Friday follies, post-Groundhog Day edition

TGIF. Of course, when you’re retired, Friday’s do not hold the same meaning. But, let’s celebrate anyway. Here are a few follies for this Friday.

I read today Donald Trump was a huge Brexit proponent but is now blaming Brexit for his Scottish golf courses losing money to the tune of 3.7 million pounds. He should have realized this beforehand as the EU facilitated easy travel to play his courses. But, that would have required more rational thinking as a business person. Someone should have explained it to him. Of course, the banks tried to tell all Britons about the dilutive impact of Brexit, but too few believed them. This is not a surprise, except to Boris, Nigel, Donald and crowd.

Speaking of making it difficult to transact commerce, when said golf course owner placed tariffs on everyone as US president, he failed to understand history that tariffs don’t work, as they punish the wrong people – the customers and those who serve them. When it costs more money to buy something or replenish inventory to sell, buyers find a different path forward. For example, when the US made it difficult to do business with our buyers and sellers, people went elsewhere. So, it disrupted markets that had taken years to build. As an example, tractor sales in the US declined, while they increased in Brazil. Why? China was getting more food harvest from Brazil than before due to retaliatory tariffs.

One thing that Republican House leadership should have realized when they put some of their extreme members on Committees, is they elevated the platform of these folks. A key thing the House leaders failed to learn about Trump and are failing to realize now, is the past inane comments are only part of what they need to worry about. The future inane comments or the undiscovered past ones are the ones that should keep them up at night. But, the known past ones are fair game, as well. AOC noted in response to GOP criticism of Democrats about Jews that it is hard to take that comment seriously when the GOP put a woman on a committee who has commented on Jewish space lasers as a source of problems.

What troubles me about these committee assignments of the more extreme members of the House is it is one thing to have a gerrymandered district being represented by someone unqualified to do so given their bent toward inane and denigrating comments, but when they are placed on committees, they are representing us all. That is harmful to our country. Whether it is the Republican or Democrat party, they must police their own, otherwise it harms the party and country. Republicans like to pick on AOC, Ihlan Omar Nancy Pelosi, eg, but they are not on the same level like some of the extreme folks representing the Republican party. I can disagree with AOC, Pelosi and Omar and still respect their opinions. I cannot say the same for more than a few extreme folks in the House.

The sad part about these follies is they all are true. We are the ones who have to suffer the fools and foolish behavior. We need to stop following fools’ errands. We deserve better governance than we are getting. We deserve civil and truthful discourse.

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I bruise you, you bruise me, we both bruise too easily (an encore post)

The following is an encore of an earlier post that still remains relevant.

After breaking up with Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel sang a beautiful song written by Jimmy Webb, who wrote several of Glen Campbell’s hits (“Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”), The 5th Dimension’s “Beautiful Balloon,” and “MacArthur Park,” which was a huge hit in the 1970s as sung by the actor Richard Harris (who was the first Dumbledore for Harry Potter fans).

The song is called “All I Know.” The first stanza is as follows:

I bruise you, you bruise me

We both bruise too easily

Too easily to let it show

I love you and that is all I know

This song is intended as a love song between two people who often fight and have hurt feelings as a result. But, I would like to use this stanza as a metaphor for relationships between all of us in civil society that have gone awry.

We are too easily bruising each others’ feelings. We are also taking offense too easily, when we should not or should listen to hear rather listen to react. I was highly disappointed with the tenor of the most recently concluded political convention, when hateful remarks were the norm and not the exception. I am hoping that the one next week will be the antithesis.

As an independent voter, I don’t care if someone is conservative on a viewpoint or liberal. What I found is many people have a mixture of opinions. To this point, Ivanka Trump told the GOP audience she is an independent voter. And, she like me joins many unaffiliated Americans.

Yet, what I do not like is the lack of civil discourse and use of information which is not steeped in facts. This is modus operandi for too many politicians and opinion hosts and it is quite obvious to me who they are. The latter is a key reason I religiously check the two fact checking organizations summaries. But, let me set that aside for now and get back to the civil discourse.

I do not agree with everything the politicians or parties support. My disagreement may be material or it may be in emphasis. For example, President Obama has done a commendable job, but I am disappointed that he did not move forward on the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee’s report, he tends to like the use of drones where we need more governance, while he has moved the ball forward on climate change he is too fond of fracking, and he did not collaborate more with a highly uncollaborative and obstinate Congress, e.g.

