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Tony J Bender

Tony J Bender is a writer from rural Venturia, N.D. He is the publisher of the Ashley (N.D.) Tribune and the Wishek (N.D.) Star. He has written a weekly column, That's Life, for 25 years, which is published by various papers. He has published two novels and three collections of his columns.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Quotes From The Gun Debate

  • “Good morning, students. It’s time for announcements. The lunch menu today is hot dogs with macaroni and cheese. The vegetable is ketchup. Take that, Michelle Obama! Miss Swiffer from fourth grade will be walking point during recess. Also, I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” — The  Principal.
  • “Even if you took away all the guns, people would still die of things like old age.” — Guy Next to You at the Bar.
  • “Guns are not the problem.” — Lone Gunman Spraying Bullets From a Rooftop.
  • “Hold my beer and watch this.” — Good Guy With a Gun Who Accidentally Shot Off His Own Penis.
  • “The media should just stop giving kids ideas.”  — The Only Network Covering the Massacre Responsibly.
  • “Where’s my penis?” — Gunshot victim.
  • “I need to open-carry my AK-47 to make sure Chipotle gets my fajita just the way I like it.” — Quiet Loner Who Kept to Himself and Seemed Like a Nice Guy.
  • “Without bump stocks, teachers will be helpless to defend the classroom against all the guns we helped put on the streets.” — The NRA.
  • “Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the country and it still gets cold in the winter.” — Gun Enthusiast and Climate Change Denier.
  • “You never see this kind of violence in Antarctica.” — Flaming Liberal.
  • “Every American has the right to own an M-14. It’s the 2nd Commandment.” — Guy. Who. Just. Won’t. Stop. Talking.
  • “Save the children!” — Pro-Choice Democrats.
  • “Save the guns!” — Pro-Life Republicans.
  • “There is no silver bullet.” — Radio Talk Show Host.
  • “Yes there is.” — The Lone Ranger.
  • “I need a 100-round clip because there might be more than one coyote.” — Dude Who is a Bad Shot.
  • “I remember when everyone drove to school with a bazooka in the gun rack.” —Guy Who Thinks He’s Your Friend.
  • “I need a Bushmaster to defend myself against a tyrannical government. Go Trump!” — Man in Fatigues and a “Don’t Tread on Me” Shirt, Buying MRE’s at the Army Surplus Store, with a Bulldog on a Leash that has a Kerchief Around it’s Neck.
  • “When we were kids, we had to wear bread sacks on our feet every day on the way to the Killing Fields.” — Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.
  • “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” — Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner.
  • “We need to bring Jesus back into the classroom. With an Uzi. — Satan.
  • “Thank God I was packing heat.” — Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL.
  • “If only my Secret Service Agents had been armed.” — Ronald Reagan.
  • “Murca!” — Bare Chested Guy on Facebook Holding an AR-15 Aloft Like Rambo.
  • “Why won’t anyone hunt with me?” — Dick Cheney.
  • “We’re selling a lot of Kevlar.” — Banana Republic CEO.
  • “We’re rethinking our logo.” — Target CEO.
  • “I shot Vince Foster. And Billy Graham.” — Hillary Clinton.
  • “If they can’t get guns, they’ll use butter knives and ladles” — Talk Show Caller.
  • “Sandy Hook never happened. Neither did the Holocaust. The moon landing was faked, and Elvis is alive.” — Alex Jones.
  • “No, I’m not,” — Elvis.
  • “Gun deaths are actually down.” — Man Consoling Grieving Family.
  • “A well-regulated militia.” — The Constitution.
  • “Thoughts and prayers.” — Every Politician.
  • “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” — 400 Ministers since Sandy Hook.
  • “I’m proud to be an American.” — Lee Greenwood.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Another Current Events Quiz

Because America leads the world in news, it is incumbent upon us to periodically review current events so that when an undocumented immigrant stops you on the street and asks, what the hell is going on, you’ll know.

This may also come in handy on your ACT, SAT or POS test.

1. According to former North Dakota GOP chairman and current Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gary Emineth, Barack Obama is a POS, which, as he explained, means:
A. Point of Sales.
B. Power of Satan.
C. Pinnacle of Success.
D. Pisces or Sagittarius.

2. Things you can get for $37,000 in North Dakota:
A. Eventually, an ounce of medical marijuana.
B. Forgiveness.
C. One-third of the Industrial Commission.
D. An ethics commission.

3. What the hell is going on with Wall Street?
A. The president is in bigly charge of your 401k.
B. Thanks, Obama.
C. Hillary’s emails.
D. Don’t worry, the billionaires will land on their feet.

