I Have A Dream …

Today is a federal holiday in the United States — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Parts of this are from a post I wrote two years ago, for it said what I wanted to say then, as it does now.  So, while some of this post is recycled, so to speak, I have updated it and added a few things.  In honour of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. …

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” 

“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”

mlk-3Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on 15 January 1929.  He would have been 90 years old last Tuesday, had he lived. On this day, we celebrate not only his life, but also his legacy. Martin Luther King Day celebrates not only Dr. King, but the movement he inspired and all those who helped move forward the notion of equal rights for ALL races, all those who worked tirelessly during the civil rights era of the 1960s, as well as those who are continuing the good fight even in this, the year 2019.

Dr. King, along with President John F. Kennedy, was the most moving speaker I have ever heard.  To this day, I cannot listen to his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech without tears filling my eyes.  If you haven’t heard it for a while, take a few minutes to watch/listen … I promise it will be worth your time.

This post is both a commemoration and a plea for us to carry on the work that was only begun, not yet finished, more than five decades ago.  Today we should remember some of the great heroes of the civil rights movement, those who worked tirelessly, some who gave their lives, that we could all live in peace and harmony someday: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Roy Innes, Medgar Evers, Booker T. Washington, John Lewis, Percy Julian, Marcus Garvey, Desmond Tutu, E.D. Nixon, James Meredith, and so many more.  I am willing to bet there are some on this list of whom you’ve never heard, or perhaps recognize the name but not the accomplishments. If you’re interested, you can find brief biographies of each of these and more at Biography.com .

Yet, while we celebrate the achievements of Dr. King and the others, there is still much to be done. Just look around you, read the news each day. Think about these statistics:

  • More than one in five black families live in households that are food insecure, compared to one in ten white families
  • Almost four in ten black children live in a household in poverty, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Among prime-age adults (ages 25 to 54), about one in five black men are not in the labor force, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Although blacks and whites use marijuana at approximately the same rate, blacks are over 3 and a half times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession
  • For every dollar earned by a white worker, a black worker only makes 74 cents
  • Black families are twice as likely as whites to live in substandard housing conditions
  • Black college graduates now have twice the amount of debt as white college graduates
  • The likelihood of a black woman born in 2001 being imprisoned over the course of her lifetime is one in 18, compared to 1 in 111 for a white woman
  • Similarly, the likelihood of a black man being imprisoned is 1 in 3, compared to 1 in 17 for a white man
  • Of black children born into the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, about half of them will still be there as adults, compared to less than one-quarter of white children

Data courtesy of the Brookings Institute – for charts and supporting details of above date, please click on link. 

And of course the above data does not even touch upon the recent spate of hate crimes, racial profiling, and police shootings against African-Americans.  There is still much of Dr. King’s work to be accomplished. But who is left to do this work?  Most of the leaders of yore are long since gone. There are still noble and courageous people out there carrying on the programs and works of Dr. King and the others, but their voices are perhaps not as loud, and there are none so charismatic as the late Dr. King.

In the current environment of racial divisiveness, we need more than ever to carry on what Dr. King only started. Instead, the past two years have found our nation backtracking on civil and human rights in a number of areas, ranging from discriminatory travel bans against Muslims to turning a federal blind eye to intentionally racially discriminatory state voter-suppression schemes, to opposing protections for transgender people, to inhumanely separating children from families seeking to enter the country.  I think Dr. King would be appalled if he returned to visit today.

In a speech on April 12th, 1850, then-Senator and future President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis said:

“This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes, but by white men for white men.” [1]

That was wrong then, it is wrong today, and it will always be wrong.  That is what Dr. Martin Luther King fought against, that is what I rail and sometimes rant against, that is why we need activists and groups dedicated to fighting for equality for all people … today, tomorrow, and forever.

Here is a bit of trivia you may not know about Dr. King …

  • King’s birth name was Michael, not Martin.
    The civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.

  • King entered college at the age of 15.
    King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades nine and 12 before enrolling in 1944 at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather. Although he was the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, King did not intend to follow the family vocation until Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays, a noted theologian, convinced him otherwise. King was ordained before graduating college with a degree in sociology.

  • King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not his first at the Lincoln Memorial.
    Six years before his iconic oration at the March on Washington, King was among the civil rights leaders who spoke in the shadow of the Great Emancipator during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957. Before a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000, King delivered his first national address on the topic of voting rights. His speech, in which he urged America to “give us the ballot,” drew strong reviews and positioned him at the forefront of the civil rights leadership.

  • King was imprisoned nearly 30 times.
    According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail 29 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.

  • King narrowly escaped an assassination attempt a decade before his death.
    On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” in Blumstein’s department store when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. The woman asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After he said yes, Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and she plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta, and King underwent hours of delicate emergency surgery. Surgeons later told King that just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. From his hospital bed where he convalesced for weeks, King issued a statement affirming his nonviolent principles and saying he felt no ill will toward his mentally ill attacker.

  • King’s mother was also slain by a bullet.
    On June 30, 1974, as 69-year-old Alberta Williams King played the organ at a Sunday service inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. rose from the front pew, drew two pistols and began to fire shots. One of the bullets struck and killed King, who died steps from where her son had preached nonviolence. The deranged gunman said that Christians were his enemy and that although he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was in the congregation, he killed King’s mother instead because she was closer. The shooting also left a church deacon dead. Chenault received a death penalty sentence that was later changed to life imprisonment, in part due to the King family’s opposition to capital punishment.

