Politics

DEATH OF DEMOCRACY

A cautionary fairy tale by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

The King Brothers strode through the luxurious lobby of the grand Wilford Washington Hotel. It is a stately old hotel with all the modern amenities. Only the richest of the rich can stay at the Wilford, and the King Brothers were among the one percent that controlled most of the nation’s wealth. It was a particularly joyous night for the highly successful businessmen as they again used their business skills and wealth to get what they wanted.

Your Vote CountsAlthough they were knowledgeable and successful businessmen, Chauncey and Derrick King owed most of their wealth to inheritance. Their father discovered a new way of making energy. It was not the most environmentally responsible method, but it sure made a lot of money.

When old Farley King passed on, Chauncey and Derrick aced out two other brothers to grab control of the largest privately held corporation in the nation. Now they had their sights set on power. They wanted the sort of power that would assure continued success to their business as well as that of their friends. This meant no environmental controls that would limit their production.

The boys were all smiles as they moved to the elevators, one of which would take them to an exclusive penthouse party to celebrate victory. It was election night in the nation and everything was falling into place. Despite the massive price tag of their efforts, they were pleased with what their investment had purchased.

When the doors of the elevator opened, the King brothers found family, friends and a few carefully selected politicians on hand. They all had the opportunity to partake in the best drinks and hors d’oeuvre money could buy.  Chauncey was partial to a particular wine from France, Pierre Jouet Champagne, at a mere $6,500 per bottle. The hotel secured a case of it just for the event.

Cal Rhodes came up to the boys with the latest good news. “We have won another one. Just one more and we will control the Senate as well as the House. There are victory celebrations in just about every one of the party campaign headquarters across the country.”

For all the money the brothers dumped into attack ads and digging up dirt on the other party, they felt they ought to win most of the battles. And win them they did, all night long.

Time to vote! - Marilyn Armstrong

The party went well past midnight as they all kept a careful eye on the western states. The laughing and joking and storytelling of the earlier hours had given way to watching election results. Giant screen televisions around the room had been playing FIX News all night, but now they turned up the sound so everyone could hear. The audience hung on the words of the political reporters they knew and loved.

Elections in Oregon and Idaho were unexpectedly close. While Oregon was supposed to be a battle, Idaho was considered “a lock” for the brothers prior to election night.

“What the hell is going on in Idaho?” Chauncey shouted at Cal.

“I’ll check it out,” was all Cal could say as he went back to working the phones, a task he normally relished. It would not be good for Cal or any of the architects of the Senate strategy if they did not pick up one of the remaining states.

The numbers on the election boards were moving agonizingly slowly. Derrick said to no one in particular, “No one lives in Idaho, how long can it take to count a few votes?” At just past one in the morning, Eastern time, the crowded roomful of conservatives heard the news they’d been waiting for.

“With 93 percent of the precincts reporting, FIX News projects the incumbent Senator from the state of Idaho has held off an unexpected challenge and will retain his seat.”

With that announcement, Chauncey ordered another bottle of his favorite champagne. “Give everyone a glass. Let’s toast this hard-fought, hard-bought victory.” They toasted until the wine was gone and the guests headed home or back to their rooms in the warm, friendly Wilford Washington Hotel.

Derrick went to Cal with hardiest congratulations.

“You know, Cal, it’s time we set our agenda for the next two years. We need to start working on it immediately. But let’s get a good night’s sleep first. We’ve all earned it.” With that, Cal got a big hug from both King brothers before heading downstairs to his room.

On the very next day, with the House and Senate in hand, the King brothers discussed who should be the candidate for the highest post in the land two years hence. Whoever they picked would become their anointed one, their monarch and would serve the brothers well.

They would send him off to live in a big white house. Congress would pass all the Kings’ proclamations and the brothers would live happily ever after.

The very end.

WORDS OF A WELL-KNOWN AMERICAN

How do your opinions compare?

We all have opinions about our country. While some of us are Democrats and others are Republicans, and while some are Libertarians and others are right of the Tea Party, we can generally all agree on certain aspects of the American government and our basic freedoms. Nobody wants our rights taken away and we all want to be good patriots, but what is a good patriot?

constitution_1_of_4_630

“Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen…” and nothing would seem more certain than this. That is what one well-known American had to say recently, but not all are in agreement with his point of view.

“How can that be?” you might ask. Protecting the country, the Constitution and the countrymen would seem to be the highest priorities for a true patriot.

He added that we also need to look out for “encroachments of adversaries, and those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.  They can be bad policies.” There are many Americans who believe that bad policies are hurting the country. Ask anyone who claims to be in the Tea Party. They will tell you that Obamacare is killing this country. Ask many on the left and they will tell you lack of gun control is killing our children.

But this is not the sort of thing this well-known American is talking about. It could just be “simple overreach and — and things that — that should never have been tried, or — or that went wrong.”

75-liberty-bell-philadelphia-firstread

So the encroachments on our freedoms could be the sort of thing that intrudes on our privacy.  “If we want to be free, we can’t become subject to surveillance. We can’t — give away our privacy,” he told a reporter.

But is that what we are doing? Are we no longer free if we allow the government into every aspect of our lives? Is it right for them to collect data on our computer use, our telephone calls our visits to neighbors? Shall they put cameras and sound recording equipment at major intersections? Should they fly drones over our houses to see what we are doing? What is to be done to preserve our American way of life?

“We have to be an active part of our government. And we have to say — there are some things worth dying for. And I think the country is one of them.”

The problem would seem to many that the average person is not an active part of government. People do not vote. They do not become educated on government policies, although they may re-post misleading graphics to Facebook. They do not protest the encroachment on the things we think are protected in the Bill of Rights. They do not speak out.

BillOfRights

Some may believe that we have to give up liberties to stay safe, but this American will question whether recent historical events “justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don’t need to give up and our Constitution says we should not give up.” It is a tough issue, to be sure. Do you think we should give up freedoms to the government without proof as to why this should be? What about the Fourth Amendment?

It would seem the Fourth Amendment might be encroached upon by some programs at home. Do we really believe “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated?” If so, are recent actions of the government violating this idea?

This American does not necessarily disagree with the government’s need for surveillance but adds, “It’s the dirtiness of the way these things are being used. It’s the lack of respect for the public.”

So do you agree that is the problem with government programs? Are some policies bad, or at least the implementation of the policies, because they do not hold respect for the American people? These matters of government programs and their effects on our lives are a sticky business. Do you think things are worse because Obama is the President? Do you think things were worse when Bush was the President? Do you think we would have been better off with Romney or Mrs. Clinton?

Consider carefully and think to yourself how well you agree or disagree with the quotes above? It seems hard to disagree with an American who is defending American beliefs. Do you agree surveillance is necessary for freedom? Are you disloyal if you disagree? Now ask yourself, are you a good American? If you are a citizen of this country my guess is you think you are a good American. Are you a real patriot?

“Do you see yourself as a patriot?” Brian Williams asked this well know American, now living overseas.

“I do,” Edward Snowden replied.

If I now told you all the quotes above are from Snowden, what do you think of them?  Could your opinion possibly have changed about those patriotic quotes?

KINDNESS FROM STRANGERS — WHEN IT MATTERS

The Kindness of Strangers

When was the last time a stranger did something particularly kind, generous, or selfless for you? Tell us what happened!

Since this is a rerun of a prompt that’s been run I don’t know how many times, I thought I’d publish a rerun of the last piece I wrote on the subject. With some editing, of course, so it isn’t exactly the same.

