Getting to higher ground as the waves of despair approach

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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.

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

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choose to be united and protest without having to be divided and self–righteous

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The other day a Seattle resident struck up a conversation with me at the lounge of our building. She was knitting by the sofa near the T.V. and had switched the channel to Fox News. Then she started talking about giving President-elect “a chance”, and wondered why “liberals” were being uncooperative and mean to him. Instinctively, I judged her political views and tried to avoid discussing the upcoming demonstrations in Seattle. I felt like leaving without being rude. Instead I whispered to myself “Don’t judge”, and told her there is blame to be shared on both sides. Though I tend to be politically progressive, I do not have much respect for Democrats, as a whole, and what they have done to the party. Frankly, both parties suck. It’s just that one party sucks more than the other.

We discussed how politically correct many people are around here, and we talked about the “Seattle Freeze”—it really does exist! We lamented how much easier it was to strike up a conversation in the neighborhoods where we grew up. Our conversation moved to where we are from (most Seattleites are transplants from another state). She is from the Southeast; I am from the Northeast. She lost her life-long partner to Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her husband had a heart condition so he could not receive the full blast of chemotherapy and radiation. Eventually, he achieved remission and improved his health, only to suffer the unforgiving cruelty of relapse (the cancer came back with a vengeance). I moved to the Pacific Northwest and started anew after battling concurrent types of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was deemed “cancer free” four years ago having endured 10 rounds of what my body and brain could handle from an intense and full complement of I.V. chemo and intrathecal injections (chemo administered into the Central Nervous System).

It was a candid and thoughtful conversation. At some point I discussed the situation with my parents: neither of them has it made in the shade. My mom is a three-time cancer survivor with multiple health issues, and she is working full-time. My dad has advanced Alzheimer’s disease and signs of Parkinson’s disease: he can barely utter words (let alone sentences); he cannot walk or hold things, and he needs to be spoon-fed puréed food. He is also incontinent. At some point I mentioned that I would rather go through the hellish regimen of high-dose chemo again than to see my father suffer such a precipitous decline. Suddenly, the weight of emotions got to me. I stood there speechless with my head tilted downward–my heart was overwhelmed with compassion for my parents. She came over and gave me the sweetest, caring hug.

There will be protests, revolts and boycotts. People will express utter disapproval of the President-elect, his Cabinet nominees; and voice disappointment in our city and state representatives: both Democrats and Republicans. And there are valid reasons to do so! It is important to acknowledge how strong we are as individuals and as a movement. But don’t forget the underlying fragility that makes us so vulnerable and lovable, no matter what our ego attempts to project. Every person has suffered some form of loss in their lives. We can choose to be united and protest without having to be divided and self–righteous. If we are open-minded and compassionate, we can find something in common with one another.

Justin Trudeau: The good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Screenshot of PM Justin Trudeau confidently seated upon responding to Conservative Party interim leader Rona Ambrose’s accusation on Liberal’s “reckless spending” during Parliamentary debate on May 3, 2016.


Liberalism in Canadian politics is not the same as liberalism in U.S. politics.  The Liberal Party in Canada, founded in 1867, has historically taken a more centrist approach to governing. The New Democratic Party (NDP), formed in 1961, represents a more left-wing ideology similar to liberal-minded American politicians. The Right-wing of Canadian politics is represented by the Conservative Party (a.k.a. Tories), which has taken various names with common agendas since 1942.

At the conclusion of the federal elections last October, Canadian Conservative leader, Stephen Harper (who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2015) conceded to the victorious Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau. As a result the slightly left of center Liberal Party earned more seats in Parliament. Immediately following the election, U.S. media began a budding love affair with Trudeau as the newly elected Prime Minister of Canada.

Based on the outcome of the 2015 elections, the Liberal Party currently holds a majority of parliamentary seats in the House of Commons (182 out of 338). Liberals secured 21 out of 105 seats in the upper house of Canada’s parliamentary Senate. The Conservative Party now holds 97 seats in the House of Commons, and 41 Senate seats. The New Democratic Party has just 44 seats in the House of Commons and no seats in the Senate. This gives you an idea of where Canada, as a whole, stands in terms of political views and policies: while the centrist Liberals gain more footing in Parliament, the true left of center NDP appears to be losing the fervor and influence of its constituency.

Prior to Trudeau’s win, The Canadian Progressive had warned of his character and moral shortcomings. Trudeau’s truancy with respect to voting and his lack of support on progressive issues were outlined in this article. On the day of the inauguration, Trudeau introduced his Cabinet consisting of 15 men and 15 women–the first gender equal team appointed by a prime minister: “Because it’s 2015.” However, during the summer Olympics he referred to the Canadian women athletes enthusiastically as “girls“. It was not meant to belittle the female Olympians, but it was still a subtle perpetuation of sexism. His seemingly patronizing ‘get to know me’ fundraiser in 2013, intended for women to get to know the Liberty Party leader at “Justin Unplugged” for $250 per person. Many Tories and NDP members criticized the venue as a sexist ploy. Liberals who backed the event claimed it was a unique way of reaching out to female voters; something their opponent’s leaders could not or would not do… and they were probably right. In May, his careless elbow to the chest of Parliament member, Ruth Ellen Brosseau, during a heated exchange in the House of Commons, coupled with ‘ladies night’ invitation in 2013 did not help his image as a self-proclaimed “feminist“. Notwithstanding Trudeau’s gender-even Cabinet, other arguments have been made regarding his perception as a feminist versus what his broader recorder shows in this article.

