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 it as giving away the internet, which you can think of as a common resource, to large corporations, in order to transform it into their exclusive 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.)

 

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.

Let Love Live

I’m sure you, too, are amazed at scenes like this: You’re watching your child at play, or a puppy running around the yard. Or you’re walking in the woods and see a kit (baby fox) or a butterfly.

 

Or—I am sitting in bed, a magazine on my lap. My wife is next to me, doing a puzzle. In between us, near our feet, are two cats, sleeping. I look at them, at all of us, and feel awe. Ok, the cats are simply sleeping, my wife, puzzling. But there is such trust on that bed. These beings want to be here, with me, with each other. They care. Or we care.

 

One of the cats, Milo, starts twitching, as if dreaming. He wraps his front paws around and over his head, as if to hide. I lean over and touch his back, and the shaking stops. He relaxes, releases his head and turns over, showing me his belly. There is such vulnerability there, delicacy. I give myself to you, and you give it back, enhanced.

 

I am reading an article in the September issue of Lion’s Roar: Buddhist Wisdom For Our Time. It is a wonderful conversation between two Buddhist meditators and educators, Sharon Salzberg and Bell Hooks, about “The Power of Real Love.” Sharon talks of growing up and thinking that love is something given by others, but instead, it is an ability, a capacity, maybe even a responsibility we have in ourselves. Bell Hooks talks of love as residing in our actions, not just in our feelings. But in this day, in this political climate, where fear and hate are so frequently in the news—How do we love? How do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and care when the forces of domination seem to surround us?

 

Actions taken out of love can be the most difficult and painful in our lives—and the most liberating. There is more power in the touch of love than can be conceived and dreamed in fear and hate. Fear can be a message to wake up and observe more closely or to turn away. But it is built on opposition, and is unstable. It lasts only as long as we maintain a threat or an enemy, and a wall. Those outside the wall are rejected; those inside the wall are suspect. Such fear needs our compliance with it in order to succeed.

 

And this is our choice each day. You, me, all of us still have this choice. Will we touch and be touched by what is happening to those who share the earth with us? Will we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and learn what is going on, to care and to act? Will we allow love to live in us, or will we cover our heads and hearts with fear?

 

**And thank you to Bell Hooks and Sharon Salzberg (and Lion’s Roar) for the conversation and teachings.

The Impoverishment of Main Street Tax Plan

The destructive Republican denial of health care bills have temporarily been defeated, so now the administration and many Republican congressional leaders are calling for tax cuts and a revised tax code. Once again, they are dangling in front of Americans something many of us desire, in this case more money and a simpler tax code, but the reality is something far different.

 

Remember, these are the same people who proposed health care legislation supported, at one point, by only 12% of Americans. It would have denied health insurance to up to 32 million people now covered by the ACA and undermined it for millions more. In this tax bill, they are taking aim once again at the economic life and health care of most Americans in order to give tax cuts to the wealthy. If it’s a new day, and these Republicans are in power, it’s a new assault on what so many of us hold dear.

 

First of all, the legislation was conceived behind closed doors by only a small group of Republicans, who are also planning how to prevent a Democratic filibuster. Secondly, the bill would flatten the number of tax brackets from seven to three and give tax cuts mainly to the rich and corporations. The poorest of us would actually face a 2% rate hike (somewhat mitigated by an increase in the standard deduction and a larger child tax credit), while the rich get a 4% cut. It would cut the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. Mr. T says he would not benefit from this tax cut, but depending on what his actual income is, he could be saving millions.

 

Possibly to get the support of Senator Lisa Murkowski and other Republicans, the bill includes a provision opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.

 

The tax plan would cost possibly $2.4 trillion over ten years. How would it be paid for? Supporters say the decrease in taxes would lead to an increase in the economy and thus in government income. But this is highly questionable. The trickle down theory, which states that giving more money to the rich would lead to more jobs and income for the poor and middle class, did not work in the Reagan or Bush years or any other time. President Bush greatly increased the deficit (by 2019, his cuts would be responsible for 40% of the national debt) and his economic policies led to the great recession of 2007, a great increase in unemployment and income inequality. President Reagan did cut taxes in his first year in office. But tax revenues dropped precipitously, the debt increased to almost $3 trillion, unemployment and income inequality soared⏤but he had enough sense to actually eliminate many of his tax cuts when he realized his tax plan was causing dire consequences.

