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

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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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Sorry is Not Enough

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I’m one of those voters who used to be known as a “bleeding heart liberal.”  Despite the fact that the world’s gone insane, I am unable to harden my heart to the pain suffered by others here in the United States and around the world as the result of senseless tragedy.

When I was young, it was the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007.  Five years later, it was Pan Am Flight 003, known as the Lockerbie air disaster.  The former has been attributed to remnants of the Cold War, the latter to international terrorism.

Then disaster reached our own shores.  There were the school shootings, starting in the ‘90s with Columbine.  Then came the horror of my native New York City being torn apart at the seams.  After 9/11, I thought I’d seen it all.

Sadly, we picked right up with the mass murder at our schools.  Virginia TechSandy HookUmpqua Community College in Oregon.

This year, freedom of the press and freedom of speech came under attack with the Charlie Hebdo murders.  Then a jet full of vacationers returning home from the seaside is bombed out of the sky over the Sinai.  And now terror in the streets of Paris.  At least 132 dead, 77 survivors in critical condition.

Here in northern California, as everywhere else, we are far from immune.  You may not hear about the “little” local tragedies, but they arguably affect our communities even more than the major events that occur thousands of miles away.  This time last year, a couple from Utah drove into town and went on a rampage that included the killing two of our police officers.  Earlier this week, we locked the doors against the sirens that wailed throughout our neighborhood.  A few blocks away, there was a robbery, shooting and hostage-taking.  The SWAT team came out, and some streets were evacuated, residents being sent to the local elementary school to wait it out.  Then, Friday night, a local high school football player was killed in a drive-by shooting about a mile from here.

Tragedy, large and small, seems to be a fact of life in modern times.  There are days when I think that all we can do is be there to support those left to pick up the pieces, from emergency personnel to the families of the victims.

That, of course, is the bottom line.  Don’t let the steady stream of violence, tragedy and disaster in the news inure you to the real costs of these events to our society.  For every horror that you learn about on TV, in newspapers or online, there is a community that will never be the same again.  Remember that every victim is someone’s daughter or son, brother or sister, mother or father.

I thought about this while watching the debate between Democratic candidates O’Malley, Sanders and Clinton on Saturday evening.  The basis of our Western civilization tends to be reactive in nature.  We believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, that everything will be alright — until it isn’t anymore.  However, going through tragedy after tragedy ad nauseam begs the question of whether it’s enough to merely be reactive.  Perhaps I need to change my mindset that all we can do is be there to mop up the mess.  Perhaps the time has come to be proactive, to say hey, we’re sick and tired of this and we’re not going to take it anymore.  To realize that it’s time for our leaders to be proactive instead of reactive, to prevent those intent on terrorizing the citizens of the world from committing their murderous deeds.  It is heartening to see France taking forceful steps in this direction.  It is encouraging to see Germany offering the full assistance of its military resources.  And yes, we here in the United States, along with the rest of France’s allies, must do our part to help with the effort.

If we can’t pull this off, we will remain right where we are today, stuck in a time warp where all we can do is send condolences to the mothers and fathers who have just lost their children and to the children who have just lost their mothers and fathers.

Not being a military man, I don’t know what this will involve.  But it seems that it must start with improving our ability to obtain critical intelligence.  And so, presidential candidates, at the next installment of the debates in December, I’d like you to point out which one of you is up to the challenge.  Some are saying that Paul, Trump and Sanders lack the fortitude to do what it takes.  I must add Clinton to this list, who proved by her mishandling of the Benghazi crisis, that she falls woefully short of what Hemingway referred to as “grace under pressure.”

I already know that all of the presidential candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, are very good at showing up at the scene of tragedy and saying “I’m sorry” to the families of the victims in a heartfelt sound bite.

“Sorry,” however, is no longer enough.

#prayforparis

Tomorrow:  Consider the turkey, a bird well esteemed

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Bernie and Donald

Bernie SandersDonald Trump

Photo credits:  Sanders, Wall Street Journal; Trump, NBC

A couple of weekends ago, while out to lunch with some of the family, my teenaged niece mused that she really ought to pay more attention to politics.  My guess is that she’s hearing a lot about the upcoming U.S. presidential election.  It would be hard not to, even though it is still a year away.  I smiled and nodded, unwilling to admit my own ignorance on the subject.

I suppose ignorance is a relative thing.  It’s not as if I can’t name the front-running Republicans and Democrats, but I’d have a hard time telling you what their positions are on the issues.  My education in this area is decidedly hit or miss, primarily limited to what I read in the Washington Post on my phone during my lunch breaks at work.  And I know that I don’t retain much of it.

