Women’s March (Chicago)

“Love trumps hate! Love trumps hate!”

This was one of many chants that my wife, daughters and I heard and participated in as we marched in the Women’s March in Chicago. The event was inspiring, the weather incredibly accommodating. Remarkably, the sun came out for the first time in a few weeks, and the temperature almost reached sixty degrees.  It was if Shakespeare had penned the weather, the blue skies characterized the ebullient marchers.

It did not feel as though we were protesting something. It felt as though we were affirming our American values: equal rights and protections for all, love – for neighbor, for country, for stranger – and the power of collective action for the greater good. We reminded ourselves that women’s rights are human rights, that we don’t need to be afraid of refugees, and that we can love and respect Americans from all walks of life; diversity is strength.

Hate has no home here.

I walked with my daughters, and it was the 9-year old who had the most questions. As much as I felt like trashing Trump for being all the things we know he is (this has been covered, and if at this point you don’t think it’s a big deal that he’s a narcissistic bully that advocates sexual assault, then I’m sure you’re not going to be convinced that maybe the president should have some kind of moral compass,) I used to opportunity to reaffirm our beliefs. Every human has value. People make poor choices when they are afraid. And yes, love trumps hate.

And being a part of that crowd – I believed it.

Since Election Day I have been working my way through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief. I listened to Trump’s god-awful inaugural address and felt all of stage 4 (depression.) I found some solace in the fact that nobody went to the inauguration and that a Nazi got rocked in the face. (I think I’m supposed to feel guilty about that, but I just can’t when I read garbage like this. There’s no such thing as “peaceful” ethnic cleansing, but I digress.) But the depression was real. It just cannot be that this unqualified piece of human garbage is actually our president. There are so many RED flags. How can we let this proceed?

The broken ideology of the GOP created the conditions for the rise of Trump – perhaps it was inevitable. But I find comfort in the fact that this clearly isn’t what the people want. It took Russian interference, racist gerrymandering, the abolition of the Voting Rights Act, and incredibly unethical behavior (probably criminal!) from the FBI to put this disgrace into office.  There’s plenty of blame to go around and the media surely gets some of it (“Clinton seemed over-prepared at times.” “Real Americans feel overlooked.“) But despite all of that, more Americans voted for an inclusive vision of our nation.

I’ve always been wary of people who drape themselves in American exceptionalism – it’s a convenient way to ignore the very real problems that we have – problems of race and class that are structural and go back to our founding. I’ve often wondered why people were so confident that our country could not be seduced into fascism the way that European nations have in the past. Today has given me hope, however. I saw the crowd in Chicago (a quarter million the last time I checked!) and I’ve been watching the pictures come in from friends in other cities attending their own marches. There are a ton of Americans standing up for each other. I am reveling in the knowledge that it’s getting under Trump’s paper-thin skin.

After we marched, we took the girls to Maggie Daley park. While they played I heard several different languages spoken. I saw Americans of all stripes, of all backgrounds, sharing in a vision of an inclusive nation. Americans with hilarious protest signs, Americans watching their children play, Americans enjoying an unlikely sunny day in January.

I do not live in a bubble. Chicago is America. People live and work together and share the same hopes and fears. Walking through downtown, I began to think that

This presidency is not consensual.

maybe America is exceptional. Not because we can bomb other countries into oblivion. America is exceptional because of our diversity. While a good deal of white people think we need to give Mango Mussolini a chance, people from marginalized groups are not having it. They have the most to lose, and they are on the front lines, and they are brave. The rest of us need to get on board and join them. We need to send the message that our progress won’t be reversed without a fight.

America is watching. We cannot despair. If the Congress wants to abdicate their responsibility to provide checks and balances to Putin’s puppet, then regular American people must stand up. We must stand up to the powerful and stand up for each other. Let’s remind this administration that they have no legitimacy (especially since it seems to bother them so much when people say that.) Let’s remind them that no matter how many times they say they’re setting records, that this presidency is historic (or historical,) or that people love them, we are not falling for their bullshit. You like crowds? Take a look at the crowds today.

It’s fair to assume that Trump is having a bad day today. May every day of his short presidency be just as miserable.

Anti-Vaxxers and American Anti-Intellectualism

Vaccinate your children.

Vaccinate your children.

The measles have come to Chicago’s suburbs. The measles. You know, that completely preventable and once eliminated disease that used to kill children every year? Anti-vaxxers are to blame, plain and simple. I’m not the first to say it, obviously. Critics of vaccines are getting sad because people are blaming them for this. Aw, that’s too bad. Are your feelings hurt? Well, thanks to you, children will die from things that are completely preventable. You should feel sad. And responsible for their deaths.

