Friday, August 11, 2017

THE NEW AMERICAN PIE

by Ruth A. Sheets

Some days, turning on the news takes an act of courage.  Can I bear to eat one more piece of the hate and fear pie being baked for us by the current administration?  We are told it is a great American pie and we  should love it.  The chefs, primarily white men regularly dish up a concoction of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transaphobia, urbaphobia, pooraphobia, and a variety of other stuff THAT'S harder to identify. 

These chefs are pretty good at THEIR WORK.  They tuck their ingredients into a crust of double talk, lies, blaming, ignorance, naivete, childishness, and insensitivity.  Then, the top of their concoctions are brushed with a generous helping of hypocrisy, passing the buck and lack of accountability.  It is often baked in secret and fed to us in small enough servings that we don't really complain too much.  After all, we have lives to live.

If we don't like the slice of pie we are given, that's our fault because we are told how healthy this is for our nation and that our bad taste makes us unpatriotic.

There is always a crowd screaming for the chefs telling them how wonderful they are and that there has never been such a good group of bakers. 

If one were to ask one of these pie lovers what they like about the pie and the chefs who made it, they would say that the chef doesn't take anything from anyone and doesn't care what anyone thinks.  The chef really knows them and cares what happens to them.

When the pie is actually examined, it is clear its ingredients do not include generosity, caring, kindness, loving one's neighbor as oneself, or any of those things once thought to be essential to a good American pie. 

Many gag on the fear and hatred wafting from this pie, but it is hard to escape it.  The chefs were carefully selected to be sure they had a hate and fear level high enough that some could be transferred into the pie during each baking session. 

There is a problem.   Even if one does not want to eat a piece of the pie, it is hard to escape.  It's brought out every day with fanfare, like the pie with the four and twenty blackbirds was brought out.  So much of it comes out each day that the nation is choking on it.  Just as one recovers from the last bite, the next is coming along.

"Fire the Head Chef!" you say.  That will not help much because the assistant chefs are of equal quality and this American pie will just keep coming.

Maybe it is possible for other chefs, rival chefs to arise and begin baking pie that is more in keeping with the kind of diet Americans mostly want.  This will keep the recipes fresh for when this becomes the pie of the land again. 

The recipe we will keep alive has a filling of acceptance, understanding, caring, kindness, and courage.  It must be served in a crust of generosity, honesty, insight, intelligence, and topped with faith in our democracy. 

Pass the recipe.  Add all the positive ingredients you want.  Share the pie so we will have practiced enough to make a truly glorious pie in the near future.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

TALK OF REGULATIONS

by Ruth A. Sheets

Regulations are in the news in a big way since the 2016 election.  Mr. Trump claims that regulations are causing our economy not to grow at the rate he says should be happening.  So, of course, as with many issues this president has "taken on," his followers think it's a great idea to get rid of regulations.
What are regulations?  They are rules passed to help someone.  There are a variety of someones who can be helped:  citizens of a community, state, or the nation as a whole, businesses, the flora and fauna of a place.

There are many reasons regulations are passed.  Probably health and safety are the most common, but sometimes, regulations are passed to stop or hurt a rival, to give a person or company an advantage, to regulate behavior an individual or small group does not like.  The one thing to be sure of, there was a stated purpose for every one, and someone had to agree to pass them.

Clearly, some of the things being regulated no longer have meaning as times have changed.  They often remain "on the books" because there seemed no reason to remove them.  Some of the people who wanted to injure rivals have passed on or the companies have closed, so these also were just left to history's dustbin.  When critics complain there are too many regulations, at least some fit into these categories.  

Many do not fit.  These are the ones that require accountability from individuals, corporations, and governing bodies.  These make it possible to function in a complex society with competing interests and activities.  No one will claim that all regulations are necessary and that there are not some that are actually stupid or even harmful.

