Breaking Faux News: Joint Session of Congress Erupts in Brawl. Numerous Injuries Reported.

Washington DC, January 16, 2017. In one of the most unusual occurrences in U.S. history, a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives this afternoon resulted in fist fighting between scores of elected leaders on both sides of the aisle. Multiple injuries were reported, and several officials have been hospitalized though none of the injuries appear to be life threatening.

The reason for the melee was an argument over the difference in meaning between “shithole” and “shithouse.”

Several days ago President Trump was reported by Dick Durbin, U.S. Senator from Illinois, as referring to virtually all African countries and Haiti as “shitholes.” This charge was vigorously denied by two of the Republican Senators, David Perdue (GA) and Tom Cotton (Ark), who were present at the meeting and have categorically denied that the President said anything of the sort or made any comments critical of any country. They have called Senator Durbin a liar and have demanded investigations by the Senate Ethics Committee. Some Republicans are calling for Durbin to be removed from office. Others are calling him a traitor.

This weekend in interviews by the press and comments on televised talk shows, the Republican Senators confirmed that the word the President used was not “shitholes” but rather “shithouses” and repeated their demands for Durbin to be censored by the Senate. Senator Durbin, however, stands by his assertion that the term was “shitholes” and appears to be backed up by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (SC), who was also at the meeting.

In a news conference this morning, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, explained why this is important. “What you have to understand,” she said , “Is that there is a huge difference between a shithole and a shithouse. A shithouse is simply a bathroom, and as you may know some of Trump’s supporters refer to bathrooms as shithouses. That is why he used the term. But for the President this is not a derogatory term at all but actually one of endearment. Have you seen any of the bathrooms in Trump Tower in New York or the Trump Hotel in DC? They are literally gold plated. Gold plated everything, even toilet seats. What is more, the toilets in Trump Hotels have water sprays that spray up on your, err, bottom just like they do in Japan. Trump loves these toilets. People pay big money for this. They are the hallmark of his hotels and luxury resorts and to even suggest that calling another country a shithouse is an insult just shows how dumb Democrats are and how they don’t understand the American people. Trump’s supporters know this and that is why his ratings skyrocketed after this comment came out in the press. On the other hand, a shithole is, well, a shithole, and President Trump would never use a term like this since he has never used profanity. This is why we are asking for impeachment proceedings to begin against Little Dickey Durbin.”

These comments were not received well by Democrats, who described the situation as a constitutional crisis and demanded a joint session of Congress to resolve the matter before it gets further out of hand. The White House, hoping this would enable the crisis to pass, granted the demand. The unusual joint session started this afternoon at 1:00P.M. The meeting was chaired by the Vice President, who opened his remarks by saying that the purpose of the event was to once and for all settle the difference between a shithole and a shithouse and that a voice vote would be taken at the end of the meeting after the presentations by five experts in the field of flush consulting.

Before Pence could finish his remarks, however, chanting broke out on the Republican side with virtually all Republican elected officials screaming at the top or their lungs, “ShitHOUSE, ShitHOUSE, ShitHOUSE!”

Seconds later the Democratic side erupted with chants of “ShitHOLE. ShitHOLE, ShitHOLE!”

Chaos then consumed the chamber as the Vice President banged his gavel and unsuccessfully demanded decorum. Moments later fighting broke out in the aisles. Emergency calls were made first to the Capitol Police, then the National Guard and finally the U.S. Army. Order was finally restored at 3:00 P.M. but not before scores of Congressmen and Senators had been taken to local hospitals. Details are not yet available regarding the casualties.

Trump tweeted during the melee, “Kick it to ‘em, gang! Shove ‘em down a shithole.” The tweet was retracted by Admiral Kelly seconds after it was posted.

There are reports that across the country rallies for shitholes and rallies for shithouses will be taking place this evening. As a precautionary matter, most governors have put their national guard units on high alert. More information will be forthcoming as it becomes available.



Faux News Special: Trump’s Remarks Ignite International Crisis

Washington, DC , January 13, 2018. President Trump’s remarks that the U.S. would take action against the immigrants from “shithole countries” has set off an international firestorm in a world-wide effort to determine which countries are “shithole countries.” Except for Norway, world leaders in virtually every country are scrambling to assure their citizens—and those who have immigrated to the U.S. or have ancestors who have immigrated to the U.S.—that they are not shitholes. The White House reports that the phones have been ringing off the hook with calls from worried leaders and ambassadors.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded at a hastily called news conference this morning that the President specifically singled out only a few countries as definitely being shitholes, “You know, “ she said, “the usual suspects. All the ones in Africa and South America, the Caribbean and definitely North Korea and maybe all the other ones in Asia except for Japan and South Korea and maybe some others.” When asked by a reporter if she could provide a specific list, she replied that no one in the White House actually knew the names of most of the countries in these locations but they were working hard to put together a list. She added that she could only name one country, Mexico, which she said would remain at the top of the shithole list until it paid for the Wall. She said North Korea was in a close second place. When asked if the President had ever visited any of the countries in Africa or South America, she responded that the President does not visit shitholes.

