Archives for category: Mel Damski

ImmigrationAbout 15 thousand migrant children spent Christmas yesterday locked up in tight spaces at the border, with no contact allowed with family or reporters. Two young Guatemalans died in custody in the last month.

One of the few things that I agree with this President on is that we need a more responsible immigration policy. However, the simplistic bombastic way he has handled it has wreaked havoc on people’s lives.

I suspect that politicians like George Bush the younger and Rand Paul have turned a blind eye to our porous Southern border because their rancher and farmer friends and constituents relied on cheap illegal labor.

My first documentary, made in 1971, was entitled The Illegal and my crew and I filmed Mexican farmworkers as they easily waded across the Rio Grande River into Texas. We interviewed many Mexican-American members of the farmworkers union who were passionately asking our State and National governments to stop the flow.

That never happened. It just got worse and worse. And it was exacerbated by new groups of migrants trying to escape poverty and unstable governments in Central America.

So if we agree that we need to control our border and we have to be selective about whom we let in, what is the best solution to the problem?

For one, there is a diplomatic approach. I have never heard one TV report that explained how all of these asylum seekers get into Mexico. Instead of the absurdity of expecting Mexico to pay for the wall, why aren’t we challenging Mexico to control it’s own southern borders.

How did that enormous Caravan that got so much attention get into Mexico from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to begin with?

And when you elevate the conversation above a solid wall, the most intelligent analysts say that there are so many modern technological devices that would allow 24-7 surveillance of wide stretches of the border, whereas you could never hire enough people to make sure nobody climbs over or digs under such a huge expanse.

As the son of immigrants, I am very proud of the message on the Statue of Liberty. Yes, give us not just your Einsteins, but also your tired and poor if they are fleeing persecution and they are willing to work hard in an ever-expanding economy.

Hitler deprived my parents of a high school education but they were able to jump through many hoops and finally get passage across the Atlantic and a welcome at Ellis Island. My mother’s brother, Harry Rosenfeld, was still young enough to get a high school and college education and became the editor in charge of the Watergate investigation for the Washington Post. Their four children were able to attend wonderful public schools and end up with college degrees. My older brother served the US military and then went to law school and became a prosecutor. That is immigration at its best.

It wasn’t easy. The State Department and President Franklin Roosevelt claimed that Jewish immigrants could threaten national security. In 1939, the ocean liner St. Louis and it’s 937 passengers, mostly Jewish, were turned away in Miami, forcing the ship to return to Europe and more than a quarter of those people died in the Holocaust.

It’s time to stop making desperate people pawns in a very cynical political chess game and find a responsible passage to a country that hopefully will indeed behave like a great nation should.

 

American-Empire

The fall of the Great American Empire is upon us and frankly I don’t give a damn.

The Chinese have developed missiles capable of reaching North America and they are starting to catch up with us militarily as they steam ahead economically. A perfect example is the way they keep scooping up islands in the Pacific Ocean and planting their flags with nothing more than a peep from the USA and its allies.

This was inevitable. No dynasties last forever. The Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the British—they all had their moment of dominance. I’m pretty sure nobody is sitting in a cafe in Athens, Rome, Cairo or London bemoaning the good old days gone by.

And there is a very good reason for that. There is a huge price to pay for dominance and I for one do not want to see the USA continue to pay that price.

It’s very expensive to maintain the most powerful military in the world. Let’s defer to the Chinese and focus on the real direct threats to our country. As far as policing the rest of the planet, let’s do it as just another United Nations and NATO member.

That will save the lives of lots of American members of the military and cut way back on the number of veterans suffering from PTSD for fighting a war that nobody at home seems to understand or really care about.

I am extremely supportive of our soldiers but I don’t want them dying in vain. If you look at the death toll in Afghanistan and measure it against our accomplishments there, it is very difficult to justify. This was also true in Vietnam, where I lost both high school and college friends for a war that all of my military friends now say was useless.

Financially, we are spending way too much of our budget on maintaining the largest force on the planet and that is money that is sorely needed for education and health care. Compare that to the ratios of all of our allies and you will see that there are huge discrepancies.

If we all take a breath and leave our collective testosterone at the door, this makes a lot of sense. For the first time in years, the US Military has fallen way short of its recruiting goals and that will mean lowering our standards to try to pump up the numbers.

