Barb Caffrey's Blog

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My Thoughts on the Uvalde Shooting

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Folks, I thought about this for a few days before posting. I didn’t want to just pop off, as I felt that was unfair to the subject matter.

That said, here goes.

I’m extremely frustrated, upset, and unhappy over the recent shooting up of an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The gunman (who as usual I will not name) was a high-school senior and he was not going to graduate. This made him so upset, he shot two teachers to death, at least 19 children to death (as there are more in the hospital, conditions unknown), and argued with his own grandmother beforehand and shot her, too. (Last I read, she was still in critical condition, but alive.)

This makes it sound like this shooter did this on the spur of the moment, but he didn’t.

We know this because he bought two guns, legally, and bought a great deal of ammunition, again legally. He did this just after he turned eighteen.

His only purpose seems to have been to create terror and heartbreak. He has unfortunately succeeded.

The gunman is dead, which somehow doesn’t seem like nearly enough punishment for what he’s done.

Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who’s running for Governor of Texas, showed up at the press conference to demand answers. I don’t know how I feel about this because on one hand, I understand why he’s frustrated and upset — and I certainly share that. (I also will point out that Beto was one of the first people on the scene in 2019 when some depraved butthole shot twenty-three people to death at an El Paso Walmart and injured another twenty-three, all because he didn’t like Hispanic people. Beto raised money for the victims and their families and performed many acts at that time that seemed quite selfless.) I also am sure that if I had represented Texas in the House of Representatives, as Beto did for years, I’d be furious at the lack of improvements in the laws of Texas.

But it’s worse than that.

Recently — within the past few months, I believe — gun laws in Texas have been weakened by the current sitting Governor, Greg Abbott (R). The weakening that angers me most is this: there used to be a mandate saying everyone who buys a gun needs to go through a gun safety course. (I agree with this. It makes sense.) Now, however, no one has to do that.

Perhaps this is why Beto went to the press conference and started yelling at Governor Abbott.

Even so, I feel it was the wrong time and the wrong place for that. The parents are grieving. The teachers — the survivors, who know two of their own are dead — are grieving. The police in that area are grieving (one policeman lost a daughter and another his wife). The people of the area are grieving, too.

While I believe the way Governor Abbott behaved was wrong (he wasn’t polite, from what I’ve seen), and am further sickened by the fact that Abbott went to a fund-raiser later that evening from various TV reports rather than stay and try to comfort the victims and their families, I still wish Beto O’Rourke hadn’t confronted him there.

I understand Beto’s anger. I understand why he’s frustrated. I understand and agree with the fact that those laws should never have been weakened.

But when people are grieving, you need to help them heal. Beto knew that in El Paso in 2019.

That’s why I wish he’d not let his anger get the best of him.

Anyway, I remain sickened by the loss of life, the loss of potential in all those ten-year-old kids, the loss of two gifted teachers, and the loss of innocence in and around Uvalde as so many people they knew and loved have died.

Wisconsin is nowhere near Texas. I can’t drive to Uvalde and offer food, or a shoulder to cry on, or lay a wreath at the elementary school’s entrance.

I feel impotent. My rage at more senseless, unnecessary deaths has no place to go, because I know most of the politicians in office in Washington, DC, will do nothing at all, even after innocent children and their innocent teachers have died.

While I of course will pray for the innocent souls, and I will not forget them, thoughts and prayers are no longer enough.

I have no answers. I only have questions.

I wish I knew what to say to put an end to this horrible, awful, grotesque, disgusting and reprehensible behavior.

But I don’t.

Now, you all have the floor: what do you think should be done about gun violence? (Is there anything we can do? If so, what? And what do you think about Beto O’Rourke’s behavior?)

Responses, as always, must be polite or they will be deleted.

Updates on Ukraine, the Empathy Gap Essay, and a Discussion of Muslims, Cigarettes, and Virtue-Signaling

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Folks, I wanted to write a blog today about Ukraine along with updating last week’s blog about the empathy gap. I also veer into a discussion of smoking that may surprise you. So do keep reading, OK?

Sometimes, a news commentator utterly surprises.

Why am I saying that? Well, Malcolm Nance, a longtime MSNBC analyst, has joined the international force doing their best to push Russia right back out of Ukraine. He is a Navy vet, and he said that he was “done talking.” Therefore, he went to Ukraine, where he’s been now for over a week, and has been doing whatever he can to aid the fighters there.

I’m glad Ukraine continues to resist Russia’s stupid and pointless invasion. (Well, not stupid and pointless to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President. He wanted the Ukrainian bread basket, as the land is exceptionally fertile there. And rather than pay for the grain like anyone else, he thought he’d just take the country, so he would just get the grain as well.) But it saddens me to see the destruction of once-beautiful cities like Kyiv and Mariupol.

Not to mention the loss of human lives, which is utterly incalculable.

