Acid for Children by Flea – Book

Acid for Children by Flea – Book

Rock stars, punk stars, even hip hop stars are being pressured to write memoirs. Patti Smith has sort of taken the literary world by storm – she’s next on my list, but Flea’s book called to me first because it was on the reader that didn’t need to be charged. Ridiculous way to pick reading priorities and likely to make you feel like your brain has experienced whiplash, but I can no longer cart around heavy piles of books, and library waiting lists are long. Besides writers make their living when we buy their books, so I like to buy books to show my respect for writers.

Michael Balzary, the bassist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote Acid for Children. His fans know him as Flea. He’s actually quite a good writer whose words do not get in the way of his story. It seemed like I was sitting in a circle of his friends on an adjoining mattress on the floor of the Wilton Hilton as he told the story of his early years, before he became famous. He told the most distressing things as if they were normal events, although he was aware that his childhood was anything but normal. It began in a fairly normal way in Australia, living with mom, Patricia, and Dad, Mick, sister Karyn. In Australia Michael’s pleasures involved enjoying the riches offered by nature in Australia; a boy and his dog. When he was about eight his Dad was offered a great job in the US and the family moved to an upscale suburban home.

Michael’s mother rebelled. She left to live with Walter, a musician/artist who knew many jazz greats and jammed with them, but who could not make a living. He had a substance abuse problem and what was probably a mental illness. He was though, when sober, a far more affectionate person than Michael’s birth father, and when not sober he raged and became abusive and fought with Michael’s mom, driving Michael out of the house. Michael’s birth father and his sister went back to Australia.

Patricia and Walter had no house rules. Michael was free to run and became basically a wild young kid, shoplifting what he wanted or needed, making friends with other young men who liked to take crazy risks, all the while feeling unloved, and sometimes unlovable. Michael and his friends tried every drug, swam in every beckoning empty pool, and partied constantly. I do not know how Michael stayed out of jail or why he didn’t have a long rap sheet of petty crimes. He seemed to make it through a very tumultuous coming-of-age and to arrive safely in adulthood, still somewhat messed up, but with a career as a famous musician right ahead of him.

Michael became Flea when he became the bassist for Fear. He finished high school thanks to a love of music he had learned from the jazz he loved and all the fine jazz musicians he met at Walter’s shabby house. Michael played the trumpet in high school and his love of music kept him in school long enough to graduate. Michael and his friends lived in Hollywood which might explain how they stayed under the radar of law enforcement as they used the city as their acid-fueled playground. Eventually Flea learned to play the bass, and it became his ticket into fame and fortune.

Balzary is quite honest in telling his story; he does not hide the chaos of his early years and he obviously enjoyed much of the chaos, which suited something untamed within him. Looking back he counsels that children should not do any of the drugs he did, that it does damage to young brains. He explains that he eventually became enlightened enough to not try so hard to constantly self-soothe. Readers may find Michael Balzary’s young life too profane for their tastes. While appreciating the honesty Flea offers and his easy style of writing, I agree with his adult self, that children can be neglected by self-absorbed adults when they need oversight the most. Is a chaotic youth necessary to mold a creative spirit? Perhaps creative development does not require quite this level of free range parenting.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Radio X

Trump Effects on School Bullying

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently conducted a survey of a wide array of American public schools about bullying. They have published their results in a PDF and also in a non-PDF format.

What they found from educator reports is that school bullying, always a problem, had taken a Trumpian turn. Students and even teachers were cited for attacks on minorities, immigrants, Muslims and many of these attacks invoked Trump by name. “Trump is building a wall to keep you out.” “Trump will ban all Muslims and deport you.” “Trump will send all black people back to Africa.” Some teachers teach that Trump is a good man and they do not report children for using xenophobic and racist taunts. Children feel threatened and find little support from administration. Children have had to transfer schools and get counselling.

Here are some of the findings of the SPLC, an admittedly left-leaning organization fighting racism and xenophobia for decades. I know that we often hear truths called ‘biases’ these day, but that does not matter. This organization has paid its dues and done the work and kept our attention on discrimination and unfairness and injustice, a mission that is even more important now.

“Here are the highlights: from the Southern Poverty Law Center survey:

  • More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students—mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
  • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
  • More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.”

We also know that questions in a survey can be designed to elicit data that reflects the bias of the organization doing the questioning, but there is also anecdotal evidence published in this article and in a Washington Post article to back up the claims that Trumpian-style bullying is on the increase in our schools.

From the Southern Poverty Law article:

“Students do not understand why this has become such an angry and dishonorable campaign. They are taught better behavior by their teachers, and then they see this mess on TV and are confused.”

