Freedom of the Press — GOING, GOING …

“It is mind-boggling why President Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or brush this off as a political distraction.” – Statement by the Anti-Defamation League,  02-16-2017

“Respectfully, Mr. President, please use your bully pulpit not to bully reporters asking questions potentially affecting millions of fellow Americans, but rather to help solve a problem that, for many, is real and menacing.” – David Harris, American Jewish Committee, 02-16-2017


In Turkey, after the failed coup that was likely orchestrated by none other than Erdoğan himself, in order to curtail the power of the press, he simply had journalists arrested and shut down independent news agencies.  Trump has not, as yet, figured out a way to do that, since freedom of the press is an integral part of the U.S. Constitution, so he has another tactic, another ‘trick up his sleeve’:  bullying.

Throughout his year-and-a-half long campaign, Trump denigrated almost every major news outlet, except Fox and Breitbart, and banned a number of highly reputable news agencies, including The Washington Post, from his rallies and campaign events.  Since his election win last November, he has continued to criticize and threaten the press, calling them “fake news”, “dishonest”, “scum” and more.  We are becoming inured to it, and his rhetoric has become just so much noise in our minds.  However in his bizarre ‘press conference’ yesterday, he did something that I found deeply disturbing.

turxJewish reporter Jake Turx from Ami Magazine had a question about the recent episodes of anti-Semitism around the nation.  He prefaced his question by saying he did not see evidence the President or his staff were anti-Semitic. He even mentioned Trump’s Jewish grandchildren. Clearly Mr. Turx wanted to be sure Trump understood that he was not levelling accusations at Trump or his staff, but merely asking a question.

“What we are concerned about, and what we haven’t really heard being addressed, is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.” 

Trump interrupted, “See, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question, and it’s not.”

Turx:  “It’s an important one.”

Trump: “Not a simple question. Not a fair question. OK, sit down. I understand the rest of your question. So here’s the story folks. No. 1, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. No. 2, racism. The least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.”

Turx raised his hand and again tried to speak, but was told, “Quiet, quiet, quiet. See he lied about — he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media.”

Trump: “But let me just tell you something: I hate the charge. I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me — and you heard the Prime Minister, you heard Benjamin Netanyahu, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, ‘I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time,’ and then he said, ‘Forget it.’ So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.”

The question was not rude, insulting, repulsive nor difficult.  The reality is that there has been a surge in anti-Semitism since the November election including bomb threats and hate mail.  Jewish Community Centers in 27 states received some 60 bomb threats in January alone.  The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has identified some 1,600 Twitter accounts that have been used to send more than 2 million tweets containing anti-Semitic language and threats.

The question was “what is the federal government doing about this issue?” The answer was simple:  The FBI and Justice Departments are investigating, and working in conjunction with the ADL and local law enforcement to monitor the situation and ensure the safety of the Jewish community.  It isn’t rocket science, and it did not warrant Trump’s outburst.

When the man who is considered to be, acknowledged by most to be, the leader of a nation of some 300 million people cannot answer a simple question without twisting the question into a personal affront, then that nation needs to re-think their choice of leadership.  Period.  This is why hate groups like alt-right and the KKK believe they have the support of the president when they commit crimes against humanity.  Trump will not even speak out and admit that such crimes are an atrocity and that his administration will work to ensure the safety of its citizens.  Yet, he is adamant about reinstating his ban against people of the Muslim faith from at least seven countries in the Middle East … people who have done us no harm.

To my original point, from which I seem to have strayed, Trump’s refusal to answer a simple, straightforward question is bad enough, but then to tell the journalist to sit down and shut up, refusing to give him a chance to even finish asking his question, is a violation of the 1st amendment.  The first amendment does not state “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press as long as president likes the questions they ask …

In telling Mr. Turx to ‘sit down and be quiet’, Trump violated the reporter’s right, and perhaps most importantly of all, he violated our rights … the right of every citizen in this country.  It is not the first time, and undoubtedly will not be the last, but it stands out as a blatant example of a president who takes the law into his own hands, who does not understand the very Constitution that he swore to uphold less than a month ago.  He curtailed the freedom of the press yesterday every bit as surely as Erdoğan did when he ordered journalists arrested.  We have already begun to lose our constitutional rights, and this is only the beginning.

