Oh, the times we live in this Presidents’ Day

To whom it may concern,

Here’s a question for Presidents’ Day: Would George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have approved of the current political landscape?

MountrushmoreFor that matter, let’s step through the rest of the faces found on Mount Rushmore and ask a couple more questions.

Would Thomas Jefferson have approved of the role religion has taken in American politics?  Come on, now, if anyone’s initial response is to answer in the affirmative, please do some seriously objective research.  Really.  I mean, how weird is it that such an obvious non-evangelical candidate as Donald Trump is topping the polls among evangelicals in the Republican lead-up to the South Carolina presidential primary?  That should be all the proof anyone needs that politics and religion — like oil and water — don’t mix.

How would Theodore Roosevelt — a Republican — have felt about something like Citizens United?


How messed up are we when we see Republican leadership and conservative pundits claiming that a sitting President should not nominate a replacement for a deceased Supreme Court justice (who helped give us Citizens United) during an election season because they’re so afraid of the balance of judicial power suddenly shifting to the “dark side” of evil liberalism, only to find that the truth is it’s been done before under presidents like William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and a guy named Ronald Reagan?

yogiAnd let’s not save our questions just for the conservative side.  On the liberal side, you’d think Hillary Clinton would have learned her lesson about the end results of not being totally honest about her fiercest presidential opponent’s actions after seeing what happened to her chances in 2008, wouldn’t you?  Check out the video below from just over eight years ago and see if an old Yogi Berra quote still applies today.

And Hillary thinks Bernie Sanders is out of line to criticize Barack Obama?  Really?

Or how about the Democratic National Committee deciding it would be a good idea to roll back a ban on donations from federal lobbyists and political action committees?

Meanwhile, as political games are played, middle class America is still being hit squarely between the eyes by reality.  Such as when United Technologies executives announced that 1,400 employees of Carrier Heating and Cooling Systems in Indianapolis would be out of a job starting in 2017 so they can move production to Mexico.  But it’s all just a “business decision.”  Right?  And if you think Trump is going to turn that all around, I’ve got some nice parcels of swampland to sell anyone who wants them.  Make me an offer, I won’t refuse.

It’s political business as usual.  Are we up to the challenge of changing that?

Happy (censored) Presidents’ Day.

— Sincerely, Angry Americans Not Supporting Donald Trump

Getting lost in the eyes of my precious valentine

This is my wish for my children: to find and feel the same love, the same happiness, the same trust, and share the same commitment with their life partner that I have with their mother Amy.

If they can do that, they’ll be set for a lifetime, no matter what comes along.

The words of a song bring out a lot of memories, feelings and experiences in me when it comes to Amy, especially on Valentine’s Day.

Amy and her good friend Cheyenne. (Photo by Randy Kroll)
Amy and her good friend Cheyenne. (Photo by Randy Kroll)

Right from the day we met, I’ve always gotten lost in her eyes.  Her soul shines through in her eyes.  Those eyes of hers captivate me, and they always will.

Amy came along when I was lost.  Emptiness filled my heart.  In times when I’d be feeling down or stressed, I’d go driving off in my car, stereo blaring away, playing the perfect music to fit the mood I was in.

But then Amy came along, and I could turn to her to soothe me just by being there to talk and be with.  She’s been strong medicine for the emptiness.

It’s a medicine that can burn through any facade I put up, the kind of facade only pride can put up.  She can bring out what’s deep inside of me.

All she has to do is look deeply into my eyes.  It’s there that I find light, heat.  They make me feel complete.  They bring me peace like a thousand churches.  All my fruitless searching ended the moment I first looked into Amy’s eyes.

It’s in those eyes that I can feel her pain.  I’ve seen too much of that in the struggles we’ve experienced in the past few years.  It’s contributed to moments between us slipping away.  We both work very hard just to survive, and she’s contributed a lot to that survival.  Our hours may not complement each other, and we yearn so much for those moments when we can keep each other awake and alive.  We never stop praying for that day when the struggle subsides.

All she has to do to make me feel complete is look deeply into my eyes.  It’s there that I find light, heat.  They make me feel complete.  They bring me peace like a thousand churches.  All my fruitless searching ended the moment I first looked into Amy’s eyes.

I love my children down to the marrow of my bones.  That’s why the love that I feel for their mother is the kind of love I want them to experience.

