Friday, January 20, 2017

#220 - Does Anybody Really Care?

"Does anybody really know what time it is?" - Chicago

As I write these words, we are roughly two hours away from Donald Trump taking the oath of office as this nation's 45th President. This fact makes me angry.

What makes me angrier is the fact that less than half of those casting votes actually voted for the new President, yet his supporters think that gives him an absolute mandate to change things. It does no such things. It tells me Trump needs to find a middle ground (something he's never shown much ability of doing) and fast.

What makes me angriest is that roughly half of all Americans who could vote in this past election didn't care enough to do so. That means the new President was chosen by 25-percent (or even a little less) of the people. Hardly the people's choice.

In baseball, only getting a hit 25-percent of the time makes you a marginal player at best. In football, only converting third downs 25-percent of the time makes it highly likely you will lose the game. Yet Trump supporters view his getting 25-percent of all possible votes as a sweeping victory. Seems a bit delusional to me.

To those who didn't care enough to vote - in my eyes, you are even worse than those who voted for Trump. You didn't like Hillary. Fine. Most, if not all states had other options. Me, I nearly voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.

Sometimes, a protest vote is important. It registers unease, concern, even anger. Not voting registers just one thing. Apathy. It is obvious to me at this point that most people really don't care about politics. I see it all the time on Facebook.

With that in mind, I am proposing a new third party, the Apathy Party. I am willing to be the party's first presidential candidate if need be. I believe I am capable of caring as little as the next person. However, I am willing to make way if another candidate comes along who cares even less. I don't care. Just let me know. I'll get back to you. Or not.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

#219 - Dawn of a New Era or the Eve of Destruction

"Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction." - Barry McGuire, "Eve of Destruction" (written by P. F. Sloan

By this time tomorrow, the United States will be led by the 45th President, Donald Trump, arguably one of the most divisive incoming Presidents in American history based on his incoming approval rating, the lowest of any new President in history.

There are those who might also argue that the new President is perhaps the most egotistical and narcissistic man to ever occupy the White House. In the immortal words of The Eurythmics, who am I to disagree?

For most of the nine years I have irregularly posted to this blog, and for most of the previous 217 posts I have published, I have stayed away from politics and religion. While I will likely continue to leave religion as only the rare and occasional topic, I expect politics to become more prevalent, and the reason is the new man behind the curtain, Donald Trump.

I recently read an opinion piece in The Atlantic that argued the possibility that Trump may end up as one of the most corrupt presidents in our history. That notion could be dismissed as mere hyperbole were it not for the fact that it was written by John Dean, the man who served as counsel for the only President ever to resign from office, Richard Nixon.

According to Dean, Trump and Nixon share some of the same authoritarian tendencies. The difference being that Nixon held many of those tendencies in check. The early indications are that Trump does not have that same level of self-restraint. From the article:
To Dean, these moments suggested a functioning sense of shame in Nixon, something he was forced to wrestle with in his quest for power. Trump, by contrast, appears to Dean unmolested by any such struggle.
Dean goes on to suggest Trump may find himself embroiled in a Watergate-style meltdown similar to the one that forced Nixon from office. Says Dean, “he’s carrying loads of potential problems into the White House with him.” He goes on to say: “I don’t think Richard Nixon even comes close to the level of corruption we already know about Trump.”

So, those who feel Trump will be a disaster as President can look forward to an early end to the Trump Presidency, right? Not if Dean is correct in his assessment of how things have changed in America since Watergate.

According to Dean the checks and balances system has been weakened by "partisan paralysis." For evidence of some of this paralysis at work just look back to the government shutdown and near shutdown, along with the constant gridlock in Congress over the last several years.

Much as many argue we have become desensitized to violence by the plethora of video games, Dean believes we have become desensitized to political scandal. After Watergate, Dean says America was on high alert. But now, according the article, "that culture of vigilance has so eroded that it’s nearly impossible now to envision a sin so grave, or a revelation so explosive, that it would lead to the ouster of a sitting president." Says Dean, “the Trump campaign is an interesting measure of how high the tolerance has gotten for a public figure’s misbehavior.”

An indication of how little we seem to care about even the possibility of impropriety with regard to a Trump presidency can be seen in the reactions of many to the choices put forth for Trump's Cabinet. The fact is that few, if any supporters are concerned by the fact that most of the nominees either have worked against the agencies they are now supposed to lead or are rich, like Trump.

The proposed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA a number of times on behalf of companies opposed to EPA regulations even though ten-percent of the children in his state suffer from asthma, a condition exacerbated by pollution.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, Trump's proposed Secretary of Energy, wants to shut down the agency. Secretary of Labor nominee Andrew Puzder has opposed labor regulations designed to protect workers (and also seems to be a fan of gridlock, saying "the less Washington does, the better". Secretary of Education nominee Betty DeVos supports voucher programs that divert taxpayer money from public schools, has no idea or apparent decision on the decades long proficiency vs. growth debate with regard to assessment, and does not appear to believe in uniform enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Other nominees, such as Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson, who has criticized regulations designed to combat segregation in housing projects, seem equally dangerous. (This op/ed piece in The Baltimore Sun outlines Carson's criticisms and the arguments against those criticisms.")

