Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Wall is Not a Thing

Most Americans don’t realize how many people actually work for the Federal Government.  The number is in the millions (2.7 million in 2014), and they represent a good portion of the middle class.  Right now, most of them are not being paid because of the government shutdown. They can’t pay their bills including mortgages, and are at risk of losing everything they’ve worked hard to buy.
Children whose parents rely on food stamps are also at risk.  So are farmers who rely on government loans to keep their farms viable. And what about the immigrant children who are being held in detention centers? The shutdown is catastrophic, not just for Democrats or liberals, but for millions of Americans, including a large number of Trump supporters. 
Two weeks ago, Trump held a meeting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer.  Trump announced he would be happy to carry the mantle of the shutdown. He would take full responsibility for it. Senator Schumer ducked his head and smirked. He knew well that Trump was caught on tape once again saying outrageous things.  Of course, Trump changed his tune early into the shutdown. He now calls it Pelosi’s shutdown or the Democratic shutdown. He has always used bait and switch as one of his strategies for getting what he wants (or what the powerbrokers like Putin, who are driving his policy stances, want). I think even his most loyal base is tiring of the game. It is hitting them squarely in their pocketbooks.  Many GOP Senators, who are up for election in 2020, are starting to back away from Trump and his rhetoric. It’s already been proven that they are at risk of being voted out, in spite of gerrymandered districts and voter suppression efforts. We all have to ask ourselves, do Trump and the GOP really have the best interests of America in mind when they cheat to win? I don’t think so. They have the interests of an elite group of Americans in mind, so they have to cheat to win.
I want to recommend a film and a short documentary series to my readers.
The first is the film Vice. It is a fictional account about the rise of Dick Cheney, from a drunken loser, to the most powerful vice president in the history of our country. I admit this film has a liberal slant, but, seriously, facts really are facts, despite what Kellyann Conway says, and if you look at what this man orchestrated in his career in Washington, along with other powerbrokers such as Don Rumsfeld, it will give you pause. During the GW Bush administration, 22 million emails were lost – it boggles the mind when one remembers how enraged GOP elected officials were over 32,000 emails belonging to Hillary Clinton that had already been vetted for security risks and mostly were personal emails about Chelsea’s pregnancy and other mundane topics. The Bush administration also conducted email exchanges on networks that did not record them for prosperity, because they didn’t want them recorded. Meetings were held in rooms where auto-record devices were not installed, and they were held without the president and without his knowledge.  Cheney abused his position again and again, and he started his power abuse back in the Nixon administration. Although there were dozens of investigations into the Bush administration, one can only wonder why there weren’t more investigations launched into the inner workings of this administration that lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and also made the stockholders of Halliburton wealthy beyond their dreams. Corruption in our government is not new, but we may discover it is at levels in the Trump administration that even the most power-hungry official could not envision.
But the path to this level of corruption was laid out a long time ago, across the world. It seems mankind can’t help but feel drawn to power and the abuse of it.
I say this as an introduction to my next recommendation, a documentary series on the Smithsonian TV channel titled Apocalypse: The Second World War. Ronald and I binge-watched this six part series last night. It is a must-see for anyone sixteen and older. The documentary used over 600 hours of declassified government film and film from private citizens taken during the war, and it was devastating to watch. This war was responsible for more deaths of soldiers and civilians than any other war in the history of mankind, and the number is in the tens of millions, maybe as high as 80 million. Historians estimate it wiped out 3% of the world population. 
Jews were left to starve in concentration camps or they were gassed en masse in gas chambers. Before the “final solution” was implemented, Jews were forced to dig their own graves and were shot while standing in them (and this horrific genocide was captured on film) – this method of genocide, later considered inefficient, was known as the Bullet Holocaust. There were millions of others who did not fit into the “master race” Nazis defined, and they were put to death, too. They included gypsies, homosexuals, political dissidents, and resistors.

Photo: Lt. Arnold E. Samuelson/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

But the Germans weren’t the only ones who acted with depravity and without regard for human life. The Russians let 600,000 prisoners of war starve to death, rather than use food needed for troops. The Japanese were guilty of crimes against humanity for their treatment of prisoners of war and for civilians, particularly in China and the Philippines. Italy conscripted its army and forced young men to fight for a mad dictator. America interned Japanese Americans, many of whom had been US citizens for generations.
This war clearly demonstrated unchecked power is capable of the most depraved, horrific, and inhuman actions by mankind. After the war, trials were held, but many war criminals were given immunity and were allowed to start over. Many resettled in America. The United Nations and NATO were put in place to try to prevent another such war from ever happening.
But we are living in a time now where certain personalities are rising to power and they are at risk of abusing that power. Trump is one of them. He has often used the rhetoric used by Hitler and other demagogues and he has used hatred and fear to get his way.
He is saying he may invoke his power to call a national emergency and build the wall between the US and Mexico. It is a clear abuse of power. He has dehumanized people seeking asylum in the US by describing them as criminals, animals, vermin, and as individuals who would change America as we know it – not very different from the rhetoric Hitler used against the Jews. Horrific acts were committed based on that rhetoric and we should be alert to this fact and try not to repeat the past.
At least five attempts were made to assassinate Hitler as Germans in high positions realized the absolute decimation of humanity the implementation of such rhetoric caused. Such failed attempts only caused Hitler to believe more strongly that God had placed him in power and was protecting him.
When people are experiencing hard times and they feel helpless to change their circumstances, someone like Trump or Hitler can come along and take advantage of that fear.  They needle away at racial and ethnic biases and give desperate people someone to take out their frustration and hatred upon. 
We’ve seen this at Trump rallies and in videos shared on social media. People feel more emboldened to act out against “the enemy” because Trump told them they could. Slowly, more and more inhumane acts become acceptable, including children being snatched away from their parents and imprisoned in camps or people of color being policed by white citizens because the white citizens believe people of color have no right to be in public spaces.
We have to stop this. We can’t continue on this path of hatred and genocide. Two children dying at the hands of authority are two children too many. Their deaths are imprinted on our souls.  If Trump has his way, we will be the ones burdened by our own hand in this atrocity. 
The wall is not a thing. Roger Stone made it up as a sound bite to rile the base, and it worked. No one ever expected Mexico to pay for the wall, or even to use taxpayers’ money to build it. In fact, it appears Trump is the only one left thinking the wall must be built. The number of illegal immigrants crossing the borders has decreased steadily since 2010. The only people coming now are seeking asylum from danger and violence in their own countries. We ought to open our arms to them, not build a wall.
Not only this, but Trump has also tried to denigrate the United Nations and NATO. He may very well destroy the pacts between countries that have so far kept us from another war like World War II.
We need to understand that power is corrupting to certain personalities.  Trump is one such person.  If we don’t understand and acknowledge the past and stand against such corruption now, early in the process, we may not be able to stop it in the future. 
The wall is not a thing. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018


