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.

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.

The Power That Liberates vs The Power That Corrupts

Two articles in the recent Scientific American Mind (May/June, 2017), when read together, provide an extremely relevant, even fascinating insight into the situation in the world today. One is on the psychological effects of power on the powerful. The other is on self-compassion.

 

The first article was called Power Moves: Success Changes How People Think and Act—Often, But Not Always, For the Worse, by Theodor Schaarschmidt. The British politician and historian, Lord John Acton, has often been quoted as saying: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power to corrupt absolutely.” He was mostly speaking of Popes, Roman Emperors, and absolute monarchs.

 

But are the corrupting influences of power real? And if so, are they attributable to the mere fact of having power? Or is it that ruthless people are the ones most likely to search for power to begin with? The article discusses psychologist Susan Fiske’s research—as people gain influence, they change. They act more freely, with less empathy, and a reduced concern for details.

 

The research by psychologist Dacher Keltner, quoted by Schaarschmidt, adds depth to this picture. When we feel powerless, our actions are more inhibited; we are more sensitive to punishment and also the needs of others. As our influence and power increase, we become more sensitive to rewards and less inhibited. The skills needed to obtain power and to lead effectively are the ones most likely to deteriorate once we have power. The powerful tend to overestimate their skills, take greater risks, think in terms of stereotypes, and ignore outside viewpoints.

 

Further studies show the more power people get, the fewer social norms they tend to follow. They can become “Machiavellian;” they disregard moral or even legal limits and feel free to use others in their pursuit of status and advantage. According to psychologist Kibeom Lee, when Machiavellian traits combine with narcissism and psychopathy, people show less honesty and humility.

 

At first glance, it might seem from this research that empathy is somehow opposed to agency or the ability to act and assume power. Not so. In his book The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence, Keltner says it is social intelligence, the power to understand, value and advance the goals of others, that yields true power and it is involved in every relationship and interaction. Without this social intelligence we “tend to act like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal lobes” (parts of the brain critical to empathy and socially-appropriate behavior). The paradox is that we tend to “rise in power in the world due to what is best about human nature but we fall from power due to what’s worst.”

 

According to Schaarschmidt, the corrupting influence of power is slightly less likely with women, for example, whose path to power is often different than with men. As you might expect from the ubiquitous sexism in our society, women are more likely to be attacked for anything that might appear as dominating a group or asserting power, and rewarded with influence by looking out for others.

 

Self-compassion, according to the article The Self-Compassion Solution: Building On A Buddhist Principle, Psychologists Are Learning How Being Kind to Yourself Can Bolster Resilience, Buffer Against Stress and Improve Relationships, by Marina Krakovsky, means “treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would a friend.” In his research, psychologist Kristen Neff discerned three elements of self-compassion: kindness toward yourself, “paying attention to your suffering in a mindful, nonobsessive way,” and a cognitive component, where you understand that suffering is a normal part of life. Neff found that people who score high in self-compassion are less prone to anxiety and depression.

 

Krakovsky mentions the work by psychologist Juliana Breines, who found that self-compassion also helped people not get caught up in feeling their self-worth is dependent on approval by others. But Breines wondered if this diminished worry about the opinion of others would lead to a loss in motivation, as in schools. She found the opposite to be true. Students with self-compassion tended, for example, to study even more for a quiz than others.

 

And in a study with seniors, researchers led by psychologist Batts Allen found that people with self-compassion had a stronger sense of well-being. They were more mindful of what they were doing and feeling, and thus more capable of acknowledging and accepting what was true. Self-compassion apparently led to a better sense of, and valuing of, who they were.

 

Compassion in general is a readiness to act to reduce suffering. Compassion practices strengthen the insula, which is an area in the cerebral cortex of the brain, behind the frontal lobe, involved in emotional regulation, stimulating energy and focus. Compassion for self and others not only energizes us to act to relieve suffering; it energizes us to act with more awareness. It increases our ability to learn and discern what is going on. Especially when combined with mindfulness, it can help people think more clearly and critically.

 

We have this maladaptive, basically Machiavellian, idea in the U. S. that only by being selfish and ruthless can we achieve any political change; that ruthless behavior can somehow result in a “better” or more equitable world. The research on power shows the opposite to be true. And one of many reasons this idea is maladaptive is because it can undermine the motivation by ethical and empathic people to want to take political action. We have an example now of a leader whose craving for power, rewards, and status has clouded his empathy and understanding and caused political chaos, an increase in racist incidents, an undermining of democratic values, etc., etc.

