06 December 2015

Dr. Ben Carson Uses San Bernardino Tragedy To Showcase His Ignorance

Photo of Ben Carson by Gage Skidmore
On Saturday, December 5, 2015, Ben Carson, M.D., who currently is most well-known for his bid to become the GOP's nomination in the 2016 presidential election, published a statement on Facebook espousing the very worst of this nation: calling for Syrian refugees to be rejected by these greatest and most United States of America.

In support of his call to abandon the plight of Syrian refugees, who are facing what perhaps are some of the worst atrocities we have seen in this 21st century, Dr. Carson summons fear to the forefront of his argument. In addition to using fear, he uses the tragedy of the December 2nd terror attack in San Bernardino to bolster support:
Today we learned that the female shooting suspect in California was apparently approved for a Visa from the Department of Homeland Security -- using a fake address on her application. If this does not cause an immediate stop to the President's Syrian Refugee Program, I am not sure what will. The fact is that ISIS has promised to try and infiltrate our country by attempting to disguise their members as refugees. This shooting not only confirms that ISIS's mission has been brought to our shore, but also confirms my greatest fear -- they have been able to get a radicalized Islamic terrorist through our vetting system. (emphasis supplied)
Dr. Carson offers no support for his claim about ISIS's promise to infiltrate our country by disguising members as refugees. Moreover, he doesn't mention the national origin of the shooter (who were from Pakistan and not Syria). Instead, he relies solely and exclusively on our deepest fears (that of losing our lives) to promote his argument. In doing so, he fails to realize that he hands victory over to the terrorists. Indeed, even he admits that his statement is based on his greatest fear:

Dr. Ben Carson Facebook post on 6 Dec 2015
No matter how much vetting is done, people will always get through or slip by. No matter how good a security system is, there will always be a workaround or a back door in. No matter how valiant our efforts to provide security to our nation, it is inevitable that failures will take place (although we can and should do as much as possible to place the greatest amount of time and distance between each failure as possible).

Is the solution then to close off our borders and live as Xenophobes--as Dr. Carson suggests? I think not! Rather, I believe that the solution to the refugee crisis -- and by extension the solution to terrorism -- is to do just the opposite: that is, we must carry the torch of freedom and make it clear that there is no act and there is no thing that will diminish us as a nation or as a people.

There is no act and there is no thing that will diminish our resolve for an egalitarian society. There is no act and there is no thing that will change who we are or cause us to surrender our democratic society. There is no act and there is no thing that will cause us to give up a single one of our myriad freedoms.

Poll published in The Washington Post
IMHO, the very best response we can offer to those who attempt to instill fear into us by committing atrocious acts of terror -- especially when such acts are attempts to terrorize a population for its values -- is to tirelessly and relentlessly espouse those values ever louder, ever clearer, and with ever-increasing resolve.

We will not succumb to the fears and ignorance of prejudice. We will not close off our borders. We will not abandon those who are most in need of assistance lying in the dirt. We will not allow the hollow words of hate to resonate in our halls.

Instead, we will come together as a nation and join with true leaders like Bernie Sanders and shut the door on racism, prejudice, fear, ignorance, and hatred once and for all!!!

We will show those who seek to terrorize us and end our free and democratic way of life that their feeble attempts will only serve to increase our resolve to maintain a free and democratic society that values each individual in it and holds dear the conviction that everyone has equality of rights and equality of opportunity to live their lives as they want. We will continue to live our lives as we have, and we will go on, terrorists be damned!

30 November 2015

The Cost Index for the Twelve Days of Christmas Rose Only 0.6% in 2015; Social Security Administration Says COLA Was Zero

Lords a-leaping is the
U.S. economy slow to recover!

Reflecting a steep decline in energy costs, lower inflation and slow-but-steady economic growth, the 2015 PNC Christmas Price Index® (PNC CPI) experienced its lowest growth rate in six years at 0.6 percent in the whimsical economic analysis by PNC Wealth Management. Except for years in which the PNC CPI fell, this is the lowest rate by which it has risen in its history.

According to the 32nd annual report, which measures the cost of the gifts in the holiday classic The Twelve Days of Christmas, the price tag for the PNC CPI is $34,130.99 in 2015, a mere $198 more than last year’s cost and in-line with the U.S. government’s Consumer Price Index, which has increased 0.2 percent over the past 12 months.

The cost of 10 lords a-leaping increased 3 percent over last year, but the price of nine of the other 12 gifts listed in one of the most well-known Christmas carols, The Twelve Days of Christmas, were unmoved from last year, according to the 32nd annual PNC Wealth Management Christmas Price Index released Monday.

The PNC CPI is a whimsical way for the Pittsburgh-based bank to track inflation that largely mirrors the actual CPI.

The set of gifts spelled out in the final verse of the song would cost $34,131 this year, or 0.6 percent more than the adjusted 2014 price of $33,933.

"The headline, I think, is that inflation in this economy, with the sort of tepid recovery we've seen, is almost nonexistent," said Jim Dunigan, chief investment officer of PNC's asset management group.

While the good news is that the price of consumer goods isn't rising very much, it also means demand for those goods is down, at least partly due to wage stagnation, a shrinking middle class, and people working longer hours for lower wages (I wonder where we've been hearing that lately?).

The government's Consumer Price Index has pegged inflation at about 0.2 percent, Dunigan said.

The only other items to increase in price since last year were a partridge in a pear tree and two turtle doves:

The bird in the bush rose 3.5 percent overall, mostly because partridges now cost $25 each, up from $20, because partridges are increasingly popular as gourmet food. Pear trees inched up from $188 to just under $190.

