Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Okay Meanies, You Can Come Out Now. The Pope is Gone

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed how quiet the resident meanies were while the Pope was here? Even Donald Trump gave it a rest for a few days.  Or am I wrong?  Did I just not notice because, to their credit (and my relief), the press took to covering the Pope every day in every way and kept it nice?

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
On Thursday, Pope Francis stood at the House podium and addressed the joint session of Congress.  Speaker of the House John Boehner sat behind the Pope, listened to what the pontiff had to say about justice, goodness, and mercy, and bawled his eyes out.

The next morning Boehner  floated into a press conference singing "Zipadee Do Dah, Zipadee Ay, My, Oh, My, what a wonderful day".   It was a charming if wacky prelude to his message:  "I quit".  Just like that.

Now, John would like us to believe the Pope had nothing to do with it--Lord, no!--but I'm not buying it.  It's true, I suppose, that John has wanted to throw in the towel for a long time, but why now?  He said he woke up and told his wife, "I think today's the day."  She  was okay with it.  (No word yet on the Pope's reaction.)

I want to believe the Pope made John Boehner a better person; a lacking leader seeing the light, contrite--but, as any sitting member of the Republican Party will tell you, that's death on wheels.  You can't be a better person and be loyal to the party.  Nowadays only worst persons need apply.

(Marco Rubio, another presidential candidate, announced the good news to a crowd of his peeps only moments after Boehner made his announcement and, wouldn't you know?--the crowd went wild! Yay!)

Which brings me to the doggedly anti-government businessman and top Republican Party candidate, Donald Trump.  Trump is like the person you invite to the party thinking you've scored a big one--famous person!--and then realize he's obnoxious as all get out but you're stuck with him because there are no insults big enough to make him go away. And you would be too polite to use them, anyway.  (That's why Democrats lose--but that's another story.)

So Donald took the opportunity of the Pope's visit to talk with Chris Cuomo, who took the opportunity of the Pope's visit to ask Donald Trump, of all people, what he would say to the Pope if he had the chance.   Donald said he would have to scare the Pope.  Of course he would.

Carly Fiorina pretended she didn't notice the Pope was here and went on lying about what happens at Planned Parenthood.  She stood out like a sore thumb.

Jeb Bush says something about Democrats offering free stuff to African-Americans and he's attacked for it.  The Pope says giving free stuff to people who need it is God's work and he is cheered.  It's all in the way it's presented.  Whose heart is really in it.

And the press, at long last, moved away from, "How did it feel when so-and-so said so-and-so about you?", and seemed honestly happy to share in a celebration that hurt no one.

We were a land of big hearts last week.  It's been a long time.   It felt good.

(Can be seen at Dagblog, Liberaland, and Crooks & Liars)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

If Will Rogers Had Heard About Donald Trump

I entered this piece in the 2015 Will Rogers Writing Contest and  found out yesterday that I didn’t win.  The person who sent the email  tried to make me feel better by letting me know that I wasn't among the top three prizewinners, but I did place somewhere among the eight finalists.  He didn’t say how many entered the contest in total, so I hope I don’t find out somewhere down the road that I was one of only 11 writers who entered.  That would suck. (Here is the announcement and a link to the winning essays.)

Remember as you read this that the idea was to try to write like Will Rogers.  I love Will Rogers for his ability to skewer without going for the jugular.  Will might have been kinder about Trump, keeping it general without naming names, but Trump was on my mind when I wrote this, and picturing Rogers picturing Trump just seemed like the way to go.

BTW, See the typewriter Will Rogers is using in the picture below?  (I call it “the first laptop”.  Ha!)  I have one just like it.  Exactly.  Now I’m wondering if writing my essay in Will’s voice on Will’s typewriter might have. . .

Naw. . .never mind.


There's This Fellow Named Trump

There’s this fellow named Trump, you might have heard about him, he’s running for president of these United States. Got more money than he knows what to do with.  Has brains, too, if you believe the man. I sez if he’s so smart why’s he running for president of these United States? A smart guy would be finding himself a country where he could be the Grand Poohbah Potentate of everything.