Finally … A Good Pick? Maybe …

Last night (Wednesday), Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labour, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration. The reason is likely that he did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving his confirmation hearing, scheduled for Thursday, after even Mitch McConnell, the chief boot-licker in Congress, said that Puzder could not possibly win enough votes for confirmation.  I wrote about Puzder  back in early January, and did not view him as a good fit for the office.  But my concerns, such as the fact that he is against raising minimum wage rates, supports repealing ACA, criticizes sick leave policies, and uses sexist advertising in his businesses, are not what doomed his nomination.  No, what doomed his nomination was that he came out in support of legalized immigration!  The man finally said one thing that made sense, and he is politically murdered for it!  No less than seven Republican senators said they would not vote to confirm Puzder.  Five of these seven actually voted to confirm the likes of DeVos and Sessions, however.

But Puzder is gone … good riddance … and this brings me to a potential bright spot on the otherwise dark horizon:  Alexander Acosta, Trump’s choice to replace Puzder as nominee for Secretary of Labour.  Everything I have read about Mr. Acosta points to a man who seeks to serve justice rather than to ‘win at all costs’.  He appears to be a man who has the courage of his convictions, and I only wish he had been nominated for the position of Attorney General rather than the racist lout who was placed in that all-important position.

A bit about Acosta’s background:

  • He is a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for Judge Samuel Alito, at that time a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for a year after graduation.
  • He then worked for a D.C. law firm where he specialized in employment and labor issues.
  • Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he served on the National Labour Relations Board.
  • In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
  • In 2005, he was appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he served until 2009.
  • Since 2009 he has served as Dean of dean of Florida International University College of Law.
  • In 2012, Acosta participated in a panel discussion called Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce, and he talked about the importance of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

I am particularly impressed by the stands he has taken in the area of civil rights, particularly the rights of immigrants.  In 2011, Acosta testified before Congress about the importance of protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. He said to the committee that “we are a nation build [sic] on principles of freedom, and high on the list of freedoms is freedom of religious expression. Indeed, as is well known to this Committee, this freedom pre-dates our Constitution.”  He goes on to talk about the importance of the president speaking up to defend Muslims.

“Our nation is strong because we respond to attack with resolve. History has shown the need, however, for leadership that tempers resolve with wisdom. President George W. Bush understood this, when on September 17, 2001, he visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. to remind a resolute nation that ‘those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger…should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.’ This was not the message many Americans wanted to hear at that time, but the President chose to lead, rather than to be led.” 

The senate has confirmed Acosta three times in the past, which is certainly encouraging, however the Acosta nomination is not without problems.  The main one is likely to be the controversy over a plea bargain his office arranged in 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor in Miami.  A case was brought against wealthy financier, Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire investor accused of having sex with underage girls.  Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges if Epstein pled guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. Epstein served 13 months of an 18 month sentence.  The controversy came about because the teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it. Not surprisingly, Trump has ties also to Epstein and while some claim that Trump and Epstein were friends, Trump denies it.

Setting the above controversy aside for the moment, it would otherwise seem that Acosta is, unlike all other Trump nominees, a good fit for the job.  He is an advocate of civil rights, and has served in various labour-related positions, including the NLRB. So what, exactly, does the position of Secretary of Labour involve?

According to the United States Department of Labour:

“The Department of Labor (DOL) fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.”

I am not sure to what extent the Epstein controversy will play a role in Acosta’s confirmation hearings.  For the final conclusion, you will have to … stay tuned!

An Immediate Crisis

Erik Hare of Barataria fame has hit the nail right on the head. No commetary from Filosofa … just read Erik’s post! Spot on and thanks, Erik! (Here, by the way, is an annotated transcript of the press conference to which Erik refers)

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

You realize we’re less than one month into this circus, yes?

After a press conference today the problem at hand should be obvious to absolutely everyone – the President has a severe mental illness. Nothing else matters at this point. There will be many sentences written, many hours of panel discussions, and hundreds of facebook posts shared going around this simple and obvious fact. But like the vast majority of our politics, it will be irrelevant.

The only thing which matters at this time is the peril faced by the United States, and indeed the world, because so much power is in the hands of someone obviously not well.

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In Praise Of Conservative Columnist George Will

I have always rather liked George Will, a columnist for The Washington Post.  At one time, he was a regular on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, and since I was a regular viewer, I saw and heard him frequently.  I used to read his column occasionally, and though I disagreed with his ideology much of the time, I respected his style as a writer and the fact that he was never brash, always thoughtful and respectful — more centered than far right extremist.  But, for the past year-and-a-half, I have been so inundated with news about first, the train-wreck that we called the 2016 election, and then the transition and ultimately the presidency of Trump, that I have neglected some of the columnists I used to read, including Will.  And so it was that I did not know George Will had left the Republican party!  In June 2016 – eight months ago!  So much for me being right on top of the news, huh?

