TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Things That Puzzle Me

Admittedly, I’m easily puzzled.

Therefore, I ought to be able to come up with a column on that topic. Even if I’m trying to write next to a guy noshing airport sushi while I’m waiting for a flight back to North Dakota.

The first thing that puzzles me is why I’m leaving Los Angeles this soon, knowing full well I’m flying back into the teeth of a northern Plains autumn —  which in the perspective of Californians is Antartica in the dead of winter. They think we raise penguins. We should consider it. The pheasant count is down.

Had the Dodgers actually won Game 7 of the World Serious, I might have been tempted to stick around, so I could help tip over cop cars on Rodeo Drive.

After my visit, I’m also thinking about investing in Dow Chemical. Facts I made up show that a full 20 percent of your average Californian’s body mass is silicone. The balance is a combination of botox, Perrier and arugula. The only other place that has bigger boobs and more fake smiles is Washington, D.C.

I kid. As eclectic as California is, it’s a sane asylum compared to the rest of the world. I did check the news while I was gone and that led to a good deal of confusion.

Like why Donald Trump Jr. had to drag his daughter, Chloe, into a discussion about economics. All the kid really wanted to do was to go trick-or-treating on Halloween in her Marie Antoinette costume.

When you’re a Trump kid, it’s complicated enough. You end up with things like Krugerrands, Faberge eggs, caviar, covfefe and truffles in your Gucci bag — a serious bummer when you’re 3.

On the bright side, at least she isn’t saddled with having some weird name ending in “-vana” or “-vanka.” Unless her full name is Chlovanka, which sounds like a trendy social disease. Or the perfect place for a nuclear accident. Or a country bordering Nambia.

Inexplicably, her father used Halloween as an opportunity to disparage liberal kids who aren’t working hard enough. “I’m going to take half of Chloe’s candy tonight and give it to some kid who sat at home,” he tweeted. “It’s never to [sic] early to teach her about socialism.”

Uhh, I’m not an economist, but isn’t socialism like when you knock on doors and ask for a handout? Some people call it Halloween, others call it tax reform.

Speaking of which, I’m puzzled by the almost patriotic fervor among paycheck-to-paycheck Republicans in the Heartland who support the desperate need to eliminate the estate tax.

It affects just 5,000 millionaires and billionaires a year. I guess this is a minority outreach program. Well, you gotta start somewhere.

I’m puzzled, too, by the contradiction that some economic philosophers in Washington want a new tax “reform” plan that would offer an increased child tax credit, while simultaneously cutting safety net funding that feeds and insures children. How did they decide which one is welfare and which one is not?

The sales pitch on this tax plan is that it’s about job creation. But isn’t unemployment already at a 17-year low, at 4.1 percent? The only people not working are liberal children who are too lazy to even ask for a mini-Snickers bar at the neighbor’s house.

If we create any more jobs, everyone will have to start working two jobs. Hold it. I think that’s already a thing. Anyway, as a liberal slacker, I don’t want another job. My plan if things get tough? Go Fund Me.

Ultimately, I just don’t think I’m ready for America to be too great too soon. Maybe we ought to just ease into it — you know, do a little economic foreplay. I’ll leave it to you to continue the analogy.

Every tax cut from Kennedy to Reagan to Bush II has added to the deficit, but this time they say it’s going to work. Absolutely. No doubt. Pinky promise.

Even though Wall Street is roaring, I guess we need even more stimulus.

Personally, I’m worried. What’s this much stimulus going to do to Mike Pence? He may start calling his wife “Baby” instead of “Mother.” The good news is he probably won’t have to arrange conjugal visits through Bob Mueller.

Equally puzzling to me about this rush to tax “reform” are the Tea Party congressmen who were against deficits under Obama. Most have apparently signed on for $1.5 trillion added to the national debt. We could rename it the T.P. Party because that’s what you need when you’re so full of … of … tax reform, I guess.

My guess is the tax cut for the rich will just add to the debt. In a few years, Republicans will start wringing their hands and blaming the working poor on food stamps, who just aren’t Halloweening hard enough.

Maybe I’m too skeptical. Perhaps a few days in California has addled my once sound judgment.

I bet someone put something in my wine spritzer.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — How Well Do You Know Current Events?

Hey folks, it’s been awhile, and I sense my readers slacking off.

Have you been paying attention to current events? The news has been particularly newsy as of late. Actually, I was holding off writing this since there were rumblings about the apocalypse happening Saturday. Bummer. Now, I have to write a column, and I suppose, pay my bills. OK, pencils sharpened, eyes straight ahead, here we go.

1. Under recent health care legislation, this is considered a pre-existing condition:

(a) Warts.

(b) Heebie jeebies.

(c) Boogers.

(d) Existing.

2. The most unpatriotic thing ever:

(a) Kneeling during the national anthem.

(b) Kneeling when Lee Greenwood sings.

(c) Five deferments.

(d) Buying “Make America Great Again” caps from Russia.

3. A contributing cause to more intense hurricanes:

(a) Gay pride.

(b) Insincere prayers.

(c) Al Gore.

(d) Cow farts.

4. Top Kim Jong-Un nickname:

(a) Rocket Man.

(b) Off His Rocker Man.

(c) Major Tom.

(d) Captain Fantastic.

