O Canada

I am a man who can admit my many biases. I freely confess they have caused me to criticize our President frequently, especially my bias against policies that are immoral. (What? His policy is to take children away from their parents? And his Attorney General quoted the Bible to show God approves of it? And then the President claimed the Democrats passed a law that made him do it? Then he showed that was false by signing an order to stop the separations, but refused to do anything about the 2300 children already separated? But his majority party in the House and Senate still won’t take action?)

Still, nobody likes a whiner, and so, you may ask, when am I going to do something positive in relation to our President? Soon, I answer. I will offer to be supportive of him for one week. I’ll buy an ad on Fox and Friends and say this:

“Mr. President, hire me as your foreign policy advisor for a week! That’s just a little shorter than the average staff time in the White House. For a week I will ignore my conscience (it won’t mind — it’s used to being ignored) and propose a bold project you will love bigly.

“If humiliating Canada is the goal because they are our closest ally, then I say build a gigantic wall along our entire northern border. Make it 100 feet high, since they’ve got long ladders. No, make it 30,000 feet high, since they have small planes.

“Allow US vigilante committees to patrol the wall, asking everyone who fits the Canadian racial stereotype (white, wearing a parka) to say, ‘The mouse ran out of the house,’ and arresting anyone who says ‘moose,’ ‘oot,’ and/or ‘hoose,’ or ends a sentence with ‘eh?’ The vigilante groups will be allowed to use abusive invective (that’s calling them bad names, sir), because the Canucks will try to disarm them with politeness.

“Every morning, sir, you can tweet some new insult about Trudeau, with me feeding you imaginative ones like ‘Your mother wears combat boots,’ or ‘You’re so dumb you think Manual Labor is a Mexican immigrant. He’s the president of Mexico and he hates you too.’

“You can order the arrest of any Canadian hockey, basketball, soccer, or baseball teams if they try to cross the border. Then you allow your favorite American teams (the ones with the fewest black players) to draft the best Canadians and pay them minimum wage. Lower actually, because they are immigrants.

“You can find everyone named Trudeau living in the US and humiliate them by forcing them to wear a big ‘T’ around their neck….wait, that could stand for Trump. Scratch that one.

“You can announce that you have patented the song ‘O Canada’ and will charge them an exorbitant remuneration to sing it. (That’s very big fees, sir.)

“You can announce an automatic pardon for anyone who tries to catapult garbage over the huuuge wall.

“You can decree that any American can be arrested for being polite, because it shows they are probably Canadian spies trying to steal our recipe for Canadian bacon.

“It would NOT work to announce that Canadian children will be taken from their parents, because they are mostly white.

“This wall will also prevent any Americans from leaving who are trying to flee to Canada because of the situation in our nation. Let them suffer like the rest of us.

“Then that sad, sad little man, what’s-his-name Trudeau, will come crawling to beg you to reinstate the trade agreement on whatever terms you allow. You will say, ‘Too late, sucker! Unlike my pal, Kim Jong Young, you have no beaches we want.’

“What do you think? Wouldn’t one week’s employment be worth it to have a Make America Grate on Canada policy for a week? Everybody I know would call you a stable genius for it.

“Call me so we can negotiate a suitable salary. I’ve heard about your negotiating skills and I and my investment advisor look forward to it.”

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Hope for Our Nation, at Last!

I am hopeful for our nation for the first time in a very long time.

Pat and I were among many hundreds who just attended a March for Our Lives rally organized by young students in Helena. It was one of the more than 800 that took place today across our country after the example of high school students from Parkland, Florida.

The rally was fun, with colorful signs like these:
“Protect the Born Children”
“PTA Not the NRA”
“Arms are for Hugs”
“I Have the Right to Live, no Matter what the NRA Says”
“If a Child Hits Another Child with a Stick, We don’t Blame the Stick, But we take it Away”
and our favorite: “Grab ’em by the Ballots.”

The young people (many of them eighth graders!) who spoke were breathtakingly articulate. They knew their facts. They made it clear they come from homes with hunters, and that they support the second amendment. However, they demanded: (1) gun education and safety programs for adults as well as young people, including requirements to lock up all guns so children cannot get their hands on them; (2) Universal background checks. “It shouldn’t take me less time to buy a gun than to buy a car”; (3) No military assault weapons for civilians. Their only purpose is to kill large numbers of people in a short time; and (4) People who have been convicted of domestic violence, or who have documented mental problems, or who are on a “no fly” list should not have a gun of any sort.

I didn’t realize how depressed I have been about the downward spiral of our nation under a mentally ill president, a majority party that lacks both a conscience and backbone, and a minority party with leaders who are resistant to new ideas, even when the old ones aren’t working anymore. I have been so down I haven’t even been able to write a Friday Good News, a self-indulgent blog for a few friends with the sole purpose of me not completely losing my sense of humor.

I once again have hope for our nation because of these spectacular young people, though I know it won’t happen all at once. Our nation has gone through a rebirth because of youth once before — in the 60s and 70s because of resistance to the Viet Nam War. The reason then was the same as now — young people fearing for their lives and not being willing to take it any more.

We might be living at the dawn of a rebirth of our nation, if we are willing to follow the lead of our youth. Our nation and our world will be better if we do.

It probably won’t come in time for me to recover my sense of humor, but as one of the great philosophers said, “If you try to tell a joke and no one gets it, at least no one is laughing at you.” I think it was Plato. Or Sarah Palin.

