Trump exoneration America’s indictment

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the U.S. election, and the reaction to it, makes it abundantly clear how far the world’s oldest democracy has strayed from the founding fathers well-intentioned but flawed vision.

The report details the lies and plethora of bad behaviour by the country’s leader, who was not elected by a majority of its citizens but instead because the archaic electoral college devised 150 years ago to appease the defeated slave states allows the minority to rule. It affirms Trump received significant help from the Russians, who wanted him to win, and that his campaign was open to offers and never advised the FBI about this foreign intervention. It concludes Russians used social media to target more than 100 million voters in an election that was ultimately decided by about 80,000 votes.

Despite Mueller scrupulously outlining dubious ethics, slack morality and almost daily deceit, The Conman-in-Chief and his legion of debased lackeys are crowing about exoneration, as if the only standard a President must meet is to avoid indictment for a criminal offense, all the while knowing the constitution has been amended to exempt a sitting President from criminal indictment. A convenient Catch 22 for a budding despot and his duped or deplorable followers in a country that claims no man is above the law.

Remember Trump’s infamous admonition to his deplorable base: ‘Don’t believe what you see and read, believe what I say.’

Okay, Big Orange Brother.

The report meticulously notes how Trump did everything to hinder the investigation but walk over to the Department of Justice and fire the Special Counsel in person. It relates how various campaign officials, including Trump Jr. and his son-in-law, tried to collude with the Russians, then lied about it. It documents campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s ongoing sharing of polling data with a Russian agent.

Exoneration?

Below is an abbreviated summary of some of the the Conman-in-Chief’s more egregious behaviour.

  • Trump had Russia on his mind when he fired FBI director Jim Comey, the man originally in charge of the Russia investigation, after Comey refused to guarantee his loyalty.
  • He pressured acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to lie about the reason Comey was fired.
  • Rosenstein was so concerned he appointed a Special Counsel.
  • Trump, fearful of what investigators might dig up, ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to fire the Special Counsel and relented only when McGhan said he would resign first.
  • He told aide Corey Lewandowski to ask then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curtail the investigation.
  • He commanded his Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to pressure Sessions into ‘unrecusing’ himself so Sessions could control the Special Counsel and feed information about it to Trump or his lawyers.
  • He directed various White House staff to lie to the American people and personally directed the false narrative concerning the meeting his son and top campaign officials had with Russian operatives with the purpose of obtaining illegally obtained information on his election.
  • He denigrated patriotic Americans risking their lives in law enforcement and intelligence gathering.
  • He lied about conducting business in Russia while running for the Presidency.
  • While running for office, Trump authorized and coordinated an illegal hush money payment to a porn star he had sex with shortly after his wife gave birth.
  • He conspired with a sleazy supermarket tabloid to suppress the story of a Playboy Bunny he was fooling around with while his wife nursed their infant son.
  •   He attacked the media for spreading fake news which turned out to be accurate, while tweeting a stream of lies to his Twitter followers.
  •  He intimidated witnesses and dangled the possibility of a pardon if they refused to cooperate with investigators.
  • He refused to be interviewed in person by the Special Counsel, and in heavily lawyered written responses to investigators’ questions claimed he couldn’t recall specifics 30 times, despite his boast of having ‘the best memory’.
  • He hired an unqualified lackey to care-take the investigation while he searched for an Attorney General who would protect him like his mentor, disbarred and now deceased mob lawyer Roy Cohn.
  • He found his Roy Cohn after private lawyer and conservative ideologue William Barr sent Trump’s attorneys a job application that laid out reasons why a President can’t commit obstruction of justice.
  • He lauded his hand-picked new Attorney General when Barr provided a misleading narrative about the investigation to the American people and needlessly held the report for almost a month to let his spin ferment.

The Conman-in-Chief brays about personal exoneration because Mueller didn’t recommend criminal charges, but the report is a clear indictment of a sleazy democracy in the time of Trump run by immoral swamp rats supported by 40 per cent of American voters.

 

Cruisin’… on sunny afternoons

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The upside of going on a Panama Canal cruise to celebrate your 70th birthday is that you feel young compared to the other passengers. The downside is that you see the future and it isn’t pretty, in the most literal sense.

Before the politically correct among you suffer heart palpitations or sputter yourselves into apoplexy with incomprehensible rage mutterings about elder abuse, I will embrace the unassailable journalistic defamation defense. The truth is the truth.

We began our cruise holiday with a stop in Fort Lauderdale at a hotel convenient to the airport and a nearby cruise terminal. Convenience, as we learned while checking in amidst a throng of cruisers recently off-loaded from an arriving ship, is central to the travel philosophy of the geezer cruise crowd.

Ship to shuttle to hotel or attraction; hotel to shuttle to airport or attraction.

By happenstance, our brief Fort Lauderdale sojourn coincided with spring break, the annual migration of American college students to the beaches of Florida, where they refresh minds stressed by months of intellectual rigor by drowning millions of brain cells in alcohol while cavorting nearly naked in beachfront bars.

An afternoon stroll along the boardwalk reveals a shocking lack of visual self-awareness evident in the young and educated. Suffice to say, muscle shirts do not enhance every male physique and the thong was not invented with certain body types in mind. To follow flabby mottled cheeks jiggling down a public sidewalk on either side of an imbedded pink bum wiper is to instill images that could haunt a senior to his grave.

But our big take away from Fort Lauderdale came about during a boat tour of the city’s canals. Bernie Sanders is right. Too many people in the top one per cent have way too much money.

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The perfect craft for a weekend cruise.

It’s not so much the opulent mansions that line the waterways, (second or third homes to the Trumps and Manaforts of the world) as it is the yachts parked out front for weekend outings. The annual upkeep alone on the floating trophies of capitalism gone awry would suck up the yearly salaries of 10 of the workers toiling for the captains of industry who brag about accumulating their wealth by knowing the value of a dollar well spent. The super rich fudge on their taxes and rail against raising the minimum wage while flaunting their wealth with conspicuous consumption that is breathtaking in its audacity.

But I digress.

We sailed on a mid-size Holland America ship called the Volendam, an upscale floating home for travelling seniors equipped with all the expected shipboard amenities—a promenade for strolling; lounge chairs for reading and contemplation; a piano bar for nightly name-that-tune-trivia games; lounges with happy hours for budget conscience geezers; buffets and fine dining restaurants; a hot tub and two pools (indoor with retractable roof and outdoor); a movie theatre; ping pong tables, a spa, a gym with the latest equipment and a ocean view; a library with classic books and tables for chess, scrabble and jig saw puzzles; a Las Vegas style showroom with a mixed bag of nightly entertainment ranging from a skinny German juggler to an electric harp player from Uruguay; a casino with slot machines and electronic poker; a medical centre; a quiet card room for bridge, canasta and euchre; glittery high-end jewelry and clothing shops; and a top deck pickle ball court enclosed with netting to keep the pickle from soaring into the sea.

The cruise lines have honed innumerable ways to separate captive codgers from their pension money. While soft drinks at $2.25 a can are within an acceptable range, the bottles of water beside them in your cabin will add six dollars to your cruise credit card. Laundry is $20 a small bag.

All alcoholic purchases are subject to a mandatory 15 per cent service charge, in addition to $15 dollars a day levied each passenger for gratuities for the crew. Wine stewards in the fine dining room are happy to recommend wine pairings that start at $40 a bottle and range sharply upwards into the hundreds. A domestic beer is $7.50 and the cheapest glass of wine is $9. The wi fi package offered pre-cruise came in at $30 dollars a day. Sales must have been slow because a few days out people were getting wi fi for the much-reduced rate of $8 per day.

Add 30 per cent to all prices for Canadian cruisers.

