HOPELESS …

They say where there’s life there’s hope. 

My father, the professional counselor, always says it’s just the opposite – “where there’s hope there’s life.” 

Either way, neither thing seems to apply to any of us right now. 

None of us have much of a life and a lot of us are losing our hope. 

Maybe it started with making new plans for the new year, then remembering the dark cloud hanging over our collective heads. Maybe it has been watching the last, best hope for mankind and individual freedom completely implode right before my eyes. Maybe it’s just the dehumanizing mask I have to wear everywhere I go.  

Maybe it’s the fact that someone, somewhere is going to read that last sentence and rip into me on some well-meaning person’s comments thread, about how masks are not dehumanizing, in fact they are SAVING the human race and anyone who feels differently about them is part of the problem, bladity blah, freaking blah…massive head shake and eyes rolling so far back in my head I can literally see the conflicts crackling in my frontal lobe – and it turns into a 40-comment back-and-forth re-litigation of Trump and Biden and your-guys-looted-yeah-but-your-guys-stormed-the-Capitol-those-weren’t-our-guys-were-too-nuh uh-watch-this-video-you’re-part-of-the-problem-no-YOUR-part-of-the-problem-by-the-way-it’s-YOU’RE-not-YOUR…mic drop. Snooze. Unfollow.  

And that ends a 17-year friendship. 

Maybe it’s mandatory vaccinations. Maybe it’s big tech companies silencing people they don’t like. Maybe it’s the fact that small business loans, using TAX dollars, are about to be prioritized based on raw-knuckle, abject racism. 

Maybe it’s the fact that congress is about to spend TAX dollars to impeach a president who has 7 days left in office.

Maybe it’s the fact that I now know that every athlete, on every sports team, on TV, hates my guts because I still love the flag and the anthem and the country. And I can’t un-know that.

Or maybe it’s because I’m starting to question all that love for all those traditions, because I have no idea where the hell I’m living anymore.     

Maybe it’s all of this turmoil boiling over, but I don’t have much hope right now. And I don’t think I’m alone. 

When I start dreaming about the future or planning for the family or even sketching out the following week, I run into all of these weird speed bumps I’ve never run into before. 

I make a living primarily as a performer. Normally, by this time in any given January, I would’ve already done my first show in Vegas. That show has closed down and will probably never re-open. Then, I start thinking about what other shows I might do. 

I do (or used to do) corporate events. Do they even do those anymore? I occasionally play churches. Are those even allowed to legally be open? 

Then, I start thinking about the actual shows themselves. What would they even look like, now? 

Shows are things people get dressed up for. They go to work, maybe hit the gym, shower, shave, preen, curl, spray, then put on the nice jeans and the sharp blazer, or the new dress and cute shoes, then go out for the evening. Sometimes they’re going to see me. 

I love looking at all the faces from stage. I search for the smiles. I think about how every single person in the audience is headed somewhere in their life. I wonder if they’re getting there or if they’re giving up. And I hope that I can help them in some small way before my time on the stage is up. 

Now, if there’s a show at all, it would be a room full of masked strangers, sitting roughly 6 feet apart, trying not to laugh too loudly or or clap too intensely or breathe too much.

And at the moment, the gathering of a crowd would, in and of itself, be a controversy anyway. 

Why are so many people turning to alcohol and drugs? Why not? What else is there to do? 

Why are suicides up 200%? Maybe, when you actually think about all the things you can no longer do – and may never be allowed to again – that one thing that was keeping you from ending it all anyway, is no longer there. And the great unknown suddenly rises to the best option. 

Why buy clothes anymore, if we can’t go out? Why get in shape if there’s no place to look good or feel good and there’s no one allowed to share in the journey? 

Why fall in love? Why have children? Why buy a new car? You can’t drive it anywhere. 

I know that Covid will eventually run its course and things will settle into some sort of normalcy. But maybe our collective sense of dread is based in what that will look like. 

Will masks be mandatory from here on out? Covid or no Covid? It’s easy to think, “No way, man. We’ll get back to where we were,” until you factor in the deep and fundamental debates we’ve been having. 

Who told us masks were effective in the first place? The same people who originally told us they weren’t. But everything in our lives has become so politically charged that once being pro-mask became a virtue signal from one side and being anti-mask was virtue signal from the other side, actual science had to take a back seat.

And who knows what viruses are always lurking around us all the time, anyway? Is it that far of a stretch to believe that there are leaders who would be completely comfortable with a mask mandate henceforth and forevermore? Until the end of time? 

This isn’t a piece about masks. I wear a mask everywhere I go (I also got Covid). 

The problem is the depth of the political divide applies to almost everything we do in life and it has left us fighting over the smallest of things and the biggest of things … 

Drugs we will or will not be prescribed. My doctor was adamant about not prescribing anything to me for Covid. But after 5 days, I had to seek out another doctor, with a different point of view, to get the drugs I desperately needed and that probably saved my life. 

The fact that prescribing a drug can be a function of a political leaning is terrifying to me. It should be to you too. 

When I think about what my world fundamentally looks like and how every single piece of it has been placed under some strange political microscope, that’s when the hopelessness sets in. 

Getting on a plane has politics attached. Going out to eat has politics attached. Performing or watching a performer has politics attached. Going to school has politics attached. What we post on social media has politics attached. It also now carries the jeopardy of losing real, flesh and blood friends and real livelihood, depending on who you might’ve supported for president. 

Things I might want to try professionally in the future, ALL carry with them political implications. 

There’s a strange claustrophobia settling on our nation, where we don’t know which way to move or how to proceed. And it’s not just about Covid restrictions. 

Covid has opened so many doors for our governments – local, state and federal – to control us, we are coming out of the pandemic with a mindset of compliance and fear. 

I’ve never felt like that in America. 

And if you can feel like that in America, you can feel like that anywhere and everywhere in the world. And that creates a lack of hope. Because hope is almost always attached to freedom. 

For the foreseeable future I have no idea what to do with my life. A lot of people are feeling the same way. 

What’s the next endeavor you’re going to try that will get shut down? 

When are you going to make the wrong statement, at wrong time, and get banned from a social media platform? 

When are you going to say something snarky about something as trivial as masks and lose friends? 

*The fact that I just said masks are “trivial” will incite the same comment thread I articulated earlier. See above.* 

So many of us don’t recognize the country right now. And we fear that we won’t ever recognize it again.  

I just went to pick up lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant. They were closed. When I peered in the window, I saw them packing their stuff. 

So many things we have been used to are going away and never coming back. 

And we’re left with this new place that feels soulless. 

Trying to picture ourselves running full speed toward our goals, hopes and dreams too often includes us tripping over something that wasn’t there before. 

That makes dreaming difficult. 

And in America, the dream is the thing. 

I’m praying we all get to dream with abandon again, without half of us having to fight the other half. I’m trying to hope. 

Trying with all my heart…to hope.  

R  

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FEVER DREAMS …

It started with Fred Claus. 

As I was drifting in and out of consciousness, with the fireplace on high and a blanket over my head, I woke up freezing yet burning up, sweating on the pillow and grimacing at the horrible film (and misguided basic idea) that was Fred Claus. 

I love Vince Vaughan as an actor. But I was just so bothered – physically bothered – by this strange take on Christmas. Before I could change the channel, I passed out again, into chills and body aches. 

When I woke up, two hours later, I was incredibly bothered by whatever version of The Santa Claus was blaring into my fever-addled brain. 

Didn’t anybody make Christmas films like It’s A Wonderful Life, anymore??? Good grief! 

The chills and fever kept me in a state of the surreal. And I would lose blocks of time, just passing out and coming to. But every time I woke up to another “modern Christmas classic” it would vex my very soul. 

Your mind goes on something of a vision quest when you sustain a fever for a long period of time. And in my own case, I think I was getting what has been called “Covid Rage,” where you find yourself angry for no reason. 

All I know is everything on TV was bugging me…especially the commercials. 

But why were these commercials bothering me so? I started having an internal dialogue with myself, trying to get to the bottom of it. 

One thing that was definitely on my nerves was the attempt, by every advertiser, to normalize or make a fun little game out of being locked in your freaking house for months on end. 

I’ve grown to literally loathe the phrase, “in times like these,” or “in these uncertain times” or (the absolute worst) “in these unprecedented …”

DO NOT FINISH THAT SENTENCE! DO. NOT! 

