Learning to Listen

America has a hard time listening. We can watch the news and see what’s going on, but there’s a difference between looking and listening, especially when there’s so much noise to filter. Learning to listen requires us to go beyond the words, to hear and appreciate what’s also being communicated in moments of silence.

Over the past week, we’ve seen our listening problems rise to the surface, unfolding via the growing reports of harassment and misconduct by Harvey Weinstein. News coverage prompted numerous celebrities and victims to emerge from the shadows years, or even decades later. What caused the delays? A familiar set of problems – hostile work environments, fear of retaliation, a power imbalance and good old fashioned fear.

Actress Rose McGowan’s Twitter account was suspended after sharing her own abusive experience with Harvey Weinstein. Her initial accusation was shushed out of court for $100,000. The deluge of accusers that have supported McGowan’s account reflects another dark chapter for male accountability in Hollywood. It’s clear that Weinstein’s actions were well-known, and textbook bystander silence was the rule until the accusers generated enough media coverage to make it safe for other powerful men to come out against Weinstein.

Consider this situation in the context of the recent repeal of campus sexual investigation standards promoted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The repeal means that the burden of proof shifts even further toward victims, while protecting rapists like Brock Turner.  The result? Offenders are receiving the communication that they can abuse with minimal (if any) repercussions.

In the short and long term, victims are facing ever steeper battles to be heard while waiting for (historically) ineffective campus police/security to take action, under rules which mandate that rape kits and tests be performed within 72 hours of an attack. Additional roadblocks placed in front of people who deserve support.

Remember that the man-child in the Oval Office stands in the company of Weinstein and Turner for his own aggressive and unwelcome behavior towards women. There was outrage a year ago when the infamous Access Hollywood footage came to light, but not enough to derail his campaign. Is that predictive of Weinstein’s fate? Some time in the pop cultural penalty box  before business resumes as usual?

We cannot afford silence any longer. There isn’t space to devalue the traumatizing experiences others. A nation recovering from several natural disasters (with a notable lack of action and coverage in Puerto Rico), a President speaking to hate groups while cancelling necessary healthcare subsidies for lower-income citizens….we need a multitude of loud voices against these atrocities, but we must also learn to listen. The cynically powerful and repressive are muffling voices that should be heard. 

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Beyond the Helpers

There’s a popular Facebook meme circulating that quotes the late, esteemed Fred Rogers advising us to “look for the helpers” during times of tragedy.

This well-meaning trend re-emerges just when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has admitted to a lack of transparency for the social network’s advertising policies and display algorithms. Specifically, the ads allowed foreign (Russian) companies to funnel hundreds of thousands dollars into circulating divisive, often false information. These ads were paid for in Russian rubles, from an unclear source that Facebook has not been required to disclose…yet.

In addition to the negative political sway Facebook has exhibited through ad sales, there has been a barrage of content relative to kneeling NFL players and interpretations of Trump’s (in)actions in Puerto Rico. This is the backdrop against which the “look for the helpers” philosophy has re-emerged. 

With these events, the construct of “helpers” is considered in different ways.  With the NFL protests, we need help clearing the misinterpretations of protests against police brutality, as well as an understanding of First Amendment rights. In Puerto Rico, significant humanitarian efforts from celebrities and everyday people have taken the place of significant government action. Helpers seem to be in short supply with too many challenges across the nation and the globe to attend to at once.  The aid needed is varied as well: hearts and minds (NFL) versus a physical requirement to rescue and rebuild infrastructure (Puerto Rico). 

The renaissance of the Mr. Rogers meme, however, is overwhelming applied to the  mass-shooting that took place in Las Vegas weekend. While there are ways to help our fellow Americans  through every crisis (and there is abundant evidence of Good Samaritanism in Vegas), now more than ever, we need action from our duly elected government representatives.

I’m looking for the helpers to address our many challenges on Capitol Hill, and across the board, I’m finding them lacking. The obvious leader in failure is Mr. Trump, who benefited from the Russian attack ads, greatly exacerbated the NFL protest’s momentum, made a mockery of assistance in Puerto Rico (he wanted to throw cans of chicken a.k.a. metal projectiles into a crowd of people without water or power) and has already deflated efforts for gun control reform, because white male “lone-wolves” are his people. The President of the United States, rather than being our central helper is instead the Instigator in Chief.