Turtle doves increased 11.5 percent, from $260 to $290, due mostly to increased grain prices that increased feed costs.

The lords a-leaping are more expensive this year in part due to increased labor costs, raising their price from $5,348 in 2014 to $5,509.

PNC calculates the prices from sources including retailers, bird hatcheries and two Philadelphia dance groups, the Pennsylvania Ballet and Philadanco.

As part of its annual tradition, PNC Wealth Management also tabulates the “True Cost of Christmas,” which is the total cost of items gifted by a True Love who repeats all of the song’s verses. The ultra-generous True Love will have to fork over $155,407 to pay for all 364 gifts, nearly $900 more than last year.

Included in the data contained in their press release is this hidden item: the cost of purchasing the items on the Internet rose more this year than via traditional brick & mortar shopping.

The total PNC CPI for Internet-based purchases for 2015 increased 1.6% over last year, with the Total cost of Christmas rising 2.1% to a staggering $196,477. Interestingly, the cost for a partridge in a pear tree fell 3.1% from 2014 to $234.94 and the price of three French hens from the 'net dropped a hefty 15.1% to $281.50.

Two turtle doves from the Internet rose 10.6% -- slightly less of an increase than the 11.5% increase via more traditional shopping methods. Seven Internet Swimming Swans rose 4.8% in price from 2014, and eight maids-a-milking cyber cows saw a 1.2% increase in cost.

PNC offers this explanation to explain why the cost of the 12 Days of Christmas is more expensive on the Internet: For those True Loves who prefer the convenience of shopping online, PNC Wealth Management calculates the cost of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” gifts purchased on the Internet. As Internet prices tend to be higher, True Loves will have to splurge $43,626.73 ($9,495.74 more than buying “in person”) for the convenience of online shopping this year.

It just goes to show that you don't always get the best deal in price by shopping online, which could spell good news for the nation's struggling mom & pop stores -- those small businesses people tend to overlook during the holiday season.

Despite the PNC CPI rising 0.6% -- at worst -- the news isn't cheerful at all this year for the millions of people who receive Social Security payments: the Social Security Administration announced that there was no increase in COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) and, as such, there would be no increase in the Social Security payments in 2016 for individuals who are disabled or retired.

To mirror the government’s core CPI, which excludes energy and food prices, PNC removes the Swans – typically the most volatile item in the index – from its total index. With the Swans excluded, the core PNC CPI rose just 1.0 percent, similar to the 1.9 percent increase in the government’s core CPI.

While the government's core CPI rose nearly 2% in 2015, the COLA -- on which the SSA bases its decision to increase social security payments every year -- saw no change.

The manner by which the Social Security Administration calculates increases for beneficiary recipients needs to be changed. If the government calculates an increase in the core CPI, which does not even include items like energy and food (not that we need these to live, mind you), then it is even more absurd to say that the cost of living has not risen a single cent!

This is almost as insane as the fact that the prices for the Eight Maids-a-Milking, the only unskilled workers in the index, held steady for the sixth straight year -- reflecting the federal minimum wage, which has not been in creased since 2009!

Here is the full set of prices, taken from PNC's press release (sorry for not providing a text-based copy as well but Tables aren't easy to create in Google's Blogger!):

And lest you think I'd leave you without a little bit of enjoyment, here is the classical carol on which rests all of the above data:

Merry Christmas!

The Twelve Days of Christmas Cost Rises Only 0.6% in 2015:

Nina Turner feels the Bern, introduces Bernie Sanders at Cleveland, OH Campaign Rally

Ohio State Senator Nina Turner​ feels the Bern as she introduces US Senator Bernie Sanders at his Cleveland, OH campaign rally on Monday, November 16, 2015 at the Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center in Cleveland Ohio. Senator Nina Turner​ fires up the crowd, chanting, "When I say FEEL, you say BERN! FEEL! (BERN!) FEEL! (BERN!)" and telling the audience what they all know: that "enough is Enough is ENOUGH!!!"

Watch Nina Turner's electrifying speech as she introduces America's next president, US Senator Bernie Sanders: https://youtu.be/vyIr_p9dgCc

23 November 2015

Bernie Sanders's Second TV Commercial

If you're doing everything right but find it harder and harder to get by, you're not alone. While our people work longer hours for lower wages, almost all new income goes to the top one percent. Bernie Sanders's plan is to make Wall Street banks and the ultra-rich pay their fair share of taxes, provide living wages for working people, and ensure equal pay for women. Because together, we can make a political revolution and create and economy and democracy that works for all and not just a powerful few. #feelthebern #bernie2016

20 October 2015

A Marvelous Musical Moment

I just stumbled across by far one of the best renditions of JS Bach's BWV 565 ever, and performed brilliantly on perhaps the most impressive sculpture organ of our time, the Organ St. Bavo Haarlem.

Diane Bish's performance of J.S. Bach's BWV 565 on the Christian Müller organ at St. Bavo in Haarlem, The Netherlands is, perhaps, one of the most beautifully and historically accurate interpretations of Bach's masterpiece that my ears have encountered -- despite the annoying background hum contained in the video.

The stunning beauty of the organ and Bish's command of such a magnificent instrument, as well as Bach's onerous musical talents, was an unexpected moment of pure bliss in an otherwise hectic week (and life)! The candles burning while she played was the perfect finishing touch on a visually delightful masterpiece — simply #amazeballs #awesomesauce #goodness!

