Removal

A “removal” used to mean moving a dead body from a home or hospital to a funeral home in preparation for burial or cremation. In President Trump’s America, however, the term has come to refer to deportation from the United States.  Still, when I think of “expedited removals,” the image that comes to mind is one of a black hearse screeching up to the curb and guys in dark suits with bad haircuts running up to the front door with a gurney.  Somehow, boarding passes for Guatemala and El Salvador never quite make it into that picture.  Nor do handcuffs, heavily-armed guards and midnight knocks on the door by la migra.

Perhaps substitution of the word “removal” for “deportation” is appropriate, as President Trump appears to be treating undocumented immigrants as dead tissue that must be excised to save the American body.  Like Kevin O’Leary on TV’s Shark Tank, it’s as if our president is telling our immigrants “you’re dead to me.”  He somehow wishes to purify us by eliminating from our midst those who risked their lives in a bid to escape to the land of the free.  And I venture to say that I’m not the only one who finds recent events disrespectful to those who didn’t survive the journey, who never made it to freedom.

The Bible speaks of the “uncleanness of death” (tu’med met in the Hebrew) that comes upon those who touch a corpse until such time as they sprinkle the water of purification upon themselves.  Num.  19:13. Does our president really believe that ridding ourselves of those who arrived here in desperation, “yearning to breathe free,” in the words of Emma Lazarus immortalized at the base of the Statue of Liberty, will serve as some sort of purification?  Is this particular brand of xenophobia some sort of Marseillaise under which we are fighting against an impure blood polluting our furrows?  The whole concept leaves me rather aghast.  I only hope that our president has a relationship with God and that he is reminded of the injunction of Leviticus 19:34, “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (KJV)  Indeed, we were all immigrants once.

The immigration follies have been going on in one form or another for well over a century.  My grandfather, who arrived on our shores in 1923, held a passport from a nation in which he was not born, in which he never resided, and which, in fact, did not even exist.  This legal fiction allowed him to satisfy the quota for that year and that, apparently, was enough to get him through Ellis Island, where his sponsor picked him up.  Then, as now, laying it all on the line for a new life involved dancing into a gray area between what was legal and was humanly right.

Grandpa was a Polish Jew, which, in those days, essentially rendered him a stateless person.  Poland did not recognize the citizenship of Jews, although that did not stop its government from drafting Grandpa into its army.  And so, the “nationality” field on his passport reads “Israeli.”  My mother still has it, packed away in a box in the back of a closet. The fact that the modern nation of Israel did not come into existence for another quarter of a century did not seem to bother anyone at the time.

My grandfather, a tailor by trade, became a furrier in Manhattan’s garment district and began a long life as a resident of New York City.  When I was little, he lived three floors below us in our rent-controlled Bronx walk-up, and later, after my grandmother died, about a block away with his new wife.  He learned English, studied for the citizenship test, and became a naturalized American long before I was born.

Many years later, in his old age, he finally visited Israel, where he prayed at the Wailing Wall and relaxed on the beach at Netanya.  Having died in the year that Reagan took office, I have to wonder what he would think of the shenanigans of late.  I have no idea how Grandpa felt about Reagan, but I am hard pressed to imagine him voting for a Republican.  On a windy day this past May, during my first visit to New York in more than 20 years, I visited his gravesite in Queens.  I took photos for my mother, who wanted reassurance that her parents’ graves were being cared for.  I recalled childhood days of utter boredom, at this very spot, waiting endlessly for my mother to finish her visit, knowing nothing of her grief that years failed to erase.

My mother grew up in a one-bedroom apartment where she had the pleasure of sharing a pull-out bed in the living room with her older sister.  The girls were expected to speak English at home, and English was the only language that my grandparents used with their kids.  When it came to conversations with each other, however, my grandparents lapsed into a medley of eastern European languages. Mom recalls how, through the bedroom door at night, she and her sister could hear the murmured cadences of Russian, Yiddish, Polish, German. And she remembers how, even in their English conversations, they often spoke of something mysterious called “the HIAS” (pronounced “high ass”).

