Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Fascism's trial run in America

“The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information.” — Henry A. Wallace, 33rd Vice President of the United States, Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Commerce, founder of Pioneer Hi-Bred and editor of Wallaces’ Farmer magazine 


First: I remain grateful for my virtual village. I would have never seen the attached article if it weren't for Dee Congdon from Cornwall in the UK.

Second: Fintan O'Toole is brilliant. The opinion piece he wrote for The Irish Times is breathtaking (and utterly terrifying) in its analytical clarity.

Third: This is the second time I've mentioned Henry A. Wallace in as many months. He was an Iowan. Born in 1888, he was what is now an endangered species: a true public servant, a man of conscience and not just insight, but prescience. Check out what he had to say 75 years ago. And for future vision, especially the last one.

"The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism." 

"A liberal knows that the only certainty in this life is change but believes that the change can be directed toward a constructive end."

"Fascism is a worldwide disease. Its greatest threat to the United States will come after the war, either via Latin America or within the United States itself.

"It has been claimed at times that our modern age of technology facilitates dictatorship."

Then read Fintan O'Toole's piece. I'm tempted to contact The Irish Times to tell them that however much they're paying him to write, pay him more. IMHO, it's that good. Promise me you'll read all of it. Here's what will scare the bejesus out of you: fascism does not require majority support to triumph.

And on a personal note: for anyone who thought I was being hyperbolic and alarmist when I've (frequently) asserted that D. Trump is and has been taking us down the road to fascism, care to recalibrate?

Trial Runs for Fascism Are in Full Flow
Babies in cages were no ‘mistake’ by Trump but test-marketing for barbarism

By Fintan O’Toole
July 15, 2018

To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” – what we are living with is pre-fascism.

It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is. But he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again.

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

Click here to read the entire Irish Times article also published on Common Dreams.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

RCDM scholarships 2018

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." — Nelson Mandela

I'VE FIRED up the somewhat-behind machine yet again. I can't seem to keep up with my life, living it or apparently just talking about it. So do me a favor, patient reader, and pretend I wrote this in May when it actually happened.

It was my pleasure to once again serve on the Rotary Club of Des Moines scholarship interview team for East High School for what is, by now, at least seven cycles. Each year RCDM awards six $8000 scholarships, one to each of the Des Moines School District's six high schools: East, Hoover, Lincoln, North, Roosevelt and Scavo. And every year my interview partners — Mark Lyons and Rob Tucker — and I wish we could give scholarships to all four East High finalists.

This year was no exception.

Difficult as it always is, our job is to select a winner, and this year’s East High RCDM scholarship recipient was Ashley Martinez-Torres. Although Ashley has only been in the US four years, and English is her second language, she earned a 3.5 grade point, qualified for membership in National Honor Society and participated in volleyball and theater, all while working part-time at a restaurant and a radio station to help support the family. Ashley plans to major in multi-media communications and photography at Des Moines Area Community College, then transfer to Grandview University to complete her degree, with a goal of a career in broadcasting.

Ashley and her brother, Brandon.

Our second-place finisher was Alicia Rojas, and her story was equally compelling. Alicia lived in Nashville, Arkansas, population 4500, until last year when she made the gutsy decision to move to Des Moines to finish high school. Her goal was to improve her chances of being accepted into college by attending a school with greater educational and resume-building opportunities, in a larger city that could also offer more employment options. Although Alicia was fortunate to be able to move in with her aunt and uncle in Des Moines, her living arrangements also entailed providing childcare for their three under-the-age-of-three children, working part-time at Dunkin' Donuts, while still making sure she earned college-worthy grades at an enormous, unfamiliar school. 

Alicia succeeded. She graduated in the top 15% of her class and was awarded a nearly full-ride scholarship to attend Drake University.

Those of you who have met me IRL know that I'm not large in stature. I'm 5' 2" and weigh under 100 pounds. That corresponds to wearing a size 2 or 0 in clothes, depending on the brand. Alicia, however, is even smaller; same height, but tinier.

You've heard the phrase, “What’s less than zero?” In the world of women's clothing, there are not only zeros but there are double 00s and triples. Based on the difficulty I have finding 2s, let alone 0s, I knew Alica was going to have an even harder time. I asked my interview team if they would consider joining me in making a modest personal financial contribution to her future so that I could take her on a shopping excursion for school clothes. They didn't hesitate. The result was two shop-till-you-drop trips and an expanded wardrobe of properly-fitting new clothes for her to wear now and when she heads to college.

Shopping with Alicia.

The other RCDM Des Moines School District scholarship winners are:

Hoover High School — Jose Luis Rodgriquez Campos's goal is to become a construction engineer.

Lincoln High SchoolJoslyn Cardenas-Flores plans to attend medical school to become a surgeon.

North High SchoolJasmine Inthabounh will be attending Drake University where she'll study journalism and business.

Roosevelt High SchoolEmma Hildebrandt graduated with a 4.0 and will pursue a nursing degree at Luther College.

Scavo High SchoolMaleah Hall plans to study nursing at DMACC and Grandview University.  

Congratulation to all of you. Your futures look bright.