I hope that whatever Malcolm Nance continues to do over there works. He has always struck me as a highly intelligent man, though I didn’t always agree with him. (I don’t always agree with anyone. Even with my late husband Michael, we had an occasional disagreement. Spice for the mix, I always thought, especially as we made sure to “fight fair” and not drag up old and dead issues over and over.)

Anyway, the next piece of old business has to do with my essay on empathy a week-plus ago. Paul, a regular reader, asked why I didn’t bring up someone on the left who’s sparked my ire as much as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have on the right. Another reader, Kamas, mentioned Maxine Waters — a very able legislator in her way, but also someone who seems to enjoy verbal conflict and hyperbole from time to time. And I’d brought up two other D legislators who seem to get into trouble on a regular basis, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Rep. Omar is in the news right now for calling out a double standard on airplanes. Apparently, a church group that had just come back from working with Ukrainian refugees sang a Christian hymn on the plane. This upset her, as she believes Muslim groups would be shut down from singing on planes. (Maybe this has happened to her, but if so, she hasn’t said so specifically.)

My view of this is simple. The folks who went to Ukraine or the borders of Poland and Romania and elsewhere that border Ukraine, and did good work, deserve to celebrate any way they like. If their song wasn’t bothering anyone else on the plane, let them sing.

Mind, I’d also say the same thing for a Muslim hymn. There are many uplifting Muslim hymns, I believe, but we almost never hear of them — much less hear them — because Muslim in the US tends to equal “Shia or Sunni rebel” rather than pious person doing their best for God and country.

Still, why Rep. Omar waded into this one with both feet, I don’t know.

Centuries ago, the Muslim people were often literate, learned, urbane, and often had no trouble with other “People of the Book” (meaning Christians and Jewish people). The Muslims came up with algebra, created music and art and poetry and architecture, and did many wonderful things.

We tend to forget all that with the current crop of fundamentalists over in Iraq and elsewhere. Those rigid, ruthless sorts are not what being a Muslim is all about, any more than, say, the so-called Christians who helped burn down Minneapolis and Kenosha and other places in the last few years have anything to do with most actual Christians. (The Christians who protested are fine. The ones who burned for the sake of destruction are not. We forget about the former because we have had to dwell on the latter in order to rebuild.)

I have an online friend, a doctor, who’s a proud Muslim woman. She lives in India. I’ve known her now for several years, while she’s been at university, then started medical school in earnest (from what it sounds like), to studying for boards (which sounds harrowing) and being a medical resident (which, like the US and the UK, consists of many hours of work for not that great of pay, and is exhausting).

Tajwarr, my friend, loves makeup, loves to dress up, does not wear a hijab (not in the pictures I’ve seen of her), and writes poetry. She has many gifts, including that of putting people at ease. She is unfailingly polite, and does her best to be cheerful with patients, family, and friends without losing one ounce of authenticity.

I admire her.

In India, where she lives, Muslims are being persecuted. Hindus, by far, have the upper hand there. And like anywhere else, the folks with the most seem to lord it over those with less. So the populous Hindus have made it harder for Muslims — an ethnic minority in India, I think — to enjoy being themselves and to enjoy their own culture, religion, music, etc.

I say all this to point out one, simple thing: You can’t put all people in a box. Not all Muslims. Not all Christians. Not all Neo-pagans. You just can’t stereotype people like that.

One of the folks I know, who I worked with on Hillary Clinton’s campaigns in 2008 and 2016, worked on behalf of Joe Biden in 2020. She is a Black woman. Very smart, able, all that. She knew Biden would not be perfect, but she worked for him anyway. Part of the reason for this might have been that Donald Trump signed a bill that raised the minimum age to smoke from eighteen to twenty-one. She felt that was no one else’s business, and that if you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to smoke.

(Even though I don’t smoke, I agree with her.)

My friend has always smoked menthol cigarettes, such as Newports. But Biden’s FDA banned menthol cigarettes citing their “adverse affects on Black Americans.” (This was often the phrase used by journalists and TV analysts when this happened last year.) Menthol, you see, masks some of the harshness of the tobacco, and it apparently opens up additional nicotine receptors. (I have never smoked, so all I can say is apparently.)

At any rate, my friend was absolutely furious about this. She felt it’s her body, her choice. Alcohol is allowed in many flavors, and alcohol kills many more people than cigarettes.

She also was deeply unhappy, and remains deeply unhappy to this day, about how people who smoke get treated like second-class citizens. Being a smoker is now worse than being a drinker, and that’s just wrong.

I’m not saying any vice is good. But I have two vices of my own: lottery tickets, and diet soda. (Well, three if you add in Snickers bars.)

