Monthly Archives: September 2015


Sustainability is a word that people who are worried about our planet, and people who feel that we must tackle issues like poverty, education, and disease on a global level use because they believe that we are all connected. We are all connected in ways we never were – by speedy travel, by the media, by the internet, by business and military concerns. We didn’t make this connectedness happen by deliberately deciding to go global; our interests became global because of all the ways we began to interconnect.

The Pope talked about sustainability. The UN talks about sustainability. But there is a right wing campaign to make ‘sustainability’ into a word that represents the “dark side”. Ultra-Conservative Republicans are telling people that there is a government/UN conspiracy to herd us into dense urban centers, to get us to abandon the suburbs to the nefarious projects of these two groups. They poo-poo the idea that providing expensive infrastructure to ever more far-flung suburbs is costing us more than we can afford to collect in taxes from hard-pressed citizens.

If you search the term sustainability I am sure you will run across articles about Agenda 21. In fact, Glenn Beck, the extreme right wing talk show host, wrote a book called Agenda 21. I have not read his book because Glenn Beck gives me a stomachache, but it is a fiction book about the apocalypse that will result if we implement Agenda 21 (the 21 refers to the 21st century). There is also a follow-up book, Agenda 21: Into the Shadows.

Our poor planet is plundered, abused, trashed and will soon house 9 billion people. It is not as if anyone has come up with a better plan besides the UN Agenda 21 and the steps they suggest to promote sustainability. The extreme right wing, of course, does not offer an alternative plan because they deny that our planet is in jeopardy. They wish to continue plundering. They have pursued the same tactics against the Affordable Care Act without offering any plan except the old private insurance model that we had before the ACA. They are akin to a marauding army that does a slash and burn as they go and offers no quarter to people caught in the power struggles of the wealthy.

These same extremist in the right wing are demonizing the UN while others who are not so extreme say that the UN may have little clout, but that it is sincerely trying to address whole-planet issues because these concerns affect all member nations. There are people in my own community who publish a newspaper called The Patriot (I wrote a blog about this paper) and in this paper they speak about “The Luciferian Church of the UN”. That is a very literal example of what people mean when they use the word demonizing. So taking a piece of emotional propaganda and turning it into an institution, however fictional, proves that the attack on Agenda 21 and sustainability is real. Do some reading about sustainability yourself – make up your own mind. Don’t just accept the negative things the right wing peddles on these subjects. Read Glenn Beck’s books if you must, but keep in mind that they are fiction and that, as far as I know, Glenn Beck has no superpowers.

Pope Francis addressed the UN while he was in NYC and the UN revealed their 17 Global Goals for the years between now and 2030. The graphic at the top of the page counts through these 17 important goals. You can find this graphic in a larger format and you can find it broken out piece by piece if you want more detail. I cannot imagine how it could hurt human life on earth or damage the earth itself if we were to pursue any of these goals. Is sustainability a plot to deprive you of your goods or your rights? Here are some links if you would like to read about this matter some more.

By Nancy Brisson

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante – Book

Book 2 of The Neapolitan Novels has us still following the lives of Elena (Lenù) and Lila (Lina), two childhood friends, but these two are adults now and their lives diverge more and more. This segment of their story is concerned with love, and finding love, and losing love, but it is even more concerned with class, social class and upbringing. Elena graduated from high school, a true accomplishment in her neighborhood where almost no one stayed in school after the elementary level. Studying separates her more and more from most of the neighborhood children she grew up with. Elena sees that by continuing her schooling she will lose a connection with everything she has known in life and everyone, even her family. She will never fit in here again and it is hard to give up this sense of belonging to something.

Lila, now called Lina, has glued herself to the neighborhood by becoming a wife and a mother, but she is unhappy with her husband. He is too coarse for her; he beats her. Lina has been praised for her intelligence. She knows she is quick and creative. She thinks she can use her natural abilities to succeed even without an education. But poverty is a terrible weight and a trap. Without her husband she has no income and must give up any thought of moving up in the world, even give up the times when she tries to return to her studies on her own. She has a child that must be supported so she tries to pin her hopes to him and give him a start in life that will lift him out of the poorest class in the city.

Elena learns that it is not so easy to enter a new social sphere. The people who grew up in that milieu have the confidence that comes of the traditions of a lifetime spent in that social group. Language gives you away as not belonging, accent gives you away. In her neighborhood people speak a dialect of Italian that is almost incomprehensible to people who do not live there. It operates like a thumbtack holding the inhabitants of the neighborhood in place. Educated people speak several different levels of Italian just as we have language that varies from functional to intellectual. Your contemporaries can place you by the way you speak and the words you use. They can place you by your manners and by the way you dress. Moving up in the world means changing some very essential things about yourself and these changes separate you more and more from childhood family and friends.