4. Things in the Democrats’ Even More Secreter Memo than the Republicans’ Top Secret Memo that cannot be revealed:
A. Batman’s secret identity.
B. Valerie Plame’s secret identity.
C. The president’s secret tax returns.
D. KFC’s 11 secret herbs and spices.

5. Former President Bush said it is obvious that Russia:
A. Meddled in the election.
B. Is not to be trusted just because it starts with an “R.”
C. Makes good salad dressing.
D. Is laughing her ass off.

6. According to, Heidi Heitkamp wasn’t high-fiving Chuck Schumer after a Senate vote on reproductive rights, she was:
A. Giving him the secret Illuminati handshake.
B. Trying to bring America down with her out-of-touch liberal policies.
C. Casting out demons.
D. Hailing a cab.

7. Reasons a parade in Washington, D.C., is such a great idea:
A. Convenient access to lots of military hardware, just like at Pearl Harbor.
B. Beats Viagra.
C. Trying to bait Nancy Pelosi into standing in front of a tank.
D. We could march them there illegal immigrants right out of here.

8. Things you can eat in Philadelphia:
A. Cheesesteak.
B. Tide Pods.
C. Horse apples.
D. Tom Brady’s lunch.

9. Reasons not to get a flu shot:
A. Last time I got one, my third cousin twice removed got sick.
B. Advised against it by an accredited Playboy bunny.
C. According to Gloria Copeland, you’ve been inoculated by Jesus for everything. Except HIV.
D. Natural selection.

10. What the groundhog saw:
A. The shadow government.
B. A shadow of a doubt.
C. Russian cinematography.
D. Elvis.

BONUS: Things better organized than the Democrats:
A. Demolition derbies.
C. Recess.
D. Sheep.

OK That was a toughie. Shocked? Some of you look like you spent the night celebrating a Super Bowl win, or rioting on Wall Street. Let’s check your answers. 1. C; 2. D; 3. B; 4. A; 5. B; 6. B; 7. C; 8. D; 9. C; 10. C; Bonus: A.

Now for grading. 11-9 correct: How did you get your hands the Democrats’ memo? 6-8 correct: Very stable geniusing. 3-5 correct: I see you did this in crayon. 0-2 correct: Fret not, if you can cover tuition, you’ll still be able to get into Trump University.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — State Of The Union

Well, the groundhog saw his shadow, so six more months of Mueller.

The president might have basked for a while in the glow of his triumphant State of the Union address, of which a whopping 43 percent of Democrats and 109 percent of Republicans approved. Instead, he released The Memo, which instantly changed the tune from Kumbaya at a campfire to something from The Sex Pistols in a mosh pit.

Some had speculated the president would speak in Russian or maybe just plead The Fifth. But if you looked past the Mussolini jaw-jut and his clapping into the microphone, it was a strong “performance” that included numerous complete sentences.

He touted job growth — the most anemic in six years — but growth, nonetheless. He’d followed up on vows to cut regulations, harass immigrants, move the embassy to Jerusalem and restore Americans’ inalienable right to die uninsured.

He’d put someone to the right of Anthonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, with the appointment Mitch McConnell hijacked; the military has ISIS on the run, and the tax break fired up Wall Street. Pretty good stable geniusing.

Conversely, he was too busy golfing to enact sanctions on Russia. Other unfinished business includes firing everyone on the Russian probe.

Let’s go to the score card. So far, the FBI has recorded two guilty pleas, two indictments and a field goal. The president has sacked acting Attorney General Sally Yates, FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and threw incomplete trying to fire Robert Mueller.

The next time you get pulled over, tell the cop he’s fired. See how that works for you.

Meanwhile, the Democrats flunked Body Language 101. They sat and sulked through all the applause lines, thereby proving they hate God, America, cops, soldiers, capitalism, bootstraps, babies, puppies, kittens, sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, country music, assault rifles and Shirley Temple.

The sit-in was the most organized the Democrats have been all year, with the exception of the 15-minute holdout Chuck Schumer staged over the spending bill, which showed more fiscal discipline than we’ve seen in Washington since Andrew Jackson balanced the budget by selling land stolen from the Indians.

Schumer’s insolent slumping was absent only a black leather jacket and a smoldering Marlboro. Nancy Pelosi looked like a Holstein chewing a cud of lemons. Some Democrats even kneeled.

Even Melania threw shade, wearing a liberal white pantsuit and refusing to stand when the thrice-married kitty grabber talked about family values.

