“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.

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.

Protect An Open Internet: Protect Net Neutrality

Imagine seeing, on this or other websites you use:

THIS SITE HAS BEEN BLOCKED BY YOUR ISP.

It hasn’t, but soon might be. On Thursday (12/14), the Federal Communications Commission, under the leadership of Trump appointee Ajit Pai, intends to vote on whether to end net neutrality regulations, unless you, millions of you, us, speak up. Why is this important? Instead of the internet being an open forum for content, speech, information, it will be turned over to existing ISPs (Internet Service Providers) like Comcast and Verizon. Ending net neutrality will allow ISP’s to censor, slow, and charge extra fees. You can think of the internet as a common resource, which the FCC now intends to give away to large corporations, as their property. Pai has, at times, misrepresented the whole issue, for example, by claiming net neutrality hurts small ISPs, but provides no facts to back that up, according to Jon Brodkin, in an article in Ars Technica. New York State’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his office investigated the comments being sent to the FCC about net neutrality and found that hundreds of thousands of false comments have been submitted. Schneiderman asked the FCC to cooperate with his investigation, but it didn’t happen. Requests by many parties to delay the vote on Thursday, in order to examine which comments were sent by real people, were rebuffed.

Please call Congress now and ask to delay the vote until the comments can be examined further, and/or to oppose ending net neutrality. (Also, while you have Congress on the line, tell your representatives to oppose the tax bill and support the Mueller investigation.) For further action steps, phone numbers, and information, use this link.

 

Breaking Free

I am pissed, along with, I hope, millions of others. Pissed and afraid of the policies and actions of Mr. T, his administration, and his Congressional followers who share his viewpoint or are afraid to oppose him.

 

One example of a policy that sows fear is this Senate (and House) tax bill. This bill is an outrage. If you don’t know much about it, not only was it rushed through without holding hearings or including Democrats in the design of the bill, but it is a direct assault on the lives of most of us. On the surface, it lowers taxes on many in the middle class. However, it eliminates deductions and credits (like for college education) important to the middle class. The CBO says it will lead to a large increase in the cost of medical insurance (it will cut the individual mandate portion of the ACA). It will increase the national debt (by over $1 trillion) due to large tax cuts to the rich and corporations, leading to across-the-board federal spending cuts, including cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Such cuts in Medicare coverage could lead to a loss of coverage for expensive treatments, like for cancer patients. Cuts in Medicaid will lead to cuts in care for children and the disabled, etc. The overall result will be an increase in the cost of living for most of us.

 

And consider that the debt might lead to an inability of the government to pay for infrastructure maintenance and improvement, or to adequately fund the agencies needed to prepare for and respond to the increasing destruction caused by extreme weather events triggered by Global Warming.

 

Bills like this sow fear. They sow a fear for our children. They sow a fear for our public education system, cutting sources of funding for public schools while providing publicly funded incentives to send children to private schools. They sow a fear that the remnants of justice left in the legal system will be eliminated if this administration continues as it has. They sow fear for our voting rights and the ability of common citizens to influence policies.

 

And imagine the implications of giving the wealthy, who already have too much money and power, even more money to spend on influencing elections. The wealth gap in the US has been growing for years, especially since Reagan. According to Wikipedia, the top 1% now own more income than the bottom 90%. This bill will further the inequity.

 

Few Americans agree with this bill, too many don’t know enough about it, yet Republicans continue to work it. Most have shown little care for the citizens they are sworn to serve, little care for anyone other than themselves and their wealthy donors.

 

A few nights ago, Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed a psychiatrist named Dr. Lance Dodes, who talked about the President probably being close to psychosis or mental illness, when he’s under stress. One (of many) piece(s) of evidence for this viewpoint was Mr. T’s recent claims that it wasn’t his voice that appeared in the Access Hollywood video, even though he, in the past, admitted saying what the video records him saying.

 

We are all being influenced by his behavior and state of mind. We see how easily he feels threatened or under attack. He acts like someone who tells himself we are in a state of “war of all against all,” where only the rich are valuable, and the rest are powerless pawns. I don’t know how to end the suffering of Mr. T, but I know that anyone who supports him is supporting his delusion. I know that political, social and personal action is needed to end the suffering he is imposing on the rest of us.

