And a Firewall Holds

American exceptionalism is an oxymoron these days. 

Because a moron is in the White House and 63 million people thought that was a good idea.

We are a drifting hulk and striving for steady leadership. Or even a little respite — comic relief — in our search for direction. (Thank you, Justin Trudeau, for your choice of socks on May 4th. May the Fourth always be with you.)

The abject corruption and self-dealing in this White House is so abhorrent and anathema to our 250-ish year-old experience (ok, the Teapot Dome scandal was amateur hour compared to this Administration), that we have no response. 

We keep thinking we are crazy because it can’t be happening, and surely the Congress and Department of Justice would investigate.  Oh, wait, this is the Congress that passed AHCA and a DOJ that imprisoned someone for laughing at Jeff Sessions.

First Brexit and then Agent Orange made the sane among us worry about the portents of a World War II redux.  One in which fascism/nazism would win precisely because 45 is enamored of strongmen and dictators.

If France “fell” to Le Pen and Merkel didn’t do well in local elections, then the conventional wisdom is that the world would devolve into conflict that would end the world.  Because now, as distinct from 1945, many groups have nuclear weaponry.

I believe that conventional wisdom.  And I am grateful for the election of Macron — which meant, for me, that people who love liberty, even for those they may personally despise, won the day — and the shoring up of support for Angela Merkel. 

But we must remain vigilant.

Because no one has to like another person, for any reason or no reason, but all of us must believe in a person’s rights to believe and behave as they do, within the confines of the law.  That means if you beat up someone, you go to jail.  That means if you don’t want “others” in your town, suck it up or move.  It means that you are responsible for your choices and your destiny and there are no scapegoats for your sorry life.

The beauty and reality of a free society. 

These tenets are under siege.  And I will fight for them.

THE REST IS ADDRESSED TO WHITE AMERICA WHO VOTED FOR TRUMP:

I am white, educated, and reasonably well-heeled.  My immigrant grandparents struggled and so did my parents.  And now my siblings and I are successful. We stand on the shoulders of two generations.  And our children will get everything we can give them.

Because we know where we came from.  And the gift that is this nation.

Too many people after too many generations here forget the gift of this nation.  And then chose to despoil it with a con man and grifter.

Let me be clear about something:  if you are white and voted for Trump and you take assistance — food stamps, medicaid, or go to the emergency room for medical care — you are a scourge on the society.  You depend on me for your care.  And that aid ended with the election of Agent Orange.  And I am good with it.  Because immigrants deserve the promise of this country more than those born into it who feel more entitled than grateful.

Maybe Reagan poisoned you with the “welfare mothers driving Cadillacs” which was a whistle call and untrue.  But if you had any self-esteem or any drive, you would have seen through that.  You are lazy and you think white privilege will grease the wheels. 

Would I give you a managerial job if you failed 6th grade?  Are you kidding me?

You are so interested in entitlement reform?  Most of those who receive benefits are white (and Republican).  I am good with it.  I don’t want to pay for you.  You were born with more rights and privilege than anyone else in the world.  If you and your family blew it, it is on you.  And because AHCA was passed, you need me to pay for your ER visits.  Instead of making me pay those taxes to provide those services, I will get a tax break.  Thank Paul Ryan and Agent Orange.

I am tired of you.  Get a job.  Harvest the fields.  Like my grandparents who worked in sweat shops and my parent who did odd jobs from when they were 5 years-old. And studied when they could and learned about the world.

I will contribute my tax savings to people like my parents and grandparents who struggle to make it here so their children will have good lives.

No, I have no sympathy, except for the coal miners who will lose their medical coverage now.  But if they voted for Trump and the Darwinian view of life, then, well . . . .

Don’t cry to me when you are turned away from the ER. 

I voted for Hillary. 

Which meant more taxes for me. 

To take care you and everyone else. 

Because I believe in the promise of America. 

But you don’t believe in that promise.

Because you elected Agent Orange and a Congress that would repeal ACA.

I believe in the sanctity of human life – from inception to the end.  My heart bleeds for every unnecessary death and for every injury or malady that can’t be repaired or remedied.  I can’t even read about a child dying without tearing up.

Oh, and you should know that I am a lesbian raising a child with my partner.

You may think that is a sin and beyond the pale.  And you would be wrong.  We live a life with the same principles as in my parents’ home: work hard, be compassionate, be humble (here is where I fell down), and pay it forward.  I would compare my charitable giving and my civic involvement to make everyone’s life better against 45‘s in real dollars and as a percentage of our incomes.  And have it posted.