5. Reasons the world didn’t end Saturday as predicted:

(a) The Almighty is still on the Julian Calendar.

(b) Not prudent without a health care bill in place.

(c) President Trump and Kim Jong-Un both golfing.

(d) Saving it for a Vikings Super Bowl win.

6. Reason President Trump disinvited the Golden State Warriors:

(a) Discovered they weren’t the Golden Showers Warriors.

(b) Hardly any white guys on the team.

(c) Too busy drinking covfefe in Nambia.

(d) He’s already hosted Frederick Douglass.

7. According to Hillary’s new book, she lost because:

(a) Deplorables vote.

(b) Unseemly references to her impeding coronation.

(c) Savvy book marketing strategy.

(d) Accidentally got Thomas A. Dewey’s playbook.

8. How did Miss North Dakota become Miss America?

(a) It’s just a matter of spelling, actually.

(b) Stole the other girls’ signs with an Apple watch.

(c) Never once mentioned lutefisk.

(d) She’s really swell.

9. The only thing scarier than the movie “It”:

(a) The Weather Channel.

(b) Al Carlson.

(c) Twitter at 3 a.m.

(d) Mike Zimmer.

10. Something whiny liberal snowflakes should do:

(a) Get a job.

(b) Get over it.

(c) Grow a pair.

(d) Don’t Bogart that joint.

BONUS QUESTION: A really cool name for a hurricane would be:

(a) Biff.

(b) Dweezil.

(c) Stormy.

(d) Hutch.

Answers: 1. d; 2. c; 3. a; 4. b; 5. a; 6. a; 7. c; 8. d; 9. c; 10. b; BONUS d. Grading 9-11 correct: You’ve clearly been keeping up. You must be a nervous wreck. 6-8 correct: In Nambia, this would be an A+. 3-5 correct: The important thing is you vote. 0-2 correct: Don’t worry, your preconceived notions will serve you well.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Hurricane Donald

A big wind made landfall last Wednesday in North Dakota, and when I woke up the next morning, North Dakota was great again.

A KX News morning show anchor giddily recounted her excitement about President Trump’s visit and how she and her family had gone out to “show our love for the president.” I was a little surprised her objective report didn’t include the phrase “glorious leader.”

Perhaps I woke up in North Korea. I missed it, did anyone kiss his ring?

Not everyone was happy about the president’s invitation-only visit to a refinery in Mandan. I know I’m part of the Fake News and Liberal Agenda that Rush Limbaugh blames for overhyping Hurricane Irma just to make a point about climate change, but it is a statistical fact 41 percent of North Dakotans don’t support the president.

Eleven percent of them have actually been groped by him. The other 30 percent have been goosed by Limbaugh.

This may explain why folks are increasingly desperate for medical marijuana to get here. “Please help us forget.” Anyway, don’t tell me the president’s not on something. He must be smoking covfefe during those 3 a.m. tweet sessions from the bathroom.

We should legalize covfefe, too, once we figure out what it is. The downside of building The Wall is we’ll no longer have easy access to covfefe pouring across our borders from Mexico. But we’ll have jobs picking tomatoes, if we’re not too busy mining coal, the energy of the future.

Once we get rid of people who are different from us, things will be grand. I think a raid at Norsk Hostfest would be a good start. And, yes, Jethro, we’ll call you for that Google programming gig once we send Ravi back to New Delhi.

And did you hear? A Dickinson company is in the running to build a prototype for The Wall. I hope they’re better at it than the folks in my neck of the woods. Every time I drive to Lehr, there are cows on the road. We need better fences. Or more-obedient cattle.

Naturally, there were protesters and counter-protesters in Mandan. You could tell them apart based on the spelling errors. I don’t think racists should be against “Muslins.” What would they do without sheets?

Noted white supremacist Craig Cobb was there to show his support for the president. David Duke couldn’t make it because he was rallying support to defend statues of Colonel Sanders, Ashley Wilkes, The Dukes of Hazzard and Foghorn Leghorn.

Some of the president’s supporters yelled at Trump protesters to get a job. Silly. Everyone knows liberal protesters work for George Soros. I personally feel he should get more credit as a job creator.

Meanwhile, the Trump supporters were apparently multitasking, working, while supporting the president. That’s the sort of gumption that made America great before Obama made it un-great. To be fair, he did make Kenya great again.

Pretty much everyone was mad about Sen. Heidi Heitkamp riding on Air Force One with President Trump. Liberals already think she’s too far right. Republicans don’t think she has enough deferments to even qualify for high office. Kevin Cramer was especially displeased. Not only did Heidi get the window seat, she made him go to the galley three times for salted almonds. You know how Leftists are when it comes to free stuff. They’re always pulling themselves up by other people’s bootstraps. Then, to top it off, the president actually said nice things about Heidi when he spoke because he wants her to vote for tax breaks for the rich, to help out the poor.

North Dakota is a shining example of giving tax breaks to rich guys. That has taken the pressure from North Dakota property owners, who are more than happy to absorb the cost of tax breaks for Big Oil. Because having too much disposable income can get downright confusing.

I mean where do you invest — Wall Street or Russia? The easy answer is always invest in tax breaks for billionaires.

This time, it’s sure to trickle down. I’ll bet oil typhoon Harold Hamm, who thanks to North Dakota Republicans, could finally afford to fly in from Oklahoma to greet the president, threw dollar bills out the window of his Lear Jet.

