Saturday, June 23, 2018

Thoughts on our travels

Every day, my mother calls me, sometimes more than once, and asks for reassuring words from me.  “Tell me something happy,” she cries out.  Not only is she in near-constant physical pain, but her mind is in perfect working order and she reads the Washington Post every day.  That is, her mind works fine except for the overwhelming anxiety that the news and her pain force up from inside her.

Last Wednesday night I lied to her.  She called, distraught about small children taken from their parents. I told her, Take heart, because the President has just signed an order to stop that practice.  I didn’t tell her that the order doesn’t really solve the problem, doesn’t reunite any already-separated children with their families, and probably makes the whole situation worse (by allowing the Trumpvirate to hold families as policy hostages in Trumpcamps indefinitely).  She could find that out for herself in the next day’s newspaper, but I needed to talk her off her anxiety cliff now.

(The Trumpvirate consists of Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions, and Donald Trump.  You know it’s Stephen Miller pulling the strings here.  He is delighted at the outcome.)

How I feel, after talking with my mother.


A few weeks ago my husband and I took an interesting trip to Israel, but I haven’t had a moment to reflect or write about it. Since we returned, our country’s shit storm has reached a more dangerous level than ever before.  I am filled with resentment for my lost reflection time.  Below I’ve listed some of the horrifying events that happened in the weeks after our return. 

Some events which distress me greatly are not even on the list, though: 
  • the fucking up of fair districts legislation by the Pennsylvania Republicans (June 13), 
  • my own Senator saying that reports of children separated from their parents are “exaggerated significantly” (June 18), and
  • the firing of our local newspaper’s liberal political cartoonist (June 14).  That caused us to cancel our long-time subscription, a decision about which I still have misgivings.  
Add this alarming behavior I saw on Wednesday: several Trump supporters felt the need, upon seeing our demonstration that day against the family-destroying border policy, to pull into the parking lot and angrily menace us, up close and personal-like. 

I am my mother’s daughter.  Having to talk her down from her anxiety exacerbates my own.  And yet, I must take her calls.  In all my political activity, she is my inspiration, my cheering section, and my moral compass when I might be in danger of going low.  And she is my mother who nurtured me.  How can I abandon her now?

So these days have been consumed not with fond memories of our trip and questions that the trip prompted, but with resentment, fear, anger, despondency, and distrust.  There are personal, private sorrows that also eat away at my soul.  I can hardly concentrate, sleep poorly, have frequent acid reflux, gain weight, experiencing a resurgence of asthma symptoms, and can’t write a sentence with parallel construction.  Yes, they all sound like symptoms of depression, but it does not feel like depression to me.  It is just dread.  I am well fed, well housed, and all in all, life is fine.  Except for my utter dread of the future of this country and the future for my children.  Dread of the coming autocracy.

In the past 18 days I saw two hopeful things happen.  1) On Trump’s birthday, the Attorney General of New York brought a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation for violations of campaign finance laws.  2) More than 600 leaders in the Methodist Church took to task Jeff Sessions, their fellow church member, for his abusive immigration policy. 

On the other hand, how will those two things put a stop to all this fuckery?


(This previous post covers some of the ways I am coping.)

THE LIST OF EVENTS

The list below is from What the Fuck Just Happened Today.  It consists of only those things that entered into my consciousness during the past 18 days.  The list at the original source is actually much longer (and includes sources).  I am putting this here more for my own memory than for any other reason.  I don’t recommend you read it.  It’s too painful.  My comments are in bold.


June 5, 2018.  Day 502 of the Trumpvirate
Mitch McConnell canceled most of the Senate's August recess due to "the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president's nominees, and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year." The move will keep Democrats up for re-election off the campaign trail while pushing through confirmations for as many of Trump's judicial and executive branch nominees as possible.

Can you say, “Merrick Garland”?

Trump staged a “patriotic” assemblage at the White House.  The Philadelphia Eagles football team had refused to attend a celebration with Trump of their Superbowl win. He had his people there, pretending to be Philadelphia Eagles fans.

Scott Pruitt had an EPA aide arrange a meeting for his wife about becoming a Chick-fil-A franchisee.


June 6, 2018.  Day 503
Mexico imposed new tariffs on roughly $3 billion worth of American pork, steel, cheese, and other goods in response to Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs.