Demanding more from Americans, and from each other

All too often, I feel the need to weep for the people of America.  It hasn’t always been like that, at least not to the degree it’s at today.

All too often, I find myself getting into discussions that have to do with politics and the person on the other side ends up saying something like “I really don’t follow politics, I just go by my feelings/emotions.”  All that tells me is that the person on the other side hasn’t taken enough time to search out some basic facts to help form a logical conclusion which could lead to a more informed decision.  How often do feelings/emotions betray us?

argumentAll too often, I find myself getting into discussions with people so deeply locked in to their political ideology that they refuse to allow themselves to look at any other view, even when that view is based on facts and not opinion.  It would be nice to discuss something like raising the minimum wage and have the main argument against it not come from some far right-leaning opinion website saying that raising the minimum wage in Seattle cost 1,000 restaurant workers their jobs, so it can’t be a good idea.  I then reply with some fact-checking — including information from a source in the Seattle area who’s also not in favor of a $15 minimum wage — showing the argument about Seattle job losses was not true.  Do you think the facts made any difference in the discussion?  No.  I often wonder if people that locked in to their ideology even bother to read the information I share, simply because it’s felt that I’m “too liberal,” one of those “libtards.”

All too often, we find ourselves getting into discussions involving politics in which the other person ends up saying something along the lines of “All politicians lie.”  This happened most recently in a discussion about Donald Trump, coming from someone who’s been supporting another candidate for President but who now seems prepared to throw their support behind Trump should their first choice not make the cut.  So I try to wrap my brain around this: This person is sick of politicians lying, yet they’re ready to back a lying, bloviating real estate mogul with the persona of an egotistical used car salesman who’s played a large role in multiple bankruptcies involving his business holdings, flushing a professional football league (remember the United States Football League?) down the toilet through serious misjudgment driven by his own ego, etc., to be the leader of the free world?

Bill-Clinton-I-Did-Not-2Yes, my friend, politicians can and do lie.  Politicians on each side of the aisle have been known to lie — from “Tricky Dick” Nixon to Bill “I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Woman” Clinton and beyond.  But not all politicians lie, and that’s where a tremendous responsibility falls upon each one of us as citizens — the responsibility to put in the research, the effort to seek out the facts and the truth, to put aside political ideology and personal biases at times, to ask ourselves whether our feelings and emotions make sense, and make the most logical choices possible.

Are we up to that task?

“Better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.”

— President Barack Obama in his final State of the Union address, January 12, 2016

 Speaking of lying …

Here’s a challenge.  Can anyone name one President (at least in recent memory) who’s had more lies spread about them than Barack Hussein Obama, had them shown to be untrue, only to have the lies not just continue but grow?  He’s Muslim … he was born in a foreign country … he’s going to declare martial law and appoint himself dictator … he’s going to take everyone’s guns away … he’s been the biggest spending President in history … he’s misused his executive powers … he’s always on vacation …he’s been terrible for business … he’s tanked the economy … Benghazi … Operation Jade Helm … all just the tip of the iceberg.  Can anyone offer any factual evidence to support claims like these without going to some far right source?

 Even when honest facts are presented, they get heavily discounted.  It’s that “Alex Jones mentality” that’s way too prevalent in America’s political discourse today.  That’s what makes me feel the need to weep.  We used to be a better nation than this.

Obama closed out his last State of the Union address with his most important point, issuing a challenge to the American people that should be seen as the equivalent of JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” demand.

“(D)emocracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention. Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.

Obama-State-Of-The-Union-2016-640x427Too many Americans feel that way right now. …

And if we want a better politics, it’s not enough to just change a congressman or a senator or even a president; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”

Trump’s mantra is “Make America Great Again.”  Yet it’s candidates like Trump who bring out the worst in Americans.  It’s candidates like Trump who play on people’s fear and anger, offering no sensible solutions.  The truth is, America’s still great.  It’s great in the fact that we are still free to disagree, and if we’re smart enough we can work through those differences and find solutions.  But we are on the crest of a slippery slope.  “Compromise” in government is becoming a dirty word.  Not only can Democrats and Republicans not seem to agree, but Republicans can’t agree amongst themselves.  And they’re the ones holding the keys to solutions to the problems that face us with control of Congress.  So is it any wonder Obama feels the need to push through executive orders on issues like immigration and gun control, only to see criticism for him doing so?

