Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Thanksgiving Blog

Now that Jennifer Grey is the champion on Dancing with the Stars and I don't have to rant and rave about the Palins, I thought I'd try pondering something a little lighter than usual.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving retains its majestic ability to unite family and friends while enjoying the chance to break bread (and wishbones) together. Thanksgiving causes us to pause and take measure of the blessings we share and the people in our lives we share the blessings with. Religious dogma and overbearing commercialism are largely absent from the Thanksgiving celebration. For an entire day, I am in a wonderful, reflective, contented mood, eager to share my high spirits with my loved ones and my liked ones.

This year, the celebration started a day early. Peter Porta and I had lunch together and I'm still giggling 8 hours later.

I am thankful that I met Peter in February, 1979. I was a new associate at the Larkin, Hoffman law firm working in the corporate department. Peter and his partner, Gene Morescki, operated an Olivetti dealership, selling and maintaining office equipment. In 1979, "office equipment" consisted primarily of typewriters. I was sent by my boss to meet Peter and Geno at their company, Calc-Type Office Equipment, Inc., to review an important contract they had called about. The encounter, taking place merely 6 weeks after commencing my career in private practice, launched a relationship that, despite current geographic separation, has remained steadfast for nearly 32 years.

I know that there was some concern on the part of my clients when we first met. They had been in business together since 1973 and had prospered. Peter was in charge of the service department; Geno was in charge of sales. Peter is Danish, having immigrated to the U.S. in 1965 to work for Control Data. He barely spoke English at the time. Geno is Italian, from Springfield, Illinois. A suburb of Chicago as Geno tells it. I was not yet 27. And I was there to tell them how to run their business.

Peter set the ground rules early on. When an "uhm" creeped into my vocabulary, he interrupted me. "No 'uhms'. I'm not paying for 'uhms'." He did it in 1979. He did it at lunch today. To make sure I did not take myself too seriously, Peter let me know that he was sure I had acquired my law license from an offer on a matchbook cover. Today, I made the same observation about his Coast Guard certification to pilot watercraft for hire. It was a memory thread that took us back to the beginning.

Peter is very proud of his Danish heritage and loved the fact that he had a Jewish lawyer. He grew up in Copenhagen during World War II and often related the story of the Danes standing up to the German occupiers, refusing to turn over Danish Jews to the Nazis. When I brought Peter to a friend's shop to purchase a new camera, Peter started haggling over price. A bit of an embarrassment, I pulled Peter aside. "I'm trying to chew him down on the price," Peter explained to me. He was horrified when I explained to him that the expression was actually "Jew him down" and was a slur related to a common stereotype of Jewish business practices. He had no idea. English was a second (or third) language; religious tolerance was part of his core.

Besides his liberal religious views, Peter acquired other skills on the streets of Copenhagen as a child. He is a master at sleight of hand and would often entertain me, other bar comrades and good-looking waitresses with tricks he learned as a coping mechanism during the Occupation. Quarters magically disappeared no matter how closely you watched what you knew was coming. Cigarettes rolled across high tops ahead of Peter's extended fingers despite the lack of contact. I was reminded of his remarkable talent today at lunch when he asked me to guess which outstretched fist held the Viagra he now needs to keep his girlfriend happy. One fist was clenched completely; one fist had a thumb pointing straight up.

Peter has always been an incurable flirt. I am not sure if it was/is the heavy Danish accent, the Viking physique, the infectious smile or the irresistible combination of bravado and self-deprecation, but he ALWAYS could have gotten the girl. I watched the master as countless beauties were asked if they were looking for a husband (or Sugar Daddy). If "yes", perfect. "I'm a husband (or Sugar Daddy)!" Peter would proclaim. If he noticed a guy hanging out in a restaurant/bar with more than a couple of women, Peter would interrupt the festivities to advise him that he wasn't being fair. "Some guys don't have any women and you have (fill in the number). You need to learn to share."

There are many Peter Porta stories that bring a smile to my face. Perhaps the most legendary are his encounters with the police involving his driving. Peter loved fast, European cars. He typically drove a big Mercedes sedan. And he drove it regularly to his boat moored in Superior, Wisconsin, a few hours north of Minneapolis.

