Wednesday, December 13, 2017

HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?

By Ruth A. Sheets

I just finished reading the book "The Seamstress" by Sara Bernstein.  It is one of the most disturbing books I have ever read.  I nearly stopped reading it numerous times.  I read it as an audio book and the reader's storytelling voice made it all seem almost normal by the end.  What was normal, the experiences of a young Jewish Romanian woman, a victim of the Holocaust. 

As I read, the old question kept surfacing, How could this happen?  How do whole groups of people lose their humanity while they are working hard to destroy the humanity of others?  Do the perpetrators realize they have lost their humanity?  Is there any way to let them know what they are doing in time to save them and everyone else from the horrors to follow?

In the memoir, a young girl, her friends, and a multitude of Jewish women are brutalized, starved, forced to work as slaves, deprived of all dignity, herded like animals because of religion.  Christians performed unspeakable acts on people they did not know just because they could.  They had the power of the state behind them.

The hardest part to read was just how slowly and methodically it all happened to Ms. Bernstein and her friends and family.  Pay was cut, jobs became harder and harder to find if you were Jewish.  Christian citizens of Romania and Hungary had no problem hurting, spitting on, and otherwise humiliating people they thought were Jews.  They restricted where they could live, where they could shop, where they could go.  The Germans had not even entered these countries when these actions were happening, so they can only be indirectly blamed for the way things got started there.  Much of the brutality was home grown in Hungary and Romania.

By 1942, life even in the cities became nearly impossible.  People were arrested and accused of spying, when they were actually charged with being Jews.  The military was everywhere and if they happened to shoot someone, well, that was only a Jew, so who cares.

The labor camps where thousands were driven by overwork to their deaths, then the concentration camps where millions were starved and murdered are so hard to imagine because there has been nothing like them.  The Germans and other leaders built upon each other to devise more and more horrific acts to use against their captives while they pretended they were just doing their duty.

I have read other memoirs of the Holocaust, but this one was the recollections of a woman.  Had I been born in a different time and place, it could have been I who faced the horrors of watching her sister shot in front of her, watching women beaten to death for singing, seeing the bodies of dead and dying women tossed onto piles to be carted away.  The author was 44 pounds when rescued in 1945. 

I know many conservatives don't like anything they do or say being compared with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s in Europe, but I am seeing clear parallels.  We Americans are told "That could not happen here.  No one would allow it."  Having read this woman's story, I am not so sure.  It came on so slowly most people didn't even recognize what was going on until it was too late to do anything about it. 

A nebulous anger about jobs and working condition led Christians who felt entitled to good work at a decent wage needed someone to blame.  For centuries, Jews had provided fodder for their hatred.   How were Jews responsible, just by existing.  It was easy to target Jews in small communities, but more challenging in cities where there was more education and more religious mixing.  Begin limiting their rights, a bit at a time, make it difficult for them to earn money or have businesses.  Call them "Christ Killers," so you are excused to do whatever you want, in the name of Christ, whether you were actually religious or not.  See Jews as foreigners with no right to be in the country.

Some people in power in our country work hard to limit the rights of those they feel are beneath them, perhaps even inferior to them.  They have helped to create fear of people of color, a disdain of women, resentment of the poor - the takers, a belief that their religion is the only true faith and that one religion in particular is filled with terrorists.  They glorify the military, no matter what it does. 
They champion a kind of American nationalism that leaves many in our nation and the world vulnerable.

Immigrants are bad, except my ancestors "who came here the right way."  These folks are OK with incarcerating children for life, if they are of the feared groups.  They will deport the parents of
American citizen children just because they can, they are illegal immigrants, you know.  Racists and sexists are "fine people" and we have to protect our culture and its statues.

Remember, America has had its own concentration camps during World War II when more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were interned for being Japanese.  We still have Guantanamo which can hold a lot of people in a place that could easily be closed off to all inspection. 

Is this how it begins?  Is this how it happens?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

WHEN ALL THAT MATTERS IS A WIN

by Ruth A. Sheets

Before Thanksgiving, our Congress is planning to vote on major "Tax Reform" bills and have them signed by Mr. Trump before Christmas.  Republicans claim the bills they have brought forth will cut taxes for the middle class and "stimulate" our economy.  They also claim they are simplifying the tax code.  It is hard to believe even they believe these claims. 

