The Real Meaning of Populism …

France did not want Marine LePen and the Netherlands didn’t want Geert Wilders, so they have teamed up and taken their act to the Czech Republic.  The event is the meeting of the rightwing Europe of Nations and Freedom group and is being hosted by the anti-Islam Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD). The conference is largely symbolic for the Czech SPD party, a means of raising awareness for the populist movement, justifying the movement by showing that the populist movement has a voice in Western Europe, and an attempt to legitimize populism in the Czech Republic.

It is not my intent, nor is it in my ability, to analyze politics in the Czech Republic.  It is, rather, my intent to briefly take a look at the populist movement itself, as it spreads its tentacles ever outward.

By definition, populism is, briefly, “support for the concerns of ordinary people”.  Sounds okay, looks good on paper, but the reality is something altogether different, as we have seen in the U.S.

Donald Trump rode the waves of populism all the way to the Oval Office, but as we have seen, by the above definition of populism, not one single thing he has done fits the definition.  Granted, Trump is a case-study in and of himself in the art of lying.  But other populist politicians are equally unconcerned with the ‘ordinary’ person, yet call themselves populist.  So, what does populism really mean? Consider these examples:

  • Donald Trump in the U.S., wants to deport undocumented immigrants and ban all Muslims from the Middle East.
  • Podemos, the populist Spanish party, wants to give immigrants voting rights.

  • Geert Wilders, the populist Dutch politician, wants to eliminate hate-speech laws.
  • Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the populist Polish politician, pushed for a law making it illegal to use the phrase “Polish death camps”.

  • Evo Morales, Bolivia’s populist president, has expanded indigenous farmers’ rights to grow coca.
  • Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ populist president, has ordered his police to execute suspected drug dealers.

A study in contrasts, yes? It is not a term that is easy to pin down, as evidenced by the many books that have been written in the attempt:

  • What is Populism by Jan-Werner Müller
  • The Populist Persuasion: An American History by Michael Kazin
  • The Populist Explosion by John B. Judis
  • The Global Rise of Populism by Benjamin Moffett
  • The Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn

And the list is seemingly endless.

Müller’s book, published September 2016, is highly rated, and claims that populism is not just antiliberal, it is antidemocratic—the permanent shadow of representative politics.  It seems to me that, in its purest form, strictly applied by the definition at the start of this post, it would be a highly democratic and humanitarian ideology.  But, in the world of today, populism is primarily, I believe defined by a single word: plutocracy.

All a leader needs to do is find that which his people fear, play on those fears, expand them, then promise to keep them safe from said fears.  In the case of the U.S., as in a number of European nations, that fear was terrorism. Ever since the Arab Spring began in 2010 and many in the Middle East were forced to flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their back, the West has been taking on these refugees.  But, leaders and politicians quickly learned that if they equated these refugees with the word “terrorism”, or in some cases, “radical Islamic terrorism”, they could instill fear into the hearts of their populace and people would gladly follow any leader who promised to end immigration from the Middle East.

But really, that is all these leaders, such as Trump, need to do, and they can then proceed with their own agendas, just so long as they keep doing their best to “protect” their citizenry from “those terrorist Muslims”.  And so, we are left with a Donald Trump who has attempted to rob tens of millions of their ability to afford healthcare in order to further enrich the big insurance companies; who has set the wheels in motion to destroy the environment in order to further enrich the coal and oil barons; and who has promoted tax reform to cost each of us “ordinary people” hard-earned money in order to further enrich the nation’s mega-corporations. And as long as he promises his travel ban to keep Muslims out, and keeps on promising to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to keep those “murderin’, rapin’ Mexicans” out, even though he knows the wall will never be built, he can keep on being Robbing Hood. This then, defines the populist movement as well as any.  It could be called, more aptly, the plutocratic movement, or a move toward governance by a handful of the wealthiest.

Oh sure, Trump throws out an extra bone to his followers every now and then, like a promise to pad the courts with uber-conservatives in order to eventually overturn Roe v Wade.  Or a reduction in food stamps and social services that are unpopular with many in the middle income brackets. Promise them whatever they scream the loudest for, then get back to the business of crafting legislation to make the top 1% happy, for those are the ones who truly matter, those are the ones who line his own pockets.  It is no different in the rest of the  Western world.

