Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category
I’ve spent three years groping for ways to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. We’re trained to be polite & avoid saying things that might cause loved ones to feel embarrassed or defensive. I’ve searched and searched for a way to address volatile topics respectfully.
Recently I encountered the following poem via Holly Wren Spaulding’s Patreon, and I was struck to the core by its opening lines, which express exactly what I’ve struggled and failed to find words for:
What etiquette holds us back
from more intimate speech,
especially now, at the end of the world?
Can’t we begin a conversation
then gradually move it inside?
from saying things outright?
Yet we speak of other things.
Our words should cauterize
all wounds to the truth.
Yes. It’s a strange and twisted form of etiquette that prevents us from blunt honesty—a luxury, really, a kind of courtesy that can only be employed by people in a place of relative privilege. The closer the threat, the more urgent the need to speak out. Those of us who are reading about atrocities instead of experiencing them directly have the luxury of choice. Do we speak out, knowing it will upset people we care about? Make for some awkward gatherings? Cause friends to unfriend us?
Those are pretty low stakes, really. Yet that strange etiquette constrains us.
We have to be strong enough to speak. I don’t even mean “speak out”–I mean just plain *speak*. Have the hard conversations. Ask the earnest questions. Probe our own biases. Examine our motives. Interrogate our assumptions.
Here in this vestibule which is the only place I have daily contact with so many of you—if these algorithmed-half-to-death exchanges can be considered “contact”—I want to say things outright.
I want to say: If your values are conservative, how can you possibly support this administration? Why am I not seeing you cry out in the same way your liberal friends and relatives are crying out? Why are you not denouncing obstruction of justice, emoluments violations, executive overreach, and inflammatory rally rhetoric? Why are you not pressing your electeds to investigate misdeeds and corruption? Why do you trust Sean Hannity more than your own loved ones? Where are your voices on behalf of the vulnerable?
Just because I’m sometimes too cowardly to speak these questions out loud doesn’t mean I’m not always, always thinking them. Wanting to shout them.
My cowardice has to do with how I might make you feel. That’s a strange etiquette, indeed. An etiquette that allows corruption to flourish. People are dying today because we’ve been politely speaking of other things, or nothing at all.
My flight home from Cincinnati on Sunday evening was cancelled, along with a zillion other flights. As I stood in a serpentine line of frustrated passengers awaiting information about how long and how difficult it would be for them to return to their loved ones, all I could think about was the children taken into custody at the border, spending uncertain days, weeks, even months in the panic of separation, with minimal attention to basic needs (sub-minimal really, per the comments of officials who say soap and toothbrushes aren’t basic necessities).
I stood at a counter while a woman who probably hadn’t had a pee break in hours patiently looked up options to get me home a day late. Her son lives in Portland but she is seldom able to visit because traveling is difficult and expensive. On either side of me, angry customers grew heated, raising their voices, anxious and panicked, worried about where they were going to sleep and all the complicated logistics of delaying an arrival. I saw weary faces, distraught faces, furious faces, ill faces. I saw a mother with small, sobbing children and knew she was in for a rough night.
All around me was a sense of: this isn’t fair, this isn’t right, we deserve better than this.
I stood there feeling terribly aware of my privilege. Getting home a day late did screw me up more than a little—work, family stuff. But I understood how fortunate I was. Unlike the majority of cancelled flights that evening, mine was delayed due to a maintenance problem, which meant Delta accepted responsibility and gave me a Marriott voucher & two meal vouchers. Hail in Dallas was the culprit behind most of the other cancellations, which meant all those people had to shoulder the hotel and food costs themselves. I had work waiting for me at home, but I work for myself and knew I wouldn’t be getting in trouble with my boss for not showing up on time. I had children waiting for me at home, but I knew Scott had everything handled and my extended absence wouldn’t leave a kid’s needs unmet. I knew other Brave Writer staff retreat attendees were also having to stay an extra night–three of them in the same hotel as me!–meaning I got to enjoy more time in their company, laughing and sharing our homeschooling mom stories. I left the counter knowing I’d have to get up at 4 the next morning to make my new flight, but that I’d be able to nap when I got home.