It was a good post and frankly, I don’t have a new answer to the same old question. Happy Mother’s Day all you moms out there!

 


It was an ordinary day in the suburb of Jerusalem where I managed a weekly English-language newspaper. I had fallen into the job when the previous editor quit — after his paycheck bounced. Twice. Me too, but I wanted the paper to succeed, and was willing to work for free if we might save it. Most of us kept working without pay. We were optimists in the midst of disaster.

Israel was in turmoil, Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, an awful economy, soaring temperatures. The predominantly Arab areas were seething. The Jewish population was none too happy either. It was bad, but when has it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what gives it its unique character. The Jewish population is diverse — from secular and anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are also Christians of every stripe, every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans … and sects I never heard of plus more than a few wannabe Messiahs. I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, loved the traditions, the clothing, the markets, everything. Not everyone loved me.

The newspaper was broke and the Israeli economy was a disaster. Trying to keep the newspaper alive, I volunteered to take the pages from the office to the typesetter in Givat Zeev which was right next to Ramallah.

There’s a rumor that Jerusalem has just one road, but it winds a lot and if you keep driving, you’ll get there eventually. That’s not quite accurate. You can get close — but close can be very far when I’m the navigator. I have no sense of direction. When I hear the fatal words “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it. Which is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a small riot in late August 1983. I didn’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be there.

ramallah-2

I had no idea how to get back to French Hill and going forward wasn’t an option. So I pulled to the curb and sat there, wondering what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. No, the doors the doors weren’t locked. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows. Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked out a couple of words, one of them being “American.” (That’s the easy one as it’s the same in almost every language.)

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You must not go to dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem the thing to do.

As a final note, their act of kindness was a genuine act of bravery. They could have come to real harm for their generosity. They didn’t have to help me, but they did … at considerable risk to themselves.

WHY AREN’T YOU DEAD YET?

Why aren’t you dead yet?

If you’re over 65 and/or on Medicare, or poor on Medicaid, that’s the message you’re getting.

Out-of-pocket costs of Medicare have been going up annually, with ever-higher deductibles and premiums and a massive doughnut hole in prescription coverage that like the energizer bunny just keeps going and going and going. Many of the most fundamental, critical medications aren’t covered at all — emergency and other inhalers for asthma sufferers, nitroglycerin, newer antibiotics. Out-of-pockets costs are terrifying.

Coffin

It doesn’t matter that you literally can’t live without your medications. Survival is your problem. Your health care providers, including your doctors, don’t care.

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been a downhill slide into worse medical care. As long as I was on MassHealth (Massachusetts’ Medicaid), I was okay. Medication was affordable. If I was sick, I got care. Lucky I had cancer while I was covered by MassHealth. Otherwise, I’d be dead.

The day I turned 65, I was dumped from MassHealth. I vainly hoped I’d be protected by my disabled status. I had been on Social Security disability for years. Officially disabled, I was thus entitled to MassHealth.

No problem getting around that. Social Security reclassified me as just old, not disabled. They switched me to standard Social Security. I get the same money, but without the protection. They also changed the poverty line so I no longer qualify for the extra help I was getting for medications.

Cost-of-care

Apparently when you’re over 65, you need a lot less money to live on. Pity no one told my mortgage company or other creditors. Or the drug companies. When you hit 65, you are healed of all existing disabilities and can can live on a third of the money you needed before. Poverty — when you are 65 or older — is set to levels so low you couldn’t afford a refrigerator crate.

All of this occurred right after the second anniversary of the two tumors which cost me both breasts, at which point I discovered I needed major heart repair. Without MassHealth, I needed a new medical plan and had switched to a Medicare HMO. At the time, there was only one in Worcester County. Fallon was (and remains) awful with practically no oncologists and they didn’t include the only dedicated cancer facility in central Massachusetts.

So, for a year, under Fallon, I didn’t see an oncologist. I made appointments, but they were consistently cancelled because the guy had meetings. Not emergencies. Meetings. By the end of 2013, facing heart surgery and needing a real oncologist, I switched to one of Blue Cross’s Medicare PPO Advantage plans. Simultaneously, Partners Group, the umbrella organization for all the doctors I’d been using withdrew from the Medicare and MassHealth HMO programs. Partners Group chose to not serve the old and poor. Not profitable.

At the beginning of 2013, I had no doctors. My PCP, gastroenterologist, psychiatrist … my entire support network … dissolved. In theory, I could continue to go to them. It was, after all a PPO … but it turns out just because you can go to a doctor doesn’t mean your insurance will pay the bills.

I needed new doctors and I don’t have them.

I’ve had four different kinds of heart surgery and I don’t have a cardiologist. No one is monitoring my blood pressure or medications.

Essentially, I’ve got no medical services. I’m taking the medications I was taking before surgery because I don’t know what else to do. I’m doing my best to hook up with doctors, but I’m in limbo and have been since before the surgery.

I’m angry. I’m trying hard to stay calm, but inside, I’m terribly angry. I’m getting the message loud and clear.

“Why don’t you just die already? Stop using up valuable resources we could use for younger people who deserve to live.”

I’ve outlived my usefulness. So how come I’m not dead yet?

When did we become this mean-spirited country with medical organizations which would rather close down than provide care to most vulnerable citizens? How did we come to this? Who are we?

I know. I get it. Just die already.

Send in the clowns … Marilyn Armstrong

America, land of the brave and the free. Photo by Turtsman.

My father was not a wise man, but a smart one who knew how to make money. He was a lifelong Democrat, small businessman and other things I would prefer not to delve into right now. A big part of his salesman’s repertoire were one liners and jokes. This was a favorite of mine.

It isn’t what you don’t know that will get you. It’s what you DO know that’s wrong.

Albert Friedman
Self-Made American (1917 – 2010)

How true it is, and also, how sad. So many people knowing with complete certainty so much that is so wrong. For them, the motto will forever be thus:

Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up.

So, I guess if you want to maintain your bona fides as a Real American, you should continue to watch ONLY Fox News. It will help to reinforce your unfounded opinions by presenting pseudo facts and speculation in lieu of real information and you, dumbass, will believe every word of it. Rupert Murdoch is laughing at you all the way to his offshore accounts.

Don’t read anything that contains facts unless they comply with your preconceptions. In fact, it might be best to avoid reading entirely. Make a flag of your ignorance and close-mindedness; wave it proudly. Tell the world you know nothing and don’t want to learn nothin’ neither.

Finally, proclaim that you are the prototypical American, unlike the rest of us snobbish book-reading socialist anti-Christian liberal Nazis who don’t agree with you. Don’t be concerned that you don’t know what prototypical means. I didn’t expect you to understand. Too many syllables.

After that, you can wonder why the world is losing respect for the United States. Maybe it has something to do with “true Americans” like you with your passion for ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and stupidity.

You vote against your own best interests because you vote not for people who will help you, but for those who share your hates. Anyone can have you by preying on what you hate. You hate so many things that you are easily had. You are America’s fools and losers, the people about whom H.L Mencken spoke when he said:

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

H. L. Mencken
US editor (1880 – 1956)

Without Benefit of Clergy – Marilyn Armstrong

I was Jewish when I married Garry in a Lutheran Church. I said then … and I say now …  any God I am willing to worship doesn’t care what ritual you use, what language you speak, what color you are or whether you put cheese on your hamburger. I really DO believe that everyone has the right to live the life they want to live, to have or not have children. Spend whatever day you consider the Sabbath doing whatever you want: attend a church, synagogue, mosque or sleep late and read in bed.

