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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Undermining Democracy

“Undermine” – “to wear away at the base or foundation; to injure, weaken, or impair, especially by subtle, stealthy, or insidious means

Syn. “de-construct” – a non-word; see “destruction” – “the act or process of demolition or slaughter
We need to be perfectly clear about this: “de-construct” is a word created to avoid the use of another word, like “demolish’ ‘destroy,’ ‘decimate’ or ‘undermine.’

What or who might be undermining the United States of America?  It’s looking a great deal like the Republican Party and its reluctant head, Donald Trump, are the culprits (with the enthusiastic help of Vladimir Putin).  They seem to be following a game plan put together by the former special advisor to Trump, named Steve Bannon.  Although he is out of the White House now, he seems to be carrying out, and advising on, a Plan to de-construct the ‘administrative state.’
Looking at present circumstances, there are some elements that stand out as indicators of de-construction.  Here are some of the more important ones, in my opinion:    
1)     Attack government as the main problem confronting our society.
2)     On the other hand, be prepared to use government infrastructure as the means for destroying democratic principles
3)     Appoint people to run the departments of the federal government who are dedicated to the exact opposite of what their departments have demonstrated as their mission. Choose people who have little expertise for their jobs but who pledge absolute loyalty to the Executive.
4)     In tandem, attack civil rights and praise the accomplishments and behavior of authoritarian leaders of other countries
5)     Withdraw from multi-national agreements and trade associations, and engage only in bi-lateral agreements and treaties
6)     Conduct personal business using government structures and officials
7)     Use the military apparatus and weapons to threaten, impede and intimidate other countries
8)     Advocate and execute actions that divide people into winners and losers; good and bad; friends and enemies
9)     Ignore and eschew legislated laws and ethical standards
10) Denigrate individuals and groups that oppose or reveal truths about government corruption or unethical behavior
11) Conduct legislative functions by means of Executive Orders and informal press releases like Tweets
12) Appoint people to the Supreme Court and lower courts who will generally find a way to support all of the above
13) Lie, prevaricate, mislead, dissemble, and emphasize distractions from real issues
Most of the above have been addressed by this author in other posts, so let us focus on what may be too often overlooked or dismissed:
  • The inability of certain legislators to stand up and oppose unethical, illicit or illegal behavior of the Executive, or of their colleagues.  As we speak, there are sexual predators in the Congress who are known by other members and staff.  Still they remain anonymous because other members will not condemn them.  Why? Because they fear retribution?  Because they are too powerful to challenge? Because whistle-blowers could lose their jobs?  Or is the silence part of an unwritten pact between colleagues?  Probably all of the above.  But, the silence undoubtedly goes much deeper than that because male dominance in this society would be in danger if women were believed when they say they were sexually abused or harassed.  A change that fundamental could threaten the myth of male superiority, thus threatening a multitude of behaviors, myths, stereotypes and beliefs. Allow me to mention just a few:
    • Marriage as the ’giving’ of a female child by one man (the father) to another man (the groom), by which transaction a pattern of superiority, control or power is passed from one male to another.  It is a ritual that encompasses many social remnants of male dominance: the concepts of the wife “obeying” or of the male as “Head of household” remain in some marriage ceremonies.  However, such ancient symbols have also been removed by denominations or religions that have recognized their significance.
    • The taking of the husband’s name by the wife is a symbol that still prevails, although slightly challenged by a hyphen linking last names of both partners. 
    • The mythical concept of the woman victim as the one at fault in a case of sexual misconduct by a man is engrained in societal folklore to the extent that it pervades even our justice system. It is based on ancient myths, folklore and stereotypes that the woman is some sort of siren who entices a male by her “wiles” – which the dictionary defines as “a deceitful artifice” or a “beguiling or coquettish trick.”  Thereby, the woman accuser is made into some sort of magician or, more likely, a “witch” with a magical power that cannot be resisted by a man.  Her clothes, her appearance, her gestures, perhaps her words are made out to be seductive, and the resulting sexual encounter is therefore the ‘fault’ of the accuser.    
    • “His word against hers” is a false standard that gives the male the edge every time, as the stereotype of male power and superiority is automatically accepted by most people, including too many women jurors.  When some women defer to a husband by saying “my husband says” there is, indubitably, a hint of acceptance on the part of the wife that what her husband says carries more weight than what she might aver on her own.  Such ingrained acceptance of cultural norms or myths overarches gender, just as any bias can do.
Hopefully, these brief examples provide some insight into the power of the male dominance myth and societal norm.  The acceptance of a different scenario or standard – like calling out a U.S. Senator for unacceptable behavior toward women -  is a challenge not only to the male club in the Senate or the House, but also a challenge to all the biases and myths that keep male dominance in control of societal norms and behaviors.       
  • Another overlooked but important undermining of our constitutional principles is the inability of voters to withdraw their support of such behavior and policies.  Voters and non-voters are contributing in a big way to the destruction of our democracy. How?
    • Acceptance of lies and propaganda leads to a society that becomes unstable because it has no core – no center – on which citizens can depend.
    •  One of the most important building blocks of our democracy is ‘representation.’  And, representation is necessarily based on the foundation of trust.  Trust that the representative will care what happens to you.  Trust, that your representative will not only provide factual information, but that s/he will put principle above ideology or politics (“do what is right”).  Trust, that the Representative will make sure that constituents are not harmed by abusive or politically-motivated legislation.  Trust, that citizens will have every opportunity to be heard and to be taken seriously.  Trust, that the representative will act to keep his/her oath of office.  Trust that truth will be honored in all dealings with voters and constituents.              
    • Acceptance of unethical, immoral and anti-social behavior tends to infect the society, and bring about a milieu in which destructive behaviors and actions are more generally viewed as acceptable, leading to a society that is based on harm, hurt, competition, and violence rather than on caring, healing, opportunity and the building of a diverse but unified community.
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“FBI: Hate crimes reached 5-year high in 2016, spiked around presidential election.  A new FBI report documents a five-year high in hate crimes, which trended upward shortly before and after President Trump won the election last year. The increase further confirms the explosion of bias incidents we documented in the wake of the election.” (SPLC)
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    • Another building-block of democracy is, of course, elections.  Not only is it important to have honest, dedicated, competent candidates, it is also imperative to have a process that is fair, equal and open for voters of all persuasions and circumstances.  Restricting the voter franchise is a danger sign for our democracy and our society. In the current atmosphere, we are in imminent danger of this right being undermined and limited.  Acceptance of imposed restrictions, and acceptance of unequal access to the voting apparatus is another danger sign, not only for our democracy but for our entire society that has begun to accept authoritarian rule as the norm, and inequality as the result.
    •  Moreover, acceptance of inequality in terms of the weight given to different cohorts, individuals, or organizations is equivalent to cheating.  PACs, Super-PACs, and unrestricted inducements of private wealth are all threats to our democracy.  We cannot survive as a democracy under the current weighting of votes, buying of votes and restrictions on voters.
    • In addition, when Party ideology becomes all-important and trumps what is best for the country, and what is right for all, there arises a threat recognized at the very beginning of our country’s independent existence. President Washington spoke about this in his Farewell Address and minced no words.
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“Washington recognizes that it is natural for people to organize and operate within groups such as political parties, but he also argues that every government has recognized political parties as an enemy and has sought to repress them because of their tendency to seek more power than other groups and to take revenge on political opponents.  He feels that disagreements between political parties weakens the government.

