One Branch Away from Political Domination GOP One-Party Rule: Legislative, Executive, Judicial Branches.

ANDREW HARNIK / AP

In my lifetime, I’ve seen two wars, two political assassinations and two assassination attempts, two political scandals: Watergate and Monicagate, as well as several terrorist attacks and two recessions.

And now once again I find myself in the middle of another seismic social shift in a country reeling from political and cultural turmoil.

We live in chaotic times. Our country has been in a constitutional crisis since January 2017.

There. I said it, even if the media pundits won’t. They carefully parse their words when discussing the proverbial tipping point of a constitutional crisis.

Continue reading

Freedom of Speech Is A License to Speak — Use It, Or Lose It!

As writers, we have a responsibility to speak out when things get under our skin and poke at our gut in an unrelenting way.

Words that evoke emotion or provoke thought is what writers do and should be doing, especially now at a time of one-party government led by an authoritarian bent president.

Jessica Kourkounis via Getty Images Breannamarsh15 via Reddit

Yes, our President has authoritarian tendencies. He embraces dictators like Putin, Duterte, and Erdogan and condemns our democratic allies — And no, I’m not speaking as a progressive, though I wear the label proudly. I’m speaking as a citizen of our great democracy, as someone who can’t sleep at night when I think about the man who sits in the oval office with a temperament of a five-year-old.

You may have noticed that his epidermis is thin. He can’t take criticism or responsibility for his actions or words. He has no problem blaming others for his mistakes then sacrificing them to save himself. His only loyalties are to his family and his bank accounts. That is the only constant in a chaotic administration ruled by an unstable man.

His masculinity is threatened if he’s not a “winner” or doesn’t have the biggest crowds. *wink* *wink* He responds to unflattering accusations by lashing out with pompous, incredulous lies to protect his manhood, while undermining the institutions that are a framework of our democracy: the press, the intelligence agencies, the judicial branch, the scientists and the laws that he believes don’t apply to him.

You might think he’s dumb or crass or inept at diplomacy. It doesn’t matter. He is capable of destroying us by the power he wields in the highest office, along with the controlling party of one that enables him, putting party over country to hold onto power.

The GOP started their power grab years ago by redefining electoral districts through Gerrymandering. They continued their absorption of power and deference to the powerful by hijacking Obama’s supreme court seat to keep the court conservative, by denying the reality of science for the sake of oil company profits, and by tweaking the Senate rules to favor lobbyists and special interest groups. If they approve Trump’s budget, they’ll cut programs for the poor and middle class and change the tax code to enrich the rich, allowing billionaires to control our country like Russian oligarchs — the men Trump admires and emulates.

It isn’t paranoid to think there could be a political shift in this country from democracy to autocracy. The cracks are evident in our divided political system and the uncertainty of what is real or false. Thanks to Trump’s cult-like repetition ridiculing and demeaning the “dishonest media” and branding them as “an enemy of the people.”

Undermining and vilifying the media is a playbook often used by dictators to effect a radical change in government.

“The phrase “enemy of the people” — that has a history. The only people that I know that have used that phrase were (Joseph) Stalin and the people who succeeded Stalin in the Soviet Bloc,” Nadler said. “The press is not the ‘enemy of the people.’ Nobody is an ‘enemy of the people,’ because they disagree with me or you about what we ought to be doing.”

During Trump’s recent overseas trip, he shut out the media, conducted press briefings off camera, and never held a press conference in order to control the coverage. According to MSNBC reporter Kelly O’Donnell:

When world leaders convened at the G7 Summit in Italy, the United States was the only country that didn’t hold press conferences:

If we ignore signs of the erosion of our freedoms or dismiss the notion as progressive neurosis or hysterical hyperbole, autocracy will blindside us one day.

It has happened before to people in nations content in their complacency of unintended ignorance. It happened while they sleepwalked through their day and missed the legislative creep of plutocratic policy passed by their leaders, as they pulled the strings that unraveled the fabric of society.

Whether we agree or disagree on right/left wedge issues is irrelevant, as long as we can agree that we need to be free in order to disagree.

A Doctor Almost Killed My Father

Street Vendor Outside Bronx Lebanon Hospital

My father’s fragile frame paces through my mind, dressed in a flimsy gown, hiding the dignity he tries to keep. With a nurse on each arm, he sloths toward the exit sign, a cruel promise resonating in a distant hall.

Lingering hysteria shadows the tasks I perform to imitate normalcy. Thoughts of my father ride a tangent back to immediacy, while life shines beyond my reach like sunlight breaching a cloud’s periphery.

