On This Day

January 20, 2017

Today, perhaps more than any other day, the world will be watching our nation.  The world will be watching us.  With baited breath, we wonder what this new administration will bring.  Now more than ever, what we do matters.  How we respond matters.  Don’t wait; act.  Silence is tacit agreement. Speak. Loudly and often.  We cannot allow our voices to be crushed under the weight of this Brave New World.  If we don’t exercise our democratic right to raise our voices and let our representatives know our hearts, we will lose ground.  We already have.  The march to pick up lost ground begins now.

In his inaugural address, Trump said, “The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done.  No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.”

Now arrives the hour of action. Yes.  Now, and for the next four years.  Let’s be willing to put in the time and the energy to show what the heart and fight and spirit of America is really about.

Midnight in America

So… this is it.  The Obama presidency is coming to an end, and uncertainty begins at noon Eastern tomorrow.  Every presidential transition carries with it some level of the unknown – we’ve gotten to know the existing president, the media has exposed all the warts, and our opinions are set.  But positive or negative, our feelings are comfortable, because we’e had time to establish and validate them in our own way.

This transition is different in a variety of ways.  The man assuming the title of “most powerful man in the world” was a national  joke as recently as six months ago.  That same man will settle into the Oval Office with the lowest popularity rating of an incoming president in a generation, rampant conflicts of interest, and more than one investigation into his campaign’s relationship with a major foreign power.  Most of his nominees for cabinet positions not only have no experience which qualifies them for the positions for which they’ve been nominated, many of them have advocated for the removal of or filed suit against the very departments they’ve been selected to lead.

Betsy deVos, Trump’s nominee for head of the Department of Education, did not go to public school.  She did not send her children to public school, and it showed during her confirmation hearing.  She has no personal experience with federal (or even personal) financial aid.  She’s an advocate for stripping funding from public schools and moving it to charter schools.  When questioned in committee, she could not figure out the difference between measuring students on proficiency vs growth, and her response to a question about the 1975 IDEA act, which ensures that children with disabilities have the same access to a free and appropriate education as mainstream students, was this:  “I think that’s best left up to the states”.  IDEA is a Federal law.

Rick Perry, former failed presidential candidate and nominee for the head of the Department of Energy, was totally pumped to be nominated for the gig – he thought he’d be able to run around the world lobbying for the oil and gas industry.  He actually had to be briefed on what the job would entail.  And let’s not forget that he wanted to eliminate that department during his 2012 run for president, despite forgetting the department’s name, along with that whole not even knowing what it does thing.

Tom Price, a current congressman and Trump’s pick for head of the Department of Health and Human Services, is an actual physician.  He’s also under fire for purchasing stock in companies who benefited from legislation he helped pass after those purchases.  That’s a giant no-no.

There are more nominees with more issues.  But the bottom line is this:  the incoming administration is not in it for America – it’s in it for itself.  Most of these nominees will fly through confirmation, because elections have consequences.  The other side is in complete control of our government for the next two years.  What are you going to do about it?

Resist.  Peace.

Crash/Burn

The recent North Dakota Crash is representative of all that is wrong with our current political environment.  According to a recent Chapman University poll, 25 percent of those who were asked agreed—and another 7.5 percent strongly agreed—that the government is concealing what they know about the incident.

Here’s the problem:  The North Dakota Crash isn’t a real thing.  The Chapman poll referenced above is their annual Survey of American Fears, which measures the level of belief in nine different conspiracy theories.  This year, they threw in a non-existent scandal to gauge how people would respond to something that sounded “vaguely ominous”.  Sure enough, 33% of the respondents took the bait.

The survey results were posted on October 11, smack in the the home stretch of the election.  Which means that the survey was most likely conducted this past summer, while the two party conventions were taking place.  The link above is an incredibly compelling read (as are the very limited number of comments on the article), and NYMAG.COM’s analysis of the survey is also interesting.  Both the survey and the article illustrate how easy it is to distribute what has become known as “fake news”: all you have to do is write something that has enough in it to interest a certain group.  In the case of the North Dakota Crash, that would be conspiracy theorists, “Big Government” skeptics,  or people who are simply not fans of the current administration.  During the election, we had plenty of fake news about Hillary Clinton, culminating in the pizzagate doozy.