“Now, in trying to determine whether you are telling falsehoods or not, I have got to determine what your motivation might be. Are you a scorned woman?”
That question was asked of Anita Hill at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Clarence Thomas in 1991 by Sen. Howell Heflin (R-Alabama). He asked it because he assumed women liked the kind of attention Clarence Thomas gave his employee – talking about porn films and sexual positions – and would react angrily if such attention wasn’t given.
Ms. Hill responded, “No.”
Back in 1991 I was a 34-year-old, married mother of seven-year-old twin daughters. I had moved from working in an academic environment, which tended to be more liberal and egalitarian, but still had its own issues of inequality, to the corporate sector, which felt rife with inequality. I ran the corporate library, and, when one patron said he couldn’t come to the library during the day, I offered to stay after work hours if needed, and he sidled up beside me and said he hoped I would. I didn’t. 
I watched the Thomas/Hill hearings closely, my outrage at the ignorance of the all-white-male committee exploding at the television.  Not only were the questions sexist, they were racist, too.  Senators are supposed to represent all Americans, but I didn’t feel represented.
Fast forward to 2018.  The GOP members of the current Senate Judiciary Committee decided not to question Christine Blasey Ford directly. Instead they hired a female prosecutor to ask questions. They didn’t want sound bites of the kind that came out of the Clarence Thomas hearing. The prosecutor was at a disadvantage, because no FBI investigation had been conducted, as was the case when Hill testified in 1991, when the FBI interviewed twenty-two witnesses. Therefore, she had very little to base her questions on.  In fact the committee had little to base their questions on, because they only had what the two people involved had to say.
However, Blasey Ford, admittedly terrified, was compelling. At one point I watched her as her breath became shallow, her voice quivered, as she said, “"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense." She was reliving the assault, in real time.
How awful that sex assault victims live with the assault for the rest of their lives in dreams, in perceived new threats which might be prompted by a comment or someone who inadvertently gets too close, in noises in the dark of night, or when alone in a parking lot.
Kavanaugh, on the other hand, was unhinged. He displayed anger, arrogance, self-pity and manipulation.  He tried to sound empathetic a couple of times when he said he believed Dr. Ford had been assaulted but she was mistaken when she identified him as the assaulter. Then he tried to best Senators Durbin and Klobuchar during their exchanges. He refused to answer a direct question from Sen. Durbin about whether he supported an FBI investigation. Then he engaged in a chicken fight with Sen. Klobuchar when she asked him if he got so drunk he suffered blackouts. He turned it around and asked if she liked to drink and if she ever had a blackout. It was a particularly insidious moment for me. 
Klobuchar explained her 90-year-old father was a recovering alcoholic who suffered the consequences of his drinking and Kavanaugh used that to try to knock her off her questioning. I grew up in an alcoholic home. The smell of beer, my mother’s choice of drink, still turns my stomach today because it was so pervasive in my chaotic home. I binge drank from the age of sixteen through eighteen, not every day or every week, maybe four or five times in those two years, but it was still terrible. I got alcohol poisoning when I returned home from college one weekend to visit friends, during a game of Chug-a-lug (a friend gave me straight alcohol since I didn’t drink beer, and I believed it was a mixed drink). I blacked out, and still felt drunken and nauseous two days later back at school.  I clearly saw the path I was traveling, the one my mother had surely taken, would lead to a life not well-lived but tolerated by blurring my emotions. I was in the top of my class. I received a scholarship to attend Syracuse University. But alcohol made my life precarious and dangerous.
I stopped drinking cold turkey after the alcohol-poisoning episode until I was in my late forties, thirty years later.  Now I drink a glass of red wine at dinner a couple times a week, more for heart health than love of alcohol, and an occasional gin and tonic or margarita.  
But did Kavanaugh ever stop drinking?  “I like beer. I still like beer,” he testified, “but,” he continued, “I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I never sexually assaulted anyone." Since I am intimate with alcoholics, I think Kavanaugh is one, and not in recovery, but actively still drinking to excess. He is what I would call a functional drunk.
Then he lied about the meaning of certain comments in his yearbook. “Boofing” was flatulence and “the Devil’s triangle” was a drinking game with coins. His reference to being a “Renate alumnius” was because he had taken her to dances, as had many of his friends, and he thought so highly of her. Renate Dolphin, the Renate referred to by several football players, had this to say: “I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue. I pray their daughters are never treated this way.”
 Kavanaugh claimed his detailed calendar proved he was never at a party with Blasey Ford. Yet there is an entry on July 1, 1982 that says, “Timmy’s for skis with Judge, Tom, P.J. Bernie and ... Squi.”  The term skis is short for brewskis, or beers. No further questioning about the calendar entry ensued, because Sen. Graham launched into his audition for the position of Attorney General (My interpretation of why this usually rational senator jumped over the edge of decency. I believe he would like to step into Sessions’ shoes after the mid-term election.) He shouted about the unfair treatment of Kavanaugh and slammed his hand on the table for emphasis. 
Two more credible women came forward with their stories about Kavanaugh and his friends. Debbie Ramirez said he exposed himself and pushed his penis toward her face at Yale during a dorm room party. Julie Swetnick, who grew up near Kavanaugh, claimed she “observed the future Supreme Court nominee at parties where women were verbally abused, inappropriately touched, made ‘disoriented’ with alcohol or drugs and ‘gang raped.’” She said she was raped at one such party, but did not name Kavanaugh as the rapist (or one of the rapists).
