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Posts Tagged ‘Public Policy’

Do you remember your 8th Graders trip to the Nation’s Capital? We lived just three miles away from the ocean, our kids went to Rumson’s middle school where they pretty much lived in shorts and surf tee shorts. But we parents were advised to send our young teens to DC with shirts and ties for the boys, dresses for the girls, because as Mark Twain said, “Clothes make the man (or woman).” The Principal told us that over the years she had found that when students dressed well, their behavior improved…and an overnight trip like this could get a little dicey with all those hormones charging around.

This morning I was reading a list of “Ten Books to read for June” from the BBC website http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170602-ten-books-to-read-in-june – not that I will be able to read ten books in one month, but I found this title fascinating, “Strange Contagion,” by Lee Daniel Kravitz. “Kravetz gathers research on social contagions – the ways in which others influence our lives by catchable thoughts, emotions and behaviours.” 

Kravitz looked into the Palo Alto suicide clusters of teens throwing themselves onto train tracks in 2009 and again in 2014. I wrote about this and the term “affluenza” in a study published in the Atlantic here: https://mountainmornings.net/2016/01/03/a-study-in-money/

And I’ve had occasion to think about it recently. Not suicide, but social stress, the whole keeping up with somebody syndrome. One friend hires a company to update her closet, and before you know it the whole subdivision is installing custom closets. Men were comparing notes on woodstoves in the Berkshires, in the Blue Ridge they talk about tractors. You’ve heard of the study about how hanging with overweight friends will make you fat, right?

“…the study’s conclusion that if you have heavier friends, family members, and colleagues, it is more likely that you will be heavier, too. The stronger the relationship between the two people, the stronger the link between their weights. But only one of the pathways—number three—explained why people of the same size clustered together. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-your-friends-make-you-fat—the-social-network-of-weight-201105242666

The three pathways the Harvard study referenced were: 1) Collaboration; 2) Peer Pressure; and 3) Monkey See Monkey Do! So that curious little monkey is responsible for our widening waistlines? How many of us have gone out to dinner with friends and heard, “Well if you’re ordering an appetizer…” or, on the other hand, maybe everyone says “No thanks” to the dessert menu and you refuse it too, even though you’ve been dying for a piece of their famous apple pie!

The need to belong, to fit into a certain cultural place is universal. Whenever we would show family and neighbors the mechanical room in our basement’s “Not so Big” house and its tankless water heater, they would marvel. To think you never run out of hot water, and you save money by not heating up gallons of water that just sits there waiting for you to get into the shower.

I’m hoping beyond hope that social contagion will keep our country on the road to fewer carbon emissions and a sustainable future despite Mr T’s backtracking on the Paris Agreement. I’ve already heard that California and New York are committed to moving forward with green energy, oh and Pittsburgh didn’t like being lumped into Mr T’s speech yesterday either. The NYTimes reports a coalition is forming to proceed anyway, defying Mr T!

The unnamed group — which, so far, includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses — is negotiating with the United Nations to have its submission accepted alongside contributions to the Paris climate deal by other nations. “We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who is coordinating the effort, said in an interview.”  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/american-cities-climate-standards.html?_r=0

So catch this thought Mr T, we Americans can dilute your damaging policy and defend Mother Earth. We will not all follow you off that negative/denial cliff, some of us would like to protect our world for future generations. It’s the least and the most we can do. Now if I could just get Bob to buy a Tesla!      IMG_0538

 

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When the Rocker was in Middle School, we hopped a train into NYC to see Chicago. He brought a friend along and we had exceptional seats in one of the side boxes next to the stage. We could see the sweat on the dancers’ faces. And when they broke into the Cell Block Tango song “He Had it Comin,” I laughed till I cried.

Well this morning I just wanna cry in my coffee.

Though jet lag is behind me, the American news has been assaulting me daily. Mr T was a little too chummy with a Russian diplomat named Lavrov, the same guy Flynn resigned over, and the one guy left on the Hill with any credibility at all, HR MacMaster, is trotted out to deny any classified information was leaked – even though Mr T admitted/tweeted he had every right to do it, which he may have done, though who cares, right?

He had it comin so to speak…

He had it coming
He only had himself to blame.
If you’d have been there
If you’d have seen it
I betcha you would have done
The same!