 

This new tax proposal would lead to an increase in the disparity between rich and poor and would raise the deficit considerably just when the government is calling for increases in defense spending, and infrastructure in the US badly needs an overhaul.

 

Democrats say Republicans plan to pay for the tax cuts by cutting the programs the poor and middle class depend on: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. ⏤just as, back in May, they planned to do with the budget. As Bernie Sanders put it, the plan would be Robin Hood in reverse: taking from the poor and middle class to give to the rich. The tax cut would be the vehicle for the few to undermine the rights, power, and freedom of the many. It must be opposed.

Especially Today, We Need to Study History

I used to teach a high school class on the history of human ideas. I noticed that the students in the class often had trouble accepting that people were ever substantially different than who they are now—that society could be very different, beliefs very different, life very different. Or if they could accept the differences, they couldn’t feel the difference. We were always what we are now. We move through the world as if what is in front of us now was always there in the past.

 

I myself wonder about this. How different would I feel about life if I had lived in Sumeria in 3500 BCE or India in 450 BCE? Even though I traveled a lot when I was younger and even lived in places very different from where I live now, I still have only a limited idea of how different the differences between cultures and times in history could be.

 

But I know that without my experiences in other cultures, and without some knowledge of history, my understanding of the world today would be severely limited. And even more, my understanding of what is possible would be limited. History is not simply a timeline of events and people. It is a panorama of possibilities and lessons about what it means to be human.

 

Yet, for several years, schools have been forced to decrease the study of history, and the humanities, in favor of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). This is not simply an attempt to counter a decrease in interest in the sciences. The concern for developing student understanding of themselves as whole people is being replaced with a concern for meeting the expectations of employers. The New York Times reported that several Republican politicians have portrayed liberal arts education as expendable, a frivolous luxury taxpayers should not be expected to pay for.

 

In a time when many politicians and news outlets try to wrap our minds in false news, and shock us into inaction and compliance, we desperately need an understanding that these events we live through—this is all history. Situations change. There are truths. Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke (and others) famously said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” or allow it to be repeated. Without studying history, my understanding not only of what once was but what might be, or of how political and social structures have changed and will continue to change, would be constricted. And, thus, my belief in and ability to engage in political action would be constricted. Without a sense of history and truth, we cannot understand what is real. We cannot influence history in a conscious, deliberate, and liberating way if we do not feel that we are part of making it.

 

So one element of the study of history in schools must include listening for the souls of those who came to this earth before us, as well as those we share the planet with now. It must include lessons in empathy and compassion, so students can psychologically place themselves, as much as is possible and appropriate, into the historical situation studied. After immersing students in studying facts about a time in history, a teacher could lead them in imaginatively picturing themselves in a specific situation in that time period, like attending the Ekklesia, or Assembly of male citizens (the Congress) in the Athens of 450 BCE, or of participating in the demonstration in 1917 in Washington, D. C. led by the National Woman’s Party, to win women the right to vote. Ninety-seven suffragists were arrested during the protest for “obstructing traffic.”

 

Teachers can ask students to pick a spot in the town or city they live in, and then research, create a timeline of how the spot looked in the past. They can decide on the dates and number of intervals to portray, maybe starting 600 years ago. This is one way to actually feel how and that change occurs.

 

Even more, ask students, on the first day of classes: What are the biggest problems you see in the world today? After sharing these, ask: which of these problems is central? In my history class, the final assessment entailed choosing one problem and following it through history, and in the different cultures we studied. They would have to describe and analyze the nature and extent of the problem, and give an overview of the beliefs and conditions (social, technological, religious, philosophical, etc.) that gave rise to it. In this way, their own questions became the heart of the class.

