What do Hurricanes, Hunger Games, and Trump Have in Common?

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While we awaited official word this weekend about the state of emergency in Puerto Rico, what we got instead from our President was distracting and hateful comments about the NFL and players brave enough to address injustice.

Our NFL responded with an unprecedented show of unity on Sunday, essentially out-classing our President. We even experienced the irony of Charles Barkley calling out the President for swearing.

But some lingering words from Trump remain to be addressed.

  • His complete disregard for players who are peacefully protesting unchecked police brutality
  • Trump’s call for unquestioning fealty to the flag and national anthem is un-American, not the peaceful protest of the players. We are in a free country and no one can make us bow to the flag or the president.
  • Suggesting that players should feel “privileged to be in the league” mistakes the fact that the League should feel privileged to have such talent on the field. The League is its players and they’ve earned their stripes.
  • His reckless call for viewers to walk out or stop supporting the NFL until owners make the players stand for the anthem. That doesn’t support his supposed friends among NFL owners. And how does that grow our economy?
  • Yes, his swearing which remains a disturbing pattern in this White House
  • And most alarming, his desire to return to a more violent game by saying “it’s a different game” now that there are penalties for hard hitting, despite modern understanding of the danger of concussions

The problem with Trump’s comments, when viewed together, is that they reveal an utter disregard for people (and really he is targeting people of color). They imply that people should feel privileged for jobs they’ve actually earned (because as people of color you are lucky we let you in at all?), even dangerous jobs, and they must perform with a smile on their faces at all times. Sing for your supper!  His comments conjured images of gladiators fighting to the death, or “honored” youth fighting in the Hunger Games. I could imagine him saying, “look how hard they hit, they like it!”  And I could see him forcing these gladiators to salute him and the Roman Empire, or suffer the consequences! His joy in the pomp, and his pleasure in the pain, is so President Snow.

Meanwhile, I fear that real-life hunger games are underway on an island of 3.5 million people hit by Hurricane Maria. Power will be out for months, flooding persists, and water, medicine, and other critical resources are scarce in Puerto Rico right now. These are fellow Americans. Shall we send them flags or sing the anthem to them? Or shall we actually show them what it means to be American by helping them? If you know how best to help, please comment below.

Trump’s rants stir the pot of racial discord, like Hurricanes stir winds of destruction. And just like a hurricane, Trump’s damage starts with a lot of hot air, rapidly rising in our collective consciousness to create friction. What results is a vacuum, swelled by the vacuum in moral leadership in our country. The resulting swirl leaves broad scale damage, unintended consequences, and needless despair.

We may not be able to control for Hurricanes (though we can each take steps to slow global warming from human activity that is feeding them), but we can control for who is elected to lead our great nation. Whether it is Congressional and legislative elections, gubernatorial elections, or the presidency, let’s do our best this time to steer clear of President Snow, Hurricane Trump, and any other man-made disasters.

A Muddy Road to Recovery after Hurricane Harvey

IMG_30681My sister’s family and their horses weathered the storm. See one pictured above on the day sunshine returned. It is a hopeful scene, which belies a whole lot of hurt still happening in Houston.

There are not a lot of words to help what happened in and near Houston. But our donations could do a lot to help people recover. If you are looking to target your donation dollars locally for immediate and long-term recovery, then I recommend the  YMCA’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

Also, here are some other recommendations passed to me by a friend:

The Texas Workers Relief Fund. A union-relief effort by the Texas AFL-CIO, donations are tax-deductible. The state fed has been closely coordinating with the Houston and Corpus-area central labor councils to provide material aid.

RNRN Disaster Relief Fund. Our ally the National Nurses United organizes medical relief for major disasters through this fund.

Texas DSA. DSA chapters (also allies) have been organizing both volunteers and those in need at a grassroots level. Sign up here to offer help (or ask for it) or donate directly to Houston DSA.

Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group Fund. If you want to donate directly for relief in the Coastal Bend towns hit directly by the hurricane.

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Houston’s mayor has set up this fund to assist with victims of Houston’s ongoing and increasingly dangerous flooding. Donations are tax-deductible.

The extreme enforcement policies of SB4 and ICE have put immigrant workers in increased harm’s way through the crisis. Immigrant and refugee groups such as RAICES in San Antonio are moving to get aid directly to immigrant families. Jumping in now is just the beginning.