Omak, Washington

“Openly racist statements towards Mexican students have increased. Mexican students are worried.” Anaheim, California

“Students have become very hostile to opposing points of view, regardless of the topic. Any division now elicits anger and personal attacks.” Jefferson, Georgia

From the Washington Post article:

“… a 2016 online survey of over 10,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than 2,500 “described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric,” although the overwhelming majority never made the news. In 476 cases, offenders used the phrase “build the wall.” In 672, they mentioned deportation.”

At first I wondered why TV media did not pick up this story and make a bigger deal of it. That would be the normal way to behave. But then I remembered that times are anything but normal. Making this a prominent story in the media might escalate the bullying and the threat level. It is also entirely possible that since the source of the story is the Southern Poverty Law Center it could be dismissed as left wing propaganda too easily. Regardless of the reason, the import of this data about school bullying is just another aspect of many ‘fascist’ influences in Trump’s America. Sadly the only remedy we have to change the national dialogue rests on the 2020 election which the media is turning into a anti-Democratic Party field day. While it is true that the Democrats seem to be in some disarray, each of the Democrats has policies that could change the script from pleasing billionaires to meeting the needs of we the working people. And a primary is a contest. I wish the media did not have to go all sensationalist to attract reader/watchers. This will be a very consequential election indeed. Our children are at stake.

John Katko: Mr. Perfect or Flawed Human

John Katko, District 24NY Representative to the US House of Representatives, announced the other night on the news that he was bringing home $11m in grants for use in addressing the housing problems poor Central New Yorkers face. Some of the money will go to the city of Syracuse and some to Onondaga County. Of course, this is good news. In 2015 the Century Foundation published an article called “The Architecture of Segregation” which showed the role that being unable to own a house played in robbing poor people, especially poor black people of generational wealth. Redlining kept black folks in center cities that were losing their tax base as white people moved to the suburbs, and real estate companies found ways to keep black people from following them to more prosperous areas with better schools. It was racism that affected the pocketbooks and bank accounts of those who were denied mobility, who remained in crumbling inner city neighborhoods where the equity in any property people owned there declined as housing prices fell. Pioneer Homes (pictured above), the oldest housing at the heart of the city of Syracuse, was built in 1941 and is still fully occupied.

When children do not see way to join a society that seems to be thriving all around them but does not seem to offer them a way in, they begin to dream about ways to make it rich quick. Those who want to choose a legal route dream of succeeding in professional sports or in music. Those who see friends who seem to have found ways to stay local and strike it rich, are attracted by less legal role models, and by gangs which seem like families who have your back no matter what. A few kids are lured into success through academics, and when community programs came along that guarantee college funding to kids who do well in school the numbers improved. But we all know that school success is not always a path to riches, and unless you are born into a wealthy family wealth is certainly not likely to come instantly. Not having college debt speeds things up a bit. Hope is a tender thing, easily killed in harsh surroundings. The same gangs that offered support to members made inner city communities dangerous places that did not encourage the academic route, and tended to bully ‘nerds.’

To deal with gangs cities went the route of tough law enforcement, getting gang members off the streets and into jail. RICO laws made sure that gang members got long sentences. But retribution and vengeance are fostered more often by long jail sentences and gangs seem to stick and stay alive almost in defiance of law and order approaches. I am a law and order appreciator. Cultures that are not lawful and orderly soon disintegrate into thuggery and chaos. But there has to be something hopeful about administering justice in cities.

Throwing people in jail, letting them out after time served, seems to mostly produce reoffenders, anger, and unhappy communities where residents hold vengeful feelings in their hearts. It is an endless negative loop and it is wasteful. It allows us to consider some people beyond redemption, as throwaways. People who only wish to inflict harm cannot be tolerated; people who are so addicted to drugs that they will do any crime to support their needs are also menaces to peaceful enjoyment of a neighborhood or a city or even a home. But I firmly believe that we can find more creative ways to short circuit reoffenders than simply sending them back to jail over and over. We can reach people if we find the right carrot, the one that will fire up the light in their eyes and make them want to do something new. As for addicts we can either set up programs that allow someone to feed their addiction regularly, or we can set up enough rehab programs to get people off drugs and, at the same time, find the pursuit in life that will serve as their carrot.

Well, right there in a nut shell is my beef with John Katko. He is a law and order man. He does not think about wasting human beings and providing hope. He believes that when people are bad you punish them and this teaches them to not do whatever they did again. Except we know that punishment only works in a very few cases. Using a stick without a carrot fosters anger and resentment, deep resentment that erodes the ability to hold hope for a better life in your heart.