When supporters, all Republicans in both the House and Senate, are asked about provisions of the bill, it is clear they don't really know or understand what is in the bills, let alone the consequences of passing this legislation for most Americans. They say they don't want to give tax breaks to the rich, but know full well this is what will happen.

Republicans in the Senate made sure that only Republican votes would be necessary to pass this tax overhaul and shoved hundreds of amendments into the bill which will affect large numbers of the most vulnerable Americans.  This includes cutting Medicaid and Medicare, license to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Reserve and a repeal of the most critical part of the Affordable Care Act, which was already voted down several times this year, and lots more.

What is going on here?  It is about a win, a big win.  Supposedly, Republicans promised their constituents they would repeal "Obamacare."  Because it has the name "Obama" in it, it is reflexively hated by a large number of white Americans.  "How dare a black man think he could be president and pass anything?"  So, in order to keep the loyalty of these constituents, they feel they can cheat, lie, misdirect, and generally cause harm to many Americans as long as they can claim a big win.

The one thing that is certain, if members of Congress have to prepare a bill in secret, then scheme and plot to make sure only their party gets a say in what is passed, something is wrong with the legislation.  And, of course, there is a lot wrong with it.  Cutting taxes for the wealthiest hoping they will put that money into more jobs or anything else except their bank account is  ridiculous.  Cutting corporate taxes nearly in half also hoping for more jobs, higher wages, and the return of money from offshore is a fantasy they want uninformed Americans to buy.

But wait!  Most Americans do not want these bills at all.  Over and over, polls tell all of us that Americans do not want tax cuts for the wealthy.  They like their health care.  They like the deductions for state and local taxes.  They like the deductions for student loans (even though they are very small) and those for home mortgages.  This does not seem to matter at all.  No Republicans have come forward to say "I am not voting for this thing.  My people don't want it, so I support them."  If they were to say this, their donors will supposedly pull financial support for their campaigns.  These Republican candidates are sure their courage will not be rewarded at home.  Far right candidates will be put against them and be better funded, so they will lose the seat.  

Wow!  So donors buy the seats and make demands from those who sit in them.  In New Jersey, a Senator is on trial for accepting gifts with no evidence that those gifts influenced his votes on anything.  How is he on trial when wealthy Republican donors are not?  They are getting votes for their gifts.

When the win is the only thing.  People will sacrifice their honor, their integrity, and just about everything else for it.  They will allow themselves to be threatened, cajoled, and bribed into doing things they know are wrong.  Or, they lie to themselves that what they are doing is good for everyone because it is good for them.  I keep hoping a Republican "lawmaker" will see defeating a horrific bill as a win.  I doubt I will see it any time soon, though.  So, I will mourn with the American people as we deal with the major cuts to critical programs that will come just because Republicans need a win.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

WHERE YOU COULD REALLY HELP - IF YOU CARED

Ruth A. Sheets

Every day, my inbox contains notices from candidates who just learned the Koch brothers or some other super rich entities are financing an opponent's campaign for amounts of money that ordinary citizens in their thousands will never be able to match.

This is disturbing. In a democracy, financial interference in elections by the super wealthy should be obscene, unacceptable. But, in reality, it is just the opposite. It's encouraged and Supreme Court approved. We hear both parties do it and so it's OK.

First of all, this level of financial interference with elections is not equally applied, but should not be allowed at all. There should be a reasonable limit to contributions any citizen can make to candidates, no matter their wealth. This won't happen any time soon because this super money gets people elected who are beholden to particular individuals, corporations, industries, or causes. The gains bring excessive, usually undeserved power and influence to the donors. This goes to the highest levels of government, all three branches as well as the most local levels for school board and town councils.

Rich people want to know their money will get them influence and recognition, even celebrity. They name things after themselves, establish foundations that give money to grateful groups who will make the donors seem legitimate and philanthropic. They want something for their dollars, and that something is name recognition, political influence, and a variety of "unacknowledged" special privileges.