Bravissima, Bravissima, Bravissima Ms. Bish -- both on her performance and choice of instrument for such a wonderful and timeless work of art, in all respects!

The organ itself was built by Amsterdam's Christian Müller between 1735 -1738. The organ's casework — some 90 feet high and 50 feet across — was aesthetically perfected, embroidered with intricate carvings and shining gold leaf, by Jan van Logteren.

The Müller organ is situated in St. Bavo's church, located at Grote Markt 22, 2011 RD in Haarlem, Netherlands. It has imposing 32 foot pedal towers, an amazing 64 stops, and three manuals with 118 ranks that provide 62 distinct voices. It was once considered the largest organ in the world for quite some time and currently ranks as the world's 208th largest organ. The playing action is, as originally designed, by direct trackers, and stop control is by hand.

I've always said that pipe organs are both musical instruments and works of art — something most modern organ-builders unfortunately fail to heed. But the historical organs — and Müller's in particular — are some of the greatest and most attractive accomplishments mankind ever created.

For your enjoyment, I've dug up a full 75 minutes of musical enjoyment on this magnificent masterpiece:

My friend +Xander Rühl has the privilege of living nearby this amazing and wonderful masterpiece of all-encompassing art, and has spent part of the summer offering guided tours of the church and this most amazing work of art — I'm jelly! :p
The stunning 1738 Christian Müller organ at the Grote of Sint-Bavokerk in Haarlem.
Posted by Xander Rühl on Tuesday, October 20, 2015

11 October 2015

A Personal Journey Into Coming Out of the Closet

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I'm going to re-tell my own, personal coming out story. But before I do so, there are a few things we must address.

First, coming out is not an event. Rather, it is a process. It is something that anyone who is part of the LGBTQQIAA2S (please don't ask me what that means) spectrum goes through every moment of our lives, once the process has started. For some, the process never goes very far; they live their entire lives in the closet. But that's another issue for another day.

It is a process that must be repeated every time an LGBTQQIAA2S (oh screw it, I'll just use the universal "gay" to refer to this spectrum—that acronym is just too damned difficult to type) person meets someone. It is repeated every time we approach a new situation, a new person, a new location, a new job, a new...well, you get the idea.

For some, the process may get easier over time. For others, it may become more difficult. For still others yet, the ease of going through the process of coming out varies throughout their life. The point is, this process—this coming out—is deeply, deeply personal and involves myriad factors that most cannot even begin to calculate.
I can tell you that each and every time a person comes out, a rainbow bursts through a cloud somewhere, a bell rings, an angel gets its wings, and a glitter-farting unicorn has a baby.

Or..........not! :p NO, THAT'S NOT WHAT HAPPENS!

Didn't I just say that this whole coming out thing was a deeply, deeply personal process? Well then anyone who tells you what coming out will be like for you—or anyone else, for that matter—is proselytizing, probably from some organization asking you to give them money.

So why come out? There are two reasons I can give you:

The first thing I can tell you about coming out is that you might just feel a little better about yourself. Personally, I went through quite a journey—one that is ongoing—to get to where I am. I'll re-post what I've written about that journey down below. But after the very first time I came out, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

We know that others who have gone through the process of coming out experience a similar reaction, via anecdotal evidence. I'm not going to promise that you'll feel like a ROFS (see the link for that explanation) but there is a possibility you'll feel just a teensy bit better.

Oh and by the way, just in case you haven't figured it out yet, the very first person we all have to come out to is ... (drumroll please) ...

Yes, it's you, Y O U ! The very first person in the entire universe that you have to come out to is yourself. You have to acknowledge and accept who you are. If you don't do this, you'll never be able to get to the next step in coming out, which is telling others.

So, a quick word about staying in the closet. There are folks that do this. Some lives their lives as straight folks, some live their lives asexually. Some hook up behind their partner's backs. Whatever the case may be, it is a person's decision and right to live their life how they want to live it.

Personally, I think that staying in the closet is a bad idea:
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. So why all this talk about staying in the closet or coming out—especially when I said I wasn't going to talk about staying in the closet? Because there are some folks out there who believe that it's OK to publicly disclose someone's "closet status" a/k/a "outing" them. That is, they feel that it's OK to tell other folks whether or not someone is LGBTQI@!--ahh, you know what I mean.

And that, dear readers, is wrong. Just. Plain. Wrong...Except! (there's always one of those hiding around somewhere, isn't there?) if a person in the closet is an elected official who is doing something to harm the LGBTQQSSH@I gay community—such as voting for legislation that legalizes discrimination or voting against legislation that promotes equal treatment under the law—then I say, have at it.

The reason for this has been debated ad nauseum but simply put, hypocrites who use their authority in government to harm the community are the only folks who should be exposed, Period (yes, with a capital "F")!

I did say there were two reasons I could think of for coming out, didn't I? Right well ... let's see ... what was that second reason. You know, I could just blather on a bit until I remember what it is but, I digress.

The second reason you may wish to consider coming out of the closet is because it makes you a better human being.

Wait—what? You weren't expecting that one, were you? Well, let me explain.

First, you can stop lying to folks. And in case you think that not telling people who you really are is lying, just remember that there are at least 32 different types of lies that we tell.

Second, you don't have to hide things from folks anymore. No more scurrying your sex toys or porn under the covers when the 'rents come to visit or—gasp—your boss stops by.

Third, both your home and personal appearance will improve. OK, well this is a stereotype but we all know that gay folks just dress better, decorate better, and overall have better taste in just about everything.