See, in this country the president signs up to be everybody’s “public servant”. We’re his employers, and if he’s even half way okay we’ll give him four years, sometimes twice that, to show us what he’s been doing to earn his keep. One of the perks of being the president is we let him live in the White House. That’s big for some folks, but this Trump fellow is rich. Real rich.

Could be nobody told him he can’t own the White House. It’s ours. He can’t give his full time fancy decorating staff the go-ahead to ruffle things up. He can’t toss out the old goods, neither. He’s more or less a squatter. In a few years, no matter what, he’ll get kicked out, bag and baggage.

It ain’t as if he’ll be exactly homeless, but I’ve been watching this guy and I see he’s a fellow who’d rather be the kicker than the kickee. Our best bet, if he gets in there, is to make sure he don’t get too comfortable.

I’ve been wondering,too, how he’s going to take to the news that being president don’t mean he’s the boss. He’s been acting like he don’t know that. He hasn’t said a word about our good old constitution nor about congress nor about the black robes over at the Supreme Court, all of which gets to say yea or nay on just about everything.

I hear he wants to build a border fence at our southern end to keep out the criminals. He wants it to be a real fancy fence, cause he says he just might want to put his name on it.  (I notice he’s partial to putting his name on things.)

I hear tell he’s got a plan to get the president of Mexico to pay for this fancy fence that’ll keep folks from crossing into our country illegally. Lord love a duck! He don’t know the first thing about presidents. That guy down there’s got no more pull about those things than our guy up here does.

Now, I know a little something about fences. At the ranch I put ’em up to keep critters in, not to keep folks out, but one thing’s for sure. No matter how hard I try, I ain’t going to convince my neighbor to pay for no fence of mine.

I’ve been watching this guy and I see he’s a man of few words. Right there, that’s no ordinary politician!  But he repeats those few words, moving ’em around in different ways so you think he’s saying something special when that ain’t necessarily so. He’s partial to humble words like dummy, moron, loser, total loser, major loser, and—when he’s talking about his own self—great, very great, unbelievably great, and treemendous. Why, he knows how to get those crowds a’going!

Now, this fellow Trump puts on a good show. Rowdy, but entertaining as all get out. If he keeps it up I’d be obliged to tell him he should just go on performing like he’s doing and forget about that other stuff.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

How Do You Shame The Shameless?

Every now and then I get to thinking about shame; about its legitimacy as a teaching tool ("Kids are starving in China and you won't eat your peas?"), about its necessity in a civilized society ("Shut the door! Were you born in a barn?"), and about its mean-spirited use as a weapon ("What kind of #$&*% are you, anyway?").

I've been thinking about it a lot lately and I blame Donald Trump.  If ever there was a poster child for resolute, shameless, bad-boy-ness, it's this guy.  I wouldn't mind so much, except he thinks he's going to be our president come November, 2016.

In a sane world, he would be going about it all wrong.  We tell ourselves we wouldn't in a million years choose a mean guy--a ruthless businessman, hilariously narcissistic to the extreme--as our leader, but then we remember that time we had to live through Bush/Cheney and we know all things are possible.  Even here.

Dick Cheney, a man who should be hiding in a closet somewhere flogging himself bloody for his role in the Iraq debacle, is instead all over TVland complaining about President Obama's Middle East decisions--as if he were some sort of authority on those things.   He knows no shame and flaunts it.

Shame is for sissies.

Fifty women and counting have accused Bill Cosby of sexual attacks over a 40 year span and Cosby says, in effect, "So what?"  So far, he's not in jail.  Shame, it would appear, is on the victims.

John Oliver skewers the televangelist greedmeisters in a devastating take-down, the likes of which would cause a normal person to weep and rend garments, but, as of this past Sunday, not a single one of his targets was a no-show.  They were out there, going strong, still repeating their imaginary conversations with their shill, God, in order to separate the clueless from their money.  Shame, my friends, is what you should feel if you don't open your wallets RIGHT NOW to these people barely even pretending that using religion to scam isn't the greatest gig EVER.  (I wrote about them a few years ago.  Nothing happened then, either.)

In my home state of Michigan, Tea Partiers Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, the two disgraced and demoted ex-legislators now out of a job, not just over their sleazy affair but because they played fast and loose with government funds, are. . .ready for this?. . .getting back into the race.  They're going to run as candidates for their old jobs.  The jobs they were just ousted from less than a fortnight ago.  No shame, no blame.

