Using Mindful Questioning to Enhance Academic Learning (An Interview)

Mindfulteachers.org published an interview of me written by Catharine Hannay. Here is the beginning. Please go to their website for the entire interview.

What does ‘mindful teaching’ mean to you?

First, what does mindfulness mean? Mindfulness is a study of mind and heart from “the inside.” It is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations illuminating how interdependent you are with other people and your world.

 

Without being judgmental, it notices whatever arises as a potential learning event. It is both a practice, as in meditation, and is also a quality of awareness or of being in the world.

 

When I first started teaching, like most educators, I made a number of mistakes. When you make a mistake, it is easy to get down on yourself, and then you don’t learn all that you could.

 

The more mindful I became, the more I could take in, the less judgmental I was, and the more I thought of my students as my teachers.

Mindfulness can be practiced either at a set time every day, or whenever you can do it. You might practice mindfulness because it reduces stress and strengthens your ability to focus and learn.

 

But if you practice mindfulness just for what you can get from it, you concentrate on your idea of who you will become in some future time and miss the whole moment you are doing it.

A New Review of My Book “Compassionate Critical Thinking”

The organization, mindfulteachers.org, a wonderful organization, just published a review of my book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching. The book was published by Rowman & Littlefield. It is a book that, I hope not only will help teachers, students, and parents in this time of anxiety and threats, but maybe help anyone trying to understand him or herself and what is happening in our world.

The review begins:

“Often, you have little choice in what material you teach; the only choice you have is how the material is taught… When a teacher enters the classroom with awareness and genuine caring, students are more likely to do the same.”


Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching is based on Ira Rabois’ thirty-year career teaching English, philosophy, history, and psychology to high school students. 

Rabois includes six types of practices in his teaching:

 

To read the whole review, go to the website. Enjoy.

“A government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people…”

Last week, Mother Jones magazine ran an article about how “The GOP’s Biggest Charter School Experiment Just Imploded.” It tells the story of the failure and collapse of a charter school called the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which recently had a student body of over 13,872 students, the largest public charter school, maybe the largest k-12 school, in the US. You might find it interesting. According to the article, the school provided for many a “sham education” and “functioned more like a profit center than an educational institution.”

 

Related to this, the Tallulah Charter School in New Orleans was closed in December after the Louisiana Department of Education voided 325 scores on the LEAP tests after finding evidence of systemic cheating. An investigation found the school was “administering incorrect accommodations, administering accommodations inappropriately and giving students access to test questions prior to the test.”

 

Charter schools are not subject to the same regulation as public schools, so such abuses as reported above are understandable. As Diane Ravitch argues in her book Reign of Error, they “…are deregulated and free from most state laws….” Unlike public schools, which take any and every student who comes to their door, charter schools can screen for the most advantaged. Despite this screening, they are no more successful than public schools. As educator Steven Singer put it, “school choice is no choice.” The schools chose the students more than the other way around. When adjusted for the economic situation of students, statistics show charters often do worse. Charter and other privately run schools can hire uncertified teachers who are not unionized, not as well trained, and who can be paid less.

 

But despite these problems, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, says she is in favor of establishing a voucher system, where parents can choose where to send their children for their education. Public funds will be used to pay for students to attend charters, religious, or other private schools instead of public ones.

 

She argues, despite evidence showing otherwise, that “choice” will increase equity among all students by forcing competition in the education market. But her approach treats our children as commodities, sources of money, (as exemplified by speaking of “value added” to students by schools) and conceptualizes the purpose of education as meeting the needs of employers, (or in DeVos’ case, meeting her agenda of Christianizing education: see the NYT article on the subject) not meeting the needs and dreams of students.

 

The push for “choice” developed over many years of attacks on the image and funding of public schools. Diane Ravitch argues that education corporations worked with individual politicians to undermine public schools, teachers, and teacher unions, and have been attacking the very concept that a public institution working for the general good, instead of a for-profit corporation, can successfully manage and direct an educational system.

