On ‘Nobody Speak’

It’s rather fitting that my husband chose yesterday to suggest we watch the Netflix documentary, ‘Nobody Speak‘.

It’s frightening to me that large swaths of the United States simply don’t think about the news that they consume. Or demonise all news and media outlets as biased and therefore not worthy of their attention. To my mind, this results in an electorate largely ignorant of what is happening in their own country let alone the world, let alone the complexity of various policy issues affecting their own communities and beyond.

Forget Gawker. What about other media outlets? And, what does the Gawker case tell us about the position of the freedom of the press in the era of Trump?

And, it’s unconscionable that our current president has such a flagrant disdain for the media, and is not only hostile towards specific journalists but actively harasses them. We have a sitting president who actively and as recently as this weekend publicly vilifies journalists who dare question him, never mind any sort of criticism. Parallels to Nixon aside, I find it chilling to witness and more than a little frightening having lived in a country where freedom of the press wasn’t exactly acceptable.

Journalists’ jobs require them to ask questions, even if the individual being questioned doesn’t like it. We, who cherish our first amendment, now have billionaires either bankrolling lawsuits to bankrupt media outlets that write stories they don’t like (e.g., the role of Peter Thiel in Gawker’s demise) or purchasing newspapers and pressuring journalists and reports to not write stories that may put the owners in a less favourable light (Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal).

Gawker was annoying at times, and could be completely disgusting, if you ask me. But, in a free society, I had the option to not click on their links. And, most of the time, I didn’t. (I honestly didn’t know there was a Hulk Hogan sex tape—it’s not really something I’d care about at all.) Regardless of my personal opinion as a consumer of news of Gawker , I defend their right to publish stories. I find their intended and orchestrated demise not only tragic but dangerous. Furthermore, I find the pigeon-holing of ‘all who disagree with me as fake news’ trend gut-wrenching, and potentially destructive of that sacred First Amendment I personally feel trumps all others. I have the option to not tune in to sources like Fox News and InfoWars. I’d like that option to remain.

Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the champion of the freedom of the press, clearly understood the importance of a well-informed electorate. As infuriating as it can be to read or consume the news on any one day in this current climate, freedom of the press and its independence from the government as well as its ability to continue asking questions that matter and reporting on stories that we need to know remain paramount. Because, as Jefferson stated,

‘Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.’

NB: For a list of media outlets which focus on news rather than peddling ‘alternative facts’, Forbes put out this list, which I find rather balanced and reliable.

Let’s not talk about politics

A friend of mine just shared this particular comic with me, and it could not have been more appropriate.

politics

©Emily McGovern. Brilliant image capturing how I suspect many are feeling at this particular moment. For more, visit http://emilymcgovern.com/category/comics/.

Feel familiar?

So far today, I’ve read more about the President’s damn tweets, more on potential collusion between Russian hackers and various Trump campaign officials, the assault on access to healthcare that is the GOP/Trump plan to reverse Obamacare, the completely unstaffed Science Division of the White House as of yesterday,  and the rather bizarre request for voter registration information from each state based on misinformation non-existent evidence of ‘widespread’ voter fraud within the US voting system.

I’m exhausted and it’s not even 9.00 on Saturday. And, we’re not even six months into this administration’s first term?

There’s too much. Too much noise and nonsense news and misdirection. As disgusting and demeaning as our current President’s tweets are, the agendas being pushed through as we’re all distracted by his unbecoming behaviour are even more infuriating. For instance, one little tidbit buried in news headlines is a lovely provision in a spending bill currently in the House. This provision would eliminate funding to the IRS to enforce a law prohibiting churches and other non-profits which are tax exempt from endorsing specific candidates for public office. (The law is known as the Johnson Amendment and was signed into law by President Eisenhower.) I don’t mind if churches and other non-profits want to enter the political fray; many already have. I do mind if they want to continue to claim their tax-exempt status.

And, down the political news rabbit hole I go…

My husband and I try to step away from our computers and work and other nonsense each day. On our peripatetic bonding time-out each evening, we typically experience a moment eerily akin to that captured in the image above. Particularly that last panel.

