Category Archives: Essays

Guns, Votes and Demented Priorities

Last week the state of Texas loosened gun restrictions.  That’s almost incomprehensible in a state that already boasts some of the most relaxed (weakest) firearm regulations in the nation.  But, for the hamster-dick right-wing extremists that dominate the Texas state legislature, any kind of gun restriction is a prospect more terrifying than a bunch of angry Black and Brown women storming into a Proud Boys meeting armed with attitudes and hair brushes.

And that’s pretty much who comprises both the Texas state legislature and the Proud Boys: old and middle-aged White men pissed off the world is no longer theirs to play with.  Thus, they assert control the only way they know how – with guns.

Now, in Texas, people no longer need a license or even proper training to tote a firearm anywhere within the state’s 268,597 sm. (695,663 km).

Gosh, what could possibly go wrong?

Gun rights advocates have always proclaimed that responsible firearm owners have nothing to fear and the general public has nothing to fear from responsible firearm owners.  But they’ve also screamed that any measure of regulation is a step towards elimination.  They’ve warned about those proverbial “slippery slope” dilemmas, even though any nearby slope is slippery because of all the spittle flying out their chapped lips from screaming about gun rules.

Someone with more than half a brain stop the madness!

Contrast that shenanigans with the new voting regulations – restrictions – the same state legislature imposed shortly before then.  Those rules limit early voting hours, ban drive-through voting and require large counties to redistribute polling places that could move sites away from areas with more Hispanic and Black residents.

The voting measures don’t surprise me.  Ever since Barack Obama won his first election – fairly, legitimately and without question – legions of (mostly White) conservatives in state legislatures around the country have done everything they could to ensure that never happens again.

Conservatives have spouted the usual rhetoric about protecting the integrity of the voting process, just as they claim the need to protect their right (their right) to own firearms.  I’ve noticed many of those old men – allegedly tough and strong – always express some degree of paranoia; their fear of someone invading their property and hurting their loved ones.  Therefore, their guns are readily available.  Stupid, paranoid people in the U.S. always reach for their guns and Christian Bibles when things look scary.

Strangely, though, they’ve long since recognized the power of the vote.  Voting is actually more powerful and with longer lasting effects than firearms.  A bullet could kill someone.  A vote can put someone in office who will enact legislation that may alter society for decades.

And thus, they are scared.

It’s almost laughable if it wasn’t so serious.  Right-wing extremists always seem to forget – or perhaps, never truly understood – that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the first amendment for a reason.  You vote first to enact and ensure change in society.  Then again, as I stated above, perhaps they do understand the significance of voting – and that’s why they do what they can to assure that only people with their similar and limited intellectual prowess can vote.  With their guns and Bibles by their sides.

My parents told me of seeing television footage of White police officials attacking Black citizens protesting against discrimination and segregation laws and trying to vote in the Deep South in the 1950s and 60s.  I recall my father, in particular, telling me that the former Soviet Union would display those images on their own TVs and point out this was an example of democracy.

The U.S. always promoted itself as a beacon of democracy; a government of and by the people.

I’ve seen those black-and-white images of 1950s and 1960s America in various retrospectives of a time how we used to be.  Considering what conservative-dominated states legislatures have done to voting and gun laws in recent years, I keep seeing those old images in contemporary colors.

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Notes on Normal

A sign of hope for America.

Things are beginning to return to the way they were.  At least for me.  I found Lysol® at the store last week!  It’s a small – yet strangely ridiculous – sign of hope.  Maybe not so much strange as pathetic.  I mean, are things really so out of whack that we get excited about Lysol and toilet paper?

Last year started off rough for me, when my mother suffered a debilitating stroke.  I reluctantly had to place her in a rehabilitation facility to help her heal.  Her dementia only intensified matters.  Then the pandemic hit.  And then the facility practically evicted her in May of 2020 because her Medicare benefits expired.  She finally passed at the end of June.

The stress of caring for both of my elderly parents for so long seemed to hit afterwards as my body and mind almost completely collapsed.  In the midst of a global plague, I naturally thought I had “The Virus”.  But it was just that relentless stress.  I already knew its effects from life in the working world.  Yet I’d never felt it so personally.

Alas, the U.S. economy is regaining strength, for which conservatives are crediting Donald Trump.  But those of us with more than a few brain cells know Trump’s actions and behavior throughout his thankfully single term in office traumatized the American psyche and steered our financial situation into greater distress.

We finally have a president, though, who know how to act…well, presidential!  Joe Biden may be an old codger, but as someone rapidly headed towards 60, I’d rather have an old man who knows how to govern than a failed businessman / tax cheat / cretin of a human being who brags about fondling women and holds up a bible like it’s a copy of Mein Kompf for a cheap photo op.