Ashley and me at the East High Awards Night ceremony.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Not so happy Fourth of July

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” — Nelson Mandela

YESTERDAY, July 4th, was the 242nd anniversary of the thirteen colonies in America claiming independence from England, an event which eventually led to the formation of the United States

Normally, I'm all in for celebrating Independence DayNot this year. 

I'm not feeling very upbeat about the country of my birth. The attached article from CNN would be one of the reasons.

The government separated immigrant families. But officials still won't say exactly how many kids are in custody

By Catherine E. Shoichet
July 5, 2018

(CNN) How many immigrant families have been reunited since a judge ordered the US government to halt most family separations at the border?

And how many kids from separated immigrant families are still in government custody?

We don't know, because officials aren't saying.

It's been more than a week since they released an exact tally of how many kids from separated families remain in government custody.

And officials have repeatedly declined to respond to questions about how many families have been reunited.

Deadlines are looming; the government has less than a month to reunite the families it separated. Here's the latest:

On June 20, the Department of Health and Human Services said there were 2,053 children from separated families in its care. On June 26, the agency said there were 2,047 such children.

On Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar offered a new estimate in a call with reporters: under 3,000. About 100 of those kids, he said, are under age 5.

Click here to read the entire CNN article.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Families belong together — here and everywhere

"We were paralyzed with fright; our happy family life was tarnished. My wife has been overcome by anxiety, and my lovely child has become sick. Why should we be deported? This is very, very hard for a family." — Friedrich Trump, Donald Trump's grandfather in a letter begging not to be deported from Bavaria 

IT'S NOT just the cruelty and inhumanity of our non-majority president that infuriates me. His unmitigated hypocrisy pours salt in the wound and gasoline on the fire. Mixed metaphors, but you get the point.

This conscienceless sociopath, who has been gleefully deporting immigrants, not only married two of them — his first wife, Ivana, was born in Czechoslovakia, married an Austrian ski instructor to get a foreign passport, then ditched him to go to Canada and finally the US, and his current wife immigrated from Slovenia — but his own mother, Mary Anne McLeod, came over from Scotland, and his grandfather, Friedrich Trump, immigrated from a part of Germany then known as Bavaria

Is it possible to be any more hypocritical than he is? I don't think so.

Even those who come to this country seeking asylum are being thrown back to suffer whatever tragic outcomes await them, and the horrifically cruel policies Trump put into place have been responsible for wresting some 2500 infants and children from their parents, confining them in places unknown. 

Can you imagine the trauma for children and parents? He shouldn't have to imagine it, though. It's part of his family's history.

Yesterday when I attended the Families Belong Together rally in Des Moines I saw a man carrying the sign pictured below.

I had to know if his sign told the truth. 

It does!!! Snopes rates it as TRUE. Friedrich Trump, did indeed unsuccessfully petition the government of Bavaria not to deport him and his family. 

I pulled two sentences from an accurate translation of his letter to Prince Luitpold of Bavaria begging him not to deport his family, as the intro quote, but I'm repeating here in a slightly longer excerpt so you won't miss its import.

"We were confronted all at once, as if by a lightning strike from fair skies, with the news that the High Royal State Ministry had decided that we must leave our residence in the Kingdom of Bavaria. We were paralyzed with fright; our happy family life was tarnished. My wife has been overcome by anxiety, and my lovely child has become sick. Why should we be deported? This is very, very hard for a family." 

Wrap your head around that. This is the man who has mercilessly separated families, deported the adults and locked up the children.

I wish I had it in me to believe in an afterlife, because if there is one, surely there's a special place in hell for the soulless obscenity that is DJT.

Below are photos of the rally, reasonably well attended considering the stifling heat and humidity. 

But first a shout out to my husband Paul who took me to a movie the night before in spite of being tired, who let me sleep in till the last minute while he ran to the store and bought me sign board and a handle, who helped me color it and then glued the thing together before we headed to rehearsal for Yankee Doodle Pops and I went to the rally. I sound like a broken record, I know, but he is such a stud.


Friday, June 29, 2018

What did you think was going to happen

“An elite class that is free to operate without limits — whether limits imposed by the rule of law or fear of the responses from those harmed by their behavior — is an elite class that will plunder, degrade and cheat at will, and act endlessly to fortify its own power.” — Glenn Greenwald, American lawyer, journalist, and author, best known for his role in a series of reports published by The Guardian newspaper detailing the United States and British global surveillance programs

SURELY YOU aren't surprised that most of the Trump Administration's tax cut didn't actually benefit the people who really need it. Below is a short piece from NBC News and a longer one from VOX.

What did corporate America do with that tax break? Buy record amounts of its own stock
The White House promised '70 percent' of the tax cut would go to workers. It didn't.

By Ben Popken
June 26, 2018

The Republican tax reform package that was supposed to raise wages and spur hiring has instead funded a record stock buyback and dividend spree, benefiting investors and company executives over workers.

President Donald Trump signed the bill in December last year, saying the corporate tax cut would make it favorable for companies to bring back into the U.S. cash stashed in foreign operations.

"More than 70 percent of this [tax cut] will be returned to workers," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a January press conference after the bill came into effect.