My father languishes in the step-down ICU. Smiling weakly beneath a tangle of lines, his pallid cheeks belie a still healthy sense of humor; he jokes between blood transfusions and telemetry readings, PICC line and catheter insertions, during a weeklong endurance test amid painful pokes of regret. A decision by an urgent care doctor put him there. He prescribed medication that caused my father’s kidney failure.

A red flag flapped in the ominous wind that swept into the doctor’s office; his actions ill-conceived. The computers were down. No patient history to see or phone call initiated to the office that could access my father’s records. The doctor’s derelict decision caused an emergency medical ripple effect: a 280 blood pressure spike, a carnival-like ambulance ride, and admitting paperwork before my father landed in the step-down ICU, his kidneys compromised by an ethical lapse in the Hippocratic Oath.

My father lounges in bed amid an atmosphere of urgency: nurses scurrying in and out his room with get-well pills and intravenous goody bags. His eyes tell the story that his lips will never speak–the dull look of frustration, degradation, and pain rises and falls from a wave of the scepter of medical neglect.

His smile wanes in the torture of every passing day. The state of his condition tethered to telemetry and Creatinine numbers, once high now trending downward. My father continues adjusting to the discomforts inherent in a hospital stay, while the urgent care doctor continues prescribing meds to other daring patients.

A risk is the last thing my father or anyone expects when stepping into a healthcare provider‘s office seeking a resolution to pain or mystery ailment. My father and all of us are slaves to an imperfect health system based on corporate profits. We are as good as our last doctor and the medical insurance we can afford to pay.

Elderly patients like my 89-year-old father who is on Medicare will be insulated from the changes in our health care system. People 65 and younger will be affected by the legislation Congress passes. As senators dive into the nuances of health care benefits and test the temperature in high-risk pools, the insurance and pharmaceutical companies monitor the activity from above. They are highly paid lifeguards deciding who should live and who should die. Congress is just the maintenance crew. They work for the lobbyists and special interest groups, the 1% with the most money, not the 99% with the least.

Each day I wait for my father to be released. “Not today,” I’m told, though his condition continues to improve. He probably won’t be leaving anytime soon while the urgent care doctor returns home after treating a flock of patients, unaware that his care might lure them to the emergency room.

America Elects Its Next Celebrity President

Trump Thank You TourIt’s not surprising that Trump won the election. Americans love reality television. Millions of viewers tune it to watch Survivor every Wednesday night, others can’t survive without their Tuesday fix of Dancing with the Stars. When the election mutated into a spin-off of The Apprentice, Americans couldn’t get enough of Trump’s on-the-trail antics, some of it funny, some of it scary, yet entertaining all the same.

The media also embraced the campaign’s carnival-like atmosphere, analyzing Trump’s tweets and monitoring his rallies, waiting for him to say something outrageous that would drive the 24/7 news cycle. Every day, it seemed, a Trump narrative dominated the headlines, stealing airtime from Hillary. Even when Trump wasn’t the focus of the news, his response to Hillary’s bad press became news when he inevitably stepped on the story with one of his blunders.

“This one will sink him,” the talking heads predicted, first during the primaries and then the campaign.

“He’s the Teflon Don,” another shot back. “Nothing has sunk him yet.”

That turned out to be accurate. No matter how outrageous or inflammatory Trump could be, his supporters stuck by their guy. He was entertaining, wasn’t politically correct (to a fault). He spoke to them like a friend and was somebody they wanted to have a beer with. His recognizable face and brand made them feel warm and fuzzy. They knew this guy. They had watched him on TV: The Apprentice, the Miss America Pageant, and Access Hollywood. While Hillary became ensnared in a character battle with Trump that brought out her greatest weaknesses, Trump was celebrated for his. “It was just Trump being Trump,” the guy who was everything that Washington was not.

He was the anti-presidential candidate. Though his negatives were higher than Hillary’s was, it became an asset for him, not for her. He was, Mr. Reality TV, was supposed to be outrageous and politically incorrect. That was his brand.

The Clinton campaign made a grave error using character as their focus of the campaign. Character was her greatest weakness, his greatest strength… because he was the likable reality TV star, she, the dishonest wonk, according to Trump and his supporters. The Clintons underestimated the power of a reality TV star and the audience that adored and trusted him. Even if Trump supporters thought he was a clown, he was a clown they knew. They didn’t really know Hillary, even though she had been active in politics for many years. They had heard about Benghazi and Monica Lewinsky. Knew they shouldn’t like her. But not until the email scandal and Trump’s branding of her as “Crooked Hilary,” was her character transformation complete. A complicit media that had an appetite for demonizing Clinton, assisted in propelling the narrative that Trump had created.