Elena experiences moments of great doubt about whether she can succeed in rarer circles, or indeed, about whether she wants to be so lonely and cut off from the comforts of her old neighborhood life in order to be successful. Lots of people experience this sort of culture shock when they leave home and go away to college. When college is finished we almost all go home for a while to get our bearings and find our new path. Perhaps we all feel that estrangement from our childhood and our families when we go home. Perhaps not everyone does. However, when the change is as exponential as Elena’s the pressures and doubts are great and the transformation must be apparent to all of her old chums and to her best friend Lila especially. Although Elena sees little of Lina during these years her friend has kept notebooks which she entrusts to Elena. These writings and the news she hears of Lina from friends and her infrequent visits allow her to follow the thread of Lina’s life.

The second book, entitled The Story of a New Name made me want to see what Elena Ferrante will have to tell us in the last two volumes. So far I see much more of what is universal in these books than what is specific to Italy, as should be true in good fiction. If we lived in a time when books were not routinely translated that would limit us in ways that would make us more fearful of other cultures than we are (and we still harbor some powerful xenophobia). These novels, so far, do not just translate from one language to another, but from one culture to another.

By Nancy Brisson

Planned Parenthood/Republicans/Pope Francis

Although it seems that the accusations Republicans make against Planned Parenthood are contested and the proof is not reliable enough to serve as absolute evidence we need to be objective and search for definitive answers. Are late term abortions resulting in live fetuses? Does Planned Parenthood leave all these fetuses alone to die? Does Planned Parenthood have a lucrative business peddling fetal body parts? That all of this evidence presented on video was gathered in stealth by enemies of Planned Parenthood and obviously timed to coincide with the Republican campaign to defund Planned Parenthood makes the claims look more than a bit suspect.

However, if these claims are true, and that is a very big if, then I believe we need to stop this practice now. If fetuses are born alive and viable they should be allowed to continue to live and women seeking a late term abortion should have to sign off on this. We are not so objective, scientific, and futuristic that we can view such practices without emotion. If we are discussing fetal tissue that does not come from a viable fetus then it seems smarter to use the tissue for valuable purposes rather than to just discard it. To act as if anyone who assists a woman in ending a pregnancy is a monster without human feelings is perhaps an effective deterrent for the gullible but it is not, of course, true.

We must admit that this campaign by anti-abortionists clearly seems well-designed to outrage us. Remember these people are totally dedicated to overturning Roe v Wade. If they win there is much for us to consider. Will abortion then become illegal once again? Of course it will. What will happen to women who manage to find a back alley abortion or self-abort? Will they be tried for murder? Will they be imprisoned? Who will look after any other children they might have? Think where we might be going with this.

I was impressed by Pope Francis. He does have a beneficent, friendly countenance and a contagious smile. But he does not speak to me as a woman nor does he speak to all but the very most privileged women. Here he matches that title Maureen Dowd gave him in the NYT this morning. He is a 19th century Pope. He longs for the old neighborhoods and thinks malls have only helped isolate us from each other. As I have lately been immersed in The Neopolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, I have not come away with a rosy view of poorer neighborhoods in Italy that actually did revolve around small family businesses. The residents were at each other’s throats as often as they offered each other support, or perhaps more often. Nostalgia for the past often has a patina that did not exist in real time.

So the Pope asked us to save the earth and I have no problem with that, but he asked women to become some sort of ideal vessels of human charity and paragons of family life. What about all of the wives who are mistreated by their husbands? What about all of the people whose genes cry out for a new normal. This Pope cannot and will not go far enough to accept a new dynamic because he is tied to the words of the Bible. Women in the Bible are described and preached about by men and there was no one in the early church to take a women’s perspective except the Mary’s. So I have to put aside the things the Pope says about women, although not necessarily about families. When a family functions well it is a social unit that has great value. When a family is a well of dysfunction I believe its members have a better chance for a good life if they are apart.

In a sense the Pope’s visit gave Republicans new ammunition in their ‘war on women’. I did not expect that even this Pope would go so far as to approve of abortion. I might have expected him to make some allowances for contraception given that he favors saving the earth. Instead he counsels people to have children. This might help restore family structure and it certainly gives people, both men and women, reasons to strive and succeed. But given a world population that is approaching 9 billion people it seems to neglect the long view and is at odds with his environmental message. Can we learn to value our lives if we are not parents? Can we see people in need around the globe as our children perhaps and try to make life more comfortable for everyone instead of reproducing? Perhaps that might make us feel less alone and expendable.