We look to our politicians to fix things, and then gripe and moan when we elect people incapable of even trying to fix things.  We look at people like Trump and get excited because he’s “not politically correct,” he “speaks his mind,” and we ignore the question of whether the man is capable of showing so much as a shred of common decency.  We look at people like Ted Cruz and get excited when we think of him as someone who’s not afraid to piss off leadership on both sides of the aisle, and we ignore the question of whether he can come up with any solution to a problem other than a costly and useless government shutdown.  And, yes, we look at someone like Hillary Clinton and get excited by the things she could do, and we ignore troubling signs coming from her camp when a race gets tight and untruths come from her or her daughter about Hillary’s main opponent.

Yes, it can come from both sides.

So, what do we do to make things better?  How do we go about “fixing Washington?”  Too many people get the urge to throw up their hands, and either refuse to participate in the process or just go with the lesser of the “evils.”  They refuse to believe there is truth out there, when it can be staring them right in the face if they’d only wake up and do a little searching.

Obama said it himself toward the end of his State of the Union address.

“If we give up now, then we forsake a better future.”

And that’s true not just on a national stage, but on a global stage.  The truth is out there.  We need to find it with our own eyes.  We need to put aside preconceived notions, strip away biases, and take a look at what’s really going on around us.  There’s too much at stake.

Finding a place to call home, needing some time to relax

Can we begin to feel like we can relax a bit now?

A photo our son Grant took of the house where he'd spent all but around three years of his life, as we were in the process of pulling up those roots. (Photo by Grant Miller)
A photo our son Grant took of the house where he’d spent all but around three years of his life, as we were in the process of pulling up those roots. (Photo by Grant Miller)

It’s been over two weeks now since we locked the doors for the last time on the night before Thanksgiving and walked away from the four-bedroom, 1 1/2–bath house that we called home for close to 20 years.  For a few weeks, Sundays and Wednesdays — my days off from my full-time job — were spent loading big, heavy items into a rented moving van or our two-horse trailer, and then moving them to either our two-bedroom, one-bath apartment less than half the size of what we were used to, or to a friend’s large and mostly empty basement for storage.

On most other days, I’d drop our daughter Alicia off at school early in the morning and go to the house before sunrise to haul off smaller items before rushing to the apartment to unload items and get ready for work in the afternoon, driving a bus into the late evening.  If we weren’t working our regular jobs, a lot of our time was spent moving or getting settled in to our new place.

We were burning both ends of the candle.  It was taking a toll in every possible way — physically, mentally, emotionally, temperamentally.

After one particularly grueling day between moving and work, I was walking through the bus stalls toward the dispatch area just before heading back to our new home for a few hours of sleep when a co-worker stopped to say hello and chat for a bit.  He noticed that I looked tired, and he said so.

It must have been that apparent.

During the process, we sorted through items gathered through a lot of years.  Right up until the last week or more, there was still a chance — albeit a small one — that we might be able to stay put, one way or another.  At the same time, I was combing through local apartment rental magazines or keeping my eyes peeled as I’d drive a bus for the names of what looked like decent places to live so I could do more research later … just in case the last-ditch efforts to stay in the house fell through.

I got a phone call from the realtor we’d been working with on a short sale on a Wednesday afternoon after picking up Alicia from school, letting me know that our efforts to work with a bank to stay in the house were not looking good because the bank was moving slowly on paperwork, and the date for the house to be auctioned was looming large.  Based on the apartment “shopping” I’d done up to then, I applied online at a nice place that night, just to see if there was any chance of getting approved.  My stress level was sky-high.

While filling out a long paper application form from another complex the next morning, I got a call letting me know that we’d been approved from the online application.  We had a place if we wanted it.  It provided a small sense of relief.  We put down a security deposit less than 24 hours after getting the call.

Things had become very hectic very quickly.  We’d start moving just over a week later.

The home that we'd worked and fought to keep for close to 20 years, shortly after locking up and leaving it for the last time, with a large dumpster ready for the new owner to collect and haul away both junk and perhaps some memories as well. (Photo by John G. Miller)
The home that we’d worked and fought to keep for close to 20 years, one week after locking up and leaving it for the last time, with a large dumpster ready for the new owner to collect and haul away both junk and perhaps some memories as well. (Photo by John G. Miller)

We had plenty of junk to get rid of, our dumpsters filled up fast.  So many of the things we were sorting though brought back memories.  The things that meant the most, we’d keep with us or in storage.  There were also memories we’d have to leave behind to either be given to charity or thrown out.  We were running out of room and time.