Almost as if she believes the fake news about her husband’s tryst with porn star Stormy Daniels, who has been googled more in recent weeks than Butterball at Thanksgiving.

“To put (white pantsuits) on a display like that at a joint session of Congress is undignified to say the least. It violates the common decency of the chamber,” Kevin Cramer said. Back when Democrats wore them.

It couldn’t have gone better for Republicans. Trump looked sane, Democrats like party-poopers. Sean Hannity was feeling so groovy, he loosened his tie at bedtime. Rush Limbaugh attempted a somersault that turned into a bizarre yoga move and a pulled hamstring.

The Democratic response came from either Conan O’Brien or Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. Apparently, Franklin Roosevelt IX was busy. It was a heartfelt speech from a millionaire in support of middle-class Americans, but too much Chapstick made it appear Kennedy was drooling. “Ask not what your country can drool for you, but what you can drool for your country,” someone tweeted.

Then, the president snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and released the Super Top Secret Memo intended to torpedo the FBI. It cited fake news magazine Mother Jones as one source. The theory is the FBI tried to get Hillary elected, a strategy that included announcing her newest email issues a week before the election.

Democrats claimed The Memo omitted contextual material. Republicans argued, “Hey, that’s how Fox News does it.”

Trump and Republicans, “must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows,” John McCain said. “If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”

Paul Ryan said this was about transparency. Thus inspired, Trump immediately released his tax returns. Kidding.

The Memo revealed the FBI was tracking Trump campaign associate and Russianista Carter Page for years. That didn’t exactly restore confidence in All The President’s Men.

The Memo was released Thursday. On Friday, the stock market fell 666 points. Rattled conservative investors checked their 401Ks to see how many rubles they’d lost. Liberals checked their 420Ks. Evangelicals studied Revelations.

If you wanted more proof the universe speaks in metaphors, you need only consider the news the same day The Memo was released.

There was a train wreck involving Republican politicians. The Republican train ran over a garbage truck, killing a blue-collar worker.

There’s a headline that writes itself.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Sometimes There Is No Spring

T. S. Elliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, but I’d argue that. It comes in the winter.

Winter is more than a metaphor for the twilight of a life, the final whirl of child’s windup toy as the coiled spring inside releases the last of its energy and it freezes in suspended animation, a monument to a life lived.

No, winter is a dying season. Impersonal statistics will bear that out. From December to March, more of us march to the grave than any other time and, if you had to pick one, January would be the cruelest month. It creates more tears than the rest — enough tears to grow tulips in the spring. Maybe that’s what T. S. Elliot was talking about — the memory of winter.

In small, rural newspaper offices in which I’ve spent too much time out of the sun, we don’t need statistics to know these things. It’s all too real. We must face the survivors.

I remember the first one, the trembling hand of a mother handing me an obituary of a teenage son thrown from his prized white pickup and crushed in a rollover. Interesting I should remember the color. In a kinder dimension, he’d be a father now and his children would be graduating from college. So much died with him that night. I still remember his face.

Little of the history we write in small-town newspapers will be broadly shared, but in these moments, we are reminded of its importance and again each summer, when pilgrims return to sift through old issues, searching for remnants of lives long at rest. History can be a grand analysis of broad cause and effect, changing geographies. But always, in the end, in the minutia of it all, it’s personal.

We try to be perfect when the type is set, but few publications are without error. The rule seems to be typos are never visible to the proofreader until there are thousands of copies memorialized forever in print. Gutenberg’s Curse.

But these memorials? We try especially hard to get it right. Long after our own ink has dried up and faded, searchers will come for the past, and they must trust that our work was true.

This week it was a thank-you, handwritten three times before it said as much as could be said, the dust of a husband’s fresh grave not yet settled.

A few weeks ago, it was another mother, an unexplainable cruel confluence of events and an unexpected funeral. This lost son had been born into challenges, one of those children God decides must forever remain a child, one of those rare creatures we love so much it hurts because they smile through adversity, not recognizing much of the time that it’s even there. Is that the lesson they bring to us — that if we don’t acknowledge hardship, it ceases to exist?

His picture was all teeth.

No one knows why he went for a walk on that bitter winter day, only that he didn’t come back.

“I thought of my brother Mike,” I told her.

“I did, too,” she said.

Lame “I’m sorry’s” leaked from my mouth. When she described how they had found him … alone … frozen … gone … that was it for me.

Sometimes we sweep the survivors up in a hug and our chests rattle and wheeze from the hurt, reminding us how impossible it is for these condolences, like the words in the obituaries, to ever say enough. But we have to try.