Plenty of people have studied the efficacy of using praise or using blame to encourage changed behavior and praise works better every time. It can’t be false praise. Finding what fires up the furnace in each person is not easy. Public schools are notoriously bad at it unless you are fired up by academics. Even if you are, the chaos in an individual’s life can make the pursuit of academics unrewarding. Why haven’t we, with all our knowledge, our brain power, figured out how to stimulate the imaginations of diverse populations of students? Why are kids still sitting in armed desks in neat alphabetical rows? Some of it is about money and safety. Some of it is about control. Some of it is about institutionalization. If certain schools can find ways to click with kids of all stripes, more schools could do the same. John Katko most likely thinks this is unrealistic and that ‘softness’ will increase violence rather than counteract it. But I think that using praise and blame together might be worth trying. Creative approaches to educating kids in the poorest neighborhoods would be well worth the extra cash they would cost. There are plenty of intelligent minority professionals in inner cities who could be trusted to design programs that entice participation, using their familiarity with poorer residents to best effect.

So, John Katko, a rather inflexible, stern and all-knowing Mr. Law and Order, brings money home and it is for housing. He brings $11 m, which sounds like a lot but probably isn’t, and that money is divvied up among several agencies with differing missions, although all related to housing. Katko is given this money to bring home just in time to help him get reelected. We are all grateful for the money, but the timing is certainly suspect. And as long as Katko remains Mr. Law and Order and does not have any more creative dimensions to his approach to stubborn poverty and crime in city neighborhoods, to students who come to school with life problems that make academic pursuits seem like ‘baby stuff’, the cycle of street to jail and back is likely to continue uninterrupted. More, much more is called for.

Syracuse recently competed for a tech grant with 250 cities and won one of only a few grants. The grant is for $3m and comes from a big unnamed bank. It is paid out over three years and cannot be used by the city for other initiatives. It must be used to plan and deliver tech skills to inner city residents. Here is some hope. Two pools of money to spend on our inner city. May it be spent as it should be. The money could make a difference.

As for John Katko, don’t send him back to Congress. We can do better. He is no Mr. Perfect; he is flawed human just like the rest of us, but we can see that his particular flaws may be a lack of compassion and imagination.

Photo Credit: Pioneer Homes, Syracuse.com

In the Run-Up to an Election, Who Does That

In the Run-Up to an Election, Who Does That

Trump obviously feels invincible. He is beyond us all now. He is at the heights he has always dreamed of, but it has not made him nice. He believes that he must use fear to stay there, he must use audacity, and that is something he is really good at. Audacity can be a positive trait that allows risk-taking and pushes a forward agenda, such as a successful business. But in Trump’s case he has the audacity to break laws, to defy even the most gentle of authorities such as his nation’s traditions which never before had to be set into laws. Staying within some of these informal boundaries was a sort of gentleman’s agreement (also respected by ladies). But Donald J Trump is no gentleman, nor does he want to be one. He is a fascist. He is always punching back even when that is not the best strategy. He can’t help himself. He sees every disagreement as an attack. He sees every decision that goes against his wishes as turning him into a victim. He plays the victim well in order to get his way, but once he wins, he is ruthless. If he loses, which he rarely does, he engages in brutal retaliation. He seems to have a cruel heart, but he really has no empathy of any kind. His reactions are all about what he is feeling and how he can soothe himself. He cannot hide his emotions. He likes that his moods are carefully observed by everyone and that people try to keep him happy so he won’t lash out.

But even so, even though we know all of this about him, it is still unusual that he is acting the way he is in the run-up to an election. Meddling in the business of the Justice Department is not usual. Transparently interfering in courts, their processes and their outcomes is just not done. Doing this to keep crooked men out of jail because you like them, or because they are your friends; because they kept the loyalty oath they swore to you (knowing you would come to their rescue), because they refused to testify in front of lawful investigations of a Special Prosecutor is something that is usually done on the down low (or not at all). Doing this so openly in an election year is really, really rare. It suggests that you are so certain that you will be reelected that you do not need to worry about what you do, even this close to an election. Is Trump unable to keep himself in check to achieve a greater goal? Is he playing to his base to show how he treats those who are loyal to him? Is the election already a done deal, is the fix in? Will the electoral college math, the Evangelical machinations, and the Republican dehumanization of the Democrats make a Republican the winner of all presidential elections for decades to come, even though this is no longer a majority party. Trump obviously believes it is all about him, that his people love him so much, and the economy is doing so well that he has a blank check for any behavior that secures his tenure in his little Oval Office fortress.