Instead, let’s create a smaller, more elite force of fighters and defenders who can serve out their terms and eventually come home feeling very good about their service to their country.

We will focus on securing our borders and spend money and manpower proportionately. The Trump administration is absolutely correct in calling our fellow NATO members out on the carpet for sitting back and letting the big badass Americans lead the charge without paying their fair share.

Of course, it will help if we tamp down the volume and cool it on the braggadocio and no longer feel we have to be first up San Juan Hill. Let’s do it right. Let’s do it together with our allies and become one of many great countries in the world standing up for peace and prosperity and social justice for all.

OvermountainIt was a crowded noisy dance floor but I heard the phone ring and it was my good friend Heather who couldn’t wait to tell me that Senator Kevin Ranker had just announced that the State of Washington put aside a cool ten million bucks to protect Blanchard Mountain from further destruction.

Whoopee! I couldn’t help myself. This is such good news for us tree huggers.

And the timing could not have been better. The following evening was the Skagit Land Trust Annual Membership meeting and, honest admission, it’s so nice to be in a room full of fellow travelers at a time when our country is so divided.

We met at the Fidalgo Bay Resort owned by the Samish Indian Nation in Anacortes and the meeting started with a haunting melody sung by a young Samish woman in her native language. This made me happy to hear that a new generation is preserving an ancient culture. Another example of preserving something that is precious to so many!

For me, the highlight of the meeting was the special commendation to Rusty Kuntze and Libby Mills for donating 23 acres of their land in Bayview to the Land Trust as a conservation easement. Rusty is the retired Judge for the Swinomish Tribe. Libby is an educator and naturalist whose passion is introducing people to special places and the flora and fauna found there. She has taught me and many others more about birds then I thought was possible.

Rusty and LibbyRusty calls Wren Ridge his Walden Pond and has come for the first time to understand what a special relationship Henry David Thoreau had with a place that wasn’t necessarily considered a primo spot. It wasn’t the Grand Canyon or the Redwood Forest but became a place he went to for redemption and realization.

Rusty points out that Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed each had a special place in the wilderness where they were able to find enlightenment. As a little kid, Rusty always wanted a treehouse but it never happened in his New Jersey suburban home. Now he has a whole forest that is his treehouse.

They stated that because they don’t have children, their legacy will be the opportunity to ensure the diverse wetlands and forests of Wren Ridge will protected for future generations. Forever!

The prestigious Blue Heron Award went to Molly Doran, who is the executive director of the Land Trust. The award usually only goes to a staff member who is retired so Molly was wonderfully stunned to realize she was this year’s recipient. Through clever subterfuge, the staff led her to believe that award was being to a former board member.

Blanchard Overlook, Molly DoranThe Blue Heron Award is given to someone who has shown extraordinary dedication to the lands of Skagit County. During Molly’s watch, there has been big growth of supporters and community participation in protecting special places. She made it clear that she loves her job and has no plans of retiring.

Near and dear to me are the wetlands that are being preserved on the Southern end of Big Lake. I’m hoping we can add a learning center so visitors can see for themselves what makes wetlands so fascinating and worthy of preservation. The best scenario is to preserve a spot and still allow it to be accessible to a new generation of caretakers.

This is what’s happened with Blanchard Mountain. With this generous grant from the State, the beautiful trails through 1400 acres of forest land will be protected. Birdwatchers, hang gliders, hikers will forever be able to enjoy a peaceful place with fantastic views.

I was driving down from my day job in Canada a few days ago and I decided to take the mellow route. It was a perfect winter day, with peekaboo blue skies and beautiful cloud formations. I craved something sweet and decided to detour to my friend’s delightful bakery in Edison. When I made a turn on Colony Road, there was Blanchard Mountain, tall, majestic, wearing a cumulus top hat.

Tears of joy started running down my cheeks, so much so that I had to laugh. Talk about SWEET!!!

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We wrapped a challenging first week of my latest movie just before midnight last Friday. As if it’s not enough to work with a new crew and new actors all settling into their roles, we had to contend with horrible air quality caused by the fires nearby in British Columbia by providing oxygen and air-conditioning tents on set.