A friend of mine is preparing a house to rent in New York.  They needed an inspection to see if there was lead paint in the house.  That makes sense because children might be in the renter's family.  However, there was a regulation that if there was lead paint on the outside of the house it had to be removed too.  Really?  On the second floor, near the roof?  My friend had to scrape the paint off, standing on a ladder, with a face mask.  That puts people at risk for something that will never affect a child or anyone else. 

I suspect there are more regulations like this one on the books of every community.  With no science to back them up, rules are passed, just in case, then never revisited or evaluated to see if they are effective or necessary.

Another example is school uniforms.  Districts across the country decided that students would behave better, learn more, or feel more included (or something similar) if school uniforms were required.  No studies were done to see if this made sense.  No well-documented studies have been done since to see if the schools have improved due to wearing of uniforms.  Naturally, this occurs predominantly in urban poor, mostly minority  schools.  An excuse to keep the regulation in place is that it is easier for parents to buy clothes for school.  What!!  Then I hear "well, kids in private schools wear uniforms.  (They wear uniforms to show they belong to an exclusive club, better than everyone else.)  Is this what "poor" schools want to convey? 

If the president's aim was to end this type of regulation, I would be with him.  This is not his intent.  He tells communities coal would come back if the regulations on the companies were eased (meaning they can dump waste into streams and rivers and ease safety rules).  He neglects to mention that coal is not coming back.  Who benefits from removing the regulations, the companies who are losing money staying in Appalachia.  Who pays, the people who will be left behind to deal with the consequences when the companies pull out, which they inevitably will.

Pollution acceptance seems to be at the center of the regulation removal.  Let companies pollute and they can make more money and, maybe create a few more jobs.  Mr. Trump does not have to prove this or even pay attention to the science that says this is not a good idea.  His followers believe it, so, of course, it must be true.  When the polluted air and water begins affecting their families, they will be sure it is someone else's fault, not theirs for not questioning the man who has lied to them constantly since he entered the 2016 campaign.

There is no doubt that communities, states, and the Federal Government should look at their collection of regulations and determine which are not supported with scientific or real-life evidence.  Which regulations could be tweaked a bit to help businesses be successful without harming their communities or the folks downstream or downwind.  They should look at the purposes behind each regulation.  Does it try to enforce someone's particular taste, religious beliefs, or personal level of comfort at the expense of others?  Does it give advantage to one particular business over another?  Does it make life better for only a small group while making life for everyone else more difficult or problematic?  Does it only pretend to promote safety and good health?  Does it claim a risk that does not exist?  Does it favor one race, religion, socio-economic group over another, limiting the prospects of the others?  If the answer to any of these is "yes," then consider removing or changing the regulation, guided by science and best practice.

Always ask:  what is the purpose? what is the expected outcome? what will this regulation correct? who benefits? who is harmed or inconvenienced? how will it be evaluated when and by whom?  No regulation should be approved without good answers to all of these questions and others that are relevant to specific situations.  Just because Mr. Trump wants regulations removed does not mean it is a good idea.  He really does not know what he is talking about, and it is not clear that he even cares.  It's about the message to his followers.  That's all.  

Monday, July 31, 2017

FOR THE WIN


by Ruth A. Sheets

WE Americans are very competitive.  We love to win.  For some, winning is everything, or as one coach used to say, "winning is the only thing." 

So, what will we do to win?  We know that some athletes will deliberately injure opponents.  They will dope and do a variety of other illegal and semi-legal things to increase their chances of winning as individuals or as teams. 

Of course, this is not restricted to athletes.  Parents sign their kids up for all kinds of programs to help their child get ahead, be the first, best, to go to the most prestigious schools.  Cheating is not off the table.  Teachers will sometimes change test answers to make their class seem more advanced, so they can win a bonus for their students' achievement.  Businesses claim artificially high profits so they will seem like winners in their field.  Students and others will plagiarize to produce "the winning paper."

People do win based on their own hard work and talent too, but if that doesn't work, some will break rules, laws, and Commandments to win.