“...he makes the case that "the alternate domination" of one party over another and coinciding efforts to exact revenge upon their opponents have led to horrible atrocities, and "is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism."  

From Washington's perspective and judgment, political parties eventually and "gradually incline the minds of men to seek security... in the absolute power of an individual",] leading to despotism.  He acknowledges the fact that parties are sometimes beneficial in promoting liberty...but argues that political parties must be restrained in a popularly elected government because of their tendency to distract the government from their duties, create unfounded jealousies among groups and regions, raise false alarms among the people, promote riots and insurrection, and provide foreign nations and interests access to the government where they can impose their will upon the country.” (Wikipedia article)
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The undermining (de-construction) of government is well underway, and is well down the road to destruction.  Fundamental re-building is imperative, but will be delayed until we return to the basics of our constitution and re-formulate the building-stones of our democracy.  It is not too late, but the current administration is intent upon creating a nightmare for activists, liberals, and progressives. First step: win offices on all levels -- local, county, state and national.  2018 is our chance to turn the tide, and 2020 is our chance for a major change of direction. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Five Former Presidents and Citizen Service

Watching C-Span2 on October 22nd I saw five former Presidents of these United States (Jimmy Carter (#40 - 1985-1989) George H.W. Bush (#41 - 1989-93), Bill Clinton (# 42 - 1993-2001), George W. Bush (#43 - 2001-2009), Barack Obama (#44 - 2009-2017). joined together in common cause to raise funds, and to praise the volunteer efforts, brought forth by the natural disasters of hurricanes.  It was a pleasure to see, not only because of their unity in endorsing the money-raising concert, but because relative calm and peacefulness plus positive interaction despite political party were represented by this group. The effort itself – known as One America Appeal – has raised $31 million since September 7th. 
However, for what I am about to write, there was an equal emphasis from all of them on the importance of Americans working together to solve problems, deal with disasters, fix broken lives, and give of themselves in service to others, no matter what our differences as human beings.  This concept was perhaps nobly represented by the Points of Light Foundation, founded and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.  It was, at the time of signing, taken rather lightly by the press and others, but has gained its own place among the volunteer programs associated with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which currently sponsors and oversees AMERICORPS, the Senior Volunteer Programs – Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and Retired Senior Volunteer Program -- plus the Volunteer Generation Fund.  So, let us concentrate on what is somewhat unique about our Nation – it’s penchant for volunteer community service and relief efforts.
Of course, we cannot claim sole possession of a spirit of community service and cooperation in relief efforts.  The nation from which we separated – Great Britain – can claim credit for leading the way in certain volunteer efforts, as can other nations from which we have evolved. 
The period of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was a time of dynamic economic change.  The factory system, the discovery and use of steam power, improved inland transportation (canals and turnpikes), the ready supply of coal and iron, a remarkable series of inventions, and men with capital who were eager to invest—all these elements came together to produce the epochal change known as the Industrial Revolution.
The social unrest following these developments provided a fertile field for Methodism, which had been advanced by Anglican clergyman John Wesley in the mid-18th century., and from its beginnings, Methodism put great emphasis on social service and education.  Methodism was especially popular in the new industrial areas, in some of which the Church of England provided no services. It has been theorized that by pacifying social unrest Methodism contributed to the prevention of political and social revolution in Britain.”  (encyclopedia.com)
It was during this period that many other volunteer relief and reform efforts flourished.  To name a few: The Chartist Movement, Anti-Slavery Movement, Women’s Suffrage, Reform of child Labor laws, Trades Union growth, and the growth of public health institutions like hospitals and nursing schools. And, out of these reform movements came volunteer service groups like: 
1.      The Young Men's Christian Association – “founded in London, England, on June 6, 1844, by George Williams and a group of drapers in response to unhealthy social conditions arising in the big cities at the end of the Industrial Revolution (roughly 1750 to 1850). Growth of the railroads and centralization of commerce and industry brought many rural young men who needed jobs into cities like London. They worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week and often lived at the workplace.  The first YMCA was organized to substitute Bible study and prayer for life on the streets. By 1851 there were 24 Y’s in Great Britain, with a combined membership of 2,700. That same year the Y arrived in North America: It was established in Montreal on November 25, and in Boston on December 29.  The idea proved popular everywhere.” (http://www.mfldymca.org)