He purges sincere civil servants who work in his government for testifying against him. Actually he eventually purges almost everyone. He turns in a budget that would not go into effect until after the election that makes big cuts to social programs. He wants the Supreme Court to declare the Affordable Care Plan unconstitutional. He reverses clean water protections. What candidate for President, even an incumbent does these kinds of things this close to an election. Presidents often try to do as little as possible and make statements about ‘gifts’ that will accrue to the people if they vote to elect. Why does making such counterintuitive moves seem to make Trump even more ‘Trumpy’? He had to hold an entire party in Congress in thrall to escape being impeached. Now he is putting ‘the band’ back together to help him win this election but I bet he will not listen to any advice from these old pals, like Hope Hicks. Of course, she obviously knows her way around the Trump. I would like to think that Donald is just being overly confident, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we are screwed. And that is exactly what Trump wants me to think. We need to put our energies into making sure that Donald’s cavalier behavior in the run-up to 2020 is just hype.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Nati Harnik – AP – NBC News

999 by Heather Dune Macadam – Book

If you decide to read 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune Macadam, read it with a whole box of tissues handy. This is not because, as in fiction, authors know how to engage our emotions; this is a nonfiction book and the tears will be real. Despite all the times authors have written about the Holocaust, this story still has the power to horrify us, to remind us of the heroic efforts it took to survive this unimaginable cruelty and brutality, to make us wonder if we would have been a survivor, and to force us to accept that the right set of circumstances could possibly turn any one of us into a monster.

Macadam was studying the first transports to Auschwitz in 1942. She learned that a notice went out in Slovakia that spring requiring 999 young teen girls to pack a bag and report for a physical exam. The notice said that they were going to be employed somewhere just outside Slovakia and would return home in 3 months. A few parents tried to hide their daughters because they could not understand why the government was taking girls. But in the end 997 girls were collected and parted from their parents and from all they knew. Macadam made extensive use of the USC Shoah Archive and the official records in Israel to track down the girls who survived this first transport. Although rumor had it that the girls were going to a shoe factory, they actually were taken to occupy the first buildings at Auschwitz. Their small suitcases were confiscated and they were given the uniforms of dead soldiers to wear and some were given black and white striped dresses. On their feet they had homemade clumsy sandals which they called clackers.

Some of the survivors could not talk about their experiences, some could not remember the details because their minds had blocked them, but there were survivors who felt it was important to tell people what had happened in those camps. How anyone survived I cannot say. The treatment of these girls was insane and inexplicable, apparently only possible because the Nazi’s were convinced that Jewish people were less than human. But they did what they did under conditions of great secrecy, so clearly they knew well how the world would judge them. After these girls, transport after transport of young Jewish women were delivered to Auschwitz, and they, in fact, cleared the ground for the entire concentration camp by hand, without coats in winter, in those awful homemade sandals, and thousands died.

This is the most authentic book I have read so far about Auschwitz and the ‘Final Solution’ given that Macadam spoke with people who had lived there and experienced that nightmare. The slightest small misstep, a bout of illness, an injury could result in death. Eventually the girls with the lowest numbers were given indoor work in Canada, which was the name given to the buildings where confiscated Jewish belongings were sorted. This decision may have been the only reason some of these girls survived. The thing that saved their lives put them right next to the crematoriums which had now been built and operated day and night when transports arrived, eventually leaving people off almost at the entrance to the ovens. The girls could see their relatives and neighbors lined up to be killed. The ashes of other Jews filled the air they breathed. Even the comfort of an indoor job held horror.

When I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, I was skeptical of the things the author recounted. I also tended to see Jewish people in the camps who had light duty as possible collaborators. The girls who survived have a lot of guilt about things they did in the camps, but most of them offered a kindness when they could without putting their own life or their own survival in jeopardy. There were girls who were given power as a building supervisor, and some of these girls were dangerous and mean, but the things the girls on this first transport out of Slovakia felt guilty about were unavoidable. Now I believe that Heather Morris was just recounting a story that a survivor told her and that it was most likely as trustworthy as memories of such trauma can be. I read books about the Holocaust because it is the least I can do to honor those who lived through those inhuman camps. But also, so I will always remember that if one deranged human could decide to commit mass murder based on hate or jealousy, or some pathological construct, then it could happen again.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – goodreads.com

My Despair: Who’s Using Who?

Trump’s party, his cohort, those who are supposed to ‘have his back’, have actually done Trump a great disservice. Republicans, you know this man. You know you have now unleashed him so he can continue to be used by you so you can hold on to your tenuous grasp on power. I can hear you laughing because you feel very secure in your power right now, but you have chosen a dark road and in the end people choose the light. Trump thinks he is using you, but he is also being used. He knows this – why do you think he uses threats rather than genuine camaraderie to relate to you, the Congressional Republicans.