Travel your path and be glad.

All prayers are good prayers. Goodness is goodness, whether you believe in God or not. Faith is a choice, decency is a requirement. You don’t need a church to know the difference between right and wrong. Some of the worst people I’ve known were ardent church goers and some of the best were skeptics or atheists. I’ll bet that God knows who is who and is not fooled by how often you attend church.

Garry and I were married in his church on Long Island because he had a strong emotional attachment to it and I didn’t have any particular attachment to any religious institution, though I had and still have a strong emotional attachment to Judaism as a philosophy and as a moral compass … and as an ethnic identity: Yiddishkeit, as it were.

When we renewed our vows the first time, it was in front of a notary, but the next renewal was under the sky in our backyard by a minister of the Christian Reform Church. Maybe we’ll do it again and who knows who will officiate? We intended to renew our vows again for our 20th anniversary, but I was sick that year and I had other things on my mind. Hopefully, we’ll both be available for 25th. That seems like a good number for another renewal.

Marriage is a contract between two adults. It doesn’t require benefit of clergy. Any religion is okay and no religion is okay too. Unless you live in a theocracy and thank God we do not … yet …you don’t need to believe in anything but your partner to get married.  I hate the theocratic trend this country is taking. I’m baffled as to how God and religion are suddenly the arbitrators of what constitutes a family.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness …”

That last part, that bit about pursuing happiness seems to have been lost. Pity about that because it  is not less important than anything else and may be the most important of all. What good is life and liberty if you can’t be happy too? Gay people, straight people, old people, young people … we should have the right to marry who we choose and be as happy as we can manage.

If we start defining the meaning of marriage, if we declare that marriage is sacred and exists entirely  for the creation of children, what about people who don’t want children? Are they the next group who won’t be allowed to marry? And people past the age of  baby making … can they no longer marry? For too many years in a lot of states, people of different races were forbidden to marry … was that okay? They said that it was God’s decree too. Funny how it’s always God’s plan … no individual ever seems to be responsible.

You can interpret “God’s teaching” however you like. If it was so clear what God wants of us, what was the point of all the theological discussion, debate, Biblical interpretation and everything else for the past few thousand years? What was that about?

The best and the worst things done on this earth have been done in the name of God, Allah, Yahweh … whoever, whatever. Horrors like the Holocaust, the Crusades and so much more … and God was always on the side of the every combatant. If I were God, I’d abandon the human race in disgust.

Gay, straight, or not entirely clear on the issue, marry if you want or not. Have a good life. Maybe you’ll be one of those couples that has a great relationship. Maybe you’ll wind up in the middle of a bitter divorce, but whatever you choose, it’s YOUR right to choose. I’ll never demand you live your life my way. Be happy.

I have no opinion on afterlife or not, reincarnation or not. I don’t know.  And neither do any of you. You can believe whatever you like but you don’t know anything for sure because God doesn’t talk to you or me. He (or She) does not confide his or her intentions to us. Moses was the last one he chatted with face to face and the world has turned a few times since then.

Enjoy this life. It’s the one you’ve got. Maybe you get another shot at it, maybe not. I think it behooves us all to live in the moment and let everyone else do the same!

WHY TERM LIMITS ARE A TERRIBLE IDEA — AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN

Too many people believe we will get better government by making sure no one in congress gets to stay there for a long time. I don’t know why inexperience would mean better government. In what other field do we prefer raw recruits to veterans? Would you want an inexperienced surgeon? A lawyer fresh out of law school?

Why do you want amateurs making your laws?

Our founding fathers specifically excluded term limits. Their experience under the Articles of Confederation (the document that preceded The Constitution) showed them that good people are not interested in temp jobs for lousy pay in a distant city. Those elected to office walked away from their positions — or never took them up in the first place. There was no future in it.

When the Constitution was drawn, its authors wanted to tempt the best and the brightest to government service. They wanted candidates who would make it a career. They weren’t interested in amateurs and parvenus. The business of governing a nation has a learning curve. It takes years to get the hang of how things work, how a law gets written. How to reach across the aisle and get the opposition to participate.

The Articles of Confederation contained exactly the ideas people are promulgating today. They failed. Miserably. Do we need to learn the same lesson again?

The absence of term limits in the Constitution is not an oversight. The writers of the Constitution thought long and hard about this problem.

A little more history

Under the Articles of Confederation, our country fell apart. Elected representatives came to the capital (New York), hung around awhile, then went home. Why stay? The job had no future and their salaries didn’t pay enough to cover their costs, much less support families.

Term limits were soundly rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They were right. The Constitution’s aims to get professionals into government.

Term limits remove any hope of building a career in government. It becomes a very hard temp job with no future.

Myth Busting 101: Congress isn’t overpaid

Maybe they are paid more than you and me, but compared to what they could be earning elsewhere, they are paid poorly. What you cry? How can that be?

Most members of congress are lawyers. The 2011-2012 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year. A third year associate at a good law firm will do that well and after six to twelve years (1 – 2 senate terms), a competent attorney in a good market makes much more.

Senators and representatives have to maintain two residences, one in their native state, the other in DC. If you think $174,000 will support two houses and send the kids to college, you are living in a fantasy world. Which is why many members of congress have other income streams.

Curiously, our Founding Fathers expected congressmen, especially senators, to be men of means. They felt only wealthy people would be able to afford government service. And they would be less susceptible to bribery. On the whole, they were right. What they didn’t foresee was how many kinds of corruption would be available. Bribery is the least of our problems.

Skill and experience count

Writing a law that can stand up to scrutiny by the courts and other members of congress takes years. You don’t waltz in from Anywhere, USA and start writing laws. Moreover, great legislators are rare in any generation. A sane electorate doesn’t throw them away.

We are not suffering from an entrenched group of old-time pols stopping the legislative process. We are suffering a dearth of old guard, the folks who understand how to work with the opposition to make the process work. It’s the newly elected morons who are stopping progress. Sadly, our experienced old-timers got old and retired. Or died. They have been replaced by imbeciles.

Above and beyond the skill it take to write legislation, it takes even longer to gain seniority and peer respect. Frank Capra notwithstanding, Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington and accomplish miracles. Newly elected congresspeople hope to build a career in politics. With luck, one or two of them will become a great legislator, a Tip O’Neill, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bob DoleTed Kennedy or another of the giants. Anyone you name connected to important legislation was a multi (many) term representative or senator.

Term limits eliminate all chance of having great legislators

Term limits guarantee a bunch of amateurs — or worse — fumbling their way around congress. As soon as they figure out where the toilets are and get reasonably good at their jobs, they’ll be gone. Does that make sense? Really?

Garry and Tip O’Neill

If you think your congressman or senator is doing a crappy job, replace him or her with someone you believe will do better.

If you don’t elect them, they won’t be in congress

We have term limits. These are called elections. Throw the bums out. Vote for the other guy. Term limits were an awful idea in 1788 and they haven’t improved with time. Among the biggest concerns Democrats had about Barack Obama in 2008 was he didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t been in the senate long enough. With term limits, no one would ever have enough experience. Where would we get candidates suitable to be President?

We don’t need term limits. We need better candidates. We need men and women willing to learn the craft, who have ideas and can work with others to get America’s business done. Our government does not rest on the Presidency. It rests on 435 congressmen and 100 senators.

