Dead Canary Nation

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In Oklahoma we know what happens when an economy becomes overly dependent on fossil fuels, when it becomes anathema to ever raise taxes; when corporations (especially fossil fuel companies) are given massive tax breaks; when unions are marginalized; when science is ignored because of corporate interests, and when an atmosphere of hostility is created in relation to persons who are Latin@, African American, LGBTQ, and Muslim.

We in Oklahoma live with the resulting poor public education caused by the worst cuts in education spending in the country since 2008, high poverty rates, second highest incarceration rate in the country and highest female incarceration rate of all states, inadequate healthcare and a crisis in mental healthcare resources, deep cuts in basic public services, a crumbling infrastructure, fossil fuel industry induced earthquakes with private citizens forced to pay for the damage, corporations resistant to relocate to our state because of a social climate that is hostile to many of their employees, and massive budget shortfalls.

Oklahoma should be viewed by the rest of the country as an example of what not to do, a dead canary state that warns people to get out of the toxic right wing mine of regressive tax systems, privatization of public services, discrimination, and deregulation. In May of 2016, I wrote in more detail about Oklahoma’s Dead Canary State status, which you may read here.

Unfortunately, the United States (thanks to our electoral college system) just elected a president who says “To hell with the dead canaries, we are all going into the mine.”

Trump’s pick for Secretary for Education Betsy Devos wants to create more privatization of public education, which will lessen equality of opportunity among our citizenry. Trump’s picks for National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Director of the CIA Mike Pompeo reflect an Islamophobia that threatens the religious freedom of our Muslim sisters and brothers and represents a serious threat to their equal protection under the law. The people on Trump’s short list for Secretary of Interior (Governor Mary Fallin of Dead Canary State Oklahoma is high on the list), Secretary of Energy (Oklahoma Billionaire Oilman Harold Hamm is a leading candidate). and Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is a top candidate) all point to a likely withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, rejection of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and a growing dependence on fossil fuel. Trump’s choice of Jeffrey Sessions for United States Attorney General and his selection of Stephen Bannon as Chief Strategist represent a rejection of a broadly inclusive society and point to a lack of respect for our Latin@, African American, and LGBTQ sisters and brothers. His selection of Mike Pence as Vice President does not bode well for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the dangerous appointments being brought forth.

Appointment after appointment, policy announcement after policy announcement, and tweet after tweet all point to President Elect Trump following Oklahoma’s path of adopting systems that fail the most vulnerable persons in the human community and threaten the overall well being of our ecological community. The direction in which President Elect Trump is pulling the country will lead to worsening international relations; creative people no longer wanting come to the United States and many who are already here wanting to leave; an eviscerated public education system with a more poorly educated citizenry;  threats to religious freedom; and a less inclusive, just, peaceful, participatory and sustainable society. As Oklahoma has seen itself sink to the bottom of list of states when it comes to education, healthcare, and quality of life for its most vulnerable citizens; so too will the United States fall behind much of the rest of the world.

Oklahoma is a Dead Canary State that is a warning to the country. Under a President Trump, we are on the path to making the United States become a Dead Canary Nation that will be a warning to the world.

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indivisible, with liberty and justice for all

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Just the thought, even more so the act, of burning the flag of the United States of America sickens me. It is not something I could ever do, and it angers me when I witness other people participate in this act.

Symbols are important to me. Symbols are visible signs that help us represent our most important values. The American flag is a symbol that I have always cherished because it stands for our Republic and its highest values – our ideals of community, liberty, and justice for all (values that sadly we have not always lived up to).

The flag was special to me even as a young boy. I remember the honor I had of bearing the colors as a Webelos Scout at the beginning of a Parent/Teacher Association meeting at my grade school. It was a really big deal for me. I remember the flag shaking in my hand as I carried it because I was so nervous about presenting the colors correctly. Even then I knew the importance and the power of this symbol, a symbol that had been draped over the coffin of my great uncle who was killed in Italy during World War II, a symbol that was given to one of my dad’s first cousins whose son was lost in action and never found in Vietnam. As a young boy, I could feel the impact that these losses and sacrifices had on my immediate and extended family, and I knew that the flag somehow held some of that love and loss within it is fabric and colors.

In my adult life as a minister I see this symbol folded with honor and care at funerals for persons who have served our country, often with great sacrifice and sometimes the greatest sacrifice. The presentation of the flag to the family members is a solemn moment for all who participate in it and for all who witness it. It represents that the person who is being laid to rest will always be a part of the family of our country.