Much of this anti-vaccine nonsense goes back to a fraudulent 1998 study linking vaccines to autism. Criminally negligent doctor Andrew Wakefield, who is British, set off a wave of anti-vaccine hysteria that has led to our nation’s public health regression. We have, in some ways, become victimized by the success of the MMR vaccine – nobody in this generation has gone through a measles infection, and so we have forgotten how bad it can be.

Roald Dahl understood how terrible measles could be. His seven-year old daughter died from it:

Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.

“I feel all sleepy,” she said.

In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

He wrote that in 1988, and pointed out that in America, where immunization is compulsory, measles has been virtually wiped out. Conversely, in Britain, 20 children a year were dying of measles.

So how did we go from having compulsory immunizations to having communities in California with fewer immunized children (percentage-wise) than Ghana? Well, that all goes back to America’s hatred of all things intellectual.

Most Americans report that they respect Science, but they don’t follow up those statements by actually relying on the results of meticulous peer-reviewed studies. How else do you explain the anti-vaccine movement? It’s ironic that the parents who refuse to immunize their children rely on the discredited Wakefield study, yet refuse to acknowledge the truths of every other vaccine study ever done. When presented with evidence that refutes their position, they just go clicking away on the internet to find something that reinforces it (never mind that what they find is easily refuted with facts – and by the way, don’t click the link unless you feel like being really angry for a while.)

Let’s step back for a moment, though. How could one discredited study in a British medical journal turn so many American parents into blithering idiots? Oh, right. That study needed to be championed by someone relatively famous. Enter Jenny McCarthy. What is she famous for, you ask? She took her clothes off and posed for a magazine. Thus began her ascent into stardom.

America is great, isn’t it?

The problem is that parents are predisposed to worry. If they hear the same anti-vaccine drumbeat over and over again, then they might find themselves thinking that vaccines are great and all, but why should I risk my own child’s well-being? I mean, there’s controversy, right? Better to wait it out.

It’s hard to think rationally as a worried parent. Why should a parent elevate the concerns of society over her own child? The chances that a vaccine will harm a child is so infinitely small compared to the chances that a communicable disease will cause harm. But since there is a chance, parents assume their child will be “the one.” It’s the same rationalization that people use for playing the lottery – well, somebody has to win.

The truth of the matter is that there are some people who can’t have vaccines. Babies, for example. Immuno-compromised people. A tiny fraction of people are allergic to the vaccines. But we can protect them. It’s our duty to other people’s children to get vaccinated if we can. When we have 95% immunity, then the herd is more or less protected. We have to remember that humans have survived because they have banded together. Every man for himself is a terrible social policy.

The anti-vaccine movement joins two sides of the political spectrum in an unholy alliance against all things sensible: right wing Christians waiting for the apocalypse (any day now) and left wing all-natural tree-hugging hippies that don’t want to put any “toxins” into little Braxxxton’s arm.

Okay. For the Christians – didn’t Jesus go around healing everyone? Wasn’t that, like, one of his things? I would hazard a guess that he would be pro-vaccine, given that vaccines have prevented innumerable deaths from measles, polio, and just about everything else.

Now for the hippies – you know viruses are natural, right? Things that are natural aren’t always better. No amount of fish oil is going to prevent little Jaxon Jayden from getting measles. Vaccines will, though.

Rational people should despair. It turns out, spreading pro-vaccine messages just doesn’t work. It causes lunatics to retreat further into their own belief systems. Why assimilate new facts and make a rational decision when you can just plug your ears and say, “nuh-uh?”

Anti-intellectualism isn’t new. Isaac Asimov famously said:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

Richard Hofstadter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. We saw a burgeoning of anti-intellectualism during George W. Bush’s administration. Voters liked him, because he wasn’t an intellectual snob (though I would contend that he is actually very smart and politically savvy.) Voters wanted to “have a beer” with that guy. It’s pretty much the only qualification you need to be the leader of the most powerful and influential nation in the world.

So, politicians have picked up that ball and run with it. Rick Santorum famously called President Obama a snob, because Obama suggested that Americans should get a post-secondary education. That was curious to me. I can’t imagine a lot of parents thinking, “Hell yeah, no college for my kid!”