The President doesn’t run the country

Congress writes legislation and votes it into law. Ultimately, it’s you, me, our friends and neighbors who choose the people to make laws, pass budgets, approve cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.

Whatever is wrong with Congress, it’s OUR fault

The 535 members of congress are chosen by us and if you don’t like one, don’t vote for him or her. If someone gets re-elected over and over, you have to figure that a lot of people vote for that candidate. You may not like him, but other people do. That’s what elections are about. It doesn’t necessarily work out the way you want, but changing the rules won’t solve the problems. Make the job more — not less — attractive so better people will want to go into government. Otherwise, you’re creating a job no one will want.

It’s close to that already. Mention going into politics to an ambitious young person. Watch him or her recoil in horror.

Ultimately, it’s all about America. Partisanship, special interests, regional issues, party politics and personal agendas need to take a back seat to the good of the nation … and we need to agree what that means, at least in broad strokes. Term limits won’t fix the problem, because that’s not what’s broken.

JUMPING SHIP

Daily Prompt: Walking on the Moon

by Krista on February 23, 2014 — What giant step did you take in which you hoped your leg wouldn’t break? Was it worth it, were you successful in walking on the moon, or did your leg break?

I was born in Brooklyn, New York in March 1947. By the end of 1977 I found myself at emotional loose-ends. I was closing the book on chapter one of my life and looking for the next part of the story. Which is why, in January 1978, I tossed everything into a couple of trunks, got permission to take my son with me … and ran away to join the circus. Well, not the circus. I made Aaliyah and went to live in Israel which is very similar. I’d wanted to go there since I was an overly romantic teenage girl with visions of Ari Ben Canaan stuffed in my head.

I had a bunch of reasons for going, though the bottom line was a persistent hunger for adventure and a yearning for romance. It went like this:

  • My marriage was over. I wanted to get on with life and being very far away seemed like a fine choice
  • I wanted to put an ocean between me and my father. I forgot this would put an ocean between me and everyone else, too
  • My idea of Israel was gleaned entirely from books, movies and Mom — but it sounded great
  • I wanted to get out of my safety zone and into a wider world. I was bored
  • I wanted culture shock. To immerse myself in a different society. Really bored
  • I was tired of suburban life and wanted to do something big. Or, in other words, I was really, really bored.

How did it go? I gave up a lot to go there. Everything. Except my son. Divorce is easy if you hand everything to your ex and take a hike. I probably should have made a better settlement but I was young. Freedom was worth everything. Eventually I came to realize money matters too, but back then, it didn’t seem all that important.

I got plenty of excitement. I got layer upon layer of history, the ghosts of millennium walking with me on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. I got romance too, but not the sweaty, breast-heaving sort. It was the romance of discovery, more interesting than I dreamed. All in all, a worthy adventure.

Where I used to live.

Where I used to live.

I learned a lot in Israel. I discovered how provincial and ignorant I was. I learned how inaccurate the international press is, that everything you read about the Middle East is slanted. Sometimes, it’s completely untrue. As in “that never happened.”

Israelis — like other people — are not of one mind. Israelis don’t walk, talk and think in lock-step. If you know anything about Jewish culture, the idea that millions of Jews could live together and agree on anything (much less everything) is funny. Get three Jews in a room and you’ll have 4 — or more — opinions. With millions of Jews all packed together? Imagine the possibilities.

When I am asked about Israel, I find myself saying: “It’s complicated.” Which translates to “The amount of time it would take me to answer your question exceeds any real interest you have in the subject. ” Where Israel is concerned, it’s always complicated. Because everyone is right. And wrong.

Flaws and all, it’s the only place on earth where Jews live by a Jewish calendar, where we aren’t a tiny minority. We need Israel as our safe place when nowhere else will take us in. It’s not paranoia — it’s history. Without Israel, Jews are fragile nomads, blowing with the winds of war and public sentiment.

Home

Home

What brought me back?

I’m American. This land is my land (please join in for the chorus). The seasons sync with my body. I can smell the salt air of the Atlantic. The trees are the right color and they turn gold in autumn. After 9 years away, I needed to come home.

I’m glad I went, glad I stayed but very glad I came back.

Other Entries:

  1. Daily Prompt: Walking on the Moon | a Portia Adams adventure
  2. My Giant Step – Daily Prompt | alienorajt
  3. Four Things I Learned About Freedom From an Uber-Strict Prep School | Kosher Adobo
  4. Daily Prompt: Walking on the Moon- Being Independent | Journeyman
  5. I Think My Leg Is Broken | Musings | WANGSGARD.COM
  6. Rocket To The Moon . | Crossroads
  7. A Rainy Day At Home (short story) and The Daily Prompt | The Jittery Goat
  8. One Crazy Mom » Taking the Next Step
  9. I’m Michael Jackson | Knowledge Addiction
  10. I Will Weather | Daily Prompt: Walking on the Moon | likereadingontrains
  11. DP Daily Prompt: Walking On The Moon | Sabethville
  12. Walking On The Moon – You Kidding! | Views Splash!
  13. Daily Prompt: The Giant Step — A Haiku: Sunday, February 23, 2014 | LisaRosier.com
  14. It’s All About Trying… | Life Confusions
  15. S. Thomas Summers: Writing with Some Ink and a Hammer | A Violin on Baker Street
  16. Daily Prompt: Walking on the Moon | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss

A RUN FOR WALKER

Darren Walker was moderately successful in business when he was called upon to head up the state’s Bureau of Air.  Even though he made little progress there, his passion for the job and common sense solutions to problems led him to be appointed head of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency.  From there he made a lot of pronouncements about enforcing the state’s laws and cleaning up the rivers, lakes and the air as well.  There was a big problem with Darren’s dreams, however.  He had a small staff and a small budget.  So Darren decided to dream bigger.

Election Day 2012

An entire year before the general election for governor, Darren announced that he would be a candidate.  He told the press it was the only way for him to move reforms forward in the state.  His own party was stunned at this and especially at the use of a dirty word to career politicians, “reform.”  The governor who appointed Walker felt this announcement to be a personal betrayal of his trust in Darren and withdrew all support of anything Darren wished to do.

As he was accomplishing very little anyway, Darren resigned from his position to concentrate on his campaign.  His own party felt that was pretty much the end of Darren.  Without party backing or major donors, they were convinced he had no chance. They went on with business as usual.

Darren, however, was more determined than his rivals could possibly imagine.  When asked about fighting a campaign with less money than his opponents, Darren would always reply, “We will just have to outwork them.  We will knock on more doors, make more calls, hold more meetings than all of them combined.  We will take the campaign to all of the people statewide.”

And so, he did just that.  With his good looks, boundless energy and pleasant personality Darren started to become a good interview for the press and he gave a lot of interviews.  This added media attention meant his opponents would fight back the only way they knew how, with attack ads.  While other candidates were spending money on negative ads, Darren was shaking hands, kissing babies and smiling for the cameras.

“We will not wallow in the mud like our distinguished opponents,” Walker declared.  “Distinguished” was probably an overstatement.

When the primary election arrived along with the winter thaw, pollsters showed a tight race and some even thought Darren could win.  This, of course, scared those in his own party as they clearly wanted to return the sitting governor to office.  When the results were in, however, Darren rode his bright smile onto the fall ballot as the candidate of his party.  Immediately, party leaders were announcing that they would support the will of the people and get behind their party’s candidate for governor.