Scott Pruitt's top aide resigned from the EPA shortly after portions of her House Oversight Committee testimony were made public in which she says regularly did personal tasks for Pruitt.

Jeff Sessions defended the Trump administration policy of separating migrant children from their families when they arrive at the southern U.S. border.
For many years, he’s been hoping to do something like this, as part of his Pat-Buchanan-inspired immigration policy.


June 7, 2018.  Day 504
Mick Mulvaney fired all 25 members of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's advisory board days after some of the members criticized his leadership as acting director of the watchdog agency.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the U.S. has signed a deal with Chinese telecom giant ZTE to end the crippling sanctions against the company.
Because we are more interested in the fortunes of this Chinese company than in our own policies.  How many “deals” have the Trump family businesses made with China? E-mol-u-ments.

Pruitt had his 24/7 security detail pick up his dry cleaning and help him find his favorite moisturizing lotion. The protective detail cost taxpayers nearly $3.5 million during Pruitt's first year on the job.


June 8, 2018. Day 505
Trump called on the G7 to reinstate Russia after it was kicked out for annexing Crimea four years ago, putting him at odds with world leaders who have insisted that Moscow remain ostracized. 

Trump will leave the G7 summit early.
Because being pals with a brutal dictator is more important than showing solidarity with our allies.

The Trump administration will not defend the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate from a legal challenge to its constitutionality brought by Texas and 19 other states.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is temporarily sending about 1,600 detainees to five federal prisons while they await civil immigration court hearings. It's the first large-scale use of federal prisons to hold detainees.

Scott Pruitt had aides frequently fetch him protein bars, sweets, cookies, and Greek yogurt. Pruitt would often direct an aide to brew him pour-over coffee.
In this brave new world, “Cabinet Secretary” means “King of My Fiefdom.”

Mitt Romney predicted that Trump will win reelection in 2020, citing an improving economy and the likelihood that Democrats will choose an outside-the-mainstream candidate.
Or there will be a somewhat viable third-party candidate, and the vote will be split, leading to a Trump win. 


June 11, 2018.  Day 508
Trump refused to endorse the G7 statement, threatened to impose tariffs on foreign auto imports, and accused Justin Trudeau of being "meek," "very dishonest and weak" after Canada's prime minister pledged to retaliate against U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum products.

Trump's economic adviser accused Justin Trudeau of "betrayal" for making Trump look weak before his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Kudlow went on to call Trudeau "amateurish" and "sophomoric."

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro: "There's a special place in hell" for Trudeau and world leaders who double cross Trump. "And that's what bad-faith Justin Trudeau did with that stunt press conference."

Jeff Sessions ordered immigration judges to stop granting asylum to most victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. The move effectively blocks tens of thousands of people – women in particular – from seeking refuge in America.

Trump will not bring up human rights issues at the North Korea summit. Kim Jong Un's country has committed "unspeakable atrocities" on a scale reminiscent of Nazi Germany, according to a 2014 United Nations investigation. (NBC News)

The Supreme Court upheld Ohio's method of purging voters from its voting rolls.


June 12, 2018 Day 509
Trump believes Kim Jong Un will give up his nuclear weapons because they have a "terrific relationship" and he's "developed a very special bond" with the North Korean leader.

Trump agreed to suspend regular military exercises with South Korea as part of his concessions to Kim Jong Un, contradicting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's campaign to make U.S. troops more combat-ready.

Trump claimed that Kim Jong Un "loves his people" and the imprisoned North Koreans are "going to be one of the great winners" of the denuclearization talks. Trump said life is "rough" in North Korea, but that "it's rough in a lot of places, by the way, not just there."

The White House made a Hollywood-style movie trailer to depict a story about "two men, two leaders and one destiny." The short video shows images of warplanes and artillery with a narrator suggesting that "a new world can begin today, one of friendship, respect and goodwill." Some journalists assumed they were watching a propaganda films by Pyongyang.

Ted Cruz defended the Trump administration's policy of separating families at the border, saying it can be avoided if people stop crossing the border illegally. The separation happens regardless of whether a migrant is seeking asylum.

The Trump administration is looking to build tent cities to shelter the growing number of migrant children being held in detention. The Department of Health and Human Services is considering building a tent city to hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children at Fort Bliss, an Army base near El Paso.


