Author: Melanie White

5/9/17 – Health insurance hostages

It’s almost like there was a long-term strategy in Big Pharma to spend the last few decades focusing on preventative medicine, often relying on drugs — because everybody I know has a pre-existing condition. Fifty years ago, you’d discover your heart disease when you died at age 50. Now we take the drugs and get to live. Yay!

So we’ve got to have health insurance. Try buying that stuff out of pocket – forget it! Maybe the Wall Street billionaires can afford that, but we sure can’t.

We live longer than our parents, but there’s a price for it. We’re enslaved by this system, where people’s lives are ruined, where people die, where our government serves their interests, where the entire medical-care infrastructure has been co-opted by profit gollums.

We participate in this system by allowing it to continue.



4/17/17 – Meet some illegal immigrants

Some years ago, I tutored students at a local community college, usually non-native speakers of English who needed help with language. There I became acquainted with Sed and Ganet, two young people who’d come to America illegally. In the course of our classwork, I learned a bit about how they came to be here. I’d like to share that with you.
One was from Ethiopia; the other from Eritrea. (I can’t remember which was which.) Like many Americans, I knew very little about that area. They explained to me that Eritrea used to be part of Ethiopia and at some point, it was agreed that Eritrea would become an independent nation. People passed freely from one nation to the other; the border was porous.
Then war broke out, and people on the wrong side of the border were trapped. It was like the Berlin Wall: you were stuck where you were.
This happened to many people; Sed was one. Worse than that, he was also involved in work that had been legal before the war but now put him in very real danger. I don’t remember what it was, but it would cost him his life if he was caught.
Somehow he made his way to Kenya, where many dispossessed east Africans sought refuge. Eventually he got on a plane to the US with a one-way ticket and no papers. It was a desperate act. He believed that whatever befell him in America had to be better than being killed back home. He had no one here, no family, no friends. When he arrived, he admitted that he had no papers and was seeking asylum. He was put in the detention center in Tacoma.
He expected some kind of due process where he would be able to make a case for himself, explain his background and why he was seeking refuge here. There was none. For nine months, he sat alone in his cell. The only person he saw was the man who brought him his food. This man taunted him, called him names, and belittled him. He would occasionally come in and make a big show of telling Sed that the court had finally made a decision on his case: tomorrow he would be deported back to Ethiopia. He pretended to have the airline ticket in his back pocket, patting it and laughing. Sed would spend the night in fear and dread, praying for courage. The next day, the man would laugh at him and say it was all a joke. The irony is the man was Mexican-American.
One day a woman came to visit. She explained she was from the ACLU and was taking his case. I asked him, “Had you asked for their help?” and he said no, he’d had no idea how to ask for help or from whom. Working with her made all the difference; he was able to file the right papers and take steps to get out of detention. He said without her, he would be dead or still in detention. He said she saved his life.
In time, Sed got straight with immigration, became a citizen, and was going to school to become an engineer. The last time I talked to him, he was working with some of his east African friends to build awareness of the problems their people face. He had read about Gandhi and wanted to learn more. I remember telling him about Martin Luther King, nonviolent resistance, and civil disobedience. His face lit up talking about this. He wanted to have hope for his home country, but he knew more war, guns, and killing would change nothing.
While he’d been in Kenya, he met another young refugee who’d found her way there. This was Ganet, who was also my student. She told me her story as well.
When war broke out, her family was in danger; some relative worked for the wrong political figure and they knew it was only a matter of time before they came under suspicion. Somehow they managed to get permission to go to London, where they had family. (You had to pretend to go for a visit and then never come back, so you forfeited all your property when you left.)
But then they found out that Ganet could not leave: she had to do her compulsory military service when she turned 18 in a few weeks. There was no way around it. So her whole family left, and she stayed behind by herself.
Luckily, Ganet became ill during basic training and was discharged early. She too made her way to Kenya. Once there, she connected with a local groups of displaced Ethiopians and Eritreans, all waiting for news or money or help. That was where she met Sed. They fell in love and promised to marry.
In time, her parents sent her the money to fly to London, and she did. But when she told them about Sed, they forbid her to marry him. So she ran away. Sed secretly sent her the money for airfare to Mexico and arranged contacts there to get her into the US. She crossed the desert with a “coyote.” Ganet is all of maybe 100 lbs., a soft-spoken tiny woman. I asked her, “Weren’t you scared?” and she said yes, but the coyote had some other east African people, so she pretended to be part of their group and felt a little safer. Once they crossed the border, she turned herself in to the authorities and prayed they would allow her to stay. By then, Sed had flown into Seattle and was in the detention center in Tacoma, so she came here to wait for his release.
By the time I met them, they had been married several years, were both working and going to school. They were always cheerful and worked tirelessly. I can’t remember what Sed was doing, but Ganet worked as an aide in a nursing home, washing dirty laundry and scrubbing floors – filthy work with rotten pay, no doubt, but she was happy to do it.
She and Sed lived in a studio apartment in one of those giant complexes behind a strip mall. It was characterless and industrial-looking, but they were thrilled they could walk to the Safeway and to the college. In time, Ganet’s parents had relented and decided Sed was an OK guy, so they had patched things up with her family in London. Last I knew, they had a beautiful little baby girl.
They remain vivid in my mind for a number of reasons. For one thing, they were so beautiful. Both were slender with the rich dark skin of east Africa, and had bone structure Tyra Banks would swoon over. They both always looked so put together, though I know they shopped at thrift stores. They wore a lot of white, which contrasted so beautifully with their dark skin and hair, often sporty-looking things, crisp and colorful. I remember she ironed her jeans. And her hair was always so meticulously coiffed. Even their voices were beautiful; they had the melodious accent of east Africans.
I also remember their gracious good manners. They were kind-hearted and always had a smile ready. I remember them as upbeat, positive people.
They both also seemed to me to have a kind of serenity, an “attitude of gratitude.” Maybe it came from their faith. (They were Christian, some variety of Orthodox. Ethiopia has lots of Christians, they told me, not just Muslims.) As I got to know them better, it seemed to me to come from the fact that they had risked everything to be here and saw themselves as the luckiest people they knew. They believed that nothing that could happen to them here would be as bad as the life they left behind. Here they at least had a chance at a better life. Rather than be downhearted about all the obstacles they faced, they seemed to relish the freedom they had to face this life’s challenges. There was a path forward for them. There was a way for them to get a better life. It was possible. All they wanted was to get a better education, so they could get better jobs — so they could be a regular American couple, pay taxes, have kids in the local schools, and pursue happiness like the rest of us.
Immigrants and refugees are portrayed now as having their hand out, a burden on America’s taxpayers, job-stealers. The opposite is true. They want to contribute, not take. With their ambition and hard work, Sed and Ganet are as American as apple pie. They are the kind of people that enrich America. They are part of our great melting pot. This is what makes America great.