Examples of Peter's bravado with the police:

1. Peter gets pulled over as he's leaving Duluth on Interstate 35W. "Mr. Porta," explained the officer, "the 55 mile an hour speed limit is designed to save lives." Peter responded, "why don't you just make people walk, then nobody would die?" "And right there", Peter explains to anyone hearing the story, "I knew I was in trouble."

2. Peter gets pulled over for speeding. The officer notices the radar detector mounted on the windshield. "Why do you need that?", asks the officer. Peter (I'll try to do the transliteration of his English): "Waall, I'm a faux'n'er in your country 'n' I'm always gettin' lost. 'N' you guys ah always hiding behind billbods 'n' I cahn't find you. So I use dis detectah to find da police 'n' get help." The officer let him go without a ticket.

3. Peter gets pulled over for speeding. Officer: "Mr. Porta, do you know how fast you were going?" Peter: "This is a $40,000 Mercedes. They come with speedometers."

4. And my favorite. Peter was driving north on the freeway to Superior after work on a Friday evening. Cars were zooming by him but, nonetheless, Peter is pulled over for speeding. "Why are you picking on me?" Peter asked the officer. "Everyone is passing me!" The officer, who clearly had heard this question before, responded "Have you ever been fishing? You don't catch them all, do you?" Without missing a beat, Peter looked at the patrolman and told him, "No, but I throw back some of the ones I catch." The officer broke out in laughter and let Peter go without a ticket.

Peter lives in Johnson City, Tennessee now. He moved there from his first retirement home on Florida's Gulf Coast to get away from the hurricanes. At 78, he rides BMW motorcycles, touring the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail. He averages 4-5 years with each girlfriend before moving on to a new relationship that offers the physical passion his Viking blood needs to survive. It is likely significant that he remains friends with his old loves.

We sealed our own relationship permanently in 1982 when he watched his young Jewish attorney beat up on Olivetti Corporation during a business trip to Westchester County. After that, in Peter's mind, there was nothing I could not do. Olivetti no longer exists as an independent entity. Calc-Type is now C-T Technologies and continues to office out of the building Peter and Geno purchased along the forthcoming Interstate 394 in the early 1980's.

I'm not 27 anymore. I'm nearly 59. As I've expressed several times in earlier Prairie Pondering writings, I cherish the relationships I've been fortunate enough to establish over the years in so many different circumstances. The pure joy of reconnecting with Peter today reminds me of how lucky I am to have such a vibrant tapestry of friendships, experiences and opportunities.

Let's all enjoy Thanksgiving, 2010, and, for at least the day, focus on the wonders that abound in our lives, drawing well-being from all we have to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Broken: From Watergate to yellowcake

Emperor Bush was naked, folks. It's about time we admitted it and just dealt with it and its consequences.

Broken: From Watergate to yellowcake

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

For Special Friends of Rick

If you are not an animal person, don't read this. You would not understand.

We lost a member of the family tonight. Rick, our 27 year old Arabian gelding had to be euthanized. He was suffering from an intestinal blockage. After two days it was clear that it was not going to get better. He had developed several melanomas, not uncommon for white horses, and with no assurance that he would ever recover, it was time to relieve him of his pain and say "goodbye".

I have never written a eulogy to a horse before. But, as noted, Rick was a member of the family. We acquired him in 1990, just after Deb's first horse was kicked by another and was put down. Rick was 7, a spirited young gelding, with personality to spare and the ability to lift Deb from the emotional devastation of losing Aladdin's Glory.

Rick soon became Ellie's regular ride as she began her Pony Club career. The photos of Rick nuzzling Ellie when she was 4 and again when she was 13 are among my favorites.

In sixth grade, Ellie's best friend Laura Sedgwick was killed when her horse fell back on her during a weekly riding lesson. Ellie was not in the arena with Laura that Saturday morning; we were in South Dakota with Deb's parents for Easter weekend. After the incident, I asked Rick to take care of my baby and keep her safe. He agreed. I thanked him tonight for keeping his word.

Rick was everyone's favorite. He was so well-tempered and forgiving, novice riders and lifelong equestrians alike were comfortable with Rick. Jon Weiss' granddaughter makes an annual pilgrimage from Atlanta each summer to see and ride Ricky. When I put her on another horse in August, she'd have none of it. One of Deb's friends loved coming to Meadow Breeze Farm to saddle up Rick and take him trail riding with one of the boarders. She viewed it as part of her physical therapy. Rick was the horse visitors to the farm were given to ride. On the rare occasion when I partake, Rick was my mount.