 

 

For the long languid days at sea the cruise lines offer distractions like art auctions, shore excursion sales pitches disguised as information sessions, massage packages, meditation at $12 a session and experts to brief you on the fantastic deals you get by booking your next cruise while at sea. You can wile away the hours shopping for over-priced clothing or a discounted Rolex or diamond earrings for that special someone on your 65th anniversary. They even offer specialty restaurants at extra cost, where the dinner experience is presumed to be a cut above the ship’s fine dining room, for those who prefer paying for their food to eating free with the hoi polloi.

You know going in that the real cost of cruising is all about the add-ons. To quibble about cruise line gouging is to defeat the purpose of the trip, which is to escape life’s aggravations while travelling from country to country in a five-star hotel with excellent personalized service without the unpacking and packing.

Did I mention the geezer cruising set like their conveniences?

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The Volendam at anchor off Holland America’s private island Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.

 

 

The first stop was an afternoon visit to Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas, a small piece of paradise with impossibly blue water and pristine beaches, a perfect place to slow the pace needed for cruising. You can ride a sea doo or a horse, paddle a kayak or frolic with stingrays, for a price. We opted for a walk and ate burgers under palm fronds at the ship-sponsored lunch.

Crossing the Caribbean to the Colombian port of Cartagena on the second night out caused a lot of geezers to reach for their motion sickness pills. Your bilious agent departed Happy Hour prematurely leaving a bucket of unopened beer behind. Luckily, the Dame, who hasn’t ridden a roller coast she didn’t love, had the foresight to pack the pricey beverages to our cabin for future disposal.

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Built by the Spanish in the 1500’s, Castillo San Felipe in Cartagena was a bastion against foreign invaders. Trump supporters had wall envy.

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View from the Popa monastery overlooking the city of Cartegena

 

 

We saw Cartagena through the windows of a tour bus which delivered its cargo of fresh-off-the-boat suck… ahem… seniors to a succession of tourist hot spots, where we were besieged by hawkers selling everything from genuine made-in-China-especially-for-Columbia hats to hand-made rosary beads and purses. We scooped up hats and several bottles of precious water at prices severely discounted from the ship.

The excursion included a mandatory stop at a ‘jade museum’ which is code for a jewelry store masquerading as a tourist attraction. A minor discord amongst the elderly sightseers surfaced when an oblivious codger couple kept 25 passengers waiting in the bus for 15 minutes while they bargained for jade earrings. For a moment I thought an enraged geezer was going to limp up the aisle and hit the late-comers with his cane.

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Viewing the Panama Canal.

 

 

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The start of the Canal. Our ship will have only a foot or so clearance on each side.

The Panama Canal lived up to its billing as one of the engineering marvels of the world. It took a full day to negotiate, with plenty of viewing opportunities to observe the ship being raised and lowered a hundred feet as the massive locks filled with water in about the time it takes to run a bath. The clearance on either side of the ship looks to be no more than a foot as it’s guided through the locks by rail cars attached on either side.

The Columbian hats proved to be a good $10 investment in the equatorial heat and the sunburnt old folks, having checked off another item on their bucket lists, appeared well-satisfied when they assembled for dinner.

Eating is central to shipboard life. Everything revolves around it. The day begins with breakfast at the Lido, where serving station attendants dole out everything from omelettes to eggs benny, from eggs sunny side up with sausages and bacon to French toast or pancakes, toasted bagels, hot oatmeal or cereal with remarkable efficiency and good cheer. Unhealthy temptation for a breakfast lover with gluttonous tendencies.

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People in funny hats prepare an endless array of food.

Lunch begins at 11:30, giving late risers a short window to walk off excess breakfast calories before digging into roast lamb, beef brisket, caramelized carrots and roasted potatoes smothered in gravy, the excesses of which are sopped up with bread baked daily. To be fair, there are healthy alternatives at the custom salad station but it takes a stronger person than your agent to eat lettuce with beef brisket on offer.

Ship activity tends to slow down in the afternoon as the glutted geezers hobble and wheeze off to their deck chairs to slumber with open mouths and books on their laps. The more energetic rouse themselves to attend afternoon tea in the dining room, where they munch cucumber sandwiches without crusts and sip from dainty cups to prepare aged digestive tracts for the nightly food onslaught.

Not surprisingly for a restaurant that caters to a clientele averaging in age in the mid-to-high 70s, the fine dining room opens at 5:15, which conveniently for the budget conscience is right on the heels of Happy Hour. A quick jaunt to the cabin to change from shorts into the long pants required for fine dining does not significantly reduce the glow of cut-price alcohol.

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Some cruise lines offer a course in towel animal origami, ours, fortunately, did not.

It is essential to be in good spirits for the repartee at evening dining, which may find you at a table with six or eight retirees from various countries, a disproportionate number of them American preachers or members of obscure evangelical flocks. Bringing up the subject of Donald Trump, hopped up on Happy Hour drinks, resulted in a sharp kick in the ankle from the Dame and muted response from our dinner companions. We discovered that non-deplorable Americans were vocal in their condemnation of the Conman-in-Chief while supporters fidgeted with their eating implements or stared intently at their lobster tail hoping to avoid a political discussion.

At one such seating our dining companions included a well-spoken couple from California. The old gentleman, a former pastor who went into real estate when he retired from the ministry at age 65, sat before us as breathing testament for clean living. His real estate career peaked at age 80, when he had a six-figure year. At 98, he still retained his realtor credentials and had recently been issued a five-year driver’s licence which would take him to his 103rd birthday. He needed the licence for his volunteer work driving the needy to hospital appointments. His travelling companion, whom he met at the senior’s residence before both their spouses died, would admit only to being in her eighties and was careful to note that while they shared a cabin the sleeping arrangements were purely platonic. To the Dame’s great relief, I did not query them about Donald Trump.

Leaving the Panama Canal is like cruising into maritime rush hour. Dozens of cargo ships of varying sizes, some of questionable sea worthiness from visual inspection, are anchored in the Pacific near the entrance waiting for their precise entry times. Teddy Roosevelt’s tireless drive to link the oceans is paying huge dividends to someone with a mansion somewhere and a huge boat docked out front.

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Maritime gridlock exiting the Panama Canal

On the way up the West Coast of Central America we stopped at Puntarenas, a gritty Costa Rican port that is a stepping off point for worldly backpackers who ferry across the inlet to a jungle peninsula for cheap living off the grid. The entire town can be walked in an hour or so and doesn’t have much to offer beyond miles of deserted beaches too hot to lay on under the equatorial sun.

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An official tree billboard in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

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A gentle reminder of where they are for confused elderly tourists.

The stopover that interested us most was the tiny Nicaraguan port of Corinta, not much more than a village and remarkably untouched by the digital world despite the cruise ships that dock regularly. We were squired around town in a pedicab (a bicycle with a primitive two-seat trailer welded to its frame) by a man who spoke remarkably good English that he claimed to have learned by watching movies and TV. His stated rate was $5 for an hour’s pedaling, including his unique insight into the everyday lives of Donald Trump’s feared foreign invaders.

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Our intrepid guide in Corinta, Nicaragua

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A mango windfall for this hard-working Corinta resident.

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Traffic jam in Corinta

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The Nicaraguan people welcome the ship with traditional dance and costumes.

He lived with his grandmother, his girlfriend and young daughter and was their primary source of income. His mother was up north, somewhere in Mexico, where she had secured employment as a housekeeper. He rented the bike from a local entrepreneur who established his pedicab empire with help from family in the U.S. who sent him start-up cash. Our guide hoped to buy his own pedicab but money is tight and the political situation dicey. He took us down a rutted street called Hollywood because its modest houses were in better repair. He attributed its inhabitants’ relative prosperity to money sent home from the U.S.

