Gratefulness

Our Montana Logging and Ballet Company performed years ago at the 6000-member St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. I remember it because three of us stayed over until Sunday to hear Rev. Kent Millard, one of the great preachers of our denomination. His powerful sermon was on the miracle of thanks.

Kent (he insisted we call him that) said thanks is at the heart of good religion. He gave statistics about people who have an attitude of gratitude, and how they have fewer heart attacks, fewer divorces, live longer and many other positive correlations that I can’t remember. Maybe if I were more grateful my memory would be better. Kent summed up his sermon this way: “Gratefulness Brings Great Fullness.”

At Thanksgiving, our family has a tradition of having everyone tell at least one thing for which they are thankful. I won’t have time this year to mention all my list — Pat the love of my life, the wonderful children, grandchildren, family, great friends, and fifty more every-year items, following by other topics unique to this year.

I am thankful to have known and loved some political and spiritual giants who have passed away this year — Mignon Waterman, Bob Ream, Sue Bartlett, Dorothy Eck, and, just this week, Laurie Skillman. Laurie was not as famous or politically active as the first four, but was a spiritual person who belongs in their class as great and giving human beings. I am grateful to have known them all, even though I don’t live up to the role models they set.

I trust you, dear reader, will be making your own gratitude list and meditating on it. In addition to me and Pat starting on ours, I’m also thinking about being grateful for those who live lives of great fullness to show us how it is done. If I had to name the most grateful person I have ever known, it would be our mother. Dorothy Harper is 95, but never has a single day go by that she doesn’t express her thanks to God and family and friends for all her blessings.

She is blessed to live at Touchmark with its wonderful staff and space just right for her. She is blessed to live in Helena and go St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. She is blessed to have her four remaining children and their spouses living in Helena (she has reason to be grateful for that — we her children will very likely never have any of our children live in the same town with us because of the vocations they are pursuing.)

Mom just had lunch with us. Pat made a terrific fall casserole meal with blueberry buckle for dessert, so it was appropriate for Mom to be grateful for that. But she probably mentioned 10 or 15 times other things for which she was grateful or the reasons for her being so lucky.

Several staff members at Touchmark have said that others there always want to have our mother sit at their table at meals, because she is always so positive. Always. And that’s how it has always been. Our father, now deceased, was in the spotlight because he was a great preacher, a truly funny human being both as a speaker and an author, and a person who made a difference in people’s lives. There is a reason that the gym at Helena High is named “Harper Court.” Our mother stayed out of the limelight, even though she was the only one in the family who wrote professionally (radio scripts for national inspirational radio shows), and the only one in the family who won a national oratory contest in college, twice.

Now that Dad is gone, we are realizing even more how powerful and how funny our mother is, and what a constant positive force she is in our lives, like a North Star, only warmer. Call her a North Sun. As she prayed over our meal this noon, she said, “Help us to be grateful for all our blessings and for the chance to do good for others.” Gratitude is contagious and only leads to good things in the lives of us and those around us. Our mother is contagious.

So who are your role models for living lives of service and gratitude? And what are you doing to become more like them? Have a grateful Thanksgiving.

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Good Non-Fake News

Actual good non-fake news has been hard to come by in the Trump I-try-to believe-six-impossible-things-before-breakfast era. The election on Tuesday provided some good news to those of us on this side of the facts vs. alternative facts divide.

Democratic governors won in Virginia and New Jersey. In the Virginia race, the Republican ran a textbook Trumpian racist, xenophobic, and homophobic campaign, complete with negative tweets against the Democratic candidate from Trump himself in the last days. This time the voters weren’t fooled.

People of color won elections, including seven who were the first black Americans to become mayor in their cities in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Minnesota. Helena’s Wilmot Collins was the first black mayor elected in the state of Montana, but not the first in Helena. Helena elected a black mayor in 1873 while Montana was still a territory. We had the rare privilege in this Helena mayoral election of choosing which good candidate was better, rather than facing the evil of two lessers. Jim Smith has been a fine mayor for many years, and the victor, Wilmot, is a former refugee from Liberia, a Naval reserve member, and a child protection specialist with great ideas about how to make Helena even better.

