1/30/17 – Protest is an American right

I keep hearing people bellyaching about the protesters. Some people think they’re pretty smart when they comment: “Get a job!” Here is my response.

Dear geniuses:

Let me explain. The women’s march was on a Saturday, when a lot of people have a day off. Many of the people I know planned ahead to either take a vacation day or find someone to fill in for them at their jobs. People do it all the time. The ones with kids brought their kids along or arranged child care.

The ones that traveled to Washington are people who have enough money where they can afford the airfare.

The local protests here have taken place largely in the evenings when many people are done working for the day. They take mass transit to the events. It’s cold as hell, but they put on their heavy coats and go anyway. They are exercising their right to peaceful protest, like good Americans. This is how America is supposed to work. I’m proud of every single protester. 

1/29/17 – This is where it changes for me

I commented to a friend yesterday:

“I was so ashamed for us earlier today, ashamed of us… such a cruel, arbitrary, cowardly move — appalling how casually he blows off the values America was built on… But then tonight, with the protests in the airports, I am SO proud. There are a lot of good people who won’t stand for it. We’re the majority. We have to start acting like it.”

Something turned a corner for me Friday night, when I read this:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/27/politics/trump-christian-refugees/index.html

This in particular struck me:

“If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair — everybody was persecuted, in all fairness — but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.”

The more I looked at that article, the more it sunk in:

Week One of our new presidency. Here is our new president, who has displayed open contempt for all forms of news media, giving one of his first face-to-face interviews as president. With whom? The Christian Broadcasting Network.

WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK

This is not a news network. This is a religious network. If Trump wants to go talk to church people, fine, I guess, but why are you talking to church people about politics?

This is such a vivid illustration of the blurring of the line between church and state that we’re all so worried about. No — not blurring. Trump is erasing the line.

And this sudden reverence for the church, donning the cloak of godliness now as it suits his needs. He has the GALL to do this, but even worse: some poor schmucks somewhere actually BELIEVE it. It’s all a big act! It’s part of the whole schtick of his, this obscene soft-shoe, this ham-fisted sleight of hand. He is a mediocre vaudevillian, but if you suck up to the TV Christians, it’s all good.

And there he is blathering nonsense about how the US deliberately excludes Christians seeking asylum here. I don’t even know what he’s talking about. It’s some fairy tale world. No, Virginia: the US does not require a Muslim secret handshake to get into the country.

And then there’s the random chopping off of heads comment. Who is chopping off Christians’ heads? Has someone’s head been chopped off recently, for which this action is retaliation? Or was this just a general head-chopping observation? He just threw that in for dramatic effect, I guess.

So here we are, one week into the new term, and it’s one fiasco after another, as we witness the unfurling madness of Trump’s reign of terror. In one fell stroke of his Sharpie, he throws the lives of countless people into turmoil, for no reason other than his ego. Or idle curiosity, to see what people will do.

When someone pushes back the next day, he relents, or equivocates, or dithers. Someone says we misunderstood. It was meant to be more a general statement of policy or some such bullshit. We are being emotionally manipulated every day, as he tugs us around like fucking puppets. Trump is the maniacal madman behind the curtain, snickering like an evil supervillian.

And so, he announces, we will be giving preference to Christians seeking asylum in America.

He can say this and keep a straight face because he’s too stupid to know what he’s saying. The man listening to him is struck dumb with shock. Or maybe his brain lights up like a 100-watt light bulb, imagining what kind of money they could make with breaking news like that, important policy statements from the new president. Or maybe he’s thinking about that Twilight Zone episode where young Will Robinson mercilessly bullied his family after acquiring the power to make things happen. “You’re a VERY bad man!”

Peeling back the layers of wrongness here, at its core, fascism defined. All of us American, we all abide by laws, we observe conventions, we follow the rules. We all live by these rules.

So when someone travels abroad, we have rules and laws about it. Every single one of the people they detained or turned back had followed all the rules and the laws. They were entering the country lawfully. They have legal green cards, many of them. They have the required visas. They met all the conditions.

Trump’s action leapfrogs over the laws and rights that uphold all our transactions, not just in international travel but in so many other terms as well. For example, there is the money involved. These people had paid good money for their tickets. Do they get refunds on their flights? Who’s paying for them to be flown back to the country they came from? Who’s paying for their hotel bills? Who’s feeding them while they’re in detention? Who’s paying the guards who are handcuffing innocent people for no reason?