You have all scored body blows against your opponents, humiliated us, shocked us, took pleasure in your twisted “wins”, and then turned around to do it all over again. Did you really refuse to impeach Trump in order to back Trump, or did you do this because you have begun to thrive on destruction? You gain a sick pleasure at the pain of those who do not agree with you. You have learned the trick of “dehumanization,” used whenever one group of people wants to discount another group of people. But animating a puppet president because he has a mental disorder that allows him to get your dirty work done, because his egomania, his narcissism drives him, is wicked, it’s wrong, it’s gross.

The actions of Congressional Republicans are shameful. You could have ended this macabre dance and you didn’t. We watched you sitting in those ballroom seats like pod people in empty suits (and dresses) clapping and laughing as your master/puppet spewed hate and vengeance. You may even win the next election but you will win nothing worth having. You will be governing an entity that no one can recognize as the United States of America. History won’t just condemn the record of Donald J. Trump. You will always be right there with him. You could have freed Trump, sent him off the Mar-a-Lago to live out his days enjoying chocolate cake and golf, and maybe even his family; or to put his brand on Trump Moscow. You could have saved the Republic at the same time, but you refused.

Obviously, the Republican Party no longer cares for our republican form of government and will use this unloved and unlovable media monster of a man to help turn our government into something else – an oligarchy, a corporate state, a dictatorship, a monarchy, a theocracy. And not one of these forms of government will be benign, having been birthed in calculation, greed, selfishness, and false pride. And although you think you control this man, he also thinks he controls you, and he may, one day soon, find you unnecessary. What use does he have for a Congress? The body will be there as stage dressing. You have given this destroyer absolute power. Nothing good can come from that. You just gave up any control you might have had. The depths to which you are willing to sink determine that what you will create will inspire no one, will lack any pretension to idealism. Good may arise out of evil but not because it was the original intent, only as a response to something repulsive. It is still shocking to think that you have taken our nation to this place. Readers of this may find it too extreme, but I believe that what happens now will bear me out. I hope I am wrong.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Washington Post

Trump and Our Water

Lonely plant in the parched earth submerged in the ocean Some graphics in this image is provided by NASA and can be found at http:/photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18033; To create a file was the program used Photoshop CS5. The image created by 31.08.2013

Trump’s SOTU address was designed to humiliate Democrats and lift up his sycophants and he certainly accomplished that. Trump is extra, special good at humiliation. Perhaps this is a new trait we look for in our Presidents now. He chooses minions who are equally good at dehumanizing their enemies, who just happen to be anyone sneeringly referred to as a “liberal.” Soul-sucking may be a dominant feeling we will need to steel ourselves against over the next four years if Democrats don’t win in 2020. But bouts of abject depression are not our worst worry. An article in The Daily Beast this morning talked about what Trump has been up to while we were tuned into his impeachment.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/here-are-the-terrible-things-trump-did-that-you-might-have-missed-in-the-midst-of-impeachment

Trump put our access to fresh water in even more jeopardy than it was already in, Margaret Carlson tells us.

“He moved to poison the country’s water and pollute its air, allowing emissions even greater than the auto industry had asked for, and lifting the ban on toxic chemicals like PFAS. You might have missed the change to runoff rules that over time will turn every city into Flint, where the water is so toxic its residents had to bathe in Evian. The Environmental Protection Agency, so-called, has reopened negotiations with cities, including the nation’s capital, to allow them to dump raw sewage into its rivers until they can afford to upgrade their sewers.

Last Thursday, the same agency finalized a rule to strip protection for streams, wetlands and groundwater, to the pleasure of real estate developers and fossil-fuel producers. It’s all part of Trump’s crusade to remove all traces of Obama and to repeal or weaken nearly 100 environmental rules and laws on climate change, clean air, chemical pollution, coal mining (the head of the EPA is a former coal-mining lobbyist), and oil drilling—soon to be happening in a national forest near you. His support for the Trillion Trees Initiative, proposed by the World Economic Forum in Davos, will hardly compensate.”

Trump is dangerous because he poses a threat to our republic/democracy. We know this and we are trying to fight it, however unsuccessfully. But the threat to our water supply is far more existential. We cannot survive without fresh water. Some places in the world have always been deserts, where water was so scarce that life was only able to keep a tenuous hold on the land, people had to move from oasis to oasis in order to be able to trade for goods they could not make or grow. These problems have been somewhat ameliorated by cities that have better transport options and can even supply locations in the hinterlands. However, the news still brings us pictures of places where unstable water supplies, or impure fresh water make life a hardscrabble proposition. Recently there was an article about a town in India that had completely run out of fresh water.

