Monday, September 25, 2017

When The NFL Gets It Right

Whatever lofty thoughts I was planning to share during these 10 days of repentance have gone through the goal posts. 

Disclaimer: I cannot begin to tell you how much I loathe football. I do. I refuse to watch a bunch of doped-up bullies running up and down a field banging into each other until their heads sustain permanent damage. I think college football is a farm team system that has precious little to do with providing kids with an education. Pro football is nothing more than a form of legalized slavery with owners, trades, prohibitive contracts, and rosters. Too many players are exploited by unscrupulous rogues as soon as they get a little money in their pockets, and then ignored when brain injuries shorten their lives. I won't even go into the above-the-law attitude of some of those pretend-heroes who offer up bad behavior as a right (think Randy Moss and the Minneapolis meter-reader.) I know the various leagues and associations are trying to clean up individual team acts, but there's a long way to go.

HOWEVER... and isn't there always a however......

 Credit2016 Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
This past weekend, pro football did the right thing; the teams stood up/locked arms/knelt down for the Constitution of these here United States. They used their Constitutionally guaranteed right of free expression to protest the treatment of black Americans in their own country...and by extension, the moronic utterances of our elected head-of-state. Eric Reid, Colin Kaepernick's San Francisco 49'ers teammate and the first to join him in kneeling, wrote an amazing essay in the New York Times:
After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.
What began a year ago as a protest about racism in America quickly became a Constitutional crisis over this past weekend when the Feckless Leader opened his trap in Alabama. Oh, the Looney-Tune list on that speech is endless, but this line jumped right into the end zone:
Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired. He's fired!"
The President of the United States is calling for the denial of civil rights to a segment of the population. Granted, that segment is made up of NFL players and personnel, but it's big enough to constitute a in Class Action. But somehow, as important as all this is, I wonder what he's really hiding.

So, here's where the brain-rubber meets the Alabama road. He cannot possibly shut up, and comes off sounding a bit too much like Caligula at the gladiator match
The NFL ratings are down massively. Now the #1 reason happens to be they like watching what’s happening … with yours truly. They like what’s happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: 15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They’re ruining the game! That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Steve Mnuchin, is trotted out to appear on  Martha Raddatz's show to defend his führer's remarks sayin,
This isn’t about Democrats, it’s not about Republicans, it’s not about race, it’s not about free speech. They can do free speech on their own time. That this is about respect for the military and the first responders  and the country.
Clearly, Mnuchin missed the point. It is exactly about race. He glosses over the genesis of the action, and the growing size of the issue. He dismisses it and that, besides being wrong, is dangerous. He cannot belittle the actions, and he cannot pretend this is not happening. And because the Doofus-in-Chief took to the airwaves, it also became about free speech, free expression, and what exactly the First Amendment allows. In case you forgot:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Yup. That kinda says it all.

But, I keep hearing Charles During singing Sidestep from Best Little Whorehouse In Texas like an earworm. Can the West Wing possibly be stupid enough to believe a little slight-of-mouth is gonna be distracting? 

Maybe. So I'm thinking we should be looking for something else. Kinda like the St. Paul Winter Carnival Medallion Hunt....only more obtuse. 

Let's see what else is happening. Hmmm... 

Rocket Man:
Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!
Seems L'il Kim of North Korea isn't happy with this at all:
Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy [North Korea], we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hardline countermeasure in history. Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation,” he continued. “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.
This was followed by North Korean foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho's statement to reporters:
This is clearly a declaration of war, ... The U.N. Charter stipulates individual member states' rights to self-defense. Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down the United States' strategic bombers even when they're not yet inside the airspace border of our country.
And if that was not enough...

Maybe a new travel ban? Venezuela is added to the list of countries with security "issues." Venezuela? There are several other countries, including Saudi Arabia, who have better terrorism track records than Venezuela...which makes me think there is something else oil?

How about the wall that keeps coming up in conversation? Feckless Leader threw the Dems a bone with his DACA statements...but don't believe them. He's bent on deporting all Mexicans. See, then, when there is no produce in the supermarkets, Americans will sign up in droves to be field workers. Yeparoo! Full employment!  That's the ticket!

Is it the latest attempt to repeal the ACA that, as of this evening, is supposed to be dead in the water? They tried bribing Maine and Alaska with additional funding directed specially at those two states but Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) said, "No." That means McCain, Rand, and Collins have effectively killed the bill. At this writing, Lisa Murkowski is apparently still on the fence.