 

Once public education was forced into this deliberately manufactured crisis, there were increasing calls to create privately run, publicly funded, charter schools, and vouchers for private schools. In 2016-7, there were 3.1 million students enrolled in charter schools, triple the number from 2006-7. With charter schools, public money is transferred from teachers and administrators, who are mostly in the middle or lower class, to corporate investors. In the case of cities like NYC, hedge fund managers, whose primary goal is fast profits, have taken over several charter schools.

 

If our society truly wanted to create an equitable educational system it would begin by investing more money in schools where the need was greatest. It would treat teachers with the respect they deserve and need in order to creatively and compassionately meet the educational needs of students. It would do a better job of treating students as whole people with emotional, social, and health needs as well as intellectual ones. It would do any of these things before it would spend one nickel on vouchers or corporate created charter schools.

 

The call for “choice” is a call for privatization of the whole public sphere. It is part of an across the board effort to undermine all aspects of our democracy and to send taxpayer money to rich investors. It is happening with our water systems. In 2011 three quarters of municipalities had public water systems. But the Trump EPA has steadily worked to undermine the rule of law and cut back on protections for rivers and other water systems, and his calls for infrastructure improvements have been tied to pressure for privatization of municipal water systems.

 

It has been happening with prison systems. In 1983, the first private prisons were opened. By 2015, 126,272 people were imprisoned in private institutions. It has been happening with the military. Since the 1990s, the US and other nations have increased their dependence on private military firms (corporate mercenaries). This was highlighted last year when Betsy DeVos’ brother, Erik Prince, tried to get the Trump administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan and turn it over to Prince.

 

It is happening with health, pension and earned benefits systems. The GOP has repeatedly tried to privatize Social Security and end or undermine Medicare and Medicaid in order to appropriate the benefits earned by workers. Mr. T and other Republican politicians repeatedly attack the FBI and CIA. These efforts are partly to undermine the Mueller investigation. It is also to establish an intelligence and investigation institution that owes allegiance not to the constitution, “the people” or the government as a whole, but to Mr. T, personally, as evidenced by T asking for Comey’s “loyalty” and saying he expected the attorney general to protect him from the Russia investigation.

 

I could go on and on, talking about attempts to end voting rights, economic justice and racial, religious or gender equality, destroy the free press, the postal system, etc. Privatization is a vehicle for undermining democracy and destroying the best hope of this nation. President Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, called for people to dedicate themselves to “the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far nobly advanced… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.” Maybe I’m going too far here, but it seems to me that ending a government of, by, and for “the people” is exactly what Mr. T is trying to do. Thus, resisting him and the GOP is nothing less than helping to complete the unfinished work President Lincoln called for.

 

**Thank you to Jill Swenson for the heads up about the first two links about charter schools.

Marching

It has been a year. So much is happening this weekend, the Women’s March and government shutdown—so much has been happening all through this year that it’s difficult to feel that it has only been one year. A year of more political chaos, more threats to more aspects of life in this country that it seems our society is becoming a foreign territory.

 

Lies have become so common, so bizarre and distracting, that sometimes it seems Mr. T and his supporters are being paid to supply material to comedians. He provides an endless stream of the ridiculous, the sad and the awful. The Washington Post fact-checkers found 1628 demonstrable lies or misleading claims over the first 298 days of his administration, an average of 5.5 per day. The New York Times found he has lied more times about former President Obama than Obama lied about anything over all eight years of his presidency.

 

On the other hand, every night Americans are presented with Trumpf plays. Late night tv comedians like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel have become a blessing for many, a way to release with laughter the fear and anxiety from the day so you can be calm enough to go to sleep at night. And how often in history do comics get to influence legislation directly? Jimmy Kimmel helped stop a health care bill, that was supported by maybe 20% of Americans, from becoming law by calling out the lies of the GOP.