All those things I knew, as I stood there waiting to hear what my fate would be, were examples of privilege. If my flight had been cancelled for weather reasons, I’d have had to shoulder the hotel costs myself, and that would have thrust me into as much anxiety as everyone around me. I knew the delay would mean some overcrowded hours when I finally got home–I have a tight workload this week and more travel next week. My shoulders and back ached from hauling my luggage. But compared to the misery of people all around me, I knew I was lucky. More than lucky.
I found myself wanting to cry out to everyone around me—as I’m pouring it out to you here—See! See! See how devastating it is when our plans are disrupted for a single night? See how much it matters that we know where we’ll sleep and when we’ll see our families again?
It’s so easy—TOO easy—to become immersed in the swirling ups and downs of my own life, my own small circle. And it’s easy to give in to the worries that my efforts to turn my gaze, and other people’s gazes, wider, speaking out, reading up, making calls day after day—my worries that those things alienate or annoy people I care about. A legitimate worry, since one of my best friends admitted she unfollowed me on Facebook due to my activist posts.
But I stood there in that line and I sat there on that plane knowing privilege demands responsible action, even if action comes at a cost. And action begins with awareness (but awareness isn’t nearly enough, not by a mile).
Every minute of delay was a misery to my fellow passengers. Every minute in detention is exponentially more miserable—and in many cases, deadly—to the people our country is holding in tent cities and detention centers because they dared to take us at our word when we proudly declared ourselves to be a land of the free where all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I couldn’t wear my contacts all weekend because their case leaked on the plane and they dried into crisp husks. I had to live without contacts for four days. Imagine—oh! really! close your eyes and imagine, try to place yourself there—imagine sitting for a single day in a chilled and cheerless room without access to a warm blanket, a toothbrush, necessary medicine; without freedom to leave, without contact with people who care about you.
Imagine, and then pick up the phone and call your electeds. I’m begging you from the bottom of my heart.
Help a detained immigrant in your area
How to contact your elected officials
Some of you have heard me talk about the “tipping the cup” metaphor my family finds useful. Have you ever watched a toddler with a full cup of juice with no sippy lid? I have witnessed this many times: the cup tips a little, juice sloshes out, and instead of halting the spill by straightening the cup, the child tips it all the way, dumping the entire cup of juice. It’s like toddlers see the total spill as inevitable, once the first drops hit the floor.
In my house we have often applied this metaphor to emotions—how if you feel yourself about to lose your temper, you don’t *have* to tip the cup all the way over. But it applies in other contexts as well, and this one here is one of the scariest examples I’ve ever seen.
Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 7 degrees by the end of this century.
A rise of 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 4 degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.
But the administration did not offer this dire forecast as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.
The draft statement, issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), was written to justify President Trump’s decision to freeze federal fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks built after 2020. While the proposal would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the impact statement says, that policy would add just a very small drop to a very big, hot bucket.
So….we’re just gonna tip a big ole cup of fire on the planet, I guess.
Source: Trump administration sees a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100
Taking a breath
Calling my electeds
Watering my flowers
Swirling some paint
Scribbling some words
Choosing a readaloud
Catching some Pokemon
Drinking some water
Hugging a kid
Taking another breath
What I have to say about it.
What he has to say about it.
Pulling a few more things over from Facebook.
Oh my goodness what a day. First visit to Oregon State Capitol, first time (ever!) talking to state representatives and a policy aide to the governor in my role as advocate for intellectual and developmental disability supports. Having a voice in government: amazing experience.
Oregon’s State Legislature is getting some big stuff right this week. Like this:
HB 4101 would stop insurance companies from treating hearing aids as cosmetic or bilateral cochlear implants as experimental. The legislation would benefit Oregon children with hearing loss and their families by:
• Ongoing evaluations, fittings & equipment: Expanding the scope of what private insurers are required to cover for hearing services and technology.
• Help navigating complex insurance system: Requiring insurance companies to assign a case manager to each family when their child is diagnosed with permanent hearing loss to help them navigate the insurance system.
• Expand access to care with more doctors: To alleviate a shortage of pediatric audiologists, the bill would also require companies to contract with a specific number of pediatric audiologists to ensure kids have quick access to services.
This week, HB 4104 passed the House unanimously. It will now move to the Senate.