Or could it be the cockamamie tax proposal? That's a killer right there...middle income earners, those between $49,000 and $89,000 would probably see a tax increase with the removal of the mortgage interest deduction and the state/local income tax deductions. The top wage earners should see their rate drop from 35% to 20%...although Trump wants that rate at 15%. Yep, that sure benefits the middle class.

Nope. None of the above.

 © 2017, Steven G. Artley, ARTLEY CARTOONS 
Folks, if you're paying attention to the NFL and the rest of the smokescreen, you are missing the really big picture. Our Constitution is under stealth attack and if you're thinking about what the Vikings are or are not doing, you need a new reality check. 

No one gives a rat's ass if the NFL players stand, kneel, or spit nickels. It's a distraction shifting your focus away from the real issue, the biggest of which is the existential threat to the Constitution. 

We have a president who is doing more than saber-rattling; he's positioning this country for a short overseas incursion to be followed by a civil war here. Laugh all you want. Just start connecting the dots; I'm pretty sure you'll get the same picture I'm getting and it's not pretty. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

...comes from Stephen Colbert: 
Tonight: I’m not worried about the guys with the regular footballs.
It’s the guy with the nuclear football who scares me to death.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Broiler and figuring out where to go next.

I heard the news today, oh boy, the Saint Clair Broiler is closing down. 

The Broiler was around the corner from our first house, but we used to go there long before we lived there. They had great malts (Al Gore was a fan) and great grilled cheese sandwiches. It was one of the first places the kids could walk to on their own... with the summer mother's helper. Even after we moved to the 'burbs, it was still a place to meet my friends for a cup of coffee or to go to after something else. And after Ziggy had the poor form to leave the building, it was the place where I went to regroup. I wasn't regular enough to be recognized, but I was always welcome. I wasn't crazy about the recent updating, but I didn't go for the decor. It was about the place and the smell and the grilled cheese sandwiches. The last time I was there, the server was saying how the landlord wasn't taking care of the building and it was getting to be a problem. I worried after that...because I think I saw the handwriting on the wall. I just hoped I was wrong. 

But apparently not. Our beloved Broiler and its glorious neon sign will be leaving us too soon. And I will have to find another place to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and regroup. I am none too happy about this at all.

But, it's that time of year for new beginnings. School starts, new pencils are sharpened, New crayons are in the book bag. As the trees shuck their leaves, we can shuck some of our baggage without too many people noticing. It's a really natural starting-over point. 

And Jews all over the world get to do the year-in-review thing. Like I've said in other years around this  time, owning one's own behavior is a challenge for a lot of people. Owning up to one's own bad behavior can be even worse. Some people can make an entire career on not owning one's own behavior.

Unlike the wild party-hardy January 1st new years celebrations, this version is about introspection and growth. You can't have one without the other. Jewish or not, everyone should have a day when they take stock to decide what comes next. What worked and what didn't? If I could repair something in my own world, what would it be? What fight will I choose to make mine, and what fight will I abandon? 

These are never easy questions, and this year, especially, they may be exceptionally important. 

  • Do we continue to fight the White House and its minions, or do we lay that aside to focus on the elections to come? 
  • Do we stop fighting Congress about climate change and bring that fight to the local level where we can change things one municipality/county/state at a time? 
  • Do we continue to beat our breasts for things we cannot possibly control or change, or do we accept who we are and what we are as we begin the hard work to improve the world immediately around us?

These are not easy questions.  This isn't about running away or hiding. It's about changing the things we can change, then moving up the change ladder to bigger and better changes. 

My British grandmother used to chide me about being "penny-wise, pound-foolish," and she didn't mean my weight. She would to talk to me about how I spent my emotional and practical capital. 

"You can expend all your energy trying to change the whole world at once," she once told me after a particularly frustrating demonstration at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza in front of the UN, "or you can use up some of those pennies teaching the same thing to neighborhood children. One is a brick wall, the other is an investment in the future." Of course, I argued with her...but I recall knowing she was right. If we really wanted to change the world, old guys sitting in the UN didn't make for a useful target. We needed to be changing the world coming up behind us.

I once played "Teach Your Children Well," by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young for her, and she asked me to write out the lyrics. Years later, when my folks brought my grandparents to visit Ziggy and me in Poughkeepsie that first year we were married, she handed me a card, and inside was a cheque ...and the lyrics. I still have the card. She'd written, "In the event you ever need these."

If you want to change the whole world, you hafta start inside your heart and your home. Then, you get to step outside your front door. Look around your street, your neighborhood, your town, your state. What do you see? What works? What doesn't?