3/25/17 – How did this happen?

As the stories come tumbling out now about Russian interference in our election process, we’re all experiencing the simultaneous relief and horror of knowing it was not our imagination. Yes, something truly terrible happened to our country in November 2016.
It can’t be said enough: We need to understand how this came to pass, so we can learn from our mistakes and make sure it can never happen again. We have to untangle this ugly snarl and backtrack this trail of treason to its source, wherever it goes. Many factors worked together to put this dangerous man in the White House; we have to understand each and every one.

How did he get elected?

I continue to struggle with the emotional backlash of shock. For several months after the election, I suffered from a kind of mental anguish I’d never experienced before. It was a confused numbness, a kind of dazed disbelief. Overnight, I was disconnected from the reality I’ve always taken for granted. As a nation, it seemed to me, we had collectively gone mad. It seemed so unreal. I could only conclude I was completely out of step with America. Or maybe America was not what I thought it was. I suddenly felt like a stranger in my own country.

The ugliest truth of this election, for me, was the fact that so many Americans voted for this despicable man. Who are these people? Why were they so vulnerable to Trump’s brand of snake oil? I’ve tried to understand. I’ve read about how the lower middle-class Americans resented the Wall Street bailouts, how they felt left out of Obama’s efforts to pull America together after the financial meltdown of 2008. I know they object to social programs that help the poor and they’re angry about the disappearance of good jobs. I understand that they saw Clinton as more of the same. OK. But surely that wasn’t it, was it?

