An Inhumane and Abusive Policy: Please Speak Up Now

According to the New York Times and several other news sources, since April 19 the U. S. government has separated 1995 children from the parents of asylum seekers, migrants, as well as immigrants illegally trying to cross our southern border. These children, as young as toddlers, have been placed in hastily established shelters, in prison-like conditions.  Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said many of the children are being held in what amounts to dog cages. The facilities already in use are getting too full, so the administration is planning to erect a tent city in Tornillo, Texas to hold newly seized children —young children kept in tents in the hot Texas summer sun.

 

Imagine a one year old kept in a cage. Imagine a child being taken from her breast-feeding Mom. Imagine the irreparable harm being done to children. If it continues, imagine a generation traumatized by our government, hating our nation, and what might happen in the future. Hate sows hate.

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to defend the policy by saying the bible tells us to obey the law. He did not speak about the verses telling people to be kind, compassionate, or loving to one another. Earlier, he said the policy was part of a “zero tolerance policy” with lawbreakers. John Kelly said the policy is meant as a deterrent to keep immigrants away from our borders. Mr. T tried to somehow blame Democrats: “Separating families at the border is the fault of bad legislation passed by Democrats.”  T is upset that Dems have not passed laws giving him what he wants, like a border wall.

 

The Washington Post fact checked T’s claim: there is no “Democrats’ law” necessitating that children be separated from their parents at the border. This was a policy created by this administration.

 

Meanwhile, the UN has condemned the policy, calling it illegal, and urged the US to end the policy. According to an article in the NYT, the UN said the practice “amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.”

 

The GOP claim their legislation proposed recently would stop the inhumane separation of child from parent but, according an article in VOX, this is not true.

 

We need to do what we can to stop this inhumanity. If they get away with this, what’s next? We can call Congresspeople, especially Republicans, every day. Twice, three times a day if possible. Demand that they speak up and pass emergency legislation to stop it. Call your state and local representatives so that all levels of government act to stop it. Speak up in what ways you think appropriate. Share this post, copy it or write your own. This has to stop.

 

Here is a link from the NYT that I just saw, shared by Elaine Mansfield, of other things to do to oppose the policy.

 

 

HERE ARE A FEW NUMBERS:

GOP SENATORS:

Collins (R-ME) (202) 224-2523

Capito (R-WV) (202) 224-6472
Cassidy (R-LA) (202) 224-5824

Corker: 202 224 3344 [901683 1910] Flake (R-AZ) (202) 224-4521
Gardner (R-CO) (202) 224-5941
Portman (R-OH) (202) 224-3353

 

NY DEMOCRATIC SENATORS:

Gillibrand: 202 224 4451    [NYC office: 212 688 6262

Schumer: 202 224 6542     [NYC office: 212 486 4430]

 

GOP HOUSE:

Tom Reed: 202 225 3161

Paul Ryan: 202 225 0600

Wish For A Storm of Mass Insight

I deeply want to write a blog, or even one line or image so powerful it would transform the world, or at least shake it up so much it would see itself more clearly. Or shake me up so completely I would see myself more clearly. Is that too much to yearn for? It doesn’t even have to be me who writes the blog. I’d be a happy reader. I’m speaking of the political world. The trees outside the window shake themselves every moment there’s a wind — or every moment the sun gives light to leaves to drink, or the night gives rest.

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project and enjoy.

Stand Up Against the Would-Be King

I want to write a blog saying there was a revolution in Congress. And throughout the land the heart of the nation was awakened⎼but it did not happen, not yet. It’s just so hard to acknowledge what is going on politically, or to think about it too much. It ‘s so ugly. And disturbing.

 

But I have to say what seems obvious to so many of us: we are confronted with a situation where one man (and those that finance and support him) thinks of the whole world, and all the other people and beings in it, as, at best, pieces to manipulate; at worst, as commodities to acquire or resources to exploit for his (their) own wealth and power. Everything and everyone exists for the taking. Even words, laws, notions of truth exist only to serve his interests. Only what increases his wealth, and what mirrors back to him his own primacy, is true. Everything else is false; everyone else is a liar and dangerous.

 

For laws to rule, the difference between opinion and facts must be, at least theoretically, fairly clear. Truth is recognized as being what really occurred or what was actually said, and what can be reliably verified. If everyone is “innocent until proven guilty,” then we are all theoretically and equally innocent unless proven guilty. For freedoms and rights to exist, the laws guaranteeing those freedoms and rights must be upheld.

 

But in Trump’s world, there are no commonly verifiable truths and thus no commonly enforceable laws. Thus, no “rule of law.” The only law is what emerges from his own mouth in that particular moment. No one is free except him. No one is innocent except as we mirror back to him his own image.

 

An example of him believing and asserting he is the truth and the law is his pardoning of Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative author, filmmaker, and admitted felon—and supporter of the president. Likewise, Trump pardoned his ardent supporter and convicted felon, Joe Arpaio, as well as Scooter Libby, the aide to former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney.

