Saturday, February 25, 2017

My Way, or the Wrong Way

Today the Cornell Women's Hockey team beat Colgate for the second time in two days. It was the second game of their quarterfinal series and means that Cornell will advance to the semifinals next weekend. Then hopefully, they'll move on to the final to win the ECAC championship title. If they make it that far, they'll then head to the National championship against some of the best teams in the country.


No, I haven't become addled by all the political talk and mistaken this blog for the old hockey blog I used to write. I attended the game today and while I was sitting watching all these amazing young women work their asses off for a win, I heard something that reminded me of Donald Trump and thought I'd better write about it.

My husband and I frequent the women's games, usually sitting on the side of the arena where the visiting team's family and friends sit. Rarely are there more than a few, but they are generally quite vocal. I've seen parents swearing and shouting and stomping their feet. I've heard unkind comments about the referees and Cornell's players. Today an older woman from Colgate was sitting ten feet away from me and had a definite viewpoint on what was happening on ice.

Hockey is a physical game. Women's hockey has more restrictions than men's on how rough the play can be, but the women still smash into each other, push each other against the boards, and run an opponent over if they get in the way. And sometimes they incur penalties. Cornell and Colgate each had their share of penalties today, but every time there was a smash that a referee did not call against Cornell, the woman next to me shouted something along the lines of..."Well, if that's the only way you can win, then fine..." She'd shrug her shoulders with a look of contempt on her face and turn to her fellow Colgate fans and say, "That's the only way they can win."

I understood her to mean that Cornell was cheating, the refs were biased, and that breaking the rules was the only way a team like Cornell could beat a team like Colgate. She either didn't know, or failed to remember that Cornell is ranked third in the ECAC league and Colgate is ranked sixth.

Image result for trump mediaThis sounds a lot like the President, who utilizes this kind of if you're not with me, you're against me mentality, while also ignoring reality and coming up with his own "alternative facts."
Recently, Trump has declared that the media--specifically the media that prints unfavorable articles about him--is the enemy. He said, "'A few days ago, I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are,' he added, referring to a tweet last week. 'They are the enemy of the people because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none.'" I understand this to mean that if there is a bit of news that speaks against Trump, they are liars.

Trump used this same kind of rhetoric during the election. If Hillary won, it was rigged, because he could not conceive any legal, logical, or literal way that anyone could get more votes than him. And even now he seeks to destroy the system that awarded him the Presidency, because he didn't get as much of the popular vote. In his mind, there is no way he could have gotten fewer votes, so therefore something illegal must be going on. For Trump, the press, the voters, the election process itself is the enemy. An enemy that lies and cheats. An enemy that must be destroyed. Simply because they disagree with his world view.

This mentality astonishes and boggles me. It implies that the speaker is so perfectly good, skilled, or righteous, that anyone who challenges or bests him must be inherently wrong, flawed, or evil. It is absolutism which I would define as madness.

O'Neill's Penalty Shot Goal Lifts Cornell To Game 1 Win Over ColgateColgate isn't so overwhelmingly awesome that Cornell would have to cheat to win, as my neighbor in the stands seemed to think. All the players on both teams were working incredibly hard, but there was no cheating going on. Just good, honest play by some talented young women. The other team is never the real enemy. Rather, it's the idea pressed down on us from our leaders that there are only two choices: my way, or the wrong way.

This absolutism is what's creating division in our country, this is what pits us against each other in hatred, this is the real enemy. And it is this that we must fight against every day, in every way we can.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Trump's Executive Order: Who's the Real Threat?

By Louise A. Blum

We all know the effect Trump’s executive order barring heavily vetted legal immigrants from entering the US has had on the lives of those individuals. And we all know where Tom Reed, who ingratiated himself with Trump by being one of the first members of Congress to endorse him, stood on the ban. “As we see the horrific events just in Canada…, this threat is real and it needs to be dealt with,” Tom Reed announced in an interview on Jan. 30. “My hope is we take this pause and we come together to make sure we recognize what we’re trying to do, and that’s to keep fellow Americans safe.”

