My Question for the LGBT Community – Is It Inevitable?

08 Apr
by John, posted in Liberty, Life, Pursuit of Happiness   |  No Comments



Val and I look forward to the day we can contribute to, volunteer for, and vote for the campaign for marriage equality in some future Colorado initiative or referendum. But, is that day inevitable?

As I have written about previously, I had a fairly typical conversion path to marriage equality with one early exception. I worked in the early ’90s in a company, Quark, that had both a lot of LGBT people and also allowed them to be themselves at work. By the early 2000s Val and I had accepted the entire premise of equality. It helped that most of the tough discussions happened even earlier in the Episcopal Church, which we attend, than in the overall US population. It also helped no one ever called us bigots.

There was a time in the early to mid 1970s when I thought broad access to abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment passage, and a host of liberal or moderate social causes were inevitable.

It is not news that Justice Ginsburg believes Roe v. Wade shut down the legislative momentum in state legislatures to legalize abortion and set a stage for a backlash. I have written about my own reluctant conclusion that although the policy in Roe is right, the actual case from a legal craftsman’s perspective is awful. Instead of relying on the right of women in the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment it relies on a tortured doctor’s privacy right in the Fourth Amendment. And we have faced a steady leveling of the issue with Pro-Life proponents often triumphant in conservative states. What was inevitable was not so inevitable.

The Equal Rights Amendment failed because time ran out on the last three states to ratify it. What had quickly made its way through Congress and most states suddenly stalled after 1973. It was not inevitable because of a seminal lawsuit or single event, but a growing resistance to a perceived arrogance of some of the proponents. What had been inevitable was not so inevitable.

I was concerned even as the LGBT community and all of its supporters won in the Supreme Court in overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. Concerned because I had just recently seen and met Justice Ginsberg at an event she addressed at the University of Colorado. Concerned because the campaign shifted largely to the courts.

Now we have the Mozilla incident, which to me appears to be an Old Testament Biblical revenge story. Mr. Eich the newly appointed CEO is hounded from his job at a supposedly diverse and open company for donating six years ago to Proposition 8 and being outed for that donation using California’s campaign disclosure law. Outed for being behind my curve of acceptance. This is the kind of event that could galvanize resistance not only on marriage equality but on campaign finance disclosure laws.

How could a backlash happen? There are a number of lower court cases finding a judicial right for marriage equality in individual states. Eventually one of these cases will make its way to the Supreme Court. What if the resulting opinion, which hangs thinly on Justice Kennedy’s swing vote, is indecisive. What if it somehow finds some sort of right for individual states to not perform same sex marriages? What if it is the basis for a Supreme Court case finding a constitutional right to make anonymous donations throughout the political system?

Could the LGBT community restart its legislative campaign? Or will we see the goodwill thrown away over an increasingly revenge driven campaign? Because to win in state legislatures requires more than a social media campaign amongst a Silicon Valley constituency. It requires at least a majority and in some states a supermajority.

Frank Bruni, who I really admire for his writing, in The New York Times this weekend proclaimed that marriage equality was indeed inevitable. I am not sure where he grew up, but I saw a lot of inevitable Great Society LBJ programs labeled the enemy of Southern culture. By the time I got to college Ronald Reagan had exploited a perceived Progressive arrogance to turn the conventional wisdom on social issues on its head.

And in 1980 Progressives assured each other that it was inevitable that the country would reject a Goldwater/Reagan vision right up until the moment voters elected President Reagan.

Uniting Around Poverty

31 Mar
by John, posted in election, innovation, Policy, Poverty, Urban Policy   |  No Comments


My last piece, Stop Making Race a Divisive Issue, generated a few on-line comments, but depressingly most comments were off-line.  I did want to follow-up those comments and explain why I think these attacks on Republican and/or conservative politicians hurt the country and the Democratic party.  For me it begins with poverty.

When I was sixteen and seventeen  years old I spent two summers working part time in an Episcopal Church program known as Ole.  A group of us, all from the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas and most of us from the Highland Park High School, spent a large part of the summer looking after underprivileged elementary and middle school kids during the day.  Every morning we fed them a hot breakfast, let them run around on the Church grounds, then took them to community pools or parks, and gave them lunch.

