The gravitational force of S***holes: A story of my lost innocence

SAVE THE DATE: January 20, 2018, Women’s March in Chicago

My friends will find it hard to believe but, yes, I swear now, well sometimes. Up until the 2016 presidential election I had probably spoken a swear word less than five times in my four-plus decades of existence. Imagine my surprise when the first victim of my new-found vocabulary was my own son…

It never seemed a natural thing for me. The words didn’t come to mind. I have a naturally more positive and optimistic nature that staved off harsh words, and perhaps also an old-fashioned sense that ladies do not swear.

But I now think the real reason I did not swear all that time was because I was never angry enough, or cynical enough, or desperate enough to reach for the words, finding that all others failed me.  As a teen I remember when my mom said “you have to be f**ked before you can say the word.” I knew what she meant from the context of her story. She did not mean intercourse she meant when you are screwed, betrayed, ill-used.

That’s how I felt in the days following November 8, 2016. Betrayed…not by lying, cheating, sexually harassing, corrupt, Trump. Betrayed by my fellow countrymen who fell victim to his con. Desperate…to be trapped in a boat with people who were either greedy, racist, reckless for change, fearful, ignorant, gullible, or some toxic combination of any of the above.

I knew that life just got harder. Suddenly I was answering to my kids about local vandalism involving swastikas, fending off their requests to move to Canada and, worst of all, responding to one of their suggestions that they “pretend not to be Jewish” for safety’s sake.

So when I arrived at home on a Friday night, a few weeks into December 2016, with a headache and a smile painted on my face for their sake, I found it hard to withstand the banal bickering over what movie to watch. One kid was a hold out and after 30 minutes of him being uncooperative I finally lost it and said in dead pan fashion (because I was too tired to yell, I suppose), “I don’t f’ing care what you want to watch. I simply want escapist entertainment, any f’ing movie will do, because I had an f’ing hard week, and f’ing Trump was elected president, and I’m f’ing going upstairs to crawl into bed.”  A few minutes later I could hear my husband enter the house, “Where’s mom?’, “She’s upstairs…in bed” one answered, and another blurted out, “She swore at us, Dad!”. My husband’s voice rose to a yell, “She SWORE at you?!!”, “Well then you get upstairs right now and apologize to her!!” (God bless him).

So liberating in that moment and so handy for some months to come when once again other words would escape me or feel inadequate. But here’s the thing. Once you go so low, there is no lower. (Except for violence). And sometimes I feel like our American dialogue keeps inventing new lows. Candidate Trump gained support by swearing. We thought we hit rock-bottom when Scaramucci was cursing up a storm in the White House and was dismissed. But cursing has become and remained a norm in the Trump White House and today Trump combined his foul mouth with his racist disdain for black or brown immigrants: “Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?” (referring to Haiti and African nations)….”why don’t we bring more people from countries like Norway?”

Ignoring the geopolitical implications of pissing off African countries–where China is vying for a global monopoly on precious metals, where fighting ISIS requires cooperation from African countries, where people are likely more upright and worthy than our very own president–how can we ignore the ongoing racism and cruelty of this President?

==>Here is a thoughtful question by one pundit…What was your response to Trump’s S***holes” comment? Will we be dragged into the gravitational force of going lower and lower until physical violence is the only retort? Or can we yet save ourselves?

==>And here is something you can do to respond as an American: Join me on Saturday, January 20 for the Women’s March in Chicago or in other cities (enter your zip code) that weekend. Bring your friends, spouses, family. Let us stand up for what is good and decent about our country. Bring your body, and your best (and worst) words in defense of what America stands for.

Charitable Perspectives on 2017

sun-treeAs the sun sets on 2017, you may be scrambling like me to round out your charitable donations for best tax advantage and to ensure that your best intentions for giving were satisfied this year. So this 2017 retrospective highlights groups of people who uphold American ideals and principles. They fight for you, for us, every day. Consider giving to them today…

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) One of the first things my family did following the 2016 Presidential election was turn to the ADL for tools (see table talk for families) and educational material. We had started to experience bigotry and antisemitism in our community and schools close to the election and since then in ways we had not seen before (swastikas, calling kids Jews, hail Hitler gestures, signs on bathroom doors: “For Whites Only”). Our fears in November 2016 were justified as evidenced by a rise in hate crimes in 2016 (up 26%), emboldened activity by white supremacist groups (remember the Nazi salute “Hail Trump” weeks after election day, and the Charlottesville tragedy), and a president who continually re-tweets white nationalist lies and appoints white nationalist sympathizers and champions to key positions.