What about the reasons? There literally is no danger to American citizens from these people. None. Trump exploits the groundless fears of the people brainwashed by Fox News and the Insane Clown Posse known as the Tea Party with imaginary terrorists. In actual reality, the terrorists in America are white Christians.

I feel very strongly about this for a reason. I’ve traveled internationally a lot. I’ve crossed borders, utterly comfortable that I had my ducks in a row, confident that my status as an American would protect my rights. I’ve worked all my life with people from other countries. They enrich our country enormously.

On the genocide ladder, the first step is lists. When your official papers force you to state a religion, then somebody can keep a list of names. Everything comes after that: questioning, surveillance, detaining, deporting, relocating, and possibly worse.

I’ve read quite a lot about Rwanda. One of the things that made the genocide so easy was the fact that everybody had to state their tribe on their identity papers. So when the killing started, they didn’t have to wonder who to target. They had lists.

In America, we don’t have to state our religion, ever, to anybody. Until now. According to Trump.

1/23/17 – It was all a big joke

I’m still trying to figure out how the Clown in the White House got elected. If Hillary got so many more votes. Even allowing for the weirdnesses of the electoral college, you still have a ton of voters who showed up to vote for this guy.

I’m starting to think that a sizable percentage voted for him because they never believed he would win. The same way they did in the primaries. It was their way of registering disgust with the other candidates (a valid complaint!) and an unwillingness to embrace the status quo, which is what Hillary represented to them. It was a little bit like, “Let’s vote for the lunatic, wouldn’t that be funny, since politics is such a circus anyhow.”

Yes, I know there are devoted Trump fans who really believe he has the right vision for America’s future. But I suspect that represents a much smaller fraction than we know.

How? The reason so many former Obama voters stayed home is the same reason these Trump jokers went to the voting booth — we had been told by the pollsters and pundits that Hillary was going to win. So why bother to vote? Or why not use your vote to give Washington the middle finger?

This is why nobody should ever not vote, and nobody should ever use their vote to make a statement when they’re not dead serious about living with the consequences.

 

1/21/17 – Running the country like a business

OK, so how does this sound?

Every summer, we take bids for all of our schools, K-12 nationwide, from corporations who want to run the schools. Each bidder presents a proposal to the school board, highlight selling points, past successes, etc. The highest bidder pays the school district a flat fee. The fee goes into the state’s general operating funds. The corporation is then responsible for the school’s operations.

In return the corporation is free to market their products to students in whatever way they wish, as long as it is approved by the school board. So for example your kid might attend Apple Elementary or Exxon High School. Children attending Pepsi Cola Middle School will naturally find Pepsi products in their pop machines. Pepsi is free to set up relationships with other vendors to provide food, school supplies, maintenance contracts, etc. Pepsi hires the teachers and is responsible for monitoring and evaluating teacher and student performance.

State officials would work with school boards to set standards and requirements, but the corporations would have to make sure their schools meet those standards. If a corporation is found to be lacking in any way, the school board can fine the corporation.

States would be under no obligation to create uniform standards from one state to the next. So for example a Tyson’s Chicken High School in Montana might be a really excellent school, but the one in Pittsburgh would suck. That’s the state’s problem. If the state wants better schools, it’s their job to pick a better corporation to run it. Tyson’s would certainly want all their schools to have a good reputation, so it would be in their interest to meet or exceed those standards.

The federal government would be out of the education business.

The state’s only role would be to set standards, take bids, award contracts, and monitor the corporation’s performance. Formal performance evaluations would take place twice a year. The corporation would be given a grade; if necessary performance improvement plans put into action to bring up sagging performance. Corporations would be fined and put on probation after failing grades; in time they would be either dismissed or their contract would not be renewed in the spring.

The advantage to corporations would be that they get to lock in customers for their products from the earliest possible opportunities. A kid who grows up eating Tyson Chicken products will tend to remain a customer in later life.

Your kid would play football for the Intel Raiders or the Samsung Pirates. There would be no need for bake sales or other fundraisers; if a school needs a new computer lab, the corporation would have to pay for it.

What could go wrong?

