What India taught me about race and culture

Summer 2020 Episode 1

The little soldier boy I met on the outskirts of the Arabian Sea outside of Mumbai. Photo by EOlsen.

Hello, this is Emily Olsen, checking in from Salt Lake City. In this podcast series, I want to speak primarily about equality in the United States, hence the name Liberty and Justice For All — the “For All” part being the most important. I have always been passionate about how race influences freedom, but perhaps I gained a larger passion for race and culture when I went outside of this country for the first time.

In 2008, I took a trip to India. My employer sent me there to work with a company that we outsourced with, and I spent three months in Ahmedabad (which the locals call Am-de-bad), and I also took a handful of trips to Mumbai during my journey.

Ahmedabad is not exactly a tourist town — they had only recently built an international airport there. The town had been growing at lightning speed since internet-based businesses had developed, which allowed them to provide outsourcing services to the world. Locals with good English-speaking skills could get some of the best jobs in their economy.

It was only about every two weeks while I was there that I would see someone of European descent. Now, I am extra-white in my skin tone — something about my northern European heritage, I guess. And since I was coming from southern California at the time, my hair was a platinum blond, of course. I would go shopping at the mall in Ahmedabad, and children passing by would want to touch my skin because they had never seen someone like me. They thought I was ethereal, but it was them I saw as so much more beautiful than me. I began to understand what it’s like to be a minority in a foreign country. But unlike many of the immigrants trying to enter the United States, I would benefit from white privilege.

Especially when I first arrived, I was treated like royalty, and I soon learned they thought I was rich because I was from the United States. I spent a lot of my money buying survival food like cookies and crackers and soda pop, things that were outrageously expensive for them. The cost of taking a rickshaw for a mile or so was like a third of the price of a can of Coca-cola in rupees. So I soon learned that I was rich, from their vantage point. Of course, I still had to pay my domestic bills while I was there, such as my rent and car payment, which took up a chunk of my income each month. “Rich” is such a subjective term.

Me as a platinum blond at an outdoor bazaar I attended in the first week
I arrived in Ahmedabad. Photo from EOlsen collection.

Don’t get me wrong — I loved the local cuisine, although as a foreigner, I could only eat food that had been thoroughly cooked. Vegetable masala with Basmati rice and yogurt was my favorite. Everything came extra-spicy — enough to clean out your sinuses and leave your mouth burning, but I quickly became accustomed to it. Over the centuries, the locals had learned that super spicy foods would somehow combat the sweltering heat.

While I was there, however, I had little time to learn about the culture, unfortunately — I was working 12-hour days, six days a week, but I did learn a few things about their caste system. I learned about castes in high school history class as being the social set-up in pre-twentieth century Europe, where there were nobles and serfs, etc. I didn’t think the United States had much of a caste system anymore, although my opinion on that matter has changed more recently. For most of my life, I have been ignorant of the extent of the challenges faced by African Americans and Latinos which limit their ability to reap the American Dream.

But in India, the caste you are born into is the caste that you are assigned to throughout your life. They just consider it their lot in life and hope to reincarnate into a higher station in their next life. When an opportunity arises, someone of a lower caste will step aside without argument if someone of a higher caste claims it.

The slums of Mumbai. Photo by EOlsen.

Sadly, there are massive numbers of homeless people there — the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” is an accurate depiction of the slums of Mumbai. Endless shacks built right next to each other for miles and miles along the river and with no roads. They build with whatever supplies they can find at the dump, and there is no clean water, ever.

And in Ahmedabad, there are streets where homeless people live in little tents just inches away from where cars whiz past. There is no drainage system for the streets, and when the rainy season came, I didn’t want to know what I was stepping in. I would always wash my feet when I got home if I had gotten caught in a downpour.

I will admit that it wasn’t until I had been there several weeks that I realized the caste you were assigned to had a lot to do with how dark your skin was. The people with lighter skin were usually of a higher caste, and they often dressed a certain way to set themselves apart. There were castes for the homeless people who lived under my condo building and who would take the trash I left outside my door. There was a caste for the woman who swept my floor and washed my clothes (they didn’t have electric washing machines in order to provide employment for this caste), and there were castes for people like my butler (who bought me some of my groceries) and my driver (who was a friendly maniac). Regardless of how much or how little pigment is in their skin, I think Indians are beautiful, creative people.