2.      The Red Cross “Clara Barton and a circle of her acquaintances founded the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. on May 21, 1881. Barton first heard of the Swiss-inspired global Red Cross network while visiting Europe following the Civil War. Returning home, she campaigned for an American Red Cross and for ratification of the Geneva Convention protecting the war-injured, which the United States ratified in 1882.”  (http://embed.widencdn.net)
As a colony of Britain, America not only picked up many of the same volunteer movements and groups begun in England, but also inherited the community values inherited from earliest settlers in Jamestown and Massachusetts, where concern for neighbors often meant the difference between a healthy, vibrant community and a community torn apart.  The Quakers, the Huguenots, and the Dutch all contributed something to that concept from their own religious beliefs and colonizing experiences.  Perhaps surprisingly, the Islamic community claims some of that tradition as well: “Throughout the Ismaili tradition, the role of the volunteers was to serve the academic institutions, community organizations and religious institutions. This service (or what is called seva) was to be given freely, with devotion and without expectation of payment.”
 Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous Frenchman who keenly observed American life and then wrote Democracy in America, published in France in 1835 and 1840, is reported to have said:  "America is a nation of joiners," although that translation from the French has been under question.  “Tocqueville viewed the proliferation of ‘associations’ as a unique response that was not only critical to the success of the experiment of democratic government, but also served to provide for the well-being of all of its citizens in accordance with a sense of equality that was previously unknown (Tocqueville 1840).”  (Learningtogive.org)
"In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion or an idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together once they have made contact. From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are heeded" (Tocqueville 1840, 599).
It may be fairly said that once the colonists fought for and won their independence, the associative spirit of America began thriving on its own as Tocqueville acknowledged, and democracy was forever deepened by the nature of that spirit and norm of giving back to the community, the colony or state, the nation, something of oneself – time, talent, and/or treasure – so that all might have a better, richer life.
It is a concept that is now paid lip service by certain so-called leaders and office-holders, who have written and spoken about “de-construction” of government and institutions and even programs that grew out of this fundamental community-building nature.  There is abroad today, the very antithesis of the philosophy that democracy is based upon religious and humanitarian concepts of mutual responsibility for one another.  It is unforgiveable that the holders of such beliefs are, in fact, denying their religious heritage, their democratic heritage, their philosophical heritage from the Enlightenment and their own form of government that has its basis in looking after the welfare of all its People. 
Instead of the concepts of “philanthropy” and “charity,” we are subjected to the antithetical concepts of competition and conflict in the pursuit of self-aggrandizement.  Instead of the principle of mutual responsibility, we are met with the antithetical concept of tax-breaks for the rich.  Instead of the concept of neighborliness and welcoming of others, we are put upon by walls of separation and conflict.  Unity out of diversity is challenged by a false white nationalistic fervor that believes in the inferiority of other groups. 
 Instead of a nation that has grown under the development of inclusion and broadening of the electorate, we are now faced with laws that divide and exclude people from Associations that increase their freedoms and their power, and with laws that restrict the free expression of voting for whom the diverse electorate determines is their choice for office.  Instead of organizational and institutional memberships based on equality, we are subjected to a government that seemingly will stop at nothing to subjugate others to an authoritarian concept of religion, law & order and military dominance and superiority.    
We are, if nothing else, facing a constitutional crisis, perhaps deeper and broader than ever faced before; deeper than that of the fight for independence from George III, deeper than the move from confederation of states to a centralized governance by three-co-equal branches of national governmental infrastructure.  It will eventually be even deeper than dissolution of the Union by means of the War Between the States over slavery, known as the “Civil War.”
We are surely facing, not de-construction, but destruction.  The Alt Right of the Republican Party is on a path that can lead to the de-stabilization of democratic principles, the destruction of democratic ideals and freedoms, and the eventual undermining of our constitution, our institutions and our concept of equal justice under principled law.  Unless the concepts of responsibility for building community, offering community service, and enfranchising and strengthening every member of our communities are re-invigorated, we shall come to ruin.
The seeds of de-construction have been or are being planted right now. Hillary was always right (in spite of her detractors):  there is, and has been, a vast right-wing conspiracy, and now, for the first time in history, the anarchists of the right have enough leverage and power to bring it to fruition.   Here are a few of those ‘seeds:’
ü  Use of language so that fact and fiction can be confused, and the minds of voters attuned to accepting fiction as fact – false or fake news and attacks upon the press serve to confuse and bring every foundational principle under scrutiny
ü  Attack on government as “the problem” so that the electorate gives up on one of its most prized possessions - a government that works to enhance people’s lives.
ü   Privatization then becomes a possibility for almost every governmental function; start with the military and sub-contract many functions to the private sector – remember Blackwater? Continue with prisons – no one cares what happens there; then pick on public schools and emphasize what charter schools can do that they can’t.  All that will make the privatization of Social Security much easier, and Big Banks can take over the billions in the Social Security Trust Fund – but make sure false news says that the Trust fund is going broke!
[Since I have written about these “seeds” before in a Blog entitled: “FOURTEEN REASONS to be ANTI-TRUMP” find more detail on each of the 14 Reasons by consulting this posting at 11/23/2016.]
What does all this mean?  It Means:  WE ARE HEADED IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!