Sure, there’s a select few representatives pushing for changes in gun laws, but the political gridlock turns it all into lip service. An insufficient proposed regulation of gun stocks rather than gun sales. Over 500 injured and 58 dead demands more than compassion and partisan time wasting. It demands positive action across the aisle that will actually save lives.

I offer up a new meme: Guns don’t kill people. Cynicism does.

What’s American Anyways?

In the past week, we saw the resurrection and death of another GOP healthcare bill, as well as massive failures across the board for the Trump administration in terms of focus and constructive action.

One obvious example of the discord is yet another social media war launched by the President, with tweets railing against the NFL. The rising political consciousness of athletes has been  assailed since former quarterback Colin Kaepernick  began a peaceful on-field protest a year ago. Some of the loftier discussions involve definitions of what constitutes patriotism. The Trumpbots advocate blind allegiance to tradition, with minimal consideration of different sociopolitical experiences of our country. Others view Kapernick’s kneeling as an expression of First Amendment rights designed to advocate change.

What does it mean to be American? The saying goes that actions speak louder than words, and the public and the office of President have been tested to back up their patriotism – with trial by fire, rain and torrential winds. Hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters have recently devastated states, territories, and communities.

Trump and his America have failed to be inclusive in their support of crisis operations. In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Texas is slowly on the path to recovery and the Florida Keys are opening up next week for tourism, despite 25 percent of homes being destroyed. News of progress has been muted, eclipsed by other trending topics, including the devastation of non-mainland American territories.

Texas and Florida have electricity and supplies. Puerto Rico does not. It took nearly a whole week for public outcry to turn into a collective roar, demanding that Donald Trump and his administration take action, rather than ignore the increased degradation of daily life for Puerto Ricans.

I’m sure your social media, news feeds and offline conversations have been filled with both NFL news and hurricane updates. But we need more media clarity regarding exactly who is being most negatively affected by the indifference: those whose skin tone is not found on the same color swatch as Mr. Trump (although in fairness, there aren’t many orange people).

It’s no secret that America has a race and “othering” problem. This administration is attacking sexual assault victims, non-christian religions, and pre-emptively filing waivers for the Jones Act in areas that support Trump and house his default residence.  Meanwhile, leadership held off on filing for a ravaged area full of brown people.

It’s time to hold authorities responsible and accountable for their lethal biases. People are dying from inaction and insufficient support. To be American isn’t a complexion, blind obedience to a ritual or speaking Midwestern English. Americanism used to mean welcoming and protecting freedoms, taking care of our citizens in times of crisis. It’s a shame that the occupant of the nation’s highest office needs constant reminders.

Social Media’s Voice in Politics

As Harvey and Katrina recede and a new hurricane builds strength, our eyes turn to the damage these catastrophic storms have caused. News sources have Key West taking the brunt of Irma’s force in America, while damage abounds in the Caribbean.

As we focus on recovery, ugly politics seem unavoidable. In Tampa last week, Trump was given the opportunity to walk back his Charlottesville comments. Instead he doubled down, continuing to ignorantly and equally cast blame on white supremacists and the protesting opposition.

This followed the White House’s admonishment of ESPN journalist Jemele Hill, which underscored the the traditional divide between government reach and personal opinions. Censoring the media and skirting the First Amendment seems to be the new norm. We see this in the administration’s preference for conservative white journalists – another break with accepted, multi-voiced tradition. This pandering to white media fosters an environment where police departments can continue to escalate racial divisions among private citizens. Posting “all lives splatter” content on September 11th assaulted public sensitivity and attempted to invalidate a legitimate statement of equality and equity. 

This media divisions the Trump administration is sowing also highlights the role that Facebook had in swaying the 2016 election. We now know that $100,000 paid for ads on the social channel, with the buys coming from fake Russian accounts. Facebook also allowed similarly targeted ads with anti-Semitic content to be posted as recently as this month, as well as a fake housing ad that excluded specific minorities.