Republicans say that we should take the money we use to fund Planned Parenthood and use it to fund the local clinics that already exist. Here we need to also recall that the Republicans want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act which pays for many aspects of women’s reproductive health and family planning. Will these agencies give women options that still involve modern birth control? Will these agencies recommend the old ‘rhythm method’ that so obviously did not work? I assume that none of these clinics will help women have an abortion for any reason. Taking funding away from Planned Parenthood will mean that Roe v Wade is dead and it will not matter if it is still on the books because it will be impossible to find a provider. Local clinics also do not offer the anonymity that Planned Parenthood has offered to women. These clinics are run by your neighbors and have no national affiliation watching over the proprieties. Gossip happens. Women want to be assured that their private business is private.

If our goal is to become a truly enlightened and life-affirming society then we need to develop a system that supports girls and women through unwanted pregnancies without blame or job loss and makes arrangements for adoptions when necessary. Until then I still support Roe v Wade and I support Planned Parenthood and I believe them when they say that they do not use federal money to fund abortions.

By Nancy Brisson

Witch Hunt?

The jury is still out on the Hillary emails. We still don’t know what the FBI will find. And yet every day new information hits the press. The media enjoys reporting each link as if it is the missing link freighted with truth that will put this issue to rest. But it seems to me that they are treating this as a kind of a crime drama with new clues arriving all the time, hoping that there is a guilty party or parties. The only thing that we really know right now is that this story is being kept alive in the media with very little damning evidence that there is any crime at all to solve, only an election to be won or lost.

Now, apparently, the state department asked Hillary for more information about the use of a private server sometime in the summer of 2014. What does that say? What does that imply? No information is given beyond that the state department asked for clarification and that this does not seem to be the “business as usual” that Hillary mentioned. This information appeared in a story in The Washington Post written by Chris Cillizza who writes a blog for The Washington Post called The Fix. I hear that he tends to lean right.

The second “fact” he gives us in the Post story first appeared in Politico, which also leans right, and it is a release that says that someone has uncovered some deleted emails about Benghazi. Although it looks like these emails may be communications between the Congressional committee and Hillary we are left to conclude that perhaps what is hidden will finally be revealed.

A third fact gives the progress the FBI has made in recovering documents that were supposedly deleted. It is data, although it is presented in two colorful pie charts which make the data look more imposing.

Is this the smoking gun that the GOP has long sought? Will these emails finally nail Hillary and, even better, Obama to the wall, give the GOP the coup de grace for the Democrats that will send a GOP candidate into the White House on a wave of general acclamation. Oh, I sincerely hope not.

The Washington Post seems to have taken a right turn on this. They seem to have it in for Hillary. Do they have a special beef with her or is it more general? Is it a witch hunt or just a ploy to sell newspapers? The New York Times has not held back either. All the great newspapers are writing for their lives. They feel a desperate need to “scoop” the news and we have seen that this has led to a few boo-boos about this story, at least in the NYT.

I did make the mistake of listening to Joe Scarborough this morning and he is never happier than when he can rail against Hillary. He has her practically behind bars. Louis Gohmert, head of the eighth iteration of the Benghazi investigation is once again feeling victory within his grasp. The GOP believes/hopes that Hillary (and Obama) have been using denial to avoid exposing their guilt to the world.

Perhaps you are among those who classify Hillary in the fishwife or shrew category. Well a New York Post article published today claims that Hillary “blew up at Obama…during a tense Oval Office meeting. We can only assume that the two authors were not actually in the Oval Office. They say that a “Clinton source” supposedly snitched on her (someone Hillary thought was a friend). I feel that even though this is hardly considered a reputable source for news I must mention it because the media probably will bring it up soon. There is even a book by a man whose journalism skills are somewhat suspect apparently entitled Unlikeable: The Problem with Hillary. The author’s name is Edward Klein.

When I see Democrats acting as if they have to wait and see what the FBI will decide about the Hillary emails and looking around desperately for another viable candidate, then it is fairly obvious that unless something miraculous happens to turn this whole thing around then Hillary may never sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.

Those of us who are Hillary Democrats sincerely hope that if Hillary is covering any crime against the American people (what could it be) (the Americans at the embassy could not be saved) (no words after the fact could change the outcome) then she will find a graceful way to withdraw from the Presidential race. Personally, I think this is just Hillary-bashing. But these leaks, which give us precious little new information, keep coming and seem to be designed to drum Hillary out of the Presidential race.