Some things were harder to part with than others, but the separation had to be done.  At times, I’d look around rooms that were emptying more by the day and see what was left.  I’d find myself choked up with emotion.  But we had to move on.  As much as we hated the thought of losing our house — something the realtor told us happens in sickening numbers to other people in our area — we had the desire to move on, to get on with our lives, to start over.

One thought would get us through.  One thing to focus on would help to ease the pain of losing the house we’d fought to keep for a lot of years.

We may have been losing a house, but we were in the process of making a new home.

There would be new memories to build there.  At least we still had family to make memories with.  Everyone’s still around, a little more scattered than before, but we still have each other.

The morning after locking up and leaving the house for the last time — after dividing up cats between us and our sons at their own apartments — we got up early to give the dogs a chance to relieve themselves in the big dog run outside, all part of the new apartment routine instead of just opening up the back door and letting them go out on their own in our fenced back yard.

Football on TV with feet propped up. Finally, a chance to rest and recuperate after an exhausting few weeks spent moving. (Photo by John G. Miller)
Football on TV with feet propped up. Finally, a chance to rest and recuperate after an exhausting few weeks spent moving. (Photo by John G. Miller)

Then, it was time to start getting a Thanksgiving turkey ready to cook.  There was football to watch, family to have over for a holiday meal.  It felt nice to be pretty much settled in to a new place to call home.

We may be able to relax just a touch now that we have a place to live that’s clean, warm, bright, in a decent neighborhood, very close to everything and every place we’d need to go — with the exception of Amy needing to drive a farther distance to work with her horses, and getting Alicia to and from school.  We’ve gone from living on the west side of the valley to the east side, nine miles from the house we called home for so long.  Instead of making a long drive to and from work every day, there are days when I can choose to make a short drive to a nearby light rail station to get where I need to go for work and back.  There are inconveniences, but there are some nice conveniences.  We’re adjusting.  At least we have a place to call home.

Now we have to continue fighting to hang on to it.  That’s where the real relaxation still needs to take place, we’re not at that point yet.  The move and adjustment to a new place has been costly, and we’ve received much-appreciated help along the way.  A better-paying job would still be nice.  We have a budget that’s doable but leaves little in the way of wiggle room, and financial emergencies are frightening to think about.

A longtime friend strongly on the conservative side once shared a thought that “the rich stay rich because they live like they’re poor, and the poor stay poor because they live like they’re rich.”  That would be laughable except for the fact that beliefs like that have strained what had been a nice friendship.  It would be nice to tuck some money into savings, but that’s awfully tough to do when you’re fighting so hard to make ends meet just on necessities alone.

Amy does what she can and helps out quite a bit with her music and horse business.  If it weren’t for her income, we’d be lost.  Alicia just started a new part-time job at a clothing store where her sense of style comes in handy, and that can be a help to us.  But the financial battle continues, even now that we’re in a new place.

The tree we got last week is helping to make our Christmas more cheery in our new home. (Photo by John G. Miller)
The tree we got last week is helping to make our Christmas more cheery in our new home. (Photo by John G. Miller)

We’re doing what we can to give ourselves a decent Christmas.  A very full tree — shorter than what we’re used to — has been placed in a corner next to the glass door going out to our balcony.  I spent part of my Sunday afternoon stringing Christmas lights on that balcony, getting into the spirit of the holiday.  It’s those kinds of things that will make this small apartment seem even more like a home.

We’ll miss that house we called home for so long.  It was our first home.  It grew on us.  It pains me to drive by there now and see the memories that are being thrown out in that big dumpster, like the big plastic fish pond that was once a proud addition to the back yard complete with a waterfall, and then filled with dirt and turned into a strawberry patch.  It was the place where our sons spent a large part of their lives, where our daughter lived for her entire life, where Amy and I raised a family, where we shared some very memorable Christmases with some beautiful trees.

We have now experienced the feeling of seeing our names in the legal notices section of the local paper, giving notice that our home is up for auction at a trustee sale.  Nearly 20 years worth of payments have gone down the drain.  And we’re not alone.  Just in our local paper, there are an average of about 12 such notices of trustee sales on homes every day.

How many of those are the result of people staying poor because they’re living like they’re rich, and how many of them are the result of people just trying to survive with the basic necessities?