Dr. King fought and ultimately gave his life for the values I believe in, the values that should define this nation, though they often do not.  Dr. Martin Luther King was a hero of his time … thank you, Dr. King, for all you did, for the values you gave this nation, and for the hope you instilled in us all that your dream will someday come true.

[1] (Kendi, 2016)   stamped

Jolly Monday will return at its regularly scheduled time next week.

So Long, Paul — It’s Been … Interesting

There was a time when I thought Paul Ryan was a man of conscience, a decent man.  I don’t judge people … or at least I used not to judge people … by their political party affiliation, so it didn’t matter to me that Paul was a republican, only that he act in the best interest of the nation.  One of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, that I believed he had integrity came from a May 2016 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.  When Tapper asked whether he was supporting then-candidate Donald Trump, Mr. Ryan said …

“Well, to be perfectly candid with you, I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not there right now.  I think what a lot of Republicans want to see is that we have a standard-bearer that bears our standards. I think conservatives want to know, ‘Does he share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution?’ There are lots of questions that conservatives, I think, are gonna want answers to, myself included. I want to be a part of this unifying process. I want to help to unify this party.”

In August 2017, there was another moment when I believed perhaps he had a conscience and would finally stand firm against the abomination some call a president.  It was during the aftermath of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, after Trump’s ignominious speech saying that some of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis were ‘very fine people’.  Ryan, again interviewing with Jake Tapper, said …

“I do believe that he messed up in his comments on Tuesday when it sounded like a moral equivocation or at the very least moral ambiguity when we need extreme moral clarity.”

Well, he talked a good talk, but when it came time to walk the walk, it was another story altogether.  Paul Ryan went on to become just as much a sycophant, a boot-licker, as his buddy in the Senate, Mitch McConnell.

And perhaps his perfidy had early beginnings that we just overlooked, for in a March 2017 interview with Rich Lowry of the National Review, Ryan said …

“So Medicaid, sending it back to the states, capping its growth rate. We’ve been dreaming of this since I’ve been around — since you and I were drinking at a keg. . . . I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. We’re on the cusp of doing something we’ve long believed in.”

Taking health care from the poor … something he’s been thinking about since college.  And Wisconsinites elected him to the House of Representatives nine times!  But then, Wisconsinites are gluttons for punishment, for they elected asshole Scott Walker to the governorship three times.

Ryan has received some ‘fond’ farewells from the press …

In truth, he leaves Congress after his Republican brethren were drowned in the biggest blue wave since 1974. He leaves Congress with his conservative ideals in tatters. He leaves Congress having consoled himself, as he remarked on December 3, “that in a democracy, sometimes you fall short.” – The Atlantic

Ryan’s burden [was] the fact that he had to work with a president who was his opposite in every measure but party affiliation, and it’s easy to think Ryan’s speakership was doomed from the start. – Roll Call

But now, as Ryan prepares to leave Congress, it is clear that his critics were correct and a credulous Washington press corps — including me — that took him at his word was wrong. In the trillions of long-term debt he racked up as speaker, in the anti-poverty proposals he promised but never passed, and in the many lies he told to sell unpopular policies, Ryan proved as much a practitioner of post-truth politics as Donald Trump. – Ezra Klein, Vox

Look, the single animating principle of everything Ryan did and proposed was to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. Can anyone name a single instance in which his supposed concern about the deficit made him willing to impose any burden on the wealthy, in which his supposed compassion made him willing to improve the lives of the poor? So how did such an obvious con artist get a reputation for seriousness and fiscal probity? Basically, he was the beneficiary of ideological affirmative action. – Paul Krugman, New York Times

And to these tributes, I would like to add a few words of my own.

Paul, you had an opportunity to stand against a madman, to stop the madness before it set this nation on a path of destruction, and frankly, you blew it.  You started out, maybe, with some values and even a bit of integrity, but you sold your soul downriver the day you threw your lot in with the Donald Trump gang.  You could have argued against a tax bill that provided huge amounts of cash to those who already dine on steak, and gave nothing to those of us who struggle to put a chicken leg on the table.  You had the unique opportunity to speak out against horrible policies that have enabled the fossil fuel and other industries to further damage our environment, our very planet. 

So many times, all you had to do was say, “No, Mr. Trump, I will not support you in ______________” (fill in the blank with any of hundreds of examples).  You were a huge disappointment to the people who looked to you to use your power, your office, to stop Donald Trump from killing us, and instead you smiled, looked into the camera with your sad-puppy eyes, and lied to us.  You fell on your knees before King Trump and when he said “Jump!”, you asked “How high, sir?”  You sold us downriver and I cannot say that I’m sorry to see you leave Washington.  I wish that I could wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, but the truth is that, as Melania might say, “I don’t really care”.

A Dying Breed … George H.W. Bush

Yesterday, a man of respect died.  George Herbert Walker Bush died at age 94, just a few months after the death of his wife and soul-mate, Barbara.  I have never ascribed to a conservative or Republican ideology, and thus I often disagreed with many of Bush’s policies.  But I always respected the man.  George Bush was a good man, a man of dignity and compassion, a man who cared about this nation and the people who live in it, Republicans and Democrats alike.