What I can tell you is neither party has all of the solutions and sometimes are not asking the right questions. Neither party should be smug that their way is the only way or even the right way, especially with funding that fuels their opinions. Again, I don’t mind a conservative or liberal view, but let’s work off the right data and do so civilly, respecting each other’s opinions. And, let’s work with real solutions and not what easily fits on a bumper sticker. Bumper stickers are not policy, they are advertisements.

The debt is a huge problem. Climate change is a huge problem. Water resources are a huge problem. Poor gun governance is a huge problem. Poverty is a huge problem as is the declining middle class. Civil rights for all citizens, especially those most disenfranchised, are lacking in too many places. Infrastructure needs are paramount and fixing them will create jobs. Terrorism is important, but combatting it must be holistic and involve all of us.

Building actual and proverbial walls are not the answers. We must reach out to each other and solve these problems as the diverse Americans we are. No American is more American than the next. And, no less, either. So, let’s civilly discuss the issues in fact-based manner and demand our politicians do the same. If they cannot, then they should step down. I am really tired of those who feel they must name-call and shout opposition down.

At some point we need good governance

There is an old adage which goes something like when your opposition is damaging its own mission, don’t stand in their way. For over five years, I have shared my concerns with my Republican representatives in Congress and State legislature that rationalizing the untruthfulness and bullying antics of the former president is not a good path forward. I often asked what will it take for you to realize that something must be done?

Yet, here we are two years after the former president invited and incited a seditious action against a branch of government and there are still elected followers that believe what he says. Call me crazy, but his misdeeds are overt, yet the gaslighting that he and his sycophants have done have put up a powerful barrier to the truth.

Right now, the party of Trump is revealing their confusion and conflict. One editorialist termed it a “circular firing squad.” I am sure some resolution in the US House will be achieved, but what will it look like? As an independent and former Republican and Democrat, my hope is a the more rational Republicans who have not yet been run off can work with the Democrats to vote in a moderate Speaker of the House.

I must confess it does not trouble me too much that Kevin McCarthy cannot garner enough votes. However, it troubles me even more that more extreme folks like Jim Jordan are being bandied about. I am leery of such an untruthful person as Jordan being in charge after watching him the last several years and being aware of his lying at Ohio State University that allowed other wrestlers to be sexually assaulted by a groping doctor.

We citizens deserve better than we are getting. Democrats are imperfect, but at least they are focusing on policy issues and are concerned about a former president who acted seditiously. Many Republicans agree with that concern and some even testified under oath, but too many are scared to go on record and shut down the election denial that is still being discussed along with exaggerated and contrived issues. The truth is needed. Civilized debate and collaboration are needed.

Please join me in holding legislators accountable and demanding they tell us the truth and work together.

Happy Easter, too – another reprise of an old Christmas post

While I did not grow up Catholic, my best friend did. So, one of our rituals that lasted about ten years was going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. One of the traditions of that mass was the Father would also wish Happy Easter, as he knew he would not see more than a few parishioners until next Christmas.

While fewer people are church goers than before and some check the box “none” when surveyed, Christmas remains an important holiday for the promise it brings. Whether you believe that Jesus is the son of God, there was a man by this name who walked the earth and spoke to gatherings of people of all sizes. He reminded us of four key themes among his many parables and lessons. And, these themes can be found in other religious texts.

– Treat others like you want to be treated.

– Help people less fortunate than you.

– Recognize each of us is imperfect.

– Forgive those who trespass against us.

To me, if we live our lives doing our best to remember these four things, Jesus’ words will help us be better people. And, if enough of us do this, the world just might be a better place.

Let me leave you with a true story. One of the homeless families we were helping did not know what their daughter was doing after school. She did not want her parents to know as they may make her stop. She finally confessed that she was going down to the soup kitchen to feed the homeless. To state the obvious, a homeless teen was helping serve other homeless people a meal each afternoon after school. Please feel to share this poignant and powerful story.

A reminder of what Jesus did when he was on earth – a reprise

As we enter the Christmas holiday season, it would be helpful to remind ourselves what Jesus did while he walked the earth and what he promoted while he was here. Variations of his overarching themes can also be found in other religious texts, so these tenets are important regardless of religion. His Golden Rule which paraphrases to Treat others like you want to be treated translates well to any religious faith.

Jesus spent most of his adult life with the disenfranchised people of the areas he traveled. He would visit and stay with those who were not the powerful leaders or church leaders of the day. He tended to be with those who needed him most – the sick, the disabled, the poor and the downtrodden. In fact, he was not welcome by church leaders in some places and became irritated when church leaders did not use his church for its key purpose.

If Jesus walked the earth today, he would likely be irritated with us for many things.