 

 

 

Nazis, Trump, Confederate Statues…Don’t Blink

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During spring break my family traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, where we were struck by the variety of monuments. Accustomed to the Land of Lincoln, we now saw presidents Andrew Jackson and James K Polk revered by their home state. We also saw confederate statues and symbolism (check out this monstrosity) and learned that Eastern Tennessee supported the Union during the Civil War, while the rest of Tennessee went with the Confederacy. We also saw several statues of women, like the one pictured above commemorating the “Perfect 36” that gave women the right to vote, as well as a bust of the pioneering Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown. And most impressive was the giant Athena statue in the full-scale Parthenon replica in Centennial Park.

I almost blogged then about the feelings these statues aroused. Now that the controversy over removing confederate statues has risen to the national consciousness…the time seems ripe to talk about statues and what they mean to us.

First of all, I was inspired and gratified by the images of Athena, suffragettes, and Dr. Brown. As a woman, these made me feel especially empowered and inspired to strive and contribute. That is good. Also they made me realize and lament the dearth of female statues back home. Not so good. (BTW – It shouldn’t be hard to erect statues of women or even girls, but remember the uproar  over the little “fearless girl” on Wall Street?)

Second, I was a little mystified and intimidated by the existence of confederate statues. I did not consider then how I might feel if I were a person of color, but I could imagine now that I would feel pretty awful: resentful, threatened, abandoned, invisible. On a positive note, it did make me curious to learn more about local history.

Fast forward to this weekend in Charlottesville…Our country suffered a series of moral blows when Neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville, Va., ostensibly to protest the towns’ decision to remove a statue of Robert E Lee, but more notably to “Unite the Right” and conjure up the biggest white supremacist rally for the past several decades. See the Vice News 22-minute video depicting the Neo-Nazi perspective.

The white supremacists armed themselves (guns, helmets, sticks, chemical irritants, shields) and marched in a Friday night surprise, carrying torches and chanting Nazi slogans (“Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and Soil”). By the next day the towns people came out to bravely protest what was obviously a pro-Nazi rally. Some time after the rally was broken up by police as an unlawful assembly, a white supremacist sympathizer murdered the valiant Heather Heyer and injured at least 19 others by driving his car across a pedestrian mall into a group of people, terrorist style. (See the similarities between white nationalists and jihadists)

Then the moral blows kept coming as our President failed to condemn the hate groups by name on Saturday, and tried to make people believe that blame lies on “many sides”, relying on the proven Conservative tactic of False Equivalence (more recently referred to as “both-siderism”) that confused and misinformed voters last year. He waffled in his tone and purpose over the course of four days, giving an “insane press conference” on Tuesday. Many feel he has given comfort and hope to white supremacists. Meanwhile, the most powerful man in the world has proven once again that he gets his talking points directly from Fox News.  Together they have perpetrated the idea of an alt-left (What alt-left?,  there is no left equivalent to ethnic cleansing groups, not even Antifa), and suggest that it justifies the poisonous alt-right. The moral blows have turned into gut punches delivered by our very own President as America attempts to vomit on itself.

Now more people are seeing Donald Trump for who he really is, the paranoid, divisive  and racist leader who Hillary Clinton warned us he would be over a year ago.  Prominent Republicans are starting to voice it out loud, like Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee who questions Trump’s stability and ability to understand “the character of this nation” and “what makes this country great”.

People are starting to realize that Trump and his White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, represent a tangible and dangerous link to the Alt-Right, that Trump’s numerous anti-semitic campaign tweets and racist retweets were intentional to stir his hateful political base. And some people may also know that Russia has intentionally allied with and infiltrated white nationalist groups and used cyber techniques to push Breitbart and Alex Jones conspiracy platforms into the path of Republican voters, carrying the hatred and paranoia of white nationalism into the mainstream.

So what about confederate statues? It might be helpful to first understand that a large number of confederate statues were erected during times in our American history–Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras–when people were attempting to keep black people in their place. These statues loom over citizens on their way to courthouses and civic centers. Meanwhile, if we are actually commemorating Civil War heros rather than glorifying its transgressors, then why not depict emancipated black people? Why not show the bravery of everyday people who fought and died and suffered to make change happen?

Mayors are now acting swiftly to remove or cover the confederate statues for the sake of safety. My suggestion for these confederate statues? Move them to museums for context, or to graveyards that have a high proportion of confederate soldiers. Otherwise move them away from the center of town and provide historical context.

Many people feel the Charlottesville tragedy is a pivotal moment in this Presidency and perhaps this Nation’s history.  The Neo-Nazi’s feel it is their equivalent of the Beer Hall Putsch which will reinvigorate their cause. Others hope it is the dawning of an understanding that we need moral and political leadership to end systemic racism.