 

If we want leaders who can think clearly and act with understanding, we need to learn more about the power of compassion, starting with compassion for ourselves. We need leaders trained in compassion so they can resist the distorting influence of power and more clearly empathize with and prioritize the needs of the great majority they represent, not just the rich few. The power that corrupts is power over others. The power that liberates is power over oneself. A wonderful, short novel based on the life of the Buddha, by Satish Kumar, called The Buddha and the Terrorist, makes clear the differences between these two types of power. The first is power based on opposition and so creates perpetual conflict and distrust. The second is based on understanding self and others, the power to learn and change, and thus creates trust and cooperation. And one way we can begin to advance the power that liberates is by teaching compassionate critical thinking in schools.

 

There is a Religious War Going On Most of Us Don’t Want

Our nation is involved in a religious war, one that most of us don’t want or are even aware of. However, we feel the pressure of it as an anxiety that arises when we hear, read or see news reports. It is not a war of Christians against Muslims or Jews. It is a war by fundamentalists against other fundamentalists, and fundamentalists against secularists and those who have different views on religion. The religious scholar and author, Karen Armstrong, warned us about this war years ago and we are now paying the price for not understanding her message.

 

Why call this a fundamentalist religious war? To answer this, think about what is meant by religion? This is a huge question and can be answered in many ways, but one way is to examine the roots of the word. Re means ‘back’ or ‘again.’ Ligion comes from ligare which is the root of ligament, to ‘bind’ or ‘tie.’ Yoga has a similar root, which means ‘to yoke.’ So religion is to tie back. But to what? To a set of beliefs and practices? To a shared vision of what is most important or sacred, or how to face what is most difficult? To how to live a sincere and meaningful life?

 

What is fundamentalism? It can be defined as an attempt to reach back to what is fundamental or original to a religion at its purest time. To get back to the beginning often means to tie back to a literal and “original” interpretation of scripture or to a mythical time⏤one that never existed except as a metaphor of longing. For many fundamentalists, it is the story, the interpretation, the words that make a religion unique, not the experience of transformation that might have been the root of the scripture, as illustrated by Buddha’s enlightenment or Moses and the burning bush. Since the word is sacred, anyone who speaks or acts against the literal interpretation, or even offers a different perspective, is committing a sin.

 

The leading fundamentalist religion in the US is often called Christian, and its adherents identify as Christians, but in reality I think the religion is economic. George Soros called it “free market fundamentalism.” I am probably taking his quote further than he intended. Soros was talking about those who adhere to the belief that only an unregulated market and uninhibited pursuit of self-interest can serve the common good and preserve civil liberties. The only way to be rational, according to this belief, is to be selfish and allow the “invisible hand of the market” to rule. For humans to regulate the “invisible” is to interfere with forces beyond our control.

 

This economic fundamentalism might be thought of as akin to a belief in other invisible or even supernatural forces, and might be a matter of faith, but is certainly not a rationally examined truth. It defies the preponderance of evidence. It is a religion whose priests are the wealthy and whose symbols are coins, stock, and property.

 

These fundamentalists hold up Adam Smith and Charles Darwin as two of their saintly authorities. Yet, Adam Smith said, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments: “Avarice over-rates the difference between poverty and riches: …The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions [e.g. avarice], is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so foolishly admires.” And: “…to restrain our selfish, and to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature; and can alone produce among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which consists their whole grace and propriety.” And Darwin, the scientist most known for natural selection in evolution, wrote about the importance of moral sensitivity, love, mutuality in his second book, The Descent of Man, where he talks about the application of evolution theory to humans. In fact, the systems scientist and evolutionary theorist, David Loye did a data analysis of Descent. He found “survival of the fittest” mentioned 2 times, ‘competition’ 9 times, but ‘love’ mentioned once in the index but 95 times in the book, ‘mutual aid’ 24 times, ‘sympathy’ 61 times, ‘moral’ 90 times.

 

Deregulation has not led to a utopia where everyone’s selfishness leads to everyone’s freedom and increased wealth, but, as I discussed in an earlier blog, to increasing inequity, poverty, immorality, and political chaos; to control of the political process by the financial sector, and an increasing monetization of everything— from people to the environment. As Mathieu Ricard points out in his extensively researched book, Altruism, research by scientists and several international organizations, including the UN, shows that the consequences of inequity are far reaching: “for each health care or social indicator (physical health, mental health, school success rates, …obesity, drug addiction…infant mortality, and the well-being of children in general) the results are significantly worse in countries where inequality is highest.” The US is now one of the most unequal of nations.

 

The religious fundamentalist nature of this economic belief system helps explain the difficulty many people describe trying to talk to someone who believes in this religion, when they don’t. It helps explain why believers in Mr. T hold on to their belief despite extensive evidence to the contrary, and why his supporters feel liberals and radicals talk down to them.

