Monday, November 03, 2014

Wisconsin's Moment of Decision....

Many of my friends are shocked  when they learn that I,  used to be a Republican.  How could I,  a good progressive Gay man ever have been a member of the GOP?    The answer is found in a conversation I had  one afternoon when I was thirteen years old.

 I was attending an event hosted at Vilas Hall, on the University of Wisconsin Madison Campus.    The event was to promote a media literacy and education  organization I was heavily involved with at the time    Like many such events I attended, I spoke fairly early in the program and was the youngest speaker. I would then have to sit there while speaker after speaker began to blur together and my 13 year old mind began to wander. Realizing. I was in danger of nodding off, I quietly excused myself, and  ducked out into the adjacent "green room" to get a drink of water.

As I walked into the lounge area I heard the sound of a Television, and saw an older gentleman sitting on the couch watching the University of Wisconsin Football game. With his curly white hair and trademark red vest, I instantly recognized former Wisconsin Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus. I had met Governor Dreyfus a few times previously and was fiends with his daughter Susan. With whom I worked with on media literacy and education projects.

 He saw me, motioned me over (remembered my name), and cheerfully announced that the Badgers were up by 7. I sat down next to him, and we watched game for a few minutes in companionable silence. He then turned to me and asked me how I was doing. I. talked briefly about the Media education project I was there to help promote.

Then I got up my courage and asked if I could ask him a personal question. Governor Dreyfus smiled and said; "So is this an interview Dave?". I assured him we were off the record, he laughed and gestured for me continue.   "Why did you want to be Governor?", I asked. Dreyfus had recently finished a very successful term, then not run for re-election. A move that had surprised most, and frustrated many inside the Wisconsin Republican Party, as the conventional wisdom was, had he run again, he would have won re-election. Quite easily.

Looking back at the television to check the score, he reached over and turned the sound down  and then asked me if I had ever noticed  the murals in the rotunda of the. State Capitol building, just a few a blocks away.      I proudly replied that I had,  and eager to demonstrate my knowledge, rattled off the names of the four murals that form the base of the rotunda.   Government,  Justice, Legislation, and Liberty. 

The former Governor of my home state then went on to give me the best civics lesson I have ever had. He explained that he had benefited from the education system and professional and economic opportunities that living in Wisconsin had provided. Consequently he felt an obligation to "do his part" to ensure that those opportunities and advantages he had enjoyed,  were protected and expanded.    

He went on to say that our system  was set up to make that possible.   The executive branch (Government)  worked with the Legislature and the State Senate  to craft and pass the laws (Legislation) that were then interpreted by the courts (Justice).  Combined, this system of checks, balances and cooperation between all three entities,  ensured freedom and opportunity for everyone (Liberty).    

It was at this point his daughter poked her head into the room and chided us both for. "hiding out" and said we should re-join the event next door.   I shook Governor Dreyfus' hand and thanked him for taking the time to talk with  me.   "My pleasure Dave", he said, and we went back into the next room. 

It would be a conversation that would stay with me for years, and it was that day that at the ripe old age of 13,  I. decided that I , like  Lee Dreyfus,  was Republican.   I would join the Young  Republicans campaigning for Ronald Regan in 1984,  and two years later,  I would cast my first vote.  While a student in Germany in 1986, I proudly walked into the. American Consulate in Munich,  filled out my absentee ballot and cast my first ever vote,  for Republican Tommy Thompson for Wisconsin Governor.  

I would go in to become an active member and officer of the College Republicans,  even chairing the CR election efforts on campus for. Bush-Quayle '88 and '92.  My reasons were clear.   It was a Republican who had showed me the power of our system of government to make the lives of Americans better,  and by extension,  the world a better and safer place. 

So what happened?   Why did I leave the GOP?    The most concise way to answer that question to simply say the. GOP left me.   Or more accurately the GOP left me, Lee Dreyfus, Tommy Thompson, George HW Bush, Bob Dole and yes,  even left Ronald Reagan.

Wisconsin was the birthplace of the Republican Party.   I used live in the town of Ripon Wisconsin, and would regularly go past the landmark where the GOP had its creation.  The Republican Party on the ballot tomorrow in Wisconsin bears no resemblance to the that party.  Let alone party of Lee Dreyfus.  

