Barb Caffrey's Blog

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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?)

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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?

The Virtue of Dissent

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Folks, there’s been a lot in the news lately about dissent, and about how it’s supposedly unpatriotic to disagree.

I beg to differ.

We need dissent. Or we can’t function as a democracy.

See, when people feel stifled from talking about anything, whether it’s something that is frustrating, unpleasant, difficult, annoying, or any other of a dozen other things that are incredibly hard to discuss, that causes a lot of trouble.

When you feel stifled, when you feel your voice isn’t being heard, that builds resentment. And at best, when you feel that much resentment, you aren’t likely to be looking for any sort of compromise; you’ve already been told compromise is not possible because your point of view is not important.

And yet, in a democracy, every voice is important. And we all get a say.

Being able to discuss problems in a rational manner without yelling at the top of your lungs or telling the other person (or party) that they’re a bunch of blithering idiots is mandatory. But right now, we don’t seem to have too many in the Congress who are willing to be adults and do the people’s work — i.e., compromise for the common good — because they are either blinded by the power or they are daunted by the responsibility.

Whenever we have one party solely in charge of the government — whether it was the Democrats from 2008-2010, or the Republicans from 2016-2018 — that makes it harder for dissenting voices to be heard. And when they aren’t heard, those voices usually become movements. And those movements become akin to steamrollers…witness what happened with the Tea Party in 2010, for example.

That’s what is supposed to happen in a democracy. Those who feel ignored have a right to talk, to assemble, to figure out what they’re going to do, and then they have a right to make their case to the public.

It is a virtue.

That we can see dissent as a virtue was, at one point, uniquely American.

But now, we have a man as President with authoritarian impulses (or at least a great deal of bloviating and authoritarian speech), and he definitely does not seem to think that dissent is valuable, or a virtue, or needed in a democracy.

He wants instead for everyone to follow him. Because he says so.

To my mind, that is not good enough. We have to have reasons for what we do. Logical reasons. And we have to have some basis and forethought and planning behind these logical reasons.

When government officials pop off and do things on the spur of the moment, we get bad law, bad policy, and a whole host of unintended consequences. That, in general, is why you want to have responsible public officials who are willing to call people — regardless of party or power or prestige — on the carpet when they do something that is harmful.

That’s why we need dissent.

We have had one-party rule with vigorous dissent in the past, looking back to WW II, for example. Harry S Truman, then a Senator, held hearings about war profiteering. Most of those he called before him were Democrats, but that didn’t stop him; right was right, and he did the right thing.

That is what brought him to FDR’s attention, and it’s why Truman became FDR’s Vice President in 1944. Without Truman dissenting vigorously, Truman never would’ve become VP, and thus never would’ve ascended to the Presidency after FDR’s passing.

Unfortunately, the Republicans in charge of the House and Senate have not dissented very much. Not with the travel ban. Not with the tariffs. Not with the immigration situation, whether it’s families being split up at the border, DACA, or anything else.

Nope. Instead, they’ve blindly — as a body — done the President’s work, which is not what the Constitution wanted. (We have separation of powers for a reason.)

Yes, individual Republicans, such as Bob Corker or John McCain or a few retiring House Reps, have stepped up and said they believe that the President needs to be checked now and again. That no one should have that much power. And that there’s a reason we have a deliberative body like the Congress…and that they should do their jobs, and uphold their Constitutional responsibilities.

I believe in the power of dissent. I believe it is constructive to dissent, to allow dissent, to understand dissent, and to appreciate dissent. I also believe that if we start to think that dissenting is “unpatriotic” or “anti-American,” we are ceding our rights of dissent and getting nothing back.

I am concerned that we have so many politicians that are (in George Will’s words as heard on MSNBC months ago), “supine” or “craven.” They do not express dissent because of these two horrible characteristics, and thus do not do the people’s business thereby.

My hope is that more people will understand that dissent is healthy, necessary, and essential.

But my fear is that too many people won’t realize what’s at stake, or what could be at stake if the current crop of supine and craven Republicans in the House and Senate continue to refuse to be a check on this President. And that we’ll go further down the garden path of authoritarianism, and lose our abilities to dissent freely and fairly.

What you need to do, if you live in the U.S., is this: Think hard about what you want out of your representatives and Senators. Do you want them to blindly trust anyone without doing their due diligence? Or do you want them to be like Harry Truman, and stand up for what’s right, whether it’s against their own party or not?

Sunday Anniversary Thoughts

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Today is my wedding anniversary. And it’s Sunday. So I thought I’d combine the two things by discussing things Michael found very important — and that I do, too.

Mostly, when I think about my husband, I think about his sense of fair play along with his sense of intellectual curiosity. He was principled, honest, fair-minded, funny, witty, extremely creative, very smart, loved to learn, loved to laugh, and did not suffer fools lightly. He believed in public service, had no truck with materialism, and was a Zen Buddhist, yet we also had the Koran and seven Bibles in the house as Michael believed most holy texts had something good to say, if we only had the wit to decipher it for ourselves.