Politics seems such a strange subject in America.  For example, it is said that religion and politics are the two subjects that should never be discussed in polite company (didn’t sex used to be part of that list?).  The point, I think, is that political disagreements can drive wedges between neighbors, friends, business associates.  While many don’t care a whit about politics, others have very strong opinions and feel compelled to argue the correctness of their positions.  Discouraging conversation on the issue, however, would indicate that most of us are so closedminded that we are unwilling to listen to the merits of other positions and decide for ourselves.  I am not so sure that I believe this.

Perhaps it is my legal training that has made me perfectly amenable to entertaining contradictory ideas on a subject.  As I’m fond of saying, there are usually more than two sides to every story.

In light of the above, it should come as no surprise that I am admirer of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, presidential candidates who are arguably positioned at least six standard deviations apart on the political spectrum.  I see good and bad in everything.

I can’t ever recall having voted for a Republican for president in my decades of going to the polls.  However, they say there’s a first time for everything, and, for me, 2016 might be just that.  If, as expected, Hillary Rodham Clinton sews up the Democratic nomination, I expect to support Mr. Trump should he emerge as his party’s standard bearer.

The usual arguments against Clinton seem to have struck a chord with me.  Between her handling of Benghazi, the despicable email scandal and my repulsion with political dynasties that make us look like a Third World country, I simply can’t stomach the thought of a Clinton presidency.  The choice of Clinton disappoints me not only because I have heretofore been a diehard supporter of the Democrats, but also because I think it would be wonderful to have a woman as chief executive.  I have long admired Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel and Vigdis Finnbogadóttir (former president of Iceland), and I think the time has come for the United States to break the male stranglehold on this particular club.  But not with Hillary Clinton, dear God.  Carly Fiorina?  I’m listening.

I fully plan to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary even though I am quite aware that I will not have the opportunity to vote for him in the general election.  Many who, like me, “feel the Bern,” insist that it is still quite early and that anything can happen in the twelve months between now and the election.  I believe they are deluded.  While I pray that they are right, I believe that a Sanders nomination would require nothing short of a miracle.  I doubt that he can even win the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus, despite the fact that he’s campaigning so hard there that he’s about ready to be declared an honorary Hawkeye.

Much has been made of Sanders’ self-characterization as a democratic socialist.  For some, “the S word” is anathema that they continue to incorrectly associate with communism.  While I find the term to be unfortunate, I believe that labels are best applied to bottles, not people.

I believe that Bernie Sanders has his head in the right place.  I believe that he truly loves America and its people.  His support of environmental causes, income redistribution, and access to college education and health care for all place us squarely on the same page.  I’m not exactly a cockeyed optimist, however.  I realize that, were Sanders president, he would have a hell of a time with Congress and the Supreme Court.  Then again, isn’t that what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they engineered the separation of powers between the branches of the federal government?

Which brings me to The Donald.  I have doubts as to whether he can secure the Republican nomination, but at least he seems to have a chance, something that Sanders lacks with the Democrats.  However, if he succeeds in the primaries and ends up running against Clinton, I will support him.  Like so many others, I like the fact that Trump does not mince words.  He seems to say what he believes, without regard to the fact that many may react disapprovingly.  I don’t agree with all of his ideas, but he strikes me as authentic.  Perhaps this is a product of his money and privilege.  And yet, I cannot overlook his success in business.  I admire the way that, in a recent debate, he deflected criticisms of his multiple business bankruptcies by retorting that there is no reason for him not to take advantage of the protections offered by the laws of the land.  That, of course, is how a successful business is run:  You make the most of the resources at your disposal.  I think we can do worse than to run the country like a business.  As I said, Carly, I’m listening.

As widely disparate as their approaches are, I believe that both Sanders and Trump are committed to creating maximum opportunity for the greatest number of people.  Sanders wants all of us to have access to health care and a college degree.  Trump says he wants all of us to have the opportunity to become rich like he is.  In some respects, they are taking different roads to get to the same destination.

So if the campaigns of Jeb and Marco, Ben and Carly, John and Chris implode in the coming months, I’ll be voting for Mr. Trump.

Unless, of course, Bernie Sanders pulls off the Vermont Miracle.

Tomorrow:  So I’m a vegan.  How do I explain this to my niece?

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Greek Intervention, MTV Style

Paging Howie Mandel… You’re needed in Brussels!

The leaders of Europe spent the entire weekend playing the Euro version of “Deal or No Deal.”  When the moneymen couldn’t decide on whether and how to bail out bankrupt Greece, the heads of state took over, although they fared no better by Sunday night.

Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, is there, playing the prodigal son and offering to return to the fold by allowing the European Union to tighten the screws by imposing ever more stringent austerity measures to obtain the billions of euros necessary to prevent the Greek banking system from collapsing.  This repentant attitude is a total about face from Tsipras’ position just a week ago, when at his urging, the Greek people voted “no” to increased austerity, even if it means leaving the Eurozone and returning to the drachma.

So, Alex, what’s in your case?  Looks like you’ve pulled all the high dollar amounts off the board before you even got to Brussels.  Is that a phone I hear ringing?  Uh-oh, Howie is telling you that the banker, sitting up there in his booth, has slashed his offer yet again.

The two Jimmies (Fallon and Kimmel) and whoever it is that replaced David Letterman must be having a field day with this stuff.  I don’t watch late night television (all right, you got me, I don’t watch TV at all), so someone please tell me if I’m right.

So Europe is twisting itself up into more knots than a pretzel in a German biergarten in order to keep Greece in the family and thereby to continue the charade that the European Union is indestructible.  The clownish shenanigans in Brussels remind me of those intervention shows that they used to air on MTV back when I wasted my time on such things.

Can’t you just see it?  The family gathers in Brussels, each member with a somber look on his or her face, awaiting the arrival of the bad boy, at which point they intend to pounce.  The idea is to convince him to give up his wicked ways and go to rehab or else be expelled from the family, with no hope of further assistance of any kind.  As I recall, after much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, the addict would realize that he or she has been ambushed and is now effectively trapped.

Oh, Mr. Tsipras — The limo is waiting at the curb to take you the airport.  Next stop:  Rehab.

The question, of course, is whether Greece is so far gone that it may no longer even be capable of being rehabilitated.  A third bailout in five years?  Where does it end?  Greece says it needs well over 50 billion euro (that’s a lot of zeroes) just to keep its banks going, but European finance ministers estimate that it will need a good 80 billion euro to prevent its economy from disintegrating.  Something tells me this rehabilitation will fail.  Either Greece will escape the rehab center in the middle of the night, or it will dry out and then go looking for another fix the second it graduates from the program.

In many respects, Greece reminds me of a rebellious teenager.  I remember once seeing a meme online that went something like this:  “Teenagers!  Tired of being hassled by your parents?  Get out now while you still know everything, get a job and pay your own bills!”  Hmm, come to think of it, I may have seen this on a greeting card at a truck stop on the I-5 in Santa Nella.

Greece proved its rebelliousness, much to the ire of European leaders, by putting further austerity to a vote of its populace.  Europe was not amused when 61% of Greeks backed their fearless leader’s resolve to go it alone if necessary rather than subject itself to another parade of horribles.  With the store shelves going empty, gas tanks going dry and only 60 euros per person per day available at ATMs (the banks have been shuttered for two weeks), many Greeks can’t blame Tsipras for backpedaling, begging for debt relief in return for more austerity.

But there are still plenty of Greeks who are burning up Facebook and Twitter urging Tsipras to stick to his guns, walk out of the Brussels talks and return home to Athens, come what may.  How far will this teenager go?  It’s possible that he may be willing to go couch surfing or even live on the street to avoid being told what to do.  Maybe this teen will end up hungry and cold, but at least it will be on his own terms.

The problem is that the parents are fighting with each other and can’t seem to decide what to do about their wayward child.  Meanwhile, the teen is milking the situation for all it is worth, doing his own thing even as he knows that his days under his parents’ roof are numbered.

My bet is that, despite Teen Greece’s open defiance of last week, its current contrite posture will win the day.  Looks like the teen has decided not to go homeless after all.

All that remains to be seen is whether he can follow through with his promise to abide by Mother Europe’s rules.

Winning is Only the Beginning

Olympians and politicians have a lot in common.  They are heroes to some, reviled by others.  They have their sex and doping scandals.  They have their spectacular wins and their crushing defeats.  They toil in obscurity for years and make a lot of money when they finally succeed.

But there is one major difference between the two.  When an Olympian stands on the podium and sings the national anthem while a gold medal is hung around her neck, she’s done.  Sure, she may go for gold in another event or try for a repeat four years down the road.  But she doesn’t have to.  She can go home and be feted, interviewed and offered product endorsement deals.  Whatever she does after that, she has made it into the history books, there to stay forevermore.

By contrast, when a presidential candidate wins the election, he can’t go home and bask in the glory of his medal.  He has to run the country for four years.