But, you and I, we are very different: my family and I take responsibility and work for a better world.  My family and I don’t wallow in what is.  My family and I are forward-looking and seek to heal the world.  The latter a commandment in my religious tradition.  I am not a person of faith, but I believe in the wisdom and directives of our ancients.

And as far as sins go, what you all allowed –i.e., electing 45 — puts you in a Hell that even Jesus didn’t anticipate.  Jesus is on my side.  And you know it.

So, if you obeyed even just these three commandments, how did we get here?

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Don’t bare false witness against thy neighbor.

Do not covet that which is your neighbor’s.

Yeah, I thought so.  You screwed up.

Old fears. New fears

Forgive me the historical inaccuracies; I am going from memory on this one.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

When I was a kid, the common apocalyptic prediction was annihilation courtesy of the escalation of a routine dust-up between the US and the USSR (remember?) that literally went nuclear.

We fought proxy wars — the Korean Conflict, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War (and used chemical warfare — specifically Napalm and Agent Orange even though our own troops were in harm’s way).  Oh, and there were always “misunderstandings” along the Berlin Wall. 

In the 1960s, Mr. Kruschev famously promised during a visit at the UN, “We will bury you!”  He was referring to the US.

And the years spun by.  Kruschev was followed by Brezhnev, followed by Andropov (for a second), followed by Chernenko (for another second) and followed by Gorbachev (who had the map of the Soviet missiles set as a birthmark on his forehead — see SNL skit from 1985).  And Kennedy to Johnson to . . . . Reagan.

And the USSR was showing signs of age. 

Then Perestroika led to Glastnos (or vice-versa). Then the Berlin Wall came down and, ultimately, so did the USSR.

And Yeltsin emerged.  As the President of Russia.  Still controlling some of the former soviet socialist republics.

But, for a moment in time, in that way that only Americans can (as if looking out to the great frontier), we decided not to worry about the unguarded nuclear arsenal of the former USSR, and bask in the serenity that nuclear war was not our existential threat.

Then we realized that it was easier having only one “enemy”.  Because who is minding the nukes??

And then we remembered that India had The Bomb.  And the US gave Pakistan the information to make The Bomb.  And Israel . . . . And Iran started . . . .  And, of course, China must have had it for soooooo long.

And there were also the WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction).  Which includes, I think, Dirty Bombs and Chemical Warfare and a whole host of other horrible killing vapors and explosions on a massive scale. Maybe I am getting my jargon wrong, but you get the idea.

But we are Americans and we bluster forward.  If you asked a New Yorker, we would have prescribed sedatives.  (New Yorkers are an untapped psycho-pharmacological resource.)

And then Putin succeeded Yeltsin.

And many nations continued to acquire WMDs.  And then not just nations, but terrorist groups spread far and wide acquired them. 

And then we invaded a country that we knew had them (because we sold them to its leader) but he had already sold them to another leader.  Yep, Saddam Hussein sold them to Bashar Al-Assad.

Yep.  The guy who gasses his own people (as distinct from Sean Spicer’s Holocaust Centers).

And all the while Iran is getting closer and closer to the prototype of The Bomb.  Meanwhile China sits by while North Korea actually tests prototypes of The Bomb.

And our 44th President gets us out of Iraq, because it was time and Iraq would no longer grant our soldiers immunity.  He negotiates with Iran.  He uses military force sparingly.  Perhaps too sparingly sometimes.  He draws down troops from Afghanistan, because that war is unwinnable.  In the middle, he hunts down and kills terrorist masterminds, including Osama Bin Laden.  I don’t love his search and kill missions.  But I respect his decisions because I know he respects the rule of law.  And I believe that he did what he thought was right after hearing from experts and sober deliberation

AND THEN COMES AGENT ORANGE 2.0. WORSE THAN NAPALM AND THE ORIGINAL AGENT ORANGE COMBINED.

Agent Orange 2.0 drops bombs, send warships to tense regions, puts our Navy SEALs in harm’s way.

Agent Orange 2.0 has a bromance with Putin.  Then he acts like they are frenemies in a reality TV show.

Agent Orange 2.0 congratulated Erdogan.  Another strong man grabbing power and pu@@y.

Agent Orange 2.0 threatened Kim Jong-Un.  Another strong man who has power (and maybe grabs pu@@y).

Agent Orange 2.0 acts like he doesn’t know what he is doing.  Maybe he is doing the mad man act to bring rational (fr)enemies to the table.  Or maybe it is not an act.