Voters in Today in the U.S., we have the wealthiest Congress in recent history, and thus it is in their personal best interest, rather than to serve as a check on the president’s power, to speak out of both sides of their mouths, promising their constituents one thing, while licking Trump’s boots from the other side.

France, Austria and the Netherlands, I firmly believe, looked at what was happening in the U.S. and came to understand that this populist thing was not all it was cracked up to be.  However, there is still a large contingent in those nations, as well as other European nations, and even Canada I recently discovered, that are supportive of the populist ideology, and have not yet realized that it is a veneer for a deeper, more destructive platform. As my old friend Shafer used to say to me, “Be careful what you wish for, as you just might get it”.

What the World Needs Now… Respect

Friend and fellow blogger John Fioravanti of Words To Captivate fame, has written an excellent, thought-provoking post about ‘respect’. Such a simple word, yet one that seems so difficult sometimes. In this piece, John searches his own heart and finds, as we all do, that he is not always true to his own ideals. Please take a few moments to read John’s piece which, I think, has much value in these uncertain and difficult times in which we live. Thank you, John, for your deeply introspective piece, for making us all think, and for your generous permission for me to share this with my friends and readers.

Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti

“We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”

~ Barack Obama

In my last post in this series, “Let Us Change the World!”, I reflected upon the role of education in bringing about positive change in the world through a quote by Nelson Mandela. His words were spoken in the context of a speech he made to students in Boston in 1990 to encourage them to remain in school and help transform the world into a better place.

Young person working on a laptop computer.Lifelong learning can be achieved online, through books, and by listening to others. (Image courtesy of Pixabay)

As a retired secondary school educator, I…

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Fools Rush In …

Did you hear the news?  United Kingdom Prime Minister, Theresa May just declared that her government will recognize Sioux City, Iowa to be the new capital of the United States!  She has ordered the relocation of the UK’s embassy by the end of December, and the embassy staff are busily preparing for the move.  When asked the reason behind her announcement, Ms. May said that Donald Trump wished it, and as the nation’s leader, he should be able to place the capital wherever he wishes, and that besides, Iowa is considered the heartland of the U.S., and the home to the first party contest, the Iowa Caucuses, in election years.

Okay, that is a ridiculous notion, isn’t it?  And no, it is not true.  Ms. May has far more urgent worries this week than where the U.S. capital should be located.  But apparently, Donald Trump has no other concerns on which to concentrate his efforts than where the Israeli capital should be. Not only that, but apparently he believes that it is his call to make, that his word is final ‘round the globe.

The announcement …

On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump announced …

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering. My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. “

The situation between Israel and Palestine is a powder keg, as is much of the Middle Middle East these days. Donald Trump is no expert on the situation, nor has he had, so we are told, the inclination to read, study or even listen to his foreign policy advisors.

On the campaign trail last year, Trump claimed that he would bring about peace to the Middle East.  I believe it was one of those “only I can do this” brags, but then he went on to say that the ‘blueprint’ for peace in the Middle East could be found in his book, The Art of the Deal, which wasn’t even written by Trump, but rather by ghostwriter Tony Schwartz.

The history …

Jerusalem is a city that is considered sacred to three of the world’s largest monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and each has sites of great religious significance there. It has been fought over for millennia by its inhabitants, by invading Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans and the British Empire, and by the modern states of Israel and its Arab neighbors.

The problem …

The division of Jerusalem is the most emotional and volatile of all the issues in dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The dispute between Israel and Palestine goes well beyond Jerusalem and well beyond the scope of this post.  Suffice it to say that it is complex, and since it has not been solved in seventy years, despite the efforts of highly knowledgeable and skilled experts in the field of International Relations like Henry Kissinger or benevolent diplomats such as Jimmy Carter, then it goes without saying that Donald Trump, who has likely never read a single book about the Middle East, is not going to solve them.  But he can, no doubt, further stir the fire and make it burn hotter, which is what he may well have done yesterday.