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I was rummaging through some old boxes yesterday and ran across a page of sayings and stories jotted down for future use by our father, the late Rev. George Harper.

Like every good comedian-theologian, I’m sure he used each in exactly the right time and place. You can figure whether any of these work for you.

**You can tell if you are on the right track. It’s usually uphill.

**Those who can’t forget are worse off than those who can’t remember.

**It’s okay to drink like a fish, if you drink what a fish drinks.

**Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.

**The person who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the person who can ‘t read.

**At Penn State, four sophomores in a chemistry class were certain they were getting an A. The weekend before the final test, they partied all weekend and were so hungover they got up too late Monday for the test. They explained to the professor they were visiting friends back home and had a flat tire. The professor agreed to allow them to make up the test the next day. After studying hard that day and evening, the students showed up the next morning, only to have the professor put them in four different rooms to take the final. There were two pages on the test. The first page was a fairly simple chemistry problem, with a note at the bottom that it was worth 5% of the grade. On page 2, which was labeled “95% of the grade,” was only one question. “Which tire?”

**Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain.

**We can only live in the here and now. Always be of service here and now.

**No matter what may be your lot in life, build something on it.

**Life is like a taxicab. The meter keeps running whether we are going anywhere or not.

**A woman took her son aside after a basketball game and asked, “Son, do you know what a team is?” He nodded yes.
“Do you understand that you win or lose as a team, and not as an individual?” He nodded again.
“Do you know that when a foul is called, you should not argue or curse, and you must not call the referee a jerk?” Again a nod.
“And when they take you off the court so that some other boy gets a chance to play, do you know it is not good sportsmanship to call your coach a dumb bastard? Do you understand that?” The boy said, “Yes mom.”
“Good. Now go explain all of that to your father.”

**Life’s journey keeps opening ahead of us, even when we can’t see around the dogleg of the future. So keep moving.

**No matter how many friends you have, the number of folks at your funeral will always be determined by the weather.

**Play your best and then step off the field.

That’s the way to start out a new year — ready to laugh and not take ourselves too seriously, and looking to say the right thing at the right time and place.

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A Name for 2017

If you had to name 2017, what would you call it?

I could call this the year the giants died. Mignon Waterman, Bob Ream, Dorothy Eck, Sue Bartlett, Laurie Skillman. Some of the finest human beings and role models in this small part of the world all went together. Who will hold up the sky now?

I could call this the year of the Big Lie, but which big lie would I pick? That the tax bill is a triumph for the middle class instead of billionaires feeding at the public trough? That an “America First” foreign policy will make us safer and not drive away our allies and threaten our very survival? That the Russians didn’t swing the election and aren’t trying to destroy our democracy? That Trump cares about people who aren’t billionaires? That Nazis and white supremacists are good people, no different from those who oppose them? That destroying Obamacare will make insurance cheaper and more available to all? That building a wall will keep Mexicans from taking our jobs? That all Muslims are evil and all Christians who are Republican are good? That women who complain against any Republican are liars and have loose morals as opposed to those virtuous victims who complain against Democrats? That scientists can’t be trusted unless they say what Republicans want? Maybe I’ll call it the year of the Big Liar.

I could call this the year when we officially became a Kleptocracy. Kleptocracy: Government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed. (Merriam-Webster)

Yes, our nation has always been oriented toward the well-to-do, and has had frequent periods where the government operates to help those who don’t need help and to penalize the neediest among us.

The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in 2009 ruled that corporations have the right of free speech, which means that the rich can spend unlimited amounts to buy elections, and can do it without revealing who is behind the attack. The Supreme Court legalized what was already happening here.

In every nation, whether its government is some form of democracy or dictatorial rule or even communism, the wealthy arrange for special treatment for themselves at the expense of the many. So when does a nation merit the term “kleptocracy,” a term I have seen in multiple sources applied to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the Communist elite in China, and numerous third-world dictatorships?

Common themes of kleptocracy are these:
**Key government officials are appointed because they are family members or friends despite lacking the experience or skills to do the jobs. (Think Ivanka, Donald Jr., Jared Kushner and a great many other unqualified appointed by Trump.)

**There is absolute secrecy about the financial activities of the government elite. (Of course Trump won’t release his taxes. Kleptocrats never do.)

**The wealthiest citizens receive special perks for themselves and their businesses in return for supporting whatever the government does. (The Center for American Progress reports that the 66 lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, who were in charge of writing the tax bill changing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, have received a total of $1.5 billion in corporate contributions in their collective careers.)

**The rulers personally gain enormous wealth while in positions of power. (By not having his fortune in a blind trust, and by having relatives in charge of his holdings and in government positions, Trump makes sure that foreign entities know how to gain his favor by doing business with his companies. Then add in the millions he will gain from the “Tax Reform” bill while claiming he wouldn’t make a penny. In other countries such actions are called “bribery” and “corruption.”)

Enough for the kleptocracy of 2017 and good riddance to it.

I predict that 2018 will be a year of renewal in America.
I predict that 2018 will be the year when the feminist movement, the human rights movement, the environmental movement, the union movement, the pro-democracy movement and the desire for basic human decency make the beginnings of a strong comeback in the United States of America, which will be wonderful for the entire world.

I predict it won’t be easy. Many of our giants here in Montana are gone. We ordinary people will have to join together to help win back a viable future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and the planet.

May God help us use truth, love, tolerance, and intelligence to help make America good again.

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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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