We support evidence-based policies.

We support policies which uphold and respect the human rights and dignity of all rather than a select few.

We support funding for the arts and sciences because they typically assist, benefit and enlighten more than a few, if not today then in future.

And, more than that, we support respectful, open and fact-based discussions on how to move forward on any particular issue.

I don’t for a moment believe that all those with opposing views to my own are idiots. I just wish the discussions about various policies wouldn’t assume that all of us are idiots.

Forget the bloody tweets. Let’s get back to what’s happening with and on specific policies. Precisely because it is so damn infuriating and exhausting.

Our loss of compassion

This. This article hit home.

I’ve lost count of the number of people I know who have put up a GoFundMe or other fundraising effort to help subsidise their or their family member’s life-threatening illnesses. And, like many, I’m bloody tired of having endless discussions about the politics of fear and greed.

I’m beyond enraged that individuals who have dedicated their time to work for employers who tell them they need to go on disability (at which point they lose their benefits and income) because of a chronic condition. I’m beyond incredulous how an employer can simply fire individuals because they are sick—too sick—to work, thus eliminating their benefits entirely (in one case, whilst the woman, who worked for corporate giant Radio Shack for 30 years, was on life support fighting for her own life).

I am beyond enraged when ‘leaders’ like Speaker Paul Ryan say that these same people simply don’t want to buy insurance. Never mind these people whom I know and care about deeply made every effort to ensure they have the coverage they need. What does Speaker Ryan think my beloved mother-in-law, well into her 80s, should do? What about an individual with dementia? What about a child born with a congenital birth defect?

There’s an element of American society that I don’t remember after living abroad for nearly 20 years. Not everyone mind, but a healthy enough proportion of us have become unimaginably cruel. Unless and until it happens to them, certain individuals seem to delight in the pain and suffering and hardships faced by others. It’d be bad enough if we simply turned a blind eye to that suffering. But, even within political discussions these days, the level of delight in watching others fail or flounder astounds me. It’s sad—so incredibly sad. For all of us.

I don’t have my own children, but I want all children to have equitable access to quality education without putting themselves or their families in debt. Why? Because I want those children to grow up equipped to become productive and engaged members of society.

I am healthy and have (touch wood) never really experienced any dire or life-threatening issues. But, I also want universal healthcare for all of my fellow Americans because I understand that ill-health and unfortunate accidents can happen to anyone. Accessing treatment shouldn’t be a privilege for those fortunate enough to have money or a privileged position within society. Like it or not, we all get sick or can. And, no-one should be forced to choose between food or shelter or health care for their loved one. Everyone’s life is priceless to someone else.

People matter. Individuals matter. Any one individual may not matter to me personally, but that isn’t what’s important. Understanding that we all have some worth or merit or characteristic which makes us priceless to others is what drives my own compassion and empathy. And, understanding that my own happiness does not come from ignoring my compassion for others guides my support for particular policies and practices. I want others to be happy just as I want to be happy myself.

To me, sitting over here in my socialist, high-tax, high-quality life in Finland where kids are exceptionally educated and health care is available to all for pennies, the US looks a lot less compassionate than I remember.  As angry as I am, I am far, far sadder. And I suspect, I am far from alone in this sadness.

Compassion_FuneralCall

The Keys to Cuba

I must warn you. This will be a rambling rant of sorts. As with all things Cuba, it’s complicated. And, working through various issues requires a long roundabout detour replete with potholes the size of Texas and an old ’57 Chevy with a Mercedes-Benz engine. [If you’ve never ridden in an Almendrón, none of that will make sense. So bare with me.]

The day I’ve been dreading and awaiting equally has arrived: later today, President Trump will finally announce his policy plans for Cuba. I can’t say that I look forward to this announcement. Waiting, yes. But, certainly not with any sense of hope or excitement.

I don’t know what the ‘best’ policy is towards Cuba. But, I do know that closing off diplomatic relations and taking a hard-line approach hasn’t work and won’t do anything to change the way things are in Cuba today or tomorrow.

I have seen change, however.