 

The media cannot let go of T. Some dress him in royal robes, his favorite kind. Others slash at his skin or try to stop his tsunami of darkness by throwing light in his path. Many times I wish that the news media, and every one of us, would just fight his policies and ignore his tweets, mumblings and curses, and thus condemn him to being left alone in the dark with his screams.

 

Those reporters and media publications that have committed themselves to investigating his administration have done us all a great service. They have faced T’s condemnation, and helped slow down his attempts to destroy democratic institutions and processes. Media companies like CNN and the New York Times, which two years ago were more middle of the road, or to the right of the middle, are now front and center in the fight against a president who can’t tolerate any news or views that go against his own.

 

Other media outlets are too painful to watch. They have become mere mouthpieces of the administration, as sycophantic as the GOP politicians who repeat or support T’s lies like they were pronouncements of a god whose wrath they fear, and they do this despite the fact that the first half of any news report might be contradicted by the second.

 

What I most want to hear is that he and Pence have been impeached, that the evidence we all know or suspect is out there, of collusion, of interfering with investigations, of money-laundering for Russian money and of using the presidency to line his own pockets with gold, is exposed to all. That even to his followers he’s recognized as the traitor to democracy and human decency that he is. There is a reason why Mr. T has done nothing to prevent Russia from hacking the 2018 election as they did in the 2016 election.

 

There have been so many changes in our world that even common greetings have been affected. If you’re one of the majority of Americans who voted against Mr. T, then the ritual greeting of “How are you?’ has become almost too complex to ask. In the past, the greeting was usually just a sign of politeness; no real answer was required. Now the depth of what is not said is just too deep, and shared.

 

Nothing seems secure any longer. Maybe it never was, but now—who knows what will happen on any given day?

 

So, this weekend and in the following weeks, as many of us go to the streets and the phones, and we watch many of our governors forget whose interests they’re supposed to serve and they close their own government, we must remember why we march. This marching, this taking a stand, is to serve all of us and protect our very world. It is to get people committed to vote and oppose the attacks on women, on children, on LGBTQ, the elderly, on immigrants and people of color, on Jews and Muslims, on people who speak out against him as well as those who just want to love and support their families and help out their neighbors.

 

It is to save the very idea of a government that is there not to serve the rich, and not just to save our bodies from attack, but to save our conscience and sense of ourselves from abuse. It is to save the very idea that people can cooperate for the common good. And for these reasons, let us march.

 

**And consider signing petitions to keep open the investigations of Mr. T and his campaign.

**Photo by Linda, my wife, from the demonstration at Seneca Falls, N. Y.

Mindfulness Reveals Your Values and Improves Your Quality of Mind

The values you hold show up in the subtlest ways. Values can include the conscious principles or standards you hold as well as what you unconsciously hold dear and deem worthy of your attention and awareness. What is valuable to you is what activates your energy and attention. It motivates your goals, intentions and actions and is a basic part of how you feel each moment. If you feel off in some way, dissatisfied, in pain, studying what you value can be crucial in understanding how to not suffer and how to act effectively to end the dissatisfaction.

 

To understand what you value, it helps to be mindful not only of thoughts, but sensations and feelings. Notice not only what you like, dislike, or don’t care about, but what you approach or avoid. What do you open to, find difficult or confusing? Feelings give life to values.

 

Meditation is the science of studying mind and heart, thoughts and feelings. It develops not only depth of concentration and focus, but the ability to discern and examine both conscious and even some of what is usually unconscious components of experience. This ability can allow you to change your values and change your life.

 

But to do that, when you meditate, you need to value inner knowing, and value meditating itself, not what you might get from it. It might seem paradoxical, but if you meditate in order to reduce stress, what happens when you have a stressful thought or image? If you meditate in order to derive great insights, then as soon as you have an insight, you will want to stop and write it down. You will lose the meditation. Which do you want more—the written record of the insight or the mental state which produced it? Which is more important—telling others your deep realizations or living a depth of experience?