 

Fear, like all emotion, is constructed out of a story we tell ourselves, and the feelings and sensations we experience. To let go of fear, we have to learn from and then let go of the story and the way of thinking about reality that supports that fear. People who say “We have already lost our democracy” or “There is nothing we can do,” or “All politicians are equally bad” is to make Mr. T’s story our own. It is to give up and make ourselves powerless. As long as we can object, call politicians, give money to causes, take to the streets, and vote, we have at least some elements of a democracy. The more we act, the more we feel we can act.

 

We also have to allow ourselves to face uncomfortable emotions and sensations. If we turn away from feeling fear, we let it rule. Of course, there are times to step back from feelings. But usually, if we become aware of them, and we break emotions down to individual sensations, of a particular quality and in a particular location, and breathe into that area of the body, then the sensations we feel become merely sensations. A huge ball of emotion becomes something to study. Fear then changes to openness and our actions originate in our understanding, not our fear. Fear becomes a source of energy for learning more about a situation; we feel more powerful and are more powerful.

 

What is happening to our country is so unjust, so destructive, ignorant, and greedy, it is unbelievable. We have to call it what it is, face it and do what we can to change it, or we will end up supporting it.

 

This week, Congress will try to reconcile and vote on a final tax bill. The GOP will try, once again, to rush it through. Everyone, please do whatever you can. It was the energetic citizen response to the Senate Health Care bill that stopped it. Call Congresspeople, write, protest. Call repeatedly, to show them we are here, and we hear and understand what they are doing.

 

***

Suggestions to Call:

Congresspeople:

Charlie Dent

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Darrell Issa –Barbara Comstock-

Any of the New York, New Jersey, California representatives might oppose the tax plan (except for Reed (202) 225 3161 and Katko, I think)

Claudia Tenney-(NY) 202 225-3665

 

Senators:

Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523

John McCain – (202) 224-2235

Ron Johnson – (202) 224-5323

Shelley Moore Capito – (202) 224-6472
Jeff Flake – (202) 224-4521
Cory Gardner – (202) 224-5941
Rob Portman – (202) 224-3353

Bob Corker – (202) 224-3344

Lisa Murkowski – (202) 224-6665

Why Don’t People Act?

Why don’t more people take action? Or, why don’t people who grow up in the U. S., in a democracy, where the stability and continuance of the government ultimately rests in the hands of the people, act? Even more, why don’t people who are informed of what’s going on, who read reliable news sources and have a conscience, act? People might not act because they are so frightened by the news they turn it off—or the news they do read or listen to is the propaganda arm of some group more interested in manipulation and control than education. Or what they’ve heard has been carefully crafted to increase their anger and distrust so they can’t discern who their allies are?

 

Why don’t more Americans vote? About 60% of eligible voters supposedly voted in the last election. And an even smaller percentage of those who vote actively participate between elections. Why don’t more people call, write, or demonstrate by the offices of their Congresspeople? Is it that they haven’t practiced being democratic at home or in their schools or workplace so it doesn’t feel natural to do so?

 

I hear people say, “Wait until 2018 or 2020 and we can vote them out of office.” But I don’t think and certainly don’t feel we can wait that long. What about today, for example, when House Republicans are trying to vote on a tax measure that would give corporations a huge tax break, give the rich an individual tax break, while many in the middle class would see their taxes increase, if not now then in 2026, and their economic security decrease due to increased costs for health care, and decreases in Medicare and Social Security. And those who rely on Medicaid, like the poor, children (48% of those on Medicaid are children), parents, the disabled, Seniors—that, too, will be cut. The Senate version will result in at least 13 million people losing their health care. And this is all being done right in our faces. They lie about it, as if we can’t hear the lie. They flaunt their disdain of the democratic process, excluding democrats from the discussion. So why isn’t everyone calling Congress? Demonstrating?

 

I’m sure there are many reasons. A phone call to a Congressperson takes about a minute. All you have to say is “Please tell the Senator to oppose this tax cut.” Give two or three reasons, and say “Have a nice day.” Some people say they are too busy. But how much busier would they be if this bill passes and their disposable income was reduced and they needed to work even more hours to pay their bills? Some feel their voice will not make a difference. If you do nothing, you certainly can’t make a difference.