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)– As I broadened my knowledge of news and current events I began to notice how many people rely on the foundational work of the SPLC on issues of income inequality, racial justice, and civil rights. In addition to the their cases and programs they offer research and information of use to everyone. See, for example, their simple yet comprehensive piece tracking Hate in Trump’s White House.

Planned Parenthood – Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s continual attacks not just on health care for Americans, but specifically health care benefits for women including basic birth control, brought me to learn more about how Planned Parenthood provides vital health services for women, from cancer screenings to birth control and, yes, safe alternatives for abortions (and, no, those abortions are not funded by federal dollars). Also, Planned Parenthood does amazing grass-roots and advocacy work that ultimately lifts up all women’s issues, such as by getting women to advocacy days. We need to keep this organization strong on behalf of all women.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – The ACLU is urgently relevant in today’s political and legal climate. They ramped up in 2017 to train regular people on civil rights through PeoplePower.org. They have consistently championed free speech, including for the neo-Nazis rallying in Charlottesville (though they are adjusting their policies to avoid supporting armed demonstrators in future). And they are working to protect voting rights.

National Resource Defense Council –  People I know in the EPA recommend we support national environmental organizations because the EPA is no longer positioned to protect our healthy environment now that Trump placed anti-EPA Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA. By the way, my EPA friends have been working under strained circumstances all year, so if you think you’ve got it bad at work, think again. See this Step-by-Step guide to fighting Trump’s anti-public health/environment agenda.

YMCA – Then there are American institutions like the YMCA whose mission has always been to lift people to their better selves while bridging the divides between us.

Most of these sites above are offering double or triple match on donations made today. So let’s finish the year strong and have a productive and healthy new year. Cheers!

 

Blogging blossoms into book pursuit

I started blogging in September of 2016 as a light pursuit, mainly as a method to engage my cyber-tuned boys. I ended up writing 60 blogs in the 12 months that followed, mainly about politics, and primarily as a method to help me digest the news of the day in a productive manner. As frustrating as it is to read the news these days, it is even more frustrating if it all becomes overwhelming or blurs together. Blogging helps avoid the blur.

For the last two months I’ve been on hiatus from blogging (my apologies to loyal followers). Not because I’m losing interest, but rather because blogging is blossoming into a fuller pursuit. I have been busy lining up ducks to write a book about what America really is, and really could be, in the context of our history and dearest dreams. Think of it as a guideposts for the American citizen. My man-on-the-street interviews are taking on a new meaning in this context. Also, I have been spending more time reading and researching about past civilizations, American history, economics, and citizenry.

I will also get back to blogging about news of the day, though. Someone has specifically asked me to write about the tax plans pending in Congress (check out Eric Zorn’s 9 reasons not to be thankful for the GOP’s tax plans , and a quick summary of why they are ridiculous, and how taxes will likely increase). Also someone asked me to write a “catch-me-up” piece so it is easy for them to understand the most important things that happened last year in national politics. The genesis of this request is that they finally feel ready to start getting involved now (yay!), and do not want to feel ignorant entering the political sphere.  For starters, let’s consider if democracy has been holding up. So some thoughtful blogs on these topics are forthcoming.

Meanwhile, if you have any interest in hearing more about my book project, please contact me. I am collaborating with a dear friend on this project and we welcome more input and voices. The topics we plan to cover so far include: economic inequality and concentration of wealth; how we talk to each other in a civil society (freedom of speech, civility, truth, and misinformation); education and healthy communities; racism and other-isms; gender equality; rule of law and social justice; models of self-governance;. These topics will help us triangulate on what a successful America looks like.

We are especially interested in interviewing regular Americans (not just experts) from across the country who represent a variety political positions and philosophies. So if you care to be interviewed yourself, or nominate someone, just let me know.

Also, in case you are interested, here are some books that are currently fascinating me:

  • Guns, Germs and Steel
  • How to be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World
  • Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide

 

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

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.