I headed for the Sumas border crossing, wanting to wake up in my house in Skagit County. Siri routed me through the little town of Everson. The smoke was eye-burning bad and there were no other cars until I saw headlights parked at an angle facing me on the other side of the street.

The car pulled out and the lights started to flash. It was a cop laying in wait at a speed trap. I pulled over and was told that I was driving 47 mph in a 35 mph zone. I was really surprised because I thought I was driving below the 50 mph rural speed limit because of the poor visibility.

He said “Couldn’t you tell you were in a town?” “No”, I said, “There were no lights on and it was smoky and I couldn’t see a 35 mph speed limit sign.” He asked if I had ever been to Everson before and I told him I hadn’t.

On hearing this, he seemed to soften his position but he disappeared for more than 5 minutes and came back with a ticket. He said he lowered my speed to 45 which would save me over $60 so he was somewhat sympathetic to my explanation.

I asked him if I could express my opinion about what was taking place and he nodded in the affirmative. Needless to say, it was a slow night for law enforcement and only two cars passed us during the whole 15 minute ordeal.

I told him I admired that he had dedicated his life to law enforcement and public safety but I didn’t think laying in wait in a dark smoky spot for a very sober person driving responsibly was the best way to accomplish that mission.

I told him I was guessing he chose that spot because others would be confused as I was by the change in speed limit and I could tell he had heard enough at that point and I took my ticket and headed back into the dark smoky night.

It was a very sad drive home after a very uplifting day. It seems very cynical to me that this is how someone who has dedicated his or her life to public safety ends up as a shill for the local economy.

I get why it makes sense to have the guy sitting in his car looking out for speeders as opposed to hanging out in a squad room with nobody to talk to. But I’m guessing he’s very bored and jumps at the opportunity to leave rubber, flash his lights, and pull someone over even if that person is absolutely no danger to anyone.

When I got to my house, I looked at the printed out ticket and discovered that one option was to pay $150. That means it would have been over $200 if the officer hadn’t lowered my speed.

Everson is a small town. I would love to know how much income it gets from issuing speeding tickets. I’d also like to hear how the police officer laying in wait could get an accurate reading from his speed gun in such a short span on such a dark, smoky night.

After this weekend’s welcome rainfall, I drove back to Canada on Sunday night through Everson. The air had cleared and the visibility was better but it still was very difficult to read the signs on the outskirts of town where I was clocked and pulled over.

It reinforced my feeling that this was an injustice so I’m going to court. Hopefully the hearing officer will see things my way, although I know that’s a long shot. Meanwhile I’m preparing a closing argument that would make Perry Mason and Mr. Smith in Washington proud!

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LeoDamski

Leo Damski was born 100 years ago this month.

It was a memorable time in history, including both World War 1 and the Russian Revolution. Blacks and women were stepping up their efforts to seek equality, asking that the US constitution actually applied to all Americans.

My dad loved history and he got to experience so many memorable events first hand. He was born in Lithuania but grew up mostly in Berlin, Germany. His father Paul was not interested in the family lumber business in Kaunas and instead ended up managing world heavyweight champion Max Schmeling.

Paul’s worldliness—he spoke 7 languages and promoted fights around the world—led to a sophistication that enabled him to get his wife and two kids out of Berlin three years before Kristallnacht, when it became incredibly clear that Jews were not welcome and in grave danger if they couldn’t find refuge elsewhere.

Oh, and before that, when Leo was 12 years old, there was a worldwide depression.

Yet, when Leo came to New York City he felt at home, especially in his Yiddish speaking Manhattan neighborhood in Washington Heights.

Leo was highly intelligent and an avid reader but he wasn’t able to go to college because he needed to work to help support the family. He was a very sweet man without a bitter bone in his body and he very rarely spoke of the hardships he had experienced.

All of Leo’s relatives who stayed in Lithuania were killed during the holocaust and I am proudly named for my Uncle Max. But Dad was determined to raise us with American optimism. My folks did not want us to speak German because they wanted us to blend in with the children of all of the war veterans in our neighborhood.

On the surface, Leo and I did not have much in common. He constantly had a Michener or some other historical novel on his bedside table. He did the Sunday New York Times Crossword puzzle in ink as if he were filling out an application. He had no interest whatsoever in sports.

In contrast, I’ve always had trouble sitting down to read anything longer than a daily newspaper. I struggle with even a Wednesday New York Times puzzle and I’ve always been consumed with sports, as a participant and a fan.