 

To undermine a religious belief is to undermine what is central to one’s grasp of reality. And when one thinks and feels one is in a state of war, anyone who is not a supporter is an enemy. Understanding this mentality, of a religious war, and understanding the thinking and fear behind it, is one step toward transcending and ending it. Understanding our selves more completely and how to respond with more clarity and compassion is a beginning. But ignoring it is not a good option.

 

*There are two marches coming up you might want to participate in and support, in Washington, and in local cities. There’s a March for Science, on Earth Day, 4/22, and The People’s Climate March for Climate, Jobs and Justice, 4/29.

 

**Photo of the Lion’s Gate to Mycenae, Greece.

The Central Importance of A United Resistance and Decreasing the Concentration of Wealth and Inequity

Opposing the Republican minority-elected President cannot be simply a Democratic version of “the party of No.” It cannot be concerned just with revealing lies and resisting racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and all sorts of phobias like homophobia, Islamaphobia or xenophobia, etc. To fight racism, etc., we must first unite to resist the destruction of what’s left of democracy, free speech and the freedom of the press. We need more political equity. But to accomplish that, we must also work to improve economic equity and a sense of shared humanity. In a functioning democracy, these three work together.

 

Last week, the Republican administration took things to a new level. The President spoke to Congress about “a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.” He spoke about Black History Month and ending threats to Jewish Community Centers. He spoke as if he cared about supporting “the torch of truth, liberty, and justice.” This was scary because even I wanted to hear such words from his mouth, words calling for real unity and caring. He is seemingly getting coached on how to sound reasonable while his choices and history scream otherwise. This is the same person who appointed Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General, and Steve Bannon, former head of the alt-right Breitbart News, to be his general adviser. According to an NPR program during the campaign:

 

“The views of the alt-right are widely seen as anti-Semitic and white supremacist…. They see political correctness really as the greatest threat to their liberty,” Nicole Hemmer, University of Virginia professor and author of a forthcoming book Messengers of the Right, explained on Morning Edition. “So, they believe saying racist or anti-Semitic things — it’s is not an act of hate, but an act of freedom.”

 

This is a President who called the media “the enemy of the people.” Who said protestors were not in genuine disagreement with his policies but were being paid to disrupt town hall meetings. Republican governors and legislators have followed this lead by calling for severe punishments for protestors. This administration is not about protecting America or securing jobs for people. It is about ending democracy and increasing their personal wealth. The DNC, as well as those who hate the DNC and are still fighting the Hillary vs Bernie fight, need to remember this or risk being irrelevant or worse. If we don’t unite, our very right to disagree without dire consequences will be taken from us. In fact, the very air that sustains our life might be taken from us.

 

Yet, to resist this administration successfully will mean insisting on increasing economic equity. This is the second concern. We must learn from the Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders movements, which spoke to a great majority of Americans, even to some of those who supported Mr. T. (Listen to Bernie Sander’s response to Mr. T’s address to Congress.) Most Americans desire an economy that works for all and provides jobs for the unemployed and the not satisfactorily employed. Mr. T did speak of jobs. But he did not address working conditions, guaranteed health care, and a pension, as part of a good job. He did not acknowledge the crucial role public schools can play in “leveling the playing field” and in preparing children not only for work but for all of life. All these issues are related. It is not just a job people want, but to be treated as a valuable being, with a right to meaningful work. This I think speaks to most everyone. And we need to add the right to give our children a habitable planet with a climate that readily sustains life, human, animal and insect.

 

The US, according to a report cited in Fortune Magazine in 2015, is the richest nation in the world but the most inequitable of the 55 nations studied (including European nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Columbia and Russia, etc.). If you didn’t know this, read on. If you look at the US economy, the richest 1% own 40% of the wealth. (I will be using many figures from Mathieu Ricard’s book, Altruism, published in 2015. Ricard is a Ph.d. in genetics and Buddhist teacher. His figures are well documented and seem in line with other reliable sources.) Twenty-five years ago, the top 1% owned 13% of the nation’s wealth. In 2015, Oxfam said that by the following year, 1% of the richest people worldwide will control over 50% of the world’s wealth.

 

Ricard points out that in 1880-90, J. P. Morgan said “he would never agree to invest in a company where the directors were paid over 6 times the average wage.” In 2011, the bosses were paid 253 times more. Over the last 30 years, 90% of Americans saw their incomes increase by only 15%. For the wealthiest 1%, the increase was 150%. Between 2002 and 2007, the top 1% scored over “65% of national income gains.”