And maybe what is old is new again.

And maybe the new apocalyptic prediction of annihilation will be a dust-up of egos that literally goes nuclear.  Because Agent Orange 2.0 is {gasp} the — um — um — nope can’t do it.  Can’t say it.  Okay, he is 45.

And maybe, at long last, Mr. Kruschev is right. 

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMM.

A Pyrrhic victory doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Belonging

When my grandparents came to these shores on a boat (in steerage), they were strangers in a strange land.  And they had nothing.  They remained that way their whole lives.

America.  Such a strange country, America,” is something my grandfather would say as he shook his head about something peculiar he read in the newspaper or saw in person or on TV (female wrestling was one such thing).

America.  Such a vondehful [wonderful] country, America,” is something my grandfather would say as looked at the success of, and integration of his children and grandchildren into, American society.

My grandparents were not of this country, although they were naturalized citizens.  They left their home countries to escape atrocities.  So, they were not of those countries either.

They were displaced people their whole lives.  But they felt safe here.  They were citizens here.  They loved this country.

Next to the pictures of Mom and Dad on their wedding day and our various graduation pictures, was a picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act. 

Because a person could do anything and be anything in America.  And America took care of its people who worked hard and raised the next generation of contributors to society (and tax revenue).

My parents and we, their children, grew up with a sense of belonging.

We belong.  This is our country.  We are Americans. 

And, in this country, we have the luxury of a prefix — Chinese-, Japanese-, Polish-, Russian-, Anything-American — because 

We belong.

That is not to say that being Jewish or of Polish, German, Russian and Prussian descent was easy.  Educational and employment discrimination, fights and name-calling of my parents’ generation gave way to schoolyard name-calling and social discrimination in mine.

And, in the next generation, there is still anti-Semitism.  Because prejudice will always exist.  Because crazy people vandalize synagogues.

But we belong to this country and we can, and do, succeed in this country.  But we had to work hard and deal with stupid people and prejudice along the way.  That is a fact of life.  But because I am a citizen, I have the same rights as the bigots.  With education, I can make sure they don’t lord over me.

I think about the Algerians and other North African people in France or “guest workers” across Europe.  These individuals and their families can be two or three generations in Europe and still not be citizens.  Bigotry and malice can cripple their advancement.  They are effectively ghettoized.

In Europe, Asian and African immigrants cannot be citizens. Even when two generations have lived there and no where else.  Even when the grandchildren only know how to speak French, Dutch, German, Flemish, etc. and not the language of their grandparents’ country.

And so they DON’T belong. ANYWHERE.

And they have opportunities. NOWHERE.

And their country of birth claims them as citizens. NOT AT ALL.

And they have bright futures and integrate into the larger culture without losing their cultural and religious identities.  NOPE. NOT HAPPENING.

(This sounds like the story of the Jews in Europe (other than, ironically, Germany) up until just before Hitler came to power.)

I wonder what would happen if these immigrants and guest workers, or at least their children or grandchildren, could be citizens.  I wonder what would have happened in my parents’ and my generation didn’t “belong” to our great nation.

What if they belonged . . . .

One Nation?

I believe in America, its promise and its endless possibilities.  I also know that, in America,  people live in abject poverty, without adequate schools, and in fear of deportation.

And I know that there are as many Americas as there are colors of skin, nationalities, religions, sexual identity and orientation.

We live in a fractured America.  Some of us cross any number of the shards.  Some, like me, can pass as Christian and straight.  If I even wanted to do so.  I am too old to hide.  But I am lucky; I have a choice.

But is any of us satisfied with this type of America?  Don’t we get tired, after every miscarriage of justice, of assuaging our horror and guilt, by saying, rather apologetically, “but there are good and kind people all across this country”?

Look, everyone has prejudices.  But that isn’t supposed to matter.  The point is that America is supposed to be one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Justice.  Justice.  Justice.

It isn’t just a word.  It is the basis of our nation.

It means that even if you steal, or sell cigarettes illegally, you don’t deserve to be tortured or killed.  Even more, you deserve treatment in accordance with the pettiness of the crime committed.  In other words, there shouldn’t be a bruise on you.

I was taught that wrongs will be done, but justice, JUSTICE, will prevail.

I believed in that.  I placed my faith in the systems of “justice” and government.  Because two generations ago, this country took in wretched poor refugees and gave them opportunities for work and their children a free education.  I grew up hearing, “G-d bless America.”