 

To meditate, you value whatever is there for you. You value presence. Otherwise, you are looking into an image, concept or abstraction, not what is actually there, now. You divide mind into a now and an idea of a then and lose the sense of present experience. Another definition for being distracted is thinking of another time or activity as more valuable than where you are, or what you’re doing, now.

 

The Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, said: “When you do something, if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself. When you are concentrated on the quality of your being, you are prepared for the activity.” The quality of mind that you have determines the life you experience.

 

For example, if you teach and value the very act of teaching, teaching will be all you need in that moment. You will be committed to it. Whatever arises, whatever happens, you will greet as something to learn from and incorporate into the lesson, not as a distraction, not as something to repress or hate. If you’re a student and you value learning, you focus on developing an open, clear, discerning mind, and you will learn a great deal. You might learn even more, or maybe something different, than anyone expected. You will feel more spontaneous, free, and engaged.

 

If you feel an injustice has been committed, and you respond with empathy and energy to better understand the situation, you will think more clearly about the situation than if you take the situation as another burden, as something life shouldn’t ask of you.

 

To concentrate on the quality of your mind is to value your life in a very authentic manner. It means you value all who you meet or whatever you encounter. Other people are not on the other side of an unbreakable wall, but are essential to your being. You observe others more closely and deeply. You observe even the constantly shifting stories your unconscious creates to explain and integrate the various elements of your life, and you create a life that goes way beyond any story.

 

 

Especially nowadays, with this President, I think it is important for you to value your own experience for itself, value its depth, which is the same as valuing life. Valuing life not for any reason, not for what it can get you, but for itself.

 

 

In this country, everything is consumerised. People are too often valued in terms of what they can do for you, or how much they make, not for who they are. Education is monetized in terms of how much “value [is] added” to a student by a teacher. This leads to thinking of your own mind in “value added” terms, or what a thought or an emotion can get you. The problems with such a way of thinking have been discussed by many people, Buddha, Karl Marx, Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr.—just for a small sample. What is new in this time of history is that more people have access to more information on how a value system influences your life experience.

 

 

From one perspective, the election of this President has brought to the forefront the battle in our society about what it means to be a human being, or successful as a human being. Is success measured by how much money or power you accumulate? Or how you relate to others? Are you valuable because you are a living being? Or valuable only if you can earn more than others? Is power about controlling others and forcing them to agree with you? Or about controlling your own mind and behavior? Our nation in the past was too quick to monetize everything. This must be reconsidered if we are to continue as a democracy.

 

 

**If you’d like to do a short mindfulness meditation, here is one way to begin: Maybe set an alarm clock for two or five minutes. Set an intention that, until the alarm clocks rings, you will put your attention on the meditation. Sit up straight but not rigid, near the front end of your seat, so you don’t get tempted to slump. Close your eyes partly or fully. If you want to leave them open, pick a spot on the floor about three feet in front of you, and let your eyes rest on that spot. Then turn your attention inwards. Exhale through your nose, and then notice how you inhale. You do it naturally, spontaneously, don’t you? Just notice the sensations of breathing.

 

Notice what it feels like to take in a breath. Notice if you feel tense anywhere, heavy or light. You might notice your body expanding slightly with the breath. You don’t have to do anything except be aware of the sensations as you inhale. As you exhale, notice the sense of exhaling. Notice how your body lets go, settles down, relaxes a bit. It’s like a momentary holiday.

 

You might feel your attention drawn toward or away from an idea or memory. Just notice the response. If you find yourself drifting away, just notice that your attention drifted and has now returned. Gently focus your awareness on the breath.

 

If any thoughts or images arise, just notice them with your inbreath, and then let go of them with the outbreath. This is simply the natural flow of mind.

 

Sit for a moment with a sense of your mind being quiet, at ease with whatever arises.