Will, a committed conservative, did not go so far as to join the Democratic party, but announced he was switching from the Republican party to ‘unaffiliated’.  Will, apparently, is not a fan of Donald Trump, saying, “This is not my party”.  He also urged fellow conservatives not to vote for Trump, but to “Make sure he loses. Grit their teeth for four years and win the White House.”  This may be the biggest surprise I have had since Trump actually won the election!

Part of the reason for his departure, says Will, was Paul Ryan’s endorsement of Trump.  He stated that a Trump presidency unchecked by a Republican-led Congress would be worse than a Hillary Clinton presidency with a Republican-led Congress.  Trump, naturally, had something to tweet about this:

“George Will, one of the most overrated political pundits (who lost his way long ago), has left the Republican Party.He’s made many bad calls”

As I said, I have always respected and rather liked Will, but now I like him even more!  And the latest news is that Will is also leaving Fox News, though apparently not voluntarily.  Will left ABC News in 2013 and joined Fox News, primarily as a commentator on Chris Wallace’s Sunday show as well as on Bret Baier’s “Special Report” on weekday nights. His reason for leaving ABC News after a 32-year stint was not ideological differences, but rather logistical.  Since Stephanopoulos was hosting Good Morning America in New York during the week, the Sunday show, long based in Washington, D.C., began taping mostly in New York, and in the capital only about once every four weeks. Will, who lives in the D.C. area, informed ABC News that traveling several weekends a month was becoming tougher for him, according to a spokesman. At the time, he was 72 years old, so I certainly understand.

His reason for leaving Fox is simply that they informed him they would not be renewing his contract. Will does not seem too upset over it, saying only, “They just said that they weren’t going to renew. They didn’t say, and I didn’t ask … it’s their toy.” Now almost 76 years of age, perhaps he is ready to slow down a bit at any rate.

Will has not been kind to Trump in his recent columns.  In a column about Trump’s inaugural address, Will begins:

“Twenty minutes into his presidency, Donald Trump, who is always claiming to have made, or to be about to make, astonishing history, had done so. Living down to expectations, he had delivered the most dreadful inaugural address in history.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, had promised that the speech would be “elegant.” This is not the adjective that came to mind as he described “American carnage.” That was a phrase the likes of which has never hitherto been spoken at an inauguration.” 

And he ends by saying

[James] Madison anticipated and as the nation was reminded on Friday, “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”

Truer words were never spoken.

While remaining a conservative ideologist and thinker, Will is, nonetheless, a man of good sense and intelligence and he, like David Brooks, Elliot Cohen and David Frum, understand that there is a difference between true conservative thinking and the radical no-holds-barred policies of Trump and his administration.  If we are ever to begin to heal the divisiveness of the present, we need more voices like these to bring both sides back to the table, more toward the center where they can at least speak to one another in a civil manner. Voices like Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and the Breitbart team can only push the two sides further into the great divide that will lead us all over the chasm.

In a recent column in The Atlantic, writer Peter Beinart sums up the difference between what I refer to as the sensible conservatives like Will, Brooks, et al, vs. the radical elitists:   

“For them, conservatism is about prudence, inherited wisdom, and a government that first does no harm; they see none of those virtues in Trump. They see themselves as the inheritors of a rich conservative intellectual tradition; Trump’s ignorance embarrasses them. And they believe America should stand for ideals that transcend race, religion and geography; they fear white Christian identity politics in their bones. They are, to my mind, highly admirable.”

great-divide

Ever since the ‘tea party’ movement began in 2009, the divide between conservative and liberal political ideology has widened.  As conservatives moved further to the right of center, the center shifted and liberals maintained the balance by moving further to the left, leaving an almost insurmountable chasm in the middle.  As writers, journalists and politicians finally begin to understand, and respond to, what is happening, there is hope that some, like Will, will refuse to become entrenched in party ideologies and move back toward the center line.

We The People must rely on the media for our news, and to a large extent we form our opinions based on the news and what those we respect in the media say. Though George Will and I will always be ideologically opposed in many areas of policy, I respect him for being a thinker, for not allowing the rhetoric spewing from his former party to sway him, and for standing for his beliefs.  We need more writers and journalists to take a stand for what is right, rather than merely feeding the hysteria of the masses.