Most of us have at least one vice, and for most of the time, this vice is harmless or reasonably harmless. (Some folks, knowing that I am a plus-sized woman, probably would tell me that a Snickers bar is not harmless in my case. Too bad. I definitely agree with my friend regarding “my body, my choice.”) Those who drink in moderation are not shamed in the same way as those who smoke in moderation.

My late husband, and my late grandmother, and most of my grandmother’s family before her, were all smokers. My grandma lived to be 89 years old. My husband’s heart attacks were almost assuredly not caused by smoking (this from the ME at the time), though it probably didn’t help. Most of grandma’s family lived to be 75 and up…they drank, smoked, gambled, some of the men probably wenched, and they enjoyed life to the fullest until the day they died.

Look. I am asthmatic. Smoke and smoking can cause trouble for me. Michael, my husband, knew it, and did his best to smoke outside. The smell on his clothes was minor that way. He used breath mints and did his best to keep the nicotine taste out of his mouth so when we kissed, we had a better experience.

In short, he did his best to minimize the effects of smoking. Plus, he was trying hard to quit — he tried at least six times during our marriage (we only got two-plus years together as a married couple, remember, so this is actually rather impressive), and was down to only four cigarettes a day from a pack-and-a-half habit. (He could not use the patch because of his skin issues. He didn’t do well with the gum because of his dentures. And the only other option for him, nicotine water, was so foul that he could not stand it. I didn’t blame him.)

Therefore, I cannot and will not censure any smokers. And, quite frankly, I do not understand anyone who does unless they’re “virtue-signaling.” (Yes, me, a left-of-center more-or-less liberal person, is using that term.)

We all have faults. We all have vices. We all have “Achilles heels.”

Lording it over anyone because you do not like their legal vice is not just stupid, pointless and wrong. It’s also cruel. So if you’re someone who’s told yourself, a non-smoker, that smoking is evil and have forgotten all about how the cigarette companies did everything they could to keep people hooked by altering the levels of nicotine, etc. (look up the old “60 Minutes” episode if you don’t believe me), and have decided to blame the smoker rather than the cigarette company, you need to stop doing that.

Right now.

Sunday Musings: The Empathy Gap

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Recently, I’ve thought a great deal about one thing. Empathy.

Why? Well, the United States, as a country, don’t seem to be showing a lot of it lately.

Whether it’s because of how individuals have handled Covid-19, or because of the ascension of politicians with more mouth than brain (including current US Reps Marjorie Taylor Greene and Nicole Boebert), it seems trendy now to behave badly and blame it on someone else.

I read a lengthy article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently about this very thing. (I am not linking to it because it was for “subscribers only,” meaning unless you have a subscription, they won’t let you see it.) It talked about the differences between what good, empathetic behavior is and bad behavior, and discussed how two decades — the 1970s, or “Me Decade,” and the 1980s, or the “Greed is Good” Decade — have changed public discourse for the worse.

I’m not sure it was just because of those two decades, mind you. But it is possible that folks who were born in those decades changed their parenting style, and their kids grew up with fewer “guard rails” against bad behavior along with perhaps lesser consequences for said bad behavior.

I think most of us have seen someone treated badly because of Covid-19. Whether it’s a customer cussing out a store employee for wearing a mask (as they mostly have had to do due to local or state regulations), someone being happy that another person who’s died because they didn’t get the vaccine and felt they wouldn’t get sick (schadenfreude, in other words), or a store employee (in a state/county that does not require masks) ask someone to remove their mask because said store employee didn’t like it, there seems to be very little tolerance for any behavior besides one’s own.

I have a very good friend who went to the post office recently where she lives. The clerk there is an anti-masker and possibly also an anti-vaxxer and complained when my friend (who is immunocompromised) did not remove her mask after she was asked. She explained this, but the clerk did not care. It was all she could do to stay in the post office until her business was done due to being so upset.

I have another friend who lives in Florida. He is also immunocompromised, but his doctors believe he should not be vaccinated. (I’m not sure why.) He has kept himself from just about everyone now for almost three years. It’s been a tough life, as he is gregarious and loves to talk with people about just about anything. But he’s risking his life with or without a mask, and as he lives in Florida — where people have disdained wearing masks even at the worst of the Covid-19 breakout stages — he sees no other way but to stay home, live quietly, and hope Covid goes away.

Other than the nurse who comes in to give him treatments, he sees no one. He hears many, mind, as there are people roundly cursing each other out at his apartment complex at all hours. (That we’re all under much more stress due to Covid is a given, granted.) But he sees no one.

There hasn’t been anyone to bring him food, or talk to him outside (making sure there’s no one around at the time so it’ll be safe for him, with a mask if he wants one, to do that), or do any of the small, kind human gestures that show empathy for someone who’s suffering, much less through no fault of his own.

(He lives too far away for me to help, or I’d have already visited. But I digress.)

I could give more examples, but I’ll stop there because I think my point’s been made.