I’m not sure if pain is something that can be shared, a yoke harnessed to anything at all. Or if it is like a dark cloud billowing until it chooses to stop of its own malevolent whim. I only know it is in our willingness to share the pain that we are most human.

I was reminded of something I scribbled out a year ago after another such a moment:

He walked in slowly, stoically, with checkbook in hand to place a thank-you in the paper. I looked over the neat handwriting. He’d thanked all the people who had expressed sympathies, the pastor, the church ladies who had served the meal. The funeral home.

“$14.30,” I said.

“Is that all?” Because death comes at such a high cost.

He handed me the checkbook, and I filled in everything but the signature.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”


“How long were you married?”

“Sixty-six years.”

I stopped and looked up at him. He had pale, gray eyes.

“That’s a long time. I’ll bet it’s pretty quiet around the house.”

His lip trembled. His eyes glistened.

I passed him the checkbook. He signed, struggled a bit to tear the check out cleanly. Her name was still on the check, too. Just a memory now. He neatly wrote the amount in the register.

Silence. He looked so thin.

“I’m really sorry,” I said.

A nod. He croaked out something. A lament. If tears have a sound then that is what they sound like. And then he walked out.

So thin.


© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — The Breast Of Times

It’s been a couple of interesting weeks when it comes to what women can and can’t do in North Dakota.

In Wahpeton, there’s a communitywide debate about the Oasis Bar’s request to permit lap dancing. Meanwhile, at Chick-fil-A in Fargo, a woman was kicked out for breastfeeding her baby.

Let’s start there. This is a place that makes a living selling chicken breasts, some of which are not even discretely covered by buns. They sell chicken strips, too, which, frankly, is a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to chicken strippers. The next thing you know, they’ll be doing lap dances.

The point is at Chick-fil-A chickens have more rights than chicks. For the life of me, I can’t figure out if it’s liberalism or conservatism that has gone too far here.

The woman and her child (an accessory to the crime) argued breastfeeding in public is legal in North Dakota. The language of a 2009 statute reads, “If the woman acts in a discreet and modest manner, a woman may breastfeed her child in any location …” Well, that’s clear as mud. The restaurant owner apparently interpreted “discreet and modest” to mean you must use one of those portable ice shacks and maybe wear a burka.

One argument is Chick-fil-A, as a privately owned restaurant, has every right to refuse service for any reason. Kinda like Woolworth’s did back in 1960, when it banned topless black women. If this societal decay continues, eventually you’ll have to sell gay people cake.

In Wahpeton, it’s legal for women to display their breasts at the Oasis, but a lot of people think that’s a slippery slope, too. Exotic dancing is a well-known gateway drug to shagging porn stars. Presumably, lap dances fall somewhere in between.

I’ve never had a lap dance, but I’ve just added it to my bucket list. I’m willing to give it a go, unless it involves tap shoes or a River Dance. If that’s the case, I’d rather be smacked on the bottom with a copy of Forbes magazine.

I’ve long been a student of breastology. When I lived in Hettinger, N.D., we discussed the curious duality of breasts on the local radio station, KNDC. If you were a stripper, it was the Evil Breast. If you were feeding an infant, it was the Good Breast — at least until Chick-fil-A threw a wrench into that argument.

The show was called “BS in the AM,” for the triumvirate of Bender, Tom Secrest and Al McIntyre, the host and provocateur. Although that day, Ginger Arndorfer was the substitute host.

A neighboring town was in an uproar about a bar wanting to bring in strippers. I observed that you’d have to pay a cover charge to be offended. A flustered Ginger tried to change the subject, but Tom and I gleefully clung to the issue like a dog to a pork chop, or a baby to a nipple.

By the time the show was over, Ginger was red-faced and steaming and ratings were up. When we walked out of the studio, her husband was waiting for us in the lobby. He’d raced in chivalrously from the ranch, where he had been bench-pressing heifers, to defend her honor.

As Sir Arndorfer glowered down on me, Secrest stealthily put on his coat and hat and tip-toed out. Tom has never been noted for his feats of valor.

“You’re not going anywhere until you apologize to my wife,” the brave knight spake.

“Well, you’re going to be waiting a long time,” I said.

Because my mouth is tougher than the rest of me.

The next week, I was in “Apology Corner,” a long-running segment of the program, during which we were supposed to make amends for the things we’d said the week before. We had a sponsor and everything.

I said I was sorry women faced so much discrimination. A guy can walk around shirtless and a woman can’t? It doesn’t seem right. I mean, man-boobs are a thing.