  • Jesus would not be too keen on the demonization of people who look, speak or worship differently than the speaker.
  • He would not be too keen on intolerance especially when advocated by religious leaders who preach a message of exclusion. Jesus welcomed everyone.
  • He would not be too keen on the commercialization of his birthday, which loses sight of why we are honoring the day in the first place.
  • He would not be too keen on treating the impoverished in the world as if they had a communicable disease. “There, but by the grace of God, go I” he would say.
  • He would not be too keen on turning our backs on people who are refugees from their war-torn land. He would be there welcoming them in.
  • He would not be too keen on people being killed in the name of any religion, especially when the perpetrators are twisting language from its true meaning.
  • He would not be too keen on abortion unless a mother’s life is threatened. And, while this may sound inconsistent, he would likely be in favor of using birth control to avoid abortions, lessen poverty and prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • He would not be too keen on the prosperity church leaders who live high on the hog after bilking poor and sick people of their money. If you hear the term “seed money,” understand you are being swindled to help someone buy a jet or house.
  • He would not be too keen on corrupt leaders who forsake their mission to govern wisely and judiciously.
  • He would not be too keen on people not being good stewards of our earth which is consistent across many religions.

We seem to have become a collection of cafeteria Christians, only picking parts of the bible we like and missing the overall context and message. We must treat others like we want to be treated, with no caveats. To prove my point, I want you to picture a mental image of Jesus and then go back to the first bullet point above regarding “demonization of people who look….differently than the speaker.”

Now, I want you to picture an adult Syrian refugee. Jesus did not look like Max Von Sidow, Jim Caviezel or Jeffrey Hunter (who played him in movies). Jesus looked more like the Syrian refugees look than how movies portrayed him. And, he did not speak English. If Jesus was among the refugees, we have folks who would be arguing to deny his entrance into America as he would be a single adult male with a mideastern appearance.

We must be better than this. We must understand his key message and live like he would want us to, even if he does not look like we do. It is the Christian thing to do….and Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist thing as well.

A few more musings before year-end

To me, a few good things have happened and are happening this year to get us back between the white lines on the highway. In no particular order:

  • Jair Bolsonaro lost his bid for reelection in Brazil. As expected, he is pulling a Trump saying the election was stolen from him, but everyone else, including party leadership, are moving on. “But, I won by a huge margin,” he can be heard saying in Portuguese to the departing caravan of people.
  • Boris Johnson was shown the door in the UK as Prime Minister. The only good thing about Johnson’s tenure is he got to oversee the Brexit mess he helped create before succumbing to a series of unforced errors, as they like to say in tennis.
  • Not to be outdone, I was told before she was appointed by the Tories as new Prime Minister, that Liz Truss was not the best of replacements. She proved the author of this concern correct, lasting only 45 days in a mistake-filled tenure.
  • In Australia, apparently climate change, environmental concerns and paid child leave are important as Conservatives who passed on these issues, were swept out of office over the summer with the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese taking the oath. Between the wildfires and depleting barrier reef, rising temperatures is not a friend to the country/ continent.
  • In Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is realizing what happens when someone stands up to a bully. Volodymyr Zelenskyy has shown what leadership looks like, while Putin has shown what autocratic rule looks like. Fortunately, Russians are starting to see what the world sees and his days may be numbered.
  • And, at long last, with the Tax Fraud conviction by a jury of the Trump Organization and the investigation and released Executive Summary by the House Select Committee, the former president is starting to get his come-uppance as he truly spirals out of control blasting anyone who dares criticize him or not genuflect enough. Plus, there are other legal matters in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Mar-a-Lago that he needs to contend with.
  • Joe Biden is far from perfect, but he has shown that things can get accomplished to help the greater good. I am very pleased the Respect for Marriage Act, some gun governance and an infrastructure and climate change bill were passed. Sadly, neither party seems to care about the debt and deficit, so some poor soul will have to get the blame for doing what is needed – raising revenue and cutting expenses – as the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan concluded, when the debt was about 1/4 the total it is now.

Have a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas. Stay warm and travel safe.

A Christmas wish – do our part to break down barriers (a repeat post)

The following is an edited version of an earlier post that remains relevant today. In the spirit of the Christmas season, it is worth a revisit.

Last night, my wife and I attended one of a series of “talks” around improving racial relations. It is a weekly chat sponsored by a multi-faith group based in our city. In essence, it is facilitated small group and large group discussions on breaking down barriers and listening to others who do not look like you do. It was well done and very meaningful.

To hear stories about small and large examples of racism is very important. To hear about how assumptions can be made and, if not corrected, can be become more concrete in the eyes of the beholder. Children learn lessons whether you want them to or not, even when you try to do the right thing. So, it is imperative to have open conversations about treating people like you want to be treated and listening to comments, so that they can be reinforced or amended.