 

As Ruth Marcus argues in a column in the Washington Post, there is something particularly wrong and askew in these pardons. Trump violated the normal process and criteria for a pardon.  The process usually involves a five year waiting period and serving a sentence as well as accepting responsibility and atoning for the offense. Instead, D’Souza, and Trump, both showed disdain for the legal process itself.

 

D’Souza had admitted his guilt in court, for establishing straw donors in order to deliberately violate campaign contribution limits. However, the New York Times reminds us that on “Fox and Friends” after the pardon, he claimed his prosecution was retribution by President Obama for a movie D’Souza had made—so much for accepting responsibility and atoning for his crimes. He also asserted selective enforcement during the court trial and the judge held a hearing over the claim. The judge found: “There is no evidence of discriminatory effect nor of discriminatory purpose…” The judge called D’Souza’s claim “nonsense.”

 

After the pardon, Trump tweeted D’Souza “was treated very unfairly.” He also said nobody had asked him to grant the pardon. Yet, according to the New York Times, D’Souza himself, and congressional officials—Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX) pleaded the case for the pardon at a White House dinner the previous night.

 

As Ruth Marcus points out in her column, all these pardons show a political and personal motivation and illustrate Trump’s constant narrative of “they’re out to get me,” “I am the victim here.” Instead of these pardons serving the purpose of correcting an injustice, they commit an injustice. And they possibly also serve a very disturbing political purpose—to signal to anyone who might fear criminal prosecution for collusion with Russia, or for money laundering or corruption, that if they support Mr. Trump, they too will be pardoned. After all, he is the law.

 

If you doubt he is trying to assert this absolute power, look over his tweets from yesterday (Monday, June 4th). An article in the New York Times speaks to this and the ramifications of Trump’s actions. In one tweet he said he had “the absolute right” to pardon himself for any crime. Last year, he asserted he had “an absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department.”

 

The NYT article goes on to quote David Kris, a former senior Justice Department national security official as saying Trump is making “a far more sweeping claim to power than even other presidents by saying he can use the Justice Department for whatever he wants.” Trump’s lawyers are in fact claiming, “that he is the law—that he is the personification of justice and cannot obstruct himself.” So much for our constitution and our laws being meant to free us from monarchs, or the King from Mar a Lago.

 

Well, Trump becomes the law only to the degree we, and our elected officials, participate in his delusion and yield to him this awesome power. Mueller by himself can’t get Congress to act. We, the majority of the American people, need to unite to stop him, and take the fight against the health care laws as an inspiration. We need to turn our distaste for even hearing his name into action, to call Congress, talk with friends and neighbors, be ready to protest, and use our imaginations to find ways to wake up an organized opposition, to wake up the heart of this nation.

 

**Update: This has been a big week for pardon talk. Why? He has granted six so far and is talking about many more. He has granted pardons both to well-known individuals and those fortunate enough to have a celebrity advocate for them. Maybe he is getting off on the power? Maybe he thinks the people he pardoned can feed his made-up narrative of the deep state being out to get him? Or maybe he thinks that if he grants lots of pardons to a diverse group of people, it would fool us into thinking he is not doing it for his own personal and political purposes? Maybe he thinks we the people would have more trouble discerning and attacking his real motivation, the one Ruth Marcus describes above: namely of undermining the pressure exerted by the Mueller Investigation on Cohen, Manafort and others to reveal what they know about T possibly colluding with Russia?

Humility, Clarity, and Critical Thinking

How do our actions differ when we feel secure in ourselves versus when we don’t? Or when we are unsure what to do, but have to do something? Or when we are very sure of what we think, but someone disagrees with us? In such situations, a little humility can go a long way.

 

When I first started teaching at the Lehman Alternative Community School in 1985, I hadn’t taught an academic class for ten years. I had taken a break in my teaching career. Walking into a large public building, with the sounds of hundreds of people in the halls, and working 10 or more hours a day to create and teach five or more lesson plans—all was new and stressful.

 

And since it had been ten years since I last taught, it was a struggle to remember the techniques I had used before or what I had studied in college or graduate school. I felt I had to be interesting, and to provide something interesting and worthwhile for students. Only later did I realize the job was to help them find their own lives interesting and worthwhile.

 

It is often when we are unsure that we speak the loudest. I was unsure of so much, I tried to sound sure about whatever I was teaching. It was difficult to admit what or how much I didn’t know. It was difficult to feel the school was a home where my true self could live.

 

But that changed, thanks to the students, the structure of the school, gaining experience, many hours of study—and practicing mindfulness, both by myself and with students. As I grew more comfortable with myself, students grew more comfortable with me, and it was easier to admit what I didn’t know. The classroom became a second home. I realized it was more honest and real to model asking questions instead of dictating answers, so students could discover reasonable answers on their own.