I visited Mumbai about five or six times during my trip. I would take a day flight to get there, and the people I would see in airports were the most cosmopolitan group I have ever seen. India is right between Africa and Eastern Asia — and then you have the Pacific Islands not too far away from there. This area of the world is a complete melting pot of multiple races of people that has been mixing for centuries, and it is a cultural experience just to observe that.

During my first trip to Mumbai, my friends there gave me a bit of a tour. We pulled off at the side of the road before we crossed the river into Navi Mumbi (or New Mumbai). Mumbai’s slums were on one side of the road, and on the other were some locals washing laundry in the Arabian Sea. I took the photo of the beautiful little boy [see top of page]. He couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old, and he had been assigned to stand guard while his family was washing in the distance. I tried to be friendly and say hello to him, but he didn’t speak English. I would learn later that he didn’t even speak Hindi but only a local, unwritten dialect. He looked like a little soldier with his oversized walking stick, never wincing, until finally, I must have scared him because he ran away from us.

I have thought a lot about that little boy during the years since. I remember just wanting to pick him up and take him home with me. (Maybe he had a reason to be afraid of me.) Of course, doing so would not have been possible — it’s not like I could have hid him in my suitcase. But I have wondered if he has lived a happy life, if he is even still alive, since I know his life expectancy must be greatly limited. Would I have been able to provide a better life for him? In the same way, I have thought about the beggar who had polio [see photo above] and the little slave girl that would run next to me at lunch each day to beg for money. They were treated like animals by most, but as a Christian woman, I knew the truth — that they were children of God just like me. They each had a special light inside of them and had unique and special missions in this world. Perhaps one of their missions was to teach me about the hardships that their people experience and to help me gain compassion for these beautiful souls that live a world away from me.

A camel my driver passed on the highway on my way to work in Ahmedabad one day.
Photo by EOlsen.
The 5-star Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai with 285 rooms. It was built in 1898 and reminded me of Casablanca inside. The muddy space out front was actually a construction site, and my visit was on a rainy day. (Photo by EOlsen)
Inside Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai — its architecture is truly spectacular. (Photo by EOlsen)
Built in 1431, Haji Ali Dargah is a mosque and mausoleum of a wealthy merchant who gave up all his worldly possessions before making a pilgrimage to Mecca. (Photo by EOlsen)
Carved into the rock 2,000 years ago, this oversized Buddhist statue in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park reminded me of Lord of the Rings. (Photo by EOlsen)
Inside the Buddhist temple that was carved into the rock. The room was dark so it was hard to take a good picture, but the acoustics were incredible — when you spoke, it sounded like a chorus of monks (Photo by EOlsen)

I also got to see some amazing tourist sites there, including an ancient mosque and mausoleum in the bay, the Taj Mahal Hotel before it was bombed later that year (gratefully, it has been repaired since), and Sanjay Gandhi National Park just outside of Mumbai that contained a 2,000-year-old Buddhist temple and homes carved into the mountainside [see photos above]. I was surprised how little I knew about the history of India. It’s a very large country with an ancient influence on so many of the world’s cultures, but none of India’s story was included in my high school history classes. I hope that curriculum has changed today.

During the whole time I was in India, I felt safe with only a few exceptions — I sort of got mugged/kidnapped when I took a taxi at the Mumbai airport one time (I recommend reserving transportation in advance from a reputable service in that city). My taxi driver and his English-speaking friend charged me three times the going rate. Their yellow Fiat, which was about three-quarters the size of a traditional American taxi, started overheating when they arrived at the bridge that went across the river. When plumes of white smoke seeped through the air vents in the front of the cabin, I knew something wasn’t right. They demanded 900 rupees, which I happily gave them. It was only about $15, comparatively, but they were surprised that I was so willing to give it away. I could see that they were still scammers-in-training and were probably more scared that I was, so I kept a stiff upper lip with them. The guys started pushing me for more money after that, so I got out of the car and started walking. Gratefully a rickshaw driver in Navi Mumbi rescued me and got me to my destination only a few blocks away.

But there was a point about two weeks before my departure that I got a distinct impression it was time to return home. The year I visited India, 2008, was also the year of a string of coordinated terrorist attacks. Three places in a city would get bombed at the same time using a remote device. New Delhi and Jaipur were two of the first cities to be hit, and the police initially believed it was the workings of a militant Islamic group out of Pakistan. Shortly after I returned to the States, Ahmedabad was hit, as well. And then Mumbai. Gratefully, the bombings in Ahmedabad were across town from where I had lived, but a few of my friends in Mumbai were protected from the blasts through a series of miracles. One couple was on their way to the train station that had been bombed, but they missed the blast because they had been delayed, even though they were on their way to the airport and risked being late to board a flight. Another ex-pat who lived there with his wife and three young children was on his way to a business appointment, and for some random reason, his driver took a different route than the usual way they went, and he missed the blast that hit a parkway. The Mumbai bombings were traced to the WiFi at the residence of a British man living in Mumbai. After that, there was a fear that Brits and Americans would be targeted, so it was no longer safe for them to be there. The U.S. Embassy sent out messages to ex-pats and encouraged them to return to the States.