And while I don’t think Michael would’ve put it quite this way in 2004, I definitely will put it this way in 2018: He believed then, as I believed then and now, in the freedom of the press. Stories need to be told, even in hard and bad times; even when journalists seem to go too far in their pursuit in the truth, we need to respect their need for truth and the ability to tell the story in such a way that we, too, can see what they see — and decide for ourselves if it makes any sense or not.

In this day of so-called “alternative facts,” we need the free press more than ever.

See, there is no such thing as alternative facts. There are only facts. And opinion.

Mind, Michael would’ve been appalled at the idea of “alternative facts.” That anyone could think they could, by the means of Orwellian doublespeak and much repetition, make people think anything they wanted, merely by calling it “alternative facts” would’ve upset him greatly.

Again: facts are facts. Opinion is opinion. And you cannot create your own facts; you can only learn what the facts are, and then make the best decisions you can, accordingly.

In addition, Michael would not be happy with the thought of such intense, partisan tribalism in our politics. We need both the left and the right, along with the centrists, to state their opinions while finding the facts. And then, everyone needs to make the best deals they can with those facts in mind.

Michael would not have been happy with the direction of the U.S. government, either. Between the utter paralysis of the Senate and House, and the authoritarian leanings of the current POTUS Donald Trump, he’d have wondered, “Has everyone in Washington, DC, lost their minds? And if they have, what can we do to lead the best lives possible without giving in to authoritarian and/or dictatorial influences?”

(Some of my friends will not agree with me, mind, as they read this. But Michael and I talked about these things more than once. I am convinced this is how he’d have seen this time in history, and I think he’d be extremely concerned by it. Now, moving on…)

He and I used to talk about all sorts of things, including the end of World War II. When the English and American and French forces (among others) liberated the concentration camps, for example…we talked about how horrible it was that no one did anything beforehand, or that few understood the coming dangers.

And Michael had on our wall in our San Francisco apartment a poster of Father Martin Niemoller’s poem, “First They Came For…” We talked about that, too. About how it was important to speak up for what is right, and about how that’s not always easy. And about how good people were either hoodwinked or willfully blinded themselves in the run-up to World War II, including English PM Neville Chamberlain, who honestly thought he’d secured “peace in our time” because he thought he could bargain with Hitler and trust Hitler to keep Hitler’s word.

I wonder, sometimes, if Michael would’ve liked 2018. I kind of think he wouldn’t. That reasonable people with disparate political beliefs can’t seem to talk openly or try to find any consensus at all would vex him sorely. And while computers have gotten smarter, faster, and have better graphics, I think he’d lament the loss of privacy — the whole scandal with Cambridge Analytica wouldn’t have come as a surprise to him, that’s for sure, because he’d probably have seen it coming as he had a gift for putting a few pieces of information together to get the whole faster than anyone else I’ve ever known.

I miss my husband fiercely. But on this day, my sixteenth wedding anniversary, I remember my husband as the strong, smart, funny, determined, principled, ethical, and intelligent man he was. I honor his memory. I’m glad he was with me.

And for all the days of my life, I will remember what he said. And do my best to live up to the promise he saw in me.

 

 

Remembering Barbara Bush

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Former First Lady Barbara Bush died a few days ago at age 92, and her life was so extraordinary, I had to gather my thoughts for a few days in order to write about her.

First, she was an outspoken First Lady in many respects. She could be tart, was opinionated and made no bones about it, was often amusing (in a wry way), refused to be what was considered “the perfect political spouse” — and the American public adored her for all of that.

Second, as both the wife of one President and the mother of another, she stands alone among First Ladies of the United States, and probably will for a long time (if not for all time).

Third, she was a pro-choice Republican. These are rarer than hen’s teeth on the ground these days in the U.S., but once upon a time, there were any number of women (and, probably, a few men also) in the GOP who believed that women had the right to deal with their own bodies that no one else could — or should — gainsay. (Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion, counter to what right-wing pundits may say these days. What it does mean is closer to Hillary Clinton’s view of abortion: “Safe, legal, and rare.”)

Fourth, Mrs. Bush proved that you could both be for “female causes” and still be what is considered by most a “traditional woman” — i.e., her family was at the center of her life, and she fought like tooth and nails for them. This is what feminism can and should be: the right to choose your own life, in or outside of the home.

Fifth, Mrs. Bush was a lifelong advocate for literacy. She believed you should read. Educate yourself. Learn something. And keep on learning until the end of your life.

These five things seem to me to be the most important things no one is talking about in relation to Mrs. Bush. And yet, they were the underpinnings of what she was all about. Family. Literacy. Independence. The right to choose your own fate.

Oops, almost forgot one. She was a proud grandmother, too. She enjoyed “kissing their boo-boos” (their minor injuries) and giving her love and support to them, and showed them the power of unconditional love and support.

All in all, I think we need more women like Mrs. Bush. She wasn’t always easy to handle, could be stubborn as a mule when it came to her family (and, perhaps, her causes), certainly had her moments of anger and frustration and heartache and pain — but she rose above all of it, and had a life that many would envy: one filled with love, happiness, and public service.

