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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community. I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ jo...

Monday, September 14, 2020

Why is This Race Even Close?

If you’re like me and received a degree in political science, you might as well rip it up.  All that you learned from your experience in college while majoring in poli-sci—the models, the theories, the trends, the paradigms, everything—has been turned upside down in this 2020 presidential election cycle.

We always believed that an incumbent president seeking reelection would defend his record and not do stupid stuff to create doubts. Yet, with Donald Trump, he has done and said many dumb things with some more serious than others. I pointed out some recent miscues here as if he was trying to lose. Still, he remained close in the polls. #hocopolitics

Throughout his term, he has been the recipient of bad press emanating from a host of tell-all books that have ripped Trump’s intellect, lack of curiosity, temperament, competence, judgment, honesty and a bevy of other flaws.  I cannot think of a case where an individual in the know wrote a flattering piece about Trump. They’ve all been scathing indictments from former administration officials, journalists, intelligence officials, his long-time personal lawyer, and even family members.  Still, he remains close in the polls.

Then came a stinging bombshell story in The Atlantic  whereby Trump reportedly denigrated wartime casualties and POWs as “losers” and “suckers.”  These remarks were essentially verified by several news outlets including Trump favorite Fox News. Trump’s denials as well as those from his allies rang hollow given his public disparagement of war hero and POW John McCain.

As for his defense by his press secretary and others in his administration, how would they know what he said or didn’t say unless they have been in his company 24/7?  Two people who did not step forward to defend Trump were notably former chief of staff General John Kelly and former Defense Secretary General James Mattis. How these revelations did not trigger outrage from veterans and POW/MIA groups is beyond me. I wonder how those on active duty with some serving in harm’s way felt after learning what their commander-in-chief allegedly said.  Still, he remains close in the polls.

Trump’s insufficient response to the COVID-19 pandemic will probably be the key issue during this cycle. We bore witness to his lack of seriousness and leadership as the coronavirus hit a second gear and triggered an economic calamity the likes of which the country has not seen in many decades. 

Recall, how he called the virus “the Democrats’ new hoax” and that it is under control and it will miraculously disappear. Trump played it down when he realized that the virus was targeting blue states and more specifically people of color. He scoffed at those who kept social distancing, wore masks and blasted mostly Democratic officials for not jumping in with two feet to re-open businesses and schools. They did so to help spread the virus further. Trump even suggested dubious and dangerous therapeutics like ingesting bleach. Still, he remains close in the polls.

Well, it hit the fan with the previews of famed journalist Bob Woodward’s book Rage, which is about to be made public. All the suspicions about Trump’s failures during the pandemic came to light, which have been backed up by audio of Trump’s own answers to questions covered by some 18 interviews with Woodward. Trump’s best retort is that the book is “fake,” failing to grasp that his own words were used and were damning. Still, he remains close in the polls.

Why, then, is the race so tight even though Joe Biden has held a steady lead? This isn’t 2016 when Trump was merely a TV star and failed businessman and was considered entertaining to some. His opponent had been reviled by the Republican hit machine for decades and couldn’t get from under the baggage she was carrying.

There isn’t that level of animosity towards Biden. Moreover, the Democratic Party is more unified given the imperative that Trump be defeated.

As opposed to 2016, Trump has a record, and it’s not very pretty. Yet, he remains close in the polls.

The answer seems to be that much of Trump’s unyielding support stems from the fact they hate the same people he does: African-Americans, the BLM movement, protesters,  immigrants especially Mexicans and Hispanics in general, Muslims, and liberal Democrats among others. Of course, there are others solidly in Trump’s camp but I believe that the bigoted MAGA folks are the core.  

Many supporters are QAnon conspiracy believers, coronavirus deniers, climate change deniers, and white supremacists.  They form the foundation of his base, and they are frothing at the mouth to see that Trump gets 4 more years.

With such a shoddy record, Trump should be way behind. But that’s under the old rules of politics. The country is deeply divided and few are undecided. The upcoming debates will be hyped and considered must-see TV.  Each side will claim victory though there aren’t that many persuadable voters remaining to make much of a difference either way. The fact check industry, however, should get a huge boost from Trump’s participation.

Like 2020, which has been the weirdest of years, one thing remains constant in this election cycle from how it was back in the day when I studied politics. This November’s election will be decided by who and how many actually vote. It’s that simple.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Why Trump's Reelection Strategy is a Riot

It took a while, but President Donald Trump finally found the shiny object he was seeking. With polls showing him losing to Democratic rival Joe Biden, Trump desperately sought to change the subject from his catastrophic response to COVID-19 to something else. He found it with the protests that had erupted stemming from yet another unarmed black man shot by police.  #hocopolitics

To be sure, Trump’s supposed management of the pandemic, which has killed nearly 190,000 Americans and counting, has been a complete failure. From scuttling the Obama-Biden plan for dealing with a potential pandemic, to denying coronavirus’ existence, to calling it a hoax, to claiming it would magically disappear, to politicizing masks, to a lack of a national testing strategy, to rejecting scientific and medical expertise, to bizarrely silencing Dr. Anthony Fauci, Jr., to the U.S. leading the world in fatalities, to blaming everyone else but him, registered voters overwhelmingly disapproved of his response.  

Trump initially assumed the coronavirus was a blue state problem until he was stunned by learning it has spread to rural America—Trump country. For good measure, his son-in-law Jared Kushner fought the development of a nationwide testing strategy believing the coronavirus impacted blue states more and that team Trump could blame Democratic governors..