George H.W. Bush was among the last of a dying breed.

5 living presidents

Left to right:  George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter

Until Friday, there were five living former-presidents, the men pictured above.  Each and every one of those men both gave and earned respect.  None were perfect, all made mistakes, but their hearts were in the right place and they unfailingly acted in what they believed was the best interest of this nation and its people.  Not a single one of these men put their own business interests ahead of the interests of the people they were to represent.  Not a single one of these men were so arrogant that they believed themselves better, more intelligent, or more important than any one of us.  They understood that they worked for us, rather than the other way around.

These men were thinkers.  They did not scream or rant in order to get their point across.  They were men of dignity, men of courage, men of respect.  Interesting word, ‘respect’.  True respect is earned, not given lightly.  George H.W. Bush earned the respect not only of the citizens of this nation, but of foreign leaders around the globe.  He was, despite his “no new taxes” promise that he had to break a short time later, a man of his word.  He was an honest man, a man of integrity.  When he spoke, he spoke the truth, or what was the truth to the best of his knowledge.

George H.W. Bush walked out of the Oval Office for the last time on 20 January 1993, after serving only one term, but he did not stop trying to make the world a better place.  More than ten years later, he and another former president, Bill Clinton, came together to lead aid efforts in tsunami-ravaged South Pacific disaster zones, and later in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.5 living presidents-2President Bush supported a wide variety of humanitarian causes throughout his life in areas of Abuse, Adoption, Fostering, Orphans, AIDS & HIV, Animals, At-Risk/Disadvantaged Youths, Children, Disaster Relief, Economic/Business Support, Education, Environment, Health, Homelessness, Human Rights, Hunger, Mental Challenges, Miscellaneous, Physical Challenges, Poverty, Sports, Women.

From 1993 to 1999, he served as the chairman of the board of trustees for Eisenhower Fellowships, and from 2007 to 2009 was chairman of the National Constitution Center.  In July 2013, Bush had his head shaved in a show of support for the two-year-old son of a member of his security detail, who had leukemia.  Bush-shaved-head.jpgIn 1993, Bush was awarded an honorary knighthood (GCB) by Queen Elizabeth II. He was only the third American president to receive the honor, the others being Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

All of these are parts of the whole, parts of what made George H.W. Bush a good man, an honourable man, a man who earned respect.  You didn’t need to agree with his politics to see that at the very least, he was a man of deep convictions, a man of conscience.

On Friday, the nation lost one of the last presidents we will likely ever see who was deserving of respect.  Four remain to remind us of better times, of times when leaders worked hard to ensure the safety and prosperity of everyone, not just a select few.  Times have changed, and George H.W. Bush was an icon of times past.  R.I.P., President Bush … you will be missed.

Good People Doing Good Things — Firefighters And Other Heroes

As of this writing, Tuesday afternoon, 44 people are confirmed dead and another 200+ missing in the deadliest fires in California’s history.  More than 7,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed, and that number, as well as the death toll, is certain to rise.  More than 8,000 firefighters have been on the job since Thursday, and the end is not yet in sight.  Today’s ‘good people’ post is dedicated to these men and women, as well as others who have been good Samaritans, have helped people in the face of this terrible tragedy.  Gronda … get your tissues …

firefightersNow, I can’t bring you any personal tales of heroism from or about firefighters just yet, for these guys don’t have time to tell their stories right now … there’s still a lot of fire that needs fighting and they are working past the point of exhaustion, sleeping an hour or two, then going back at it like … well, like fighting fire.  No need for personal stories … these men and women are heroes.  They are trying to save lives, property and land, even pets. firefighter rescues catAt last count, at least 36 of the firefighters themselves had lost everything they own to the fires.  They have seen their town, their kids’ schools, their doctors’ offices, banks and neighbors’ homes turned to rubble, and yet they keep going back into that fiery inferno toting up to 75 pounds of gear and equipment.  For hours, and hours with no relief.  I give them the highest five I can muster.  Since I don’t have their individual stories to tell just now, I am bringing some of them to you in pictures.FF1FF2FF3FF4ff5.pngFF6ff7.pngFF8A firefighter drags a hose as he battles the Camp Fire in Paradise

And then there were other heroes …

Allyn Pierce is an ICU nurse at Adventist Health in Paradise.  He and other co-workers first made several trips to help evacuate patients to safety, but after the patients were all safely evacuated, he and his two colleagues were heading to safety when suddenly they found themselves gridlocked in traffic, unable to move, with fire surrounding them on all sides.  This is the view from inside his truck …View from Pierce's carFlames licked at the side of his truck, and as Allyn watched other cars catch fire, he thought his was next. He even recorded a message for his family, “Just in case this doesn’t work out, I want you to know I really tried to make it out.” 

Out of the smoke, there appeared a bulldozer that cleared a small space, but instead of going forward to safety … Allyn, who had already resigned himself to possibly dying, turned around and headed back into Paradise to see if he could help others!  Back at the hospital, he found that many of the townspeople had gone there seeking help, safety … refuge. Pierce's triage centerSo, he gathered a crew … doctors, nurses, police, paramedics … anyone willing to lend a hand, and they set up a triage center about 100 yards from the burning hospital where they did the best they could for people while waiting … for what?  Eventually, firefighters arrived and were able to clear a path and escort those at the triage center to safety.  Allyn’s only casualty was his truck … it melted.Pierce's truckBut the story doesn’t end here.  Pierce would later find out that he had lost his home to the fire.  After his story was told on an ABC News affiliate station, he was writing about his experience on Facebook when there was a comment from @toyotausa:

“We are humbled you’d risk your life and Toyota Tundra to drive people to safety.  Don’t worry about your truck, we’re honoured to get you a new one.”