For me, the biggest danger of a Trump presidency may not be Trump himself but those who seem to blindly follow him. Many of them profess to be Christian, yet the man they support is no more Christian than a pine tree and possibly less so.

One comment I read this morning on Facebook is indicative of the support that concerns me. It read, "I thank God he chose this man to help save this country, and saved us from doom." After reading that, all I could think was a) God really does have a sense of humor (something I've long suspected since learning Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Lee Lewis belonged to the same family tree), followed by b) God must really hate us, before concluding with c) we can't blame God for Trump. This is on us.

These same Christian Trumpeters seem to conveniently forget one of Christ's most important teachings, "love thy neighbor as thyself." Either that, or they are full of self-loathing.

To my mind, there is nothing inherently Christian about any of Trump's Cabinet nominees. "As you do unto the least of them, so you do unto me" seems to fly in the face of the positions these nominees have taken. The Catholic church teaches that we are supposed to be stewards of God's creation. Among other things, that seems to mean protecting the environment, not opening up federal lands to additional energy exploration.

The next four years promise to be divisive, confrontational, controversial, and contentious. They will, however, get off to a rousing start on Saturday with the Women's March on Washington and the affiliated marches in the individual states.

The battle lines appear to be drawn. They are not, however, drawn along the moral lines many religious people would have us believe, at least not in the way they think. The lines are moral, but they are drawn along the lines of right and wrong, as in what is right for all people, what is right for the environment, what is right for the children, what is right for all faiths, and what is right for the least of us.

Instead of fighting to "make America great again" (a slogan Trump took from Reagan, by the way), perhaps we should focus on keeping America great, part of which includes celebrating diversity, promoting fairness, working to help the elderly and the poor, ensuring all Americans have access to and receive affordable health care, and not providing additional wealth and tax breaks to those who already have the most.

If America is to be and to remain great, the majority of people must benefit, not just a handful at the top. Putting a billionaire in charge and appointing a handful of wealthy people as his advisers and Cabinet members does not seem the best way to ensure that the greatest number of people possible benefit.

Let the battle begin.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

#218 - A Year To Forget, A Year To Remember

In many ways, I will not be sorry to see the back of 2016. The year got off to a rocky start with the death in January of David Bowie and continued on through the double whammy deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

In between, a number of famous and important people left the scene, and a minority of Americans succeeded in handing the keys to the candy store (and the nuclear arsenal) to an rude and overbearing reality TV host. It's as if The Truman Show (the Jim Carrey movie in which his entire life is fodder for reality TV and he's the only one not in on it) has been flipped on its ear, the script pages mixed with those of Panic In The Year Zero (the 1962 Ray Milland film about a family which must learn to survive in the aftermath of nuclear war) to give birth to some sort of Nightmare on Elm Street revision in which the nightmare is all too real.

I have little in the way of expectations for positive change from the incoming administration, and based on some of the names on the transition team and those being bandied about for Cabinet posts, I doubt I'll be pleasantly disappointed.

I am lucky in that I do not expect my life to be negatively impacted much by the Trump presidency. My fear is that millions of others will not be able to say the same.

Based on the rhetoric coming out of Washington since the election, attempts will again be made to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly. This, even though those two groups make up a smaller portion of federal spending than military spending, federal subsidies, and tax breaks for large corporations.

I expect to see racism become, if not more prevalent, more visible and overt over the next four years. The change is already taking place as evident in the turning of a family's outdoor Menorah display into a swastika. The incoming President may not be a racist, but I believe he is an enabler of such behavior.

This last year, quite frankly, sucked in a lot of ways, and I could continue to lament what happened and outline my fears regarding what lies ahead. Instead, I will hope to be wrong and will hope that in 2017 fewer people than I expect will suffer a rolling back of rights; that fewer people than I expect will be excluded from the safety net that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security were created to provide; and that more people than I expect will find love in their hearts for people who are different from themselves.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday, December 23, 2016

#217 - A Holiday Wish

Just a short post to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season. If you are traveling to visit friends and/or family over Christmas, may your journey be safe and uneventful, and may your visit be filled with wonderful and lasting memories.

It looks like our Christmas may well be a white one. Several inches of snow fell in the Boise area throughout today, much more than that, I'm sure, in the surrounding foothills.

Regardless of your political or religious beliefs, I hope this holiday finds you safe, happy, and healthy. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa. As is said during the Catholic Mass, Peace be with you.

Friday, December 16, 2016

#216 - Scar Tissue

WARNING: A disturbing scene is described in the post below, and at least one word may not be suitable for sensitive ears.

The other day, I was listening to an interview a friend and former colleague was doing on a New Orleans radio station about a documentary she's been working on for the past decade. (Talk about dedication!) The documentary, titled "Battlefield: Home," is about the battles servicemen and women, along with their families, face when they return home from active duty.

My friend's film has nothing much to do with this post except that it got me thinking about the idea of scar tissue. We usually think of scar tissue in terms of surgical procedures. However, many of us carry around scar tissue of a different nature.