Fake news like this forces the consumer to do the research, and as we have seen, many people just aren’t motivated to do that.  And today’s revelation that the US intelligence agencies presented evidence to both Trump and President Obama indicating that Russia has intel on Trump that they could use to blackmail him is the next step in the evolution of this phenomenon:  Trump’s Twitter reaction:

trump-fake-news-twwet

So… fake news essentially helped this clown get elected – well, along with the true news that Russia took a real special liking to him (because they had the goods on him), but leaks about his penchant for hookers and golden showers are “fake news” and a witch hunt.

The 18 -month Trump presidency is going to be a nightmare.  The Pence presidency is going to be even worse.

 

And the Award Goes To…

January 9, 2017

On Sunday night at the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep was given the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award and gave what quickly became a polarizing acceptance speech.  In her speech, she exhorted everyone to hold those in power to account on this monumental eve of the changing of the guards in the United States.  She used her spotlight to call attention to our duty and responsibility to question and speak out where we see injustice and to expect our leaders to comport themselves with dignity and compassion.  In part, she said,

“This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing.  Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

The polarizing aspect of this speech is appalling to me.  I find it difficult to take exception to the idea that we should expect the powerful to use their powers for the benefit of all, rather than to use that power to bully others.  There is a flurry of conversation, however, about the fact that those ‘Hollywood types’ have no business politicizing an entertainment forum; they should just, in essence, ‘shut up and just do their jobs’.  How is it, by virtue of their chosen profession, there are people who seem to have decided that they are not entitled to their opinions?  That they are not entitled to share their opinions?  I am not a politician; I am not a legal analyst or a foreign or domestic policy expert.  I have never held a public office, and yet I am an intelligent, knowledgeable individual with valid opinions and insight.  The stakes are high, and my life, and the lives of all Americans, will be impacted by decisions and actions of our President-elect.  Therefore, my opinion matters.  My voice matters.  Why is it that someone like Meryl Streep, or even Jimmy Fallon, Golden Globes host, isn’t entitled to share their opinions as well?  Streep has a career as an actress; it’s not her sole identity.  It’s not the only thing about which she should be allowed to speak.  She is a citizen, just like you, just like me.  She happens to have a very public forum in which to share her opinions and to use her power—the power of access to audience—to speak to and for those who don’t have that privilege.  She is, in fact, modeling exactly what she wishes to see in the leader of her country:  to use her power to model the way in which power should be used in order to benefit others who don’t have a voice.  She did so with grace and clarity, without resorting to name-calling.  Trump, on the other hand, took to Twitter, which is apparently his primary means of communication, to call Streep “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood” who is a “Hillary flunky who lost big”.

Streep’s speech was a bold one, because as she was exercising her First Amendment right of free speech, she knew that she was risking losing fans who did not agree with her politics—movie goers who have the right to spend their hard-earned cash at the box office and to speak with their dollars.  She knew that she risked alienating those who did not agree with her views—and she did it anyway.  We HAVE to be willing to put ourselves on the line and speak up for what we believe in, lest our silence be taken for tacit agreement.  So as our President-elect is pushing forward confirmation hearings on a slate of appointed officials who have not yet completed the standard ethics review process, and as Senator Paul Ryan is pushing to defund Planned Parenthood, effectively limiting access to reproductive health and cancer screenings for people who are historically underserved and underrepresented, it is our responsibility to speak out, call our government representatives, and to use our forums no matter how big or small, to continue to hold our government to account.

Resolution

January 1, 2017

My default setting is optimism.  I’m a silver-lining kind of gal.  2016 tested that outlook in a number of ways.  Within my family and within my group of friends, there was personal, financial, and emotional upheaval.  With each new challenge, each new obstacle, I tried to remain hopeful.  I am practiced at seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  And for the most part, I have retained that ability.