Earlier this week I started working on a temporary job – one that requires me to actually get into my truck and drive to an office building in a neighboring suburb.  Aside from having to wear a face mask whenever I leave my desk, it’s a rather normal and ordinary corporate environment.  Oddly, it feels good to go somewhere other than a store or a restaurant during the week.

Some other things, however, remain troublesome.  Like its owner, my 15-year-old vehicle is showing its age.  I really think it just wants to lead a life of its own – much like my body.  Unfortunately, I’ve gained too much weight over the past several months.  I believe that’s a recurring problem.  But rotund physiques have become a common sight here in the U.S.  If I’d known better, I would have invested in sweat pants years ago!

Regardless, I still see hope on the horizon of mediocre.  Now, I must do some sit-ups and enjoy spraying that Lysol.

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Flushed

The recent scandal involving Meghan Markle and Prince Harry has overwhelmed the national media both here in the U.S. and in the U.K.  I still don’t care what goes on with the British royal family and maintain that American media still hasn’t figured out most Americans just don’t give a shit what that band of over-glorified miscreants do or say.  The Windsors are among the handful of Europe’s royal clans that survived the carnage of two global conflicts within a half century.  And, like the other families, they don’t wield any real political power.  They’re merely figureheads.  They may be an institution, but their extravagant lifestyles are supported by taxpayers.

In the U.S. the closest we’ve ever had to a true royal family is from the Kingdom of Hawaii, which still exists – at least in name.  Their power was squashed when the United States formally annexed Hawaii in 1897; a process that began with the usual cadre of White Christian missionaries who thought then – as now – that they knew what was best for the locals.

The interview Meghan and Harry had with Oprah Winfrey about Meghan’s apparently unpleasant experiences with the Windsors proved eye-opening to many – mainly the Windsors and their ardent supporters.  You know – people who aren’t too aware of the world around them.

The only member of the British royal family I liked was the late Princess Diana.  She exuded a sense of class and grace unmatched by any of the Windsor clan.  While she held the formal title of princess, she did more than just look glamorous.  She used her position to raise awareness about the AIDS crisis (a very taboo subject in the 1980s) and landmines in Africa; the result of unfettered wars and European colonialism.  Her boldness with these matters shocked the staid and cloistered Windsors.  Her death traumatized so many.  I think the Windsors were overwhelmed by the amount of love and compassion people across the globe had for Diana and startled by the fact so many Britons would rather have her back than have the British royal family.  In other words, people would much rather see Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles drop dead.  How’s that for public opinion?!

I feel that Diana’s class and grace live on in her sons, William and Harry.  Both served in the British military and have engaged in a number of civic activities to further the cause of humanity.  Meghan Markle adds to that sense of grace.  But, as unsurprising as her allegations are, I’m still upset by her treatment at the hands of her in-laws.  It hints at the disrespect heaped onto non-Whites in the upper echelons of regal European societies.  Like most Europe’s royal families, the British royal clan is at the historical heart of European colonialism, genocide and racist oppression.  The British Crown stormed through Africa, Asia and the Western Hemisphere for centuries, resulting in the deaths of millions and the plundering of cultural treasures.  Two of the United Kingdom’s greatest losses came in the 20th century: Canada and India.  And they still haven’t figured out the sun has set on their empire.

I’m impressed with Harry’s response though.  Instead of trying to defend or explain his family’s supposed attitude towards Meghan, he did what literally millions have men have done since the beginning of time: he came to the defense of his wife, the mother of his child.  He also expressed love for his father, which I don’t doubt.  But it’s obvious Harry is a much different type of royal – whatever that’s supposed to entail.

I have a unique and tenuous connection to the British royal family – emphasis on tenuous.  In September of 1951 King George VI had his entire left lung removed.  A chronic smoker, George had already suffered health scares related to his habit.  My paternal grandfather, Epimenio De La Garza, was also a chronic smoker.  By his own admission he’d begun smoking around the age of 6, which would be 1899 for him.  By 1951 he was in dire straits.  Around the exact same time King George had his lung surgery, my grandfather had his in a hospital in Dallas, Texas.  The connection?  Some of the doctors who worked on King George attended medical school with some of the doctors who worked on my grandfather.  George died the following February.  My grandfather died 17 years later.  Shortly after George’s death, one of my grandfather’s brothers told my father and his 2 brothers that money, power and the best medical care it can provide can’t save anyone if the “main doctor” – meaning God – wants them.

