Category Archives: Essays

Romanov Redux

Russia’s ill-fated Romanov Family, c. 1913.

Shortly after Donald Trump was sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States, I referred to various photographs of the Trump family in their multi-million-dollar New York penthouse residence.  “The Donald” is, of course, featured prominently front and center, with his (third) glamorous, trophy wife perched nearby; along with their son, Baron, and the real estate magnate’s adult children.  Almost as prominent are the slew of plush, gilded furnishings spread throughout the abode.  I kept thinking I’d seen similar photographs before; various pictures from newspapers and magazine, as well as recollections of a TV show that truly embodied 1980s-era chic and gluttony: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”  (Trump was featured in the very first episode and made recurring appearances.)

At one point, though, I turned to my massive collection of books and spotted one that displayed an even more accurate depiction of the Trump family; another clan who lived long ago in similar plush surroundings, perched high above the lowly masses.  Lindsey Hughes’ “The Romanovs: Ruling Russia 1613 – 1917” describes the life and times of Russia’s last monarchal family.  For more than 300 years, the Romanovs directly impacted world politics with their wealth and power; creating a massive empire that – even in today’s watered-down version – stretches across two continents.  From Tsar Michael to Tsar Nicholas II, the Romanovs maintained a steady grip on the region; impressing their subjects and striking fear in their enemies.

But, by the time the dynasty marked its tercentenary in 1913, that grip had begun to weaken.  Like the rest of Europe’s royal families, the Romanovs remained encapsulated in their heavily-fortified palatial environs; far removed from the sundry plights tormenting their own people and oblivious to the real world lurking outside those jewel-encrusted walls.  Nicholas II was the first of the European monarchs to be ousted from power, as World War I intruded into Russian territory, and a growing internal revolution stalked the Romanov family.

While the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, essentially marked the start of World War I, the death of the Romanovs signified the end – not just to the war, but also to the long-held concept that power and wealth are best held in the hands and pockets of a blessed few and that those few are part of the same bloodline that is never to be disturbed or questioned.  It was shocking enough to international onlookers that a single gunman was able to kill Franz and Sophia with a few shots from a pistol; even as many outside of Europe initially wondered where was this place called Austria-Hungary.  But, as news of the Romanovs’ demise trickled out, the anger and frustration of an oppressed people became brutally apparent.  Nicholas and his immediate family, along with a handful of servants, were peppered with bullets in a basement far removed from their stately home; their bodies burned beyond recognition and dumped in neighboring woods.

The Trump family in their New York penthouse abode.

World War I was actually the culmination of the growing anarchist movement, which had its genesis in the heated anger of economic and social inequality among Europe’s working classes, before spreading westward across the Atlantic to plant itself in the U.S. and Canada.  Even México had succumbed to the wrath of the peasant masses; with outlaws Francisco “Pancho” Diaz and Emiliano Zapata joining forces to lead a revolt against a semi-monarchal dynasty of wealthy landowners and bankers.

This was the dawn of the 20th century; where ordinary people – the one who really keep a nation moving – finally stood up and collectively announced, “Enough!”  The rampages continued, as Europe began losing their colonial holdings in Africa and elsewhere, and Latin American nations saw military dictatorships crumble in the face of concerted human rights’ campaigns.  One of the 20th century’s last acts of peasant anarchy came with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  In Romania, the chaos became lethal when leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were dragged before a court trial staged by their otherwise lowly subjects, found guilty and lynched in public.  That something so horrific could happen in 1989 shocked the world.  But, for the oppressed peoples of staunchly communist Romania, it was perhaps the best Christmas present they’d ever had.

To some extent, anarchism actually sprouted roots with the American Revolution, where a mass of English immigrant descendants decided they simply did not want to be slaves to the British Crown.  Shortly afterwards, French commoners took a queue from their American counterparts and launched their own revolution; one where they didn’t just extract their regal hoodlums from gigantic estates, but relished in the sight of royal heads literally rolling across wooden platforms.  Throughout the 19th century, Spain and Portugal stood virtually helpless as their colonial holdings in the Americas wrenched themselves from the clutches of royal decree – only to stumble through the difficulties of independence and struggles with democracy; quagmires that exist to this day.

In 1900, China’s Boxer Rebellion was a desperate attempt by commoners to boot out European interlopers, which included assaults on Christian missionaries and converts.  Some 100,000 people lost their lives in the various battles that summer.  But a growing dissatisfaction towards the Qing Dynasty and the family of Emperor Puyi (sometimes spelled P’u-i) compelled the working classes to descend upon the sacred and mysterious “Forbidden City.”  Puyi was only 3 years old when he ascended to the throne in 1908; less than four years later he was forced to abdicate and lived out the rest of his life as an undistinguished commoner.  At the start of the 20th century, it seemed that China was poised to endure the same experience as the African continent: be carved up by European colonialists.  But, if the Chinese people no longer wanted single family rule, did anyone believe they’d let bands of foreigners from the other side of the globe do the same?  By the 1930s, China had evicted the Europeans.

World War II fractured Europe.  A few royal families managed to survive; most notably in Great Britain.  But they were all financially and morally exhausted.  This culminated in the U.K. losing their colonial hold on India and Pakistan in 1947.  Next came the vast continent of Africa, where European decolonialization occurred over the ensuing four decades; a massive undertaking that involved millions of people on a scale the world had never experienced before.

The 20th century’s anarchist fangs reached across the globe, toppling the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos and Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1980s.  One of its high points was the release of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the dismantling of that country’s brutal apartheid regime within a decade.  South Africa had been the last of Europe’s many colonial assets to gain independence.