“We will not let our opponents take back the governor’s office and march the state backwards with their regressive ideas,” the Senate president announced.

“The people have spoken,” the House majority leader declared, “and we intend to see that their candidate is a big success.”  In truth, they did little to support Darren as they were not so sure that an opponent in the governor’s office would be worse than a reformer from their own party.

Soon after the primary victory, Darren announced he intended to live up to his name and walk from one end of the state to the other, right down the middle.  Considering the size of the state, this idea seemed insane. The opinion of experts was that it would take most of the campaign for Darren to do it.  He would lose precious time while wandering down rural back roads and he would get no press outside the big cities.  His party was convinced he was doomed and tried to determine if they should start acting friendly toward the opposing party candidate.

Darren lost no time in organizing his walk.  He held a press conference at the south end of the state to declare the beginning of “Walking to the People.”  He set out with a small entourage and an advance team that headed off to the towns along the way to line up interviews, town hall meetings, and “meet and greet” sessions with local residents.  To lose no time on the road, they invited local press to walk part of the way with the candidate and they would drive the reporter back to his or her own town when he or she got tired.

There were a lot of reporters who could brag that they walked with the candidate, although they might not always admit it was just a short distance.  At other times his small staff, would throw questions at the energetic candidate as he walked, so he could practice giving good answers. Darren was prepared for everything the press and the people of the state could ask.

The unique campaign tactic gained national attention.  By the time Darren was half way across the state, he was a nationwide sensation. News crews rode along side Darren. The crew of “Walkers for Walker” grew and when they walked into the northern half of the state, they walked with students, parents, idealists, dreamers, and a whole contingent of people who believed that Darren was going to return government to the people.

By election night, Darren was unstoppable. Party leaders were at his campaign headquarters to grab some of the spotlight for themselves and to congratulate the new governor.

75-SignOfTheTimesNK-1After Darren took office and gave a rousing inaugural speech promising the people of the state just about everything, he went right to work.  He summoned his party leaders to his office.  He spoke about campaign reform and the need to limit spending, but legislative leaders explained that their opponents had many wealthy friends and they would get around the laws through political action committees.  When the new governor spoke of term limits, he was told that was unfair to those who already dedicated their lives to the public.

When Darren offered to raise the limit of terms, they countered with the same explanation and when he offered even higher limits or to exempt sitting legislators, they had a counter argument for that too.  Over his time in office he tried to get his leaders in the legislature to pass a variety of reforms.  He soon learned through his many meetings with his own party, that they were the stumbling blocks to success not the other party.  A governor could not do much if he could not get legislation passed.

When it was time for the next election, Darren had little success in office and worried that he would be perceived as a failure by the people.  Party leaders explained to Walker if that he wanted to have a chance at reelection, he needed to support the legislation of his own party and stop putting his veto to measures they passed.  They would in turn support him.  They could blame and lack of his legislation on the opposition, even though they controlled the legislature.

“You support us, Governor, and we will support you,” Walker was told.  From that point on the only chance for the Walker for Governor campaign was to avoid telling the truth about what Darren learned during the first term.

CAMPFIRE WITH THE PRESIDENT – VIETNAM, 1967 – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’ve shared this tale many times in conversation with family and friends, but never written it down. One reason is I have no pictures to go with the story. Another is the nagging feeling it might be somehow disrespectful.

Nonetheless, I am bowing to repeated requests to tell the story of my memorable evening with President Lyndon Johnson around a campfire in Vietnam. Near Saigon, 1967.

1967 and 1968 are blurs in my sense memory. I had jumped directly from college and small time commercial radio to ABC Network News. The time was right and the opportunity was there, but I was just a 20 something kid. Suddenly, I was in the big leagues. My journalism baptism included the 6-day war, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the volatile ’68 Presidential campaigns — and a trip to Vietnam.

Vietnam really is a blur. It was a blur even as it happened. In New York, I was used to receiving reports from ABC’s field correspondents. I’d speak with them over static-riddled phone lines that made it difficult to hear. The daily MACV or war front reports were often significantly different than what the Pentagon reported.

ABC needed a grunt to help the news team covering President Johnson’s visit to Vietnam. I was it. The sights, sounds and smells of Vietnam are still clear almost 50 years later. But, my job required I keep a very narrow focus. I was a young reporter still learning the ropes. I had to stay focused on the story and exclude the harrowing images around me.

LBJ vietnam 1967It was a typical evening with the ever-present sound of artillery barrages in the background. We were in what they called “down time.” Dinner around a campfire. GI’s, South Vietnamese soldiers, politicians and news media, we all hunkered down for chow. Everything was off the record. Chow was beans and some unknown local meat. Most of us ate the beans and skipped the meat.

President Johnson or LJ as he told us to call him, sat or squatted at the point of the campfire and told some colorful tales about dealing with his pals in the Senate and Congress. The stories were punctuated with smiles and profanities. LJ was drinking from a bottle which he passed around. It was good stuff.

Halfway through dinner, a scene that I would later associate with the movie “Blazing saddles” unfolded. The beans began to resonate. The smell was pungent! I must’ve had a funny look on my face because LJ gave me a withering stare and asked if I had a problem. I remember sounding like a squeaky 16-year-old as I responded “No sir.” LJ guffawed and passed the bottle directly back to me.

Before completing his trip, President Johnson confided to some of us that seeing Vietnam up close confirmed his worst fears. He broadly hinted he probably wouldn’t be seeking re-election given the backlash of Vietnam at home in the States. I thought he sounded like one of my cowboy heroes putting duty above personal gain. But it wasn’t a movie.

One last encounter with handshakes and a smile about our campfire evening. LJ again was President Lyndon Johnson.

DUAL CITIZENSHIP

I went to live in Israel at the end of 1978. I had a lot of reasons, almost all personal and non-political.

  • My marriage was over. I wanted to get on with life
  • When I was 14, I had read “Exodus” so many times the binding disintegrated
  • I had a romantic idea of Israel gleaned from books, movies and Mom
  • I wanted to get out of my safety zone and into a wider world
  • I wanted culture shock. To live in another place and immerse myself in a different society
  • I was bored with my suburban life and wanted to do something big.

I got the excitement if not the romance. It was more interesting than I dreamed, but entirely different.

Where I used to live.

Where I used to live.

That’s how come I’m a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel. I didn’t ask for Israeli citizenship. I lived there 9 years and it was automatic — the Law of Return in action. I haven’t gone back to visit since I left in 1987 (though I was there on business in 2001), but I find it comforting to have a spare country. If I need to gather my family and make a run for it, there’s Israel. How ironic. Paranoia and Jewishness are natural partners.

I learned a lot living in Israel. I discovered how provincial and ignorant most Americans are, including me. I learned the international press does not accurately report news from the middle east. It’s not just Israel. Some press is slanted towards Israel. Most is slanted toward the Arab side … and none is accurate. Everything you read is slanted and much of it entirely wrong.

Israelis — like every other people — are not of one mind. Israelis don’t walk, talk and think in lock-step. If you know anything about Jewish culture, the idea that millions of Jews could live together and agree on anything is laughable. Get three Jews in a room and you’ll have 4 — or more — opinions.

When I am asked about Israel, I find myself speaking in clichés. “It’s complicated,” I say. Which means that the amount of time it would take me to answer your question exceeds any actual interest you have in the subject. Where Israel is concerned, complicated doesn’t begin to cover it. You are right. He is right. I am right. And all of us are wrong.