But as I get older, I realize that Leo had many admirable qualities that I could emulate. He had a world view shaped by personal experience and a sense of internationalism. Yes, he knew there was great evil in the world and horrible tragedies happening every day to innocent people in all corners of the globe, and yet he woke up every morning with a positive attitude and an inherent kindness.

Having just listened to another evening broadcast of BBC World News, I can say that there is still a great deal of intolerance, inequality, corruption and unspeakable violence in the World.

Yet, my lesson from Leo is that there is also so much to be hopeful about and so much to be grateful for and we must accentuate the positive and hold ourselves to the highest possible standard.

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Father Treacy

How many times have we heard that age is just a number?

I used to consider that just a tired old saw and an irrational rationalization.

But I’ve become a true believer.

Last year I turned 70 and felt even better than I felt at age 47.

My hero Bob Skeele turned 90 recently and is still creative and warm-hearted and romantic and a beacon of light and wisdom in our community.

My new best friend Father William Treacy turned 98 last week and he celebrated with close friends and gave a beautiful speech that was heartfelt and reflected his incredible values. Father has inspired me to double down on my modest contributions to make the world a safer place for people no matter their country or their color or their spirituality.

I just saw a picture on the internet of National Basketball Association legend Jerry West at age 79. He’s even more handsome that he was back in the day as a player when I interviewed him as a young sports writer after a Knicks-Lakers game. He’s a highly respected basketball executive and now my Los Angeles Clippers have lured him away from the Golden State Warriors to raise their game to a higher level.

We all know that fate has a fickle finger and we can round a corner and get struck by lightning or get run over by a bus. Or have a little thing pop up on our chest that turns out to be malignant and shorten our life span.

Losing my older brother the day before his 59th birthday was the greatest tragedy of my life. He contracted some weird virus in the Army—my two smart Harvard educated nephews think it might have been an Agent Orange type of thing.

But the lesson is to wake up every morning, count your blessings for the time you have on this planet and marvel at the all of the amazing things that had to happen, be it black holes or a big bang, to make us as far as we know the most intelligent life in a vast universe.

We can give thanks to God or Yahweh or Mohammad or Jesus or Buddha or Jehovah or just plain cosmic coincidence but let us be mindful of Father Treacy’s teachings and respect all forms of life on a very special planet.

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They like to call me a gypsy because I move around a lot.  I reply that I’m a Bedouin because I like a nice tent.

They like to say I’m ADD because I’ve got ants in my pants and can’t sit still.  I’ve never really had a good rejoinder to that.

Until now.  Wait for it, because this is a colossal epiphany, world shattering in it’s implications.

ADD, for Attention Deficit Disorder, is inherently pejorative.  A disorder?  No, I do not have a disorder.  I am a Hunter-Gatherer!!!

I read an amazing book about evolution entitled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari.  He makes a big point about how agriculture had a huge effect on Homo Sapiens, creating a much more sedentary lifestyle and changing the way the brain developed in certain ways.

My brain never took that evolutionary turn and I continue to hunt and to gather.  For instance, I love shopping at Costco.  You laugh, but I love motoring down those huge aisles, looking for I don’t know what because the stock is different every time and you never know what delightful bargain will pop up.

I love driving.  When I got my driver’s license at age 17, I knew my life was dramatically changed.  It’s about the only time I can sit still for a long period of time because the scenery around me is constantly changing and all of my senses are totally engaged.  I was a jaguar in a Jaguar.  OK, it was a Nash Rambler, but it still opened up new frontiers for me.

When I drive, I am watching the patterns of all the other drivers, looking for tendencies, looking for openings, watching out for weaknesses that could create trouble or opportunities for me.  Yes, the radio is on, but that’s just a soundtrack for my adventure.

I always take different routes because I don’t like routine and you never know what new opportunities will await you when you take the road not previously taken.  A park you didn’t know about, a cool house you’ve never seen before, a great little Mom and Pop grocery store.

Here’s what one expert says about this theory:

“The people that are covered by this theory have an ADD or ADHD personality. They do not have a disorder, but need to find their niche in our modern western society. A part of this adaptation is finding a career that suits their personalities and not, as is so often the case, fit themselves into a career considered a “good career” for the average individual.”