Many days we took them to rich homes with pools.  It always struck me that they were more excited to jump into a private pool, then I in my teenage superiority would ever admit about anything.  On at least one day a week we would take them to a marquee event, such as Six Flags.

Many of the kids were African-American, but there were Hispanics and some whites.  The only commonality was they were often poor beyond any experience I had seen outside poorest Mexico.  And regardless of race they were really good kids almost always grateful for food, a bit of kindness, and a day of safe play.

Those two summers changed everything for me in thinking about the poor.  They were children.  The bore no responsibility for anything.   And their parents at pick-up time were so grateful.

When I first became the general counsel of a US public company, I had a colleague that I had trouble working with for reasons of approach.  It was nothing more than oil and water.  But it did cause a barrier.

I never got a chance to tell her how much I admired her efforts at minority hiring. What she taught me was the much the same as I learned in OLE.  If you wanted to attract minority candidates you had to do more than talk about it, you had to physically go to where minority candidates studied and worked.  You had to go to historically African-American colleges, to community colleges, churches, and community centers.  It was the only company I worked in where minorities and women were truly represented throughout the headquarters.

Today I am a Board Member of the Student Conservation Association.  We place high school and college kids as labor crews or interns into the National Parks, other parks, and conservation agencies.  Our commitment to diversity starts with our founder’s and board’s commitment to it.  But in the end it is the staff of SCA going into urban centers that physically results in poor kids, often minority, entering our programs.  It is that physical contact that makes the difference, not federal law or chats at the board level.

These are the types of experiences that in my view awaken in every successful American’s heart a commitment to diversity.  They call upon the best of our secular and religious traditions to give unto others, especially others less fortunate than us.

But imagine now that you are a conservative admirer of Representative Paul Ryan who some members of the civil rights community labeled a racist for comments on urban poverty as I described in my last post.  Are you more likely or less likely to visit an urban center racked with poverty?  Are you more or less likely to invest your time and money in fighting poverty in urban centers?

You need successful and middle-class citizens with time and money regardless of politics to tackle poverty.  You need their support to volunteer in the community, to produce innovative solutions for education and jobs in urban centers, or even to pay higher taxes.  Whatever the policy differences, calling conservatives racist for their policy views is a pathway to division not unity.

And given midterm Congressional elections are predominantly affluent and middle-class voters with minorities under represented, it is a pathway to more polarization not unity.




Stop Making Race A Divisive Issue

22 Mar
by John, posted in Nazi, Policy, Poverty   |  1 Comments

I went into a meeting so angry over Charles Blow’s recent column in the New York Times that one of my colleagues actually recoiled when she saw me.  I had to apologize and explain that I had just read an article on race that upset me.  She recoiled for the second time.

That is the problem with discussions on race.  People are afraid to talk about it.  That has to stop.

This blog is dedicated to being fearless in the search of moderate solutions.  It has not shied away from discussing the canard that one cannot make Nazi comparisons – instead it has argued it is the duty of all of us whose families the Nazis butchered to speak out when Nazi tactics and theories raise their ugly head.

This blog will not shy away from race either.  And if being called a racist is the cost, so be it.  I grew up in the South in the 1960s and I saw racism often in its most pernicious post-Jim Crow expressions.  Paul Ryan may have never held a real job outside government and is wholly unqualified for executive office, but he is not a racist.

Here is what Blow quotes Ryan as saying and one of the attacks on Ryan:

“In a radio interview with Bill Bennett, Ryan said, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Reactions to the comment were swift and brutal.

Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, said in a statement, “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’ ”

Here is my question:  If “inner city” and “culture” are racial epithets directed at African Americans, what words are acceptable for discussing poverty in cities?  What term can Mr. Ryan use to have a discussion on these topics?  And the answer is none.

Mr. Ryan is simply precluded from talking about this topic unless he wants to raise taxes to fund programs that those that are allowed to discuss the topic view as the solution to poverty in cities.  It is the inescapable conclusion of the last few days.

Much of Blow’s critique and even more virulent attacks uses a razzle dazzle move to side step the issue.  First, he displays graphs that supposedly show that rural, suburban, and urban areas all have the same basic poverty problem.  Except for the graphs show just the opposite – rural poverty is dropping and lower.  Poverty is a complex topic with many layers, but you do occasionally have to look at the data you yourself publish in your piece.