And, as expected, just yesterday the Republicans (and two lousy Democrats) in the U.S House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood, a major lifeline for millions of women.

So how do we shame the shameless?  The answer is, we don't.  We can't.  They're shameless.  But we don't have to reward them, either.  Shame on us when we do.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

GUEST POST: A Face of Homelessness - The Ignored Face of America

The post below was written by my internet friend and fellow writer, syrbal-labrys.  She posted it on her own blog, Experiential Pagan, about a month ago but I only just discovered it last week.  I asked her if I could re-post it here and she graciously agreed.  
We talk about the homeless a lot, but most often as distant observers who can only imagine what it must be like.  This is a story of an encounter and a rescue, with an ending as elusive as the reasons why:

August 8, 2015 by syrbal-labrys   
 I’ve been distracted this week.  My mind has wandered, as if lost, through a combination of fiction, memory, and reality in a particularly disturbing way.
I re-read a favorite piece of fiction: “Dune” — a pivotal bit of sci-fi and social fantasy for me.  The idea of a feudal society has always appalled me, you see?  And yet, as the rich gather the reins of power as well as the bulk of the income and property in America, that sort of image could well be the future of America. (And I cannot stop seeing Donald Trump as a Baron Harkonnen wanna-be.) What a horrific ending of America’s experiment as a democratic republic.
This last week, out on a shopping/errand trip, I saw a young man standing on a street corner with an unreadably small cardboard sign.  The only cash I had was a $20 bill, so we summoned him to the car window and handed it to him since he had an air of utter misery and desperation about him.  His reaction was one of shock and near tears.  This disturbed me even more.  We went about the rest of our business.  Three hours later, coming back – he still stood there, of course.
And something in me broke.  I asked my husband to pull over and fetch him.  We asked him if it would help to work for us for a couple weeks (all I could pay for by robbing a small savings account) with a place to sleep and food.  He was overcome, and (I think) frightened – I mean, we could be any sort of crazy predators, couldn’t we?  But he met us the next morning, hunched with cold after a night with no protection from the temperature drop from the high 80’s into the low 50’s.
With my broken ankle and the Minotaur’s knee surgery, there were many summer tasks and projects languishing.  So we put him to work, paying him and driving him back to town to give the bulk of the money to his mate and child.  They, too, are technically homeless and back at home with her parents, who seem angry and rather resentful about it.  But it is likely just because their own resources are so stretched to thin tolerances.  She has a job and is trying to save for an apartment.  A minimum of sustainability is all but out of their collective reach.
Knowing that the tiny extent of our attempt to aid him was a couple weeks of safe sleep, meals and a few hundred dollars makes me feel crushingly inadequate.  There is very little help for the homeless in our very red county.  He can be arrested for begging, or for sleeping on public property.  He is criminal merely for being homeless and poor.  He lives on energy drinks and candy bars, taking the bulk of whatever money he gets to his mate and child.
He has a work history, he has job skills; but with no drivers license and no address it is difficult to get and keep a job.  He lost his driver’s license due to lacking money for insurance  – once ticketed for driving without insurance and not being able to pay the ticket (back in his teens) meant his driver’s license was suspended.  Then, caught driving without a valid license — tickets, fees, and such accrued out of any possibly remedy.  It is beyond MY power to resolve, certainly.
He is in desperate need of dental work and although he has the state insurance that should pay for that?  No local dentist or oral surgeon accepts that insurance.  That is a ‘what-the-fuck’ Catch-22 right there, is it not?  The only oral surgeon who could resolve his constant pain is in Bremerton — a two if not three hour commute away.  There is NO bus service out here, so he cannot even try to get there in that way.
He has been homeless off and on since his teens, he dropped out of school one year short of graduating because his meth-addicted mother kicked him out and he worked full time to support himself.  He really never got a half decent chance at life, and now every system is full of catches where even doing it all as right as he can is not sufficient.  He has friends on the streets, some sleep in cars or trucks they own.  Some run from repo men to keep their wheeled “homes”.  Some are veterans.  They park in shopping center lots to sleep, hoping to not be arrested.
This is a face of America.  The face everyone seems to turn away from seeing.  The GOP call such people shiftless and lazy.  That has not been my experience of them.  I see desperation and hopelessness.  I see hard, hard work for very little in the most part.  I am furious and heartbroken that I can do so little to help.  It can be no coincidence in my mind that the first homeless folk I saw were in Washington D.C. while Ronald Reagan was President, can it?  I had to try explaining to my children why men were sleeping on benches in the park opposite the White House, in December.  So that memory replays as I see the young man I brought home to rest.
honeyhouse I saw him sleep on my sofa his first morning here after a full meal.  I told him not to be afraid, we are not religious nuts who will pull the “rice Christian” bit on him; I promised he was safe to rest.  He slept with the abandonment of utter exhaustion; even the dogs did not bark at him — they know hurt and broken when they see it.   He now sleeps in the Honey House, where he can lock a door temporarily his own to feel secure.
I want to “Be the change you want to see in the world” –– I really do.  But oh, that change needs more than what one retired couple can provide. We make sure our two veteran sons, who subsist on disability or minimum wage jobs, are not homeless.  It stretches us, keeps us from feeling financially rowdy.  It keeps us careful and cautious.  But I cannot avoid other faces I see — faces that mirror what could have become of my own sons, if the Minotaur and I had not held ourselves and our marriage and home together.
I can no longer look and do nothing, even though the little I can do is surely too little.  And I am angry and heartbroken.  The electioneering is gearing up.  Whatever gods may or may not be better protect any imbecilic Republican saying stupid things about the poor and homeless within MY earshot.  Because, I tell you, there could be blood.  And oh-so-not from Megyn Kelly’s “nose“! (And yes, just let me say, fuck Donald Trump with a dozen flaming pineapples.)