I’ve been posting a lot about white male privilege on FB and Twitter. We have to understand the power of privilege in all of this. Kavanaugh carried a golden ticket to success because of his family’s status and the schools he attended –it’s a perverse kind of affirmative action. He was also an athlete and that comes with some privileges and status, too. He may have lied during a previous confirmation to federal judge. Sen. Leahy tweeted the following: “We have discovered evidence that Judge Kavanaugh misled the Senate during his 2004 and 2006 hearings. Truthfulness under oath is not an optional qualification for a Supreme Court nominee.” Yet Kavanaugh’s career continued on an upward projection all the way to being nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States.
What did Kavanaugh think of Blasey Ford’s allegations? They incensed him. He isn’t used to being told no or to adversity of any kind. He perversely decided Blasey Ford was part of a leftwing conspiracy that the Clinton’s waged to exact revenge for the time he served under Ken Starr, the special investigator who investigated the allegations against Bill Clinton that lead to his impeachment. His rage was real, and certainly not demonstrative of the kind of measured temperament expected of a Supreme Court justice. 
Did Kavanaugh ignore Blasey Ford’s cries of no when he and Mark Judge pushed her into a room and then onto a bed? Did Kavanaugh continue to ignore her terror, as he climbed on top of her, ground himself against her, and tried to remove her clothes? Did he put his hand over her mouth, not just so the people downstairs wouldn’t hear her scream, but also so that he wouldn’t have to hear it? Did her fear and humiliation entertain him?
 Privilege doesn’t make every white man a sexual predator, a racist, or a terrible person. But it does give them the power to deny or diminish inequality and behaviors such as sexual assault.  It can lead some men to believe that women are objects to be used for sexual pleasure.  It can cause them to believe that their bad behavior should not be punished, because it might keep them from reaching their full potential.  They don’t care if they hurt, abuse, or otherwise impact others, because they do not value others who are not white, male, and in the same tribes (Georgetown Prep and Yale, for example).
It is particularly insidious when those in privilege protect one another. Two unnamed men came forward to claim they were the assailants. Their story didn’t go anywhere because there are no follow-up news stories after their admission. The GOP is guilty of protecting Kavanaugh, too, as they diminished Blasey Ford’s testimony by saying while they believed she was sexually assaulted; she was mistaken in her allegation that Kavanaugh was the one who assaulted her.  Many of these men are the same men who ignored allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas and sexual assault against Trump. They’ve continued to protect Trump even as more and more evidence emerges that he was a coconspirator with a foreign dictator. And they are protecting Kavanaugh, first, by keeping tens of thousands of documents from the Judiciary Committee, and, now, by making him the victim of the left and of Blasey Ford. 
Sen. Flake, who was ready to advance Kavanaugh to the Senate floor vote, only changed his mind after Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila broke through a group of reporters and cornered Flake in an elevator.
“Don’t look away from me,” Maria Gallagher said to Flake. “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”
Back in session, Flake announced he would vote yes in Committee, but he didn’t feel comfortable voting yes on the Senate floor unless the FBI investigation was reopened.
Is that the only way we can dismantle white privilege? By cornering men and forcing them to listen to the millions of women and girls who have been sexually assaulted?
The FBI has one week to investigate the allegations made by Blasey Ford and Ramirez, but it appears the White House limited the investigation and they cannot investigate Swetnick’s allegations.  Why did the White House limit the investigation? Is it another personal vendetta of Trump’s against attorney Michael Avenatti who represents Stormy Daniels and now Julie Swetnick? What will the Judiciary Committee do with the data collected by the FBI? Will they still confirm the man, or will they deny him? Either way will be met with resistance, but I am almost sure that they will do everything in their power and privilege to confirm him. There may be occasional cracks in the lens of privilege that cause temporary responses that seem reasonable, but soon the lens is repaired, and we are back to the original view that white men are better than the rest of us and are entitled to do whatever they please at another’s expense. It is the uproarious laughter of those who refuse to hear no.
There is one way to stop privilege in its tracks, and that is to vote more women and minorities into elected positions. Only then can we begin to push back against systemic privilege and have the number of votes required to disqualify an appointee for credible allegations of sexual assault, for perjuring himself during the hearing, or for demonstrating his temperament is unfit for a position on the highest court in the land. But in the case of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, we have to rely on white men who are used to getting their way. So we need to start now.
Remember, when you go to vote in November, because we MUST vote in the midterm election, Christine Blasey Ford’s voice as she described Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her:
When I got to the top of the stairs, I was pushed from behind into a bedroom. I couldn’t see who pushed me. Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them. There was music already playing in the bedroom. It was turned up louder by either Brett or Mark once we were in the room. I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me. I yelled, hoping someone downstairs might hear me, and tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was so drunk, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming. This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me. Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They both seemed to be having a good time. Mark was urging Brett on, although at times he told Brett to stop. A couple of times I made eye contact with Mark and thought he might try to help me, but he did not.
During this assault, Mark came over and jumped on the bed twice while Brett was on top of me. The last time he did this, we toppled over and Brett was no longer on top of me. I was able to get up and run out of the room.
Vote in November for all the women, children, and men who were victims of sexual assault. Vote as if our lives, our equality, and our democracy depend on it. They do.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