The thought of burning the American flag sickens me because of that for which it stands and because of the people who have sacrificed for that which it stands.

Today the President Elect of the United States of America wrote that persons who burn the flag ought to be punished with jail time and perhaps even have their citizenship taken away from them. One might think that my love and respect for our flag would lead me to agree with this position by our soon to be president, but at the heart of liberty, one of those core American values for which our flag stands, is the freedom of expression that is protected in the Constitution of the United States of America, the Constitution that our presidents swear to “preserve, protect and defend.”

One of the most basic things that we the people should be able to expect from the President of the United States is to protect our liberty and our freedom of expression that has been at the core of our Republic from its very founding. The President Elect tweeted his flag comment the day after using the same social media platform to lie about millions of people voting Illegally. He lied about people expressing one of the core values that our flag represents, the liberty and the right to participate in free and fair elections. By lying about these voters and by stoking the fires of division, the President Elect is seeking to divide that which should not be divisible, he is seeking to suppress the liberty of American citizens, and he is committing injustice against persons in our communities.

I love the American flag because it represents our unity as a country, our liberty as a people, and our commitment to justice in relation to each other. A few persons choosing to burn the American flag, in the end, pose very little threat to these great American values, but tragically the impending presidency of Donald Trump presents an existential threat to everything for which this symbol of our country stands. Presidents swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, but in the days ahead, we the people must preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from the president himself.

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The Fog Has Lifted

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Averting climate chaos would have been difficult no matter who was elected President of the United States on November 8, 2016. The Paris Climate Agreement was a hopeful sign that global awareness and commitment are growing to do something to avoid the worst case scenarios of climate change. Unfortunately, we have waited too long to take the necessary action to avoid bad case scenarios. The best we can hope for now is to avoid the catastrophic consequences of the out of control climate change that would create an unlivable climate for anything remotely like our current human civilization. As hopeful as the Paris Climate Agreement was, most climate scientists did not see the agreement as being enough to keep us from surpassing a 2 degrees Celsius increase over pre-industrial average temperatures, which could be the point of no return when it comes to any hope for a livable climate.

To say that the election of Donald Trump threatens the progress that was made in the past couple of years to build global consensus on policies and actions to mitigate climate change is an understatement. Trump’s election and the climate policies and practices it will bring represent an existential threat to all people and the planet. Trump has said he will not adhere to the Paris agreement, he promises to scrap the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, he appointed a well known climate science denier to lead his transition efforts in relation to the EPA, his short list for Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Energy are clearly supportive of going all in for fossil fuels, and Trump announced that he will close NASA’s climate science program on the grounds that it represents politicized science.

The merchants of doubt hired by the fossil fuel industry to create public uncertainty about climate science and to work against policies and programs to address climate change are openly celebrating Trump’s victory. They could not have dreamed of a better election outcome than to have Trump as president, a Republican Congress, and a soon to be right leaning Supreme Court. The entire federal government is aligned for the creation of a fossil fuel hegemony in relation to energy policy.

Persons who care about the future well being of human and ecological communities are rightly in mourning at what has occurred. November 8. 2016 was a crushing defeat for current and future generations of all life. The chances of preserving a livable climate were already extremely slim, but now they seem impossible as Trump will attempt to commit our society and its infrastructure to another generation of dependence on fossil fuels.

If human civilization were the Titanic and an unlivable climate were an iceberg, the past decade represented a very slow turning of our societal ship away from the iceberg. The turning has been too slow and the fog of uncertainty about our global commitment to the turning has most likely kept us on course to hit the iceberg of climate chaos, but at least we had some collective sense that making some effort to turn away was a good thing even if the fog kept us from seeing if our efforts would allow us to safely pass. With Trump’s rise to power, the fossil fuel industry in the United States is grabbing the ship’s wheel and turning us back straight towards the iceberg at full steam ahead. There is no fog of uncertainty about where this course will take us. There is no doubt where the ship of human civilization will end up if we stay on this new course. Our self shortened existence on this planet will be forgotten as a sliver in the depths of the geological record, and unless evolution once again leads to the development of rational life forms, there will likely be no explorers to ever know that we even existed as a species.

Without in any way downplaying the tragedy that Trump’s election was for people and the planet, perhaps there is some opportunity that presents itself to us in this most dire moment. The slow turn we have been making to avoid the iceberg of climate chaos was likely not sharp enough to avoid an unlivable climate. The incremental actions might have been giving us the false hope that we were doing enough to avoid a catastrophic collision. Perhaps this false hope was acting as another kind of fog as well, a fog that kept us from seeing that we were still on course for the sixth great extinction and ecological collapse, a course towards unspeakable suffering and death. With the election of Trump, there is no doubt where he and the powers he represents are steering us.