The Party of Scott Walker  sees our great system of cooperative branches of government, with its checks and balance, as an obstacle not an asset.  Scott Walker is a man who serves a small select group of  corporate and financial interests. The people of the great state of Wisconsin,  are at best a nuisance to be tolerated,  and in truth,  often seen as a threat to the  agenda those interests have tasked Walker to deliver for them. 

The Republican Party is addicted crazy.  It has embraced the darker politics of division and fear in place of  faith in our system and public service to our citizens.    Like many addicts, the  Wisconsin Republican Party, and by extension the GOP as a national party,  doesn't want to get better.  The only way for the GOP to stop digging the deep  dank dark hole  it as been wallowing in since 1992,  is to finally hit rock bottom.

This isn't just an election.  It's an intervention.    For  the GOP,  it's time for tough love.  A vote for Scott Walker  and the GOP is a vote  to return to 50 million Americans with out access to health insurance.  It is to turn the stunning natural beauty of the state of  Wisconsin into a strip mined, fracked toxic wasteland  where water catches fire when it comes out of the Tap.

A vote for Scott Walker is to hand the public purse over the  Koch Brothers, and then gut public education and  services to  pay  their bar tab.  It is to sacrifice Wisconsin's place as American's Dairy Land in favour of becoming the. Mississippi of the North.  An under-educated, under-employed, over polluted gilded swamp of the very very rich,  the very very poor and nothing in between.

Tea Party activists like to scream about how they "want their country back", which is nothing more than code for not wanting a black man in Oval Office.   Well I want  my Party back.  I want  a Republican Party that  believes in the synergy of Government, Justice , Legislation  and Liberty.

It;s time  to give the GOP a time out.   It's for the people of Wisconsin to step up and save the Republican Party.   How?  By voting  for Mary Burke,  and voting for the Democratic Party.  


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Glimpses of a Previous Life....

The  recent  court victories in the United States have made this year's  National Coming Out Day something of a celebration in many parts of the U.S 

Now more than 60% of Americans live in a state that has equal rights for same sex couples.  Now the number of states that don't discriminate outnumber those states that  are still trying to cling to bigotry.   

Recently  we went out with friends here in in London and saw the brilliant movie "Pride".  It tells the story of the unlikely alliance between striking British coal miners in the 1980's and the LGBT community.

As  heart warming  a film as it is, (and one I highly recommend you go see), the film also does a remarkable job recreating the feel of the. LGBT community in the early 1980's.   Of course, by that I mean the fear, many LGBT people felt everyday back in early 1980's.  A time when gay bashings, even in places like  in central London were a common occurrence, rarely if ever investigated by police..  When in many places, just  being, "out" was literally risking your life.

It was a look back in time that was more than a little unsettling.   Yet at the same time a very real affirmation of just  how far  things have come.    Which   has prompted me to once again,  revisit  and update one of first blog entries I ever wrote, back in  October, 2006.

I was bouncing around the web and stumbled on It is a site than helps you locate addresses of people. So out of curiosity I typed in the name of my best friend from High School. Sure enough a result for his name came up. Not sure if it was the right person rather than call, I sent a note with my business card attached saying, if this was who I thought it was, to please write back.

A couple of weeks went by... and I forgot about it. I honestly didn't expect to hear anything back. Then I got an email and it was indeed from him. It is an interesting experience in a way. I really have not heard from him since I attended his wedding.
At the time I really envied him. He and his wife  were starting to build a life.   Now has an amazing  son with a  brilliant daughter.    In his note, he said it was amazing to hear from me couldn't wait to hear all about what I have been doing over the past few years.

I will confess, at the time I had very  mixed feelings about that.

For the most part, I hadn't kept in touch with anyone from my High School days. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed High School, had great friends and good memories. Yet it really was a whole different life. Like many LGBT kids in the mid to late 80's I was closeted and terrified of coming out. On some level every day had some undercurrent of fear of my "secret" being discovered. The ultimate put-down was to say something was "gay" or to be called a "fag". You saw the kids who were even slightly effeminate or "different" getting tormented on a daily basis.