Then Blow goes on to say what Ryan said was “horrific” and implies he was calling black men lazy.  I cannot find any evidence that Ryan called anyone lazy.  No evidence, because what he is saying is that the anti-poverty programs or lack of effective ones in urban America are contributing to high urban poverty.  Ryan believes the traditional Republican position that these programs breed dependency and have failed on the merits.

If you disagree, make your case.

But to avoid a merit based respectful discussion, Blow hits hard on Ryan for reading and admiring Charles Murray.  Murray is the conservative social scientist at Harvard famous for the Bell Curve in the 1990s.  A book I read and found incredibly boring without any meaningful action plan for reducing poverty.

But it is not racist to discuss data on IQ, genetics, and environmental factors.  It is just not useful in helping individuals rise from poverty.  Why?  Because to actually help someone, you have to delve into their individual situation not lump them into a population segment and begin making grand assumptions.

So for example, implying everyone who says “inner city” or “culture” is a racist in a racist party.

The Coming Military Option in Ukraine

13 Mar
by John, posted in leadership, Liberty, Life, Policy, Russia, UK   |  No Comments


Photo by Alexander Noskin of the Soviet/Afghanistan War Memorial in Kiev.

Friends rather publicly asked me at a recent dinner function what I thought of the Ukraine crisis.  The table had produced the typical CNN or Foreign Affairs analysis of the situation, which frankly is not very comprehensible.  Much of that understanding fails to really plumb the history of this part of the world.

I, violating the principles of my spouse’s multi-decade training program, drew immediate gasps by suggesting the US and NATO were about to have an enormous military opportunity for intervention.  That is the last thing anyone wants to hear at an American dinner party in 2014.  The subject was quickly changed.

The first Tsars of Russia came from Kiev.  Crimea is Russian at great cost in several wars.  The Ukraine suffered horrendous genocide from the Nazis in World War II, but still welcomed them in 1941 as liberators from the Soviets.  As a Soviet Republic it suffered all the dysfunction and immorality of the USSR’s exploited non-Russian states.

It is in short a mess that there is no evidence the foreign policy elite and CNN anchors understand  in any strategic sense.  They can report who is rioting and who is fighting back, then perhaps tie that to some other actors.  But they have no analysis ability beyond their immediate found expertise.  You see that in their strident and factually baseless statements that there is no military solution.

But the US, Britain, Canada, France, Poland, and perhaps the other non-paper tigers (Norway and Denmark primarily) in NATO may have an opportunity in the coming months.  The time for the disarmed useless members of NATO to lecture Mr. Putin is rapidly passing.  These members have no effective military and no will to use it, so as usual the burden is going to fall mostly on the same countries that went ashore at Normandy in 1944.

If the Ukrainians do not fight, then eventually much if not all of their country will become Russian.  Mr. Putin will have won and will turn his attention to identifying his next victim. But if they do fight as they have a long partisan history of doing, then Mr. Putin will find himself and his armies in Vietnam unable to halt the flow of arms producing Russian body bags.

NATO will be able to supply such a guerrilla war with small arms, hand held anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, IEDs and related experience from Iraq and Afghanistan.  There is very little risk of those weapons falling into the hands of Muslim extremists.

When the Ukrainians chose not to fight in Crimea, perhaps listening to NATO and others calling for calm, they may have missed a golden opportunity.  The sight of Russian troops machine gunning Ukrainian troops would have changed the dynamic.  Dictatorships are notoriously brittle when confronted early.  Their resilience comes later after democracies in search of peace dig a hole almost too big to overcome.  That is one of the crucial lessons of the 1930s.

But if the Ukranians fight the next round of Russian aggression, the opportunity to save the rest of their country will live on albeit at a great cost.  I suspect we have heard so little about this option, because the Pentagon will want the flow of weapons through Poland to remain secret as long as possible.  We can also hope diplomacy will work.

The Russians are invading across an internationally recognized border they agreed to in the early 1990s.  This would not be a civil war where we have a terrible track record of ineffective intervention. Rather supplying others to fight against a foreign invader as the United States did for Britain in 1940 and 1941 and in Afghanistan in 1979 is an effective policy on the merits.