The wealthy of the world believe they got their money by their own hard work, skill and talent, so, owe nothing to anyone else, but generously choose to share their largess with those they deem worthy. And, of course, those they deem worthy are those who have the same political and social views. Their foundations draw supplicants who come begging on their knees for the dribbles of help distributed to the poor and pathetic.

Toss a few bucks to local charities (not too much, though). Support a cultural institution, especially if your name can be on something. Give to your college/university to get a chair named for you, or perhaps an important building on campus. That also gives your kids free tuition to the institution. What a deal!

If the wealthy of our nation really cared about the country, its people, and its institutions, they would pay their workers better wages. They would name their buildings for great Americans like Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, or Caesar Chavez who made major contributions to American life and discourse. Then, they would seek out and help struggling local organizations that support people whose luck did not lead to the same level of wealth the donor has.

A million dollars to a place like Bethany Children's Home in Womelsdorf, PA that serves children from troubled home situations could indefinitely provide essential fees for graduating seniors attending school in local districts. Knowing they could attend proms, receive yearbooks, and walk at graduation would make a huge difference to so many young people. But, there would probably not be a lot of publicity. It's not glamorous, but truly needed.

That same million dollars, though is more likely to be contributed to a campaign to put some mega conservative in office who will promote fossil fuels in the face of global warming or try to limit women's right to choose as women have no right anywhere but in the home cooking, cleaning, and caring for their master. And, Oh yes, it will help to elect people who can make the donors even richer. Yeah, that's what America needs.

So, shame on you because you rich guys could make such a huge positive difference that would benefit so many more people. You could help real kids, support artists just starting out. You could help local schools get supplies and take trips that would make the education experience so much more valuable to kids. You could help communities preserve local historical sites. You could support community groups that provide after school recreation and study for kids who don't yet have the luck you had. You could do so much more with your money, a drop in the bucket for you, but you don't.
I get it, such largess might help people who don't share your ultra conservative views. Right now, you are hoarding your funds to obtain the greatest influence you can. Shame on you when you could help so many because you've received so much.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

OVERWHELMED AGAIN


by Ruth A. Sheets

Over four and a half years ago I wrote a blog about how overwhelmed I was at Republican vitriol after Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012.  One would have thought he had a mandate to get his agenda passed.  That, of course, is not what happened.  State legislatures had gerrymandered districts so thoroughly that the House of Representatives was heavily weighted toward Republicans, and those Republicans could not bring themselves to support anything President Obama favored, and  racism raised its ugly head. 

Since then, the attacks on the American system have exploded.  A sexist, racist bully has been elected president by the Electoral College, an outdated structure designed originally to protect Southern states and their desire to maintain slavery.  He lost the popular vote, you know the vote by individual Americans by nearly 3 million votes, yet he believes he has a mandate to totally rework the American government.  Gerrymandering has increased significantly, so it will be harder for Democrats or Independents to stop any of the "mandated" legislation, no matter how much it hurts the people.

The majority of the American people don't want any of Trump's proposals for government change, yet we may get it anyway, perhaps all of it.  We daily face the blows to our democracy, like the ones below.