 

We all think our view of reality, of politics, of certain people, is correct. That is partly due to our biology. Even when we doubt ourselves, we can believe our self-doubt. When we see a red rose, the redness arises from the way our brains interpret a certain wavelength of light. Red is the way our consciousness recognizes and interprets the light reflected off the rose. A colorblind person, or another species of animal, won’t perceive the color at all. For a red rose to appear in the world, we need not only the thing seen, and light, but a brain capable of providing color. But we don’t perceive red as a gift of our own mind, or as a way we make sense of the world. We see it as an inherent quality of the rose itself.

 

A similar thing happens in social situations. We think someone is a “good” person, or beautiful or ugly and think those qualities are permanent and totally inherent in the person, not supplied by us. The other person is just, forever, good, bad or beautiful. Or we think our solution to a problem is the only good solution, and think the goodness we perceive is objectively true. So, we never understand our own role in the world; never understand the world or ourselves.

 

We might even think, when someone disagrees with us, they are being stupid or they are ill informed, and they should adopt our viewpoint over their own. And they might be ill informed, or unreasonable, but so are we if we think we can just dictate to someone else what to think. Or if we imagine any viewpoint is objectively the only truth, and we forget that a viewpoint is just that: one way (hopefully based on reliable and verifiable evidence) to view a particular situation from the context of that particular person’s brain structure and life experience.

 

It might seem a contradiction, but feeling some humility about our own ways of understanding the world might reveal answers when none are apparent. It might help us look before we conclude—to notice what we might otherwise ignore or hear what we might otherwise never listen to, and thus save us from situations that seem impossible.

 

Humility is the quality of being humble. To be humble has very different connotations. For some people, it has negative connotations, as it can mean to be brought down low, even humiliated. Or as Wikipedia points out, in some religions, humility can mean submission, even self-abasement, to a deity. It can mean one is economically poor. Or it can have positive connotations, and mean being simple, modest and unassuming, even virtuous, in contrast with being narcissistic, vain or greedy.

 

The root of humility is humus, earth. The connotations of the word might arise from how we think of earth. Is it dirty, lowly, as contrasted with heavenly? Or does it mean grounded, or focused on the place out of which all life emerges?

 

In the martial arts, to move forward with power, we push down and back against the earth or floor. We curl our toes to grip the earth and be grounded. There is no place else we want to go, nothing else we want to do. We are thus at home in the situation and ourselves.

 

When we feel at home wherever we are, with whomever we are with, and with whatever role we play, we are more present and open. We don’t need to try to be what we aren’t but think we are supposed to be.

 

And when we realize how much our own minds color the world, we are more humble and real. We are able to perceive other people and our world with more clarity, more compassion, and more depth. Thus, we are more able to help others perceive and think about the world with more clarity, compassion and depth.

 

This is a powerful way to be and act, a powerful way to teach and relate. Humility and critical thinking should be two core elements of a modern education. This might help us save ourselves from the political and economic situation we are in. In my “humble” viewpoint, acting with some humility towards our own viewpoints, and compassion for the lives and needs of others, is certainly better than the narcissism, greed and lack of self-knowledge that we too often face today.

 

 

It Is Time to Call, Write, and Demonstrate: A Summary and Call to Action for Those Who Understandably Can’t Stand the News

The Justice Department does not belong to any one party or individual. But Sunday, Mr. Trump tweeted: ‘‘I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!’’ This was only one of his Sunday tweets.

 

The President can suggest actions to the Justice Department, but cannot demand. And he cannot, or at least should not, demand actions that directly interfere in the Mueller investigation. However, he is trying to get Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray to do just that and investigate the investigation.

 

At the heart of the latest battle is the charge there was a “spy” planted in the Trump campaign. In fact, the person is, as far as I can tell, not a spy but an informant. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies use informants all the time. By trying to claim malfeasance on the part of the FBI, Trump is distorting the facts once again, and once again attempting to undermine the FBI and Mueller investigation, and is putting the safety of the informant at risk. This is tantamount to claiming that anyone who reveals negative information on him is violating the law.

 

Trump also tweeted: “At what point does this soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt, composed of 13 Angry and Heavily Conflicted Democrats and two people who have worked for Obama for 8 years, STOP! They have found no Collusion with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption…”

 

In this tweet, he is trying to say that the real corruption is being committed by Mueller and Democrats, but this is misdirection and worse. His very insinuations are examples of his interfering in the actions of the Justice Department and Mueller’s investigation.

 

According to a CBS fact check of his statements, the tweet is “short on facts.” CNN said “Trump said 11 false things in just 5 tweets.” Chris Cillizza of CNN said, “There’s zero factual basis—at least that I can find—for Trump putting a $20 million price tag on the Mueller probe.” In December, the cost was $6.7 million.

 

Mueller is a Republican, and like others on his team, he owes his position to a Republican President. He was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the FBI in 2001. And he served in that role for six years under Obama. In terms of the charge of collusion, that is an unresolved issue. Mueller was tasked with investigating that charge and the investigation is clearly not over. Yet, the President often tweets “no collusion,” as if by repeating it often enough people will believe it.