(source: Disability Rights Oregon)
So let’s chat a bit about HR 620, which passed in the US House of Representatives yesterday. Quoting Celeste Pewter: this bill “upends a key provision of the ADA by preventing people with disabilities from immediately going to court to enforce their right and to press for timely removal of the barrier that impedes access. It also removes any incentive for businesses to comply proactively with the ADA.”
And there’s the thing. Proponents of the bill paint a picture of people filing greedy or frivolous lawsuits. It’s really important to understand that ***the only thing that can be collected in ADA lawsuits are attorneys’ fees.*** You can’t win damages. If you win the lawsuit, the business or institution has to comply with federal law regarding accessibility.
The bill that passed yesterday makes it a lot harder to pursue the basic accessibility that is already required by federal law. It’s an ugly piece of work. I hope you’ll join me in imploring the Senate to vote no when their turn comes. You can reach your Senator via the Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121.
I’m sitting here dumbfounded at the irony of a bill that introduces access barriers to a process intended to REMOVE ACCESS BARRIERS.
I wrote this on Facebook today and wanted to share it here too.
I know there’s way too much to focus on right now. Today alone there’s about a year’s worth of news to process. But I want to focus some attention on Trump’s infrastructure plan that was released earlier this week (i.e. a lifetime ago). There’s a lot to be troubled by in this plan, but what made me choke was the part about match funding for infrastructure projects.
Okay, this can be a dry topic. Five years ago, I would have skimmed right past. But then I spent a few years writing grant applications for infrastructure projects in small California and Texas towns. Oof, talk about a learning curve. Really worthy projects, though: funding for sidewalks in a residential neighborhood so kids wouldn’t have to walk to school in the street. Funding for a farmer’s market in an area with a serious food desert. Funding for wetland restoration projects in an urban area to help filter urban runoff (teeming with bacteria) from contaminating beaches and residential neighborhoods. A “universal playground” accessible to kids and adults who use wheelchairs. The kind of stuff that makes daily life for ordinary people better in a tangible, practical way.
Those grant applications were doozies. The entire reason I was asked on board to write them is because a big part of grantwriting is narrative: how to tell the story of why this community should get federal or state funding for this project. Every grant I wrote was competing against hundreds of other applications.
These projects were scored on their merits: what benefits they would bring to the community. Improved health, carbon emissions reductions, removal of access barriers, and so forth.
Most scoring rubrics included a small number of points awarded to projects that had additional funding sources–the “match.” This might mean, say, that the town seeking funding for sidewalks would say: the town can pay X amount and we need Y amount in federal (or state, depending on the program) funding to complete the project.
Usually, the points awarded for a match were a small percentage of the total points. A match might give your project an extra 5 points out of a hundred, say. And the reason for this is that typically, the communities most in need of infrastructure projects are those least able to afford them. A match helped your application, but wasn’t nearly as important as the practical benefits and efficiency of the project itself.
Okay, that’s a lot of backstory. Here’s what made me choke: In the Trump Administration’s proposed infrastructure plan, “The amount of non-federal funding supplied for a given project will count for 70% of its score, while “evidence supporting how the project will spur economic and social returns on investment” will be weighted at just 5%.”
WHAT. WHAT. WHAT.
SEVENTY PERCENT OF ITS SCORE?
I’m speechless. Or, well, maybe not since this post is so long no one’s going to make it to the bottom.
I just…that’s a disastrous tidbit of information.
I’m not the only one who sputtered over this revelation. From yesterday’s Guardian:
“In other words, projects will live or die based on the resources they can attract, rather than the number of people they would serve or how urgently they are needed.
“This system not only incentivizes projects that profit at the public’s expense, such as toll roads, but also increases the likelihood that federal dollars will flow to wealthy jurisdictions that need them the least. When priorities are determined by wealth and profitability, the disadvantaged are left behind. Under Trump’s plan, communities that most need critical infrastructure investments – low-income communities, often communities of color – will be left out.”
Infrastructure isn’t sexy, and right now news of this plan is understandably drowned out by bigger, more urgent happenings. But we need to keep an eye on this. I’ll be watching.
My roots are Southern. There are both Confederates and Unionists on my family tree. The Unionists are the ones I’ve spent five years trying to write a book about—complicated in more ways than I can express. They were a bunch of Northern Alabamans who wanted no part of Secession. Their county delegate to the January 1861 Alabama Secession Convention, a schoolteacher named Christopher Sheats, was beaten and jailed for refusing to sign the ordinance of secession.