We should be returning, not to a tyrannical, nationalistic, white supremacist state that protects corporations and the wealthy.  We should be re-invigorating the concept of national and community service, under which the service of men and women in the armed forces can be fully recognized along with the many volunteer efforts that are prevalent in towns and cities across this nation. 
We need to re-introduce the principle of mutual responsibility for each other – that the unequal distribution of wealth, the suppression of some people’s right to vote, that the unjust killing of one person, the denial of free choice to one woman, the sexual harassment of one person by another or the offenses against others by the state or by its representatives or beneficiaries – are offenses against me and everyone else.  The loss of one life in any way is a loss to each one of us and to all of us as a corporate entity – just ask the active military who feel deeply the loss of even one combatant.  And, what about that principle the Marine Corpse spouses that no one gets left behind because every life is too important to the Corps to be left behind?
There is no better way to instill a sense of mutual responsibility and interdependence in our society than to promote national and community service as a universal obligation for all of us as an act of thankfulness for American citizenship.  There is no better way to rehabilitate an anti-social, irresponsible, uncaring and unengaged personality (a law-breaker) than to change the whole prison system from one based on punishment to one based on obligation and service to others as one's "sentence". 
 Can it be done?  Well, except for a few successful caring- for-animals programs for prisoners, it hasn’t really been tried and tested all that much.  We are content, it seems with some educational classes, some therapies, some work-related assignments, but full-blown programs of community service seem to be lacking.  (Although we did try forced labor for a long while (“chain gangs”), but that was deemed cruel and unusual punishment, which it was).
As a society, we seem reluctant to obligate people to something.  We expect them to volunteer.  But, we quickly find that only about 20-30% of the population do freely volunteer for some form of community service (it varies in terms of what is counted as ‘community service’).  An older volunteer program under the CNCS, called “Learn and Serve” was, along with Points of Light, an attempt to make volunteering more of an accepted part of what it means to be a citizen of this nation.  L&S did make an impact in that service learning is now more widely accepted in schools and colleges as a part of the curriculum.
All rights and freedoms carry with them certain responsibilities [except for 2nd Amendment rights, which apparently carry no responsibilities at all, not even safety (and certainly not universal background checks of potential gun owners), according to the pronouncements and actions of the NRA].  In spite of that, it is a widely accepted principle that responsibilities are part and parcel of rights and freedoms: you can’t yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater; you can’t print scurrilous attacks upon others without some consequences under libel laws; you can’t lie about the abilities or contents of a product or service; you can marry whomever you wish, but if you don’t disclose certain information about your background, (a prior marriage still in effect, or an inability to consent to the marriage contract), that marriage can be declared invalid (annulled). 
We are not likely to convince the current administration that community service should be a responsibility of anyone who has been born to or given the right to citizenship.  However, we can, as individuals and as groups, begin to sow the 'seeds' of this idea in every corner of our existence.  How about influencing a tax reform law that recognizes volunteer hours (not just miles driven) as in-kind charitable donations, worth a certain amount per hour and documentable?  Or, how about the By-laws of the organizations to which you belong: what are the current obligations or responsibilities of members? If even mentioned, do they include an obligation to serve one’s community?  And what about other politicians -- are there any you could influence to write laws about a citizen's (or corporation's) obligation to serve local and national communities?
For more detail on national and community service, please read my Blog post of 2/8/2016.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Trump Budget and Child Abuse