Pretty much all the news of the middle east you see on television is staged, in whole or in part. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. By definition, the arrival of cameras changes an event. As soon as the crews show up, people line up offering to form an angry mob. Some do it for cash, some to fuel a political agenda … and most do it for fun. Everyone wants to see themselves on TV. Some are regulars. If you follow the news, you’ll see the same faces show up over and over again.

I’d been living in Israel for a while before I realized I didn’t know anything. All the opinions I had before I got there turned inside-out. It is very complicated. It is perfectly possible to agree and disagree with everyone at the same time. There have been more than enough mistakes, more than enough atrocities for everyone to have a good dollop of blame.

For all that, I believe in Israel. More specifically, I believe it has a right to be there. After thousands of years of persecution, Jews need a little piece of planet Earth to call home. The Arab world has plenty of physical space, lots of land. The only reason any Palestinians remain refugees is political, not practical.

Regardless of the myriad rights and wrongs on both sides, suggesting Israel give up being a sovereign nation is ludicrous. Suggesting it give up additional land is ridiculous too and if you’d ever been there, it would be obvious why.

The country is miniscule, barely sufficient to house its existing population. It has no natural resources, not even water. No oil. Erratic rainfall in an arid zone. Crappy soil and not much of it. About the only things it has going for it is the determination of its people to survive, some really great beaches, an impressive community of scientists and engineers. And tourism. It’s not a plummy sort of place, not the rich land of milk and honey suggested in the Old Testament.

It’s the only place on earth where Jews live by a Jewish calendar, where we celebrate our own holidays along with our neighbors, where Jews don’t have to fend off Christmas. Where we aren’t a tiny minority.

We need Israel, need that safe place. Even if it isn’t entirely safe. Even though it’s controversial. Without it, Jews are back to being a people without roots or country.

Saving Wolves

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

I wish that I could wave a magic wand and make the world a kinder place for animals; cats, dogs, cows, pigs, sheep, horses, whales, dolphins, elephants, animals used in laboratory experiments — you get the picture, right?

Animals are awesome.

Animals should have legal rights — they should be better protected and defended.

Everyone has issues they’re passionate about, and this is one of mine.

No animal needs our help more than wolves.

Wolves are being killed, slaughtered, mutilated, exterminated.

My tugboat man and I drove up to Sacramento so that I could testify at the Fish and Wildlife Service‘s wolf delisting hearing on November 22. He was there to make sure that I stayed out of jail. It’s kind of a joke but not really. Being around hunters and others who enjoy killing animals makes me so mad that you can almost see me explode with RAGE. The smoke-out-of-the-ears kind of rage. The kind of rage that has no filter. THAT kind of rage.

I’m sure that I’m one of the most skeptical people in the world when it comes to the reasons why our government is motivated to do ANYTHING, but this particular issue boggles my mind to a crazy degree.

This horrible and scientifically flawed idea that wolves are in a position to have recovered enough numbers to be formally removed from the Endangered Species List is what has driven thousands of Americans to protest, speak out, argue against it, and do whatever they can to continue to protect these beautiful creatures from certain extinction — again.

A hunter who kills a wolf belongs to a subsection — a microcosm —  of a human being whose sole purpose in life is the extermination of a species.

It’s scary, people. Really scary.

From what I understand, funded in part by the Koch Brothers’ smoke screen organization, American Prosperity Group, ranchers and hunters have declared an all-out war against the wolf — any wolf, Gray Wolf, Red Wolf or Mexican Wolf, coyotes, any and all predators that they incorrectly believe threaten THEIR skewed right to breed, grow, and eventually murder their own cattle and sheep.

Current research indicates other successful non-lethal options to protect their “investment” animals — living and breathing creatures whose sole existence is to breed and grow to one day be killed — yet another reason why we don’t eat meat.

What this potential delisting has helped to unleash is a group of sadistic hunters who are entrenched in zoosadism.

Zoosadism is a term used to refer to the pleasure that an individual gains from the cruelty to animals. SEXUAL PLEASURE. Zoosadism is getting sexually excited by causing harm to animals and is considered a form of animal abuse. Have you seen all those horrible photos on the internet? Zoosadists are true sociopaths.

At the hearing, one of the first speakers was Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem WintuTribe of American Indians near Mount Shasta. She received much deserved applause and shouts of support when she said that the wolf had long been a spiritual figure for her tribe.

“The wolf is our teacher,” she said, explaining that its extended pack relationships served as an example for human families. She compared the hunting of wolves out of fear to the killing of American Indians.

There were so many amazing speakers who spoke with intelligence, passion, dedication, and concern for the wolf.

Selfie cos hub takes horrible pics.

WIth 500-600 attendees, and the knowledge that there was a videographer who recorded all the speeches as official government testimony, you’d think I would have been nervous, but I’ve always had plenty of public speaking confidence (some might call it chutzpah,) — especially with five-inch heels and a Chanel on my arm.

***TRANSCRIPT OF MY SPEECH***

“It is past time to take the words of Gandhi to heart: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Why is the term “delisting” synonymous with hunting, blood sport, and the murder of a species?

Is this the only barbaric method “good science” has for “species management”?

Instead, let’s call it what it really is: government sanctioned murder.

De-listing really means that it’s OK to hunt, torture, and destroy species and is really just legalizes more brutality.

We cannot allow the current administration to give up on wolf recovery for the gray wolf OR the Mexican wolf or relinquish species survival to the states.

I’m from here in California where we have excellent habitat but no wolves and I absolutely do NOT support any (Fish and Wildlife Service’s) proposal to delist the gray wolf, a barely recovering endangered species that’s currently being slaughtered for political gain.

We need to manage wolves and other wildlife in a healthy and sustainable way so that future generations can enjoy the benefits of our rich wildlife heritage. However, management cannot mean the hunting and murder of a species.

That the irrational and enduring hostility to wolves still exists, and that hundreds of more wolves will be killed — is wrong and the cruel methods allowed for hunting and trapping wolves are deeply disturbing and sociopathic, egregious, and inhumane.

Our own life changing visit to Yellowstone in August fulfilled my     dream to see the wolves of Lamar Valley.

At 6:00 a.m., a few miles outside our camp at Slough Creek, we followed others to a bison carcass, and our efforts paid off with a multiple sighting of many wolves, including 755.

There was an overwhelming sense of awe among the dozens of us who silently watched him cross the road and then a collective sigh of relief when he disappeared safely over the ridge.

Those same wolves are being murdered the instant they cross that invisible border out of the park. It’s absolutely insane.

WE hold the power to ensure that we’re not the last generation to view a wolf in nature; not confined in a zoo, or most importantly, not dead after being tortured and then displayed as a “trophy”.

The truth is that wolf recovery is far from over.

According to many leading scientists, we’ve entered into an era of mass extinction, which will not have run its course until biodiversity levels are less than twenty-five percent of what they are now.

I’m here to push back against this culture of extinction.

I’m here because of the legacy I want to leave behind for our children.

More than thirty years ago, I did my small part to advocate for the addition of wolves to the Endangered Species List.

I wrote letters and joined forces with groups dedicated to protecting the wolf from certain extinction and it’s shameful that we’re back to the beginning.