At least that’s what I was screaming in my head. 

But something else was bothering me to my very core. And it bothered me that it bothered me. 

Every cast of characters, in every TV commercial, was perfectly structured in a “racially diverse” way. Nobody was married to anyone of their same race. Nobody dated anybody in their own race. Everything looked like some ad Karen’s vision of “what America should look like.” 

And for some reason this started grating on me in the strangest of ways. 

Why was this bothering me? I don’t care anything about race. Especially mixed race marriages. I’M IN A MIXED RACE MARRIAGE, for Pete’s sake. Most of my friends are either interracially married or have adopted children of other races. None of this is an issue for me and it hasn’t been since…well…ever. 

So why was my fevered brain pissed off every time they tried to sell me a Subaru? 

I started drilling down…and I started getting some answers.

The first thing that I pin-pointed was that all these commercials are so late to the game, while claiming the moral high ground. They were clearly deciding that now we were going to have “the conversation,” even though most of us had it decades ago, before the makers of that TV ad were…well…probably even born.

This was totally contrived. It wasn’t organic. And that just offended me on an artistic level. But also on a “why-now? Oh-it’s-because-it’s-a-fashion-trend-not-a-core-belief,” level.   

I saw an ad for the first black Bachelor and was actually kinda taken aback. Really, Hollywood? You’ve done 25 seasons of that nonsense and this is the first guy of color you’ve put through the tart gauntlet? 

Don’t talk to me about racism. This one’s on you

Incidentally, I like that bachelor guy and hope he finds love. He seems like a good kid. Unfortunately, I think his experience is going to be riddled with as much racial bullshit as dating bullshit. And I actually feel sorry for him.  

But I digress …

As I kept examining my own thoughts and feelings, drifting in and out of horrible illness, I knew something deeper was bothering me. And it was nagging at me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it yet. 

I thought more about how these contrived portrayals on TV really didn’t say anything other than “we’ve checked off some boxes on the diversity scale.” 

But had they really? I mean, to portray my own family structure, they’d have to go deep into the woke catalog to create a proper intersectional Venn diagram … 

White dude married to a half Mexican wife, with two adopted children, one of whom is a Chinese orphan with a severe genetic disorder. 

It covers a lot of woke ground. 

But nobody wants to put severe disabilities on the screen. Those of us in that community already know all about this. And it’s okay. They’re just trying to sell jewelry and dog food. We get it.

It wasn’t that. It was something else. What was it? 

Then it hit me like a lightening bolt … 

Nobody was going to put an adopted Chinese girl on the screen. THAT was it. THAT is what I wasn’t seeing. And it was screaming into my infected brain like a bullhorn. 

Even though there are over twenty million adopted girls to the U.S, from China, they were nowhere to be found in any of the woke screen time. And guess what? They’re not going to be. 

That’s when it all started unraveling. Nobody wants to talk about the lost daughters of China, because you cannot acknowledge them without having an extremely uncomfortable conversation about how they came to be here. 

If you open that can of worms, you have to discuss the humanitarian problems in China that led to that many abandoned orphans, and particularly a systemic sexism that created that many female orphans. 

You have to come to terms with the abject failures of Communism and collectivism and the iron fist of state-controlled child bearing laws. 

Discussing Chinese orphans leads to a broader discussion that nobody in corporate America is willing to have. Because they don’t want to piss off the people who are probably paying for those commercials in the first place. 

And I knew, in that moment, that my family’s story would never see the screen. The script will never get fixed. They will never set up one camera to shoot it. No actor will ever agree to be in it. No director will ever agree to oversee it. And no theater or streaming service will ever show it. 

Because my daughter, and millions like her, are an inconvenient thing to discuss. Especially if you are tiptoeing around trying to get funding from China or trying to appeal to their audience.  

And then there was this weird clarity. As I watched movies financed by Chinese companies, I realized that we’ll never see the story of that kid standing in front of that tank, in Tienanman Square. Because China doesn’t want us to see that story. 

We’ll never see the harrowing stories of defections and underground Christian worship and viruses that somehow escape from labs, on the screen. Not as long as China can throw millions of dollars at narcissists who will continue to make their oh-so-important indie films about nothing, and then get called some kind of genius for it, so that they can rub their chins at film festivals and wax philosophic on method acting and available light. 

I passed out again. 

And then I would wake up long enough to see more Covid death numbers – and then I saw on Facebook, that another of my friends had just died from it. I would fall back asleep and dream about those friends. Then, I would wake up long enough to see news reports about some congressmen being seduced by a Chinese spy…then fall back asleep. 

Then, I woke up to some behind-the-scenes show on the making of Top Gun, just in time to hear a journalist talk about how it was completely appropriate to condemn that film for its over-the-top, pro-American sentiment. 

And I was like, “Why? What’s wrong with pro-American sentiment?”

Oh, I know why. Because a lot of journalists were, and still are, on the side of the Communists. 

Then, I finally had to drive myself to the emergency room, where I was forced to sit with an IV in my arm and watch an NBA basketball game. And all I could think about was how much the NBA sucks up to China. And how their players are very quick to talk about slavery that ended 156 years ago, yet slow to talk about slavery that is happening right now…as we dribble. 

Then I saw a news blurb on the Hunter Biden story every major news outlet in America and every social media network on earth, squelched until after the election. And it included weird ties to China.      

And I started asking myself deeper questions …

Did China just have a hand in killing 350,000 Americans, shutting down the free-market economic engine of the world and flipping an American presidential election, without firing a single shot or having anyone point the finger at them?

I don’t know. That feels a little conspiratorial.  

But as I lay there fighting a virus that came from their country; a virus we still don’t know enough about because they haven’t had to answer as many questions as our country would have had to answer, I wondered why they hadn’t had to answer those questions. 

And I knew it was because their government is not the same as ours. 

But what bothered me was ours is heading in their direction faster than any of us ever thought possible. 

And too many of our elected officials and too many of our voters think that’s not really such a bad thing. 

And while we are sitting in advertising pitch meetings, like, “How about a black man married to a white woman…no wait! How about a white man married to a black woman? No, wait! How about a white man married to a Mediterranean MAN – now THAT is brave!” and having these surface conversations about the visuals of America, larger forces are gobbling up our industries and seats of power and information outlets…and affecting them

And it is literally starting to feel like a struggle between collectivism, command-and-control authoritarianism…and basic freedom.   

And basic freedom is losing.  

All of this was subtle, slight-of-hand you sometimes only see in the height of a fever dream. But at the time it all made perfect sense. 

The trouble is, now that I’m on the other side of the illness and the fever…it makes even more sense.     

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THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH …

The first time I walked into the valley of the shadow of death – with my wife and a baby – was in China. 

A week into being there, to adopt my daughter, I had an unmanageable cough that came with fever and sweats. A translator pulled me aside and told me to not go to a hospital under any circumstances. This was 2003 and SARS was running rampant in that country. 

“If you don’t have SARS now, they’ll put you in a ward with SARS patients and you’ll get it there. So, please stay away from our hospitals, Mr. Hamm,” the man warned. 

I assured him that I would. 

The very next day, I was in a cab, with my baby burning up with fever, headed to…you guessed it…a hospital. 

I don’t know if we came in contact with SARS there, but I can tell you we cleaned up bloody gauze and mucous with our own hands. We helped the nurses give our child a scalp IV. And we waited among no less than three hundred sick people, in an open-air pavilion, to get our daughter a prescription for an antibiotic. 

Then, we did it all again the very next day. 

At one point, I was certain I wasn’t getting out of China alive. I couldn’t call my family back home. I couldn’t get any proper treatment for whatever my condition was. I felt more alone than I’ve ever felt in my life. Then, I reached into my baby’s crib and she wrapped her tiny finger around mine. 

We looked at each other and I decided right then and there that if this was how I was going out, I somehow feared no evil. Some strange peace came over me. And I distinctly remember thinking about the 23rd Psalm over and over again: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. You make me to lie down in green pastures. You restore my soul. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the lord forever …”  

It was the first time in my adult life I had finally understood what “fearing no evil” meant in that context. 

Was I afraid? Yes. I was afraid of not being able to tell my parents I loved them one more time. I was afraid for my wife and what her life might be as a single mom, without me there. I was afraid of the logistical nightmare of dying in China and her having to get my body home. 

But those were surface concerns. I actually feared no evil. 