Confirmed reports indicate the assurances from the White House have not provided much comfort to world leaders. Prime Minister Teresa May called the White House to ask if Trump had cancelled his trip to the UK to dedicate the new U.S. embassy because Great Britain was a shithole country. President Macron called to ask if France was in this category because it supported the Paris Climate Accord. Angela Merkel of Germany called to see if they were on the list because they have welcomed immigrants. Justin Trudeau called from Canada to ask if they were shitholes because they welcome distressed Democrats fleeing from the U.S. The situation was only aggravated this morning when Trump tweeted, “Shithole or no shithole? It depends.” In a later tweet he said he would let people know when he got around to it if they were shitholes or not, and for now there was only one other country besides Norway that he would say was definitely not on the list and that was Russia.

Moments later Erna Solberg, the President of Norway, tweeted to the President. “Thanks but no thanks. Do you think anyone from my country would move to the U.S.? Like you, we avoid shitholes.”




Let Us Now Praise Immigrant People!

Immigration is again back on the front burner. The fate of the “Dreamers” is still uncertain as are a whole bunch of other issues like who gets into the U.S. and who gets locked up and/or thrown out.

Embry and I have close relationships with two immigrant families, each of whom lived for a time in the basement apartment of close friends of ours. The first family is the Dreamer family. The husband came here from Mexico when he was 15, spoke minimal English, and had only a third grade education. He managed to find a job in construction in Richmond, and moved to the Washington area to be with his now wife, who came to the U.S. about 15 years ago from Central America and is now one of Washington’s “super nannies.” By studying hard, he was able to get his GED, now speaks fluent English, and was awarded Dreamer status several years ago. Four years ago he started his own construction company, which rehabilitates and remodels old houses, and has done well enough to permit him to purchase and rennovate his new home, which now looks like something out of Architectural Digest. They have a six-year-old son. They are involved in their local community, love the United States, and remain very close friends with our friends and with us. They are like family.

And they are terrified that if their Dreamer status is removed they will be deported.

Think about what they have accomplished and how they have played the hand they were dealt. They are the quintessential American success story. Theirs is also the immigrant story. Of course, not all immigrant stories turn out like this one, but a lot do. Trump can say whatever he wants to about making America great again. Immigrants are what made America great in the first place and are still doing it.

The second family is the refugee family. They immigrated to the U.S. about a year ago as part of the U.N. refugee resettlement program. Their experience has given me a new understanding of what some people, especially refugees, go through to make it to the U.S. and what they do when they get here. The husband is from Afghanistan and fled the country when the Taliban was in charge. Because schools were closed, he never learned to read or write. He opposed the Taliban and to avoid being killed escaped to Iran where he met the woman whom he would later marry. His father-in-law did not approve of his daughter marrying an Afghan, and his constant threats resulted in husband and wife fleeing on foot with a toddler in tow across the mountains to Turkey. They struggled to survive in Turkey for five years where they became part of a large refugee population hoping to find permanent homes. They were finally granted U.N. refugee status and arrived in the U.S. with two daughters—a two-year-old and a six-year-old, no money, no possessions and no connections or friends in the U.S. When our friends offered their tiny basement apartment to be available for refugee resettlement, they moved in.

Embry and I each spend a day every week driving the mother to English classes and delivering the toddler to kindergarten along with numerous trips to the pharmacy, the social services office to try to straighten out problems associated with refugee support, and to take her and the children to various doctors. Despite some health issues, she is always cheerful, has a twinkle in her eye, and with her limited English lets us know how grateful she is.

When I think what it would have been like for Embry and me when we were young parents to flee to Afghanistan with no money, no job, no friends, and no ability to speak or write their language, I am in awe of this family.

What stands out most about the refugee family is their determination, energy, and grit. They will not take no for an answer. Within the first couple of months, the father managed to get a driver’s license, buy a cheap car from the imam at the local mosque where the father was a dishwasher, then land on his own a job as a welder paying $14 an hour. (He had been a welder in Afghanistan.)

I wondered how anyone who could not read in any language or speak English could possibly get a drivers license. I found out how this worked when last fall his wife directed me to take her to the Department of Motor Vehicles where she met for the first time a Farsi translator, whom she had paid $175 to assist her. The DMV test is oral, and the translator repeats in Farsi the questions asked by the public official and then translates in English the answers of the Farsi-speaking applicant. The translator had two other clients that day as well and was racing back and forth to do the translations. When the test was completed and I asked if the refugee had passed, the translator said, “ Of course she passed. All my clients do.” When I asked incredulously what the score was, she said she did not know because the results weren’t yet available. A few minutes later the results came in, and our refugee had a perfect score.