Imprisoned by the British in 1953 following the Mau Mau uprising and exiled in 1959, Jomo Kenyatta later emerged as one of the best-known African leaders. He served as Kenya’s first president from 1967 – 1978 and founded various pan-African nationalist movements.

A low point, though, was Argentina’s futile attempt to wrest control of the Falkland Islands from Great Britain in 1982; a brief conflict that resulted in more than 900 military deaths.  Why the U.K. insists on retaining control of this tiny cluster of isolated rocks 7500 miles from the homeland remains less of a mystery than a prime example of colonialist arrogance.  (Some Britons still refer to the U.S. as “the colonies.”)  While Argentina was in no political or financial position to engage in such a daring military feat at the time, they have since matured and solidified their infrastructure.  In 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner blocked two British cruise ships that had visited the Falklands from docking on the mainland.  Argentina has vowed to enforce further similar bans in the future, which could damage the Falklands’ vital tourist industry.

In the Middle East, anarchism produced schizophrenic results.  Anti-royal sentiments led to the 1973 deposition of the Barakzai, Afghanistan’s royal family.  That may have set the stage for the Soviet Union’s bloody but futile attempt to annex that country in 1979.  However, the U.S. became unexpectedly mired in the antagonism of the Iranian populace towards their own royal family, the Pahlavis.  Shah Reza Pahlavi had crowned himself emperor in 1967 and led a brutal regime where dissidence was punished with unprecedented violence and oppression – tools common among wicked oligarchs.  Pahlavi’s 1978 ouster led to the notorious Iran Hostage Crisis, which caught both the U.S. and the world completely off-guard.  Concerned more with the Soviet threat and the oddly-christened “Cold War,” the U.S. government unwittingly experienced its first battle with Islamic extremism.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, royal families held on in Jordan and Syria.  The discovery of oil on the Arabian Peninsula in the 1930s allowed the region’s ruling families and their subjects to be pulled up from the doldrums of a tribal / fiefdom-style existence and dropped into the vats of unimaginable wealth.  No one seemed to care that women couldn’t drive cars, much less vote.

Average Mexican citizens rose up in 1910 to depose President Porfirio Diaz who ruled over them off and on for nearly four decades.

While anarchist anger dominated the 20th century, does the same hold true now?  Studying the Trump clan, I can’t help but conjure up images of the Romanovs.  Economic inequality is just as great now as it was a hundred years ago.  We’ve returned to that “Gilded Age” period where the bulk of the world’s wealth and power sit in the grubby hands of a privileged few.  The recent “Great Recession” was the worst economic downturn the U.S. had experienced since the “Great Depression.”  Both debacles were the result of greed and political incompetence; the former mess instigated by the verbally-challenged scion of another monarchal-type dynasty: the Bush family.  Aside from producing two of the worst presidencies within a generation, the Bush clan’s close ties to the Saudi royal family essentially allowed planning for and execution of the 9/11 events to go unnoticed; thus culminating in one misguided war and another illegitimate one, as the economy glided atop a housing bubble that didn’t just pop – it exploded.  If regulations and measures a liberal president had established some eight decades ago hadn’t been in place, both the U.S. economy and the U.S. populace would have sunk into chaotic and murderous oblivion.

Power and wealth usually go together; conjoined twins that sometimes have no mercy for the commoners squirming beneath them.  The leftist “Occupy Wall Street” movement didn’t gain as much traction as the right-wing “Tea Party,” which claimed passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 as the seeds of their founding; when, in fact, it was the election of the nation’s first biracial president that pissed them off.  If they were so upset about undue taxation, they would have put blame for the economic downturn where it belonged: on the backs of their own Washington leaders who keep propagating the myth of “trickle-down economics.”

But the rise of a foul-mouthed, thrice-married bombastic businessman to the highest office in the land has lit another fire beneath millions of ordinary Americans frustrated with a “jobless recovery”; no one going to jail for causing the recent banking / home loan debacle; and endless conflicts in the Middle East.  The illegitimacy of Donald Trump’s placement in the White House makes a mockery of the American democratic experience.  Our 18th century predecessors carefully designed a unique concept of governing and valiantly fought against the very people who brought them here.  The United States was an outlandish experiment that could have gone seriously wrong if so many people hadn’t realized its true value and potential over the ensuing centuries.  As a nation, we didn’t want a group of self-righteous elitists – families riddled with colorblindness, hemophilia and unbridled arrogance – to rule over us and not be questioned.  Our American forbears understood that humanity must work as a unit to achieve the best possible society.  The various civil rights actions of the past 200 years – from abolitionism to gay/lesbian rights – have helped to refine this strange idea known as democracy.

Looking again at the Trump clan, I still can’t help but think of the Romanovs and realize how much they all have in common.  However, I don’t wish the same fate upon the Trumps.  As brutal as we often seem to the international community, that’s not what Americans do or who we are.

Either way, we didn’t want or need a royal family 240 years ago to impose its fickle will upon our lives – and we don’t want or need one now.

 

Film footage of Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation in May 1896.  It’s one of the earliest known (and one of the fewest surviving) motion pictures and the first known example of the new medium utilized to capture a major news event.

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Telling Donald Trump Not to Tweet Is Like…

The 45th President of the United States has achieved a previously unimaginable goal: reduce the size of the federal government.  In this case, it’s the presidency, which has been downgraded to 140 characters.  He has left people disoriented and unsettled; rattled and dismayed; flummoxed and constipated.  Many of his most devout followers have embraced the lemming ideology of life and started following their magical penis-pied piper to the precipice of a faux utopia.  And we thought George W. Bush was mentally-challenged!  Well…he was.  Yet Trump has taken messianic mendacity to supersonic levels.  I keep thinking that someone on his staff should advise him to keep his pre-dawn twittering in the bathroom.  But that would be like telling Abraham Lincoln, ‘Don’t go to the theatre!  You’ll catch a cold.’  It’s virtually impossible to demand this bombastic, bull-headed businessman behave presidential.