The media fell in love with Trump, the rating’s magnet; they adored him, even when abused by him, and overlooked facts for the sake of audience market share. They followed Trump’s Twitter activity more than leads on his questionable business dealings and character flaws. Had the media latched onto Trump’s taxes as firmly as Hillary’s emails, Trump may have been forced to release them before he takes the Oath of Office on January 20th.

I thought the media would have learned their lessons from the campaign. But they continue to allow Trump to drive the narrative, dictate the script, while they report on every tweet. They treat him like a TV star, not a president-elect. They embrace his weaknesses: his thin skin and erratic behavior, to bolster their ratings, instead of reporting on how his flaws could adversely affect our country and the world. They want to cultivate favors with the new president-elect, not alienate him.

While we watch Trump captivate the media with his outrageous statements: his bigotry, bullying, xenophobia, and sexism, as he flip-flops on his campaign promises (mostly overlooked by the press) — America loses its soul. Because they elected a celebrity they thought they knew, but really didn’t know.

The media and their audience focused on Trump’s shenanigans instead of his backstory: his global financial ties, not vetted, Russian involvement in the election (and possible coordination with the Trump campaign) mostly glossed over, along with the Trump Foundation and Trump University.

The media didn’t hound Trump to release his taxes and his supporters didn’t care if he released them or not. They believed Trump when he told them that he was under audit and that the “dishonest media” was out to get him, would crucify him if he released his taxes. By defusing the media’s influence, questioning the veracity of every negative story about him, Trump became the media authority, the only honest news source according to Trump. Because of his recognizable brand and power of celebrity to “grab them by the pussy” or “do whatever the hell I want,” he seduced the American people, who idolized their TV star, and convinced them that he would “Make America Great Again,” despite not having substantial plans to backup his claims.

Because the media embraced the notion that Americans wanted to be entertained, not informed, we are now involuntary participants in a reality TV show, unlike anything we’ve seen before. No one received a call from central casting, and yet we have accepted our roles as the electorate in a Trump presidency.

As in all reality TV shows, there will be winners and losers. However, if President-elect Trump’s cabinet picks are an indication of what to expect in future episodes, there will be no winners, except for the star and cast of the Trump POTUS TV show that will run for four consecutive seasons on every station.

We will be a captive audience whether we like it or not.

Why Festivus Matters

Happy Fesivus

This time of year can be difficult for some — people who are going through a rough time because they are sick or alone — because we have grown to believe that Christmas is a family tradition. For those who don’t have family, or can’t be with them on Christmas, this day may be intolerable and feel more like a weight.

Removing the family-tradition weight from Christmas and replacing it with the lightness of Festivus will infuse somber souls with the whimsy of humor — the great equalizer.

Just thinking about Festivus makes me smile. It adds another dimension to our prepackaged beliefs that the holiday season is all about family. Maybe it’s time to rewire our thinking and embrace the possibility that Christmas can be more than the Pavlovian warm and fuzzy feeling we associate with the day. That “warm and fuzzy” can be two of the many other feelings that can light up our brains on Christmas day.

 

Maybe Festivus appeals to me because I am a holiday heretic and not beholden to anyone this time of year. Culturally, I’m supposed to celebrate Chanukah but when I was young, my family always celebrated Christmas.

Over the years, the message of love and giving that once symbolized Christmas has been shoved to the back of our holiday consciousness by brash commercialization that has elbowed its way to the front. Christmas songs blaring from speakers in supermarkets and retail stores, give me a headache, shatter my focus and shorten the time I spend there shopping.

Mostly, I try to avoid shopping at brick and mortar stores when possible this time of year. The onslaught of Christmas — the crowds and circus like atmosphere — is too much for me. The spectacle and image of screaming shoppers thrusting elbows and impatient drivers honking horns lingers in my head and silences the true meaning of the holiday.

Festivus, a holiday conceived in Larry David’s head, is the antithesis of the spectacle that Christmas has become. It gives people back their humanity lost in the seizure-inducing blinking light displays and siren-sounding songs that assaults us every time we walk into a store.

Yes, Christmas still thrills and delights the children. But for those of us who long ago learned that Santa was a fraud, Christmas is epitomized by YouTube videos of shoppers being trampled at Wal-Mart.

That’s why I embrace the levity of Festivus. The idea and the pole will never grow old and won’t kill the 21 species of trees we smother with Christmas lights and tinsel.

That’s why I say, “Happy Festivus for the rest of us!”

Help A Naked Poster Today! Frame It and Save It!

 

Do your walls draw a blank when they stare back at you? Does the white bright hurt your eyes?

Well, your eyes are trying to tell you something you already know. It’s time to fill in that glaring space on your wall with that naked poster that’s hiding behind a trunk in the attic.