You may have noticed I haven't mentioned politicians yet.  Politics is an entire field based on winning, just as athletics is.  Men and women who pursue a political career know this from the outset and often hone their skills in small election contests so they can build up to bigger things.  Along with their personal gifts, they tap into money, manpower, and advice from outside themselves.  Their basic tool is personal persuasion, but over time other things may be added to the toolbox.  Some of those tools can be immoral, sometimes, even illegal.  These tools have become nearly ubiquitous.  They are probably not used more today than in the past, but they now are enhanced by social media, 24/7 news cycles, the internet and instant communication, and other modern technologies.  These technologies in themselves are not the problem.  It is how they are used.  When winning is the only thing, lies, fake news, insults, disparaging slogans can spread at light speed to those the candidate or office-holder needs to win.

The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election brought to a head the question "What are you willing to do to win?"  The Democrats are seen as pathetic, weak because they did not win Congress or the Presidency.  What they also did not do (as far as anyone can tell) is check in with the Russians to see how they could smear or undermine their opponent.  They did not regularly insult, degrade, and dismiss women, people of color, Gold Star families, disabled persons, journalists, poor people, and others.  The party that won did all of these things and more.  They won.  What does that tell us? 

Perhaps there is some part of us that finds bullying compelling, despite what we tell our children.  Maybe racism and sexism are deeper and stronger than anything else in our culture including fairness, our religious beliefs, and morals.

Now, the "winners" need to keep winning.  What will they do to get a win, any win?  They will work hard to take away the ability to get health care for people who just found hope in the Affordable Care Act.  They will eliminate transgender people from bathrooms and the military for no other reason than that they can.  They will continue to further limit the rights of women to make their own reproductive decisions, They will hurt farmers so they can waste time, money, and manpower on a useless even ridiculous wall on our border with Mexico.  "I promised to do these things in my campaign and I have a mandate to do it." says their leader, no matter what works for anyone else or that he really has no mandate. 

Well, we are in for a difficult future since lying, cheating, colluding with foreign powers, hacking emails/records, disenfranchising voters, and eliminating civil rights for large groups of Americans are the predominant items in the political toolbox.  Now it is mostly Republicans and Conservatives who employ them, but, who knows, it could spread to everyone else if we don't demand higher standards for political behavior and future elections.  


Friday, July 28, 2017

THE SUPREME COURT'S CONSERVATIVE BRANCH


by Ruth A. Sheets

Since Neal Gorsuch entered the ranks of Supreme Court justices, I have been thinking about his role and the expectations his people have of him.  I say "his people" because all Americans are not his people.  Nor are the majority of Americans the people of any of the conservative justices.

It is rare to see any of the conservative 4 take a position on any case that does not help their constituents:  business, White males, the wealthy (particularly the very wealthy), Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.  They also do their best to support Republicans in any way they can.

The Senate will be helping them out too.  When Mitch McConnell refused to even hold hearings for President Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland last year, he ignored proper protocol and respect for a sitting president.  He bet on Mr. Trump becoming president, knowing the most conservative person available could be nominated and pretty easily approved by his Senate.  Republicans seldom stand up to Mr. McConnell or, as it turns out, Mr. Trump.  Their vindictiveness against those who try independence is legendary.

So, we have Mr. Gorsuch, a rubber stamp of Justices Thomas and the late Justice Scalia.  These men are supposed to be "brilliant jurists," but in reality, it doesn't matter how brilliant they are.  They know what is expected of them and they dutifully do it, no matter the human cost.  There is no personal cost to any of them.  There is no intellectual stretch except in the way they justify the often destructive rulings handed down.  For example, they ruled that corporations are persons (Citizens United).  These conservative justices don't have to be elected or approved of in any way, so the amount of money spend in political campaigns by persons and organizations that don't even need to be identified never touches them.

Courage on their part is rarely visible and certainly not necessary.  Justice Roberts allowed a critical part of the Affordable Care Act pass on taxation grounds, but not because it was the right thing to do to help citizens get health care.  So, perhaps, a bit of courage was on display, but really, just a bit.

