Tough opposition talk within the GOP has no effect on the decline of democracy

mccain_trump_composite

Juxtaposition of Sen. John McCain (left) referring to the need for “free press” on ‘Meet the Press’ with Chuck Todd on Feb 19th; and President Trump (right) during CPAC speech on Feb 24th reiterating his claim that news media is the “enemy of the American people”.

 


Last Sunday, February 19th, on Meet the Press, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) defended the need for a “free and [often times] an adversarial press” in order to “preserve democracy”. And he raised concerns about President Trump’s bellicose dialogue with press coverage at the White House. Some liberals were impressed with the Republican Senator’s warning against the “consolidation of power” as a sign of dictatorship in reference to the president’s excoriation of the press, including a tweet in which he claimed “fake news media… is the enemy of the American people”. A few Democrats went further to say they “respect” McCain’s seemingly strong stance against President Trump. Many would agree politicians who are consistently fair, broadly just, and who follow through on tough talk deserve respect. McCain may be more respectable relative to fellow GOP Congressmen including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). However, ask American Indians and Native activists in his home state how much respect they have for the Arizona Senator: McCain may have voiced support for Native people, yet his contradictory actions have led to decisions and policies that undermine the protection of their sacred land.

 

Last August, McCain officially endorsed Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee. Reluctantly, McCain had expressed support for Trump as early as May 2016. This despite having been criticized numerous times, including Trump’s claim in July 2015 that “[McCain’s] not a war hero. Well, he’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”  McCain finally withdrew his endorsement of Trump only after a crude and vulgar 2005 tape from “Access Hollywood” was leaked to the media in October–in which Trump admits to groping women by their private parts and trying to have sex with a married woman. Progressives hope McCain would assert his supposed “maverick” influence and seniority in the Senate to rally Republican outcry against Trump’s despotic tendencies and his unpresidential behavior. It is a futile sentiment given the historical dichotomy of McCain’s rhetoric and his actions. The U.S. Senator was a “maverick” of sorts–not in a good way!–as a minority in Congress when he voted against establishing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a national holiday in 1983. Even though his position eventually changed, McCain has a track record of blocking civil rights legislation.

 

In 2008 when John McCain was the Republican presidential nominee, one of his supporters at a townhall meeting in Minnesota said Barack Obama, then Democratic presidential nominee, is untrustworthy because “he’s an Arab“. McCain corrected the woman: “No ma’am. [Obama is] a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” Problem is McCain did nothing to assuage rising Islamophobia, especially within his party: he missed an opportunity of telling his misinformed supporters that equating the entire Arab population and Muslim men to jihadist extremists is no different from saying all white male Christians are domestic terrorists (the latter would be statistically closer to the truth).

 

On Friday, February 24th, the White House made an unprecedented decision of denying several news outlets–called out by Trump as “enem[ies] of the American people”–access to an off-camera press briefing with White House press secretary, Sean Spicer.  Included on the banned list were CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the Guardian, and the BBC along with a few others. Conservative media groups were welcomed such as Breitbart News, the Washington Times, and One America News Network, as were TV networks Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC. The Associated Press and Time magazine were allowed but boycotted. Is this the beginning of the president’s censorship of the press? Moreover, is this the inchoate workings of a dictatorial regime in the White House?

 

Advertisements

Tornadoes in the U.S., in Europe and elsewhere

tornadoes-hot-spots-around-the-world

Like the United States, Europe experiences its share of severe weather ranging from intense winter storms to violent thunderstorms accompanied by hail stones and even tornadoes. No continent remotely rivals North America when it comes to tornadoes. A vast majority of those tornadoes spawn within the 48 contiguous states of the U.S., mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC), headquartered in Norman, Oklahoma, keeps a history of tornadoes reported in the U.S. since 1950. The SPC is also situated in an area that has a relatively high frequency of strong to violent twisters. This band of intense tornadic activity, covering South Central states and most of the Midwest is referred to by the media as Tornado Alley.