Now, what can you do to make something work better?

To those who observe the Yamim Nora'im: may you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy and healthy new year. 

For everyone else, may you, too, be inscribed in the Book for Life for a happy and healthy new year. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

Okay, people: step back. Look around. Figure out what you can fix. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

We Stand On Hollow Ground

Today is September 11th. All day. Until midnight. I was acutely aware of what day it was from the moment I woke up and turned on the morning news show, just as I had 16 years ago. Only this time, I did not see the fire in the first tower and then the plane flying into the second. I was upstairs, but there was no one downstairs to whom I could call : PUT THE NEWS ON NOW. This morning, I just saw boats littering the streets of one of the Keys. I'm not sure which one. 

One aunt was still safely ensconced in a shelter in Orlando with her nephew, his fiance, and the dogs. The other aunt managed to make it to Connecticut thanks to my cousins, one of whom just happens to be a hurricane disaster mastermind. Really. Like a rocket scientist but for extreme conditions. (Not a joke.) And by nightfall tonight, the shelter aunt was back home, happy to be there, even if there's no electricity. 

Yes, there is a difference between the destruction of the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania and a couple of savage hurricanes. One is man made and the other....well, that's open to discussion. 

I was all prepared not to write about 9/11, and then I made the mistake of listening to the speeches at the Pentagon this afternoon. Clearly, it was not written by the toddler-in-chief because it had words he could not sanctified. It came out as sacrificed...which almost made sense but not quite. But the one that got me...the one that absolutely convinced me this jackass had done nothing more than glance at the damn speech before he gave it was 
Today, as we stand on this hollow ground, we are reminded of the timeless truth that when America is united, no force on Earth can break us apart -- no force...
It's supposed to be "hallowed" according to the White House transcript, which, by the way,  had acknowledged the other gaff : The sacrificed [sanctified] grounds...

Anyone who has ever been around actors knows what an actor who is unprepared sounds like. That speech was totally green. And don't tell me he's not an actor because you know damn well that's all he is. If I was the speechwriter on that, I woulda quit before the ceremony was over. This orange troll does not deserve to have good speech writers. With that stupid finger thing he does with his teeny-tiny hands....they should be just lopped off at the wrist.

For one of the most important, emotional speeches he will ever give, the first 9/11 speech should've been flawlessly delivered....and it came out sounding like a frickin' cold audition. I was so totally insulted by his lack of preparing....that I'm pounding this keyboard in absolute anger.

Folks, if you're not getting this, let me explain: he just told our nation he doesn't give a flying fart in space about We, the People. We, the People, are not worth preparing for. This troll cannot be bothered to, at the very least, read the speech before he delivered it. He read flat. He read disinterested. He read boring. What's worse, he read bored. 9/11 is not a national tragedy; it's an American family tragedy. It touched every one of us...except, apparently, the current occupant of the Oval Office.

His words are, just to be very clear, TOTALLY MEANINGLESS. They are meaningless to him, they are meaningless toward us.

Now, hold on to that thought for a moment while I go get a glass seltzer. Noch besser. 

Now, where was I going with this. Oh, yeah; I remember.

This has been a week of totally meaningless in the West Wing. He played the Dems like a violin section, wooing them in to cut a deal on the debt-ceiling, funding hurricane relief, and assorted other garbage. This scene was right outta some movie. Brings in the two schlubs, Pelosi and Schumer, throws them a bone, then sits back to bask in the good press, all the while, thumbing his bright orange na-na-na-boo-boo nose at the GOP. This was so badly staged I cannot believe anyone fell for it.... but the lame-brain media did, lock, stock, and trash barrel. You see, he did not ask for anything in return, and folks, that is not how that pig-in-pearls behaves. Nope. He will turn around and demand something onerous back for that little indulgence...because that is exactly what it was. I mean, how blind do you have to be not to see that one coming down the pike? 

When I think about the terrorists, the guys engaged by Osama bin Laden to bring down those planes, I'm not thinking they were rocket scientists. I don't associate any of them with advanced degrees in science or math. I think of them as brain-dead simpletons who believe they were gonna get virgins in paradise for committing heinous acts of murder. It wasn't that they were simpletons; they were uneducated. And if you have uneducated minions, you get murderous foot-soldiers who do stuff like that. 

If you bring on the likes of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to head NASA, what message are you sending to the kids in school? That to head an august agency you have to be a moron? That having a degree in engineering or physics is a waste of time because racing model rockets will teach you everything you for running a space agency? When they say things like they don't think climate change is man-made, you have to wonder what century they're from...the 19th but certainly not the 21st. When the West Wing advisors cannot be bothered to present qualified candidates to the oval office, having done their jobs by vetting them before hand, what do you think is going to happen?