Moreover, Trump falsely claimed he saved hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives with the “great job” he was doing. That’s akin to saying he saved over 300 million American lives by not nuking our country. In an open and fair election, Trump was clearly on the path to lose and he knew it.
Then came the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of members of the Minneapolis Police Department and the worldwide protests that ensued.  Instead of calling for social justice to end the stench of racism that exists in many police departments and to embark on a journey towards healing, Trump focused on the arson and looting that accompanied what were overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations until police and other provocateurs raised the temperature.

Clashes with protesters have continued on and off for months in Portland, OR, and a new hot spot in Kenosha, WI. emerged with the shooting of Jacob Blake by another police officer leaving Mr. Blake paralyzed.

These events and others gave Trump the opportunity to turn the page on COVID-19 (indeed, speakers at the Republican National Convention acted as if the pandemic was history) and blame Democratic-led cities for being incapable of squashing the “violence.” In Portland Trump dispatched unidentified cammo-wearing agents to clash with and arrest the protesters.  

Inspired by Trump’s complete disregard for police reform and instead his zeroing in on the protesters who he describes as “rioters”, right wing militia groups saw themselves as the only force standing between chaos in the streets of America and law and order.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, it did. A 17 year-old Trump and avid police supporter, Kyle Rittenhouse, traveled from Illinois to Kenosha, just 20 miles away carrying a military-style assault weapon under the guise of protecting local businesses from destruction. He had been joined by other far-right extremists including “boogaloo bois.” During a melee, young Rittenhouse shot and killed two protesters and injured a third.

Though he was charged for murder, rather than condemning the killings, Trump sided with Rittenhouse because, obviously, he was a Trump supporter. He suggested he acted in self-defense as the youth’s lawyer contends. In doing so, Trump put his fingers on the scale of justice.

All this is adding up to a clear reelection strategy. Trump cannot run on the hard-hit economy in which his failed pandemic response created. He certainly can’t run on his character, or foreign policy as we are now the laughing stock of the world. On top of that, he is solidly in the history books as an impeached president.

So he works up his base into a lather by stoking racism and fear. He inspires and encourages “his people” to act where Democratic leaders are incapable of doing. And he defends them as “peaceful protesters” never mind that they are often heavily armed. Trump repeatedly said Biden’s America would devolve into ruins ignoring the fact the unrest is taking place on his watch.

Crazily Trump blames protest violence on people in “dark shadows” and conjures up an old conspiracy theory stating there are planes filled with “thugs” in black uniforms that descended on Washington. He compared the shooting in Kenosha by police officer to a golfer missing an easy putt.  Wow!

For his part, Joe Biden presented an eloquent alternative view of the situation. In a speech delivered on August 21 in Pittsburgh, Biden condemned Trump’s actions.

“Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames, rather than fighting the flames,” Biden said in his speech. “But we must not burn. We have to build. This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can't stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it.”

And that, sadly, will be the norm over the next 60-plus days. Calling for law and order after he incites rioting is Trump’s only strategy left.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Is Trump TRYING to Lose?

Even with President Trump's failed and catastrophic response to COVID-19, the accompanying severe economic downturn, his numerous character flaws, his blatant racism, his corruption, lying, tweeting, psychopathic narcissism, misogyny, incompetence, grifting, lack of empathy, and the politicization of wearing masks, he was still in a competitive race with Joe Biden though trailing in all of the polls. If all of the Trump stars aligned, however, he still could pull it off.  #hocopolitics

What he lacks in skills and character, he makes up for it with bluster, self-confidence and hubris. Trump believes that he has the best political instincts (along with having hired the best people, attending the best schools and knowing the best words). Yet, recent self-inflicted miscues have called into question those instincts or leaving one to speculate if he is actually trying to lose.

For example:

Trump’s sabotaging of the Postal System: Our U.S. Postal Service, should never be considered a red or blue issue. It’s a red, white and blue institution, enshrined in our Constitution.  His newly installed Postmaster General GOP donor crony Louis DeJoy has begun the dismantling of the infrastructure of the postal system in several ways including removing and trashing high-speed canceling machines, rolling back overtime and removing outdoor mailboxes. These measures have resulted in significant delays in delivering mail and packages.

Clearly, DeJoy was under the direction of Trump to impair the handling of mail as the president has continually hammered away at mail-in ballots as being rife with fraud with not a shred of evidence to back it up. Under the guise of restoring fiscal solvency to the postal system, the timing of these moves less than three months away from the election is suspicious to say the least.

Trump publicly admitted such a strategy. “[Democrats] want $25 billion for the post office. Now they need that money in order to have the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now in the meantime they aren’t getting there. By the way, those are just two items, but if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”

All Americans regardless of political party rely on the mail. It is revered by society, and the institution boasts an approval rating north of 90%. People depend on receiving medications, checks, subscriptions and the like and do not want this vital service weakened. Disabled veterans as well as others need medications that are often received through the mail. And the postal service employs over 90,000 U.S. veterans. That veteran organizations haven’t expressed their collective outrage is astounding. Moreover, mail is particularly vital in rural areas where most of the folks are Trump supporters. People like to receive their mail on time. So do small businesses. They like the postal system. This has been a political fiasco.

Trying to flatten Goodyear tires: Trump made an ill-advised move urging people not to buy Goodyear tires because the company does not permit workers to wear political campaign garb including MAGA hats. Despite lecturing Democrats for having a cancellation culture, Trump decided his fragile ego needed workers to demonstrate their love for him with donning his famous red caps.

Joe Biden gets it and fired off the following statement in response: “Goodyear employs thousands of American workers, including in Ohio, where it is headquartered. To President Trump, those workers and their jobs aren’t a source of pride, just collateral damage in yet another one of his political attacks.”