Our President has been playing at his role, learning on the job, and demonizing the press. But this news today, allowing only Russian media into the Oval and then handing them classified information on ISIS, like a child showing his buddy the cute frog he just caught, is not only just damning, it’s possibly treasonous. To put it into Broadway lingo, he didn’t just break a leg, he shot himself in the foot. And he only …”had himself to blame.”

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-revealed-highly-classified-information-to-russian-foreign-minister-and-ambassador/2017/05/15/530c172a-3960-11e7-9e48-c4f199710b69_story.html?utm_term=.804daaaa5484

When will the GOP wake up and realize what is happening? When will they appoint an independent prosecutor? What about his Taxes?? Is anybody listening? We heard all about Hillary’s emails to Huma regarding creme brulee, but Mr T can fire his FBI Director for dubious reasons and keep playing at a reality show/game of How. Friggin. Much. Can. I. Get. Away. With…

In the musical Chicago, there was a guy named Alvin Lipschitz. He was very artistic and went out every night to “find himself.” Mona, one of the dancers in the cell block tango, didn’t take too kindly to all the women and men he found himself with, so she broke up with him, in the worst possible way. Her defense was artistic differences, and she swore he had it comin!

A free press will not be barred or barricaded away from this White House. We the people deserve an investigation into how Russia colluded with Mr T’s campaign to swing our election. He also has it comin – he should be facing impeachment hearings for his pure and utter incompetence.

Let’s just say we have irreconcilable artistic and public policy differences.

And just as a welcome back to Cville, this past weekend found a “white heritage group” bearing torches and chanting Nazi-like slogans at Robert E lee Park. Lots of guys in khaki and white button-down shirts with Confederate flags. We have some stylist differences as well. Hate speech has a free hand today, disguising itself as freedom.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/05/14/528363829/richard-spencer-leads-group-protesting-sale-of-confederate-statue

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What’s happening in the world. As Tillerson jets to Russia with a “Make my Day” kind of deal, an Asian physician is dragged off a United plane while passengers documented every minute. This morning, the United CEO has done an about face, finally apologizing for the incident; and simultaneously lovely Melissa, oops, Sean Spicer got his apology right on the third try. Yes Sean, Hitler DID use chemical weapons on innocent people, they just happened to be Jews.

The Jewish people are used to this kind of thing. In fact, a dear friend just told me that one of her son’s friends/acquaintances is a Holocaust denier. And that they actually don’t say it didn’t happen anymore, just that it was more like what we did with the Japanese internment camps…. You know, like a “Holocaust Center?!”

Over the years, I’ve met relatives with numbers on their arms. My first supervisor at an outpatient mental health clinic was a child of Holocaust survivors. One of our Big Chill friends was conceived at a refugee camp in Italy after his parents were liberated from a concentration camp in Poland. I’ve been attending Seders now for almost 40 years, and yet this was the first time I actually ran the show. I knew something would go wrong. I forgot to give everyone some parsley, so I started a new tradition of a parsley posey.

This is the first time I’m actually afraid for the survival of the human race, not just one group of people. Seriously – will Russia decide to sacrifice another pawn. Or maybe North Korea will put us into checkmate?

What kind of plagues should God rain down upon us this time? At least I didn’t poison anyone at my Seder. I’m a compulsive germaphob in the kitchen. Ever since I nearly killed my first husband with a salmonella infested sandwich I picked up at a deli in Harvard Square. I made Great Grandma Ada wash her hands all the time, and we cooperated on the prep for the haroset. Maybe Mr T will get a bad case of boils? Or locusts could infest the Rose Garden?

Our trees are greening and birds are singing. Spring is a time for rebirth, not sarin gas and armageddon. In fact Sean, you were right in one detail, Hitler did NOT use sarin to exterminate 6 Million Jews, “innocent” people, even though it had been discovered by a German scientist. Some speculate it was because he was gassed in the First World War. But most scholars say it was because Churchill would have retaliated if he tried to use gas on the battlefield or in the camps.

“War is chess. Hitler would have sacrificed a lot of pieces that he couldn’t afford to lose.”  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/04/11/hitler-refused-to-use-sarin-gas-during-wwii-the-mystery-is-why/?utm_term=.9dc38985fc9d

The Nazis constantly searched for more efficient means of extermination. At the Auschwitz camp in Poland, they conducted experiments with Zyklon B (previously used for fumigation) by gassing some 600 Soviet prisoners of war and 250 ill prisoners in September 1941. Zyklon B pellets, converted to lethal gas when exposed to air. They proved the quickest gassing method and were chosen as the means of mass murder at Auschwitz.