So you kept your mouth shut and your eyes closed. When you watched those 80's brat-pack movies, while your friends oggled Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy, you didnt admit to anyone, not even to yourself that you thought Rob Lowe and Emilo Estavez were really hot.
Add to that, the media was full of stories of this new "gay disease" called AIDS, and the Reagan and first Bush Administrations were not interested in getting any information about it out to the public.
The first time the Reagan White House Press Secretary  Larry Speakes  was asked about AIDS, his glib,  joking response, is horrific and sickening when we  read it  now,  in the aftermath of the death of  Millions of people world wide.
So like a lot of gay kids I didn't know what to think. Could I get AIDS by coming out? By even holding hands or kissing a guy? Was it really God's way of getting rid of homosexuals? The fear you felt was this huge cloud that hung over you every day. You really did wonder if you were destined to be miserable and alone for your entire life.

 And of course at time I thought I was the ONLY gay kid on earth. Now I know that there were in fact more than a few. Even at my own school. But at the time, the sense of isolation was overwhelming. But then, time moved on. I left and in many ways never looked back. I moved to Europe, studied there, came back to WI and went to college, after graduation worked, travelled back to Europe, then even moved to Asia. Eventually, I came back to the US and settled in Chicago, and then I came out.

Like many people, for me coming out was a frightening and painful process of self-discovery and acceptance. I think back on the fear I felt in those days and it seems like I am watching a movie of someone else's life. A life that I would not ever want to revisit. Yet in truth it was MY issue, not my friends. They had no way of knowing what I felt. The whole traditional High School experience of the first date, first dance , first kiss, first umm... "whatever", while a given for everyone else, was just not possible for a lesbian or Gay kid in South Central Wisconsin in the 1980's. Or at least  was convinced , it wasn't possible for me.

Many Gays and Lesbians who should be my age never lived to see today. The statistics on suicide for LGBT youth in the 1980's and 90's will give you nightmares. I am so amazingly fortunate to have the family that I do. My parents are the two most incredible, supportive and amazing people in the whole world. Coming out to them while scary as hell, was truly the end of an old life and the beginning of a new much brighter and happier one.

 ( Just in case I haven't told you - Thanks Mom & Dad.)

 I marvel at many of today's LGBT kids with "Gay Straight Alliances". I was delighted to see my own High School now  has a GSA. When I read about kids taking their same sex partner to a high school dance, I can only smile and be amazed at how, at least in some places how far we have come. Though certainly for thousands of LGBT youth in America the reality has not changed from the one I knew .

Over the years I didn't stay in touch with people back from "back home". One wedding, an occasional Christmas Card was pretty much the limit of my contact , and even that soon stopped.  Then one day someone  asked me why I didn't keep in touch with people from those days, and  I didn't really have a good answer. Hence my card to my friend.  It would be the start of an interesting journey for me...

It is worth noting,  the friend I wrote to and about  in  2006 , like so many other  amazing friends from my life  showed me  in words and deeds  what I have always suspected;  My friends are in general, a lot wiser than I am.   As we mark today's  National Coming Out Day there are straight allies in my life who  I still cannot thank enough,  
From the amazing friend who answered that letter in 2006, and reminded me why were friends in the first place, and  still today reminds me to laugh at life more than 30 years later.  To other amazing friends who proved my fears unfounded.   The remarkable  couple in Georgia who's friendship, (that has spanned both decades and continents), literally changed my life.  To the lawyer in Dallas, and  the school teacher in Boston who both  challenged my own stereotypes , and instead, ended up teaching me invaluable lessons about acceptance and true friendship. And as always, my incredible family who show me everyday the power of love over fear.
And yes, to those, who for reasons political, social, and religious felt they could not continue our friendship. I thank you as well. Not because I don't miss you, for believe, me, I do miss you , every day. Yet I owe you my thanks for showing me that the choice to live authentically does not come without cost, and therefore must not, ever be taken for granted. 
 Lastly, to my amazing husband Eric. Who with one brilliant. smile took my hand and changed my life. Without even trying, you provide me with living proof every day that taking those steps to come out of the closet were by far, the best ones I have ever made.


Happy National Coming Out Day


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Remembering a Dark October Night...

Wednesday October 7th, 1998 was a fairly ordinary day in Chicago. I was working for a small consulting firm in the near West suburb of Oak Park, and had spent the day in a series of fairly productive meetings. So I felt pretty good when I got home from work. I was puttering around my apartment making dinner when I picked up the remote control for the TV and turned on CNN.

The lead story was a brutal attack of a young man in Laramie Wyoming named Matthew Shepard. Shepard, age 21, had been beaten into a coma and left tied to fence along a rural highway outside the city. The news report noted that the victim was a young gay man and was not expected to survive.