[Amonmymous] Times

When a man who can’t pronounce “anonymous” claims the speech of one of our greatest orators put him to sleep, we have to wonder about his grasp of words. If Trump is the best that many Americans think our country has to offer, what criteria are they basing it on? 
Is it the unethical and opportunistic way he runs his businesses and the government? The way he disrespects and objectifies women?  Or maybe it is his inability to understand the responsibilities of the office of president. Or it is his penchant for defying the rule of law. Perhaps it is his insensitivity to people with disabilities or maybe the way he attacks people of color with statements pertaining to their IQs and threats of deporting or imprisoning them. Maybe it is the way he has cuddled up to violent dictators, while disavowing liberals of any ilk here in America. Or is it because he treats immigrants as criminals, rapists, and animals by denying them refuge and snatching away their children? Or is it God ordained that we suffer this fool as some fundamentalists, who believe in the divine bestowal of white supremacy, suggest? Or is it because he claimed there were many fine Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017? Or, most importantly, was he the whitest white man in the bunch?
 If white supremacists think he is representative of supremacy, they are neither supreme nor intelligent. If the only way they can show supremacy is through bullying, taking away freedoms, carrying a gun, policing public spaces, and threatening the safety and wellbeing of others, we have to ask them, “What are you afraid of?” 
America, we all have a right to be who we are, whether that means being a Christian fundamentalist, an LGBTQ individual, a black American, a white American, a native American, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, atheist, able-bodied, or an individual with disabilities, a man, a woman, a gender-free individual. And, guess what? We can co-exist. 
That doesn’t mean a great, big love fest. It means understanding basic freedoms and supporting those freedoms for all Americans. All Americans have a right to worship or not worship as they choose. They have a right to vote. They have a right to be represented by their elected officials. They have a right to be in public spaces. They have a right to feel safe in those spaces. They have a right to make choices about their bodies and healthcare. They have a right to healthcare.
The way to do that is through respect.  Not the kind of respect you earn. That takes knowing someone, and we don’t have to know every person in America to respect all Americans. I’m talking about the kind of respect that acknowledges every person has a right to be in public spaces and to work a living wage job and to live in a decent and safe neighborhood and attend decent schools that are safe zones from violence and that have the same resources as every other school and to have access to affordable healthcare. We’ve lost that respect. Maybe we never had it. I am leaning toward the latter. 
I’m not going to tell some white guy he can’t think he is superior to me, as a white woman, and to people of color. If that’s his personal narrative, so be it. I have my personal narrative, too. But if he is out there trying to oppress women and people of color by controlling or denying social and economic opportunities and advances, so he can gain some kind of advantage and privilege, I am going to speak up.  The collective needs to speak up. We need to support equality. 
White people, I am mostly speaking to you, whether you are conservative or liberal, because our society and governance is based on a system that gives us a leg up just for being white while it disadvantages everyone who isn’t. We have to disavow that system. And we have to stop feeling hurt when the topic is brought up. Nothing will ever change if we can’t talk about racism and white privilege as concepts that operate congruently. 
None of us is morally superior, intellectually superior, or physically superior because of our gender or race.
Who can deny that Serena Williams is the greatest athlete in the past twenty years? Just fifty years ago, we’d never have expected a woman, and a black woman at that, to be the greatest athlete. That's because women weren't expected to excel in sports. Furthermore, she just had a baby. She almost died during delivery.  She survived and became a wonderful mother, and, no, she didn’t make a comeback to the tennis world, she took up where she left off. 
I have to divert a bit from my main message in this post, although it is certainly related to the topic of race and gender. We just finished watching the 2018 US Open Women’s Finals. Serena's greatness as an athlete in no way guaranteed a win in this grand slam tournament or in any other tournament or grand slam championship. She didn’t win this time. Naomi Osaka, who just broke the top ten in rank at age 20, played powerfully and strategically against Serena and deserved the win. But I do have some questions about the severe treatment imposed by the chair umpire. I can’t help but think he has different expectations for women than for men players, and Serena expressed the same concern.  And what he did was impact the match at a critical time. His interference ruined the match for both players who should have felt the match was about the competition between their abilities, not the man in the chair who felt offended because a woman expressed her emotions and then called him on his call – I’ve watched many men over the years swear, break rackets and do other things that could be construed as abuse, and they weren’t penalized by a point and then the loss of a game. It left both women crying at the end, and I cried with them. I cried because Serena still had a chance to turn the tables had he not taken a game from her, and I cried for Naomi who should have been celebrating what great tennis she played instead of feeling she won on an umpire’s call. That’s what happens when genders are measured against different standards, including another female who was penalized during the US Open for changing her shirt on court (she had it on backwards and removed it to turn it the right way around.). Come on, how unfair is that?  
The moral is we have to stop elevating people and awarding them privilege based on gender and race. Any of us has the potential for greatness, and it has nothing to do with gender or race.
Getting back to the topic of governance, there are many white males who are more than capable of being the president of our country and the leader of the free world. Trump isn’t one of them. He never was. He never should have had a shot, because he isn't qualified. But here he is, and he has put our democracy and our national security at risk, all in the name of making America white again. But it never was all white, not from the beginning and not now. That is the important point our elected officials must make again and again to quell this awful tide of supremacy and hatred.
We also cannot forget that there are many women and people of color who are also more than capable of being the president and leader of the free world. Hillary Clinton was one of them – the most qualified candidate in modern times. She was more qualified than Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – both great leaders of our country. And I can list many, many others including Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, and Elizabeth Warren. They should be judged by their qualifications and not their race or gender.
So when people talk about who is qualified and who isn’t, it is imperative that we leave race and gender out of the conversation. The past eleven years have proven conclusively why that is. 
When one former president is elegant, intelligent, humorous, unifying, and passionate and the present president is unintelligible, blustery, self-centered, divisive, thwarted by his own administration, and an inciter of violence, the only lesson learned is that race and gender have nothing to do with how they acted in the office of president. It is the individual. One was qualified and saved our country from a depression; the other was unqualified and has brought our country to the brink of destruction. 
Americans, we can be better. We can coexist. We need all of us to do it. First we have to stop thinking some Americans are more equal and more deserving than others due to their race and gender.  We have to believe our greatest ideal: We are all created equal. 
It has to start in November. Get out and vote. Vote like our life and democracy depend on it, because they do. Don’t vote based on race or gender or religion or class. Vote based on qualifications and who can rise to the challenge of best representing ALL of us and who knows how to guide and explain why it is the best route to do so.  Yes, we are diverse, and that means we have a hard time understanding one another at times, sometimes because we don’t have the right words, but more often because we’ve stopped listening.  Our diversity means we have a better chance at the kind of progress and change that can lift all Americans, regardless of race and gender.  We can fix this mess. Vote. photo