At the height of the deportations, up to 6,000 Jews were gassed each day at Auschwitz. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005220

6 Thousand a day, 6 Million in WWII. Holocaust centers, killing camps. Sarin gas vs Zyklon B vs chemical weapons. A gaffe is a gaffe is a gaffe. And this whole Trump administration is one big gaffe.

Today we rode along Skyline Drive to get the long view, the balcony shot. I wish we humans could just decide not to play chess with our lives on this planet.  IMG_0305

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April showers are nourishing all the perennials we just planted, but if you are a migratory bird looking to nest in Florida, you’d be plain out of luck. Wading birds like egrets and herons depend on fresh, clean water from rivers meeting the sea in estuaries on our coasts for their food supply, and scientists have been putting on waders to count their nests this time of year. Considering Mr T’s deep cuts to the EPA, this Audubon report is troubling:

The latest South Florida Wading Bird Report, which was published last week, offers signs of trouble for the birds and the places they live. During this nesting season, which ran from December 2015 to July 2016, surveyors were disappointed to find 26,676 nests total. That’s just one-third the number of nests tallied during 2009, one of the best nesting years in decades, and the lowest nest census since the 2007-2008 season. Of the indicator species, only two (Great Egrets and White Ibises) met their nest recovery goals. The only bird to show an above-average nesting season last year was the Roseate Spoonbill. http://www.audubon.org/news/floridas-wading-birds-had-terrible-breeding-season-last-year

We had a Great Blue Heron swoop over our Rumson garage every morning to fish in the Shrewsbury River. When you live so close to the ocean, you begin to notice the rise and fall of tidewater by the line of black silt on your Corgis’ short legs, which would sometimes cover their bellies. “Swamp Dogs” was our affectionate term for Toots and Blaze. My sister Kay was kind enough to immortalize that mother/son duo in a 1993 watercolor.

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But it’s the long, stilt-like legs of Great Egrets that are helping them navigate the rising seawater levels due to Climate Change.

And now we have a circus/barker/climate/denier as the Leader of the Free World who would like to dismantle and disrupt the federal government, and return power to “the states.” I’ve always wondered why Republicans even pursue public service when they hate it so much! If any of you are still wondering about the loss of Arctic ice or if keeping that house your aunt left you on the Jersey Shore is a good idea, take a look at Leonardo diCaprio’s interactive global temperature map. It looks like there may be a quarter of Rumson left after the flood. Seriously.

“Every fraction of a degree of global warming sets in motion sea level rise that will profoundly threaten coastal cities across the world,” explains Dr. Benjamin Strauss from Climate Central. “[Our map] shows the incredible stakes and urgency of our climate choices.”

https://www.beforetheflood.com/explore/the-crisis/sea-level-rise/

Now that you’ve put in your city, and the visual has sunk in and maybe you’ve “woke up” think about these cuts to the federal budget. Keep calling your legislators people, dig out your Wellies (English for waders or rain boots), and start looking for higher ground while planning your retirement

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What is your carbon footprint? Do you know what (or who) is the biggest factor in greenhouse gas emissions? This is not a quiz, although this last question was on the GRE I took decades ago.   They are important questions if you are a believer in fact-based science; you understand that human development is responsible for climate change, and climate change is a factor in the migration and extinction of animals, while also contributing to the refugee crisis.

And since you are a believer and want to save the planet, if not for your grandkids then maybe for that condo you bought in Miami, may I suggest you light a candle today in the church of your choice.

Because today Mr T will be signing an Executive Order to dirty the waters around the Clean Power Plan and walk us away from the 2015 Paris Agreement – it’s like Kyoto all-over-again.

President Trump will take the most significant step yet in obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record Tuesday, instructing federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions.

The sweeping executive order also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

The order sends an unmistakable signal that just as President Barack Obama sought to weave climate considerations into every aspect of the federal government, Trump is hoping to rip that approach out by its roots.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-moves-decisively-to-wipe-out-obamas-climate-change-record/2017/03/27/411043d4-132c-11e7-9e4f-09aa75d3ec57_story.html?utm_term=.ec3f40a30921

In other words, IF we have any federal regulators left, they will not be asked to look ahead at the big picture when they bring coal back to coal country. This order will also allow drilling on federal land and accelerate fossil-fuel production by lifting President Obama’s cease and desist orders to the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. Remember all those Native Americans protesting those pipelines, and the Marines who joined them? Well Mr T just showed us what he’s made of, that he values corporate interests over American lives.