I keep wondering what conservatives are trying to conserve.  Is it some kind of way of life that was so wonderful it must be brought back?  Is it a sense that America is a Christian country even though it never was that?  Is it to keep White rich people in power?  Is it to blame poor people for their poverty by making it harder for them to be heard?  Is it to pretend that LGBTQ people don't exist, so giving them the same rights as everyone else is not necessary because they don't exist, so don't need any extra protections? 

I also often wonder why conservatives are so obsessed with women's reproductive organs.  They don't seem as worried about male reproductive parts.  If they cared at all about women and women's rights, they would once and for all strike down all the state laws that get between a woman and her doctor in her reproductive decisions.  Why don't they do this -- because their constituents don't like letting women act as full adults.  Men might have to share some power.

And, what is it with the conservatives and guns?  Of course, when the conservatives on the Court say states and communities can't make certain laws to restrict guns, they really mean guns owned by White people, particularly White men.  They can't state it that way in their decisions, but we see the results when a Black driver is murdered after he tells police officers he has a permit to carry.  Those officers, of course are not convicted of anything. 

What can we expect this coming year from the conservative 4, perhaps 5 if Justice Kennedy is in his conservative mood?  I suspect if they can get to it, they will end or severely damage Roe v. Wade, strengthen Citizens United, end the right to marry for LGBTQ couples, allow disenfranchisement of more and more citizens who just don't fit what conservatives see as "real Americans."  They may allow Mr. Trump's travel and refugee bans as everyone who is not Northern European is a terrorist.  The one guarantee, their 4 basic constituencies will be well served and everyone else will be left to pick up the pieces and go on the best they can.  One would think we could do better.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

AN OPEN LETTER TO CONGRESS, PARTICULARLY THE MONEY ADDICTED

by Ruth A. Sheets

Dear Members of Congress:

The most current versions of Trump Care and the proposed budget are designed to give a large tax cut to those who need it least and cut all kinds of programs for the most vulnerable Americans.  You guys do know that rich people and corporations do not need more welfare money given to them from the government.  You do know that, but you are feeding an addiction more powerful than the opioid crisis afflicting our communities.  I call on you to help the wealthy citizens and corporations acknowledge their addiction and rehabilitate.  Stop giving them the money drug they want and help all of us live better.

I, like you, am a U.S. taxpayer, who cares about this nation and is very concerned about the way we have deified money and those who accumulate it.  We have forgotten how to challenge the notion of their moral superiority and greater value to society.  We have enabled them to spread the lie that more money will cause them to hire more people at higher wages, "trickledown economics."  Everywhere in media, advertisements, books, etc., we see these people and what they have and are regularly assured that they have earned it and everyone else could have it if they worked hard enough. 

You and I know this is not true, but it has caused many folks like you to gain power and privilege beyond anything earned through service to the people.

If you are one of those suffering from money addiction, your constituents and colleagues could be of help in your rehabilitation.  Start with no tax cuts for yourself and the other wealthy people and corporations.  You all don't need it.  The social programs that would be sacrificed to provide your fix are essential for the well-being of a lot of people.  Show all of us that you care for something beyond your re-election.  You might find that your constituents will like you better. 

So, begin with these ideas that have been circulating.

a) No more tax cuts for wealthy persons and corporations. They should pay their fair share of taxes as they use our shared resources, even more than others do.  Call what you are planning what it really is "corporate welfare and feeding a money habit.

b) Invest those tax dollars in our country’s future―in public roads and transit systems; quality and affordable early childhood education; public schools and higher education; researching new medical cures;  investing in programs and strategies to combat climate change and poverty; and ensuring a secure retirement for all of us by strengthening Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

c) Eliminate all tax breaks that encourage multinational corporations to shift jobs and profits offshore.

d) Require corporations to pay the $750 billion they owe on their $2.6 trillion in offshore profits. Use the funds to rebuild roads and bridges, improve schools and create millions of good-paying jobs. 

e) Speak out on behalf of the First Amendment and work with the media to begin changing the perception of Americans that money is everything.

This would be a good start.  Then, when you and the nation are healthier, we can work for more. 