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

MAPE: Make America Progressive and Equal

When the right to bear arms, especially assault rifles that are designed to kill many people at once, is more important than protecting our students, teachers, and all our citizens and visitors in America, we have to admit our country just slid off the rails. When children are wrenched from their mothers’ arms and left for weeks in cages, some of them abused, and most neglected by human touch, we have lost all decency as a country. When black Americans are constantly endangered by white people calling in false reports of feeling threatened to the police for such things as wearing socks in the pool area, our country has bought into conventions and stereotypes that justified an oppressive system of inequality and free labor better known as slavery. And when we expect children as young as one year of age to stand before court in order to be reunited with their parents, we didn’t just slide off the rails, we plunged into a morass of ignorance, hatred, xenophobia, racism, white nationalism, and depravity.
Of course, our country has been on a crash course its whole history – forcibly taking land from natives, and committing genocide; forcibly bringing Africans to America for enslavement and to make white men wealthy off their labor. We never reconciled our past transgressions against humanity. But people want to forget or deny how this country became the world power it was; I said “was” because under President Trump we have lost our status among other countries.
Maybe we can admit it became visible to us over the past ten years, ever since Barack Obama became our first president of color, and his election to the highest office in the land was interpreted by some citizens to mean that they were now irrelevant and maybe they would end up being treated as non-white and non-male persons have historically been treated in this country. An out-sized reaction to an event that simply meant equality was within reach for all Americans.
Then the Russians interfered with our 2016 election, and we find ourselves with a president who is self-serving and more concerned about his popularity among his supporters and his wealth than he is in running the country and implementing policy that will benefit the greater good instead of the 1%.  He has also insulted and demeaned our allies while he praised dictators and human rights abusers. 
When did it become acceptable to elect the most inexperienced person for the position of leader of the free world? How did anyone, except for the Russians and white nationalists, ever believe this was a good idea?
And why are white nationalism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia still acceptable in this country? This kind of embracement of inequality can motivate white people to call police on black people for swimming or barbecuing or sleeping or playing or working because when black people are in public spaces some white people feel uncomfortable and like their sense of privilege is at risk of being lost—thankfully, many of these individuals were shamed across the internet after videos went viral.  It can cause a Trump supporter to vandalize signs with spray paint to appear as if an extreme liberal were making death threats to the president—thankfully, he was caught on video and he turned himself in to the police. It can cause a cop to aggressively harass two black men who were walking to the park outside of Chicago with threats that he could arrest them for videotaping the scene as he pushed them and tried to send them over the edge. Thankfully, his chief saw the viral video and took action.
There is so much to do to get this train back on the track. Yes, we need to mourn the victims of our terrible laws and leaders like the representatives who are protecting the gun manufacturers that ply them with campaign donations so the manufacturers can get even wealthier than ever off the loss of life or the Trump administration officials who think it is acceptable to force a one-year-old to stand in front of a judge in order to be reunited with his mother or who think reversing Roe v. Wade is somehow pro-life. The victims are the teenagers who lost their lives because someone had a gun and the children who have lifelong trauma due to being snatched out of their parents’ arms and the women who may lose their right to control their bodies and choose their reproductive healthcare.
And we need to let special investigator Mueller finish this complex and long-reaching investigation into this administration and the other players who interfered, aided, and obstructed justice. We keep saying never again, but then it happens all over just around the corner. One more law or executive order that discriminates against certain people, one more regulation that protected life dropped in favor of making more money more quickly, one more mass shooting that feels too much like a broken record, one more day where someone black is prevented from going about his or her daily activities, one more day where a child is bereft and traumatized because her mother hoped for a better life by seeking asylum here and this country forgot its humanity. It’s overwhelming. And it makes us immune to the fact that inequality is still the law and mores of the country.
Back in 1964 when our television news hours were filled with images of black protesters being attacked by police dogs and sprayed with fire hoses, our government leaders debated passing the Civil Rights Act. Back then the Southern Democrats were almost exclusively segregationists, and they fought hard to keep Jim Crow laws that touted separate but equal status of black Americans. Although it was more like separate and unequal, separate and oppressed, separate and low wage jobs, separate and poor housing, separate and underfunded public schooling, separate and lynched. Americans could no longer deny what their eyes were seeing, and they pressed their representatives to do something about it. And they did.
In an article in Politifact it was noted the house passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 290 votes to 130 with 61% of Democrats voting for it and 80% of Republicans. The Senate then went on to pass the act with two-thirds the Democratic vote and 82% of the Republican vote. The article goes on to say this:
The primary reason that Republican support was higher than Democratic support -- even though the legislation was pushed hard by a Democratic president, Lyndon B. Johnson -- is that the opposition to the bill primarily came from Southern lawmakers. In the mid 1960s, the South was overwhelmingly Democratic -- a legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction, when the Republican Party was the leading force against slavery and its legacy. Because of this history, the Democratic Party in the 1960s was divided between Southern Democrats, most of whom opposed civil rights legislation, and Democrats from outside the South who more often than not supported it.