 

Another element of the study of history is confronting the ethical questions that abound in our lives. Factual questions in schools cannot always be disconnected from ethical ones without paying a price a society can ill afford. Questions about the science of atoms, for example, can be followed with the questions of how or if such knowledge should be used. In LACS (the school where I taught for 27 years), one teacher, Chris Sperry, taught a wonderful course called “Facing History and Ourselves,” an in-depth inquiry into the holocaust, not just through a textbook linking of dates and events, but through letters, news accounts, photos and eyewitness testimony, novels and stories, psychological studies and poetry. Students put themselves into the issues of the time period in order to understand how they would have felt and acted, and thus have a better idea how they might feel and act in today’s world.

 

Timothy Snyder, in his book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century, aims to help us do just that, to take part deliberately in shaping history, so we, together, will write a history of saving democracy from the tyranny which now imperils it. One lesson is “Do not obey in advance.” Do not believe, do not follow, do not let fear overwhelm us just because it comes from an authority.

 

And ”Defend Institutions.” Do not deceive yourself into thinking that any institution, political, social, or educational will continue to exist just because it “always” has existed. Do not imagine that what protects, feeds, listens to us now will do so in the future. There are no institutions without people supporting them.

 

Republican politicians have been working to suppress the vote and undermine the institutions of our democracy. They have been working to eliminate citizens of color from State voting roles, demanding means of identification some voters do not have, in order to make it more difficult for them to vote. They are attacking public schools, the EPA, the free press. Right now Sinclair Media, through the collusion of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, is attempting to circumvent rules protecting competition and diversity in the media. They are aiming to expand its reach into 72% of American households, mostly through getting control of local media, in order to broadcast Trump propaganda. (Congress this week will be discussing whether to keep Pai as FCC Chairman. Consider calling your Congressperson to express opposition to Pai & the expansion of Sinclair Media.) In times like these, we must defend our institutions.

 

Snyder warns us to “Beware the one party state.” “Take responsibility for the face of the world.” And “Beware paramilitaries.” Beware militarization. Beware the use of generals in the political sphere of the government. Read the book. It is short. It is one small way to take a big step.

 

It is too easy to forget that history is the story of all of us. It is a tale about relationships, not just dates, and not mysterious “historical forces.” It is a tale of human suffering caused not just by weather and environment, but by humans. And it is a tale of love, caring, insight as well as greed and delusion. It is about the whole reality of human life and how to be humane, how to recognize the humanity of all of us. And only when the teaching of history speaks to the whole reality of human life will it help students contribute to improving that life. In this time in history, our continued history depends upon how well we learn and teach these lessons.

I Can’t Believe It

I look at the new Graham-Cassidy health care bill that was proposed in the Senate and have trouble believing any politician would propose such legislation at all, let alone four times this year. It is a slightly changed version of previous examples of Republican denial of health care legislation that were unsuccessful, except this time, it gives more power to individual states to determine the final shape health care will take.

 

15 million people could lose their health care immediately under this bill, 32 million by 2027. This does not include all the people whose insurance rates would go up so much that the quality of their lives would be undermined. The bill would destroy the protections against insurance companies denying coverage for people with preexisting conditions, or raising lifetime caps on payments or raising premiums exponentially. It would cut Medicaid. Almost one-half of births in the US and one-half of the people covered by Medicaid are children, 14% are people with disabilities. It would cut funding for Planned Parenthood and change where federal health care funding goes, taking it from blue states to give to red ones. [I don’t even want to get into how Medicare and other social programs are under the gun in this bill and Republican budget plans.]

 

Why propose legislation that is so blatantly wrong, so blatantly opposed to the best interests of most Americans, and do it again and again? Do they actually think it would be good for the country? Or is it, as many have suggested, a cynical political move, an attempt to deliver a promise to their constituents to repeal anything with President Obama’s name on it? Are they doing it to serve the interests of the super rich who pay for their campaigns and whose interests they primarily serve? Do they think if Medicaid is cut, there will be money to enable tax cuts to the wealthy in the budget?

 

If they are doing it because they think it will serve the interests of their constituents, then I’m really confused. I understand that red state politicians and voters might be happy to take money away from blue states. But other than that, people will be hurt by this bill whether they are Republican, Democrat or Independent.

