Who Is At Fault?


I used to be a teacher. For many years, I was one of those people charged with keeping our children educated, safe, confident and skilled. One of the many charges that I took so seriously during those years was the charge to prevent children from bullying each other.

I was a fifth grade teacher. My students were ten and eleven years old. I was told that if they bullied each other, part of the fault was mine.

I understood. My classroom spent time every single day talking about how to interact with civility, with kindness, with generosity. I remember talking to them about the fact that they did NOT have to be friends. They did NOT have to like each other.

“But, here’s the thing,” I would tell them, “You are all members of this very same classroom community. You must treat each other with respect and care. If you don’t, our entire community will suffer. We will not achieve our goal of learning what we are supposed to learn if you are mean to each other and if you fail to support each other.”

And I taught them that if anyone of them became a bully, they all had a moral obligation to stand up to that bully and to protect the victim. I taught them not to be bystanders. I taught them not to let the bully get away with intimidating the weaker members of our community.

Those children understood what I taught. More importantly, they carried out those lessons every single day. To quote one of my students, some five years after he had left my classroom: “We learned that we were all really friends. In Karen’s classroom, everyone stood up for each other.”

So here I am. Four years after my retirement. Wondering how it is that we expect ten year olds to understand and carry out lessons that our actual highly paid, internationally renowned leaders fail to grasp.

How is it that we ask our fifth graders to stop being bullies, to stop intimidating each other, to stop calling each other names, but we let the most powerful people in the country do exactly that? How is it that we expect our youngest children to act in ways that we don’t demand of our so called “leaders”?

When Donald Trump calls his adversaries names, when he labels them as “enemies”, when he asks his followers to attack them, he is behaving in all of the ways that we won’t allow our children to do. He is the absolute epitome of the ignorant, hateful bully on the playground.

The bully that every public school teacher is expected to stop in his tracks.


Where is Congress in this current bullying situation? Where are the leaders of the GOP? Where are the people who we expect to protect us from the ignorant, hateful bully on the national stage?

Why are they acting as bystanders, those silent observers who encourage the bully by not stepping in?

If we can demand that our public school teachers stop bullies, we can damn well demand that our members of Congress do the same. We can demand that our nation’s governors stand up the bully. We can demand that our media outlets stand up to that bully, and that they label his lies as lies.

If you all can ask the average classroom teacher to do it, then you better be absolutely sure that on Nov 6 you will be voting for people who will do the very same thing in Washington.

Bullying is wrong. It’s wrong on the elementary school playground and it’s wrong when it happens on the national stage in front of hundreds of people at a political rally.

Our leaders should be held, at the very least, to the same standards as our public school employees.




I love politics, as sickening as it is. I generally spend a fair amount of time reading about policy, and about legislation.

I’ve been deeply immersed in the insanity that has unfolded in this country over the past year. I have written about it on LiberalAmerica and here in this blog. I’ve talked, argued, debated, read, shed a lot of tears.

Almost thirty years ago, with my baby girl in my arms, I watched most of the Iran-Contra hearings. I was riveted.

Last week, I watched every single minute of the Comey hearing. It was moving, interesting, powerful.

Now I’m trying, to the best of my ability (cough, cough), to watch the “testimony” of our current Attorney General and for the very first time in my 61 years of life, I must tell you that I am in complete despair for our government and the country.

What I am watching is a room full of people who have been elected to take care of US, to guide the laws of OUR COUNTRY. They are all, Democrat and Republican, sitting in that room because people trusted them to look out for our best interests.

Instead, every one of them is trying to achieve their own agendas.

To watch adults, professionals, highly paid officials, living off of our tax money, engaging in this kind of name calling, finger pointing, griping, sniping and flat out lying is beyond disgusting.

I can’t remember the last time I was this disheartened about the country that my grandparents sacrificed so much to join. I am so sad to see the self-serving arrogance on display from the leaders of this nation that was born out of such high hopes.

I know that the Constitution was written during the age of enlightenment, when educated people believed in the best instincts of man. That Constitution opened with these moving words:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Nobody involved in this mess seems to be working toward any kind of union, much less a more perfect union. None of them seem to want to insure domestic tranquility or promote our general welfare. I sure as hell don’t see anybody in this hearing room who is thinking about the blessings of liberty for our kids and grandkids.


Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr.

What I see is one giant clusterfuck of a mess. We are watching hours and hours and millions of dollars being spent on people who are still arguing about Hillary Goddamn Clinton, who LOST the election. We are watching grown men and women who are only interested in making themselves and their team look better than the other team.

This hearing was designed to get to the truth about the FACT that the Russian government attacked us.

But that fact hasn’t even been fully acknowledged by the whining little fool of an Attorney General who seems to have a worse memory than my 87 year old mother.

I am so sad for the United States. I am so worried for my children and my grandchildren.

This country is done. Cooked. Stick a fork in us.

If we can’t find a way to form at least three or five new political parties, we’re going to find ourselves mired in more of this knee-deep bullshit.

Meanwhile, in case anyone is interested, our health insurance system is about to be blown up. The world is getting hotter, but we’re not going to do a single thing about it. And our hard earned tax dollars are flowing by the billions to Saudi Arabia so they can continue to drop bombs on Yemeni families who are busy dying of cholera.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be drunk under the back deck.

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I think we’re missing the point…

If you have followed this blog at all, or if you know me, you will no doubt realize that I watched the entire James Comey testimony today.

In fact, I also watched the pre-event coverage, the ongoing coverage, the follow up coverage. And as I listened and watched, I clicked back and forth between Twitter and Facebook.

I am a very nimble multi-tasking lefty Nonni political junkie.

But as the evening comes on, and I sit here trying to put it into some perspective, I’m left with a few questions and a few impressions that I’m not seeing on the (cough, cough) “Main stream media”.

My first “Huh” moment came when I realized that the freakin’ RUSSIANS attacked our national election. And this is NOT what we’re talking about!!!! As we used to say back when I was a Soviet Studies major “што такое???”

As in, “What the hell???”

I mean, we have been informed that the country that has been our key adversary since 1945 has attacked the very fabric of our democracy, attempting to influence our election and weaken our self-determination.

And we’re spending our time fighting about what the words “I hope” really mean????

UM. Who’s on top of the whole “we-have-to-protect-our-electoral-process” problem?

And my second thought is this one. We just heard the former FBI director state in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the President of the United States is a big, fat liar.

In what universe would this NOT be a huge, outrageous, earth shattering revelation?

Well, in this one. In the world where the vast majority of Americans know that the President lies every damn day. Where the entire Republican Party simply accepts that he lies and doesn’t really object to that fact.

The. President. Was. Called. A. Liar. On. National. TV.

And that’s not the headline????

что за черт?

And finally, I am left with this question.

What in God’s name are we supposed to tell our children when they ask about America, and about our democratic system? How are we supposed to explain to them that the Russian could mess up our election, that our President could be widely known to be a liar, and that our government is completely wrapped up in pointing fingers instead of circling the wagons and trying to get the DAMN RUSSIANS out of our elections.


This overwhelmed Nonni doesn’t even know where to begin with this crap.

(Featured image by Thierry Ehermann via Flickr.)

Thank you, President Trump

I know, that headline made you a little sick to your stomach. I get it.

Can you imagine how hard that was for me to type?

But you see, I am channeling my inner optimist. Who is hiding these days. Hiding really, really well.

My inner optimist is hiding behind the evidence that points to us having elected a mentally ill, out of control despot.

It’s hiding behind the realization that our Congressional leaders don’t really care that the guy with his finger on the trigger is out of his mind. They’re too busy fighting the traditional Democrat-Republican game of “YOU’RE A DOODY PANTS” to try saving us all from nuclear holocaust.


I’m trying to look on the bright side.

For example, I might as well eat that dish of ice cream since we’ll most likely be incinerated before I can die of heart disease. Also, if we go into a long nightmare of civil war and the grid goes down, its probably the fat people who will live the longest.

Also, there’s this little fact.

Whenever I get anxious, I clean things. When my kids were little, Paul used to be able to judge how well the day had gone based on how the house looked when he got home. If every surface was sparkling and there was a smell of Clorox in the air, he knew that one of the kids had gotten on my last nerve. He’d open the door, sniff, and ask, “Oh, oh. Who is it this time?”