If we were to memorialize this pivotal moment with a statue, who would we depict? The Neo-Nazi leader who came with guns? The white male organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally? The ACLU leader who litigated the group’s First Amendment right to protest? President Trump with his words in quotes, though they were deemed inadequate at best and harmful at worst?

Well, I nominate Heather Heyer. She went to the rally even though she feared for her own safety and  didn’t want to die. She overcame her fear so that she could stand up against hatred, to defend us, to defend America. Heather also advocated for others to do the same. She did not blink in face of evil. She would not let a statue, or its violent proponents, send us backwards in time on progress that has already been hard fought and won through blood and sacrifice, love and bravery. She is a hero who deserves to be remembered.

Move Over Fox News, MSNBC is gaining, but Sinclair Broadcast Group will Trump them all!

A line I often quote from Mr. Mom, the 1980’s comedy movie, “No, lie to him, he likes it.” is funny, but possibly true.

Voters apparently don’t mind being lied to (again and again). Notably Trump’s national political ascent sprang from his destructive and baseless lie about President Obama’s place of birth.

Research suggests that people will believe lies if they support our biases. In fact people get a dopamine rush every time they hear something that supports what they believe, and they tend to disregard all else. And when confronted with facts to remove the basis for that belief, they will usually still cling to their originally formed belief even if there is no longer a reason to. Read this thorough New Yorker article for research on this phenomenon.

The lesson here is to form your beliefs cautiously, using good information in the first place. But that is getting harder.

The thing is, the news industry has become more conservative and  manipulative in recent decades.  The American myth of “The Liberal Media”, based on a couple misinterpreted studies in the 1980s, helped Conservatives carve a niche for opinion-based reporting which has grown and undermined fact-based reporting. This has resulted in both conservative, liberal, and fringe “news” outlets. For a solid understanding of this I recommend you read The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How it Corrupts Democracy written by former Republican David Brock in 2004, but eerily and urgently relevant today.

We already know how much Fox News correlates with less informed viewers (in study after study). One study even found that Fox viewers may be less informed than those who consume no news at all. Yet Fox wields power in the public consciousness and can force other networks to cover stories differently. Recall Fox’s premature call for Bush in the 2000 election creating a chain of events which disenfranchised voters across the state of Florida and affected the nation’s leadership at a pivotal time.

That is why it is noteworthy that MSNBC recently surpassed Fox news in weeknight prime-time viewer ratings. I attribute much of that to Rachel Maddow whose ratings have soared since the Presidential election. She may repeat herself like a Kindergarten teacher, but she reports well-researched and relevant news to you like you are a grown-up, without screaming/streaming talking heads. Her interest in discovering the truth through actual investigative reporting reveals real journalism. Thank you, Rachel.

But watch out for Sinclair Broadcast Group, a penny-pinching Trump-supporting propaganda news outlet poised to take over Tribune Media and become the largest TV news outlet in the nation, thwarting monopoly rules all thanks to the Trump administration recently paving the way for the merger. This news company forces content onto local news outlets, the ones you trust because they are from your community. Watch John Oliver’s piece on Sinclair Broadcast Group in “Last Week Tonight” and cringe at the middle of the segment when he shows the scripted news clips echoing from stations around the country using the exact same propaganda language to brainwash people into thinking the FBI has a vendetta against Mike Flynn. Incidentally, “Last Week Tonight” correlates with the most informed viewers (as does NPR).

Complicating matters further, our news sources have also been corrupted by an unholy alliance between the alt-right and Russia, and an army of Russian bots and trolls, ushering in the modern era of fake news.  This includes targeted campaigns that push propaganda messages to U.S. military personnel and their families. Our technologies in social media–Facebook, Twitter–presumptuously and relentlessly push extreme and fake news in front of you, allowing lies and hatred to spread like viruses (SEE: This Video Will make You Angry and its sequel).

Many Americans respond to all this by ignoring news, instead of taking the effort to sort it out and find reliable sources. Instead they focus on their jobs, their families, their biases. Sounds fair until you consider that the upshot of that approach chills democracy. If we all put our heads in the sand, it will allow the corrupt and power-hungry to constantly manipulate us and take over completely. It will make us all only slightly more informed than Fox viewers.

History has its eyes on you… Hamilton, Candide, and Wonder Woman

The last couple months were packed with entertainments and philosophical exchanges with family and friends. The upshot is that we cannot escape from politics right now, even when we are enjoying ourselves. Here are some highlights.