When I was growing up in Victory Gardens, we had a coal bin right outside our kitchen. Daddy Jim would shovel the coal into our furnace and toss the ashes outside, somewhere. Whenever we all piled into his little Chevy Impala, I would scream bloody murder to open the windows because both Nell and Jim smoked cigarettes non-stop. Camels I think. That’s probably why I never started smoking, I had been semi-tortured as a child. It’s a wonder my lungs are still functioning at all! Maybe it’s all those rosary beads I kept in my pocket?

It may seem antithetical to think that Evangelicals are also, as a group, big believers in climate change, but they are. In fact, it’s worth mentioning the Canadian climate scientist I follow on Twitter who manages to see no distinction between her Christian beliefs and science – the smart and talented Katherine Hayhoe @KHayhoe

Still, it may come as no surprise that a belief in human assisted climate change has become a political touchstone for our time, with the GOP digging their heads further into the sand of climate denial. Hence, with a stroke of the pen Mr T will take us back in time to America’s glory days of unregulated, polluted power. If you feel that politicizing science is just so 19th Century, you may be shocked by this graph from the Pew Research Center illustrating just how divided we are:  PS_2016.10.04_Politics-of-Climate_1-14

So dear readers, what can we do? Take a good look at your portfolio if you’re lucky to have anything left after 2008. Think about divesting in fossil-fuel companies, and investing in wind or solar. Think about global companies that are fighting the good fight. Use your economic leverage…call your legislators NOW…using your voting leverage. Our town hall tactics have stalled the rush to kill Obamacare, let’s use the same strategy to save our planet from this magalomaniac. Not only is Mr T’s pen poison, his policies are lethal.

And if you pray, this is our Hail Mary pass, in the name of Mother Earth.

 

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Yesterday Anita and I made our way up the Historic Downtown Mall, sampling a new salad place and trying on a few things. A shoe store may have been involved. And we landed at the City Council Chamber behind three giant statues of Virginia Presidents to listen to two academics discuss their research and books on “Navigating International Conflicts: Who Helps the Refugees?”

Christine Mahoney spoke first. She told us that refugees live in a kind of limbo, “They are living on the edge of existence, failure is the norm.” She talked about the balance of help any International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO) can offer at any one time; for instance, when Doctors Without Borders was fighting Ebola in Zaire, it was not able to provide its baseline essential healthcare to the rest of that country. Guns and butter, the one thing I remember from Econ 101. Maternal deaths went up, malnutrition skyrocketed. But there are natural disasters, like disease and earthquakes, and then there are those that are man-made.

Like corruption and war. Mahoney spoke of all the obstacles in her book, “Failure and Hope, Fighting for the Rights of the Forcibly Displaced.” Advocacy for refugees is not prioritized in a country when their citizens as a whole are living below poverty levels. And only in Iraq have refugees been allowed to work; Kurds from Syria have been assimilated into the Kurdish communities of Northern Iraq. This is unusual since all other refugees are not allowed to work in their host countries.

She also pointed out that people who leave their country are the “lucky” ones, since they usually have the resources to cross borders. Those refugees who have the least – the sickest, the elderly, the poorest of the poor – are truly suffering in displacement camps amidst their own people. When an audience member asked what we can do, Mahoney pointed out the two best ways to advocate for the displaced are with votes and money. There are limitations to “Political Leverage” however, because most governments do not have the will to change a system and allow refugees to work or travel freely.

But we can use “Economic Leverage” to help level the playing field. We can bypass big banks with Bitcoin for instance. We can empower hopeless people through investment funds with micro-finance, using impact investors for profit. We can help a woman start a bakery, all that woman needs is a cell phone to get started. When life-saving food and medicine is the priority for humanitarian organizations, using open source financing to fund entrepreneurial projects is a ray of light for this marginalized population.

The success of small loans to the displaced has been evident in KIVA https://www.kiva.org Anita told me she has given to KIVA and plans to get her grandson involved this year. Then we talked about the Passover Seder, what should she bring?