Members of other ethnic minorities made gains in state and city elections across the country, including the first Sikh-American elected mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey. That campaign featured last-minute racist flyers with a picture of Ravinder Bhalla in his turban and the message “Don’t let terrorism take over our town.” The Hoboken folks chose not to let racism and xenophobia take over their town.

Women won a number of significant races, including the first black mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina; the first female mayor of the biggest city in New Hampshire — Manchester; the first Latina and Asian American women in the Virginia legislature; and the first lesbian woman mayor of Seattle. She wasn’t first female Seattle mayor — that happened in 1926 and hasn’t been repeated until now. A long drought, especially for Seattle.

Maine became the first state to expand Medicaid by ballot of the people. Medicaid is important not just for the poor, but, in the words the Kaiser Foundation, “Medicaid is the primary payer for long-term care…Medicare only covers limited post-acute care, and few people can afford private coverage.”

Kyle Waterman, the son of Helena’s Ron and Mignon Waterman, won a city council seat in Kalispell, Montana. Kyle is following in his mother’s giant political footsteps and will be a terrific city councilman for the city that has been the home of some of the most virulent and potentially violent homophobia and racism in the state.

The first openly transgender woman won a seat in the Virginia legislature by beating the right-wing legislator who called himself Virginia’s “chief homophobe.”

Given how rich white men have been running our country, I welcome any tiny signs of cracks in the billionaires’ control of our country.

Here is my question: is this apparent “good news” merely a hiccup, a tiny and insignificant detour in our nation’s slide toward authoritarianism?

Or is this the start of the pendulum swinging back toward honesty, cleaning up corruption, and fixing problems rather than causing them –in short, toward making America great again by making America good again.

We shall see. And we better be working our butts off for the good while we are waiting to see.

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Speaking Truth to Power

Can you imagine if Barack Obama ever once did any of the things Donald Trump does every week? Imagine if he called to console a widow of a slain soldier and remarked that the soldier knew what he was getting into when he signed up. And what if Obama then said the widow’s and two other ear-witnesses’ accounts were “a total fabrication”? What if he lied every single day, and then lied about the lies? What if he deliberately tried to provoke an unstable dictator into shooting off his nuclear weapons?

What would have happened if Vladimir Putin successfully intervened in a US election to elect Barack Obama? I believe no matter whether Democrats or Republicans were in control of Congress, Obama would have been impeached and convicted and then tried for treason and convicted, or, more likely, assassinated.

So where are the Republicans who put America ahead of party enough to speak truth to power? Except for a few courageous exceptions, the silence has been deafening, but in the last two weeks, two more prominent conservative voices have spoken up.

In a speech days ago at a forum organized by the George W. Bush Institute, former President George W. Bush laid out a plan for returning America to its former greatness by returning to our ideals. In a speech that every American should read or hear, he never mentioned our current president by name, but that wasn’t necessary. He said,

“We know that when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy…

“Our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy. Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication…

“We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together…

“But foreign aggressions — including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence — should not be downplayed or tolerated. This is a clear case where the strength of our democracy begins at home. We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion…

“We become the heirs of Martin Luther King, Jr., by recognizing one another not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed…

“We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them…”

President Bush has gone up tremendously in my eyes. If you haven’t already, you can read the whole speech by googling “George W. Bush speech October 2017.”