Whatever becomes of the British royal family after this latest fiasco lingers in a strained future.  I just want Meghan Markle to know she doesn’t need their approval for any aspect of her life.  She’s better than that.

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We Could Have Had Beto

Texas, we could have had Beto O’Rourke as U.S. Senator.  Instead, a slight majority voted to keep Ted Cruz in office in 2018.  I emphasize “slight majority” because – unlike his 2012 victory over Paul Sadler – Cruz didn’t well…cruise to a reelection win.

In the summer of 2018, O’Rourke, then a U.S. House Representative, shocked the Texas Republican Party and political observers alike when he raised several million dollars in a very short time.  It was no minor feat; accomplished by literally cold-calling people and pounding the pavement all over the state, gathering small amount donations from average citizens.  O’Rourke also did something no other Texas candidate for the U.S. Senate had done: he visited every single county in the state.  Some residents were stunned upon his arrival, as their county had no record of such a candidate stopping by.  Again, this was no minor task.  Texas boasts 267 counties in roughly 268,597 square miles (695,663 sq. km).  It’s half the size of Alaska and as big as some of Europe’s largest countries, such as Spain and France.  So, O’Rourke disturbed the evangelical conservative force that’s dominated Texas politics for generations; first as Democrats and now as Republicans.

For many Texas Hispanics – especially someone like me whose ancestry in this state goes back before there was a United States – Cruz’s win in 2012 was a distinct insult.  Cruz, a Canadian-born Cuban-Italian, was lauded as the state’s first Hispanic senator.  Cruz is to Hispanics what I am to Nigerians.

More significantly, though, Cruz is known for his antagonistic approach to political navigations once he got to Washington, as well as his failed 2016 presidential bid.  He and Donald Trump ended up battling for the final nomination.  In what I considered a case of choosing the lesser of two evils, Cruz would have been that lesser one.  But, I’ve only voted Republican once in my life and have let myself live to regret it; thus I don’t know what shenanigans rumbled through the brains of Trump acolytes.  The animosity between Cruz and Trump became even more palpable during the 2016 Republican National Convention, when the Texan gave his speech and did everything he could NOT to say the name Donald Trump, as the crowd booed and jeered.  The tension was so high that Secret Service agents removed Cruz’s wife, Heidi, from the convention floor.

By 2018, though, Cruz had done little to advance a pro-citizen agenda.  In all fairness, O’Rourke had no significant legislative achievements during his tenure either.  I guess I was mistaken in believing we elect people to such prestigious positions to actually…you know, do something.  I must be a damn fool!  But that year I eagerly jumped on the O’Rourke train, donating money and proudly voting for him.

Alas, it was for naught.  Cruz squeezed into another term, sweating and hyperventilating all the way.  It was enough to upset that right-wing force in Texas politics, but Cruz made it back to Washington anyway.

Then came the ice.  Like a herd of Central American immigrants carrying loads of bananas stuffed with cocaine (a conservative’s second worst nightmare after queer marriage), Winter Storm Uri ambushed Texas.  Meteorologists had warned state and energy industry officials about its strength.  When most Texans think of hurricanes, they conjure images of Katrina and Harvey, not a snow-laden monstrosity from the Pacific or (hah-ha) Canada.

As millions of Texans found themselves without power – and, in some cases, water – state leaders began blaming liberals and their green energy ideas for the catastrophe.  And Ted Cruz left his comfortable Houston abode to jet to Cancun because his 2 daughters wanted to go.  He was there for all of one day before the angry heat from his constituents melted his margarita and his resolve and he scurried back to Houston; hoping no one would notice.

We noticed.  We also noticed that at least 80 Texans died last week directly as a result of the ice storm.

Cruz hopscotched across the stage of excuses to explain his sudden departure and miraculous return.  Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke began raising money for Texans stranded in their darkened homes and even made calls to some of them.  He got help from one of the most demonized figures among conservatives in American politics: New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, as Texas state leaders continue blaming everyone else for the catastrophe, Ted Cruz left Texas again and headed for Orlando, Florida to attend the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC).  In summation it’s a yearly festival where right-wingers trash anyone even slightly to the left of their narrow-minded ideology.  At this year’s escapade, a gold-colored figure of Trump has taken center stage.

And so has Cruz.  Making light of his Cancun trip, he quipped: “I’ve got to say, Orlando is awesome.  It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice.”

Oh, ha-ha!  HURK!

Fuck you, Cruz.  Fuck you and your conservative philosophies.  Fuck you and the Texas Republican “leaders” who can’t admit their pro-business, anti-regulation antics over the past decades put us into this quagmire.  People suffered and people died during this mess!  One of the wealthiest states in the richest nation on Earth in the third decade of the 21st century should not have experienced such a calamity!