If death was the worst thing that was going to happen, somehow I knew it wasn’t going to be an evil event. Because somehow, I had met God – like, really met him – in that moment

He always seems to reveal himself in the most intense way, when the stakes are the highest. And the stakes couldn’t have been higher. 

My wife, daughter and I did get home from China. I didn’t die in that valley. Neither did my daughter. But we have walked into that same valley of the shadow of death, together, many, many times since we’ve been back. My daughter has been on the verge of seizing out several times. She has battled illnesses and injuries associated with her rare genetic condition, for almost two decades, now. 

And if you are the parent of a person with Angelman Syndrome, you spend so much time in the valley of the shadow of death, you know it like the back of your hand. And you can either live in fear, or you can find a way to live in love. 

We’ve always opted for love. 

But this Christmas, we went deeper into that valley than we’ve been in years. 

My daughter and I tested positive for Covid about the same day – six days before Christmas. There’s no way of knowing how we got it. And I refuse to start pointing any fingers. Viruses spread. That’s what they do. 

We have taken all the precautions recommended by all the agencies in the world. We wear masks. We stay away from people as much as possible. We only do what’s essential. We are not cavalier with our health. I’ve had respiratory issues since coming home from China, 18 years ago. So, we’ve been cautious. And yet, the virus found us. My hunch is it’s going to find all of us eventually, one way or another. 

By Christmas Eve, I was almost out of my mind with fevered delirium. And we couldn’t get my daughter’s fever to break. So, my wife – who had tested positive for the flu, but not Covid, took my daughter to the hospital, where they locked her and my daughter in a room on the Covid ward. I wouldn’t see them again for four days. 

I tried to manage my son’s Christmas and keep things going at home. But I was in and out of consciousness for most of Christmas Eve. My fever would spike then I wouldn’t be able to move for three hours. That night, before I tried to drift off to sleep, my wife told me that our daughter’s oxygen had plummeted to 83%. I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was wait and hope and pray. 

But then, on Christmas Day, I could barely breathe and my oxygen levels started nose-diving. 

As I tried to text my doctor and my wife and anyone, I realized that the world had gone black. 

All communication was lost on Christmas day, because someone blew up the AT&T tower in Nashville. So, I had no contact with anyone. I didn’t know if I was losing my baby and there was no way of finding out. All communication was down at the hospital. For all I knew, she was dying on that ward. And I wouldn’t know until they unlocked that door and let them out. 

I had already lost a friend to Covid that week. And one the week before that. Obviously, my mind was reeling. 

Finally, by midnight on Christmas night, unable to breathe, I started thinking through the worst-case scenarios for my son if I myself was taking a bad turn. What if he found me at 3 am, unable to breathe? 

He would have no way of calling 911 without phone service.  

I couldn’t let him watch me die, helpless like that. So, I told him I loved him, I got in my car and drove myself to the hospital while I was still able to do it. 

On the drive, cut off from any and all information, I started playing out all the horrible possibilities. Was my daughter dead? Had she gone into seizures? Was my wife going to have to bury her daughter? Was my son going to have to bury his father?

I couldn’t breathe. 

As I gasped for air, on that lonely drive to the hospital, I thought about that valley I had been in so many times. And I knew I was in it. I began to cry and pray uncontrollably.  

And I just kept saying over and over again, “I will fear no evil. I will fear no evil. I will fear no evil …”

And I thought about that baby I had brought back all those year ago. And how she and I were still in that valley together. And how her mother was there, fighting like she always did. And I had to have no fear for her as well. I tried to send her some peace; some hope. 

Three hours later, after giving me a liquid steroid, the hospital released released me to go home and said they thought I would come around.  

I got back to my son and collapsed in a chair in my bedroom. 

Then, the next day, still not knowing how my daughter was, and still not having any communication with the world, I pushed through my confusion and body aches and drove to the hospital where my daughter was, and asked to use a house phone to see if she was alive or dead. 

Once they found out I had Covid, they kicked me out very quickly. But I at least found out that my daughter was indeed still alive. 

The next day, they sent her home. 

At the moment, we are all trying to recover and find our way back to health. And it’s not as easy as all that. I’ll feel okay for a minute – then feel horrible again. I can only imagine my non-verbal daughter is in the same boat. I have double Pneumonia and still find it hard to breathe from time to time. 

But as we get through this ordeal together, I keep quoting the 23rd Psalm over and over in my mind. 

The whole world feels like it’s in the valley of the shadow of death right now. There is unrest and darkness all around us. 

But for anyone who says they believe in God, it’s times like these when you actually meet him. 

The happy butterfly and ice cream God isn’t the one I keep finding. In fact, I don’t really know that God at all. I keep finding one who shows up when the world is at its darkest and when the possibilities are at their bleakest. And it’s times like these when scriptures I learned as a kid come rushing back to me. 

When I was driving to that hospital, unable to communicate with anyone, I heard a voice in my head saying, “No Facebook friends, here. No emotional support. No information of any kind. Now, it’s just you and me…in this valley together, again. You have no evil to fear…even if the worst happens.” 

Because if God isn’t there…then he isn’t anywhere. 

R

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BETH, I HEAR YA CALLING …

When I was 12, and my brother was 10, we got “hired” for a gig. 

See, we were these little kids who played music really well. And this guy had heard about us and called us to be his band for a Sunday shindig about a hundred miles out of town. 

We were pretty excited about it. We had been working with our family band exclusively, and felt like maybe this was a first step toward getting some outside work. Our parents signed off on it and we were off to our first non-family show. 

We showed up at his bus at 5:30 in the morning to find stacks of stuff he needed loaded into the bays. So we not only loaded our own stuff, but his as well. We were young and strong and used to loading buses. No problem. 

When we got to the Church, we unloaded everything and set everything up. Then we played his set…like bosses. We ate lunch and played another set. Then, we tore down and loaded everything onto his bus…while he sold product hand over fist. 

By the time we got back home (that night) and unloaded his bus for the third time that day, we were simply exhausted.

Thinking we were about to get at least a c-note a piece, we kind of stared up at him before we got in our mom’s car. 

He snickered and went, “Oh yeah, hang on a minute.” 

Then, he pulled two crisp, five dollar bills from his pocket and handed one to each of of us. We just stared at the money like, “what the hell is this?” 

We were already seasoned pros by then. We’d seen how much money went into the offering buckets and how much merch he’d sold. 

He said, with a smirk, (and I’m not making this up), “You boys go get yourself some ice cream. You did good today.” 

Being raised by a minister (who was raised by a minister), my first inclination was to think I had actually done something wrong. Maybe we didn’t play well enough that day. Maybe we weren’t fast enough with the gear. Did we say something offensive to someone? 

Surely this was our fault. He wouldn’t have paid us so little if we had done a better job. Right?

Now that I’m older, I know exactly what happened. It wasn’t us at all. In fact, we were the draw that day. All those people came to see US – not him. He just used us, abused us, and broke about 6 child labor laws in the process. 

As far as I’m concerned, he still owes us money. 

People raised in church are often conditioned to not like themselves and believe that they always need to be fundamentally changing something. Guilt and shame is part of the package that comes with “Church.” 

In fact, the entire church industry is based on guilt and shame. It’s how speakers and authors and pastors all get paid. 

See, you are flawed. Deeply, deeply flawed.  

But, for the low, low price of $29.99, I can help you, through this book or this program or this new insight. After all…I’m anointed.

The “Christian” industry brings in billions of dollars a year. And it’s based on ONE principle and one principle only…you have a problem you don’t even know about, and I am uniquely qualified to fix it.

I’ll see you at the merch table. 

I have nothing against people who traffic in this stuff. I get it. I’ve got a story I’m out there trying to sell, too. It’s how we feed the kids. 

But I’ve seen so many of these people lambast what they call “Trumpism.” They just have no idea how someone could support such a rube; such a horribly sinful and vile person.

The latest person to jump into this fray is Beth Moore.  

Well, let me enlighten all the enlightened, including Ms. Moore. I’ll tell you exactly how, and it isn’t even all that complicated. 

There is an enormous swath of this country who get up every morning and go to work. They do household budgets and try to make the ends meet. They sacrifice going to dinner this month, so they will have enough money to purchase your book. 

They try to do the right thing. They pray. They give to charities. They volunteer. They cheer on the home team and provide snacks after the school play. 

They don’t march or loot or riot, when some injustice is done to them. Why? Because they are told every single second of every single minute of every single hour of every single day, that they are the problem. 