1/15/17.2 – We participate in the delusion that we are powerless

All we really have to do is make the leap to electric cars. Fuck the hybrids. We’ve had plenty of time to get used to the idea. We knew this was what we needed to do 20 years ago. Like the NFL covering up the concussion thing for all those years, we are in denial. We are acting like toddlers, trying to negotiate our way out of bedtime. It’s time to grow up.

And it’s time to stop waiting for leadership from our so-called leaders. It’s evident Congress is nothing more than a flock of corporate lackeys, most of them, and they’ll NEVER have the balls necessary to make this happen.

So we have to do it ourselves. If we stop buying their stupid gas-based cars, they’ll have to stop making them. We are the ones in charge here, really.

1/15/17 – The other way

For the last ten years or so, I have been learning about a philosophical system called nonduality. It’s been interesting watching how nonduality has worked for me in these last few months, in this bizarre situation where nothing has changed (yet) on the outside but everything is in major turmoil on the inside.

Nonduality points out that we can only ever live in the present moment that exists right now, so we can stop with all the story-making about the past or fears about the future. The past is just a thought, a memory, a story. And fear, I think, is so often about the future, and again is only a thought. So you can stop giving so much bandwidth to past and future.

I think about this a lot these days. It’s really easy to get swept up in fear. It seems a reflex, to imagine what the future will be like once Trump and his minions are in place. The Cabinet of Horrors and our Red Congress are already hard at work destroying the country. There’s plenty to fear.

But fear works against you, paralyzes you, robs you of your energies, destroys your equanimity, and causes great suffering. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. (Thanks for that, Frank Herbert.)

So I grapple with my fear. I don’t want to be a slave to my fears.

At the same time, nonduality points out that most suffering (if not all) is a result of trying to escape what’s happening right now. Resisting what is. Nonduality encourages us to examine what’s happening right now, ask ourselves about the nature of this thing, where it comes from, where it’s going, why it’s here. Nonduality talks a lot about self-enquiry.

So when you feel bad, rather than instantly reacting to squash the bad thing, we can try to open ourselves to it, to lay down our defenses and be exactly what we are at that moment. Allow the experience to envelope us, and learn from it.

For example, when you are sitting in the middle seat of an airplane, squished, hot, uncomfortable — you feel all of that and experience it. Just be there. Be miserable. This is what it is right now.

So you walk the thin line, tip-toe between resistance and openness. Seeing the toll your fear takes on you, wanting to end suffering, yet also wanting to be in the moment, when the moment sucks.

And now here we are, in the clutches of maniacs determined to wreck the country. They were the majority (sort of) so they won. Absolutely, we resist, we protest, we ridicule, we find a way to obstruct or oppose. I’m not talking about actions. The actions needed are self evident; there is no conflict there.

I’m talking about inside. Feelings, attitudes. I want to see my fear and hear it, but I don’t want it to control me. I have to negotiate a truce of sorts with my fear, and find a way to feel what I feel without resistance to what it — and yet protect my mental health and fend off hopelessness and despair.

I’m not saying those fears are stupid or wrong or even bad. But I can look at them, the same way I stand back and examine a thought. I can see how the fear arises and how it feels when I’m in its grip. I can see how I react to those feelings.

##

Here is the dialogue in my head:

MIND: You’re being so melodramatic! Come on, it won’t be that bad! Nothing is ever as bad as we think it’s going to be. Look at Y2K.

ME: Yeah, look at those Nazi concentration camps. Sometimes things are much worse than you think it’s going to be.

MIND: Can’t you talk about this without invoking Hitler? Weak.

ME: OK, Rwanda, Pol Pot, Myanmar, North Korea, Bosnia, Darfur, you want me to go on? Because there are plenty of places where a delicate balance got unbalanced and some dominoes fell and people died. Happens all the time.

MIND: Well, it really doesn’t matter how you feel about it. This is what’s happening and nothing you do or say is going to make a difference, so why torture yourself thinking about it all the time?

ME:  There are people who eat the Earth and people who stand around and watch them do it. (Thank you Lillian Hellman.) I can’t be a bystander.

MIND: What exactly can you do about any of this? Protest? Make a few phone calls? You’re nobody.

ME: Fuck you, I’m somebody. I’m trying to figure that out.