For the record, the Chick-fil-A franchisee has apologized, too.

For an advanced country, we’re pretty uptight. And some North Dakotans are even uptighter. Cohabitation outside of marriage has only been legal here for 11 years and, even then, only as long as you keep your breasts in their holsters.

Maybe we should loosen up, like the Europeans. They’re naked all the time. Well, not the doughy, pasty-skinned British, but they should think about it. It would distract attention from their teeth.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — What The Heck Happened (And What Could)

The year 2017 was the newsiest year on record according to statistics I just made up. Strike that. These are not alternative facts. This is based on actual gut feelings. And anonymous sources.

Seriously, the news lurched from one thing to another so quickly, reporters had to step up their cross-fit routines to keep up, although Rachel Maddow sounded like she was finishing the Boston Marathon when she breathlessly announced in March that she had Donald Trump’s tax returns. From 2005. Yeah, and I have a ticket stub from that Air Supply concert in 1983. (The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can disrespect Air Supply all they want, but if there was more Air Supply music in our lives, opioid abuse would plummet. Just don’t operate heavy machinery after listening.)

Anyway, you know what’s coming — It’s the Official Tony Bender New Year’s Pop Quiz.

1. According to Chinese Astrology, 2018 will be:
A) The Year of the Dog.
😎 The Year of the Weasel.
C) The Year They Drove Old Dixie Down.
D) Better.

2. When exactly did America become great again?
A) Roy Moore loses in Alabama.
😎 Charles Manson dies, so he can’t be elected to anything in Alabama.
C) The clown from “It” loses narrowly in Alabama primary.
D) Auburn beats Alabama.

3. Things Cabinet members called the president last year:
A) Idiot.
😎  Moron.
C) Putz (golf terminology).
D) Comrade.

4. Conspiracy theorists are increasingly concerned about:
A) The Deep State.
😎 The Dip Stick.
C) Deepak Chopra.
D) Deep Dish Pizza.

5. Things that have changed:
A) Orange is the New Black.
😎 Orange is the New President.
C) Losing is the New Winning.
D) Fox is the New Pravda.

6. Things to be drained in 2018:
A) The Swamp.
😎 The Black Lagoon.
C) Your pocketbook.
D) The color from your face.

7. Top Excuses For Trump:
A) He was just kidding.
😎 He’s not a politician.
C) He’s not a sentient being.
D) Hillary’s e-mails.

8. Reasons the FBI probe should end now:
A) Let bygones be bygones.
😎 Trump bumped into Putin a few times, so collisions, yes. Collusion, no.
C) It’s expensive, and rubles don’t grow on trees.
D) We’re not done talking about Benghazi yet.

9. Changes of geography:
A) Jerusalem is the new capitol of Israel.
😎 Geographic center of North America moved from a Robinson bar back to Rugby, N.D.
C) Half of that ditch is now cropland.
D) Transgender Americans have no place to pee.

10. More likable than Sarah Huckabee Sanders:
A) A rabid skunk.
😎 Evil flying monkeys.
C) Vlad the Impaler.
D) Kidney stones.

BONUS: Proof global warming isn’t real:
A) It snowed.
😎 Dog paddling polar bears are imagining things.
C) Acidic oceans are caused by hippie freaks.
D) The poles can’t be melting because there are no poles because the earth is flat.

Answers: 1. C; 2. B; 3. D; 4. C; 5. D; 6. B; 7. C; 8. C; 9. A; 10. C; Bonus D. OK, let’s see how you did. 11-9 correct: Nice but don’t you have ulcers from keeping up on all of this? 6-8 correct: Fine, but an end zone celebration? Really? 3-5 correct: To take this test in Spanish, please press 2. 0-2 correct: Next time I’ll write slower so you can keep up.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — A Christmas Story

The clatter was tremendous.

Decorative brass fireplace implements clanged off the brick hearth and a fine black cloud of soot billowed, and when it had cleared, there stood a man who looked just like the one in the Christmas cards — right down to the red suit and black boots.

The small boy at the table stared, a cookie poised at his mouth.

The rotund man in the red suit turned with an impossibly big bag slung over his shoulder and sneezed, when he opened his eyes after the sneeze, he saw the boy. “Wh-wh-why, Max! What are you doing up at this hour … and say, aren’t those cookies for me?

The boy’s face flashed from amazement to defiance. “I ate them because I don’t believe in Santa anymore. I don’t believe in anything good anymore!”

Sadly, Santa had become used to people not believing in him anymore. But it especially saddened him when children no longer believed. He set down the huge sack before the forlorn little tree.

