coming back. Instead both parties told little white lies.

The republicans told them the answer was tax cuts for the rich, who would then invest in their communities and wealth would “trickle down” to them (It didn’t.  The people who got those massive Reagan- Bush 1 and Bush 2 tax cuts, were never going to invest that money in West Virginia, Ohio, or Pennsylvania, they took the money, and used it to get richer. Investment in America became about making money by moving money, not spending it on people.)

The Democrats told these people they just needed more education. If they went to their local community college and got continuing education and training in something new, then all these new economy jobs would come flooding in, as they were now a desirable workforce. (This also didn’t happen. Google, Apple, and Intel were never going to move from Silicon Valley to Hancock County, TN. If those newly educated workers moved themselves to Northern CA then sure, there was opportunity, but those opportunities were never going to move them.)

Then along came Donald Trump, and he loudly proclaimed what these economically desperate, angry people had been waiting for someone, anyone to say. Trump told them their problems were not their fault, and promised to make things like they used to be. Back to when if you were white, and reasonably literate that was enough. When people who were different were the ones who felt marginalized not you. It was lie, but it was a beautiful lie, that affirmed their anger and had a very real subtext that fed on racial and social animosity and fears.

The result? They voted form him in droves. Which brings us to another interesting truth about all this….

Donald Trump honestly didn’t expect to win. The plan always was to run, to lose and then use that exposure, that resulting fame to promote and expand the Trump brand. But then the impossible storm of improbable events all came together. The Clinton emails, The Sanders phenomenon, the Russian election hack (which was always more about hurting Clinton than helping Trump) You look at Trump in the days following the election, he looks like he is in shock. There was no transition plan ready. The Trump team at the first meeting with the Obama Administration, honestly didn’t know that the entire staff of the Executive Office of the President (The west wing staff) wasn’t going to stay on after Obama left.

Which brings us to the core issue with Trump…

The Government is not a business, and being President is not like being a CEO. When a new CEO comes into a company, what is the first thing nearly all of them do? They set about erasing all trace of their predecessors. The new CEO alone can “fix it” and anything the old CEO did was bad. If you do that as President you wind up with 24 million Americans losing health insurance, and America losing its leadership role on the world stage.

You can’t just sign executive orders like corporate memos and do whatever you want. The American system of government is set up so the Presidency is the weakest branch of government. Trump doesn’t understand that.

So, this is a very long run up to the answer to your question- What do I think of President Trump?

He is the most unfit man to ever hold the Presidency. While he is not evil, he is simply completely unqualified and totally unable to cope with complexities of the job. He is not smart enough, not patient enough and lacks a fundamental understanding of the role of the United States Government and the executive branch within that government.

The longer he remains in the job, the more damage he will do, to both the country and to the Republican Party, which is slowly coming to terms with the fact they have to remove him, and soon.

I am in no way thrilled by the prospect of President Pence and Vice President Ryan but the alternative is to do potentially irrevocable damage to the American Presidency and the nation as a whole,.