Obviously freshwater resources are not equally distributed in America. In our own desert places water runs when it rains and dries up when rain is scarce. Some of our rivers have been tamed by damming until they are mere shadows of what they once were. We are surrounded by oceans full of water, but it is all salty; we can’t drink it. Given that people now understand that when their water runs out there are still people on the planet who have enough water, we will either have to share our water (which people will be unlikely to do), or we will have water migrants roaming the planet to find a place to live with plentiful fresh water, or we will have water wars. Think about how aggressive America might become if our own water became undrinkable.

Water is a closed system. We do not manufacture water. The planet has a water cycle so that water moves around, is picked up in one place and put down in another, but the water cycle does not distribute water equally. The water cycle does seem to be able to take water out of oceans without taking the salt. Too bad this trick is beyond our means. There is no extra water being created in space and hosed down on the planet. If we make our freshwater toxic, we rob the system of water that cannot be replaced and, most likely cannot be cleaned. Every time we put an oil or gas pipeline over a freshwater aquifer or reserve there is a chance we could contaminate water that serves thousands or even millions. We should not be taking these kinds of chances with our fresh water. Our president is a wrecking ball.

Let’s talk about water in the campaign against Trump. Let’s make ads that show what could happen if we lose our fresh water or if water gets scarce somewhere else while Trump’s immigration bans forces more people to migrate, always to Europe, never to America. Things could go catawampus pretty quickly. Besides, we need a message to counter Trump’s new ‘victims of socialism’ ads which were also announced in today’s papers.

 

 

 

Republicans Attacks on Election Validity

Undermining American Elections

In the last decade Republicans began to claim that all kinds of people were voting who were not registered, who were undocumented, who were deceased, in other words that there was massive voter fraud. They claimed that elections were skewed by huge numbers of disenfranchised voters who were casting votes and that these voters were Democrats. Studies proved these claims to be unfounded.

I had always trusted our elections and felt our system of registering voters and counting votes worked pretty well. At least until the Gore-Bush contest and the hanging chads and the decision by the Supremes in favor of Bush I continued to feel smugly that this was one area in which America excelled – free and fair elections.

Many black Americans would feel that my naiveté arises from my position of entitlement, given the struggles with voting that still challenge voters of color even today, voters who remember very well that their fairly recent ancestors could be killed for trying to exercise their right to vote. We do tend to generalize that the entire nation conforms to whatever behavior we see locally, which offers us a very unscientific sample from which to pull our more general assumptions about America.

Over the past decade, since I began paying closer attention to national politics, I have noticed that whatever the Republicans say Democrats are doing; that is actually what the Republicans are doing. So when they implied that Democrats were using unqualified voters to win at the polls, the GOP made Americans paranoid about the validity of our elections, so that Republicans could mess with elections without anyone raising an alarm.  They gerrymandered districts to make some key districts reliably Republican. But we were reminded that both parties have used this process to skew the vote in given key districts for years. (Nothing to see here.)

The Voting Rights Act had long required that states that changed their election rules to disenfranchise black voters must get “preclearance” before they changed election laws in the future. On the fiftieth birthday of the Voting Rights Act this “preclearance” section of the Voting Rights Act was declared unnecessary and it was dropped. Actions in the states by Republicans soon proved how very necessary this preclearance process really is even now. Republican-controlled state governments soon began their campaign to block minority votes, once again, even though their target this time was the Democratic Party, because not all minorities are black these days and minorities tended to vote Democratic. Polling places were eliminated making getting to the polls more difficult. Polling days and times were rolled back. Some states wanted to require IDs to vote.

Republicans began reviewing and removing (purging) voters from the rolls in the states whenever state voting officials would comply with their wishes. Republicans won Citizen United v the FEC giving corporations unlimited influence in voting. Then they made it clear that Republicans did not believe in regulating corporations or the environment so they were the most corporate-friendly party. They allied with Evangelicals when they became aware of the machine these religious organizations had assembled to turn out Republican votes, right down to household level.

We may have believed it could not get any worse and that just by copying Republican and Evangelical get-out-the-vote methodologies we could set things right. But now, in this twisted impeachment trial we find that our elections have been opened up to any and all foreign intervention. Our elections just went global (so much for the great isolationist). America First really means Trump first and the Republicans are now simply along for the ride.

Evangelicals hold nonprofit status. They file 501c4’s with the IRS claiming this status. They are allowed to educate the public, but they are not supposed to be political, especially not partisan. As the Republicans try to get political speech approved for churches in the courts, in practice these nonprofit religious groups already contribute big dollars to political speech in the form of ads, pamphlets, canvassing, and even preaching from the pulpit that God favors a certain candidate (a Republican candidate). I’m sure this will all turn out to be perfectly fine with the courts (now stuffed with conservatives) and 501c4’s will get to speak for free and also sway elections. These groups have been known to pay for political ads, now they are paying voters, in the name of charity of course.