The end of this year, however, nearly had me at my breaking point.  The election was disheartening, depressing, maddening—something that found me in new territory.  It’s hard for me to see the silver lining here, to be honest.  The divisiveness and ugliness I’ve seen speaks to a dissatisfaction that has been given voice in an environment that is designed to nurture and grow that ugliness.  It’s a vicious weed that threatens to overtake and choke out anything else if we turn our back on it for even a moment.

Does this sound alarmist?  Perhaps. But what I have realized is that as difficult as it may seem on any given day, we just can’t give up.  We can’t turn our backs and hope for the best.  In a world where hate is being cultivated by the man who will soon take the helm of our country, passive hope is simply not enough.  The only way we can combat the ugliness we see is to actively seek out opportunities to create positivity and unity.  Stay informed. Speak where you see injustice.  Give voice to the voiceless.  Give time, money, and energy to organizations that promote social and financial benefit to the underserved in your communities.  Make sure your local, state, and national representatives know your mind and hold them accountable to vote your conscious as your representative.  Encourage everyone you know to do the same.

This is our new year, and the beginning of a new reality in the United States.  This is the time of year it is customary to make trite and predictable resolutions that generally end in broken diet promises to the self by mid-January.  I am proposing this year that we need to make a different kind of resolution, and be vigilant about keeping this promise to ourselves.  Hope is nice; hope is a lovely sentiment.  But now, more than ever before, we need to resolve to make that hope action, and not rely on passive good feelings.  We tried that in November; it didn’t work.  If we reframe what hope looks like, we have a chance at change—a chance to right the ship.  We have the ability to find the light at the end of the tunnel.  I have a very strong feeling that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t going to come to us; we’ve got to diligently pursue it.  I’m not ready to give up my optimism.  I’m just going to have to resolve to work harder make it an active movement.  Perhaps that will result in a silver-lining after all.

Resist.

A successful resistance relies upon well-equipped troops.  If you’re here and reading this, it means you’re at least “resistance-curious”, so I’d like to offer some places you can go to become well-equipped.

First and foremost, communication with your local and state elected officials is the most direct form of democracy we have.  Regardless of where you live, Common Cause has a great, user-friendly site that will point you to contact info for your local and state elected officials.  You can argue whether it’s effective to contact our politicians at these levels, but it’s democracy at its root.  It’s our right and, increasingly, it will be our obligation.

While you’re working to hold our officials accountable, it’s important to stay informed.  There are some great liberal-leaning media avenues that focus on issues we’re concerned about (or should be), and who work to keep us aware of what’s going on not just in the opposition party, but in our own as well.  Below is an admittedly less-than-comprehensive list of cable, internet, and news resources that either lean left or are at least majority neutral in their coverage of news in general and politics specifically:

Cable
MSNBC:
All in With Chris Hayes – 5pm PT M-F.
The Rachel Maddow Show (must see TV) – 6pm PT M-F.

CNN:
Anderson Cooper 360 – 5pm PT M-F.

Blogs:
Talking Points Memo – the go-to place for liberals.  Become a Prime member for fewer trolls, more long form content.
Media Matters for America – unofficial watchdog of conservative media.  Best viewed in small doses.
Daily Kos – There’s a fair bit of handwringing and fainting couch stuff here, but also some quality reporting.

Online News (some are also available in print with subscription):
Mother Jones
The New Yorker Magazine
The New York Times
The Nation
The Atlantic

Advocacy:
Moveon.org
Planned Parenthood
Center for American Progress
A pretty complete list of advocacy groups can be found at Sourcewatch.org

Last, but not least:  the title of this post is Resist.  You’ll be seeing this word used more frequently as we move into actual, production-level Trumpism.  One of the first media figures to use that word was our old friend Keith Olbermann.  Yes, Keith is a blowhard.  Yes, he’s so hard to work with that he’s been fired from ESPN, MSNBC, and Current TV (Al Gore’s TV enterprise – now defunct).  But one thing about Keith is that he’s a passionate progressive.  And he might have found his sweet spot.  GQ has given him a podcast that started out as “The Closer“, and after the election became “The Resistance”.  Despite his checkered past, he’s come up with some of his best work for this web series.  Start from the beginning, pre-election, and binge watch every. damn. episode.