Ohio is a key swing state, and Trump cannot win the election without Ohio. Those employees whom Trump is trying to put out of work and others similarly in the manufacturing sector have families, friends and neighbors who may not want to vote for Trump after this boondoggle.

Welcome QAnon! Donald Trump will embrace anyone who likes him. Whether it is the neo-Nazis, KKK or brutal dictators and tyrants, if you like Trump or say nice things about him that’s all that matters. Another political loser has been Trump’s welcoming QAnon into the fold. QAnon is a group that has been identified by the FBI as a domestic extremist group. They traffic in bizarre conspiracy theories including the doozy that Democrats are Satan-worshippers and children-devouring pedophiles.

Undaunted, Trump supported and congratulated congressional candidate Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene who won a primary in Georgia and is likely to enter the mainstream by being elected to Congress despite her QAnon devotion. For instance, she had suggested that Hillary Clinton murdered her political enemies and ruminated on whether mass shootings were orchestrated to dismantle the Second Amendment.

QAnon members have reportedly engaged in violence and kidnappings. Trump said he knew nothing about the group (of course) but that they like him and they love our country. He refused to disavow the group and when told about their conspiracy theories and that they see Trump as a hero and savior in the war against pedophiles (oh, the irony!), Trump replied, “Is that supposed to be a bad thing?”

Several Republicans from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to Representative Liz Chaney to strategist Karl Rove lambasted QAnon.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse saw the political danger of Trump’s embracing QAnon.

“If Democrats take the Senate, blow up the filibuster, and pack the Supreme Court — garbage like this will be a big part of why they won,” Sasse said. “Real leaders call conspiracy theories conspiracy theories.”

Lowering the bar on Joe: For the past several months Trump and his Republican cohorts could not successfully defend the president’s record so they attack their opponent Joe Biden. One of the avenues of attack is to paint Biden as a doddering old man who doesn’t know which side is up and cannot string two sentences together.

At the climax of the well-executed Democratic National Convention, Biden delivered arguably his best political speech, thus nullifying at least for now, Trump’s characterization of “Sleepy Joe” or “Slow Joe.” The contrast from expectation to actual was so stark, it made Biden extraordinary and Trump completely foolish.

These are examples of Trump’s political self-inflicted wounds, but with the Republican National Convention coming up, I imagine there will be a bunch more. It will beg the question, is he trying to lose?

Thursday, August 13, 2020

In Search of Elusive Peace

When a mob of unidentified mercenaries were recently unleashed on the citizens of Portland, Ore., it was reminiscent of the anti-war clashes during the Vietnam War era. Then as now, with many employing strong-arm tactics, military and law enforcement combatants attacked and arrested scores of peaceful unarmed protesters.

Amid the chaos of these demonstrations back in the day, a 17 year-old girl was photographed handing a chrysanthemum to a soldier with a menacing bayonet affixed to his rifle during a tense scene outside the Pentagon in 1967. This iconic photo taken by Marc Riboud was of Janrose Kasmir, and this image along with others became symbols of the burgeoning peace movement during the Vietnam War.

In a remarkably candid autobiography, The Girl With The Flower: The Journey is the Trip, Kasmir reveals details about her life that most people would be loathe to share especially in a published work. With graphic and sometimes raw details, Kasmir opens up about her personal struggles that have consumed much of her existence and her late-in-life determination to put those demons to rest.

The book cover and title might suggest that this monumental photograph is the centerpiece of her journey.  Yet, the book is less about the peace movement during that tumultuous period than Kasmir’s seemingly futile search to find her own inner peace.  Nonetheless, her story includes her clear opposition to our involvement in Vietnam and her joining the hippie movement to express her views.

Kasmir was inspired by then leader of the Black Panther Party, Eldridge Cleaver, whom she regarded as a hero. Quoting him, “You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” She declared that this sentiment has guided her since the 1960s.

While that aspect of her life is not the dominant feature of the book, because of the historic significance of that famous photograph, I have included an excerpt in which Kasmir describes the event at the conclusion of this review.

The struggles of young Janrose Kasmir took off after the tragic and unexpected death of her sister and the eventual disintegration of her family. From her middle-class Jewish upbringing in Silver Spring, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.,  Kasmir fought and lost many of her battles. She plunged into depression and drug addiction as well as multiple suicide attempts. Her behavior became more challenging and unacceptable to the adults in her life. She let them down, they let her down. As she put it, her “life was a fucked-up mess.”

Rebellious to the core, Janrose ran away from home on a number of occasions. She was sent to psychiatric institutions and then was in and out of foster families, which rarely worked out for her. Kasmir engaged in a considerable amount of sexual activity that led in some cases to more drug abuse and heroin addiction. She was hardly satisfied romantically adding more to her loneliness and despair. Ultimately, her lack of self-esteem brought on bulimia that plagued her for years.

While the reader will instinctively root for her as her life is peeled back through intensely dark episodes, Kasmir made a number of poor choices along her journey. In one case, she agreed to be blindfolded by two drug pushers in Washington, D.C. and was led on foot to their rooming house. There she was repeatedly raped, which understandably made her terrified of and adverse to male sexual aggression forever.  

In another instance, at the age of 25 Kasmir married a man she had first met at a bar because she
The author with daughter Lisa.
 Photo courtesy of Janrose Kasmir
believed she was supposed to get married at that point in her life. She didn’t love him, and on her honeymoon at a ski lodge in Quebec, not only did she avoid consummating the marriage during the honeymoon, but she cheated on her husband with two different guys.