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society provided food, clothing and shelter to Jews newly arrived on our shores after having escaped Russian pogroms and, later, genocide at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.  They had a dormitory on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and a setup on Ellis Island, where they often lent indigent immigrants the $25 landing fee.  In looking up the history of the HIAS online, I was shocked to learn that they’re still in existence, fighting against the anti-immigration policies of our current administration.

It’s reassuring to know that there are still organizations out there speaking for those who have essentially been rendered voiceless and left for dead.  As for my grandpa, if he were alive today, I believe he’d be donating his time and money to support the HIAS and others who work to make an American life possible for those who find themselves in the same difficulties that he once faced.

 

 

 

Within the Realm of Possibility

When I was a kid, my father often told me that anything is possible.

“Anything?” I’d say, incredulously.  To myself, I thought:  Even fairies and ghosts and Mickey Mouse and Cinderella and all that make-believe stuff?

“Anything,” he assured me.  “Perhaps not probable, but certainly possible.”

Well, it appears that my dad’s beliefs have been vindicated.  After all, the Cubs and Donald Trump each won their respective contests, the former by breaking the curse of the billy goat and the latter by breaking through the big blue wall.

I feel like a part of history in that I was here, in 2016, to watch it all happen.  I had a conversation with a bellhop at the Marriott Hotel lobby in Riverside, down in southern California, in which I bemoaned the fact that the Cubs were down three and that it would all be over that evening.  He told me that he still had faith, and I thought he was crazy.  Then I sat in the twelfth floor lounge with my wife and watched the Cubbies pull it off against the Indians.  And a few nights later, I sat in our tiny kitchen/living room and watched them win the World Series.  A couple of weeks after that, I again sat at our table, glued to the map displayed on CNN, open-mouthed, as Trump turned Florida and North Carolina red.

With such astonishing events occurring right before our eyes, I find it rather unfortunate that the world has responded by going crazy.  There are the demonstrations, the school walkouts, the cries of “not my president.”  I’m surprised that there weren’t riots in our major cities over Cleveland grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

Sadly, my own family has not been spared this insanity.  I am told that, the day after the election, my nephew was “shaking with rage” and had to stay out of work.  His sister, I was informed, was so upset that she had to take extra Xanax and stay in bed.  Supposedly, she and her boyfriend plan to relocate to his native England.

Then there is the matter of my wife’s aunt.  She had been very ill with cancer, and passed on a week ago.  We attended her funeral yesterday.  She had been relatively active until her body simply gave out just a few days before she died.  When she could barely respond anymore, a family member asked if she had deteriorated so rapidly because Trump had won the election.  She nodded her head in affirmation.

The family asked my wife and me to write her aunt’s eulogy, which we did.  I felt deeply honored.  My wife said she wouldn’t be able to get through the first sentence, so I delivered it at the memorial service.  Honestly, I didn’t know how I would get through it either.  I carried an extra handkerchief with me, not knowing whether I would be able to remain stoic or would just break down.  With the help of God, I managed it, once again proving to myself that things that seem outside our abilities can suddenly become possible when circumstances warrant.  In my opinion, Hemingway was being overdramatic when he referred to this phenomenon as “grace under pressure.”  I like to think that being flexible, malleable, adaptable is just part of the human condition.  That’s why it appears so odd to me that some of us can’t seem to wrap our minds around the fact that things may not always go the way we expect them to.  Some of us rebel against any evidence that contradicts what we “know.”

The Chicago Tribune may brashly declare “Dewey Defeats Truman” in 1948 and The New York Times may rashly declare, the day before the 2016 election, that Trump has only a 16% chance of becoming president.  Journalists point out that it’s easy to jump the gun when you’re on deadline, that our quest for knowledge and understanding may lead to buying into polls that don’t necessarily reflect reality.  But, as my dad said, anything is possible.  Those of us who root for the underdogs, who refuse to accept the inevitable, who bravely believe in the power to change, know that we have a secret weapon with which to beat the odds.

Hope.

 

 

Expats of the Red Carpet

Yesterday, I bid good riddance to the traitors who threaten to abandon our nation if their candidate doesn’t happen to win the election this Tuesday.  These miscreants need to go now.  I just didn’t realize how many of them they are.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a story today about the many celebrities who have vowed to the flee the country if Donald Trump becomes president.  That alone is more than enough reason to hope that Trump wins.  We have too many celebrities here already, don’t you think?  My bet is that Canada isn’t going to want them either.