Technically, that could result in a $500 fine under stiff new littering penalties passed by Republicans to protect the environment. However, if you spill a few thousand barrels of oil in North Dakota, all you have to do is write, “I was a bad boy,” a 100 times on the blackboard. You have to ease into these things.

I’m not saying we’re easy, but all the light bulbs in Bismarck are being swapped out with red ones. It’ll be purdy at Christmas.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — The Politics Of Division

Last week, in Virginia, the birthplace of more presidents than any other, a woman died protesting Nazis, mowed down by a white supremacist in a Dodge Charger. This new president’s reaction was to blame “many sides.”

I blame Obama. And Chrysler Motors.

Seven months into this sideshow (not exactly the phrase I would like to use), when will diehard Trump apologists finally admit electing him was a grievous mistake? But you have to give him some credit. It didn’t take him long to make Nazi Germany great again. Russia’s next.

True to form, “President” Trump passed the buck — unlike Harry S. Truman — saying that hate and division cannot be linked to his presidency because it has “been going on for a long, long time.”

There’s a whisper of the truth there, something with which we’ve come to disassociate with the 45th president. We’ve come a long way from “I cannot tell a lie” to rapt amazement when this one even gets close to the truth. This isn’t horseshoes — although you can lose the popular vote in America by 3 million votes and still claim a mandate. To be fair, those 3 million illegal voters did show up for the Inauguration.

If Trump were Catholic, he’d set records for shortest confession, provided he didn’t first burst into flames at the threshold like Bela Lugosi, because he is incapable of admitting his mistakes. These are more than mistakes; they are the politics of division.

Yet, this president, who has managed to break 11 of the 10 Commandments, is supported by the apocalypse-embracing nut job members of the Christian right, who are so deluded, he could pass gas and they’d call it perfume. Trump could tack Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to the Rose Garden trellis and some crazies would justify it as fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

I understand their affection for the president. The man speaks in tongues.

While clergy men and women marched against the Steve Bannon-endorsed “Alt Right” ugliness in Charlottesville, most high profile family values Republicans played ostrich. Or chicken. Choose any bird with a small brain that can’t fly.

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer nailed it when he said that Trump has emboldened racists. “Look at the campaign he ran,” he said. “Look at the intentional courting both, on the one hand, of all these white supremacists, white nationalist groups like that, anti-Semitic groups. And then look on the other hand, the repeated failure to step up, condemn, denounce, silence … put to bed all those different efforts.”

I have a Jewish friend who thinks I have been unfair in my criticism of Trump. I wonder what he thinks about the emboldenment of Nazism in America. KKK leader David Duke sees the Nazi rally in Virginia as the fulfillment of Trump’s vision for the country.

“We are determined to take our country back,” Duke said. “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”

True, Trump didn’t create the culture of intolerance, but he amplified it. To be fair, the alt-right protesters did show a hint of inclusiveness with the use of tiki torches — a tip of the hat to our first Hawaiian president? Later, they gathered for pineapple pizza.

And from Trump enablers across the country? Silence. Or excuses for a president who encourages police brutality (wink, wink, against people of color). KFYR radio talk show host Scott Hennen (“Defending the values of faith, family and freedom …”) explained on social media that Trump is a street fighter. Good, because judging from his five deferments during the Vietnam War, when he was heroically avoiding STD’s while grabbing crotches with his incredibly small hands, we know he isn’t a jungle fighter.

Tiny fingers come in handy as the leader of the free world — oops, excuse me, I just got the president confused with Angela Merkel — because it’s easier to tweet out nonsensical orders on your smart phone’s minuscule keyboard. Things like banning transgender soldiers from the military because, hey, when sexuality gets ambiguous, how do you know which crotch to grab? Contrast that with the aforementioned Truman, who in 1948, signed an executive order of inclusiveness, desegregating and abolishing racial discrimination in our armed forces.

Of course, Truman was the only president to order the use of atomic weapons, and the debate rages on about the necessity of that decision, but is there anyone who wouldn’t rather have Give ‘Em Hell Harry in the White House right now? Even dead at the age of 133, he’d make better decisions. Instead, we have President Golf Cart trading barbs with the equally insecure Kim Jong-Un, possibly the only leader with a worse haircut.

But the stock market is doing great! I’m loading my portfolio with Ambien and alcohol because heaven knows it’s getting harder for Americans to sleep at night. (I’m still tossing and turning over Hillary’s e-mails.) I’m also taking a flyer on Aqua Net and Elmer’s Glue stock because that has to be what holds Trump’s hair in place when the wind blows unimpeded through his ears.

Until next week, duck and cover.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Family Reunion Memories

I’m not so sure about this whole family reunion deal.

For one thing, it’s kind of a voluntary admission that I’m related to these people. That’s borderline masochism. And I was raised Lutheran.

Sure, I’ll take one for the team and show up for the funeral if one of the Benders tips over. There’s actually a perverse sense of relief that at least Aunt Hilda won’t be around anymore to bring up those ignominious moments from my past life as a moron. Oh, I’m still capable of embarrassing myself, it’s just that most of the time nowadays, I lack the energy.