He did not have good things to say about strongman Daniel Ortega, who dispersed heavily armed soldiers to Corinta to guard his port holdings during a recent period of political unrest that shut the cruise ship terminal for months, cutting off the locals’ main source of income. He spoke softly during the ride and looked straight ahead when we passed military men. We gave him $25 bucks at the ride’s end and at five times the rate quoted considered it money well spent.

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Smoke and ash can be seen at the top of Volcano Fuego, which erupted in 2018 destroying a village below.

 

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Living under a hot lava fountain.

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Birthday boy acting his age.

In Antigua, an hour by bus from the ship into the Guatemalan hills, we discovered that a sure way to spoil the ambience of an idyllic Spanish colonial town is to slap a World Heritage Site designation on it. The town, with its cobbled streets, colonial architecture, street arches and busy markets is teeming with tourist traps like the Chocolate Factory that offers genuine Guatemalan cocoa bean chocolate bars for $7 U.S.

Our stop in Huatulco, Mexico, was like arriving back in western civilization from the third world. The beautiful bay was rife with small tour boats loaded with revellers and lined with condos and apartments owned by expat Canadians and Americans who prefer the climate to Northern winters. It has a long, treed boulevard, grocery stores, movie theatres and a lot of Pemex gas stations controlled by the richest man in the world, who no doubt has a waterfront mansion in Palm Beach and a humongous yacht docked out front.

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Our arrival in Huatalco, where snowbirds abound in sun-burned glory.

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The essentials of life in Huatalco, Mexico.

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Images of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo are everywhere.

Our last stop before two days at sea cruising to San Diego was Puerto Vallarta, familiar to many West Coasters in search of the cheap Mexican getaway for a week’s respite from the rain and snow. It is a one-time fishing village turned into a large commercial city with a great climate and a beautiful seaside promenade, a long way from the extreme poverty of Corinta.

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Death-heads are big sellers down south, apparently even the NFL is in on it

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A warm Mexican greeting for Trump’s deplorables.

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Not sure if these belong in Puerto Vallarta or Area 51.

To sum up, cruising is a bit like going to a senior’s home in a remote paradise in that even with all the activities aboard ship it takes several days to gear down to life without cell phones and the distractions that intrude on land. It is a fantasy world with a well-trained crew happy to serve your every need, a place where the cabin stewards greet you by your first name prefaced with a Mr. or Miss. The Happy Hour waiter knows your drinking companions and watches to steer them to your table. There is no crime or cable TV to spoil the mood and nothing more pressing to do than stroll the promenade with its endless ocean horizons.

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Lee, the erstwhile leader of the nightly music trivia sing-along

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Early dinner completed, geezers flock to the theatre for front row seats, sleeping through the performance is not encouraged but often observed.

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Happy cruisers.

It should be said that the mostly Filipino crew was a highlight of our cruise. They were unfailingly good humored, even with the aggravations of dealing with crotchety confused old people while working 11-hour days seven days a week away from their families for nine months of the year. Well worth the 15 dollar daily gratuity grouched about earlier.

I’ll leave the lovely southern California city of San Diego for another blog, as its charms for the traveller deserve a separate accounting.

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Until next time………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dexter a.k.a. The Dood—-June 2008-April 2019

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The Dude and the Dex, love at first sight

The first time we laid eyes on The Dood, he was running around a farmyard with 11 of his siblings, fuzzy balls of fur with fat round stomachs and surplus puppy energy, oblivious to the aggravation their antics presented their harried Mom.

Both parents were Golden Doodles, crosses between Golden Retrievers and Standard Poodles. Eight weeks after giving birth, Mom was low-slung and suffering the indignities of a dozen hungry mouths pulling on her teats but Dad was showing no ill affects from the responsibilities of fatherhood.

He was an impressive animal, about 85 pounds with long legs and a tawny coat of curls that feathered out to give him a regal look. I walked Dad out to the back of the property to check The Dood’s lineage. He pulled hard on the leash but settled into my pace when I yanked it back  harder.

We picked The Dood out of the impossibly cute puppy rumble mostly because of his sex. We wanted a male.

After a stop at the Vet for shots and deworming (his tummy was fat for a reason) we dropped him at a dog training facility to learn proper toilet etiquette before we picked him up a week later to start our new life in the South Okanagan. The training stuck. For the remainder of his life he would not walk out a door before a human or poop in the yard or on a trail or path. We called him Dexter, not after tv’s serial killer but because it was a name the Dame had always liked for a pet.

Dexter took to his new home like a prince to his kingdom. We moved to a cul de sac at the lake with dog-friendly neighbours, no traffic and a field next door. He had the run of the place, rough-housing with the Boxer across the street, dragging shoes home from porches (did I mention our neighbourhood is dog friendly) and prancing proudly up the driveway with a deer hoof clamped in his teeth.

He had so much energy the older Boxer would tire of wrestling and send him on his way with a snap and a guttural doggie rebuke. Dexter didn’t take offense. He simply came back home, his face covered in Boxer spittle, and ran around the yard like a demented doodle.

He grew into the image of his Dad, only leaner with tighter curls and a lighter coat. A chick magnet of the first order.

Dexter became the star attraction everywhere he went. Women and young girls fawned over him at every public outing; men appreciated the effect he had on women and the fact he was a dog’s dog, not some yappy little runt with an attitude. Walking through the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning was like taking a stroll with a furry four-legged George Clooney.  His love of exercise never waned, even in the foulest weather.

The Dood was not a haughty dog. He accepted attention with enthusiasm, leaning into the legs of strangers as if they were lifelong friends. He never met a person he didn’t like. All visitors to our home were greeted with boundless enthusiasm. He barked with reticence, a single sharp signal to let us know he wanted out or that his water dish was empty. Any increase in tempo alerted us to company.

Above all, Dexter possessed a constancy of disposition.

From the high energy of puppyhood to the infirmity of old age, we never once saw him display bad temper or aggression towards another being. When our first cat Nigel clipped him on the nose with a sharp jab delivered from his fortress under the kitchen chair, The Dood took his lumps with equanimity. When a mother deer decided he was too close to her fawn, The Dood took the hint and turned tail for home without so much as a growl. When visiting dogs decided his food bowl was a community affair, The Dood stepped back and let them eat their fill. Later in life, when a crotchety response would have been forgiven, he demurred to the new cat Molly when she began to hog his bed. The Dood simply rousted himself and moved to a nearby rug.

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If you want the bed I can move..

 

Before you tune out, tired of the maudlin ramblings of a grieving owner who envisions his departed best friend as the canine Mother Theresa, I should say that The Dood displayed the same annoying behaviours that have infuriated dog owners since the first wolf was domesticated.

He could hear the word ‘cookie’ whispered from 50 yards away but if it suited was deaf to his own name hollered from 10 paces. Later in life, after falling in with a bad companion, a pitbull cross with a wanderlust who moved in next door, he began to roam away from the cul de sac and could not be trusted to return from his nightly pee outings without going on lengthy and worrisome nocturnal walkabouts. On garbage day, he’d slink away from the yard at the first sign of inattention and rummage through neighbourhood garbage cans, the soggy contents of which would have to be bagged and put back, even in dog friendly neighbourhoods. He was like walking Velcro and tracked dirt and sand into the house constantly. He tore up stuffed animals, dug holes in the yard and trashed the lawn. He smelled bad after swimming in the lake. He required constant attention and ran up large bills at the vet.

Dexter ‘The Dood’ left this world just short of his 11th birthday, the gentlest of god’s creatures, taking with him a big piece of our hearts.