They’re called fat, racist, sexist, homophobic, stupid, uneducated, xenophobic Nazis. They’re talked down to by the press. They’re asked for money at every turn, by every organization on Earth. And when they’ve given all they can, they’re called selfish for wanting to keep something in savings.  

They are the ones SNL takes shots at every Saturday night. They are the one-dimensional bad guys in every TV show or Movie. They are the caricatures, made fun of in every stand-up comedy routine, by every I’m-smarter-than-you comic on Youtube. 

These people are punching bags for elite athletes and overpaid actors and dysfunctional musicians, who then completely rely on them and their income to maintain lifestyles that are beyond anything ever imagined by most Kings and Queens in history.

George H. W. Bush told them to read his lips: no new taxes. Then, he signed one of the largest tax increases in history. Sorry, guys. It’s just politics. What are ya gonna do?

Bill Clinton wagged his boney finger at them and told them he did not have sex with that woman…not a single time. Then his wife went out on the press circuit and blamed THEM!

George W. Bush asked them to bend over backwards to support his misguided war, then wouldn’t even defend himself or them when attacked by the press. He also told them they were addicted to oil. 

Barack Obama not only chastised them for thinking they had actually built their own businesses, but went around the world and apologized for them like they were unruly step children.

You want to know why Trump has so much support from these people? Because he’s the first person to come along in years, who actually likes them…just the way they are. 

He’s the first person, political or otherwise, who has said to them, “No, you’re not crazy. The press really IS lying to you and keeping things from you. It’s not your fault. And no, it’s NOT unreasonable to want a wall on the southern border. And no, you’re NOT addicted to oil, just because you want to drive your kids to school and go to the movies and be mobile. And just because you like having a job with rising wages doesn’t make you a bad person. And yeah, that kid making 14 million dollars a year to throw a football SHOULD stand the hell up and respect the nation that created that possibility for him. You’re not crazy. You’re not bad people. You’re not any of those things they say about you. And I want to help YOU.”

That is a very attractive thing to say to someone. 

Then, he actually pulled the levers of power to help those people. Yeah, that will definitely create love. 

I currently have Covid 19. I live in Tennessee, the new hottest spot on Earth for the virus. 

And the social media chastisements are already in full bloom: we didn’t wear enough masks. We didn’t socially distance enough. We didn’t do this or do that. Our first inclination is to blame ourselves for the spread of a virus we don’t really know all that much about. 

Maybe the problem isn’t masks. Maybe it’s something else. And maybe it has nothing to do with our behavior. Maybe it has to do with the fact that viruses spread. That’s what they do. 

And maybe we should be demanding that Xi Jinping answer a few damn questions, instead of us tearing ourselves apart over something we didn’t unleash on the world. 

Or maybe that’s just old anger welling up from a kid who was given a 5 spot for a 14-hour work day. 

I don’t know anything about Beth Moore. I’m sure she’s a nice lady. But I know enough about her world to know that she’s there to “help” you; “guide” you. And the undertone of that always means the same thing: YOU have a problem. 

I left the Church world because I was tired of old, white men in suits and heavy cologne, constantly telling me what I was doing wrong.

Well, those guys have been replaced by bearded hipsters in skinny jeans or women in pant suits, telling us why Jesus wouldn’t like it if we did this or supported that. They tell us how dangerous this is and how toxic that is. And yes, they even give us political advice. 

They very passive/aggressively correct you “in love,” on Facebook. 

Well, guess what? It’s getting old. 

And if you don’t understand that a certain part of the population loves Trump because he loves them – and he’s not afraid to admit it publicly – then you are truly too ignorant to be in the public eye.  

And you’re not even giving us enough money for ice cream. 

R

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WHOS, IN ONES AND TWOS …

They say there are a trillion planets out there. Maybe more. 

It basically makes the Earth Whoville. And we – the humans – are the Whos. 

And when you think about our little spot in the Universe in those terms, the tininess of it starts making you ask the big questions: what is up with us? Why are we here? How did we arrive? Are we just carbon-based life forms who are born, eat, breed and die? Are we simply part of the food chain? Is there a bigger purpose to it all? 

In short, what is the meaning of life?

When contemplating that most unanswerable of questions, people begin to break down into a couple of groups.

One group sees us as animals with a brain stem; a highly functioning virus that must be tightly contained and heavily regulated.

That group believes they understand the greater good. And they are perfectly at home making the rules for the rest of the Whos. 

That’s group 1. 

There is another group, however. This group sees the human race as something divine; something special. This group tends to lean toward the spiritual. They very often couch it in stodgy or goofy religion. But I personally think that’s only because they don’t know where else to put the sense of wonder. They believe in the specialness of Whos. 

That’s group 2.  

If you see the human race as something predictable, manageable and inconvenient, you will have no trouble with someone reigning it in every chance they get. Because you see the potential. 

If you see the human race as something sacred, magical and unstoppable, you will want it to be as free as it can possibly be. Because you see the potential. 

If you think our recent election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was just about two old, white guys, running against each other for an office, or about “a return to civility” or about Twitter rants or “unifying the country” (I don’t even know what that means – this country has never been unified), or American racism, or Black lives mattering or the great mask debate, I fear you’re not really even in the game. 

This election – in fact, Donald Trump’s entire presidency – has been about these two clashing concepts. And make no mistake – these two concepts have been clashing for centuries. 

People often mistakenly believe it’s the “conservatives” who are in the first group of Whos. They are categorized as the stuffy, uptight religious zealots who want to shut down dancing in the town and pray the gay out of people. They’re always seen as being the establishment standing against the minority. They’re “the man.” At least, that’s how they’re portrayed in all the movies. And some of that is based in truth. 

But the groups of Whos don’t breakdown that simplistically. 

Group 2 of the Who’s are more nuanced than that. And so is group 1. 

The actual way it breaks down is this: statists vs. libertarians. 

The statist often believes with all his or her heart, that they are in group 2. They support the arts. They support individual expression. They are all about love and respect for their fellow man. And they don’t like to see people being mean. They look at a guy like Donald Trump, with all his confidence and combativeness and brash statements, and see all that is wrong with the world. 

After all, they are in group 2…or so they think.  

But then they are certain that more regulation on people could help rid us of the bad stuff. Maybe if the right governmental program was installed, a lot of people could be helped. In fact, maybe if government just ran everything, life would be better. 

Those precious little true-believing hearts are unwittingly used by the real group 1…over and over and over again, all throughout history.  

The real group 2 believes in the individual. They believe in economic freedom and freedom of thought…even if it’s ugly. They recognize when they’re being controlled by someone else and refuse to allow it. They very often look like conspiracy theorists and nut cases. 

They are the equivalent of the abused spouse who knows she (or he) is being lied to and/or gaslighted, and fights back. 

The nice people who think they are in group 2, (but being used by group 1) would never fight back. Because they wouldn’t want to offend the abuser – especially if the abuser is of a different race or something. 

Real group 2 Whos don’t give a shit about race. They know it’s all a disguise and a stupid way to organize people. 

In the constant tug-of-war on this planet, over which group of Whos we fall in, the big question has always been this: which group of Whos is actually right? 

Is freedom the answer? Or is a command and control government of experts the answer?

Which answer works? 

This question is at the heart of any political debate. It’s at the heart of any Facebook argument. It’s at the heart of how we organize our lives. It was at the vortex of Ronald Reagan saying “tear down this wall.” 

By 2019, the America that Donald Trump had engineered was proving that freedom actually does work.

There were more jobs than people available to do them. That meant wages were going up and the worker had the power to negotiate. All created by the free market. 

It was being proven, in ways I’ve personally never seen, that a free economy could work for everyone and become the greatest economy in American history – which means world history. 

If you’re in group 1, that’s a problem. It means you might be wrong. It means your entire idea of societal structure might be wrong. It means you may be wasting your life on a lie. And that cannot to be true. Not for a Who.  

The Trump economy was like a cornerback who had intercepted a pass and had nothing but open field to the end zone. And that touchdown would’ve meant game over; freedom works, self-governance works. Lower taxes (Yes, even lower CORPORATE TAXES) work.

No one playing the actual game could stop it. The only thing that could trip up the kid headed to the house, was maybe someone from the sidelines sticking out their foot, to trip him up. And that feels an awful lot like what happened. 