As for me, for now, I continue to wish that Hillary Rodham Clinton will become our first female President.

By Nancy Brisson

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante – Book

This novel does not fit easily into a genre although critics have called it a bildungsroman or coming of age novel, but that genre only fits Book 1 of the Neapolitan Novels and there is much more to even this first novel than that. (Or perhaps it just seems that way because we get more coming of age novels about boys than we do about girls). This book is classified as a fiction book but is written by Elena (the character and probably the author) as a memoir of sorts. The tale is translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein and is written by Elena Ferrante. The story is told in four volumes and this first volume is titled My Brilliant Friend. These novels have appeared with some regularity on recent best seller lists.

Elena and her best friend Lila are born in a small, poor neighborhood near Naples, Italy sometime after World War II. Elena is fascinated by Lila because she is not like anyone else in the neighborhood. She is as poor as any of them, skinny with dark circles under her eyes (although she grows up to be quite thin and beautiful). But Lila is also smart and full of energy and curiosity and she is creative, a born leader who Elena is happy to compete with, emulate, and get in trouble with. In fact it is fairly clear that Elena thinks that she would not have amounted to much without Lila.

The children they know have families who earn tenuous livings in a variety of ways. One family runs a fruit and vegetable truck, another (Lila’s) a shoe repair shop, another family runs a small grocery and still another runs a pastry shop. Elena’s father is a porter. All of the children go to school until the end of elementary school but only a few children go on to middle school. Since Elena and Lila are such good students, who love to read and whose thinking is more sophisticated than that of the other children, teachers befriend them, loan them books, and try to help set them on a track for middle school. Elena’s parents say no at first but are eventually persuaded. Lila’s family will not allow her to go.

These two girls, both bright stars, with Lila the brighter of the two, see that their futures will diverge. What will become of Lila? What will become of their friendship? That is what we find out in the second half of this book and in the other three books.

This story resonates with me on a very personal level. I don’t usually write about parallels with my own life and a novel, although most novels do resonate with our lives at some level. But this story kind of is my life, except lived in Italy. My family was very poor with many children. My older sister and I were both considered smart and creative by our teachers. My sister had a calm, obedient, pleasant demeanor and great social skills. I was more like a sparkler, sending out energy in every direction, bossy and without that social touch my sister had. I followed her everywhere. And like Elena and Lila there was a person on the staff at our school who offered to take us on and make sure that we had some cultural experiences. I went for it, my sister did not. I went to college and so did she, but I went away to a four year college and she stayed home and went to community college. Our lives diverged after that, just as the lives of Elena and Lila did. My sister took a secretarial job and got married. I became a teacher. I will never get to write four volumes about me and my sister as she was killed in a car accident when she was only twenty-nine. There is a sort of parallel here too as Elena wrote these books after her friend, Lila, disappeared at the age of 66.

We learn quite a bit about the neighborhood people who surround Elena and Lila. There are plenty of animosities and most of them are explained once we learn the politics of the fathers or that some families earned what money they have in rather unsavory ways. It is an amazing novel full of political, sociological, social, and economic details by which our author, Elena Ferrante, creates an entire town and also brings to life the people and relationships in that town. But the two friends and their stormy association with each other are at the heart of this story. Elena’s first novel in this series is unique and fascinating and I have already moved on to the second which already has me under its spell.

By Nancy Brisson

What We Owe the Mainstream Media

Tone matters. The tone of our politics lately has been one of two parties in a verbal war. The language of this war is sometimes hateful, sometimes short-sighted, sometimes revealing. Feelings have been aired that have festered in the bowels of America. Many of these feelings are more than a century old, some of these feelings are new and have to do with economic and cultural change in America and around the globe. Some of these feelings arise out of people’s quite irrational fears that there are vast global conspiracies whose goal is to make America unrecognizable. Others arise out of real change in the economic situation of some Americans. Some have to do with something as basic as which skin color will prevail in America, as if our souls resided in the color of our skin. So people have been passionate, and aggressive, and intimidating, perhaps even letting their passions boil over at times into borderline or actual violence.

But I have to give most of the media kudos for keeping cool heads in situations that could easily tip over into chaos. The media has threaded a careful way through the swollen emotions and the impassioned rhetoric giving people a calmer platform from which to express their ideological concerns, giving their ideas credence when they seem to push humanitarian concerns forward, and perhaps a bit of mild ridicule when ideas seem too reactionary to contribute to cultural progress.