My first trip to Cuba in 2008 was eye-opening for a multitude of reasons, primarily because I was finally able to begin assembling my husband’s life into some sort of concrete reality, one only possible after seeing those faraway places and meeting those faces populating his narrative. His life before we met became tangible rather than imagined, if you will. And, I learned so, so much about Cuba and my own country’s role in her history. It is a troubled history, filled with injustice and absurdity and hypocrisy.

I am not a Fidel apologist. Far from it. But, to understand Cuba is to understand the place of Fidel and his merry band of revolutionaries and what they offered all Cubans. Fidel—another complicated personality with a contradictory and odd record—granted many rights to all Cubans which Americans still hope to one day gain. Equitable education to all, resulting in one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America the world. Universal healthcare with an incredible track record for standard of care, resulting in incredibly low infant and maternal mortality rates given the country’s GDP and high life expectancies for both men and women. All of these statistics surpass those in the US by quite some measure. In addition, running water, electricity in every home, a home were granted as rights for all Cubans. These things may seem like idealistic socialist notions, largely because they are. But, prior to the Cuban Revolution that ousted US-backed Batista and installed Fidel, his brother Raúl (now El Presidente until 2018), Che and Camilo and their band of revolutionary heroes at the helm, all of these basic human needs were available only to the rich and powerful.

None of this means that life is perfect in Cuba. Far from it. The obvious human rights issues continue to trouble anyone who gives a toss about humans in general let alone Cubans in particular. But, this is where what we know abroad and what the current situation in Cuba become less clear.

Demonstrations, however insignificant and small, are increasingly visible. Several years ago during one of our visits, a friend went to an event put on by several actors in the underground art scene. A portion of that agenda was openly mocking of Fidel and the Cuban government. Local police raided the event, arresting and carting off those in attendance to the political prison, a place feared by all and in which unspeakable things do occur. Yet, those law enforcement officers most concerned with any voices of opposition at all were completely uninterested in why all these individuals had been hauled in. In fact, their reaction was, ‘Why are you all here? You shouldn’t be!’ Thus, everyone was let go. Anti-Fidel or Anti-Raúl graffiti now pepper walls with ever-increasing frequency in Havana. It’s shocking to see, even for an outsider, particularly alongside the prolific pro-revolution and socialist propaganda throughout Cuba. But, it’s also a sign that Cuba is relaxing its attitude towards dissent however incremental that change may be.

Obviously, Cuba has a long way to go before she will see anything like the sort of resistance-to-Trump marches taking place in the US these days. But, we’ve had several hundred years to get our shit together. Cubans are relatively new to this. And, tentative first steps are still initial steps, however impatient others may be to see ‘real’ change, whatever that means, in Cuba. It isn’t up to us from other lands to set the pace.

More than anything, here’s my take on Cuba: We—the US—need to back off. Lift sanctions. Lift the embargo and allow travel between our countries. Freely and openly. Why? Because it allows our two people to interact and exchange ideas, and learn from one another. We understand and become more compassionate once we talk, and we realise that fundamentally we are just people. What our governments do is one thing; but what we want for ourselves and those we love is fundamentally the same. A roof over a heads and a place to call home. Enough in our cupboard and bank account to sustain us and possibly afford a treat when appropriate. And, essentially, we want the ability to life our lives to the best of our abilities given various other variables.

The embargo hurts Cubans, average Cubans, far more than it hurts the government. Fidel is dead. I won’t say thankfully, but I can’t really shed a tear either. He wasn’t my leader. But, if we’re looking for a win against him, that battle was lost last November. He outlived the embargo and nine US presidential administrations. Raúl is stepping down next year. So, if the embargo remains in place until then, ultimately it will have done nothing to oust the individuals it was intended to usurp. Who wins? No one, other than two leaders we in the US wanted to replace. Who loses? Cubans. Mostly Cubans. The people I love desperately and who would give me their last cup of coffee if such a thing were conceivable. The people who have made me weep with their kindness and sense of equity which should shame anyone from elsewhere obsessed with the latest and shiniest and best model gadget de jour. The people who, despite language and cultural barriers, have welcomed me as a fellow member of their tribe simply because I married a Cuban and came to visit. The people who I love and only want to let live so that they may simply, finally live.