And then. . .  
He left about a week after he arrived.  Labrys contacted his girlfriend, who has heard from him only once.  She is afraid he has lapsed into addiction.  Meth.  
So now they wait. . .

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day, Brought to You By Unions Everywhere

This year I joined the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO (NWU).  I advocate for unions all the time, and this just puts the icing on the cake for me, but more than that, more than how it makes me feel, union membership joins us, arms linked, as we struggle to give our labor force the respect it deserves.  (Yes, even those workers who rail against unions.  We fight for them, too.  Because who else will?)

As I do every Labor Day, I went looking for Labor Day mentions, and the first thing I found was a list of Labor Day quotes to use on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.  Hey!  Great!  But after reading a few of them I noticed a pattern:  They were all about the rewards of hard work, the joys of labor, the shame of idleness.  Nothing about unions AT ALL.  On Labor Day.

It came from the International Business Times, and their lead paragraph is a study in how to say so little about organized labor you would think it never existed:
Labor Day is more than just a pseudo end to summer.  Most Americans throughout the nation are off work on Monday, and that's because more than 100 years ago laborers were forced to work 12-hour days, seven days a week.  While you kick back and relax with some delicious food and cold drinks, here are some interesting quotes social media users can share with family and friends, (etc., etc., etc.)
Enough said, apparently.  What follows are 25 quotes from people  like Maya Angelou, MLK, and Ginger Rogers.  Work is good!  Everybody should work!

And a little shame can't hurt, says Henry Ford in Quote #24:  "Nobody can think straight who does not work.  Idleness warps the mind." 

But the last thought is the kicker--I think:
Bonus for the fashionistas:  "Rules like 'don't wear white after Labor Day' or 'shoes matching the handbag' are antiquated.  Modern women should feel free to experiment."
(Look, I just report these things, I shouldn't be expected to explain them, too.)

But Labor Day is traditionally a celebration of organized labor and a reminder of the sacrifices that came before.  It's a union-invented holiday, celebrated by all workers everywhere, union or not.

As I write this, Joe Biden is giving his annual Labor Day speech in Pittsburgh, talking about how productivity went up about 73% while wages went up only 9%, and. . .

(What the hell? MSNBC just broke into his speech, saying they'll come back to it if he says something important.  They're waiting for him to talk about a run for the presidency.  Nothing else is important on this LABOR DAY.)

