Monday, August 21, 2017

Simple Truth

I was disturbed this morning by the reporting in my local newspaper of the events this weekend in Boston. They reported that a small group of “conservatives” had to end their demonstration early because of the actions of the “anti-hate activists” who showed up to oppose them. Language matters, and the paper was taking sides here. Substitute “white supremacists” for “conservatives”, and “civil rights groups” for “anti-hate activists”, and you will see what I mean. Technically, the “conservatives” in question were not white supremacists at all. They were not invading the streets of Boston, carrying swastikas and Confederate flags, and they were not armed to the teeth. They were assembling for what was billed as a free speech rally, but there can be no doubt that their interest in “free speech” applied mainly to the hate groups that terrorized Charlottesville VA a week earlier.

There is a sick irony in the fact that we are still talking about this a week later. President Obama had to respond to hate crimes during his time in the White House with appeals for a national conversation on race, but it is the reprehensible reactions of Donald Trump that have kept this conversation alive this time. Donald Trump looks at swastikas and Confederate flags, and hears hateful chants of torch bearing peasants, and he sees “great people” marching to honor “beautiful statues”. Many people have chimed in with all of the reasons Trump is wrong about this, so I am going to keep it simple.

When I see a swastika, I don’t see “great people”. I see a brutally broken family tree. I am a Jew. My immediate family came here long before World War II, so we have no stories of narrow escapes from the Nazis, or of relatives who died in the concentration camps. But I have no doubt that I have distant cousins who have such stories. That I can not find them in my personal experience does not matter. Nor does it matter that I was raised an atheist. We are all one people, and we celebrated that fact every year at Passover when I was growing up. What was done to any of us was done to all of us.

I can speak even less authoritatively of what a black person sees when they view the Confederate flag. I have had many black friends over the years, but this was not something we discussed. But I imagine that they also do not see “great people”. I imagine that they see these symbols, and these “beautiful statues”, and they think, “we were slaves”.

We were slaves. In Hebrew it’s avadim hayinu. In my family, we equated the time of slavery in Egypt with the time of oppression under the Nazis. We celebrated the freedom fighters in the Warsaw ghetto. And we also always included Martin Luther King in our seders. Maybe Jared Kushner’s seders when he was growing up were different. All we know for sure is that Donald Trump does not understand this simple truth about these symbols, and there does not seem to be anyone close to him who can explain it to him.

I could choose a Hebrew or Yiddish song this week, and go into a long explanation of my choice. But I am keeping it simple, so Bob Marley gets the nod:

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Invasion of Charlottesville

By Thursday of each week, I try to have the basics of each week’s post written in my head. This time, the weekend had other plans for me. I can not be silent about the events in Charlottesville VA. The question is, what can I add to the conversation? Let me just say that I still believe in our system of government, even in the face of the apparent contradictions embodied in these events. Robert E Lee fought to defend a system of slavery that was defined in the Constitution, but he was wrong, and he was no hero. I agree with the Bill of Rights, which means that I will defend the rights of those I vehemently disagree with to freedom of speech and to peaceably assemble and protest, but the hate groups that came to Charlottesville this weekend abused both of those rights.

You might expect that I would agree with the “protestors” that the statue of Robert E Lee that stands in what is now Emancipation Park should not be removed. After all, I deplore those who try to scrub our children’s textbooks of inconvenient history in the name of promoting their agenda. This is not the same, however, and I can invoke history to prove it. The Constitution defines those who were forcibly brought to this country as three fifths of a person, thereby justifying them being traded like livestock. Even at the Constitutional Convention, there were those who thought this was wrong, but they were overruled at the time. But the Founding Fathers expected that future generations would improve on their work. That is why the Constitution has provisions built in to amend it. By the time of Robert E Lee, the nation as a whole had found its moral compass, and defending the institution of slavery meant betraying the United States and fighting a war to secede from the country. That does not make you a hero or a patriot, unless you live in an alternate universe where the Confederacy won the war. Further, the statues that were constructed of Robert E Lee and other Confederate “heroes” were not memorials to those who fought and died in the Civil War. Most, including the one in Charlottesville, were built about fifty years after the war ended. Reconstruction had just ended, and Jim Crow laws were about to become a way of life in the former Confederate states. Supervisors from the north were being kicked out, and the southern states were erecting these statues as statements of defiance and newfound sovereignty. The statues were built as a message that blacks would once again be treated as three fifths of a person, despite any Constitutional amendments to the contrary.