However, companies have instead used the extra cash to spend billions of dollars buying back their own stock, boosting the value of shares held by investors. Buybacks reduce the number of shares on the market, immediately increasing the value of the shares that investors already hold.

Click here to read the entire NBC News article.

Walmart is paying $20 billion to shareholders. With that money, it could boost hourly wages to over $15.
Walmart employs more than 1 million Americans. Its base pay is below the federal poverty line for a family of three.

By Emily Stewart
May 30, 2019

After the Republican tax bill passed, Walmart announced it would boost the minimum wage paid to its workers to $11 an hour, give “eligible associates” a $1,000 one-time bonus, and deliver other new benefits to an estimated 1 million employees thanks to its tax cut.

If the company hadn’t also planned to deliver $20 billion to shareholders via stock buybacks over the next two years, a decision announced before the tax bill was passed, it could have done a lot more.

If Walmart wanted to spend that $20 billion on workers instead, according to a report released by the left-leaning think tank the Roosevelt Institute this week, it could increase their wages by $5.66 an hour to a $16.66 base wage. Or it could buy its employees Walmart stock and turn them all into shareholders, doling out about 113 Walmart shares — currently valued at about $83 apiece — to each.

Click here to read the entire Vox article.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Seventeen states + DC sue Trump

“When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.” — Donald Trump, June 24, 2018

WHEN Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president, was elected (I persist in pointing out, by a non-majority) and began his narcissistic reign (accurate word, since he believes himself to be king) of ignorance, lies and inhumanity, there were those of us who decried him as having fascist pretensions. The reaction by some was to accuse us of being alarmists indulging in hyperbole. We weren't.

In violation of the Constitution, he seeks to strip immigrants of due process. 

Remember the famous poem (there are many versions in circulation) written by the German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöllerabout the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis' rise to power and their subsequent purging of group after group?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

And so I salute those who are not standing silent — including the 17 states and the District of Columbia who are suing the Trump administration. Those states are:

New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
Rhode Island
and the District of Columbia

I've attached a CBS/AP new article about the actions that have been filed. 

New York, California among 17 states suing Trump administration over family separations

June 26, 2018

SEATTLE -- Seventeen states, including Washington, New York and California, sued President Trump's administration Tuesday in an effort to force officials to reunite migrant families who have been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. The states, all of which are led by Democratic attorneys general, joined Washington, D.C., in filing the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle. It's the first legal challenge by states over the practice.

"The administration's practice of separating families is cruel, plain and simple," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in an emailed statement. "Every day, it seems like the administration is issuing new, contradictory policies and relying on new, contradictory justifications. But we can't forget: the lives of real people hang in the balance."

Immigration authorities have separated about 2,300 children from their parents in recent weeks, sparking global outrage as images and recordings of weeping children emerged. Many parents are in custody thousands of miles from their children, whom they have not been able to see and have rarely spoken to for a month or more.

After falsely blaming Democrats for the separations and insisting that only Congress could fix the issue, the president last week issued an executive order designed to end the practice under his "zero tolerance" policy, which prosecutes adults who come to the U.S. illegally.

Click here to read the entire CBS/AP article.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A doctor from Iowa fights the opioid epidemic

“I had to learn how to have a more open mind and just be O.K. with meeting patients where they’re at.” — Dr. Nicole Gastala

THERE are Iowans who make me ashamed to say I live in this state. One who leaps to mind is racist, xenophobic Representative Steve King.

Below is a New York Times article about someone I'm proud to claim. Even if you don't live here, I'm hoping you'll take the time to read it.

When an Iowa Family Doctor Takes On the Opioid Epidemic

Few primary care doctors are willing to do what Nicole Gastala has: endure the challenges of prescribing buprenorphine, a medication for opioid addiction.

By Abby Goodnough
June 23, 2018

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — A newborn had arrived for his checkup, prompting Dr. Nicole Gastala to abandon her half-eaten lunch and brace for the afternoon crush. An older man with diabetes would follow, then a pregnant teenager, a possible case of pneumonia and someone with a rash.

There were also patients on her schedule with a problem most primary care doctors don’t treat: a former construction worker fighting an addiction to opioid painkillers, and a tattooed millennial who had been injecting heroin four times a day.

Opioid overdoses are killing so many Americans that demographers say they are likely behind a striking drop in life expectancy. Yet most of the more than two million people addicted to opioid painkillers, heroin and synthetic fentanyl get no treatment. Dr. Gastala, 33, is trying to help by folding addiction treatment into her everyday family medicine practice. She is one of a small cadre of primary care doctors who regularly prescribe buprenorphine, a medication that helps suppress the cravings and withdrawal symptoms that plague people addicted to opioids. If the country is really going to curb the opioid epidemic, many public health experts say, it will need a lot more Dr. Gastalas.

Science says buprenorphine works: A substantial body of research has found that people who take it are less likely to die and more likely to stay in treatment. It is an opioid itself but relatively weak, activating the brain’s opioid receptors enough to ease cravings, yet not enough to provide a high in people accustomed to stronger drugs. But only about five percent of the nation’s doctors — 43,109 as of last week — are licensed to prescribe it.