An update on titles available on Amazon:
Kindle version for the screaming deal of 99¢ —
Additionally, it would seem that the publisher has made quite a number of older titles available in the Kindle format. They are available here:
TAXES and SERVING THE PUBLIC
The Trumpsters are ever so elated about DT’s leaked (self-leaked?) 2005 taxes. He actually paid about 25% on declared income! I find it interesting that this so-called billionaire’s rate is significantly lower than that of most folks in the middle class. I know a retired school teacher whose rate is higher. Ya gotta hand it to those who know how to work the system. And we do! Hand it to them, that is.
Most public servants pay lip service to serving the public. And yes, 45 talks about service and what great things he wants for America, but his real interest—and that of his adult family members—appears to be in using the U.S. Treasury as his own personal piggy bank as he golfs his way through every weekend at his own venues—where we taxpayers are picking up the tab for his entourage (secret service, et. al.) to stay at his hostelries. Wonder if the prices are jacked up on weekends?
Public service indeed!—as he proceeds to put in power people bent on destroying agencies that serve public interests. Witness what he is doing or trying to do in term of national parks and federal land, or the environment, or public education, to name only the most obvious. I have little doubt there is ample room for improvement in the way government serves public interests in these matters, but I also doubt that repeatedly “throwing the baby out with the bath water” is quite the way to do it.
The March edition of The Atlantic magazine has a must read article for those of us who are less than ecstatic about the current regime in Washington.
In “How to Build an Autocracy” David Frum discusses the destruction of traditional safeguards in a government that has served us well for over two hundred years. He first targets a legislature that abrogates its oversight responsibilities to the point that it becomes subservient to the executive branch. And this was written before we saw the chairman of a House investigative committee go running to the President to report on evidence brought before his committee!
Frum also points out that Presidents have tremendous powers of appointment, removal, and pardon. Ordinarily the President’s own ethics and desire to “promote the common welfare” serve as a check on those powers. But, Frum asks point-blank: “What happens if somebody comes to high office lacking those qualities?” One might add: what if that someone is a person who just sneers at restraints? “I am the President and you are not.”
The Atlantic author also cites subtle and not-so-subtle encouragement of civil unrest to inflame emotional rather than rational reactions to issues and problems. We saw this at work repeatedly in DT’s campaign strategy—thus “ratifying [his] apocalyptic vision” and providing excuses for repression of protests. Paradoxically, we also have a large segment of the electorate that simply doesn’t care. DT and his ilk count on public indifference. Remember when he famously said he could get away with murder in broad daylight and no one would object? Well? Where are the protests about the Russian involvement? About the dismantling of public education? About the rape of the environment? About the gross expenditures for his golfing trips? About . . .
Frum does not dwell on DT’s relationship but with the press, but I would argue that DT’s attempts to weaken “the Fourth Estate” is yet another technique in undermining American democracy. The media, per se, is not the enemy, but it is incumbent on citizens that we remain informed—to seek balance in our sources—to at least TRY to sort out what the truth may be in given issues. Otherwise, we leave ourselves ripe for autocracy.
SEPARATION. NO, NOT “SEPARATE BUT EQUAL”—SEPARATE AND BALANCED
In some instances, I suppose, the word separation could be viewed as negative. However, when it comes to the Constitution of the United States, it most definitely is NOT. The Constitution, along with its amendments, lays out very clearly two specific areas of separation in our democracy.
The separation of church and state—of religion and government—is laid out in the First Amendment and has been reinforced repeatedly by court decisions. The principle is directed at religion—not A religion. Tempting as it is for “true believers” of any sect to try to impose their views on the rest us—that just is not the American way. Whether it is Sharia law or the Beatitudes, the Torah or the Koran—political policy is not to be shaped by religious doctrine. This is a basic principle that certain evangelicals need to relearn—Mike Pence comes immediately to mind. Bottom line: Keep your religion out of the government we share.
Another “separation” principle that is currently being trampled upon is the Separation of Powers. The Constitution draws distinct lines in terms of the powers of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of government. These distinctions give us the “checks and balances” which have, heretofore, served us so well. But when one branch overreaches in defining its own powers—as in Nixon’s “imperial Presidency”—the balance is severely disrupted. Likewise, when one branch refuses to do its job—as the Republican-controlled Congress has done for years—chaos threatens. Occasionally, even the judiciary—that bastion of objectivity and fairness—is open to accusations of “legislating from the bench.” Maybe that’s why the Court reverses itself every twenty years or so.
Usually a “rogue branch” that overreaches itself is quickly brought back into line by one or both of the others. Separation of Powers. Checks and Balances. These are good things—no? It remains to be seen how that works when one party is more or less in control of all three branches.
HUMILITY—THE MISSING INGREDIENT
Have you noticed that DT and his ilk regularly talk down to us—as though fellow American citizens are merely ignorant children who must have things explained “properly.” Is this arrogance—or what? I may not “know more than the generals do” as the current occupant of the oval office claims to do, but—by God!—I am a reasonably well-read American citizen and I am as capable of understanding and coming to logical conclusions on matters as the orange man is.