So I deplore the neo-Nazis and other hate groups that gathered in Charlottesville to promote their false history. I am proud that my father served the United States and his conscience in World War II, in an effort to defeat such views and their implementation. But I defend the right of these groups to express these views. There are, however, limits on how they can be expressed. Donald Trump began to stretch these limits during his campaign last year. He actively sought the support of such groups, and then used them as muscle at his campaign events. Oh, I know he did not formally request that they beat up protestors and even reporters at his rallies. Trump always does things in such a way that he can deny responsibility, but he encouraged these “enforcers” from the stage. He made it obvious that he would take no action to reign in any excesses. So the hate groups that participated in the invasion of Charlottesville could reasonably assume that, as far as Trump, and by extension the federal government, were concerned, they could do whatever they wanted to in Charlottesville, and there would be no effort to control them. This has mostly proved to be the case, except where lives were lost. But this was no protest as defined in the Bill of Rights. There was nothing peaceable about it. These people came armed for battle. They carried makeshift or actual weapons, including homemade shields that resembled riot gear. This was a provocation, not a protest. This was a schoolyard bully hoping to provoke a fight he expected to win. This was in no way protected speech. There was a scheduled rally that would ostensibly have been a protected version of free speech, but it is hard to believe, given how events unfolded, that the rally was ever the point for these invaders, and it never happened.

I am proud of a sign on my lawn that says “Hate has no home here”. We got it and put it up in response to Trump’s first attempt at a Moslem ban, and to celebrate the fact that the town I live in had voted to become a sanctuary city. But I say again in the face of the Charlottesville invasion, “Hate has no home here.” I have known in my life people of various pigments, faiths, and nations of origin. Some, not all but certainly some, have become friends. All were a full five fifths of a person, deserving of all the dignity and respect that that implies. If I choose to attend a protest to affirm that, I will not be armed, except with my voice. That human beings are human should not be a provocation to anyone, so I should not need any weapons to say so. It pains me that, after all this time, any one should want to start a fight in the name of saying otherwise.

I often give a lot of thought to my song choice for these posts. This was not one of those times. The choice of song became obvious as I wrote, with the only question being what version to use. This one is a live performance in Japan, which serves nicely to reinforce the universality of the song:

Monday, August 7, 2017

Wandering

I usually try to keep up with the news all week, and try to organize my thoughts around a single topic for these posts. This week, however, I am going to take off from two items, and wander in several directions, to see where I wind up. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Generally speaking, the jobs report is released on the first Friday of every month. A positive report, such as we had this week, is an occasion for a sitting president and his allies to crow about how well they are doing, and Donald Trump is not one to pass on such an opportunity. The opposition has the task of trying to punch holes in the report, to explain why a positive report is really not so positive after all. In fact, all of the jobs reports since Trump took office, taken as a whole, present a pretty solid case that the economy is doing well. So I propose that we stop trying to find negatives in each report, and instead ask a simple question: what action or actions Trump has taken can explain the strength of the economy? Put another way, what has he done to deserve any credit for this? Because the simplest explanation is that the strong economy is the direct result of the continuation of Obama policies that Trump has been unable to eliminate or change yet. Most significantly, the federal government is still operating under President Obama’s last budget. Beyond that, we have Trump’s brainless executive order that two regulations must be eliminated each time one new one is created. This is largely political theater, since the laws Congress passes mandate that the executive branch must come up with regulations to enforce these laws. With that in mind, it can not be so easy to simply do away with a regulation, and doing so could be challenged on constitutional grounds. In any case, I have not heard of any specific regulation Trump has eliminated that has had any economic impact.