He’s a therapist, so he explained to me that my desire to clean the house was a reflection of my feelings of helplessness. When my life felt out of control, I asserted my superiority over dust and grime.

If that’s true, then I really have to thank President Trump.

Over the last few weeks, I have found myself unconsciously organizing closets, sorting through old clothes and scrubbing things I didn’t even know I owned.

My granddaughter is 18 months old. This morning the two of us scrubbed the floors in every room of this house. I buy her all kinds of art supplies and books and toys in my effort to be a wonderful Nonni, but we spent an hour with me sweeping and her using the wet swiffer.

She seemed to enjoy it.

But honestly, I didn’t realize just how anxious our new administration was making me until tonight.

I found myself vacuuming the garage with a glass of wine in one hand.

Thanks, Mr. President!

When the mushroom cloud appears overhead, at least my house will look fabulous in that last eerie glow.


When I lived with Muslims

I was only 17 years old, completely naive and completely sheltered. I signed up for the American Field Service exchange program, figuring that I’d spend a summer in Ireland or Austria or somewhere else that was fairly familiar.

When my acceptance and placement package arrived with the news that I would be moving in with the Barrak family of Kairouan, Tunisia, my reaction was a mix of panic and disbelief.

Where the hell was Tunisia? What would I be doing in a place like that? What were the people like? The food? The weather?

Luckily for me, AFS didn’t give me much time to back out. I read all that I could about the country, feeling somewhat calmed down when I saw that it was hot and dry in the summer, and that the beaches were gorgeous.

The Barrak family sent me letters, some in French and some in English. They were warm, welcoming, excited to meet me. I saw pictures of all of their beautiful, smiling faces and realized that I’d be moving in with a happy, healthy family. In fact, they sounded a lot like my own Italian American family. We had six kids, they had five. They were all fluent in three languages, which was way more than I could say with only my English and my shaky high school French.

I got my shots (OUCH) and packed my bags and off I flew to another world.

I spent 12 weeks with my Tunisian family. I discovered that hard working, family loving Muslims are just like hard working, family loving Catholics. I learned that sometimes the teenagers rebelled against the parents’ limits, just like we did. I learned that when I didn’t feel well, my Tunisian Maman made me special foods and came to check on me, just like my American Mom did.

I discovered that olive trees are gorgeous, that couscous with lamb is beyond delicious, and that it feels cozy and safe to wear a sefsari when you walk around a city.

My summer in Tunisia changed my life. I am still in contact with the Barrak family, through the magic of Facebook. They are still upbeat, warm, loving and still stylishly beautiful (that’s where we have parted ways!)

The ban on Muslim immigration breaks my heart. It is wrong on so many levels. It is the most unAmerican thing that I can even begin to imagine.

I want to write about my time with my Tunisian family. I want to share some of my stories about being a naive American who landed in the middle of a Muslim country way back in 1973, when war was raging between Israel and Egypt and when terrorism hadn’t yet made us fear the world around us.

Stay tuned, please.


STOP telling me what we think!!!!


I seem to have stumbled upon a blog post that can be trotted out every few years.

Cool.  Or not.

I first posted this one, titled “We the People” in October of 2011.   I trotted it out again in June of 2012.

And tonight, as I studiously try to avoid the FIFTH Republican debate of this cycle, I just have to pull it out again.

Enjoy.   And vote.


“We the People”

….the American people,  are a really big group.  There are lots of us.  We tried, but we couldn’t all fit around the table at Dunkin Donuts.  There are so many of us that we can’t even fit in a big conference room. Or Yankee Stadium.   Or the Grand Canyon.

Do you get it?  We’re a big, big pile of folks.  We come in a whole bunch of colors, shapes and sizes, too.  If you could somehow manage to cram us all into one place, we would hardly recognize each other!  Some of us are chubby middle aged white women with plastic bifocals on.  Some are tall, skinny black men wearing three piece suits. We’re brown, we’re pink, we’re young; we’re old enough to remember when Truman was in charge.