I still say, “G-d bless America,” except now I also say, “G-d save America”.

Because when our systems of laws and order fail, fractures of our nation becomes shards of glass on the floor.  Almost impossible to reassemble, but stronger if we glue the fragments back together.

Let us all glue this nation back together so that it is again: “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner.

276 girls

http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/09/world/africa/nigeria-abducted-girls/

How is this possible?  There have been decades of atrocities, unbreakable cycles of violence, the world over. Countless children sacrificed to the power struggles over land and its resources.  Nigeria has devolved into chaos.

Legacies of colonialization and Western arrogance.  And backlash.

This is the one case that is gaining international attention.  Because of the brazenness and insanity of the Boko Haram fighters.  How does a militant group, fighting in the name of God, kidnap 276 school girls to sell them into marriage and slavery?

These girls.  These poor girls.  Their poor families.  I cannot imagine what it is to have my child taken from me by lawless gangs who roam with impunity.

This massive kidnapping is about radicalism and the cheapness of human life, in general, and that of a girl’s life, in particular.

And the knowledge of the perpetrators that we, in the United States, will soon turn back to the results of the NFL draft.  And then they can do this again.  And again.  And again.  Until no child is spared from the war crimes.
Our souls, and our beliefs in the sanctity of human life and in the God-given right of a child to realize his or her potential, lie in the balance of our nation’s response to this crisis and others like it across the globe.  Let’s find these girls, airlift them and their families and share the bounty of our nation with them.  It isn’t fair to those left behind, but it is a start.  And, in Jewish theology, it is a person’s moral obligation to save even one life even if one cannot save everyone.

God bless and keep these girls, and keep them safe from more ravages of war.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

[For the song, “Mrs. Robinson”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C1BCAgu2I8]

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns [our frightened] eyes to you.  (Woo woo woo.)

Once we believed that our political and sports heroes could save us our innocence and our dreams from the stark realities of war, assassinations and a nation divided.

We looked to them — to Joe after Marilyn’s death, to Jackie after JFK’s assassination, to Coretta after Rev. Dr. MLK’s assassination — to steady us.  To remind us of better times and take us past the tragedies.  To take us back to a winning baseball team, to Camelot, to a place where dreams were possible.

God bless you, please, [this America].
Heaven holds a place for those who pray.
(Hey, hey, hey.)

Today, I am scared.  Because we are a nation so bitterly divided.  Because my dreams are ever less fanciful, my reality ever less comforting, my hopes and expectations ever lower, than just a week, month or year ago.

And there are no heroes, but where is there a parent who wants to tell that to his/her children?

Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids.

What is the embodiment of my fears?  Heritage Action for America scuttled any potential deal on the debt ceiling in the House of Representatives.  Because lawmakers are taking their cues from lobbyists-thinktanks-donors and not their frightened constituents.  That very action breaks the very foundation of our nation — representational government.

Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.

And all that people have worked for, and saved for, and paid taxes for, hangs in the balance.  Because we, the people, are pawns in a power grab.

WE, THE PEOPLE.

We whom our government serves.

WE, THE PEOPLE.

About whom no one seems to care.

WE, THE PEOPLE.

Joltin Joe has left and gone away (hey hey hey).  It isn’t the same to turn our frightened eyes to A-Rod.

Marbles

Mom and Dad always taught us that if you lose, you lose with dignity.  You don’t take your marbles and stomp off.

Except I never played marbles and I had no idea what they were talking about.  Just like my son doesn’t understand the phrase, “you sound like a broken record.”

But, eventually, I got the point.  If you lose fair and square, then you congratulate the winner and move on.  You don’t try to pretend the game never happened or that the winner cheated or that you were robbed of the trophy.

Unless, of course, you are part of the Tea Party.  Then you think that G-d is your co-pilot and that Barack Obama is not a legitimate president because, well, how could we elect a black man and no black man was ever born in the State of Hawaii.  (SIDEBAR:  Ted Cruz, you were born in Canada and had dual citizenship until a week ago.)

Let’s be fair.  We have had presidents who ascended to the highest office in the land under a cloud.  The “elections” of John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush come to mind.

But the Tea Party did not mind George W. Bush being president.  Hmmmmmmm.

Maybe because they “won”?  Hey, I remained an ordinary, law abiding citizen and patriot even through the terrible years of Bush/Cheney.  And I did not think they were duly elected, but the Supreme Court spoke.

I didn’t take my marbles and stomp off.  But, now the Tea Party is mad because Barack Obama is president, and a legitimate president.