This pattern showed clearly in the House vote. Northern Democrats backed the Civil Rights Act by a margin even larger than that of Republicans -- 141 for, just four against -- while Southern Democrats were strongly opposed, by a margin of 11 yeas to 92 nays.

During that time our representatives, except for the segregationist diehards, worked together to find a common resolution to an immoral and deadly system of inequality. Now we can’t find that common ground and we are fighting over whether or not equality is even an American value. Big money and fundamentalists have put a wedge between us, peddling the old segregationist paradigms. They are fighting against progress but progress is good for a country. It keeps us vibrant, growing, intellectual and competitive.
You see, something happened after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. Truly, white people started worrying that black people really would become equal.  In other words, they theoretically agreed with equality but emotionally weren’t ready for it because when they heard the term equal, they thought it meant better and maybe more powerful, not equal at all. They feared their status would be reversed. They couldn’t imagine what a country of equal citizens would look like. The systemic racism was so strongly imbedded in our history and our social structure and economy, that they could not imagine a different, more progressive, system. 
The backlash to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act began with the election of Nixon and got much worse when Reagan came into power. Nixon implemented the Southern Strategy, which brought the Southern segregationist Democrats into the GOP, and he started the school to prison pipeline for young black men to keep them out of white society. During the Reagan years, Reagan created the Welfare Queen in order to make the face of welfare a conniving black woman who bilked the system on the backs of the good, law-abiding white taxpayers.  President Clinton, often jokingly called the first black president because he seemed to understand the plight of black Americans, enacted, at the behest of the GOP,  the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that furthered the trend of mass incarceration of black men. Then came the Bush era economic policies that hurt everyone who wasn’t wealthy and increased poverty by 26% according to April Ryan in an article from 2015. 
Soon after President Obama was elected, the Tea Party rose to power with their mantra to “take back America.” It left me wondering whom they believed took it from them in the first place, but I knew. It was ethnic minorities seeking social and economic equality along with the old progressives from the 1960s who supported and voted for the Civil Rights Act.
You know the rest of the story. The fractured GOP and Russian election interference caused the rise and election of Trump with his call to “make America great again.” The message was clear. A great America has no room for people of color, nor non-white immigrants, nor women, nor non-Christians, nor LGBTQ individuals, nor individuals with disabilities. They are all to be relegated to second-class citizenship as they were in the past.
Here’s the thing. I am upset with our representatives, conservative and liberal alike, because they have to work together and they’ve proven they can’t. They’ve even turned on one another as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi did after President Trump attacked Maxine Waters when he said, “She is a low IQ individual, Maxine Waters. I said it the other day. High — I mean, honestly, she’s somewhere in the mid-60s, I believe that.” Then he called her the “face of the Democratic Party” and told her to be careful. This was a racist dog-whistle for his supporters and a direct threat to her. Maxine Waters called for civil disobedience in the form of confronting Trump administration officials through the power of protest, but Schumer and Pelosi did not support her. Instead, Pelosi called her responses unacceptable while Schumer said Waters’ call for “harassment of political opponents” was “not American.” They sided with whiteness and failed to take seriously the threat issued by the president and the death threats she received from ardent Trump supporters. In my eyes, they have fallen from iconic to mediocre.
Black female leaders and allies of Waters, nearly 200 in all, wrote their own letter of protest to Schumer and Pelosi stating: “We write to share our profound indignation and deep disappointment over your recent failure to protect Congresswoman Waters from unwarranted attacks from the Trump Administration and others in the GOP. That failure was further compounded by your decision to unfairly deride her as being ‘uncivil’ and ‘un-American.’”
Even white leaders who philosophically agree that equality is our mandate sometimes fail to see their own buy-in to systemic racism and misogyny. 
How do we get our representatives back to working with one another like they did in 1964 and 1965? How do we remember that we theoretically want the best for all our citizens and not just the few? How do we shape what that looks like and abate fears that equality means giving something away? How do we prevent special interests from co-opting our government? How do we get people to understand that our freedoms are for every American? How do we speak to one another without all the vitriol? And how do we visualize what equality looks like and how it is implemented?
First, we have to demand that our representatives represent all their constituents, and we need to get rid of gerrymandering and make sure that every vote counts.  Then we need to vote! We need to vote in every single election, even when we feel our votes may not count. They do!
Next, we have to understand that we really need differing perspectives in order to best serve the citizens of this nation. We need conservatives, liberals, independents, centrists, libertarians, democratic socialists, fundamentalists, and whatever else politicians bill themselves as, to work together as a team to make the best decisions for the greater good, not just the few, based on the best information available. Representation of Americans should not all be one extreme or the other. We need politicians who are as diverse as our population. That means more women and minorities serving in elected positions and more varied perspectives being brought to the podium for discussion. We can and should be able to work together but, first, we need to agree that equality and progress are the mandates. We need to disavow false narratives that hurt and marginalize individuals.
Then we need to hold our politicians accountable. Don’t let the NRA or the Koch brothers or another country’s dictator buy our politicians. They serve us! They also need to stop using fear and hatred to garner votes. They need to disavow both those things along with calls for inequality. That’s where our votes matter yet again.
Another thing we need to be strong on is support of the free press. We rely on them to find the truth. It is imperative that they can operate freely to do that. Otherwise we are destined to become a country run by despotism.
And after a recent conversation with a relative about how shallow and unrewarding social media can be, I have come to the conclusion that we need to put down our computers and open our doors to have some real conversations with real people. We’ve forgotten that there are people behind the avatars representing them on social media. When one is responding to a picture or a quote, it is easy to drop all semblance of fair and equitable dialog.
Stop buying into fear and hatred. Realize equality means we all have a right to be in public places, and to act to keep our children safe, and to make choices about our bodies, and to worship or not as we see fit, and to make a living wage and have a decent place to live and good schools for our children. Be kind to one another, please, but don’t be silent when fear and hatred raise their banners.
Let’s do one little thing that might help us start to get the big things done. Join the conversation about race in America. Please, start by reading my book, To the Mothers of the Movement, With Love, to follow my decades-long journey of learning about race and racism in America. It isn’t always an easy conversation, but it is a necessary one, if we are ever to reach our ideal of an equal and progressive America. 