June 13, 2018 Day 510 
A State Department appointee has been compiling a list of career diplomats who are loyal to Trump.

Trump Twitter declared there is "no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea" a day after meeting with Kim Jong Un. Trump said that "everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office," and claimed his meeting with Kim was an "interesting and very positive experience."

Scott Pruitt had an EPA aide contact Republican donors in order to get his wife a job.


June 14, 2018.  Day 511 
Jeff Sessions cited the Bible in his defense of the Trump administration's policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their families. Sessions invoked the Apostle Paul for his "clear and wise command" to say people should "obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes." Sarah Huckabee Sanders also defended separating parents from their children, saying it's "very biblical to enforce the law." She then proceeded to blame on Democrats for refusing to "close the immigration loophole."

One good thing:
The New York State attorney general sued Trump and his three eldest children for "persistent illegal conduct" at the Donald J. Trump Foundation.


June 15, 2018. Day 512
Rudy Giuliani on Mueller's investigation: "When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons."

Giuliani called on Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein to "redeem themselves" by suspending the Robert Mueller investigation today.

Trump "certainly wouldn't sign" the Republican immigration proposal that would protect young undocumented migrants and end the policy of separating families at the southern border.

Homeland Security has separated at least 2,000 children from parents at the border since the Justice Department implemented its "zero tolerance" policy.

The Trump administration announced a 25% tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports.

Trump blamed Democrats for the separation of families at the US border, said it's "great to give" Kim Jong-un credibility, and again blamed Obama for Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Trump said he wants "my people" to "sit up at attention" like the North Koreans do when Kim Jong Un speaks.

EPA senior staffers said they frequently felt pressured by Scott Pruitt to help in personal matters and obtain special favors for his family. The officials said Pruitt "had a clear sense of entitlement."


June 18, 2018 Day 515 
Hundreds of children separated from their parents are living inside cages in an old warehouse in south Texas while they wait to be turned over to shelters funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Ann Coulter called the children crying at the border after being separated from parents "child actors." Trump Jr., meanwhile, liked a Breitbart tweet that quoted Coulter, who said the separated children had been "coached" by liberals and "given scripts to read."

Melania Trump placed the blame on "both sides," saying that she "hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together."

The United Nations' top human rights official called for the U.S. to immediately stop separating children from their families at the border. Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein condemned the practice as "government-sanctioned child abuse," saying "the thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable."

Trump warned that the U.S. must avoid Europe's immigration problems, falsely claiming that "crime in Germany is way up." The opposite, however, is true. Germany's crime rate has fallen to its lowest level since 1992.

White House policy adviser Stephen Miller said the Trump administration is planning additional immigration crackdowns before the midterm elections.

The Supreme Court declined to decide two challenges to partisan gerrymandering, allowing controversial district maps to stand and be used in the midterm elections.

Trump directed the Department of Defense and the Pentagon to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces, saying: "We are going to have the Air Force and we're going to have the Space Force, separate but equal."
Yes, he actually used the words “separate but equal.”

Trump has made more than 3,000 false or misleading claims since taking office.


June 19, 2018. Day 516
Trump accused Democrats of wanting "illegal immigrants … to pour into and infest our country." Trump also rejected a proposal by Senator Ted Cruz to end family separations, calling the plan to hire thousands of new immigration judges "crazy" and suggesting the judges could be corrupt. Trump argued that undocumented immigrants could "game the system" by taking counsel from immigration lawyers and reading statements prepared for them.
Oh, no!  People taking advice from their lawyers! How unfair! And Ted Cruz is the only instance I have seen of a Republican office-holder who is also seeking reelection who has stood against Trump’s immigration cruelty.  But he’s late to the game - See June 12 above where he was supporting Trumpcamps.

The Trump administration has lost track of nearly 6,000 unaccompanied migrant children – thousands more than the Department of Health and Human Services had previously acknowledged.

The U.S. backed out of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross shorted stock in a Kremlin-linked shipping firm after learning that journalists were investigating his offshore investments in Navigator Holdings.

One good thing: 
More than 600 members of Jeff Sessions' church filed a formal complaint accusing him of "child abuse," "immorality," and "racial discrimination" for his "zero-tolerance" immigration policy that has led to children getting separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.