Of course, not all of them plan on heading north of the border.  Some have plans to decamp farther afield.  A lot farther afield for a few.  Like away from Planet Earth.

Let’s make a brief list of a few of the places that may be the new homes of those who are so proud to boast of their lack of commitment to the country that made their success possible:

Canada:  Bryan Cranston (of “Breaking Bad”), Barbra Streisand (or Australia), Lena Dunham, Neve Campbell, Keegan-Michael Key, Raven-Symone, Chloë Sevigny, Amber Rose

Mexico:  George Lopez

Spain:  Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler

Italy:  Omari Hardwick

Australia (or maybe Canada):  Barbra Streisand

New Zealand:  Ruth Bader Ginsberg (or maybe not; but that’s what her late husband threatened)

South Africa:  Samuel L. Jackson, Eddie Griffin

Parts Unknown:  Whoopi Goldberg, Miley Cyrus (hopefully with her achy-breaky dad)

Another Planet:  Jon Stewart, Cher (don’t you think the two of them would make a lovely couple?)

Now, Barbra Streisand has a lovely mausoleum all set to receive her dead body in the same cemetery in which my maternal grandparents are buried:  Mount Hebron in Flushing Meadows, Queens.  Perhaps she can pay to have it hauled off its foundation and onto a northbound flatbed.

What would be really unfair would be if Babs became a Canadian citizen and then had her dead body carted back to New York City for burial.  Then again, I suppose there is some justice in having her spend eternity in the hometown of Donald Trump.

 

 

Traitors Can Just Leave Now

Now that Election Day is upon us here in the United States, I will repeat what I wrote in this space months ago:  Like it or not, Hillary Clinton will be our next president.  Personally, I don’t like it, but I am an American and I accept the mandate of the majority, even when I find myself in the minority.

If you voted for Donald Trump, sorry, but every election has a winner and a loser.  Those who backed the winner may feel smug or elated; those who backed the loser may be devastated.  I say good for those who backed the winner; those who backed the loser will just have to get over it.  We’ll all have to get used to it and get back down to business now that the dog and pony show is over.  That’s how our democratic system of government works.

As for those who have vowed to relocate to Canada if Mr. Trump wins, I say do us all a favor and just leave now.  The fact that he has lost this election has nothing to do with it.  What if he had won?  I say to those who are unable to accept the will of the people, to those who are unable to accept the election of the duly nominated standard bearer of one of the two major parties, that you are not only sore losers and crybabies, but also un-American.  Those who can’t deal with our system of government when it doesn’t happen to go their way should do us all a favor and decamp for some other country that they think does it better.

Oh, and don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.

Tuesday is Election Day.  Get out there and vote, folks (whoever you support).

 

A Lesson in Democracy

I was wrong, and I’m thrilled about it.

As I explained earlier this week, I am always wrong about my political predictions.  I am as shocked at everyone else that Great Britain chose to leave the European Union and take back its nation.  And today I raise a cheer for democracy.

The word “democracy” hails from the Greek root demos, meaning “people.”  That is what’s so great about national referenda like the one that occurred in Britain on Thursday.  The people, not the politicos, get to decide.

Here in California, on every Election Day you can count on a series of referenda (known locally as “propositions”) will be on the ballot.  Everything from term limits to new taxes to environmental measures is put to the will of the people.  We rarely, if ever, see this on a national basis, however (due largely to the federalist compromises made by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution).  Instead, in the U.S. our government operates on a system of representative democracy.  We choose our members of Congress and our president and we place our trust in them to do our will.  That’s supposed to be the price of our votes.  Of course, it often doesn’t work out that way, if for no other reason than any legislator, even the one whom you most ardently support, will have a contrary view to your own on something.

That’s why referenda are so refreshing.  It is as if our representatives are saying “you tell us what you want to do about this and we will make it happen.”  Instead of the representative democracy to which we are so accustomed, this moves down the spectrum toward the New England town meeting, perhaps the ultimate form of direct democracy.  You count up the votes and majority rules.