tornado_alley_intense_tornadoes

Based on data pulled from the European Severe Weather Database (ESWD), 5,478 tornadoes have been reported from 1950 to 2015 in 42 countries. [Although waterspouts–generally weaker vortices over water–are included in the ESWD definition of a tornado, only those confirmed and verified, on land, were selected from the database for this article.] That comes to an average of 83 tornadoes per year in Europe. In December 2016, a research paper titled Tornadoes in Europe: An underestimated threat became available online with the purpose of raising public awareness as to the underestimated and under-reported threat of these funnel-shaped maelstroms of dangerous winds. Tornadoes were under-reported in the U.S. as well during earlier decades when reports of severe weather were handled by individual offices at the U.S. Weather Bureau, and overseen by the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA). For example, from 1953 to 2004, the average number of yearly tornadoes was 908. The annual average of U.S. tornadoes, based on the most recent 10-year period from 2005 to 2014, is 1,201. If you look at a 20-year span of tornadoes reported from 1995 to 2014, the average is higher at 1,239. A 30-year period, from 1985 to 2014, accounts for an average of 1,141 tornadoes.

In a PowerPoint presentation shared with North Jersey Weather Observers in May 2011 and published on SlideShare titled Overview of U.S. Tornadoes, I provided some explanations accounting for the increase in the number of tornadoes reported since 1990. [It is outlined on slide 22.]

  • Population increase: More tornadoes are observed and reported.
  • Better technology: More tornadoes are detected by meteorologists.
  • Greater knowledge: Fewer tornadoes are mistaken for straight line wind damage; downbursts; and gustnadoes, short-lived whirling gust fronts.
  • Confirmation: Fewer tornadoes are double counted by separate eye witnesses, reporting the same twister.

There was also an increased effort to improve severe weather forecasting and to effectively communicate likely and imminent hazardous weather alerts to the public.  So in 1966, ESSA formed a specialized branch of the U.S. Weather Bureau to do just that. And it was given the name: National Severe Storms Forecast Center (NSSFC). Part of the scope of the NSSFC was to centralize and verify severe weather data from radar, and eye witness accounts (observed and videotaped) from storm chasers, the media and individuals. In 1970, the U.S. Weather Bureau changed its name to the National Weather Service (NWS), and the ESSA was rebranded as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Later that decade the roll out of Real-time operational forecasts and warnings, using Doppler radar, had become a game changer for the NSSFC. By the end of the 1980’s, the network of advanced Doppler radars, referred to as  NEXRAD (short for ‘Next Generation Weather Radar’), had significantly improved lead times in predicting severe weather events, including ice storms, tornadoes, and flash floods.  In 1995, the NSSFC was renamed the Storm Prediction Center. [For more history on SPC, go here.]

People living in the U.S. understand the destructive powers of tornadoes, especially in the Great Plains region and in Southeast states where many families have storm shelters and emergency kits for such events. Civil defense sirens, as part of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), are sounded in the vicinity of imminent danger when tornado warnings are issued, simultaneously with radio and TV broadcasts, and smartphone alerts. And schools have practice drills designed for tornado preparedness. It is also a significant advantage when a common language–English–is spoken in every state. According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2011 almost 80% of U.S. residents, age 5 and older, spoke English “very well” or “well”. It is easier to communicate watches and warnings, and to inform the general public on the hazards and safety measures of tornadoes when one language is predominantly spoken. It also helps to reduce the risk of serious injuries and fatalities from tornadoes and other severe weather events with effective and timely alerts.

The researchers who published Tornadoes in Europe: An underestimated threat understand the need to educate the public on tornado preparedness; and the importance of advancing forecasting products and services. The analysis of the tornado data led them to outline the following conclusions:

  1. Increase awareness of the threat of tornadoes to Europe
  2. Encourage further discussion within and between different European countries to (a) improve monitoring and recording of tornado occurrence, (b) better understand the local environments associated with tornadoes, and (c) eventually lead to the development of forecasting and warning systems
  3. Stimulate the interest of the scientific community
  4. Influence decision-makers to develop tornado preparedness and response programs

In Europe, the logistics of consistent and proficient communication is considerably more challenging since multiple languages and dialects are spoken across 40 plus countries. Notwithstanding some hurdles, the annual number of confirmed and verified tornadoes has been steadily rising. This most likely reflects an increase in the general public’s awareness and due diligence in reporting tornadic activity. For example, despite a well under-reported yearly mean of 50 European tornadoes from 1953 to 2004, the annual average of tornadoes from 2005 to 2014 was 258.