So guess what C-Span 2 put into their programming this morning--on LABOR DAY?  "Gretchen Carlson on 'Getting Real.  Fox New anchor Gretchen Carlson shares her life and career in 'broadcasting'."   (Oh, honey, I wish I was kidding.)

News flash:  MSNBC just cut off the president's LABOR DAY speech, too.  CNN didn't cover it at all.  As far as I know, the LABOR DAY speeches by POTUS and the Veep were not broadcast in their totality anywhere on television.  If I'm wrong, please tell me.  Unbelievable.  (If it's not Trump, it's not news.)

But on to the better stuff.  A round-up of Labor Day observances on this, our day:

The Nation:  Top Ten Labor Day Songs

Bernie Sanders:  Stand Together and Fight Back.

L.A Times:  Uncertain Times for American Labor.

Dylan Petrohilos (ThinkProgress):  Seven Union Heroes to Remember.

The Atlantic:  A Labor Day 2015 Reading List.  (A list within a list.  It's all good.)

Ben Railton (TPM):  The Forgotten Radical History of Labor Day.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:  This labor Day.

Ramona (That's me):  Friday Follies Labor Day Edition, 2011

This is our day to enjoy.  To celebrate our successes.  We've earned it.

And--I don't like to brag--but isn't it just like us to want to share it?  (Insert Smiley Face here.)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Please,Joe, Don't Run

For years now I've been pushing for a Joe Biden run for the presidency.  Whenever I say Joe would make a better president than any candidate running, even people I like a lot have laughed at the idea.  They scoffed.  I kept pushing.

I've written before about how much I love Joe Biden, even when he's at his most cringe-worthy.  I've inserted him into pieces that aren't about him, making them much longer than they need to be or should be, simply because I wanted him there.  He fits.

He is as flawed as any of us, but the presidency doesn't require perfection.  It's not an application for sainthood.  It requires a big heart--a HUGE heart--along with enough political savvy to never lose sight of goals or of enemies.  Joe has that.

But yesterday, during a speech at an Atlanta synagogue, he was asked about a possible run for president.  He said this:

"Unless I can go to my party and the American people and say that I'm able to devote my whole heart and my whole soul to this endeavor, it would not be appropriate," Biden said. "And everybody talks about a lot of other factors: The other people in the race and whether I can raise the money and whether I can get an organization. That's not the factor. The factor is can I do it? Can my family? 
"...I will be straightforward with you. The most relevant factor in my decision is whether my family and I have the emotional energy to run," Biden told the crowd. "The honest to God answer is I just don't know." 
 It was as much how he said it as what he said. (I'm fogging up again, just writing about it.) Joe Biden's family means everything to him.  He lost his first wife and baby daughter in a terrible car crash in 1972, a little more than a month after he was elected senator in Delaware.  His two sons, Beau and Hunter, spent weeks in the hospital, Joe by their side every day.

On May 30 of this year, Joe's son Beau died at just 46 after a heroic battle with brain cancer.  Beau, Delaware's Attorney General before his illness took him out of public life, showed signs of following in his father's footsteps.   His reputation as a "good guy" pleased Joe no end.  There might have been a Biden dynasty and the people would have benefited.  But it wasn't to be, and now Joe the family man is tired and grieving.   

 A presidential run is grueling, it's exhausting, it's rife with cruelty. The presidency itself is a thankless job, made even more so by factions intent on not just weakening it but destroying it altogether.  The perks--a long-term stay in the nation's mansion, limousines and a veritable airliner as modes of transportation, aides and servants at your beck and call--can't make up for the endless demands for Solomon-like decisions, the gnawing, nightmarish responsibilities as a world leader, the constant opposition to the obligations of serving the peoples' needs.  A person like Joe would take the office of the presidency seriously.  Those decisions would haunt him.  I need to stop asking him to do it.

So give it up, Joe.  Please.  You don't need to be president to be one of the great ones.  You can step into Jimmy Carter's shoes and become our favorite uncle.  The one who speaks to us in quiet tones, reminding us that we have to work at doing the right thing--it doesn't always come naturally.The one who shows us, even if our hearts are breaking, how it can be done.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Nothingness of Donald Trump

This will be short.  My eyes, dammit, are still bothering me, but not nearly as much as Donald Trump bothers me.  I HATE writing about Donald Trump, adding to the list of people who make him deliriously happy whenever we mention his name, but he hit a new low the other day, even for him, when he went after Hillary Clinton's aide, Huma Abedin, and then went after Hillary's aide's husband.