I remember walking down into “boystown” (the north Halstead area of Chicago, and the center of the city’s Gay community). There were lots of people standing around outside the bars, and restaurants along Halsted Street, talking about what had happened in Wyoming. A makeshift memorial had been set up on the corner of Halsted and Roscoe.

I walked into the 7-11 there on the corner and bought a small votive candle, lit it and placed it with the growing number of candles, handwritten notes and flowers that were being placed around a picture of Matthew that someone had printed off the internet. I stayed for a little while talking to people who were gathered there. Some people were angry, others sad, but we all knew that something in our own community had changed as a result of what had happened,  hundreds of miles away in field outside Laramie.

In 1998 I had just moved to Chicago after being overseas in South Korea. I was in the middle of my own “coming out” process,  and was gathering up my courage to have “the talk” with my parents when I went home for Thanksgiving in a few weeks time. I will admit the news of Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder shook me up. Suddenly the decisions I was making to live openly and honestly as who I was, had potentially fatal consequences.

On an intellectual level you always knew that there were “gay bashers” out there. People who were so conflicted about their own sexuality that they felt the way to “cure” themselves was to attack others for what they feared most about themselves. Yet now those hypothetical risks, were not so hypothetical.  What's more, those cosequences now  had a face, and a name.

As I walked home, my thoughts turned to Matthew Shepard’s parents. What must they be thinking and feeling? Had they known Matt was gay? Did it really matter? Years later I would have the great honor of meeting Judy Shepard,  and hear her tell her own powerful story .

Now 16 years later, I marvel at how my own life has changed. I am married to an amazing man, we have incredible friends and loving families who remind us every day,  that the world is not as bleak and dark a place as it seemed,  on that October night in 1998.

Yet I am still saddened and angry that there are many people in America who honestly feel that Matthew Shepard got what “he had coming to him”. That demonizing , discriminating against, and even murdering Gays and Lesbians is somehow “doing God’s work”.

People with a vested interest in keeping LGBT people as the one group it is still safe to hate. People who seek to profit, personally, politically and even economically from fomenting deadly hatred and fear of others. Bigots whose actions and beliefs are the farthest thing from being Christian, yet claim to have a monopoly on what they claim God thinks and who they claim "God hates".

I really don’t have a point to make here, other than to say it’s important to remember Matthew and so many others like him who have died as a result of hatred and bigotry. If you want to get involved, here are a few great places to start...

The Matthew Shepard Foundation:

The Trevor Project:

The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation:

The We Give a Damn Campaign:

The "It Gets Better" Project:



Monday, October 06, 2014

Marriage Equality Comes to 5 More States

The United States Supreme Court today, declined to hear legal appeals from 5 states seeking to overturn lower court decisions that ruled their respective bans on same sex marriage unconstitutional.    By declining to hear the appeals, the High Court essentially ruled marriage equality to be the law in the US States of   Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Virginia and Utah.

The ruling is a massive blow to proponents of writing bigotry and discrimination into state constitutions. The tired outdated bigoted call of “States Rights” is being shrieked from various corners of the Right Wing Nuttysphere. The typical sad cast of bigots have thrown themselves in front of whatever microphones and cameras they can find, to wail and nash their teeth. Lamenting how horrible it is that they are no longer allowed to deny basic civil rights to people they don’t like.

Fox News’ favourite white supremacist and certified hate group spokes-bigot Tony Perkins all but stamped his feet and threatened to hold his breath until he turned blue demanding that Congress pass a federal marriage discrimination act , enabling states  to decide what minorities get equal rights and which ones don't.   Cue the frantic whining...
"Congress should respond to today's announcement by moving forward with the State Marriage Defense Act, which is consistent with last year's Windsor ruling and ensures that the federal government in its definition of marriage respects the duly enacted marriage laws of the states."