Peace,
Ruth Sheets, Citizen

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

WOMEN HATING WOMEN

by Ruth A. Sheets
"Oh, you know her, she's just a . . ."  then "You know she can't be trusted, you know how women are."  also "I don't think I could stand her voice for 4 years."  and "She's such a b***h!"

I heard these statements and far worse during the 2016 presidential campaign.  I think I might get it more if they were said by men, as men's understanding of women is less than excellent.  I wasn't expecting the high level of vitriol toward Hillary Clinton from women.


I suppose I should have, though.  I am a teacher, a profession where females are the majority, in the classroom.  If you check out the positions of leadership in schools, district administration, and teachers' unions, however, men tend to significantly outnumber women.  Women supervisors/principals, though, have been crueler in their criticism and more vindictive, not just toward me, but also toward other women on staff.


Female teachers can be less kind to colleagues as well.  This unkindness is often subtle, a quick cutting remark here and a fake self-deprecating comment to someone in authority that implicates another teacher in something, there.  "I know I don't do it as well as Miss Smith who gets extra time every day to . . " "I didn't see Ms. Jones at lunch.  I guess she was here."  "I know it isn't as nice as Ms. Johnson's . . " (even though it was actually professionally done). 


I know that author Cheryl Sandberg tells women to "lean in," but what happens when there are several women leaning in at the same time or when one is perceived to be leaning in a bit more assertively than the other women?  Often, it isn't pretty.  What's going on here?  Women have made progress over the past few decades, haven't we?  Yes, we have, but there is something else going on.


Law Professor Patricia Williams in "The Nation" Magazine discussed the way some English words have become sexualized even though English words do not have gender prefixes and endings the way words in languages like French and Spanish do.   Which gender is associated with certain words is perfectly clear.  Cultural/social practices have associated characteristics to words.  So, the images one gets when saying or hearing the word "woman" can be pretty toxic.  Let's see, emotional, fussy, pushy, weak, submissive (or controlling) depending on a variety of factors, poor decision maker, vindictive, nasty, back-stabbing, soft, mother, nag, helpless.


Professor Williams uses the word "president" to help explain this phenomenon.  She says that Americans have an image of president as white and male.  It would be hard for many people to consider supporting a person in that office who is either a person of color or a woman.  This may account for the number of women who voted either for Donald Trump (despite his clear misogyny) or against Hillary Clinton, "She just doesn't 'look' presidential." 


Ms. Clinton did few of the reprehensible things Mr. Trump has done and her email-related poor judgment is really nowhere as serious as the media and Mr. Trump would have us believe.  But her sin is the worst one.  She's a woman and we can't get past what we believe a woman is/must be.  She tried to reach the highest office in the land, one she is not entitled to.  She left her place, so is an acceptable target for loathing by other women. "Only a man is strong enough to be Commander in Chief, you know."  


A few weeks ago, I attended an affair at a church.  The keynote speaker was a woman minister.  The event was to honor an extremely competent, active, caring woman for her years of service.  What was the talk about?  It was about how women need to submit to men.  They need to marry, have kids and submerge their needs beneath their husbands, the master and head of the house.  I was sitting with a woman who had divorced an abusive husband, yet, she kept nodding during the talk saying "Yes Lord" and "That's right."  I was totally shocked.  She was being insulted and put down, yet agreed.  And, the person doing the insulting was a woman.


The very little bit I could do was to occasionally shake my head and mumble "No, that's not OK."  (This was not my church and I didn't want to make waves.)  I didn't applaud for the speaker because I knew that most of the people in the room were strong competent, confident women.  I can honestly say I had no idea what the speaker was thinking and what led her to make such a ridiculous speech to these amazing women and why they all just sat there and took it with "Amen" and "Yes Lord.".  Could it be that somewhere deep down, we women believe that we really are not as good or as valuable as men?  Maybe, even most women see "popping babies" as our primary purpose in life, the secondary purpose being to support men and whatever they do or want.    