In 2006, Europe confirmed and verified a maximum of 414 tornadoes. The U.S. tallied its most prodigious year of tornadoes in 2004 with 1,817. That is over four times the annual record of tornadoes reported in all of Europe. To put it in perspective: the greatest number of U.S. tornadoes in a single month occurred in April 2011 when 758 twisters left a devastating path of destruction throughout most of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. This single month record in the U.S. is greater than a recent 3-year total of 747 tornadoes that touched down in Europe from 2013 to 2015.

april-2011-tornado-reports-map

Although the United States has greater than four times as many tornadoes, Europe has more than twice the number of people living in the continent (742 million) compared with the U.S. population (323 million). There are other factors aside from population density and the likelihood of a tornado touching down: the preparedness of those in harm’s way, the lead time to respond accordingly, the time of day when it hits, the strength (damage potential) of the twister, and the duration and trajectory of the path in relation to people and property.

Tornadoes spawn outside of Europe and the United States. Canada reports as many as 100 tornadoes a year. Australia has up to 25 twisters reported annually. Tornadoes touch down in other countries, but not as frequent. Provided is a table with tornado stats by continent with annual average, percentage, square miles, average frequency per 100,000 square mile, and notes on the concentration of activity. The ‘Tornadoes per Year’ takes into account under-reporting, esp. in Europe where Earth scientists and meteorologists have estimated it to be closer to an average of 300.

annual-tornado-stats-from-around-the-world

 

Here is a pie chart representing the percentage of tornadoes around the world.

percentage-of-tornadoes-around-the-world

 

And here is a bar chart illustrating the annual average of tornadoes.

annual-average-of-tornadoes-around-the-world

No matter how the data is visually presented, it is clear to see the significant disparity of tornadoes in the United States versus Europe and elsewhere. However, there are regions in every continent, except for Antarctica, that are susceptible to tornadoes. Atmospheric scientists cannot prevent tornadoes from forming. However, meteorologists have a crucial role in predicting these powerful twisters, and in working with local agencies and the media to notify the public when there is a likelihood and presence of severe weather. The United States has mastered the art and science of forecasting tornadoes with a high degree of accuracy, educating the public of its dangers, and issuing warnings in a fast and effective way. It is a blueprint of success for European weather scientists as they endeavor to 1) improve forecasting and to 2) raise public awareness. Eventually, tornadoes will no longer be considered “an underestimated threat” in Europe.

 

Getting to higher ground as the waves of despair approach

politicaltsunami_actualtsunami

Composite images, vertically juxtaposed, based on Google search for “tsunami and politics”.

 


It is impressive to witness the organization and efforts put in by many groups, protesters and activists. Although I’m opinionated person, sometimes to a fault, activism is not necessarily for me. My passion for fairness is strong, but I’m not someone who gets pumped up for protesting on the street. I partake in other forms of protest, like boycotting Driscoll’s Berries and Walmart. I try to do the little things that add up… so says my rationale. It’s been overwhelming to hear and read about highly questionable actions and untruths from the POTUS and from his Administration. Feels like a tsunami of bad news engulfing the shoreline on a daily basis. At times, it is hard to tell if the media–having often normalized Donald Trump’s absurd and hostile demeanor–is overreacting. Or is it really that dire?
For my part in opposing the President’s Cabinet nominations, I’m making phone calls to Republican Senators, urging them to reconsider voting “No” for the Secretary of Education nominee. Cold-calling is definitely not my thing! That’s why I was in project management and operations instead of Sales and Business Development. Sometimes we have to go out of our comfort zone for something that is bigger than ourselves. I urge you to do the same. This is the contact information for our U.S. Congress members.
http://www.whoismyrepresentative.com
This is the verbiage I crafted–what best resonates with me. It gets fumbled no matter how many calls I make.

I’m sure you ‘feel’ Betsy DeVos could do a good job, but I urge you to thoughtfully consider and closely examine her qualifications with respect to her inexperience and unfamiliarity with all aspects of the education system. And do you truly think she will be the much-needed advocate for strengthening our public schools? I sincerely hope your conscience and courage guide you to making the right decision in voting ‘No’ for DeVos.

Perhaps it could be stronger, but my plea comes from a place of genuineness, not outrage. When it comes to any form of activism or engagement you believe in, it’s about finding what works best for you while endeavoring to do the right thing for others.