 

I think they are either hiding the intent of the bill or they believe the government has no role to play in delivering or protecting health care—or the health—of people. They believe that the best way to serve others is to do nothing to help them. They believe only if a person can pay for it do they deserve it. They believe the only responsibility each person has regarding others is to protect one’s own self-interest. The only value of others is what they can get for you or how they can serve you. The people who have power and money deserve that power and money. Thus, politicians only have one role—to protect the interests of the rich.

 

This leaves each of us isolated behind a wall of our own imagining, and the only protection we have is the power of the guns we own or control. This is not the sort of nation I support or think most Americans believe in. We’re better than this. We’re not just creatures isolated from others by the way we think of them. When I look within, I find others at the depths of who I am, not as objects to use but as fellow beings I care about and who care about me.

 

Many Republicans have been lying about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) for years. They have been saying Obamacare takes away choice, isn’t working and is causing unaffordable rate increases, when in fact it is working (although it needs fixing). There have been rate hikes, but those hikes are below the levels that existed before the ACA. For example, according to a Forbes magazine report on statistics by the US Department of Health and Human Services, premium rate hikes from 2010 to 2015 were below those common in earlier years, especially 2004 to 2010. And the increases that have been observed are partly due to efforts by Republican politicians to cause those rate hikes.

 

How have many Republican politicians tried to undermine the ACA? Let’s go back to 2014-15, to Marco Rubio and other Republicans, who attacked what are called “risk corridor” federal payments. The ACA is meant to cover everyone. One fear of proponents of the ACA was that there would be too many sick people on the roles of insurance companies and too little money from premiums, so the ACA was structured to use federal funds to cover the risks (or “risk corridors”) undertaken by insurance companies. Republicans, however, fought against these payments and in 2014 inserted a provision into a spending bill to reduce the risk payments. Because of these attacks by Rubio and company, only 13% of what insurance companies were expecting was paid in 2015. Insurance companies then had to raise rates to make up for this deficit.

 

President Trump further worked to destabilize the ACA by threatening to withhold subsidies to help poorer Americans pay their premiums. Because of this threat, insurance companies talked about possibly raising premiums.

 

The ACA has been met with distortions and/or lies ever since it was first proposed. We could go back to 2009 and Sarah Palin’s false claims that Democrats were trying to create “death panels” in the new health care law (the ACA) to determine if seniors and the disabled were worthy of care. In recent weeks, there have been claims that Democrats rushed through the ACA without hearings and were just as secretive as Republicans have been in the house and Senate. Wrong. Do your own fact checking (with reliable information data bases).

 

The Republicans, from day one, excluded Democrats from playing a role in crafting any of their 2017 health care bills. They debated behind closed doors and held no hearings. They tried to rush through their bills before the CBO could analyze the legislation or voters organize (although they didn’t succeed in this effort), or sometimes even allow Senators to fully read the bill. They initiated a “reconciliation” process in the Senate that limits debate to 20 hours, limits Democrats from adding any substantive amendments. And instead of the normal procedure, where such major legislation would require 60 votes to pass, they would only need a simple majority to pass their bill.

 

In contrast, the ACA was debated in three House committees and two in the Senate. It was subject to hours of bipartisan debate that allowed for amendments. The contents of the bill were provided to members of both parties throughout the debate process. It took nine months to pass and, don’t forget, it was based on a model developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and pushed by Romney to become policy in Massachusetts. (And if you want another example of Republican distortions of the latest bill, listen to Jimmy Kimmel’s piece on You Tube about his interactions with Senator Cassidy.)

 

The ACA is not perfect and not the best imaginable legislation. It is complex and cumbersome. But millions of people are insured now that wouldn’t have been otherwise. There are now federal protections for individuals with preexisting conditions, for comprehensive coverage, etc, that weren’t there before. And it is clear that Republican politicians have been working to demonize Obamacare or drive up the premiums so more people will lose or dislike their insurance and thus support Republican efforts to repeal it.

 

If you are concerned about health care, about economic freedom or equity, concerned about the wellbeing of family members, neighbors, your business and the future of this country, please speak up. Call your Senators, and especially call Republican Senators and tell them what you think of their bill, write letters, protest in any way you can. Try to wake up their better nature. The health and wellbeing of a majority of Americans is on the line.