Perhaps, the only way we can really change things for women in society is to force the media to regularly show all kinds of women in a variety of roles, without male commentary.  More women need to step up and run for office at all levels.  This is not a new thought, organizations like Emily's List have been working on this for years.  However, it could be that more people saying and encouraging it could truly change the perception of women, even by women.


Monday, June 26, 2017

PERMISSION TO DESTROY


by Ruth A. Sheets

Following his inauguration, Donald Trump began the process of dismantling the Federal Government.  He did not ask the American people if we wanted this; he simply jumped right in.

How did he do it?  He nominated for each of the departments in the cabinet someone completely inappropriate for the position of secretary.  Because he is "Republican," and because the Senate is controlled by Republicans, and because winning is all to Republicans these days, the Senate confirmed every name that came to them.  A non-educator, public educating hater is now Secretary of Education.  A former surgeon is Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  A man totally unable to acknowledge climate change heads the Environmental Protection Agency.  The Department of Defense is headed by a man who has said "I am polite, but I am prepared to kill everyone I meet."  He also got a waiver since a military person should not be in a civilian position until they have been out of the army for at least seven years.  The Secretary of State is a man whose previous experience is not with diplomacy and foreign relations, but with running an oil giant.  The Secretary of Transportation's claim to fame is that she is married to the man who runs the Senate (how convenient).

When one looks at the list, it is clear this is a deliberate plan to undermine the work of the Government.  If little by little the departments fail to provide the services needed by the American people, the people's dissatisfaction will grow and ta-da, the Republicans were right!  The Government is a mess and should be shrunk, even disappeared.  They will not know what should replace it, so that's where Mr. Trump and his cronies will come in.  They will have a plan alright, and it will not be pretty for anyone, but it will be too late to stop it.

It is easy to blame Mr. Trump for all of this, but let's face it, he's just not strong enough or smart enough to pull this off by himself.  He has had considerable help from his "advisors" who carry with them their own brand of hatred and distrust of anyone who is not white, male, rich, and nominally Christian.  These men believe in their own brilliance (they are rich after all).  And, they would be even more wealthy if those other people were not in the way.  Those people are taking the money we could be spending on more military stuff to prove how strong we are.  Of course they don't actually go and fight; that's for the "takers" who need to earn their place in America.

The Republicans in Congress and Mr. Trump's entourage either help to shape Mr. Trump's "Executive Orders," or they do nothing to stop them.  They have all benefited from the gerrymandering that has been storming state legislatures since the 2010 census, insuring that Republicans have little opposition.  Major efforts are underway to keep people, mostly minorities, from voting in a nation that claims to be a democracy. 

Congress could fix all of this with new laws requiring independent groups to draw district lines.  They could make automatic registration at age 18 mandatory for all Federal elections (as they have had men register for the draft).  Congress could stop the travel bans cold, knowing they are targeting Muslims, something that is un-American.  They could override any veto with their patriotic fervor. 
Why don't they do these things?  I suspect it is because these actions would make America more fair and they are afraid that if things were fairer, they might not be in the positions they currently hold.  When you are addicted to power, it is hard, perhaps impossible to imagine yourself without it.  Giving more people voice threatens those who would monopolize the conversation.

I know many people disapprove of any  comparison of this administration to that of 1930s Germany, but there are similarities that are hard to ignore.  Adolf Hitler did not have the ability to cause the destruction of Germany and the Holocaust by himself.  He needed and received an enormous amount of help from men who were even more lethal than he was.  He got the ball rolling and talked the talk.  They moved the process forward possibly beyond anything Hitler dreamed of. 

We at least have that example to learn from if we would.  Just because Mr. Trump says something does not mean anyone should act to support it.  Congress had no trouble opposing nearly everything President Obama recommended.  One can't help but wonder if Republicans even think of what is best for all Americans, even those who voted them into office.  Since actions speak louder than words, I would say "Not likely."  Republicans are giving Mr. Trump permission to do whatever he wants to do.  Maybe we humans really can't learn from history.