So I think it’s time for the haters, the conspiracy theorists who insist that the president of the United States isn’t really an American and doesn’t love his country, those who oppose health care reform and who believe that the leader of the free world is allowing immigrants to take over his own nation, the ones with the Impeach Obama bumper stickers on their pickup trucks, to climb down off their high horses and soap boxes and start making a difference.

Yesterday, my young nephew, who is a hard-working manual laborer in the construction industry, pointed out that the older and fatter members of his family couldn’t do his job for an hour.  And he’s right; we couldn’t.  But we quickly retorted that he wouldn’t last an hour doing the technical and managerial tasks that we old, fat people do all day.

I venture to guess that the naysayers who have no respect for the office of the presidency couldn’t do Barack Obama’s job for a day.

So if you don’t appreciate what our president is doing, if you’re a shrieking Republican or a disappointed Democrat, now is the time to do something about it.  Our commander in chief is rapidly coming to the end of his term and will have to be replaced by the people.  The conventions and primaries will be here before you know it.

And so I say to you who spew invective on the AM radio talk shows and slap incendiary bumper stickers on your SUVs, go find us someone better.  Find a Republican or a Democrat who can not only win the election, but will build upon the accomplishments of his predecessor and exceed them.  If you don’t like what’s gone on in Washington for the past eight years, get up off your bohonkus and find someone worthy of the office of the presidency, someone who will set this great nation back on the right path, someone who believes in God and takes His messages to heart, someone who will care about his people enough to serve as a role model, someone who will satisfy you enough to shut up and let the rest of us have some peace for once.

Because on the day that your victorious candidate stands up to give his or her acceptance speech in November of next year, there won’t be any medals hung around his or her neck.  Yes, the national anthem will be sung, but at the end of it all, the winner can’t go home and accept product endorsements.

For after the final strains of “Hail to Chief” fade off into history, the president still has to run the country for four years.

Toward a Better Understanding of Hypocrisy

A blog comment I ran across last week suggested that “hypocrite” is just about the worst epithet that can be applied to a person.  I do not agree.  Not at all.  It seems to me that hypocrisy has a useful and respectable place in our society and that it has been unfairly maligned over the centuries.

Let’s start by taking a moment to examine the meaning and etymology of the word “hypocrite.”  Much as I esteem the opinion of the Oxford English Dictionary, I am unable to tell you how they weigh in on the issue, as the online version is behind a paywall and my unemployed ass cannot afford the $995 cost of the 20-volume print edition or even the $400 cost of the compact CD.  Making use of the tools that I do have available, dictionary.com cites the origin of the English word “hypocrite” as the ancient Greek hypokrites, meaning “a stage actor, hence one who pretends to be what he is not.”

The original Greek appears to indicate that, at some level, hypocrisy was a socially acceptable construct.  Ancient Greek audiences understood perfectly well that the onstage histrionics they were witnessing were the products of talented actors who were not actually being murdered and dismembered before their very eyes.  This is often referred to as “willing suspension of disbelief.”

Once we leave the stage, however, society has always had a much more difficult time accepting one who “pretends to be what he is not.”  Merriam-webster.com defines a hypocrite as “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.”  In modern times, the epithet “two-faced” has been applied to such an individual, but the revulsion visited upon hypocrites goes back centuries.  Arguably, the epitome of the public dissing of hypocrites was meted out by Jesus.  Among the best known statements about hypocrisy is in Matthew 23:14 (KJV), “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer:  therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.”

Despite the bad name given to hypocrisy in the New Testament, I submit to you that being a hypocrite was likely quite practical 2,000 years ago and is certainly so in our modern world of the 21st century.

1. We grew up with hypocrisy.  Most of us were introduced to the concept of hypocrisy at an early age, long before the word entered our nascent vocabularies.  Either by inference or (as in the case of my own parents) literally, our folks would tell us “Do as I say, not as I do!”  If you think about it, this makes sense.  All parents have hopes and dreams that their children will do better than they themselves did.  As parents, we have bad habits that we do not wish our children to emulate.  Of course, children are strongly influenced by the actions of their parents, which is why many fathers quit smoking or drinking or swearing when they learn that a little one is on the way.  When we are unable, for whatever reason, to forsake our evil ways, the backup plan has always been to tell the kids to “pay no attention to the man in the mask.”  Hypocrisy:  It’s how we seek to improve the next generation.