All across  Teabagistan the rage  over what is seen as  "judicial activism" is in full throated  cry.  
You know what Tony?   Good.   Go ahead,  scream, cry,  rend your garments  and say the world is coming to a horrific end.    Nobody cares.    You are full of shit, and  pretty much have nothing left but the same cries of states rights that your buddies in the  Klu Klux Klan spewed with faced with the reality of equal rights for  African Americans.     You even have had your day in court... repeatedly;   Every time you  and your assorted ilk have had to prove under oath in a court of law your lies about  LGBT Americans  you have lost. 
Then we have your favourite old refrain  that  my marriage is somehow an "attack" on the institution of marriage.   A claim you can't back up with any evidence whatsoever.  Whenever subject of equal rights for gay and lesbian couples is part of our national discourse, self proclaimed  social conservatives always claim it is an "attack" on marriage and the family. 
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines that word as:

Pronunciation: &-'tak
Function: verb
Etymology: Middle French attaquer, from (assumed) Old Italian estaccare to attach, from stacca stake, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English staca
transitive senses
1 : to set upon or work against forcefully
2 : to assail with unfriendly or bitter words
3 : to begin to affect or to act on injuriously
4 : to set to work on
5 : to threaten (a piece in chess) with immediate capture
intransitive senses : to make an attack
6: the act or action of setting upon with force or violence

Hmmm… to set upon or work against forcefully huh? Ok, so if we take that argument seriously, to give gay couples the same rights as straight couples; Not more rights, not any new rights that straight couples do not currently have, but ONLY the exact SAME rights,  has somehow injured, damaged and potentially will even destroy heterosexual marriages and families.

Again... Wow. I guess I only have one question then. How?  It is worth pointing out this was the same question you were asked in Court, and were completely unable to answer.

Does today's ruling   mean that straight couples will  lose any of the 1,100 federal benefits and protections that they currently have? Does legal gay marriage mean straight couples can’t file joint tax returns, have, adopt or raise children, pass on social security survivor benefits, or make medical decisions for each other? Does the legalization of marriage for gays and lesbians mean that straight people can no longer marry, and those who are married must get divorced? 

In these 5 states will the marriages or families of any heterosexual change in any way?  

The answer of course is no they won't But bigots are never interested in facts. When faced with them ,Tony Perkins and his ilk generally fire back with the only arguments they can come up with. The tired and completely discredited idea that States have the right to put the civil rights of a minority group up to a vote. When they lost that argument, they fell back on their old favourite; That gay marriage cheapens or lessens the value of the institution of marriage .

But since none of the marriage rights or benefits that straight couples have will change now that Gays and Lesbians are able to marry, what opponents of gay marriage are really saying is that letting gay couples marry cheapens their own marriages in their own eyes. Letting gays and lesbians get married means they now have a right that only heterosexuals had. And for some people that is unacceptable.

It's not just that some people want to prevent gays and lesbians from having equal rights, they want make sure that gays and lesbians have no rights at all. They see equal rights for everyone as an attack on them.

That's interesting. Even though the rights and benefits afforded to couples in “traditional marriage” clearly would not change in ANY way, some people firmly believe that their own marriage would lose value, and might even come to an end, if gay couples are given the same rights.

There is another word for someone who is irrationally fixed on the artificial preservation of inequality that they feel is in their favour. Merriam-Webster's dictionary has the same word for it.

Pronunciation: 'bi-g&t
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle French, hypocrite, bigot
1: a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices

This irrational nonsensical argument against equality in civil marriage is nothing more that the fear of losing what is seen as a civil superiority, coupled with the desire to take religious beliefs and codify them into civil law. It is bigotry, pure and simple.   And the courts have agreed.   
The last gasp argument from these hate mongers is that somehow, they  are the real victims of oppression. That they have a right  to  deny civil rights to people they  don't like, and  that right  has been 'attacked' by  activists judges.
People like Tony Perkins,  Brian Brown, Brian Fischer, and  Julaine Appling,  have made careers picking and choosing from the bible to justify their hatred.  Now they  are very very  upset to find that  they cant pick and choose from the US Constitution as well

Monday, September 15, 2014

Undeclared Wars & Unending Delusions

Once Upon a Time...  Wars  were  declared by Congress...

The  United States Constitution explains  the powers to declare war this way:

The Congress shall have Power to declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

The United States of America has been at war now for 13 years. It is a very real war, that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. It is in fact, the longest war in American History. It is also a war which has never been declared. It is war that has no "home front". It is war where the human costs have been borne almost exclusively by our Military men and women and their families.

The current threat of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" is a direct result of our failure to adequately plan for, and secure a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The decision to dismantle then disperse the still -fully armed soldiers of the Iraqi Army, was the seed from which grew the rancid weed of Al-Qaeda in Iraq , which has now bloomed into ISIS

It is also most certainly a war if not mostly for, then predominantly about, oil. It is long past time for everybody to be honest. If there was no Oil in middle east we wouldn't care about what went on there. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying. It is reason we invaded Iraq in the first place.