We like baseball, except for those of us who don’t.  We adore country music, except for the huge group of us who hate country music and only listen to metal. We have PhD’s and we dropped out of the eight grade.  We have ten different words for a big cold cut sandwich on a long piece of bread.

We all live within these borders. That part’s true. But we are NOT a club. We aren’t all Democrat or Republican.  We aren’t all liberal or conservative.  We don’t all agree about the best way to solve the debt crisis, how to tax big corporations, how to fix Social Security, who will win the next election or the World Series, or how to grill the perfect steak.  Hell, a lot of us don’t even eat steak!!

So…..American politicians.  Please pay attention.  You really, really, really have to STOP saying “The American people” in sentences like “The American people understand that the Conservative plan put forth by the House is the best way to go forward.” (Yes, I did just hear those precise words on CNN.)  Or, “The American people agree that we need to increase revenues.” (I heard something just like that from the President yesterday).  Stop trying to quote us.  Stop trying to convince us that we agree with you.  We can’t agree on one single thing!!

Wait, that’s not true.  Here is one statement that you can use in any setting, no matter which party you belong to:

“The American people are sick and tired of the sniping, moaning, name calling and finger pointing. The American people, the whole big noisy bunch of us, are overwhelmingly in favor of having government officials act like grown ups who actually know what they are doing. The American people want the government to stop shouting, start listening, make some compromises and get the damn job done.”


Karen, self appointed spokesperson for the American People.

Mandate? Nah!

So the Democrats are all running around hugging each other and chanting “mandate, mandate, we’ve got a mandate!”  They seem to believe that those 303 electoral votes show a sharp swing in their direction on the part of the population.

The fact that the popular vote was incredibly close hasn’t been part of the discussion at all.  They just believe that they held onto the Presidency and kept control of the Senate because the American people (whom they seem to know personally) has completely changed its thinking in the last two years.

You remember what happened two years ago, right? The famous Tea Party midterm elections, when the Republicans got control of the House of Representatives, and the government came to a grinding halt?  Hard to forget that time, if you ask me!

Because that was when the Republicans started to dance around doing the group hug and chanting, “Mandate, mandate, we’ve got a mandate!”  Back then, it was conservatives who were claiming that the American people (yes, Republicans seem to know them personally, too) had spoken, and were now uniformly conservative thinkers.

American people~ Right wing, conservative, gun toting, anti-government rednecks two years ago?

American people~Left wing, pot smoking, handout craving lazy ass hippies now?

I don’t think so.

I don’t think that Obama won this election because all 300 million of us suddenly embrace the Democratic agenda.  And I don’t think that Romney lost because of a hurricane, a biased media or his own stiff necked unlikeable self.

I think that with only two parties to choose from, its starting to feel like their really isn’t any choice.  Both sides are starting to be really unpalatable.  The space between the two is grower ever more narrow, and we are like a pinball trapped between two opposing flippers.

We elect a bunch of Democrats in ’08.  Gag! We don’t like all the cronyism, the nasty rhetoric, the refusal to compromise or listen.  So we ping to the right and elect a whole bunch of Republicans in 2010.  Yuck! Things are even worse.  Now the whole bunch of them down there in DC are just yelling and screaming and thrashing around. We want some banking reform, some tax reform, some attention paid to the rising oceans.  For two years we watch them push and shove and call each other names.  We’re disgusted.

So we go to the polls again in 2012. But there are only two real choices!!

Ping! We jigged back toward the Democrats this time around.

This is what I would like to say to those in power:

Dear Republicans,  

You didn’t lose because of bias, lies, gay people or hurricanes. You lost because you’re kind of making us feel sick. 

Dear Democrats,

You didn’t win because we all love you and think the sun rises and sets on you.  You won because you made a few of us slightly less sick than the other guys did. 

I predict that unless we start to hear some new voices in our political dialogue we will simply ping back across the aisle in 2014.

I’m getting whiplash.  How about you?

Time to act like a kid

So I must admit, I’m a little bit scared about tomorrow.

Its election day at last (cue the trumpets and confetti: no more political ads!!  Huzzah!). We will finally have a chance to cast our votes and choose the next President of these barely United States.