So, just tell me the truth and let me decide. That is the collective “me”—the one Walt Whitman wrote of all the time—and I want the real truth, not an alternative version. If there is more than one way of viewing a given matter, tell me. I’m a grown up. I can figure it out. Again: the collective “I” there. Just don’t hide information from the folks you are supposed to be serving.
Truth. A rare commodity in government circles these days. More’s the pity.
Nor is it just ordinary citizens that DT and his treat as far less perceptive than they. Did you see that so-called news conference? (Has there been more than one yet?) I was surprised those reporters did not just gather their notebooks and walk out. What the world needs now—well, what the White House Press Room needs—is another Helen Thomas. At least Morning Joe’s Mika Brezinski got it right in calling out Kellyanne—mouthpiece extraordinaire—for her lack of credibility. Good on ya, Mika!
So now—in another stroke of sheer arrogance—certain journalists are to be denied access to White House briefings. DT seeks to control the very information we receive in order to ensure that nothing negative leaks out. It is a blatant attempt to control the media, which as any historian will inform you, is the action of the worst of history’s dictators.
“Doing the job” may be more difficult for those “banned” journalists, but I have confidence that they will, indeed, keep at it and try to ensure that we have solid information on which to form our conclusions.
Now—if we could just get all those so-called “leaders” in government to heed those town hall chants and DO THEIR JOBS.
What is it that makes some conservative men react so negatively to strong women? One is inclined to think only extreme hate—or fear—could produce such contempt and belittling of women who dare to assert themselves. Or, maybe their attitude is merely an outgrowth of ignorance and insecurity due to inevitable changes in culture as history moves on.
Case in point: Mitch McConnell’s truly deplorable silencing of Elizabeth Warren on the floor of the Senate as she tried to read into the record a letter written by a (female) civil rights icon. He then showed his true colors as he said not a word when several male senators read into the record that exact same letter!
Does the word hypocrisy come to mind at all?
The Republican Party is not without its share of strong women. Susan Collins and Nicole Wallace, for instance. But mostly Republican men seem to honor only strong women who assume a “proper” female role: supporting a man from a clearly subordinate position. Women like Nancy Reagan and Ann Romney—proper students of Phyllis Schaffly.
The usual attack leveled at a woman who dares to take a stand on some social or political issue is to belittle, to disparage with contempt. They hold up to ridicule some aspect of her appearance (her preference for pantsuits) or use a silly nickname (Pocahontas) to demean her as a person. These are the tactics of weak men, of bullies.
Such men would, if they could, turn us back the 1950s—if not, indeed, to the 19th Century. The 1950s. That’s when Rosie the Riveter was told to put down her wrench, go back to the kitchen, and let the big, brave man handle things again. Trouble was Rosie would not—or could not—just go back to the bad old days.
Few would want her to now. After all, women account for a huge percentage of the America’s work force today. It is highly unlikely that those “persistent” women will just sit down and shut up.
RANDOM THOUGHTS ON MATTERS MEDICAL . . .
In the last few years I have had serious medical care several times—and on both sides of the continent—so I think can speak with some authority on the matter—anecdotally, at least.
a) Yes. Medical care in America is outrageously expensive—as are the drugs that are inevitably part of any medical issue. As a former employee of the federal government, I have excellent health care coverage—such as members of Congress have. You know: people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell who want to deny ordinary Americans access to the kind of care they get. The question is: WHY? Could it possibly have anything to do with the pharmaceutical and insurance contributions to Congressional coffers?
b) In the last year or so, I have been treated by a neurosurgeon who is a native of India, by an orthopedic surgeon who emigrated to America from Pakistan, by a Hispanic doctor who is a physical therapy specialist, and by any number of immigrant nurses and technicians—all of whom have been competent, professional, and truly caring in the way they do their jobs. So there, DT and you other bigots out there!
c) While I admire—immensely—the work of nurses and medical technicians, you could not pay me enough to do the work they do! From a neighboring bed I’ve heard them abused in loud, offensive language. They are incredibly kind and understanding in dealing with even the most trivial and often distasteful of chores.
You gotta luv em!
d) Physical therapists are my nominees for heroes of any hour. Marty and the crew at Carson Physical Therapy in Nevada have periodically put me through their paces, challenging me beyond what I think I can do. Jaimie, Branden, and Matt at Healthsouth in Sarasota, FL, and now TJ and folks at Physioworks in Venice, FL, have been wonderful! Optimism and encouragement must be part of the PT version of the Hippocratic Oath!
LOVE—DEFINITIONS? TYPES? MANIFESTATIONS? OH, WHATEVER—
As I write this we have passed yet another Valentine’s Day, that favorite holiday of florists and candy makers. I know: from a sometime writer of romance novels, you are expecting a treatise on the glories of romantic love. Romantic Love–always capitalized—that which, as the poets say, “makes the world go ‘round.”
However, at the moment I have something different in mind—maybe even higher.