We need to be prepared to resist.  The links above are just suggestions to get you started if you’re a neophyte.  Activism, with your voice, your time, or your wallet, will help.  Holding your elected officials accountable will help.  Everything you can do to resist will help.

As Keith would say: Resist.  Peace.

Edit:  Previous version indicated that Keith was fired from Al Jazeera America.  Keith never worked for AJAM.  Although I have no doubt that he would have been fired if he had.

Public Servant? Hardly.

I continue to watch news unfold about the way in which Trump’s personal financial dealings will impact us as a collective nation, and it seems he is even less and less interested in even pretending that it matters to him what the impact will be, beyond his own bank account.  He refuses to divest himself in any meaningful way from his business empire.  Nobody’s buying, “It’s going to be run by my kids, so I will have no part in running the company.”  Throughout his campaign he held events, housed offices, and booked rooms for events at his own properties at a considerable mark-up, essentially having his campaign (public) pay his business (private) exorbitant amounts of money.  He has refused to divest himself of his reality show, where he will remain an executive producer and by extension will maintain a financial relationship with NBC, who will have to weigh broadcasting decisions, including news about the President-elect (and eventually, President) through the lens of that relationship.  He has already made quite a public showing (via Twitter, naturally) of going toe-to-toe with Boeing because of inflated costs of building Air Force One, and makes no qualms about calling out any business that he personally feels doesn’t fall in line with his bottom line.  Finally, because his youngest son is still in school, Melania and Barron will continue to live in New York, with frequent stays by Trump as well, essentially at least doubling America’s price tag for security, as a full detail will have to be maintained on a full-time basis on both coasts.  Who pays that price?  We do, of course.

Naturally, there will be arguments in favor of each of these business decisions of his.  “Why should he have to give up the empire he built?”  Well, his job now is one of public servant, though I sincerely don’t think he understands the full implication of that concept.  If one can curry favor with Trump by being willing to fork out the money to hold events at hotels he owns, there is a built-in potential for financial reciprocity in lobbying, political support, etc. there—a pay-to-play sort of relationship that will always potentially be part of the equation.  The same concept applies to NBC maintaining a financial relationship with him.  How can a media outlet, who is responsible for reporting news and being part of our checks-and-balances in the public system (no doubt that this has become a major function of our news media), maintain a semblance of objectivity in reporting negative news about someone in whom they have a great stake in helping remain financially successful?  And Boeing? Why NOT call out excessive price tags on businesses who do commerce with the government?  I get that argument—of course I do.  Except for the kind of money he is making on his own business holdings at the expense of his campaign coffers, and in future—at the expense of the American people.   Melania and her son choosing to stay in New York because of his schooling is understandable—she wants him to continue on in his current private school.  So be it.  But if I were offered a job across the country and I wanted my spouse and my kids to stay in their current location, I wouldn’t expect my future employer to foot the bill for it.  What employer would agree to such terms?  Trump knew what a win would entail, including the relocation of his family.  If that was not his intention, he himself should pay the extra cost of choosing to maintain a separate residence and all the security detail and additional expense that comes along with it—not me.  Not the American tax dollars.

You know what though?  All of the financial intertwinings of Trump and our taxpayer dollars are just the tip of the iceberg.  They are disturbing and worrisome, but in reality, only the beginning of what we must be vigilant about.  His international diplomacy policies, his human rights policies, his domestic policies—these are even more worrisome, and follow the same pattern of being in service to Donald Trump the man, and not Donald Trump the public servant.  Trump’s inability—or flat out lack of desire—to divest himself of his own personal gains for the greater good is the most problematic issue we face.  His business transactions continue to be symbolic of the greater issue at hand that should be a red flag: Donald Trump’s desire to rule this land is not—has never been—about ‘Making America Great Again’ or about ‘fixing what’s wrong’.  His desire to rule remains a desire to rule.  Period. A desire to continue to build power and wealth to the one person who matters to him—Donald.