20 years is a long time to spend with an animal. As I mourn the loss of Meadow Breeze Farm's senior resident, I take comfort from knowing that he was well cared for and greatly loved, which is all he ever asked for in return for his gentle demeanor and nurturing disposition.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hi, I'm a Tea-Partier

I am sorry I didn't post this a week ago. This is what we're dealing with.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

We Had it Coming

The 2010 mid-term elections are pretty much over. As a Minnesotan, I am reminded of a joke I first heard 48 years ago, when I was 10 years old:

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
"Governor", who?
I don't know. I'm from Minnesota.

The race for governor will work itself out, although not before the Republicans drag out the recount in order to run the table in January when they control both houses of the Legislature and Governor Pawlenty remains in office as part of the State Constitution's mandate.

In the meantime, I thought I'd do a quick post-mortem on the mid-term results. A fraction of the voters who elected Barack Obama in 2008, expressed their frustration with the Chosen One's inability to snap his fingers and return America to the days of Bill Clinton and their record surpluses. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. We elected a community organizer with no executive experience to the highest office of the land in 2008 and failed to protest when he sat around the White House playing with his admittedly adorable children and his foreign-bred puppy.

Perhaps if he had at least tried to accomplish something in the first two years of his term, the electorate, which pays attention to such things and is prone to reward politicians who make an effort to address our challenges, would have rewarded him by supporting the Democrats who make up his team.

I searched and searched on the Internet, looking for anything that demonstrated that the President was not spending his days golfing. The results were pretty sad. This is all I could find:

1. Issued executive order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

2. Ended Bush administration’s CIA program of ‘enhanced interrogation methods’ by requiring that the Army field manual be used as the guide for terrorism interrogations.

3. Increased minority access to capital.

4. Established Credit Card Bill of Rights, preventing credit card companies from imposing arbitrary rate increases on customers.

5. Health Care Reform Bill, preventing insurance companies from denying insurance because of a pre-existing condition.

6. Health Care Reform Bill, allowing children to remain covered by their parents’ insurance until the age of 26.

7. Tax cuts for up to 3.5 million small businesses to help pay for employee health care coverage.

8. Tax credits for up to 29 million individuals to help pay for health insurance.

9. Expansion of Medicaid to all individuals under age 65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

10. Require health insurance plans to disclose how much of the premium actually goes to patient care.

11. Added $4.6 billion to the Veterans Administration budget to recruit and retain more mental health professionals.

12. Significantly increased funding for the Violence Against Women Act.

13. Lifted restrictions granting Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.

14. Eliminated subsidies to private lender middlemen of student loans and protect student borrowers.

15. Increased funding for national parks and forests by 10%.

16. Significantly expanded Pell grants, which help low-income students pay for college.

17. Expanded hate crime law in the US to include sexual orientation through the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

18. Provided stimulus funding to boost private sector spaceflight programs.

19. Appointed nation’s first Chief Technology Officer.

20. Signed financial reform law establishing a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to look out for the interests of everyday Americans.

21. Signed financial reform law requiring lenders to verify applicants’ credit history, income, and employment status.

22. Signed financial reform law prohibiting banks from engaging in proprietary trading (trading the bank’s own money to turn a profit, often in conflict with their customers’ interests).

23. Signed financial reform law allowing shareholders of publicly traded companies to vote on executive pay.

24. Cut prescription drug cost for Medicare recipients by 50%.

25. Provided $12.2 Billion in new funding for Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

26. Extended Benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

27. Appointed more openly gay officials than any other president in U.S. history.

28.The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009: a $789 billion economic stimulus plan.

29. Created more private sector jobs in 2010 than during entire Bush years.

30. Voluntary disclosure of White House visitors for the first time in U.S. history.

31. Appointed first Latina to the US Supreme Court.

32. Promoted social responsibility through creation of, a national database of volunteer opportunities.

33. Reversed ‘global gag rule’, allowing US aid to go to organizations regardless of whether they provide abortions.

34. Signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, giving the FDA the authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of tobacco for the first time.

35. Signed New START Treaty - nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia.

36. Increased average fuel economy standards from 27.5mpg to 35.5mpg, starting in 2016.

37. Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers.