We enjoyed an excellent musical production of Candide produced by the Musical Theater Works company in Evanston. Yet there was a nagging something that tarnished enjoyment, for me at least. This story reminds us that good art is timeless. Voltaire could not have predicted Trumpians any better. How impossible it was not to picture Trump in the vain brother, Melania in the shallow jewelry-loving Cunegonde, etc. Ultimately the main characters were revolting, even Candide whose professed innocence belied his murdering selfishness.

Similarly, we finally got our family to Hamilton in Chicago. This was so well done and anticipated that people were laughing at jokes before they finished, and singing along in certain spots. Yet, my experience of it was filtered through my awareness of current political events. You are supposed to weep at the loss of a character toward the end. I did, a little. But my sobbing moment was when Washington revealed his haunting awareness that, “History has its eyes on me”. I took this to heart. I took it personally. This is the moment we will answer to later in our lives.

We have choices in what we believe and what ideas we surround ourselves with, even what ideas we entertain ourselves with.

Do we entertain ourselves by reading dystopian Atlas Shrugged as Paul Ryan recommends to inform our world view? Or do we read Steve Bannon’s apocalyptic obsessions?

Or do we choose the messaging that typifies us as Americans, uplifting, promising, liberating and empowering?

My top pick this summer is Wonder Woman  (a must see movie, though you will cringe at Steve Mnuchin’s name in the credits) which captured the essence of our modern-day conflicts in our quest to save humanity, “It’s not about what they deserve, it’s about what you believe”.  And also, “If you see something in the world that isn’t right, you can either do nothing, or you can do something about it.”

Help an immigrant who might help you one day–the world is round

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It was during the Science March in April that we proudly waved our “Einstein was an immigrant” sign. I could not stop thinking about how lucky we are that our country attracts brave and brilliant people who flock to us from around the world. But that could be changing under the Trump administration.

In January, Trump’s Travel/Muslim Ban, had an immediate chilling effect, contrary to our Constitution, and also contrary to the goal of making America great. Universities reported drops in foreign applications to University programs, with likely negative impacts on our economy and innovation. Students have choices about where to go in the world. After Trump announced his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, President Emmanuel Marcon of France made a direct appeal for scientists to “consider France [their] second homeland”. Do we really want other countries to compete against us for, and win market share of, hard workers and innovators?

Meanwhile, we need immigrants to fill the numbers gap (or Generation X, Y and millennials) left behind by the Baby Boomers. This is not a time to turn away consumers and producers who boost our economy. We need them to make America great, we always have.

If you want to help immigrants, I recommend that you take a peak at the organizations listed in these Free Research Resources on Immigration presented recently at our local Library by two attorneys/librarians. Perhaps something in here may be useful to you or someone you know.

 

March for Truth, Our American Integrity

Join the March for Truth tomorrow, Saturday, June 3, to protect our Democracy, 11 am Federal Plaza, Chicago.

https://www.indivisiblechicago.com/march-for-truth/

Why march?  On the way to the Science March I met a young woman styled upscale on the el train who smirked at the idea of marching. “Is that because you are a Trump supporter, or that you agree with the direction of our nation’s leadership right now?” I asked. “No”, she said, “I just don’t want to get stressed out.”  I responded that doing something about it keeps me from being stressed out. Helps me sleep like a baby knowing I am doing what I can.

She added that things will work out for good in the long run. I said, “sure there is ebb and flow to good times and dark times. But the dark times don’t have to happen on my watch. And I would rather have 400 years of a strong democracy than settle for 200.”

But finally she revealed a more cynical  reason she is not taking action. She believes that everyone is already corrupt. “If he shows his taxes, who is to say it is even accurate?” Assuming even tax agents are bought.  This means accepting all the conspiracy of lies told about Hillary, media, and government institutions by Trump and Neo Republicans.  This is their strategy to neutralize criticism of  themselves.

If we accept the idea of widespread corruption, lies, and conflicts of interest of the Trump Administration, then we might as well live in Russia.

“America is special”, I told this young woman. We live by the rule of law. We care, or we used to care, that our leaders tell the truth. Demand it. Now.

P.S. The young woman seemed swayed finally after I told her that we could stand back and watch a toddler at the edge of a cliff. Maybe she’ll fall, maybe not. But it is for the good in the long run. Eh? Or we could go take the toddler’s hand and redirect her away from the edge. Because we can. I also suggested that the young woman may yet find some simple, special or powerful way to make a difference. I encouraged her to find it. I encourage you. I am still finding my way to the toddler’s side myself.