 

With your mind quiet, you can ask yourself: What is it I most value? What is most important to me? And then notice the thoughts and the feelings that arise when you think of valuing what you do.

 

**The more I meditate, the more I recognize how often my thoughts go to others, the more I recognize how interdependent I am with others. So speaking out against the racism, anti-democratic speech and actions of this administration is one result of mindfulness⎼and one way to remember and honor the work of people like Martin Luther King Jr., who called for a “true revolution of values” in his speech “Beyond Vietnam–A time To Break Silence.”

When We Notice A Reality Different From Our Own Reflected in the Eyes of Another, We Can Come Together: A Look at Brooke Gladstone’s “The Trouble With Reality.”

Many books have been published lately shining light on the Trumpf darkness, and bringing rational analysis to seeming confusion. Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, or Luke Harding’s Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, are two such books. Brooke Gladstone, co-host of NPR’s On The Media, gives us The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time. This is a very short book on a large question, built from her interviews. She ties Mr. T’s political strategy to how we perceive and understand the world, and shows us that to meet the threat of his administration, we, citizens of a democracy, will not only have to grow in our understanding, but in our emotional awareness and capacities.

 

It is too easy to get lost in Mr. T’s manipulations. His attacks on the media, truth, women, etc. are not simply the ravings of a deluded narcissist. His lies serve a purpose. They make it more difficult for many people to see the truth. Gladstone quotes philosopher Hannah Arendt, speaking in a 1974 interview about her own time and the rise of totalitarians: ”…[A] people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. With such a people, you [the demagogue] can do what you please.”

 

Truth, in a sense, is what we all share. If we lose a sense of what we share, we don’t know how to act. Just think how confusing it can be when everyone around us disagrees with us. Even if we are, or were, sure about something we saw, if everyone around us says they saw something different, we would most likely begin to doubt our perception. So Mr. T aims to undermine our sense of commonality, not only with other humans but with our understanding of what democracy is. A democracy does not require agreement over policies but of how to decide on policies. It requires at least some basic agreement over rights, responsibilities, and laws. Mr. T undermines all such agreements.

 

The existential threat to democracy “is not just the lies but the lying.” In a Gladstone interview with journalist Masha Gessen, Gessen says Putin and Trump might be very different, but “they are kin in the use of the lie:…they lie in the same way and for the same purpose—blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.” Mr. T and Putin want their reality to be THE reality. A demagogue does not just impose laws but dictates reality. In a way, he makes himself his own religion.

 

Many laugh at Mr. T’s tweets, calling them delusional or mad. But linguist George Lakoff says the tweets are often more complex and layered, more manipulative than we might think. According to Lakoff, T uses tweets to:

  1. Frame an issue: dominate discussion by getting his viewpoint out first. For example, “Only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big…” First, he implies hacking the DNC by Russia, a foreign government, was no big deal. Secondly, his win was “So Big,” Dems loss so huge. Thirdly, the RNC was just better defended, “even though the RNC was also hacked by the Russians (only, they didn’t leak any of that stuff).”
  2. Divert attention: provoke the media’s attention from a more important story, usually by using a cultural issue, e.g. the tweets about the musical Hamilton and the cast’s comments to Mike Pence, appeared on the day it was revealed Mr. T paid out $25 million to settle lawsuits for fraud by Trump University.
  3. Send up a trial balloon: mention a possible policy to test how people would react, e.g. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability…”
  4. Deflect: He tweets “Lock her up” when he is acting in ways that should get him locked up. He blames the messenger instead of taking responsibility. “The real scandal here [media revelations about Russia] is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy…”

 

And then there are tweets that might frame an issue, but I think mostly frame how vicious or vindictive he can be or how totally lacking he is in understanding an issue. (As in his recent tweet: “In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming….’”) The tweets are ways of shouting at the world and attracting those whose anger echoes his own.*

 

Gladstone says it is important to understand the purpose of his tweets so we can undermine their usefulness to him. If we repost, or allow ourselves to get too upset by them, it only supports his goals and upsets our mind. We need to take meaningful action, make calls, get facts out there, and never give up on the values, the faith in the possibility of public reason that makes democracy possible.