I understand why some of the Benders wanted to negotiate the $15 cover charge for the reunion last Saturday. For starters, it proves they’re authentic Benders. I like to drop dollar bills around the oldest Benders at reunions because it amuses me to see if they can bend enough to pick them up, or if they’ll end up doing some kind of geriatric somersault onto the lawn.

And I agree, $15 does seem like a lot to pay to have your name dragged through the mud.

Oh, how they love to tell stories.

It’s not surprising the only open space at the table was across from my second cousin, Rodney, who waves at me every day when I drive by and throw beer cans onto his lawn. Well, it’s not a wave so much as a salute. Because I drink American beer, I think, and he’s a patriot. (Pabst Blue Ribbon, if you’re wondering, and I have a birthday coming up.)

As I sat there listening to him complain about getting free aluminum, I wondered to myself why we had to drive an hour and a half to Aberdeen to be reunited.

Rodney’s mom, Marlene, was there, so it was just a matter of time before the topic of frogs came up. Marlene’s still sore about the time she agreed to take Rodney and me to Lake Hoskins and, without her knowledge, we stashed a bunch of frogs in her car. You know, a lot of people are worked up these days about texting behind the wheel, but if you want to see some distracted driving, turn a dozen frogs loose under Marlene Meidinger’s brake pedal.

After weaving home like she’d been doing tequila shooters, Marline demanded we catch all the frogs. You wouldn’t think there would be that many places for a frog to hide in a 1967 Pontiac. We presented her with seven and swore that was all of them. Mostly. Kinda. If you’re rounding up.

No one has ever introduced a bill in the Legislature banning distracted frog driving, but that doesn’t mean you should try it. For one thing, it kills your trade-in value. I would like to add, “Let it go Marlene. It’s been 50 years.”

To change the subject, Rodney started talking about how we would catch his grandfather’s chickens, tuck their heads under their wings, and rock them to sleep. Chickens are not very bright. I don’t care how Darwin and his evolution thing works out, after mankind has gone extinct, there is no way chickens will ever rule the Earth. My money is on kangaroos.

The goal was to get the whole flock sleeping at the same time but, inevitably, just as we were down to the last few, the first one would wake up squawking (from a bad dream about Colonel Sanders?) and then it was nothing but dust and feathers.

Rodney then told everyone how we used to take his Grandpa’s .22 to see how close we could get to the chickens’ feet without actually hitting them. I guess if you hit one, “Hey, dinner.”

Rodney claims we did leave a couple of chickens hopping around on missing toes, but I know I was a better bad shot than that. He may have been embellishing. My clan has been known to do that. You might have noticed.

While I was contemplating what the statute of limitations might be on frogs and chickens, Rodney’s wife, Lucy, jumped in with tales of just how mean Rodney had been to her on the bus in grade school. Since it didn’t involve me, I agreed Rodney had been a wretched child and a terrible influence on me. In fact, if it weren’t for him, I’d probably be in church right now.

Rodney was just awful, Lucy said, with the name-calling and bullying and such. The last thing you want to do is tick off a short little German girl. She got so mad about it, she married him just to get even. Rodney’s been sleeping with one eye open for about 40 years now.

The next reunion is in three years. I’m checking my schedule now. It looks like I’m going to be, uhh, busy. But if I do make it, I’m bringing Marlene a picnic basket full of frogs.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — A Case For Conservatism

“Have a happy Fourth of July,” he said.

“Have a good Independence Day,” I responded for the third time that day.

Because we forget forget too easily what Independence Day is about, how the United States of America was born, who we set out to be, and more importantly, who we have become.

We are urged each December to “remember the reason for the season,” which apparently is about crass commercialism and, seriously, why isn’t the Christmas merchandise out? It will be August soon.

As I watched fireworks on the horizon, miles away, mirrored by a lake under a white moon, the booming reports coming long after the showers of airborne sparks, I thought about the promise of America. If Christmas is about more than tinsel, then Independence Day is about more than fireworks.

I contemplated the divisions, the labels that define us today. Simplify, quantify, brand, ostracize, discredit and dehumanize to further an agenda. Liberal, conservative, independent, agnostic — whatever — we place each other in rigid boxes, defining others as if they were one-trick ponies. And yet, our day-to-day experiences are more than that. There’s more holding us together than pulling us apart. If that weren’t true, we would not still be standing after 241 years.

When an ice storm knocked my home out of power for 12 days in minus 15 degree weather some years back, it was my conservative-minded neighbor who was there the first day offering the use of a spare generator.

I have always had many conservative friends, and any one of them would give me the shirt off their back. Liberals would, too, if they weren’t usually topless and barefoot. In my case, public nudity should go not further than my toes. I don’t think we need laws to enforce it — smaller, less intrusive government, and all that — peer pressure should be enough.

Less intrusion. That’s a traditional conservative view that doesn’t align with policing bedrooms or regulating the reproductive systems of half the population. Those are religious dictates. Our constitution grants us freedom of religion and equally important, freedom from religion. If you’re concerned about Sharia Law, then you ought to be equally concerned about those among us using the Bible as a cudgel and justification for laws governing personal decisions.

Sure, I sometimes read the Bible. I also eat shellfish.

Barry Goldwater once said, “Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” They called him “Mr. Conservative.”