You, as an individual person, should be free to lead your life any way you see fit. But you also should not be rude to someone who needs a mask even if mask mandates have been relaxed; you should not be rude to someone because her autistic son cannot wear a mask; you should not be rude to someone, like me, who has asthma and has great difficulty and distress wearing a mask but tries anyway because of two parents “of a certain age.” You also should not be so rude as to say, “I’m glad he’s dead” when you hear of a prominent anti-vaxxer dying due to Covid.

Why has it become so controversial to say these things, anyway? (To say what I just said, mind. Not to be outright rude, which seems perfectly fine to many for reasons I just don’t understand.) Why must empathy now be politicized, as if it’s something bad to actually care about others?

What I want this Sunday — not to mention every single day of my life — is for everyone to take a moment and step back. Realize that we are all human. We are all deserving of care, empathy, trust, and love. And we should start to show the best of ourselves to others, quietly, not as an Instragrammable moment but because our shared humanity deserves that.

If we can do that, the world will become a much better place.

Last Week’s Insurrection Attempt in Washington, DC, Continues to Trouble Me

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I’m still trying to comprehend the events of the last week-plus in Washington, DC. I never thought I’d see anything like that in the United States. 

I just do not understand how so many people could go inside the Capitol building, riot, deface and vandalize things, in addition to building nooses outside and apparently wanting to kill the VP, the Speaker of the House, and perhaps anyone else they could get their hands on.

How can otherwise reasonable people do such terrible things?

Because while there were many in that mob that were not reasonable, and had intended from the get-go to do awful things (thus the zip ties, the makeshift battering ram, the rappelling equipment, etc.), there were still quite a few people caught up in the mob that probably had never intended to do anything like that in their lives.

And I just don’t get it.

To those who honestly believe the 2020 election was stolen, I urge you to get the facts. Look at what the judges — many Republican appointees, including a good number of Trump appointees — have said about the various challenges. Look at the actual briefs of the lawsuits that were thrown out. And then ask yourselves, how could so many Republicans down-ticket get elected if there was supposedly so much fraud?

And by “down-ticket,” I mean state legislatures as well as the US Senate and House of Representatives.

In Wisconsin, it was a close, tough vote, but Joe Biden prevailed. How do I know it wasn’t rigged? Because every single one of the Republican legislators in my area — which is purple, meaning it can be D some years and R some years — were re-elected. Every single last one.

I don’t know about you, but if I were going to rig an election, I’d want to throw all of the opposing party out. Not just one guy. But every single last one of them.

And if you’re saying something like this: “Barb, they were smart about their theft! They wouldn’t try to take everyone out! You’re being foolish!”

Well, my reply is this. I believe that many of the US Senators running for re-election had tough races, and obviously the Democrats wanted to take some seats. It looked like there would be quite a few Republican US Senators getting turfed out, but instead, most of the Republicans running for re-election (even in those tough races like Maine or Kansas or Iowa, to name three places where the Democrats thought they had an excellent shot to pick up a Senate seat) won their seats back.

I can’t believe that at least a few of those seats wouldn’t have had different results if there truly was a theft of the election.

Nor can I believe that in Wisconsin, a place that elected a liberal judge to the state Supreme Court in 2019, would return all but two Republicans to the Assembly (lower house), and have more Republican state Senators than Democratic state Senators, if there truly was fraud and theft going on.

So, either the fraud and theft here was so deftly done that I — someone who worked on a state judicial recount years ago — can’t detect it, or there was no fraud and theft.

Which means this: You, the angry Trump-supporting Republicans, are in the same place I was in 2016. I was frustrated, hurt, upset, angry, and didn’t know how Donald Trump could win an election. And right now, you are frustrated, hurt, upset, angry, and don’t know how Joe Biden could win.

I can’t tell you what to do about this, but I will tell you what I did. I made sure to vote. And I worked on campaigns — at least a few, now and again — for candidates I believed in. I called my Senators and Representatives to let them know what I thought, and was polite throughout. And I did my best to educate myself, so I could make informed choices as best I could.

In addition, over time, I have peacefully protested. I have worked on a state recall for the sitting Wisconsin governor. And as previously stated, I have participated in a statewide judicial recount.

I did these things because I felt they were important.

And after things didn’t go my way, what did I do? I continued to educate myself, vote, work for candidates I believed in, etc.

I certainly didn’t commit acts of violence. That thought never entered my mind, because it’s utterly wrong.

But you get the point by now, so I’ll leave you with this: The best way to overcome any obstacle is to work hard, keep your eye on the prize, and accept setbacks graciously.

Anything else is useless, pointless, and unnecessary.


Written by Barb Caffrey

January 14, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Sunday Musings Regarding the United States, Division, and the Upcoming Election

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It’s been awhile since I last wrote one of these Sunday Musings posts, so I thought it was time for another. Enjoy!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the United States came to be so divided. (The idea that we’re supposed to be united despite our divisions and differences really seems to have gotten lost beside the wayside, lately.) And the only thing I can come up with is, some people — maybe the vast majority of people — want to believe in their own version of reality.