Currently, Jerusalem is the capital of both Israel and Palestine.  Israel has its capital in West Jerusalem, while the Palestinian capital is in East Jerusalem.  While Trump did not specifically state that Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel alone, tensions are high, and he has made enough remarks in the past that implied that to be his goal, thus it may be that the damage was done even before his announcement.

The criticism …

Jordan, France, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Palestine, Morocco, Kuwait, Germany, Arab League, Iraq, Azhar all warned Trump against declaring recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and intent to move the embassy, but of course, he did not listen.

“King Abdullah stressed that the adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East, and will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process and fuel the feelings of Muslims and Christians,” a statement from Amman read.

The Turkish government’s spokesman on Wednesday said that the United States’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will plunge the region and the world into “a fire with no end in sight”.

“A decision such as this is both morally wrong and politically dangerous,” Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told Today’s WorldView. “Not only is Donald Trump deliberately insulting the Palestinian people, but also Arabs and Muslims around the world. In doing so, he is relinquishing what little credibility the United States had left in a region that is already rife with conflict and division.”

Ayman Odeh, an Arab Israeli lawmaker and head of the third-largest bloc in Israel’s parliament, said, “Trump is a pyromaniac who could set the region on fire with his madness,”

The effect thus far …

Palestinian factions jointly announced three “days of rage,” beginning Wednesday, to protest the potential U.S. Embassy move and recognition of Jerusalem. In a statement, they called on supporters around the world to gather in city centers and at Israeli embassies and consulates to voice their anger.

The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem urged American citizens in Israel to avoid large crowds or areas where security had been increased, and ordered its staff members and their families to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank except for “essential” business.

Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said that the US had effectively abdicated its role as a mediator in the region. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said: “President Trump just destroyed any policy of a two-state solution.”

The full results are yet to be seen.  I hope that the Turkish prediction of ‘a fire with no end in sight’ is an overstatement, but I am certain that Trump’s declaration will further the unrest in an already upended Middle East.  Trump acted with impunity, but without knowledge, and there will likely be a price to be paid by the U.S., our allies, and the Middle Eastern nations. Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.

Congress – Please listen to the nonpartisan economic groups

Well, the Senate all pulled together and sold themselves to the highest bidder. We The People were not, unfortunately the highest bidders, but we are the biggest losers. The Senate, in their effort to be good little lapdogs, refused to listen to the well-educated and very experienced economists who shared a consensus about how the national debt would be negatively affected. They not only refused to listen, but some smugly claimed to disbelieve. Our friend Keith has written a post that says it all as well as I could, so I am sharing his post today, rather than re-invent the wheel. Please take a few moments to read and ponder, and I shall have an additional post a bit later. Thanks, Keith!!!

musingsofanoldfart

Early this morning the Senate passed their Tax Bill, complete with hand written amendments and no public hearings. Senator McConnell declared it a victory for the American people. But, which people? From my reading the people doing a touchdown dance already have an awful lot of money. 52% of Americans disapprove of this bill, but only the opinion of the privileged few matters.

On NPR yesterday, I heard Congressman Kevin Brady, the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, smugly say we do not believe the projections of Congress nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation who measured the Senate bill as increasing the debt by $1 trillion and saying this bill is not as kind as portrayed to people in poverty and middle class. But, Congressman, why do the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Fix the Debt and The Concord Coalition say pretty much the same thing?

Without…

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Beneath the Surface Lies a Slippery Slope

After a discussion last evening with friend and fellow blogger John about whether it would ever be acceptable to place certain limitations on 1st Amendment freedom of speech, and if so, under what circumstances.  Now, it’s been a lot of years since my last ConLaw class, so I had to dig out some notes and texts, but let us review briefly, the history of free speech in the U.S..

The U.S. Constitution was signed and ratified in 1787, but the first ten amendments, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, was not ratified until 1791.  The first real curtailment of free speech came some seven years later, with the Sedition Act of 1798.  At the time, war with France seemed imminent, Congress and President John Adams feared treason by French sympathisers within the U.S., thus was born the Sedition Act of 1798, which required criminal penalties for persons who said or published anything “false, scandalous, or malicious” against the federal government, Congress or the president. The law expired three years later, but not before 25 citizens were arrested, including a Congressman who was convicted and imprisoned for calling President Adams a man who had “a continual grasp for power.”  Think about this for a minute, folks.  Would not every single person reading this today be in jail, for we have all said much worse than that about our current Idiot-in-Chief!