The fog has lifted. Our imminent collision with our self made demise can be seen clearly on the quickly approaching horizon with no false hope to hamper our view. If we cannot see clearly now – we never will, at least not until it is much too late. We have to take the ship’s wheel into our hands and make the sharp turn for all people and the planet. We have to turn that wheel with our whole lives and our whole being, with a commitment and intensity that will challenge us to our core. Everything we care about depends on it. The fog has lifted.

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Worker Politics and Identity Politics: A Joint Winning Strategy

Guest Blog by Andrew Irvine –

I’m bothered by the “we need to get over identity politics and focus on economics” arguments I’m seeing. Partly because I am just a bit of a sucker for both-and, but also because I worry that it surrenders one set of hard-won and genuine political achievements in the name of another set of genuine achievements that will be hard to win and for which we all need all the help we can give one another.

For starters, it’s not as though the liberal left alone has pursued so-called identity politics. The right bashes liberals for it–but their dismissive and derogatory usage of the term is also a dog-whistle for alt-right identity politics–the identity politics of implicit white nationalism. Maybe (maybe) Steve Bannon really doesn’t see his nationalist project as the pursuit of a white supremacist utopia. But his constant rhetorical appeals to “Judeo-Christian culture,” directed to and amplified via the Breitbart constituencies, makes that hard to believe. He seems to be the kind of true believer–above all in his own apocalyptic revolution–who considers the use of all means, including the inflammation and discharge of racist, sexist, and other baser impulses, to be justified by his envisioned end. He calls out to people whose cultural capital investment in actual “Judeo-Christian culture” is so low that about all it means to them (I surmise) is whiteness.

But that cultural poverty is not their fault alone. And middle- and upper-class liberals would do well in the next four years to engage in full-throttled self-education about “those people,” through direct engagement with them, through education and other forms of social action. (Freire and concienticization and all that.)

We also need to be stone cold sober in face of Brannon’s success in predicting the election outcome. More importantly, his prediction that people of color and women would go for Trump in surprising numbers, must be faced with steely self-analysis. We cannot afford to let the (for us) unimaginability of people Trump has delighted in demeaning nevertheless voting for him leave us prey to confirmation bias regarding analysis of what happened in 2016.

I think this is crucial looking to 2020. If an ambitious infrastructure project goes ahead, and if it produces tangible benefits for poor working people of all races, sexes and genders before its incompatibility with Trump’s other public and personal goals becomes manifest, then 2020 might go his way too.

This does NOT, I think, mean Democrats should be looking to cooperate with Trump on those matters if it means overlooking (i.e. normalizing) his reprehensible overall political strategy.

It means building upon what coalitional identity politics has made possible, not abandoning it, let alone throwing those vulnerable as marked “others” to the baying hounds of postmodern Jim Crow. It means seeing that the interests of different groups don’t only overlap. Overlap is good, and so is diversity. But identity politics in its best sense is predicated on the assertion of common humanity shared among people just as they are: “Although–perhaps even because–we are different from one another, we are like one another.”

History / United States of America: African Americans. “I am a man”. Striking black workers in Memphis 1968. Photo.

Identity politics in action

As Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized, there is deep common interest that can be inspiringly articulated in economic terms, and in cultural terms. We have a common interest in people being free to be and go their various ways. For that to be possible requires looking out for one another, however different we may be; looking out for one another in basic terms of economic justice as well as personal and cultural respect. Government is not the only and not even always the best instrument to secure these ends. But we can’t achieve them without good government, either. We don’t need to make America great again. We just have to keep trying to make it better.

Andrew Irvine lives by the Great Smokey Mountains in Maryville, Tennessee. He teaches philosophy and religion at Maryville College, and worships with a local Presbyterian congregation.

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Focus

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We progressives need a dose of political realism in a bad way. We are not going to get the electoral college to vote for Hillary Clinton. It won’t happen. Give it up. Focusing on that means not focusing on what must happen right now to resist the incoming Trump administration as vigorously and as strategically as possible.  Attempts to make it happen also will alienate people whose votes we will need in 2018, 2020, and beyond.