Paradise Unified School District middle school was about to fall victim to the Camp Fire on Thursday.  The children were already at school when science teacher Mark Kessler heard propane tanks nearby exploding due to the excessive heat and he knew it was time to evacuate.  But how to get the hundreds of children out quickly and to safety?

Teachers, aides and bus drivers went into action, loading children into their own vehicles, buses, whatever vehicle was available.  A sheriff’s deputy directed them to the nearby town of Chico and told them to cram as many as they could into each vehicle and “seatbelt laws don’t apply”.  Even though the town of Chico was typically about a 20-minute drive, on this day it would take them several hours, plowing through smoke, burning debris, and flames on gridlocked country roads.  According to Kessler …

“There were trees burning on the side of the road. The smoke was so thick you couldn’t see. We had very traumatized teachers who were certain they were going to die in the car with their students.”

All of these people had homes and families in jeopardy from the fire, but instead of seeing to their own, they saw to these young students, brought them to safety and by Friday morning had re-united all with their parents.  How very brave and dedicated these men and women were.

I have no doubt that from the ashes will emerge hundreds of stories of extraordinary courage, acts of bravery … it is these that we should remember when the world shows us its darker side … these are the real people, the humanitarians who, when the chips are down, put others before themselves.  These are the people doing the good things, while others sit back and find fault. Thank you again to the men and women who are fighting so long and hard to save lives, homes and property.

♫ Leaving On A Jet Plane ♫

Yesterday marked the 21st anniversary of the plane crash that killed singer John Denver.  I was not aware of it yesterday, else I would not be a day late in playing this song, but friend Ellen informed me of the occasion yesterday afternoon.  Ellen also kindly pointed me to a video clip that seems appropriate to mark the occasion of Denver’s death at age 53.  The clip comes from Burt Sugarman’s show, The Midnight Special on August 19, 1972.  This episode was filmed less than three months before the presidential election that would see Richard Milhous Nixon begin a second term that he would not complete.  According to the IMDB …

John Denver guest hosted this Pilot (Episode 1) with guests that included: Mama Cass, The Everly Brothers, The Isley Brothers, Harry Chapin, Linda Ronstadt, Argent and Helen Reddy. The theme of this pilot was to encourage the youth that had reached 18 years to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The voting age had just been lowered to 18. The two biggest issues, at that time, were Watergate and the war in Vietnam. Among the musical highlights were Harry Chapin performing his hit “Taxi”, Linda Ronstadt sang her popular ballad “Long Long Time”, Helen Reddy sang “I Am Woman” and the Britsh group Argent performed their 1972 hit “Hold Tour Head High” [sic]. Wolfman Jack appeared on camera as the main host and announcer and previewed upcoming shows, which he would do for the series’ 8 year run.

In this clip, Denver is joined by ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot, formerly of the Mamas and the Papas, and the two do a duet of Leaving on a Jet Plane, a song that had been made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary in 1967.  Interestingly, Cass Elliot would die of heart failure less than two years after singing with John Denver.

Denver wrote the song in 1966.  It turned out to be Peter, Paul and Mary’s biggest (and final) hit, becoming their only No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States.  This one surprised me, for I am a fan of PPM, but Leaving on a Jet Plane is not my favourite of their works.

At any rate … in honour of John Denver, a day late, I give you …

Leaving on a Jet Plane
John Denver & Cass Elliot

All my bags are packed
I’m ready to go
I’m standin’ here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’
It’s early morn
The taxi’s waitin’
He’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome
I could die

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

There’s so many times I’ve let you down
So many times I’ve played around
I tell you now, they don’t mean a thing
Ev’ry place I go, I’ll think of you
Ev’ry song I sing, I’ll sing for you
When I come back, I’ll bring your wedding ring

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time
Let me kiss you
Then close your eyes
I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come
When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

But, I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

Songwriters: John Denver
Leaving on a Jet Plane lyrics © Reservoir One Music, Reservoir Media Management Inc, BMG Rights Management

Two Men of Principles — Barack Obama and John McCain

Very rarely do I post anything over 1,200 words, and typically I try to stay around the 800-word mark.  I tried to find parts of this eulogy to cut out, to shorten it, but in the end, every word seemed relevant.  And so, in it’s entirety, this is the poignant eulogy given earlier today by President Barack Obama for Senator John McCain:

To John’s beloved family, Mrs. McCain, to Cindy and the McCain children, President and Mrs. Bush, President and Secretary Clinton, Vice President and Mrs. Biden, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, Vice President Gore, and as John would say, my friends. We come to celebrate an extraordinary man. A statesman, a patriot who embodied so much that is best in America.

President Bush and I are among the fortunate few who competed against John at the highest levels of politics. He made us better presidents just as he made the senate better, just as he makes this country better.