 

Trump’s lies are increasing in frequency as is the threat to what’s left of democracy in America. The Washington Post found that in the first 100 days, he lied or played loose with facts 4.9 times a day. Recently, it has almost doubled to 9 times a day. (See also the New York Times and Politifact.)

 

The threat is increasing as the President and his enablers in Congress, like Devin Nunes (Republican Congressman from California), are demolishing, to an unprecedented degree, the boundaries created by the separation of powers doctrine. Nunes has been leading the effort in Congress to get all the information on the confidential informant and portray his role as somehow malfeasant, instead of the normal operation of an investigation. And for months, he and other Republicans have been pressuring Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to turn over information that the Mueller investigation has on the President and others. If Rosenstein doesn’t, he can be impeached for contempt of Congress. If he turns over the documents, he is violating his position overseeing the investigation. The GOP has already drawn up eight articles of impeachment against him.

 

After meeting with the President Monday, along with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, Rosenstein agreed to have the Department of Justice Inspector General investigate the Mueller investigation, especially the use of information from the confidential source.

 

However, this is not enough for the President and conservative Republican members of Congress. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and 17 other GOP Congressmen (mostly members of the Freedom Caucus) signed a resolution today (5/22) demanding the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the DOJ and FBI. Senior officials from the DOJ, FBI and National Intelligence are set to meet with 2 Republican members of Congress on Thursday to “review” highly classified information the lawmakers have been seeking related to the Mueller investigation. In a beautiful example of irony, Democrats have been excluded from this meeting supposedly called to examine political bias in the FBI and DOJ. The New York Times points out the strategy here: limit the investigation and attack the investigators.

 

Monday evening, Rachel Maddow spoke about the meeting at the White House. By summoning Rosenstein and Wray, Trump was not just complaining. He was taking action in the vein of his firing, last year, the then FBI Director, James Comey. She questioned: have we now gone too far down a slippery slope?

 

The Justice Department has done several things in the past that Maddow finds disturbing. The DOJ has “shed or demoted” all the justice officials who Comey provided with corroborating information about his meetings with the President. Congress has asked the DOJ for FISA warrant applications, which they handed over, something never done before. The DOJ is now being asked to turn over information which can help Trump in his case against Mueller. This violates every principle of an investigation. On Sunday, when the President demanded the DOJ open a counter-investigation, he crossed another dangerous line. He took another step toward the destruction of the rule of law. Why is Rosenstein going along with this?

 

And, if we the citizens don’t act, why? Why are we going along with this? I understand feeling depressed by all that’s happening, and feeling powerless. But to give in to that feeling is to let Trump win.

 

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said: “The president’s behavior is the kind of grossly autocratic behavior we’d expect in a banana republic, not a mature democracy,” Do we have or have we had a “mature democracy” for a while now?

 

In 1776, Thomas Paine, philosopher and writer who influenced the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence, said: “These are the times that try men’s souls. …Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.” Our souls, our consciences, our lives are being tried to an ever-increasing degree by this administration. It is time to act. It is time to call any member of Congress you can, or go to the office of politicians, especially Republicans, and speak out and demonstrate, to stop this interference into the Mueller investigation. To stop the gradual destruction of the rule of law. We must prepare for November, but not wait until then.

When A Politician Proclaims “I Am The Truth”

What happens when you discover you have been lied to, especially when the lie is not a little white lie but a major deception? In a relationship, the words you speak become part of what weaves you together into a couple or a friendship, or a story that you live. You have to feel some trust in what the other person tells you in order for a relationship to exist at all.

 

Of course, words aren’t everything. If someone says they love you or care for you and their actions say otherwise, and they abuse you, wouldn’t you doubt the words? It might depend on how you think about love, or truth.

 

The same happens in a society. A society is held together by relationships of all kinds and types, not only between friends and families, but also between politicians and constituents. When someone lies, consistently, a break occurs and the whole relationship can shatter, or it can be reshaped in distorted ways, which I think is happening today with Mr. Trump.

 

Lies are not new to politics, nor is it unusual to claim Mr. Trump lies. His lies and misleading statements are frequently pointed out in the mainstream news media (although not usually in the conservative media). But the volume and obviousness of his deceptions might be new⎼ and getting worse. Several fact check and news sources, like the Washington Post, found that in the first 100 days, he lied or played loose with facts 4.9 times a day. Recently, it has almost doubled to 9 times a day. (See also the New York Times and Politifact.) According to the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, in an interview with the New York Times on December 28, 2017, Mr. Trump said something false, misleading, or dubious every 75 seconds.