Another conservative voice is the columnist George Will. I often (usually?) disagree with his opinions, but, as an English major, I am always in awe of his vocabulary and command of the language. In an op-ed (google “George Will Sinister Figures” to find it), Will made these comments:

“With eyes wide open, Mike Pence eagerly auditioned for the role as Donald Trump’s poodle. Now comfortably leashed, he deserves the degradations that he seems too sycophantic to recognize as such. He did Trump’s adolescent bidding with last Sunday’s preplanned virtue pageant of scripted indignation — his flight from the predictable sight of players kneeling during the national anthem at a football game… Pence is a reminder that no one can have sustained transactions with Trump without becoming too soiled for subsequent scrubbing…

“Trump’s energy, unleavened by intellect and untethered to principle, serves only his sovereign instinct to pander to those who adore him as much as he does. Unshakably smitten, they are impervious to the Everest of evidence that he disdains them as a basket of gullibles… He gives his gullibles not governance by tantrum, but tantrum as governance…

“The alt-right insists that real nationhood requires cultural homogeneity rooted in durable ethnic identities. This is the alt-right’s alternative foundation for the nation Lincoln said was founded on the principle that all people are, by nature, equal… Trump is, of course, innocent of this (or any other) systemic thinking. However, within the ambit of his vast, brutish carelessness are some people with sinister agendas and anti-constitutional impulses…”

So where are the other Republican voices speaking out? George Will, after describing the evil of waiting too long to speak the truths that are evident, wrote,

“Perhaps there shall be a bedraggled parade of repentant Republicans resembling those supine American communists who, after Stalin imposed totalitarianism, spawned the gulag, engineered the Ukraine famine, launched the Great Terror and orchestrated the show trials, were theatrically disillusioned by his collaboration with Hitler: You, sir, have gone too far.”

If the parade doesn’t begin soon, our democracy will be in even greater danger. Here’s to those courageous few out in front of the parade.

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They Aren’t Really Lies

To the best of my knowledge, virtually every Donald Trump speech and press conference and many of his tweets contain statements of fact which fact-checkers later discover to be partially or completely at odds with real facts.

Though I am naturally a cautious person, this has led me to consider the possibility that our President cannot prevent himself from lying, even when he doesn’t need to.

I had another Trump nightmare last night, but in my dream, I got a clear explanation of why most of the President’s outrageous statements are not really lies.

In my dream I ordered a little device called “the translator.” The device came with simple instructions: “Plug into your computer and type in any statement by Donald Trump.”

The device also came with a background explanation: “The first definition of ‘lie’ as a noun is this: ‘A false statement deliberately presented as being true.’ The President, being wealthy, always had people to read for him, which is why he can’t read and write beyond a fifth-grade level, as exemplified by the grammar, vocabulary, and spelling of his tweets. Because he has so little control of the English language, and because he is used to being rich enough to get people around him to agree with whatever he says, he never deliberately lies — he just uses his limited vocabulary to express a different reality.”

I plugged in the translator and two empty boxes came up on the screen entitled “Trump Statement You Want to Understand” and “In common English, it means…”

I wanted to understand how he could lie — wait, I mean present false information but not deliberately — about such evident things as the terrible federal response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico compared to the excellent federal response to the hurricanes in Texas and Florida. I typed a sentence directly from an Associated Press story into the box:
     “Really nothing short of a miracle,” he [the President] said of the recovery, an assessment at odds with the despair of many still struggling to find water and food outside the capital city in wide swaths of an island where only 5 percent of electricity customers have power back.”

The translator device made some chugging noises, and then this appeared in the explanation box:
     “Really nothing short of a miracle that you got any help at all considering that most of you are brown-skinned people, not white like most of the Texans and Floridians, and considering that although you are U.S. citizens, you aren’t allowed to vote in presidential elections, so not one of you voted for me.”

In my dream, I had to admit that, properly translated, the statement wasn’t a lie. Next I typed in verbatim some of the promises Trump made about the replacement for Obamacare:
     “Our replacement for Obamacare will cover everybody… The premiums will be a lot less… There will be no cuts to Medicaid… People with pre-existing conditions will have coverage and all the protection they have under Obamacare… Nobody will suffer financially because of our bill.”

The translator spit out:
     “I would like our replacement to cover everybody, and cost less and blah, blah, whatever, but I couldn’t get the votes for that and what I really wanted is a win, even if it is the opposite of what I said, so I promised some things (but my fingers were crossed) to keep the public off our backs but it didn’t work, so none of my statements count, because I’m a winner, and only winning counts.”