With evidence mounting regarding a highly suspect 2016 Presidential election, little progress or forward motion in identifying and punishing state actors has been seen.

And despite last week’s “Will they or won’t they?” drama between the President and “Chuck and Nancy,” Trump has not confirmed his commitment to DACA. GOP leaders seem poised to shoot down any efforts to protect Dreamers in legislative form.

The conversations that Trump is having with top Democrats are dividing the GOP and hard-line Trump supporters (like living monster Ann Coulter), prompting Trump to broadcast supposed alignment on tax reform. We’ll wait and see..

With bifurcation across the board, it seems likely that the ongoing N.A.F.T.A. talks are headed for a similarly uncertain fate.  Mexican opinion of America is at an all-time low after an embarrassingly long wait for “The Donald” to reach out to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. POTUS waited a week after the country’s 8.1 magnitude earthquake to express condolences and an offer of help.

Which way do the Trump winds blow? I think that’s exactly what the President wants us to keep asking. By keeping politicians and the people guessing, he keeps himself trending on social media – and that’s power in his warped mind.

Eye of the Storm

The past few weeks have been a madhouse of large-scale emergencies all over the country.

A brief update from my last post: our world leaders and police still need supervision. But Officer Jeff Payne was fired from his part-time paramedic gig following retaliatory remarks made against Nurse Wubbels. He attempted to arrest her in July for failing to illegally providing a patient blood sample.

Moving on…Hurricane Harvey was the first major event of its kind to devastate the United states since Wilma in 2005. We had just a few days to grapple with that disaster before Hurricane Irma came along –  fatter and faster than Harvey, and currently wreaking havoc on the state of Florida. Both storms are historic and have left communities grappling with prevention and recovery. Scientists say we are in the middle of an active hurricane period which began roughly in 1995, when water temperatures began to rise due to global warming.

Click the hyperlink for an independently compiled list of charities working to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Harvey. Similar links for Hurricane Irma will follow in a later post.

A little bit of good news from last week: The House passed Trump’s deal with Dem brass (“Nancy and Chuck”) to allocate $7.4 billion to FEMA. A follow-up vote from the Senate increased the aid package to $15 billion, with four Texans voting against the plan (note: these politicians are from parts of the state currently unaffected by Hurricane Harvey). The maneuvers also allowed an increase in the debt ceiling, and avoided a government shutdown – until December anyway.

With many Republicans opposed to the debt ceiling extension, we have to wonder why Trump chose this path. Was it an attempt to seek favor in light of fervent public opposition to the repeal of DACA?  A big “eff you” to GOP leaders with whom the President is already at odds? Or is Trump actually concerned for the Americans who’ve been devastated by natural disaster? We have our doubts about the latter.

It’s worth noting that immigration debates sank candidate John McCain, and also created intra-party headaches for former President George W. Bush.  Is Trump enjoying tangling with a GOP that is splintering under leadership dissent? A man who boldly demanded a wall to keep immigrants out of the country is now throwing DACA over to Congress. What gives?

More updates on hurricanes, FEMA, and DACA in my next post.

Accountability: Who’s in Charge?

It’s been a rough time for Texas as the state starts to recover from Hurricane Harvey. But while we’ve been (rightly) focused there, the rest of the world continues to turn – in ways comforting and threatening.

Recent news has been dominated by by a lack of accountability, locally and internationally.

I’m looking at you, North Korea, with your hydrogen bomb. Tests being conducted register on the Richter scale (at magnitudes of 6.3 and 4.1), and are also missile-compatible and mass-production ready. The United States responded with a flyover that an obviously irked Vladimir Putin described as a “rash act,” while his officials deal with a U.S. investigation of one of its three diplomatic locations.

These events put three hot-heads – Kim Jong-un, President Trump and Putin – with nuclear capabilities further at odds. And there are plenty of lingering, unresolved issues that continue to chafe; specifically the hacking of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election by Russia.