But I’m just venting.  Texas, we could’ve had Beto.

Image: Mike Luckovich

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Powered Down

The Texas state capital building in Austin

The memo was clear.  Everyone should make a concerted effort to get into the office, no matter what the weather is like.  That included winter storms.  It was the mid-1990s, and the manager of the department where I worked in a bank in downtown Dallas insisted that business was paramount.  This was seemingly light years before the Internet and telecommuting became dependable and functional.  And every time ice and snow paralyzed the Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area I managed to make it into work.  One week day I awoke to sleet falling outside of my apartment bedroom window; it was about 4 in the morning.  I knew the weather would only worsen, so I shut off my alarm clock and readied for work.  Travel time from my far North Dallas abode into downtown took almost 2 hours by navigating ice-laden streets.  When I arrived just before 8 a.m., I literally had to turn on the lights in the department.

When I went to work for an engineering company shortly after the turn of the century, I ended up back in downtown Dallas, laboring on a contract for a government agency.  I learned quickly the federal outfit had a phobia of snow and ice.  They’d literally shut down when snow began descending upon the city.  As contractors, my colleagues and I had to vacate the premises as well.  One afternoon a monstrous rainstorm attacked, and – in a faux frenzy – I asked loudly if we had to leave the building.  Rain, I declared, was just liquid snow.  No such luck.  We had to continue laboring over our strained keyboards.  Everyone laughed.

Last weekend Winter Storm Uri catapulted into North America from the Pacific, generating ice storms that blanketed the state of Texas this week and inducing an even more paralyzing effect: our power grid shut down.  Literally millions of people have lived without power (and in some cases, without water) since this past weekend.  As of this moment, most homes have their power back.  But a lack of water is now the problem.  Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Texas related to the event has risenDallas-Fort Worth International Airport led the world in the number of flight cancellations this week.

This has been a cataclysm of unimaginable proportions.  I have experienced a slew of serious weather events and witnessed plenty of incidents of government incompetence, but I have NEVER seen anything like this!

What has occurred here in Texas this week is a prime example of the ineptness of conservative ideology and intense deregulation.  Texas is an energy island; producing its own energy and relying upon no one else.  The exception is far West Texas, where El Paso and its immediate surrounding communities experienced the same weather event, yet had no power outages.  That strong sense of independence and individual reliability looks great in political campaigns, but doesn’t always turn out well in real life.  Since the mid-1990s, Texas has had the habit of electing the biggest morons to public office.  And they’ve come to dominate state government.  Texas conservatives have done more to protect gun rights than basic human rights.

Now many of those same conservatives who always espouse the concept of personal responsibility are pointing their gnarly fingers at everyone and everything except themselves and their own disjointed attitudes.  Even though President Joe Biden approved emergency relief for Texas, some Republicans are accusing him of indifference.  They somehow missed Ted Cruz running off to Cancun, México this week because his kids wanted to go.  Governor Greg Abbott has blamed green energy and the Green New Deal for the crisis.  Green energy, however, only makes up about 10% of energy sources in Texas, and the Green New Deal hasn’t even gone into effect yet.  But they’re liberal programs, so of course, Republicans consider them demonic and will trash their mere presence whenever they get the chance.  Abbott also blames the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for mishandling the event, but still hasn’t looked in the mirror.

A ceiling fan in a Dallas apartment building sprouted icicles.

This debacle points to the vulnerability of modern societies that have come to rely upon optic fibers and wires; a weakness that would both appall and humor our hardy ancestors.  In March of 1888, a massive winter storm assaulted the Northeastern U.S., downing power lines and disabling even modest commutes in the region’s largest cities.  People in rural areas, however, lived through the storm and its effects without much trouble.  They were accustomed to such weather anyway and prepared for it.

Preparedness – the word of 2021.

Consider this irony.  Earlier on Thursday, the 18th, NASA was able to land a vehicle on Mars.  The endeavor cost millions of dollars and is an epic triumph in the name of science and technology.  But we can’t get power and water to millions of human beings here in Texas – on planet Earth – for several days.

That’s not just sad; it’s unbelievably outrageous.

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Angry Soul

Have you ever been so angry you literally want to scream or just destroy something?  I’ve had too many days like that, especially when I was working in a corporate environment.  That’s how I felt today.  It was truly one of Those Days.  You know the kind – when everything seems to go wrong, virtually from the start.  I won’t bore you folks with the agonizing details.  But, as it all came to a frustrating end, I can only engage in the most practical of activities: eat cheese and drink red wine.  What the hell did you expect from The Chief?!