 

The fact that Mr. T largely isolates himself in his own Breitbart or Fox news reality, and uses other news media mostly to fuel his anger, might be what eventually undermines his administration. According to Arendt, what makes a demagogue vulnerable is his own self-deception. “The self-deceived deceiver loses all contact with not only his audience, but the real world, which will catch up with him…”

 

“Not knowing,” says Gladstone, “is much scarier than knowing.” We might not be able to know the world fully, but “we have to live somewhere.” We often think our own facts are true and other people’s “facts” are wrong or incomplete. We need to learn to be more humble with our understanding of reality and what we think is “the” solution. There are always many actions we can take, “but all such efforts are hobbled, inexorably, by rage, bafflement, and despair.” We need to lower our blood pressure (and fear) so we can work and think more clearly. Rage might fuel our willingness to act, but should not decide what we do.

 

We need to understand, even to feel, that we share a great deal with other people, yet the reality reflected in another person’s eyes can be very different from our own. And this is an advantage, not a threat. It is what makes democracy not only possible but desirable. Only by perceiving the value of this difference can we learn from each other. Only by expanding our own capacities can we, those of us who understand the threat, truly work together to oppose Mr. T and create a better, more equitable and just, society.

 

*On January 5th, Politico had an article by Mathew Gertz, from Media Matters, saying that Mr. T is live-tweeting Fox, particularly Fox and Friends. He is not trying to distract us as much as himself. Despite having at his disposal the largest intelligence gathering machine on the earth, he relies on a conservative news organization to shape his views on current events.

 

 

Don’t Let the Party of Grinches Steal Your Holidays

As linguist, cognitive scientist and author George Lakoff has clearly pointed out in his book The All New Don’t Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, Republicans have too often dictated the terms and imagery of political discourse in our country. It is time for this to stop. Read this book.

 

It was the GOP word machine that branded Conservatives as Populists out to save America from “big government” and “effete, wasteful liberals.” But after this week, and this year, this imagery is no longer going to capture anyone, except for those who have walled themselves off in forts built from right-wing news distortions. After this week’s debacle with the tax-health-care-environment rip off/”scam” bill, we see very clearly that the GOP attack on “big government” is just a way for the wealthy and their paid representatives to steal money from social programs. Americans are discovering new political metaphors that touch more and more people and undermine support for the GOP agenda. The struggle against oppression that we are waging is not just against politicians, but against metaphors and ways of thinking. Here are some metaphors I have heard this week. (If you noticed or created other liberating metaphors, please share them.)

 

Last night, I was listening to MSNBC. Chris Hayes and others were using imagery, with a sweet touch of humor. Humor is always helpful in dealing with a threatening reality, although I don’t feel very amused right now. Mr. T is the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The GOP is the party of Grinches. (This goes back, possibly, to Joe Scarbough’s album of Christmas music.) They are stealing not only Christmas but Hanukah, Kwanzaa, all holidays and vacations for years to come, if their tax bill gets enacted.

 

For those of us not in the dictator class, the cost of living, and health care premiums, will “rise” even more “precipitously” under this new bill than before the ACA. The tax bill will “de-stabilize” health insurance markets. (Some GOP supporters say the premiums for Obamacare are already too high. They should examine the rates before the ACA and look at how the GOP have been trying to increase premiums in order to undermine the Democrat’s program ever since the ACA was passed.) By 2026, when the temporary tax cuts for the middle class and lower class that are in this bill end, it has been predicted that health insurance premiums will be doubled. 83% of the tax cuts in this bill will be for the rich, the would-be dictator class. The GOP is not just trying to steal Christmas; they are stealing the future. They are “looting America.” One of my favorite images is from Bernie Sanders, who talked about the GOP tax plan back in October as “the Robin Hood principle in reverse.” Of course, I always loved the story of Robin Hood.