I typed:
     “That’s a total witch hunt, the whole Russia story. It’s a hoax.”

The translator:
     “The Russian interference in the election, in addition to the hacking, made use of a number of hoaxes including fake Facebook accounts and ads. However, it was for a great and worthy cause, and as some great man said, ‘The end justifies the means.’ Oh wait, that great man was me.”

I typed in the first third of a single sentence from a verbatim transcript of a Trump speech in 2016:
“Look, having nuclear — my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart — you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world — it’s true! — but when you’re a conservative Republican they try — oh, do they do a number — that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune — you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged — but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me……”

The translator replied:
“I have so much on my mind, the best mind in history — we have to build the wall so we can stop, what’s his name, Kim Young Jong, and the Democrats who killed my health bill, not mine, the Republican losers, McConnor and Ryan, they aren’t Puerto Ricans, but they praised the best response in history, even Frederick Douglas said so, but I don’t let little details keep me from the big goals, hugest goals ever, I get on them like a bloodhound who never loses the trail and — Squirrel!!”

I woke up refreshed. Translated into non-Trump English, all his statements aren’t really lies. I feel much better now.

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Total Eclipse

Yesterday we stood beside our vehicle on the usually near-deserted highway near Mud Lake, Idaho, and watched the sun disappear. It was just me, brother Steve, friend Gail Kuntz, and many hundreds of our new friends parked along the road in the high desert. The atmosphere was smoky from forest fires in the Idaho wilderness north of us. The human atmosphere was electric.

In the far past, the disappearance of the sun caused great alarm. People gave primal screams of fear. Even after the sun reappeared, people figured they must have done something wrong to anger the gods, and vowed to change whatever it was they had done.

Still other people responded by thinking that what they had done had saved humanity by causing the gods to put the sun back where it belongs, and they vowed never to change what they had done. I think of these opposite beliefs as “the universe is half-empty” and “the universe is half-full.”

We let out our own primal screams when the moon took the first little bite of the sun, as did the people around us, but they were cries of admiration mixed with applause. Steve stated singing, “When the sun meets your eye like a big pizza pie” and those in our immediate vicinity sang or shouted, “That’s amore.”

When the sun finally disappeared like flipping off the light switch, we all shouted again at the incredibly beautiful corona stretching its blue fingers out of the black hole at its center. We didn’t watch it for the full two minutes because we couldn’t help admiring the 360-degree brilliant red sunset on the clouds and fire smoke in every direction. We were all applauding and shouting for joy.

When the light switch flipped back on and the world became instantly bright from just a tiny peep of the sun, Steve said, “It’s coming back. We aren’t going to die after all!” Several people around us took up the cry, “Hurray, we aren’t going to die.” We could have been more respectful, but humor is a big part of the way we deal with sorrow or joy, and everyone here was ecstatically joyful at this awesome event.

We waited until the sun was fully restored an hour later, having conversations like this:
Gail: Isn’t this incredibly odd?
Steve: Yes, and we are the odd coming to see the odd.
Me: That is the definition of an odyssey.

The only way our experience could have been better would have been for Bonnie Tyler to have been on that Idaho highway singing, at exactly the right time, her hit song:

Once upon a time I was falling in love,
But now I’m only falling apart.
And there’s nothing I can do —
A total eclipse of the heart.

This spirit-cleansing eclipse event came immediately after our president made it very clear that he could not blame the white supremacists and neo-Nazis any more than the counter-protesters for the violence at Charlottesville. Surely nobody can be surprised at this. His new and more moderate advisors got him to issue a more presidential statement condemning the KKK and Nazis, but his later tweets took all that back, something he has driven home with statements implying he may pardon the racist Arizona sheriff who targeted people because they were of Hispanic heritage.

As John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” put it, “It doesn’t get any easier [for a US president] than condemning Nazis.” I think the reason is obvious why he doesn’t. These are his people — every single one of them who voted, voted for him. The groups publicly endorse him and call him one of their own.