Trick question: how do you relieve all that anger?

Traditionally I’ve retreated to my usual standbys – exercise, writing, alcohol, masturbation…things that make all the bad shit go away.  So far, I have 3 out of those 4 today.

But one of my lifelong vices has been holding onto bad stuff for a loooooong time.  Too damn long!  I didn’t just hold grudges.  I relived certain events or incidents and even conversations where I had the last word and the best ending.  The result always concluded in my favor.

Fantasy is nice – when reality is so brutally bland or appalling.

I’ve learned to save fantasy for my dreams and writing potential, which usually coalesce.  I’ve learned to let go of past events, incidents, episodes, altercations, conversations…people.  I guess that comes with age…I mean, maturity.  Understand, dear readers, I’m still holding onto middle age.  The way a drowning person holds onto a life preserver.  But holding on nonetheless.  And I resolved years ago that I would never get “old”.  Whatever the hell old is supposed to mean.  But more importantly, I’ve learned to let go of stupid shit.  It’s always held me back from achieving my grandest goals.  It can hold anyone back.

Anger is one of those elements that robs people of their emotional and psychological freedom.  I know it would be almost too easy to bemoan what a bad day I had today.  One of Those Days where EVERYTHING seemed to go wrong.  It would have been easy to be rude to a store clerk or tear out of a parking lot.  But what good would any of that have done?

I’m not proselytizing.  I hate when people do that!  Yet I’ve realized – in my maturity – that some things just go wrong on occasion.  Sometimes it’s catastrophic; other times it just irritates the living daylights out of us.

But we have to deal with it and move forward.

I’m staying home this evening – and having more red wine.

A real question: how do you handle your anger?

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Don’t You Understand? They’re Victims!

“The Devil made me do it!”

Flip Wilson

You have to understand something about the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6.  They’re not entirely responsible for their actions.  They had merely responded to the words of their newly-formed deity, Donald Trump.  In the hours leading up to the siege, Trump had infused them with idea that he had been wronged by the voting process; that the 2020 elections had been manipulated by covert gangs of leftist forces determined to enforce abortions and gun confiscations upon helpless, red-blooded, bible-carrying Christian American citizens to ensure his loss.  He was a victim, Trump maintained, and vicariously so were his minions.

CHARGE!!!!!!!!!

Thus, the Trumpians had been victimized by the same queer-loving renegades and they were justified in storming the Capitol, tearing through offices, screaming like children told to come in for dinner, threatening others because they got their feelings hurt – all while dressed like ghosts of the Civil War and refugees from a Comic-Con conference gone wrong.

Please!

The Capitol Hill warriors are no more victims of enraged rhetoric than porn stars are of poor script-writing.  For years conservatives have proclaimed the tenets of individual freedom and personal responsibility.  They declared such values in reactive angst to a welfare society and relentless victimhood proclamations.

They loathed when non-White people bemoaned centuries of Euro-colonial oppression and systemic racism.  They rolled their eyes at the thought of women hollering about sexual harassment in the workplace and on college campuses.  They snickered at queer folks complaining of innate homophobia on the job and in school.

Then the U.S. Congress met on January 6, 2021 to certify Joe Biden as the winner of last year’s presidential contest, and – as Dante Alighieri once wrote – all hell broke loose.

The Trumpian crowd became maddened by the process and felt they had no other recourse but to subvert that constitutional mechanism in the most violent manner possible.  Their voices and votes had been ignored and they had to stop the madness.

So, in the name of Ronald Reagan, where the hell was all that talk of personal responsibility?  Where were the people to take ownership of themselves and their actions?  In other words, why do the Capitol Hill rioters suddenly see themselves as victims of…well, anything?!

They all sound like a bunch of – oh, God!  A bunch of minorities, women and queers!  Pass the rifle and heaven forbid!  Now these “victims” have placed themselves in the same category as tree-loving, pot-smoking, Muslim-loving liberals!

What’s going to happen next?  The magnetic poles will switch sides – like communist traitors – and life as we know will extinguish itself?

Again – please!

I personally don’t care to hear the anguished state of mind of these mentally- challenged pencil-dick and cavern-cunt imps.  What happened with last year’s presidential elections is something known as democracy.  It’s the sustenance upon which civilized societies survive.  We cannot exist without it.  The goons who stormed the Capitol three weeks ago didn’t fall victim to the verbiage of Donald Trump; they were victims of their own damned stupidity.  If they truly were swayed by Trumpian oratory, they are as gullible as a child believing in Santa Claus.  They roared into that building because what was left of their brain cells had perished in the swamp of their own hysteria.