When you think that Kasmir may have turned a corner, you’re hit with another gut punch adding another layer to the struggle.

So gripping is this extraordinary journey that the book is a fast read. Kasmir relates these episodes in a well-written matter-of-fact style, often sprinkled with salty language, which allows the reader to feel the pain and suffering she had to endure, some of it self-inflicted.

She follows a guiding principle of good writing: write as if you are speaking to the audience, and she speaks it loud and clear.  Her recollection of details appears authentic, and when she couldn’t remember specific things, she admits it, adding to her credibility.

The vast majority of the book is devoted to her journey as a young person. Her later years are covered by the final few chapters when her career as a massage therapist, her settling in at Hilton Head, S.C. and the birth and raising of her daughter Lisa as a single mom. Such ferocious turmoil through those early years has led to a more tranquil and stable existence.

The Girl With The Flower is an excellent chronicle of a person dealing with a turbulent life during turbulent times.  The flower young Janrose handed to that National Guardsman outside the Pentagon represented the calm before the storm that followed.

Behind the Photograph

Janrose Kasmir: While I was holding the flower and looking at the soldiers, focusing on their young faces, in an instant it dawned on me. The rhetoric of the war machine and the baby killers completely melted away and suddenly I realized that these soldiers were just young boys. They could’ve been my brother, my cousin, my date. Sorrow swept right through me and I started to pity them. I held out the chrysanthemum in front of me. I held it with both hands, almost like a gesture of prayer. I became so very, very sad. These boys were just as much victims of this whole mess as anyone else. I became one with the soldiers. It was a moment of simpatico. At that very moment Marc Riboud’s camera clicked and I became a part of history. It was 21 October 1967.

That shot was the last shot of the last roll of film with the last light of the day and then it was all over as darkness rolled in and we all drifted away.


The Girl With The Flower: The Journey is the Trip; Janrose Kasmir; Fortis Publishing; 2020; Paperback; 271 pages; $12.50 (Amazon); also available on Kindle ($8.99).

Sunday, August 02, 2020

No Rainbow Over the Kingdom

Spoiler Alert: If you plan on watching Kingdom currently streaming on Netflix or are in the midst of doing so and don’t want aspects of the plot divulged, read no further.

Nick Jonas as Nate Kulina in 'Kingdom'
Over the years, gay people had been portrayed in movies as depressed, suicidal, addicted or other dark and gloomy individuals. Sometimes the opposite is presented as they are cast as buffoons or ultra-effeminate.  Many were killed off in some fashion or another. These negative stereotypes were captured in the 1995 film The Celluloid Closet that was based on Vito Russo’s 1981 book of the same title.

Of course, as gay acceptance began to increase in society and pressure on the entertainment industry was applied by such organizations as GLAAD, the portrayal of these characters had shifted to more positivity led by numerous changes in television. Ellen, Will & Grace and Modern Family helped paved the way for other shows like Shameless, Orange is the New Black, Riverdale, Schitt’s Creek, etc.

However, with the 40-episode Kingdom, the AT&T Original Series, which had run on DirecTV from 2014-2017 and is now streaming on Netflix, we took a step backwards when it comes to the outcomes of gay characters.

Kingdom is a gritty drama that centers on the lives, loves, victories and failures of a group of people connected to the Navy Street Gym and the world of Mixed Martial Arts in Venice, California. Far from glamorous, the series exposes society’s underbelly including drug addicts, alcoholics, sex offenders, sex workers and the like. The well-received 3-season, 40-episode series was created and produced by Byron Balasco who, along with his team, penned the episodes.

The singular main character in Kingdom who was gay wound up tragically shot to death during a violent altercation after coming out to his father. The killing, which was staged towards the end of the penultimate episode, was perpetrated by a bar bouncer in an attempt to break up the melee.  This is a further example of another gay character that writers saw fit to have perished. It could have and should have gone in another direction.

What makes this tragedy so heartbreaking is that this character, Nate Kulina, played sensitively and understated by hunky Nick Jonas of the boy band Jonas Brothers, was the one character who had his shit together, was clean, had no substance abuse issues, no baggage, and was not embroiled with any conflict other than his battles in the MMA cage and coming to terms with his sexual orientation.

Nate, in his early 20’s, was the younger brother of Jay Kulina who, was played brilliantly by Jonathan Tucker.  Both are fighters. Their father Alvey Kulina (played exceptionally well and convincingly by Frank Grillo) was the co-owner of Navy Street where he, as a former fighter, trains others in the bloody, violent, highly competitive world of MMA.

Nate’s journey towards discovering his sexual orientation gradually came to light during the second season.  His declining interest in a girl he was seeing was apparent, and then Nate’s attention was directed towards a hook-up app where photos of various guys were displayed as he pondered his next steps. 

So, for the viewing audience, the cat was out of the bag. But Nate needed to maintain this secret, and he tried desperately to do so.

Nate met a British man named Will through another contact. Will sought to bring the two closer together, but Nate’s being in the closet was a daunting barrier.  Will handed him a business card with a handwritten message suggesting a dinner date at some point when he was ready.
Jonathan Tucker (Jay), Nick Jonas (Nate) and Frank Grillo (Alvey)

Jay, Nate’s brother, discovered the card and unbeknownst to Nate, examined his phone in which he uncovered a text thread between Nate and Will. He used the phone to lure Will to a bar and proceeded to the location to confirm his growing suspicions. Jay promptly left after a cordial exchange with Will but never mentioned any connection to Nate. 

Shortly after, Nate received a phone call from Will inquiring as to when he will be showing up for the rendezvous. He didn’t know what Will was talking about.