Sunday, April 22, 2018

To the Mothers of the Movement, With Love Ad Considered Controversial by Amazon and Was Rejected for Display

Here’s the verbiage of an ad I placed on Amazon to get the word out about my book To the Mothers of the Movement, With Love:
“Interracially married and a witness to racial inequality in America for 42 years, Liuzzi Hagan calls upon all Americans to disavow systemic racism.”
I’ve run two ads in the past with the very same wording and haven’t had an issue, but this time I received an email with the following message from Amazon:
“Unfortunately, your ad campaign has not been approved to run on Kindle E-readers for the following reason(s):
    It is Amazon's policy to not advertise content in which our audiences may see a controversial topic, person, or event.”
My life story is suddenly considered controversial? Or is speaking about racism in America from any perspective considered controversial? Is my witness to racial inequality and the telling of my story the moral equivalent to white supremacists chanting “blood and soil” and carrying bats and rifles in Charlottesville? Is my call for equality reprehensible?  Please, Amazon, explain.
Fred is trying. Here is what he said:
Hello Dianne,

I'm very sorry for any frustration this issue has caused.

I checked and see that your ad is approved but it was rejected to run on Kindle E-readers.

I have escalated the issue with the Advertising team, please allow me some time to work with the since I need their expertise to solve this issue.  I've also prioritized the request to get more information on what needs to be corrected for the Ad to get approved to run on Kindle E-readers.

Your patience and understanding is highly appreciated.

As I’ll need a little time to look further into this, I’ll contact you with more information by the end of the day on April 25, 2018.

I do understand that if you've received more information on the email regarding the corrections that you've to made then that may be helpful.

I'll take your concern as feature request and communicate the same to our business team for consideration as we plan future improvements.

Thanks for your understanding and support.

In the meantime, I had already scheduled a free Kindle download promotion, but, unfortunately, because my ad was rejected, Kindle readers won’t even see it to know it is free.
To the Mothers of the Movement, With Love is the story of men and women who mattered, but their lives were ended by people who didn’t think they did. It’s my story of five decades of learning about race in America in ways I would never have experienced as a white woman if I hadn’t been interracially married. I’ve seen both sides of systemic privilege and bias, and I wanted to share that story as well as the story of those men and women who lost their lives to police, vigilantes, and white supremacist terrorists and their mothers and loved ones they left behind. My book is a call to disavow systemic racism and join together to demand race equality. 
That isn’t controversial. Rather it is about believing humanity can change the race narrative and reach the ideal that all people are created equal.
I hope you will join the conversation about race in America. Start by reading my book. Between April 21 – 25, 2018, it is free if downloaded to Kindle. That’s how important I feel my message of hope is.
And if you are so moved after you read it, please consider writing a review on Amazon or Barnes & Noble to get the word out. I won’t let petty bureaucratic fear of backlash prevent my story and the story of those people whose lives, it seems, didn’t matter in this country, stop us from reaching the ideal of equality.
Here’s the link to purchase or get a free download of To the Mothers of the Movement, With Love. 
Read and join the conversation about race in America. Together we can change the narrative.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Finding the Moral High Ground