Justin Trudeau has been outspoken about zero tolerance for violence against women. While the Liberal leader has spoken strongly about guarding women from abuse, he has subtly correlated domestic violence with racism. A month before Trudeau was elected, he made racist inferences in an interview on Up For Debate linking the ills of misogyny, pornography and the lack of father figures to “certain types of music” which Desmond Cole, Toronto journalist, questioned as “a very careless nod to anti-black stereotypes.” Canada, like the United States, is not immune to the discriminatory plagues of white male privilege, sexism and racism.

One can argue the ailments of the aforementioned elitism and prejudices are not as prevalent in Canada as they are in the United States. For example, with regards to gender equality: prior to the U.S. elections in November, there were 20 women serving in the U.S. Senate: out of 100, or 20.0%. And there were 84 female members in the House of Representatives: out of 435, or 19.3%. In comparison, there are 43 women serving in Canada’s Senate: out of 102, or 42.2% (minus three vacancies).  And there are 88 female members in the House of Commons: out of 335, or 26.3% (minus three vacancies). On the other hand, Canada is ranked 30th in the world based on the gender gap report in 2015 issued by the World Economic Forum. United States did not score much better, finishing 28th. Canada still has much fewer women than men represented in Parliamentary standing committees. It is also worth noting, during the 2015 elections, NDP had the highest percentage of women running in their party (43%). Liberals had fewer than one in three women (31%), and the Conservatives had less than one of five (19%). Bottom line: neither the U.S. or Canada are close to achieving gender equality.

Actions speak louder than words… On the concerns regarding land and water conservation, Trudeau had vowed to “protect the environment”. Yet his apparent assurance to environmentalists and Canadian’s First Nations people gave way to a steadfast determination to dig up Alberta tar sands and support major pipeline projects, which will further undermine Canada’s fragile ecosystem. And it validates the concerns raised by The Canadian Progressive in October 2015. Precious Canadian wildlife is in peril, and it is dwindling, in large part, due to a proportionally greater impact from climate change north of the Arctic Circle (66.5°N to 90.0°N). Canada’s previous Prime Ministers and Parliament have done their part in contributing to the acceleration of climate change. After one year in office, Trudeau has shown to be no different in neglecting the environment he had promised to preserve.


References

https://thinkprogress.org/canadas-climate-commitments-in-jeopardy-as-trudeau-approves-two-major-pipeline-projects-4000459ddd2f#.9zb6rugws (November 28, 2016)

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/11/04/canada_s_justin_trudeau_s_gender_equal_cabinet_because_it_s_2015.html (November 5, 2016)

http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/is-justin-trudeau-a-fake-feminist/ (September 8, 2016)

http://www.ctvnews.ca/sports/trudeau-calling-female-olympians-girls-highlights-broader-problem-in-sports-1.3032880 (August 17, 2016)

http://www.canadianbusiness.com/economy/how-the-trudeau-government-tore-up-the-rulebook-on-pipelines/ (July 21, 2016)

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/trudeau-tracker-water-protection-promises-1.3656960 (June 28, 2016)

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/17/justin-trudeau-feminist-twitter-explodes (March 16, 2016)

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/trudeau-conservative-whip-1.3588407 (May 18, 2016)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1A-XyHdRJ4 (May 7, 2016)

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/11/04/canada_s_justin_trudeau_s_gender_equal_cabinet_because_it_s_2015.html (November 4, 2015)

http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/ParlInfo/lists/PartyStandings.aspx?Menu=HOC-Representation&Section=03d93c58-f843-49b3-9653-84275c23f3fb (as of October 24, 2015)

https://newrepublic.com/article/123186/why-canadas-liberal-party-so-dominant (October 22, 2015)

http://www.canadianprogressiveworld.com/2015/10/19/a-canadian-progressives-case-against-justin-trudeau-becoming-canadas-next-prime-minister/ (October 19, 2015)

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-makes-careless-nod-to-anti-black-stereotypes-says-toronto-journalist-1.3238441 (September 22, 2015)

http://www.macleans.ca/authors/emma-teitel/the-problem-with-justin-trudeaus-ladies-night/ (November 8, 2013)

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-s-ladies-night-denounced-by-tories-ndp-1.2418703 (November 7, 2013)

http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/rankings/

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/prime-minister/

http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/women-us-congress-2015