Friendship, for—at its best—and if it is to last, Romantic Love must evolve into or from friendship. Or so it seems. (Why else would so many married folks insist “I am married to my best friend.”?) Perhaps we could define marriage as “friendship with benefits.” But I digress.
I want to talk about the plain, old-fashioned, garden variety of friendship which has little or nothing to do with sexual attraction. I have waxed on at great length here before about how incredibly lucky I am in my friends. In recent weeks, I have come to appreciate that key element of life—friendship—more than ever.
I am in Florida where, on January 17, I had surgery to replace my left knee. Before and after that event, I have enjoyed—relished—cards, emails, phone calls, and visits from friends. I’ve lost count of how many times Bill McGrath visited me in the hospital and has since made a party of picnic lunches. This week Nisha and Grant Kremers—college buddies half a century ago!—are flying in from Nevada.
But—most of all—I am grateful—indebted—to Dottie—Dorothy Francis Behm–who, when I told her this surgery was a probability, invited me to come to Florida for it and offered to see me through the whole ordeal. She has been incredibly wonderful as secretary, chauffeur, cook, nurse, and “go fer” throughout. She has been through this herself—twice!—so she has answers before I even know what questions to ask!
Dottie and I have known each other since the ‘70s when we worked together, along with Bill McGrath, at Kaiserslautern American High School in Germany. A number of other former teachers from the American schools in Europe have retired to this area of Florida, so it’s always great fun to visit here—knee surgery notwithstanding.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS
Recently, I watched—again—the award-winning German film The Lives of Others. I was struck—again—by what a great movie it is. Although this was the third time I had seen it (maybe the fourth), I was very interested in how the people joining me–who had not seen it–might view it ten years down the road. I have to tell you: it held up very well for both them and me! It continues to resonate even though it is still presented in the original German language with subtitles—the acting and the cinematography is that good!
Ten years ago it won the Academy Award as best foreign film. Set in the 1980s, it tells the story of a Stasi man (think Gestapo or KGB) in East Germany who is required to spy on the life of a playwright. The film focuses on the needs of totalitarians to suppress the work of artists in a culture and the lengths to which such people will go to dictate and control the lives of others in order to achieve their own private ends. But it also shows the amazing resilience of the human spirit.
The most memorable line comes late in the movie, after the fall of the Berlin Wall: “And to think people like you once ran a country.” Of course, having witnessed what is happening and may happen in our own government under the current leadership, I found the film even more powerful this time around.
In their denigration of the press and of artists who not only disagree with them, but also have the courage to call them out for errors in judgement, DT and his cohorts are already at cross-purposes with two of the four freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment: Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech. Nor are they especially respectful of the other two: Freedom to Assemble and Freedom of Religion.
Scary times ahead.
We must never forget that the price of liberty is constant vigilance.
Bottom line: If you have never seen The Lives of Others, hie thee to Netflix (or whatever) and see it. If you saw it before, see it again. ‘Tis well worth it.
JET-HI: PEOPLE TO PEOPLE . . . (#4)
So, the unimaginable happened.
A Russian military transport plane landed on the runway at Ramstein Air Base, headquarters for the U. S. Air Force in Europe and a key element of NATO’s defense system.
The crew of that plane was flabbergasted as they were greeted by American school children offering them flowers. Almost immediately our Air Force people, using mechanized equipment, began loading the cargo while the Russian crew was whisked off to their visitors’ quarters.
That night at a banquet hosted by both Americans and Germans, Jim Murphy offered a toast, saying in part, “When you work together, you become friends and when you become friends, there is peace.” The spokesperson for the Russian crew, most of whom did not speak English, in his toast offered sincere gratitude and then brought the house down by adding, “In our military academy we learned over and over how to bomb Ramstein. Today, we were greeted with flowers.”
Although many, many people had worked very hard at making JET-HI happen, and many would have dearly loved to be on that plane as it returned to Russia with EIGHTY TONS (!) of donated goods, only six were allowed to do so. I was lucky enough to be one of the six, for I needed to finalize plans for my students to go to Ivanovo in April. It was cold and snowy as the plane landed at an air base near Ivanovo, but never in your life could you imagine the warm hospitality with which we were welcomed. While the Russian ground crew unloaded the plane using strictly manual labor, we six were ushered off immediately for a “little snack”—tables laden with food and drink and, of course, many toasts! And it was that way everywhere we went. In the next few days we visited in Russian homes, schools, an orphanage, and a military hospital (where many veterans of their war in Afghanistan were still being treated). We saw very clearly just how great the need was.
In April when I returned with my students for the other half of the student exchange, Marina gave me a folder with several sheets of single-spaced lists of names and signatures of people who had received any portion of that cargo. (I should have looked for my jacket, eh?)
Never underestimate the power of the Boltushski!
As I said earlier, our experience with that one community of people in a former enemy nation not only spread good will for America, but for me it was a clear demonstration of the generosity, compassion, and optimism of the American people.
[Thanks for sticking with me—if you did.]
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