As many prominent Republicans sought to distance their views from those of the President, all those connected with the White House either refused to discuss the issue with the press or tried putting a positive spin on the president’s behavior. They missed out on a golden opportunity yesterday to provide an excuse that the public would have accepted.

They should have held a solar eclipse viewing at the White House for the press, and should have booked Bonnie Tyler to sing at the right moment:

Once upon a time I was living in love,
But now I’m only living in pain.
And there’s nothing I can do —
A total eclipse of the brain.

###

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What Senator Daines Should Have Said

Our Montana Senator Steve Daines raised some hopes that he might be one of the Republican holdouts in the Senate on health care when he made public statements that he was concerned about the secret process for writing the Senate health bill (though it is possible that his real concern was excluding Republican Senators like himself from the closed negotiations).

More importantly, a statement from his office to the Bozeman Chronicle on July 9 indicated that, while he had no position on the bill yet, he would look for three things in the bill: “We need to reduce premiums and make health care more affordable for Montana families, take care of those with pre-existing conditions so that they have access to care, and save and protect Medicaid for who it was originally intended for: the most vulnerable in our society.”

Then, after meeting with President Trump, Sen. Daines announced he would support complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act without replacement. He didn’t state the obvious — rates for tens of millions of Americans would indeed go down because they will lose their insurance altogether. People with pre-existing conditions will once again be unable to get insurance except at exorbitant rates. And Medicaid will eventually disappear if Republicans remain in power.

Perhaps our Senator didn’t have time to think about how that conflicts with his own three-part test, after being wooed by the President. Let me help him out. Here is what he should have said:

“I am proud to be a Republican and I believe in my party’s basic principles. There is no doubt that the Affordable Care Act is flawed. I agreed with our president when he said the House bill was “mean,” and that he wanted a health care act that would cover everyone, reduce premiums and deductibles, protect people with pre-existing conditions, and provide no cuts to Medicare or Medicaid. However, The Senate health care bill did not do that, which is why I would have voted against it.

“When the new proposal came up to repeal Obamacare altogether WITH NO REPLACEMENT, I was flabbergasted. I am a Christian, and most of my Senate colleagues claim they are Christian. No honest person can possibly think that Jesus would support a plan to take away insurance from 18 million people by next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and 32 million more by 2026, thereby leaving them to face life-or-bankruptcy decisions if severe illness or accidents occur.

“I have been a loyal Republican, and I want to see us follow our President’s prophetic vision of what health care should be in this country. However, when my president and my party choose a blatantly un-Jesus-like course, I must stand up and resist, otherwise my faith counts for nothing. They will never get my vote until there is a bill to implement the President’s vision to reduce costs and deductibles, increase coverage, protect people with pre-existing conditions, and protect the people — especially the children and the elderly — who rely on Medicaid. As a Christian who takes his faith seriously, I can do no other.”

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Father’s Day

Yesterday my siblings and I discovered a Father’s Day sermon preached by our dad, Rev. George Harper, at our Helena St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in June of 1962. His sermon began:

Something woke me up that night in 1932. A little boy, nine years old, I lay on my bed and tried to focus on just what it was. I could hear somebody talking. Suddenly I realized that Daddy had come home. It was after bedtime, but he had been gone all day, just as he had been gone all day the day before, and the day before that. We didn’t have a car, and no money for street car fare to town and back, so Dad had been walking.

I knew without looking that his leg which carried shrapnel from World War I was swollen twice its normal size, and I sensed without listening really that his news to mother was the same as it had been every day…miles of walking, dozens of doors opened at offices and factories, the same search for a job everywhere, and the same answer at every place: “No, we have nothing new. Sorry, Mr. Harper, we’d like to help you, but you know how it is. Check with us again later. Maybe something will turn up.”

But tonight mother and dad weren’t just talking. They were praying. God heard their prayers, and so did a nine-year-old boy; a father and mother praying not just for their own family, but for the other parents and families who had lost their income in the great depression. With all our family troubles, deeper and more serious than I could understand at the time, a father knelt by his bed and prayed for his neighbors and their troubles. And that prayer became an indelible part of me.