The problem, of course, is that this is a tough gig for the losers, particularly when the vote is more or less split down the middle, as it was in Britain on Thursday.  It is a far cry from the consensus so prized by the Japanese.  But sometimes it makes sense to acknowledge that there simply is no consensus.  (The first issue this brings to mind is abortion in the United States.)  Opponents of direct democracy point out that there is little gained by alienating nearly half the electorate in such cases.  And yet, short of kindergarten-style sharing (we’ll do it my way today and your way tomorrow), it seems like the fairest way to run a society.

Of course, once the populace votes on an issue, you’re stuck with the outcome.  There are times when the decision made by the people is not so irretrievable that it’s possible to put it up for a vote again later to determine whether public opinion has changed (which it may if the decision fails to yield the desired results).  There are often opportunities for the people to rethink the situation, back up and change their minds.  Many times, however, you’re really stuck with your decision.  In some circumstances, there is no going back.  The Brexit appears to be one of these, and I put it to you that this is a good thing.  Britons must accept the consequences of their decision, which involves both good and bad.  I believe that the former far outweighs the latter.

By the way, the “fear” campaign waged by the Remain faction did not help matters.  Many Britons saw the scare tactics for what they were.

So now there’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on.  The “leave” camp won due to the voting power of the working class.  The vote to leave the E.U. was all about England, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wanted no part of it.  Not enough young people, who treasure the ability to roam throughout Europe free of border controls, showed up at the polls.  It was a rainy day with flash floods so many potential voters stayed home.  There’s no end to the second guessing.

The bottom line, however, is that now the people of Great Britain can cut the apron strings to Mother Europe and forge their own destiny.  Their money is better spent at home rather than being forcibly sent out to 27 other member nations.  Britain is a proud nation that will once again be able to make its own rules.  Britain has declared its independence of Europe, much as the American colonies once declared their independence of Britain.  ‘Tis a wondrous day, indeed.

As for those who persist in gloom and doom, dwelling on the crash of the pound and the steep drop in stock markets worldwide, I say to you:  Get over it.  It takes a while for markets to correct and for people to get used to new realities.  I have no doubt that there will be sacrifices to be made, but they seem a small price for the sweet taste of self-rule.  I just hope it won’t be long until the will of the people is consummated by Britain’s invocation of Article 50 of the E.U. compact.  Now that the people have spoken, let’s do this thing.

Thank you, Great Britain, for going to the ballot boxes in droves to let your voices be heard.  Thank you, Great Britain, for standing up for what you believe in.  And most of all, thank you for giving the entire world a lesson in democracy.

 

A Brexit, You Say? Fat Chance!

I don’t usually make political predictions because I’m generally wrong (and who likes to be wrong?).  Today, however, I will go out on a limb and predict that Clinton will win the U.S. presidential election and that Britain will elect to remain in the European Union.  I am willing to take the chance of making such predictions not only because I believe them to be true, but also because, this time, I will raise a cheer if I’m wrong on either count.

The U.S. presidential election is still more than four months off, but the Brits vote on Thursday.  The “remain” and “leave” factions have each waged active campaigns, complete with rhetoric, bombast and hand-wringing that even went so far as to encompass the murder of a British politician.

While I do not believe that there is much in it for Britain to remain in the E.U., I am disappointed that the “leave” faction has descended to making the issue about immigration, perhaps the most hot button item for Britons these days.  With Britain as a member of the E.U., citizens of any sister nation can live and work in Britain legally.  This, of course, is also true for Brits who wish to try their fortunes on the Continent, say, in a bit less cold and rainy locale such as Portugal or Italy.  No one really knows whether a Brexit would mean that the expats in Britain would have to go home and the British retirees on the beaches of southern Europe would have to do the same.  It really is a matter of “details to be worked out later.”  The “leave” faction just wants to take back control of Britain’s immigration policies.  That would include saving the costs spent by the socialized health care system in caring for the medical needs of immigrants.  Oh, and the “be-leave-ers” want to take the billions that Britain is forced to send the European Union and instead use it for worthy causes at home.  Also, they want to send their own representatives to international commissions rather than having to settle for representation by Mother Hen E.U.

All of this makes perfect sense to me.  Everyone wants to be (or at least to think they are) in control of their own destiny rather than relying, childlike, on others to make their most important decisions.