It may be hard to imagine, but there are some logical comparisons to such a feat.  But there are plenty.  Therefore, telling Donald Trump NOT to Tweet is like…

  • …telling the Kardashian girls not to take selfies.
  • …telling Bill Clinton to honor his marriage vows.
  • …telling Matthew McConaughey to keep on his shirt.
  • …telling Ann Coulter to stop being such a bitch.
  • …telling Justin Bieber to act like an adult.
  • …telling Michael Moore to lay off the doughnuts and eclairs.
  • …telling Elton John to tone down his wardrobe.
  • …telling Kanye West to stop interrupting people.
  • …telling Paris Hilton to get a job.
  • …telling Rush Limbaugh to take a deep breath.
  • …telling Caitlyn Jenner to grow a pair.
  • …telling Willie Nelson to shave and get a trim.
  • …telling Barbara Walters to retire once and for all.
  • …telling Eminem to act White.
  • …telling Pope Francis to stop wearing those designer gowns.
  • …telling Bill Maher to shut the hell up.
  • …telling Oprah Winfrey no one misses her.
  • …telling Brittney Spears she can’t sing worth a shit.
  • …telling Snoop Dogg to learn proper English.
  • …telling Alec Baldwin to stop making fun of Trump.

Telling Donald Trump Not to Tweet is like… [Readers, please feel free to provide your own response].  The more fun we can have with this, the more likely Trump will get pissed off and Tweet and subsequently provide us all with more joke material.  And the more we can all laugh at and ridicule our mentally-unhinged elected officials will bring us closer to that highly-coveted state of national nirvana.

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Good News With Trump

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In my 40-plus years of watching, studying and laughing at American politics, I have NEVER seen the country as divided as it is now.  I thought things were bad in the 1990s, when conservatives tried everything they could to bounce Bill Clinton out of office – and only succeeded in proving he has a female fetish (like most straight men do), while making themselves look like incompetent assholes.

Then came these last two decades, and the country became even more divided; first under George W. Bush (the poster child for closet alcoholics) and then under Barack Obama (the poster child for grace under extreme pressure and stupidity; the latter two courtesy of the even more assholish conservatives, if that’s actually possible).

But now, with Donald J. Trump in the White House (and his third wife several miles away in her gilded penthouse loft), I’ve been surprised.  Again!  The U.S. even more divided than Neapolitan ice cream.  If it gets any more divided, opposing sides will fall off into the oceans; thus making global warming look like a bad day at the beach.  Then again, if the extremists do fall off into the ocean, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Still, amidst the dim-bulb antics of the current presidential administration, I’ve actually found some bright moments.  Yes, even with a psychologically unstable, orange-tinted, womanizing twit-master like Trump occupying the highest office in the land, there are a few positives.  It’s proof that, indeed, you can make wine from prunes!

  • People realize the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is just as important as the Second.
  • They’ve learned the names of their local congressional representatives.
  • Voting (or not) really does matter.
  • Two centuries of civil and human rights progress aren’t 100% safe and untouchable.
  • Not everything on Facebook or Wikipedia is true.
  • Hispanics aren’t “recent immigrants.”  We’ve been here longer than the Trump family.
  • Neanderthals didn’t die off; they became Republicans.
  • The term “alternative facts” makes less sense than “compassionate conservative.”
  • The nation’s infrastructure, like dams and highways, is under greater threat than gun rights.
  • The inexpensive (meaning, cheap) food we buy at Wal-Mart doesn’t grow or pick itself.
  • Decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court actually do impact our lives.
  • Women’s bodies aren’t “hosts.”
  • Not all White males are evil.
  • The British really can get pissed off.
  • The Cold War didn’t end with the collapse of the Soviet Union; it moved into cyberspace.
  • Reality TV is dangerous.
  • Neo-Nazis remain a threat.
  • Politicians who have nothing more important to do than regulate public bathrooms need to be voted out of office.
  • People without English surnames often speak better English than people with English surnames.
  • Building a wall along the U.S.-México border will put a lot of Mexican immigrants to work.
  • Republican politicians have no qualms about eliminating healthcare for poor, sick people; while enjoying their own taxpayer-funded health insurance.
  • Coal mining is as obsolete as it is dangerous and dirty.
  • We need more female politicians.
  • Native Americans have put up with enough shit from the U.S. government.
  • The Kardashians aren’t (and never have been) relevant to anything.
  • President Obama was too nice to his critics, but I still feel he should have been able to run for a third term.  You know…just to piss off the Republicans.
  • American was great long before Trump ran for office.
  • How soon before we can fly to Mars?

 

Image: Gary Larson

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Thank You, President Obama

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th.  Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”

President Barack Obama, January 19, 2017

President Obama, today you officially leave the White House and reenter life as a (somewhat) private citizen.  After an incredible, yet curious, eight years, you leave a unique legacy to a nation that challenged you both professionally and personally.  From my vantage point as an average citizen, I feel you did as best you could do.

First, you took on the most difficult job anyone could have: proverbial leader of the “Free World.”  It’s a position riddled with dichotomies: intensely powerful and emotionally draining; prestigious and notorious; riveting and excruciating; honorific and horrifying.  With a glaring tone of schizophrenia, it’s not so much a job as it is a role.  Chief Executive of the United States of America stretches across the horizon of humanity.  No wonder you leave office looking decades older than when you first arrived!