All true conservatives believe government is necessary. You can’t be a constitutionalist if you don’t. “A more perfect union,” by it’s very nature, is government at work. And that Second Amendment thing? Government, astonishingly, providing a check on government — with perimeters — “a well-regulated militia” being the key phrase.

The defining mission of a government or society is to pool resources to do what we cannot accomplish individually. (Interesting, isn’t it, that the word “socialism” is a derivative of the word society, and yet the construct of society is pragmatic, conservative, even, in nature.)

Public roads and bridges increase efficiency. Public education nurtures problem-solvers. Infrastructure and education are about maximizing the potential of all Americans. Everybody wins when everybody wins.

Businesses need efficient shipping corridors. We’ve come to depend upon a fast, stable information highway. Infrastructure is a great equalizer; it fosters healthy competition in a free market, and competition advances innovation and generally enhances our quality of life.

The greatest overseer of new infrastructure in modern times was Dwight Eisenhower, a conservative by any measure.

Without that social cooperation, you have the Law of the Jungle and, if it were such a good system, tigers would rule the world. It’s puzzling that some self-proclaimed conservatives believe in the Law of the Jungle but are puzzled by Darwinism.

Survival of the fittest is a legitimate concept, but we’ve been looking at this myopically. It’s less about individualism and more about the success of the species.

Sixty-five million years ago, some alpha Tyrannosaur may have been drinking Mai Tai’s at Club Rex, but when the climate changed — something to do with greenhouse gasses, I think — he followed the weakest of his species into the abyss. So, when some equate the pollution of our planet with freedom, it’s really mass suicide. Hello, lemmings.

Teddy Roosevelt, a conservative icon, was our greatest conservationist and a man who understood the dangers of monopolies. The words conservation and conservatism have the same roots. How have they become so disassociated?

Richard Nixon, another conservative, created the Environmental Protection Agency at a time when rivers were catching fire in America. He understood that we all live in the same fishbowl and that industry has to be balanced with sound environmentalism.

Imbalance in nature or economics, if you believe in history or science, is unhealthy and leads to collapse.

Today’s economic wedge between the top and the bottom mirrors one of the catalysts to our independence. We traded King George for President Washington and a Congress.

But today, money — “and corporations are people, my friend” — dictates policy at every level. We have a legalized system of bribery that disenfranchises those of more modest means. The best government money can buy. How’s that working out for you?

Although we won independence from royalty (and a state religion), royalty still exists in America in the guise of consolidated wealth. The top 1 percent in America own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. That’s why the estate tax and progressive taxation help mitigate bloat and stagnation.

Labor and ingenuity should be rewarded and wealth ought not be demonized, but it should be productive, so a higher tax rate that encourages and rewards investment in real job creation is logical and inherently conservative when you look beyond quarterly profits and take responsibility for the well-being of future generations. We boomed under Eisenhower, with a top income tax rate of 90 percent.

Some of you might want to sit down for this: Part of government’s role is redistribution of wealth. Or, you could call it balance, or even sharing, a concept we learn in kindergarten, yet struggle with as adults. We will always argue about how to slice the pie, but let’s at least acknowledge that it should be sliced in the interest of the species. Everybody gets fed.

To quote Bob Marley, “A hungry mob is an angry mob.” Economic imbalance — anything in nature that is top-heavy — eventually wobbles and crashes.

There are some basic foundations of a healthy society and, as a nation, we’ve decided that our government’s role is to defend, feed and educate its citizens and facilitate a sound fiscal policy. The latter is dependent upon wise generational decisions made with regard to the first three.

Society evolves, and it’s increasingly clear that today most Americans believe a baseline of health care should be part of the social contract. We’ve come to question the morality of a system in which the size of one’s pocketbook can make the difference between living and dying, the very morality of for-profit health care. I’m pretty sure no one had to pay a deductible when Jesus healed them.

When the cost of a doctor’s visit is insurmountable — there are kids to feed and mortgages to be met — minor ailments can become chronic. People die.

Affordable health care fosters prevention, and early treatment saves money and lives and increases productivity. That’s a pretty conservative concept — doing more with less. More than 17 percent of America’s gross domestic product is bogged down in health care. In Canada, it’s 11 percent.

Consider this investment — we transition to Medicare for All, which would ease overhead and increase profitability of American businesses. When workers are not tied down to a company health care plan, they become more mobile, more productive and can increase earning power. You know, that bootstraps thing.

Our system is inefficient, and inefficiency is anathema to conservatism. The reality is medical providers up and down the line are gouging, preying on vulnerable Americans.

Only when enough voices are heard will anything change. We have the ballot box (and corrupt, gerrymandered districts) but without responsible, active and informed citizenship and the willingness to engage, we abdicate power. In a democratic society, we all have responsibilities, rich and poor alike. When you look at the people we have elected, it’s impossible to deny that indifferent American citizens have failed themselves. We are frogs in the pot and the burner is on. Wake up, Kermit!

If ignorance is bliss, some Americans these days are positively orgasmic. Dismissing the importance of the Fourth Estate, while acknowledging the often obvious and glaring imperfections of journalists, is astoundingly shortsighted and undemocratic. Journalism is a counterbalance to power. Information is power. Journalists are critical to your freedom and your future.

Two and a half centuries ago, a confluence of enlightened, courageous minds who looked at the world’s greatest superpower and decided, “we can do better.” Today, we look anew at the latest superpower and see our own reflection. We’ve achieved much. But we can do better.