Often the media reminds us of our nation’s rather passionate political history. Our politics has often been verbally, and occasionally physically, explosive. They remind us of the political shambles our nation was in prior to the Civil War. The rhetorical passion was shouted daily in our Congress, in our press, and in our streets. On that occasion people’s passions, unabated by discussion, ended in a brutal war with so many casualties. There have been other times of great passion in American politics such as in the years before World War II when isolationists disagreed with those who thought we would have to go to war against Hitler. It took Pearl Harbor to put the kibosh on that disagreement and unite us against common enemies. The sixties and seventies were certainly passionate times in our nation with the sexual revolution and the cultural revolution and the Vietnam War making America often appear to be two (or more) different nations. None of us who lived through the Civil Rights’ Movement will ever forget the passion of those days, one side with its desire to be treated as equal Americans, the other side holding on to and expressing years of contempt and prejudice with guns shots and hangings and the powerful streams of water from the ends of fire hoses, and so many other hateful things.

Yes, we are a nation of passions and we often find ourselves once again dividing into two segments of our America who are at loggerheads with each other and who feel what they feel so strongly that they would like to actually come to blows over it. But the press sort of operates as the people who stand between the two opposing groups with their hands against their chests to keep them physically separated, and it is the press who gives us perspective on how each of our partisan groups arrived at this impasse.

The way the mainstream press treats extreme speech as real politics and discusses it as it would more moderate politics keeps our government from imploding or exploding. They refuse to give any credence to voices on either side that see the fringes as more in control than the center is. They have kept their heads, partly by treating it all like entertaining theater, partly by helping us connect fringe dialogue to its historical roots to remind us that this stuff did not suddenly crop up out of nowhere, and partly by refusing to get too hot under the collar which could only help foment hysteria.

Right now the press is calmly and as objectively as possible (given that these are human beings who also feel passionate) helping America hold a normal Presidential election in times that feel anything but normal. They have a matrix in their brain, a matrix that tells them what elections have always been like and they are using that historical memory to keep this election, which could so easily go off the rails, on track. We get impatient with them sometimes. They seem too moderate, too data bound, too controlled, and perhaps, sometimes, too stodgy for our heated debates. And yet this very ability to treat our current situation as normal, as just another hotly contested moment in the history of our nation, keeps the process ticking along. We do not really want to break apart our great nation and so, right now, I am thankful that our media are such nerds, such political geeks that they are keeping us all somewhat civil and on track to hold a traditional election according to the rule of law in November of 2016. I think it is called professionalism.

By Nancy Brisson

Lawlessness and the 2016 Election

During the recent Republican debate the candidates paraded their lawlessness for all to see. But they have actually been acting above the law throughout the entire Obama Presidency. They don’t like the 10th Amendment, or they do but they don’t like that is no longer purely adhered to, so they meddle in state politics with their legislative power group ALEC writing actual laws for state legislatures to pass. They have already used new campaign finance rulings to allow big money donors to get Republicans elected to state legislatures in about thirty states so that ALEC finds easy backing for its special interest legislation. Are we supposed to think that this is the American way?

They have convinced some Americans that Obama hates the 2nd Amendment and wants to take away their guns, while they allow anti-government militias to form and offer a version of vigilante “justice”. We saw the Oath Keepers appearing at the face-off between the Bureau of Land Management and rancher Cliven Bundy who let his cattle graze on Federal land for decades without paying the fees that other ranchers paid. We saw the Oath Keepers again, so intimidating, walking the streets of Ferguson one year after the death of Michael Brown as if they had a right to be there and enforce order when there is a flawed but functional police force already present in Ferguson.

Republicans have never accepted Roe v Wade, and I know they are sincere in their beliefs that they need to defend unborn babies, and not women. But Roe v Wade is the law of the land. Since when do we only have to obey laws we agree with? Republicans seem to feel that when the Supreme Court does not agree with their take on an issue then the court is acting as a political body rather than a judicial body. It has never been entirely possible to appoint justices that are not at all political. But since Americas do not seem to elect the same party term after term, the court’s politics has stayed in a kind of balance. When decisions go with the GOP take on issues as in the case of Citizen’s United, Democrats may want to overturn a law they find un-America, but they accept that ruling as law and they don’t suggest that we overthrow the entire Supreme Court.