 

For example, on May 1st, after the list of questions that the Mueller investigation might want Trump to answer was released by the New York Times, the President said none of the questions on the list were about collusion. Certainly, as far as I can tell, the word collusion was not used. But 13 of the questions were about Trump’s “campaign coordination with Russia,” which is the meaning of collusion. Or his lies about the 2017 tax cut bill, which he called a “giant tax cut” for the middle class, promising a $4,000 pay raise to each household. He called it the largest tax cut in history (ignoring, for example, the John F. Kennedy tax cut and Reagan’s) and claimed the bill “…is going to cost me a fortune.” According to a New York Times fact check, “the proposals [in the bill] seem almost tailor-made to enrich the president and people like him.” According to USA Today, this bill only advances the agenda begun 40 years ago (in the Reagan administration) of taking a trillion dollars a year that used to go to worker wages and giving it to corporations and the superrich.

 

Is it that he doesn’t realize he is lying? To lie implies some knowledge that what is being said is not truthful. If you say something and think it is accurate, and it turns out it is not, that is not a lie. It is not a truth, either. It is an inaccurate statement. Maybe he doesn’t understand what it is to say the truth?

 

What is the truth? Although there are different types and meanings of truth, in most cases, when you say something is true, you mean this is what actually exists or this is real. It is not simply an opinion or an assertion of what you like. Instead, a truth is what corresponds with the preponderance of reliable evidence.

 

Is he using the “big lie” to hide the truth, lying so openly no one can believe he is doing it? Or is he claiming there is no truth? Maybe he is simply not in touch with reality? Or is he merely saying one thing one moment and denying it the next?

 

When a person lies openly to you, you might no longer trust them and you end the relationship. But something else can occur. You might feel afraid of losing the sense of security provided by the relationship, or fear a variety of other possibilities. You might so deeply fear your relationship ending that you try to tell yourself the speaker is the truth, instead of what is spoken; or what is important is not so much the content of what is said, but the fact that a specific someone is saying it. Or the content becomes a secondary or lower truth. The higher truth is the person.

 

And this is what I think is happening today. Society is being pushed to the edge of breaking apart. And one segment of society is tying itself feverishly not to the reality of what is being said, but to the person saying it.

 

Mr. Trump and his followers are creating a mirror effect. By lying so openly, Trump asserts that he is the truth. This is another way to describe a narcissist, as someone who thinks his viewpoint is the (only valid) viewpoint, or that whatever thought enters his head is true because he thinks it. And apparently, about a third of the American people agree with him and mirror back to him his view of himself. They do not question or check the veracity of what he says, even when what he says is obviously untrue, and videos of his interviews or speeches clearly show he lied or misrepresented the facts.

 

Certainly, you could argue that his followers do check his statements. But they check only with right-wing, highly biased news sources, and are only able to confirm (mirror back to them) what they already believe. For example, 40% of Trump voters cited Fox News as their main source of political information. Fox is so distorted a media that in 2015, 52% of its viewers still believed weapons of mass destruction were found following the invasion of Iraq.

 

And Sinclair Media, nicknamed Trump media, is even worse. During the 2016 election, from July to November, the Sinclair conglomerate of stations gave Trump and his surrogates often extensive interviews 31 times. Many were declared “must run” stories by management. The Clinton campaign got seven interviews. According to former Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson, the conservative news media have convinced the white working class to focus blame for their woes “downward⎼at the racial other⎼rather than up.” So, maybe you should forgive his supporters, when they hear him say one thing one minute and a different thing the next, and for holding on not to his divergence from the facts but the fact he spoke?

 

Everyone does this to some degree (it’s called a confirmation bias), but the extent to which this is happening today with Trump is astounding. The media that Trump supporters rely on for information have conditioned them to believe Trump more than any other source of information. And when people close their eyes and minds so deeply, they are always fighting themselves and reality, and are often angry, but unable to find a cause anywhere but where Trump points them.

 

This is what happens in some religions. It is what happens in dictatorships. It is what happens in some relationships. To understand how to change this reality, you have to better understand how people leave such relationships. You have to better understand what is happening to our political system, economy, and media. You have to better understand your mind.

 

When you base your political sense of reality and security on a person who believes he is the only reality, the world will always feel threatening to you, and will always feel that it’s constantly shifting beneath you. If Trump believes he is the only reality, you and your needs are indecipherable to him, or nothing more than an illusion.

 

A Town Hall With A Representative Who Does Not Represent Us

On Thursday, May 3rd, Tom Teed, a Republican Congressman from the 23rdDistrict of Central New York, held a town hall in Enfield, NY. I arrived a few minutes after the meeting began, so I didn’t have the chance to submit questions to the Congressman in advance.

 

I attended the meeting because I disagree with practically everything Mr. Reed advocates and wanted to share my position with him in person. Making weekly phone calls to his office didn’t feel like it was enough. I also disagree with the way he conceptualizes his role as Congressman and how he speaks to his constituents, although I think he is very smart, or clever. A large majority of the crowd also seemed opposed to Reed’s positions on the issues discussed. Enfield is a small town and I wondered if Mr. Reed expected more people would be there who agreed with him.