In recent months that the Trump administration has become fond of inventing terrorist attacks (witness Kellyanne Conway’s now-infamous “Bowling Green Massacre” and Trump’s recent reference to terrorism in Sweden, something he still insists happened, much to Sweden’s bemusement). A ban on immigrants wouldn’t have prevented the attack in Quebec, however, since it wasn’t committed by an immigrant. Nor was it committed by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization Trump now intends to designate as “terrorist.” Nor was it was committed by a Muslim at all. On the contrary, the “horrific event” Reed refers to was an attack on a mosque by a Canadian citizen: Alexandre Bissonnette, a supporter of Donald Trump, known for his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments. This is how cognizant Reed is of what is actually happening in the world, let alone what is happening just a short distance north of his own district.

The United States border crossing is shown Wednesday, December 7, 2011 in Lacolle, Que., south of Montreal.

We now know that the seven country ban imposed by Trump extended far beyond those seven countries, as far, in fact as Canada. A Canadian woman headed into the US on a shopping trip last week, was forbidden entry after a search found Muslim prayers on her phone. She’s not the only one. A Canadian student was turned back when he attempted to go to the Women’s March. A Canadian photojournalist was detained for hours when he tried to cross the border to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. “Your rights are significantly narrower,” a Canadian lawyer told Canadians intending to visit the US.

Image result for canada muslim ban protestTraffic going the other way, however, has increased significantly. The Canada Border Service Agency reports that over 7,000 refugee applicants, some originally from Ghana and Somalia, others from Burundi, Eritrea and Sudan, entered Canada from the United States in 2016, an increase of 63% from the previous year. Another 2,000 entered illegally in the same period, by trekking across fields all along the border. Despite the attack on the mosque last month, hundreds of desperate people have crossed in the past few weeks, many braving temperatures of 20 degrees below zero, losing fingers and toes to frostbite in the process.