Second – and perhaps most important – you took on this task at the start of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; when we straddled two wars that left us enraged and tired; when the richest, most powerful nation on Earth suddenly had to question its future in relation to its past.  And you did it with members of the opposition who awoke each day more determined to destroy you than to ensure the nation’s success.

Your life story is fascinating.  Here you are – born of a Black immigrant father who abandoned you almost from the start and a White teenage mother who nurtured you as best as her young age would allow, but who would never see your rise to fame – one individual beginning life under such duress.  You attended Columbia College where you majored in political science and English literature.  You moved on to Harvard University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education and one of the most difficult to access.  You were then president of the Harvard Law Review.  Before that, though, you were a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles where a hint to your political ambition became apparent in a speech calling for the college to sever its investments in South Africa.  None of these are small achievements.

As president, you helped to salve the damage of the Great Recession with investments in an economy that created 11 million new jobs; the longest such streak on record.  Unemployment is now down to pre-recession levels.  With exports up by 28% and a deficit cut by $800 billion, the stock markets have nearly tripled, the auto industry is flourishing again, and our reliance on foreign oil stands at a 40-year low.  High school graduation rates increased substantially, and Pell Grants doubled.  Your administration instituted new federal student loan payment plans; established a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; put in place a new mortgage refinance program; passed a Patient’s Bill of Rights; extended protection for land and water resources; and placed limits on carbon pollution.

If I have any grievances regarding your record, they are few, but noteworthy.  I personally don’t care for the Affordable Care Act, as it presently stands.  You and your fellow Democrats seemed to spend too much time designing and implementing this law, instead of focusing even more time and energy on the economy.  Americans certainly don’t need another tax, when they’re having trouble finding stable employment!  I was also disappointed in your response to threats by your Republican colleagues to withhold benefits for the long-term unemployed at the end of 2010, if you didn’t agree to maintain the Bush-era tax cuts; the very items that shoved the nation into economic jeopardy shortly before you took office.  I believe you had the executive power to force the dreaded tax cuts to expire as originally scheduled and further ensure benefits for those hapless citizens – people you rightfully deemed “hostages” – remained in place.  There were other down moments: “Operation Fast and Furious” and the Benghazi tragedy, in particular.  These episodes may haunt you, but they don’t define you.

You withstood the worst personal attacks on any public official I’ve ever seen.  From vicious protests by a band of (all-White) conservative students at Texas A & M University to a South Carolina congressman shouting “You lie!” in the midst of your first State of the Union address (something that had never happened before); the Arizona governor jutting her crooked finger into your face and later claiming you intimidated her; and finally to the asinine “birther” movement propagated by the incoming president, you’ve endured extreme social and political animosity.  As someone who began following U.S. politics with the Watergate scandal, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never witnessed such levels of verbal barbarity and recalcitrance as what your Republican counterparts slung at you.

It’s obvious you tried to restrain your frustration; fighting through the muck of political swamp water.  But I still wish you had simply gotten ugly with these clowns.  With each personal assault, I kept wishing you’d strip away your professional comportment momentarily and bring forth the worst parts of your personality (the kind that exists in all of us); the nigger and / or redneck sides of you – all in a concerted effort to try to communicate with your adversaries.  They didn’t like you anyway.  Nothing you did or said could possibly satisfy their pathetically myopic attitudes.  If you tried to negotiate and compromise, they dubbed you weak and ineffective.  If you dared to raise your voice and talk back to them, they declared you uppity.  You couldn’t win no matter what you did.  So, why remain polite and dignified all the time?  Yes, I realize that’s not your nature.  But, in dealing with arrogance and outright stupidity, you occasionally have to jump into the gutter with those fools, merely so they can understand you.  I’ve had to do just that in my own professional life and I always hated it.  I despised dumbing down my intellectual capacity just to get my point across.  It’s nasty and painful to we intellects who understand the value and necessity of good dialogue.  But, like cleaning a dirty toilet in your bathroom, sometimes you just have to behave in such a manner to get things done.

And, despite the blatant, unapologetically crude and juvenile behavior your opponents exhibited, you tightened your lips, held your head high and kept your back straight.  You let your emotions show on only a handful of occasions; mainly when yet another deranged gunman rained terror on unsuspecting innocents.  In other words, you allowed the true nature of your humanity gush forward when it really mattered.

Your poise and demeanor are unmatched among modern-day public servants.  You and your beautiful family are emblematic of grace and class.  Mrs. Obama, in particular, displayed personal charm and studious refinement; more so than all four of her predecessors combined.

In 2012, I published an essay on this blog entitled “Barack Obama – The Unintentional Martyr”; where I highlighted that your professional troubles were a predictable, almost unavoidable evil; a grueling necessity to compel America to hold up to its promise of dignity and equality for all citizens.  You paved the way for future candidates who won’t fit into the pre-ordained mold of what an American president should look and sound like.  I suspect if your father had been born in Europe, Canada or even Australia, no one would have questioned your citizenship or your legitimacy.  But he was from Africa – the “Dark Continent” – that massive region of Earth that is the birthplace of humanity and whose indigenous peoples had the audacity to expel a cavalcade of brutal European colonists and – gasp! – demand they be treated with the proper deference naturally due to them as human beings.

I understand the hate that a mixed ethnic background incurs from the cerebrally- challenged.  I’m White (mostly Spanish, but also one-quarter German) and Mexican Indian.  I tell some people I’m justified in criticizing middle-aged White guys because…well, I’m one of them; while I told others who didn’t care for you to just vote for the “White Obama.”  My ancestry in the state of Texas extends back to a time before the Mayflower pilgrims had even begun making travel plans.  I celebrate my complex heritage because it ultimately spells A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N.