Then in 1917, Congress passed the Federal Espionage Act prohibiting false statements intending to interfere with the military forces of the country or to promote the success of its enemies.  Do you begin to see where that could come under a variety of interpretations?  And then in 1918, the law was expanded to prohibit any statements expressing disrespect for the U.S. government, the Constitution, the flag, or army and navy uniforms.  Think Colin Kaepernick and the NFL?

The first challenge to the law brought about the Supreme Court’s first case in free speech in the case of Schenck v. United States, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the opinion of the unanimous Court, which sided with the government. Justice Holmes held that Mr. Schenck was not covered by the First Amendment since freedom of speech was not an absolute right. There were times, Holmes wrote, when the government could legally restrict speech.  Though it is a fascinating case, I won’t bore you with it here, for it is not what this post is about, but rather I use it only to lay a foundation.

Now, why did this come up now?  Because of this headline in the New York Times:

US Votes Against Resolution Condemning Nazi Glorification

Well, that sounds rather like the U.S. is planning to encourage Nazism, doesn’t it?  Sounds rather like the work of Bannon/Spence/Trump, eh?  The story, a short Associated Press piece, does little more to enlighten the reader, but there is more if one scratches a bit beneath the surface.

First of all, though the U.S. and Ukraine are the only two nations to vote directly against the resolution, there are 51 nations that abstained from voting.  Second, while I would love to blame Trump and come down hard, the fact is that this is an annual resolution that the U.S. has voted against since at least 2012, so it is really nothing new.

And lastly, perhaps most importantly, the primary reason we cannot support this resolution is the resolution calls on all UN member nations to ban pro-Nazi speech and organizations and to implement other restrictions on speech and assembly. Now do you see the problem?  But this, still isn’t quite the point of this post.  Yes, yes … bide your time, friends, for I am old and slow, but I am coming to the point.

Some in the media, notably Britain’s The Independent and our own Newsweek, have attempted to link the decision not to vote yea on the U.N. resolution to Trump’s failure to condemn Nazism after the deadly Charlottesville rally in August.  Perhaps, who knows?  But it doesn’t matter, for either way, we cannot afford at this time to open that potentially wide door to banning any part of free speech.

It is what’s known as a slippery slope, and you’ve heard me refer to it before.  A slippery slope is an idea or course of action which has the potential to lead to something unacceptable, wrong, or disastrous. Now, think back to the Sedition Act of 1798 for a minute.  You could get into big trouble for saying or writing anything “false, scandalous, or malicious” against the federal government, Congress or the president. Now, think how thin-skinned the person occupying the White House is.  Think how he threatened to use libel laws to stifle the press for saying ‘mean and untrue’ things about him. Think how he defines “truth”.  Think about this statement:  “Trump has no conscience, is not very intelligent, wears a bad toupee and has ugly rolls of flab.” I just made up that statement, but under the Sedition Act of 1798, I could spend up to ten years in jail for publishing that statement on this blog.

Now, we are not talking about a Sedition Act, but simply about banning Nazi speech.  Believe me, I dislike Richard Spencer and all the neo-Nazi thugs as much as anyone but … if we take away their rights to voice their opinions, we leave the door wide open for other constraints on free speech, such as insulting the president or a member of Congress.  Where is the line drawn, and more importantly, who draws that line? Congress?  So far, they have proven willing to lick Trump’s boots and play nice with him, for the most part.  An executive order?

I am not being an alarmist, so much as a cautionary. I do not trust Donald Trump.  He is a sociopathic narcissist who will stop at nothing to further his own desires, to further bloat his already massive ego. And he cares not one whit for this nation nor its citizens.  So, given half an opportunity, would he institute laws making it illegal to insult him?  Absolutely.  If we agreed to the U.N. resolution, it would crack open that door, and before you can bat an eye, he would have it open wide.  I, for one, am not quite ready to give up my rights to free speech, and while yes, I would like to see curtailments on hate speech, this may not be the right time. Meanwhile, we can and must punish anybody who takes Nazism a single step beyond speech and into action.