A virus that puts us all at risk of dying, just by being around each other, would certainly illuminate which group the Whos would fall into, with their very lives on the line. So …

Group 1s charted a course then came out in force. 

They burned parts of cities and stormed private gates, they tore down some statues and locked down some states. 

They messed up the place and couched it in race, then suppressed the news reported by 2s. 

But how far will the 1s go? How in the world is a Who supposed to know?

I’ll be interested to see, over the next few years, if group 2 moves closer to group 1 or if group 1 moves closer to group 2. And that is where the philosophical battle lines are drawn right now. 

We Whos are all on some part of the group 1/group 2 spectrum. There is a lot of middle ground – at least in The United States there has been. 

But this past year has made me feel like …

Group 1 is winning with the web they are spinning 

And who knows what we will have to do…to stay a Who in group 2?

R

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EXISTENTIAL …

If you’re from New York, you can’t go to Hawaii. They won’t let you in. At least it was that way for a hot minute.

My ears perked up when my wife (who works for a major American Airline) gave me this piece of interesting information. 

“Really?” I replied. “Hawaii. Won’t. Let. Them. In?”

She casually told me about how they are worried about Covid. Because, after all, they are a series of islands separated from the rest of the world by thousands of miles. An outbreak there could be disastrous. She went on to explain that the restrictions were changing moment to moment and they have since gone from out-and-out travel ban, to a mandatory 14-day quarantine as well as a Covid test, blah blah blah. But the upshot is, they didn’t feel they had enough information from certain places (like New York) to allow tourists in, from those places.

I listened, then repeated, “So, you’re saying Hawaii. Won’t. Let. Them. In?” 

Then I smiled at the irony. 

You see, it was a Hawaiian judge who overturned President Trump’s travel ban back in 2017 …

Judge Derrick Watson said the travel ban — Trump’s third version of the policy — “plainly discriminates based on nationality.”

The President’s executive order “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the interests of the United States,'” Watson wrote.

Sarah Sanders explained the travel ban and why it was there …

“The entry restrictions in the proclamation apply to countries based on their inability or unwillingness to share critical information necessary to safely vet applications, as well as a threat assessment related to terrorism, instability, and other grave national security concerns.” CNN. 

Of course these were the days when everyone was supposed to be allowed to just go anywhere and move anywhere and decide to live anywhere, without filing any paper work or letting anybody know. 

Back in those days, we were supposed to accept waves of caravans, coming across our southern borders, with open arms and house-warming gifts. 

Anyone who questioned open borders or favored vetting immigrants or (God forbid) building a barrier between two sovereign countries, was scolded as a racist on par with Hitler himself. It was right about then that the term “white nationalist” was coined. I didn’t then, and don’t now, have any idea what that term means. 

I’m white. And I’m pro-American. Does that make me a white nationalist? Oh, who cares? 

The point is, Hawaii won’t let you in right now, if you’re from New York. Why? Because they are afraid of the unknown; of what might happen to them if you come in with a virus. This is a valid fear. And they have every right to decide who comes in and who doesn’t. That’s what those guards are there for. That’s what guards everywhere are there for. 

But it’s interesting to watch people who have screamed the loudest and stomped the hardest, in protest of anyone from anywhere, being detained or turned away or sent back to their country of origin, for any valid reason, now turning into movement shamers. 

I suppose once humans actually feel a direct threat and see the possibility of their own harm, they get real rulesy, real fast. 

If I may use an overused word, it’s what we call existential

How’s everybody feeling about caravans of strangers pouring across any border, anywhere, right now? Ya’ll good? No? Ya sure?

Maybe this virus can teach us a little about human nature and a lot about hypocrisy. 

We know that not everyone in New York has Covid 19. In fact, we know that most people in New York probably don’t have Covid 19. But guess what, New York? You are now being profiled by America’s most tropical location. 

I wonder how Judge Derrick Watson feels about that?

Many of us not on the left (I’m not a Republican but not insane), would simply appreciate people on the left to just stop virtue signaling and at least be honest about their own bullshit. Just own it. 

John Lennon wrote, “imagine no possessions …”

But here’s a fun little experiment: shoot a movie and try to use Imagine as your end title song. In fact, try to use Lennon’s version of it. See how quickly you will find out there are most definitely possessions and how swiftly you learn just how much you will have to pay to use said possessions, under penalty of the law.

When it comes to the socialist utopian theme song, imagining is all you get to do.

All we’re asking is stop clutching your pearls over #metoo if you’re going to vote for a guy who is accused of sexual assault or a woman who will look the other way in order to be his running mate. 

Just come out and say, “None of that really matters. It never did. We just want to win.”

I would TOTALLY respect that. 

Don’t say Black Lives Matter if black police officers’ lives don’t seem to matter or blacks killed by other blacks don’t register on the “matter” meter. AT. ALL. Just come out and say, “We want to overturn the system and it’s really not about race. It’s just a convenient tool that puts everybody on their heels and gives us an edge.” 

That’s an honest conversation we can actually have without all the tiptoeing around language. 

If you protest gun ownership then hire armed bodyguards, we’d rather you just be honest and say, “I think I’m more important than all the hayseeds out there who want guns.”

Cool. Now we know we’re actually talking about classism and elitism – not gun control. 

If you advocate for the destruction of property but then protect your own, just say what you mean, man – “I want MY house to be safe and sound, but I want YOU to have to rebuild your business, because I don’t like how the world works.”

Excellent. Now, we know we’re merely dealing with a child – arrested development of critical thinking – and not a real revolution. 

See? Definition of terms is a beautiful thing. 

Covid 19 is allowing all the closeted fear of the open-minded to finally surface. We’re getting to finally see some true colors. 

Yes – Covid is real. I lost two friends to it this past week. Don’t for one minute think I’m playing down this virus. 

But it’s showing us exactly how we will respond in the face of a direct threat. We don’t have to even speculate, anymore. And it’s also showing us which tightly held ideals we will sell out at a moment’s notice, given the right circumstances; the right existential threat.

You appalled at children being detained behind fencing, at a border? Just assume they all have Covid. Now, how appalled are you? Still want them at your house? Still want to grab them and hug them?  

At the end of all this, those who survive will have an actual accounting of how everyone else acted during it. 

Who got gripped by fear? Who kept their cool? Who kept their sense of wonder? Who kept their sense of humor? Who helped? Who didn’t? 

And we will also have an accurate accounting of how Hawaii treated people from New York.  

For a time, at least…they wouldn’t let them in.

R

PS – I have edited this piece to reflect the fluid nature of the information it’s based on, which has apparently changed since I penned the blog.

This is an opinion site but I never want to report anything untrue or not based in verifiable fact.

I can, however, report with absolute certainty that you will never get to use Imagine in your movie without negotiating a price.

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WE GOT LUCKY …

The western world gets to live in freedom because there are people in it who volunteer to guard it for the rest of us.

That’s what a veteran is.

I work with an organization called Operation Song. It pairs pro songwriters with Vets battling PTSD and we basically do songwriting therapy.

Since they’ve been tracking this therapy (about 7 years, now), it has shown to be the single most effective form of “recreational therapy” ever tried through the VA.

And it’s not even close.

I’ve had dozens of vets tell me they’ve opened up more in our little 3-hour songwriting session than in 20-plus years of talking to a therapist.

Music and songs give you a place to put something. And it can just always live there. When you need to touch it or feel it, you can listen to the song. When you need it to be away from you, you can turn off the song.

I’ve always maintained that songwriters are simply people going insane, who found a therapy that could keep them in polite society.

I’ve written songs with vets who were well into their healing process and doing well. I’ve written with some who were in the throes of the worst part of it. I’ve written with some who didn’t want to talk about it. Some can’t STOP talking about it. Some live with immense guilt. Some live with pictures in their minds that drive them to the edge of insanity every day.

This particular song was written from a slightly different perspective.

Scott Sullivan was a PA (physician assistant), studying to be a doctor, IN the bloodiest theater of the Iraq war.

He was a life SAVER – not a life TAKER. And that is a profound distinction.

Taking a life is not a natural act. It affects every person who has ever done it. We’re just not wired to kill each other. 

So, Scott’s story comes from a different angle. He was there to save people.

The blood and gore was something he was used to as a doctor and something he still sees everyday as a (now) E.R. Doc.