But the truth in that admission is bigger than just saying this war is about oil. It is also being willing to admit that in 2014 we live in a completely oil-dependent world. Oil is a much a strategic resource as water and food. So to admit we went to war to secure the free flow of oil to the global market is not necessarily in and of itself all that shocking of thing to admit to.

Unless everyone is willing to give up everything we use Oil for; (Which is pretty much everything in our civilization from transportation,  to  energy and food production.  To   anything and everything made of plastic.) To decry the influence of oil on our strategic and military decisions is to be remarkably na├»ve.

Donald Rumsfeld Greets Saddam Hussein

So  lets be clear here.   The problem is  our addiction to Oil.   It is the reason behind  the  greatest  foreign policy and military  debacles in American history.  From the decision to invade Iraq, to our historical  long running   support  of ruthless dictators and undemocratic regimes  from the Shah of Iran,  to  Saddam Hussein, to the Saudi Royal Family.   

The day we free ourselves of our current all-encompassing need for Oil, is the day we free ourselves from the single greatest motivation for military entanglements in the Middle East. As long as this toxic black goo, found under the sands of that part of the world, is the most critical strategic and economic resource there is, then the stability there, is an issue that transcends the interests of individual nations, and is in fact a matter of Global security.

But the deep dark truth of the matter is, nobody wants to have THAT conversation. Least of all the Oil industry and those people and organizations both outside of , and within Government who are either personally or institutionally invested in our dependence on oil.

So it begs the question if there is a well armed, well funded military force, which openly declares that one of its chief goals is to harm the United States, and that force is in a position to exert enormous control over the world's most important economic and technological resource, is that not a clear and present danger to national security? The answer is to that question is simple, the implications of that answer, are anything but.

Is the United States at war in the Middle East? You would be hard pressed to find anyone who could with straight face give any answer other than Yes to that question. Yet we are spending so much effort to behave as if we are not. We are fighting a war against radical extremist terror groups and doing it via vague Congressional Resolutions that "authorize the use of force". But never actually honestly say what it is we are doing. We are at war.

There is not shared sacrifice in this conflict. It is the brave Men and Women of our military and their families who have paid that terrible price. We have even cooked the books so the economic costs of this war, running into the Trillions of Dollars have been hidden, put on the National Credit Card because raising taxes to pay for it was politically unpalatable.

Instead this 13 year old war has become the very thing President Eisenhower warned us about. It has become an industry.

It is time for America to be honest.    In recent days we have seen shameless political opportunists in Congress, like Senator Lindsey Graham, running on to Fox News to  decry  a lack of action by the President,  while  at the same time deliberately avoiding their own  constitutional obligations.  
 If we are to continue this open-ended war in the Middle East with  a new front against ISIS, then it is time for Congress to pass a Declaration of War. 

It it is time for the Nation to be truly put on a war footing, It is time that a tax surcharge on corporations and individuals be levied to pay for it. It is it time for the Draft to be re-instated to provide the force to fight it.

And as this war is about oil , it is time for petroleum rationing to be instated,   to force us as a Nation to come to terms with just how dependent on this one resource and its related industries we  truly are.

Anything less is a lie. The most costly and bloody lie in American history.   A lie which both political parties  are guilty of perpetuating,


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering This Day....

(The following is an updated repost  of an entry from Sept. 11th, 2011)

Today the media, and the blogposphere will undoubtedly be full of all sorts of remembrances and commentary around what is the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001.

To be honest I really don't like to dwell on the topic. Not out of any sense of personal pain, but more out of respect, for those people I know who were far closer to the events of that day than I was. My experience that day was a somewhat surreal one.

I had gotten up very early and caught a flight from Chicago Midway to Houston. I was heading there for work. It was about 20 minutes into the flight, the seat belt sign had just turned off, and people where shifting about, getting comfortable. I had just pulled out my laptop to work on the presentation I was going to be giving later that day. Suddenly the seat belt sign came back on, and the crew announced that everyone was to return to their seats and prepare for landing, the flight would be returning to Chicago.