 

I know I could make phone calls to register voters or get people to vote and I haven’t done so. I just write blogs and emails, make calls, hit the streets when I can. I think many of us are too shocked. We can’t believe this is happening. Too much is happening too quickly. But a big majority of Americans oppose this administration now. A big majority opposes this tax cut-denial of health care bill. The more each of us does, the more we will understand what can be done. The more powerful we will feel, and the more influence we will wield. The threat we face is a real one. Please make a few calls.

 

Suggestions of People to Call:

Congresspeople:

Charlie Dent

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Darrell Issa –opposes the elimination of the State and Local tax deduction

Barbara Comstock- opposes the elimination of the State and Local tax deduction

Claudia Tenney-(NY) 202 225-3665

Any of the New York, New Jersey, California representatives might oppose the tax plan (except for Reed and Katko, I think, although I’ve called both)

 

Senators:

Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 – opposes the elimination of the deduction for teachers who spend $250+ on school supplies, etc.

John McCain – (202) 224-2235- who called for a fair and inclusive process, which hasn’t happened

Ron Johnson – (202) 224-5323

Capito – (202) 224-6472
Flake – (202) 224-4521
Gardner – (202) 224-5941
Portman – (202) 224-3353

Bob Corker – (202) 224-3344

Is Social Media Promoting Or Undermining Democracy—Or Both?

Just two days ago, on October 25th, Mr. T once again treated the facts of a situation as clay he could shape any way he pleased. He accused Hillary Clinton of giving Russia “20% of American uranium and, you know, she was paid a fortune.” This, he claimed, is the real Russia scandal. Of course, this is another in a long line of lies and distortions. According to Politifact and the Washington Post, a one time owner of a uranium company that was sold to the Russians did give money to the Clinton Foundation, but this was before she was Secretary of State and before the uranium company was owned by Russians—plus, she had no hand in approving the sale to Russians.

 

Is this simply another example of a President who either has no care for the truth or who believes in the big lie, a lie so outrageous that people who hear it will think there must be some truth to it? Is he being so outrageous because he understands that social media, the internet, and news outlets that are more like organs of propaganda supports such behavior? Does social media promote or undermine democracy in this or any country? These questions are asked directly or indirectly almost every day lately, with Trump on Twitter and Russians on FB.

 

It wasn’t long ago that many people were proclaiming that social media would be a democratizing force in the world. In late 2010, early 2011, during the Arab Spring, we heard how social media led to powerful demonstrations that brought down established oppressive regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. According to an article in the Harvard Human Rights Journal, it enabled a “twitter revolution” to build extensive networks of protest as well as to gain information beyond the borders the government controls.

 

But as the authors of the article state, using the example of the failure of student-led protests to further democracy in Hong Kong in 2014, a very tech-savvy city, “the power of social media is mischaracterized, its potency exaggerated.”

 

It is so easy to get lost in the advantages of social media and ignore the dangers. One danger is an increase in oppression. The “Great Firewall of China” is “a giant mechanism of censorship and surveillance” that prevents information that opposes the Chinese Communist Party from reaching its citizens.

 

In a discussion at the Aspen Institute on the role of social media in diplomacy, Alec Ross, former State Department senior innovation adviser, described how Vladimir Putin built a digital information system in his country that has become a “truly effective propaganda machine.” He said the success of Putin’s efforts are illustrated by the fact that just a few years ago people throughout Europe believed that the United States shot down the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in July, 2014, not the Russians.

 

In the US, the last election has led to an epidemic of “fake news,” much of it seemingly supplied by Russia to support Mr. T and increase divisiveness and anger in our country. It has intensified racial and religious divides, for example, as well as political, such as between Bernie vs. Clinton supporters. It has become increasingly difficult to know what’s true. According to an article by Hunt Alcott and Mathew Gentzkow, in the Stanford University Journal of Economic Perspectives, during the election 62% of US adults got their news from social media and “the most popular fake news stories were more widely shared on FB than popular mainstream news stories”—and they were believed. Fake news was both widely shared and heavily tilted in favor of Mr. T. “Our database contains 115 pro-Trump fake stories that were shared on Facebook a total of 30 million times, and 41 pro-Clinton fake stories shared a total of 7.6 million times.” The authors conclude that fake news most likely helped elect Mr. T president.