Of course, the “remain” faction insists that all this is hogwash and poppycock.  Why should they leave the Union, they ask, when they have it so good?  After all, Britain has a special deal with the E.U. that exempts the Brits from many of the onerous rules and red tape imposed on the rest of the Union nations.  Heck, Britain isn’t even saddled with the euro; they got to keep their pound sterling, so what more do they want?

The “remaIN” people point to strength in numbers, the clout that Britain currently enjoys with the E.U. and the advantages of mutual protection.  Plus, they are caterwauling about the economic catastrophe that would come with leaving the Union.  The stock markets would crash!  Worldwide financial panic would ensue!  Not only that, but the “remain” faction buys into the E.U.’s saber-rattling, the Union’s noisemaking machine that insists that Britain will pay dearly for destroying what could one day have become the United States of Europe!

And as for Scotland?  England’s neighbor to the north claims that, should Britain leave the E.U., Scotland will vote for independence so that the newly free nation can turn right around and join the Union.  To which I say ha, ha, ha!  Very funny, indeed.  Remember, Scotland tried that just a few months ago and the people of the kilt and haggis voted to remain securely within Great Britain.  If anyone believes the Glaswegians are going to change their minds now because they’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore, well, I have a bridge to sell you over here in California, chap.

The fact is that the “stiff upper lip” Brits are just too conservative and too stuck in their own bog to do anything as dramatic as vote to leave the European Union.  For heaven’s sake, even Greece, whose people did vote to leave the Union last summer (remember all those OXI! signs?) ended up staying, thanks to spineless Tspiras and “motorcycle Mac” Varoufakis.  If tiny Greece couldn’t pull off a Grexit despite the will of the people, I don’t think a nation as populous as Britain has a marshmallow’s chance in hell.

No one is saying that the E.U. would let Britain off easy if they do decide to leave.  The Union will undoubtedly use the two-year unwinding process as an opportunity to stick it to Britain any way they can.  But as far as the gloom-and-doom “remain” faction, they can quit peddling their disaster scenarios now.

Not that it matters.  The “remain” faction has effectively already won.  Even the financial panic that was gaining some momentum last week has died down as the “leave” faction has lost its momentum quicker than Bernie Sanders.

It’s really too bad.  As some articles in the media have pointed out, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Great Britain to cut the apron strings and forge a future on its own terms.  But with the vote less than two days away, I can see that Britain has already blown its chance.  Choked in the ninth inning.  Pulled defeat from the jaws of victory.

All that’s left is to pull out the chocolate bars and make some S’mores on Thursday.  And pass the hankie, please.  For I shall shed a tear at the incontrovertible evidence that a Britain that once lived up to its name is truly no longer Great.

 

Je Suis Paris: We Remember – Part II

black ribbon

Today I continue to translate The Washington Post’s French language descriptions of those were brutally murdered by terrorists on Friday night in Paris.  To read the first installment, click here.

Mayeul Gaubert, 30:  “Gaubert was a 30 year old lawyer, AFP reported.  From the outlet: ‘Originally from Saône-et-Loire, he’d been working for five years for the startup company Cegos, where he was described as ‘funny, considerate, efficient, very professional.’  He died following wounds received at the Bataclan theater.  On his Facebook page, he had posted ‘I am Charlie [Hebdo].’”

Olivier Hauducoeur, 44:  “A Facebook post by ENSICAEN wrote of Hauducoeur: ‘An amateur runner, he had been working for a year for the Arval French classic car club, a subsidiary of BNP Paribas’ banking group.’”

Raphaël Ruiz, 37:  “Ubiqus, where Ruiz had worked for over 10 years, confirmed his death Monday, writing in a statement: ‘The Ubiqus community is in mourning.  He was 37 years old and was appreciated by everyone for his professionalism, devotion and immense gentleness.”

Vincent Detoc:  “Vincent Jeanbrun, mayor of L’Haÿ-les-Roses, where Detoc grew up, write: ‘All our condolences and all our wishes for courage go out to the family and loved ones of Vincent Detoc, child of L’Haÿ-les-Roses, unjustly struck down by the bullets of barbarians.’”

I encourage you to read the stories of all of those lost in the Paris terrorist attacks here.

Tomorrow:  When I wasn’t looking, my parents got old!

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