Speaking of Speaking…

Warning:  This blog is politically incorrect – and cranky.

I finished my last official talk of 2010 on Sunday, this time speaking on the particularly juicy topic of CEOs, Communication and Culture at PRSA’s annual international summit in Washington, DC.  And honestly?  If it weren’t for Carly Fiorina and Mark Hurd, it just would not have been anywhere near as much fun.

In fairness, I spoke glowingly about such CEOs as Gordan Bethune, who turned Continental around in the 1990’s, Andrew Witty, who has combined humanitarianism with good business practices at GlaxoSmithKline (his employees have nicknamed him “Saint Andrew”), and of course, Scott McNealy, who brought so much heart, passion and smarts to my old company, Sun Microsystems. Each of these CEOs truly valued and respected employees, and treated them as they themselves wanted to be treated (yeah, I know – the Golden Rule.  Go figure…).

We can learn a lot from these guys.

As could HP’s last two CEOs.  I feel badly for HP employees, who have gone from Carly, with her goal of destroying the HP Way, to Mark Hurd, who gleefully cut employee pay and benefits while allegedly playing fast and foul with his own expense reports.  What’s sauce for the goose is clearly not sauce for the gander, at least at HP.  I’m hoping that the new CEO is a step up for this company that clearly deserves so much better.

So how did it happen that the queen of self-interest, Ms. Fiorina, might become my new U.S. senator?  How can Californians vote for a fired CEO who outsourced California jobs overseas and laid off over 30,000 California employees?  What is the appeal in someone who managed to be ruthless AND unsuccessful? Someone who employees despised, and cheered the day the board gave her walking papers. Do voters truly believe Fiorina has one ounce more respect for the citizens of this state than she did for her employees at HP?

I don’t get it.

And speaking of ex-CEOs, we have eBay’s Meg Whitman, who failed to vote for her first 40 years on this planet, running for the biggest job in the state – governor.  Never mind she has never held an elected office.  Nope, she has boatloads of money, so experience is apparently not a requirement. At the moment she’s behind in the polls, but just barely.  Since she’s already spent $120 million of her own money, I’m sure she’s ready to pony up a few million more to put her over the top.

Mind you, I’m not a huge Jerry Brown fan, and I worry that California cannot be governed anymore, since we’ve painted ourselves into a corner with heated partisan battles, two-third majorities required to do anything to do with money, and a proposition system that creates more problems than it solves.  If Whitman wins, she may well end up regretting it – being governor of this state has got to be a miserable job.  But I’m rooting against her, because democracy shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder, even on eBay.

I’m sorry to be Terry Cranky Pants, but honestly? November 2nd can’t come – and go – too soon for me.

“Milk,” “Mad Men,” and the ADA

Three seemingly unrelated events:  I watched Milk, one of the best movies ever, this weekend, for the second time.  I tuned into the superb season premiere for Mad Men. And I saw on the news that this week is the 20th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act (ADA).

Huh? What do these have in common?

Think back to when you were a kid, growing up.  How many people in wheelchairs did you see?  How many openly gay men and women?  If you’re anything like me, not so many.  Because we made it awkward to be open about ourselves. We used cruel comments, intimidating acts and physical obstacles, from building design to legislation, to keep those different than us hidden from view.

Mad Men provides lots of examples of how we used to think and act.  On the season’s premiere, Donald Draper is interviewed by a Korean war veteran who lost a leg.  Draper and his colleagues waste little time in joking about why the magazine couldn’t send a full man instead of a one-legged one.  Ha ha.  Yeah, hilarious. But in 1963? The norm. And who can forget Salvatore Romano, the conflicted gay man on the series?  Says columnist Mia Navarro:

Part of the joy of watching “Mad Men,” the acclaimed AMC series, is realizing how far we’ve come since the ’60s. That’s especially true for the sexually repressed Salvatore Romano, a gay character played by Bryan Batt, who is also gay.

In Milk, I was struck by Harvey Milk’s insistence that gay men come out or be outed.  I strongly remember outing in the 1970s, and being horrified at people’s privacy being invaded in such a blatant manner. But that was then, and since being blessed with a son who happens to be gay, I’ve grown up on the subject and have a very different view from my old self.

Would we be having the discussion we’re having today about gay rights if you didn’t know someone who was gay?  Case in point.  Years ago, I posed the following riddle to my husband:  What do we have in common with Dick Cheney and Ronald Reagan?  Scott, a lifelong Democrat, looked at me, utterly baffled.  The answer, of course, is a gay child.

Hiding leads to fear and self-loathing. Openness leads to acceptance and respect. Let’s make it easy, not hard, for all of our citizens to have the opportunity to participate and contribute in America.  After all, where would we be without my son, your daughter, my niece, your neighbor?