Looking closer and more inward, the lack of accountability trend continues with the recent treatment of nurse Alex Wubbels by Officer Jeff Payne, and a video of another cop, Greg Abbott “reassuring” a motorist that cops “only kill black people.” Two more members of law enforcement who clearly forgot that a mission to “To protect and serve” applies to EVERYONE. 

What are the repercussions for these officers? The lack of action by both departments is not encouraging. Payne is on full administrative leave, which means that pay AND benefits are still intact, despite clear documentation of unwarranted hostility. Similarly, Abbott found a loophole that allows him to retire. Retirement means benefits remain, circumventing the firing process.

Contrary to Trump’s (need I say uneducated and misguided?) opinion, police brutality of physical, cultural and social forms is unacceptable. Under normal circumstances, that message would come from the top. Instead we get a pardon of trash human Joe Arpaio, under the cover of Hurricane Harvey news coverage.

The lack of accountability and acceptable response to developments that threaten our civilization is dire. There’s advanced politics behind world powers going unchecked, but also it seems, behind community dysfunction.  The spotlight has been on brutal and unethical police actions for years, but where is the transparency? Where is the justice?

We need answers from someone besides Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, who clearly favor a more lawless form of law and order – especially for people of color.

Next week, I’ll briefly follow up on these stories, and touch on Trump’s ending of DACA. I’ll also look at the recuperation progress in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the incoming Hurricane Irma.

United States of Emergency: Beyond Charlottesville

This past weekend offered a horrifying example of growing boldness empowering the hateful in America. The rally to “Unite the Right” under the alt-right banner culminated in the death of a counter protester run down by a white supremacist. Two local policeman helping to subdue the unrest were also killed in a helicopter incident.

The rally’s stated purpose was to protest the removal of a General Robert. E Lee Confederacy statue. The protest was organized by card-carrying bigot Richard Spencer, among others. Spencer played a key role in coining the term “alt-right” and has done much work to mainstream the divisive, radical ideology.

Ensuing discussions around who’s to blame for last weekend’s tragedy are moot and counter-productive. Ownership is clear. Richard Spencer, David Duke and their neo-Nazi thugs, including James Fields (the second-degree murder charge facing piece of garbage who mowed Heather Heyer) are directly responsible for the mayhem. Their words and actions incited hatred and violence that led to Saturday’s events. As political tensions blow up like powder kegs on issues such as Russia’s totalitarian actions, and the loose cannon of North Korea, it’s time for our country’s leaders to take strong, immutable positions against hate speech and violence.

To to white supremacists/nationalists/Neo-nazis trying to “take the country back,” a word of caution: nationalism is NOT patriotism. Members of “Unite to Right” are focused, not dissimilarly from their “spiritual” leader, President Trump, on entitled demanding and punishment, lacking any positive agenda to create a better, more productive America for anyone (including themselves).

There’s a severe disconnect between Spencer’s band of terrorists, who claim to feel disenfranchised, and the basic principles of inclusion. Gaining access and acceptance does not need to come at the expense of other groups. Equality and inclusion are not limited resources. The xenophobia I examined last week is boiling over, courtesy of a President that refuses to condemn the hate-filled intolerance of his core constituents. In fact, last weekend’s verbal response from The Donald adopted a “many sides” position that managed to affirm the white supremacists while casting vague blame on counter protesters. This is sickening.

You know Trump failed at bringing the country together beyond expectation when other conservatives trip over themselves to call out and condemn acts of domestic terrorism for what they are. The list includes Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Jeff Flake, and Tim Scott. Only open, vocal condemnation of white supremacists and their supporters will tell the Neo-Nazis they are not welcome here. The rhetoric of Republican leaders outside the White House is promising.

We need more than words, however. We need action. While freedom of speech is a foundational right, the border stop at inciting violent hate. Our leaders must condemn hatred and adopt all measures to protect diversity. Useless statements that allow white nationalists to misinterpret their advantage and gain momentum are the enemy.

If it’s time to “Make America Great Again,” we can’t equivocate. The alt-right is just plain wrong – and dangerous. 

America is in a state of emergency. We cannot doubt it. It’s 2017 and Nazis are terrorizing our country. Our collective response will make history – because either we stood together to expel hate, or because we failed our Constitutional commitment to each other.