Yet, it is we adults that need to do better. A few themes we discussed include:

– do not indict a group for the actions of a few;

– recognize that small slights can be hurtful, as well;

– try to walk in another person’s shoes; understand that a white person has more liberty to go anywhere, while a black man, even when dressed-up, faces more restrictions and risk;

– shine a light on hateful speech or behavior; tolerance must be viewed toward a greater good, so it is OK to be less tolerant of those who use words to demean and diminish;

– speak up and speak out to people who share your skin color, ethnicity, religion or politics who are indicting others who are different just because they don’t look, think or worship as you do (this is especially true if those who are condemning others are in leadership roles);

– be the change you want to see and see people for whom they are; and

– recognize that racial injustice is also the result of a larger poverty issue, which affects people of all colors.

There are many more lessons that were conveyed during the session, but one of my takeaways is this is religion at its finest. Welcoming, including and helping. Let me end with one more tidbit on how religion can help provide solutions and create a welcoming dialogue. Walk the talk. Words are easy. The person who gets up out of his or her chair to help people is admirable. The person who tells someone they not do appreciate hateful criticism of others is steadfast.

Jesus said it so well in his Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. If we do this, we are way ahead in the game. And, if anyone thinks they are better than others, the same guy said something about “he who is without sin, can cast the first stone.” So, welcome, include and help.

Let’s be different and call it an Orange Friday

Black Friday started as a day of shopping for others, but has turned into a month long inventory close out event for personal shoppers. Oh, a few gifts are bought, as well. I have never cared for Black Friday, so when we visited my grandparents for Thanksgiving, I would always take my cousin and sister to a movie on Black Friday. It was a lot quieter then.

So, rather than call it Black Friday, let’s call it Orange. As per the show about women in prison, “Orange is the new black.” I am not saying we are all prisoners of the retail engine, but we should just use a more fun color and do something different. Orange is brighter and more vibrant.

In our family, we have a larger dinner gathering with multiple siblings and cousins where we can knock out more leftovers after our smaller Thanksgiving meals. Yes, I will be eating more today. So, more hiking, Yoga and Pilates will be required.

A few odds and ends for this Orange Friday are as follows:

In Alaska, the votes are tallied and the results are favorable. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, one of the few Republicans with the courage to stare down and call out the deceitful actions of the former president, won her Senate race. And, Native Alaskan and Democrat Mary Peltola won her Congressional seat defeating former governor and vice president candidate Sarah Palin. It should be noted the former president endorsed the opposition in both races, so this adds two more to the tally of failed candidates under his purview.

In Oakland, a new mayor was voted in named Sheng Thao, a progressive who defeated the moderate Loren Taylor. What proves interesting is Thao was at one time a homeless person after a split up from her abusive husband fifteen years ago. Plus, she is the first woman of Hmong descent to ever be elected mayor. Her parents were refugees.

I find these two sets of stories very compelling. To me, they show more glimmers of hope that Democracy can survive when too many folks are trying to bully, lie and cheat their way into office. It is not surprising that outgoing Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro is contending his election loss (this was an easy prediction of a few weeks ago), nor is it surprising that Kari Lake won’t concede her Arizona governor race loss, even though the existing Republican governor is welcoming incoming Democrat winner Katie Hobbs. Both Lake and Bolsonaro like to emulate the former US president and his penchant for tossing the checkerboard when he loses.

So, let’s celebrate an Orange Friday. Enjoy your families, enjoy the day and enjoy that the candidates who emulate the orange hair guy did not win.

From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes – Robert Clary’s story – an encore (may he RIP)

The following is an encore post from this summer to honor the amazing life of actor and holocaust survivor and advocate, Robert Clary, who passed away yesterday at age 96.

For those of us who grew up in the 1960s or watched a lot of reruns on television, there was a comedy show about a prisoner of war camp in Germany during World War II called “Hogan’s Heroes.” One of its stars was a diminutive and funny character named Corporal LeBeau, played by French actor Robert Clary. Yet, while a POW camp is a not a concentration camp where Jews were exterminated, Clary also had the horrid experience of being a survivor of the real Holocaust in a camp called Buchenwald.

I learned this watching a movie made in 1982 called “Remembrance of Love” starring Kirk Douglas, Chana Eden and Pam Dawber where two young lovers were split apart by the Nazis and Douglas’s character went to a Holocaust event in Israel to see if she was still alive. Clary played himself in the film as an ambassador to these Holocaust survivors.