When we see a headline, hear an idea or opinion, it always pays to do a bit of digging, for often what we see and hear is but the surface, and the truth lies beneath the surface.

A New Low …

Have you ever asked yourself just how low Donald Trump can go?  Of course you have, we have all asked ourselves that question, most of us on a daily basis.  And, on a near-daily basis he proves to us that there is no floor to the depravity of his mind … it just keeps sinking lower and lower.

This morning, apparently without a single moment of thought occurring, he re-tweeted a series of three videos … for no apparent reason other than to stir his followers to rage, for perhaps they have been too quiet of late and he wanted them to make some noise.  The videos were originally posted in the UK by a woman named Jaydan Fransen, who is the deputy leader of British far-right group Britain First, a political group with only about 1,000 followers and no seats in Parliament. The videos purport to show Muslims committing acts of violence, though at least one is already proven to be a falsity.

British leaders are appalled, as well they ought be.  Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “I hope our government will condemn far-right retweets by Donald Trump. They are abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society.” He also suggested that Trump’s planned state visit should be cancelled.  While I am not a huge fan of Corbyn, I applaud his response, for he is quite correct.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said, “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents – decency, tolerance and respect.”

Other MPs also spoke harshly against Trump’s ignorance.  Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames said Mr Trump had finally proved he is “wholly unsuited” to the role of president. He is also correct, and most of us have known that from the start, yet Trump seems to feel a need to prove it over and over again, ad nauseam. Labour MP David Lammy accused Trump of “promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate group”.

And what, you may wonder, did Trump’s mouthpiece, Sarah Huckabee Sanders have to say, in light of the fact that at least one of the videos is a falsehood?  She said, “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real. [Trump’s] goal is to promote strong border security and strong national security.”  So there you have it. It matters not whether it is true or not.  He cannot get widescale support for his Muslim ban, few have any interest in his wall along the Mexican-U.S. border, so to renew the energy he thought he had during the campaign, he posts these abhorrent videos.  To re-stir the pot of hatred that is already simmering and near to boiling.

Reactions here at home were predictable – condemnation from the sensible, but this from white supremacist and former KKK grand poobah, David Duke:

“This is why WE LOVE TRUMP and WHY the FAKE NEWS MEDIA HATES TRUMP. He brings to light what the lying, Fake News Media Won’t. The truth is the media covers up horrific numbers of racist hate crimes against White people!”

If the only people who agreed with or supported me were trash like David Duke, I would consider myself a total failure in life.

Jaydan Fransen, the original poster of the videos, is a marginalized UK politician who received only 56 votes when she ran for Parliament in 2014.  Since then, she has run afoul of the law more than once. She was convicted of the racially aggravated harassment of a Muslim woman in Luton last year and has been charged with the same offense following an appearance at a far-right rally in Belfast this summer. She is due to appear at a Belfast court on the latter charge next month. Somehow I doubt that Trump knows, nor even cares who she is or what her background is.  He doesn’t seem to mind flirting with the riff-raff.

In the entire 10+ months of his term in office, Donald Trump has not done a single thing that reflected in a positive manner on the office he occupies.  He has acted as a juvenile, with no thought of a filter for his mouth or tiny fingers, he has made abominable decisions, has denigrated and insulted our friends and allies, while praising our enemies.  I do not understand how his approval rating even remains in the 30 percentile range, nor will I ever understand the support of the republicans in Congress, let alone his base.  But this latest is a new low, even for him.  I sincerely hope the UK does rescind their invitation, since if he travels there, he can only further embarrass us and I, for one, am already deeply ashamed.

Puerto Rico – Two Months Later …

I have not written much, to date, about Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria plowed through the island in late September.  The U.S. response in the immediate aftermath was delayed, pitifully inadequate, and controversial.  So where does Puerto Rico stand today, just over two months after the worst natural disaster on record in the area?

More than half of the island is still without power, and hundreds of thousands of residents are fleeing to the American mainland in an extraordinary exodus.

