Nazis, Trump, Confederate Statues…Don’t Blink

Nashville-Suffragettes

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.

Your News, My News: Let’s Swap

First off, please read Evan McMullin’s Trump’s Threat to the Constitution. In my “man on the street” conversation today, I mentioned this article to a gentleman who then admitted to me that he voted for McMullin for President.

That same man recommended that I read the Federalist article about the John Doe investigations in Wisconsin. Let’s call it OPTION A. He was disturbed by Democrats searching Republican homes with “early morning raids”. So I read it tonight prepared to be horrified.

Then I read from other news sources and discovered that there was a lot more to the story; bipartisan prosecutors, serious allegations against Scott Walker, Koch Brothers and big money involvement,  self-interested State Supreme Court judges, laws governing John Doe investigations, etc. Poor Wisconsin. How could Hillary think she was a shoe-in?

I found articles that focused mainly on Scott Walker corruption, and also others that focused only on people whose homes were searched in the probe.  Here is the best article I found that touches on both: “Bipartisan Prosecutors Call Scott Walker a Liar for His Attacks on Corruption Probe”. Let’s call it OPTION B.

So what is the truth? If I had read only OPTION A, I might be just as astounded as the gentleman on the train today. I might want to go investigate this myself to stop such atrocities (like the shooter who believed the fake news about the pizzeria)

OPTION B, though it has a slant, reads more fairly to me than OPTION A, and offers up more verifiable facts, rather than mere hyperbole. Meanwhile, Option A sounds especially angry and paranoid. And it is true that conservative news articles that I read tonight omitted facts about the bipartisan nature of the investigations and the level of corruption alleged.

So I choose OPTION B as closer to the truth, to save myself from continuing to search for more news sources until I can be even more certain. Truth is tenuous, and it is tedious. And I am tired.

But at least now I am more educated. And if I see that man tomorrow I can let him know that I respected his request to read the article. Maybe he has since read McMullin’s too?

Trump’s Corruption Needs a Correction

My garbage man says that Trump is a billionaire so he can’t be bought, and thus is not corruptible. Did it occur to him that Trump may not need to be bought in order to be corrupt?

Trump has lived his life in service to Trump, and he is already using his elected position for personal gain.

In just these first few weeks as President-Elect, he has already avoided the press corp which can both keep him accountable and help him communicate in emergencies, ignored security briefings which are necessary to prepare him for office, and ignored is own transition team’s efforts to teach him. Instead he has:

1. asked U.K. leaders to block construction of windmills in view of Trump’s golf course (something Trump previously fought to the highest court in England, and lost),

2. asked Argentinian leader to help Trump’s building project get building permits in Argentina,

3. interrupted transition activity to meet with Indian businessmen on project that would pay royalty money directly to Trump, and

4.  broke with protocol and met privately with Japanese leader and Trump’s daughter Ivanka who had business to discuss.

Also, it is speculated that his politically controversial call with the leader of Taiwan may have been prompted by economic/business interests of his Trump organization.

If Hillary Clinton had done any one of these corrupt things, he would have demanded to “lock her up!”  If your local politicians had done it you would demand they resign.

His refusal to release his taxes was the first sign that he did not intend to behave ethically. Now he is behaving unconstitutionally, with intent to violate the highest laws of the land.

What you can do:

  • Read the excellent letter by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) and U.S. Congressman, Elijah Cummings, and their call for a government audit of Trump’s conflicts of interest and investigation of his use of unsecured lines to make transition calls to heads of state.
  • Contact the Government Accountability Office contact@gao.gov to note that you “support an investigation into the appropriateness of Trump’s use of tax payer dollars toward the presidential transition, and an audit of all potential conflicts of interest.”
  • Write to your U.S. Congressmen to demand action to protect our country from despot leaders.

 

Trump’s Education Pick Brings Chills

Posted November 27: Betsy Devos, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education is another rattler. As I was reading about her penchant for vouchers, all it took was a casual mention from my husband that she is Erik Prince’s sister, to set my arms to shaking again in a fight or flight reaction.

Have you read “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”? This was a chilling account of Erik Prince’s role in privatizing our army which removed accountability and professionalism in our military engagements. It also revealed how much money, influence, and a private Christian-Right agenda can permeate our government’s rhetoric and decision-making.

The appointment of his sister, Betsy DeVos, bodes similarly ill for the separation of church and state. You can expect her to also move toward privatizing education, diverting money from public schools to parochial schools or for-profit schools via vouchers, and causing an unstable schools environment for children, including diminished professional standards and oversight in the process.

What you can do…

Read the Economist articles from mid-2016 on training teachers and findings on what works. These are the best articles I have read all year on education reform and they are about investing in teachers, not splintering neighborhoods or creating new schools or school systems.

For fun you might also enjoy John Oliver’s piece on Charter Schools.