 

The Congressman gave about a fifteen minute introductory talk, highlighting the “good news” (my label) of the Trump administration. Then came the questions. One was whether he agreed with the proposal to arm teachers. He said he did not think teachers should be armed, unless they underwent training to become a police officer. This is one policy position where I agree with him. He went on to say he favored having armed resource officers in schools. But when pressed to go further, for example to come out against large magazines or against rifles made for warfare, not hunting, he said he opposed such restrictions on second amendment rights.

 

Reed asked if there were any students in the audience who would like to speak about arming teachers. A young man raised his hand and was invited to the front of the gathering to share the microphone with Reed. This illustrates one of the Congressman’s tactics. He invites someone to speak and asks questions, sometimes going into small points of a policy proposal, making him look interested and engaged in a sincere dialogue.  But often, this becomes merely a way to listen for ways to divert or counter the point being made by a constituent.

 

As it turns out, the student was not from a high school but Cornell. The student said resource officers might help in schools, but what about in universities or waffle houses or concerts? He asked why Reed opposed requiring that gun owners be licensed. Most states do not require such licenses. We need a license to drive a car (or to fish, teach, hunt, etc.)—why not require one to own a gun?  Reed said the second amendment made owning guns a right; driving a car is not a right guaranteed in the constitution. The student brought up that even to have a rally or demonstration, you need a permit, and public speech is guaranteed under the constitution. Is owning a gun more privileged than speech?

 

This led to another tactic Reed and other Republicans like to use—exaggerating or catastrophizing, to drum up the fears of those who support him. He said something to the tune of “I do not agree with repealing the second amendment.” No one argued the second amendment should be repealed. When this was pointed out to him, Reed went to another favorite position—This is my position. We will just have to agree to disagree. I have been very clear about this. But, if he is going to fall back on his historical positions when confronted by constituent opposition, then his coming to the town hall, where his public aim is to listen to and learn from voters what they need, is clearly revealed as a sham. He might listen but he certainly does not hear.

 

I was surprised the Mueller investigation didn’t come up at the town hall. It was certainly one of several topics on my mind when I decided to attend. According to the New York State of Politics blog, during an interview about the questions Mueller might want to ask Trump that were leaked last week by the New York Times, Reed said the Mueller investigation should be allowed to take its course. Anyone found by the special counsel to have engaged in wrongdoing should be held “accountable.” “At the end of the day, that’s what we should be doing and focusing on.”

 

At one point, and I am sorry that I can’t remember the context, Mr. Reed repeated his position that people who act wrongly should be held accountable. I wish I had the chance to ask Mr. Reed: Does that include the President and members of Congress from your own party who attack the FBI for investigating the Russia connection or who attack the Mueller investigation as “disgraceful,” a “witch hunt”? And who attack the personal integrity of Mueller himself, as well as Rosenstein and Sessions, and who call for all three to be firedMueller and Rosenstein for not being Republicans (which they are) and Sessions, the Attorney General of the US, for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation and not putting the President’s interests before that of this country?

 

This is wrongdoing enacted in public. This is the President violating principles at the center of our constitutional government, namely separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of the government. This is the President directly interfering in an investigation. And all of it is happening not in secret, but in our faces.

 

If you, Mr. Reed, think wrongdoing should be punished. If you think the investigation needs to proceed and the constitution, and the rule of law, to be honored and protected, why don’t you speak up against not only the President, but the GOP Congresspeople who follow his lead on the subject? This is your job. If you don’t speak out, aren’t you complicit in Mr. Trump’s actions that possibly undermine the rule of law in our nation and, thus, someone who needs to be held accountable?

 

What I’ve gathered from these town halls is that they are an important part of our modern Democracy. But they must be more than a public relations gimmick. They must be the reality of democracy, not the mere appearance. They must be a sincere attempt at conversation: for the politician, it must be a chance to not only communicate their own understanding of issues but also discover what best advances the well-being of constituents. For the constituents, it’s a chance to express and increase our understanding of crucial issues and discover how much the politician is not only an honest leader but also a true servant of the people.

 

*I noticed three of the candidates hoping to be chosen to run as a Democrat against Reed in this year’s election were present at the town hall. If there were more, I am sorry I didn’t notice them. They were Max Della Pia, Tracy Mitrano, and Linda Andrei. Also present was Amanda Kirchgessner, who is running for the NY State Senate seat held by Tom O’Mara in the 58thDistrict.

 

**Photo by Kathy Morris, from a demonstration last year at Congressman Reed’s office in Ithaca.

Trying to Read the Tea Leaves in the News

It seems that a dramatic, and hopefully not too traumatic, time is approaching. A time where either a greatly anticipated dream or dreaded nightmare will be enacted before us and weave the lives of all of us into its plotline. There is so much going on it is difficult to digest or keep it all together. Here is my attempt to try to understand at least a portion of what is happening so maybe we can bring about more of the anticipated dream and end the nightmare.

 

First, there’s Mueller, an apparently intrepid, moral, hard working person, a military hero, a Republican dedicated to the rule of law and to his responsibility to find the truth, seemingly heading closer and closer to finding that truth and completing his investigation. So many of us hope he will provide the answer we anticipate. But will he?