Of course,  I’ve been through this whole thing more than a few times now.  The first time I voted, it was for Jimmy Carter.  I’ve seen the swings from left to right and back again.

This time, though, its making me feel more than a little nervous.

This time, the country seems to be absolutely divided between the two choices.  Each of the main candidates is polling at just barely under 50%.  We are caught in a perfect tug o’ war between the reds and the blues.

And this time, the level of anger, bitterness and hatred between the two camps seems to me to be sharper than I remember from the past.  The language is more vitriolic and less measured.  People seem to really, truly hate those who disagree with them.

Now, bear in mind, I was totally caught up in the election of 2002, when my candidate won the popular vote, but lost the election.  That was upsetting, for damn sure, but I don’t remember feeling the same level of frustration that I sense out there now.


I’m a little scared about what is to come in the next few weeks or months.  There is a sense of danger in the air, made worse by super storms and unexpected infrastructure collapses.  There is a sense of powerlessness and rage that briefly found its voice in popular movements like the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement.  There is a power and a restless energy that is simmering just below the surface of our everyday lives, and it has been fed and nurtured by the countless months of attack ads from both sides.

We feel assaulted and endangered.  We fear for our children and our futures and our freedoms.  We are not sure just who is to blame, so we latch onto the rhetoric spewed forth by our leaders, and we turn on each other and we believe in the names being called and the lies being told.

We are ready to vote, and we are ready to be outraged by the outcome of that voting.

If we continue to hold onto our personal grudges and our intensely partisan fighting, I fear that our union may not hold.  I fear that we will turn on each other and come to violence.

I can only hope that after all of the votes are finally counted, we can reach deep inside of ourselves and act like children.

Children know how to be inclusive. They know how to recognize unfairness when they see it.  They see “mean” for what it is, and they know enough to reject it.  Children seek honesty and they seek a way to be “nice” even when they are mad.

So tonight, on this last night before the election of 2012, when voices are screaming for the downfall of the black Muslim socialist, and voices are screaming for the end of the rich white Mormon, I am hoping and praying that a majority of us will find a way to see this all for exactly what it is: just one more election in a long string of elections. It won’t save us, and it won’t ruin us.  It’s just another election.  In barely two years time, we’ll be on our way to another one.

Please, my fellow citizens, please try to act like children when the results come in tomorrow night.  You might be happy, but please don’t gloat.  You might be upset, but please don’t turn on your neighbors.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln

Voting in a time of disaster.


If you’re living anywhere within the western hemisphere, I’m going to guess that you know about Hurricane Sandy.  She’s the “unprecedented” storm that is threatening the entire eastern coast of the United States.  She’s huge, she’s monstrous, she’s pissed and she is flooding, blowing and shutting down every big city from Raleigh to Boston.

Like millions of other people, I spent today at home, watching the storm unfold.  From what I see on Facebook, I’m not the only woman who used the day to make vats of soup, loaves of bread and a couple of batches of cookies.  Hey, according to the breathless talking heads on the news, we could be without power for DAYS!  You need soup and cookies when faced with such devastation, don’t you think?

The whole experience for the past few days has been sort of exhilarating and sort of scary, in equal measure.  The meteorologists have been really, really serious about this one.  And I don’t just mean the guys on the TV news, who only get to be the stars of the show when these big storms come through.  I mean the guys who work for NOAA, and just sit in front of their computers all day.  Those guys were sounding really serious and almost a little scared as they talked about this huge monster storm churning out there in the Atlantic. They were honestly using words like “unknown”, “unprecedented”, “never seen before”.  I was kinda feeling like I was living in a made for TV disaster flick!

I got a little scared!

So, like any self-confessed chicken, I spent today endlessly watching the TV coverage of the big storm.  CNN, the Weather Channel, Boston Channels 4, 5 and 7.  I couldn’t get enough!  Somehow, from the warmth and safety of my little house, I got a thrill watching the idiots….um…the professionals standing out there on the sea walls holding onto lamp posts for dear life and describing the dangerous conditions.   It makes me feel slightly superior to know that I would never take a job that asks me to stand outside in the storm of the century telling people to stay at home where its safe, for God’s sake!

So I watched, and watched, and watched.  And I was entertained with no fewer than 145,673,450,843 political ads as I watched.