In his sermon, our dad then described his recent trip from Helena to Pensacola, Florida to see his parents. His father was dying. Dad continued:

When the crash of 1929 and the following depression had brought its full effect to Birmingham, Alabama, an industrial center, Dad was in partnership with others in a Metal Products Company. Unable to pay their bills, the other partners took bankruptcy and so cleared their debts from their books, if not from their consciences. But dad refused to do it. He said that he would pay back his creditors if it took the rest of his life to earn the money. In 1946, when I graduated from seminary, he paid back the last of that money.

It worried him that he couldn’t give his children all he would like to have given us in the way of things and spending money. But how much more he gave us he will never know! Because one day after I was a minister, and already a father myself, it struck me that the greatest gift my father could have given me was the one he did give: he made it easy for me to understand what Jesus meant when he called God “our Father.”

In his sermon, dad went on to describe a conversation with a girl at a camp when she described her own selfish, cruel father and why God the Father could not mean anything good to her. Dad knew that insisting on certain metaphors, even ones used by Jesus, as the whole truth about God could be damaging.

As Dad aged, his love of learning and his listening to the powerful women in his life expanded his God metaphors to include God as mother. Because of our mother and father, none of us Harper children had any trouble making that transition. My wife Pat made a feminist out of me, but my parents’ theology laid the groundwork.

Dad’s understanding of God and Jesus continued to evolve, so that by the end of his life, his concept of God was closer to that of Paul Tillich’s “Ground of Being” though I think Dad thought of it more as the “Source of Love.” I like a phrase from a beloved seminary professor and process theologian, John Cobb: “the Call Forward.”

As he neared his own death, our father’s wisdom became simpler, but still mirrored Jesus: love God (how ever you understand that which is beyond us and calls us to the good) and love others as you love yourself. If Father’s Day conjures up images that help you do that, then have a Joyful Father’s Day. If not, let it go and follow the role models and beliefs that make you a more complete and loving and fulfilled person.

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Thank You, Rob and Bonni Quist

Dear Rob and Bonni Quist,

Thank you for running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Thank you for putting your principles and your lives on the line for our state. Thank you for working as hard as you possibly could.

You knew that your good names and the good times you have provided through your music for hundreds of thousands of us would be thoroughly trashed by the millions of dollars from the millionaire opponent and his billionaire friends. Thanks for fighting the good fight and coming darn close, in part by raising so much money from people at $30 per contribution.

We know exactly what you went through with your medical expense troubles. When Pat got breast cancer, she had a good job with supposedly good insurance. The insurance refused to pay most of the costs, saying costs of healthcare in Montana were too high. After over two years of fighting with them, we gave up and settled for about half of what we still owed. On top of this, a family lawyer advised us to get divorced so that Rusty would still have some credit while Pat could declare bankruptcy.

We didn’t, but only because our doctor and her clinic forgave many tens of thousands of dollars of our remaining debt. Later, her clinic closed, we think because of her similar kindness toward many other patients like us.

You know about folks like us because you are one of us. You know that the majority of individual bankruptcies are for medical expenses in this country. You would have only been one voice in the U.S. Congress of Millionaires (for the first time in history a majority are just that), but you would have fought tooth and nail for all of us who are one serious illness away from either bankruptcy or facing the choice of not going to the doctor or receiving treatment because we don’t have good enough insurance.

Yes, you would have fought against the Republican attempts to take away public access to lands owned by all of us, and for women’s rights and civil rights and the environment and just about everything else we believe in. Money buys elections, which is why we middle class folks have fewer and fewer people to represent us in Congress. You would have been great. You would have cared. You would have listened without assaulting anyone.

In a democracy, we voters get what we deserve. We Montanans weren’t smart enough to deserve you, and many of us will pay the price for the heavy consequences.

Thank you for your sacrifice. We refuse to believe that our democracy will continue to be sold to the highest bidder when people like you are willing to put your good name on the line, your car on the road, and your core beliefs on display. Thank you both very much.