Even now, as we are discovering the extent to which Russia manipulated our election, these people continue to support him, gathering at his Nuremberg rallies to wave around their red hats together. How can they continue to defend him, knowing what we are learning now?

I remember the moment I read that Clinton had won by a sizable majority. I was washed with relief, tears of gratitude in my eyes. Thank dog. Not everyone in my country had gone completely nuts.

But it wasn’t just the Trump voters who did this to us. It took the participation of millions of other voters to put Trump in the White House, the ones who didn’t vote for Clinton. They were suckered into helping Trump get elected, the same as the ones who voted for him.

This is my take on it. In those last weeks before the election, I wasn’t really worried. I had faith that the majority of Americans would vote responsibly. I dismissed the possibility of a Trump win. Surely, I felt, we aren’t that stupid! As the pundits and pollsters showed Clinton with a respectable lead, everybody relaxed a little. I confess I was one of them. (Put a big asterisk next to the name of every commentator who predicted Clinton’s win at the time. We need to come back to them.)

But a good-sized chunk of ambivalent voters faced a decision. Sure, they thought Trump was a joke, but they didn’t love Clinton either. Some of these people had even voted for Obama. So they decided to make a statement with their vote — and either stayed home or voted for someone like Jill Stein. They did this not because they wanted Trump for president but because they believed Trump could not win. (Who told them that? Asterisk.)

Then we got the infamous last-minute FBI announcement of possible issues with Clinton’s email. That non-fact was enough to push another chunk of voters to stay home on election day or vote for a third-party candidate. (Put another big asterisk next to James Comey’s name. We need to come back to him too.)

That was enough to put Trump comfortably over the top, thanks to our electoral college system (which has got to go! Asterisk!).

So. It only took 26% of eligible voters to put a president in the White House. That’s all it takes. Stop and think about that for a moment. That is terrifying, and we should never forget it, ever again.

It’s a sad statement that a quarter of eligible American voters are so credulous or desperate or vulnerable to a flim-flam man. But I guess a democracy will always have a bottom of the barrel.

On the flip side of that coin, it also means 74% did NOT vote for Trump. Either they voted for Clinton, stayed home, or voted for somebody else.

So. Three-quarters of eligible voters did not vote for Trump. That sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Three-quarters of us are not nuts. WHEW.

Yet we ended up with this sociopathic narcissist in charge of the most powerful country on earth. Paired up with the Republican wins in Congress, it seemed like the set-up for a bad dystopian sci-fi movie.

Now after he’s had several months in office, he has confirmed everybody’s worst fears. Many Trump fans now regret voting for him. Once you pare away those people, I feel sure the remaining Trump supporters comprise only a very small percentage of Americans. I’m going to say between 15-20%.

That really doesn’t bother me, the idea that 15% of Americans are either deeply racist and misogynistic or are just not very bright. It’s sad but it’s not really a surprise. A democracy is going to have a bottom of the barrel.

So now we confront something we’ve never experienced before. We’ve had to step in and save our country from ruin. Every protest march, rally, and angry town hall meeting has energized me, reinforcing my sense that most Americans know the difference between right and wrong. I’m in love with the EPA scientists busily saving climate data. My new heroes are the rogue park service guys. The journalists facing down the daily onslaught of bald-faced lies. The governors and mayors across the country who are standing up for what’s right. The judges and attorneys who are putting the brakes on the orange maniac. The Democrats in Congress who won’t back down or shut up.

For a while I lost faith in us, but no more. Now, every day I see valiant people fighting back. My faith is restored. No, I am not a stranger in my own country.