June 20, 2018. Day 517
Trump signed an executive order to reverse his administration's policy of separating families at the border. Trump said that while the order "will solve that problem" of children being separated from their parents, it wouldn't end his administration's "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting everyone caught attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. The plan potentially violates a 1997 consent decree that prohibits the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention for more than 20 days.

Babies and young children separated from their families at the border are being sent to "tender age" shelters in South Texas. Doctors and lawyers who visited the shelters described the facilities as clean and safe, but that the kids were hysterical, crying and acting out.

Corey Lewandowski replied "womp womp" to mention of a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome being separated from her parents by the Trump administration's immigration policy. Trump's former campaign manager later clarified his remark, saying he simply "mocked a liberal who attempted to politicize children as opposed to discussing the real issue which is fixing a broken immigration system."
Lewanshitski defense: I’m rubber, you’re glue.

Kirstjen Nielsen was heckled by protesters who chanted "Shame!" and "End family separation!" while she was having dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C. Diners at the restaurant applauded the protesters. The Homeland Security secretary paid her check and was escorted out of the restaurant by Secret Service agents after 15 minutes of chanting.


June 21, 2018. Day 518
Melania Trump made an unannounced trip to the southern border to visit a detention center for immigrant children wearing a jacket that says "I really don't care, do u?"

The Trump administration has not provided a plan to reunite at least 2,300 undocumented children with their families. The executive order Trump signed yesterday temporarily stopped his policy of separating children from their parents at the border, but does not address the uniting of families already separated. Instead, existing policies put the onus on parents to find their children in Department of Health and Human Services custody.

Immigrants as young as 14 years old who are being housed at a detention center in Virginia say they were beaten while in handcuffs, stripped nude, and placed in cold solitary confinement cells for extended periods of time. The abuse claims are detailed in federal court filings, which include allegations from multiple detainees that guards stripped them of their clothes, strapped them to chairs, and placed bags over their heads.

Hundreds of separated children have been sent to New York even after Trump signed an executive order ending his administration's policy of separating parents and children who have illegally crossed the border.

The Defense Department will house up to 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children on military bases starting "as early as July through December 31, 2018."

Trump questioned the "purpose" of two House immigration bills that he previously said he supported "1,000 percent." Trump tweeted that both bills don't matter.

After Trump ended his administration's practice of separating immigrant children from their parents, he says that "we're sending them the hell back" and that "the border is going to be just as tough as it has been."

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was unaware of any steps taken by North Korea towards denuclearization since Trump's summit with Kim Jong Un, who pledged to dismantle one of his missile installations.
No kidding.  Really?  /s/

The "Unite the Right" organizer (Jason Kessler) received initial approval to hold a "white civil rights" rally on the National Mall on August 12. The "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville last year led to violence as white nationalist marchers clashed with counter-protesters.

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Baking, Listening, Digging, Talking, Painting, Standing



While I am not experiencing a lot of despair due to personal reasons, I’m in quite a bit of despair about the world, the country, the state.   In the next post, I’ll give details about that, but first I wanted to try to stay positive, and remind myself of the ways that I have been keeping total despair at bay.


  1.  Bake a pie. 

I made this pie partly because I knew my son would be coming home at some point, and he likes pie.  But I also made it because making pie is therapeutic. 

I took this...
And made this.


I did not have shortening in the house, so I had to use butter for the crust.  I know it is possible to make a great crust using butter, but it is not in my skill set.  So the crust was not optimal.  I will have to bake another pie soon.
Blueberry pie filling looks kind of wicked when
 it is raw.  And then you bake the hell right
out of it.  So it's great for fending off
the feeling that the world is going to hell
in a handbasket.

Rolling out the crust, I thought, this looks like Australia.  But it turns out it looks more like the Big Island of Hawaii, the one where the goddess Pele is exploding with rage at the current state of the world. 
As I rolled this crust out, I thought it looked
 rather like Australia.  But I was wrong.

 2.  Go to a concert.
We had the great fortune to receive the gift of tickets to this concert.  I never in my life thought I would have the chance to hear Yo-yo Ma in person.  It was a wonderful concert.  Yo-yo Ma is the sort of person who exudes hope. 


3.  Dig in the dirt
I was not optimistic at all that I would find time to plant the six flowers I bought at the farmer’s market.  But digging in the dirt, working alongside Younger Daughter, was balm for the soul.  We planted snapdragons and these yellow flowers that I don’t know the name of.