 

*Update: Senator John McCain announced today (Friday, 9/22), that he will oppose the bill. One more Republican is needed to stop the legislation (for now).

Some phone numbers to call:

Capito, West Virginia: 202 224 6472

Collins, Maine: 202 224 2523

McCain, Arizona: 202 224 2235. Thank him for coming out against the bill.

Murkowsky, Alaska: 202 224 6665

Natural and Human Disasters

I had planned to post a more relaxing, reflective blog, but the latest reports from Florida stopped me. The suffering I see on the news is so powerful that I can almost know what it is like for my own home and life to be threatened. I feel my heart beating more quickly, thoughts race, and the world seems darker, like the storm clouds are racing towards me, not Florida.

 

This is made worse by hearing about the fires on the West coast and memories of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. It is made worse by the political and social disasters, of the hate riot in Charlottesville, and the human disaster, the prejudices, shortsightedness, lack of empathy and caring expressed by the President’s response to Charlottesville, his actions to end DACA, and his first trip to Texas after Harvey. It can feel like the earth itself has lost its center, weeping one minute, angry the next. And yet here, right now, in central New York, it is cool and beautiful.

 

These physical hurricanes make the greed and shortsightedness crystal clear. Before Harvey, the Washington Post and other reputable news organizations reported that the President proposed cutting funding for FEMA, for long term preparedness for disasters; for HUD, which helps rebuild homes, parks, and hospitals; the National Weather Service, which forecasts extreme storms; and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), which does crucial research and applies that research to help coastal residents prepare for disasters. In the middle of August, he signed an executive order which, along with other things, rolled back standards set by President Obama requiring that federal infrastructure projects take climate change into account. During the election, he claimed, in a debate with Hillary Clinton, that global warming was a myth perpetuated by China. Despite denying later on that he said this, he still nominated climate change denier Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.

 

And all along, the number and severity of weather disasters have been increasing. According to NOAA, the number of weather-related disasters which caused a billion dollars or more in damage have increased from 5.5 per year, starting in 1980; then for the last 5 years of this study, 2012-2016, the average was 10.6. This year might exceed that. Yet, despite his denials and his proposed cuts to government services, he says to the people of Houston that he cares about their well-being. His supporters, like Rush Limbaugh, even say that the press is hyping, exaggerating the dangers of Irma “to advance [a] climate agenda” and create panic in order to sell products. And then he leaves Florida.

 

Other Republicans say “don’t bring up Global Warming” during a hurricane, don’t politicize the suffering from these natural events. I agree that our first priority should be safety. But after that, understanding why the number of natural disasters are increasing is crucial to preparing for and creating policies to slow down our deteriorating climate. We must take into account how the increased temperature and water vapor over the Caribbean and Gulf, due to Global Warming, are adding fuel to the storms. To ignore global warming is like saying don’t take facts into consideration when you think. It is like the President and his cohorts are saying: Don’t think rationally. Don’t care about others. Don’t consider the implications of our policies.

 

The timing of these hurricanes, after so many other human hurricanes and disasters, makes crystal clear just how lacking in foresight, empathy, and understanding, just how delusional these politicians are. They themselves are a hurricane wind trying to devastate the economic stability and the remnants of political power that remain in the hands of the poor and middle class. As investigative journalist Naomi Klein pointed out, they are using natural, corporate and politician-created forms of disaster to get us to feel fear and accept or ignore policies that we would never accept otherwise. But hurricanes devastate the world for everyone.

 

So, please. We all have to help the people of Florida, Louisiana and Texas in any way we can. But the best way to help them long term, and help us all, is to learn all we can of the science of global warming. Practice compassion and mindfulness to keep our thinking as clear as possible. Call out politicians to stop the policies based on hate, short-term greed, and denial of science. Give the EPA back to scientists who know what they’re doing. Give to environmental organizations and those working to end this disaster of an administration. Vote, Demonstrate. Join with others who are caring people. To recover long term from these physical disasters we will have to put aside differences and work together to end this political disaster.