It has been weeks since President Trump visited to jovially toss rolls of paper towels to needy fellow Americans and brag about how successful the recovery effort was. But true evidence of progress has been hard to come by. Even the simplest symbols of government, like traffic lights, remain useless. Most of the Pentagon’s emergency troops have begun pulling out, except for those working on the island’s shattered power grid.

The storm’s official death count of about 55 may eventually be hundreds higher, according to forensic researchers measuring the cumulative effect on the island’s 3.4 million residents. Tens of thousands of jobs have been washed away. Thousands of small businesses remain closed, and even some hospitals remain on emergency generators. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials say that unusually tough conditions are forcing them to continue to focus on the emergency response phase across the battered island — potable water, roof tarps and other bare necessities.New York Times Editorial Board, 25 November 2017

While Donald Trump did little more than criticize and throw paper towels at Puerto Ricans, there are others stepping up to the plate to help, and those are the ones who should be duly noted.

Take, for example, the Houston Astros: Star shortstop Carlos Correa, who is originally from Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, sent a planeload of supplies to the devastated island on the first weekend of October. Astros owner Jim Crane, after donating $4 million, sent two planeloads of supplies and brought one plane filled with people – families of Astros players and people with serious medical conditions requiring immediate treatment — back to the states. He also assisted Correa in his efforts, as did grocery store chain H-E-B, and Texas-based sporting goods store Academy Sports.

Carlos Correa and Jim Crane of the Houston Astros

ricky martin-carment yulin

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz & Ricky Martin

Singer, actor and author Ricky Martin, born in San Juan Puerto Rico in 1971, has used his foundation to raise funds and provide support to Puerto Rico.  The foundation was initially established in 2002 as an awareness campaign to denounce and expose global human trafficking. In addition to Martin’s own donation of $150,000, he has sent at least 4 planeloads filled with supplies. Martin, along with Gloria Estefan, Luis Fonsi and many other Latino artists, traveled to Puerto Rico last month to help sort through donations and connect with people who have lost their homes and belongings.

Kevin Genao, a teenager living in Nashua, New Hampshire is raising money and donations for the people of Puerto Rico. He created a community donation drive called “New Hampshire United for Puerto Rico.” The group was at the YMCA in Nashua accepting donations where they raised thousands of dollars and collected lots of supplies. “Right now in Puerto Rico, it’s a tough situation,” Genao said. “They don’t even have the normal resources that everyday people have and it’s really difficult to grasp that especially knowing that my family’s been so deeply impacted.”

Many others, far too numerous to name here, are helping by giving either of their time, money, or other resources.

  • A team from Massachusetts General Hospital has gone to assist with medical care.
  • Feeding Children Everywhere partnered with five Loews hotels to assemble 375,000 meals for people in Puerto Rico.
  • While still repairing damage to Volusia County schools and homes in the wake of Hurricane Irma, families and staff of the school district in Florida turned their focus to help Puerto Rico, raising $28,276 to support the island in its own hurricane recovery efforts.

And the list goes on.  Meanwhile, the picture is still glum in Puerto Rico. Governor Ricardo Rosselló asked Congress this month for $94.4 billion in aid to help the island recover, while thus far Congress has approved only $5 billion.  There are yet many needs to be met to restore the island to some semblance of a livable community for the 3.4 million U.S. citizens that call Puerto Rico home, yet to say that the man in the White House has let these people down would be an understatement extraordinaire. Trump has not donated a single dime of his own money … trust me, we would have heard about it ad nauseam if he had.  He criticized San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, saying she wanted everything done for her, and tweeted criticism heaped on criticism …

trump-towels“Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making. A total lack of accountability. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend. We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

I am encouraged that so many are responding to the need of Puerto Rico and its people, disappointed in our own government, and saddened for the people who are still without adequate food, water, medicine, and may still be without electricity and telephone service.  The infrastructure will be rebuilt, just as will the homes and businesses, but it will be neither quick nor easy, and meanwhile how many people will suffer.  My heart goes out to the good people of Puerto Rico … let us make sure that we do not forget them.