These Winston County folks—led by my direct ancestors, the Curtis brothers—passed a resolution saying that if Alabama could secede from the Union, Winston County could secede from Alabama. Many Winston County men joined the Union army, including my 4th-great-grandfather, John Curtis. Others were killed in various gruesome ways by members of the Confederate Home Guard—their own neighbors. Another of my 4th-greats, one Wiley Tyler, died of starvation and infection in a Confederate prison camp. He’s where my pen name comes from.
I wish I could say that these devoted Unionist ancestors of mine—who fought and died because they refused to be traitors to their nation—had been passionate abolitionists. They weren’t. But they did know that the reason behind the War was slavery. Frank discussion of that reality is everywhere in their letters—just as it is in the letters written by the leaders of the Secession movement. In 1860 and early 1861, a number of men were appointed by various Southern states to be secession commissioners. These men traveled far and wide, speaking and writing in favor of Secession. You can read their letters. I have. They don’t beat around the bush. They believed that Lincoln was going to destroy the institution of slavery. You can read these letters—this primary source material—in a book called Apostles of Disunion.
When we get our information second-, third-, tenth-hand—when it comes to us filtered and packaged by people with something to sell—it can be difficult to get at the truth. The myth of the Lost Cause is one of those packages. The Confederate monuments, most of which were put up in the 20th century, long after the War—including many that were built in the 60s during the Civil Rights movement—are part of that mythology, that package. And it’s a package that was designed for and marketed explicitly to white people.
Those monuments celebrate men who went to war against the United States of America. Men who went to war because the Republic was finally moving to end the practice of enslaving other human beings.
Enslaving. Other. Human. Beings.
My friend Lydia Netzer wrote,
A statue of General Lee is NOT the same thing as a concentration camp turned into a museum.
A concentration camp turned into a museum would be like a slave market turned into a museum, or a slave plantation turned into a museum.
A statue of General Lee would be like if you tore down a concentration camp and left up a statue of Hermann Göring on a pedestal.
Removing these statues—moving them, perhaps, to a museum where these men’s own words could provide context on their intentions in declaring war against their own country—is in no way “erasing history.” We must not let pat phrases like that cheapen the way we talk about and think about these grave matters.
We must go deeper than the talking points. If you are bothered by the idea of history being “erased,” then READ that history—the primary source materials that clearly, directly, unequivocally laid out the reasons for the war in the first place.
Such as this address made by William Harris, a sitting Mississippi Supreme Court justice, to the Georgia state legislature, in his role as a secession commissioner:
“They [Lincoln’s Republicans and the North] have demanded, and now demand, equality between the white and negro races…equality in representation, equality in the right of suffrage, equality in the honors and emoluments of office, equality in the social circle, equality in the rights of matrimony…
“Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality…[Mississippi] had rather see the last of her race, men, women, and children, immolated in one common funeral pile [pyre], than see them subjected to the degradation of civil, political, and social equality with the negro race.”
The push to remove Confederate monuments isn’t an attempt to “erase” history. Quite the opposite. It’s an effort to expose the truth that has been papered over for far too long.
Pruitt confirmation vote (and others) likely this week. I’ve mentioned that special education, healthcare, and policy related to climate change are the three issues I’m focusing my energy on. Pruitt is a disastrous choice to head the EPA.
Also tops on my call list this week: pushing for bipartisan investigation of Flynn. Chaffetz and Nunes (House Oversight Committee and House Intelligence Committee chairs) both said this morning they don’t intend to investigate the circumstances that led to his resignation, which is just bananas.
Chaffetz: GOP Oversight Chair Says His Committee Won’t Investigate Flynn
Nunes: “Nunes also told reporters that he would not investigate Flynn’s discussions with Trump about his calls with the Russian ambassador.”
Celeste Pewter maintains a useful website and Twitter feed for action items, if you’re having trouble keeping up. (Aren’t we all!)
It’s all a bit surreal, isn’t it? In my home this morning, there’s pink milk and chocolate hearts and big smiles. Outside our door, the world churns.
What Wonderboy saw when his bus went past the house this morning