 

The future the GOP envisions has children suffering without care. About 50% of those on Medicaid are children. Yet, as the debt goes up next year, or the year after that, the party of Grinches is salivating over the chance to cut Medicaid. They have been trying to end this insurance for children, the disabled, the elderly for years. They do not believe it is right for people to help others. They also, somehow, forgot to renew CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program). They will fight for a foetus in the womb, but not a child who’s been born. They also want to cut Medicare and Social Security, to deny most of us the chance to collect our investment and retire with dignity.

 

Many Republicans are trying to reverse the American Revolution, and re-establish one-man rule. One aim of the constitution was to prevent any one person from getting the power of an autocrat. But create an autocracy is exactly what it seems Mr. T and his followers are trying to do. This is what traitors to democracy try to do. They are trying to take away our freedom, take away voting rights and freedom of the press. Going along with this, is the “figurative” assessment by former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, that Putin is treating T as an “asset” or “pawn” of the Kremlin.

 

They claim Dems are stealing their freedom by stopping them from polluting or limiting choices in health care. Well, how free are you if you can’t afford the premiums for health insurance? How free do you feel if you have to choose between paying a medical bill or your rent or food?

 

If you doubt the GOP are trying to reverse the American Revolution, just listen to the sycophantic ceremony of obeisance by Republican congresspeople yesterday. They were fawning over Mr. T for his leadership. Tennessee congresswoman Diane Black said: “Thank you, President Trump, for allowing us to have you as our president.” They sounded like politicians in North Korea giving obeisance to Kim Jong-un. Are Republicans equally afraid of what their ruler might do? Or are they being paid so much they don’t care?

 

They are certainly trying to undermine progressive taxation, which means a tax system that attempts to have those who get more from the economic system pay a higher rate of taxes. It is a way to preserve some power for the great majority of Americans to influence the political process.

 

Last night, Rachel Maddow talked about a report by Politico that there is a secret working group of the GOP in Congress, using material, even classified material, to try to deceive people into thinking the FBI is biased against the president and engaged in a criminal activity. They claim members of the Mueller investigation are so dastardly that a few even gave money to the campaigns of democratic legislators (as if it is only legal and acceptable to give money to the GOP). Ignore the fact that Mueller, McCabe, etc. are Republicans. The GOP claim that the FBI is involved in criminal behavior investigating the President. They talk about “the fix is in.”

 

When Mr. T and other Republicans do something illegal, they deflect. They claim those who oppose them are doing something illegal. They shout “lock her up” when they feel they might, deservedly, be locked up. This is not just Newspeak of 1984. It is the undermining of free speech that happens with dictators. It is Dictator-speech. It is undermining the rule of law speech. It is time to wake up and protest speech.

 

Senator Mark Warner said Republican congresspeople are engaged in “irresponsible” attacks, coordinated with right wing media, and aimed to undermine Mueller and undermine the rule of law. They are dangerous. He warned us to be vigilant. “No one is above the law… It is critical that all of us… speak up against these threats, now, before it’s too late.” Only if we can rise to the occasion will we save ourselves.

 

While I am sharing my outrage with you, another metaphor I’ve heard from more responsible media is that Democrats lack a vision. They are divided. The GOP who have been so divided they couldn’t pass a major piece of legislation until this week, try to influence the news media to say it is the Dems who are divided. They have taken the Dems imagery of the GOP as “The Party of No,” when Barack Obama was president, and turned it on Dems today. “The only thing Dems can unite on,” they claim, is an opposition to T.