Abedin (Or "Ooma" as Donald calls her), as everybody knows, is the wife of former congressman Anthony Weiner. ("Did you know that?" Trump shouted to his audience, "Did you know that?")  So after insulting both Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin with unsubstantiated claims of underhanded collusion to hide some emails produced on an in-home server, he decided it would be a real crowd-pleaser to go after "Ooma's" husband, too.

Well, yes.  It was.  The crowd went wild!  During that speech and over the next couple of days he accused Abedin of giving national secrets to her husband, who, according to Trump, is a "perv", "psychologically disturbed" and "one of the great sleazebags of our time."  (Weiner's "crime", I don't have to tell you, was to tweet a couple of lewd pictures to women who weren't his wife.  Naughty, naughty, to be sure, but a perv?)

Trump has a masterful way of suggesting something bad is going on without having to prove it.  When he talked about the Mexicans coming over the border who were rapists and murderers, he added, "And some of them are good people, I'm sure."  As if, in the middle of his sentence, his brain finally engaged and balked a little, giving him the means to soften what he just said without having to take any of it back.

When he said McCain was only a war hero because he was captured and he, Trump, didn't like people who were captured, his brain must have been asleep at the time, forcing him, as often happens, to go it alone.  Later, when he knew he had to backtrack, he said, lamely, "I'm sure McCain is a hero."  There.  All done.

So when he took to talking about Hillary's emails, and Huma Abedine's role in what's turning out to be another Clinton non-scandal, it was, again, a masterful demonstration of speechifying without really saying anything:
"So how can she be married to this guy who's got these major problems? She's getting her most important information, it could be, in the world. Who knows what he's going to do with it? Forget about her. What she did is a very dangerous thing for this country, and probably it's a criminal act."
 Well, of course, the press went nuts, as it usually does whenever they latch onto non-stories as juicy as this one.  They went after Trump, practically begging him to keep it up:
Washington (CNN) Donald Trump on Saturday stood by his charge that disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner is a "perv," adding that he "obviously is psychologically disturbed" and alleging that his wife, Huma Abedin, a top adviser to Hillary Clinton, is passing sensitive information to him."I think it's a very fair statement that I made and a lot of people have congratulated me," Trump said after an event in Nashville, Tennessee. "(Abedin) is receiving this very, very important information and giving it to Hillary. Well, who else is she giving it to? Her husband has serious problems, and on top of that, he now works for a public relations firm. So how can she be married to this guy who's got these major problems?"
You know what's sleazy?  A man like Donald Trump having so little respect for our American system of government that he would use his guise as candidate for the presidency to spread his laughable malarkey, to push his one agenda, his own self-aggrandizement; to mock and insult anybody who isn't fawning over him and who dares to get in his way as he moves toward what he wants when he wants it.

You know what's perverted?  The notion that a man like Donald Trump could be considered for the job of President of the United States.  Right now, as I write this, he polls at the top of the Republican contenders.  He's a panderer who hasn't given an honest thought to the needs of the citizens of this country EVER.  He's a man who admits he'll do anything to get a deal.  He's a ruthless businessman who prides himself on not knowing anything about politics or foreign policy and sees that as a plus for his side.

He's a flim-flam man and proud of it.  A flim-flam man whose only cause is to keep his popularity going.  He's running for president of the United States and at least some of our citizens are hoping they'll get the chance to vote for him.  If you ask them why, they'll repeat the phrase embroidered on Trump's trademarked baseball cap:  To Make America Great Again.

Such is the state of our nation.

My head hurts.

(For the record, I have written about Anthony Weiner here and here, and about Huma Abedin here.)

Addendum:  Kevin Drum shares another example of the artistry of the Trump word salad.  Nothing leads to nothing leads to nothing. . .  And seeing is believing.  (H/T to my friend Linda Tilsen for finding and sharing.)