It appears that the last thirty years have culminated in the nurturing of this species’ growth for the single sacrificial purpose to provide animals for thrill killing hunter/murderers and that’s why continued protection is even more necessary.

Our collective legacy will not be celebrating wolf recovery, but rather their unnecessary deaths will become your ONLY legacy.

Do NOT delist the gray wolf. Outlaw all hunting of wolves.”

Cleveland Amory: “Hunters should be hunted themselves, to prevent hunter overpopulation and to undo the effects of inbreeding.”

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

Destroying wolves is one of so many things we are destroying. We need to stop killing our world one species at a time. There is a reason the animals were created before humans. They deserve a piece of nature, to be safe, to live, love, breed and hunt as they were meant to. Please – We are not owners of the earth. We are just residents, no more or less than the wolves and whales and eagles. And trees. We have no right to destroy it all and we will pay dearly for it.

Please visit Enchanted Seashell at http://enchantedseashells.com/2013/11/26/saving-wolves/ for the entire story.

See on enchantedseashells.com

 

LIVING HISTORY – THE ASSASSINATION OF A PRESIDENT

Today is the day. Fifty years. I remember. Do you?

It’s weird watching 50th anniversary documentaries commemorating events we remember. It’s the Kennedy assassination this month. Just about every station, network and cable, are doing specials on John F. Kennedy. For us, it’s a trip down memory lane. Or nightmare alley.

I was 13 when Kennedy was elected. I watched the inauguration on television, the first of many inaugurations I would watch. It was the greatest inaugural speech. I was naïve enough to believe he wrote it himself. And I was impressed by his hair, the best hair of any President before or since. Especially after 8 years of President Dwight D. Eisenhower who was very bald.

John-F.-Kennedy

In 1963 I turned 16 and started college. Kennedy was shot in November and the world changed. I’m sure every person old enough to know what was going on remembers where they were the day they heard the news. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was a landmark event, a turning point in history, a turning point in our personal histories.

I was in the cafeteria at school. I had a cup of tea in my hand and was about to sit. The public address system in the cafeteria went on. There was a lot of noise, but gradually it grew quiet. A news report. It took a few minutes to recognize what they were saying, to form a context. Someone had shot the President.

A few minutes later, everyone fell silent. Hundreds of undergraduates, sitting, standing. No one moving, no one talking. I stood at the table. Frozen. I never sat. I stood in the same spot for over an hour. Clutching that cup of tea, cooling in my hand. Until the voice on the loudspeaker said “President Kennedy is dead. The President is dead.”

Gradually, everyone drifted away. Subdued or silent. I found my boyfriend and we wandered around for a few hours. We didn’t do anything. Just roamed the campus, dazed. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen, not in the United States. Eventually, when it was dark, I went home. My mother wanted to know where I’d been and I said “Just wandering around.” She didn’t believe me. She should have.

LBJ Sworn In As PresidentKennedy was “our” president. He looked good. Young, attractive, different. I hadn’t been old enough to vote for him, but I was old enough to know what was happening. I watched the debates. My friends and I discussed it. It was exciting. My mother kept referring to him as “such a young man.” At thirteen, a 43-year old guy didn’t seem so young. Those were the days, eh?

For the better part of the next week, all the channels on television — there were only seven — 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 — had wall-to-wall coverage of the funeral. Endless replays of the assassination. The subsequent shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. The beginning of the conspiracy theories that still swirl around this piece of history, though at this point I don’t care whodunnit 50 years ago. There are a many unsolved crimes in history. Just add this to the long list.

I went to hang out with a friend. We took long walks to get away from the endless, morbid reiteration of the life and death of John F. Kennedy.

Gradually, life returned to normal, whatever that is. Lyndon Baines Johnson was in office. It was all about civil rights and Vietnam. I finished college, got married, wound up in the hospital and had my first near-death experience. There would be a lot more assassinations in the near future. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X. I never got used to them, but I stopped being shocked. Which is shocking.

The 1960s were not about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. This was the decade of war, the draft, anti-war protests and civil rights. When flunking out of college meant you were going to Vietnam and maybe you wouldn’t come back. Strange how quickly we forget, replacing history with mythology.

November 22, 1963 was the end of political innocence for everyone, Democrats, Republicans, everyone. An abrupt turning part. The beginning of the road we find ourselves on today.

A president — our president — had been assassinated. Kennedy wasn’t the only U.S. President to be assassinated, but he was the first in modern times. The first TV president. A young, handsome guy. Especially important to my generation, a symbol that the torch really had passed to a new generation. We took that call to arms seriously.

It’s hard for me to look at politics today, see how petty we’ve become. Kennedy’s assassination was an end and a beginning. He was the last President to get a pass on his personal life. The first president to use electronic media to win an election. It was the beginning of a political divide that keeps getting deeper with each passing year.

Politics isn’t about real issues anymore. It’s insinuation, innuendo and rumor. How narrow-minded and hateful we’ve become. It will pass I suppose. All things do. But when? For more than half a century, we’ve been marching down this ugly road to which I see no end.

Mom and Pop – Closed For Business

Mom and Pop. The backbone of American business. Or used to be.

They are the official symbol of our nation’s best. The hardest workers. The folks who built our towns and cities. How wonderful it is to do business with our neighbors and friends rather than faceless corporate franchises. (Careful. Our friends and neighbors work for those franchises. Mom and pop shops don’t offer a lot of job opportunities.)

Every day, it gets harder to find a mom and pop business. You can blame it all on corporate greed — pushing out small businesses. Nice to have someone to blame. Pity it’s not true. Or not quite as true as we would like. Blaming heartless corporations is a simple, feel-good fix, even if it doesn’t make much sense.

96-MainStWorc-NK-GA_1027

We love simple answers and if we can’t find one, we make one up. The world keeps changing. So does what people want for themselves and their kids. Labor intensive small retail businesses were — for many years — the bulwark of America’s Main Street. But they aren’t appealing to today’s computer-savvy kids. The kids in this generation are more likely to want a shot at a seat in the boardroom of one of those faceless corporations. They have redefined The American Dream.

Who does want to run those little businesses? Immigrants. The people we seem determined to keep out or get rid of. They don’t see long hours of hard work as punishment. They see it as opportunity. It’s American kids who see mom and pop’s business as a dead-end.

75-WindowSigns-NK-GA_1044

It’s a matter of how you look at it. Most of our small general stores, if they haven’t already been knocked down to make way for a CVS or Stop & Shop, are being run by recent arrivals from India, Pakistan and Asia. They work long hours, put they hearts into it and do well. They go out of their way to build relationships with their customers. And they succeed. Immigrants have always been the true bulwark of the “American dream” because they came here full of dreams.

The original Mom and Pop? They got old. Their kids never wanted to work at the family deli, restaurant or ice cream shop, so as soon as a better offer came along, they took it. Moreover, Mom and Pop didn’t send the kids to college so they could slave their lives away like they had, so they’re onboard. That was always the plan.

fresh eggs

One by one, family run businesses are closing. Young Americans don’t want to work so many hours for such small returns. The older generation agrees. You and me may want to support them, but they are no longer looking for our support. They want to retire. If they can’t find a buyer for the business, they will sell the land to the highest bidder.

Is it unreasonable to profit from long years of sweat and labor? Everyone knows small retail businesses — unless they find a niche market that doesn’t put them in head-to-head competition with corporate franchises — barely survive, even with community support.