Unfortunately, future history-making presidents will have to face the same barrage of disquieting irreverence: the first female, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, atheist, or gay / lesbian Chief Executive.  All of them will have their character questioned and their birthright authenticity shredded by those who think America’s sacred promise of opportunity and equality actually applies only to them and their ilk.  These prospective White House occupants will be forced to prove their place in this great American society is not defined by other peoples’ ideals.

Sadly, you leave office – and the fate of the nation – in the lap of a maniacal, temperamental, foul-mouthed, proudly bigoted oaf; a cretin who holds no qualms in lambasting anyone who is the least bit different from or disagrees with him, yet seethes about the most diminutive of sleights.  He has single-handedly reduced the prominence of the U.S. presidency to 140 character rants.

I’m trying to imagine you entering the White House with a much-younger third wife for whom you left your second wife.  My brain cramps as I try to envision you standing before a crowd of thousands demanding they pummel a dissenter into the ground.  I can only wonder the reaction you’d get telling a mass of financially-struggling Appalachian Whites, “What do you have to lose?”

I will miss you, Mr. Obama, along with your eloquent words and unimposing determination to make the United States live up to its full potential as a nation for all people.  You can rest now, my good man; start building your library; await the days you become a father-in-law and a grandfather; and – above all – get some sleep!

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Dead Demos

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In some paranormal circles, “dead time” refers to the period when otherworldly spirits are most likely to be active.  Even though it’s not official – and really, nothing in the paranormal realm is considered official – it’s generally believed to occur between midnight and 5 a.m., with the two to four o’clock hours considered the key time.  Nothing in the political arena – especially here in the U.S. – is considered normal either.  But, for those who didn’t vote for Donald Trump in last fall’s presidential elections, dead time started materializing just as Tuesday, November 8 was turning into Wednesday, the 9th, and it appeared the bombastic real estate magnate was going to be our nation’s 45th Chief Executive.  Trump’s entry into the race nearly two years ago surprised few; his name had arisen more than once since the late 1980s as a potential candidate.  But, as he marched forward – taking out one competitor after another – the mainstream Republican Party stood dumbfounded; recoiling as each individual dropped from the race quicker than a Texan would drop a bottle of warm beer.

And, for the second time in sixteen years, Americans found themselves with a president-elect who didn’t win the majority of the popular, but still managed to garner most of the electoral votes.  The vast majority of liberals and moderates were shocked – and appalled – that such an event could happen again within so short a period of time.  As the Democratic National Party scratched its head, people began to question the validity of the Electoral College system that original framers of the U.S. Constitution had created as a means of spreading the generosity of power.

U.S. intelligence had surmised last summer that Russian hackers were trying to infiltrate our voting system.  Now comes proof they actually did manage to sneak their way into it.  Exactly how they were able to do that remains uncertain.  Were votes eliminated, or were votes added?  Was someone in the Electoral College bribed?  Even if no one hacked into the system, would Trump have won anyway?

It’s bad enough that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump garnered their respective party’s nominations last summer.  But they plowed through the campaigns with the lowest favorability ratings of any presidential candidates in U.S. history.  In other words, no one really liked either of those fuckers, but felt compelled to vote nonetheless.  Voting is more of a right and a civic duty than it is a privilege or an inconvenience.  I have to admit that – for the first time since I began voting in 1992 – I went rogue and selected Green Party candidate Jill Stein.  I knew Stein had as much of a chance of getting into the White House as I do of going a month without a mixed drink or a glass of wine.  But it’s always the thought that counts, right?

I’ve always liked Bill Clinton, but Hillary never had much appeal to me.  Most of my friends and relatives voted for her.  A few criticized me for choosing Stein over Clinton; emphasizing that I was inadvertently voting for Trump instead.  I don’t care.  Opting for the lesser of two evils isn’t much of a choice.  I did that in 2004, when I voted for John Kerry.  Regardless, I wasn’t going to be swayed by party loyalists this time.  While Trump is atrocious, Clinton is as hollow as the empty bottles of hair dye she leaves on the bathroom floor.

Yet, as the world looks at the United States – that self-proclaimed beacon of democracy and freedom – with a mix of horror and amusement, the Democrats are still patching up their emotional scars and sorting through the morass.  But let’s pretend for a moment that no one had hacked into our voting system, or that any such attempts were successfully uncovered and squelched months before election day and that Trump still managed to win.  The Democratic National Party would still have to undergo some serious soul-searching and understand what they did wrong.  I can help and have narrowed the fiasco down to three primary issues.

 

Affordable Care Act (ACA) – While millions of average Americans were losing their jobs, their homes and their life savings because of the 2008 economic meltdown, the Democrats curiously focused their efforts on one issue: health care.  Yes, it’s great if people don’t have to choose between a flu shot and the light bill.  But ensuring that citizens will have adequate health care is not nearly as significant as ensuring they have gainful employment.  I don’t know why the Democrats went off into an ideological black hole with this issue.  That Democrats seemed more concerned with the ACA than boosting the economy was matched only by the Republicans’ determination to destroy the program.  Both parties operated within a vacuum.  Nothing else – mainly that economic thing – seemed to matter.

Inequality – The “Great Recession” almost completely destroyed the U.S. economy.  So many factors contributed to the calamity, but the USD 8 trillion housing bubble burst was the primary culprit.  More people than ever before were buying homes, which would normally be a good thing.  But, in this case, people were getting into homes with little or sometimes zero money down.  How reasonable does it sound for someone earning roughly USD 30,000 a year to buy a USD 500,000 house without making a down payment of even 5% of the structure’s value?  Such a practice was inconceivable two decades ago.  But that’s exactly what people were doing.  And both financial institutions and homebuilders were part of the fiasco.