Democrats can’t follow Republicans into these methodologies, nor would we want to. Dems consider soliciting foreign help in an election to be unconstitutional and now that they impeached a president for this behavior they certainly cannot turn around and condone it, even if they wanted to. All Dems can do is try to block foreign intervention and call it out whenever they see it.

There are perhaps Democratic 501c4’s who violate their nonprofit status by electioneering, but the Democratic Party does not have a populous movement like the Evangelicals/Fundamentalists to use God to compel votes as the Republicans do. Evangelicals consider themselves guardians of conservative values. Republicans did not have nearly the rural Talk Radio presence that Evangelicals have, but Evangelicals were happy to put it to use on their behalf, thus tipping the scales in the Electoral College towards rural voters. By constantly demonizing “coastal elites” they created a divide between Americans based on population and geographical location, as if people choose their location based on their politics. What Republicans exploited was the real difference in political preferences that have evolved in America. In other words, the divide was real, but Republicans escalated the differences, turned them into a culture war.

The lesson here is to remember that whenever Republicans say that Democrats are up to something they are the ones that are busy. They always telegraph what they are up to. They also are actually the paranoid ones, worried that Democrats might come up with the same jaded or outright illegal tactics, and that once a party that has become a minority party loses control, the party (the Republican Party) will be unable to get it back, even by crooked means.

Can all their crooked, corrupt election strategies keep this minority party in power? So far it has worked like a charm. Can it continue to work without turning our elections into complete travesties? Well that question has been answered. How much more blatant will their strategies get? We the people are the only ones who can decide.

Regardless of how Republicans engineer our elections to produce reliable wins for a party that is actually a minority party (meaning that most Americans do not wish to pursue the Republican Way), we have to keep voting. We need to vote in large enough numbers to overcome the effects of all this corrupt election meddling.

At some point the internet was going to change American elections anyway, the Republicans just speeded it up by inviting foreign actors in (Russia, China, and who knows how many others). The Republicans are also not subtle. We are finding it quite easy to see what they are up to and to bring it to the attention of “we the people”. But they are persistent, if one tactic gets exposed they come up with another. Be aware, but don’t let these attempts to invalidate our elections stop you from voting. These tactics mainly effect who votes. They do not seem to undermine the election process itself except in isolated cases. So vote because 2020 may be the most consequential year to vote ever.

Anthony Brindisi: The Attack of the Nonprofit

Anthony Brindisi (Democrat) pictured next to Claudia Tenney (Republican). Claudia Tenney lost in 2018. Now she wants her seat back and she has a big war chest.

Each night when I switch over from cable TV to local TV I am assaulted again and again by an ad against a Democratic candidate from a neighboring district. This ad has a suburban mom with long blonde hair admonishing Anthony Brindisi for not accomplishing anything in Congress. Obviously this woman is lying because almost 400 bills have been passed in the House of Representatives and Anthony Brindisi has voted his little heart out, but all of these bills are sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk, or in his closet, or in his circular file. This means that the reason Mr. Brindisi has not accomplished anything is because the Republicans won’t let him. Then Mrs. Suburban American throws in that fine old chestnut admonishing Brindisi to “secure the border.” How 2016…OK, you say all is fair in love and politics but I say “you get what you pay for.”

This ad is sponsored by a group with lots of money, obviously, because the ad plays over and over again, sometimes ten times a night. Yet the ad time was purchased by American Action Network, a nonprofit with a 501c4 tax exempt status (religious). These groups only get to keep this status if they don’t put their thumb on the political scales in an election. These groups are not being held to the rules of nonprofit status because the Republicans fought a battle of intimidation with the IRS in which they accused the IRS of being partisan. Surprisingly the IRS backed off and the Republicans won, so now religious groups break the rules of nonprofits with impunity. I’m thinking that poor Anthony Brindisi doesn’t stand a chance of being reelected in 2020.

https://www.syracuse.com/news/2020/01/anthony-brindisi-targeted-by-300k-ad-campaign-during-trump-impeachment-trial.html

Once again Republicans make a disingenuous argument. Nonprofits are allowed to educate so they pretend that their very partisan ads are intended to educate. This is what happens to language these days. Words are slippery. They mean different things to different people. Nonsense, but dangerous nonsense.

 

Losing Our Republic

Democracy will die slowly. We still feel relatively free and that illusion will persist day after day until one day the illusion will evaporate into a dismal reality. Our Republic is dying and it will one day dawn on Americans that they have lost something very great. They have lost a limb, a lung, a heart, a leg.