I found the perfect career for my particular personality.  As a filmmaker, every project is in a new place with new co-workers and very precise challenges.  The most difficult challenge for me personally is sitting still during the many pre-production meetings covering scheduling, props, wardrobe, etc.

The expert goes on to say…

“An important talent ADHD people have is the ability to hyperfocus. Hyperfocus is an intense form of mental concentration or visualization that focuses consciousness on something. It is like tunnel vision where the rest of the world is cut off, blocking out potential distractions. It is in this state that the ADD personality’s creative imagination is at work. Hyperfocusing can either be while thinking, or while engaged in some activity.”

My outlet was sports and that got me through high school.  I went from football to wrestling to baseball, then by the time I had walked home from a game or practice, I was pretty much exhausted and could at least had a chance to sit still long enough to do my homework.

When I’m filming, I am able to shut out the rest of the world and totally focus on the huge task at hand.   Bills don’t get paid, calls don’t get returned, even sports teams get ignored.  It was particularly a great challenge when I had five young kids, but fortunately I had a rock steady partner in that enterprise who kept the home fires burning whilst I was filming in Budapest or Zihuatanejo.

The great irony is that, as a television director, it’s very hard for me to sit still in front of the television.  It’s even harder to read a book but thankfully there are audio books that I can listen to in my car as I explore new horizons.

Of course I could never be a novelist but a column is the perfect length for my attention span.

As parents and teachers, it can be much more challenging to raise and school a kid like me, but it’s important to understand that it’s not a sickness and it’s not a disorder.  Yes, you can’t allow one or two kids to disrupt a class and destroy a planned lesson, but there are creative ways to channel that very active body and mind.

How about a stand-up desk for starters?  I listened to another great book with the premise that  “your chair is killing you”.  Let’s not assign such great value to stillness!

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Rachel

When I called my Mom to tell her that one of her paintings had just sold at a Gallery in La Conner, she was overjoyed.

Rachel was in her early 90’s and hadn’t started painting until she was in her 80’s.

Why?  A little thing called the Holocaust had basically robbed her of her childhood, especially in her teen years, when she was denied an education and had to heroically focus on getting all of the paperwork done to get her parents and younger brother the papers they needed to get to America before the scheisse hit the fan.

My mother’s heroics are documented in my Uncle Harry Rosenfeld’s wonderful memoire, From Kristallnacht to Watergate.  While Rachel had to help run her parents fur shop in New York, Harry, nine years younger, was able to finish his education and he eventually became Woodward and Bernstein’s editor at the Washington Post.

Rachel passed away two years ago, after having an incredibly productive life, and my siblings and I wanted to honor her life and legacy with an art therapy class for refugee kids.  I was introduced to a remarkable young man, Benjamin Swatez, who had just returned to the Skagit Valley from  the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Amman Jordan.

Benjamin has had a remarkable life for a man in his mid-thirties, having done trauma art therapy with child soldiers and sex slaves in Africa as well as kids in the slums of many Latin American countries.

Working with Voices of the Children, a non-profit organization based in Skagit Valley, Benjamin started designing a mural at Laventure Middle School in Mount Vernon and took it to Za’atari for those kids to finish and then reversed it, starting a mural in Za’atari that finished here in the Skagit Valley.  Those murals are now living in a museum in San Diego, California.

Last year, working through Voices of the Children, we launched Rachel’s heART at the Oasis Shelter in Mount Vernon and focused on trauma therapy through small art projects. My sister Janice and brother Peter and I used the last funds that Rachel left behind to fund the program.

After its resounding success, we decided to expand the program this summer which will result in a mural in downtown Mount Vernon celebrating the contributions that immigrants have made to this country, with tremendous support from Mayor Jill Boudreau and the Mount Vernon Downtown Association.

We are starting a fundraising drive this week through the Voices of the Children website, VOTChildren.org, and any contributions can be designated to Rachel’s heART and are fully tax deductible.

Mom was already smiling in heaven this week as the USO in Palm Springs created a poster including a picture of Rachel, a 90-year-old volunteer, putting a stitch in the 911 Flag that toured the country.  Rachel is now the Poster Child featured along with Bob Hope on a donated Mercedes Benz that is tooling around the desert.