When Does ‘Hate Speech’ Encroach on ‘Free Speech’?

boundaries-of-free-speech

 

Protests Wednesday night at UC Berkeley prompted university officials to cancel the scheduled speech by Milo Yiannopoulos. This self-proclaimed “supervillain of the Internet” and reckless provocateur at Breitbart News does not discuss or exchange differing viewpoints with the audience; he simply spews incendiary and extremely offensive vitriol (a.k.a. ‘hate speech’) to stir up his base of bigoted, like-minded haters.  Two weeks ago on Friday, January 20th, the University of Washington in Seattle capped off its “MLK Week 2017“–in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.–by holding a discussion with Kathleen Cleaver, Civil Rights activist and African American law professor, at the Kelly Ethnic Culture Center. In 1967, Cleaver was the first woman to join the Central Committee of the Black Panther Party. Juxtaposed to this “signature event”, which was cosponsored by Seattle Office for Civil Rights ‘Race and Social Justice Initiative’, was a speech by Yiannopoulos held at the same start time just 1,600 feet (500 meters) away at Kane Hall. UW College Republicans received official approval to invite this overt misogynist, racist, and homophobe (ironic given he is an openly gay man). Just the day before, he was scheduled to speak at Washington State University in Pullman. WSU cancelled the speech, not due to the outrage and protest of his hateful rhetoric; it was because of inclement weather.

 

If this hatemonger is so verbally abusive, why do universities and colleges allow him to speak at their halls and auditoriums? What are the responsibilities of an institution in letting a controversial figure speak publicly, whose beliefs are based prominently if not solely on hatred and antagonism? What are the vetting criteria and discretion of guest speakers in regards to the guiding principles and restrictions pertaining to ‘free speech’ under the First Amendment? With regards to public safety, what is the justification of allowing harmful and inflammatory speech, especially in light of a current climate of divisiveness and hostility?

 

There is no definitive answer, at least not one that has been unambiguously defined under the First Amendment, or unanimously agreed upon by the Supreme Court of the United States. You would have to look at individual court decisions to determine which cases ruled in favor of or against the use of ‘hateful speech’. Here is an excerpt of the U.S. Constitution First Amendment ‘Permissible Restrictions on Expression‘:

 

Fighting words—defined as insults of the kind likely to provoke a physical fight—may also be punished, though general commentary on political, religious, or social matters may not be punished, even if some people are so upset by it that they want to attack the speaker. Personalized threats of illegal conduct, such as death threats, may also be punished.

No exception exists for so-called hate speech. Racist threats are unprotected by the First Amendment alongside other threats, and personally addressed racist insults might be punishable alongside other fighting words. But such speech may not be specially punished because it is racist, sexist, antigay, or hostile to some religion.

 

I have not studied law—let alone Constitutional law. As a layperson, my understanding and interpretation of the First Amendment is that ‘hate speech’ is not explicitly or implicitly defined. The phrase “might be punishable” under the ‘Permissible Restrictions on Expression’ gives latitude to “so-called hate speech”. Consequently, persons and groups can speak publicly about their superiority or denigrate another group’s race, sexual or gender orientation, political affiliation, or religion so long as it does not incite violence or threaten the livelihood of people.

 

Erik Tucker, who covers the Justice Department for The Associated Press, wrote this piece on the not-so clear delineation between ‘free speech’ and ‘hate speech’ as it pertains to how federal law defines ‘hate crimes’: “How federal law draws a line between free speech and hate crimes“. Searching the web, you are more likely to find an article like the one by Eugene Volokh which explains why “hate speech” is permissible under the First Amendment: “No, there’s no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment“. If hate speech was clearly defined and deemed unlawful then the former Republican nominee and current U.S. President would be guilty of engaging in hateful speech and incendiary tweets many times over.

 

 

A week following the right-wing provocateur’s speech at UW, host of Seattle’s KUOW ‘Week in Review’, Bill Radke, brought up the controversy on the Friday, January 27th show with guest panel: Hanna Brooks Olsen, Seattle writer/feminist; Randy Pepple, Republican strategist; and Seattle Council Member Lorena Gonzalez. The debate about ‘free speech’ versus ‘hate speech’ begins at 18:30 into the show, but it’s worth listening to the full 53-minute podcast “This week we’re rehashing the first days of Trump’s presidency“.