Republicans, on the other hand, take every opportunity to challenge laws they don’t like by means that actually skirt the law and sometimes go over the line between what is legal and what is technically not so legal. The days when pro-life activists actually murdered abortion providers may have receded for now but only because tricky local laws like trap laws have proven less problematic and more effective. Trap laws write medical standards for abortion clinics that are deliberately set so high that clinics have to close because they cannot comply. These laws are in no way medically necessary. They do allow local governments to break the Federal law without fear of being labelled as criminals and they have been so effective that in west Texas there are no clinics (or maybe one is left) where poor women can get an abortion without having to travel sometimes impossible distances. The only threat to this practice is the courts, but the local courts are also stuffed with conservatives.

Republicans want to rewrite the 14th Amendment. They want to make it clear that only babies born to “legal” Americans can become citizens. In that way they can end the practice of pregnant foreigners who come to America on purpose to provide their offspring with American citizenship documents and all of the benefits that are available to citizens (the non-PC “anchor babies). (Some say this is not even a huge number of people, sort of like the numbers of illegal votes and voters.)

It became clear with the events surrounding Kim Davis (the clerk who would not allow any marriages because she could not, in all conscience, allow same-sex marriages) and, in fact, with the reactions of Republicans to the very action by the Supreme Court that made same-sex marriage legal in all American states that Republicans, who are often convinced that same-sex relationships are abominations, are incensed by the actions of the Supreme Court. These people, fierce advocates of state’s rights, perhaps because the Federal government is too far ahead of the curve in terms of national policy, feel that they are being persecuted for their evangelical religious beliefs and are claiming that the court is not supposed to pass laws.

However, the court did follow proper procedure. The Supremes did not assign themselves this issue and then rule on it. Some state passed a law which others in that state fought and then they appealed to the highest court to settle which law would stand. The Supreme Court decided to take that case and before the decisions was made everyone held their breath. It was clear that one side would be unhappy with the outcome depending on what it might be. Once the court takes a case it is obligated to make a ruling and that ruling carries the force of Federal law. Since the court’s agreement was not the outcome Republicans wanted they now complain that the court is partisan and needs to be disbanded and replaced by a new system as designed by Republicans.

These things all might seem childish. “If I can’t have my way I will take my toys and go home”. Except that each one of these folks has submitted their application to be our next President. The campaigns and the debates can be considered our screening process, our interviews. Who will we hire?

These Republican candidates who claim to revere our Constitution seem to be unable to accept where it has taken us and now they want to go back to fundamentals and start over with exactly what our forefathers wrote (as interpreted by the GOP) (except the slave parts, I assume). It seems to me impossible for 21st century Americans to get inside the personas of our 18th -19th century forefathers. The entire cultural milieu in which the colonists swam was too different. Anyone who claims s/he is able to channel the founders is either lying or has gone off the deep end.

As far as I am concerned, these folks are in rebellion. They cannot accept the rule of law as it exists. They cannot take the time to go through the proper channels to change the law. They are on the edge of treason and they sound increasingly desperate These GOP rebels have basically stopped governance as we know it for seven years now, not to mention their more formal government shutdowns and shutdown threats. If they don’t get their way now, in this 2016 election, what will they do? If you were the boss of a stable company (country) would you hire anyone who has acted like an insurrectionist? I would be happy if their application would find a permanent home in that old circular file. You may think that treason and insurrectionist are too strong and these words may turn you off but you must admit that these Republicans have certainly been disruptive and that they would like to disrupt even more if they win the Presidency.

By Nancy Brisson


We all know the Republican priorities by heart: small government, stop molly-coddling deadbeats, send foreigners home, end abortions and perhaps contraception, restore Christian morality in America, drastically expand the military, suppress Democrat votes through actual voter suppression and extensive gerrymandering and union busting, restore jobs by cutting corporate taxes, build a wall, electronically control visas, drill baby drill, no new environmental restrictions, and much more. One thing Republicans have done a great job of is making Americans aware of their agenda. They have also been great scandal-mongers keeping citizens riled up and screaming for the heads of the President and his staff. They have been so good at these things that even Democrats can barely remember their own priorities.

Bernie Sanders reminds us that regulating Wall Street and banks in order to protect citizens from another economic downturn should be a top priority. His list of priorities also includes passing changes to current tax laws so that we are not sending all our money to the wealthy while leaving out the middle class. He would like to see more support for workers with families, especially for women in the workplace, but not only for women. He advocates things like paid sick leave, paid family leave and equal pay for equal work to close the male/female pay divide. He sets a high priority on doing whatever we can to combat climate change. And he would like to make higher education economically feasible for all.

Hillary agrees with all these things and adds in decriminalizing drug addiction to focus on treatment, getting petty offenders out of jail, and she is still rolling out policy statements, each time addressing a new area that requires action. In terms of foreign affairs Democrats are not so hawkish right now, preferring diplomacy, but Hillary makes it clear that she can do “hawk” if necessary.