We are not going to change the electoral college system before 2020. That may be something that could gain traction when we are the party in power, but it is a dead end right now. It requires a constitutional amendment, and I can guarantee that is not happening anytime soon. Too much focus on that would mean taking our eyes off of what can be accomplished to block Trump’s agenda. The focus must be on organizing, creating strategic obstruction, illuminating the corruption and incompetence of the Trump Administration, and providing a positive, pragmatic, and just vision for all Americans. This will help us block the worst of Trump’s agenda in the next couple of years, make gains in the mid-term elections, and defeat Trump and/or Pence in 2020. .

We must show that we have a better way forward than the way back that Trump is taking us. We must relentlessly pressure Democratic politicians to stand strong against Trump’s plans to deport millions of people, register and ban Muslims, contribute to climate chaos, decimate the Voting Rights Act, and strip away regulations and thus endanger civil rights, our safety, economic prosperity for all, and environmental justice. If Democrats do not stand together to resist Trump, they will need to be primaried. A lack of political realism is part of what got us to this point, and if we don’t embrace it strategically and use it to further our values, we may see Trump in office for 8 years, and neither people nor the planet can afford that. We have work to do. Focus.

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Benefit of the Doubt?

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I have heard people who voted for Trump and some people who did not vote for Trump say that we should give him the benefit of the doubt and take a wait and see approach to how he handles the presidency.

I might have given Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt

before he discriminated against African American renters,

before he defrauded students in his fake university,

before he did not pay numerous contractors and made them and their families suffer,

before he spread racist birther lies about our president,

before he lied relentlessly during the campaign,

before he called women fat pigs and Miss Piggy and said you have to treat women like shit,

before he bragged about sexual assault and grabbing women by the genitals,

before he referred to Mexican immigrants as murderers and rapists,

before he said he wants to bring back waterboarding and much much worse,

before he brought the dog whistle phrase “law and order” back into our politics,

before he said he wanted to deport 11 million people including children,

before he said he planned to register Muslims and ban Muslims from entering the United States,

before he said he would consider marriage equality decisions going back to the states,

before he made up stories about thousands of Muslims in New Jersey openly celebrating the Twin Towers falling,

before he mocked a reporter with a physical disability,

before he told a made up story about General Pershing executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood,

before he insulted a Gold Star mother and father,

before he insulted a Vietnam POW,

before he threatened to jail his political opponent,

before he intimidated members of the press,

before he said Vladimir Putin is a stronger leader than our president,

before he said an African American protester at one of his rallies deserved to be roughed up,

before he said you have go after and kill the families of terrorists,

before he said he wanted to punch people in the face,

before he offered to pay the legal fees for people who beat up protesters,

before he hired a white nationalist to be his Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor in the White House,

before he selected a person deemed too racist to be confirmed as a federal judge to be his Attorney General,

before he appointed a person as Director of the CIA. who wants to bring back waterboarding,

before he assigned a climate science denier to be lead the transition process at the Environmental Protection Agency,

before he said would scrap the Paris Climate Agreement.

Yes, I might have given him the benefit of the doubt before he said and did all these things, but now I have no doubt that he simply must be resisted relentlessly as he attempts to implement the horrible things he said he would do. At this point, giving Trump the benefit of the doubt is simply giving him a head start down the road of injustice and harming the most vulnerable of our neighbors and the well being of our planet.

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For Such a Time as This

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A horrible human being who promised to do horrible things has been elected president. He is now surrounding himself with horrible human beings in his administration who are talking about how it is that they will do the horrible things the president elect has promised to do. Our most vulnerable neighbors are living in fear, and the rest of the world sees clearly that we have elected a fascist government. A darkness covers the land. All good and compassionate persons will have to fight for the light of love and justice to survive this expression of sickness of the American soul.

Stand together. Register as a Muslim when they come for our Muslim neighbors. Provide sanctuary for our Latin@ sisters and brothers when they come for them. Walk hand in hand with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers when their rights and safety are threatened. Proudly shout that Black Lives Matter to the ends of the earth. Demand respect and equality for all women.  When they mock persons with disabilities, lift them up. Stand with our indigenous sisters and brothers to defend their sacred lands.When they ravage the earth, block them with our bodies.

Make no mistake, this incoming administration is planning great harm to our most vulnerable neighbors and will do irreparable damage to the inclusive spirit of our nation if we do not stand together and resist them relentlessly. It is for such a time as this that we are called to reach into our inner strength and courage to walk through this deep valley of injustice together and climb back up towards Beloved Community.

Not acting for justice is acting for injustice. Not standing with the oppressed is standing with the oppressor. Silence is consent.

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