But in our session, he had “the stare” and the issues. And you could tell that even a doctor couldn’t fully process 65 kids an hour rushing through the makeshift hospital, with arms gone and chests open and eyes dangling and …well…you get it. All of this happening while your position was getting constantly shelled, made for a nice, hellish cocktail of trauma.

At one point he said, “it was just the noise. The Goddamn noise …”

I wrote that line down. I knew it was going in the song. It may offend some people. But I don’t censor those guys. I keep it as real as possible.

And he kept coming back to one phrase over and over when discussing the boys who lived: “we got lucky.”

I knew that was our title.

That whole day we discussed the idea of God and “a plan” versus just randomness.

Scott said he was constantly torn over what to believe. Because it all seemed so chaotic and meaningless.

We tried to wrestle with that in the song as well.

Praying to something you hope is there. But feeling like it’s just luck that you’re even breathing.

I know that feeling well.

I think I believe it’s up to the arts to make sense of chaos. And that’s what I tried to do with this song. That’s what Operation Song tries to do with every song written with every vet – make sense of the chaos. 

Operation Song is helping our vets in a real way. And I’m honored to be a part of it. 

I honor our men and women in uniform and I always will, no matter who the president is and no matter what he or she is ordering the soldiers to do.

These songs I write with them are just the least I can do to help them in their journey back to themselves.

While I was making this record, I asked Scott if there was some weird, outside chance he might have some audio of the battles. I knew that was a weird ask and I almost didn’t even broach the subject. 

But in a strange turn of events, he said that oddly enough he had recorded some of the bloodiest day he was there, on a cassette.

He had no idea why he’d done it, but he just pushed record that day to have a record of how insane the noise was.

What he sent me gave me chills. And I couldn’t use all of it. Some of it was just too intense. But I pulled the sounds I thought would help paint the sonic picture.

Here’s Scott Sullivan’s story in the song, We Got Lucky.

God bless our vets …

R

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Here’s the song:

THE UGLY KNOWN …

My mind keeps going back to the Oprah interview.

Sometimes it’s the Letterman interview or maybe one of the many Larry King interviews.

Occasionally I remember one of the dozens of Howard Stern inquiries.

But they basically always came back to the same question, of the same man: “Donald Trump, would you ever consider running for president?”

All the talking-head muckity-mucks loved picking the brain of America’s favorite billionaire. Especially if he was criticizing Republicans. They loved that part. 

They even gave him his own reality show. Probably because they secretly thought he was “one of them.” 

And what a heady thought: eccentric billionaire, real-estate tycoon with NO public service experience but with a global brand, becomes president of the most powerful nation in earth.

They were always giddy with excitement over the prospect. You can look up the clips on YouTube.

Donald Trump running for president was that elusive Hollywood high-concept we always kinda hoped we’d see in our lifetime.

But then we did.

And all those people who had cheered him on for so many years, decided he was something they just couldn’t get behind.

He said the wrong things. He put the wrong letter next to his name. And he attracted the wrong supporters.

If Trump had simply stayed a Democrat, he’d be basking in his second presidential victory right now, with CNN panelists laughing at how “colorful” he is and proclaiming him a truly “out-of-the-box” leader.

Anyway …

As of this writing, Joe Biden has been declared the victor in the 2020 presidential election. 

Part of me doesn’t care all that much. Presidents don’t dictate my happiness or color my dreams. 

Then again, a big part of me is rolling my eyes at the people who keep talking about how we are all going to join hands and love one another now. After ripping Trump supporters a new one for the last 4 years and basically calling them Nazis, I doubt that’s going to happen.

And there’s a still an outside chance the voting results will be overturned.

I’ll be interested to see how much love and reconciliation is offered if that happens. But I think we know the answer.

Yeah, guys. Nobody is about to embrace anybody in love. We all know who we all are, now. No need to pretend anymore. 

But there’s a part of me that is really just sad.

And I think I know why. 

See, it all goes back to a movie I saw 40 years ago, called Brubaker, starring Robert Redford. 

Brubaker, a bleeding-heart prison reformer, was sent to a rural Arkansas prison/work camp to become the warden and turn the thing around. 

Brubaker was hard to contain; a rebel. He shot his mouth off too much. He insulted the wrong people in power. He basically turned the whole system against him with his unorthodox methods. 

But he exposed everything from horrible living conditions to systemic prostitution, to black market medicine…to finally, mass murder…in one prison, in Arkansas.

As you can imagine, the corruption went all the way to the top. And the gorgeous Redford mug was continually pitted against the stereotypical Foghorn Leghorn, “boy-I-say-boy, you need to play ball now, boy,” caricatures of elected officials. 

I always wondered how that movie would’ve played out if Redford had been cast as the corrupt politician and the ugly guy had been cast as the reformer. Would we even accept that? But I digress …

At some point, even the inmates living IN THE CORRUPT PRISON got uncomfortable with Brubaker and wished he would just go away.

The disruption in their lives was too much to process. They had organized it a certain way, with certain realities factored in, and he was challenging all of it on a daily basis.  

There was also too much darkness under the surface. 

They sort of knew that if he kept disrupting and disrupting and disrupting, they were eventually going to have to face something they didn’t want to face; something they couldn’t face and hang on to the last remnant of sanity they had.  

It was just easier to keep things as they were. 

Because the ugly known was easier to live with than the beautiful unknown. 

There are so many people in this world who need “basic.” 

Ask anyone in a bad or even abusive marriage. Sometimes it’s just easier to accept things as they are, as long as there’s peace in the house, than to disrupt, get completely honest, and have to live in an inflamed situation until it actually changes. 

The ugly known is comfortable. 

You literally cannot get any more of an “ugly known” than Joe Biden. 

If you were looking for garden-variety, basic, old white guy, to be a benign figure-head, he’s straight out of central casting. 

You also cannot get any more of a professional politician than someone who has been doing it for half a century. 

And that strikes the rawest nerve with me. 

For someone in the arts, who always wants to believe people can embrace the new or roll with the revolution, the truth usually ends up being what it has always been – most people cannot do that. They need it the way they have had it.

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring caused a riot outside the theater, on the day of its release. New is difficult. 

I was never really a Trump guy. Never wore a MAGA hat or went to a rally.

I called for him to exit the race in 2015 and (to my knowledge) I am still the first and only blogger to assert publicly that I believe the man may be on the Autism spectrum.

But Donald Trump exposed a lot of things in his 4 years as President. And it changed my thinking in so many ways. 

I used to think media bias was something that was always claimed but hard to prove. 

Donald Trump and his presidency proved beyond all shadow of all doubt that the media does, in fact, pick sides. And in many ways they decide public policy based on what they report…and based what they refuse to report

Forget the FOX News VS CNN back-and-forth. I watched the hearings. ALL the many hearings. 

And when the head of an investigation tells a Senator point-blank, “We found no evidence of the Trump family colluding with the Russian Government,” then, literally right after that is said, collusion with the Russian Government is reported as fact on the nightly news, someone is either lying or caught up in wishful thinking. 

Either way, it makes me wonder …

It makes me wonder how many young girls wouldn’t have been raped or assaulted if the heads of NBC and ABC would’ve allowed their reporters to follow the Weinstein and Epstein stories years before they finally did.

It makes me wonder if they ever would’ve followed those stories at all under a Clinton presidency, given that both were close friends of the Clintons and (in Weinstein’s case) huge donors to the party. 

And it makes me wonder how many atrocities are being gotten away with right now, based on editorial command decisions, designed to help “shape a narrative” of their own choosing. 

Basically, as of right now, I don’t believe a word that comes out of the mouth of anyone on any of the major networks. I’m done with the press. They’ve proven they cannot be trusted. 

In a round about way, Donald Trump exposed that. 

Donald Trump exposed the fact that there is indeed corruption in our institutions. I don’t want to believe that. 

But the FBI and the CIA do, in fact, lie to us and get warrants based on falsified documents. They do close ranks to protect themselves. And they act just like all other humans have acted for thousands of years, when faced with being exposed: They destroy the one exposing them. 

I always believed American institutions were better than that. They are not. Now, I can’t unknow that.

Donald Trump exposed the fact that being a President doesn’t have to be all that difficult if you simply go to work every day and have the will to make the tough decisions. 

In 4 years, he flipped the Supreme Court, signed hundreds of executive orders deregulating industries, changed the tax codes, brokered a peace deal in the Middle East, re-set relations with North Korea, defeated ISIS, signed at least a half dozen pieces of ground-breaking legislation, created “opportunity zones” for minority communities and pulled the United States out of every major military conflict on the globe. All while presiding over the greatest economy in the nation’s history, breaking over 200 stock market records and maintaining peace throughout the world.