So, if Trump has not contributed to our economy through deregulation, as he would like us to think, what has he done? That brings me to the second event from this week that I wanted to talk about. Trump’s greatest impact so far has been on immigration. His directives regarding immigration enforcement have created an atmosphere of fear for both legal and illegal immigrants in this country. The threat of deportation has had a chilling effect on industries such as agriculture that are highly dependent on immigrant labor. The jobs impacted by this are ones that most native-born Americans refuse to do. Yet Trump continues to blather on about how he is keeping illegal immigrants from taking jobs away from Americans. His announcement of a new green card policy this week is deliciously ironic. He seeks to limit green cards to those entering this country who speak English well and have demonstrable job skills. Put another way, he wants to only let in those who actually will compete with native-born Americans for jobs. I wish CNN’s Jim Acosta, in his now infamous exchange with White House spokesman Stephen Miller, had not bothered arguing about the history of the Statue of Liberty, and had pursued this instead.

Acosta also had another line of questioning open two him that could have been very powerful. He could have asked Miller if he thought Acosta’s family should be in the United States. Jim Acosta’s father came to the US as a refugee from Fidel Castro’s brand of communism. Jim Acosta, in his choice of journalism as a career, represents perfectly the special American freedoms his father was seeking when he came here. It might not have been considered “journalistic” to talk about immigration policy in such a personal way, but this is one of the most personal issues we face, and I wish someone would say so in a highly public forum.

I work as a customer service representative. It is part of my job to talk to whoever comes up on the call list, and that includes people whose English is not the best, to say the least. These people are still our customers, and we must treat them accordingly. On the other hand, we are evaluated in large part by the volume of calls we take, and calls where we have to use an interpreter really slow us down. So you might think that I would be in favor of limiting green cards to those who speak English well. But I remember where I came from. Just this week, a coworker was venting about customers who don’t seem to learn English despite how long they may have been in this country. I reminded him of the Jewish heritage that he and I share. Did he have a relative who arrived here speaking only Yiddish, as I do? It turns out that my coworker had a grandfather who lived in the United States for 60 years and never learned English. That was possible because immigrants often live in communities where most neighbors share their heritage, and they work and shop in businesses that serve those communities. These communities are largely self-sustaining, but they also represent unique pockets of economic activity that Trump wants to get rid of. Go into any bodega today, and you will see products on the shelves from both Goya and Kelloggs. Those products represent American jobs.

Immigration is also a vital part of American culture. The melding of cultures to achieve something wonderful and new can be clearly heard in the song Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. The title phrase is Yiddish, but the song is unmistakably jazz. Klezmer musicians arrived here as Jewish immigrants, and heard jazz for the first time. It influenced their music to the extent that any klezmer you hear nowadays includes this jazz influence, but it was a two way street. That is how jazz legends like Bennie Goodman and Artie Shaw made the clarinet a jazz instrument. I can think of no better way to celebrate the melding of cultures in our country than a video of Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen set in New York City’s subways:

Monday, July 31, 2017

“Learn, Damnit!”

I am reminded this week of the movie War Games. That in itself is not a bad thing. The movie is a favorite of mine. In the film, Matthew Broderick’s character hacks into what he thinks is a soon to be released commercial computer game, and, in playing it, he sets off a military simulation program that comes close to causing a real world nuclear war. In the climactic scene, Broderick’s character yells, “learn, damnit!” at a computer that can not hear him, as he tries to teach it the futility of “global thermonuclear war”.