Caution!  This blog may be unsettling, because it is about child abuse, or the threat thereof.  The perpetrators may not only surprise you; the accusations against them may not be to your liking.
I encourage you to read further at a cautious pace, and absorb as much as you can.  It may change your mind about the level of child abuse in this country, and about who some of the people are behind a certain kind of child abuse.
First, let me paint a picture and see if you can envision why this is written in the way it is.
Suppose you knew of a large group of men (and some women) who were involved in a scheme or a plan to abuse or neglect a very large number of young children?  Suppose you found that they had access to some of your money, and were using your dollars to take away from these children some specific things that would cause them to become sick or to lose some safety items that enable them to ward off or protect themselves against harm or death?  Let’s say you had uncovered a conspiracy within this group to take away something from their parents that was enabling those parents to protect them and to enable them to develop into healthy and productive adults?  And, one step further, what if you discovered that this cadre of men and women was using your dollars and your backing to perpetrate this whole scheme while protecting themselves from responsibility, blame or consequences for their actions?  What would you do?
Second, let me give you a brief primer on child abuse definition.  Ready?
Child abuse is a crime that encompasses a variety of behaviors involving physical, emotional, or sexual mistreatment or neglect upon a child.”
State child abuse laws define child abuse as any act (or failure to act) that:
  1. Results in imminent risk or serious harm to a child's health and welfare due to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse;
  2. affects a child (typically under the age of 18);
  3. by a parent or caregiver who is responsible for the child's welfare.
In most states, the harm must have been inflicted by non-accidental means. This includes intentional acts, actions that were careless, and acts of negligence.   Also, the ‘harm’ inflicted upon a child need not be actual, but may include ‘threats’ or ‘risks of imminent harm’.”  http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/child-abuse-overview.html
Yes, I have taken liberties by bolding and underlining certain words, but those words are key to a definition of child abuse that most of us ignore.  We are much more apt to look for recognizable physical acts of abuse, rather than for inaction, negligence, or risks of imminent harm as being abusive.  But, according to these common definitions used by the states (and the feds as well), they are as illegal as physical or mental abuse.
So, hear me out.  What if you applied this definition of abuse to what you had discovered?  Would you begin to believe that the group was at the very least committing acts that could be labeled negligent, causing threats of harm to anxious parents, including the risk of imminent hurt to their children? Leaving that question aside for the moment,  let us take another step.
What I propose to do now is to lay out for you three examples of what I consider to be child abuse, not in terms of physical or mental or sexual abuse acts, but under the terms we have just discussed: inaction, neglect, threats and risks of imminent harm.  See if you can agree that the perpetrators could well fall under a general definition of caregiver:  "an unpaid or paid member of a person's social network who helps them with activities of daily living.” 
Moreover, if the definition of caregiver is expanded to reflect the care given by others in the social network (that could include all of us), then anyone paid to be responsible for domestic tranquility, the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, might well be considered a caretaker in a very broad sense, but also in a very real sense.  More on that thought later.  First, the three examples of child abuse:
EXAMPLE (1) If you were interacting with a group of pre-school children in an educational, care-giving, developmental setting that included an opportunity for those children to develop skills and understanding that would give them a leg-up on other children their age as they entered elementary school, what would you think of a cadre of adults who swooped down on that center and began moving out the furniture, shooing children out the door to fend for themselves?  What would be your response to their firing adult mentors and making them leave the building or of them telling any parents who showed up that their children would no longer have such ineffective and inefficient “fun and games?”  And then, have the raiders shut all the doors and windows and exit the building, leaving behind broken hearts, broken toys, no furniture no teachers and caregivers, just an empty building.
Sound familiar?  That’s right – it’s Head Start, on the Trump chopping block for cuts of enormous size, along with other Education programs (credit FirstFocus.org for much of what follows)
EARLY CHILDHOOD--    Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funding decreased.  This is the primary government program that helps low-income families obtain child care.  
Head Start funding reduced. Like the CCDBG, the proposed FY 2018 budget seeks to fund Head Start at FY 2016 levels and excludes the increase contained in the FY 2017 final Omnibus appropriations bill. The highly successful Head Start program provides comprehensive health, education, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income families to improve the early health and education of young children.   
Preschool Development Grant eliminated.  These grants allowing states to improve their preschool infrastructure by enabling them to develop high quality preschool programs have been zeroed out in Trump’s budget.  But there’s still more…
EDUCATION Title I reduced. The budget is asking for $578 million below FY17 for Title I, which addresses disparities in education resources for low-income students by targeting funds to public schools in areas of concentrated poverty.
Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) cut.  The budget includes a 7 percent reduction to EHCY, which serves more than 1.2 million students experiencing homelessness in the public-school system by providing protections and services to ensure they can enroll in and attend school, complete their high school education, and continue to higher education.
 21st Century Learning Centers eliminated. The budget does not fund the $1.2 billion for before- and after-school programs that support academic achievement for low-income students, including providing nutrition to students during the summer.
EXAMPLE (2) Picture having a child or grandchild with a serious disease, a malformed heart, or a cancerous liver.  Let’s say the only treatment available is at one of the premier children’s hospitals in the nation.  The first thing that comes to mind is of course, the ability of the child to undergo major treatment and even surgery to repair the damage.  The second thing, undoubtedly, is the expense, not only of treatment, surgery, doctors, surgeons, tests, equipment, etc., but also the added cost of having to arrange and pay for temporary residential arrangements away from home at some distance because back-and-forth trips would not be feasible.  Oh yes, and what about the other kids at home?  Another story perhaps. 
Parents find themselves facing costs they never expected in their lives.  They begin to search for financial aid from government and the social worker at the hospital says, “I’m terribly sorry, but the main source of funds in these cases used to be Medicaid, but it isn’t available now for your child’s case.  We’ll have to look elsewhere.  How about family or friends?  Money-raisers? Savings?  All-of-a-sudden, the situation becomes darker with the prospect of long-term care being a necessity.  Where do the parent’s turn?  Bankruptcy becomes one of the options, and despair and fear begin to creep into the picture. 
Got the Picture?  It’s all related to Medicaid and CHIPS re-structuring and funding.
HEALTH-- The Trump budget cuts Medicaid funding by $610 billion, ending the Medicaid entitlement and changing the program into a system financed through block grant or per capita payments to states beginning in 2020.  With more than 37 million children in America relying on Medicaid for their health insurance, cuts of this magnitude would have a dramatic impact on health care access, coverage, and benefits for our nation’s children. The proposed Medicaid cuts are in addition to $880 billion in Medicaid cuts that are currently pending before Congress.  Combined, those Medicaid cuts would result in slashing the program by an astonishing $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
While some child-focused programs remained flat or received modest increases, others are zeroed out in the president’s budget. They include Emergency Medical Services for Children, Autism and Other Developmental Disorders, and Universal Newborn Hearing Screening.  And then, there is CHIPS
Should Congress fail to extend CHIP funding, states will rapidly exhaust their federal allotments. MACPAC estimates that by March 2018, 31 states and the District of Columbia will run out of CHIP funding; by June 2018, all states but Wyoming will be without funding.
 The Trump administration has proposed significant reductions to current CHIP funding levels:
a lowering of CHIP’s upper income eligibility limit to 250 percent of poverty, which would affect programs in 28 states.   
 For the 4.7 million CHIP children covered through Medicaid, federal payments to states would drop to the normal Medicaid matching rate, creating a considerable funding shortfall that states would need to offset.
 For the 3.7 million children covered through separate CHIP programs, all federal funding would cease and states would have to move these children to Medicaid, replace separate program funding out of state revenues, or end coverage entirely.
MACPAC estimates that ending CHIP funding could translate into a complete coverage loss for 1.1 million children, while millions more would face significantly higher coverage costs. Furthermore, ending a public program involves months of planning, multiple administrative steps, and enough time to try to help families find alternative coverage. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2017/sep/extending-chip-high-stakes-families-states

EXAMPLE (3) Picture, if you will, the enormous factor adequate food is to a child’s life and development. Here’s a brief paragraph that tells the story:





Why Is Nutrition Important for Children?  Nutrition is very important for everyone, but it is especially important for children because it is directly linked to all aspects of their growth and development; factors which will have direct ties to their level of health as adults. For example, a child with the right balance of omega fatty acids in their daily diet has a much better chance at creating a more solid foundation for their brain activity and capabilities in later life. 
 HUNGER AND NUTRITION -  President Trump’s proposed FY 18 budget seeks to cut SNAP (food stamps) by $193 billion over 10 years. Currently, more than 20 million children are served by SNAP.  With nearly half of every SNAP dollar going directly to kids, the program combats hunger for the 1 in 5 children living in “food insecure” households. SNAP is one of the most effective ways to fight child poverty and is also credited with boosting academic performance in kids, which, in turn, helps them lay a foundation for economic self-sufficiency.