My flight to India had taken 25 hours. The first leg, from LAX to Japan, took 12 hours, then a 7-hour leg from Japan to Singapore. I had a 9-hour layover there, and then the flight into Ahmedabad was about 6 hours. In that time, you lose 12 1/2 hours because all of India is one time zone that they posit one half-hour off from everyone else. So I literally went halfway around the world to get there, and I realized that the world is a much larger place than I had ever imagined.

On the last night I was there, I was finally able to visit the local Hindu temple, which was practically within walking distance from my condo. It was beautiful and majestic and was filled with hundreds of very reverent people paying homage to a large, ornate, golden statue. I was amazed at how little I knew about these people with whom I had been interacting all that time and how little they knew about me.

I learned only superficial things about the people in Ahmedabad, such as that about 80 percent of Hindus living there had arranged marriages. The Gujarati people in Ahmedabad were some of the most conservative people in India and were almost completely vegetarian. The state of Gujarat is where Mahatma Gandhi had set up his office, and the people were very peaceful and family-oriented as a result. Only Christians and Muslims would eat meat there, or what they called non-veg. Many of them still wore the traditional dress — either a sari or punjabi that included pantaloons and the kurti scarf — almost always in spectacular, brilliant colors. Some of the young women I worked with would wear a punjabi with jeans. Most couples could only afford to purchase a motorcycle for the family transportation, so you would see these families packed onto one open-air vehicle, with the father driving, a kid or two sitting behind him, and then the mother riding side-saddle on the back with her bright-yellow or chartreuse kurti blowing in the breeze. The surreal images of families carefully but casually situated on these dangerous vehicles I crudely associated with Dr. Seuss illustrations.

I come from a conservative family and was taught to dress very modestly. Skirts at the knee or lower, and shirts with at least short sleeves. But my idea of modest was scandalous to them. The one day I wore my black straight skirt that came just below the knee would be my last. The mocking boys in the parking lot of my office let me know in their foreign language that a woman’s legs must be covered in their world, and apparently, my nude-colored pantyhose were not sufficient. I quickly bought some native clothing and wore that everywhere — out of respect for their culture of course, but also so that I would be taken seriously. And punjabis are one of the most flattering outfits to a woman’s figure. Plus, they were made out of breathable cotton, which really helped on those hot, humid days. And the kurti oversized scarves made of natural silk work better than sunscreen at protecting your skin and keeping you cool.

Perhaps the most valuable thing I learned in India was about my own culture — that I had one. Americans take for granted that our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Even if you are not religious, most Americans were raised at least recognizing that it is the moral thing to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In India, it is the complete opposite. Everyone is focused on taking care of number-one at any expense. Since there is no police but only guards hired by local landowners, people can get away with a lot more. While I was there, my personal cell phone was stolen, and so were several items of clothing — my driver was employed by the outsource company I worked with, and he received no punishment for these acts. The guards at my condo just laughed at me when I made a complaint about my phone. Little did I know that the money my driver got from selling my belongings helped fund the fuel for his vehicle.

Upon my return to Pasadena, Calif., I was astounded at the clean and spacious sidewalks along the streets by my office. India is one of the most populated countries in the world, and there are people everywhere. The elevator at the office there was always jam-packed, and I constantly had to navigate around people wherever I walked.

In California, I was relieved to be back where drivers stopped at stop signs instead of accelerating and honking their way through an intersection. People stayed in their lane instead of between two lanes, and they signaled when they planned to turn.

Oh, the little things we take for granted! In Ahmedabad, the split highway, which was the largest street in town, had only one signal that was on a large turnabout. The highway’s two lanes going in one direction were make-shifted into five — with handcarts and animals in the gutter, bicycles in the next lane, and the last three lanes for motor vehicles. Pedestrians dashed everywhere they dared through standing or slow-moving traffic, and cargo trucks had the most priority on the road because they could hurt you the most. Plus everyone drives on the wrong side of the road. It’s insanity.