Healthcare is no game, but the Republicans have not learned yet that the only way to reform it is not to play. They remain focused on how to enact the largest transfer of wealth possible from healthcare programs to the very wealthy, with no thought of the real life consequences for the health and even the very lives of the Americans they supposedly serve. Because they have not made this intellectual leap, any celebration of the demise of the Senate healthcare bill is premature. Continuing the metaphor of War Games, no one has yet taught the Republicans tic tac toe. In this case, that would mean showing them and the American people what a healthcare plan would look like if the goal truly was to provide a better and more affordable system for everyone.

To be sure, something has been gained. What was defeated was Mitch McConnell’s cynical effort to ram a reform bill down America’s throat without hearings, debate, or even allowing his supposed Republican allies the time to read and try to understand the actual bill. It was this process, not the actual bill, that John McCain voted against. Where Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins actually voted against what the bill would do, McCain was more offended by how this result was arrived at. He deserves some credit for that, but it does not make him worthy of the adulation he has received in the press this past week. McCain’s vote also means that the Republicans can no longer pass healthcare “reform” with a simple majority in the Senate. By voting to open the bill to debate and only then insuring its defeat, McCain made sure that no healthcare bill can be passed using the budget reconciliation process this year; instead, Democratic votes will now be needed to avoid a filibuster and pass anything. That in itself means that the Republicans must actually learn to govern. They must hold hearings, have a floor debate, and find at least six Democrats to support any bill they come up with.

The problem is, any bill that passes the Senate must still be reconciled with the version that actually passed the House. That gives the Republicans the chance to restore much of the harm they still seek to do. The job now, in the Senate, is to bring enough Democrats on board to get the bill to conference committee. Once any Democrats sign on to this, it will be hard for them to back out of passing the final version. The real hero to this point then is not John McCain but Chuck Schumer. He is the one who has kept the Democrats united as the opposition Party, making sure that no one strays across the aisle to abet the Republicans.

How then can we end the threat of “Repeal and Replace”? As activists, we must push the Democrats to do what they have not been interested in doing up to now. They must develop a healthcare plan of their own to hold up against the Republican efforts. They must demonstrate with their plan that they hear the concerns of the American people, that simply preserving the Affordable Care Act is not enough. Any new Democratic plan must address the problem of skyrocketing deductibles and copays. It must have a mechanism to assure that coverage is available in all markets, that insurers can not simply bow out. It must mandate negotiated drug prices to insure that premiums can actually go down.

Universal healthcare would seem to be the obvious solution. But keep in mind, the ideal plan is one that Chuck Schumer can secure 48 Democratic votes for. Even so, we can not expect any Republicans to support such a measure, so it has no chance now of becoming law. Even a bill that passed the Senate would be shot down in the more rabid House. Passing the bill is not the point now. The point now is to extend the debate into the 2018 campaign season. We need to present the American people with a clear choice on healthcare as they choose the next Congress, and we need to make sure that what the Republicans just tried to do to them is still fresh in their minds as they go to the polls. More, we need to get the Democrats in Congress to give unambiguous proof that, on this vital issue, the two parties are not the same. Donald Trump is the master of distraction. His outrageous antics can easily get the American people to forget the healthcare issue in next year’s elections. We must push the Democrats to make sure that does not happen.

War Games came out in 1983. There were no songs on the soundtrack album, just the orchestral score. Perhaps that is why this one, from 1980, was not used:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Context Matters

Earlier in the week, I had decided that I wasn’t going to write about Donald Trump Jr’s e-mail reveal. This is the biggest revelation so far in the seemingly endless stream of news regarding the Russian connection to last year’s election. Here at last we have evidence of an actual crime committed by someone close to Donald Trump Sr, his own son and son-in-law. The e-mail string makes it clear that they and Paul Manafort, Jr in particular, took the meeting with Natalia Vilnetskaya in the hopes of receiving information they could use against Hillary Clinton. Here is clear proof of intent, which is required to prove collusion. But I wasn’t going to write about it because everyone else already did. What more was there for me to add to the conversation, given the great reporting on this that I was seeing? I finally did decide that what I could add was context. By putting a collection of historical details together in one place, I hope to shed additional light on where we are and where we might be going from here.