Now, you might be asking, “Barb, what the Hell are you on about this time?”

It’s simple, really. Most people, whether their politics are conservative or liberal, want to believe whatever it is that makes them feel the best about themselves and their circumstances. So whatever narrative they see has a great deal to do with their own lives, and nothing else need apply.

Should it be this way?

I’d like to say no. Because facts are what they are, and you can’t choose to only believe some facts rather than others. And optimally, everyone should do a good deal of research into political candidates — almost the same as if you’re vetting a personal friend for a job you’re not sure they’re up for, but want them to try for anyway.

The thing is, here in the United States, and perhaps around the world as well, there are many people working more than one job. Or they are working way more than forty hours at the one job they have, to support their families.

In other words, they are exhausted, and they don’t have time to do the research if they wanted to. So they pick whomever they think they can hate the least, and call it a day.

While I understand exhaustion quite well — having fibromyalgia as I do, that comes with the territory — I still wish people would challenge their own assumptions more often. Because that way, it’s easier to get out of ruts; in fact, if you do challenge your own assumptions regularly, you may never fall into a rut at all.

I also wish that we could somehow get back to where we were ten or fifteen years ago, where people didn’t choose their friends solely by whether or not they fit their political beliefs. There are so many things that unite us that it pains me to see unnecessary divisions making things worse.

It’s almost like people thought after 2008, when Barack Obama was elected, that everything would now be wonderful. (You may remember that I conscientiously objected at the time to that point of view.) And because it didn’t happen, they grew disenchanted with anyone who still wanted to see hope in any form.

Yet somehow, we went from the cult of personality that Barack Obama had about him to the cult of personality that Donald Trump now embodies. And we went from “Yes, we can!” to “Hell no, we can’t!”

What I would like to see, going forward, is that we all realize we have more in common with each other than not. We want safe streets. Good quality, affordable health care. Schools that do more than just warehouse kids, and actually teach them usable skills. And I’d like to see us have a dialogue that shows we’re paying attention to one another, rather than just dismissing everything the other side (or sometimes, sides) says out of hand because it doesn’t automatically fit our worldview.

That said, some things are flat-out wrong. Racism is one of them. Sexism is another. Unnecessary fear regarding the LGBTQ community is another.

But you know what is the most wrong of all? Stupidity.

So I urge you, today, to reach out to your friends, neighbors, and others. Try to see where you have things in common. Do good things for one another, if you can. Or at least listen and care if you can’t.

Regardless of who you vote for, you need to start looking to re-form a community around yourself. So we can all feel like we matter, and are important.

That’s what being a citizen of the greatest nation on Earth is supposed to be about, rather than “us vs. them.”

The More Things Change…

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…the more they stay the same. (Yes, I’m borrowing from the famous French saying.)

It’s September. It may be 2020, but it’s still September. And September is the month I lost my beloved husband, Michael.

I’ll never forget that day. It is seared into my memory in so many ways, and has shaped who I’ve become. It is a part of me, and I am a part of it…that I tell myself, daily, that Michael would not want me to dwell on the nature of his passing matters not. Because I was there.

I wake up, even now, and reach for him. I wonder what he’d think of this, that, and the other. And I’m glad he’s not lived to see the deep, divisive partisan divide in the United States that’s gotten so bad, we can no longer agree on what the facts are if we’re in different parts of the country. Or in different political parties. (Or worst of all, both.)

Michael believed that you needed to make your argument logically. Factually. With care. With concern. And that if you couldn’t do all those things, it wasn’t much of an argument. (That he’d hold someone like that in contempt is a given.)

That the current President of the United States is a man who can’t do any of those things, or worse, doesn’t even see the point to wanting to make a logical argument about anything (why use logic, when appeals to emotion and unreason will do instead?), would vex Michael as greatly as it’s vexed me.

It’s almost as if we live in Bizarro World. Everything we thought we knew about people, that they could use reason and logic along with compassion and empathy, has turned upside-down.

(Mind, in many ways, I’ve lived in my own, personal Bizarro World since the day Michael died. But that’s just me. Now, back to the blog, already in progress…)

Instead, these days, it’s seemingly all about who can scare everyone else the most.

I don’t understand it. I will never understand it. But I will continue to work against it, for as long as I possibly can.

Michael would expect no less. (And I certainly expect no less out of myself anyway, Michael or no Michael.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 10, 2020 at 12:56 pm

When People Disagree: A Rant

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Folks, if you’ve been following my blog for the past few days, you may have noticed that there was a disagreement between me and a long-time reader of my blog. Over politics, of all things…the most fraught subject in the United States, partly because everyone seemingly has made up his or her mind already. Worse yet, most of the folks I know of any political persuasion won’t change whatever their initial snap judgment was in the first place, and thus we stay stalled out.