There were but two presents beneath it — one with Max’s name and on the other one was a childish scrawl in crayon that read, “Mom and Dad.” The Ds were backward.

“So what do you believe in then?” Santa asked the boy.

“Nothing and no one!” was the reply. “I prayed for Skipper to get better, but the veterinarian let him die. School is stupid. The teacher thinks every letter has to be right when I spell, and … and…” His lip trembled, “And we won’t be a family this Christmas, ‘cuz they won’t let my daddy leave the war.” He bit his lip furiously. He was not going to cry!

The old man pulled up a chair beside the boy. It creaked under his girth. “Well,” he said, “When I heard about Skipper, I felt pretty bad. How old was he, anyway?”

“Nineteen,” said the boy. “My dad got him when he was about my age.

“Now, I remember,” Santa said. “But you know, 19 is an awfully long time for a dog to live. Last Christmas, he was too worn out to bark at me …”

“I know,” said the boy, whose eyes were red-rimmed with tears. “But he was my best friend. Except when he tipped over his water dish. Dad said Skipper was a cluck.”

“Klutz,” Santa corrected. “There’s a difference. And that’s why your teacher wants you to spell things exactly right. Why, in the old days, I was a terrible speller. And my handwriting was atrocious! One year, I delivered a dog to a little girl who wanted a doll.

“Turns out, she was allergic to the poor little pup, so I had to leave him under the tree of a little boy whose mother “absolutely, unequivocally, under no circumstances” would allow a dog in the house.

“That’s how my Grandma acted when he got Skipper for Christmas. Daddy told me Grandma and Grandpa had a humdinger of a fight about it.”

“Oh, they did,” Santa said. “I felt bad about it, too. Because it was my fault.”

“But it worked out great,” Max told Santa — or whoever he was — “Dad and I both had Skipper and he had us. It was the best mistake ever!”

“I see you smiling now,” Santa said. “Isn’t something that Skipper still makes you smile? He’ll always be alive in your heart.”

“I know, but it’s hard to have Christmas without Skipper and Dad — all because of the Army. “Why do people have wars, anyway?”

Santa sighed. “I can’t put my finger on it, but it seems to me wars started about the time people stopped believing in me — or in hope.

“Not everyone stopped believing, mind you. There are always enough people who have hope — and that’s good, because it is hope that keeps me alive. And cookies!” He took a bite of the last cookie on the plate.

“I’m sorry, Santa,” Max yawned. “I didn’t mean what I said …” But before Santa could reply, Max’s eyes were closed.

When they blinked open again, Max realized he must have been dreaming. The sun was only beginning to rise. He trudged down the stairs slowly, but when he heard a rustle, he began to run. “Santa!” he cried.

But the man leaning over the tree, which was nearly buried in colorfully wrapped presents, was much too thin to be Santa.

Besides, he was in an olive green uniform. His hair was tightly trimmed and when he turned, he had a huge grin on his face.

Max didn’t remember exactly how he landed in his father’s arms. He might have flown.

“I got a pass,” Max’s father explained softly, so as not to wake his wife. “One of the fellows gave up his leave for me. Imagine that. I barely know him. It kind of gives you hope, doesn’t it?”

Max nodded, speechless, and before he found his voice, the padding of slippers could be heard at the steps and his mother flew like he had into the thin man’s arms. The three of them held on to each other so tight, Max could barely breathe.

They hugged until they heard a little growl.

They turned just in time to see a wee puppy ferociously tugging on a strand of garland. He pulled so hard the tree toppled.

“Harry! How could you,” Max’s mother scolded his dad. “Another dog!”

Well, that led to a humdinger of a fight. But it was the first time Max had ever seen his parents grin through an entire argument.

His mother threatened to banish the pup to the garage. “Look at the mess he made at the fireplace!” The poker, broom and scoop were scattered amidst a fine powder of soot.

“But … but …” Max stuttered, “It was Santa.”

His mother looked at his father and he smiled.

“Of course, it was,” she said.

Max never again waited up for Santa because, well, if it was a dream, he didn’t want to know.

But every Christmas Eve, he left cookies and milk on the table. And every Christmas morning without fail, they had been eaten.

His mother blamed the dog.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — The Politics Of Self-Preservation

It will be interesting to see if the president can hold together The Party of Capitulation after Roy Moore’s defeat.

Divide and conquer. That’s how you keep your job with a 32 percent approval rating. That and fear. Republicans saw what happened to Jeff Flake. It’s more than party over people. It’s about self-preservation.