We appreciate what you did.

In deep gratitude,
Rusty and Pat Callbeck Harper
Helena

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Application for Press Secretary

Mr. President, this is my application to be your third assistant press secretary. If you are seeing this, it means I finally raised enough money to put this ad on Fox and Friends.

I meet or exceed all of your qualifications for the job:
1. I have never done the job so I am not burdened with the concerns of more experienced people such as truth-telling.
2. I want this job for completely selfish reasons. When I retired, I didn’t realize I would have less money than when I was working. I want to make a ton of money, which will not cost you one penny! Not one. In fact, I will be paying part of my own salary, because I pay federal income tax, but you don’t. I am a bargain at twice the normal pay.
3. As an English major, I have always maintained that great fiction contains deep truths that go beyond mere facts. This job is in my wheelhouse.
4. You do not need to fire anyone to give me the job, however much fun that would be. I do not want to be your primary press secretary and therefore available to be skewered by some woman on Saturday Night Live. However, if it did come to that, may I request that Sigourney Weaver play me? I would be honored to have her hold me up to public ridicule.
5. I can assure you that I will be the second greatest press secretary of all time, second only to yourself, sir, if you consider that you have been your own press secretary.
6. I will give you one example of how brilliant I would have been in a press briefing this week, for free, but after this I must be paid big bucks:

Liberal elite press lackey: When your boss, President Trump, arrived in Israel, he told a roomful of Israelis, “We just got back from the Middle East. We were in Saudi Arabia.” Does your boss not know that Israel is in the Middle East, or did he not know he was in Israel?

Me: Of course he knew he was in Israel. You are implying he is stupid, but he is so very smart that he officially withdrew Israel from the Middle East for their protection. He made Israel great again. Take that fake news purveyor. (me to the security guard) Never allow that guy in here again.

Another liberal press rabble-rouser: Your boss said he would replace Obamacare with insurance that would cost less and that would still protect people with pre-existing conditions, but he held a victory party for a bill that will take away the insurance from 23 million people and will remove the cost protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Why did he lie?

Me: (pointing to the woman who asked the question) She is a terrorist! Arrest her! (After she is dragged from the room). President Trump never lies. The people who don’t have insurance will be paying nothing at all in premiums. You can’t get less than that. As for people with pre-existing conditions, they can always make their own decisions about what to do when their insurance costs rise astronomically. They still have all their second amendment rights.

That concludes my application, Mr. President, on Fox as you require. I have only one condition, other than a YUGE salary: My wife will kill me if she finds out I am working for you. I will only take the job if you allow me to use a stage name. I will call myself Greg Gianforte. Reporters will ask questions of me at their own peril.

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In Defense of Whining

Things are heating up in DC. For many of us, it feels like all we can do is whine about the politicians, and, for those of us in Montana, the weather (winter storm warning earlier this week.) We have about the same amount of control over both.

Steve Garnaas Holmes wrote a fine song for the Montana Logging and Ballet Company, the chorus of which went:
We’ve got problems, but that’s just fine,
I don’t won’t to solve them, I just want to whine.

Let me say my own good word in defense of whining. A good word or two, but not a good poem. Don’t complain about it to me.

In Defense of Whining

Each Montana spring is like Seattle showers,
It may last long days or it might be just hours.
But each spring is perfect for manly pursuits,
Like running or fishing in big wading boots,
Drinking beer from a keg, telling off-color jokes,
And buying expensive cigars no one smokes,
Lifting weights in the gym, and the long list goes on —
But never for me, I’m stuck mowing the lawn.

It’s not self-propelled, it’s the kind that you push,
It should make me strong, with a small manly tush.
Instead I’ll be sweaty and winded and sneezing,
And feeling my age with a long bout of wheezing.

“Are you done complaining?” Pat asks, “I must say,
You’d be finished by now, but you wasted the day,
And the grass isn’t cut, so now get up and go.”
—-“Hey, honey, I can’t. Look! It’s starting to snow.”

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