Per Wikipedia, here is Clary’s early story:

“Born in 1926 in Paris, France, Clary was the youngest of 14 children, 10 of whom would die in the Holocaust. At the age of twelve, he began a career singing professionally on a French radio station and also studied art in Paris. In 1942, because he was Jewish, he was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Ottmuth, in Upper Silesia (now Otmęt, Poland). He was tattooed with the identification ‘A5714’ on his left forearm. He was later sent to Buchenwald concentration camp.

At Buchenwald, he sang to an audience of SS soldiers every other Sunday, accompanied by an accordionist. He said, ‘Singing, entertaining, and being in kind of good health at my age, that’s why I survived. I was very immature and young and not really fully realizing what situation I was involved with … I don’t know if I would have survived if I really knew that.

Writing about his experience, Clary said,

‘We were not even human beings. When we got to Buchenwald, the SS shoved us into a shower room to spend the night. I had heard the rumours about the dummy shower heads that were gas jets. I thought, ‘This is it.’ But no, it was just a place to sleep. The first eight days there, the Germans kept us without a crumb to eat. We were hanging on to life by pure guts, sleeping on top of each other, every morning waking up to find a new corpse next to you. … The whole experience was a complete nightmare — the way they treated us, what we had to do to survive. We were less than animals. Sometimes I dream about those days. I wake up in a sweat terrified for fear I’m about to be sent away to a concentration camp, but I don’t hold a grudge because that’s a great waste of time. Yes, there’s something dark in the human soul. For the most part, human beings are not very nice. That’s why when you find those who are, you cherish them.'”

Clary published a memoir, From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes: The Autobiography of Robert Clary, in 2001. Rather than summarize his career before and after “Hogan’s Heroes,” I encourage you to link to the Wikipedia article on his behalf. He was often asked to distinguish between the fictional POW camp and the real concentration camp he survived.

“Stalag 13 is not a concentration camp. It’s a POW camp, and that’s a world of difference. You never heard of a prisoner of war being gassed or hanged. When the show went on the air, people asked me if I had any qualms about doing a comedy series dealing with Nazis and concentration camps. I had to explain that it was about prisoners of war in a Stalag, not a concentration camp, and although I did not want to diminish what soldiers went through during their internments, it was like night and day from what people endured in concentration camps.”

To this day, there are people with hard-hearted and hateful motives who want people to believe the Holocaust did not happen, that over 6 million Jews, gays and lesbians and gypsies were not exterminated by the Nazis in World War II. This is not only a blatant attempt at disinformation, it truly is evil. It is on par with people trying to white wash all the bad things in history committed by humans against one another and the Holocaust ranks as one of the greatest atrocities in our history. These Jews and others were arrested, stripped, starved and gassed, because of some lunatic idea set forth by Adolph Hitler and his henchmen.

Interestingly, Clary remains alive and well at the age of 96, one of the last two survivors from the “Hogan’s Heroes” show. Yet, he said he still has nightmares at this age and lost many of his siblings due the Nazi genocide. We must never forget what happened to Clary and his family among the multiple millions of Jews and others that were impacted.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Clary

We need religious leaders not cult leaders

One of my pet peeves is witnessing bigotry from the pulpit. To me, it is one of the more egregious abuses of power, as we look to our ministers to be among our better angels. One thing I have sadly learned over my worship, volunteer and business life is just because one is portrayed as pious, does not mean they are without fault.

To be frank, we need our ministers, rabbis, priests, imams, and other faith leaders to be religious leaders not cult leaders. We need our religious leaders to inspire us, counsel us, and guide us to be on and remain on a good path forward. We do not leaders to tell us who to hate, who to distrust, or who is less deserving of grace, using religious text as a weapon.

Former president Jimmy Carter is arguably one of the best ex-presidents we have ever had. His good works and good deeds around the world have helped eradicate exposure to a parasite in some third world countries, have helped shape peace agreements, and have bolstered Habitat for Humanity as he has been an ambassador for his country and the disenfranchised. He has also written around thirty books and taught Sunday school on a routine basis.

He is the kind of religious leader that we need. He often cites the context of the Christian bible rather pulling excerpts to demonize people with. He notes, taken out of context, almost any religious text can be used to put people down. In his words, that misses the point. He would look to those words in red in the Christian bible that say something like he who is without sin shall cast the first stone.

There is a reason some churches are seeing fall off in membership. Some of it is a self-fulfilling mission – when you teach a message of exclusion, people feel excluded and stay away. Even those who feel included may stay away as they don’t like the exclusive messaging. Religion is at its finest when it includes, but it is at its worst when it excludes.

A religious leader can make that kind of difference.