 

Secondly, there is the evidence provided by the more centrist and progressive news media (media that uses a variety of sources to cross-check the veracity of information they publish), and from Trump himself, of collusion with Russians to interfere in his election. He has, for example, bragged to Russians about firing Comey to ease pressure on the investigation of Michael Flynn. We have multiple campaign and administration figures with ties to Russia that they lied about, at least four (Manafort, Prince, Flynn and Kushner) trying to establish hidden communications with Russian government figures, and some of the same people and others working to acquire and release stolen emails. Yet, Mr. trump says there was no interference or collusion and thus he threatens our democracy. We have Cambridge Analytica, who was hired by the Trump campaign to help with their social media campaign, stealing information from Facebook in order to better spread misleading social media posts. And who knows what the investigations into Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels will yet reveal.

 

We have so many examples of obstruction of justice by this administration, of interfering with and trying to undermine the rule of law and the institutions meant to enforce the law, that our minds are reeling. We have Trump attempting to fire Mueller and succeeding in firing Comey and McCabe, threats against Rosenstein, attacks on Jeff Sessions as Attorney General for not protecting him, and for not prioritizing the President’s well-being over the Attorney General’s sworn duty to the American people.

 

Trump, apparently, not only interfered with the Mueller investigation but put pressure on the DOJ and the Inspector General to create counter-investigations of Hillary, McCabe, Comey and even President Obama. In other words, not only does he lie about what he does, but he famously counter-attacks. He tries not only to dehumanize but actually destroy the lives of those who disagree with or oppose him. Democracy depends on political figures being able to compromise and work with even those they disagree with. Not this administration. As Comey said it: “Americans need to stand up and realize that… We can have ferocious disagreements about all kinds of issues, but we shouldn’t have any disagreement about what is at the core of America, which is a common set of values.”

 

And right-wing media, like Fox News and Breitbart, acts as the voice of the right-wing, supporting and sometimes directing Trump’s mission (he often seems to repeat lines and misinformation supplied by Fox news figures), obscuring and attacking the Mueller investigation. They have claimed all the evidence from the CIA and FBI, not exactly leftist or progressive strongholds, are all faked, and continue to shout “Lock her up” when possibly the most corrupt politician to ever lead this nation struts around the stage of history. According to a report by Politico in January, Russian trolls are taking advantage of this by spreading Fox News stories to derail the Mueller investigation.

 

We have corruption, nepotism, and the President profiting financially from his position to a degree never seen before in this country. The Economist magazine called it “monetizing the Presidency.” He has made millions from GOP, foreign governments, etc. holding meetings and staying at Trump owned properties. He gets money every time he vacations at Mar-A-Lago and his other resorts. And that is just the beginning. Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the bipartisan organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said Trump’s first year in office “was the least ethical first year of any presidential administration in modern history.”

 

Last week Trump, once again, hired new lawyers, namely Rudy Giuliani, Jane Raskin, and Marty Raskin. Giuliani claims he will negotiate an end to the Mueller investigation in weeks. Trump  must be feeling the heat. However, many Republicans in Congress are still colluding with Trump to undermine the FBI and Mueller—but not all Republicans. A rare few have recently developed a conscience and backbone. There are bipartisan bills in both the House and Senate to protect Mueller. And Tom Steyer is not the only prominent figure calling for impeachment.

 

Yet, even some supposedly liberal media, as well as Democratic politicians like Cory Booker (D-NJ), have been warning Democrats that calling for impeachment, at least before all the “facts are in,” would hurt the party in the next election and cause even more political division. The evidence is not clear. Polls cite, believe it or not, increasing support for Trump. Yet, according to CNN, at least 43 House Republicans have announced retirement, more than in any recent Congress, and Democrats have been winning  a great majority of this year’s special elections. I guess it’s possible to create even more division in this country—but is it true that running on a platform calling for impeachment would undermine the Democrat’s efforts to defeat Republicans? Or is it some sort of spin to stop the Democratic party from getting too progressive?

 

Rosenstein said last week that Trump was not a target of the Mueller investigation (at that point?).  And Comey, a conservative Republican, said that he thinks Trump should be removed from office by the voters, in 2020, not impeached. Comey said in an interview with NBC, that impeaching Trump wouldn’t solve the present crisis. He claims we need a total political “reset.”

 

I realize that impeachment will not only be difficult to accomplish but will elevate the drama. But can we afford to wait to 2020? Can our psyches stand it? Can our democracy, the environment, the economy, and our position in the world endure his actions much longer? By 2020 he might have undermined the democracy so completely, undermined voting and civil rights and the legal system so deeply, given so much money to the super-rich, colluded with Russians so effectively, that we will no longer be even a shadow of a democracy.