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Delivery Systems

What is the purpose of an education? It seems that more and more these days it is considered to be learning only facts and figures, only for the purpose of earning money. Have we forgotten the higher purpose of learning how to think for ourselves, how to understand how the world works? Is this why we have such ineptitude in government today? Have we come to believe that the sole purpose in education is to get a job and make a lot of money, have a lot of ‘things’? Our friend Hugh has some thoughts on this topic that I would like to share with you today, so please read on … and thank you, Hugh, for the post and permission to share!

hughcurtler

In responding to a comment on a recent blog I noted that in teaching our kids we have become caught up in the methods of teaching and have lost sight of the all-important question of what it is that teachers ought to do — not how they might do it more effectively. I want to expand on that for a bit.

We are talking here about what have been called “delivery systems,” the how of teaching rather than the why of teaching. In my response to the comment mentioned above I referred to them as “gimmicks and tools” — mostly gimmicks that arise from the mistaken notion that teaching is a science when, in fact, it is an art. Teacher evaluations, for example, are focused on the question “how well does your teacher teach?” This reflects the larger societal preoccupation with methods rather than substance.  Science, for example, has become…

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On the Killing of Elephants … Again 😢

elephants-2Look at the picture above.  Somebody please tell me why some men see those majestic animals and their first thought is to kill them? I will never understand it, but then I am a lover of nature and do not seek to destroy that which I love.  This week, Trump & Co, in their determined effort to undo every single thing that Obama did, have overturned a ban on bringing the heads of slain elephants into the country from the nations of Zimbabwe and Zambia.  Now, read this sentence and tell me if you see something wrong with the logic:

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said it has determined that hunting African elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.” 

baby elephant

 

“The decision, cheered by some hunting and gun rights groups, is a reversal of the policy under the Obama administration. The United States and international authorities say the African elephant is a threatened species, and the Obama administration argued that allowing trophy imports would harm the animals by encouraging killing them.” – Timothy Cama, The Hill, 15 November 2017

 

Dead elephant

“In 2014, the Obama administration curtailed elephant trophy imports as part of an initiative to protect elephants, whose populations were alarmingly declining, targeted for wildlife trafficking and ivory. As a result, officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia bolstered efforts to combat poaching and enact stricter systems to keep track of permits and quotas.

The Safari Club and the National Rifle Association, which challenged the ban in court, are celebrating the reversal and praising the Trump administration for recognizing the importance of “sound scientific wildlife management.”

By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump Administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide,” Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement.” – Brianna Sacks, Buzzfeed, 15 November 2017

elephant and babySavanna elephant populations declined by 30 percent across 18 countries in Africa from 2007 to 2014, according to the Great Elephant Census published last year. The elephant population declined 6 percent overall in Zimbabwe but dropped by 74 percent within one specific region. Elephants saw “substantial declines along the Zambezi River,” in Zambia while other areas of that country were stable, according to the census.

The announcement to overturn the 2014 ban is expected on Friday.  Donald Trump promised his followers that he would reverse everything that President Obama ever did, and he has certainly been trying.  Every one of his attempts thus far has been harmful to the nation and its people:  reversing environmental protections, healthcare, labour standards, gun control, education and more. In most cases, the only reason for the changes are to spite Obama.  Why?  Well, we all know the answer to that.

elephant-drawing.jpgWhat makes a man hunt wild game anyway?  It is an expensive activity, what with travel, licensing and fees, so only the relatively wealthy can participate.  It is not, though some would argue, a sport, for there is no sport in murdering an animal with a high powered rifle, when the only defense the animal had was to attack you, but you shot him before he could come near.  The animal stands no chance against this …

rifleI cannot, I suppose, call this a crime against humanity, but it is most assuredly a crime … a crime against nature, a crime against … life.  Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, must be toasting their achievement tonight, and Donald’s sons even more so …

I, however, am not.

sad

Have We Learned Nothing???

If you thought the white supremacist/nationalist movement was unique to the United States, think again.  This weekend, some 60,000 people marched in Warsaw, Poland, celebrating Poland’s Independence Day, flying in from various points in Europe:  Slovakia, Sweden, Spain and Hungary.  But more than celebrating the day Poland gained its freedom from a century of foreign rule in 1918, the march was to promote the idea of white supremacy, of hatred … of evil.