There is not a lot of overlap in what Republicans consider important and what Democrats see as important and even where there is overlap, solutions offered are not at all the same. This has put governance into stalemate territory making it almost miraculous that the President was able to accomplish as much as he did. Of course, the GOP chorus repeats the refrain that Obama is a “weak” President. They also like to use the word “feckless”. The one I love (not) most in their repertoire is the insistence that Obama “has blown up the world”. They blame all change in the Middle East and Syria and Russia and China on Obama, but their recall of historical facts and their chain of causations lack a foothold in reality and the blaming is therefore unsupportable. They keep getting away with this shoddy, politically expedient reasoning by skillful propagandizing because they do not want the blame for George W. Bush’s actions laid at the feet of the GOP. However, 43 is definitely the one who took the lid off the boiling pot and let old animosities loose in the modern world. What is done is done, but at least accept that your party lied and had a great big hand in creating the current chaos.

Given all this, why, oh why, do we spend our days talking about women’s issues? Why do we spend hours trying to undo Planned Parenthood, with its long history of helping poor women especially, even threatening to close down the government over it? Why do we have an American political party arguing about contraception? These guys have discussed this among themselves and have decided that if the “sexual revolution” never happened then American families would still be intact. Well suppressing women’s rights has “Remember Prohibition” written all over it.

With all the important territory we need to cover to help America and Americans thrive, abortion and contraception never would have been on my list of priorities, and I would bet many other Americans feel this way. Perhaps the GOP is only pretending to be this interested in these issues to bide their time until they regain the Presidency. Of all the laws, such as tax loopholes that we might need to overturn, these laws seem really low on the list. This might be just about men holding dominion over women.

Well change the subject please! America, we must insist that these GOP men rearrange their priorities. I wish we the people had enough money to sue Ted Cruz et al for wasting the people’s money threatening to shut down the government and, indeed, shutting down the government. In that way we could speak to them in a language they understand, the language of the law.

By Nancy Brisson

State’s Rights Movement – Dooming Democracy

Whew! That was a long debate last night, but I did not learn anything new about the Republican take on the issues. Eventually I want to talk about some of what was said. First, however, I want to tackle this topic of “state’s rights”. I have read the Constitution. I know that it says that any rights not designated to the Federal government belong to the states. I know that not many rights are assigned to the Federal government. Mostly the Federal government is granted military rights and rights necessary to keeping the government funded and functioning.

But the Constitution also describes Congress in some detail and it is made clear that it is the job of Congress to pass laws on behalf of the people so our forefathers obviously expected government to lay down an extended body of law. As a result there has been an enormous collection of laws and traditions which have collected over our 230+ years that adds essential detail to a very (and deliberately) sparse constitutional document.

What the Republicans want to do is scrap the body of law and tradition which has expanded the reach of the Federal government and they want to return to a strict adherence to the original wording in the Constitution. Republicans have talked about this for years – Federalism as in the Federalist papers wherein colonists (founders) argued endlessly about how much power should devolve to the Federal government and how much to the states. This is fairly esoteric stuff and it is possible that Republicans like to pontificate about Federalism to impress us with their superior intelligence. Most Americans that I have met do not sit around talking about Federalism or state’s rights. They may, however, complain about government interference in their daily lives as in the “nanny state,” which is where the Republicans, who seem to have all majored in Constitutional Law, connect with their base.

I don’t mind a continuing dialogue about state’s rights but I think we need to evaluate why Republicans are so strident and extreme on this subject right now. Of course, with eight years of a Democratic Presidency, Republicans are bound to be experiencing the political equivalent of “road rage.” They have never liked Obama and have painted him as weak in a never-ending stream of character assassination. So there is that. There is the worry that Democrats will raise taxes on the rich. If the Federal government gets smaller they won’t have to. So some of this is about protecting wealth. They will never forgive Obama for squeezing through the Affordable Care Act. Then there are the things he tried to do with immigration and the Dream Act which he passed through executive action. There was the red line which he walked back in Syria. There was Benghazi and the IRS. The Republican have measured out the Obama administration in mostly made-up scandals. The final blow to the GOP was the legalization of same sex marriage for which they blame the Supreme Court and, of course, Obama.

The list is long – they don’t like that Obama turned down Keystone. They don’t see how any human energy regulations on CO2 emissions can possibly help with climate change even if it is real. They don’t like Common Core and they blame its adoption on, guess who, Obama. There is nothing Republicans like about the past seven years.