Sure, lots of other factors contributed to this disastrous election, not the least of which is Trump’s role model Putin, who has his enemies poisoned, shot, or thrown out of windows. It wasn’t just Flynn and Manafort; I’m sure we’re only now seeing the tip of the Russian iceberg. It took a village to put Trump in the White House: an army of Macedonian teenagers who littered the Internet with outrageous anti-Clinton stories, the readers gullible enough to believe them, Fox News, the Koch Brothers and their ilk, the tea party, advocates of voter suppression and gerrymandering, the NRA gun nuts, all the stubborn racists unmasked during Obama’s presidency. If we’re going to see things clearly, we need to tell it like it is: a Trump supporter is Putin’s accomplice.

But the point is this: that sense of unreality many of us experienced after the election was not baseless. Something indeed was “off” during that campaign. We were being played. Our country was attacked, the same as if bombs had exploded or missiles launched, except this time the attack was political.

So no, I am not out of step with my country. Neither are you. And we are not alone. That is becoming clear.

Big picture-wise, this is what I think we went wrong. Things have been pretty good in America for a while, by and large. So the good people, the smart people, and the reasonable and rational people have all been busy focusing on our private lives, and while we weren’t looking, a lot of bad people got into politics. They seemed to do OK most of the time, so we were content to let them do the job. But now it’s plain to see these people can’t be trusted with the authority we give them.

It stands to reason: If you are a lazy, arrogant, egotistical bullshit artist, you will be strongly attracted to a career in politics. In fact, you could probably predict this, just like you’ll find pedophiles attracted to jobs working with children.

And besides, who else would want to do that job? Administrative drudgery and ego massaging. Ugh! Yes, there are some good people working hard for the common good in Washington, but I think we all know most of the people who go into politics these days expect to benefit from it. I mean benefit with a dollar sign.

This is a problem, and in the future, if we survive this catastrophe, we need to find ways to address this and all the asterisk people named above.

In the meantime, the good people, the smart people, the rational people need to take back the running of the country from the professional hypocrites and bullshit artists there today. We need to supervise them as closely as a contractor you hire to fix your leaky basement. That might mean calling your senator weekly or it might mean running for office. Or maybe it means we have to take steps now to remove people from office who are not doing their job, and not wait for the midterm elections. Many of these people are not special. They aren’t even leaders. They can be replaced.

This is a time when everyone has to choose a side, and not just politicians and bureaucrats — everybody. History will record. If you are not against Trump, then you are for him. If you are not against Trump, you are for Putin. You will spend the rest of your life wearing that label, like a scarlet letter. Nobody gets to be a bystander when there is so much at stake.

I look forward to the day when we can map out how things must change going forward to protect our country from this happening again. Keep notes. Meanwhile, don’t let the bastards get you down.


3/6/17 – Seeing things clearly

As these nightmarish Trumpian weeks unfold around us, with their daily parade of insults, lies, and abuses piling up around America’s ankles, an ugly picture is emerging.

It’s not just Trump being Trump. The man himself has no ideology or aims. He’s merely the mirror to our own worst impulses, dutifully reflecting America’s basest instincts: greed, lust, a seething bottomless pit of ego devouring itself.

Nor is it just Trump’s Cabinet of Doom. These men are today’s robber barons, loosed now into the halls of governance to ride roughshod over our puny little laws, not to lead but to destroy.

And it’s not just the Red Congress, heaped high with ignorant, barely literate Tea Party imbeciles, freed from all restraint, no longer hobbled by any pretense of ethics, justice, or balance.

It’s all of the above, and more: something deeper, going back fifty years to the days when America began to reshape itself in the 1960s and 1970s, when we woke up from the post-war Eisenhower dream and realized we needed to change, to be better than we were. That meant saying no to some people who were used to being in charge. People don’t give up privilege willingly. They didn’t like it one bit, not then and not now.

Some of these men have been waiting for this moment ever since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, when they lost the ability to steal elections.

Every day since then, they have stewed in their anger. They have bitterly resented having to restrain their rape and pillage of America’s natural resources. They were furious that they had to find ways to stop poisoning workers or to dispose of their waste safely. They’ve fumed over every concession made to every union. When their industries have suffered, they blamed the government rather than their greedy CEOs.