Nate noticed the card among Jay’s belongings as the older brother was hospitalized after a fight in the cage. He checked his phone only to detect the bogus messaging and felt anguish that his true sexual identity has been discovered.

One would characterize Jay as a badass with mountaintop highs and deep valley lows, earnest and talented, volatile and violent that is fueled by alcohol and drugs but also caring and devoted. He’s a complex man, a good fighter and devoutly loyal to his brother and his drug addicted mother. His relationship with his father Alvey had been tense.

In an extremely positive scene, Nate comes out to Jay when he acknowledged that Jay learned of his situation. You may view the edited clip of how this unfolded here.

Jay encouraged Nate to tell their father conceding that Alvey most likely wouldn’t be too cool with it. In the meantime, whispers and rumors were spreading among the MMA community about Nate’s sexual orientation, which could be detrimental in this close physical contact sport.

While the coming out scene with Jay could not have been better, the one with Alvey could not have been worse. Alvey is a troubled man who besides the pressures of running the gym and training an assortment of characters, he had a failed marriage and several girlfriends who had left him. Despite his heavy, and I do mean heavy drinking, at around age 50 Alvey’s body (actually it’s Frank Grillo’s) is shredded. He is also volatile and short-tempered and facing a potential diagnosis for a neurological disease as he was preparing for a comeback fight in a legends tournament. For good measure, Alvey’s estranged mother attempted suicide, and he and his sons went to Tucson, Arizona where she was hospitalized.

It was at a cowboy bar in Tucson where the fateful scene took place. The manual on the best way to come out to a parent was thrown away during this scene. Both Nate and Alvey were drinking. Alvey’s mother had attempted suicide, which weighed heavily on his mind. He stressed about his possible illness and his upcoming fight. Plus, Alvey’s personality suggested that he wouldn’t accept his son as both gay and a MMA fighter.
Part of the cast of 'Kingdom'
“I’m gay,” Nate muttered softly a couple of times. “Your son’s gay.” Alvey exploded and asking, “You’re gonna tell me you’re a fucking faggot?”

Clearly, these were not the right conditions for this conversation to take place.  Yet, it happened, and you can view that tragic scene here . 

Alvey was obviously shaken over this tragedy and saw his role in it. He lost a dear son and for that he was broken. Prior to the legends fight in the final episode, Jay presented a touching and dramatic eulogy to Nate in the ring. You can view it here . 

In the hyped up machismo and testosterone-laden world of MMA where close body contact is intrinsic to the sport, Balasco deserves credit for weaving in a gay storyline in such an environment. And keep in mind this was only one of numerous plotlines and a minor one at that in the very well-acted and photographed Kingdom.

But with so many other characters with self-destructive tendencies and baggage, the one he chose to be killed was the gay character that everyone was rooting for. It was supremely disappointing, if not maddening, as yet another gay character was deemed expendable.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Trump’s Leadership Deficiency is Lethal

 “In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still.”—Harry S. Truman

President George W. Bush at Ground Zero
To be clear, I was never a fan of George W. Bush, and that’s putting it mildly. As President, I can barely count on one hand the number of times I agreed with him or thought he did something good for the country. But his leadership in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 stood out.  #hocopolitics

Three days later, while holding the shoulder of an elderly firefighter, Bush stood on top of some of the rubble left by the destruction of the twin towers. “I can hear you!” he declared, speaking into a bullhorn. “The rest of the world hears you! And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” The crowd reacted with loud, prolonged chants of “USA! USA!”

What President Bush accomplished in that seminal moment cannot be overstated. He brought an apprehensive America together the likes of which the country has not seen since World War II. It didn’t matter then if you were a Democrat or a Republican, Black or white, rich or poor, urban and rural, we were all Americans and we pulled together and gave President Bush full support at that time.

About 3,000 perished on that fateful day nearly 19 years ago. By contrast today, almost 140,000 have died from COVID-19 with 3 million positive cases in the country. Health officials are projecting fatalities to be a quarter million by November.

The statistics from these two crises in America do not represent the full contrast.  We have a president in Donald Trump who, unlike Mr. Bush, has sought to divide the country and demonstrate zero leadership when leadership is needed most. Rather than unify the country, Trump speaks essentially to his base. There was no national call-to-arms. It was a medley of self-congratulatory messages and exaggerated claims at the same time downplaying the virus’s severity.  He declined responsibility.

It was clear early on that this would be a divisive, politically-charged crisis as I had pointed out in March.

Trump fumbled the ball from the beginning by characterizing the coronavirus as “another Democratic hoax.” He reacted late, and lives were needlessly lost as a result. His followers took his cues and denied the seriousness of the virus, and since Trump eschewed wearing a mask in public for vanity concerns, his followers made mask-wearing a partisan issue. Experts have noted that tens of thousands of lives would be saved had masks been universally worn from the start.

He blamed Democratic governors and mayors for the inaction that his administration is actually guilty of.  Instead of communicating a national strategy for testing, delivering personal protective equipment, articulating consistent guidance, and most importantly, listening to the advice of experts, Trump has minimized the effects of the virus, calling it “embers” and offered dangerous therapeutic treatments. Health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, spoke truth to power but Trump would have none of it.

With his sights on re-election, the coronavirus pandemic complicated Trump’s argument that only he
Refusing to wear masks during a pandemic.     Photo: CNN
can offer a strong and growing economy. As such, he pressured all governors to open up their states after massive shutdowns caused by stay-at-home orders, and the servile governors—especially in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona—dutifully complied but did so prematurely before the number of cases leveled off.  Today those states are hot spots with record-setting numbers of cases each day reported.