 

What are the consequences of such inequality and concentration of wealth? According to Ricard and the International Monetary Fund, income inequality “slows growth and triggers financial crises.” Quoting directly from the IMF summary report (See IMF, 2015): “We find that increasing the income share of the poor and the middle class actually increases growth while a rising income share of the top 20 percent results in lower growth—that is, when the rich get richer, benefits do not trickle down…” as opposed to what many Republicans claim. Instead, concentrating wealth undermines the economy. For example, one million people with a decent income will buy more products and stimulate the economy more than one person with a billion dollars—unless he or she gives it all away to public schools or spends it on improving mass transit or such, or starts a worker managed business, for example, where the workers get a fair share of the income created and the climate isn’t undermined by its products.

 

The Citizens United decision, the worsening political situation in the US, as illustrated by 8 years of Republican Congressional refusal to compromise during the Obama administration, and the election by less than 26% of eligible voters of this Republican President (only 52% voted and Mr. T. received less than half of those), are all direct results of increasing the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Mr. T is trying even now to reduce even further the input of Democrats and any who oppose him. When was the last moment in American history that the vast majority of citizens were so excluded from the formal political process? Was it before the 19th amendment was passed granting women’s suffrage? Or was it before the civil war, before the 13th amendment was passed ending slavery? Or was it before the revolution, when the colonies were ruled by a monarch? Is this the time of greatness the Republicans say they yearn for?

 

The price the US pays for this inequality is immense. Ricard provides data from scientific research and several international organizations, including the UN, which show that “for each health care or social indicator (physical health, mental health, school success rates, …obesity, drug addiction…infant mortality, and the well-being of children in general) the results are significantly worse in countries where inequality is highest.”

 

Is it any wonder that there can’t be a democracy if 1% of the people own so much of the wealth? The rich can buy power, occupy the media, and intervene in the judiciary. Just look at Betsy DeVos, who contributed thousands to the coffers of Republican Senators—but did those Senators who were paid by DeVos recuse themselves, or were even asked by fellow Senators to recuse themselves, from voting for her nomination to Education Secretary? Conservatives argue that the rich have the freedom to use their wealth. But what happens when one person’s freedom prohibits that of another, or of many, many others?

 

For too many people, the acquisition of wealth is fast becoming the primary value of life. Other people are no longer thought of as fellow breathing, feeling beings; other species and the world itself⏤all are thusly reduced to being valued only in terms of the wealth they can be used to produce. Compassion, respect—these just interfere with what’s “truly important.” Long term or big picture issues—not important except to the degree they guarantee increased wealth. This is the third area of concern, our sense of a shared humanity and a judiciary that could preserve equity and justice in the law.

 

It is mainly for this reason people feel threatened, Democrat or Republican, Leftist or Conservative. So many of us value family, love, companionship, compassion, fairness, the beauty of the earth, a sense of meaning in life, maybe a sense of a spiritual or religious dimension. The importance of all these values is now threatened. The acquisition of immense wealth is becoming the religion of the rich, turning the rich into a great threat to the lives of the vast majority of Americans, and to the overwhelming majority of people worldwide.

 

**Photo by Kathy Morris.

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Undermining the Public (In Order to Rip Us Off?)

Yesterday, Mr. T spoke to members of the National Sheriffs Association and said: “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” According to the Washington Post, he blamed the news media for not publicizing this development, and then added, “But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years.” But according to the Post, Politifact, and the FBI, this claim by him is clearly false. In 1980, the murder rate was 10.2 per 100,000 residents. In 2014 it was 4.4. In 2015, it did go up to 4.9, less than half of the 1980 rate. Violent crime in America in general has gone down. But not in the America Mr. T sees. He sees, or tries to get us to feel, that the rate is going up. Why? To create fear. To create a sense of society falling apart so he can ride in and save us.

 

Likewise, on 2/6 Politifact reported on Mr. T’s comment that the US news media, regarding terrorist attacks, are “dishonest” and it has “gotten to the point where it’s [terrorist attacks are] not even being reported.” He tells us that there is so much more extremist violence happening and we are not safe. But, of course, the violence committed by Muslims from other nations is being constantly reported, maybe even too much. And, as Democracy Now, CNN, and other respected media report, if there isn’t any violence, Mr. T and his associates will lie or manufacture “fake news” to make us think there is. For example, Kellyanne Conway talking about a “Bowling Green Massacre” that never took place. Why? To create a sense of distrust in the media and a fear of the other, of other people, of our society falling apart so he, or HE, can ride in to save us.