The only nation on earth not currently at peace with the United States is…well…The United States. 

And he did it all without ever taking a penny in pay. 

To date, Donald Trump has still not ever, in his life, cashed a government check for public service. 

I would ask Joe Biden to follow suit. In fact, I think this should be a tradition all presidents, who are wealthy enough, should adhere to: if you can do it, you should donate the presidential salary to a charity or a government agency every month, just like Donald Trump did. 

But the main thing Donald Trump exposed in our society, that makes me the saddest of all, is the part emotions and image play in our decision making. 

How we feel about something always colors how we think about it. 

Donald Trump made a lot of people feel good. But he made a lot of other people feel constant anxiety and stress. There was too much disruption on a daily basis. They simply couldn’t handle it. 

A lot of it was based on press reporting. A lot of it was based on tweets or some off-handed statement that made us clutch our Karen pearls. A lot of it was simply based on his not being or looking like what we have been used to hearing or seeing in that position. 

I thought if anyone could roll with that, Americans could. But as it turns out, they cannot.  

For me, there will always be an asterisk next to Donald Trump’s name in history. He’s like a movie character who is tragically flawed and destined to burn out in his own flame, but correct about some things. You know, Brubaker. 

One of the things Trump proved was that corporate tax cuts really do work. Those tax cuts are about to snap shut like a Venus Flytrap, but we know that they do, in fact, expand the economy. 

For the next president with iron will, able to withstand the onslaught of criticism, remember that. 

We know that taking out a terrorist before they act is cheaper and more efficient than going to war over something they do after the fact. 

Bin Laden killed thousands of people, was a global threat, and the most famous person on earth for a few years. Someimani is a footnote. 

And maybe the most eye-opening thing of all, we know who the violent ones are in our culture. 

There are 70 million dissatisfied people in the country right now. And no cities are being burned, no glass is being broken and no stores are being looted.

Yes, we know. It’s not even a debate. We know. 

The good news is there won’t be anymore viruses from China, threatening our way of life. 

I mean, there WILL be (there have been for decades), but we won’t track them the same way we’ve tracked Covid, because there won’t be any political reason to. 

There won’t be as many presidential scandals. I mean there WILL be, they just won’t be reported on. 

The late night guys can have the president on their shows again without a Twitter mob threatening to get them cancelled. 

I guess that’ll be nice. 

The only people being threatened or cancelled will be people like me, who refuse to “fall in line,” but who won’t hurt anybody if I lose my income. 

People like us are the the inmates caught in the middle. 

As for me, I’ve seen outside the prison, now. And I may have cast my last vote as an American citizen. 

If they can just go in that back room and grab how many ever bags of votes they need to keep the status quo the status quo, what’s the point?

Even if that’s not what they’re doing literally, it sure feels like it is metaphorically. 

So, if the numbers hold, we can all tuck ourselves safely back into the prison yard again, and act like everything is back to normal.

Brubaker got sent packing. Too much unknown. Too much disruption. Too much being exposed. 

But as he was being driven off the grounds, the inmates gave him that most glorious of movie devices: the stone-eyed slow clap.

It’s almost as if I can hear one of those echoing across America right now.  

R

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VOTING MACHINES …

It’s 6:58 AM, on November the 4th, and Americans still don’t know who the president is.

This is completely unacceptable in every way.

The case against government is often the mechanisms of government itself.

In this case, it could not be more self-evident.

If this were American Idol or Dancing With The Stars, the newly minted President would already be sitting for an interview on Good Morning America.

Why?

Because the private sector doesn’t have the luxury of incompetence.

There’s a schedule and a deadline and if you can’t get it done we’ll find someone who will.

But when you’re the only game in town, you’re the only game in town.

This – right here, right now – what is happening before the eyes of the planet: a screwed up election that will determine the leader of the free world, should be the only indictment against government anyone needs.

See, those of us in the “limited government” camp aren’t trying to take away your healthcare or or your food stamps.

We’re not trying to go back to 1954, or keep minorities down or make Jesus the official mascot of the country or put a gun in the hand of every toddler or any of the crazy things we get accused of on a daily basis.

We actually want the best for everybody; every race, gender, color, creed, age and weight.

We just know the difference between the post office and Fedex.

And if your child was in the ICU waiting on a kidney, whatever your first instinct is as to which of those entities you would rather have delivering that kidney, should inform your opinion of just exactly how much you trust government.

The thing about government isn’t that it’s inherently bad. The people who serve in it aren’t inherently bad or incompetent people.

In fact, they are often very well meaning and patriotic.

It’s just a universal principle in nature that anything that doesn’t have to compete, won’t.

And it will literally never know how efficiently it can run, because it will never be pushed to.

Obviously, there is no way to create competition in a voting scenario.

This is civics and volunteerism and it would be a conflict of interest nightmare to inject private industry into that process.

But I’m sitting here in the same conundrum I was in 20 years ago, when they were down there in Dade County looking at hanging chads.

Meanwhile, the device I’m typing this on wasn’t yet invented. But it has propelled me (and the rest of the world) into a new state of being.

Government has stood absolutely and completely still.

What’s happening in Georgia, Pennsylvania and some other states right now, is either abject incompetence or an attempt to somehow affect the process in favor of one candidate or the other.

In either case, it’s an embarrassment on a grand scale.

We ask these candidates to campaign like high performance vehicles, then we put them on a track every four years, that hasn’t had the potholes fixed.

“Dangit, Bob. Was that today?”

Yeah, dude! You’ve had FOUR years to get this process streamlined and tight.

If Chick Fil-A was running our elections, we’d already have the new president sworn in with a hot side of waffle fries and a sweet iced tea.

AND. IT. WOULD. BE. THEIR. PLEASURE!

So it appears that we’re still going to have to wait for “all the votes to be counted” yet again, while we order everything from books to mattresses on Amazon and get them delivered to our door THE NEXT DAY, order pizza on an app that tracks everything from when they place the black olives on it to when the delivery is in the driveway, stream any movie ever made and any song ever recorded by touching a screen, all the while keeping eleven text threads going with our friends, posting on Facebook and Twitter and getting paid by direct deposit.

The world has moved on, election commissions. Maybe you should as well.

If I were in charge, I would push for a constitutional amendment that would require every state to certify their election by midnight of Election Day, or they lose all federal funding to their state for the next fiscal year.

Maybe it’s time to raise the stakes on this process and light a fire under those who run it.

This is The United freaking States of America. Not some third-world Democratic startup.

Get the votes counted. Today.

But they won’t get counted today. And this should be an object lesson for everyone.

The next time you vote for more government in your life, remember a few things:

The people who are going to have to enforce the laws you want passed are going to be cops.

The thing you’re hoping the government will do for you had better work. Because if it doesn’t, there’s no place else to go for it.

No matter who you vote for, your vote is at the mercy of the people counting it.

And if you are frustrated that we don’t have a clear winner for president when you wake up the morning after Election Day, remember who is in charge of that process.

And ask yourself if you want that process repeated in every other aspect of your life.

R

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REPEALING THE ACA …

What does college tuition, car insurance, Spotify, Starbucks, and the Supreme Court have to do with your upcoming surgery? 

Hear me out …

Something had to be done. That is a fact. 

And I’ve always credited Barack Obama with at least addressing the problem, where all other politicians before him had not. 

The problem? Pre-existing conditions. 

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, if you tried to buy a private health insurance policy, but had some pre-existing condition (like asthma, heart disease or diabetes), you would not be able to purchase that policy. It was that simple. 

You were in a high risk group and insurance is essentially betting. Nobody bets on bad odds. That’s what insurance companies do. They bet on the odds. 

But not being able to purchase a health insurance policy could be a life-or-death proposition for you, in a worst-case scenario. Even a best-case scenario it might ruin your life. 

My family DID have that very scenario. 

When we were childless, young and healthy, my wife and I had this health insurance policy that only cost around $170 a month. To be honest, we didn’t really even use it all that much. We only went to the doctor about once a year. We trained like athletes and never got sick. We just kept it for emergencies. 

Sometimes I would even forget I had insurance and just pay for a doctor visit out my own pocket. 