But the government shut down and the debt ceiling should not be about one man and his health care reform and his birth certificate. 

These issues are about the people you all pretend to care about.

This is America and the majority spoke.  Be patriots.  Show the world that this is your country, come what may. Come on, I dare you, Tea Party members of Congress.

Put country first.

Hey, I am as liberal as they come and I say to you, “Less government? ok.  No government? Anarchy.”

And anarchy is treason.

And so are breaching the public trust and the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

And then you will see citizens like me  — middle-aged, economically secure (or so we thought) taxpayers — take to the streets and scream for your heads because you let our nation default.

So, before you smugly take your marbles and stomp off, remember, if you let our nation default —-

then you are no better than Benedict Arnold, betraying your country and fellow citizens and playing roulette with the total collapse of the republic.  

The hangman awaits.  Your move.

an H-E-N-D

H-E-N-D?  Human-engineered, natural disaster.  Hurricane Sandy.  I would have called it a man-made natural disaster, but that sounded too oxymoronic (however, true).

And it would confuse the morons who don’t believe that humans are at least, in part, responsible for climate change.  Ok, I don’t have to be insulting, but let’s just leave it like this:  it has to better for the planet if we don’t dump toxins in the oceans or let toxins loose into the atmosphere.  If we were as gentle with the world as we expect our loved ones to be with us, then maybe we wouldn’t need a political-scientific war of words.

Since I am not good at the big theories, let me tell you about a small, unintended, consequence of H-E-N-D Sandy:  Dad’s care.

With power outages predicted, one of Dad’s children or children-in-law needed to be with him, even though he had a home health aide.  Why? What if he fell, or became confused and agitated, and the phones were down, how would the health aide — who cannot leave his side — get help?  What if, as happened, no one comes to relieve the home health aide because everyone is stranded?  One home health aide couldn’t leave for 60 hours; no one could get to Dad’s house to relieve her and she had no way of getting home.  We needed to be there to let her sleep and help with cooking and minding Dad.  And Dad needs minding.  Especially at night.

We are lucky.  Dad didn’t lose power.  We live nearby.  We married good, kind and loving people who were willing to treat Dad like their own dad and take shifts in Dad’s care.  I slept there twice; HOSOB once.  POB and SOS were there during the day.  SOB had to be in her hospital because other hospitals were evacuating very sick people to her ICU.

But so many of the elderly or infirm in this country are not so lucky.  Their children don’t live nearby.  They can’t come to the rescue in a disaster.

I bet a lot of people went without medications, good food, and proper hygiene during these past three or so days.  And I bet they were frightened.

So, don’t think about this on a global scale.  Think about your neighbors, whether they are elderly or the children who couldn’t fly to their parents’ rescue.  Then, think about your gas guzzler car, your over-processed food, your bottled water.  Then, consider how you (and I) contributed to the crazy weather patterns that made H-E-N-D Sandy an epic disaster.

Another Gut Check Moment in New York City

I don’t take cabs as much any more — economical and environmental reasons — but so often when I do take cabs, I learn life lessons from the drivers.

Thursday night was no different.  The driver had a French African accent I found hard to understand and identify. After we both understood our destination, I asked, “Where are you from?

Africa.

Where in Africa?

Burkina Faso.”  This was the first time I had ever met anyone from there.  And now that I am used to the cadence of his English, he is very well-spoken.

I have heard of it. It used to be called Upper Volta.” I said more for my benefit as if telepathically showing to my parents — one dead, one alive — that there was something to my liberal arts education after all, even amid the four years of debauchery.

Is your family there?” I continue.

Yes.

That must be hard. Do you see them?” (Of course, I make that inappropriate assumption that others have families like mine, whom I would dearly miss.)

Ten years.

How long have you been here?

Ten years.

Do you have a family here?

I come with my friend.

My friend. Ahhhhhhhh.

I am a lesbian; is your friend a man?

Yes.” He says with openness but no relief.  We weren’t navigating the great divides between our lives.  We were just able to be less vague and more truthful.  I was still a white, well-heeled American sitting in the back of his cab and he was the refugee driving me around and trying to make a life in a strange and, at times, harsh city.

And you can’t go home?

I would be killed.  Even by my family.

We reached our destination.

I am glad you are here and I am sorry that you had to leave your home.”  Not a brilliant sentence but heartfelt, even if for a stranger.

It is the punishment.

“It is the punishment.”  As much as this man traveled to be free, he carries the homophobia inside.  Two people in the same car, worlds apart.