The Pilot then came on the speaker system to say that there was nothing wrong with the plane, and we were returning to Chicago because the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) had ordered the flight to return to "clear air traffic". He said that was all the information they had, and he apologized for the inconvenience.

Everyone on the plane thought the same thing. (Not terrorism.) Chicago Midway had upgraded to a new Air Traffic Control System earlier in the Summer and a few weeks prior, there had been a series of glitches that had delayed several flights. Everyone groaned, made comments about "Government Efficiency" assuming it was yet another problem with Midway's system that was going to mess up  our day. 

This  assumption that was bolstered when the captain came back on the loudspeaker  and announced  that we were not returning to Midway but rather we were diverted to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

The woman sitting next to me was happy about this thinking at least it might be easier to get on the next flight out to Houston. I nodded, and said "I hope so", thinking of how I might salvage the rest of my schedule that day and make my afternoon meetings on time.

It took us about 30 minutes of circling over O'Hare before we could land. Sitting in a window seat I watched as the line of planes waiting to land stretched to the far horizon and oddly enough, no planes were taking off. I commented on this to the woman next to me, and she said "wow Midway's systems must be really screwed up!" I laughed and said that what we get for Ronald Reagan having fired all the good Air Traffic Controllers. She laughed and said she had forgotten about that.

We landed and had to wait an additional 20 minutes to get a gate. but finally pulled up to a jetway , and we all lumbered off the plane into the gate area I was getting annoyed because people were not clearing the area in front of the door but were all standing around the televisions that were tuned to the CNN Airport Network. I was about to say a loud "excuse me!" when I happened to look up at the TV and saw CNN  replay footage from ABC of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center.

CNN then cut to live shot of a column of smoke and ash where the World Trade Center Towers were supposed to be, but weren't. I called my office and my boss told me not to come in, The area in downtown Chicago around the Sears Tower was being evacuated. I called my parents and let them know I was not in Houston, got on the CTA Blue Line and went home.   The rest of that day I did what most Americans did, watched the news, and when the images became overwhelming, I put on my roller blades and went blading along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

It was brilliant sunny day. One of those late Summer, early Fall days that you get in Chicago that make you appreciate what a beautiful city it is. As I stopped at Oak Street Beach and admired the downtown Chicago skyline, I didn't think that somehow the "world had changed". But rather I found myself thinking how the United States had  sadly, finally  joined the rest of the world.

Before that that morning, Terrorism was something that happened in other places, Israel, Lebanon London, Belfast , places far away. Even the first World Trade Center bombing for many people, didn't seem like international terrorism. After all, the people responsible were caught when they tried to get the deposit back on the rental van they had used. (How sinister could people that dumb be?)    That is what changed I think, it was the moment America lost the illusion that somehow our two oceans would keep us safe from global terrorism.

For friends of mine who lived in New York on that day,  I understand  that  today  is a much different  experience for them.   A good friend of mine is  a New York City Police Officer  who  lost an arm in the attack that day.   Another friend of mine worked  for an investment bank housed in the  North Tower,  she had a doctors appointment so she didn't go into work  that morning.   For her, today  is a reminder of  the  15 friends and co-workers  she lost  that day.

For the numerous friends of mine who have served, and currently serve in both Afghanistan and Iraq with the American and British Armed Forces, they deal with the effects September 11, 2001 on a far different level than most people ever will.

So this evening, as many Londoners and ex-pats attend the 9-11 memorial service at Westminster Abbey , people all over the world will remember the events of that day, pray for those who were lost, and show solidarity and support for friends and family for whom this anniversary is far more personal than political.

God Bless America, God bless us all.


Thursday, September 04, 2014

"They Will Like You When You Win..."

In the Spring of 1991,  I was a student  at the University of Wisconsin,  one day I was  asked to come to the University  housing director's office. I was told the  Chancellor, and the Dean of Students  needed to speak with me.    Normally, my reaction to such an invite would be to ask what was it that I had written in the Student Newspaper that had upset them that week.    But in this case,  I was told they needed to "brief me" on a new resident who would be moving onto my floor in the Dorm, specifically moving into the same suite I lived in.

When I arrived at the Chancellor's office,  I was introduced to a man from the US Department of State, who explained my new suitemate was Kurdish,  from Northern Iraq.  He was a refugee who had fled his country after his entire family had been executed by the. Saddam Hussein regime.  His family had been killed because he, was working  on a book, detailing the atrocities committed by the Iraqi government against the Kurds.