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Our handsome boy…forever loved

 

 

A Christmas Epiphany

 

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Some years back I found myself in the month leading up to Christmas a reluctant patient at Burnaby General Hospital. I showed up at emergency in acute discomfort without a toothbrush and subsequently spent 11 days in custody, the first four fasting while various tests were undertaken to determine the seriousness of my condition.

The attending nurses looked after my needs with professionalism and care and the doctors, while at times punctually challenged, inspired confidence in the procedures being undertaken to right my badly listing body.

I did not get to know patients sharing the room, beyond recognizing the timbre and smells of their nightly exhalations and expulsions, as they changed frequently over the course of my stay. Instead I spent considerable waking time ploughing through a less than uplifting novel about a stoic Texas rancher enduring a years-long drought. I found the book by my bed and no longer remember the title but, in any case, would not recommend it as hospital reading.

Beyond the monotony and bland food, the worst moments of my stay came late at night. Emptying the fluids pumping into my system 24/7 required frequently pushing a pole in half-light past sleeping patients to a shared bathroom.

If there is a lonelier place at 3 a.m. than an institutional green hospital bathroom I have not yet encountered it. In those quiet moments with my fate still uncertain, the smudged mirror revealed a pale, frightened man coming to terms with the realization that the fix he was in was beyond the help of his mommy. Nobody would be riding to the rescue and there was nothing to do but suppress the fear and stiffen a quivering upper lip.

The bright spots of my days were the Dame’s after-work visits, on one of which she delivered relief from the West Texas drought with a book on Buddhist philosophy, a subject I had dabbled in over recent months.

When she rescued me on the 12th day she found a newly appreciative husband in a delicate emotional state. As is her practical nature, she immediately delivered me to a White Spot Restaurant where I shed a discreet tear before devouring a pre-Christmas turkey dinner that remains high on my list of memorable meals these many years later.

The purpose of this preamble is not to elicit sympathy from readers. My condition turned out to be treatable and the oft-maligned Canadian medical system served me well. Instead, I share my hospital experience to provide background for the transformation I found myself caught up in upon my release into the frenetic holiday season.

Some readers may recall watching incredulously as the curmudgeon they knew before hospitalization emerged 10 pounds lighter as a remake of Jimmy Stewart in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, coincidentally the Dame’s favourite movie.

To suppress the anxiety eating away at the edge of my psyche during long hours staring at the bed curtain, I seized upon the simple concept at the core of Buddhist philosophy—live in the moment.

My understanding of Buddhism is at best rudimentary.  It should be noted for those with even less knowledge that it is more philosophy than religion in that you can be  Buddhist and also Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jew. Paying attention to life is one of its chief tenets.

Not surprisingly, one appreciates the simplest of home conveniences after 11 days suffering bodily indignities under the control of others, however well-meaning. Walking to the fridge without a pole for a midnight snack becomes a pleasurable journey of spiritual enlightenment. Falling asleep on the couch in front of the fire a rejuvenating luxury.

But the most uplifting post-hospital moments came about through interactions with people, most of them strangers. In my euphoric state I decided that living in the moment meant being aware of the small things.

To that end, I began initiating conversations with people while doing simple transactions, like paying for gas or groceries. Instead of ending the encounter with a shrug or monosyllabic grunt I asked clerks how their Christmas was going, noting sympathetically that the demands of the season put stress on retail workers or some other nicety.

Some appeared momentarily startled, suspicious about a stranger’s concern. But they invariably responded, sharing surprising details of their lives, some joyful, some sad, some inspiring, and I quickly discovered these exchanges were mutually beneficial.

A smile and a kind word transformed clerk and customer from automatons into people.

The Dame greeted my transformation with reservation, having spent too much time with the surly cynic to buy in 100 per cent. Journalism colleagues smiled benevolently while hearing about a jubilant encounter with a mailman or waiter, no doubt noting my wraith-like post-hospital physique as they later clucked among themselves about the fragility of my mental state.

But I was walking too far off the ground to worry about non-believers. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, I didn’t care about Christmases past or future. There was only one Christmas on my radar screen and that was unfolding in the here and now.

I lived that holiday season enveloped in a warm glow, connecting with people in myriad ways. I also embraced the Buddhist concept of gratitude and I had a lot to be grateful for—the Dame, friends and family, home and hearth, and especially having won the birth lottery by being born Canadian.

My steps got closer to the ground as the holiday season receded and not long into the New Year I was buying gas and groceries in near silence. Meaningful human interaction, like living in the moment, requires vigilance. Next time you take a trip to the store, try concentrating completely on driving–the feel of the steering wheel, tires connecting with pavement, the road immediately outside your windshield. My bet is you won’t make it to the corner before your thoughts have drifted to an imaginary place, past or future.

Two decades later I’m looking to recapture the warmth and magic of that Christmas epiphany.

Merry Christmas people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protecting America’s national interest comes at too high a price for Third World

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“The people of the United States want us to kill all the men, f*** all the women and raise up a new race in these Islands.”*

American soldier serving in the Philippines, commenting on the message filtering down to troops from their superior officers, circa 1900

“I knew enough about the Philippines to have a strong aversion to sending our bright boys over there to fight with a disgraced musket under a polluted flag.”*

Celebrated American author Samuel Clemons, aka Mark Twain, speaking in New York

At the turn of the 19th Century, America defeated Spain in a one-sided war advertised by the government as a fight to liberate the Cuban people from Spanish depredations. Revolutionaries in the Philippines, also tired of being ruled by far-off Spain, joined America’s cause when the U.S. Navy anchored off Manila, a strategic Spanish possession. They did so with the expectation Filipinos would be given the opportunity to govern themselves when the conflict ended, in keeping with stated American values.

Instead, the alliance devolved into a brutal fight over control of the geographically important Archipelago, in which the better trained and equipped U.S. troops were given licence to kill and torture. Honing techniques the American military would later deploy in Viet Nam, soldiers roamed the countryside in search and destroy missions, indiscriminately killing, raping, torturing captives, often to death, and burning entire Filipino villages suspected of harboring the enemy.

The U.S. Colonel who tamed the Tagalog rebels, lionized at home as ‘Fighting’ Frederick Funston, pillaged his way up the military promotional ladder to General and a Medal of Honor. Theodore Roosevelt, the president who never met a war he wouldn’t fight in personally, declared it would take more than 30 generations for the savage islanders to be on a level with Americans and capable of governing themselves. The American public, who swallowed the official bullshit with no aftertaste, viewed the conflict as being in the country’s national interest. The hundreds of thousands of brown people who died, in their polluted view, possessed ‘limited intelligence and ability’. Collateral damage.

The Third World has been enduring America First for a very long time.

During the Philippine adventure, as in Viet Nam, the U.S. did its own dirty work, with Presidents William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt and later Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, suffering the political consequences of the moral outrage heaped on them by progressive thinkers like Samuel Clemons, a staunch anti-imperialist. Similarly, Bush 45 and Barack Obama had to answer for Iraq and Afghanistan.

A hundred-plus years and many wars later, it is hard to ignore the cliché and truism—”History repeats itself.”—when considering the current conflict in Yemen, wrought by the Saudis with the full complicity of America.

But who is answering for the catastrophic despoliation of Yemen being wrought upon millions of brown people by proxy for America’s national interest? Where are the voices of outrage in the midst of the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis?

The Saudi-piloted murder planes, until recently being refueled by the U.S. air force, and the bombs falling from them upon innocent men, women and children, some of them riding in school buses, bear the Made-In-America stamp.

Death and mayhem in the Middle East mean billions of blood dollars for America and jobs for U.S. workers, rationalizes the  Bloviator-in-Chief. Donald Trump’s coverup of the Khashoggi killing told the world all it needs to know. America sanctions murder for the right money.