These are the things I thought about as flags flapped in the wind on July 4th, the smoke from grills wafting in the air, the shouts of children on the wind. Boats loaded with revelers passed with sunburns in the making.

It didn’t seem to matter if they thought of themselves as liberals or conservatives, I knew better; We’re all Americans.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Life Is Gray

I was reminded by an e-mail from a friend that May 31 marked the eighth anniversary of Dr. George Tiller’s assassination. I realized then that it was time for me to finally write about the reality that life is rarely starkly black and white but a palate of grays. 

I still remember the wail I heard from the cell phone as my wife drove from the hospital in Bismarck. “There’s something wrong with the baby!” Those words echo in my head. That wail.

The woman doing the ultrasound — typically performed around 20 weeks — had seen something awful and had abruptly left the room, leaving my wife alone, scared.

The physician returned, and even though two subsequent ultrasounds would reveal how clear-cut the diagnosis was — our baby had half a heart — we were told a second opinion, two weeks out in Fargo, was necessary. Already we had the sense that our obstetrician at that Catholic hospital was running out the clock. That’s how it felt. I don’t know if it was real. Nothing seemed real.

We had 14 days to consider our options, to absorb the pain, with little support or information. Arduous searches on our dial-up connection — this was 18 years ago — offered little hope. An experimental series of operations by a doctor in the Northwest, had minimal success rates. If survival is always success. The process seemed torturous.

By the time the second physician confirmed the condition was “not compatible with life,” our options had been legally restricted by a relentless clock. It felt like a noose was being tightened by a system bowing to politics, indifferent to mercy.

We had terrible options — the desperate series of operations that almost certainly would drag out the inevitable. …  The Fargo hospital had offered to allow our child to die in the delivery room. Small mercies. But would they really stand by and do nothing? We’d lost trust in the medical community. Was it worth the risk to physical and mental health?

I know what I felt. My God, what was my wife feeling?

The doctor made some calls. There were only a few possibilities for an abortion at that stage of the pregnancy. In America. After Roe v. Wade. Only one accepted us, the clinic in Wichita, Kan.

We kissed our young son, Dylan, goodbye, and with the weight of some family members who opposed our decision bearing down on us, drove south to a man Bill O’ Reilly called “Dr. Tiller, the Baby Killer.” When you frame it that way, it’s easy to draw black and white lines. But our world was gray.

The clinic was a fortress. It had withstood a bomb, and Dr. Tiller had already survived five bullets. Even today, abortion providers wear Kevlar vests. In America. Land of the Free. For sure, Home of the Brave.

Each day, the clinic was surrounded by protesters. “There’s still time to save your baby,” they yelled. Oh, were it true.

We had opted for an intact delivery. Over days, using natural methods, labor would be induced. But first, another ultrasound to confirm what we already knew. An injection stilled what there was of our baby’s heart. My wife was under conscious sedation during the process, merciful and logical, I suppose. There’s no turning back.

After our baby was euthanized, she wondered, “When do you suppose they’re going to do it?”

“They already have,” I answered in that motel room. And then I wept.

There were other couples from across America, each carrying their own personal tragedy into a room where we met each day for counseling from Dr. Tiller. Among the refugees was a young lawyer and his wife from Pennsylvania. Their daughter, Olivia, was missing a brain.

It dawns on me that we were clinging to each other like shipwreck victims.

One by one, the women went into labor and then went home to heal. We were the last. Gunnar was stillborn the day before my birthday. Dr. Tiller, who was ordained, performed a baptism as I held the tiny cold body of my son. It was hard to let him go.

As we drove back to our living son, my wife began to emerge from the fog and grapple with her grief. We were at different stages in the process.

The ashes arrived in a small brown package. Dust. We held a small funeral, conducted by an understanding minister, and scattered the ashes at the base of a freshly planted weeping willow, forever known to us as Gunnar’s Tree. My wife framed the tiny ink footprints they gave us and later had them replicated in a tattoo.

Two physician friends told us we had made the right choice. That eased some of the pain, doubt and guilt. Our new obstetrician encouraged us to not give up, and we didn’t. India was born full of life in 2000.

On May 31, 2009, we heard the news. George Tiller had been gunned down while ushering. In church. In America. And I wept.

Our marriage ended last year. I got the footprints and the tree. I tucked the footprints into a drawer months ago. Time to move on, right? Sometimes I look at that splendid tree and don’t associate it with heartbreak. Should I feel bad about that? Another gray area, I suppose. Other times I wonder if I really ever left Kansas.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Rasslin’ And Reportin’

The next help wanted ad we run will go something like this: “JOURNALIST NEEDED: Must have strong language skills, a willingness to ask hard questions and be able to take a punch.”

After Greg Gianforte, U.S. Rep.-elect from Montana,  body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last week, it became clear the trail blazed by Jesse “The Body” Ventura in 1998 had finally come full circle.

The relationship between politicians and journalists has always been adversarial. Few historians will tell you (in the interest of accuracy, I guess) Richard Nixon once gave Carl Bernstein a wedgie. Technically, Nixon may have invented the thong. He also coined the phrase, “Prime the pump.”