- Encourage or at least allow members of the Trump campaign to meet with Russians whose goal was to disrupt the election on behalf of Mr. Trump.
- Approve as a partisan Senate totally inappropriate secretaries to head all the governmental departments that serve the American people.  They are either incompetent (Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development - I guess that growing up in public housing makes you an expert in it) or totally opposed to the department they are heading, to the point of trying to bring the department down, (most of the rest of them).
- Install relatives and other cronies who have minimal experience with anything related to governing.
- Start A shouting contest with a foreign entity that has access to nuclear weapons and a leader as unstable as ours, as though nuclear war is a positive.
- Ban Muslims from coming into our country even to visit.
- Stop the flow of refugees who are desperate, have been heavily vetted, and have nowhere else to go.
- surround the president with people whom he expects to lie for him to support his own lies.
- Cut funds that support family planning around the world which help  countries that are already in distress due to climate change and overpopulation.
- Oh, then, there's Climate Change, alright, it's really GLOBAL WARMING!  deny that anything is happening to the climate.  Not by choice of the American people, but by executive order, pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
- Allow coal, oil, and gas companies to continue to pollute at high levels because it costs too much to lower the emissions, even though deaths from the pollution are mounting.  Oh, by the way, it's OK for coal companies to dump their waste in streams and rivers.  Too bad folks downstream!
- Treat the citizens, American citizens of Puerto Rico with such disrespect that more than a month after the most devastating hurricane they have experienced in a century, most of the people still do not have access to power or clean water.
- "Order" the NFL to fire anyone who protests the way African-Americans are being treated in our justice system by "taking a knee" during the National Anthem.
- Insult the families of military personnel who have died, and when it is reported, claim it didn't happen and insult a respected Congresswoman.  Have your staff continue the insults too.
- Claim white supremacists are fine people and equate them with people who are peacefully protesting the group's racist actions.
- Nominate justices to the Federal courts who are mostly male, very young, hold extremely conservative positions on nearly every issue, and who are often not even qualified by modern standards to sit on any bench.
- Propose a tax bill that claims to give BIG breaks to middle class people, but actually gives BIGGER cuts to the wealthiest, who can now incorporate and get a 50% tax cut or just take their operations off shore.  In the process, cut all programs that serve poor disadvantaged citizens and communities, protect the environment, and improve our infrastructure.
- Begin a process to open public lands to drilling and mining, propose to close some National Parks, and double or triple park admissions.
- Call any news coverage you don't  like "fake news" and undermine journalists and limit access.
- Sabotage the Affordable Care Act by cutting the amount of time people have to sign up, cutting nearly all the money for advertising, and severely limiting the number of people who can  help citizens navigate the sign-up process, all leading to higher premiums and other problems.
- Appoint a "Voter Fraud" Commission manned by people who want desperately to limit voting, especially voting by people of color, young people, and a lot of other folks (who just might be Democrats).

Overwhelmed!  The majority of Americans want none of this, but Republicans are plowing head with all of it and more.  The list above could be twice as long.  How can we stand for the American people in the face of this onslaught?  That is the question I ask myself often before I think I might give up.
Well, this is my country as much as it is Mr. Trump's and I know Mr. Trump can only see dollar signs when he looks at every issue.  He allows only people around him who see the same dollar signs and will work to destroy any American institutions that might hinder his free-wheeling acquisition of money and power.

What do we do.  We read the list, We vote for people who will stand against these actions.  we pick a few things we can stand against, then we fight as hard as we can on those issues.  We find others who can stand with us.  There are great organizations working to stop the insanity.  We are not victims if we stand up to the bullying, lying, cheating, and hate.  We are patriotic Americans.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

CONGRATULATIONS TRUMP PARENTS!!


by Ruth A. Sheets

Those of you who became pregnant after the celebrations of the inauguration of Donald Trump way back in January, have given birth or will in the next week or so.  I thought you might like to consider the gifts your man Donald has given to your new baby.


  1. He has delivered the Supreme Court to the most Conservative elements of society.  You believe in all those Conservative ideas, you say.  Ah yes, that is until they make rulings that restrict your rights, not the one to keep and bear arms, but perhaps the ones that force you to keep making the rich richer.  Oh, you’re one of the rich.  I guess this won’t be a problem for you.

  1. When Mr. Trump could not get a “repeal and replace” for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), he single-handedly cut subsidies to insurance companies that support those who cannot afford regular insurance plans.  How bold of him.  You say your employer provides health insurance for you?  I’m sure that coverage has no co-pays or other financial outlays.  Of course, your share won’t ever go up.

  1. The Conservatives in Congress let CHIP go unrenewed.  This means health care for many children won’t be covered.  Oh, of course, your child’s care is covered, so what happens to those other kids really isn’t your problem, is it?

  1. Mr. Commander-in-Chief has declared that transgender and foreign-born persons cannot be in his military.  Oh, yes, your child is too young to care about that and someone will come along later and fix that before your child comes of age, but wait, your child is neither of those things, so no problem.