It’s just so incredibly interesting that these right-wing extremists who wrap themselves in the American flag and cry freedom – while waving the loser traitorous Confederate flag – are suddenly helpless and violated.  They couldn’t help themselves.  Their faux president told them to do it.

The reality is quite simple: they’re violent and they’re stupid.  But they aren’t victims.

Flip Wilson on “The Ed Sullivan Show” January 11, 1970

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Dead Friend

Have you ever had a friend with whom you disagree on something?  You know what I mean – someone you’ve known for a while; shared things with; commiserated with; know some of their family; treated to lunch or dinner for their birthdays.  I have a few of those friends.  As a bonafide introvert, I don’t have many friends in the first place, so I value those relationships I’ve managed to maintain over any length of time.

I had one such friend, Pete*, until recently.  He and I have known each other for over 30 years.  Ironically, we attended the same parochial grade school in Dallas.  I didn’t know him back then, as he’s three years younger.  Even more curious is that our fathers had known each other; they grew up in the same East Dallas neighborhood and attended the same high school.  When Pete’s father died several years ago, my father was heartbroken, as the two hadn’t spoken in a while.  I attended the funeral service at a church in downtown Dallas.  In turn, Pete attended my father’s memorial service in 2016; his sister and her young daughter joined him.

Pete used to host annual Christmas gatherings at his apartment; his sister and her two sons, along with many of that family’s mutual friends, joining us.  In effect, I became part of their family.  I was fond of Pete’s parents, as he was of mine, and was truly excited when one of his nephews joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006.

So what happened?

Politics.

Last month “The New Yorker” published an editorial on the sudden and unexpected support for Donald Trump among Latinos.  In Texas trump won a larger share of the Latino vote in the last election than he did in 2016.  Reading the piece left me stunned – and curious.  How could a man who made such derogatory comments about Mexicans in general, the same one who hurtled rolls of paper towels at people in Puerto Rico, find greater support from others in those same groups?  Even though Trump had disparaged Mexican immigrants, I felt it was just a small step away from demonizing all people of Mexican heritage or ethnicity; people whose Indian and Spanish ancestors had occupied what is now the Southwestern U.S. since before Trump’s predecessors arrived on the East Coast.  Many of those people are also among the nation’s working class; the blue collar workers who form the unappreciated and under-appreciated backbone of any society.  And yes, even the white collar workers, such as myself, who have struggled through the chaos of corporate America.  Regardless of race or ethnicity we’re the ones who suffered the most in the last Great Recession and in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  That an arrogant, elitist, tax-cheating buffoon of a charlatan can find kindred souls in this crowd truly boggles my mind.

Pete, on the other hand, said the editorial made “perfect sense” so him.  He had already expressed some support for Trump, especially in relation to his reactions to China.  He then went on to demonize both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris; dubbing them “evil” and decrying what he perceived to be their socialist agenda.  In other words, Pete was reiterating the paranoid mantra of right-wing extremists.

But he went further.  He bemoaned the stimulus payments coming out of Washington; claiming they were unnecessary and that anyone suffering financial distress during the pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn deserved no help or sympathy; that they should have prepared better for such a calamity.

Seriously?

I pointed out that I was one of those people struggling now.  I had taken off a lot of time to care for my aging parents and had managed to save some money over the years; adding that a lot of that hard-earned money was now gone and reminding him I have had trouble – like so many others – finding a job.  I also noted that it’s that people don’t or won’t save money; it’s that they can’t – not with both the high cost of living and stagnant wages.

Pete sounds like many evangelical Christian leaders – the folks he once denounced as the heathens of Christianity – the idiots who propagate the myth that poverty is a result of moral failings; that people choose to be poor because they have no desire to work hard and sacrifice.  He got upset with me over that; he – a devout Roman Catholic – being compared to an evangelical Christian?!  The people who read and study only half the Christian Bible?!  How dare I make such an analogy!

But that’s how I felt.  Then and now.  His new-found beliefs and sudden change of attitude are one reason why I left the Catholic Church and why I no longer align with any branch of Christianity.

I reiterated my discussions with Pete to friends and a relative who his both agnostic and generally conservative.  The latter considers himself a Republican and has been very successful in life.  He also subscribes to “The New Yorker” and had read that particular editorial.  And he found it “awful” that so many Texas Latinos supported Trump who he does not like.  He also noted that anyone can experience financial problems and that a lack of personal resources isn’t always a sign of any kind of moral failings.  Like me he was raised Roman Catholic, but – unlike me – is not in any way spiritual.  He also reassured me that I’m not a failure.  A few other friends have told me the same.  At times like this, I need that kind of support.