 

Well, the Democratic party has, at times, certainly been confused and dastardly. But one thing this week and this year have made abundantly clear is that although both the GOP and DNC operate in the same money-driven system, there is a great difference between them. The DNC is made up of different people with different viewpoints, and underwriters, and many often fail to do what I think is just or reasonable. But I think Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others have vision. I think most people who identify as Democrats share a vision of freedom, of the right to vote and of a free press. They share a vision where people can disagree without disagreement being criminalized. They support the role of government in caring for fellow humans. Do not forget that it was Democrats (Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton) who largely brought us CHIP (along with Republicans who were not afraid to work “across the aisle”), and it was liberal Democrats who brought us Social SecurityMedicare and Medicaid. Dems actually think science is valuable. Hopefully, we can get the DNC to catch up to Democrats.

 

We need to support politicians who recognize we are all part of the community of humans and we share the neighborhood with other species. Those who oppose the dictatorship of Mr. T and his right-wing followers need to unite, now, in any way possible to preserve the environment of the neighborhood and preserve the right to wander, speak and live freely, justly, in it.

 

So, for the holidays, whichever ones you celebrate, please enjoy, but be vigilant. And remember what has been done this week. Remember and work to support the rights, freedoms, dreams of justice, education, equity, and metaphors that most of us share yet some would squash.

 

 

 

In Today’s World, Reading Books and Caring for Others are Acts of Defiance

One of the biggest threats of this administration is to your sense of who you are as a human being. It is difficult to believe in mutual love and caring when faced with the actions and words of Roy Moore or Steve Bannon, or compassion when faced with the actions and words of Paul Ryan, or beauty when faced with Mitch McConnell. It is difficult to believe courage is possible when many Republicans, who once criticized the president’s racism or spoke out for health care for children, now support his agenda and this tax bill. It is difficult to believe learning, clear thinking, and scientific research is possible when faced with Betsy DeVos or Mr. T. In today’s world, reading books on topics such as (but not limited to) science, philosophy, anthropology, history or poetry is an act of defiance.

 

So, as a new year draws close, dedicate yourself to rebel not only against the abuses of this administration, but for the possibilities of human nature this administration seeks to squash. Seek to understand the actions of people like Mnuchin, Pruit, Sessions, and Flynn, but also Elizabeth Warren, Doug Jones, and the courage of women who spoke out against abuse by Moore, Mr. T, and others.

 

Rebel not only out of understanding how destructive this administration is to our health care, environment, democracy, and national security—but for love, compassion, and a desire for beauty.

 

When you come home from work tired, tired of long hours of work. Or you return from a protest or from completing phone calls to congress and you feel you have lost the sense of what hope is, read Rubin Alves’ poem Tomorrow’s Child. Or if you need to quiet the noise inside and aren’t able to meditate, or walk along a seashore, read Pablo Neruda on Keeping Quiet. Or you don’t know if you should take a chance on your dreams, read about what happens to a Dream Deferred, by Langston Hughes.

 

When you feel taking action or even listening to the news is too difficult, or “When despair for the world grows in me,” read Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things. Or when you feel you are catching the illness of fear and selfishness, or that you have no power, read about the power of Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye— “…it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.”

 

When you feel alone in the struggle even though most Americans, most people in the world, agree with you, read The Low Road by Marge Piercy:

“…it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.”

 

And, along with Mary Oliver and her poem What I Have Learned So Far, “Be ignited, or be gone.”

 

Do not forget that love is a possibility in every life. (I don’t know about psychopaths.) We all share more than we differ. But for some, love is a possession and a wall. They hold tightly onto the few as if to possess them, and wall away all others. And in doing so, they wall away themselves. But for many, love is a second skin. It is a boundary allowing you to feel life, to feel yourself, more intensely, and to contact, open to others, more securely.

 

Yes, do what you can to find the power in yourself not only to take action and rebel against injustice and ignorance, but to make joy, kindness, education and care for others the central point of what life and even politics is about. This is the greatest gift you can give anyone, including your self, in this or any season.