  1. Mr. Trump and his friends don’t like people who are Muslim.  They don’t want them in their country, so they have placed bans on their entrance into the US.  You say you are not Muslim so this is not a problem for you either.  

  1. Mr. Trump wants to completely “reform” America’s taxes.  He and the Conservatives in Congress are working hard to do this with a tax plan that will REWARD the wealthiest and give a few crumbs to the rest of the taxpayers.  Oh, you are among the 1%?  Congratulations.  You will continue to be coddled and your child will continue to have enormous privileges.  How fortunate for you.  Who needs Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.  These will all be cut because those “Welfare Queens” get too much already.  

So, you see, you have brought your child into the best of all possible worlds for Wealthy Conservatives.  And, with the limiting of voting rights and gerrymandering, your child can look forward to many years of privilege and success.  Merry Christmas! 


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

TO CENSURE OR NOT TO CENSURE


By Ruth A. Sheets

There is a proposal that the Senate of the United States, on its return to Washington from the August break, censure Mr. Donald Trump for his racist comments and support of White supremacists after Charlottesville. 

What would a censure mean? 

This man who currently occupies the White House is an embarrassment, but I can't just blame him.  We knew what he was before he was elected by a minority of the population and an outdated racist electoral college.  How could we have expected anything different.  He has always been a racist misogynist bully, but it seems enough people are OK with this that it will matter little whether or not the Senate slaps his wrist. 

Mr. Trump feels nothing but anger and can empathize with no one as seen in his responses to Charlottesville and Houston. 

He has, with the help of the Senate,  surrounded himself with people who also care for nothing but their money, as seen through the responses to devastating climate change, increasing poverty, Wall Street excesses, inequity in education, an uptick in the drug war, and so on and so on, through every Government department.  

So, my question again, what would censure mean?

I suspect, little or nothing, but I suppose the Senate should go through the motions, if only to say that even someone like Donald Trump is not unlimited in his actions.  Maybe through such an act, the Senate will find the courage to work for the American people instead of for the "win." 

I don't believe most Americans had any idea what damage an unscrupulous, politically ignorant president could do to our Constitution and democracy.  Maybe people will begin to note that to hold a position like the Presidency of the United States requires experience beyond what running a real estate empire and being a Reality TV star can give you. 

Naaah!  Americans like bullies.  Racism and sexism are just bonuses in a president, and, perhaps, a Senator. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

MOVE THE STATUES

By Ruth A. Sheets

It's time to acknowledge that the Civil War was really totally about slavery, slavery in one part of the country, which affected and infected the whole.  It is also time we remove from public spaces, the statues of the men who decided that slavery was more important than the union.  We now need union more than ever. 

It is also time we as a nation acknowledge that we have seen and understood African-Americans as less than human and that this vision keeps us from truly knowing African-Americans as our equals in every way. 

For these reasons and so many more, the statues must go.  They belong in museums, cemeteries and national parks, where people can remember that human beings can and should be better than the worst impulses our biases and prejudices would give us.  We can remember that people can be brave in causes that are unjust, but should not be celebrated for that.

Perhaps removing the stone and bronze remembrances can allow our nation to acknowledge our racist past and a present built on the beliefs and prejudices, as well as the money that came from a slavery economy and its Jim Crow aftermath. 

There are many among us who continue to see African-Americans as inferior and design laws, neighborhoods, poverty programs, education systems, a justice system, and economic policies to prove it.  White people declare "We are not racist," without ever having to examine why it is our kids are in the "good" schools and they get in the "good" colleges and live in the "good" neighborhoods.

Do we White Americans really deserve all our privileges while so many Black Americans languish in deep poverty, isolated from technology, trapped in schools with inadequate resources, stuck in food deserts, where there is never sufficient money to demand a livable environment.  Do we really think all we have, came our way  just because we worked so hard?  Of course most of us do.  Why not?  We are told that all our lives.

The statues of Confederate soldiers are a reminder to Black Americans that those rebels are more revered than they are and more valued by the culture. 

Those statues must be moved from our public spaces to remind us that black lives do matter and that we as a nation need to start living as though they do.