It’s a shame I felt the need to sever ties with Pete.  I mean, how does a 30-plus-year friendship come to an end over an editorial?  Is that something that needed to happen?  I wonder if I was overreacting or my past hyper-sensitive persona had suddenly resurrected itself.

I’d like to know if any of you folks have encountered the same dilemma.  Have you ever felt the need to end a friendship with someone over such strong personal disagreements?

*Name changed.

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Blood Sporting

Tom Freeman’s painting of the August 24, 1814 burning of the White House by British troops during the War of 1812. (White House Historical Association)

In the fall of 1989, the world watched the Soviet Union begin to crumble, as its various satellites in Eastern Europe started breaking free from the decades-long grip of the terrorist state.  The seminal moment came in November when the Berlin Wall was torn down, and the democratic west joined with the communist east to form the New Germany.  That edifice had been both literal and ideological; a true line between freedom and tyranny.

A month later came another equally stunning and even more sanguineous event; one that gained plenty of international attention, but seems to have faded into history.  Shortly before Christmas gangs of angry Romanians stormed the central palace and captured President Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena.  The duo was subjected to a trial and sentenced to death; afterwards they were garroted.  Their demise was similar to that of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress, as World War II came to an end.  Bands of anti-fascist citizens captured them after ambushing their convoy and rushed them through a trial, before stringing them up like wild animals.

I imagine the mobs who invaded the U.S. Capitol building this past Wednesday felt equally aggrieved and outraged by what they perceived to be an unfair presidential election.  Spurred on by the vitriolic rhetoric of their dear leader, Donald Trump, they amassed in Washington from all over the country and launched their angry assault.  In behavior similar to that of developing countries, these renegades overwhelmed Capitol Hill police and managed to enter the arena where lawmakers had convened just moments earlier.

That January 6 was a critical day.  That’s when elected officials gathered to certify that Joe Biden had won the U.S. presidency two months ago and would be sworn into office as the nation’s 46th president on January 20.  The gangs of right-wing ideologues who disrupted that stately process demanded otherwise.

This is the first time since 1814 that the U.S. Capitol had been invaded.  And that was in the midst of the War of 1812; during the early days of the American republic.  Great Britain was still trying to regain control of its former colony and succeeded in burning down the capitol.  That was over 200 years ago.  Last Wednesday came during a war of ideology and political differences.

I have never seen anything like it in my life.  Indeed, it is something more emblematic of nations around the world struggling through the growing pains of a new democracy or any new regime change.  It’s similar to what happened in Cuba on New Year’s Day 1959, when Fidel Castro led a ragtag band of rebels into the presidential palace in Havana to overthrow the brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista.  Like Ceausescu and Mussolini, Batista had held onto power for many years through bloodshed and terrorism.  He suppressed free speech and sought to annihilate anyone who dared to disagree with him.  Unlike Ceausescu and Mussolini, however, Batista was able to leave Cuba and live out his life in peaceful exile – and wealth – in Spain.

The people who stormed into the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday aren’t freedom-loving patriots.  They’re domestic terrorists; redneck hooligans supported and agitated by a psychopathic narcissist who didn’t fairly win the U.S. presidency in 2016.  They weren’t the least bit upset over the blatantly fraudulent elections of that year and 2000.

For decades conservatives have lobbed conspiracy theories about mobs of left-wing anarchists swarming into American homes to seize firearms and bibles and force everyone to love Muslims and queer people.  That has never happened.  It didn’t happen after the raucous turmoil of the 2000 presidential elections and it didn’t happen four years ago.  As upset as liberals were then, groups of enraged tree-loving abortionists and pot-smokers didn’t invade Washington and trash lawmakers’ offices.  The biggest threat came from within the bastions of conservatism.

I hope devout Trumpists are happy with themselves.

One Capitol Hill police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, has now succumbed to his injuries.  Four protesters also died; one of them shot to death.  I’m saddened by Sicknick’s death, but I don’t give a damn about the others.  Like people who drink alcohol heavily their entire lives and develop cirrhosis, they brought this upon themselves.  The Capitol Hill police chief has resigned, and – as of this writing – nearly 20 people have been arrested in connection with Wednesday’s mayhem.  Insurrection is a federal offense, and treason is technically punishable by death.  The legal machinations over this debacle will play out for years.

And Donald Trump will go down in history as a president who fomented a riot and placated the rioters.