There are three subfactors in play — cluelessness, cowardice and political cynicism. We know U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer is a candidate to head the Ministry of Suck Ups, while U.S. Sen. John Hoeven remains in a fetal position under his desk. Really, that tax bill is good for North Dakotans? Really?

Gov. Doug Burgum saw which direction the wind was blowing last summer — down toward Hades — but endorsed Trump, anyway. I’d like to believe he was at least holding his nose. Here’s the thing about wetting your finger in the breeze — reinventing leadership requires bucking some headwinds.

The bully pulpit was invented here. You guys might want to look into that. Running with the herd ain’t leadership. You just step in a lot of cow pies. If Roy Moore’s defeat is any indication, the herd is starting to turn.

It’s unlikely Trump has the brainpower to calculate this strategy of division. He may just be a natural destroyer of worlds. An idiot savant with a black heart.

However, the Democratic “strategy” of “We’re Not Trump” isn’t inspirational, either. It may lead to gains in the midterms, but a coherent, less hypocritical message — like not giving $250,000 speeches on Wall Street — would do wonders. It’s the economy (of average Americans), stupid.

So far, Republicans have secured the tax bill and a transfer of more wealth from the middle to the top. You on the bottom? Sorry, your name didn’t come up. Please stop spending your money on booze, women and movies. You’ll need it for ramen. The self-induced deficits will be an excuse for gutting the social safety net.

Republicans, who are also held hostage by evangelicals, will cynically try to stick with President Machiavelli until they get a justice to overturn Roe v. Wade and put women firmly back in their places as second-class citizens — third-class if you’re a woman of color.

A good war could keep everyone distracted for a while. By then, the overheated stock market will have tanked; big banks will get bailed out again, but not mortgage holders. Bootstraps, people!

After that, Democrats will win more elections but will be rewarded with a big pile of dung. Then, as they did after Dubya, Republicans will induce mass amnesia and blame the mess on liberal policies. Demagogues will continue to tell white working-class families that they are paying to support a bunch of slacker minorities, while their pockets are being picked (again) for corporate welfare.

At least Trump will be safe from the estate tax. And we’re just fine with him monetizing the White House, even as he is neutered internationally by Russian blackmail.

State Media (Fox News) is building a case to fire Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. If it happens, will the Republican majority finally do the right thing and defend democracy? Please.

You want to make big moral strides in America? Make this a drinking game. When Republicans do the right thing, you drink a shot. It will be drier than Prohibition. Jagermeister will be belly up by next Thursday.

Oh, and if you mention any of this, it’s fake news. Another proven tactic. Kill the messenger. Who needs objective journalists when we have stooges to tell us things we like to hear and remind us how enlightened our biases are? Please appeal to my uninformed vanity. Critical thinking is for losers.

Wanna fix it, people? Vote. Get out the vote. It works. See Alabama.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Can’t Touch This

A legislative committee will examine North Dakota’s sexual harassment policy “to make sure it’s up to date,” said Rep. Al Carlson.

“I’m hoping for visual aids,” added a committeeman, panting slightly.

Existing codes are located between weights and measures, buggy whips and the zoning of sod houses.

Current statutes read:

  • A chaste woman shan’t ride alone in a closed carriage with a man who is not a relative.
  • She may, however, signal her status with a fan. Fanning slowly means, “I am engaged.” Fanning whilst disrobed suggests, “I am hotith to trotith.”
  • Gentlemen must remove spurs at the parlor door whilst courting.
  • And something about transgender outhouses.

The committee will watch a video, “U Can’t Touch This,” from noted ethicist M.C. Hammer. Later, there’ll be a debate — “Do’s and Don’ts” — between Roy Moore and R. Kelly. Mostly they’ll be discussing the do’s. Kelly got invited because there’s an R in his name. And finally, a slide show on Gadsden Mall hot spots and Moore’s plan to bring integrity back to the U.S. Senate.

Rules to be considered:

  • Don’t handle the hooters.
  • Don’t goose the caboose.
  • Don’t make a colleague walk on your back. Even if she’s a babe from your harem.
  • Don’t involve a houseplant in any of this.

Automatic door locks are verboten. Matt Lauer once trapped Willard Scott in his office and subjected him to hours of double-entendres about Smucker’s. If Lauer and Charlie Rose ever get together, some crap’s gonna go down.

Add Bill O’ Reilly, and, oh my … Seriously, what do you have to do that ends in a $32 million settlement? Does it even involve the same species?