Donald Trump Sr began his career in the 1970s in the family real estate business. It was immediately clear that he was not at all concerned with the legality of his actions. When he and his father were cited by the government for discriminating against minorities in their rental policies, they went right back to the behavior that had earned them the first citation, and were cited a second time. Clearly, they regarded this as an acceptable cost of doing business, part of their calculations of profit and loss. There was no consideration of the moral or legal aspects of what they had done. We know that Donald Trump still thinks this way: last year’s out of court settlement of the fraud charges against Trump University cost Trump $25 million, but that left him with a tidy profit.

In the 1980s, Trump began to cultivate ties with organized crime figures. To be fair, the mob controlled the concrete industry in New York City at the time, so you had to deal with them if you wanted to build something in the city. But the story that emerged last year of the alleged rape Trump may have committed twenty years earlier was chilling to me. In that case, “Jane Doe” persuaded a judge to ignore the statute of limitations because she had feared for her life, which was why she had not come forward sooner. She said Donald Trump had raped her repeatedly over a series of sex parties he attended. She further stated that she submitted to this, and did not speak out at the time, because another girl at these parties, identified as “Maria”, was going to speak out, but she disappeared instead. “Jane Doe” said further that Trump himself had led her to believe that she would share “Maria’s” fate if she resisted or went public with what she knew. Two things about the case particularly bother me. Did Trump have friends at the time who he could count on to make inconvenient people disappear? And, the case was quietly dropped last year after the election when “Jane Doe” began to receive death threats. Since her identity was never made public, who knew who she was, and how did they know? No jury ever got the chance to consider any of this, so we don’t know for sure if this account is what happened. But someone appears to have gone to some trouble to make sure of that.

Now at last we come to the Russian connection. Last year, in the heat of the campaign, something Donald Trump Jr said in 2008 came to light: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets”. In fact, starting with the first Trump bankruptcy in 1990, it became increasingly difficult for Trump to obtain financing from western banks. Trump’s business credit was shot, following a deal in which the banks never recovered what they were owed. So, even without Trump’s tax returns, we know that Russian interests provided important funds that were used for Trump’s operations. In return, they got space in Trump owned or operated buildings, and proceeded to use these spaces to conduct money laundering. Some of Trump’s new associates may also have been involved in sex trafficking and illegal drug and gambling operations. These are shady figures, so it is difficult to prove anything, but you can find more details here. It may be that Trump himself was unaware of these activities in his own buildings until they were discovered by the authorities. But at least one of these suspicious Russians, Felix Sater, had personal meetings with Trump and appears to have done business with him. The kindest interpretation is that Trump may have had some idea of what was going on, but refused to delve into the details, thereby evading personal or legal responsibility.

Given all of this, it seems likely that Trump already had the Russian contacts he needed to fix the 2016 election before the Vilnetskaya meeting. It does not seem to be much of a stretch to say that the Kremlin had reason to believe his campaign would be receptive to their overtures. As detailed here, the meeting seems to have been a feeler from Russian interests to make sure the Trump Campaign would accept their help before moving on to more substantive operations. The Russians wanted to know that Trump’s people would take the meeting and not report it to any authorities, and the Trump campaign passed the test with high marks.

I must hasten to add that I can not offer proof of many of the things I have stated in this post. I can observe that Robert Mueller seems to be thinking about at least some of these questions as he pursues his investigation. Why else would he have added to his team experts on money laundering, for example? But we must wait for more evidence to emerge before jumping to conclusions. Donald Trump Jr’s e-mail string and the subsequent revelations regarding the Vilnetskaya meeting are an important break, but this is only the beginning. Many years of possible wrongdoing are bound up in this knot, and we should not expect that it will be unraveled all at once.