 

And how much should the left and center reach out to the right? I think our economic interests, at least, are very similar. But will those who support Trump ever accept the fact of his corruption and possibly traitorous collusion with a Russian dictator? Or should the emphasis for Democrats be on exposing and reversing the policies the super-rich have been using for years, policies like the recent GOP tax cut, to steal wealth from the middle and lower classes to give it to themselves, and thus undermine the quality of life for millions?

 

I can’t read tealeaves and don’t know what will happen. I only know what I want to happen, and even that is filled with holes and contradictions. And I also know what I feel. I know I will have to be more alert, more able to calmly analyze what I hear, and more ready to act than I ever did before the 2016 election.

 

This moment can be seen as a call to courage, not unlike the call to adventure that is so common in literature, mythology, and movies, the moment when a character steps forward into the unknown to meet a challenge and thus grows into a full and mature person. In real life, it is never just one call. And there are so many of us—all the secondary school students opposing gun violence, all the women in the “me-too” movement, all those people who have gone to the streets and the phones. When we get down emotionally, maybe thinking of those others who are with us and need us will be helpful. This moment is a call to all people with a heart, a conscience, and a willingness to see the humanity of others, to act for the common good. To act to protect the Mueller investigation, to get people out to vote in November, and to do what we can to stop this administration’s assault on the lives of a great majority of us.

The Wasteland of Today

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

            Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

            Memory and desire, stirring

            Dull roots with spring rain.

 

So begins The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot, first published in 1922. It is considered a landmark, one of the most important poems of the twentieth century.  I disagree profoundly with the author’s political and religious beliefs, yet find the imagery truly beautiful and able to reflect today’s world in startling ways.

 

During this hard winter of 2018, I long for spring, but fear it will never come—or, even worse, fear that the meaning of spring will be forever violated. I think of spring as renewal, as a “sea of green” (Beatles) pushing out the “dull roots”(T. S. Eliot). I might be reminded of old memories and longings. But what I see around me, politically and otherwise, is a modern version of the kingdom of the mythical, wounded Fisher King described in Eliot’s poem. ……”

 

This post, originally written in February, was published yesterday by OTV Magazine. To read the whole post, click on this link. Enjoy.

Facing Nightmares and Healing the Wounded World

I am tired of my computer. Like many of you, I go to my email and there are 150 – 250 a day, most asking for money or to save something like, well, the air we breathe or the water we drink, or whales or forests or planned parenthood or NPR or freedom of speech or the right to vote or a public education or our children from gun violence. Nothing important. So I get caught up, reading and checking on what I read, and sign petitions, send emails, or call politicians. And before I know it, two hours have passed. It feels like days have passed.

 

And during all this time, I haven’t talked to or held one physically present human being. Except sometimes, a real person answers a politician’s phone. And we chat, or mostly I chat and say what’s on my mind or ask a question. And if the other person is polite, even if I was angry to begin with, I thank the person and wish him or her a nice day. Because I want a nice day. I want change to happen. But it hasn’t. Not yet.

 

And digital social media can be fun and helpful, but also another tremendous time drain. Several people I know have said they’re taking a temporary or permanent FB sabbatical. I understand. When I’m on social media (which I only do on my desktop, never on my phone—I do have limits), I often notice, like my friends on a sabbatical, a subtle sense of distance from myself. Especially when I look at news shares, I get impatient, and the world can feel like it’s spinning so quickly it’s about to spin out of control.

 

So I ask myself, when I feel an impulse to turn to any social media platform, “Why do I want to do this now? Is it simply habit?” Developing a pause or gap between impulse and response can give us more insight into our behavior and control. How often, once we’re on FB or wherever, do we ask ourselves: “How do I feel now? Do I feel my life has been enhanced, my compassion deepened?” Practicing mindfulness of feelings and thoughts can help reduce both media usage and anxiety, both for adults and children. In fact, without such mindfulness we can contribute to our own oppression, by undermining our ability to think clearly and feel how to create a fulfilling life.

 

But no matter how difficult it is to face, our political world is spinning, and many of us are getting dizzy and angry from it. It is not a delusion or anxiety nightmare. Our civil rights and the remnants of democracy are threatened and are quickly being taken away. The earth itself is wounded and threatened as our water, parks and public lands are sold off for the gain of a few, and the safeguards on public health and safety undermined or violated. The level of corruption and nepotism is beyond anything ever seen before in this country.

 

So, I might complain about all the emails and calls, but what I really want is Trump impeached and his policies stopped. The nightmare is real, but we can’t afford to treat it as only a nightmare. We can’t run or hide or go on a sabbatical from politics. Like the monsters from nighttime nightmares, when they’re faced, political monsters turn into frightened, vulnerable weaklings—although even weaklings can bite. Even though hearing Trump’s or Ryan’s voice might make us feel sick or angry, when we face what’s happening politically, or when we make calls, march, vote, or whatever, we can feel more of a sense of power. We can feel how much the history of the moment flows through us.

 

We can slow the spinning world and turn the nightmare into something we can work on, face, and, with the help of others, alter. The world, even though it’s wounded, can heal. So, let’s work together on healing the world and ending this nightmare.