Who Speaks for God, Anyhow?

On our way back from Montana last week, I picked up a copy of the Salt Lake City Tribune to read in the car. When I got to the opinion section and saw a number of letters about gay rights and gay marriage, I winced. While there is much to admire about The Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS), their aggressiveness in changing the California state constitution through Prop 8 last fall infuriated me. Hey, if you want to be a political organization instead of a church, be my guest. Just give up your tax-free status.

OK, OK, sorry. It’s very hard for me to write about the role of the LDS in Prop 8 without ranting.

Back to my story. I very reluctantly started to read the letters, waiting for my blood pressure to shoot up. And? I was taken completely aback.   The letter writers overwhelmingly said that the Church’s interference was wrong. The letters to the editor were prompted by this article quoting Elder Dallin Oaks of the LDS:

The anti-Mormon backlash after California voters overturned gay marriage last fall is similar to the intimidation of Southern blacks during the civil rights movement, a high-ranking Mormon says in a speech to be delivered Tuesday.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks refers to gay marriage as an “alleged civil right” in remarks prepared for delivery at Brigham Young University-Idaho, a speech church officials describe as a significant commentary on current threats to religious freedom.

In an advance copy provided to The Associated Press, Oaks suggests that atheists and others are seeking to intimidate people of faith and silence their voices in the public square.

This is the kind of rhetoric from a religious leader that gets to me, as it is so not full of God’s love and acceptance.  And to presume that people who dare to disagree are atheists suggests that Elder Oaks lives in a very narrow world with giant blinders – has he not noticed how many people of faith support civil rights for all?

For years, gays were targeted for being promiscuous.  Now people don’t like them because gays have the gall to want to be allowed the monogamous long-term committed relationship known as marriage.  You just can’t win with these folks.

So it was refreshing to hear from others in Utah who responded to Elder Oaks comments with thoughtfulness and different perspectives, starting with this submission:

Gay Marriage

Public Forum Letter
Updated: 10/22/2009 02:51:02 PM MDT

My stand on same-sex marriage is a strong Yes! Maybe “back in the day” gay marriage was wrong. But “back in the day” people owned slaves. Does that mean we still should? No.

Getting married is supposed to be about love and sharing your life with someone. Who cares if the person you fall in love with is the same sex as you? For those who say that if gay marriage is allowed the birth rate will go down, you’re wrong. If people are already gay they aren’t going to be making babies anyway.

Let them adopt the thousands of children who don’t have homes. Just because a few people are gay doesn’t mean the whole world will be; babies will still be made.

Let gays be. Love is love, no matter what sex your partner is.

Alexandra Gaston

Alexandra’s letter drew almost 200 responses, with perhaps my favorite being this one:

One Human Family: 10/22/2009 6:09:00 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with the author. Why do people care that my gay brother gets married to his partner of 10 years? I never got to choose my sexual orientation, neither did he. No amount of legalization of gay marriage is going to take away my attraction to the opposite sex and no amount of banning gay marriage is going to change my brother’s attractration (sic) to the same sex. Why can’t people get that basic truth?

I don’t know the answer… But I do know that this issue is NOT going away. Because the five to eight percent of the world’s population that was born gay isn’t going away. And civil rights are not going away. And people of good faith are not going away.

Get used to it.

EQCA Lobby Day Sacramento

Marshmallows and Short-Term Thinking

In the 1960’s, Walter Mischel created the Marshmallow Trials as a way to test the ability of children to delay gratification. It was a simple test. Could a young child wait a few minutes alone with a treat and resist eating it, in return for getting a second treat later on? Here’s a recreation of that experiment, now found on YouTube:

Mischel then did follow up studies to see if those children who could resist eating the marshmallow immediately would translate that willpower into more success in life than those who couldn’t.

(True confession: Had I been in that study, I would have eaten that marshmallow within seconds of the adult leaving the room. I would have jammed it into my mouth without a second thought.)

Marshmallow

Those who were children in the early 1960’s are now, of course, adults charged with the responsibility of running businesses and the country. And judging by the fix this country is in, I’m not the only one who struggles with not eating the marshmallow immediately. We seem to be a society struggling with delayed gratification. Pay now for a reward later? Uh uh. We don’t really like to do that. And marshmallow eater that I am, I totally sympathize.

But I think we have to get over it. Including me… After all, we’re not five-year olds being asked to hold off on a treat. We’re adults responsible for our society, including the health, safety, education, and welfare of our fellow citizens. We must pay now to get services later. It’s the way it works. And that means – yes, the dreaded “T” word: taxes.