Upon my return to California, I ate a juicy hamburger with fries as soon as humanly possible.

Just north of Ephraim, Utah, looking northwest. (Photo by EOlsen)

Only a week after my return, I moved to Ephraim, Utah, a small town off the beaten path near the center of the state. My employer owned a satellite office there, of all places, where I planned to expand the company. Having lived in Utah for about 15 years beforehand, I was thrilled to return and to be closer to my family. I sent photos to my Indian friends of my new neighborhood, that of farmland, mountain backdrops, blue skies and puffy white clouds. They couldn’t believe the landscape was real. And in Ephraim, there are even fewer people than in Pasadena. It didn’t take long for me to miss the heavily populated world of India. Although there is something preferable about what we find familiar and predictable, I would go back to India in a heartbeat.

References
Nayak, Polly and Michael Krepon. “The Unfinished Crisis: US Crisis Management after the 2008 Mumbai Attacks,” The Henry L. Stimson Center https://www.stimson.org/wp-content/files/file-attachments/Mumbai-Final_1_1.pdf

Environmental Racism

Summer 2020 Podcast 2

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Liberty and Justice For All Podcast. This is Emily Olsen, checking in from Salt Lake City. In my first attempt to begin this podcast two years ago, I wrote a piece about race and equality. Here is an excerpt:

“When the media broke the news last summer that ICE was separating children from their parents at the borders, regardless of whether they were requesting asylum or attempting to enter illegally, I wrote a letter to Senator Orrin Hatch pleading with him to do something in the name of protecting families, as families are a big focus here in Utah. Immigration is not typically a subject that Hatch gets involved with, but surprisingly, he did this time. It was shortly afterwards that Hatch, along with 12 other Republican senators, were successful in getting Trump to change his policy and stop the separations.

“I am sure that many others also wrote to Hatch on this topic, but I would like to think that, in addition to my numerous prayers in this regard, my humble letter may have played a small part. We never know of the influence we can have. Each of us can make a difference. I pray for the children and parents who are still separated – they number more than 400 at this time. These children will suffer lasting effects from this separation, and I hate that it was my government that hurt them in such a thoughtless way. These people have been treated like chattel just because of their political status, and I would argue that the action against them reeks of blatant racist overtones.”

Only slightly better than before, families seeking asylum or attempting to enter illegally into the United States have been held together in detention centers ever since – that is, if they could track down the parents and children and actually reunite them. Gratefully, in the last week of June 2020, a judge ruled that children in custody with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must be released by mid-July in compliance with the Flores Act, but also because of the threat of exposure to the new coronavirus.

However, the judge did not require that parents be released with their children – in fact, the children will most likely be transferred to the custody of another family member, if available, or  guardian, which will cause separation stress to the children all over again. The Flores Act requires that children retained by ICE should only be held for 20 days or less, but the Trump Administration has not observed the law until now.

Such a transfer will be traumatic for the children, but the threat of coronavirus exposure is particularly imminent and perhaps the greater threat. Last week 11 individuals in custody at one of the three ICE family detention centers located in Texas and Pennsylvania have been diagnosed with Covid-19. In addition, four employees at the three facilities have also tested positive. In addition, more than 2,500 adult immigrants in custody have contracted the virus. At least 800 of those have been placed in isolation or observation, and gratefully some have been released, according to CBS News.

You may ask, why do we give special attention to these immigrants when we are all facing exposure to Covid-19? But most of these immigrants should not be held at all by the government. Seeking asylum is not illegal, not by U.S. or international law. Regardless, if they get sick, ICE is responsible for giving them the care they need – and ICE is liable if these immigrants die or suffer lasting effects from the disease while in custody. You would think the government would not want such mud on their hands, but this detainment is a Trump campaign promise, thus making Trump less willing to back down.

Unfortunately, all Latinos, not just ICE-detained immigrants, face increased exposure to the virus, and so do African Americans, according to statistics. NPR reports that, unfortunately, African Americans are at least twice as likely than whites to perish from the disease – not just contract the illness or get hospitalized, but to actually die. African Americans make up 30 percent of the population nationally but account for 56 percent of Covid-19 deaths. Unfortunately, in a handful of states, that rate is three or more times greater. Also, U.S. Latinos are proportionally more likely to contract the disease, and in eight states, they are four times more likely than whites.