For someone like John to ask you while he is still alive to stand and speak of him when he is gone is a precious and singular honor. Now, when John called me with that request earlier this year, I’ll admit sadness and also a certain surprise. After our conversation ended, I realized how well it captured some of John’s essential qualities.

To start with, John liked being unpredictable, even a little contrarian. He had no interest in conforming to some prepackaged version of what a senator should be and he didn’t want a memorial that was going to be prepackaged either. It also showed John’s disdain for self pity. He had been to hell and back and yet somehow never lost his energy or his optimism or his zest for life. So cancer did not scare him. And he would maintain that buoyant spirit to the very end, too stubborn to sit still, as ever, fiercely devoted to his friends and most of all to his family. It showed his irreverence, his sense of humor, a little bit of a mischievous streak. what better way to get a last laugh than make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience? And most of all it showed a largeness of spirit. An ability to see past differences in search of common ground.

And in fact on the surface, John and i could not have been more different. We’re of different generations. I came from a broken home and never knew my father. John was the stein of one of America’s most distinguished military families. I have a reputation for keeping cool, John not so much. We were standard bearers of different American political traditions and throughout my presidency John never hesitated to tell me when he thought I was screwing up, which by his calculation was about once a day. But for all our differences, for all of the times we sparred, I never tried to hide, and I think John came to understand the long-standing admiration that I had for him.

By his own account John was a rebellious young man. In his case, what’s faster way to distinguish yourself when you’re the son and grandson of admirals than to mutiny. Eventually, though, he concluded that the only way to really make his mark on the world is to commit to something bigger than yourself. For John, that meant answering the highest of callings, serving his country in a time of war.

Others this week and this morning have spoken to the depths of his torment and the depths of his courage there in the cells of Hanoi when day after day, year after year that youthful iron was tempered into steel. And it brings to mind something that Hemingway wrote, a book that Meghan referred to, his favorite book. “Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.”

In captivity John learned in ways that few of us ever will the meaning of those words, how each moment, each day, each choice is a test. And John McCain passed that test again and again and again. And that’s why when John spoke of virtues like service and valor they weren’t just words to him, it was a truth that he had lived and for which he was prepared to die. And it forced even the most cynical to consider what were we doing for our country? What might we risk everything for?

Much has been said this week about what a maverick John was. In fact, John was a pretty conservative guy. Trust me, I was on the receiving end of some of those votes. But he did understand that some principles transcend politics. Some values transcend party. He considered it part of his duty to uphold those principles and uphold those values.

John cared about the institutions of self government, our constitution, our bill of rights, rule of law. Separation of powers. Even the arcane rules and procedures of the senate. He knew that in a nation as big and boisterous and diverse as ours, those institutions, those rules, those norms are what bind us together. Give shape and order to our common life. Even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree.

John believed in honest argument and hearing our views. He understood that if we get in the habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy, our democracy will not work. That’s why he was willing to buck his own party at times. occasionally work across the aisle on campaign finance reform and immigration reform. That’s why he championed a free and independent press as vital to our democratic debate. And the fact it earned him good coverage didn’t hurt either.

John understood as JFK understood, as Ronald Reagan understood that part of what makes our country great is that our membership is based not on our blood line, not on what we look like, what our last names are, not based on where our parents or grandparents came from or how recently they arrived, but on adherence to a common creed that all of us are created equal. Endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.

It has been mentioned today, seen footage this week, John pushing back against supporters that challenged my patriotism during the 2008 campaign. I was grateful but I wasn’t surprised. As Joe Lieberman said, that was John’s instinct. I never saw John treat anyone differently because of their race or religion or gender. That in those moments that have been referred to during the campaign he saw himself as defending America’s character, not just mine. He considered it the imperative of every citizen that loves this country to treat all people fairly.

And finally while John and I disagreed on all kinds of foreign policy issues, we stood together on America’s role as the one nation, believing that with great power and great blessings comes great responsibility. That burden is borne most heavily by our men and women in uniform. Service members like Doug, Jimmy, Jack who followed their father’s footsteps, as well as families that serve alongside our troops. But John understood that our security and our influence was won not just by our military might, not just by our wealth, not just by our ability to bend others to our will, but from our capacity to inspire others with our adherence to a set of universal values. Like rule of law and human rights and insistence on the god-given dignity of every human being.

Of course John was the first to tell us he was not perfect. Like all of us that go into public service, he did have an ego. Like all of us there was no doubt some votes he cast, some compromises he struck, some decisions he made that he wished he could have back.

It is no secret, it has been mentioned that he had a temper, and when it flared up, it was a force of nature, a wonder to behold. His jaw grinding, his face reddening, his eyes boring a hole right through you. Not that I ever experienced it firsthand, mind you. But to know john was to know that as quick as his passions might flare, he was just as quick to forgive and ask for forgiveness. He knew more than most his own flaws, his blind spots, and he knew how to laugh at himself. And that self awareness made him all the more compelling.

We didn’t advertise it, but every so often over the course of my presidency John would come over to the White House and we’d just sit and talk in the oval office, just the two of us. We would talk about policy and we’d talk about family and we’d talk about the state of our politics. And our disagreements didn’t go away during these private conversations. Those were real and they were often deep. but we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights and we laughed with each other and we learned from each other and we never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other patriotism or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team. We never doubted we were on the same team.