When I got laid off in the fall of 2010 (in the midst of a fragile recovery), my top concern was the job market; not whether I could afford to get my teeth cleaned.  By the end of that year, the “Great Recession” was, from a purely technical standpoint, over.  But to those of us trapped in its putrid residue, it was alive and well and sucking up our savings and maxing out our credit cards.

Between the fall of 2008 and the summer of 2009, the U.S. economy lost 8.4 million jobs, or 6.1% of all payroll employment.  It was the worst job loss since the Great Depression.  When people mention inequality, they’re not referring to racial or gender disparities.  They’re talking about the wealth gap; that ever-widening abyss that separates the middle class from the upper class.  After-tax income has been shrinking for the past three decades, while the cost of living has been increasing.  Sen. Bernie Sanders made this a key point of his own bid for the presidency last year, and it certainly gained a great deal of attention.  But the Democrats seemed more intent on denigrating Donald Trump’s character and highlighting his personal foibles.  People working two or three jobs just to stay afloat financially don’t really care if the real estate mogul fondled a young woman at a beauty contest.  They want to know if they’ll ever be able to stop working so hard for so little.

Illegal immigration – For decades politicians have said, if they want to appeal to Hispanics, they have to devise a comprehensive immigration plan; meaning that illegal immigrants from anywhere in Latin America must be treated better than others.  This ideology assumes two things: that most Hispanic-Americans are immigrants and that we only care about providing sanctuary for people who emigrate to the U.S. illegally from Latin America.  Immigration – legal or illegal – is NOT the top priority for most Hispanic-Americans.  As a group we’re concerned about the same things most other Americans are concerned about: jobs and the economy.

Obama’s demeanor – Barack Obama is one of the smartest and most verbally gifted men ever to ascend to the nation’s highest elected office.  He had the right message with the right tone.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  His demeanor is as remarkable as it is unimposing.  It’s one of his greatest attributes.  But, once in the White House, it became one of his greatest faults.  You’d think someone who came of age in the rugged world of Chicago politics would be a little more forceful.  But I felt Obama was too conciliatory, too nice, and too willing to compromise.  The Republicans made it clear from the moment he won the 2008 contest they were determined to ensure he wouldn’t garner a second term.  Their efforts didn’t pay off: Obama won again four years later.  And, as Obama himself stated in his 2016 ‘State of the Union’ address, there was never any doubt he actually won.  But the level of disrespect and recalcitrance the GOP displayed towards Obama has been unprecedented.  From Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” at Obama during the 2009 State of the Union address to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer jutting her finger into Obama’s face (later claiming he intimidated her), I can say without a doubt Obama endured more shit than any of his predecessors.

I’m certain race played a major factor in their behavior.  A gaggle of (mostly) old, White men just couldn’t fathom that a half-blooded Negro actually won the presidency.  So, instead of working on behalf of their constituents (that is, doing their jobs), they opted for the asshole category and tried to stifle Obama at every turn.  If he tried to compromise, he’d be viewed as weak; if he talked back, they’d consider him uppity.  He just couldn’t win no matter what he did.  And I know he could see this.  Therefore, he should have responded accordingly.

Politics in any nation is a blood sport, and the United States leads in the sanguinary nature of this.  Obama needed to get ugly with those clowns.  And not just ugly, but fuck ugly; telling them, ‘Look, I’m president and I run this joint.  You either work with me, or I’ll use my executive powers to slaughter your ass.’  That wouldn’t have earned him any fans among the right-wing crowd.  But he might have earned their respect.  I’ve learned that the hard way; sometimes you just have to stand up and scream at people to get their attention and make them bestow upon you the dignity and deference you deserve.  It’ll definitely piss off some people.  But in politics, like in business, you have to draw the line somewhere and tell people to shut the hell up and listen.  It’s just the nature of both realms.  You may not win any friends like that, but you’ll generally get the job done.

 

Overall, though, I’m satisfied with the Obama years.  One person – even the President of the United States – can only do so much.  History will be kinder to him than his contemporaries.  It’s already treating George W. Bush with more compassion than he deserves.  If the Democratic Party intends to remain relevant in the future, they need to be tougher with their opponents.  But they also need to be more forward-looking and emphasize that we can’t go back in time when things seemed simpler and calmer.  Otherwise, they’ll be digging an early grave for themselves, and only their most devout followers will be in attendance.

Demos.

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Go On

My first two personal journals, which covered the dreaded year of 1985.

My first two personal journals, which covered the dreaded year of 1985.

On December 31, 1985, I gathered with one of my best friends, his then-girlfriend and her older sister at the girls’ house to ring in the New Year.  In my 22 years of life at the time, I had never been so glad to see a single year fade away as 1985.  Just about everything had gone wrong for me.  I was placed on academic probation in college because of my dismal grades for the fall 1984 semester; then got suspended for the fall 1985 term because I still couldn’t get it right.  That prevented me from becoming a full member of a fraternity I so desperately wanted to join.  In April my parents and I had to put our German shepherd, Joshua, to sleep.  That fall I had my first sexual experience, which proved embarrassing and depressing.  In October I fell into a police trap and was arrested for drunk driving.  (My blood alcohol level ultimately proved I wasn’t legally intoxicated.)  By Christmas, I was an emotional and psychological wreck.  I’d come as close to committing suicide as I ever had that year.  But, as New Year’s rolled around, I’d settled down my troubled mind and realized my life could continue.

I realized 1985 was the worst single year of my brief existence and hoped I’d never see another one like it.  For more than three decades that pretty much held true.  For the longest time almost anything related to 1985 made me tremble with anxiety.  Nineteen ninety-five turned out to be almost as bad; instilling a phobia in me about years ending in the number 5.  Ironically, though, 2005 was a pretty good one for me, and last year was okay.