The nation will move forward, as time does – whether anyone on the far left or far right like it or not.  The spirit of a truly democratic society can’t be quashed.  It never has and it never will.

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Glamor Tyranny

Portrait of Francisco Franco

“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint.  But when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”

– Brazilian Archbishop Hélder Câmara

Last month marked the 45th anniversary of the death of Francisco Franco, Western Europe’s last dictator.  Afterwards Spain finally transitioned into a democratic state; something it had tried when it elected a new government in 1931.  During the “Second Republic”, Spaniards deposed King Alfonso XIII and reduced the powers of the military, the Roman Catholic Church and property-owning elites.  But, just two years later, a center-right coalition won a majority in the elections and they brought in Franco.  Franco had gained some notoriety for fighting against an insurgency in Spanish-controlled Morocco amidst World War I.  In 1926, at the age of 33, he became the youngest general in all of Europe.  But, as the “Second Republic” proceeded, Franco grew critical of the new government and was subsequently banned to a military outpost in the Canary Islands.  By 1936 right-wing extremists had fomented plans for a military coup.  Apparently Franco was initially opposed, but joined the effort as it took shape.

The 1936-39 Spanish Civil War actually began in Morocco, as right-wing activists launched concerted efforts to regain control.  By 1939 they had won – at the cost of 1 million lives – and Franco became Spain’s eminent ruler.  Spain’s “White Terror” induced a culture of repression and execution; a persecution of democratic supporters of a truly tolerant government.  Civil wars in any country are brutal and destructive, and Spain’s conflict was no different.  During Franco’s reign, an estimated 150,000 people were executed or mysteriously vanished.  That’s a modest assessment.  Personally, as with the Nazi Holocaust or the Cambodian massacre, I believe the official estimates are politically polite.

Early last month a friend posted a photo (a formal portrait) of Franco on his Facebook page.  One of his friends replied by declaring that Franco would have never let Spain become the socialist state it is now.  I responded by noting that Franco was a dictator who opposed free speech and freedom of religion.  Franco imprisoned and executed thousands of political opponents, while thousands more disappeared.  Like Argentina, Guatemala and other Latin American nations, Spain emerged as a totalitarian state, where anyone who dared criticize the leadership was deemed a rebel and summarily prosecuted.  No one among the Spanish populace ostensibly was brave enough to stand up to such totalitarian shenanigans, until Franco died.  But it is what it is.  Calls for revolution are always easier than actually revolting.

I don’t believe either my friend or his friend responded to my comment.  I guess I should have been shocked by the aforementioned Facebook posts.  But ultimately it didn’t surprise me, since my friend is a devotee of Donald Trump.  He once posted photos of himself and Spanish dignitaries at a diplomatic function in Houston.  But seeing his post about Franco angered me.

I’ve noticed some conservatives hold a certain degree of sentimentality for dictators and autocrats.  Hence Trump’s conciliatory behavior towards the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.  Both Putin and Jong Un live in relative luxury, while essentially holding an iron grip on power.  North Korea is particularly egregious in this dichotomy.  They still won’t acknowledge the brutal severity of a 1990s-era famine in which up to 3.5 million people perished.

Trump is also in line with Brazil’s Jair Bolsarano who openly longed for the period of the nation’s military rule; a time when – like many other nations in Latin America – thousands disappeared, were imprisoned or turned up dead.  Bolsarano has often been dubbed as “Trump of the Tropics”.

I’m sure the analogy flattered Bolsarano, and it sounds appropriate.  Like Trump Bolsarano denounced COVID-19 as a “little flu” and downplayed it, even when he contracted the virus.  As with any European-style colonialist, Bolsarano lamented that Brazil didn’t succeed in eliminating the nation’s indigenous populations.  He doesn’t seem to realize North America’s indigenous peoples were NOT completely obliterated from the continent.  Yet, Bolsarano ultimately will go to his grave knowing his sanguineous ideals failed.  And I couldn’t be happier.

I also couldn’t be happier knowing Donald Trump will NOT be President of the United States after noon (EST) on January 20, 2021.  Fortunately, our beloved democratic process functioned as designed last month.  The United States isn’t like Franco’s Spain or Latin America of the past; where military dictatorships commanded every aspect of people’s lives, or like Putin’s Russia where one person can hold the reins of power for infinite years, or Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea where a single clan of dynastic brutes can cripple the minds and bodies of their subjects.

I feel Donald Trump came as close to an autocrat as we’ve ever had.  It was a frightening prospect, especially knowing he actually wanted to delay the November 3 elections.

But American democracy prevailed over Trump’s fascist tendencies.  That’s how all civilized societies should operate.

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