We just need to move on.

AMY’S ANGLE: What to do with our furry friends?

I have always been the kind of person to want to keep the whole family together, including the furry friends that we have.  However, when John lost a decent paying job twice within the past four years and now that we are facing the loss of our home because John’s income is much lower,  we have to face the reality of renting an apartment and no one seems to want pets — or, should I say, no one wants as many as we have.

Buster and Sami ready for a morning walk. (Photo by Amy Miller)
Buster and Sami ready for a morning walk. (Photo by Amy Miller)

My beautiful Buster is a large 85-pound dog, a red-haired border collie cross.  I love him and I want to stay with him all his years, but the chance of him staying with us is threatened.  Most apartments don’t even accept dogs that are large or as many dogs as we have.  The town where we live allows four dogs per household.  We have three dogs, but we also have three cats that would live with us.  So that makes six critters. However, apartments don’t hold the same standard — it’s up to two pets per apartment if you can have pets at all.  So what are we supposed to do?

People do get angry with animal lovers who do have to separate themselves from their pets.  But if people are in situations such as John, Alicia and I are facing now, I am beginning to see that some people have no choice.  We have been fighting hard for our pets and I feel as if we are losing.  In all honesty, I want to keep every one of them, they are my “kids.”  But we can’t be homeless either.  What are we supposed to do to keep this bunch together?  I would love suggestions.  John, Alicia and I would be devastated to part with any of them.

This is a plea to help us stay together somehow.  Sami is a 9-year-old American Eskimo who we’ve had since she was a puppy.  We put her through obedience training and she got her Canine Good Citizenship award.  Buster is almost 6 years old, we had him since he was six weeks old and he went to advanced level in dog training with me.  Fancy is another American Eskimo who belongs to Alicia, she is her dog because Fancy’s original owner died so we took her to foster until a new home could be found.  After a period of literal mourning on Fancy’s part, Alicia and Fancy became fast friends and they’d be devastated to have to live apart from each other now.  Then there are our cats.  I would love the idea of fundraising so we could find a place to keep them all together.

Any suggestions would be helpful because we are a family who wants everyone together.

AMY’S ANGLE: ‘Scary times’ to be the parent of a lovely girl

We went to a parent-teacher conference today with our daughter, Alicia, to check out how she’s doing in school.  It is a nice time to get acquainted with what her world is like on a daily basis in her school.  Most of her life for the next three years is going to be in a high school classroom setting, so we as parents need to see that part of our kids’ lives.

To start the day, I went out to be with my horses to show one potential student what great horses are like to ride.  It took time in getting them ready to ride, but the sad thing was that this potential student didn’t show up.  I do hate it when I work so hard to be at a place on time and ready, it takes a while to get horses ready and saddled, only to be stood up.  So then I decided to work on my horses by myself and enjoy my time with them.

Alicia with her dad.
Alicia with her dad.

Then I came home and we went to Alicia’s school to meet with her teachers.  After our many discussions with her teachers, we learned that she is doing great in certain classes and trying her best in other classes.  It is not easy with so many different classes, and there are classes kids like better than others.  A person’s natural gifts become more apparent in schools and certain classes spark interests, if you know what I mean.

Then we went out to eat with her to become acquainted with a fellow who wanted to take our daughter out on her first “real” date.  Letting a daughter date is a very scary time to me because it is hard to get to know what guys are like before we dare to let our precious girl go out.  Again, this is really a first “true date” for her, and I guess something to get used to is this period where we might pace floors to wait up for her to come home at night.  I am sure there is a lot of understanding on that among other parents.

Nonetheless, we really enjoy Alicia, she is a joy for us and great to be with and have around.  It is not a day for me to get excited about when she will someday move out and not live with us any more, just like our two sons have already done.  But we know this happens when kids grow up and then move out and leave mom and dad to their own worlds.  These are times when we wonder if we have raised them up the way we hope for.

If anyone would love to share their experiences with parenting please feel free to write.

AMY’S ANGLE: This Peeta can play his own version of ‘hunger games’

In our home, we have a cat who loves to talk to anyone who will listen to him.  His name is Peeta.  He was a foster kitten we took care of in a litter of six cute, colorful kittens.  They were a certain color and white, very colorful indeed.  All the other kittens went to “forever homes.”