I suppose it had to come to this pro-wrestling approach, which I embrace — not because I’m particularly tough but because I look good in tights. This has me thinking about my dream card, featuring notable politicians and members of the media.

Lloyd Omdahl vs. U.S. Sen. John Hoeven

Let’s start the undercard with columnist and former lieutenant governor “Cool Hand” Lloyd Omdahl taking on Sen. John “Ball-Peen Hammer” Hoeven. Lloyd knows karate, kung fu, yoga, yogurt, tia chi, and feng shui. Hoeven can burp the alphabet after three beers.

Despite Hoeven’s youth advantage and the fact he has the best mustache in the Senate, I pick Omdahl to win because I expect Hoeven to instinctively curl up in a fetal position under his desk like he has since November, waiting for this Trump thing to blow over.

It’s like when your crazy Aunt Jane starts singing the wrong song loudly and badly in church. You smile as if to express to your fellow parishioners, “Isn’t she cute?” Or you move to another pew and pretend she’s not with you.

Rob Port vs. U.S. Rep Kevin Cramer

This match pits Rob “The Thesaurus” Port, against Congressman Kevin “Gump” Cramer. Port is the the man behind “The State’s Most Influential Blog’ — influential in the way mosquitoes are when you’re trying to nap in your hammock.

I know they’re bestest friends forever, but this will be good. For one thing, you know in the interview to promote the match, Port is going to use the word “adjudicate” at least 10 times. He thinks it has something to do with the Palestinian problem. If you take a shot of tequila every time he says it, you will need a designated liver. Meanwhile, Cramer has taken half a page from Muhammad Ali. His technique is best described as Dope-A-Dope.

Will there be a violence? Hardly. They’ll come out in the ring, agree climate change is a hoax and trickle-down economics works, then hug and kiss — tongues even — and that is going to totally freak everyone out.

Joel Heitkamp vs. State Sen. Janne Myrdal

This one will be a doozy. KFGO Radio talker Joel “Fake Knees” Heitkamp will have the weight advantage, no matter what the program says. There are more fibs on his driver’s license than in a presidential tweet. I mean, who lies about eye color?

Then there’s Sen. Janne “The Gay Nazi Hunter” Myrdal, who has the distinct height and reach advantage. She can touch heaven from the top rope. I feel bad saying this, as Joel is a friend of mine. But I’m betting Myrdal will smite him in two out of three falls because God is on her side. Joel is such a bad Catholic, he’s almost Lutheran.

The reality is Joel is, at best, only the fourth-toughest Heitkamp in his family, and that’s not even counting cousins. He’s is the only talk show host who should have a full-time cut man. At Thanksgiving, they still make him sit at the card table, and there’s not a darn thing he can do about it. When his sister, Heidi, calls in from the U.S. Senate, his corner doesn’t technically throw in the towel, but they do mercifully cut to a commercial.

One recent interview went something like this:

Joel: “Sen. Heitkamp can you explain your vote on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch?”

Heidi: “When I see you next, I’m going to pin you down and make you eat bugs.”

Tony “Poison Pen” Bender vs. State Rep. “Raging Bull” Carlson

I’m gonna come clean here. There is no way this match comes off. A lot of that has to do with my cowardice. Carlson, the North Dakota House Majority Leader, is so mean, he’d hit his grandma with a folding chair. And me? I just look good in tights. I want no part of this.

I am doing my very best to get injured in training, so I can save face. I’ve already burned my hand on a cigar and dropped a six-pack on my big toe. It’s probably broken. That imperils my strategy which, in boxing parlance, is to dance. Or if it is in a dark alley, run like hell. The good news is, Al probably ain’t gonna rassle me in any casino he didn’t build.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Searching For Humor

What the hell. What am I supposed to do with this mess?

I try. I look out at the world, read the news and try to find the bright side. When someone pees in my cornflakes I say, “That’s all right, I don’t like cornflakes, anyway.” But when in Russia, do as the Russians do.

I don’t actually hate cornflakes. I’m more or less neutral. Like Sweden. Or Heidi Heitkamp. It’s hard to get passionate about corn flakes. In fact, that was the whole point of corn flakes.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the Seventh-Day Adventist who created cornflakes, did so as a cure for the “solitary vice.” On this topic, the Catholics are in agreement. If the Lutherans ever stop drinking beer, we’ll ask them, too.

“You’ll go blind,” people warned us when we were kids. “It makes hair grow on your palms,” Ricky Head announced in study hall one day and without a hint of irony, every one of us inspected our hands. When I look at Stevie Wonder, I think, “It’s his own damn fault.” Helen Keller was way out of control.

Kellogg was against sex altogether. I’m not good at math, but if cornflakes get trendy, I don’t think it bodes well for the species. I’m pretty sure cornflakes killed the dinosaurs.

We’re on the ropes, anyway. Apparently, some people think we aren’t overheating the climate fast enough. The future is coal. And black lung. Others are juggling nuclear weapons and foreign policy with the acumen of a $25 birthday party clown. Who hired John Wayne Gacy? Oh wait, that’s his real hair.

There are things you can try to spice up your love life. Yohimbe, Horny Goat Weed, ginseng or a Porsche. I’m not sure a jacked-up pickup with straight pipes impresses anyone with teeth, but it scares the deer off the road.

Cornflakes are a bad bet. I suppose you could try luring someone over to your apartment with the promise of Netflix and cornflakes. It’s probably never been tried.