I felt immense hope in Cuba in 2014 when President Obama announced an opening up of diplomatic relations with Cuba. That hope exploded in 2015 with the announcement that President Obama would visit Cuba. Both of those announcements coincided with our visits to my second home, and I was immensely proud of my country and my adopted second home. President Obama’s visit proved to be an incredible moment for all Cubans, many of whom still spoke of it when we were there last Christmas.

November 2016, however, brought grief and uncertainty, first with the election of President Trump in the US and then with the death of Fidel.

Channeling my inner Moulder, I want to believe that things will be alright for Cuba, that enigmatic country I’ve come to love so, so much. But, today, we shall see. I hope for Cubans that reason and rationality prevail. The keys to Cuba’s future should be left to her people. We, as Americans, should allow those keys to turn and perhaps supply a little WD-40 to help loosen long-idle and unused openings. If I’ve learned anything from my 12 years with one particular Cuban, that which binds us is far greater than whatever differences we may possess.

¡Viva Cuba libre!

The Keys to Cuba_Dec 2016

I have no idea what the title of this piece is, but it was incredible. Hundreds of keys arranged in the shape of Cuba. Investigating it are Pedro the Philosopher and Martica the Marvellous. On display at Fábrica de Arte Cubano, December 2016.

Loving

Flashback to June 2005.

Little did I know that a meet-up with a rather crazy lovely Cuban from an online forum of Moscow expats would become so meaningful and life-changing. Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew prompted a private message, and an invitation to chat about and swap music. (This was the third bit of music he and I virtually bonded over, the other two discussions consisted of gushing over Alison Kraus and Union Station and all things bluegrass, and, naturally, waxing silly and paying tribute to the Grateful Dead.) We didn’t keep track of the specific date when we met for the first time (at which point neither one of us was thinking anything other than ‘new friend with whom to geek out over music’). Nor did we really make note of our first ‘date’, which wasn’t intended as a date, but ended up sparking ‘something’.

But, thanks to Google, we can trace it back. How fitting that our first date / non-date fell on 12 June, a rather significant date for far more important reasons.

The decision in the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia, the case that invalidated laws criminalising mixed-race marriages, fell on 12 June 1967. Prior to that case, mixed race couples in the US were rare. More significantly and perhaps why they were so rare, prior to Loving, mixed-race couples who defied laws (and cultural norms) and wed faced jail time and prison sentences along with being ostracised from their community and outrage from their families and friends.  The laws changed, but attitudes persisted. Mixed-race couples continued to face rather unwelcome words and glances, if not outright discrimination and recrimination, some of which persist today. Today’s reality is certainly better than the era of the 1950s and 1960s, but that uneasiness continues today, at a time when 17% of newly married couples in the US involve individuals from various ethnic backgrounds.

The New York Times paid tribute to the Lovings along with other mixed-race couples on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision. It serves as a stark reminder that even today it isn’t easy for couples claiming various backgrounds who fall in love with someone ‘different’ from them. Different from their community. Different in terms of how they look and what they ‘know’.

The Cuban and I are lucky, I suppose. We don’t look that different from one another despite coming from completely opposing worlds. Middle America / Texas hill country versus Havana, Cuba. At times, we both marvel that we have anything in common at all let alone that we even met. But, given how similar we look given our fair complexions and lighter coloured eyes, we are still not free from those long-held notions of who should marry whom. It’s exceedingly rare amongst our circles, thankfully. But, given our respective backgrounds, we have felt the assumptions others make about us. We have experienced stereotypes and some rather odd statements regarding our relationship and marriage, and its validity in the eyes of some. I can’t help but wonder what we’d experience if we weren’t living in Europe.

We may be living out our relationship 50 years from that landmark case. In some respects, we in the US are nowhere on truly becoming tolerant and, well, loving. For everyone. Even if we have come far from jailing mixed-race couples, there is still further to go.