I love helping kittens that come from pounds.   It makes me feel as if I am helping cats find homes in a small way.  There are so many cats and kittens who need help and I can help the kittens here in my neck of the woods.  Well, this litter of six little felines were a very colorful bunch of kittens, and they were a very cuddly bunch.  When it came time for them to go to the shelter to become spayed or neutered, one of the kittens — Peeta — could not go because he was not 100 percent with his eyes.  So he had to stay behind while the others left.  He cried and cried for his brothers and sisters.

When he became healthy and his eyes cleared up and he had his surgery done, we were told that Peeta was a noisy kitty who could be heard through the whole clinic.

Peeta is caught spying under a bedroom door. (Photo by John G. Miller)
Peeta is caught spying under a bedroom door. (Photo by John G. Miller)

We ended up with Peeta because a girlfriend of Curtis’ wanted to adopt him and she did but she didn’t have a place to keep him so he’s stayed here with us for about a year now.  He is an awesome, noisy kitty who is very demanding for attention.  His favorite thing is belly rubs and he really squirms on those because he loves them so much.

Another strange thing this cat does is on one piece of furniture, the love seat, he enjoys getting on his back and using his paws to climb along the bottom.  Instead of walking on his legs, he pulls himself around the love seat with his back on the floor.  It is so funny to watch and he always does it on this part of the furniture, not the other furniture.

Peeta also likes to meow a lot so we know where he is.  We talk to him a lot and he loves to talk as well.  He loves to beg for treats by laying on the kitchen floor and looking so pathetic, trying to make us think that he is starving, but he can’t fool us with his stomach as large as it is.  He looks so cute gazing up with his large green, begging eyes.  Usually we then give in and give him treats along with other cats who come running after hearing the treat bag rattling.

So if any of our friends came to visit, they have to put up with a visit from Peeta, the friendly, beautiful, green-eyed cat.

What Boehner’s resignation means for the GOP

If you want to see the current and future state of the Republican Party, you have to go back in time more than 30 years.

House Speaker John Boehner (Photo via Wikipedia)
House Speaker John Boehner (Photo via Wikipedia)

The announcement this morning that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was resigning his position effective October 30 is a victory for ultra-conservatives.  Boehner is plenty conservative, but these days there’s a litmus test when it comes to GOP candidates.  It boils down to this: Are you conservative enough?  It’s like a never-ending competition.

If you’re willing to mutter or even think about using the word “compromise” these days, you’re not conservative enough.  These days, that means an eventual end to your career as a Republican lawmaker.  Utah Sen. Mike Lee was voted into office through that mindset.  So was Utah Rep. Mia Love.

Staunch conservative Bob Bennett didn’t even make it out of caucusing onto the primary ballot in 2010 to keep his Senate seat from Utah, won by Lee.  Bennett finished third to two Tea Party-backed candidates in that year’s state Republican convention — a senator with high ratings from groups such as the National Rifle Association and the American Conservative Union who wasn’t considered conservative enough.  Sit back and let that sink in for a minute.

Boehner is just the latest in the wave of not-conservative-enough chess pieces that have been knocked off the board.

It shows a trend that’s growing, and it’s powered by the Tea Party, which is powered by the likes of the Koch brothers.

I’ve seen the likes of this before, and it’s sickening.

It takes me back to the days of my youth, living in the beautiful and ultra-conservative area of central Idaho.  My grandmother was liberal in the love she offered those closest to her, a genuine sweetheart.  She was conservative in her politics.

She used to get all kinds of junk mail from politicians representing her.  After she’d open it up, I couldn’t help but look through the correspondence from time to time.  Some of it was enough to scare the crap out of anyone — telling how we’d be doomed if we followed the liberal agenda.

After working through the initial shock and fear portrayed in the mail, more often than not I’d shake my head and hope that my sweet grandmother wasn’t sending too much of her hard-earned money to support these crackpots like they wanted.

George V. Hansen was probably the biggest offender.

hansenHansen was the picture of the Idaho conservative’s conservative.  He represented the state’s 2nd District in the U.S. House from 1965-69 and from 1975-85.  He had a crew cut that screamed “conservative” before going to more of a “hippie look” for him that allowed some hair to perhaps touch his ears.

He was a leader in the fight against the Internal Revenue Service, writing a book in 1980 called To Harass Our People: The IRS and Government Abuse of Power.  He was a showboat, making sure cameras were there when he went to Tehran in 1979 in the middle of the Iran hostage crisis to try to negotiate with captors of American hostages through the fence of the U.S. Embassy.