When the next day,  I met  Hassim, , he  stuck me as a typical  Graduate Student.  Friendly, studious and eager to settle in to his new routine.  I found  we had a lot in common,  we had read number of the same books, and had a shared love of. Star Trek.   We would  spend  many evenings that  semester talking politics, culture and SciFi.    Until one evening   we were sitting in the lounge on our floor, and I got up the courage to ask about his home, and  the war that was currently going on there.

Hassim smiled sadly,  and  told me he would be right back.  He returned a few moments later with a battered old atlas.   He opened  to  the map of. Iraq , Turkey and Syria.  He took a pencil and drew borders around an area including Northern  Iraq,  part  of  Southern Turkey and  Eastern  Syria.  He pointed to the area he had just highlighted and said ; "This is Kurdistan.   It is what should be my country had history not turned out the way it has."

I said  that the countries that make up that area probably would have a real problem with the borders he  had just drawn.  He  nodded, but then turned serious and  said that the current conflict in Iraq (Operation. Desert Storm) was extremely risky .  I asked him if he felt the coalition forces should remove Saddam Hussein from power.   He smiled sadly and said that no one would be happier  to see Saddam dead and gone than he would be.  But removing him from power had "huge risks".

 I asked him what he meant,  and he said Americans really didn't understand the different groups in that part of the world,  He asked if I knew the difference between Shia and Suni Islam.  I admitted I did not.    He then made what,  now years later is a chilling prediction.   He said;  "For America to go into Iraq and remove the Hussein dictatorship means you will have to stay  for 20 years and literally occupy and run the country.  Iraq will have to be. The 51rst State.  Otherwise it will be a civil war between Shia and Sunil and anyone who isn't one of those two will be caught in the middle and just killed."

I asked if there wasn't some way to  negotiate a power sharing deal between these groups.  He laughed and said; "You are thinking like an American". These groups  don't want to get along they want to win or die fighting.   If you want democracy in the middle east, you will have to conquer it first.  They will like you when you win."

The world is still recoiling in horror over the beheading of two American Journalists, and the mass murder of ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria  at the hands of the. "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria".  A group so barbaric and savage that even. Al Qaeda, has distanced themselves from it.

 Looking at the landscape of this part of the world,  like many people I am deeply troubled at the prospect of America and our Allies fighting yet another war in Middle East.

Yet  the alternative seems to be to stand aside and  let chaos, genocide and  terrorism take over a part of the world sitting atop 20% of  global oil reserves. Like it or not,  we  are  all  directly affected by what happens there.    

 So let's be honest and admit on thing;  Yes, this is largely (but not entirely)  about Oil.  Those who decry this fact are not wrong,  but they are hypocritical.   If you don't want to be affected by what happens in the Middle East,  then don't complain when it costs more than  $100 to fill up your gas tank.   Our crack-addict like dependence on Oil  remains our greatest strategic weakness.   It drives our foreign policy in the Middle East, and  causes all of the different groups there, to mistrust any efforts we make to engage with the region as oil-driven and therefore suspect.

Sadly, history doesn't do much to dispute that.

But also lets be clear.  It is not only about oil.   If we truly mean what we say in documents like our own Declaration  of Independence,  or the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Then how can we not  fight the  barbarism of. ISIS or ISIL or whatever they are calling themselves.   Hindsight is always. 20/20, but Hassim  was right.    In removing. Saddam Hussein without a plan for what came next.  The West created the vacuum into which these terrorists  have stepped.   

The horrific murders of the two American journalists, along with the promise of murders of other Americans and British nationals to come, combined with the  genocide of ethic minorities  both Muslim and non Muslims, paints a very clear picture.    We can't reason with them, they don't want to talk,  they want to win or die fighting,  taking as many of  the rest of us with them as they can in the process.

America cannot and must not  fight these animals alone.   The threat to our allies is just as great.  So their engagement in this fight must be equal to that threat.  But the fact is,  the only way this  blood-soaked part of the world will ever have a chance to move forward is for ISIS to be destroyed.  Not marginalised,  not to have their "Capacity Limited".  Not to have, their command and control centres "neutralised". They must be destroyed,  beyond the ability to ever reconstitute.

Is that right, ethical or moral?  No.    Is it necessary?   I find myself  regrettably having to agree with my old friend.

They will like us when we win...