By contrast, Trump’s presumptive opponent Joe Biden offered a reasoned, thoughtful and clear approach in dealing with the pandemic. He has been a breath of fresh air during Trump’s chaotic response.

In a scathing indictment on Trump’s leadership, Republican governor Larry Hogan of Maryland opined in the Washington Post  that Trump’s delays in reacting to the virus and distributing test kits have been costly to the states. Hogan also commented on Trump’s leadership.

“Instead of listening to his own public health experts, the president was talking and tweeting like a man more concerned about boosting the stock market or his reelection plans,” Hogan wrote.

Trump cannot face the reality of an election that as of now is slipping away. His substitute for leadership is emphasizing what a great job he is doing though the U.S. leads the world in the number of cases. A fix for that, Trump believes, is to have less testing. If you don’t test, there won’t be cases.  Wow!

What we need during this pandemic with such an uncertain future is not a cheerleader but rather a leader. Our lives very much depend on it.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Trump’s Downward Spiral

As 2020 rolled around, things were looking pretty good for Donald Trump’s reelection bid. The all-important economy, for which he grabs total credit, was humming along nicely albeit modestly. 

Unemployment was at historic lows. The stock market indices were raging at record highs. Trump and the Republicans had amassed a huge war chest advantage over their rivals heading into the election season, and the Democrats were trying to sort out a gigantic field of candidates to determine who would challenge the insufferable incumbent. #hocopolitics

With all his personal flaws, character deficiencies and other foibles, Trump, by all accounts, was in fine shape. Impeachment? No worries. He somehow managed to win the message war. The same could be said for last year’s Mueller report. His flop photo-op diplomacy with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, his embarrassing performance in Helsinki with Russia’s President Putin and Charlottesville were all in the rear-view mirror.

Pundits marveled at Trump’s good fortune in not being confronted with a crisis, which would have tested his leadership abilities. That ended abruptly with the onset of the coronavirus or Covid-19 at the beginning of the year, which launched a downward spiral that has put his reelection in grave danger.

If Trump could have handled the coronavirus any worse, I can’t figure out how. He has written the book on how not to deal with a health crisis.
The more than half-empty arena in Tulsa was disturbing to Trump.

Denials of its existence, minimizing the effects of the virus, delays in response, politicization, refusal to accept science, prescribing his own dangerous treatments, politically-motivated pressure on governors to open the states’ economies prematurely, urging schools to re-open without a specific plan to do so, having no national strategy on testing and contact tracing and distribution of equipment, not urging face coverings—all while the toll keeps mounting and the number of cases and deaths leads the world as Trump denies the existence of surges of cases in the Sunbelt and refers to them as embers.

As a result of the stay-at-home orders stemming from the pandemic, the economy tanked. Tens of millions of workers lost their jobs and the country was pushed into a recession.

In addition, Trump has shown no empathy towards those who have suffered and to the loved ones who lost family members. He claims (falsely) that he has done a great job and has saved millions of lives. Trump blames everyone but himself for the epidemic’s carnage, and in particular, China.

While this tragedy continues to play on, Trump was equally inept following the disgusting murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands (or I should say knee) of a police officer. If there was any doubt that Trump is a racist,  this episode and what transpired since should have erased such misgivings.

Again, Trump showed a lack of empathy though he characterized the murder as “terrible.” He cracked down on protesters, assailed those who engaged in arson and looting as agitators and radical Democrats, sided with law enforcement, and for some weird purpose, he embraced the Confederacy.

No wonder former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke endorsed him for president (again). He called the growing Black Lives Matter movement that experienced a resurgence in the aftermath of the killing of Mr. Floyd as a statement of hate. And, of course, he wants to preserve the monuments of those traitors who fought against the U.S. to preserve slavery.  

The nexus of these two crises was exemplified by white armed militia types at Trump’s urging entering the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan to protest the lock down of the state due to the coronavirus are untouched. Black men who are unarmed get killed.

Political observers wonder why Trump has been so overt in his racism. It certainly will not expand his base of support. As former Senator Al Franken noted in an interview with Joy Reid, “He already has the racists.”

Besides the devastating political toll these crises has had on Trump as evidenced by diminishing poll numbers in key battleground states, Trump was hampered by an onslaught of other political missteps and bad press.
In no particular order, tell-all books by former Director of National Security John Bolton and Trump’s niece Mary Trump painted a horrific portrait of Trump as president and as a man. Former cabinet members and military leaders weighed in as well. Trump’s widely criticized photo-op at a church near the White House did not help matters. Even worse, law enforcement tear-gassed peaceful protesters at Lafayette Square to clear the way for this misguided event.

Then the story surfaced whereby our intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was offering bounties to kill American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Trump stumbled on this one, too. First he said he was never briefed. Then he claimed the intel was not actionable. Nonetheless, he still has not called Putin to at least complain about it. It is more evidence that Trump still owes the Russian president for helping him win the election in 2016.

It just goes on and on.  The debacle in Tulsa. Several Supreme Court decisions stunned the president. The firing by Trump fixer Attorney General William Barr of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in the Southern District of New York.   The commuting of the sentence of convicted felon Roger Stone because Stone had the goods on Trump and was protecting him. Everything that he disagrees with is either a hoax, fake news or a witch hunt. 

All these events and more have seen the president in a free-fall emotionally and politically. He is in a hole and he keeps digging. What worries me most is that the desperate Trump will challenge the results of the election from those states allowing mail-in ballots. He has already paved the way for this excuse by alleging (without any evidence) that this method of voting is rife with voter fraud. And we can expect more interference from Russia to whom Trump is beholden.