So in a few months this family was able to solve on their own the car challenge and the job challenge.

The next challenge was the housing situation. Their apartment was very small, only about 500 square feet, and cold in the winter. However, it was affordable at about $500/month  after taking into account in-kind housecleaning assistance. Despite their friendship with our friends’ family, they wanted something bigger and better. No way, I concluded. His income of $14/ hour ($28,000/year) would allow the family to afford a unit renting for $800-$850 a month. The cheapest two-bedroom in the working class neighborhood they lived in was about $1,500 a month. I had contacted many apartment complexes in the area months before for another refugee family, and the leasing agents all said the same thing: The applicant had to show proof of an income of $40,000 a year to qualify for a two-bedroom unit. No exceptions.

You can imagine my surprise last week when the wife directed me to the same apartment complex a few blocks from our friends’ house, the one I had visited before and where the other refugee family now lived—but in their case the family’s church sponsors were paying the rent. She said she was going to pick up the key. “What on earth could she be thinking?” I asked myself.

To my astonishment we were greeted by a smiling leasing agent, who (after I paid the deposit) produced a signed lease and a key to a unit renting for $1,300 (discounted from the original asking price of $1,500). I could not help asking the agent if they had qualified financially. He nodded and produced documents showing pay stubs averaging $800/ week ($41,600/year). He added, “Yeah, I know the guy makes only $14/hour, but, hey, he works 60 hours a week. “

Naturally I wanted to see the apartment. Before we could enter the vacant unit, the wife said I had to take her home first, which I did. She scampered down the stairs to her basement apartment and returned moments later smiling and carrying a beautiful, leather-bound book in her hands. It was the Koran.

When we got to the apartment, she slowly opened the door while I stood in the doorway. She looked carefully around the bare living room and then gently placed the Koran in the center of a windowsill facing east. She stood silently in front of it for a brief moment and then motioned for me to enter. They had now solved the housing challenge.

All these obstacles they overcame on their own through uncompromising determination.

This is not to suggest that they are home free or that the Dreamer family is home free. Lots more challenges remain. Life is hard. For some it is much harder than for others.

But can you imagine yourself playing the cards that these two families have been dealt? Their stories are the immigrant story. They are what make America great.


Great News for Aging

You may not be old or you may be old but don’t think of yourself as such, but it really does not matter. If you are lucky, you will be old someday. There is great news for those of us who are old, whether we like to think of ourselves as such or not.

(In fact some people are already old in their twenties or thirties. Others never see themselves as old. My friend, tennis icon, Allie Ritzenberg, just turned 99. He still drives, plays tennis, cooks his own (gourmet) meals, and lives in a house with breathtaking views of the Potomac River. He says he thought about moving into a retirement community but is “not ready yet.” At his 99th birthday party he was complaining about getting “only” a seven year extension on his drivers license.)

Here is the great news for us “old folks”: We have a new name.

Remember how hard it used to be to come up with a name for us? There are so many names that have been used to describe us. Here are a few: “aged,” “retiree,” “senior” (or “senior citizen”), “elderly,” “oldster,” “septuagenarian” (or “octogenarian,” “nonagenarian” or “centenarian”), “old codger,” “geezer,” “old coot,” “old biddy,” “golden-ager,” “old-timer,” “old fogey,” “old bat,” “geriatric,” “pops,” and last but not least “old fart.”

I don’t know about you, but except for “geezer,” I never felt any of these names aptly applied to me.

As many of you know, my career was spent in the field of what is called “retirement housing” or “senior living,” and which I confess I have lovingly referred to from time to time as “geezer housing.” “Retirement Housing” and “Senior Living” aren’t all that bad as names but never seemed to get it just right. I kept thinking we should have better words for people who are in their (our) 70s and 80s.

Well, now there is one. We are “Perennials.” This appeared in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post a couple of days ago. How clever, I thought. It sounds a lot like “Millennials,” who are getting all the attention nowadays, and yet is so apt for us survivors. We who are in our 70s and 80s or more and who do survive from one year to the next just keep coming back like the daffodils and tulips every spring. We are in fact “perennials.” I do not know if the name will stick or if anyone will remember it a few days from now, but it sure beats “geezer.”

A Child’s Christmas in Maplewood

This essay, written by Jasper Ellis,  age 12, and the oldest of our four grandchildren, was his gift to us this Christmas.

One Christmas was so much like another in those years in the New Jersey suburban town that I could never remember if it snowed at all or if it was a cold gray Christmas (the latter being the most common due to the fact that we were in New Jersey).