He had his share of run-ins with the IRS, spent some time in prison which brought allegations of torture while he was behind bars.  Once his days in politics were over, he was convicted in 1993 of 45 counts of bank fraud for a multimillion-dollar check-kiting scheme.

He died in 2014.  His style of paranoid, one-world government-screeching, “make the people fear the liberal monster” politics lives on.  It’s become the majority of the Republican Party.  The late George V. Hansen is the current and future face of the GOP the way things are going.

If further proof is needed, John Boehner’s resignation provides it.

You really need to see more of George V. Hansen to understand just how sickening a thought that is.

A form of payment that goes beyond dollars

I drive transit buses for a living.  At the moment, my hourly wage isn’t all that much higher than what the push has been for a minimum wage across the country.

My job involves a bit more than being able to safely drive an oversized vehicle that can hold a bunch of people.  It involves multitasking and customer service in various forms.

I’ve dealt with people who are kind and people who are angry.  I’ve broken up fights.  I’ve dealt with drunks and druggies.

busI make it a point to greet every person who steps on to the “ship” that I captain, give them a smile, and thank them when they step off at their destination.  If I fall short in that, it isn’t by much.  I get a reward whenever someone waves and smiles and says “thanks” when they leave.  The majority of passengers do that.

There are some riders who don’t say a word or give any form of acknowledgement of my existence.  That can include people I’ve made a special effort to serve and to please.  When that happens, I speak very quietly for them, in a way no one else can hear.

Thank you so much!  You are the most amazing driver I’ve ever seen!  You are so good, I’m speechless!

I cannot thank you enough for the service you’ve provided for me!  It was so wonderful, I’m speechless!

Etc., so on and so forth.

But, then, there are times when I can get a reward that goes beyond any monetary value.  There are times when simple acts of appreciation can make my entire day, and make what can be a thankless job worthwhile.

I was driving what can be a busy east-west route last week and could see a bus stop coming up, with a white-haired, elderly lady pushing a walker toward the stop.  She was maybe 100 feet away from it on the sidewalk with her back toward the bus.  I couldn’t tell if she needed a ride or not, so I slowed down a touch.  As I approached her, she turned and looked over her left shoulder, waving a hand at me to let me know she needed on.

It’s hard to stop a 40-foot bus on a dime.  If I could have pulled to a stop right next to her, I would have.  But I managed to pull up to the stop, and I could see the woman running up as quickly as she could.

elderlyI lowered the front of the bus to make it easier for her to get on.  She lifted her walker on, stepped up, put some money in the fare box, and I was about to hand her a transfer when she gave me the best reward I’ve had in the time I’ve driven one of these big machines.  Without saying a word, she looked me in the eyes — it looked like she had a touch of tears forming — and she reached over to give me a hug.  She didn’t speak, but her gratitude was evident.

From that moment until she pulled the cord to let me know she needed off, I kept looking back in a mirror to see if she was okay.  She folded her arms once on the handles of the walker and laid her forehead on her arms, looking relieved.  I wondered if she could speak at all.

As she was leaving the bus, she patted me on my right arm, looked me in the eyes again, and gave me what appeared to be words of thanks in a form of sign language.

Those are the good moments that make customer service worthwhile.

From too much attention to not enough attention

It was July of 2011.  I had a job making decent money, but I was starting to feel the pinch from several years of little or no pay increases to keep up with the cost of living.  We could feel our way of life slipping backwards.

I had taken some time off from work to make a trip up to Missoula, Montana, where my mother underwent heart surgery.  I was making a long drive back from there to my home in Utah and had pulled over at a rest stop about 25 miles north of Idaho Falls before getting on I-15 to head south.  My car had been running fine, but when I went to start it again after a quick break, it wouldn’t fire up.  The fuel pump went bad.

broke downI managed to get a niece and her boyfriend nearby to come pull the car to a shop at my brother-in-law’s auto dealership.  I wouldn’t be going back to work in the coming days like I’d planned.  Instead, I’d be staying at a home where my parents-in-law were at in Idaho Falls while their home farther south was being threatened with flooding from the Snake River, waiting for a fuel pump to come in and my car to be fixed.  It turned into a stay of close to a week.