Love is love. And it is a beautiful thing in whatever form it takes. Maybe we should spend a little more time loving and little less time deciding who may love whom.

just-us_malecon.jpg

Just the two of us being us on holiday. The Malecón, La Habana, Cuba. January 2017

Let’s figure this shit out…

The image below came up when I typed ‘I will not be terrorised’ into Google this morning. And, it couldn’t be more perfect.

I don’t have a solution to any of the world’s problems or crises or ills or pains. Most days, just sorting out my own to-do lists is an exercise in futility. But, I believe in humanity as much as I believe in anything. I believe in the goodness each individual possesses. Whether they choose to do good or bad with it is another issue. I believe fundamentally, we as individuals have more in common. Before we choose to highlight our difference. I believe collectively we are far, far better than we are alone.

Can we please stop killing one another? Can we please stop demonising one another? Can we please stop terrorising one another?

Portland. Kabul. Baghdad. London.

Different places; one species; same pain. Can we please figure this shit out and stop?

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Warsan Shire

What have we become?

I’ve long been a political junkie and intrigued by current events. Even as a child, I loved watching the news and programmes like MacNeil/Lehrer Report, News Hour and 60 Minutes (when Walter Cronkite, Andy Rooney, Diane Sawyer and Morley Safer graced the screen) were the highlights of my weeks and treats after finishing my homework and chores. NPR remains both a trusted friend and guilty pleasure, depending upon my to-do lists and the time of day I’m tuning in.

Most likely, even before I understood the divisions between political parties, I leaned left. As a lone liberal in a family of conservatives, I learned early to expect heated discussions when it came to things like public education and social services; health care; interventionist wars and the US’s place and role within the United Nations; women’s rights; LGBTQ rights; guns and gun regulations; and, everyone’s favourite, taxes. Little did I know our discussions of immigration would become so personal later in life. But, that’s a separate issue entirely.

I’ve always been and probably always will be left of centre—to some, far, far left of centre. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the necessity of healthy opposition. Nor does it mean that I have no respect for certain historical members of the Grand Old Party—I greatly admire figures like Presidents Lincoln and Eisenhower, and more recently Senator Olivia Snowe and at one point Senator John McCain. But, finding any member of the GOP today with whom I can agree is increasingly difficult if not altogether impossible. Not just because of their policies. Because of their complicity. Because of their insistence on putting party over principle or integrity or country. Because of a basic lack of decency. Because of their silence in the face of absurdity.

What happened to the GOP? At what point did punching a journalist who asked a policy-related question that affects voters become ‘okay’? And, why did no other member of the GOP immediately and quite clearly condemn this act of violence?

Even as a leftist snowflake, I assure you, had a Democrat or Green or beloved leftist liberal slammed a reporter to the ground, punched him/her and then lied about it, I’d certainly never support said candidate. I’d demand those in leadership positions within that party immediately and unequivocally condemn such acts and force said individual to resign. A person who resorts to violence in the face of opposition has no business serving as an elected official nor does s/he belong in public service.

We need healthy discussions. We need healthy debate. Asking a candidate his/her position on a bill—any bill—that affects those they’re ‘representing’ is not beyond reasonable nor does it come close to being antagonistic or harassing. Yet, increasingly, conservative officials, elected and appointed, are doing exactly what the leader of the GOP has encouraged its members to do: attack or arrest journalists who ask questions they simply don’t like.

Greg Gianforte

By Adam Zyglis: Greg Gianforte. From The Buffalo News, published 26 May 2017.

This is not the Grand Old Party I admire and respect, nor is it the Grand Old Party we as a country need.

President Eisenhower, the last Republican President I truly admire (despite disagreeing with him on various issues), had this to say about leadership:

You do not lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.

Indeed.

When the leaders of one party let alone the leader of our country dismiss such acts of violence, people listen and individuals act.

Whilst not necessarily directly related, events in Oregon last night are far more troubling. Two men lost their lives simply for standing up and defending fellow passengers enduring racists slurs from a man empowered to voice his hate-filled vile.

What happened to us? At what point did we decide that we can end disagreements with and through violence and that this was now an acceptable option? And, at what point will we wake up and demand better for ourselves and those who ‘represent’ us?