They’ve felt justified in cheating every dollar they could get as payback for all the obstacles posed by government regulation and oversight. They’ve deflected blame and demonized government for decades. They turned the word “environmentalist” into a slur and to them a public servant is a tool or a freeloader.

All these years, they have resented every law passed to protect the vulnerable and to provide equal treatment under the law, whether it was funding girls’ sports in schools or equal access for the disabled. They are sick and tired of hearing about rights of rape victims or sexual harassment in the workplace. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Boys will be boys. Get over it.

They’ve tolerated minorities because they’ve had to, but once the coast is clear, they don’t even bother to hide their racism anymore. No, they don’t mind having some minorities around as long as they know their place. And don’t steal the good jobs.

Teachers are lazy and public schools are a huge waste of money. America is a Christian nation and they’re tired of having to hear about Jews and Muslims. Who cares, right?

These predators have been watching for years, waiting for the day when they could stop pretending to care about the common good. They glorify the good old days when the privileged captains of industry could brag openly, without fear of consequences or reprisals, when nobody put the brakes on their money-making schemes. They reminisce fondly about the days when they could operate openly with their dangerous work sites, doing nothing for injured workers, selling poisoned food to hungry people, hiring thugs to beat up union leaders.

These are the men now at work in Trump’s cabinet and our Congress. They’ve waited a long time for this opportunity and they’re not going to wait around for a mandate or permission or even approval.

This is our punishment for having elected Obama. Twice. In every possible case, these men will destroy anything Obama advocated, whether it works or not, whether it was good or not. On principle.

But it’s not just that. We’re being punished for having created obstacles to their greed. We are being punished for having dared to put the brakes on the angry white men with the power and the money.

This is Bannon’s agenda. When he declared he is working to deconstruct the administrative state, this is what he means. No more EPA, no more protecting the environment, no more wildlife, no more public schools, no more protections for minorities. No access to affordable health care. No more unions. A dog-eat-dog world where nobody wins except the rich and powerful.

Since Bannon’s vision falls in line very nicely with the agenda of these heartless, soulless men, they will happily partner up with the white supremacist and his finger puppet in the White House.

A lot of Trump voters thought they were voting for more jobs, but in fact, this is what they got instead. Surprise!

Now if this wasn’t what you signed up for when you voted for these horsemen of the apocalypse, you have one chance to make it right. Join with the rest of us now and see if we can stop this trainwreck before it’s too late.

2/19/17 — The Damned

I keep thinking of this movie I saw a few years ago called “The Damned.” It was made in 1969, directed by Luchino Visconti. The story takes place in Germany in 1934 and concerns a powerful industrialist family in crisis. Chancellor Hitler is aggressively expanding his powers and needs weapons. The Von Essenbecks, who reign over a huge manufacturing empire, can jump on Hitler’s bandwagon and make a fortune by retooling to manufacture arms. Or they can play it safe and keep things status quo.

They sense what is happening to their country; nobody has any illusions about Hitler. But their dilemma is more complicated than simply pro- or anti-Hitler. They each must silently confront the question: Is this going to happen regardless of what we do? And if so, what’s the point of staying on the sidelines, really? Opportunity knocks.

What’s infinitely more important to them are their private motives, their personal stake in what happens next. Each is locked into an epic battle within the family, where all the ugliest wounds that so often fester in powerful families thrive: envy, greed, old grudges, even pure hatred.

There’s a slimy Aryan snake in their midst, a highly placed Nazi who knows exactly how to exploit the family’s weaknesses to set them against one another. He skillfully manages to put the good ones out of the way while manipulating the bad ones. In the end, all the dominoes fall perfectly, Hitler gets the guns he needs for the Night of the Long Knives, and Hitler has now consolidated power neatly and tidily.

Along the way we have the full gamut of perversions, just in case we missed the part about the moral vacuum: incest, murder, suicides, pedophilia, orgies, everything from soup to nuts.

The movie is not great cinema, as such; some parts are way over-the-top and it badly needed re-editing, but taken as a whole, it’s a fascinating and chilling glimpse into the situation we face now. Although we know these people are not good role models (to put it mildly), we also see how your own personal situation can back you into a corner where you feel you don’t have the luxury of ethics. You have to take any advantage you can get. Many Trump voters no doubt felt the same.