For my musical selection this week, The Specials seem perfect to me:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Unmasked

Trump’s European trip last week provided another occasion for pundits to proclaim that “this is not normal.” In fact, Trump is almost completely normal for today’s Republican Party. His views of what government should be and do represent the logical endpoints of positions that various factions within the Republican Party have been promoting for many years. What is new is Trump’s bluntness, his complete lack of subtlety. To his supporters, this is seen as refreshingly honest. Even Trump’s many lies are so crudely executed that they count for his adherents as signs of authenticity. He speaks his mind, as they see it, without any premeditation, which is often offensive and frequently inaccurate, but is always a true picture of his feelings at that moment. It is this quality that won him the Republican primaries last year.

Trump’s already notorious Poland speech last week presented an undisguised contempt for American traditions. His model for governance as laid out in the speech was medieval in its depiction of a holy war between a West that includes Putin’s Russia and the Islamic world. This is where Trump’s insistence on the term “Radical Islam” leads us. In this worldview, the United States is a Christian nation with a sacred mission to take on the greatest enemy of the faith. The notion of the US as a Christian nation is one that Trump certainly did not invent. The Republican Party has been actively seeking to fan and exploit religious feeling at least since the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. The religious right was a well developed and cultivated phenomenon by the time Trump began his candidacy in 2015. Likewise, it was George W Bush, in the wake of the 2011 attack, who first exploited these views in his foreign policy decisions.

Trump is considered “not normal” too for his overt racism and xenophobia. Here too, however, he is simply saying openly what has been spoken of in code until now. This is Nixon’s southern strategy run amuck, but is not something new in Republican thought. The job of the president and the government, in this view, is to represent “real Americans”. Reagan’s welfare queens and the infamous Willie Horton ad are two of the precedents for Trump’s embrace of the ideas of people like Steve Bannon. This manifests as policy in the longstanding attempts by the Republican Party to destroy safety net programs by depicting them as handouts to people who “are not like us”, so it should come as no surprise that such attempts have become more ferocious in the current Congress. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have been working on this since long before Trump came to power, but he leaves no doubt that he will sign whatever legislation they can send him.

In the European trip, Trump reminded us of his admiration for Putin’s model of how to wield power. Russian elections are nothing more than endorsements of the prevailing ruling power. Their outcomes are entirely predictable, because they are controlled. But Trump did not invent American strategies for voter suppression. Here too we see the exploitation of something that was a Republican initiative long before Trump. By the same token, even if the Trump campaign did collude with the Russians to sabotage the election last year, both Trump and Putin were simply exploiting a media landscape that was born when Republicans succeeded in eliminating the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine in 1973. Modern technology, the internet in particular, have made it far easier to spread biased and even false information, but the removal of the requirement to present opposing viewpoints is what set us on this course.

Trump is also not the first Republican president to believe that his will should be law. In Russia, Putin is wielding power in much the same way as the Communist leaders of old. Nixon also believed that the presidency allowed him to use power however he pleased, but our system of checks and balances held him back then. Now, with the modern Republican Party in control of all branches of our government, it is not clear that Trump’s misuses of power will be checked. There have been almost no signs of any Howard Bakers, ready to challenge the authority of a president from his own party in the name of the greater good. It comes down to a view of government that should be unconstitutional, and would be if Republicans over the years had not made so many judicial appointments, particularly to the Supreme Court.

The sick irony here is that this is just the kind of governance the Founding Fathers of our nation were rebelling against. State religions were a phenomenon of European nations at the time, England in particular. The modern Tea Party stands in opposition to the ideals that prompted the actual Boston Tea Party. Those original Americans wanted elections that empowered all free men, although they lacked the foresight to include women, and they lacked the vision to abolish slavery. What they did do is deliberately create a system that would facilitate these improvements later. They wanted elections where the outcome was uncertain, where the best man could win. They tried to build in safeguards to prevent a man like Donald Trump from becoming president, or to facilitate his removal if that became necessary. Some of the most important of those safeguards were the rights of free speech, a free press, and the right to peaceably assemble and protest. The Founding Fathers knew that we needed to have a free flow of good information in order to make the best choices for the governing of our nation.