The Trump administration can’t be blamed for the cause of the conflict, which dates back centuries and is rooted in religious rivalry and intolerance. But there can be no question the U.S. trains and props up a despotic Saudi regime that tortures, decapitates and dismembers its opponents and only this year gave women the right to drive.

It does so, the U.S. government tells its people, because it is in America’s national interest. Saudi Arabia is a bulwark against the nuclear wannabe mullahs of Iran. A kind of the enemy of my enemy is my friend rationale. And because they have oil money to pay for American weapons.

The Senate makes noise about limiting U.S. support for the murderous tyrant known as MSB as people starve in real time. Is anybody questioning the wisdom of providing billions of dollars in sophisticated weaponry to a psychopath who runs a country that spawned the 9/11 attackers? A country that is a friend of terrorist enemies.

If so, I haven’t heard about it on American media, currently obsessed with the top-rated multi-network reality show, Donald Trump’s Blackening of the White House, starring a villain who makes J.R. Ewing look like Mr. Rogers. Collectively, the media virtually ignores the killing of Yemenis as it does all but the most egregious interruptions in regular programming.

It takes a natural disaster of historic proportions in the homeland to shift the focus for a day and get anchors away from Washington and New York desks and out to affected locations in tight black t-shirts or stylish rain gear and boots. Only mass shootings in double digits can avert the media’s focus from its ratings winner. Or the killing of one of its own, especially if it involves a grisly dismemberment and a djellaba-wearing villain the American public can get behind hating.

It is a sure bet that most Americans are only vaguely aware of the country where the Made-In-America humanitarian disaster is unfolding, beyond that it is somewhere far away, maybe the Middle East, or Africa. On the periphery of their personal device-addled brains they know Arabs are fighting each other. They don’t know why or much care.

It doesn’t occur to them that it is not in Yemen’s national interest to have a proxy war on its soil. That Yemenis, though Muslim and brown, are parents and daughters and sons, grandparents and uncles and aunts, who want what Americans want–food, lodging and neighbourhoods where kids can play without fear of foreign made bombs, mines or machine gun bullets.

CNN managed to squeeze in a short segment last week on the Yemen man-made catastrophe at the end of one of its Trump’s Blackening of the White House episodes. After a voice-over warning about disturbing content, cameras took viewers into an emergency facility where doctors were unable to save a tiny famine-ravaged boy, following outside as his grieving Dad left cradling the body to his chest. Another scene showed children with ghastly wounds from bombs, shrapnel and snipers’ bullets.

But the most haunting images were of emaciated kids with sunken eyes, bloated bellies and skeletal arms and legs. Not a ratings winner with viewers slumped in easy chairs and on couches or bar stools, drinking beer and eating burgers, pizza and potato chips, growing more obese on four thousand calories a day.

Millions of people are homeless and hungry and the United States, using the same old ‘national interest’ trope it has relied on for a hundred-plus years, is complicit. That is not fake news or an alternative fact. It is the plain truth.

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that the country that elected a world class narcissist to its highest office is a country of navel-gazers bordering on mass narcissism. It is only natural to have a leader like Trump when the electorate has a propagandized view of the havoc wreaked in the name of America’s national interest.

Christian evangelists, so concerned about human life in the womb they will support a soulless, venal liar if he will give them judges that further their cause, care diddly squat about the brown kids their government is helping kill. Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr., well-fed and safe in their gated communities, prefer to rail against the “war on Christmas.”

Putting America First, the oft-stated goal of white supremacy groups like the Ku Klux Klan, has cost millions of brown, yellow, red and beige people their lives. As I have stated in previous blogs, there can be no argument that the U.S. is a great country, but to be the ‘greatest country’ requires more than self-proclamation. It means learning from past wrongs and making things right in the present. It’s well past time that Americans stop parroting the party line and start walking the righteous walk.

(*Quotes from the Statesman and the Storyteller, an exhaustively researched book on turn of 19th Century America by Mark Zwonitzer.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Great Generation…

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Mike and Germaine Maloney wedding photo 1939

Watching the moving rituals following a Presidential death in the U.S. brought tears to my eyes, especially when George Jr. choked up at the podium while delivering the final words of his historic eulogy for his father.

President and son to President and father.

All the sentimentality and talk about the passing of the last great generation brought my parents to mind. Mom, a devout Catholic, went peacefully to her maker at age 96 a couple of years back. Dad, her partner in faith as in life, predeceased her by 14 years at age 88. They were together 63 years.

Uncelebrated at their deaths for great accomplishments, they were born into circumstances less privileged then the late H.W. Bush.

Mom’s family moved from Quebec to Alberta when she was a young child. Her father eventually ran a one-man dairy from a rented acreage on the outskirts of Edmonton, delivering milk from his cows to the General Hospital run by the Grey Nuns.

The acreage was not connected to water, so my grandfather mounted a huge tank upon a trailer which he pulled down to the city water hydrant at the main road and filled up periodically for drinking water for the family of two adults and six kids, two boys and four girls. One of the kids’ daily jobs was to scoop water into buckets and carry them to the house for drinking and washing dishes.

Calling it a house is an exaggeration. It was a two-room shack with a loft for the boys. The girls slept in the living room crossways on a fold-out couch, four to the bed, the parents a whisper away behind a thin wall. The toilet was 50 feet from the house, a frightening and discouraging distance for a child on a frigid Alberta winter night. Throwing out the contents collected in the pots the night before was another daily childhood task.

The kids worked from the time they could walk, milking cows, feeding chickens, cooking, cleaning and shovelling cow shit. The boys did the heaviest work and the girls learned the domestic arts they would need in adulthood.

Mom started school in Edmonton wearing her older brother’s boots with English as her second language. Her father pulled the girls out of school as soon as they reached the legal age. Their place was working in the home, he told them in French, leaving no room for argument.

My Dad finished Grade Eleven. He grew up in more prosperous circumstances on a farm outside St. Albert.

The big house had running water and more sophisticated bathroom facilities than Mom’s. He had two sisters and five brothers. His father James was gassed in the trenches in WWI. The son of one of St. Albert’s prominent pioneers, James became a farmer and sometime small businessman. My great grandfather Daniel Maloney’s local celebrity was gleaned in part when he travelled to Ottawa as part of a delegation to convince Sir John A. McDonald’s Conservative government to construct a bridge over the Sturgeon River. The St. Albert RCMP station is called Maloney Place.

The celebrity didn’t translate into dollars for Daniel’s offspring and Dad and his seven siblings learned early that life required hard work and grit. Dad bore scars from being kicked in the head by a horse as a young boy and all the kids had calluses on their hands. The girls helped their Mom with laundry, cleaning and daily meals for 10 and the boys learned to build barns and sheds, to repair machinery, and to handle six-horse teams, my father’s early lesson about never walking behind a frisky horse notwithstanding.

His older brothers hauled horse-drawn freight when barely into their teens. Dad was pulled out of school periodically in spring and fall for planting and harvesting.

Mom first noticed him at Church. His scars from the horse hoof burnished away by the sun, he wore his wavy hair in a period pompadour that soared six inches above his forehead, and made him appear hair, if not head and shoulders, above the male competition in Mom’s tiny family and church social world.

Family legend has them meeting at a softball tournament in St. Albert at which he bought her an ice cream cone. He was tall, fit and handsome and she was what was called a looker, a dark-haired French beauty with fine features. They married only months later, Dad at 25 and Mom at 19, at the end of the Depression and on the cusp of the conflagration that would be World War II.

Dad was rejected for service because of flat feet, an ironic military decision considering he spent most of his working life walking from house to house delivering milk. They started life together in a series of small rental houses. Mom even stayed in a tent for a time to be with her new husband as he worked on the Alaska Highway. Before moving in with Dad she had never lived outside the family home.

They lost their firstborn son at birth and went on to have four other children, two boys and two girls, a standard number for the time. With memories of the Great Depression burned into their being, they lived a frugal life, eventually buying a small house, moving the family to a more comfortable bungalow after ten years of saving for the down payment. Mom was a homemaker and Dad worked on his days off from the dairy where he became a foreman and remained for the rest of his working life. He was a highly skilled carpenter and jack of many trades, but outdoor work was unreliable in the cold winters of Edmonton.

When they bought their first new car with the children older, Mom took a job at the General Hospital where her father once delivered milk, sewing sheets in the basement for a dollar an hour until the new car was paid off. They bought a basic model Rambler with vinyl bench seats, standard transmission and hand-powered steering and windows. Mom quit the hospital when it was paid off.

They paid bills on time and met the responsibilities of parenthood on a limited budget by doing what needed to be done. Mom canned vegetables and washed clothes in a wringer washer, hanging them on the line to dry in summer and to freeze in winter. Dad did all house repairs, yard work and car maintenance, changing the oil in the driveway of the garage he built.

They were the original recyclers. Nothing was thrown out that had any material use. Torn clothes were mended, shoes repaired, and Dad spent many an idle evening darning the toes of his socks, worn through by miles of walking on his milk routes on flat feet. Nothing was disposable, least of all diapers, which were soaked in a bucket and washed separately.

Meals were basic and wholesome, lots of hamburger and liver, with emphasis on stomach fillers like potatoes, pasta and bread. Well-cooked roast beef was a Sunday ritual. Full family attendance was expected at every evening meal and picky eaters were not countenanced. No vegetable tasted so bad that it could be left behind on a plate with people starving in India and China. On extra special occasions, Mom and Dad sipped at glasses of Mogen David Wine.

Sunday mornings were reserved for Church. Attendance wasn’t optional for the kids even into their late teens. Dad did not work for money on Sundays, using it as a day of rest to do jobs around the house. There were times when Dad had to borrow change from the float in his milk pouch but he never missed his weekly donation at Sunday mass. He was one of the men who passed the collection basket at Church, walking ramrod straight in his only suit. When it got so out of style Mom became embarrassed, he had it tailored to narrow the lapels.

Mom and Dad always put their children first, instilling integrity and ethics in their offspring as best they could, by example. They did not look to put one over on anybody by paying less or charging more on anything they bought or sold. Lying was not a misdemeanor in Mom and Dad’s book, but instead a major offense to be punished by a spanking, or even worse, a period of ostracization from their affections.

They believed in working for everything they got and did not look kindly on shirkers, whatever their social status. Devoutly religious, they tried with limited success to pass their beliefs on to their children but did not proselytize to friends or strangers of non or different faiths. I never heard them speak ill of other religions or people of different colours and cultures. They took their measure of people by the way they lived.

They raised four children, none of whom were incarcerated, who went on to live mostly respectably, working to buy homes and paying their bills and taxes.

This peon is not meant to infer that my parents were saintly people who raised the ideal family. They had the imperfections inherent in the human condition and held firmly to some of the now politically incorrect views of their time. Their marriage, though enduring, was not a perfect union.

Mom revealed herself to be an artist of considerable talent in later life and Dad was a skilled craftsman who could build a house or a fine piece of furniture. If they had dreams for themselves or disappointments for personal aspirations unfulfilled, I never heard them.

They were working class people, decent, with a moral code they would not compromise, regardless of short-term advantage. In my view, their ordinary lives were lived with a steadfastness and heroism underrated by the want-it-now pay-for-it-later generation that followed them. They left this earth without the pomp and praise bestowed upon H.W. on his final journey but with no less value for the lives they lived. George JR. said of his father he was the best a boy could hope for. I put my Dad and Mom right up there with him. They exemplified all that was right about the last great generation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wisdom of Ted the Barber

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Contrary to what readers of this space might infer from my frequent scathing criticisms of the current U.S. administration and the people that put it in place, I am not a rabid anti-American.

Some may recall the piece I wrote at the end of a five-month road trip through America. It began by paraphrasing Charles Dickens–It is the best of countries; it is the worst of countries–and went on to note its fascinating cultural diversity, geographic splendour and the many contributions its citizens have made to the world’s betterment, from music to literature, from science to technology, from championing religious freedom to advocating for democracy.

The Dame and I recently travelled to the small Arizona town of Florence for a sunny break from the frequently gloomy skies of November in the South Okanagan. It was the first time we’ve been in the U.S. since the ascendancy of the Conman in Chief and like many Canadians we were hesitant about giving the tacit support of our tourism dollars to a country that would elevate such a repellent person to the nation’s highest office.

I rationalized that it would combine a holiday with firsthand research in a state Trump won by four percentage points.

Florence is a dusty desert town set along the Gila River amidst stands of saguaro cactus and sagebrush halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. To say it has seen better days would be kind. Sprinkled along its historic main street are boarded up businesses, a burnt-out bar and ramshackle buildings of limited aesthetic value. It does not have a grocery store and its main industry is incarceration.

florence 2

Nearby, the Del Webb resort community of Anthem at Merrill Ranch stands out in sharp contrast. Littered with snow geezers and the more prosperous of the local population, it has a mini-shopping mall, an 18-hole golf course and a modern recreation/fitness facility and pool.

Back in Florence, near the end of the main street, an old school barber shop seemed a logical place to scope out rural Arizona in the era of Trump while getting my ears lowered.

The shop is a comfortable place, roomy, with two barber chairs, an assortment of seating for waiting customers and a pool table covered over, either out of disuse or to keep the falling follicles from fouling the felt.

A young boy is getting clipped in one of the chairs, while his mom, dad and brother supervise from the sidelines. They are Canadians, I am soon to learn from the affable proprietor, who rises to greet me and usher me to the empty chair.

Ted the barber is a voluble man with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Florence. He looks to be in his mid-fifties and has lived here since his family moved from Oregon when he was a child. He wears a blue barber smock and moves gingerly with his back tilted forward from the waist at an odd angle.

The Canadian family, he informs me upon learning of my nationality, has moved to the Florence area for a business opportunity and will be staying five years. Preoccupied with the boys, the parents take no notice or offense at Ted telling a stranger their business.

After carefully determining the precise lowering of the ears desired, Ted sets to removing hair at a leisurely pace. The counter below the mirror is cluttered with the usual assortment of barbering tools and the mirror itself is framed with photos from Ted’s life.

Ted seems perfectly suited to the intimacy of his chosen profession. Loquacious without being overbearing he answers his curious customer’s questions with the authority and detail gleaned from a lifetime of living in Florence.

The town’s main employers are the 12 prison complexes scattered on the town’s perimeter that house by his estimate 39,000 law breakers, from juveniles in “training” camps to murderers awaiting their fate on death row in the super max penitentiary. He says the guards and personnel at the lower paying state prisons tend to live in Coolidge, a slightly larger down-at-the heels town about 10 miles up the road. The better compensated federal prison workers commute the 50 miles from Tucson and the suburbs of Phoenix with a smattering mingling with the snow geezers in the manicured Del Webb development.

There is a disproportionate number of courtrooms in town to deal with legal matters that inevitably arise from the plethora of prisoners who are officially considered citizens but cannot vote. The town receives a set annual amount for each prisoner housed in its jurisdiction. He says most of the lawyers and judges who preside over the courts commute or live in Anthem.

Having been cautioned about talking politics, I guardedly remark that Arizona has a new Democratic Senator for the first time in a while. Ted says, only slightly scornfully, the new Senator owes her election to the wave of liberal Californians who have moved to Arizona in recent years to escape the crowds and high taxes of California living. He says he cringes each time Donald Trump opens his mouth but notes that he has been good for the economy. I suspect he is one of the deplorables and so steer the conversation to more friendly ground.

One of the photos framing the mirror is of a local sports team. It is signed and inscribed with best wishes for Ted’s speedy recovery. Ted catches my eye settling on the photo and explains he had a little accident some years back. When asked if it involved cars he laughs and says somewhat sheepishly that his misfortune occurred at a family gathering.

Two teenage boys were causing mayhem pushing a small wooden merry-go-round at a speed that upset some of the smaller children. Ted went over to comfort one of the girls and inadvertently put a foot on the platform just as the youths resumed pushing. The resultant momentum propelled Ted onto the adjoining concrete where he broke his neck in four places. It put him in the hospital and he was bedridden and unable to walk for four years.

At the time of the accident Ted was a successful businessman in Coolidge, operating a number of cash-oriented retail businesses that fell on hard times with the boss unable to watch over them. He was eventually forced to sell the businesses at less than favourable terms.

During his long recovery, which he termed as near miraculous given the doctors’ original prognosis, he held no animosity toward the boys who pushed the merry-go-round. They visited him frequently and expressed great remorse.

“Accidents happen,” he says, matter-of-factly, with no discernible rancour or self-pity.

After relearning to walk and with his businesses now gone, Ted took up barbering and has been at it for six years. When asked about the physical rigours of being on his feet cutting hair, he says he owes his ability to work on the massive doses of morphine he takes daily. He says the furor over America’s opioid crisis caused his doctor to cut his prescription in half with another cut on the horizon. He’s not sure how he will get by when his current supply runs out and asks if I know anything about the marijuana derivative CBD oil used for pain and inflammation.

Ted lives in a large house on 10 acres a few miles from town. He’d like to sell the property and get something more manageable. One of his regular duties is removing the rattle snakes that sun themselves in his driveway and slither into crevices around the property. He scoops them with a shovel and sets them down away from the house. He used to kill them until the rat population ballooned. He and his wife kept a lot of outdoor cats that helped with the snakes and rats but lately the owls and coyotes have taken their toll and they are down to about four. They have a couple of small house dogs.

Ted is proud of his daughter who is entering pre-med school. There is a graduation picture of a teenage girl stuck on one side of his mirror and I suspect she is one of the girls in the sports team photo.

Ted does not seem beaten down, as one might expect, from all he has endured. He comes across as a proud, if slightly bent over American, determined to face the vagaries of life with the courage and resiliency that made the United States the envy of the world. He is a man of true grit, the kind of person the silver spoon rich guy Donald Trump could never be.

There can be no doubt the U.S. ranks high on any list of the world’s great countries and it is because of decent Americans like Ted, who persevere and make do with what life has given them.

Ted is a good and thorough barber. He lathers and shaves the back of my neck with a straight razor then places a soothing hot towel over my head while administering a brief scalp massage. He whisks away loose cuttings before sending his Canadian customer away with a broader understanding of the constituency that put Donald Trump in office.

The charge for the haircut is 10 dollars. The information and inspiration are free.

Watergate for Dummies

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Rational people watching what’s happening in the Divided States of America are rightly worried. Really worried.

Pulitzer prize winning journalist Carl Bernstein, the one-time Washington Post reporter who made his bones breaking stories on the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon, calls Trump’s appointment of Matt Whitaker as head of the Mueller investigation a Presidential coup.

George Conway, husband of Trump propagandist Kellyanne Conway and a Conservative Washington lawyer with solid Republican credentials, felt compelled to write a New York Times op-ed saying Whitaker’s appointment is unconstitutional.

Even before the Whitaker appointment, retired U.S. Airways pilot Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, who demonstrated his coolness in crisis by landing a plane with 155 passengers aboard on the Hudson River, says he has never been more worried about the future of his country.

Former CIA director John Brennan, who called Trump’s slavish performance in Helsinki treasonous, warns the nation of a looming constitutional crisis.

Michael Hayden, a much-decorated four star General and former Director of both the National Security Agency and the CIA, cautions the country about the fragility of the veneer of civilization.

Brennan and Hayden, in particular, are serious men and American patriots of the highest order who have spent their lives in the service of their country.

As has Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, the rich kid who volunteered to go to Vietnam, where he was wounded in action, and later gave up a lucrative private law practice to prosecute bad guys for a comparable pittance.

On the other side of the ledger lives the evil presence of Donald Trump, a venal conman who dodged the draft in pursuit of money, proudly avoids paying taxes, cheated students at his bogus ‘university’ and on his three wives, bullies all who oppose him, praises murderous thugs like Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte and proclaims at his frightening mob rallies that he “loves” Kim Jong Un, the unhinged psychopath who starves his people, killed his half-brother and sent an American student home in a fatal coma for pilfering a poster.

When I first began writing about Donald Trump, I did so for amusement. He seemed the perfect comic foil with his ferret-top hair, orange-tinted perma-tan and ridiculous bombast. This is a man who phoned New York media outlets pretending to be his own publicist, confiding in a laughably concealed voice that he, Donald Trump, was being pursued by all the women in New York City.

I viewed him, as so many others did, as someone to be mocked, an orange clown with bad hair and a limited vocabulary.

I’m not laughing anymore.

Trump is a malevolent, malicious, criminal. A paranoid narcissist who views the world through the narrow focus of how it affects him. He has no ideology, no beliefs outside what benefits his shallow existence. No spirituality, zero empathy. No boundaries when it comes to his own survival, even if it means appealing to the worst element in America with fearmongering and lies. Even if it means violence and death. Even if it means bringing the country down with him.

Trump is cult leader Jim Jones without the mind addling drugs. He exudes unctuousness and demands total devotion from his mesmerized and often slow-witted followers. His hypocrisy is breathtaking, his lack of shame an indication of serious mental pathology. He once agreed with shock jock Howard Stern that his daughter Ivanka was “a piece of ass.” He values loyalty, on a one-way street.

Take his treatment of Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Senator who supported him from the beginning, the first serious sitting politician to join the Trump camp. Sessions gave up his safe Senate seat for his dream job of Attorney General, in his mind a fitting reward for his loyal service.

It should be said I have no sympathy for Sessions, who stood by Trump through his rancorous campaign of bigotry and lies. If he didn’t get the measure of the man during those months of daily contact he probably wasn’t qualified for the job of highest law enforcement officer in the land. But that is beside the point when looking at Trump’s view of loyalty.

Sessions, a proud conservative extremist who was nominated for a judgeship in 1986 but not confirmed because of controversial comments on race, proved to be more of a law and order man than Trump expected. Sessions took the advice of ethics people at the Department of Justice and recused himself from the Russia investigation because of his involvement in the campaign.

As Attorney General, Sessions implemented the extreme agenda Trump needed to appeal to his frightened mouth-breathing base. But this wasn’t enough for Dear Leader, who wanted a Roy Cohen-like pit bull who would use every dirty trick available to thwart the investigation that threatened his Presidency.

When Sessions couldn’t deliver, Trump began a campaign of public humiliation to get his resignation, so he could put in place a stooge. He called him weak and questioned his manhood. Sessions stood his ground, using the bad optics of his dismissal before the midterms to keep his job.

Within hours of the polls closing, Trump made his move, ordering Chief of Staff John Kelly to do his dirty work. Sessions asked for a few days to clear up his desk. The once-respected Marine General said no.

Trump got his stooge in Matt Whitaker, the wannabe politician who auditioned for the job on CNN by laying out a scenario in which an acting AG could shut down the Mueller investigation by starving it of funds. No matter that he hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate, has a questionable past working for a Florida company that cost consumers $26 million before being shut down as a scam and is otherwise unqualified for the job.

To get to his stooge, Trump had to pass over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Senate-confirmed Republican he picked for the job, who was next in line under the normal succession.