Those in positions of power, wealth, and influence in this country have to decide now. Trump is opening the door for the rich to get catastrophically richer. I’m waiting for a company or individual to stand up and say, “We’re not going to pollute the water, even though we could.” Imagine if the stockholders for the oil pipeline companies pressured the company to re-route around Native American land? Imagine if a major pharmaceutical company slashed the price of a life-saving drug because it was the right thing to do? Imagine if the Secretary of Education stepped down voluntarily, realizing she was not the best person for the job?

Why is this so unthinkable? When did civic duty become a joke? When did we start glamorizing tax cheats? What will it take for us to quit worshiping selfishness?

BTW, this movie is based on a real family and their company, still operating today.


2/11/17 – Impeach now

There really is no point waiting around; we already have heaps of stuff to charge him with. I’ve decided rather than focusing on a specific issues, I’m going to skip straight ahead and get to most important task: getting this delusional narcissist out of the White House as soon as possible, lawfully.

The law provides for this. It’s time now for us to figure out how it works and make use of it. The longer we pussy-foot around, the more damage he will do. He’s had plenty of time to show his true colors; there is nothing else we need to know.

2/7/17 – OK, now what?

I was feeling pretty good one night a week ago, and decided this blog should focus on helpful strategies for preserving mental health in the time of Trump. It’s not my intention to exclude other topics; I still need to vent. But we all need to resist the impulse to wallow in despair. I continually find myself thinking back to past generations and the resolute courage they had to have to live through the Depression and WWII. OK, maybe my grandfather locked himself in the bathroom and bawled his head off twice a day, but he made it through and so can we.

Friday night I went to a rather intimate protest/rally downtown. We were lucky to get to sit under an awning to keep out of rain. The wet sidewalks reflected the colorful lights around us as one by one, colorful people stood in front of a microphone and spoke from their hearts. The first guy was a homeless man who talked about how humans have drifted so far away from their true nature. A software programmer from Iran. A middle-aged guy originally from India who talked about Gandhi. A young man dressed in a flamboyant red, white, and blue ensemble who relates very strongly to a fictional superhero. I was a little afraid he was a neo-Nazi by his boots, but he gave a very passionate speech using the words of Captain America and it was beautiful. A German woman rushed up and said, “I grew up in Germany and what happened there will never happen here because of YOU!” Tiny high-schoolers with colorful hair talked about LGBT rights. Towards the end, the Indian guy returned to tell a dirty joke, which nobody got. It was awesome.  I loved those people so much. I wanted to give each one of them a hug. I clapped and hooted for every single one, even the ones I didn’t agree with.

I am so proud that it was my state that stood up to this reckless, arbitrary, cruel and bigoted order within a matter of days. For me this was another turning point. It has taken us some time, but the rational people in America are pulling themselves together and getting the resistance moving forward. I think most people were not prepared for such an immediate assault from Trump. It has taken us a few weeks to see that our worst fears are indeed coming true: He is a loose cannon, he is doing everything possible to undermine our system of government, merely to help the ultra-rich get richer. Anybody still defending Trump at this point is morally corrupt, stupid, or willfully blind. I feel strongly that we should ignore those people. Arguing with them is a waste of time. They are not rational. Like other extremist groups in the US, we have to put up with them, but we certainly don’t have to pay attention to them either.

For the last week, I have been sifting through information available online trying to devise a strategy for engagement for the next four years. I think most Americans are like me in this: “What can I do??” I’ve tried to narrow it down to a handful of groups that look rational and action-oriented (rather than just complaining). I did actually call my Senators last week to urge them to do anything in their power about the immigration ban.

The two sides are taking shape: on our side are the governors and mayors, a few Democract members of Congress, the responsible press, many federal employees, and at least some of the judiciary. Given enough time, Trump and his cronies will have time to replace many of those people, so we have to move fast. It is an epic battle. As with so many things these days, if there wasn’t so much at stake, it would be entertaining. Unfortunately, it’s all a matter (literally) of life and death.