When We, the People, elect this level of stupidity (on BOTH SIDES, people; just to be very, very clear) al-Qaeda comes roaring back to life. And that's what they've done. For 16 years they have laid low, but now, fully aware of the powers of the brainiac occupying the Oval Office, they are back in action. If you believe for one New York minute that they are afraid of the toddler, or Mike Pompeo of the CIA and their ridiculous threats, guess again. They are not. Just read about Pakistan's clearing of Benazir Bhutto's assassins if you want to see just how scared they are. 

We make our own hell. We, the People, do it every day by wasting resources and tolerating a president who refuses to understand we do make our own hell. We enable the White House to hire the Pruitts, the Bridenstines, and the DeVoses who see only $$$$$ destined to line their own pockets instead of the children of this country. They never see We, the People. They never really look at what cutting funding to shoreline research really means, so when Houston is flooded and the water is full of toxins...they can't grok the idea that the poison is man-made.

You see, my cousins Arthur and Kenny Simon died in One World Trade. Father and son. And son was a new father. I remember them on a lot of days, not just 9/11. And I don't want to ever think that We, the People, allowed al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or North Korea to start a war because they knew the president was impotent. 

Yes, toddler-in-chief, you do stand on hollow ground. In fact, it's giving way beneath your feet with every wave or your teeny-tiny hands. Make all the speeches you want. But understand this, every time you appoint a know-nothing to an important post, you are aiding and abetting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and North Korea. They already know you're atoothless troll, and they know just to play you. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If the government won't act responsibly, We, the People, must do what we can.
Start small. Clean up your own act first. 
Re-use, recycle, buy less packaging.  

Monday, September 4, 2017

President Strangelove: “Have a good time, everybody!”

Labor Day is always bittersweet. The holiday marks the last day of mental summer and the first day of practical autumn. We always started school the day after Labor Day, so after that last day at the beach club with the smell of sand and surf, we faced that seductive aroma of new crayons, freshly sharpened pencils, and a new leather briefcase...or, when we were a little older, thick rubber straps with hooks that would take your eye out if you weren't careful. We didn't know from childproof anything. No car seats, no seat belts, cement playgrounds with monkey bars. Yeah, we broke a few bones here and there, but nothing we couldn't grow back. 

I don't know if it's because the High Holy Days of the Jewish new year usually fall in September, or it's the start of the academic new year, but whatever the reason, I really do think of this as the head of the year. All things are possible in September. 

Not all possible things, however, are good things to be possible.

During those years  I was sharpening pencils and sniffing crayons, I was also mastering duck-and-cover in case of nuclear attack. We absolutely believed our hallways and desks would protect us from nuclear exposure. Yep-a-roo, we sure did. All we had to do was get down on our knees and tuck into a ball and we would be safe. 

Well, 58 years later, we're not so safe. US Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley addressed the Security Council today, Labor Day, saying:
Kim Jong-Un’s action cannot be seen as defensive. He wants to be acknowledged as a nuclear power. But being a nuclear power is not about using those terrible weapons to threaten others. Nuclear powers understand their responsibilities. Kim Jong-Un shows no such understanding.
His abusive use of missiles, and his nuclear threats show that he is begging for war. War is never something the United States wants. We don’t want it now. But our country’s patience is not unlimited. We will defend our allies and our territory.
The idea that some have suggested of a so-called freeze-for-freeze is insulting. When a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard. No one would do that. We certainly won’t.
The time has come to exhaust all diplomatic means to end this crisis, and that means quickly enacting the strongest possible measures here in the UN Security Council. Only the strongest sanctions will enable us to resolve this problem through diplomacy. We have kicked the can down the road long enough. There is no more road left.
I understand what she is saying. She may be closer to the mark than a lot of us want to believe. But what makes this terrifying is that we have a toddler-in-chief with access to nuclear launch codes. This guy is running this like a schoolyard bully. Fire and fury? Is he frickin' kidding us? 