And, please don’t forget those school meal programs that are also being cut.  Going hungry in class is not amenable to achieving a quality education.
In many other ways, Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 seeks massive cuts to critical programs that help American children and families.  It takes aim at all areas of life that impact kids: health, education, poverty, housing, immigration, and foster care.    Below is a brief account of how other administration proposals for FY 2018 spending will affect the well-being of children and families. 
HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS -  The homelessness rate of American children and youth continues to skyrocket, but President Trump’s proposed budget aims to make massive cuts to homeless assistance and affordable housing programs that help children and families:   National Housing Trust Fund  This program provides resources to build and rehabilitate housing, including rental housing, for low-income families. About one-quarter of this spending, or $35 million, goes to children. 
 Legal Services Corporation (LSC) eliminated. This important organization provides civil legal services for low income families, including representation for families facing eviction.    The proposed budget also seeks to cut $133 million from Homeless Assistance Grants, $15 million from the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes Grants, and cut the Tenant Rental Assistance Program by 5 percent.
INCOME SUPPORT -- The White House budget proposes a devastating cut of $21 billion over 10 years to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the primary cash assistance program for low-income families with children. Fully 75 percent of TANF funding goes to children. Income support is critical to healthy child development and academic achievement. It helps parents provide the resources needed for economic mobility – such as transportation to work, childcare, and educational materials for their kids. 
Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) eliminated. This vital program currently funds an array of services for children, including child care, child abuse prevention, adoption assistance, and transitional services. Currently, states use about 35% of SSBG dollars for child welfare services… 
Cuts to Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. Trump wants to cut $40 billion from the Earned Interest Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) over 10 years. In 2015 alone, the EITC and CTC helped lift more than 5 million children out of poverty. Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) eliminated. Nearly one-quarter of all funding for this critical program is directed toward children.   
CHILD WELFARE -- there are several programs that have been reduced or cut that will heavily impact how states use federal dollars to support their child welfare programs, which puts the safety and well-being of children in care at risk.
 Adoption Opportunities Program cut by $9 million - helps children achieve permanency by providing funds to eliminate barriers to adoption and helping find permanent families for children
 The elimination of the Social Security Block Grant and reduction of TANF funds also greatly impacts child welfare systems since states use these funding streams to supplement child welfare programs. Cuts to Medicaid also significantly impact child welfare populations since most are covered through Medicaid and rely on it for physical health exams and mental health services and therapies.
One more point (and there are many more to make in this story): some programs that hurt and harm children with cuts are programs we so not readily associate with them.  Take just two of many: 

 Affordable housing
“President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request seeks to raid some of the most flexible and effective grant dollars that communities receive from the federal government to meet affordable-housing and economic-development needs.

Governors, mayors and other officials use funds from Department of Housing and Urban Development initiatives, such as the HOME Investment Partnerships and the Community Development Block Grant programs, to build and preserve housing, support first-time home buyers, open community centers and supplement services for the homeless, elderly and disabled. These funds would be eliminated in this proposal, which could result in 580,000 fewer affordable homes created and more than 350,000 jobs lost over the next five years. Eliminating these programs will leave cities and towns with too-limited funds, leading to local tax increases that stifle economies and limit mobility. (Henry Cisneros (HUD secretary, 1993 to 1997) quoted in the Washington Post)
Environmental Protection – see my Blog post for 6/3/2014 titled ‘Misusing the Power of the Purse” and let me conclude today’s blog post with some words from that posting:
“Now let me add to that the abuse of children that Congress has allowed to happen by neglect and inaction, as well as by active cutting of programs that benefit children and families.  Because I have spoken before of this (see blog postings for 4/13/2014, 2/17/2014, 3/14/2013, 3/3/2013), I will make it brief and to the point.  Pre-natal care is essential for children yet unborn.  Affordable healthcare is a must for children if they are to grow as they should and to face life without the effects of childhood diseases; they must have a first-class education that prepares them for life's work and life's demands, beginning with a pre-K program that starts them off with an advantage; they must be protected from environmental hazards; they must be encouraged and enabled to graduate from college;  they must be nurtured by families that are themselves not put at risk by either private or public decisions that can harm their lives.  Children must be nourished in many ways:  by caring people, with the right foods, the best education possible, and with a vast array of possibilities for living a fruitful and meaningful life. 
 “The Republican Radicals in Congress have decided that none of this is true or possible.  They have instead decided to cut funding for almost every program that benefits, encourages, nurtures and promotes children:  research, universal pre-K education, housing for the homeless and the poor, adequate funding for all schools and the resources necessary to bring about a world-class education for all; they cut Head Start, Aid to children and families, food stamps, and housing subsidies, and still want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  They have neglected children with special needs; have cut Pell grants and neglected to cut back on interest rates for student loans.  They neglect entirely the special needs of homeless children, children with disabilities, children who will not go to college, and of those who drop out of school.  They have done nothing to reform the juvenile justice system or the over-incarceration of drug-abusers.  They have neglected the potential of minority children and have instead laid the groundwork for them to be labeled as perpetual felons with no vote, no rights and no jobs.  I call this abuse and neglect of children who are our most valuable resource.  The congressional naysayers are child abusers and for that they must be called to account.  Impeachment for them is too mild.” 
I would simply add that the burden of proof as to whether “direct harm” or the threat of such, has been caused to specific children by congressional and presidential action or inaction (neglect) is no further away than the records of social service, Medicaid and other offices, doctors’ medical records, hospital records, housing authorities, etc.  It is simply a matter of equalizing the investigation of abuse and neglect by these politicians with the same unrelenting sleuthing when parents or relatives or strangers are involved.  The proof is there – passing or signing legislation is a potentially abusive action, and we need to make that fact stick through numerous class action lawsuits on behalf of the millions and millions of children who have been abused and neglected by the politicians we elect to represent and protect them as their surrogate caregivers. (Is that why Legal Services got eliminated, so the poor have nowhere to turn?)  
And let’s not forget, voters who continuously return abusive politicians to office are themselves abettors of abuse, neglecting their duty to protect their own children and grandchildren.  I speak directly to those many seniors who supported Donald Trump, and who, by so doing, have unleashed a child abuser upon their own grandchildren and on my grandchildren.  Shame on you!  You, and others, can redeem yourselves by never ever voting again for politicians who willfully or neglectfully support cutting back on programs that benefit our children and grandchildren. It’s time to stand up and challenge the child abusers in the White House and in the Congress.