It’s my turn, my first Seder in 38 years of marriage. The Jews were once slaves in Egypt and had to leave their home. My Irish ancestors left an island that could no longer sustain them. All Americans, except Native Americans, were refugees at one time or another. “In 2015 there were 60 Million people displaced by violent global conflict, the highest since WWII.”

And the leader of the free world is closing our borders, and blaming Democrats for not passing the GOP healthcare bill. At least Bob and I did our part to pester our Representative Tom Garrett, now we need to start thinking about the next step of Political Leverage in the spy mystery that has engulfed Washington, DC . And btw, did you know Hemingway was a Russian spy?!…Oh Donnie Boy, loyalty is a dish served warm, like Borscht.   IMG_0214

 

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There’s a big Georgian building in Ivy I’ve mentioned before, it’s an offshoot of UVA that offers free and open forums to citizens every month with leaders on the world stage. Its mission is to decode public policy for the rest of us, and its “American Forum” can be viewed on PBS – if there is still a PBS in the future:

“At the Miller Center, we strive to illuminate presidential and political history accurately and fairly. To shine a light on all the ways our democracy has worked—and all the times America has struggled. To inspire America’s leaders with unbiased insights, especially on the presidency, that advance democratic institutions and the public good.” https://millercenter.org

Because I felt like I needed some illuminating, I bid farewell to Bob, who was waiting at home for painters, and drove into town to hear Gerald F Seib (Wall Street Journal’s Executive Washington Editor and Chief Commentator) pontificate on presidential power at the Miller Center. As makeup artists powdered their faces, and the lights dimmed for filming, American Forum’s host, Douglas Blackmon, prepared to interview Seib about Donald Trump. The room was so packed I was squeezed onto a pew sitting sidesaddle. Seniors and students alike, we were all eager to understand Trumpland.

Seib told us that reaching out directly to US citizens is nothing new, that President Obama actually liked to cut out the main stream media and talk to real people. Utilizing Twitter however is a new phenomena.  Labeling media the “…enemy of the American people” is not just new, it’s dangerous. He called Trump a “Master at Communicating,” in that he creates bright shiny objects (Tweets) every day in order to control the media.

Seib also told us time and again that we must take everything a President says seriously; when his aides tell us not to take his statements – like the wiretapping charge against Obama – literally, we the public and the media must still consider his words seriously. The surveillance charge is a diversion, it puts the others (his media enemies) on the defensive.

And although I like to think the purpose of journalism is to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted (Scotty Reston), Seib told us that reporters need to explain and put into context a leader’s words. His job is to analyze in depth, to find the meaning and illuminate facts. He emphasized the one thing journalists have is our credibility, ditto for presidents, then he asked us how will we know when to take Trump seriously – if everything he says isn’t?

I thought of Peter and the Wolf.

He did acknowledge that Rupert Murdoch bought the WSJ years ago, but insisted that his editorial pages have been critical of Trump. And he told us about some memos that had been circulating; saying it’s fine to call certain statements “False” but not “Lies,” not until they are proven to have come from a person’s conscious intent…“and nobody has skirted around facts like Donald Trump.”

Seib warned reporters not to let their attitude substitute for the facts. In other words, don’t become the story you were covering. Harder and harder to do these days I imagine. With UVA Communications majors sitting in the orchestra seats, Blackmon asked what one piece of advice he would give to a young journalist today. “Be honest!”

Seib went on to say he would tell Mr T he must be careful not to devalue his currency (ie credibilty) and to understand and accept that a free press is good for democracy and he should not diminish it!

In short, the Bully Pulpit is still real, it exists and it’s easier than ever to get everybody’s attention. And today, similar to Nixon’s Watergate era, we reporters must be willing to, “…suspend disbelief”…one story at a time. In order to write about the news today we must  “temporarily accept as believable, events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.” http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/suspension-of-disbelief.html        Yes sir, that’s the best definition of Trumpland so far!

Let’s hope Mr T doesn’t lay his hands on Angela Merkel while he’s talking trade with Germany. No shoulder rubs for the President who grabs you know what. Seriously. And let’s also hope Tillerson does no harm in Asia. Although he refused to bring the press with him, so how will we know? Not to worry, Andrea Mitchell is on the job.  This is the season to lay mulch at the feet of Buddha, and have faith that North Korea doesn’t take Tillerson seriously.

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