In the case of my friend's parents, that scar tissue was created by supremely traumatic events. My friend's mother was a child survivor of the second atomic blast during World War II, in Nagasaki. Her it father was a survivor of two tours (if I remember correctly) in Vietnam. Those experiences, I'm sure, left emotional scar tissue, something that really never goes away.

As my friend was talking about her parents, I began to think about my own scar tissue. When I was five, my father left for work one day, never to return (something I've posted about on a couple of previous occasions). The story my mother gave me for the rest of her life was that he left because he could not handle having a family. The story I later got from another family member was that my father had a penchant for underage girls. My mother found out and kicked him out. Scar number one.

My mother soon found herself a new beau who would become husband number two. Living in Los Angeles, a bustling metropolis, and having the looks my mother had, she should have had a good chance of landing a Mr. Right type. The man she ended up with turned out to be all wrong.

Husband number two came into my mother's life after a short stint in San Quentin (you know, the other prison Johnny Cash recorded a concert in) for killing another man in a bar fight. When my mother met him, husband number two was working as a truck driver but apparently did not like driving a truck because he promptly quit as soon as they married and moved us to a small town in the Mojave Desert. To the best of my recollection, he never worked again during the five years they were married.

Of course, expecting to feed, clothe, and house a family of five (he had a son and I had a sister) on the income of a waitress would have been hard enough. It turns out the bar fight was not an isolated demonstration of the temper of husband number two.

He was prone to yelling at my mother and not at all reluctant to slap her around from time to time. For the most part, I have blotted the specifics of those years out, but one episode has never left me. So vivid was it at the time that I have never been able to blot it out.

One day, for reasons I don't recall (possibly something to do with an assumption on the part of husband number two that my mother had held back some of her tip money, although he never really seemed to need a reason), husband number two began yelling at and slapping my mother. He ripped off the top half of my mother's clothing and yelled for his son to bring the scissors because he was going to "cut her tits" to teach her a lesson. I was eight. Scar number two.

For several years after my mother and husband number two split (they were married for five years, together for about three years of that time), my mother raised us as a single mother with the help of an elderly couple. My sister and I  slept in a converted chicken coop. The husband was a nice, easy going man. The wife was a fire and brimstone type who continually browbeat and belittled her husband (perhaps my first experience with the idea of a battered husband).

After a few years of this existence, my mother was convinced to move us all back to the Seattle area, where I was born. Along the way (both before and after the move), my mother cycled through a series of boyfriends and lover always searching for Mr. Right and never even finding Mr. Maybe.

Some of these affairs lasted a few months (one was a Vietnam vet with a steel plate in his head, one was a man 15 years her junior, another was about ten years younger). The ones that lasted the longest also seemed to be the ones that did the most damage.

One such affair was, in many ways a reenactment of husband number two. This affair, begun while I was in high school, involved a younger man with a volatile temper who usually just yelled at my mother, sister, and me, though he was not above the occasional slap. (By this time, I had long since learned not to cry when I got in trouble and was whipped with a belt, so I was somewhat numb emotionally.)

One night in December, just after my birthday, boyfriend number whatever came home from work after having gone out for a few drinks, and he was in a foul mood. I don't recall what my mother was supposed to have done, but I do remember that the shouting match that ensued soon became physical, with him slapping her and ripping her top off, exposing her in an eerie reenactment of the episode from nearly a decade before.

By this time, I was 17 and thought I might be able to step in and help protect my mother. I picked up a baseball bat and threatened to bash in his skull if he didn't stop hitting her. He laughed. I froze, unable to follow through. He threw her and us out of the house. (It was snowing, much like it is today, and my mother was half-naked.) When the police came, my mother refused to press charges. The boyfriend later proposed marriage, something I talked my mother out of by threatening to leave for good if she accepted. Scar number three.

Life's experiences help prepare us to survive, and I have survived, though I'm not sure I've really lived. There have been times I'm not sure I wanted to live, even spending time during my colleges years wishing I were dead and thinking about suicide. Like the episode with the baseball bat, though, I was not able to follow through (although I did once attempt an overdose of aspirin, of all things).

Over time, I have developed a thick skin. This has allowed me to endure bullying at school, abuse at home, and other things life has thrown at me along the way. On the other hand, I have encountered road blocks and obstacles made more difficult due to that thick skin which provided a safety layer but kept people at arm's length.

My experiences have made it difficult for me to make friends, love, express myself verbally. They have also led to me developing my own temper, which I am thankfully usually able to keep in check and am (more thankfully) able to keep from escalating into the realm of the physical.

My wife argues that I need to leave the past behind, and she's right as far as that goes. I have managed for the most part to move on from those experiences. Therapy helped some in that regard, though I never felt able to share some of the most traumatic episodes in those sessions.

However, our experiences do shape us, for better and for worse, and the scar tissue each of us develops as the result of our experiences do help to define us or at least create the hurdles we must overcome in order to reach whatever potential we might have.

In some ways, I am who I am because of what I experienced growing up. In other ways, I am who I am in spite of those experiences. Even at this stage of my life, I am still healing. Whatever may have created your scar tissue, I hope you are healing as well.