But as of now, Trump is definitely in a downward spiral and he can only blame himself for that but won't.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Trump's RACE to the Bottom

Of the myriad character flaws that make Donald Trump unfit both as a president and as a human being—corruption, narcissism and vindictiveness, to name a few—the one that is the most troubling is his racism.  For decades Trump has been consistent in his racism from the Central Park Five to leading the birther movement against President Obama to his involvement in discrimination against African Americans in housing. #hocopolitics

Since his descent down the Trump Tower’s escalator to announce his presidential bid in 2015 when he called Mexicans “rapists,” Trump had given the country and the world for that matter a preview of what his 2016 campaign would be about and provided a glimpse of what his presidency would be like.  

While Trump has continued his descent as a racist, increasing numbers of Americans are ascending, rising to the occasion, especially in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd and other unarmed Black individuals at the hands of the police. He and most of the nation are moving in opposite directions. The mainly young protesters comprised of all races and backgrounds formed a beautiful mosaic of people trying to bring justice to our society.

Trump can herald his administration’s few accomplishments vis-à-vis African Americans all he wants, it still boils down to one indisputable fact. Trump is a racist and a white supremacist.

I want to be clear, not every Trump supporter is a racist, but many are. He has given hope and life to a white nationalist movement in the country that had been percolating under the surface and in the shadows. His comment in the wake of Charlottesville where neo-Nazis marched with torches chanting anti-Semitic and anti-Black slogans as “very fine people on both sides” was a dagger to the core of the American conscience.

A despondent Trump arrives home following
embarrassing Tulsa rally

He has characterized African countries as “shithole countries.” He called majority Black Baltimore “a rodent infested mess.” He uses the term “thugs” referring to Black males. He frequently calls Black female journalists “nasty.”

Trump’s response to the murder of George Floyd reinforced his racist reputation.  As people took to the streets to protest police brutality the likes of which we have not seen in a half century, Trump labeled the mostly peaceful but angry and determined protesters who were exercising their First Amendment rights as “anarchists,” “rioters,” “arsonists,” “looters” and other disparaging names. 

Yes, there was arson, looting and destruction. But the Black Lives Matter movement and other leaders quickly condemned those acts, and the perpetrators comprised a very small portion of those protesting. They were mostly outside agitators and criminal opportunists who did not represent the largely peaceful protesters.  

Rather than demonstrating sincerity in the desire for much needed police reform, Trump stepped back 50 years and took a page out of another racist president’s playbook. He started tweeting and conjuring up Richard Nixon’s call for “law and order.” Yet, Trump did not condemn the instances of police violence occurring in the streets against the protesters.  Moreover, he seems more concerned about preserving the statues of Confederate soldiers.

With his presidential reelection campaign looking downtrodden, he is using another Nixon-Agnew trope “silent majority” whom he hopes will save his floundering chances. Trump has decided to bank on this group by playing the race card. He knows his base, and they eat this up.

To that end, he retweeted a video, since taken down by him, whereby one of his supporters chanted “White Power” during a protest in The Villages in Florida—a key swing state. Trump had sent this to over 80 million followers on Twitter on June 28. It is shown below. 

“Thank you to the great people of The Villages. The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall. Corrupt Joe is shot. See you soon!!” he wrote in the tweet.

Trump’s racism is disgusting. He has numerous character flaws but this is his most vile. With every passing day, there is no bottom to his descent.

A good article here on Trump's using racism as an election strategy.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Unmasking Trump’s Biggest Mistake

From his candidacy for president through three plus years in office, Donald Trump has made a host of mistakes. Some have been in the process of governance like the pointless Trump shutdown, separating families at the southern border, the Muslim ban, his response to Charlottesville, his blundering of the coronavirus pandemic response, his taking the wrong position on the George Floyd murder-inspired Black Lives Matter protests, as well as other instances. #hocopolitics

He also made a number of political miscues along the way, such as demeaning the late Sen. John McCain, making fun of a disabled journalist, calling Mexicans rapists, insulting a Gold Star family, and more recently his stroll to the St. John’s Church with Bible in tow for that infamous photo-op after law enforcement broke up a peaceful demonstration using tear gas and other weapons.

So far, Trump, who had been impeached but not convicted for abusing his power to pressure an ally for personal political gain, has more or less weathered the storm, hanging around within single digits of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in most polls.

But President Trump has made one mistake that arguably is his biggest to this point, and that will do more damage to him politically than any of the others. To put it simply, his dismissive attitude towards wearing face masks during the coronavirus pandemic could have an oversized effect on his reelection prospects not to mention adversely impacting the health of large swaths of the population.

Trump needs a strong economy to make the case for reelection but pesky COVID-19 put a halt to that. The ensuing stay-at-home orders provided by his own administration and the nation’s governors closed most businesses, sent well over 40 million folks out of work and plunged the economy into a recession. For this reason, Trump had first denied the seriousness of the pandemic and eventually downplayed it so that he could pressure governors to open their states’ businesses sooner than health officials advised. Remember, for Trump, "it's the economy, stupid."

While some states are seeing their rates of infection decline, the Sunbelt is experiencing a marked rise. In this environment of “re-opening the economy,” it is more incumbent than ever to practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings and to wear face masks to at least mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Somehow, these common sense precautions have been politicized by Trump, who refuses to wear a mask in public.  His followers take his cue and view wearing masks as a sign of “weakness” putting everyone around them at risk. To be fair, some of the Black Lives Matter protesters have eschewed masks but that appears to be more of a personal decision (albeit a risky one) rather than following the President’s example.