Marchers carried signs reading …

  • Europe Will Be White
  • Clean Blood
  • White Europe Of Brotherly Nations
  • Pray for Islamic Holocaust

Poland-4That last one stops my heart … “Pray for Islamic Holocaust” … this from people who are descended from people, some of whom were no doubt victims of Hitler’s Holocaust!!!  Chants of “Pure Poland, white Poland!” and “Refugees get out!” could be heard throughout Warsaw.  What a damn shame that human beings, that mankind, has learned not one thing from the history of only last century.  Is this the direction Europe and the United States wish to go?  Are we really so eager to see millions of people murdered simply because of the colour of their skin, their national origin or their religion???

The march was organized by a neo-Nazi group called The Radical Camp, the name of a 1930s fascist movement.  To be sure, there were some small groups of counter-protestors including anti-fascists and Polish Jews, but they were far outnumbered and largely ignored. Although police and organisers tried to keep the two groups apart, nationalists pushed and kicked several women who had a banner saying “Stop fascism”.

Poland-1In recent years, Poland’s politics have leaned more toward a right-wing, xenophobic ideology. Similar nationalist and racist ideologies are growing in influence in Greece, Austria, Switzerland, and numerous other democracies across the continent. And so I ask again … have we not learned one, single, damned thing from history?

Poland’s resurgent fascist youth movement has embraced Donald Trump, whose campaign manager Steve Bannon worked for years to exploit white ethno-nationalist political energy in western Europe as well as the United States from his position leading Breitbart. America’s own white supremacist and spouter of hate, Richard Spencer, was originally slated to give a speech at this event, but changed his mind after Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski said that Spencer “should not appear publicly, and especially not in Poland.” Not, mind you, that Spencer cancelled his trip based on a change or heart of stroke of conscience, but he feared he would be denied entry into the country.

Poland-2I have noted many times before, I cannot understand how anybody with even half a brain can think that having pale skin makes a person superior to others.  Obviously, however, some do think so and that number seems to be growing, the ideology spreading like a fast=growing cancer both in the U.S. and in Europe.  The movement has its roots in the Arab Spring movements that began less than a decade ago and produced a mass exodus from Middle Eastern nations, people fleeing for their lives.  As nations like Greece, Germany, the U.S. and many others accepted these refugees, groups like daesh, al qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah were doing their best to make fear of the unknown the order of the day.  Add to this mix people like Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Geert Wilders, Norbert Hofer, Marine LePen, and others — populist candidates whose platform is based on one of xenophobia and of halting immigration — and it is a recipe for disaster.

How do we forget that we are all of the human race?  And where, pray tell, are the banished people of this world supposed to go?  How are they to survive, to live, even to thrive? The homelands of the Middle Easterners are being torn asunder by war and terrorism.  The nations of Africa are poor and already over-populated. And why would we want to live apart from our brothers and sisters who add so much to our lives, make our lives richer by sharing their cultures?

Poland-3.jpgHow do we stop the white nationalist movements that would exterminate, apparently, everyone who does not think, act and look exactly like them?  I don’t have any answer to that question, but I would ask those who feel this way a question:  say you got rid of all the Middle Easterners, the Latinos, those with African heritage … who’s next?  People with red hair?  People with disabilities?  Women?  It is a never-ending process, and it is evil.

The only way I know of to stop such a movement is for every person to take up the cause, to speak out against this evil, and to take time to educate those who somehow feel superior because they have pale skin.  I have said it before, and I say it again today:  those who remain silent in the face of this evil sweeping the globe are as guilty as any.

There are lessons to be learned from the past, but we are failing to learn them.  For fourteen years, Adolph Hitler reigned in much of Europe, his reign resulting in the deaths of between 70 and 85 million people, including six million human beings whose only crimes were to be different.  Do we really need to repeat this atrocity?  Is it not possible for us to learn tolerance, to learn to ignore the Richard Spencers and Steve Bannons of this world and treat people as equals?  Think about it, for we each must make the choice to either speak out loudly against this evil, or to be complicit in helping the haters achieve their goals, thus taking responsibility for the outcome.