An enduring mural in Mount Vernon celebrating the lives and contributions of immigrants like herself just may send her over the moon.

DONATE HERE: VOTChildren.org

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Okay, fasten your seat belts, because the gloves are coming off.

I don’t intentionally mix metaphors very often but here goes something:

I’ve delayed writing a column about the new President because I know that anything I write will scare off at least one-third of my readers.

And I was thinking that possibly Donald Trump cleverly created a character who would appeal to a large segment of Americans who were understandably sick and tired of the log jam in Washington and the Party Over Country mentality that has taken over the halls of Congress.

Also, I surmised that Trump, the former New York Democrat, Pro-Choice Clinton supporter would show his true colors after taking office.

WRONG!!!  This man is simply a clown and a bozo who will say anything he thinks his supporters want to hear.  He’s a salesman and he’ll look you in the eye and tell you how wonderful you are.  Behind your back, he will reveal his true feelings.

I held back even when he nominated an Education Secretary who doesn’t believe in public education, a Health Secretary who doesn’t believe in public health, and an Environmental Protection Agency Secretary who wants to dismantle the EPA.

But last week he did something that cannot be forgiven or even understood by anyone with a brain.  He claimed that President Obama ordered the Trump Tower to be wiretapped, which would have been a felony akin to Nixon bugging Democratic Headquarters.

He tweeted it early one morning, and would not reveal his sources.  He wouldn’t walk it back, even when nobody else in his own Administration would support his allegations.

The liberal press had field day after field day about this story, ad nauseam, as if there was nothing else happening in the World of any importance, such as events in the Middle East where Isis is on the run.  Trump stood by his story but would not give details.

Finally, confronted by German reporters after meeting with German Chancellor Merkel, he confessed that his source was a “very very smart lawyer” who presented the allegations early in the morning on Fox News Channel.

Turns out that very very smart lawyer is a crack-pot 9/11 Conspiracy nut, Judge Andrew Napolitano, who just happens to live at Trump Tower.  When asked to substantiate the allegations, Fox News wisely disavowed the story.

But Sir Donald still would not back down.  And to make matters much worse, Trump’s embattled Press Secretary erroneously implicated Great Britain as well, infuriating one of our oldest and greatest allies.

Now I am truly scared.   At the end of the day, what is the most important characteristic you want in the so-called Leader of the Free World?

Judgement!  You want the person who has the nuclear codes at his/her fingertips to have very good judgement.

What you absolutely do not want is a person who hears something from a questionable source and tweets a response that will alienate our enemies and even our friends. You don’t want someone who will over-react to unsubstantiated claims and, worse case scenario, send a nuclear bomb towards North Korea.

If Trump really had reason to believe that the Obama Administration illegally bugged the Trump Tower, all he had to do was reach out to the FBI or NSA or many other agencies that were a phone call away to find out if there was even a glimmer of truth to these charges.

But the President just could not control his impulse to Tweet and Tweet he did.  And now, when everyone in the World has said he was wrong, he will not cop to it and he will not apologize to the former President or the American public.

Why?  Because not only does he suffer from very poor judgement, but he also is the Poster Boy for Narcissism and Hubris.  He simply cannot admit a mistake.

I realize that none of this will bother his hard core supporters, the ones who are drawn to him because they are Steve Bannonites: racists nationalists,  anti-Semites,  and White Supremacists, or malcontents who blame the government for their own failures.  (And by the way, the only people on this continent who have a claim to truly belonging are Native Americans but I don’t see any Native brothers and sisters rallying around David Duke and his chums.)

I am optimistic by nature—recent trends to the contrary—and I’m hoping that those thoughtful independents who voted for him because they felt there had to be a change in the culture in Washington will now admit that this man is very very DANGEROUS and not just laughing stock.

I doubt he’ll be impeached, although there is a remote possibility that the Russian Connection or business conflicts of interest will give the Republican representatives who care about country more than party a reason to throw the bum out.

There’s even a chance he’ll get sick of all of this and step down.  He’s famous for delegating and I’m guessing he still loves the spotlight, but not all of the hard work and incredible responsibility that goes with the job.

More likely, he will stay in office, the midterm election in 2018 will further gridlock Congress, and the thoughtful Independents will have to figure out another way to change this incredibly destructive course we are headed down.