I never thought about health insurance or medical costs at all. I never thought much about that monthly bill. It was just “insurance” (in-case-something-happens protection). And it wasn’t enough money to quibble over. 

But then we brought our (adopted) daughter home from China and we started needing to go to doctors…a lot. Then, hospitals…a lot. And we filed the claims with that company we’d been paying into (and not using) for years. 

But they started denying the claims.

See, there was this little loophole, we’d never read in our policy, regarding adopted children. If we adopted a child ONE DAY after their birth, they were subject to being screened first before being covered. If we had adopted our child THE DAY she was born, she would’ve automatically been covered. 

She was 8 months old when we adopted her. The math is simple. And she was denied coverage. 

Shortly after that revelation, we received an 87-thousand-dollar medical bill in the mail, for a dozen ambulance rides and as many E.R visits. And our lives changed forever. 

The next years were spent trying to get my daughter some sort of medical coverage. I jumped through every hoop imaginable, getting a reluctant college education in the healthcare and insurance industries, in America.  

I even took my case to the insurance commissioner of Tennessee. His exact words to me? “I’m sorry sir, but you’re screwed.” That’s a direct quote. 

My daughter has a rare genetic disorder that often requires state-of-the-art treatment. We cannot self-insure. Well, not anymore, at least. Not since streaming services essentially put me out of business. 

See, I was a highly paid songwriter with an extensive catalog earning money. It had taken years to build that body of work. And I thought when I needed it the most, I’d be able to take some time off, tend to my daughter and rely on the royalties I had worked my ass off to acquire. 

But pirating and streaming services came along and decimated my profession. Why songwriting in particular? Was it the big, bad capitalist monsters that had stolen from me? 

Well, I suppose you could make that case. But the real problem with my profession is that the government regulates ALL songwriting royalty rates. It always has. 

The government stepped in to help all the poor songwriters struggling to make a living, in 1909. And a hundred and eleven years later, we’re still tangled in the constraints of their “help.” 

This is an important piece to remember. It will make sense later. 

When we found out we couldn’t purchase private insurance for our daughter, my wife took a part-time job at Starbucks to get us on a group plan. And that covered our daughter. But when my wife could no longer do the job, because of back issues, we were back at square one. 

She took another job, that covered our daughter. But that company went out of business.

The saga that we walked through would take thousands and thousands of words to explain. Well, 65 thousand to be exact. I wrote a whole book about this in 2010. 

But during the epic journey, we spoke with sitting senators and congressmen. We took her off all insurance for three months, to get her on the state’s S-CHIP program. But then they decided to close the window on the program exactly 90 days after we took that leap. 

We actually spent a couple of weeks talking to federal lawyers trying to interpret whether the law meant “90 days” or “three months.” See, we were ONE day off on the timeline. And her getting on the program depended on the interpretation of that law.   

We bounced around to every imaginable health care situation you can think of. And my daughter kept getting dropped from plans – then added onto plans. This happened 7 times. In every instance, the insurer that dropped her, then the insurer that picked her back up were both Blue Cross/ Blue Shield. All 7 times. 

But then, in 2010, a new law was being debated: The Affordable Care Act. 

My family was coming off a huge song and a great story and a book and we still had a little profile. And it was suggested to us, form some well-connected people, that maybe we would be the perfect poster family for getting this new law passed. 

We asked to read it first. It was 2700 pages long. That’s twice as long as War and Peace. 

We got to page 16-A and couldn’t make heads nor tails of any of it. When my manager asked for a clarification on some self-employment concerns, he was told he was listening to too much Rush Limbaugh. 

We didn’t then, and don’t now, have any idea what that means. 

Through our odyssey, I kept asking simple questions like, “why can’t I just shop for health insurance in another state, like I can car insurance?” or “Why don’t they just make my out-of-pocket medical expenses a dollar-for-dollar write off? or “Why can’t they incentivize doctors to do more pro-bono work with tax breaks for doing so?” 

Little questions like this nagged at me and I couldn’t get an answer.

I started thinking about ideas that could’ve possibly fixed our nation’s problem. I brought them up once to my state senator. He thought they were great ideas but said they’d never get passed. 

Here’s the thing: the only issues we had regarding healthcare, in this country, prior to The Affordable Care Act, was covering people with pre-existing conditions and tempering healthcare costs themselves. 

How do you temper costs? Competition. 

But why do doctors have to charge so much for their services? They usually have so much college debt that it takes decades to pay it off. I’m not sure you can address the hard costs of healthcare until you address the hard costs of college. 

But what if we could buy health insurance anywhere in the nation, like we do can car insurance? More companies would spring up to get in that business because it would be a national pool of money they could access. 

And with state-run monopolies having to actually compete for the consumer’s dollar, they would have to go to hospitals and doctors and negotiate down the prices of services. 

Right now, if I get a kidney stone surgery (I’ve had 6), and I pay out of pocket, it’s exactly HALF of what it is if I turn it into my insurance company. That means even with his six-figure student loan debt, the doctor is game to negotiate. It’s the bureaucracy that’s in the way. 

If I had the money to pay for that service out-of-pocket, but knew I could get a dollar-for-dollar tax write off for it? I would do it in a heartbeat. That’s how costs come down. It’s also how services get sleeker and quicker. 

If there was a healthcare market where actual negotiating took place, instead of so much paper being pushed around to mitigate risk, the real, actual costs of things might find some equilibrium. 

It seems like this is something we should at least try first. Doesn’t it?

During the Obamacare debate, I was told my daughter would be covered. I was told if I liked my doctor I could keep him. I was told my premiums would go down dramatically. And I was told that my Republican representatives didn’t have an alternative healthcare plan. 

In fact, President Obama asserted that there wasn’t ONE SINGLE Republican healthcare plan.  

None of those three things ended up being true. 

My daughter lost her health insurance – well, what I should say is the new company that employed my wife went out of business because they couldn’t comply with the new law. And that meant my daughter got dropped…again. 

We lost our doctor. 

And our premiums skyrocketed.

And there wasn’t ONE Republican alternative plan…there were 11. 

I read two of them. I still have Marsha Blackburn’s plan on my laptop. It addresses all my concerns and is only 27 pages long. 

It could be implemented in a week. And it just might work. 

The best plan I read was written by a senator from Indiana. A guy named Mike Pence. 

Anyway …

When I called the government hotline on October 1st, 2014 (the day the ACA went into full effect), to find out about the exchanges, the computers were down and I was told I would have to submit my questions in a letter…through the U.S. Postal service. In 2014. That sort of summed up the efficiency and cutting-edge nature of the unwieldy law.  

Fast forward past more years of jumping through stupid hoops and red tape, to today. 

My daughter and son are both “at risk” people, so they both finally got approved to be on the S-CHIP program through our state.  

My wife and I still have to get insurance through her work. And it’s very expensive. 

Basically, all that happened was where we (the two adults) used to get insured easily, and our kids were expensive, now our kids get insurance easily and OURS is expensive. And guess who runs the insurance for ALL of our plans?

Blue Cross/Blue Shield. 

A lot of people are frightened about the ACA getting overturned in the Supreme Court, now that the court has essentially been flipped philosophically. But the law never really worked the way they thought it would. 

And most of it is just plain confusing, with so much of it being interpreted by the director of HHS. 

There’s a rising chorus of people who want a nationalization of healthcare. And I get it. It sounds simple, streamline and humane. 

But here’s the thing…

Once we go there, we cannot go back.  

And something like that, in the third largest country on earth, would be a bureaucratic nightmare. The only two other nations this size who have tried Universal health care are there U.S.S.R and The People’s Republic of China. 

You can read about the U.S.S.R in history books. And I got my daughter out of the China system once. We’re not in a hurry to go back. 

ONE buyer would have control over the entire industry. No market forces at play. No negotiations of any kind…except those done in secret. 

As someone who has watched the government, in all its well-meaning glory, preside over the absolute destruction of my industry, not because it doesn’t want to help, but because it’s not in my business and can’t possibly know what’s best for it, I shudder to think what would happen if it were in control of the business of saving lives and preserving health. 

At the moment, we’re in the weird middle-ground of the government controlling just enough of healthcare to make it maddening. 

If it were up to me, I would abolish the entire ACA and start all over again, knowing we HAVE to make sure we address the crack in the system people like my daughter fell through time and time again.  

But I believe we can do it. 

We just need a little creativity and imagination. 

And maybe less paper. 

R

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