Nothing gets done, because we can’t even agree on the basics anymore.

I don’t know what to say about this, except that it saddens me.

In this case, my former reader was a Trump supporter. I am not, and never have been. That said, I do read George Will (a conservative columnist) regularly, watch Shep Smith regularly (the best newsman on TV, and he works on Fox News), and sample a number of conservative blogs every week, including Hugh Hewitt’s (a Trump supporter and radio host).

Do I agree with much of what any of them say? Hell, no, I don’t**. But I owe it to myself to find out what they’re saying, because sometimes I do agree with a little here and there. (And every great once in a while, I find myself in agreement with someone like longtime Republican strategist Rick Wilson. Granted, he’s a #NeverTrump guy. But he still is a true conservative, and thus doesn’t have a ton in common with me in some ways.)

And one thing I do know we all agree on, whether it’s Hewitt or Will or Wilson, is that we need to believe our government works for us. Rather than them doing whatever the Hell they want (or don’t); rather than our Congresscritters (and other governmental folks) acting like pigs at the trough and getting all they can, as long as they can; rather than them acting like complete and utter idiots, out of touch with people in the middle and lower classes (so they can’t possibly make decent laws, having no idea of what the true issues are).

The way to find consensus is to read exactly what’s written, and not impart what we think the other person is writing instead. The former reader decided no matter what I said about politics that I hated Trump so much, “Trump was Hitler.” (He said this in several comments.) And I said no such thing.

In fact, what I did say was, “I don’t like Trump. I don’t trust him. I don’t think he’s a good POTUS (president of the United States). But he’s not Hitler.”

I should’ve gone further, though. Which is why I’m writing this right now.

Many dictators and authoritarian-types who’ve come to power shut down the freedom of expression as the very first thing they do. Whether they are from China or Chile, Venezuela or Uganda, or anywhere else that’s featured dictatorial rule in the past century (including Cuba), the one thing a dictator can’t handle is the freedom to say, “I don’t like that guy, and here’s why.”

With all of Trump’s faults — and he does have many — he has not done that. He’s not even tried to do that. And I think one of the reasons the hard-core Trump supporters out there (including the former reader of my blog) get so frustrated is that some members of the media have worried incessantly that Trump will do that. And worse, some of the most loudmouthed members of the chattering class believe it’s only a matter of time, and have already decided Trump is guilty of suppressing freedom of the press right now.

Know, please, that I am not among those folks.

But back to the matter at hand. It isn’t fair to impart motives to my writing that do not exist. That frustrates the Hell out of me. As a writer, I try to be as blunt and to the point as I can, and make it blindingly obvious what I think when I’m writing my blogs or anything of a nonfiction nature. (Fiction, by definition, is different. And you have to take different tactics there as a writer to do the job. But I digress.) I do that on purpose, because I do not want to be misunderstood.

What I do know, though, is this: If we can’t agree even on how to disagree, we’re in big trouble.

I realize many people, myself included, are worried about all sorts of things, big and small; that said, we have to at least be willing to agree to disagree sometimes, and be civil about doing it. And not just storm off in a huff when you’re not getting your point across, or you don’t particularly want to agree to disagree, either. (That’s something the US Congress does very well. We, as people, should not.)

My belief, overall, is that you don’t have to agree with me. (In fact, I hope you don’t always agree with me. How boring would it be to have a bunch of echo chambers around all the time?) But you do have to be civil about your disagreement, and you really should try to see what the words actually are, rather than what you think they are.

End rant.

——–

**I like Shep Smith’s newscasts, and I agree with how he presents the news. He is objective and principled. I like that. I wish we had a lot more of it.

 

Crossroads and Current Events

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There are times in life you know you’re at a crossroads.

For me, the most recent one was when my late husband Michael proposed to me. I’d been burned in two previous marriages, so taking that leap of faith again was hard. I did, though, because Michael was the best person I’d ever known — and I was right to take that leap of faith.

But there were others, and most of them had nothing to do with relationships.

For example, when I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity — or at least the desire — to transfer into the journalism school. I didn’t do it, because I didn’t want to start all over again with a new program. And I worried that my student loan debt — already formidable — would get even worse if I started a new program midstream.

I think I did the right thing to stay in the program I was already in, mind. But there were a few months where I wondered, “Am I doing the right thing? Would I be better off in the J-School?”

Anyway, the crossroads I sense now is different than both, but has elements of both. I need to take a leap of faith, and I need to trust that I’m already on the right course even if it doesn’t feel that way.

But perhaps I need to take a step back, and explain what the Hell I’m talking about. (Especially as this post is titled “Crossroads and Current Events.”)