4.  Talk to a friend
I was so agitated on Thursday that I completely neglected an appointment to meet a friend.  I was so looking forward to this!  But I was consumed with anger, shame, and dismay at my country.  I am grateful that my friend was forgiving. We had a good chat on the phone.  She kindly suggested that I spend some time looking for the helpers.  They are everywhere, and you can see them if only you look.

5.   Make protest signs
In the past few weeks, I’ve painted a lot of protest signs.     



I bought more blue paint.  Also added an "e" before taking this
sign to the protest.

 6.  Protest
I know I don't have to stand out on the street, but that is indeed one option.  It's one I like to do in solidarity with others.
Shadows of protesters outside our
Congressman's office.  




Monday, May 21, 2018

Lord, Prepare Me



Don't Fear - Bloom!


Cheryl Strayed, in her memoir Wild, decides go on a months-long backpacking trip.  In order to prepare, does she load her pack and go on practice hikes?  Does she limber up with stretching and strengthening exercises?  Does she study the map and learn the trail lingo?  Mostly nope.  I felt so superior to her when I was reading that part of the book – anybody knows that you have to prepare for months for a trip like that.  Instead, she buys a truckload of random hiking stuff, goes to a hotel room, and finds out the night before she is to start her hike that her stuff won’t all fit in her backpack, and she can hardly lift what does fit.

Well, cut me down to size.  After we managed to arrange our upcoming trip, did I take a daily walk to limber up?  Slim down and muscle up?    Study up on conversational Hebrew?  Read all the parts of the Bible that take place in Israel?  Mostly nope.

Packing consisted of procrastinating, until finally last week I set up a staging area in Oldest Daughter’s bedroom (currently unoccupied).  If I came across something I thought I should take, I threw it in a huge pile in her room.  Every time I saw a small bottle of sunscreen SPF 30 or higher, I bought it.  It is not possible for someone like me to be overstocked on sunscreen.  I bought several hats, but can now only find two of them.

Staging area

 
Never have I felt more unprepared for a trip.  I did manage to memorize one Hebrew phrase from the little Berlitz book I picked up when my mother’s Old Folks’ Home was giving away books:

.אני רוצה בקבוק יין לבן
Ani rotze bakbuk yayin lavan.
“I would like a bottle of white wine.”

I figured that would get me through most difficult situations.  But if I’m going to ask for a whole bottle, I guess I’d better learn how to ask where the lavatory is.


I also know how to say “Eyfo et ha iparon?”, a very useful phrase meaning “Where is the pencil?” It’s all that is left in my memory from about fifteen years ago, when my husband tried to give us all Hebrew lessons.





The only other Hebrew words I know are lovely Biblical ones:

               רוּחַ (ru-akh) means “spirit” or “wind”.  Say that “kh” in the back of your throat.  See Genesis 1:2.

               חסד (hesed), a meaty word often translated as “loving kindness,” but also with an element of loyalty.

                לא (lo) means “no”, which appears frequently in the Bible.   Check out the Ten Commandments.  This word might actually be useful for us tourists.


Will we find signs of White Jesus there?

Or maybe Plush Jesus?
When we have told people we are going to Israel, they often express concern for our safety.  I appreciate that.  But 28 years ago, we cancelled our honeymoon trip to Israel because Saddam Hussein was lobbing missiles in Israel’s direction (no worries – we had a wonderful honeymoon in London).  Nothing will stop us this time.  We will just have to trust our local guide.  I also have to say that, other than the usual dangers associated with travel anywhere, we may end up feeling and being safer in Israel than here in concealed-carry country.  We are packed for the heat, but we are not packing heat.

The thing is, I can’t find that little Hebrew phrase book.  I told my husband, “I’m going to have to unpack everything, so I can find it.”  He said, “I’m not surprised.  Anytime we go anywhere you have to pack and unpack three times.”  My husband has no need of a little book: he has downloaded an app.

Ultimately, no matter where we are, we place our lives in the care of God Almighty.  We’ll just keep repeating the words from the end of the hymn Adon Olam:   “Adonai li, v’lo ira.”


Into [God’s] hand I commend my spirit,
when I sleep and when I wake;
And with my spirit, my body also:
the Lord is with me, and I will not fear.

See you back at the playground soon!