 

But he has no plans to save anyone. In fact, this is the same strategy started in the Reagan administration to undermine public schools. Diane Ravitch argued in her book Reign of Error that different corporations, working with political institutions and individual politicians, are leading an effort to undermine public schools by undermining teachers, teacher unions, and the very concept that a public institution working for the general good, instead of a for-profit corporation, can successfully manage and direct an educational system.

 

The strategy calls for publicizing deceptive and often inaccurate information to create a sense of a crisis in education so corporations can step in and save the day. For example, A Nation At Risk, a report issued by the Reagan administration in 1983, claimed public education and teachers were responsible for everything from a declining college graduation rate to the loss of manufacturing jobs. It said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” It said graduation rates, SAT scores, etc. were decreasing—all later proved untrue. According to Edutopia and government statistics, Academic achievement from 1975 to 1988 was actually improving, and not only for middle class white Americans. The divide in academic achievement between rich and poor, white and African-American, Latino, Native-American, was diminishing. But the A Nation At Risk report was just the beginning. Betsy DeVos and the destruction she might wreak is the end result.

 

In 2007, Naomi Klein wrote The Shock Doctrine. Klein’s book argued that when people feel they are in a crisis, they support doctrines, policies, laws that they never would have supported otherwise. Crises can be of all kinds; economic, public health, national security, education. Mr. T. is shocking. He is creating a crisis so he, with the help of some large corporations and his billionaire buddies, can step in and sell the solution.

 

As I said in an earlier blog, we live in relationship with others and our world. This relationship, and our very lives, is more fragile than we like to recognize. If society falls apart, it is not so easy to piece it back together. Mr. T is not a populist working for the common good, but someone working to undermine the sense of relationship that underlies a society and then reconfigure it to fit his interests. By favoring the very few over the whole, his policies undermine the public good and he weakens and isolates himself and his cohorts ever further from everyone else. His delusion and hunger for power threatens every person, maybe every living being on this planet.

 

Only by understanding even those you oppose can you fight them. Only by working to create a society that prioritizes relationships that are mutual, inclusive, caring, and honest can we, as a species, live well, and possibly, live at all.

 

*For information on a foiled white supremacist terrorist plan to massacre African-Americans and Jewish people in Bowling Green, Ohio, see ProPublica post.

Is Truth Now Illegal?

We have to study Dictators and reread books like 1984. Since the election, so many people have been coming to this realization that maybe this is now obvious, but I will say it anyway: Once again, a would-be dictator is trying to impose thought control. As we’ve witnessed over the last week, the new administration has been taking steps to prevent agencies like the EPA from sharing climate information with the public. They have gone from claiming global warming is a hoax, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to destroying that evidence. Our fearless leader doesn’t like the fact that Hillary got more popular votes than he did, so he will now start an investigation to find all those illegal voters who supposedly preferred his opponent. He doesn’t like the photos negatively comparing the size of the crowd at his own inauguration to President Obama’s, so he claims the photos were altered and information distorted. He doesn’t like a CNN reporter questioning him, so he tries to prevent the reporter from speaking. He doesn’t like people protesting his policies and statements, as with the Women’s March, so he sends out his press secretary to deny what occurred, and Republican legislators in 5 states try to make it illegal to peacefully protest.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell, 1984.

This is both laughable and frightening. The consequences of such actions can be disastrous. He may try to imprison truth, but truth can be slippery and easily escape, to take revenge on him and on all of us. Any statement about ‘truth’ is a statement about reality. Our daily lives depend on how well we discern it. We depend on scientific information, for example. Will he next outlaw the weather forecast? It, too, is based on climate science. Will he stop the use of climate information from going to cities and towns on the coasts that could be used to prepare for sea level rise? Will he try to stop information going to medical researchers about the harmful effects of air pollution and thus cause the death of many children or cause more lung and breathing problems in our population?

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” George Orwell.

Our economy is dependent on science. Creating new technologies can be a rich source of new jobs, but if scientific research is interfered with and access to it restricted, our economy will falter.

“We are not interested in the good of others. We are interested solely in power, pure power.”

“Power is in tearing human minds apart and putting them together again in shapes of your own choosing.”

In whatever area of life you look at, restricting information, restricting science, making up reality to fit your vision of power, puts everyone at risk. You try to lock away truth when you fear it. Since truth is about what is real, he is trying to lock away reality so none of us, including himself, can perceive it. I think he is doing this not only so he has free reign to do as he pleases without being held accountable, but so he doesn’t have to see what he is.

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

This is 1984. But we don’t have to allow ourselves to be infected by this vision of the world. “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Schools, news media, social media, people passing on the street, gatherings, demonstrations: perceiving and telling the truth, “speaking truth to power,” is now a revolutionary act.

 

*Journalists have also been arrested for covering last week’s protests. Please do not forget these journalists.