Those six things are what comes to mind, when I think about the long and fruitful life of Barbara Bush. What do you think about, when you think of her? Let me know in the comments!

By Their Fruits, Ye Shall…

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Folks, it’s Sunday. And I’ve been thinking (always a dangerous enterprise, believe me), mostly about Matthew 7:16. (A Biblical verse from the book of Matthew, that indicates.)

The King James version of this verse states:

“Ye shall know them by their fruits.”

But for whatever reason, in the modern era, we’ve turned that around. I’ve mostly heard it the other way, “By their fruits, ye shall know them.” And it is a warning, in either sense, of falseness — false prophets, false witness, prevarication in all forms.

So, when I hear something on CNN about former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe being fired less than two days before he could’ve taken retirement, I am outraged. Whether you liked McCabe or hated him, he was a career public servant and deserved his pension. And firing him — supposedly with less than twenty-six hours before he could’ve put in for retirement — is flat-out low-class.

There is no reason whatsoever to do this. If you have any tact, decency, or even a working knowledge of the federal government at all, you let this man take his honorable retirement and go. He worked hard and he deserves that money. End of story.

The corollary is, if McCabe was such a “bad actor” (not that I believe he was), why wait until only twenty-six hours before he can take retirement to fire him? And why do it on a weekend, when it’ll be harder for him to respond or get his lawyers involved, as now they must, to fight for his pension?

If there has ever been a clearer statement of “by their fruits, ye shall know them,” I don’t know what it might be.

But let’s step away from politics, shall we? (I know that’s a mine-field.) And talk about personal dealings.

I’ve been sick now for at least a month. (Yes, this is germane, I promise.) I finished up an edit, and have been working very slowly on two more, and I haven’t given up. But I want to talk about the responses I’ve gotten since I admitted how sick I was. (I’m going back into urgent care this morning, BTW, and I hope they’ll find a way to get me a consult to an ear, nose, and throat doc.)

Two very good friends I hadn’t talked with much about this stepped up immediately and have asked daily about my health. They are honestly worried and I appreciate that. They care. That’s good.

By their fruits, I know they are worthy people.

Another very good friend brought me some food and went out to breakfast with me, on one of the few days I felt I could get out at all.

By her fruits, I know she is a worthy person.

Any number of others have written or inquired and asked me how I am, including my friend Tajwarr in India, who’s just finished up her training to become a MD. I very much appreciate this, too.

By their fruits, I know they are absolutely wonderful.

And not everyone knows I’m sick, and I get that.  Certainly not their fault I’m sick, and some people don’t know how to speak to someone who is sick…though I do wonder about them, and what that says about their fruits, if they know and say nothing, or know and choose to say nothing.

Jesus believed that you help the poor, the meek in spirit, the sick, the damaged, those in need of healing. He believed that you should comfort the afflicted. Nurture those who need it, out of the goodness of your hearts, out of the kindness of your souls, because when you do that, you are tapping most strongly into God’s love for us. (Or the Goddess’s, if you prefer, and I definitely do prefer.)

Anyway, I appreciate those among my friends who’ve tried to do that in their various ways. I will never forget it.

And those who have known, but said nothing?

Unfortunately, I will never forget that, either. Because their fruits have proven to be rotten. And I don’t need that in my life.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 18, 2018 at 7:10 am

Insist on Facts, Please

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Folks, as I watch the wrangling in Washington, DC, I get more and more frustrated.

The Republicans don’t think anything they do is wrong. So whatever the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, says or does must automatically be right.

And the Democrats don’t think anything they do is wrong, either. So whatever they say must be right, too.

What this does is alienate literally everyone. Because no one takes responsibility for anything. And no one ever admits wrongdoing.

And I’m tired of it.

The thing is, as I watch all this nonsense, I want to remind you of one thing: No matter what is being said, get the facts.

Insist on facts, please.

Do not allow your own biases to be confirmed or denied unless and until you have facts.

And when you see something like a release of a memo by one party (as reportedly will happen within days) about the FBI supposedly doing something wrong, where a whole bunch of stuff can’t be confirmed or denied due to being classified — when the memo by the other party is blocked by the party in power (as the Republicans are going to release the memo authored by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, but won’t release the memo authorized by Democrats) — you must absolutely, positively insist upon facts.

If one party — in this case the Ds — says that the Justice Department and/or the FBI should at least be consulted before releasing the memo due to possible classified information being there, and that the other party — in this case, the Rs — refuses to even consult with the professionals in the area, that is deeply troubling.

And it looks like facts are being ignored, at least from here.

Still. Even now, when all sorts of things look wrong and are annoying and frustrating and nonsensical, get the facts. Get as many facts as you can, before you condemn.

So, while I continue to condemn tribalism and reflexive thinking — if you’re an R, everything the Rs do is good (even if it’s not), or if you’re a D, everything the Ds do is good (even if it’s not) — I urge you to be smart, be prudent, refuse to be snowed, and dammit, to get the facts before you make up your mind. (Please?)