A no boots on the ground, no air, no naval strategy that saps the strength of the Putin regime over time.  Mr. Putin is not one step away from Munich, but rather one step from Afghanistan in 1979.  Assisting the fall of the Soviet Union was a lot harder than assisting the fall of Vladimir Putin trapped in a sinking pit of body bags.

Repeating the Disarmament Mistakes of the 1930s

09 Mar
by John, posted in Cost-Cutting, UK, Veterans   |  No Comments

This was a piece I wrote in late 2012 when the British government began its disastrous cuts to the military.  Over the weekend members of the UKIP discovered the piece and began circulating it via Twitter.  It is frightening prescient in light of Crimea.


In the early 1930s Stanley Baldwin, stalwart Conservative and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, told the British people what they wanted to hear.  Britain could afford to disarm.  Germany was weak militarily and economically.  The allied French army was on paper the greatest military force in Europe.  The British fleet controlled all the world wide sea lanes without challenge.

Neville Chamberlain succeeded Baldwin as the next Tory Prime Minister. Chamberlain was a successful businessman who hated government spending and saw cost-cutting as essential to British recovery from the Great Depression. Chamberlain continued to resist effective rearmament  into the mid and late 1930s, while he negotiated with Hitler and a rearming Germany.

What an irony of 2012 that a Conservative government in Britain followed by the United States would essentially disarm in the face of rearming and expansionist totalitarianism.  But where is Hitler today? Germany is even more disarmed than Britain and Chancellor Merkel is as far from her predecessor as possible.

China is predicted to pass the US economy in size based on GDP at some point in the next decade or two.  More troubling is the opaque expanding Chinese military budget.  We know it is growing even faster than its GDP growth, but we have to rely on our intelligence agencies for estimates of the growth.  And we also know that the more a culture differs from Western cultures the more likely those estimates are inaccurate.  Vietnam, the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and Iraq stand out amongst other less spectacular failures.

Hitler  began negotiations during Baldwin’s premeirship with the occupation of the Rhineland in 1936. He followed that violation of international law with a persistent attack upon the unfairness of the Versailles Treaty that ended the First World War against Germany.  Hitler’s outward argument was that a revived Germany was entitled to a place at the world stage with its historical territorial claims heard not as conquering demands but the righting of a historical wrong.  His internal argument was German nationalism, German racial dominance in a “Greater Germany”, and a xenophobic hatred of non-Germans.

Chinese nationalism is on the rise.  In the last year we have seen repeated protests against the Japanese  and others within China all with state encouragement.  China is aggressively pursuing long dormant claims in the South China Sea and Sea of Japan.  The shores opposite Taiwan are now armed with missiles capable of threatening any US or allied naval transit of these international waters.  China’s external explanation for rearmament and territorial claims are a revived China is entitled to a place at the world stage with its historical territorial claims heard not as conquering demands but the righting of historical wrongs.  We have to rely on our intelligent services for the internal Chinese argument.

While Tibet may not be Poland in 1940, it certainly has the appearance of occupied France in 1940.  It is a culture preserved solely for the amusement and propaganda of the conquerors.  While the current US and British governments are obsessed with the same budget deficits of Baldwin and Chamberlain, the Chinese are rearming and hiding the extent of it just as Hitler did.

What then is the lesson of US and British disarmament in the 1930s?  It is certainly not Senator McCain’s reactively attack everywhere dissipating our strength.  That line of thinking has us obsessed with Georgia, Syria, and the other backwaters of the Middle East, the Caucuses, and Asia Minor.  The lesson of the 1930s is to carefully identify the fatal threat and maintain a national defense capable of overwhelming deterrence to that threat.

China is growing and rearming.  It is the only potential fatal threat.  If its economy peaks that threat may fade, but if the pace continues potential will become reality.

Once you begin disarmament and incorporate the savings into your yearly budget, it is enormously difficult to reverse.  The cost of rearmament under threat contributed to Chamberlain’s desire to negotiate, which further encouraged Hitler’s view of British decline – the opposite of deterrence.  To publicly cut in 2013 the US and British military for Baldwin’s and Chamberlain’s 1930s budget priorities is to repeat the mistakes of history and invite a shooting war in Asia.