2. Hypocrisy as a coping mechanism.  A famous quote from novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald posits that “the test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”  We may, for example, simultaneously entertain the ideas that “drinking alcohol impairs my ability to function” and “I need a drink to get through the day.”  (In my own case, I suppose I should substitute ice cream and potato chips.)  One may dispute the accuracy of Fitzgerald’s assertion about intelligence, but acting against what we know to be our own best interest is a form of hypocrisy that is a valid coping strategy used to allow us to keep going (and to keep from going crazy) in the face of life’s daily contradictions.

3. Hypocrisy is a reasonable response to society’s persistence in judging us.  Back in the years when I worked in the court system, I would regularly hear criminal defendants bemoaning the law’s condemnation of conduct that they found perfectly acceptable.  Some of this is decidedly solipsistic in nature, but to a great extent, this sentiment is the product of conflicting cultural norms.  As the social workers and probation officers know all too well, the guy in the orange jumpsuit will likely think nothing of committing assault and battery if such conduct is a daily occurrence in his neighborhood, and particularly if he witnessed and/or participated in it as a child and adolescent.  “I’m being judged unfairly!” is the prisoner’s mournful moan.

How does this relate to hypocrisy?  Most of us attempt to stay on the right side of the law in order to stay out of jail, but things change considerably when it comes to matters of morality.  This may seem only marginally relevant today, but in times of restrictive social norms, we may seek to avoid the judgment of society by publicly spouting the party line while merrily pursuing our own agendas in private.  An example I mentioned in a post earlier this week is that many of us kept our criticisms of the government to ourselves in the 1950s to avoid social approbation that could include becoming unemployed and being run out of town.  Similarly, for years most gays remained “in the closet,” some even going as far as entering hetero marriages, in order to avoid being judged harshly by those around them.  So you can see that saying one thing and doing another is a reasonable response (“I have to live in this town!”) to persistent judgment by a society cherishing norms that directly contradict one’s own.  Those who hang out in the third standard deviation pretty much have the choice of being hypocrites or adjusting their behavior to conform with cultural norms.  Those who are unable to embrace either approach often find themselves in those orange jumpsuits, or arguably worse, in padded cells.

I have often pondered that much hypocrisy, as well as outright law-breaking, could be avoided if people would relocate to parts of the world in which social norms are better aligned with their predilections.  We may be horrified at, and quick to condemn, practices such as the use of hard drugs, allowing minors to consume alcohol or eating the meat of cats and dogs, but there are many areas of the world in which these are not the cultural taboos as they represent in North America.  Those who reside here but find it inconvenient to pick up stakes for an intercontinental move to a more compatible social environment often engage in culturally prohibited practices in private while, in public, pretending the horror that our society expects of them.  And let us not forget that many throughout history have found becoming hypocrites essential in order to practice their religions while avoiding death at the hands of an intolerant majority.

Rather than reviling the hypocrite, perhaps we should consider that none of us is perfect and that every one of us is hypocritical in some fashion at some point in time.  For example, we may be staunch advocates of truth-telling, yet accede to telling a “white lie” in order to spare someone’s feelings.

Among the problems that we have with hypocrites is the fear that they will “fool us” and the rage we experience when we feel that we have been duped.  This is symptomatic of a simplistic and childlike mindset that paints every situation in black and white.  We want to be able to distinguish the “good guys” from the “bad guys.”  Not only does this sentiment fail to acknowledge the complex nature of modern society, but it also errs in equating the good with current social norms.  Aside from the fact that such norms change rapidly, it behooves us to recognize the value of diversity and multiculturalism in that individuals with widely divergent traditions, mores and folkways can all make positive contributions to our heterogeneous society.

Some believe that once a hypocrite has been “outed,” nothing he or she says may be trusted ever again.  We think of politicians who are elected on a “law and order” platform and then are discovered to be crooks themselves.  A few years ago, a Scientific American article pointed out that our unwarranted emotional responses to hypocrisy (i.e., our unwillingness to put ourselves in the shoes of the hypocrite or, dare I say, to examine our own hypocrisy) “tend to short-circuit rational examination” of a person’s statements.  Just because one acts hypocritically to avoid harsh social judgment in a particular area does not mean that every statement uttered by that individual should be discounted out of hand.  Compassion, particularly among those of us who profess efforts to live a godly life, seems in order.

Yet compassion appears conspicuously lacking by many, particularly by those on the religious right, who chastise hypocrites as “liars” and “haters of the truth.”  It may be more accurate to say that an intolerant, judgmental society is the real hater of truth, the truths that there will always be dissenters in our midst, that there is a place in life for personal choice, and that peaceful coexistence is possible without achieving universal consensus in regard to every belief and practice.