I realized earlier this evening that over the past year, I’ve written mostly inspirational posts. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s not what I would prefer to be talking about, and yet…it seems almost like I’m shying away from the stuff that’s more controversial, or difficult, or noteworthy, because to put myself out there in such a way requires more energy than I have some days.

For example, I am frustrated at what I see in the news. Here are three stories that just have bugged me, over the past couple of weeks:

  • Some people from the Bahamas lost everything, including their passports. But the US isn’t letting them in, even though there’s an agreement with the Bahamian government to help in times of crisis or tragedy.  Refusing to help an ally is not a good look for the United States in the first place; refusing to help an ally when they’ve endured a life-threatening event like a severe hurricane is unChristian and uncivilized.
  • There’s a policy from the Trump Administration that’s awful, and it has to do with children — some on legal visas from the get-go, some allowed in for humanitarian reasons — who have been told to leave the country. Even if their home country does not have the life-saving treatments these folks need, the Trump Administration does not care. Again, this is unChristian, and uncivilized; it makes the people of the US look like fools, that we’d have “leaders” like this putting sick children out of the country for no good reason.
  • Finally, I am appalled at the story having to do with the Air Force being told to refuel and rest at Turnberry in Scotland, all because POTUS Donald Trump has a hotel there that needs business. This is not the policy of the Air Force, nor of any of the Armed Forces; they usually — rightfully — go to military bases to refuel (and rest, if needed). This is the cheapest way, and it is the safest way. It also doesn’t financially enrich the sitting President of the United States, and since we have a Constitution that forbids such things, we should follow it. Or admit that the Constitution has no meaning in the 21st Century.

So, these are the three burning issues that have vexed me for the past week. But there have been others.

Why am I telling you about them now, though? It’s simple. My crossroad here is, “Do you want to be silenced, or do you want to be yourself?”

As I’m not interested in being silenced, I am going to be myself. I’ll still pick my spots to chime in, because I do have to save my energy for other things (or I’ll never get back to writing fiction).

So, my leap of faith tonight was to tell you what’s bugging me.  I hope you understand why I pointed out these three horrible issues.

As for my friends on the right, I pray they will understand my disgust and anger even if they (for some reason) don’t share it. (Personally, I would hope refugees needing help, kids being sick needing to stay in the country rather than being forced to go home to die, and the Air Force putting in at military bases to refuel are things we can all agree on. But in case I’m wrong, be civil in your disagreement.)

 

 

Yes, We Need Freedom of the Press

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Folks, today is a day for action. As a writer, I feel it’s important to let you know that hundreds of newspapers have written and published editorials about the importance of the freedom of the press, due to constant verbal battering by President Donald J. Trump calling any news he dislikes “fake news.” (If you want to know more about it, take a look at the New York Times editorial from today, and then click on a few of the associated publications that are listed. And those aren’t all of them; those are just the ones the Times knows about, as far as I can tell.)

See, the 45th President of the United States complains that all news is fake. Or at least all news that he doesn’t like must be fake. And he constantly proclaims this from the highest mountaintop, letting everyone know he hates the press, he hates everything they say (unless they fawn over him, of course, as they often do on Fox News’ morning programs), and that supposedly the press is “the enemy of the people.”

Um, no, Mr. President. They aren’t.

As a writer, I want you to know where I stand on this.

We need the First Amendment to hold, and as such, we absolutely must have freedom of the press to operate as they will, to find out what they can, and to hold the powerful accountable. (Is that emphatic enough? Do I need to add emojis? GIFs? Frowny faces? Or will this do?)

(Moving on…)

I’ve written for a few newspapers in the past. (Two college papers, and freelance articles in a few other places, to be exact.) We took what we did seriously. We researched. We wrote. We edited. We checked our facts. And then we wrote and edited some more…yes, sometimes errors were still made, but we did our best to correct them. (Something President Trump doesn’t seem too worried about doing, if you ask me. But I digress.)

As today’s Kenosha News‘ editorial put it (this being the closest paper to me that’s taking part in the nationwide effort; my hometown paper, the Racine Journal-Times, did not, which shames me):

Presenting news that you disagree with is not “fake news.” We work hard to inform, serving as watchdogs of government and institutions, while also celebrating the good in the community. This has been going on for decades.

Absolutely correct. And without watchdogs, what would we learn except spin, spin, and more spin?

Here’s why we need the free press: They find stuff out everyone needs to know when the bigwigs in state, local, or federal government (or, perhaps, the very, very wealthy corporations) don’t want anyone to find out.