Third (seriously though), you contribute something positive to the world: hope. Every time you go through the coming out process, some kid down the street, or in the next town over, or somewhere half across the world, learns that there are other people who feel the same way that they do and—hey—it's ok to be this way. You give hope to someone, whether they be a child, a teenager, or an adult, you give hope to those who have yet to embark on this incredible, personal journey.

Before I conclude (yes I know, it's been a long read for you poor, dear reader), I would be remiss if I didn't include at least a link that gives us the history of National Coming Out Day, which was started in the 1990s by the Human Rights Campaign as a civil rights action to change the hearts and minds of Americans—and lawwwwwwt did it do that!

So there you have it. Oh yes, I did say I was going to re-tell my coming out story. Well, if you really want to know. I mean, I know this is one of the longer posts I've written. I hope you've enjoyed it (please comment!). So I guess I'll re-tell my story.

Apparently, though, this is a thing now so I have to do this:


What you're about to read beyond this point contains suicidal ideation. So if this is a trigger for you, STOP READING! If, however, you're ok reading about what I have gone through so far in my coming out journey then, by all means, forward, ho!

This originally was posted on November 1, 2010:

As someone who's been online in one form or another since the 1980s (that's before the Internet was open to the public), I've used my powers of persuasive writing to advocate for a number of things—such as politics, the environment, and yes, for gay rights.
“In my own unassuming way, I know I can make a difference. You can as well.”
~Kinsey Millhone.
Often, one of the questions posed to me, as a blogger, is, “Why do you blog?” I just finished reading T is for Trespass, the latest (as of this writing) released book in Sue Grafton's alphabet mystery series, starring fictional heroine Kinsey Millhone, an old-fashioned gumshoe of a private investigator, whose stories are set in the 1980s (an age before the Internet, widespread computer usage, mobile phones, flat-screens, and other similar technological wonders). The quote above can be found in the Epilogue of the book, and I think it answers the question as to why I blog.

I know, from the experience of having had readers (whether it be individual posts or the blog as a whole) contact me, that I have made a difference in people’s lives by blogging, whether it was from sharing something personal, describing some new technological wonder of interest to me, arguing a point in law, or any of the myriad topics that one would find in the annals of my blog.

It is in this vein that I tackle a subject that is very difficult for me—one that is deeply personal, emotional, and difficult to deal with but one that mainstream media has declared the cause célèbre this past month: the tragic suicides of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning youth.

Last month, mainstream media decided to shine its spotlight on the tragedy of LGBTQ teenage suicides, and no less than six individual stories of teens who either were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning their sexuality, or perceived to be one of the above, and who made the tragic choice to end their short lives, made national headlines here in the USA.

I've been working—and struggling—with this post for nearly a month. However, some recent actions finally brought push-to-shove and I've decided to go publish this post. I would imagine that, like many bloggers, an occasional blog posting gets written that sits in draft status and is never published; I know I have a few such unpublished "drafts" sitting in my Blogger account, and I'll most likely never publish them. This one, however, is something that needs to be published. I need the world to hear, and to listen, to what I have to say.

I had been debating whether or not to address this topic, given the skill with which so many others have taken it to task, as well as the difficulties I have in dealing with this particular topic. I had been trying, as much as possible, to avoid news, discussion, debate, and mention of this topic, so that I wouldn't have to revisit it. In particular, it's the rantings of Clint McCance on Facebook of all places, Tony Perkins' ranting that gay teens resort to suicide because they're 'abornmal', and Maggie Gallagher's insane ramblings, as well as such other hateful statements that have come out in response to this very, very tragic choice that many LGBTQ teens have been making because they feel so ostracized and hated in life for simply being who they are.

You see, when I finally came to the realization of and accepted who I am (that is, when I finally figured out, realized, and dealt with the fact that I’m gay) back in my teen years, the only mentions of homosexuality (that’s the only way it was "politely" referenced at the time) I ever had encountered in my life were, for the most part, condemnation.

I was raised by my grandparents in a very strict, very conservative Roman Catholic household. Sex and anything related to sex was never discussed in the home. I was masturbating long before I even knew what it meant to masturbate. My fantasies, as a sexually-aroused teenager, were wild and varied but they all had one thing in common. In the deep recesses of my subconscious I knew, that one thing made me different and set me apart from everyone in my life.

When I finally figured out that I was one of those “faggot” homosexuals, I felt the entire weight of the world bearing down upon me in my thoughts: I would shame my family for generations. I was an aberration that must be aborted. I was the devil incarnate. I was every imaginable bad thing one could think of. I thought, “How could I live with myself?”

Where did these thoughts come from? Quite frankly, they were all around me: in church, religion, politics, popular culture, school culture, school, family, friends, etc. Being gay definitely was a big, big no-no when I was growing up. It just wasn't something that one would be, never mind announce to the world.

Did you know that LGBTQ teens are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight, heterosexual counterparts? As this article points out, it's not being gay or lesbian that's a risk factor; it's the negative treatment such LGBTQ teens receive that raises their risk of suicide.

The most insane part of this is that no one—and I do mean no one—ever even suspected me of being gay as a teenager (at least that the told me at the time). I don't think they thought I was really straight, either. Actually, it was more like no one thought of me as a sexual creature, period. I was this fat, dorky, geeky, nerdy brainiac. On top of that, I was so in the closet that I joined the chorus of condemnation every chance I got (a practice many closeted folks engage in as they don't want the truth to be found out). Still, the pervasiveness and negativity about being gay was so severe that it lead me to a drastic course of action.