For all of our differences, we shared a fidelity to the ideals for which generations of Americans have marched and fought and sacrificed and given their lives. We considered our political battles a privilege, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those ideals at home and do our best to advance them around the world. We saw this country as a place where anything is possible. and citizenship as an obligation to ensure it forever remains that way.

More than once during his career John drew comparisons to Teddy Roosevelt. I am sure it has been noted that Roosevelt’s men in the arena seems tailored to John. most of you know it. Roosevelt speaks of those who strive, who dare to do great things, who sometimes win and sometimes come up short but always relish a good fight. A contrast to those cold, timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. Isn’t that the spirit we celebrate this week? That striving to be better, to do better, worthy of the great inheritance that our founders bestowed. So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty. Trafficking in bombastic manufactured outrage, it’s politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.

Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. but what will happen in all the other days that will ever come can depend on what you do today. What better way to honor John McCain’s life of service than as best we can follow his example to prove that the willingness to get in the arena and fight for this country is not reserved for the few, it is open to all of us, and in fact it is demanded of all of us as citizens of this great republic. That’s perhaps how we honor him best, by recognizing that there are some things bigger than party or ambition or money or fame or power, that the things that are worth risking everything for, principles that are eternal, truths that are abiding. At his best, John showed us what that means. For that, we are all deeply in his debt.

May God bless John McCain. May God bless this country he served so well.

Remembering John McCain

I was writing an email to a friend last night when a ‘breaking news’ update flashed across my screen:  Senator John McCain had died.  Just two days prior, the Senator had announced that he had discontinued his treatment, and I knew then that it was a matter of days, but still, the news stunned me.

Many others by now have written posts dedicated to McCain, and anything I will say has almost certainly already been said by others who said it at least as well as I can.  For that reason, I debated about writing this post, but I felt I had to.  While I may not have agreed with much of his ideology, many of the views he supported, never once did I question his honour or integrity.  I always believed that whatever his view, he believed that what he proposed and supported was for the good of the people he represented, and he understood, as few do, that he represented the entire nation, not just those who voted him into office.

When John McCain was asked, in an interview with Jake Tapper last September, how he would like to be remembered, he responded:

“He served his country. And not always right, made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of errors. But served his country. And I hope, could add, honorably.”

Yes, Senator, I believe we can add ‘honourably’.

John McCain served his country honourably for almost all his adult life in one capacity or another.  He began his military career in 1960 after completing flight school, but his combat career began in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War.  It was on 26 October 1967 when, while flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam, his plane was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain fractured both arms and a leg when he ejected from the aircraft, and nearly drowned after he parachuted into Trúc Bạch Lake. Some North Vietnamese pulled him ashore, then others crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt and bayoneted him.McCain-10.jpgSeriously injured, he was shown no mercy by the North Vietnamese, and received daily beatings and interrogations.  In mid-1968, still recovering from his serious injuries, the North Vietnamese offered McCain early release because of who his father was:  commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater.  McCain refused unless every man taken in before him was also released.  Kept in solitary confinement, McCain was subjected to a program of severe torture. He was bound and beaten every two hours.  After five-and-a-half years, he was finally released on 14 March 1973.

McCain went on to enter politics, serving in both the House of Representatives and later, the Senate.  Since this is a tribute, not a biography, it is not my intent to outline his long service in Congress, but rather merely to note that, while he had the reputation in Congress for being a ‘maverick’, his was often the voice of reason.  He was often the one who reached ‘across the aisle’ to work through compromises, and because of this, in recent years he often came under fire from his own party.  But through it all, McCain followed his conscience, and though he wasn’t always right, he always fought for what he believed was the right thing for the nation and its people.

This nation and every citizen, both republican and democrat alike, lost a friend and an advocate yesterday.  We need more like him, and he will be missed by so many.  Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama will give the eulogies at McCain’s funeral.  Even in death, he reaches across partisan lines.  You did more than your share here on earth, Senator McCain, and you will be sorely missed.

Hearts Are Breaking, The Beloved Aretha Franklin Has Passed At 76

Today, the world lost a great talent, but she left us a beautiful legacy that will live on forever. Friend Gronda has made a perfectly beautiful tribute to this fantastic lady, and I wish to share it with you today. Thank you, Gronda.

Gronda Morin

I became a fan a little later in her career, when she had that iconic role in the “Blues Brothers,” a movie I do watch about once a year.

She’s a beloved soul singer, talent extraordinaire who’s voice is instantly recognizable by anyone who loves music.

I’m grieving for a major loss to a talent who made a difference in this world.

Here is the rest of the story…

On August 16, 2018, BBC News published the following report, “Aretha Franklin, ‘Queen of Soul’, dies aged 76″

“Aretha Franklin, the “queen of soul” known for hits like Respect and Think, has died in Detroit at the age of 76.”

The legendary singer was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and announced last year she was retiring from music.

“Franklin had more than 20 US number ones over a career spanning seven decades.”

“She gave her final performance last November at…

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Good People Doing Good Things — Cops!

It’s Wednesday and that means … 🥁 drumroll 🥁 … it’s time to go in search of some good people who are doing good things for others, for the environment, or helping animals … whatever.  I thought about today’s post, and I had picked out several young people to highlight.  But then a story about a police officer came to my attention and I was thinking about all the negative publicity police officers get these days … and so, I went in search of cops who are doing good things.  Certainly there are cops out there who deserve to be shunned, but I suspect that the majority became policemen and women because they wanted to help people, wanted to be a part of helping to keep the world safe, and they deserve to be recognized.  The ones I found are guilty of doing only small things, but I was encouraged by these stories, and I hope you will be too.