After I read the history of cornflakes — clearly, I have too much time on my hairy hands — I began to resent corn growers. Geez, folks, plant soybeans. Don’t be a prude. Every time I drive by a cornfield, I think, “They must be Seventh-Day Adventists.”

The last thing we need is more cornflakes. Or Rice Krispies, unless it involves melted marshmallows. That’s a whole ‘nother deal.

Writing is like baking. Taking life’s bland or overlooked ingredients and making something tasty out of them. But I can’t find much humor in this week’s ingredients. Mostly irony.

We’ll use a missile strike to avenge the use of chemical weapons because we have rules for war. It’s not so much that we’re against killing, it’s about methodology. We’ll drag you to Nuremberg, if you kill in an uncivilized fashion.

You can do it in a uniform, but you can’t do it in a clown suit. Beheading is bad, a drone strike is civilized. Euthanasia is wrong. Lethal injection is humane.

Some people are OK with Muslims drowning, as long as they don’t wash up on our shores because of our strict new immigration policies. Some believe if we’re going to pollute the oceans, it should be with oil and plastic. At least corpses are biodegradable.

Some want to pollute more because it will be good for the economy. Especially for doctors specializing in respiratory diseases. Who needs lungs?

Others say every fertilized egg is a child of God but are against universal health care. It’s about principles, not life expectancy.

Jesus demanded a co-pay and a deductible from every leper. The whole Blue Cross deal started with him. It’s in the Book of Job, as in, “Thou shalt gettest thee a Job, thy welfare queens with thy Obama phones — and buyeth thine own insurance, while thou art at it. Cursed be the losers.” Amen.

Many have curious notions about freedom, too. They want to inspect your bedroom, your bathroom and your ISP. Otherwise, everyone would be walking around with hairy palms. There are rules for war and sex.

Some weeks, you search for humor and find only irony.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — My Appliances Are Against Me

I just realized my microwave popcorn is actually popping out Morse code — in Russian.

If I’m translating correctly and, admittedly, my decoding skills are rusty, Pootie wants me to drop some d-CON into someone’s latte. Or maybe the word is DEFCON. I may have missed a dot or a dash. Probably no big deal. Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe.

I’ve become suspicious of all my appliances — even the small ones. For instance, why does my can opener rotate cans only to the right? Is it a political statement?

I suppose otherwise the people at Sunbeam would be accused of being Leftists. But, at least, we would all get our can openers for free.

Shouldn’t that be part of the social contract in America? A secure food supply … education … health care …. a dignified retirement … free can openers … and an invigorating, unnecessary war every few years, to keep poor starving, defenseless defense contractors in business?

Maybe I’m reading too much into this.

Still, when the president of the United States accuses the president of Kenya of wiretapping and Kellyanne Conway reveals that my microwave is a spy, you have to take notice.

This explains why, no matter how I set the timer, the microwave cooks everything for 19 minutes and 84 seconds. It’s killing my pot pies. As is Al Carlson.

For a long time, I thought it was me, that I was just paranoid. But the other night, I sneezed and my television said, “Gesundheit.” Which, as you know, is Russian.

I rest my case. Actually, I can’t rest my case. I’m barely 250 words into this morass and my “editor” won’t cut me any slack until I hit 600. (“It rubs the lotion on its skin.”)

And what about cell phones. Talk about a racket. We pay nosebleed fees, just so our phones can track our location. When they’re not spontaneously combusting. You know what that thing in your pocket is? (No, the other pocket. But I’m glad you’re having safe sex.) It’s evidence.

You might as well stick a microchip into my butt cheek, slap a spiked collar on my neck and call me Fido. Not that after a few beers I wouldn’t be open to that, anyway, baby.

Seriously, they should have stopped me at 250 words. I see nothing good coming out of this freedom of the press thing. Thank god, Betsy DeVos is stamping out education. In 50 years, this column will be as accessible as Morse code. Soon, I’ll need an illustrator.

Fifty years. Who am I kidding? The nuclear football is at Mar-a-Lago, in the hands of the hat-check girl. We’re doomed. I rarely hand out financial advice, but I’m solid on this one. If I were you, I’d max out the credit cards and drink like you’re Irish every day to see which lasts longer, the country or your liver.

Some people call me a cynic. A fatalist. You would be, too. Yesterday, my Roomba pulled a knife on me, and I suffered a near fatal-ankle stabbing. My car auto-started and tried to run over me. That’s still not legal, even in North Dakota. Give us time. Rome wasn’t burned in a day.

Then there’s my friend, David Rosenblum. “That ain’t nothing,” he said. ”I ate a bagel last week and today the CIA sent me the results of my colonoscopy.”

I’m not sure all this government surveillance is really necessary. After all, we already voluntarily confess everything on Facebook. In that regard, we’re all Cyber-Catholics and Mark Zuckerberg is the pope. Habemus papam! (More Russian.)

Waterboarding is so passe. All we have to do is plop the prisoner down in front of Facebook with a case of Red Bull. We’ll know everything by Thursday.

I’ll post a close up of my taco salad later. And my third selfie of the day. I am so hot. Blistering hot. My lips look like that because I just licked a lemon.

Look at my puppy. And if I had grandchildren, they would be adorable.