Statistics in the state of Utah align with these findings. As of the end of June, the state has had 22,217 positive cases of the virus with 172 deaths, according to ABC4 Utah and the Utah Department of Health. Latinos make up 14.2 percent of the population here but make up 42.9 percent of Covid-19 cases and about 25 percent of deaths. Whites, which make up 78 percent of the Utah population, account for only 38.5 percent of present Covid-19 cases. Other people of color are also more likely to experience more severe symptoms than whites.

NPR reports that this racial discrepancy is not a “genetic issue,” but rather a result of racial inequities. People of color are more likely to be employed in what are considered essential jobs right now, which means they are likely to interact with more people on a daily basis than those who are able to work remotely from home. They are also less able to establish separate quarantine areas in their homes, should a household member get sick.

But racial inequities that affect health go deeper than employment and home size. People of color are more likely to be poor and to experience what is called environmental racism – they are more likely to be exposed to harmful chemicals in the air, water, and elsewhere because of where they live. Cheaper real estate is often in closer proximity to factories, refineries, and freight train or truck routes, which expose these residents to chemicals that big business and government organizations are less likely to regulate, according to The Atlantic.

Because of air pollution, poor people often contract asthma and other similar ailments on top of other health conditions. For example, the poor are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at a younger age than other socioeconomic groups because they have less access to affordable and effective healthcare and in the inner-city they have less access to fresh fruits and vegetables. These conditions make people of color more likely to not only contract Covid-19, but to experience more serious symptoms, get hospitalized, and even perish.

The new coronavirus is not unique in its treatment of African Americans. It is simply exposing racial inequities that have existed in the United States for centuries. Forced to emigrate to this country centuries ago because of slavery, African Americans have been, and continue to be, treated not only as lesser, but as subhuman. Their history has come to the forefront through the Black Lives Matter movement, which began last month in response to the brutal and senseless death of George Floyd while in the custody of four police officers on the streets of Minneapolis. His strangulation, which lasted for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, was caught on video by a courageous 17-year-old girl who filmed the cruel exchange on her cell phone. Protests erupted almost immediately in Minnesota and quickly followed in communities throughout the country and the world. And the protests have continued every day since.

The virus itself has been affectively discriminatory, but so have political leaders in their management of the disease. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, for example, has still refused to issue a mandate for his residents to wear masks while in public, even though his state is experiencing a dramatic jump in cases, with 87,709 confirmed cases and 2,849 deaths as of July 2. At 17,500, young adults aged 18 to 29 account for more Covid-19 cases than any other age group in the state, and many of them are Latino, who are generally younger than the general population, according to the Ledger-Enquirer. And the Georgia Department of Public Health reports that African Americans account for almost 25,000 (or 30 percent) of Georgia’s cases.

Several conservative leaders elected throughout the country at state and municipal levels have taken President Trump’s lead to not wear masks, but recently Vice President Pence, and finally, Trump, have begun promoting the wearing of masks. However, few conservative governors have followed suit by mandating masks in public, even though the simple act of wearing a cloth or disposable piece of paper on your face has been proven to reduce the spread of the disease.

Without a vaccine or even a reliable drug treatment for the disease, the wearing of masks when we are around others is the best line of defense. Covid-19 cases have skyrocketed in recent weeks, and a majority of states now have caseloads that are out of control. In the last week of June, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that people traveling to New York from states with positivity rates of greater than 10 percent are now mandated to quarantine for 14 days before entering public places. And embarrassingly, the European Union has issued a travel ban to U.S. residents because of our outbreaks.

Why do these conservatives downplay the recommendations of scientific and medical experts? Has our society eroded into forgetting about The Enlightenment? You know, the movement that started 300 years ago? At least Texas is mandated to wear masks now. They have double the number of cases compared to Georgia. But it has taken way too long to get to this – compared to just about every other country in the world, we are at least two months behind in reducing the spread of Covid-19, and it will probably take three times longer for us to catch up. Contract tracing and quarantining becomes a bear with so many people infected.

Clearly, conservative leaders have considered other factors as more important than the safety of their residents. Many of these leaders hide behind the excuse that closing down communities will put the economy at a standstill, but it is clear that the economy will only grow worse if we cannot reduce the number of cases. We’ve tried re-opening without taking the proper precautions (wearing masks) and you see where that has gotten us.

Stacey Abrams, former candidate for the governor of Georgia, calls Gov. Kemp’s lack of action right out racist. Whites, young people, and conservative media viewers have become complacent about Covid-19, believing it is nothing more than the flu and not caring what it is doing to other citizens of this country.