Meet Toronto Police Constable Niran JeyanesanConstable Niran JeyanesanLast Monday, Constable Jeyanesan and his partner responded to a call at a local Wal-Mart.  The store’s security officer had apprehended an 18-year-old shoplifter caught trying to steal a dress shirt, tie and a pair of socks.  Odd assortment for a teenager to steal, don’t you think?  Well, Constable Jeyanesan talked to the boy and discovered that his family was struggling, his dad had been out of work, and he had a job interview the next day, so he was stealing the clothes in order to look his best.

“This young person has been facing his own difficulties in life and he was looking to straighten out all that by providing for his family and trying to get a job. This individual didn’t have any resources. He wanted to go get that job. That was in his mind. I think he truly made a mistake.”

Instead of arresting the young man, the constable took the money from his own pocket and bought the young man the clothes!  Jeyanesan’s staff sergeant, supported his decision fully, saying …

“It reiterates our goal of being positive role models in the community. Every circumstance is different and in this particular case the individual had undergone some personal difficulties and the officer wanted to help him out with that, and I think collectively that’s why we are all here doing this job.”

The young man contacted Constable Jeyanesan later that week to let him know that he got the job!  And not only that … Constable Jeyanesan contacted some friends, and through his connections, they were able to get the young shoplifter’s father a job also!  This, folks, is what serving the community is all about!

A similar story …

Last month, a young mother in Laurel, Maryland didn’t have enough money to pay for both food and diapers, so she was caught by store security officers trying to steal the two packs of diapers worth about $15.  Police were called, and Officer Bennett Johns responded to the call. Bennet JohnsJohns realized the woman was struggling to provide for her son, and as someone who grew up with a single mother, he wanted to help both mother and child, so he paid for the diapers with his own money.

The city of Laurel has since referred the woman to an advocacy service that helps struggling families in the area.  Police spokeswoman Audrey Barnes said of Johns actions …

“Just out of personal kindness, he decided to go ahead and buy them. It speaks to the heart of what community policing is all about.”

Yes ma’am, it surely does!

This one happened back in July 2016, two years ago, and while I usually only go with recent stories, this one so touched me when I came across it tonight that I couldn’t resist.  It was shortly after the shooting of two black men by police – Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana – followed by the fatal shootings of five Dallas police officers at a Black Lives Matter rally, so tensions were running high.

A group of cops were eating at a diner in Homestead, Pennsylvania when a couple entered the diner.  The man eyed the cops and told the server that he did not want to sit anywhere near them.  The officers overheard the conversation and what did they do?  They paid for the couple’s meal!  And they included a note …

Homestead-PA-cops“Sir, your check was paid for by the police officers you didn’t want to sit next to. Thank you for your support. I left a $10 tip too.”

One of the officers, Chuck Thomas, said …Chuck Thomas

“The day after Dallas, it was tight. You could feel the tension in the air. A lot of people did come up to us and thank us and shook hands and spoke of their sorrow. This was the only negative experience of the day. Essentially that was the whole goal of it was to let him know that we’re not here to hurt you. We’re not here for that. We’re here for you. We work for the public, and we just want to better the relationship between the community and the police.”

Again … this is how police can earn the trust of the community, bring people together rather than driving a wedge.  This is a fine example of community policing!

Last January, Corporal James Rowe and Corporal Hue Pham of the Baton Rouge, Louisiana police department received a call about a woman down near a bus stop, with no word of whether she was conscious or not.  When they arrived, they discovered an elderly woman with no shoes, wet socks, and wrapped in a blanket.  The officers wasted no time buying her a hot meal, but took things a step further when they used their own money to get her some dry clothes, fresh socks, and even put her up in a hotel for three nights. Rowe-PhamA local newsman asked the duo why they had gone above and beyond the call of duty:

“We are just in a situation where we’re blessed and able to help other people. Put yourself in that situation. If it’s my family, my friend, or me in that situation, I’d like somebody to help me.”

With nearly 20 years on the force between them, the duo say it’s not their first time helping out someone in need. Just over two years ago, they were among three officers recognized for buying clothes for a baby left in the cold while its mother was arrested. “That’s just how we are,” said Rowe. “I mean we love to help people.”

A few bad cops have, unfortunately, given police a bad name.  There are bad cops, just as there are bad lawyers, accountants, janitors, teenagers, and … well, name any group, and there are some who set a very bad example.  But we need to try to remember not to judge an entire group by a few.  Remember that old song by the Jackson Five, One Bad Apple?  My hat is off to the officers highlighted above and the many, many others who risk their lives every day to help keep us safe.  Thank you, Officers.

An addendum:  Oh, the irony!  I live in a diverse neighborhood, and seeing the cops here in da ‘hood is not unusual.  As I was writing this piece, around 11:00, there was a loud and non-stop pounding on the front door!  I jumped up, opened the door, and there stood a huge police officer, glaring at me.  Behind him were 3 teenage boys.  He turned to the boys and said, “Is this the lady?”  They looked at me, their eyes grew wide, and all three shook their heads in unison.  The officer apologized, I thanked him for giving me heart failure, and he and the teens went on down the street.  I have no idea what that was about … I’m just glad I wasn’t “the lady” they were seeking!