I had suggested to a friend during a phone conversation that I was considering ending my life. After I ended the conversation shortly after that revelation, I went to retrieve the bottle of sleeping pills my grandparents kept in the upstairs bathroom’s medicine cabinet and started taking them.

Now let me mention a few other things: with the exception of my father, my family (grandparents and sister) had gone on a weekendation, so there wasn't anyone home. My grandparents extensively sheltered me as they raised us; I knew that people killed themselves by taking a bottle of pills but was unaware that they had to be taken all at once. So I began taking the sleeping pills, one by one, and drifted off to sleep...

My friend, worried, convinced one of his parents to come up to my house; my father answered at some unruly hour in the middle of the night, and checked in on me. He saw the bottle of pills, half-taken. I'm not going to announce why the pills didn't do me in but obviously, my plan had failed.

I next woke up in the ER thinking, WHAT THE FUCK?!?

I could not reconcile who I was with everything that I was brought up to believe, especially coming from my religion (Roman Catholicism). Because my attempt to end the aberration that was my life had failed, I came to the conclusion that everything else I had been taught about homosexuality must be wrong.

After this epiphany I began to systematically eliminate all of those negative influences (the ones telling me that who I am was wrong) from my life. I had a great deal of support from the first gay person I ever met, first online and then in person (hi Unca Uni!!!). He remains a very dear friend and mentor to me to this very day.

Through my online contacts, I managed to come across a very happy individual and debated with him at length (along with a bunch of other folks) about politics. I soon came to find out that he was gay. Soon after my initial contact with him online, he set up his own online repository, and I began speaking with him there. There, in secret, and away from the prying eyes of others on any other system, I was able to engage him, and find out more about this "homosexual lifestyle." In doing so, I began to realize that I wasn't quite as alone in the world as I thought I was and slowly, over the course of many months, I was coming to terms with accepting who I am.

Without his kind love and support, I probably wouldn't have made it this for. For the record, our relationship was never sexual. He has always been a friend to me, supporting, and unconditionally accepting of who I am, gay, Rockefeller (progressive) Republican, and all.

I haven't looked back since that dark time in my life. I've fully accepted who I am and love myself.

After this turning point in my life, I gradually started coming out to people: friends first, and then everyone else over time. I went through the phase where I flaunted my sexuality but eventually, I matured. I've since grown into the person I am today—one who is still maturing and growing as time marches onward to the rhythm of its steady beat.

If you’ve read some of my other posts on this blog, then you know I’ve been through a lot in life, and I’m still here. I’ve survived all of the torture, torment, pain, ridicule, and whatever else that the Universe—life—has thrown at me. I've realized that I am part of the Universe.

So you see, it does get better. I am a better, stronger person for having gone through what I did, when I did.

As I've previously stated, I’m not a vlogger so, unlike most of the other “It Gets Better” messages out there, this message is in the form you now see it in. My medium is, has always been, and most likely always will be the written word. And so with this, if even one person reads this entry and reconsiders a tragic decision to end their life and decides to stay on and fight, then it’s well worth it.

To give you an idea of just how "worth it" things can become, I’ll restate a story I wrote almost a year ago (in 2009), about my grandmother’s coming to terms with my being gay and—moreso—her coming to terms with my being an LGBTQ-rights activist.
Approximately one decade ago, Westchester County (where I live) was debating a piece of legislation that would have extended protections to individuals based on their sexual orientation. At the time (1999), this was an extremely controversial act because it included "sexual orientation" as a protected class in the wording of the legislation, something New York State law did not cover.
I've always been politically involved and astute. Despite my family's wishes to the contrary, I registered to vote as a Republican on my 18th birthday (the values of Rockefeller Republicans spoke to me) and haven't missed voting in a single election since. But I digress...my political leanings naturally lent their hand in somehow shaping me as an advocate for gay rights and someone who has been active in the LGBTQ rights movement.
I had written a "Letter to the Editors" supporting the passage of the county's proposed Human Rights Law. My letter was published in the local, county-wide newspaper, signed with my name and village of residence. 
My grandmother, very frail of health (at that time she'd had four major coronary infarctions and a series of minor strokes / TIAs, along with the usual health problems associated with someone approaching their 80th birthday who had been smoking for 60+ years...), came into my room carrying the newspaper (while not bed-ridden, she didn't often get out of bed except to use the facilities and go to doctor's appointments).
She asked me, "How could you be so stupid to have such a letter published with your name and the location of our home?" I was very puzzled by her reaction, as she had tears in her eyes (I had already come out to her by this point (or more accurately, she came out to me; that is, she figured out I was gay and asked me for the truth), so it's not like she didn't know I'm gay). 
So I asked, "What's the big deal, Gram? I've had other letters published in the paper. Why are you so upset?" She told me that there are very crazy people in the world and that by having my name and location published, she was worried about someone hiding in the bushes outside of our house so they could attack me for being gay, or someone coming by the house and throwing rocks at me, or while I'm out and about someone would try to kill me, etc. It was a cause of great consternation for her that I would be harmed, especially by such a lunatic. (Keep in mind, this was a time when mass shootings were not the norm—as hard to imagine as it might be.)
I told my grandmother that it was she who instilled in me the values to stand up for what I believe in, to exercise my rights as guaranteed to me in the United States Constitution and not back down when I know I am fighting a just and worthy cause. Grams hugged me, told me that she loved me, and urged that I be more cautious and safe. She implored with me that I not take such public stances in the future, for she worried greatly over my safety.
Grams said she would pray that I not ever fall into harm's way because of who I am, and advised that she would be worrying over me whenever I left the house (a promise she kept, as whenever I left she wouldn't go to sleep until I returned home safe and sound).
A short while later, a public hearing was held on the proposed Human Rights Law. I was getting ready to leave the house to head for the hearing and speak out in favor of the passage of the law. Grams asked me where I was going. I (reluctantly) told her. She asked if I could wait 5 minutes, and I did.
Five minutes later, my grandmother had her purse and winter coat on (it was January and quite snowy that winter). She told me that she was coming with me (despite her frail health). There was nothing I could do to change her mind, so I brought her along to the public hearing.
We arrived a bit late (snow, ice, roads....blah blah blah), taking seats in the hearing chamber. When the legislators asked if anyone else wished to speak, I began to rise but my grandmother put her arm on me to keep me seated and instead, she rose and approached the podium to address the legislators.
At the podium, my grandmother relayed how she read my letter to the editor in the newspaper, and how scared she was for my safety. She told the legislators that she was a devout Catholic, but that I was her grandson and she loved me no matter who I was or what I did. She implored the legislators to pass the Human Rights Law, so that she could stop worrying about the safety of her grandson, and not have to worry that he would be fired from a job for being who he was, or that someone would be waiting in the bushes to attack him as he came home.
I had absolutely no idea that Grams was going to do this. Tears filled my eyes (just as they are now as I recount these events). It was then, right there in the public hearing, that I came to know the true meaning of Unconditional #Love. I couldn't have been more proud, happy, or loved than I was at that point in time .... 
Since then, as I've met more wonderful people (mostly through social media sites like TwitterFacebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.), and I've come to experience this unconditional love and acceptance.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, don't—just don't. Pick up the phone, or get on your computer, and talk to someone. You can contact the Trevor Project at, 1-866-4-U-Trevor (that's 1-866-488-7867). You can also check out the resources on the Yellow Ribbon website or call them at: 1-800-SUICIDE. Besides, do you have ANY idea just how messy and icky and yucky failed suicide attempts are? Trust me, you do not want to go there!