 

Madeline Albright also took part in the Aspen Institute discussion. As reported by Catherine Lutz in her article on the subject, Albright said, “We’re operating in a rudderless world.” Social media technology is helping create a “dangerous force” of nationalism. People are “grouping more and more with their own kind, whether it’s national, ethnic, or religious groups.” [Italics are my own.] This was in August, 2014, and Albright’s words are proving even more true today.

 

Ross said, at the Aspen Institute discussion, that the media is value-neutral, but I question that. I can’t forget Marshall McLuhan, in the 1960s talking about “the media is the message.” We have to look more at the effects of the media itself, not just its content.

 

One effect of social media and related technologies is an increase in the hold on us of a consumer-driven capitalist society. They enshrine ever more deeply the values of immediate gratification, distraction, us-them thinking and an over-simplification of how we view issues in our society. Ease of pleasure replaces depth of experience. Many of us recognize that usage of media has become a habit we feel we cannot do without. We worry if we are away for any length of time from our phones or social media platforms, “what have I missed?” We want the latest cell phones or other devices, despite the fact that this technology can be costly. Some studies claim American teens spend on average 9 hours a day on their cell phones and other media, more time than most of them sleep. According to the World Bank, Americans in general spend 1.7 hours a day on social media.

 

Parents and educators especially are seeing an increase in anxiety and difficulty concentrating in their children. This can partly be attributed to the “Trump Effect” and the fear engendered by this administration, but social media shares some of the blame. (I’d argue an increasing divide between the very rich and the rest of us is also to blame, but that’s for another time.) Psychologist and educator Larry Rosen, in his book iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology And Overcoming Its Hold On Us, argues that social media has contributed to an increase in disorders like narcissism and anxiety in both children and adults. He goes further and argues that when hidden behind our media screens, our thinking is more easily distorted, and we display thoughts and actions that characterize different psychological disorders. For example, Rosen cites studies showing many people, on FB or other social media, display the “me first” grandiosity, lack of empathy, envy of others, sense of self-importance and entitlement that characterizes a narcissistic personality disorder.

 

According to Mark Matousek in his book Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good, words are never more than a small part of any face-to-face communication—one study showed as little as 7% of the emotional meaning of a message. The rest is expressed through facial expression, posture, gestures, and tone of voice. But on social media, we only have words, names, or photos to respond to. We can lose the feeling that the people we meet on FB have an inner life similar to our own. We have to fill in so much with our imagination and prior understandings that it is easy to misunderstand or not care. Matousek argues we suffer a virtual blindness that can undermine our sense of shared humanity and morality.

 

Truth has a difficult time competing against the pressures to fit in a group and believe what your friends believe. We understand only in a context, and one of the most important elements of any context is who we are with. This leads to a cognitive bias to believe what other people, especially those in our group, believe (bandwagon effect and herd instinct), and we are more likely to notice information that supports our pre-existing views than what doesn’t (confirmation bias).

 

Never before, thanks to the internet, have facts been easier to find. Yet, lies and distortions by politicians have increasingly filled the headlines. We have to take time to check sources of any information we read in order not to be deceived by a fake news story. Democracy is a complex, time consuming political system demanding more education on issues and involvement from its citizens. Yet, the internet itself fosters the expectation of immediate answers, undermines tolerance of complexity, and thus makes it easier for corrupt politicians to deceive and manipulate.

 

So, does social media promote or undermine democracy? Maybe both. I am disturbed by how easy it is to spread propaganda and fake news on social media. But besides the obvious (check sources, not rely on social media for news, take frequent tech/social media holidays and walk in the woods, replace the current administration with one that truly cares about the well-being of its citizens and one that cares about fighting, not supporting, Russian interference in our democracy), I have few answers. I do know that in order to think clearly we need to know how to create a mental silence when we need it, so we can mindfully hear our own thoughts and feelings. And we need to learn how to listen for the reality of others, both for all that we share and all that makes us different, even when we know little about them except a name in the headlines or a few words on FB. Mindfulness and compassion can be revolutionary.