One wonders what it will take for the Republican Congress to wake up to the danger Trump represents. What level of debasement will he sink to before the rational people of the “self-proclaimed greatest country on earth” rise up.

Hitler was a monster disguised as a ranting clown with a bad mustache and worse hair. Kim Jong Un is an overfed fiend masquerading as a messiah in fat-concealing custom suits and cropped clown hair. Donald Trump is a diabolical brute, a schemer without conscience who cloaks his malice in grade school insults delivered from a pursed-lipped, oily orange clown face shaded under a swooping aircraft carrier comb-over of indeterminate colour.

The Shining City Goes Dark

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The abomination that is the Donald Trump presidency can no longer be thought of as an aberration. The Conman-in-Chief represents the values of a significant portion of the country’s electorate. He is symptomatic of what the nation has become.

The U.S. midterms were viewed by many observers as a referendum on human decency. Nothing short of a total rejection of the Bloviating Orange Blowhard’s corruption, lying and fearmongering would qualify as redemption for a country that likes to bill itself as a “shining city on the hill.” The world now knows that the hilltop has gone dark. The blue wave upon which rode the hopes of humanity’s better nature washed ashore not as a tsunami but instead as a spent swell that failed to muster a whitecap in the political swamp.

Both sides will claim victory. Democrats will tout the oversight significance of taking over the House and Republicans will bray about expanding control in the Senate and through it the nation’s courts.

Winning without honor is America’s thing in the New Millennium.

American voters saw fit to re-elect two candidates running under felony indictments. They gave the blatant racist Steve King a seat in Congress to legitimatize his abhorrent world view. Trump toady Ted Cruz was rewarded for embracing the man who denigrated his father and insulted his wife. It’s a long way from the inspiration of the Alamo to modern day Texas.

In Florida, voters handed the keys to the Governor’s mansion to another Trump toady who campaigned with racial dog whistles and misused his infant son in a sickening sycophantic ad. The good people of Georgia empowered the guy who spent years rigging the vote as the state’s partisan Secretary of State and then refused to recuse himself from overseeing the voting process in which he was a candidate. It wouldn’t pass muster with democracy watchdogs in a third-rate country.

Voters handed the Conman-in-Chief what he interprets as a get out of jail card. And they did so with eyes wide open, knowing he was an unindicted co-conspirator with his former personal lawyer for flaunting campaign finance laws. They knew he was a pathological liar, a tax evader, a draft dodger, a philanderer, a fear-mongerer, a bully, a danger to their precious democracy and a petty person of low moral character.

It didn’t take the Malignant Mango Megalomaniac long to act out. With the results of the mid-terms still undecided in some races, the Conman-in-Chief moved to protect himself from the Mueller investigation by firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointing someone who has publicly discussed ways to muzzle the Special Prosecutor. He threatened a Democratic Congress with counter investigations if they dare subpoena his taxes.

Donald Trump, the silver spoon daddy’s boy who has never suffered the consequences of a life spent grifting in pursuit of material gain, is scared spitless at the prospect of his many financial wrongdoings being exposed. He is a desperate and dangerous narcissist capable of anything to save his orange skin.

With a constitutional crisis looming and unknown depredations waiting to reveal themselves as Trump’s legal troubles mount on multiple fronts, it is now crystal clear that Americans have the government they so justly deserve.

Enablers have blood on their hands

 

Last week started with the President of the United States covering up the murder of a journalist and U.S. resident by a Middle East money lender who is Crown Prince Jared Kushner’s BFF, progressed through a nationwide bomb scare that threatened the lives of two past Presidents, among other high-profile Trump critics, and ended with mass murder in a place of worship in Mr. Rogers upscale Pittsburgh neighborhood.

The worried world watches and waits, wondering if Trump’s heavily armed deplorables will easily surrender their moment in the spotlight or if the Dear Leader and his plethora of bootlickers will inspire bloody insurrection from the mentally unhinged fringe element if the election doesn’t go their way. .

The self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world” is a boiling cauldron of hatred ready to bubble over into post-election violence that could engulf the country and impact the entire globe.

White House leakers say the Mango Megalomaniac, his feverish brain sweating the investigations a Democratic win will bring, is working on a scheme to discredit a negative GOP result with conspiracy theories and court challenges.

Few objective observers expect anything less from this malignant narcissist? But what about the supporting cast of sanctimonious sycophants, religious wingnuts and faux patriots who masquerade their cowardice in the folds of the flag.

Presumably unencumbered by mental illness, regular CNN Trump enablers like Rick Santorum, Steve Cortes, Alice Stewart and Scott Jennings, among many others, twist themselves into human pretzels denying the obvious unfitness of their choice for the highest office in the land. They cluck about entertainer Trump versus presidential Trump, separating the toxicity of his venom and evil clown antics emanating from the Oval Office as if he were a toddler going through the terrible twos.

They justify their advocacy by citing supposed successes, most notably the seating of two ultra conservative judges to the Supreme Court. The plain politically incorrect truth is that a monkey could put his finger on the list provided by the Federalist Society and get his picks through a Senate top-loaded with tree-swingers.

The much-vaunted tax reduction for the rich, the only significant legislation passed by a Congress and Executive Branch dominated by Republicans, is so unpopular GOP candidates aren’t talking about it in the run up to the midterms, instead preferring to vilify a caravan of poor people a thousand miles and weeks of walking away from America.

Family values stalwart and Republican operative Stewart, a crucifix prominent on her throat most nights, admits to being dismayed by the pussy grabbing tape, porn star and Playboy bunny payoffs, philandering and sexual assault accusations but rationalizes voting for Trump because he appointed Supreme Court judges who might overturn a woman’s right to control her own body.

Cortes, the Hispanic Chicago businessman and slavish Trump defender, overlooks Dear Leader’s divisive rhetoric and attacks upon his heritage by pointing out good job numbers bolstered by people of colour forced to work multiple jobs for subsistence wages.

Failed Presidential candidate Santorum, ever focused on future opportunities, smiles slyly to himself while mildly disavowing the most egregious Trump behavior, careful not to alienate the deplorable base key to his political ambition.

Jennings, the ‘aw shucks’ moderate, assuages his conscience and puts on a good guy face for his kids by disagreeing with the most offensive Trump methodology while supporting the man endangering the democracy they will inherit.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Leader Paul Ryan and their respective gangs of mouth-breathers, climate change deniers, religious ravers and NRA lap dogs have chosen to be on the wrong side of history for political expediency, implications for the future of the country be damned.

Evangelical scions like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham, intent on their mission to preserve the power and riches bestowed upon them by their earthly fathers, will presumably answer for their self-serving actions when they meet their Maker. Meanwhile, their followers will have some explaining to do at the Final Judgement for eschewing the biblical values they exalt in favour of an agenda carried out by a demented orange emissary of the dark underworld.

The Murdoch family and the right wing mercenaries at Fox News betray the viewers who support their privileged lifestyle by spewing venomous conspiracy theories and pumping out fake news 24/7 while Dear Leader demeans real journalists.

Oblivious to the havoc he reeks, Donald Trump stumps the country spewing poisonous rancor against all who oppose him, ingraining his invectives in the sick minds of violent fringe players like accused bomber Cesar Sayoc, seen chanting CNN sucks at Trump’s frightening mob rallies, and Robert Bowers, who adopted Trumpian tropes by calling immigrants “invaders” and lamenting that Jews are “infesting” America before carrying out his murderous rampage.

Historians may recognize the Dear Leader’s mental illness as a mitigating factor for the damage he has done. Not so for the ‘sane’ people he relies upon for support.

All Trump enablers are culpable in the carnage endangering their democracy. All of them have blood on their hands.