The Canadian Guy Has Class!

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to visit and to discuss ongoing policies with Trump.  Trudeau had hoped for an audience with the President of the United States, but in lieu of that, he got Trump.  Of course, the U.S. was embroiled in the scandal of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and whether he did or didn’t give Russian ambassador Kislyak a heads up about impending sanctions by President Obama back on Christmas day, so it is understandable that the U.S. news outlets were too busy to cover more than the barest details of Trudeau’s visit.

trudeau-trump-shakeNonetheless, there were some pretty great moments, like when Trudeau got to have his picture taken standing to the left of Ivanka Trump, with a beaming proud Papa Trump on her right.  And speaking of Ivanka, let us not forget the iconic photos of Ivanka gazing with adoration at the handsome, young Trudeau!

trudeau-trump-ivanka.png

The take on the visit depends entirely which side of the border you are on.  The U.S. press called the meeting boring, but the Canadians were thrilled.  Both reactions seem to be a result of the fact that Trump didn’t throw any of his bombastic temper tantrums during the Trudeau visit.  U.S. citizens seem to have come to a point where they look forward to these daily, sometimes hourly events, but Canadians, having a bit more sense of propriety, find them unamusing, to say the least.

trudeau-ivanka

Their major differences are in the areas of immigration, trade and climate change.  As we all know, Trump is determined to have his way in banning refugees from at least seven Middle-Eastern nations from entering the U.S. and is not above verbally abusing judges and others in order to see his ‘orders’ carried out.  Meanwhile, Trudeau welcomes refugees and the cultural diversity they bring.  Asked for his opinion on Trump’s refugee ban, PM Trudeau tactfully declined to opine, saying instead, “The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves.”

us-canadaCertainly the main point PM Trudeau came hoping to come to an agreement with Trump about was regarding trade, given that Trump has repeatedly said he would either ‘rip up’ the NAFTA agreement, or renegotiate it in terms more favourable to the U.S.  Canada counts on trade with the United States for about 25 percent of their country’s gross domestic product and 73% of their exports.  PM Trudeau and President Obama had forged a mutually beneficial working relationship, so it is no wonder that Trudeau was a bit unsure what to expect from the contentious Trump … heck, those of us who live in the U.S. do not know what to expect of him from one day to the next!

A little known episode from last month:  a group of six Canadian women and two French nationals tried to enter the U.S. in order to attend the Women’s March on 21 January, but after a two-hour ordeal at the border which included a search of the car, their mobile phones being examined, each person fingerprinted, and their photo taken, they were denied access and told that if they attempted to cross the border again during the weekend, they would be arrested.  Another Canadian and a British citizen were also turned away after informing border patrol agents the reason for their visit was the Women’s March. The same day, a resident of Montreal was turned away after being asked by border patrol agents whether he was ‘pro-Trump’ or ‘anti-Trump’.  He was then fingerprinted, photographed, and denied entry.

At least one Canadian school district has ceased their periodic field trips into the U.S., citing safety concerns in light of Trump’s immigration ban and the unpredictability of what might happen next. We certainly can no longer claim to be a nation of hospitality, can we?

trudeau-welcome.jpg

PM Justin Trudeau welcoming newly-arrived refugees to his country

Justin Trudeau is a class act, much the same as was President Obama.  Though we have the impression that he strongly disagrees with Trump’s stance on immigration and his ‘executive order’ to ban mostly Muslims from the U.S., Trudeau has never specifically criticized Trump.  He has merely stated the importance of welcoming more refugees, without mentioning Trump by name.  As I said, the man has class, something which is sorely lacking in Trump.

On a final note, the day after the meeting and press conference with PM Trudeau and Trump, Sean Spicer had this to say in the morning White House press briefing:

“Yesterday the president set — had an incredibly productive set of meetings and discussions with Prime Minister Joe Trudeau of Canada, focusing on our shared commitment to close cooperation in addressing both the challenges facing our two countries and the problems throughout the world.” Um, Sean?  It’s Justin … Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Not Joe.

I asked one of my Canadian friends if we could trade leaders … just for a year or so.  Her response, verbatim, was: “Over my dead body (and those of millions of Canucks!!) Sorry…”  Guess that means ‘no’, huh?  And I was even willing to throw in Bannon, Miller, Spicer, Conway, Sessions and DeVos as a bonus!  Well, can’t blame me for trying.  Sigh.

Uneasy Civilization

My blogger-friend Hugh is a philosopher, a deep thinker. Whereas I look at the political turmoil and upheaval of current times, both in the U.S. and on the other side of the globe, and wonder why some people are so determined to destroy our society, Hugh finds the answers to those questions in the works of the old philosophers. His post today is an excellent analysis of why people are so willing to follow and support leaders like Trump, LePen and Wilders in spite of, or perhaps because of, the chaos they create. Please take a few minutes to read Hugh’s post and think about what he says. Thank you Hugh for the implied permission to share this post!

hughcurtler

In 1929 Sigmund Freud wrote his famous and truly remarkable book Civilization and Its Discontents. The latter term, in German, is “Unbehagen,” which means, literally, “uneasiness.” In any event, Freud pointed out that civilization is bought at a price. He never suggested that the price was not worth paying, but those who followed him and had a much less penetrating insight into the trials and tribulations of civilized people decided that the price was not worth paying. Freud worried about repression and sublimation (which actually resulted in creative activity) whereas his acolytes preached that mental health consists in the absence of restraint in order to foster increased pleasure and “realizing one’s potential.”

What followed in this country within a decade or two was a plethora of pop-psychologists telling Americans that repression was a bad thing and the values that had created what we call “civilized society” were a sham. Following Nietzsche, they…

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Did Anybody Notice???

It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. Ansel Adams

Yet, despite our many advances, our environment is still threatened by a range of problems, including global climate change, energy dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels, and loss of biodiversity. Dan Lipinski

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead


Did anybody notice the news last week? In California … about the Oroville Dam, north of Sacramento?  More than 190,000 people were forced to leave their homes under an evacuation order.  The fear was that a largely earthen emergency spillway could collapse and cause catastrophic floods on the Feather River.

oroville-1.png

And what of the bushfires and bats in Australia, in the midst of one of the most ferocious heatwaves on record?  Parts of South Australia and Victoria reached 46 °C (115° F), while New South Wales and Queensland recorded temperatures above 47 °C (117° F). At least five towns in New South Wales and four in Queensland had their hottest day ever recorded over the weekend. As Ed McMahon used to say to Johnny Carson, “how hot WAS it?”  Well, it was so hot that thousands of bats dropped dead from the heat in eastern Australia, falling from the trees. The latest heatwave has led to people being admitted to hospitals as well as blackouts due to excessive use of air-conditioning. It has also sparked dozens of bush fires in New South Wales that firefighters are still trying to contain.

 

Why am I writing about this now?  What is the connection between a potential dam failure/flood in California and a heat wave in Australia?  Climate change. Pure and simple … climate change brought about, at least in part, by the habits of mankind and his obdurate burning of fossil fuels, as well as other things that produce excess carbon emissions, thus causing a greenhouse effect and destroying the ozone layer of the earth’s atmosphere. As to why I am writing about this now … first, the two above-mentioned incidents were widely reported, but little noted here in the U.S., where the masses were consumed by Trumpy Tweets and scandals involving national security advisor Michael Flynn, spokesperson Kellyanne Conway, and the contentious confirmation hearings of Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions.  The stories of a heatwave in Australia and a narrowly-averted disaster in California, along with that of six tornadoes in and around New Orleans were apparently not all that interesting.

In recent news, on Monday, 23 January, just after Trump’s inauguration, employees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received the following memo:

I just returned from a briefing for Communication Directors where the following information was provided. These restrictions are effective immediately and will remain in place until further direction is received from the new Administration’s Beach Team. Please review this material and share with all appropriate individuals in your organization. If anyone on your staff receives a press inquiry of any kind, it must be referred to me so I can coordinate with the appropriate individuals in OPA.

  • No press releases will be going out to external audiences.
  • No social media will be going out. A Digital Strategist will be coming on board to oversee social media. Existing, individually controlled, social media accounts may become more centrally controlled.
  • No blog messages.
  • The Beach Team will review the list of upcoming webinars and decide which ones will go forward.
  • Please send me a list of any external speaking engagements that are currently scheduled among any of your staff from today through February.
  • Incoming media requests will be carefully screened.
  • No new content can be placed on any website. Only do clean up where essential.
  • List servers will be reviewed. Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.

I will provide updates to this information as soon as I receive it.

Meanwhile, on 03 February, Florida representative Matt Gaetz introduced a bill that would terminate the EPA by the end of 2018. Terminate.  No more research, no more directives, no more scientific studies.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  The bill is co-sponsored by representatives Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Steven Palazzo of Mississippi.

climate-change-meme-kyle-hGaetz, a freshman in Congress, said the EPA’s rules and regulations designed to protect the environment actually hurt people and that the agency has “violated the sovereignty of the states.” Democrats in Congress are not overly concerned that the EPA will be abolished, as Gaetz’ freshman status likely means that he will not have the political clout to push his bill through.  Additionally, to completely abolish the EPA would require repealing a number of laws entrusting the agency with a number of specific environmental responsibilities.

However, Trump still appears to be set to chop the EPA’s budget drastically, and then there are the braying duo, Ebell and Pruitt …  .  Pruitt has spent the better part of his career as attorney general of Oklahoma suing the EPA … in fact he has filed a total of 14 lawsuits against the EPA.  And now he will, in all likelihood, run the agency.

The full senate is set to vote this week on the confirmation of Trump’s choice to lead the EPA, climate-change denier and supporter of the fossil fuel industry, Scott Pruitt. Trump already placed another climate change denier, Myron Ebell, in the position of director of the Center for Energy and Environment. I have written about both Ebell and Pruitt in the past few months.

Recently Pruitt acknowledged the existence of climate change, though he argued that the role of human activity is subject to debate. Just last year he referred to climate change as a ‘religious belief’.  During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt was asked by Senator Bernie Sanders about his personal opinion on the link between climate change and human activity, Pruitt demurred, claiming his opinion would be immaterial to his job as EPA administrator.  I love Sanders response:

“Really? You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?”

Much can and should be argued in favour of continuing research into climate science, additional regulations to reduce carbon emissions, and a number of other initiatives for which the EPA has been responsible, but I and others have said it all before.  The question before us today is what will happen to the EPA and how will it affect the earth’s future?  Fortunately, other nations are taking climate change seriously and will continue to do so even if the U.S. backs out of the Paris Climate Accord.  However, every nation needs to do its part, lest heat waves, droughts, floods, and melting polar ice caps become the norm.  It is interesting that the representative who wants to do away with the EPA is from Florida, a state where they are already fighting against rising sea levels.

We can hope that the senate, seeing the chaos the Trump administration has been this past week, has begun to shed its collective rose-tinted glasses and will vote with their minds and consciences when the Pruitt confirmation comes to the floor for a vote, but I am not counting on it.  Perhaps somebody should take them, in their stuffy suits and ties, to Australia and leave them for a week … then perhaps they would understand.  Probably not, but it is fun to think about, yes?

New Weekly Feature … Good People Doing Good Things!

I am trying out a new feature here on Filosofa’s Word.  My Monday morning ‘no-politics’ column has become quite popular since I started it last year, and I have come to realize that, while the things I write and opine about are important and cannot be ignored, we all need a bit of a break from the serious stuff every now and again.  So, I want to try a new Wednesday afternoon, mid-week post that will feature ‘good people doing good things’ around the world.  Unlike the Monday morning post, I cannot promise Wednesday’s will be completely free of political issues, because often politics and global affairs are the reason people need to become philanthropists. But politics will not be the central focus. Hopefully I won’t run out of material after week #3! Please let me know your thoughts, and PLEASE … if you are aware of a person, family or NGO that is doing good things to make the world a better place … send me a suggestion!

I am kicking this experiment off today with a post about Bill and Melinda Gates, and their foundation called … Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)!  Launched in 2000 BMGF is said to be the largest transparently operated private foundation in the world. Their primary goals are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Warren Buffett is the third trustee of the organization and has contributed generously from his own wealth.  Bill Gates, as of 2013, had contributed $28 billion of his own money to the foundation!  Buffett’s contributions, made in annual installments, have totaled $18.76 billion as of July 2015.  The three trustees are fully invested in this venture, unlike other foundations that serve primarily as a pass-thru for donations taken from others and distributed to a cause.

gatesA bit about Bill and Melinda.  In 1975, along with Paul Allen, Bill Gates founded Microsoft Corporation, that today is the largest PC software company in the world. Since 1987, Gates has been included in the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people and was the wealthiest from 1995 to 2007, again in 2009, and has been since 2014. (Eat your heart out, Donald Trump!)  His current wealth is estimated at $84.2 billion.  In 2006, Gates stepped down from his day-to-day role at Microsoft in order to devote more of his time to the good works of his foundation.  In addition to financial contributions to his own foundation, Gates has made significant contributions to other philanthropic organizations in the fields of science, medical research and education. Time magazine named Gates one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th century, as well as one of the 100 most influential people of 2004, 2005, and 2006.

gates-mBill and Melinda met when she was employed at Microsoft in the 1990s, and the couple married in 1994.  In addition to her work with the Gates Foundation, she has been involved with a number of other charitable works, including serving as chairperson for a campaign to raise money for Seattle Children’s Hospital and personally contributing $10 million to her former high school.

The foundation’s programs, grants and investments are far too numerous to list in this post, but in general, they are broken down into the following areas:

  • Global Development Division – to combat extreme poverty through grants. Works include financial services for the poor, agricultural development, water/sanitation/hygiene, sanitation technology innovations, and other more specific causes, such as helping out after the 2004 earthquake in India.
  • Global Health Division – major contributor to the Global Fund to Fight Aids. Other projects in this area include polio eradication, a children’s vaccine program, HIV research, working with World Health Organization (WHO) on tropical disease research, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
  • United States Division – supports two primary initiatives: libraries and education.  The foundation has given grants, installed computers and software, and provided training and technical support in partnership with public libraries nationwide in an effort to increase access and knowledge. The foundation has provided scholarships far too numerous to list, but also works with teachers’ unions, United Negro College Fund, and many other education-based organizations.
  • Global Policy & Advocacy Division – is best defined by a statement from the foundation’s website: “Because our resources alone are not enough to advance the causes we care about, we engage in advocacy efforts to promote public policies that advance our work, build strategic alliances with governments and the public and private sectors, and foster greater public awareness of urgent global issues.”

The foundation has won numerous awards, and in 2016, President Barack Obama honored Bill and Melinda Gates with The Presidential Medal of Freedom for their philanthropic efforts.

Two things put the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation far and above many other philanthropic organizations:

  1. They do not merely solicit and collect donations, then distribute them to causes, but they have invested heavily of their own wealth. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have pledged to give away half their wealth over the course of their lifetime.
  2. The trustees of the foundation have invested more than just money. They give of themselves, their time, their energy.  This is what many such organizations fail to do.  If you are wealthy, it is not a huge sacrifice to give away money, but no matter who you are, or how wealthy, your time is your most valuable commodity, and Bill and Melinda Gates also give their time to overseeing their projects.

Two things made me decide to write about this particular foundation this week.  First, after the confirmation of Betsy DeVos last week, I was looking at her family’s philanthropic works, and they cannot even hold a candle to the humanitarian causes supported by the Gates Foundation.  DeVos family mainly donate, it seems, to politicians … politicians who seem compelled to take away from global humanitarian causes.  My other reason was an article in the Guardian this morning:

“Trump’s ‘global gag rule’ could endanger millions of women and children, Bill and Melinda Gates warn”

The “global gag rule” imposed by Donald Trump, blocking US funds to any organisation involved in abortion advice and care overseas, could impact millions of women and girls, endangering their lives and those of their babies, Bill and Melinda Gates have warned.

The changes are expected to result in funding from the world’s biggest donor to family planning and women’s health programmes in the developing world being slashed. It could, Bill Gates told the Guardian, “create a void that even a foundation like ours can’t fill”.

I rest my case.  In addition to the billions of dollars spent on humanitarian causes, and donations to other good works around the world, the BMGF has inspired others, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to follow in their footsteps.  Doing the small bit of research I did for this post was uplifting and gave me hope that we can still yet learn to help one another, that while we talk of the greed of big corporations, and that infamous ‘one percent’, there are people out there who want to be a part of solving the world’s problems, or at least do a small part to make the world a better place for humanity.  Two thumbs up to Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett for their courage, hard work and generosity!

Note:  I just realized, after working for 3 hours on this post, that today is, in fact, not Wednesday but Tuesday!  Sheesh.  Well, from this point forward, this will be a Wednesday afternoon feature.  If I can remember what day it is.

two-thumbs

Betsy’s First Week at School

Last week, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education in an underwhelming victory.  Following hours of contentious debate, two Republican senators voted against her confirmation, leaving the vote tied at 50-50, and Mike Pence had to be brought in to cast the tie-breaking vote.  He, of course, cast a ‘yea’ vote and Betsy was in.

school2Betsy did not have a good first week at school.  In fact, I am questioning whether Betsy has even been to school before, as she seemed a bit … shall we say, disoriented. At the end of the day on Wednesday, her first full day on the job, she tweeted (it is rumoured that she has only 8 Twitter followers and has only tweeted 32 times in her life, so she is new at this … guess Trump will need to give her some lessons):

“Day 1 on the job is done, but we’re only getting started. Now where do I find the pencils? :)”

pencils-2I imagine she was trying to be funny, but given that those in the education field already see her as a poor choice for the position and are concerned over her ideologies, as well as her lack of experience and qualifications, her comment set off a Twitter-storm. A few of the responses:

  • @BetsyDeVos At the store. Something you should know: we teachers buy pencils and supplies for our classes with our OWN money.
  • @BetsyDeVos you realize how NOT funny this is since most teachers buy their own supplies. But I bet you’re gonna pink slip them anyway.
  • @BetsyDeVos He has them… devos-bear
  • @BetsyDeVos If YOU work in education, YOU buy the pencils, the paper, &, sometimes, a kid’s shoes. Spend a week in a school & GET A CLUE.

Then on Friday, Betsy decided to visit Jefferson Middle School Academy in D.C., but was met with a small (it looked like about 4) protestors, one carrying a cardboard sign and another shouting, “Go back! Shame, shame.” Rather than walk on by, Ms. DeVos sought an escort back to her vehicle … a move many believe will only encourage future protestors. She did finally enter and tour the school.

Then on Sunday morning, somebody under Betsy’s command at the Department of Education posted the following tweet:

“US Dept of Education ✔ @usedgov, Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life. – W.E.B. DeBois, 8:45 AM – 12 Feb 2017″

dubois

The problem, of course, is that W.E.B. Du Bois’ name is misspelled.  Now granted, Betsy did not make this typo herself, but somebody in the Department of Education did, and then compounded it a few hours later with a correction and this tweet:

“Post updated – our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo. — US Dept of Education (@usedgov) February 12, 2017”

Our deepest “apologizes”???  Again, Twitter went nuts.  It is almost a valid argument to say Betsy should not be mocked and ridiculed over this one, but she IS responsible for those under her and she IS responsible for any and all communiques that go out of the department.  Ordinarily this would probably have gone largely unnoticed, however among educators and those of us concerned about the future of our educational system, frankly it is open season on Ms. DeVos, and she isn’t making it very hard, as evidenced by what she said only yesterday (Monday) morning.

“I was so excited to see the President’s approval rating hit forty. Just knowing that well more than half the country is with him gives us a great sense of confidence moving forward.To you critics out there who think you’re in the majority, I have some advice for you. Do the math.” Do. The. Math. Now, I haven’t taken a math class in decades, and while I am adequate at math, it is not my strongest suit.  But I could have sworn that a majority is more than 50%.  Yes, I have heard of “new math” and all that, but … has the definition of majority changed also?  And if 40% constitutes a majority, then 39% would be the rest of the whole … which only adds up to 79% … so what happened to the other 21% of us???  No wonder I feel like I live in an alternate universe!!! I would almost feel sorry for Betsy if she just weren’t so damn arrogant and supercilious.

A couple of closing notes.  It is almost too ridiculous to resist the temptation to mock, but in the grand scheme of things, it accomplishes little, if anything.  My fondest hope where Ms. DeVos is concerned would be that she quickly comes to realize she is out of her element, is unqualified to perform this job, and steps down voluntarily.  That being unlikely, my next best hope is that she has the integrity to start talking to groups like the National Education Association (NEA) and people within the Department of Education, and asks questions, listens to the answers, understands that others have more knowledge than she and that she can and must learn from them.  If she does neither of the above and plunges headfirst into her own (and Trump’s) agenda, then we will all pay the price.

THE STRANGER ON THE BUS RESTORED MY FAITH IN HUMANITY!

Of late, it is easy to wonder where we, as a nation, left our humanity. To wonder if the whole world has become bigoted and intolerant. This story by fellow blogger Hijabi-Online gave me reason for hope and reminded me that there are good people out there. Please take a few moments to read her story.

Hijabi Online

The bus was empty so I decided to sit on the lower deck, at the front, there was only one other passenger on the bus who sat in front of me, a few minutes went by and I noticed that she kept turning back and looking at me. Every time I smiled, she would quickly look away, as funny as it seems she was not very good at disguising it. I didn’t mind the starting it was normal I know some people do it out of curiosity, because they feel sorry for me and others do it out of ignorance, but whatever the reason it didn’t bother me. The glances kept exchanging back and forth throughout the entire journey.

Until we came to a stop where she picked up her bag and stoop up, to my surprise she turned facing towards me and slipped a folded note into my hands…

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