38. Provided travel expenses to families of fallen soldiers to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover Air Force Base.

39. Reversed the policy of barring media coverage during the return of fallen soldiers to Dover Air Force Base.

40.Launched to track spending from the Recovery Act, providing transparency and allowing the public to report fraud, waste, or abuse.

41. Provided the Department of Veterans Affairs with more than $1.4 billion to improve services to America’s Veterans.

42. Signed the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, which provides health care to 11 million kids -- 4 million of whom were previously uninsured.

43. Repealed Bush era restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

44. Signed the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, the first piece of comprehensive legislation aimed at improving the lives of Americans living with paralysis.

45. Developed stimulus package, which includes approx. $18 billion for non-defense scientific research and development.

46. Signed the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act to stop fraud and wasteful spending in the defense procurement and contracting system.

It's too bad. I had such high hopes in November, 2008, that we had elected someone who could do more than spend 33% of his time away from the White House relaxing at Camp David or on a ranch in Texas. Maybe things will get better when Governor Palin gets elected to the presidency in 2012.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Time's Up

I have been absent from Prairie Pondering for far too long. I apologize to any who care. I have not been silent for lack of opinions to express. Rather, I have been too demoralized by the hijacking of the democratic process since January, 2009 to find the will to express myself publicly.

I have sat mostly in silence while the GOP adopted a strategy of stonewalling any effort by the Obama Administration and its supporters in Congress to carry out the policies approved by an overwhelming majority of the American electorate in 2008.

I have stewed mutely while, for example, Commandant McConnell led the opposition to the President's announced plan to close the prison at Guantanamo, then belittled the Commander in Chief for his inability to get things done.

I have exercised my eyebrows and neck muscles, but not my typing fingers, listening to FAUX News and its anointed cadre of self-promoting political charlatans repeat one big lie after another with its intended effect.

Not tonight. Time's up. There's an election tomorrow and I cannot allow it to occur without encouraging my like-minded progressives to make the modicum of effort necessary to vote. I cannot allow the election to occur without expressing my sympathy to those drinking the FAUX-Bachmann-Palin-Hannity-Huckabee-Emmer (FBPHHE) Kook-Aid over the tragic loss of their common sense and their abandonment of logic in search of the quick fix.

To the progressives: Get off your butts and vote. He may have been ridiculed for saying it publicly, but Vice President Biden was right. Quit whining. Real life is not a one-hour television drama where the problem presented in the opening is resolved before the final credits roll. This country faces serious social and financial challenges that existed long before President Obama took office. There is no magic fix and, thank God, we elected a president in 2008 who makes it a habit to take the time, and has the mental capacity, to analyze a problem before pursuing a solution. When FBPHHE mock you for blaming President Bush and the Republicans after Democrats have been in office for so long, do not flinch. Blame away. With no meaningful defense for the way Bush/Cheney ran the country into the ground, FBPHHE has no choice but to ridicule those of us who continue to hold Bush/Cheney, and those who would return to their policies, accountable for the mess we are in.

To FBPHHE: Your mindless pursuit of derailing the Obama Administration and steadfast determination to oppose for the sake of opposition is traitorous.

You might hide behind your "America First" rhetoric. You might decry a declining labor market and long for a solution through good old American entrepreneurship. You might gloat over the effectiveness of scaring the electorate with the Big Lies of widespread voter fraud, workable alternatives to health care reform or the possibility of meaningfully smaller government. But the bottom line is that once you've succeeded in winning elections on the strength of inaccurate sound bites, corporate financed attack ads and frightening voters into mindless submission, you have an obligation to actually govern. To date, you have offered no viable solutions to the problems facing our nation.

As you've shown, you don't need a majority to control the flow of legislation. Democrats have NOT been in charge these past four years and if predictions about GOP success tomorrow prove true, FBPHHE will have taken on the moral obligation to participate in the process of solving what ails us. If instead, FBPHHE views the 2010 election as merely a stepping stone to the national elections in 2012 and continues to impede a functioning government, it will create a far greater danger to our children's and grandchildren's well-being than any downside resulting from President Obama trying to keep the economy and financial system from imploding. Hence, traitors.

Here's a link to a op-ed expression by someone making the same point, but who put more time into actually researching the threats we face.

Please vote on November 2nd.