We just lost a great advocate for the American people because he did some stupid things when he was a comedian and even, allegedly, when he was a senator. Senator Al Franken is resigning in the wake of fellow Democrat John Conyers’ resignation, after Conyers’ staff levied allegations against him. Seven women came forward to report Franken groped and/or kissed them without permission. Some, including my husband Ronald, say his actions cannot be thrown in with the likes of Roy Moore’s actions or Donald Trump’s actions, and I agree with that. But I believe his resignation was the right thing to do.
Men have to learn that touching a woman in any way when she has not given you express permission, is wrong. Only acceptable social touching such as a handshake is right.  Even if you think it is funny, or you think she might like it as much as you like it, you can’t make that call. And, besides, there are rules of conduct in the workplace that cover just these situations. If you don’t know them, it would be prudent to find out what they are.
It’s worse in the entertainment industry because there may be touching or nudity as part of the job or role. But it is still a workplace, and we have to make sure all workplaces are safe and interactions are respectful and equitable.
I was a drama student in high school and for one semester in college.  I’ve been grabbed in the crotch, had a few students suddenly grab me and stick their tongues down my throat, and been felt up during a scene in a play in which we were stuck in an elevator on set while the show principals sang a duet in front of the closed doors.  Each time I reacted strongly and told them it was unacceptable behavior and they’d better not do it again, but the act had already been committed and it didn't stop the next high schooler from trying it. And it wasn’t funny; it was disgusting, unwanted, and violating. They started calling me “ice queen” in high school, trying to shame me for not playing along. I can only imagine what young girls go through today, and it hurts me to think about it, because we fought so hard to end this kind of misogynist treatment.  You can read more about my personal experiences with sexual harassment in my blog post Not Okay.
I remember sitting in a labor union meeting in the early 1980s with a labor attorney who introduced us to the concept of sexual harassment.  There was a name for it and something we could legally do about it.  That knowledge was empowering.
The Equal Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment this way:
It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
But many women are afraid to report sexual harassment, and that goes double for sexual assault and abuse. The reason they are afraid is because the public tends to question their credibility and their motives, and, instead of looking at the character and intent of the perpetrator, they often scrutinize the character and intent of the victim. What was she wearing? What did she say?  What did she do to cause it? And it makes women ask themselves those same questions even though they might have been taken completely by surprise and never acted in any way open to a sexual overture. Because the only thing that they could do to cause it would have been to say, “Please grab me and force your tongue down my throat when I least expect it,” or “Make sure you expose yourself while we are working on that report.” And I doubt many women or girls say that.
It’s about who does and doesn’t have control of your body. No one does but the person inside of it. In an egalitarian world, women would be safe in the workplace, on the street, and at home.  In the unequal world we live in, women’s bodies are sometimes assigned government oversight, and some men, the ones they know and the ones they don’t, believe women’s bodies are sex objects or baby vessels to be owned or manipulated. It is unconscionable and wrong.
Women fear retaliation, too, in the form of social and economic oppression and through violence. Some are so afraid of a confrontation or retaliation, they silently comply while waiting for their moment to escape.  That doesn’t mean it is any less disgusting, invasive, unwanted, illegal, or violent.
So when women step forward and report sexual harassment, abuse, or assault, we ought to consider them sheroes for standing up to public scrutiny.  Their stories cause other women to remember their own experiences of being harassed or assaulted and the attendant trauma many suffered from such experiences. Let us women (and other victims including children, men, and gender fluid individuals) work our way through the emotions these stories elicit, because those memories are difficult to process.
And men (and all potential predators), while they sit and wonder who in their past might come forward to report an incident of harassment or worse, need to support these women, too, and learn from what they are hearing.  We are not condemning all men. Nor are we condemning all behavior. Under the right circumstances, flirting or other sexualized behavior might be welcome and returned, but it must be consensual. And it’s okay to make mistakes because sometimes you think one thing but it’s another. However, repeated attempts or the inability to understand that no means no is a clear indication that boundaries have been crossed.
Men need to collaborate with women in creating a safe and respectful workplace, whether that workplace is in a corporate office, in a classroom, on a movie set, in a fire station, or in the halls of Congress. It is NEVER okay to assume another person wants to see you naked or wants to be touched or chooses sexual humiliation or interaction, especially if it is a work colleague.
So Senator Franken did the right thing, as I would expect him to, even though he still questioned the credibility of some of the charges against him by saying, “some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently.” But just like a racist doesn’t see how his unequal treatment of a person of a different race is damaging to that person or he may not remember specific incidents of racist behavior, the sexual harasser won’t necessarily recognize or remember incidents either.
I allow that Franken’s resignation may have been too quick since the Ethics Committee barely had time to investigate and the investigation is incomplete, but it was way past time for the women who were victims of his actions.  In many ways I am saddened he had to take the fall along with civil rights advocate Rep. Conyers, in order to expose the hand of the GOP that voted a sexual predator into the office of president and is at the brink of electing a child sexual predator and proud racist to the Senate. Franken understood the incongruity of his situation when he said, “I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
But I am sure that taking the moral high ground is always the right thing to do. In the meantime, we need to figure out how to interact respectfully between the sexes, especially in the workplace. As it was in the 1980s, it will be hard to work out what is and isn’t acceptable and what the consequences will be for those who choose their own self-aggrandizement and wants over respectful, equal, and dignified interactions with colleagues and subordinates.
We are, no doubt, in the middle of redefining who we are as Americans, and we cannot shy away from the hard conversations, revelations, actions, complexity, and consequences needed to reach the high ground. At the very least, we need to press the GOP to respond and participate in kind by using our voices and votes in protest for their inactions. Their denial and disparagement of the women, who came forward to report abuse, their protection of sexual predators, and their inability to hold their standard bearers accountable are our obstacles to reaching the high ground. #resist #persist

Author in the role of Queen Guinevere in a high school play, ca. 1975

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

To the Mothers of the Movement, With Love

A year ago last month, Ronald and I saw the mothers of the Black Lives Matter movement at a restaurant after one of the Clinton rallies. For new readers, I am white and Ronald is black. We met forty-two years ago when I was 18 and he was 19. I wanted so much to go over to the mothers’ table and tell them how sorry I was for their losses and sorry that America failed them, but I am someone who feels others' pain acutely, and I was already in tears just being in their presence. I had shed many tears each time I heard about another unarmed black man, woman, or child murdered at the hands of a racially biased police officer, vigilante, or white supremacist terrorist, and I've felt the terror of having people treat us differently, unkindly, and, sometimes, violently because they didn't think we should be together. I did not want these beautiful women to feel they had to comfort me, and my husband agreed, so I did not go over. I regretted that decision, because they deserved to hear my condolences and that their children's lives mattered.
When we arrived home, I made a decision. I wanted to contribute to the conversation about race in America in an even bigger way than writing this blog. So, at age 60, I wrote my first full-length book, dedicated to the mothers of the movement, about my forty-two-year journey of learning about race in America. Forty-two years is not long enough, because we have already proven that 50 years or 150 years is not long enough. As the months wore on, under the great weight of a Trump-led America, where white supremacy moved into the White House and flooded mainstream culture, my book evolved, using posts from this blog—all written about the unjust murders of unarmed black men— revised, expanded,  and interwoven with my own experiences with racism, ranging from micro-aggressions to the truly terrifying, and the political landscape and racist backlash in America.
I am one tiny voice in the conversation about race that America must have, all of us, together, where people can put aside their feelings of frailty and of feeling attacked when talking about racism and inequality, and, instead, listen and ask what we need to do differently and how can we dismantle this system that benefits some while disadvantaging others, to create a better tomorrow where equality is an inherent right.
The book is published! It is titled To the Mothers of the Movement, With Love. You can order it here.

I hope, dear readers, you will join the conversation. I hope you will read my book, and it will inspire you to talk to your friends and family. Maybe it will give you the strength to speak out when you witness racial bias. Together, as a country, we can come to understand that systemic racism is a terrible, oppressive, unfair, and violent system, and it must be dismantled. Equality is right and righteous. Don't be silent. Vote for equality. Protest for equality. Take a knee during the anthem for equality. Let the mothers of the movement know that America knows their sons' and daughters' lives mattered.