In my mind, all the Christmases are rolled together like the cinnamon rolls we once ate on Christmas Eve, one big, delicious, fond memory. It was that same Christmas Eve (or maybe it wasn’t I can’t quite remember) that the house nearly burned down.

It was a typical New Jersey winter afternoon, mid 50’s, and I was playing with my cousins in the living room, exhausted but still running on that Christmas Eve adrenalin every child gets from the first time they recieve presents to the last time, and maybe forever after that too. Parker, who was the youngest of the cousins at that time, was about to make his lego-man blast off into the black skies of whatever he imagined space looked like then when my aunt cursed.

I paid no attention to it, because this was her fifth time to to speak a foul word today (and I don’t blame her either, because the amount of people we were hosting at her house this evening was more than I could count, even at 9). I believe about a third of my curse vocabulary has been learned at those family Christmases. But then my aunt spoke the two words that turned my blood, and certainly the other cousins as well, to ice.

“THE TURKEY!” she shrieked.

Every child in every household who’s ever had a Christmas turkey knows that it is the most delicious and most important item on the Christmas menu. All chaos broke loose.

We were given the scoop when my father and uncle came home, both looking the way that kids sometimes look when they’re in trouble. The sheepish grin. Apparently my uncle had locked the door to the house we were using to cook the turkey (for some reason we needed an extra oven) and now we could break open a window and get inside or, the better of the two from my opinion, watch this awesome mansion burn down to the ground (in my defense I had imagined it looking really cool). Over the next hour or so everyone was stressed out about the turkey except for the kids, because we at some point had lost interest and went to play outside.

I think Parker and I were playing baseball and the girls something along the lines of house, when we heard a loud cheer from inside. We all went inside to investigate.

When I asked my father what was the cause of all this, he yelled joyfully, “The turkey has been saved!” and that was that.

Christmas dinner was always my favorite meal relating to Christmas. My plate would look a bit like this: On one side a gigantic mass of red cranberry sauce, and on the other, there was a mountain of mashed potatoes that had been drowned mercilessly in a river of gravy. In between the two monster helpings of food there would be a small slice of turkey.

I didn’t really eat much meat on Christmas Eve, because of that nervous apprehension that falls over children when christmas nears, but I did eat a lot of other foods.

After the Christmas dinner was finished, we had our annual reading of A Child’s Christmas in Wales before going to bed. Then came the undebated favorite part of every child’s Christmas. The presents. I always woke up early. There has never been a time where I haven’t woken up too early on Christmas. Our family had a rule that no one was allowed out of our rooms until seven. That rule was complete torture. I would like to think that they were trying to teach us a lesson of patience, but the waiting only made us more impatient. Before I learned how to read there was nothing I could do. I would just sit up in bed and stare at the far wall, that nervous excitement welling up inside me like a tidal wave. Once it was seven o’clock we would have to wait a couple more minutes for everyone to wake up, and then our ceremony would begin.

We would walk slowly down the stairs, and then turn into the living room to see a room filled with presents, and then was when the nervous excitement broke, and it was all joy. Of course, no one dared speed up the pace, we would copy exactly what the adults were doing, as if we were afraid that the presents would disappear if we did anything out of line. We would whisper amongst ourselves as we creeped agonizingly slow towards the true glory of Christmas.

Once within five feet of the gifts, we could no longer resist. We would rush to the pile of presents that were ours and sit down. We would wait for the parents to open them. By the time we were sitting down the parents were still near the bottom of the stairs (it’s a wonder that people with such long legs have such a slow pace). Once they sat down they would call for Parker to open his presents first. That was the tradition in the family.

Being the oldest in the family I would have to wait the longest. When my turn finally came to open my presents, I was nearly bursting with excitement. Toys were being played with all around me, and I was ready to see what mine were. As usual, I would be filled with joy upon seeing anything that was mine and new, especially when it was on my list. I will always remember the savage joy that I got when tearing the ripping paper off a present. 

The toys (it never mattered what they really were) were always, in my opinion, the best part about Christmas. It was something about the magic and puzzlement of receiving presents from someone unknown to you. It could make you believe that you could have an abnormal life, and that there was something truly special in this world after all.

Christmas night was sometimes even more celebrated than Christmas Eve. There was lots of music, most of it boring, but some of it danceable, and the children would put away their toys and try in vain to socialize with the many vague relatives in the gathering. The adults would drink eggnog spiked with rum, and milk around trying to cover up the disappointments of the party’s turnout. After the party (and sometimes during) the children, including me, would be put to bed. I would lay on the pull out sofa (it was always a pullout sofa) and thank the magic, or whatever it was, for another satisfying Christmas. Then, slowly, my child’s mind would drift off to other topics and I would gradually fall asleep.