Apparently the only terrorism many of us are afraid of is that advocated by our current president and his trusted public servants, like the ever agreeable Tom Reed, whose only comment to furious constituents at a recent town hall meeting regarding this topic was: “I think the president is doing great work in the sense of listening to the people.” Who those people are was not specified. Perhaps they exist only in the heads of delusional officials intent on enforcing their own paranoid vision of how the world works.

~~~~~

Louise A. Blum is a novelist and essayist living in Corning, NY. She is the author of the memoir, You’re Not From Around Here, Are You? A Lesbian in Small-Town America, and Amnesty, a novel. Her essay "Faith on the Front Lines," about her participation in the We Are Seneca Lake blockades, is forthcoming in the Spring 2017 issue of the Utne Reader. She writes about family, sexuality, activism and the environment and is currently working on a novel about the effects of fracking on one small town in rural Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What Does it Mean to be Conservative?

By Mike Titlebaum

What does it mean to be conservative? Webster’s dictionary defines the root verb, conserve, “to keep in a safe or sound state” (such as “He conserved his inheritance.”) and “to avoid wasteful or destructive use of” (such as to “conserve natural resources” or “conserve our wildlife”).

So, for those of us in New York’s 23rd district, let's check the actual conservatism of our representative in Congress, Tom Reed. What things does Tom Reed, an early and ardent supporter of Donald Trump, keep safe and sound?

Image result for border wallConservatives often highlight government’s wasteful spending, which makes perfect sense. Our tax dollars need to be both safeguarded and well-spent. Is spending $25,000,000,000 of our taxes on a wall along our Mexican border conservative? Trump’s wall certainly does nothing to help the businesses and the people in Central New York. This wall proposal is the most wasteful idea ever conceived, and Reed’s support for Trump and his ideas like this wall have been unwavering. There's nothing conservative about that.

Let’s consider the question in terms of medical care. Can it be argued that preserving human life through access to quality health care for all, is a conservative principle? On a fundamental level, I believe that valuing the health and wellness of human beings is what being conservative is all about. But Reed's dozens of votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, while simultaneously having not even the slightest thought about creating a replacement to provide more people with health care, belies that completely. Reed’s votes surely keep his rich lobbyist donors satisfied, but the upcoming repeal of the ACA, virtually assured by a Republican congress and president, will cause millions of people to lose health coverage in New York State alone, and would do massive damage to Medicare, which ultimately hurts everybody. Reed’s votes on health care have done little to preserve the sanctity of human lives in our district. There's nothing conservative about that.

Let’s think about strong public education, the best means of leveling the playing field for all American families. Trump and his hand-picked education secretary billionaire Betsy DeVos are proponents of privatization efforts such as school choice and vouchers. Giving parents these kinds of choices may be popular in large cities where alternative and charter schools exist. But in rural school districts, like many of those in the 23rd Congressional district, conserving the strength and vitality of the public school is critical because no viable options exist. These proposals only syphon money away from public schools. There's nothing conservative about that.

Image result for mr turxHow is Reed doing on conservative religious principles? Safeguarding religious beliefs for all people is a principle critical to the very founding of our country and the Constitution we all live by. The evangelical writers I admire agree with this. I have the deepest respect for people whose religious faith inspires them to care for the poor, the elderly, and the less fortunate. The church leaders, pastors, and choir directors I know are selfless people who take the job of helping and uplifting their congregations seriously. But as a fervent supporter of Donald Trump, Tom Reed supports Trump’s religious litmus test for entry into America. Trump recently attacked a Jewish reporter for asking a straightforward question in a press briefing about a national uptick in anti-Semitism, declaring that this was “not a fair question.” Our country was founded on the principle of freedom of religious expression, and Reed is working directly against that principle. There's nothing conservative about that.

What about preserving our democracy and its institutions? Trump has attacked the U.S. Constitution on multiple fronts, bullying the press and disparaging the role of the judicial branch by calling them “so-called judges.” The judicial branch’s independence serves the crucial role of balancing the president’s power. As an avid Trump supporter, Reed himself is directly threatening the independence and critical work of these bodies. There's nothing conservative about that.

Image result for finger lakes

Let’s consider conservatism in terms of the environment. The Southern Tier has thriving businesses in food, wine and tourism, which rely directly on our natural resources and the beauty of our parks and streams. Reed certainly has not voted in a way consistent with conserving our natural environment. For just one example, while accepting large sums of money from the energy lobby, Reed recently voted to allow corporations to pollute our streams. And now, President Trump has nominated -- and the Senate has approved -- an Environmental Protection Agency chief who has no interest whatsoever in conserving or protecting the environment we rely on. There's nothing conservative about that.

Each of these anti-conservative actions require that we question Reed’s motives. His latest questionable act is casting a vote against the release of Trump’s tax returns, which would have been the most straightforward, powerful and direct way of evaluating Trump’s corruption. We need to know how Trump’s wallet is benefitting from his executive orders and decisions in office, particularly as they relate to his Russian connections. This brazen political calculation by Reed should cause us to wonder how Reed himself is directly benefitting from Trump's corrupt political actions. If Reed is reaping benefits from Trump, that collusion would be grounds for impeaching both Trump and Reed. There's nothing conservative about that.

In terms of being truly conservative, Reed is an utter failure. It is clear that the only conservative principle Tom Reed stands for is conserving his own seat in Congress. The time to take away his seat is long overdue. It is now time to award this valuable position to someone who truly cares about preserving the natural beauty and livability of our environment, our wildlife, our democracy, and the health and lives of all the people in our district.

To do that would be truly conservative.

~~~~~

Mike Titlebaum is Associate Professor at Ithaca College, where he serves as Director of Jazz Studies in the School of Music. He is also a parent and resident in New York’s 23rd Congressional district.

Monday, February 20, 2017

I Speak for the Trees

My heart hurts. People's lives are being destroyed and families are being made to suffer by what this government is doing and plans to do. But people can fight back. And we are. Loudly. But of all the horrors befalling us under Trump and his imbecilic administration, the actions being taken to destroy our planet are what bring me to my knees and threaten to break me completely.