So you see, it really does get better. And you, too, can become a fighter, just as I have. All you have to do is stick around to see that day come about and it will come about! I should know; I am a survivor ... of gay teen suicide. And if you think there's noone left in the world who cares about you, you're wrong: I do. I care about you; if I didn't, I wouldn't have gone through the enormously emotional roller coaster ride in writing this post.

09 October 2015

Joe Scarborough Knows Bernie Sanders CAN Win the Election!

+MSNBC's +Morning Joe show on October 5, 2015 discusses the latest historic and record-breaking rally that US Presidential candidate hopeful Bernie Sanders held:

Over 20,000 people packed the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Saturday, October 3, 2015 with another 5,000 or so outside the center in an overflow area watching his nearly two-hour-long speech, reports Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski. She says that Sanders's rally broke all records for political events in recent history, doubling the turnout of Barack Obama's 10,000 supporters in 2008.

Brzezinski ponders, "and I, I don't, I mean I -- is he a celebrity and I just missed it?" As she continues to watch the footage, she says, "Look at their faces, watching on screens in an overflow area. You would think that this was a Taylor Swift concert."

Finally, she asks, "What the heck is going on? But why are they there, what's drawing them?"

Co-host Joe Scarborough, a conservative former member of Congress from Florida, answers her question: "The thing is you know we've all learned everybody like went to took their mass comm 101 class always heard that the medium is the message. No. In this case, the message is the message and it's about Bernie Sanders and Mike that's your town, a record setting event in a very political town."

He continues, "We're still a year out and I mean, this guy -- people need to stop, and Albert's been saying this for some time ..."

Finally, Scarborough ends with this clincher: "People have got to stop saying, 'well Bernie Sanders is doing great but he can't win.'"

So there you have it: a conservative Republican former Congressmember essentially telling mainstream media "journalists" -- on what essentially is his own news analysis show -- that Bernie Sanders can, in fact, win the election. In doing so, he implies that they (the media) really need to stop dismissing his candidacy and begin giving it the coverage it deserves.

How ironic that a politician has more journalistic integrity than most journalists!

Morning Joe co-hosts Mika Brzezinski & Joe Scarborough

Joe Scarborough Knows Bernie Sanders CAN Win the Election! http://bit.ly/1Lab9n4

24 September 2015

Bernie Sanders discusses the historic 2015 visit by Pope Francis to the USA

Senator Bernie Sanders, a 2016 US Presidential Candidate, speaks with a reporter about the historic visit by Pope Francis to the USA in September 2015.

About US Senator Bernie Sanders

It should come as little surprise to people who know me that I am throwing my support behind United States Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is running on the Democratic ticket for President of the United States of America in 2016. As a Progressive Republican (f/k/a Lincoln / Hayes / Roosevelt / Eisenhower / Rockefeller Republican), I agree with Bernie on most of his views. More than that, Bernie is as sincere, authentic, and honest an elected official (aka politician) there ever was.

In fact, not only is Sanders sincere, authentic, and honest but he has a decades-long track record that we can examine that goes back over four decades. He has been fighting for the same issues for over forty years. He has been advocating for the middle class for nearly half a century. And he has been fighting for civil and human rights for over half a century -- since he was a young student at university.