Then came 2016.

People all around me are waiting for this year to die, like a pack of hyenas loitering near a dying zebra.  Aside from a raucous political campaign – with a finale that seems to have set back more than two centuries worth of progress – we’re wondering why this year has taken so many great public figures and left us with clowns like the Kardashians.  I could care less.  This year has also taken my father and my dog and is slowly taking my mother.

Over these last six months, I’ve experienced emotional pain unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.  I’ve never endured this kind of agony.  It’s dropped me into an endless abyss of despair.  Early in November, strange red spots began appearing all over my body.  It brought with it chronic itching sensations.  I wondered if small pox had been reintroduced into society and I was one of its unwitting earliest victims.  The rashes and the itching would come and go, like million-dollar windfalls to an oil company executive.

It all shoved me back to the spring of 1985 and the odd little sores that sprung up on either side of my midsection.  They were painful pustules of fluid that I tried to eliminate with calamine lotion, ice cubes and prayer.  They finally vanished, and only afterwards did someone tell me what they were: shingles.  I had to look up that one in a medical reference.  For us cretins aged 40 and over, WebMD was a fool’s dream.  But I knew that’s what I had, and its cause was just as apparent – personal stress.  My poor academic performance, Joshua’s death, thinking my failure to join that stupid fraternity was a reflection of my failure as a human being – all of it had piled onto me.

In November of 1995 – about a week after my birthday – I woke up early one Saturday morning, stepped into the front room of my apartment and repeatedly banged my fists against the sliding glass door.  I was aware of it, but I felt I was compelled to do it.  As I lay back onto my bed, my hands already aching from pounding on the glass, I asked why I had done something so bizarre at that hour of the morning.  Then, almost as quickly, I answered myself.  I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  I was experiencing serious financial problems at the time and I was having even more problems at work.  My father had just experienced a major health scare.  One of my best friends was sick with HIV and had been hospitalize with a severe case of bronchitis, and I’d just had a heated telephonic argument with another guy I thought was a close friend over…some stupid shit I can’t recall after all these years.  So, after weeks of dealing with that soap-opera-esque drama, my mind cracked.  Stress of any kind wreaks havoc on one’s mind and body.  It’s several steps up from a bad day at the office.  This is why U.S. presidents always look light-years older when they leave office.

So, as I smothered my body with cocoa butter lotion and anti-itch cream, I harkened back to 1985 and thought, ‘Goddamn!  History repeats itself too conveniently.’  The death of another dog and more subconscious trauma.  This time, though, events have been more critical than not being able to join a fucking fraternity or falling into a drunk driving trap.

But something else has changed.  While my body reacted in such a volatile manner, my soul has been able to handle it better.  I’m older and wiser now, and with that, comes the understanding that life is filled with such awful and unpredictable events.  Yes, I’ve fallen into fits of depression.  But I’m not suicidal.  I don’t want to harm myself in any way.  In fact, I want to heal and keep going.  I didn’t kill myself in 1985 or in 1995 or in any other stressful period since then.  I really just want to keep going.

I keep a list of story ideas; a Word document amidst my electronic collection of cerebral curiosities.  When I peruse that list, I realize I may not be able to bring all of those ideas to life.  But, if I didn’t try, why should I even bother with it?  Why bother even with getting up every morning?

Something has kept me alive all these years.  Something has kept me going.  Earlier this month I noticed a cluster of irises had bloomed unexpectedly in the back yard.  My father had planted them a while back.  With Texas weather being so schizophrenic, warmer-than-usual temperatures must have confused the flowers, and they jutted their blossoms upward into the swirling air.  I had to gather a few before temperatures cooled, which they did.  They languished on the kitchen counter for the next couple of weeks, longer than usual.  And I realized their presence is coyly symbolic.  My father was telling me that, despite the heartache of this past year, life continues, and things will get better.

I still miss my father and my dog, but I care for my mother as best I can, even as her memory keeps her thoughts muddled from one day to the next.  And I continue writing because that’s who I am and what I love to do.  I can’t change what happened years ago, but it brought me to where I am now.  I couldn’t alter the events of this past year.  But it’ll all carry me into the following years.

Happy New Year’s 2017 to all of you, my followers, and to all of my fellow bloggers!

Irises that bloomed in our back yard earlier this month.

Irises that bloomed in our back yard earlier this month.

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Echoes on Carpet

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“Goodnight, little boy.  I love –”  I stopped, catching sight of the blank floor space against the wall, next to the closet in my room.  He wasn’t there, curled up into a crescent of silver and white atop a towel riddle with holes and tears.  Wolfgang was gone.

I was reaching for a lamp on an end table, when I started to tell him goodnight and that I love him – as I’d done for years.  I remained in that odd position – propped up on my left elbow, right arm stretched out towards the lamp – for what was probably just a few seconds, but felt like several minutes.  I wondered how long I could hold that position without dropping dead.

I finally shut off the lamp and laid back onto my trio of pillows.  Beneath a single sheet, clad in nothing but skin and body hair, I felt a stick of anxiety materialized in my throat.  I rattled off my usual stanza of prayers to all those who’ve gone before me, pleading for their protection and their strength.

I looked again at the spot on the floor where Wolfgang would camp out every night; that ragged towel – seemingly held together by strings – bunched up beneath him.

I don’t know why, but Wolfgang had a fetish for towels.  It may have come from his previous daddy, Tom*, my former friend and roommate, who carried the puppy around in a lunch cooler; an old purple beach towel of mine that he’d stuffed into it.  The towel provided some comfort to a tiny critter who would grow into a 20-pound monstrosity filled with eons of canine angst.