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Player Protest Not Aimed at Flag

Donald Trump has unwittingly raised issues about patriotism that he doesn’t seem to understand when he tweets about honoring the flag and the national anthem.  Along with many others, Trump appears to believe that the flag in and of itself contains some sort of intrinsic value.  A patriotic symbol is just that – a symbol.  It stands for something, but does not possess worth, nor deserve honoring on its own merit.  It has no life.  It has no inner or outer value or status.  Flags and anthems do not themselves have records of community service or military service or patriotic sacrifice, although they may represent such.

The flag and the anthem do represent some of our history, our deeds and our life as a nation.  Much of that life deserves to be honored and perhaps revered.  But a flag is not that which it represents; it is at most a reminder of that which makes a nation worthy of respect, honor, praise and celebration, even of sacrifice.  To imbue and infuse the flag or the national anthem with an intrinsic power, value or life, is to make animated idolatrous objects of inanimate objects, transforming them into something they are not able to be. 
What makes such idolatry a problem is exactly what Donald Trump has done in attempting to punish or disparage people who will not “respect” (“worship?”) those lifeless objects. For that very reason, it is appropriate to call Trump to account for undermining a fundamental right of all Americans granted under the First Amendment:  the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” 
There seems to be a tendency in this country to make patriotic symbols, songs, and relics into something they are not meant to be: a test of patriotism.  One problem: symbols mean different things to different citizens, and people with different backgrounds.  Trump wants the flag and the anthem to represent something that he considers patriotic.  He wants the flag to symbolize victory in wars, a history full of triumphs, and certainly the bravery and courage of men and women (maybe?) in the military.  He certainly wants it to represent unfettered capitalism, earning of much profit, the triumph of making contracts and developing land into thriving businesses and enterprises.  Perhaps he even believes that the flag represents the freedoms and liberties that he enjoys as a rich white man.  Clearly, Trump does not recognize that national symbols may represent a much different reality to others.  He obviously cannot relate to many of the players in the NFL who have negative feelings about some of the history that the flag represents to them, not all of it in the past. 
Another problem is the inadequacy of a symbol itself to inspire.  Take the national anthem.  It supposedly represents bravery and honor in battle, and the inspiration of seeing the flag survive the “rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” Our national anthem is one more attempt to make the flag into an idol, a living breathing entity with power to inspire even though it has nothing to offer except its inanimate presence.  In contrast, those embroiled in the background battle itself receive no mention.  Further, our national anthem makes no mention of American humanitarianism, our many worthwhile institutions, or our beautiful land.  Our anthem glorifies an object that survives a battle, and glorifies war as somehow positive and uplifting.  ‘America’ and ‘America the Beautiful’ are much more reflective of the national character than what was chosen as our “national anthem.”
Right there is my argument with the Donald and many of his followers.  The focus of this nation’s patriotism needs to be on the People, not on the flag or the anthem, nor on statues, slogans, fables, or even on the wars we have fought and sometimes won.  We need to stop making war and victory in war the over-whelming theme of our symbols, but instead, need to emphasize our constitutional mission of making life better for people -- ourselves and others.  When our symbols of national pride fail to represent our national character, and our fundamental democratic and humanitarian values, they deserve to be questioned as to their validity.  But more to the point of the current protests, it is our government that needs to be called to account for those actions and policies that undermine that character and that Mission.   
So, here we are in a conflict that is as old and as enduring as our country.  And it comes down to racial attitudes, for that is what has blemished our history from our beginnings through 241 years right up until this very moment in time.  Whether we like it or not, our progress and our underlying values; our victories and our feats of strength and bravery do not erase our failures and our flaws, or the facts of history.
We have still within our systems and our institutions a built-in discrimination against certain groups and certain beliefs.  And we not only maintain those institutional and moral flaws, we are, as a nation, being led down a road that embraces discrimination, unequal justice, lack of equal opportunity, and built-in restrictions for those who are of different ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds, or sexual orientation; plus those with physical or mental limitations or characteristics that we consider ‘not normal’ or ‘unacceptable.’  Like it or not, we are still a nation full of biases, discriminatory attitudes, and values, even hatreds, that belong to a slave-owning mentality.  And Donald Trump is leading us to “make American great again by using the bully pulpit (and his Twitter Tweets) to support and characterize neo-fascists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis as “good people” and as part of his ‘base.’
We have made progress in certain areas, but we are finding, under Trump, that we have reverted to a neo-fascist, white supremacist, nationalistic fervor and fever that has been kept underground for some time. You may be, as I was, shocked to learn that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified more than 915 groups classified as ‘hate groups’ in the United States, and this number is growing. We are also finding that discrimination is still evident in our systems and institutions where extremists are not necessarily present, but where ordinary white folk and others keep alive in our culture and its organizations and institutions -- by their denial, their apathy and their aversion to change -- the very discriminatory rules and attitudes that we think we are overcoming (like allowing failing schools in inner cities). We aren’t, we haven’t, but we must.
There is a deep divide in this country about race, immigration and justice (as there has always been) between people of color and those classified as “white.”  That divide has manifested itself in many ways, but began its awful journey with the institution of slavery under which we developed concepts that have never left us, such as:
§  Superiority of one race (white) over other races (mainly dark-skinned)
 
§  The smug and subtle concept that black and brown are colors associated with dirt, unworthiness (blackballed, black-listed, black-hearted), ignorance, animalistic nature, and that such black people will never progress beyond a certain level (welfare queens).

§  The equally subtle constuct that darkness bespeaks a criminal nature; white supremacists declare that these are people who are lawless, who will commit crimes as part of their predatory, animalistic nature.  And our criminal justice system backs that up with harassment, violent handling of demonstrators of color, unjustified killing of black or brown persons who threaten the person or authority of police, and the unequal treatment received in the courts where African American men are sentenced far more severely than their white counterparts, often for the same crime.