Image result for the lorax bookI have spend much of my life exploring our planet, hiking through the mountains, taking my son to sleep under the trees, playing along lakesides, and living a life in love with the natural world. We are a part of our environment, we are dependent on it, we are inextricably tied to it. The Lorax taught me long ago, we must speak for the trees "for the trees have no tongues."

I'll never fully understand why some people want to destroy nature. How can they feel that their own personal gain is more important than taking care of our HOME? How can they lie to themselves that dumping sludge into rivers, pouring pesticides onto farmlands, or chopping down all the forests will benefit them? How can they sleep at night when they know full well that they have killed the lives and homes of so many animals and plants and are leaving a less rich world behind for our children?

We have already been well on our way to massive environmental destruction, but things are moving a lot faster in that direction now.

Scott Pruitt, who has sued the EPA no less than 14 times to overturn clean air and water regulations, is now the head of that organization. I could write endless posts on why this is one of the worst cabinet choices ever. Here is one article about it. NJ Senator Cory Booker sums it up like this, "If you look at this individual, Scott Pruitt, if you look at his track record, you will see that his actual work has undermined the mission of the agency that he is now nominated to lead." Pruitt has already made moves to get rid of the Clean Power Plan. And this NYTimes article sums it up quite simply:
A 2014 investigation by The Times found that energy lobbyists drafted letters for Mr. Pruitt to send, on state stationery, to the E.P.A., outlining the economic hardship of the environmental rules. Many of the coal, oil and gas companies represented by those lobbyists were also some his largest campaign contributors. Mr. Pruitt also worked jointly with those companies in filing multiple lawsuits against major E.P.A. regulations.
Then there's H.R. 861 is a Bill which includes one line of text: "The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018." You get the general idea of that one. I guess Scott Pruitt is so selfless that he has the goal of working himself out of a job in the name of making the world a better place.

You already know that Tom Reed and many other Republicans voted in favor of getting rid of the Stream Protection Rule with H.J.Res. 38. The Senate voted for this as well. And several days ago Trump signed the Bill into law. So, now, the coal mining industry doesn't have to worry about where they dispose of their waste. Local streams and waterways will do just fine. The argument from the Republicans is that free dumping will help the industry to add more jobs, offer a better life to local coal mining communities, and increase the economic value of the mining industry.

And we also have S.J.Res. 21 coming up. It is a resolution proposed by Senator Pat Toomey to disapprove of the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR). This situation is similar to the overturning of the Stream Protection Rule. CSAPR was finalized in 2011 to regulate states' emissions of sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides which are released into the atmosphere and drift downwind. The Rule is meant to help keep our air clean, protect people downwind from being chocked by smog from upwind factories, and promote general health and air quality.

According to the EPA, "This rule requires certain states in the eastern half of the U.S. to improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that cross state lines and contribute to smog and soot pollution in downwind states." In other words, Be a Good Neighbor! The rule was challenged a few years ago, but upheld by the Supreme Court. CSAPR was updated in 2016 to help regulate ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards and summertime power plant emissions. The updates are set to go into effect May 1, 2017.
Unless Congress votes to get rid of the whole law altogether.

Image result for the lorax bookThere are more attacks every day on our natural world. What I've written here are but a few. I often don't know how to move forward with a broken heart. Sometimes all I can do is step outside, take a deep breath, and give thanks for this beautiful planet I live on. I will fight for it for however long I'm here, for however long it's here.

I am not the Lorax, but "I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues. And I'm asking you, sir, at the top if my lungs'- he was very upset as he shouted and puffed- 'What's that THING you've made out of my Truffula tuft?'"

~~~~~

“H.R. 861 — 115th Congress: To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency.” www.GovTrack.us. 2017. February 20, 2017 <https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr861>

"S.J.Res. 21 — 115th Congress: A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States ...” www.GovTrack.us. 2017. February 20, 2017 <https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/sjres21>