 

Upon playing a clip of the hateful speech at Kane Hall, Radke started by asking Olsen if the University of Washington “should have allowed this man to speak.” The crux of Olsen’s argument for why UW should have cancelled the event is because “it’s a false equivalency to say ‘we allow free speech on both sides’ when one [side] is demonstratively hate speech.” Olsen added “there’s a difference between things I disagree with, and things that are actively hurtful. And things that create an unsafe space on campus.” When Radke argued that “Milo Yiannopoulos would say it’s not actively hurtful to say obnoxious tired jokes,” Olsen responded: “Telling women to kill themselves is actively hurtful.” [Notwithstanding the assertion of telling women to kill themselves, there are many other extremely misogynistic, racist and abhorrent things he’s written (on the conservative fake news site of Breitbart), and tweeted–so offensive, in fact, that Twitter permanently banned him. Here is a sample of what went on at Kane Hall.]

 

It was the Council Member’s turn to give her perspective. CM Gonzalez, who is trained in Constitutional law and as a Civil Rights lawyer, urged to “look at the First Amendment with the understanding and context that there are restrictions. It’s not an unfettered right to free speech.” She also raised the concern “about whether the University of Washington went through the rigor it should have in its First Amendment evaluation of this particular event.” With regards to public safety CM Gonzalez offered “Your tactical response in that environment has to be commensurate with that level of heat and passion that is coming from both sides.”

 

When Radke asked if his “speech was too threatening to be allowed”, CM Gonzalez did not go as far as Olsen in saying UW should have prohibited him from speaking, but she went on to explain “If… you know what the contours and the depth and the significance and the weight of that speech is going to be then you, as a public institution, have a responsibility to make sure that everybody is safe. Not just the people who are delivering the speech, but also the people who are there to protest the speech.” Gonzalez thought “the mark [with regards to the university’s public safety preparedness] was not met.” [Note: There was a large presence of protesters at Red Square, outside Kane Hall. One of the protesters got into a heated altercation with a Trump supporter, who reportedly was trying to get in to see the sold-out speech. During the scuffle, the Trump supporter shot the protester.]

 

Radke asked the Republican strategist his thoughts on the topic. Repple thinks Yiannopoulos is “obnoxious and stupid”, but he does not feel his contemptible and vile rhetoric should be restrained. He basically said ‘it’s only hurtful if you allow it to hurt you’.  Repple’s solution to protesting ‘free speech’ that you don’t agree with is to “vote with your feet. Don’t go [to the event].” In other words, he thinks we should dismiss callous and hateful speeches as nothing more than inane and distasteful talk, whether or not it is directed at us. And if we let it affect us–if we let it get under our skin–then it is our fault for being fragile and insensitive. In Repple’s mind, the verbal offender has no accountability for the vicious things he says. Moreover, he thinks we should demonstrate our First Amendment right to protest by ignoring the offensive antagonist and staying home. It is an absurd and dismissive argument for allowing ‘hate speech’.

 

Putting Milo’s harmful and irresponsible venom into perspective: Yiannopoulos is so extremely racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, transphobic and homophobic that the Twittersphere gods could no longer tolerate his hateful and reckless tweets so they permanently revoked his Twitter license. Yet notorious Islamic hater, Pamela Geller, is allowed to espouse her unbridled anti-Islamic propaganda in the Twittersphere via her verified Twitter account.

 

So what is ‘hate speech’? It doesn’t just offend a person or group; it is deep-seeded antagonistic hostility consistently expressed and aimed at a persons’ race, gender, lifestyle, religion, and/or ideology. It is not just the targeted venom and weight of a verbal assault; it is a repetitiveness of a maliciously sharp-tongued attack –no matter whether explicit harm is intended or not. Words–like actions–have consequences. Cyberbullying is just as harmful as bullying. And psychological violence is as destructive as physical violence.

 

To say ‘hate speech’ is free speech’ is no different from claiming ‘cancer cells‘ are ‘normal cells’. Why? Because early signs of cancer, when left unchecked, become tumors–often malignant. And untreated cancer–especially aggressive forms–eventually kills the patient. Unfettered hate speech will proliferate and spread like cancer. However, illnesses and diseases do not always manifest into cancer; and combative dialogue does not always escalate into hate speech. The empowerment and self-regulation of social media, cloaked in anonymity, beckons a closer look at the diagnosis and accountability of hate speech. Part of the solution in curtailing hurtful speech is to be more civil, open-minded, and accepting of our differences. Is that so difficult?