§  Central to white supremacists is the axiom that black and brown people are less than full persons or citizens and they should be denied the vote whenever and wherever possible, or their votes should be minimized by gerrymandering them into small districts that have little clout anywhere
 
§  The preservation of symbols of oppression that keep “history” alive: from guns to the confederate flag, to statues of generals on horseback to the arousal caused by the singing of “Dixie” –  some are protesting their existence and want then taken down; others are fighting to keep them displayed somewhere so that Southern history is preserved. But “the history” lives on in the removal of the confederate flag from the statehouse by Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina touted as something that might bind-up the wounds of the past, while ignoring all the statistics that showed clearly that state’s neglect of African Americans in almost every meaningful category of life (see my Blog titled: “Flag Removed: One More Detour?” posted on 7/12/2015).
Well, I’m all for preserving history, but not if that history leaves out a slew of basics, like:

§  the Civil War was fought over maintaining slavery of Africans who were bought and sold at market-places; or, that

§  the economy of the South was built on the backs of those slaves who experienced horrendously de-humanizing conditions, like having their families split apart, being refused an education, being whipped for the slightest ‘offense,’ slave women being used as concubines, men being made into “boys”, and finally, the listing of slaves as 3/5’s of a person so they could be counted in the U.S. census without being declared citizens. 

§  after the Emancipation Proclamation was put into effect, the growth of Jim Crow laws did everything possible to keep former slaves from becoming full citizens who could vote, own property, attend good schools.  Those freedmen could easily get lynched for whatever the white establishment declared to be an offense against (their) society and their Jim Crow laws (many of which were unwritten but nonetheless ‘enforced’ by the KKK and others).   
So, let us come back to where we started: the denunciation of the protests of NFL Players ‘taking a knee’ during the national anthem and pledge of allegiance to the flag.  Trump wants them fired for showing such disrespect to those symbols.  And so do others, according to some recent polls.

I come down on a side that we hear little about.  I want the players, and all the rest of us to be able to protest injustice and bigotry, an over-abundance of violence, the killing of innocent people and the denigration of democratic values and principles such as free speech and freedom of the press, without threats of reprisal.  I personally want the right to express grievances in peaceful demonstrations but still have the support of others for the citizenship, patriotism and personhood of those who are protesting in the spirit of our American Revolution and our Constitution.    
In other words, let us give up the absurdity that there is only one way to react patriotically to the facts of our history, and to our behavior as a nation and as a community.  Like so many of our Founding Fathers, I want the choice and the right to be a revolutionary, a protestor of the loss of primacy of law replaced by the whims of leaders who worship power and control (otherwise known as ‘Law & Order”), and the cult of ‘might makes right’. 

I am not in favor of making idols out of flags, statuary and symbols.  The NFL players are not disrespecting the flag or the anthem; they are expressing a grievance and displeasure with the failure of this administration (and others of the past) to address inequality, lack of equal opportunity, police violence and the patent injustices of the justice system.  They believe that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and that those lives should not be allowed to be snuffed out or devastated by police or by ordinary citizens who keep covert rules and norms alive in our institutions that extend all the way back to slavery. 

Kneeling is a sign of respect.  The player protest grows out of a respect for their brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers, who have had their lives made less than whole by people who still pledge their allegiance to follow that “partly human” - ‘3/5’s of a person’ – phrase in the Constitution as applied to slaves of the past and to people of color in the present.    Player protests (and many others) are not against the flag and its pledge of allegiance, or about the national anthem.  It is about the 240+ years of bigotry and racism that has plagued our nation’s character and behavior.  It is about lives that matter but that have been, and are still being, singled-out for disruption and punishment beyond the norm for the white establishment. 
Let us at least get it straight that protests are not against inanimate objects; they are against human entities that ignore, challenge and deny the basic rights of a group of citizens simply because they are not of European ancestry.  It is a protest against government that consciously rewards rich white people, and that consciously and concurrently denies travel to this country from Muslim countries, bans trans-gender people from the armed forces, retracts hundreds of regulations that protect citizens (such as young women on college campuses), leaving them with no avenues of appeal.  It is about the violence displayed by neo-Nazis and white supremacists against peaceful protestors in Charlottesville; it is all about the delay in bringing to justice the young white male who drove his car into that city’s crowd of protestors killing a young woman.  It is about not just the attempted repeal of Obamacare, but about the attempt to wipe away coverage for millions of people who now have health care under Obamacare but will be without it under any brand of ‘Trumpcare', because the Republican Party is all about radical Right-wing ideology and not about healthcare for poor people.
This protest is mainly about unequal and destructive treatment of people of color. Trump talks a good game, but his actions speak louder than words:  like not going to Puerto Rico until weeks after the devastation there; like not calling for immediate justice for the Nazi executioner driving that death car in Charlottesville; like not condemning the perpetrators of violence in other cities and suburbs like Ferguson and East St. Louis; instead always coming down on the side of law & order which means on the side of whites while condemning the criminal character of the inner cities and of certain immigrants (Mexicans for one). 

The destructive treatment goes on and on, with little done about any of it, except to excuse those who spend their time promoting such bias and discrimination.  Those that kill innocent black men (and women) keep getting away with those killings, and Donald Trump sits idly by ready to tweet something about the NFL player protest which he may have purposefully planned to divert public attention and anger over his stance on DACA, and his ‘threats’ to North Korea.  He Tweets, but does not act to overcome the deaths and denigration of people of color. 
The player protest is also one of sorrow that there are still many people of color who have given up on voting because they cannot see what good it will do to keep electing people who will not do what needs to be done; to vote for people who do not care about them. 
The protests are against representatives of the people, not against inanimate objects that in themselves have no power to do anything but be symbols.  If Trump and his minions want citizens to respect the flag, the pledge, the anthem and our Constitution, then he and his administration, including Congress, must take actions that correct the overt wrongs, violence and inequities, the overt discriminatory acts and behaviors, as well as the covert acts of restriction, denigration and denial that exist within our institutions.  Let us insist that legislators and administrators ‘take a knee’ to reclaim and rejuvenate their oaths of office to protect all the People (including protestors) and to secure the People's Welfare, with equal justice for all as our patriotic Mission.