North Dakota Republicans have so far resisted the formation of an ethics commission. First, they have to check with Petroleum Council President Ron Ness to see if it’s OK.

A puzzling Catch-22. If you have the ethics to form an ethics commission, you probably don’t need it. A chicken-and-egg thing. What comes first, the ethics or the commission? It’s right up there with quandaries like how in quantum mechanics, electrons can be in two places at the same time, and how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. The world may never know.

The Capitol is eagerly awaiting sexual harassment training. Some will be disappointed to learn it doesn’t involve an instruction manual.

Pop quiz questions:

  • Is she winking, or does she have something in her eye?
  • What was she wearing?

The state’s already facing a gender discrimination case against Higher Ed Chancellor Mark Hagerott, who is accused by fired vice chancellor Lisa Feldner of treating women like pets.

Hagerott is not accused of making any booty calls, though. Quite the contrary. He’s from the Mike Pence puritanical wing of politics. In these times, Pence may be on to something.

According to Feldner, Hagerott wouldn’t ride alone with single moms on his staff. She also claims Hagerott thought a drone flying outside the Capitol was operated by Russians and that the Chinese were hacking his emails. (Did recreational marijuana get approved in Bismarck while I wasn’t looking?)

Ed Schafer, who was interim president at the University of North Dakota, did try to influence the 2016 gubernatorial election. But, so far, no connections to Moscow. Fortunately, if Hagerott gets canned, Alex Jones is available and would be a welcome voice of reason. In Bismarck, he’ll be branded as a moderate.

Meanwhile, with Russiagate, we could see a Mike Pence presidency. He’d be the anti-Justin Timberlake. He’d bring chastity back. No skirts above the ankles.

Pence wouldn’t meet alone with Angela Merkel, or Theresa May, but a meeting with Kim Jong Un isn’t out of the question.

I’m glad tax “reform” passed before Russiagate explodes. Even if they had to pass it to see what’s in it. Which is how one might approach a bowel movement.

Call me when the swamp is drained.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — A Net Loss

The FCC appears ready to roll back net neutrality rules in December. I know your eyes are glazing over, but hang with me just a second, and let me tell you how this will be good for you.


OK, it won’t actually be good for you. Not at first, anyway. But in the same way that tax breaks for corporations will eventually trickle down to everyone, you’ll get trickle-down web services.

The internet was originally touted as a democratization of information — free speech in its freest form — but Lord knows giant corporations have suffered long enough under the shackles of Democracy and the First Amendment.

In 2015, when net neutrality became policy, it ensured users equal access to all online content, regardless of the source. Tragically, that left internet service providers unable to fully monetize (exploit) both ends of the market — websites and end users.

This is all being framed as the free market versus government regulation. Well, it’s sorta true. Abolishing net neutrality will allow ISPs the freedom to price smaller companies out of business and to charge end users more for less. Your ISP will decide for you, based on a tiered toll system, whose products and what information, including political messaging, you see.

With this pay-to-play concept, websites that can afford to pay more to hold a dominant position online will effectively stifle innovative startups that can’t afford to pay what established companies can. Consider the political free speech ramifications.

In short, it’s in keeping with the way politics works today in America. With Citizens United the law of the land, you get as much speech as you can afford. But it ain’t free.

Corporations have laid out a lot of money to buy legislation. Comcast and AT&T each spent $28 million on campaign contributions and lobbyists in 2016. Don’t expect them to behave once they get the policy they paid for.

The basic premise of net neutrality allows customers to do whatever they want (legally) with their internet connection. Before net neutrality became law, AT&T blocked Skype because it was cheaper than using AT&T cellphones. AT&T also tried to block FaceTime for the same reason. In 2007, it was reported that Comcast blocked some customers from downloading online videos.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.”

An antitrust suit in 1982 broke up the phone monopoly. Well, they’re back. If you love your cable or satellite television bill, you’re going to love the new internet because that’s the model. We’re going from buffet to ala carte. You’ll pay more for less.

You’ll no longer be an internet consumer who can freely choose what you want to access. No, that will be decided for you. Effectively, censorship by highest bidder.

The reality is, you’re insignificant as a consumer. Your importance lies as part of a database. You are part of the market. A digit in an algorithm. This is about selling you what monopolies want to sell.

So far, key members of the FCC board seem unswayed by the almost universal consumer support for continuing net neutrality. The board is comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats, each placed by presidential appointment for five-year terms. Elections have consequences.

The greatest threat to unethical power is freedom of information. If the FCC repeals net neutrality when it votes Dec. 14, a primary source of information will be controlled like never before — by a corporatocracy.