Indeed, we are living in a time where our elected officials are managed as much as Hollywood celebrities -- if not more so. Jon Stewart, that brilliantly inimitable comedian who found humor (too much of it, apparently) in today's news, put it best:

The problem here isn't that Bernie Sanders is a crazy pants cuckoo bird, it's that we've all become so accustomed to stage-managed, focus group-driven candidates that authenticity comes across as lunacy. ~Jon Stewart
Sanders is that authentic, honest candidate who major (corporate) media readily dismisses as a loon, as unelectable, as a fly-by-night candidate. If one takes the time to listen to his views, ideas, and plans and truly is open to hearing what he has to say, it becomes readily clear that he is anything but. You see, Sanders is not for sale, so the corporations and oligarchs will do everything in their power to ensure he does not become President of the USA -- which is all the more reason that we, the people, must ensure that he does.

I've always said that the best way to learn about Bernie and his views, ideas, and what he stands for is to get the info straight from the horse's mouth. There is no better way, IMHO, to do that than to view one of the videos where he is engaged either in an interview, a Q&A session, or interacting with a crowd of folks -- as opposed to just delivering a stump speech (which are great as well, but they don't offer the insight that I believe the Q&A/interview-styled videos offer).

This particular interview goes a bit more in-depth into exploring Senator Sanders's views and his plans to restore the American middle class than some others. It's a great video to show to someone who is genuinely interested in hearing the Senator's ideas and his plans but who hasn't had much exposure to him before.

Please feel free to share this widely! The best electorate is an informed electorate -- something the ruling oligarchs do not wish us to have.

 (this blog post is not an official campaign post)

20 August 2015

The LGBTQ Community Is Lost Without Its History and Culture

In 1985, +Bernie Sanders, then mayor of the City of Burlington, Vermont, granted protections to its citizens, including LGBTQ persons. This bold move was deemed to be political suicide and the end of his career in politics.

But it wasn't the first time Sanders has supported LGBTQ rights. His 1970 letter advocating the repeal of laws against "deviant behavior" implies support for marriage equality

Sanders's support for civil rights and of LGBTQ communities extends to the beginning of his career. Unlike others, he never had to "evolve" on his positions to support basic human and civil rights; it has been a part of his basic code of morals and philosophies from the moment his work in activism, civil rights, social justice, and ultimately, his career in politics, began.

There are few individuals even in our own community who were fighting for LGBTQ equality in 1970 -- the risk for prosecution of homosexuality and imprisonment was far too great for most to take. So it is even more significant that an ally stuck his neck out for us at a time when even _mentioning_ things such as homosexuality could land one with an accusation of being a homosexual and a conviction for sexual deviancy, with a 20-year (or in some cases, longer!) prison sentence.

It is even more important for our youth to understand that a scant 12 years ago, it was still a crime in some states to be gay and if convicted, you could get up 20 years in prison. 

Let me repeat this: In 2002, It Was Still A CRIME To Be Gay in some parts of the USA, and you could be sentenced for up to 20 years upon conviction.
Our history -- our struggle -- is all too often not spoken of in these terms. We need to educate our youth as to why we struggle, why we hold pride events, what our culture is and why it was created. Without education and repeating our histories, our community won't know who it is, where we've come from, or where we're headed or should be going.

Bernie Sanders is, as a matter of fact, part of our unique history, as are countless others whose stories are not being told. It's time to put an end to that practice and give credit to those whose names have all but been forgotten:

Bayard Rustin, Sylvia Rivera, Audrey Lorde, Stormé DeLarverie, Brenda Howard, +Reverend Magora Kenndy, +Sabrina Sojourner, Christine Jorgensen, Matt Foreman, +Evan Wolfson, Margarethe Cammermeyer, Stephen Donaldson, Steve Endean, Aaron Fricke, Barbara Gittings, James Gruber, Essex Hemphill, Cleve Jones, Frank Kameny, Larry Kramer, Marsha H. Levine, Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin, Edie Windsor, Harvey Milk, Troy Perry, Geena Rocero, José Sarria, Ruth Simpson, Andy Thayer, Urvashi Vaid, Phill Wilson, and countless, countless others.
How many of these names do you know? Starting with Mr. Donaldson, I took them off a list (the ones before him I was able to recall from memory -- and this list is far from being complete by any means). 

If we are to succeed as a community -- as a people with a unique history and culture -- then we need to know where we've been and figure out where we are now, before we can even begin to discuss where we're going or even want to go.

Part of that process includes remembering who has been there for us, and who was out on the front lines of battle. Let's not forget who we are, so we can figure out where we are now and map out a bright, positive future as a united community that has influenced the world over millennia.

08 August 2015

Moving Away from Gender-Based Signs

Yaaaaaaaaasssssssssss!!!!!!!! Down with gender-based stereotypes; there's no reason to have labels such as "Girls' Toys" and "Boys' Toys"

There's long been a reason I've much preferred Target over Walmart as the "big box discount store." Descriptive labels such as "Dolls" or "Toy Cars" and "Stuffed Aminiminals" not only alleviate some of the anxiety and pressure kids face to fit into antiquated gender roles but are so much more helpful to the shopper!

Adults often force certain toys on kids based on perceived gender stereotypes. I played with dolls as a child, as well as trucks and cars, as did my sister. We played with each other's toys and we never thought anything wrong with or bad about that. Thankfully, our grandparents understood we were playing together as brother and sister, and there wasn't anything wrong with my playing house just as there wasn't anything wrong with my sister playing with cars, trucks, etc.

Another way to think of this is as follows: most of the chefs in the USA are men. However, most of the kitchen toys -- where a child can play-pretend at cooking and use their imagination to create new food dishes -- would be found in the "Girl's Toys" section. How would a boy who has expressed interest in the culinary arts feel about shopping for toys to play with in the "Girl's Toys" section? What if his classmates saw him shopping for a new kitchen playset in the "Girl's Toys" section and began teasing him?