Short of accusing these conservative leaders of right out genocide and ethnic cleansing, I would like to believe they have simply been sucked into Trump’s political narrative. But the thought has not escaped me, and regardless, these leaders are accountable for the lives lost on their watches. In context with the way African Americans and other people of color have been treated in the past, it would not surprise me if some leaders’ motives in this regard are racist, particularly Gov. Kemp who, just a few weeks ago, made another round of unrelenting strides to suppress the black vote.

Within the present Black Lives Matter movement, I have heard the concept on more than one occasion that acts of systemic racism are a canary in the coal mine when evaluating a country’s democracy index. A democracy index evaluates all the countries in the world, and you would think the United States would appear in the top five, but according to The Economist, it doesn’t right now.

The United States has been losing points in its democracy index since the Conservative Tea Party movement began in 2009, and with Trump’s present dereliction of duty, our country appears to be in somewhat of a freefall. It’s actually kind of scary. What factors go into determining a democracy index ranking? Free and fair competitive elections, civil liberties, political participation and a functional government. I would add that within political participation and civil liberties is a free press that factually and effectively informs the public.

Our country, whose Constitution is the gold standard for so many other nations, simply doesn’t practice what it preaches. Liberty and Justice for All means everyone – not just an elite few. It shouldn’t matter whether you own land, if you are male or female, if you are hetero or LGBTQ+, if you have a disability, if you are white or another race, or if you are a first-generation citizen or your family has lived here for centuries. The American Dream should be available to all – not just in theory or ideal, but from a legal stance – the present Constitution indicates this.

So why is it that systemic racism has reduced the freedoms of African Americans for generations? I mean, the Civil War ended in 1865 – more than 150 years ago – but somehow, we resorted to continuing this caste system from the past. The people in charge didn’t want to share their freedoms and insisted on feeling elite.

Have you ever wondered why African Americans and other people of color seem to live more often in the city and are more likely to be poor? If you are white, you may have just accepted that it is simply the way it is. Except that white landowners socially engineered it to be so. When suburbs were first developed after World War II, community planners liked the idea of letting their residents live outside of the city. It meant a man could commute to work each day and leave his wife and children in a serene, friendly environment. But communities like Levittown outside of New York City did not permit blacks and other people of color to move there. It’s not that they couldn’t afford it. Blacks were forced to stay in the inner-city, where they had less access to good schools, safe streets, clean air, open space, not to mention fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course, Jim Crow laws (which were not real laws on the books, I will clarify, at least in most cases) extended discrimination to just about every area of African American lives.

I was very touched by Oprah Winfrey’s 60 Minutes reporting in 2018 about a new memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, called The National Memorial for Peace and Justice that was founded by the Equal Justice Initiative. Its researchers have taken great care to memorialize those for whom records are available who were lynched in the early- to mid-1900s during the Jim Crow laws. Some were documented in local newspapers in photos of picnic-like gatherings of families and children of all ages who would watch such hangings as though they were sporting events.

Now, communities have watched hangings for centuries, even millennia. We hear of brutal public deaths in Shakespeare’s time and during the French Revolution. But what separates American lynchings from these is that they were illegal under the U.S. Constitution, even if the local sheriff oversaw the event. Black men – and women – were killed without due process, without legal representation, and without a trial or jury. A group of people simply thought that they were superior, that they felt like they had the right to control, mock, demoralize and kill another group of people. Entire generations have been impacted by these illegal killings, and the Equal Justice Initiative created this peaceful memorial as a way to begin the healing process.

I was born into a white family and can never know the extent of how systemic racism affects someone’s identity and self-confidence after it has gotten interwoven into generations upon generations of their family, and has influenced what schools they have or have not been able to attend and what livelihoods they have been able to pursue.

I have lived in several places in this country including the South, the Midwest, and the West, and in both rural and urban settings. I know systemic racism is real, and I have always abhorred it. It’s time for us to re-evaluate and give African Americans and other people of color full access to their civil liberties.

I love everything about the movie “Hidden Figures” about three African American women who worked for NASA in 1960s Virginia. I loved learning about these three amazing women who did extraordinary things. Katherine Johnson is a mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program. Her quick calculations were more accurate than a computer and assured that John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, got home safely. Dorothy Vaughn was the first African American supervisor at NASA. She not only taught the computer language FORTRAN to other women but helped to preserve their jobs when NASA transitioned from human computers to IBM computers. And Mary Jackson is the first black female to work as an engineer at NASA. She obtained the additional qualifications for the position by obtaining a court order (from a Virginia judge) to permit her to attend night classes at a white college. Jackson also helped to advocate for the hiring and promotion of other women at NASA.