I’d gladly support local small businesses, but who? One by one, our restaurants, delis, gift shops, independent groceries, book stores are going away. There is only one independent bookstore in the Valley now. There never were many, but now, just one.

96-CountryStoreHP-3

Independent drug stores? Gone. Small clothing shops? None. We have a few delis, restaurants, hair dressers and fingernail shops. Services do okay, but not retail shops. Restaurants, especially if they serve alcohol do okay. You can always find a couple of tattoo parlors. A lumber yard with two branches and a hardware store. Everyone else sold, closed and moved away.

We are grateful to haveWalmart. Without it we’d have no place to shop for anything without driving 25 miles to the mall where we would merely be buying from different corporations. We need someplace to buy dish towels, paper goods and bathmats. The place to go if the microwave suddenly dies or I break another coffee carafe. Walmart did not displace local businesses. We never had many and now, even fewer. Maybe a hundred years ago, but not in the last 50.

Good bye, Mom. Good bye, Pop. We miss you, but I understand. You worked hard. You want some time off now and an easier life for your kids. Welcome newcomers. Prejudice and politics be damned. I’m glad to have you in my town.

Weird Little Town

I live in the Blackstone Valley. We are part of the National Park system — what’s called a “National Historic Corridor.” Our quaint little towns and beautiful (slightly polluted) river has historic importance.

farmhouse

In this valley was born the American Industrial revolution. Right around the corner. That’s where they built the first mills, using the power of the Blackstone River. Then they built a canal system and a railroad to carry those home-made American goods to markets around the world. Unfortunately, they also poisoned the river and it’s taken half a century to get it almost clean, but that was the price of industrialization. We should be doing better now. Are we?

My town has not accepted the new century. It never entirely accepted the last one either. It was dragged along, unwillingly through the mid-1950s. After that, the town dug its heels in and said “Hell no, we won’t go.” They weren’t kidding.

Little Dam

A World War I artillery pieces sits next to our Civil War memorial and just a few feet from the World War II bronze and stone grouping. Vietnam never made it, nor any war since. It’s all guns and churches. At various times of the year, there are events on the common, often called “the green.” The grass doesn’t care. It just hangs around, being lawn-like.

We have book sales, rummage sales and cake sales which usually coincide with a holiday. We have a Christmas Parade, our local version of First Night, but so early in December it always feels odd and out-of-place. I have no idea why they don’t hold it closer to the holidays. And there are porkettas and pancake breakfasts. All to raise money for something. We used to have great local fireworks on the high school’s athletic field, but one year, we ran out of money and that was the end. Other towns still have fireworks. We can see bits of them over the tops of our trees.

I miss the fireworks so we watch the Boston display on television every year.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Other towns complain about Main Street being destroyed by big chains like Walmart. We do not complain. We don’t have a Walmart although we do have a CVS — for which for sacrificed a great ice cream shop. Well, we didn’t sacrifice it. The people who ran the ice cream shop sold to CVS and used the money to open a brand new place in another town, but I digress.

If you want to buy anything beyond hardware, lumber, groceries, medication or fast food, you’ll need to go elsewhere. If you want a decent meal, you will have to go to another town. If you want to see a movie, go bowling, see a play, hear a concert … well, you know, Boston’s not too far and Worcester is just up the road. You can get to Providence in about 45 minutes — not counting parking. Depending on traffic. Whatever you want, you probably won’t find it here.

We do have a beautiful if underfunded public library. It’s in an old, elegant building that has somehow managed to remain alive despite having its budget repeatedly cut until it can barely keep the doors open to maintain membership in the public library system. And progress is encroaching, despite all resistance.

75-FrontYard-139

After 20 years of arguing about it — after allocating millions of dollars to upgrade the old high school and having those funds vanish without a trace and with no explanation and no upgrades — our little town was told by the Commonwealth we had to build a proper High School or lose accreditation. Lack of accreditation would have made it tricky for graduates to get into college. So we built a new high school and our taxes almost tripled. The town has been so fiscally swindled mismanaged for so long no one can remember it any other way.

UU Steeple - 40

There is a myth surrounding small towns. We’ve seen the movie — starring Tom Hanks or someone like him. There’s a supporting cast of caring local citizens. Cue up “The Andy Griffith” theme. In the movies (and on television) everyone has the best interests of the town at heart. Really, underneath it all.

Not! Here it’s all about nepotism, threats, bullying, and a committment to making life unbearable for anyone who gets in the way. They are not particularly concerned with the best interests of the town except insofar as it advances their own business and financial interests. They take what they want, refuse to answer to anyone, hire relatives and personal friends, give out contracts to their buddies and live the good life. It’s worked well for them. They always win.

What can you do? It’s a small town and you can’t spend your life fighting.

The mill by Whitins Pond

Town meetings end in fistfights and horrific verbal brawls creating enough bad feeling to last into the next decade. I opposed the new High School. Not because we didn’t need one. We definitely needed a new high school but I was still waiting for an explanation of where the millions of dollars to upgrade the old high school went. Eventually, overcoming all objections, they built it anyway and the explanation never came.

They asked Garry to run for town council when we first moved here. He was easily recognized from all his years on television, so despite being (then but not now) the only non-white resident, fame beat out prejudice. Garry declined the honor, explaining to me it would destroy our lives. We’d have mobs in the driveway throwing rocks at our windows. I didn’t understand until years later when I worked for a local paper covering debates preceding town council elections.

96-RedLight-38

Good grief! The level of personal vindictiveness and venom was a wonder to behold. Where were the good guys? Each  candidate was worse than the other, ranging from merely venal, through clueless, to possibly psychotic.

It was closer to Shirley Jackson‘s “The Lottery” than Andy Griffith. And yet, I do love the valley. True, I try very hard to not even think about why they do what they do and how they do it. The less I know, the happier I am. If my town were unique, it would be encouraging on some level, but all the towns around here are pretty bad. This town may take top prize for most blatantly bad government, but the other towns are close behind. They have better manners in public … but small towns are not like the movies. Really. Not.

Deck - October

So — life goes on. White picket fences and green lawns. Big shade trees, lots of room for children to play. Safe streets, plenty of open space. Only two traffic lights in town, one of which is probably redundant. It’s ever so pretty. Just … don’t get too involved. Things aren’t necessarily what they seem. Think Chevy Chase in “Funny Farm.” Yeah, that works.

If Other People Took On A “Government Shut-Down” Approach… THE BYRONIC MAN

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

“You have cancer, which is horrible. The treatment is chemotherapy which should help but I think there should be something better, so I’ve decided to let you die. I will be charging you for the treatment, though.”

“I realize we lost the big game, but we really wanted to win, so we’ve locked the gates of the stadium, and no one is allowed to go home until you change the scoreboard and give us the game ball.”

“I can see you spent a lot of time setting the menu and preparing Thanksgiving dinner, but I think the way turkeys are raised is inhumane, so I’ve set fire to the house.”

“Well, the brake pads are thin, your radiator hose is cracked, and this timing belt has had it.  I can fix it all, and would be happy to, but I also noticed that the door latch is sticking, and I just hate doors, so I’ve put your car in the back lot until the door falls off.”

“I am aware that I voted for you, but that was on the assumption that you had the ethics and intellectual ability to put the good of the people you serve ahead of childish games, feeble-minded combatism, and partisan posturing, so I will be voting for someone else in the next election.”

Oh, wait. That last one makes sense, doesn’t it.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

Well put, my friend. Horrible but funny.

See on thebyronicman.com