Early on, when there used to be briefings from the White House Pandemic Response Team, Trump never wore a mask on the podium and was in close proximity with other members of the team. He continues to go without a mask in subsequent public outings, and his supporters are following him. For his part, Vice President Pence tweeted a photo (pictured) of him since deleted at a campaign headquarters in Virginia with no masks in sight.

The biggest test to date is Trump’s upcoming political rally in Tulsa, OK on June 20. The planners have not mandated the use of face masks and we know the thousands of expected rally-goers will not wear masks so they could piss off the liberals.  Those attendees will have to sign a waiver so that they cannot sue the Trump campaign if they are stricken with the very virus they seem to deny.

Nonetheless, Tulsa’s health director is concerned for the well-being of the attendees and the president himself.

“I think it’s an honor for Tulsa to have a sitting president want to come and visit our community, but not during a pandemic,” Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa City-County Health Department, told the Tulsa World. “I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event, and I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.”

We’ve learned this much about COVID-19.  It doesn’t care about party affiliation or the righteousness of causes. Instead, the virus is hell-bent in finding a host and to penetrate his or her lungs to decimate them. Masks help prevent the spread, and without a workable therapeutic or a vaccine, Covid-19 is going to be around for quite a while.

By Trump’s not taking the coronavirus precautions seriously like wearing a mask, he is putting his own base, his own voters, his own people and everybody who are in contact with them in danger. The further spread of COVID-19 will slow down the re-opening of the economy if not set it back altogether as the public will be less likely be sufficiently comfortable in patronizing those businesses. Therefore, Trump’s cavalier approach will not help his reelection chances since the economy is unlikely to bounce back under these conditions.

Wearing a mask is the prudent thing to do but Trump doesn’t see it that way. It’s his biggest mistake thus far.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Russia, If You're Watching

Dear President Putin,

I know you and your associates are toasting each other with glasses filled with Stolichnaya at the images of the U.S. being torn apart. Once again, a cold-blooded murder of a Black man at the hands of a white police officer has triggered unrest throughout our country.  The footage of the protests is heartbreaking to us because the anger was a result of this senseless tragedy, one that has been repeated for too long, but it must be heartening to you.

Your goal to sow discontent in the U.S. is working. So while the glasses in Russia are clinking now, please know it won’t last.  #hocopolitics

As you are well aware, you helped Donald Trump get elected as President. While he calls the “Russian thing” a “hoax,” we know better. Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, though limited because of a bureaucratic impediment that prevents a sitting U.S. President from being indicted and whose investigation had been under a direct threat of abolishment by President Trump himself, confirmed what our intelligence agencies concluded. The Mueller Report found that the Russian government “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” and “violated U.S. criminal law.”

Accordingly, 26 Russian citizens and 3 Russian organizations were indicted. The investigation also led to indictments and convictions of Trump campaign officials and associated Americans for unrelated charges. The report relayed two methods by which you guys attempted to influence the election: 1) a robust social media campaign to damage Mr. Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton and 2) the hacking of email accounts by your own GRU and the release of the consequential damaging information by WikiLeaks also to damage Mrs. Clinton. But you know all that.

Thus, Mr. Trump squeezed by with an Electoral College victory though the majority of voters preferred his opponent. With him in the White House, you have what our intel folks refer to as a “useful idiot.” You knew he would be so tethered to his business holdings so that he would put his own interests ahead of our country’s. You knew he would ensure that our Congress and related departments would not be too harsh on your country in retaliation against your interference in our democracy.

Many Americans believe that Mr. Trump as well as leading Senate and Congressional Republican leaders, such as "Moscow Mitch" McConnell, have been compromised by your government and/or have received laundered money in the form of donations for their campaigns. This explains their determined opposition to safeguard our upcoming election and allowing you to repeat the same operation with impunity.

You also helped install Mr. Trump because he is a divisive figure by nature and would cause chaos in our country. In the three and a half years in office, he has validated your assumptions.   

He has never attempted to unify our country; he only serves his base of support. President Trump vehemently attacks the opposition and attacks our free press. Sound familiar, President Putin?

President Trump has served you well by keeping the chasm in the U.S. deep and wide. At no time during his presidency did a majority of Americans approve of him as President.  This divisiveness has continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic whereby he was slow to react to it, failed to develop a national strategy to address it, assumed no responsibility, and blamed everyone else.

The divisiveness is on full display during the protests concerning the murder of George Floyd. To be
Murder victim Goeoge Floyd
clear, the scourge of systemic racism has existed long before there was ever a Donald Trump.  But throughout his career, he has fomented racial animosity with his calling for the death penalty on wrongly accused Black and Latino men in the Central Park Five case, amplifying the birther crusade against President Obama, his reference to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville as “very fine people,” separating kids from their parents and placing those kids in cages at our southern border, and speaking down to African American journalists among other instances.

He has given a voice to extreme racist groups and individuals whereby they can display with pride their Confederate flags and symbols and at times, swastikas, without any condemnation from our President. White nationalists know President Trump has their backs.

During this sad chapter in our history, instead of rallying the country and attempt to heal it by promising vigorous police reform, he calls for “tougher” response by our state governors.

President Putin, with your puppet Donald Trump doing your bidding by keeping our nation divided and in the throes of chaos, I understand why you are celebrating. However, we expect Mr. Trump will be defeated by Joe Biden in November and with that, we hope the demise of Trumpism will also occur. Our country will slowly heal, come together through competence and a renewed determination, we will once again be the United States of America.

Then it will be our turn to toast with glasses of Stoli.