More recently, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has proposed a $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin system (the largest in its 45-year history.) Walker suggested that professors could just “work harder” to overcome the budget cuts. Walker, himself, never earned a college degree. Meanwhile, he’s also proposing a tax kickback to the billionaire owners of the Milwaukee Bucks. Sports are more important than education. I wonder if the owners of the Bucks will contribute to Walker’s 2016 presidential run.

So, we’re off and running. The US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is all about privatizing K-12 education, so it’s not like Republicans are the only ones to blame. The anti-intellectualism leads to middle-aged school teachers being deemed union “thugs” and education dismantlers to be called “reformers.” Soon, our education system will benefit the haves even more than it already does. And cable news networks and websites will tell the have-nots how good they have it as they die from their preventable diseases.

And when someone presents the facts of the situation, the undeniable facts, somehow these people will find a website that supports their own position and disregard reality. The internet is great and all, but it has definitely led to the closing of American minds.

Slave-owners didn’t want their slaves to be literate. Likewise, if the power brokers can somehow convince the American populace that learning things if for “snobs” and then remove funding for universities so that only the richest can attend, then they will have accomplished the same thing. Anti-intellectualism, at its heart, is a tool for maintaining power and dominance over others.

There was no revolution in the Roman Republic. The citizens more or less willingly gave up their democracy. Eventually the Roman Empire crumbled under the weight of its opulence, income disparity, and corruption.

(Spoiler alert – We’re Rome.)

The SCOTUS’ War on Women

It has become clear to me that the Supreme Court is (majority) occupied by slaves to corporate entities. Each major decision is a win for big business and a loss for everyone else. When given the chance to extend an obvious right (marriage) to all people, the Court ruled in the most narrow way possible. Yet, when it comes to the ridiculous notion that corporations are people that can hold religious beliefs, they opted for an expansive ruling that will open up a treasure trove of options for companies that wish to trample over workers’ rights, all in the name of religious freedom.

So, a handful of executives at Hobby Lobby have a stronger claim to religious freedom than the thousands of women they employ, apparently. What separates them? Oh, that’s right, money. Hobby Lobby’s argument is that any kind of contraceptive is the equivalent of abortion. Anybody that has ever taken a high school biology class understands the claim to be ludicrous. Still, if we were to take them on their word, then surely they wouldn’t do business in China, who continue to violate human rights, would they? I mean, forced abortions still happen there. That must be against their principled religious beliefs. Oh wait, they still do business in China. How else could they sell you crappity crap crap at such low low prices? You don’t have to pay children very much money, after all.

All of this points to how ridiculous our country’s employer-based health care system is.  It should never be the place of one’s employer to interfere with an employee’s medical decision. But it seems to fly with this court, especially if the employees in question are women.

This is the same court that reversed the Eleventh Circuit’s Court of Appeals in the Lilly Ledbetter case, finding that women could not sue for gender pay discrimination if 180 days had passed, even if the woman had no way of knowing that the discrimination was taking place. Another win for corporate America.

And further proof of the free market forcing companies to be benevolent employers, amirite?

A few days ago the SCOTUS struck down a Massachusetts law stating that protesters at abortion clinics must stand 35 feet away from the entrance. This law was passed in response to people being murdered at abortion clinics, which is to say nothing of the endless harassment endured by women using the clinics. The completely disingenuous John Roberts said, “Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks — sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history.”

Give it a rest, Roberts. There is no “conversing with fellow citizens” in front of an abortion clinic. There is only harassment and violence.

If Roberts is so concerned about upholding the First Amendment on public sidewalks, then why does the Supreme Court have a buffer zone?

supremecourt

And when the Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s ban on handguns, Mayor Daley wryly pointed out that handguns are not allowed in the Supreme Court.

So what’s good for the Court is not good for the rest of America.

And for all of the conservative hand wringing over “judicial activism” around marriage equality, they sure don’t seem to making a peep when the Court overturns parts of the Affordable Care Act or even the Voting Rights Act.

Today’s ruling was just the latest in a string of rulings that favor corporations over regular people. The Court has come down on the side of actively harming regular people.

The SCOTUS is looking out for people, after all. Mitt Romney’s widely lambasted statement that “corporations are people” has been given legal backing now.

Chief Justice John Roberts’ tortured arguments are reminiscent of Melville Fuller (Plessy v. Ferguson.) Though, to be fair, Roberts is much more ambitious. Make no mistake, his court has gone after minorities with the same gusto.  But he’s also hell bent on eroding the rights of women.

It’s no wonder that Americans are losing confidence in all branches of government.

After all, we are all being made painfully aware of who the government works for.