For far too long society has indoctrinated us -- from a very, very early age, as to what is "gender-appropriate." Little girls only do this, little boys only do that. I'm all for erasing gender-based stereotypes, including choice of clothing. Epic and groundbreaking women began breaking down the walls of inequality when they started wearing "men's clothing" (pants and pant suits) many, many decades ago yet it's still taboo for a men to wear "women's clothing" (skirts and dresses). Who came up with such ridiculous ideas?

People in eastern Asian nations often wear the same clothes, and we've discovered that traditional tribal nations of many different cultures shared similar customs. It's time to put an end -- once and for all -- of this nonsense that keeps women from even attempting to do a "man's job" and also is the basis for the disparity between pay among the genders. Enough is enough, let's focus on what really matters about a person instead of judging them by such trivial notions as what type of clothing they choose to wear or the color of their outfits.

Would you want your daughter to EVER be told that she can't do something because "girls/women don't do that?" Gender-based stereotypes are how women were kept oppressed for centures. "Oh we're sorry but you can't do this, you're a woman, and women aren't allowed to do that."

This line of thinking is what leads to gender-based pay inequality. In other words, the REASON that women earn 78% of what men earn overall and why Black women earn a staggering 67% of what men earn FOR THE SAME JOB!

Getting rid of gender-based stereotypes is a step in the right direction and will help with closing the pay gap between men and women.

A super BRAVO to Target for recognizing this and implementing these changes!

23 February 2015

Thanks, Obamacare!

Oh, the trials and tribulations of living on Social Security Disability Income with Medicare health insurance!
The Rising Cost of Healthcare in the USA
The problem of rising healthcare costs in the USA could not be more insane than what I'm currently being subjected to.

I received a notice (so they say) from my Medicare Part D insurance provider (that's the insurance coverage that pays for all of my medications) that my premium was being reduced this year. One might think, this is a good thing, right? Well, as it turns out, it is exactly the opposite!

I went to CVS today to refill five of my prescriptions that I must take in order to maintain my current health. These prescriptions are all required for me to function at close to a level of normalcy. The cost of the coinsurance for these five prescriptions is going to be $193.52!

Last year, I paid all of approximately $40 for these very same prescriptions!

This is complete insanity. I may be saving $40 on my premiums, but I'm paying nearly four times as much for my medications -- and this amount doesn't even include all of the medications I need to take and pay for every month (there are three or four others, and I have no idea how much those are going to cost me).

My income is fixed. I don't have a job, I don't work, and I don't have alternate means of earning income or money. I have no savings left (that all went to paying medical bills years and years and years ago). So how am I supposed to survive when I budget $50 for medication and it turns out to be four times as much, at nearly $200?

I'm left with choices such as the following:
  • Do I pay for my medications and not pay a portion of my rent, or do I pay my rent in full and not get my needed medications?
  • Do I pay for my medications, or pay for my electric/utilities bill?
  • Do I pay for my medications, or pay for my phone bill?
  • Do I pay for my medications, or pay for my Internet/Cable bill (and those who know me know that my Internet service is just as necessary for me as are my medications).
  • Do I pay for my medications, or do I buy food?

I should not be forced to choose between making these payments. I should not have to struggle to pay for the necessary and essential elements of life. Food versus medication, or medication versus shelter. These are not choices I should be forced to make!

The best part about this, of course, is that these pricing changes took effect after the deadline for switching insurance companies. So now I'm stuck with this pricing schema -- and my current insurance carrier -- until the open enrollment period begins again at the end of this year.

When I asked my Medicare Part D provider why they made such drastic changes to their pricing structure, they told me that they did so in order to remain in compliance with the Affordable Care Act and to maintain close to the same profits that they earned the year before.

What sort of insanity is this? Last year, I struggled every month to make it to my next SSD check. With my prescriptions more than tripling in cost -- even taking into account the meager savings I will receive with the reduction in my Part D insurance premium, and the whopping $20/month cost-of-living raise I received this year in my SSD income, I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do to survive.

Thank you so, so very much, Obamacare, for making my life completely unlivable!

23 January 2015

Pope Francis Expresses His Views on Ecological Justice and Building Our Future

I don't care what your religion is, or what your view of Pope Francis is. I implore you to watch this -- it's less than 10 minutes long. The wisdom in his words is simply amazing. This is someone who is speaking #truth about our world, our communities, and he needs -- and deserves -- to be heard. Listen to the #truth this man is speaking about, and bring some #HOPE into your lives./

photo of Pope Francis with T-Shirt, "Water worth more than gold"
Pope Francis with T-Shirt, "Water worth more than gold"
This isn't about other things this man has said or what he's done elsewhere. Tell me that, after spending 10 minutes watching this, you don't feel better, or believe everything he's said. We must restore faith in our youth by building communities, by implanting in them the wisdom from our elders, and give them purpose so that they go out into the world and work to make it a better place.

And we have the power to do this, right here, right now, however we wish to go about doing so. But we need to start doing this, and put a sincere effort into it, for the continuation of our civilization, our world, our cultures, and our lives. And we need to ensure that we impart the wisdom of our elders into our youth, and stop ignoring all of the information, intelligence, and wisdom that our elders posses.

#WATCH #THIS: Pope Francis To Big Oil And Others: God Says Go Frack Yourself And Stop Destroying The World (VIDEO) http://bit.ly/1uBxyao