I had plenty of time on my hands during that stay.  My father-in-law is deeply into political science.  He used to call himself a Republican, and then once he started getting deeper into studying politics he turned Democrat.  He has all kinds of books on politics, economics, foreign affairs, etc., from a variety of perspectives — both conservative and liberal.  Since I had plenty of time on my hands, I found a book in my father-in-law’s collection that looked particularly interesting.  I started reading it and didn’t stop until I’d made it all the way through.

the speechThe book was titled “The Speech.”  What grabbed my attention the most was the subtitle: “A Historic Filibuster On Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class.”  It was a published record of a speech given by independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders from December 10, 2010.

Sanders’ words hit home with me.  What he was saying was what my family was living.  America’s middle class was moving backwards.  My family was moving backwards.  My broken down car with well over 200,000 miles on it was an example of that.  I had a decent job, but what I had to show for it was dwindling.  There were fears then that the venture capital company that owned the business where I worked would be selling it off, costing people their jobs.  That fear was genuine, there was good reason for it.

Some job cuts had already begun to take place at that time.  Jump ahead to the following October, and the big job cuts really started hitting.  I was among those hit.  We were among those hit … hard.

Before sitting down to read Sanders’ book that July four years ago, I’d seen some videos of Sanders speaking on YouTube.  He didn’t mince words, he didn’t back down from anyone, he spoke with a genuine sense of caring for the common person and a direction that he felt the country was going in, and he didn’t like what that direction at all.  He was like David going against Goliath.  Instead of rocks and a sling against the giants, he used words and hard facts.

I saw the same thing in “The Speech.”  As I was reading that book, I got a feeling that I’d experienced before.  The prior experience came when I watched a young senator from Illinois speak at the 2004 Democratic convention.  His name was Barack Obama.  I thought then that if that guy ever ran for President, I’d vote for him.

Obama hasn’t been perfect.  He started out trying too hard to please Republicans who had no desire whatsoever to be pleased.  But he’s come around, recognized his opponents’ games for what they are, and despite what naysayers would have you believe he’s taken what once seemed like an impossible situation and started turning it around against incredible fights.

There’s still a long way to go before we can honestly say that America as a whole is the greatest nation that it can possibly be, there are still too many issues that threaten our stability as a whole.  The greatest threat is to the middle class.  Income inequality is very real, and if something isn’t done to turn that around we stand to crumble.

Caricature by DonkeyHotey
Caricature by DonkeyHotey

Bernie Sanders recognizes that.  He’s been talking about that for years.  While I was reading “The Speech,” I thought if he’d run for President, I’d vote for him.  He is, and I still would.

There are still way too many people out there who don’t know him or have mistaken impressions because he’s a “democratic socialist,” with the socialist part striking fear in their hearts, like we’re becoming another USSR instead of the USA.  If you look at the things Sanders has to say, it’s plain to see that it’s returning America back to the days when things were more equal, tax rates better reflected how we needed to stay afloat before trickle down economics threatened to sink the ship.

It’s a return to the days before the term “greed is good” became a way of life.

But we’re not hearing enough of what Bernie Sanders has to say, and there’s something very wrong with that.  We’re fascinated by celebrities and oddball characters, like the current leader in the Republican presidential polling and his GOP opponents.  News channels break away from coverage of more important things to give live looks at speeches which say nothing, all because of that love of celebrity.

Donald Trump might get 40 minutes’ worth of discussion on Meet The Press, while Bernie Sanders might be lucky to get a quarter of that.

Bernie Sanders flatly rejects negative campaigning.  He talks issues and solutions.  These days, that’s old-hat.

The guy impressed me even more this week when he made the modern equivalent of a “Daniel in the lions’ den” appearance at Jerry Falwell’s conservative Liberty University.  He spoke words that are too much unheard these days, the biggest being “civil discourse” between people who don’t agree on many issues.

Liberty University is to be applauded for inviting him in.  And Sanders was received warmly.  He left an impression that was unique.  He got evangelicals to take a hard look at themselves and the message they’re sending out in the current political environment.  One pastoral counselor there in particular was very moved, as you’ll find in the following link:

An Evangelical responds to Sanders’ speech at Liberty U

Why are so many people so turned on by “freak shows” in politics these days?  Whatever happened to that “civil discourse” we used to see more of, back in the days when America seemed more … united?

This is why people like Bernie Sanders deserve more attention.

Feel the Bern.