At the same time he should be focused on North Korea, he also has domestic issues that required his attention. Houston is still under water, but he told reporters, after visiting a shelter, the people he saw were "pretty happy with what's going on." Really? As he went to hand out some boxes with hot dogs and chips, he said, 
There’s a lot of love. As tough as it’s been, it’s been a wonderful thing to watch....I’m going to do a little bit of help over here. Have a good time, everybody!
Meanwhile, chemical plants are burning, and this administration is rolling back more regulations. I checked with two of my chemical engineering buddies to see if any of the changes were involved in the Arkema fires. The answer was probably not at this time. In the end, it's all about risk management and it's unclear what process they had in place for floods. There are, at this time, too many questions and not enough answers forthcoming while even more people are evacuated due to excessive levels of air pollution. And then there's the matter of toxic waste sites that are now flooded...

But it's not that bad. After all, in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, where hurricanes hardly happen, but monsoons sure do,  the most recent has killed nearly 1,300 people and directly impacted the lives of 45 million. What are we complaining about? Our people are having a good time in the shelters. 

As if this wasn't enough for one weekend, the toddler-in-chief announced he's cancelling DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). This is the act, started in 2012, that protects illegal immigrants who were brought here as children. Those kids are called Dreamers for a reason: they dream of remaining here as citizens, unafraid and free.  Here is DACA by the numbers as prepared for NEWSWEEK  by Julia Glum:
 1. There are more than 43 million immigrants in the U.S., according to the Migration Policy Institute. 
2. About 11 million are undocumented immigrants.

3. An estimated 22 percent of undocumented immigrants are under age 25, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

4. The Migration Policy Institute said in 2016 that about 1.9 million people were eligible for DACA.

5. About 788,000 have had their requests for DACA status accepted, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

6. In order to apply for DACA, immigrants had to be younger than 31 on June 15, 2012.

7. They must have come to the U.S. before turning 16. They must have lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.

8. In a Center for American Progress survey of roughly 3,000 DACA recipients, nine-tenths of respondents said they had jobs.

9. Their average hourly wage was $17.46 an hour, up from $10.29 before receiving DACA.

10. About 72 percent of respondents were in higher education.

11. After getting DACA, nearly 80 percent of respondents said they got driver's licenses. About half became organ donors.

12. A Morning Consult poll from April found that 56 percent of registered voters said Dreamers, another name for people who came to the U.S. as kids, "should be allowed to stay and become citizens if they meet certain requirements."

13. The Center for American Progress estimated that the U.S. would lose about $460 billion in GDP over the next 10 years without DACA.

14. About 700,000 people could lose their jobs.

15. More than 1,800 governors, attorneys general, mayors, state representatives, judges, police chiefs and other leaders signed onto a letter supporting Dreamers and DACA recipients.
Look closely at #13. A $460 billion dollar loss in GDP. I wonder how much revenue from federal income tax would be lost as well. Gotta be significant. That's 700,000 losing their jobs, so the question must be asked, who will replace them?

Listening to MPR yesterday, I heard some GOP flunky explain how all those DACA jobs would be filled by Americans who are looking for work. Sure they will. The same way they're gonna sign up to be field hands harvesting crops. 

Who will run the businesses started by DACA recipients? Or will the local governments just hand those over to Americans to run? (Where have we heard that before?) What will happen to the employers who counted on their DACA workers to be contributors to their companies? And the students whose teachers are DACA recipients? And the patients whose doctors are DACA kids? Has anyone bothered to think this through? 

Yeah, I know there's a six month waiting period before it goes into effect; however, when has this Congress accomplished any sort of meaningful legislation? They had 8 frickin' years to come up with an alternative to the ACA, and they couldn't even present an idea that sounded sane. Now they say they're gonna tackle the tax system, something in dire need of overhaul, and the first thing they come up with is taxing earnings destined for 401k's. What planet are these morons on? The planet without oxygen because obviously that supply to their brains has been cut off.

When you have an imperial North Korea or Venezuela or the United States these days, the president can do whatever he wants. The Founding Fathers, who must be spinning in their graves, set up a system of checks and balances for our government that are now being completely ignored. I'm having trouble figuring out which one of these disasters is the real one and which are the smoke screens. 

In Stanley Kubrick's brilliant satire, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, it's the Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper who is unhinged and starts the bomb rolling, not the president. Frankly, I think the movie should be required viewing for all of We, the People right about now. I have to wonder whether or not there really is a Plan R or a Russian Doomsday device. Right now, nothing would surprise me. 

Or, it could be North Korea thinks it's The Mouse That Roared. Kinda hard to tell at the moment. 

It's all so ridiculous that it's hard to believe any of this is real. This is not the way to run a country...unless you're a tin-pot dictator running a banana republic as your own personal money-laundering operation. Juan Peron had nuthin' on our toddler-in-chief. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Go find some pencils and sharpen them.
You'll feel better.