Book Review: A Higher Call by Adam Makos

This is a review I wrote more than five years ago, in January 2013.  It was one of the best books by a first-time author I have ever read, and for some odd reason, I awakened this morning with this book on my mind.  When I wrote the review, it received exactly one view, one like on WordPress, though it fared somewhat better on Amazon and GoodReads.  But then, that was 2013 when this blog had only about 30 followers!  So, I decided today would be a good day to re-run this review in hopes that somebody will be intrigued enough to read the book!  (Plus, we all need a little break from all things trumpian.)

Every now and then I cross paths with a book that strikes a chord somewhere deep within me, a book that shares my waking hours and my sleep. This is one of those books, as was Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. Coincidentally, both tell a true story from World War II … Unbroken tells of Louis Zamperini who survived to tell about his adventures as a US pilot in the Pacific, subsequent capture and imprisonment by the Japanese.  A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II  tells of two pilots, one German and one American who meet high in the skies over Germany on December 20th, 1943. Both of these books will stay with me, I am sure, for a lifetime. A Higher Call grabbed me and simply won’t let go.

December 20, 1943, in the skies over Bremen, Germany. Charlie Brown is the pilot of a B17 bomber, just finishing a raid on an aircraft production facility. His plane has been hit multiple times by German flak. It was missing a rudder and had sustained serious damage to its hydraulic and electrical systems, not to mention that only one engine out of four was functioning at peak, one crew member was dead and several others seriously injured, and now Charlie faces flying through enemy flak to get north of Germany over the North Sea and back to Great Britain, a feat beyond all imaginings. Suddenly from behind he spots a German fighter plane and Charlie knows he and his crew have no chance to survive if the fighter shoots so much as a rock launched from a slingshot at their plane. This edge-of-the-seat action enhances, but does not dominate the story. The pilot in the German Bf109 is Franz Stigler, a man who joined the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) to avenge his brother’s death. One look at the B17 and Stigler knew it didn’t stand a chance. He remembered the words of his former leader and mentor, Gustav Roedel, who had once told Franz, “You score victories, not kills … you shoot at a machine not a man”, and decided in less time than it took the thought to form that he not only couldn’t shoot down that crippled bomber but that he would do everything he could to save the men inside. There were two dangers to this, but Stigler barely registered them. The first, of course, was that the bomber would fire on him first and knock him out of the sky (he didn’t know that the bomber’s guns were frozen, all but the turret gun whose range was so limited that he was never really in any danger from that). But the other, perhaps greater danger was that if the German command ever found out that he had the chance to dispatch this bomber and didn’t, he could be court-martialed and sentenced to death. On Stigler’s mind at that moment in time, however, was how he could keep the crew on this bomber from either being sent to a fiery death by German flak or an icy death in the North Sea. Ultimately, he led them through the German flak and left them over the North Sea with a salute and a prayer that they could stay safe. And it is in this one episode that Franz Stigler became a hero in my book. He would go on to fight some 487 missions in the war and is now in history books as a German flying ace, but for me it was that one act of human kindness, of human compassion, that made him a hero.

Though the book centers around the heroic acts of Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler in the air over Germany that day, the event itself actually occupies less than 4% (15 pages out of 368) of the book. Had I realized this in the beginning, I might never have bought the book and that would have been my loss. The bulk of the book follows Stigler’s career and rise as a flying ace throughout the war and it is from this that I, who have nursed a hatred of all things pertaining to the German military almost since my birth, came to realize that not every soldier in Germany was a Nazi and not every soldier in Germany lacked a heart. The Luftwaffe, or German Air Force, in this book is shown to be no less human than any man in the USAF or any other branch of the Allied military. Overwhelmingly, the Luftwaffe were NOT members of the Nazi Party and did NOT support Hitler and his programs. They were simply there to do their jobs and defend their nation and its people. In fact, most were not aware of Hitler’s “Final Solution” (the extermination of Jews) and the death camps until near the end of the war. For the most part Germans, including the Luftwaffe, were as afraid of the SS (Gestapo) as were we.

Many years after the end of the war, both Brown and Stigler wondered what had become of one another. Neither knew the other’s name, yet neither had forgotten that strange encounter in the skies over Germany. Eventually they would have their reunion and become brothers not of shared blood, but of shared life. Notably, though more than seventy years had passed since the end of WWII, once this story became public, Franz Stigler began receiving hate mail, presumably from Germans who felt that he should have blown Charlie and his crew out of the sky. I guess hatred is in no danger of becoming extinct any time soon.

This is Adam Makos’ first published book, though he has been editor of the military magazine Valor, for some fifteen years, and frankly I was intrigued when I read a synopsis of the storyline, but was not expecting great writing from this first-time author. I was wrong. The writing is as seamless and spell-binding as almost any I have read. This is a heart-warming, yet edge-of-the-seat true story that reads like a novel and leaves the reader wanting much more. Sadly, both Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler died in 2008. However there are photos and video clips of their reunion some 50 years later on the author’s website.  If you read no other non-fiction book this year, do yourself a favor and read this one. It will stay in your mind and in your heart for a good long time, maybe forever.