I have muscle cramps in my thumb from hitting the clicker to get away from them.

My blood pressure is no doubt up the danger zone, but there has been one positive outcome for me from all of this.

I’m ready to start talking about climate change now.  How ’bout you?  You ready to demand that the 9,000 politicians whose ads I watched today finally start addressing the fact that the seas are rising, the storms are getting bigger, the ice is melting and the temperatures are heading up every year?

Funny.  Not one of the ads today event mentioned climate change or the environment.  Neither did any of the presidential debates.  Huh.  I guess those guys aren’t ready to face the truth, are they?

But I am.

Good luck to everyone who is facing floods, power loss, wind damage and more political ads!  See you when the winds die down.

The world through the eyes of others.

Sometimes I forget that the world as I see it is not the world in reality.  Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that not everyone on this swirling blue planet feels what I feel.  At times it seems as if everyone out there, all across the vastness of the continents, must be  aware of “American Exceptionalism” and the “American Dream”.   Surrounded as I am by political ads, political discussions and all of the other detritus of the American election season, at times it is literally impossible for me to understand that not every human being alive is debating the choice between Obama and Romney.

Luckily for me, my life is filled with interesting people from diverse backgrounds.  Luckily for me, I sometimes run smack into the reality of the wide world around me, and I am forced to see that my little sphere of experience is not actually the whole thing.

Let me share two experiences from the past week that have opened my eyes to the wider horizons.

The first is the chance I have had to read about events in the Arab world through the eyes of a woman from Tunisia.  I knew Anissa way back in 1973 when I was 17, and she a mature 18 years old.  Her family hosted me for three months through the American Field Service Program.   I lived with Anissa and her family in the ancient city of Kairouan, where I visited the 3,000 year old medina, saw the mosques and heard the haunting call to prayer.  I learned, through that experience, that families are just families, and that an Islamic Dad and an Italian American one had a whole lot in common when it came to raising teen aged daughters.  I learned that “food is love” in North Africa, too, and that mothers everywhere worry about the length of their daughters’ skirts and the boys who come to call on theose daughters.

I lost track of Anissa after a few years, and it was only about a year ago that I found her again through the miracle of Facebook.  Now I am able to read her status updates and to follow events as they unfold in Tunis, in this historic year after the Arab Spring.  Through her updates and photos, I am able to watch as Tunisians struggle to find their democratic voices, to reject religious extremism and to move away from a dictatorship and into a more open and secure society.

Here is a photo that Anissa posted tonight, from Tunis, showing a huge demonstration against  violence.


And here is her new cover photo, showing hands linked in solidarity around the Tunisian flag.

These images serve to remind me that “binders full of women” and “you didn’t build that” and who wants to raise stupid taxes on whom aren’t really big issues in the life of a country.  Which rich white guy to vote for isn’t really a huge historical decision, you know?

These people are engaging in true democratic reform.  Voting in Tunisia really means something right now.

And here is my other story, a very different one, but a story that nevertheless serves to remind me that our safe little American world is not the world that most people know.

I was away for three days with our fifth graders last week. We were at a wonderful camp in the mountains of New Hampshire, and we enjoyed all of the beauty that nature has to offer on a New England fall day.  At one point, I had taken a two hour hike up to a mountain ridge where I stood with the children looking down on the valley below.  We all gathered together, and the camp counselor got us to call out in unison, “Tongo!” and then we waited to hear if some of the campers below would call back to us.  We stood for about a minute, but no return call came up. Instead, we heard the sound of distant construction from the lakefront down below us.

“Did you hear anything?”, our camp leader asked.   One of my students, a little boy who grew up in Pakistan and came to us this year from Peshawar, raised his hand.

“I didn’t hear them yell back”, he said,  “All I heard were those bombs.”

The other kids laughed a little, but I stood still in shock.

From the top of a ledge in peaceful, sunny New Hampshire, on a day filled with golden light and a warm autumn breeze, this child heard a sound, and calmly took it to be the sounds of war.

The world is a bigger place than most of us realize as we go through our self-focused lives.

I’m glad that sometimes I can see that world through the eyes of others.