We are losing our freedom to speak everyday but in such a freaky way, such a 1984-doublespeak way, that it continues to seem that we can still say what we wish. But the truth is that regardless of what truth we think we are expressing, someone holds a different truth ‘to be self-evident’. If all speech is cancelled out by another’s speech, there actually is no free speech, just babbling. Government doesn’t have to use muscle to shut down a newspaper.  It doesn’t have to turn off news channels that defy it. We will kill our own media by starving it. One of the cornerstones of a dictatorship (or a monarchy) will have been accomplished without giving those who have lost something any one key event to point to as the exact moment when the freedom to speak was trumped by the fact that there is no longer any such thing as a lie. Twisting our brains into thought pretzels, gaslighting, playing games with logic, these are the tricks that nullify free speech.

Speech is so key to a democracy that losing this right will basically mean that our founders tried but did not protect us well enough. Even as the ability to make a cogent argument that will resonate disappears our Second Amendment rights to carry a gun expand. It is fairly easy to see that the cocksure and primed-for-violence GOP base might have difficulty sticking to using words, however killer their name-calling might be, and decide that a few people need their brains blown out. Trump’s base are far better at activism than the rest of us are. They are absolutely loyal and cannot be swayed by any logic at all. The rest of us are wrong and that is that. These people feel that they have always been the straightest and truest Americans and they have been shafted (although most of them are quite comfortably middle class) and Donald is their deliverer. They fight so viciously for their absolute right to own any and every gun they wish to own and there is a frightening edge to their insistence. If anyone could be pushed over the edge it is those who Trump has empowered, however unreal that power actually is. They are empowered to herd the rest of us into camps or split the nation into factions and those of us who are not Trumpers, it seems, will just look on in astonishment because we are not yet radical enough to feel like an avenging army – and setting our government back to rights will be misinterpreted as a liberal takeover of America.

Trump’s base, by enabling an all-powerful Chief Executive, are actually destroying the very freedoms they think they are defending. They accuse those of us who cannot pledge our loyalty to Trump of being the ones who are corrupt and they honestly believe that all people are so tainted that our government is irredeemable. They do not realize that they have been turned into instruments of the corporations and the wealthy. They were betrayed by their corporatist overlords and yet they defend Capitalism as the all-American institution that saves them from (horror of horrors) socialism or communism. Since socialism and communism have now been defined as using any tax dollars on social programs or benefits, the capitalists have achieved their main end of turning Americans loose to sink or swim in a transitional age, which many are unequipped to stay afloat in. Small government means that the corporations have totally won; we will subsidize businesses that no longer feel they hold any stake in America because their families live elsewhere. Trumpers believe they are treasured by their tainted leader; they are actually the tools of their own destruction.

When we emerged (were ejected) from the Industrial Age we lost our footing. The world became less predictable, less comprehensible. The belief that if you took care of your employer they would take care of you disappeared, poof, when manufacturing moved South and then basically out of America. The information age is too abstract to offer stability for the entire nation. Stuff happens in clouds, for heaven’s sake. Most of us are not prepared to see what happens in the digital world as real. It is all toys, games, virtual reality. Most of us cannot make a living in this digital world. We are set adrift. Education becomes the key to holding a good job. And yet educated people are denigrated. If you don’t know and understand a technology that requires certain engineering types of skills you are limited to service jobs – long hours with low pay, or having to have several ‘gigs’ to make ends meet. Since you are not a billionaire you have no importance in the world that you find yourself in. Jobs in alternative energies could provide the kinds of jobs people used to seek, jobs that offer stability, but those corporations do not see a way to make their profits without continuing to use fossil fuels. So our Trumpers fight for fossil fuels and they do not accept that alternative energies might give them back their footing, take them out of the clouds and ground them again. Oddly enough, speaking of being grounded, if space travel were to become a viable field for business, good jobs along the whole spectrum from physical to mental would multiply and “ground” us once again.

It just does not look like our American democracy/republic will survive this unsettling transitional age as we flounder about to save our planet from overpopulation, from climate change, from social and political uncertainty. We are in the midst of a massive anxiety attack which may turn out to be overblown, but could also be totally justified by what is going on around us. Some of us want a father figure, a tough-love father figure, who insists that he will use economic prosperity and geographic isolation, the importation of geniuses, and the end of social support systems to keep America, if not the American people, afloat. Our Trumpers, our beloved sisters, brothers, neighbors do not realize that idolizing one man, turning him into your savior, is the way you lose everything. Now we will not only have lost our lifestyle security, we will have lost our national security. We will be subjects, serfs, and I can even foresee a day that anyone who cannot be productive will be expendable. But I cannot convince those who disagree that this is where we are headed.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Take Back Our Republic