Speaking of… do you remember when California had a tax surplus some years back and there was a big ruckus about whether or not the state should return it. The checks would amount to something under $100 per household. I remember one particularly emotional letter to the Los Angeles Times in which the writer commented that while that money might not mean much to some people, it would pay for a nice dinner out for her and her husband. Eat the marshmallow now. Don’t wait until later.

I hate paying taxes. And I pay a ton of them. But I support tax increases that protect my health and welfare. Like education. And health care. And the fire department. And the police. And the park system. We need to stop kidding ourselves that there is all this waste in the system that, if eliminated, would pay for everything. That’s magical thinking, and it does not work.

So could we, the voting population, and our politicians please put the rhetoric, emotion and slogans away so we can actually get something done? I want reformed health care. Because I don’t want to catch other people’s diseases, nor do I want to see money wasted on big problems that could have solved when they were small. I want great education. Because I want informed, intelligent people running our companies and our country. I want firefighters to save my home. I want roads that aren’t falling apart. I don’t want to have to say a prayer before driving over a bridge.

We’re not children anymore. Time to not eat that marshmallow and go for a longer term reward. Please?

Hey, Guv! Want to Solve the Budget Crisis?

I started sorting through expenses this weekend, trying to get ready
for tax preparation.  We try to donate a good chunk of cash to
charity every year, and so the one “fun” part of taxes for me is to
figure out our charitable gift deduction.  I made out a list of
what counts and what doesn’t.  Here’s a sample:

  • Money
    given to the Goodwill:  deductible

  • Money
    given to Nature Conservancy: deductible
  • Money
    given to International Planned Parenthood: deductible
  • Money
    given to the Sierra Club – not deductible
  • Money
    given to the Obama campaign – not deductible
  • Money
    given to defeat Prop 8 – not deductible

Hmmm.  So here’s
how it works.  If I give money to a legitimate charitable
organization, I can deduct the donation.  If I give money to a
political cause, I can’t. BUT.  If I gave money to my church who
in turn uses the money for a political purpose – for example,
supporting Prop 8 – then I get to deduct the donation.

Why is this fair?  Why is this right?  Why are churches
allowed to get away with this?  Am I the only one who believes in
the separation of church and state?

I’m outraged by this.  At a time when the State of California is
broke, we continue to turn a blind eye to churches who meddle in
politics at taxpayer expense.  Want to be self-righteous and take
away my son’s rights?  Fine.  Do it with your own taxable
dollars.  Do NOT ask me to subsidize your activities.

Why is that we have so many people who are eager to fight new taxes,
who lobby against new fees, who supported Schwarzenegger’s ridiculous
reversal of an increase in auto registration fees – yet who seem to see
nothing wrong with billions of dollars going untaxed every year? 
It’s apparently bad to increase taxes on people who already pay them,
but heaven forbid we tax churches who blatantly ignore separation of
church and state laws.

Want some easy money, Guv?  Go send your watchdogs to see how
churches spend their money.  I think you’ll find it a
budget-building experience….

OK, I’m going to go take my Paxil now, remember to breathe, and go pay
my taxes like a good citizen.  Unlike our churches who have a free
ride….

A Prayer for Our New President

I’m a child of the Sixties, and as such, I have a hidden fear of optimism, having seen JFK, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy shot down. But this week I have dared to hope again. Seeing our nation represented by millions of well wishers on the Mall today, smiles beaming, tears of joy falling, I watched with my heart swelling in happiness. Could it be? I do believe my beloved country has grown up. We can embrace a great leader who represents us all, and put the pettiness of racial politics behind us.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Today, agnostic that I am, I found myself praying to keep our new president safe, and give our country a chance to rebuild and come together.

God bless us, every one.

Yes We Can

I concede.  Proposition 8, banning gay marriage, won in California.  I fought hard against this, as did many of my friends and colleagues.  Its passage, however, was a narrow one.  So I walk away from the election filled with hope.

Am I a Pollyanna?  You know, I really don’t think so.  The fact is that millions of people voted against Proposition 8, regardless of personal gender orientation.  Discrimination and fairness were (and are) at the heart of the matter.   And that’s not going away anytime soon.

But I have another reason for optimism, and that was just two words in President-elect Obama’s acceptance speech Tuesday night:  “…gay, straight…”

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer…


It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the
United States of America.

The significance of this inclusion was not lost on me, my son, our family, our friends, our colleagues, and millions of others who are fighting the fight.  It means we have a president who is president of all of us – not just those who by right of birth are heterosexual.  It means that while we lost the battle on Tuesday, we will win the war.

Because it’s right, it’s fair, it’s just.

Yes we can.