I love the music, the costumes, and the culture portrayed in “Hidden Figures.” The three women portrayed in it have incredible energy, great personalities, and share a unique friendship. Their dry sense of humor, quick wit, and support for each other are qualities we need more of in this country. After seeing the movie for the first time, I was filled with emotion. I felt at a loss somehow, knowing I didn’t have access to this beautiful community of friendship, camaraderie, and never-ending support.

The parallel cultures of whites and blacks have run side by side each other for centuries but have always stayed separate. Black people often have different fashions and like different music. They have different dialects and different creative idioms. They even worship differently than whites. But can you imagine a world where we are permitted to partake of each other’s cultures like brothers and sisters and be the better for it?

I am thrilled to be able to witness the progress happening so quickly through the Black Lives Matter movement. I know we are just scratching the surface right now to curb racist police brutality and to change perceptions and attitudes that existed in the foundations of this country. I am glad we are hearing the complaints of the oppressed and giving them a seat at the table to create solutions. But we are at a crossroads right now, and I fear the very make-up of our nation is on the line if this country cannot repent and heal from its original sin.

The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice for All.

References
Montoya-Galvez, Camilo. “ICE reports first coronavirus cases among detained migrant families with children,” CBS News, June 26, 2020.

Jordan, Miriam. “U.S. Must Release Children From Family Detention Centers, Judge Rules,”  The New York Times, June 26, 2020.

Newkirk, Vann R. “A New EPA Report Shows That Environmental Racism is Real,” The Atlantic, February 28, 2018.

ABC4 Utah. “553 cases of COVID-19 announced in Utah Tuesday, four new deaths.” June 30, 2020.

Godoy, Maria and Daniel Wood. “The Coronavirus Crisis: What do coronavirus racial disparities look like state by state?” NPR, May 30, 2020.

Wooten, Nick. “‘We’ve got to be reasonable.’ Kemp addresses mask mandate challenge in Columbus tour stop,” Ledger-Enquirer, July 1, 2020. https://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/coronavirus/article243924742.html.

Georgia Department of Public Health. “Daily Status Report,” July 2, 2020. https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report

Kekic, Laza and Economist Intelligence Unit. “The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of democracy. 2007. https://www.economist.com/media/pdf/DEMOCRACY_INDEX_2007_v3.pdf

Winfrey, Oprah. “Inside the Memorial to Victims of Lynching,” 60 Minutes, April 27, 2018.  https://www.cbsnews.com/news/inside-the-memorial-to-victims-of-lynching-60-minutes-oprah-winfrey/

Gigliotti, Donna, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams and Theodore Melfi. “Hidden Figures,” Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment and Levantine Films. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wfrDhgUMGI

Pro-Choice vs. Anti-Abortion

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Liberty and Justice For All podcast. Today I want to talk about woman’s role in our society. I am reminded of Éowyn in “Lord of the Rings,” who dutifully takes care of her Uncle Théoden, King of Rohan. When under a spell, his mind clouds for a time, and she courageously advocates for his interests. Éowyn is also needed to direct the women and children to safety at the Helms Deep fortress when they come under attack and are driven from their homes. But Éowyn is determined to fight and later disguises herself as a man to join the soldiers into battle. And, spoiler alert, it is she who ultimately confronts and kills the Lord of the Nazgǔl, a shriekingly fierce and evil former king who is under the control of Sauron, the All-Seeing Eye.

Women can do amazing things; traditionally most are not recognized publicly for their contributions in raising children and keeping house. Those roles may be seen today as unimportant or trivial, but mothers and women are what keep our society functioning at the grassroots level. What makes Éowyn unique in “Lord of the Rings” is the fact that she is, in every sense, a feminine, graceful, beautiful woman. And yet, she knows her way around a sword and can match any master swordsman. She is her army’s secret weapon. When she kills the Lord of the Nazgǔl, she does so in the name of all women, as well as men. Éowyn is totally my hero!

Not all women are called to be tough physically. Some of us contribute using our unique knowledge, skills and talents. Women are often valued in business because of their unique perspectives, and not just for their fashion sense or ability to make good coffee – I sound old-fashioned even suggesting that. Women are often great at multi-tasking and global thinking, and as these talents have become more sought after, men with these skills are valued also. As a group, women are considered a minority – in a very similar way to racial and religious minorities. And, unfortunately, women still face the stigma of being considered the weaker gender. I believe that if society valued the contributions of women as much as men, our culture would be more balanced and healthy.