It is small wonder that they are rabid to ditch the Federal government. They have been consolidating power in the states. They are going to find it difficult to elect a President because – small tent, although they probably will hold on to Congress, because – gerrymandering. If they can drown the Federal government in that proverbial bathtub they can do an end run around the Federal government and make their own state laws about things like education, energy, taxes, business regulations, marriage, and marijuana.

It is tempting to cut them loose and give them our blessings except that we are the United States of America, not the Loosely Affiliated States of America. If states have their own school rules, etc. we will soon look more like separate nations than separate states. The USA will look more like the EU. This would be a sad state of affairs and, although we might still be America, we will not be the USA.

Remember, some of these states have even encouraged militias in case they have to go to war against the Federal government. This is the point at which I see the current state’s rights movement as sedition. Didn’t we already have this war? We all recognize that the South and the North, the East and the West still have their differences, their special needs, and their unique points of view about key concerns, but we lose too much power, too much tradition and history, and too much gravitas in the world if we become divided into 50 separate states. This is not just nostalgia talking, extreme state’s rights would put an end to a Democratic experiment that our forefathers began and the entire world would be poorer for not having our governing example before them as an option. By selfishly insisting on having your way about small things, you chance removing hope that an organized, considered, and considerate society can indeed exist and survive.

By Nancy Brisson

Who’s Solving Syria?

It is difficult to look across the ocean and see what is happening in the Middle East and in Europe, because of the upheaval in the Middle East, and even, in fact, because of the situations that pertain in much of Africa. How will order ever be restored when nations are dissolving and local political structures are inadequate to offer a stable life to indigenous people?

The parts of the world that have not fallen into total disarray have learned from past experience that there are no simple solutions. Redrawing borders, propping up seemingly malleable leaders (dictators), training citizens, or even waging full-out war have not been effective ways to intervene, even when human rights violations become unbearably obvious and too brutal to tolerate.

Colonization was perhaps the most effective way to control chaos and set a matrix of order over the disorder, but it comes at a cost to human dignity that is no longer acceptable to modern sensibilities. We are at a loss about how to proceed against someone like Assad in Syria. Here is a leader so unenlightened that, in order to hold onto his power, he will do anything to his own people. He is the cruel parent who sees the slightest disapproval from his exploited children as an insurrection, a civil war. Rather than offer some reforms he hauls out the troops, the apparatus of war, the chemicals with which he asphyxiates his own people. He holds onto his power as his nation disappears around him. His people go elsewhere in panic, demanding that other nations offer them succor. Perhaps they do not realize that their sheer numbers may swamp the economies they turn to for rescue.

Not only is their leader corrupt and obdurate (and backed by the Soviet state) but the terrorist force ISIS (ISIL) is pinching these beleaguered people from the opposite border. These Syrian people are truly caught between a rock (Assad) and a hard place (the terrorists). I would run also.

But is there really anywhere to run to? Can nations put their own citizens’ order at risk by allowing too many refugees or migrants in? Will they be able to hold them at bay if necessary? Will prosperous, well-governed nations be swallowed up by the rush of dislocated people desperate to find peace and a future for their children? It seems unusual for people to migrate towards densely populated lands but that is likely to be the new normal as chaos seems to reign everywhere else.

There is no simple set of feelings to reduce our own confused allegiances to. We look on from America and we understand the plight of overwhelmed European nations and we understand the plight of the Syrian people.

There are no simple solutions, either, it seems. Assad is not about to be unseated, at least not without taking on Putin. That is a fight that is best avoided because whatever the outcome, it doesn’t seem like it would be a good one. We could find places to build refugee centers that operate something like military bases (as I suggested in my post entitled We Need a Refugee Plan, 4/26/15), but anyone I have mentioned this to just dismisses it, so it must be an unworkable solution.

Meanwhile we wait for this distant tsunami to eventually batter our shores. And we say to the world that we are fresh out of solutions. We are using private charitable foundations to chip away at things like women’s rights, hunger, poverty, schooling, entrepreneurship. These are acts of everyday love and heroism and hope, but then we have the flood of that huge migration of Syrian nationals and all those loving global attentions seems like band aids on a world battered by powerful seas. My lament does not mean that we should give up our grassroots efforts around the globe. But I do think we need a plan (and I don’t mean just an American plan, although we probably can’t use the UN because the right wing has demonized it), and we need a plan now, or very close to now. Who is working on a plan? Anyone?

It will be quite ironic if all our attempts to lift up people around the globe end up pulling us all down into a new dark age. It also seems all too possible.

By Nancy Brisson