How would we have learned about big problems that led to the meltdown of Three Mile Island’s nuclear reactor without the press? (Wouldn’t the government have just spun everything, and said everything was fine?) How would we have learned about the Flint water crisis, and all the problems with the pipes, without the press? (Especially as the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, did his best to obfuscate and “happy talk” the problems away until they got so big, they had to be dealt with publicly? Not that they’re over by any stretch, but at least we know about them now.) How would we have known at all about the problems of Senator Joseph McCarthy (who was from Wisconsin), if not for the press? (Wouldn’t Senator McCarthy have continued his reign of terror, accusing people of being Communists willy-nilly, and ruining even more people’s lives, reputations, and livelihoods thereby?)

And those are just three examples. There are many more. (For my conservative friends, think about how Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky would’ve been covered up if there were no journalists. Linda Tripp could’ve spoken until she was blue in the face, but if there was no one to publish what she had to say, other than the folks in her limited circle, who else would’ve known?)

This is why I urge you to please remember that the press is not the “enemy of the people,” no matter who says it, no matter how many times that person says it.

And start thinking about why someone who holds the highest office in the US of A keeps nattering on about “enemies of the people,” hm? Because shouldn’t he have bigger fish to fry, like North Korea? Or better yet, trying to make sure hackers don’t shut down our power grid in the middle of winter?

———–

P.S. And yes, dammit, the Russia investigation needs to be fully investigated, if for no other reason than to find out once and for all what happened. We need to know.

And if nothing happened, well, we need to know that, too. (I wait for facts. But the way this President has behaved, including his atrocious behavior in Helsinki alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, makes me wonder just what he’s trying to hide. Surely I can’t be the only one?)

What does the Fourth of July Mean to You?

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To some, the Fourth of July means freedom.

To some, it just means another holiday to drink, dance, watch fireworks, have a day to themselves…to party, in other words.

But for most, it makes people remember the founding of the United States of America. And they at least remember the War of Independence, if not the difficulty of instituting a peace, then drafting some form of workable representative government and making it stick.

What I think about, though, is how difficult it must’ve been for the Founding Fathers (and, perhaps, their wives, mothers, and sisters) to work together. These were men with towering egos. And they didn’t agree on much of anything. They could be at sword’s point with each other, quite literally, seemingly at the drop of a hint.

Yet these men all worked together — sometimes begrudgingly, granted — to form “a more perfect union,” and agreed that Americans should be able to freely partake in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

(Notice they didn’t say a perfect union, just a more perfect one. Keep that in mind, please.)

At any rate, these very difficult, but very brave men (and their unsung wives, girlfriends, mothers, and sisters, no doubt), had to deal with all sorts of uncertainty in the War of Independence. They had no idea what peace was going to look like, or even if they could obtain it at all.

Yet they knew they had to fight.

That they won their way to peace, and then to a difficult, fractious, but ultimately rewarding gathering in Philadelphia in 1787, was to their credit.

Sometimes, I wonder if we’ve lost our way, as Americans, as we have to realize that some battles — those of complacency, honesty, fair treatment, fiscal responsibility, and transparency, among others — need to be fought over and over again.

No one can be perfectly trustworthy, you see, as power can corrupt.

In addition, as we’ve also figured out, power can reveal, too. Some, like George Washington, remain virtually incorruptible, and stay the same person before the power as after.

But some are more avaricious, I fear. They see the power, take it for themselves, and then realize, “I can do anything I want, at least for a time.” And thus, they do…to the detriment of many others.

Men like former Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) are a danger to the United States, because people follow them due to their charisma. And those who refuse to follow, such as playwright Lillian Hellman, can be ostracized.

The only thing we can do, as citizens of the U.S. (and the world at large), is to use our brains to think, and think hard. Refuse to be led like lemmings, for one…do your research, for another.

And for the sake of little green apples and whatever Deity you follow, do not let anyone’s charisma make you forget history, or forget how hard it was to form the U.S., or how hard the men and women of the Armed Forces — much less the (seemingly few) honest men and women of the U.S. Congress and various state houses around the country continue to work to keep us free enough to continue to partake in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

See, freedom is not free. It takes work, and lots of it. And it takes compromise from a bunch of towering egos at all times…when we forget that, we are at risk of becoming less than we are.

That worries me greatly.

What gives me hope are the citizens of all political stripes saying to themselves, “Hey, I can do better.” And they’re running for office at all levels, including school boards and county commissioners.

Perhaps these people, who’ve heard the call from their countrymen for people willing to talk, listen, reason, and (I hope) compromise, will do a better job.

Anyway, the Fourth of July to me means that we continue to fight what battles we can, all to keep this land of ours safe to reason, to dissent peacefully, and to solve what problems there are as civilly as possible.

(Because without civility, we are asking for trouble. But you have to know that already.)

So yes, continue to be active, in your way. Talk to others of all political stripes, and try to find common ground. Read a variety of sources, and refuse to close your mind.

That’s the way to form a more perfect union, to my mind. And it’s what we need to remember every day, not just on the Fourth of July.

So, now you know what the Fourth of July means to me. But I’d like to know what it means to you. Tell me about it in the comments, will you?