In early 2005, I lived and worked temporarily in Northeastern Oklahoma on a government project that was part of the contract my employer, an engineering company, had.  The area, bordering Kansas and Missouri, is a mostly toxic wasteland where soil and water had poisoned by decades of lead and zinc mining.  I stayed in a nice and recently-built hotel, along with a coworker and our supervisor.

For most of the time I was in Oklahoma, Wolfgang stayed with my parents.  But, for the month of May, I rented a car and drove all the way up there because I’d decided to take Wolfgang with me.  Some of the hotel staff came to like him.  The first time someone with the housekeeping staff heard him barking, she was certain I had a pitbull ensconced in the room.  There mere sound of his voice frightened her.  But she and a few others were mirthfully surprised to see how small he was.

That little thing can make that much noise?!

Yes, he can!

One night, as I sat at the desk in my hotel room, working on my laptop, I noticed Wolfgang exiting the bathroom with a small white towel in his mouth.  Because of his presence, I made a deal with management that no one was to enter the room, unless I was there also or in the event of an emergency.  Wolfgang’s bite matched his bark.  Consequently, I let bath towels pile up beneath the sink.

A few minutes later, I turned to Wolfgang and was startled to see that he’d removed every single used towel from beneath the sink and to a spot in front of a cabinet.  He lay in front of the pile, curled up like a hairy conch shell.  I laughed.

I keep trying to think of things like that, now that Wolfgang is gone.  It’s the same with my father.  Memories of him behaving like the lunatic he was – imitating Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine Jones” persona, threatening to tickly my mother – roll through my mind.  It eases the pain of losing both of them within a 5-month period.

Today is the first birthday I’ve marked without either of them.  It’s such a weird feeling.  How could this happen?  Why, in the name of all that’s great and wonderful in this world, did they pass away so close together?  Talk about timing!

Last month I finally decided to rummage again through the storage shed in the back yard; a dilapidated structure where my parents stuffed anything and everything they didn’t want or need in the house.  It also had doubled as a tool shed for the plethora of gardening equipment my father had accumulated over the years.  In the fall of 2014, I carted a few large pieces – a dead lawnmower, an antique weed eater, etc. – to the front yard for him.  I taped a cardboard sign with the words “FREE TO GOOD HOME” across the mess and left it all there for whomever.  It was gone before day’s end.

At the same time, I retrieved several boxes of old National Geographic magazines.  “These don’t belong out here,” I told my father.  Old Home & Garden magazines, maybe, but not National Geographic.  I hauled them all into my room and rearranged them, alongside my gallery of books.

But last month I found several other items – a few as old as those National Geographics, but more precious.  There was a box of handwritten journals by my paternal grandmother, Francisca.  A couple of other boxes contained stuff from my childhood: drawings, poems, stories.  Among the latter was a one dollar bill paper-clipped to a fragile slip of paper.  It was a note from me to my father; thanking him for being such a great daddy.  I was about 5 when I wrote that.  And he kept it!  As an only child, my parents were apt to keep as much about my childhood around as possible.  But that a simple, handwritten note dating to the late 1960s would retain a place amidst all of that material stunned me.

And yes, it also made me sad.  But I realized – more than ever before – how fortunate I was to have a father as incredible as mine.  It’s why I get angry now when I hear people say fathers don’t serve a purpose in this world.

Back in July I visited a weight-lifting gym in East Dallas with a close friend, Pete*, who’s a regular there.  It’s a tiny, no-frills joint carved into an aged shopping center; where free weights are the main source of muscle-building and men can work out shirtless.  After showering and changing back at his house, Pete and I had dinner at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants near downtown.

At some point, the conversation turned to family, and – with my voice cracking – I emphasized how badly I missed my father.  I try not to get emotional in public.  Even during my dad’s memorial service in June, I managed to hold it together.  But, planted in a booth beneath dim lighting in the restaurant, I just couldn’t remain poised.  It must have been the margarita swirls.  I was already on my second one.

Pete knows how I feel.  He lost his own father 12 years ago.  Curiously, our fathers had grown up together in East Dallas neighborhoods now occupied by office buildings and overpriced condos.  “My father went to be with his mother,” Pete had told me that night on the phone.  I didn’t understand.  All of Pete’s grandparents were dead.  What was he trying to – aw shit!  I don’t know if there’s an etiquette rule for announcing the death of a loved one via telephone, and if there is, I could care less about it.

I still have trouble sitting in the easy chair near the fireplace where my dad used to sit while watching TV.  His urn resides quietly on the dirty white brick of the raised hearth.  I make it a point to touch it every day and tell my father I love him.  His mother had lived to age 97.  Why couldn’t he?  What is the proper time of year to die?  It seems we have rules for everything in our lives these days.  Meteorologists can track hurricanes with near-accuracy.  As soon as a massive quake struck northeastern Japan in March of 2011, scientists could determine how long it would be before tsunamis struck the Hawaiian Islands and the west coast of the U.S.  Why couldn’t the slew of doctors my father had seen over the years not tell me when his body would finally say, ‘To hell with this shit!’?

A few times over the past few months, Wolfgang would stare at that general area for the longest time.  I’d feel the pressure change in the house.  But it wasn’t a frightening sensation.  I knew my father was nearby.  He had said more than once he wanted to die in this house and not in a hospital, a menagerie of tubes pouring out of him like overgrown hairs.  If I did anything right, I feel it was that.  I was able to grant my father his most heartfelt wish.

There are so many echoes of him and Wolfgang around me, now that they’re both gone.  And the house is otherwise quiet.  I’ve never felt pain like this before.  But, on this 53rd birthday of mine, I’m not too distressed.  My heart and my mind are filled with the happiness of the lives they lead.  I couldn’t ask for more from either of them.

 

*Name changed.

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