Charlottesville, Hate and Delusion

I have never posted two blogs in one day, but after yesterday’s violence in Charlottesville, I feel a need to do so. My first was on how to begin the school year.

 

But this blog⏤this blog is from feeling this violence and this administration is too much. Almost every day this Republican administration, this President, commits an outrage that would have brought down other administrations—lies, tweets, Presidential actions, possibly colluding with a foreign government to interfere in the election, taking vacations to his own golf course and paying himself for staying there with taxpayer money, our money, firing the head of the FBI and possibly interfering and trying to stop the FBI and other government investigations, limiting the EPA’s efforts to protect us from pollution and global warming, attempting to sell off (privatize) public schools and the war in Afghanistan, attacking voting rights, attacking the free press and free speech, attacking Muslims, people of color, attacking women and people with disabilities, attacking most every American by trying to force down our throats health care legislation that would undermine or deny health care to millions. The list goes on and on.

 

But Charlottesville—this makes the threat to this nation abundantly clear. At least three people were killed, 35 injured.  White supremacists and people who admire Nazis, march, the biggest such march in decades. The Southern Poverty Law Center called it the “largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades.” Finally, T gets a march of his supporters that is, actually, bigger than any other march, and, hopefully, this will bring him and his administration down.

 

Charlottesville represents the administration’s collusion with hate and delusion. At an address to reporters at his golf resort in N. J., he speaks of “hatred, bigotry and violence” on “many sides.” And he fails to call the actions terrorism. He fails to distinguish between the group that killed people and consciously precipitated violence and the people who demonstrated against such incitements.

 

He called out and condemned car bombs and cars and trucks running down people in France and England. But here in the US he suddenly can’t speak the word ‘terrorism’. It sticks in his throat. Even Speaker of the House, Republican Paul Ryan, condemned the marchers who precipitated the violence, but not Mr. T. And former KKK leader David Duke reminds the President of who put him in office.

 

Mr. T’s more non-violent supporters try to claim the violence in Charlottesville is a fluke. They ask: Why don’t “you” criticize Muslim violence? According to a Politifact report on 2/6/17, Mr. T commented that the US news media reports on terrorist attacks was “dishonest.” It supposedly had “gotten to the point where it’s [terrorist attacks are] not even being reported.” He told us then that there was so much more extremist violence happening and we were not safe. But, of course, the violence committed by Muslims from other nations is and was being constantly reported, maybe even too much so. And as Democracy Now, CNN, and other respected media have reported, if there wasn’t any such violence, Mr. T and his associates would manufacture “fake news” to make us think there was. For example, remember Kellyanne Conway talking about a “Bowling Green Massacre” that never took place. This violence is not a fluke. It has been inflamed by this administration after building for years.

 

According to a New York Times piece, since 9/11 right-wing extremists have averaged 337 attacks per year. The SPLC has documented 1064 incidents of swastikas in schools, racist taunts, anti-semitism, anti-immigrant, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny in the first month after the election alone. Slate is keeping an updated list of such incidents. Yet, the Department of Homeland Security withdrew $400,000 in funding for the group Life After Hate which tackles radical white nationalist violence. The President fails to recognize what law enforcement agencies throughout the nation recognize: “right-wing, anti-government extremism is the leading source of ideological violence in America.” “Americans are almost seven times as likely to be killed by a white extremist than by an Islamic one.

 

The FBI is now investigating the act of terrorism-by-car in Charlottesville. They should also be investigating Mr. T and his cabinet’s possible collusion with hate groups.

 

Democracy and freedom can’t survive in this country when hate sits in the oval office. Democracy is a continual conversation, even debate, often strident, requiring inquiry and engagement of its citizens. Hate is an attempt to end all conversation and inquiry. It allows only one viewpoint. It is a conversation of speakers who speak only one word and who refuse to listen to more than one sound. Well, it’s time for the rest of us, for most of us, to speak with a diversity of voices willing to listen to all sounds, but with one central aim: to unseat this administration and the hate it fosters.

 

*Tonight, Sunday, in DeWitt Park, Ithaca, at 7:00 pm there will be Stand United With Charlottesville rally. Maybe there is a similar rally or demonstration in your town or city you can attend.