So yes, Donald Trump embraces racism, seeks absolute power, and hopes to use the religious right to further his agenda. What is new is that Trump does so so openly and bluntly. He couches nothing in polite language. Where other Republicans might be playing an elaborate chess game, Trump resorts to professional wrestling. It’s ugly, seeking to appeal to our basest impulses, but it allows him to present his battles as entertainment. He can make the Poland speech, because he has conditioned us to expect him to say outrageous things, but he hopes to blunt our outrage through repetition and sheer fatigue. The goals, and the worldview that supports them, have been part of the Republican Party for decades. Trump was simply the first one to realize that it was time to express them openly.

For my musical selection this week, I present Kate Bush contemplating the risks of deception. This one has an official music video that is a fine example of just how bad 1980s music videos could be. Trust me, it’s much better to just stare at the album cover, and let your imagination do the rest of the work:

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy Birthday

This is a political blog, and there is plenty of material for me to work with this week. I am not happy about the Supreme Court’s decision to allow any part of Trump’s Muslin travel ban to go into effect. I am proud of the 24 states that are resisting the fraud that is the Trump election commission, And so on. But, in honor of our nation’s birthday, I thought I would quiet things down this week. There will be no lack of new material next week, I am sure. In the meantime, I thought we could all use a little breather. So this is a mostly non-political post on my political blog. This week, I am going to talk about fireworks.

I went with my family to our first fireworks display of the season on Thursday. While we were there, my thirteen year old son made me think fast with a perfectly reasonable question. He asked why we celebrate the birth of the United States with a Chinese invention, fireworks. I replied that fireworks celebrate the use of gunpowder in the winning of our freedom from the British. It is certainly true that the British also used firearms during the Revolutionary War, but that is all the more reason why we would have lost without them.

I grew up in a very small town in New Jersey. Our annual fireworks display was on the Fourth of July, and the whole town showed up for them. Probably, that is not quite true, and many residents went elsewhere or missed them, but it seemed like it had to be the whole town to my childish mind. Looking back, it is clear to me that my town did not have much money to put into fireworks, and there would therefore have had to be much more impressive displays elsewhere. But I had little basis for comparison, so I was happy with our display. Towns mostly paid for their displays out of local taxes, so the quality of the fireworks was a show of power in a sense. The display we go to now is in the next town over from ours. I live in a town that does not do its own display, although there is certainly enough local wealth to manage it. But a few years ago, the display we attend suddenly lost its tax funding. There was a year when they threatened to cancel their fireworks, and went begging for donations. Since then, they have lined up corporate sponsors every year who have booths at the event and must be thanked from the stage before the fireworks begin. So the fireworks were saved, but something was lost.

I strongly believe that accurate and detailed information is our best weapon against Donald Trump and the Republican Party that has created the healthcare atrocities in both the House and the Senate. The need for solid information extends well beyond the healthcare debate, and it is the reason I have links to fact checking sites on my blog. However, my need for solid information does not extend to fireworks. I once had a friend who insisting on analyzing each firework that went off during the display. He knew, or thought he knew, the chemistry behind each special effect we saw, and he had a compulsion to share this information. I prefer not to know how the trick is done in this case. I prefer to relax and allow myself to experience the wonderment. It is perhaps the biggest innocent pleasure I allow myself. There is no comparable sense of wonderment to be experienced in politics. Perhaps that is because there is no fire department on the scene to put out the fires if anything goes wrong. We, as informed citizens, must be that fire department.

So there are my random thoughts on fireworks. Maybe this post is more political than I expected, but so be it. Let me close by thanking everyone who reads this blog, and wishing you and yours a very happy and safe Fourth of July, however you choose to celebrate it. As for music this week, it is probably true that many of my readers have never heard of Grant Peeples. That is a shame. This song is a fine display of his wonderfully warped sense of humor: