Victoria Jelinek


XIX: Why the British Don’t Like Trump

Ignorance is loudSomeone asked “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?”

Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England, wrote this magnificent response:

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.”

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XVIII Logos, Pathos, Ethos

Snoopy thinking

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts. Abraham Lincoln

An (English) friend from Geneva dropped by my house yesterday with her new (English) beau and he’s a raging Brexiter and Trumpster. I’ve actually never had one in my home.

I remained calm (throughout) when he brought up politics and declared “Trump is getting things done” and repeated slogans as point-of-fact. I asked what Trump has specifically done? He replied that Trump has “drained the swamp,” and is “doing something about illegals,” and,  justifying his support, declared “Trump hasn’t done anything worse than Obama or Hilary Clinton did…that Hilary Clinton was on her way to jail when she was running for office” (“Lock her up!”). I tried to ask questions based on fact to prompt specific responses about each of these subjects from him. For example, when he said, “Drain the swamp!” I asked him how he defines the “swamp,” ‘cause the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was involved with 28k home foreclosures in 2008, in which his company Goldman Sachs and he made a handsome profit; ‘cause the Education Secretary (Betsy Devos) is a billionaire with no experience educating but who is a large GOP donor; ‘cause Andrew Wheeler, the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is an ex-coal lobbyist. To which he replied, “You get your information from your sources, and I get mine from my sources.” I said, “This doesn’t have to do with media or social media sources…these are matters of public record.” To which he repeated, “You have your sources, and I have mine.”

I then asked him what else Trump is doing? He said he’s “doing something about illegals!” I asked, “You mean those camps in which a private company, the Corley facility, owned by the GEO Group, which is the nation’s largest private prison company, who are profiting from running detention centers under government contracts that cost the US taxpayer $44 million dollars a year, and who donate large amounts to the GOP party and Trump’s re election campaign? He said, “It’s nothing Obama and Hilary didn’t do.” (I’m not sure what HILARY Clinton has to do with any of this, really, and the argument that “they do it too!” is so infantile, but I digress). I said, “But there are international laws in places that protect those seeking refuge while due process of law is followed.” He said, again, “You have your information sources, I have mine.” I asked, “Is your source Fox News?” He said defensively, “What if it is?” I said, “Well, it’s a right-wing propaganda machine that was set up by Rupert Murdoch to meet his own agenda, which is to make colossal profits and maintain the status quo of white, male empowerment.” To which he sneered that I “probably” watch CNN and read “The Guardian” newspaper. I replied, “I don’t watch CNN, but I do read “The Guardian,” among other global newspapers, and “The Guardian” is sponsored by its audience rather than corporate advertisers and private investors.

At one point he said that the CIA and the FBI are run by “the Left” who are out to “get Trump,” and that climate change is a “theory.” To this I replied quietly, “It was a theory, but now it’s scientific fact.”

But I left it at that, and when they said, a short while, later, “Oh, we really should get going…” which is normally the cue for the host to say, “Oh! Have one more drink or something more to eat!” I stood up immediately and said, “Yes.” And quickly spirited them both to the door, shook their hands, and closed it behind them. I’m aghast that I had a person so uncritical and uninformed in my home. And I’m perplexed as to why my friend is dating this person. (She’s an educator!). But this morning I couldn’t sleep in the wee morning hours thinking about this man’s ‘arguments’ and how this blurring of what is fact and belief has become so commonplace. That people are increasingly becoming so unreflective and undiscerning in their general thinking. That we’re seeing a lack of debating tools in arguments. I would claim that in political ‘debate,’ we’re seeing a complete breakdown of sane discussion. My heart is heavy today. In my early morning mind, before the sun rose, I thought of all the things I would have liked to have said to this man in the form of questions and facts based on public record, but which I didn’t do out of respect for my friend. Also, perhaps, because I’m not sure that a person like this is motivated to listen to anything that confronts his constructs of reality. I sensed that this one wouldn’t listen to counter information because his manner and his words denoted a belligerence that borders on aggressive hostility to certain groups (women, the wealthy, intellectuals, the French, despite living in France). However, so that I can expunge it from my head, I must write up all the things I would have LIKED to have mentioned to this man yesterday evening.

I would start with some basics: What is the definition of ‘fact’? (A thing that is known or proved to be true). What is “true”? (Something that can be proved and seen repeatedly over time in the same way each time). What is the definition of ‘belief’? (An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof). Do you believe in the Law of Gravity? (When you throw a ball in the air, it will come down. Gravity keeps things on earth from spinning off into space). Is the earth round or flat? (It’s round and spins on an axis that rotates around the sun). How do you know these things? (Through exhaustive quantitative study). What is a ‘public record’? (Public records in the USA come from agencies such as The Department for Motor Vehicles, the Department of Labor and Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service, etc.). I am not referring to any media or social media sources when I address the boyfriend’s points, below.

“Drain the Swamp!” It’s a slogan. What is a “slogan?” A slogan is a short, striking, memorable phrase used in advertising. What is the purpose of advertising? To sell you something. If its purpose is to sell you something, should you be wary of its “truth”? Accordingly, using public record only, let us examine Trump’s declaration that he has “drained the swamp!” starting with Trump. What is the experience he has that prepares him for the office of USA president? Unlike Obama, he has no formal or professional training in law, activism, history, geography, and politics. He has changed his political affiliation three times (Democrat, Independent, Republican). Personally, he inherited $413 million dollars from his father. He built Trump Taj Mahal hotel and casino for $1.2 billion dollars, declared bankruptcy on it (and consequently did not pay the workers who built the 2010-room hotel and casino), and then sold it for $50 million dollars. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who is a nebulous advisor in the White House, is a clothing manufacturer (with no manufacturing done in the USA) and her husband, a de-facto advisor, is formerly a real estate developer who is millions of dollars in debt to Deutsche Bank. When he was inaugurated into the White House, Trump settled a court case brought against Trump University for fraud to the tune of $25 million dollars. Trump’s election campaign manager, Paul Manafort, the man responsible for Trump’s “win,” has recently been jailed for fraud. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, often described by Trump, himself, as his “fixer,” has also been jailed for fraud. Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, has a net worth of $300 million dollars from investment banking. He left a job at Goldman Sachs to run the treasury department of the USA. Betsy Devos, the current Education Secretary, who has no experience educating and whose family has a net worth of $5.8 billion dollars (from Amway), has the experience of being a large donor to the Republican Party. Andrew Wheeler, the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is a former coal industry lobbyist (which is a person who takes part in an organized attempt to influence legislators. And “Legislators” are people who make the laws of the land).

I could go on-and-on about a conflict of interest and lack of ethics in this current administration, all based on public record rather than any news source, but I don’t have the inclination to do so here. I DID, however, mention a little of this to the boyfriend, and he said, “Everyone does it. Hilary Clinton was doing ‘pay-to-play’ for years and on her way to jail when she was running for office.” I asked him, “Then why isn’t she in jail now?” to which he replied that she has paid off the FBI and CIA to keep her out of prison and has “powerful backers.” (If she’s so powerful, why isn’t she in the White House? She did win the popular vote). Again, not sure why what she does matters, and this argument is akin to an child’s, but I did say to the boyfriend, “It doesn’t matter who else does it. The office of President or Prime Minister is the highest in the land and that person should be held to higher standards than the rest.”

The boyfriend then stated that once that “traitor” Mueller’s report is in “ashes,” then Trump will be “cleared” of the allegations mounted by “the Left.” I didn’t mention that Mueller is a Republican and a decorated war hero, unlike Trump who was a draft dodger (as was his father – all matter of public record). I asked the boyfriend why Trump hasn’t made his tax returns public in order to show that there is not a conflict of interests entering office, such as banking or Russian oligarch’s campaign donations as “the Left” asserts? The boyfriend said “Lots of presidents haven’t declared their taxes!” and “There’s no law!” I said, “Name one president who didn’t declare their taxes and/or personal income and expenditures.” Again, his response was that he has his “sources” and I have mine. Actually, there’s an obscure 1924 law about revealing one’s finances in the bid for US presidency, and the only president in US history NOT to declare their personal income and expenditures was Nixon. Once again, I refer one to public record.

Let us move on to another statement, “He’s doing something about illegals!” What, exactly, IS he doing? “Nothing Obama and Clinton didn’t do!” Yes, Obama deported a large amount of illegal immigrants. However, Obama respected the UN treaty on Human Rights Law, which is an agreement that member States are bound to respect. By becoming parties to international treaties, States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect, and to fulfill human rights (their safety, security, right to dignity). Under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, the Department of Justice began to criminally prosecute all suspected illegal border-crossers for illegal entry, even those who crossed for the first time. Families now undergo separations when parents or adult relatives are charged with unlawful entry. Obama did not do this and he did not oversee detention centers in which basic medical and sanitary services were not being met. Seven children have died in US custody in 2019, compared with NONE in the ten years prior. Again, a matter of public record. More than 11,000 children are now being held by the US govt. on any given day, up from an average of 1,000 in the previous ten years. This administration has also cancelled recreational activities for the ‘inmates,’ which violates US law for any prisoner or detainee. (I did mention a little of this to the boyfriend who said, again, that I have my sources, and he his, but added that Hilary Clinton was involved with “human trafficking.” I assume he was referring to the claim that she had been running a child trafficking business from the basement of a pizza parlor? I chose not to entertain this allegation by him).

Additionally, Trump’s own father and mother were immigrants who sought refuge – like these people currently at the border with Mexico – upon arrival to the USA, but were not housed in detention facilities. Melania, Trump’s current wife, worked illegally when she first arrived in the USA, and later, lied about her formal education on her application for a Green Card. I would also refer this boyfriend and any other ill-informed person, to research history books and historical public records about the origin of the slogan “America First” in the 1930’s, as well as the birth of the “Southern Strategy” in the 1950’s in order to more fully understand the context for this current administration’s directives.

Finally, this boyfriend stated that Fox News is “no worse a propaganda machine” than “The Guardian.” While I will concede that “The Guardian” does have a leftist bias, it is funded entirely by its audience, the people. Meanwhile, Fox News is founded by Rupert Murdoch and fed by advertising dollars of corporations and the likes of major GOP donors, such as Bob and Rebecca Mercer and the Koch Brothers. The boyfriend had no idea who these people are. (I did not inform the boyfriend that it was, in fact, President Clinton who made it possible for the birth of the right-wing media in the USA by eliminating the law that stated all public media outlets must state BOTH sides of an argument – a tragic lack of foresight). Meanwhile, it’s illogical that there is a “liberal media” pumping out propaganda to the “the Left.” Lamentably, corporations and excessively rich men who rely on advertisers and tax cuts own most media outlets in the USA. Which is why one must look at a variety of information sources in a discerning fashion – local newspapers where a story originates, a variety of global news outlets, radio, podcasts, public record, and one must also have some knowledge of history in order to form one’s political opinion. Simply ‘puppeting’ slogans such as “Drain the Swamp!” and “Lock her up!” and “Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers!” without anything specifics and facts to base one’s case on, is why we’re seeing the (cyclical) catastrophic rise of right-wing nationalism and distrust in public institutions (which begs the question – who might want the general public to distrust the public institutions designed to protect its citizens?).

I didn’t explain the Electoral College to the boyfriend when he said that Hilary supporters are just “bitter” about her loss. And, I won’t even broach the subject of this boyfriend’s claim that “climate change is a theory,” “a hoax,” because it’s so inane and I want another cup of coffee this morning. Coffee – something I’ll miss immeasurably when, and if, idiots like this man, and the fossil fuel and agricultural industries don’t finally realize that it’s their sorry selves on the line, too, with global warming. By the way, these aforementioned industrials do know climate change is real, but they pay millions of dollars each year to lobbyists in order to keep governments ‘in line’ with business-as-usual, which supports their personal profit-seeking, and people like the boyfriend believing climate change is a ‘hoax,’ in order to keep operating. And no, unlike what the boyfriend stated cynically at one point that “all” corporations and “rich people” evade taxes and avoid laws, and, furthermore, that “taxes aren’t important,” none of these statements are true. All rich people don’t avoid taxes. These actions are not normal, usual, and it is not consequently acceptable to evade taxes. Taxes ARE important for the functioning of a society, or we wouldn’t have public health, housing, education, roads, welfare, police and fire services, for example. But, once again, I refer one to the public record of a standard dictionary of language, and the definition of “collective” versus “individualistic,” and ask the question, who might benefit from limiting taxes paid to governments? From there, I refer one to a local library to read a bit about economic philosophy and the theory of “trickle down economics.” From there, incidents in history when this economic model has been used and how well that has worked out for a given land and its people.

However, as this piece focuses on American politics, I must say that I do NOT think that the Democratic Party is much better than the Republican Party, at least historically. In this, I can agree with the motivation behind many of those who chose to vote for Trump in order to disrupt the status quo of governance. The Democrats set the stage for the current USA order by becoming too Centrist. By not paying attention to their constituent’s values and desires that they fight for policies that are farther left than center. Arguably, however, this is due to the campaign ‘machine’ that requires large ‘war chests’ of money, and money generally comes from large corporations and more of the same type who are supporting and protecting the Trump administration. Therefore, Democratic politicians make deals and compromise values in order to do SOMETHING democratic…certainly, the Democrats have been an opposing force to all that Trump might have done, but, once again, they’re in-fighting for power in the run up to the nomination, and the DNC will likely support the most Centrist as the Democratic nominee, thereby showing that no lessons have been learned. But, this is not the subject of this essay. I say it in closing to acknowledge a rotten system to be sure, the specifics to support my argument will have to come in another diatribe I write in my head one pre-dawn morning.

(Gods I hope that getting this out of me this morning works as a catharsis and that my first thought tomorrow morning is NOT the end of the world as I see it – which is the decline of critical thinking).

 

 



XII: Fighting Despair

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King

Birch treesEven as I write this I know that I must continue to maintain hope for the sake of my young son and all that I know is excellent, beautiful, and good in this world. Intellectually I know there is so much. But emotionally it’s getting harder to believe this. I increasingly feel more impotent, discouraged, and disdainful with humanity and its actions. Not just what I read in various news outlets, but what I observe around me every time I leave the house. My sense of humor is failing me. I’ve noticed in recent months that I don’t laugh my big, open-mouthed laugh any more. This is stupid, too, ‘cause losing one’s sense of humor only makes matters worse. I’m not sure how to maintain strength, hope, and humor when all of the things that give me hope and joy (tolerance, kindness, intelligence, collectivism, excellence and the magnificent natural world) seem to be diminishing. I write this today in the hope that it will serve as a catharsis. In the hope that I’m not alone in my thinking.

So, here is the litany of global events that have happened in the last two years that, in my opinion, reflect societal values and are consequently undermining my belief that this world is fundamentally a righteous place:

Syria, with the aid of Russia, prompts a mass migration of immigrants to the EU, which in turn emboldens racist, xenophobic, & nationalistic ideology throughout Europe, threatening the basis and formation of the European Union.

England & Wales, as a result of a misinformation campaign (Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Nigel Farage) withdraws from the European Union and takes Scotland and Ireland with it.

With the aid of the Electoral College, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and Russian interference, Donald Trump takes the USA White House.

Emmanuel Macron narrowly beats the right-wing Front National (since ‘rebranded’ and going stronger than ever in time for the European Elections in a couple of weeks, aided by the Yellow Vest movement).

Jair Bolsonaro is elected in Brazil and vows to ‘open up’ more of the Amazon to industrial interests.

A fascist right-wing party is elected to lead Italy. With Viktor Orban of Hungary, they call for leaders to be elected in the upcoming EU elections who will reduce immigration (wolf whistle for ideology that defies EU principles).

Germany has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since the Third Reich.

Spain has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since Franco.

Sweden narrowly maintains a Socialist government, as does the Netherlands, in relatively recent elections.

There are mass shootings in the USA almost weekly. There is encouragement to shoot immigrants by Trump. Immigrants looking for shelter stateside are separated from their families, caged, and “lost.” The meat and water that the populace eats and drinks are contaminated due to decreased FDA and EPA protections, as well as the loosening of controls on industrial practices. The American administration is attempting a coup in Venezuela, and alienating democratic countries that the USA has had global alliances with for a hundred years.

Public education around the world is under siege. Teachers work for noble reasons or they don’t know what else to do. Students and their parents increasingly value education as a means to get into a ‘good’ university in order to get a ‘good job,’ in order to earn a lot of money, rather than for learning in-and-of-itself. Arts and humanities are being cut throughout the world, even as they define civilizations.

The wealthy elude taxes that keep infrastructure present for everyone. Multi national corporations elude taxes. The poor resent taxes. Income inequality grows more disparate, and this in turn affects our collective gene pool (subsequent lifestyle habits, healthcare resources, educational opportunities, etc.).

And climate calamity is on the horizon.

What is the global response? It’s open season on wolves and bears – necessary creatures for healthy ecosystems. Trophy hunting laws and endangered animal protections are eased. The hyper rich want their wildlife pets to signify status. The Chinese still think rhino horns are medicinal. Poaching is rampant. Nature reserves are under attack. Japan has re-introduced commercial whaling. The Faroe Islands continue to have an annual ‘ceremonial’ whale slaughter. The Arctic melts but short-sighted people just want jobs on oilrigs and fishing tankers. Habitat destruction and deforestation are destroying animals and insects essential to life itself, as well as plants that make medicines that keep humans living longer than ever before.

Industrial and corporate interests dominate governments and cultures. Governments throughout the world continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industries, which in turn continue to spend millions of dollars each year to lobby against clean energy and to keep consumers addicted to their goods. Pollution is literally choking humanity, making our children sick, and killing our natural protections against this.

Today, despite the rest of Europe – France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands – fighting for 95% reduction of emissions by 2050, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Germany rejected the motion. Reducing pollution and promoting sustainability is not in the interests of the powers that control many countries and their societies. And without governmental laws to MAKE people change their habits, there will be no real change.

And it’s not histrionic to say that if this doesn’t change, it means that we humans will then die after much suffering. We will face water scarcity, food shortage, illness, and war over resources…droughts, storms, fires, earthquakes will render populations homeless…animals, insects, and natural landscapes will be eliminated. But the planet will live on. Yes, we humans will take many of the current animal and natural species with us to our extinction, but eventually there will be new ones, and new forests, and new life. But it won’t include our children or us. Certainly not our children’s children.

What do we do? We continue to consume more than we need and to waste too much. We continue to have a lot of children. To eat a lot of meat that requires a great deal of land to harvest (not to mention what happens to the poor animals). To order things online that are shipped across the world because they’re ‘cheaper’. To buy disposable clothes, toys, plastic, goods of all kinds because we simply want them, they’re cheap, we don’t care what’s happening to the earth or to others, and because the measure of ‘success’ is material. We continue to drive huge, petrol/diesel guzzling cars. And fast, despite signs asking us to slow down ’cause speed effects emissions. We fly more than ever before in human history ‘cause we can. Finally, led by anger and fear stoked in mainstream media, we vote with our manufactured feelings rather than our reason. We vote for our own individual interests. Or we don’t vote at all.

This diatribe has, indeed, worked as a catharsis.

Even as I withdraw more these days and my humor is limited, I know that hope is not lost. The fight is not foregone. Feelings have not completely overridden reason. There are righteous folks fighting for all of us every day. Yes, Putin and his ilk are ruthlessly greedy for domination. Political leaders and would-be political leaders will exploit the anger and ignorance of the masses to their own end, creating backwards, unproductive societies for a generation or two. Most people will avoid their taxes unless they’re punished. Humans won’t want to reduce their creature comforts or to look directly into the face of their destructive habits. And humans without material goods will continue to want them. I don’t have any real power to affect the world on a macro level (if only – boy would I be good at being Queen of the world! Obviously modest).

What I CAN do is to focus my energies personally and politically:

  • Personal life appreciated and a moderate lifestyle maintained – mostly ‘tick,’ though this can always be improved upon.
  • A rewarding profession that helps the world in some way – mostly ‘tick.’
  • Living according to my values – exalting beauty, excellence, intelligence; modeling curiosity, kindness, and tolerance; cherishing socialism, liberalism, and conservation – not quite a tick because I’ve been wallowing in anger and resentment towards humanity in general for awhile – but I am working on it.
  • Voting for candidates who I believe will address at least a portion of the aforementioned injustices – tick.
  • Supporting causes and action that will fight for conservation of the natural world (as well as humanity in general) – tick.

 

 



XI: A Moment of Silence…

Posted today on Twitter. I think it says it all…Brave American Children



December 12, 2018 V – Time’s Person of the Year

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” Mark Twain

Media photoJamal Ahmad Khashoggi is being declared Time magazine’s person of the year. Ostensibly, the magazine claims to be celebrating journalists as the “Guardians of Truth.”

I believe with all of my heart in a free press as a fundamental component of a democracy. * In this piece, I’m not saying that there are not great and absolutely necessary journalists in the USA who continue to find and chronicle the ‘truth’ in an effort to inform the public and contribute to judicious thinking. I’m not questioning these journalists who do investigative work and are critical of injustice and hypocrisy. Of course they exist and thank the gods for that. However, I question whether the modern press, particularly stateside, is, indeed “free” and are generally “guardians of the truth.”

And I encourage readers to ask themselves the following questions:

With the exception of a few US press companies, don’t corporate interests primarily own all the news outlets? In fact, aren’t there only a few conglomerates that own the majority of all the news outlets throughout the country? (Be it print, radio, or broadcast). Does that make them profit-making enterprises? Is the primary objective of most media outlets to capture readers/viewers or to inform? In essence, are the respective narratives within new stories inclusive of bias, left or right, or do they simply inform? Could this be related to ‘click bait,’ fear mongering, and competitive reportage of the same stories at the same time with only slight variations in how they’re told? Do these media corporations make campaign contributions that might effect the choices of the respective news outlets, such as what the public is informed about, how they are informed about it? (Bias, tone). How many investigative journalists do respective news outlets have on staff as opposed to anchors, editors, and assistants, publicists, etc.?

Did the US press continually deride Hilary Rodham Clinton for two years leading up to the 2016 elections? Did the US press publish and report Comey’s ‘findings’ on HRC’s emails ad infinitum just before the actual voting day in 2016? Did this effect voter choice? Does Trump lead each day’s news cycles? In other words, does the US press report tales of Trump’s antics every day on the front page or in the first few minutes of a broadcast? Does it seem as though a previous week’s relentless (story) focus is dropped and another one taken up almost immediately? By perpetually covering the words and actions of Trump and his administration, does this legitimize this administration’s behavior by allowing them to set the news cycles and to receive the attention Trump so desires? Are the stories told simply in the classical journalistic formula of “five w’s and an h” without the respective reporter’s interpretation of the information included? Does a reporter’s personal analysis of the news contribute to a sense of anxiety or scepticism in you? Does the twenty-four hour news cycles contribute to a general malaise that society is facing? If so, how?

Some people think that the modern age is akin to Orwell’s “1984.” I don’t agree. I think the modern age is more like Huxley’s “Brave New World,” where there is such an inundation of information that the public is desensitized to everything. And, lamentably, this style of reporting has undermined the credibility of all journalists, effectively and irresponsibly giving ammunition to Trump’s perpetual claim of “Fake News.”

*Please check out the 2018 free press ranking throughout the world via the link, below. Where does the USA rank? Considering the countries at the top ten of the list, what kind of societies are these? (How are the governed, financed, taxed, run?)

https://rsf.org/en/ranking



December 10, 2018 II – The Yellow Vest Movement

“I have tried to lift France out of the mud. But she will return to her errors and vomitings. I cannot prevent the French from being French.” Charles de Gaulle

Macron as a traitor on the vestI once said to a French doctor during a visit to her office that I’m so grateful for the French healthcare system. Like England, where I had lived for thirteen years, there is universal healthcare. Unlike England, one must be a resident of France, pay your taxes, and while the state covers 70% of your healthcare (100% for your children), you must have private insurance to cover the rest. A visit to a general practitioner will cost you about 23 euros and to a specialist, about 60 euros (of which 70% will be returned to you). Similar to the USA, and unlike England, in France you can choose your general practitioner and they will refer you to specialists of your choice. Moreover, the French have effectively integrated methods based on medicine, or ‘hard’ science, with non- traditional methods, such as physiotherapy, acupuncture, and nutritionists.

Back to the visit with the doctor and my compliment to the French healthcare system. She, in turn, was grateful for my appreciation. She told me that on an average visit, about a half-hour in duration per patient, she earns 10euros, with the rest being reimbursed or going to fund the collective ‘mechanisms.’ She didn’t have a problem with this, telling me she wanted to be a doctor to help people and she is. However, she said it’s frustrating because the French patients are never satisfied with the system. For example, when the Carte Vitale* machine doesn’t work and she must consequently give the patient a brown form+, they complain about having to cover the expense of an envelope and stamp in order to send the form and get reimbursed for their visit.

My point? While the French argue that they are collectively oriented, in general, they are not. They do not seem to care that their participation is necessary to maintain the heavily subsidized welfare state – public schools, universities, extracurricular activities++, school lunches+++, CAF** and housing subsidies, healthcare, retirement, etc. To sustain these services means paying a modest fee for them, as well as paying taxes, in order to support the whole system and the vulnerable within society. Many here begrudge paying anything even as they feel it’s their right to receive these benefits, which they complain are too little, and many people actively work to undermine the system. While a large part of me appreciates the French cynicism, and I agree that the super rich seem to avoid all fees, the average French knee-jerk cynicism also frustrates me. Having originated from a country where the cost of an emergency medical service without good health coverage could mean that you and your family lose your home due to the expense of it, or you have to take two mortgages out to fund your child’s university education, I’m grateful for the services in France. So, I consequently pay my taxes and all fees without question, even as I’m lucky that I do not use most of the services on offer. This does not mean that I don’t see that it is ‘apples and oranges’ to compare France – a noble, socialist state – with USA – a staunchly Capitalist one – and the subsequent services available in each.

However, France, like the rest of the world, is polluted due to fossil fuel consumption, deforestation, consumerism and waste. Where I live, many children have chronic coughs that the doctor’s dismiss with a sad shrug, saying “C’est comme ca…” On higher particle days, the kids aren’t allowed outside to play. Originating from France is the Paris Agreement, a global agreement to collectively reduce carbon emissions. In response to this, Macron’s administration put a nominal tax (literally a few cents) on diesel and petrol in an effort to curb its use. Many in France are very poor, earning an average income as teachers and police officers, of 1200euros per month. In rural areas of France, driving is necessary and these extra pennies mean a lot. However, in France, there is a 10,000-euro rebate when you convert your existing diesel car to an electric or hybrid car. Most don’t know this, and when they do, they argue that the cost of electric and hybrid cars is still too expensive. That’s true when you’re earning 1200 euros a month and have a family, even with CAF and governmental subsidies, but it’s a substantial offer. Arguably, all new technology is the bastion of the middle class and the rich, but as with all new technology, it will become more affordable, and we must begin the process somewhere of conserving our environment and our collective existence. Perhaps Macron’s administration should have begun with taxing the manufactures of the vehicles, yes, but there is an argument that by doing this, these manufacturers would withdraw a lot of manufacturing from France, which would also create a problem with a loss of jobs and income. Perhaps France should have built efficient public transit that uses clean energy that the people could use in order to discourage the use of their cars? But where would the money come from? Perhaps the taxes should have been placed on the fossil fuel companies, and the EU should enforce this collectively?

But I encourage people to ask themselves several questions: Is it not suspicious that many involved in the Yellow Vest movement are from middle class families? Is it not suspicious that at the same time that the Yellow Vest’s are claiming to be for the everyman, they are destroying the property of those working and having businesses? Is it not suspicious that what began as a protest about the increase on the cost of diesel and petrol, is now about wages, taxes, housing, retirement benefits, cost of living, etc.? Is it not suspicious that the average person involved with this movement is calling for the ‘head’ of Macron, a “banker,” rather than also seeing him as the Classicist, a man who spent more time studying the Humanities – literature, history, economics, philosophy? Also, a man they voted for. Is it not suspicious that the Yellow Vests have thus far refused to speak to the prime minister unless the meeting is filmed? Is it not suspicious that by reducing the speed limit on the highways, thereby limiting nasty emissions that prompt climate change, which the government has done, is not adhered to by the people themselves? Isn’t the nasty transport of goods by trucks perpetuated by our ordering goods online in order to avoid paying more for these same products?

I understand that many in France voted for Macron as opposition to the Front National, and that many view him as unforgivably arrogant (an irony, given that the French are stereotyped as arrogant). I also understand that people are frustrated and poor. That there is abhorrent global economic inequality. I agree with the suspicion that corporations and a superrich class of people are dictating global politics and laws, perpetually squeezing public services and the working class for their own increased profits and the perpetuation of their lavish lifestyles. I respect to some extent that my compatriots are noting this and protesting. However, the Yellow Vests are a fragmented and violent movement that is being manipulated into a frenzy by the same powers the participants are protesting. Macron is not the enemy. Nor are foreigners or refugees. Big business and tax evaders are the enemies. Macron is pro European, actively building bridges between member states, which is important because a united Europe is much stronger than a divided one, despite the rhetoric that cynically opposes the union and capitalizes on people’s fears and anger by creating scapegoats. While he may have been a banker briefly, he’s a truly cultured man and that means he understands context and the long game. He’s a man who has benefitted France as its president by increasing the profile of France through his efforts and his charisma, making it once again a power to be reckoned with (which happily coincided with the World Cup 2018 win). He has openly criticized Trump, rising xenophobia, and nationalism disguised as patriotism. He is actively arguing the need for climate action, even as arguably it is not nearly enough. These are great things socially and practically. He has served as the opposition to rising ignorance. His presidency has increased tourism to France and consequently bolstered the economy, and it has brought France back to the forefront of negotiating tables throughout the world. And now he is being undermined in these efforts, which will not benefit France or the European Union collectively. Is it not suspicious that this undermining occurs after the USA has officially dismissed climate change and Brexit has destablized the EU?

Yes, there is much more to be done about economic inequality, strife, and the environment. There is credence to the argument that letting even ‘little things’ go is a ‘slippery slope’ to creating an individualistic, capitalistic society like the USA. Yes, Macron is from the privileged class, and there is rising and unforgiveable economic inequality, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to stop condoning those culprits activities? Focus one’s efforts? Demand that companies such as Amazon and Google, for example, pay their fair share of taxes to operate in Europe. Demand that the taxes on the super rich in France (and the rest of the EU) are enforced. Demand that campaign financing is absolutely transparent so that there is not a conflict of interests. Tax the hell out of fossil fuel companies throughout Europe. Pay your own taxes so that your kids can continue to have benefits when they need them. Stop buying products online and support local businesses rather than these same ‘dark forces.’ Stop buying services or products from international companies that are contributing to economic inequality by creating monopolies and not paying their fair share in the societies they operate in. Stop driving so much. Stop eating so much beef, and buy it locally when you do eat it in order to undermine the big business agriculture has become. Use the subsidies and loans available to convert your homes to clean energy and your cars to clean energy.

I hope that Macron is able to face down the agitation and keep a steady hand on the tiller of the country. We shall see what he says tonight when he makes an address after the fourth weekend of riots in Paris. As it is, the Rassemblement National (Marine Le Pen’s party, the National Rally, as they have rebranded themselves since their defeat to Macron) is on par with Macron’s En Marche to represent France in the European elections in May. May the gods help us all and may reason and concerted effort prevail.

*A Carte Vitale is given to residents who pay their taxes or need special assistance. It is swiped through a machine at a doctor’s office so that reimbursement to the patient is immediate.

+A brown form is a sheet that is dated and signed by the doctor that the patient must fill in with their name and health number, and then send to the state’s Assurance Maladie (Health Insurance) for reimbursement.

**CAF supports childcare on a sliding scale, from 20c an hour up to 4euros an hour for baby and children’s day care and after school support. They also provide subsidies for families to take holidays around France each year. They also enable a mother to take three years off when their child is born, by giving her a monthly allowance. They also give a family a one-time fee upon the birth of a child that ranges in size, to a monthly stipend for each child to a certain age. The assistance the CAF provides is seemingly endless.

++Extracurricular activities in my village include taking the kids regularly to do a week of alpine skiing with instructors, as well as Nordic skiing, swimming lessons, museum visits, all subsidized by the commune.

+++School lunches for the elementary school children are three course events – salad, meal, cheese or desert – that are usually locally sourced and bio. And, thanks to Nicholas Hulot’s response to a petition, they are now serving a vegetarian meal once a week in order to ‘put the subject on the table’ about the correlation between meat eating and climate change.

 



December 10, 2018 – Intention
December 10, 2018, 12:33 pm
Filed under: In Vino Veritas, In Aqua Sanitas | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“Since the days of Greece and Rome, when the word ‘citizen’ was a title of honor, we have often seen more emphasis put on the rights of citizenship than on its responsibilities.” Robert Kennedy

Cascadia flagIt’s very hard to see the willful ignorance globally. I’m so impatient and sad that most people aren’t ‘connecting the dots’ between what is happening in one part of the world (politically, socially, philosophically, and practically) with another. It seems many aren’t noting the similarities between politicians, actions, ideas, and media coverage across the planet. Despite differences in nationality, culture, creed, religion, it’s all shared global phenomena. For example, it amazes me that the British news media continues to give airtime and credibility to hardline Brexiters like Boris Johnson who has been utterly discredited, allowing the ignorant millions who voted Leave to persist in their delusions, thereby preventing British society as a whole to face the facts and move forward. Likewise, the American media continues to lead the news cycles with coverage of Trump’s erratic behavior and lines straight from his mouth, consequently reiterating and perpetuating the nonsense that comes out of it and is so destructive for the USA and the world as a whole. Similarly, the French media, historically skeptical of the president’s office, are covering the Yellow Vests in France ad infinitum in a sensationalistic manner. Subsequently, those backing them, including Trump, don’t understand the context of the situation even as they’re jumping on the bandwagon of the movement. It’s all so confusing, divisive and horrible that it does my head in.

If I were queen of the world, I’d eliminate tax free havens, I’d tax the hell out of fossil fuel enterprises to fund clean energy incentives, I’d enforce tax laws and funnel the money to bolstering public education and social services, and I’d eliminate ‘dark money’ from all campaigns globally so that corporations and the super rich could not effect public policy.

However, as this won’t happen, and in an effort not to become more depressed by the madness that I’m seeing everywhere, on social media, in the newspapers, in television reports, and then perpetuated by those around me, I’m going to chronicle what I see. Short observations on a variety of subjects that, I hope, reflect aspects of this ‘brave new world’. I’ve decided to title all the entries “In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas,” or “In wine there is truth, in water there is health,” not out of pretention, but because it suits. I drink wine most days, and the Latin expression seems to be a good ‘umbrella’ philosophy for how I envision the series. The idea, from the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, is that if something was decided during a council while drunk, then it must be reconsidered when sober. These cultures believed that no one could lie effectively when drunk. I like the complete phrase that incorporates the later portion, “in water there is health,” because, ultimately, I think that politics today, and, arguably, since the beginning of time, is full of hubris and the ‘only’ thing that ultimately matters is the natural world, hence the allusion to clean water.

Who am I? A native Oregonian. An American citizen and also a French citizen, who has lived in Europe for the last twenty years by choice and through great effort. A woman who has traveled the globe, living, working, studying in countries such as Scotland, Zimbabwe, Germany, Mexico, England, and France, as well as the American states California, Washington and New York (and obviously Oregon). I’ve been married three times, to an Iranian man, a German man, and now a Danish man, respectively. This doesn’t make me a ‘bad’ person, just a bad Catholic. I’m certainly not great at conventional relationships, though I’m making an effort now. I’m not a dilettante, though I’m well read. I worked my way through all of my university degrees and travels, as a waitress during my undergraduate degree, and then in the film industry and as a content writer during my graduate degrees. Now, I’m a schoolteacher and mother to a seven-year-old son. I live in France with him, my Danish husband, my border collie, and a ginger cat that adopted us several years back. I’m a flawed individual, of course, with constructs that sometimes defy logic, and, my observations, here, will likely be focused on the Northern hemisphere, which isn’t complete. But I’m also bright, sensitive, passionate, and, obviously, modest.

Here goes…