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It was a wonderful Chrisnukkah weekend!

I’d been dreaming of a white Chrisnukkah, and my dreams came true.  Soft snowfall, then ice, then slush, then slippery roads, one car towed out of a ditch and bone chilling cold—all totally worth it to wake up Christmas morning with blues skies and a blanket of white outside our house.

The theme for the Damski clan this weekend was a celebration of an Interfaith holiday.  This was only the fifth time in the last 100 years that the first day of Hanukkah fell on Christmas Day.  The next time it happens will be 2024.

That resonates well with a blended family with a very Jewish father and a very Catholic mother.

While my kids were still arriving from Los Angeles and Portland, my yearly Blues Jam for Kids got the weekend off to a rousing start Friday night—a great turnout upstairs at the Conway Muse, with wonderful local musicians backing up headliner Teague Kernan from San Francisco.

The event started early as Karaoke King Daniel Demann coaxed shy young singers up to the microphone. Three-year-old Natalie Wagner made her debut and bravely sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star into the mic.

And our very own Mayor Ramon Hayes played two incredible holiday solos on the piano.

Each guest brought an unwrapped gift for a kid up to 12 years old and these were delivered very early Saturday morning to La Conner’s Dick Nord and his 14 Santas at the Skagit Valley Gardens.

Their organization is called The Forgotten Children’s Fund and every Christmas Eve for many years they have been distributing gifts to kids all over Washington State.  This year’s volunteer Santas fanned out along the I-5 corridor and made deliveries to 137 families from Whatcom County to Everett.

This charity is unique in that it is operated entirely by volunteers and is part of a larger group that services about 700 families statewide.

Saturday evening we went to His Place Community Church in Burlington to enjoy upbeat Christmas music as guests of Ramon and Heidi Hayes.  Ramon, on piano, and Heidi, on bass guitar, are part of a fantastic band and they rocked  out in front of a full house of congregants who very much see Christ as a part of Christmas.

Sunday morning we opened presents and then Father William Treacy and Sister Emma, his caretaker, joined us for Christmas dinner.

My kids were blown away by how sharp Father Bill is at age 97.  He is still a master storyteller and we were on the edge of our seats hanging on every word.

When he was a young priest from Ireland in a strange land, the way he handled being away from his family for the holiday was to save a bunch of mail and open it on Christmas Day.  This year, he opened a letter from a very close friend named John who was now living in Bend, Oregon. Written on his deathbed, the letter started “If you are reading this, I’m in the arms of Jesus”.

They had been friends for 60 years, since the man, then Protestant, told Father he wanted to become a Catholic.  When the day came for the conversion, the man didn’t show up and disappeared.

Two years later, Father ran into him crossing a street and the man confessed that his parents were very upset and he couldn’t go through with it.

They became close friends nonetheless and stayed in touch all these years, even as the man moved from Seattle to Bend.  John did become Catholic and Father Treacy baptized his children.

Sister Emma also had our rapt attention as she told us a wonderful story.  She was born in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, to German parents.  Her father was drafted to join Adolph Hitler’s Million Man Army to invade Russia and he was captured immediately.  Hitler declared the thousands of his soldiers who were captured in Russia were of no consequence to Germany.  If you’ve read much Dostoevsky, you know what their lives were like in Siberia.

Young Emma settled in Garmisch Partenkitchen, near Munich in Bavaria.  One day an older, raggedy looking man with a beard, showed up at their house.  It turned out it was her father, who somehow miraculously escaped the Gulag and found his family.

He had been away more than 7 years, which meant his wife had the right to remarry, but she wouldn’t think of it, and in fact, she became pregnant again soon after they reunited.

When asked how he escaped and how he found his relocated family, he would only smile, taking his secret to the grave.

We dropped Father Bill and Sister Emma back at his house at the former Treacy-Levine Center by Lake McMurray.  It’s a little difficult for Father, and me as a board member of the Treacy-Levine Center, to see that the sign in front reads Camp Korey now, but we are also grateful that we sold to an amazing organization.

Camp Korey gives sick children an opportunity to have the best summer of their lives no matter what their affliction.

And Father Treacy will be allowed to continue to live there as long as he wants and continue to preach his message that people of different faiths and different backgrounds can find common ground as this past weekend proved in so many ways.

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