Rescue it from the dusty darkness, dress it up and then put it in its proper place – in a snazzy poster frame on the wall, looking framed and fabulous. Now you can show your friends the poster you bought at the Rolling Stones Concert in ’65 instead of just talking about it.

Finding a perfect poster frame is too much work, you say.

I say it’s easy peasy. No effort at all. In fact, you can find a perfect poster frame that’s Rolling Stones worthy while sitting on your couch potato cushion watching MTV. Just pick up your iPhone, laptop or iPad and let your browser do the work.

Yeah, that’s right. Your browser. It’s a beast of burden and you’re the brains behind the beast.

Say what? You don’t have a Rolling Stones poster. Well, what’s stopping you? Rock your dull white walls with a retro psychedelic ’60s poster. It’s music to your decibel battered eardrums because it’s easy on the eyes and ears. It will save you the embarrassment of using the wondering “What?” too many times, which leads to too many dropped calls.

Don’t like music? Film aficionado instead? That works, too. A frame can dress up any naked poster or picture from your collection.

Yes, I believe a poster should enjoy some R&R time, unrestricted and flapping in the wind. But let’s be real! A free range poster will get ripped and tattered if not tucked safely inside a frame.

That’s why I dress up my posters in a frame. I don’t want them to get yellow poster jaundice.

Please, save a naked poster today!

Set it free from the dusty darkness and let it sing on your wall beneath the lights.

Do your posters have yellow poster jaundice?

 

The Children of Violence, a Generation of Lost Innocence

 

gray-avatar

As a child in the sixties, my innocence and the innocence of the nation, was shattered by three assassinations, one, years before the others, the others, just several months apart.

My generation could no longer hope for the clichéd, happy resolution at the end of a story. Our world, once a pocket of predictability, had changed. It was no longer a blasé place with innocuous consequences. The evil characters and scary plot twists in films had migrated from the movie screens to our backyards.

Fantasy and reality had synthesized into one glaring truth. Society was damaged. Evil had infiltrated our communities; our futures determined by uncontrollable forces, our lives affected by unnecessary wars that benefited corporations and by violent sociopaths with their fingers on the triggers.

The blood that had spilled from our larger than life heroes, and lesser unknown heroes of the Vietnam War, spilled into our national consciousness and created a generation of lost innocents, once content with the bland, black and white stories of suburbia portrayed in the TV show, Leave it to Beaver, and the Cleaver family, the perfect American family with uncomplicated lives.

The colorless, black and white images of the fifties gave way to blood-stained Technicolor images of the sixties and seventies, of students murdered on college campuses and soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.

From Vietnam to Kent State to Jackson State, my generation was traumatized by indiscriminate shootings of, and by, our protectors, and the victims who fell from the force of their guns. On the ground, spurting blood, a generation of innocent lost to senseless violence.

For my generation, many of the tragedies we witnessed on TV were a result of social change in society, with the exception of the deaths of our three larger than life heroes, whose murders we watched on TV sets in our living rooms, footage replayed night-after-night in prime-time.

This generation of children today, unlike my generation, never had the luxury of black and white simplicity. They never had the peaceful pause of silence before the next raging storm. Their innocence was taken from them soon after they were born by the violent images they see on TV, perpetuated by sociopaths who emerge from the shadows with their fingers on the triggers.

The murderers of innocence should heed the words projected on the wall of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Newtown – A tragedy close to home

I didn’t know any of the victims of the Newtown shooting. I’ve only been to Newtown once for an interview. I remember the long stretch of road and tree-laden landscape of the town, only twenty miles north of my house.

 

A tribute to the families and victims of Newtown, CT

Burning embers

 

When I think of mass shootings, school lockdowns, and candlelight vigils, I think of Aurora and Columbine, towns hundreds of miles away.

On Friday, a young deranged shooter raised a semiautomatic rifle, with bullets designed to inflict the greatest harm, and repeatedly shot twenty, first graders and six adults, two, just kids themselves, others, with children of their own.

The massacre didn’t happen hundreds of miles away in Colorado or Ohio. The massacre happened, here, in Connecticut, just twenty miles from my house.

Even though I didn’t know any of the families affected by this tragedy of unimaginable proportions, I was affected by their horror, loss, and inconsolable grief. I was shocked and sickened, as I watched the news footage, and thought, “But, it can’t happen here.”

After the veil of shock lifted and the icy realization, “That it did happen here,” gripped my spine, I shed a tear for the families and for the innocence lost, while saddened by the sobering reality that it can, in fact, “happen here.”

Not Newtown, or any town anywhere, is immune from the random shooting of a psychopath. And the notion of living in a place that’s “safe” and “tranquil,” words synonymous with small town life, can be shattered in the fleeting gasp of a horrific moment.

Enhanced by Zemanta