A friend of mine who I have spoken to on this subject suggested that instead of gender roles, I am actually talking about the masculine and feminine – roles which have traditionally been assigned to men or women can be fulfilled by either gender today in a hetero or LGBTQ relationship. In my marriage, for example, I prefer to weed and mow the lawn more than my husband, and my husband prefers to cook more than me. What is important in any fulfilling relationship is that we, as co-equals, complement each other, that we each offer our knowledge and skills towards the whole and can build on each other’s strengths. Despite these roles, though, the biological differences of men and women are also significant and important.

I respect the traditional role of men as fathers, husbands and patriarchs, and the role of women as mothers, wives and matriarchs, but I believe that those roles, although beautiful in an ideal world, are often used to manipulate and hurt. In our imperfect society, there are far too many family situations where both women and men are not valued, where there is abuse and neglect. Our society has largely forgotten the yin-yang role of men and women working together as co-equals to build families and communities. In a perfect world, both men and women would play essential roles in our communities, but without their equal recognition, our society is out of balance.

So let’s talk about women, and being a woman in a society that is still dominated by men. Even in our progressive society, women still bear the burden (literally) when intercourse occurs, nature takes its course, and she gets pregnant. She is the one who gets blamed and shamed, when clearly, there is also a man involved.

I believe that beyond what a girl is told in Sunday School, she has an innate understanding of her purpose as a vessel to bring forth life. And I believe that a woman is fulfilled when she is able to carry out that purpose in the way that she desires. But life is rarely perfect, and sometimes life brings unplanned challenges.

The stance of many religions, including my own, is that abortion is wrong. Although I agree with this on a personal, moral and spiritual level, I differ from a civic standpoint. I believe that abortion should be legal. I understand the view that this country, being Christian-based, should promote laws that have Christian values – but what community has the right to ridicule, belittle and even damn a woman or a doctor for choosing to take care of a problem – even if it is in an undesirable way – if the community doe not offer a comparable solution? The last I checked, free agency is also a Christian value, and I take it very seriously when laws infringe on people’s freedoms and privacy.

Let’s just get this straight – and I am speaking to my pro-life friends out there – regardless of what you may have been told, no one out there is pro-abortion. It’s not like women choose to get pregnant just so they can have an abortion. I mean, anyone who has ever been or has tried to get pregnant will tell you that your body takes a serious toll physically, hormonally, emotionally, etc.  And I think we all agree that most women who have ever had an abortion, regardless of the circumstances, may not offer you their personal feelings on the subject, but it is a decision, no matter how necessary they felt it was, that they will never forget and will likely regret for the rest of their lives. Abortion is never a happy, celebrated thing.

Despite what you may think, pregnancy and starting families is a family affair – like the whole family. Husbands, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, close friends, etc. I am not a psychologist, but I have a family, and I have a lot of friends whose families I am acquainted with. Some families and cultures willingly bring a child into their fold despite unorthodox circumstances, but lots of religiously conservative cultures in the United States do not have a place socially for such challenges.

No matter what has been ingrained in your mind about the wickedness of abortion, you cannot begin to judge someone unless you put yourself in their shoes. If you had a girlfriend or close friend, sister or daughter, cousin or wife who had gotten pregnant by accident, and they came to you for help, what would you do? Would you judge them harshly, kick them out of the house and never speak to them again, or would you help them? I mean, if you oppose abortion, would you be willing and able to provide them with food, board, privacy and a shoulder to lean on for nine months until they could have the baby, or would abortion be the only feasible path from a financial, logistical, or social perspective? I will state the obvious and say that there is a difference between idealism and the reality of an imperfect society.

Let me put this a different way: Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan – when a man is mugged and left for dead on the road, both a priest and a Levite who worked in the temple avoid the man, citing all kinds of excuses why they could not help him. But it was the Samaritan, a person who was a Gentile and of a lower caste, who tended to the man, boarded him in an inn where he was fed and looked after. How is a woman with an unwanted pregnancy any different than that?

Despite anti-abortion laws on the books, women and girls are still going to have unwanted pregnancies in our communities, regardless of their religion or lack of religion. Did you know that 60 percent of women who have abortions have already had at least one child, and that they pursue an abortion often for economic reasons? Economics is a major factor in abortion cases. Wealthy women, regardless of the laws, will still have access to safe, discreet abortions if they find themselves in such a situation. But it is the less fortunate, poor women who are left without assistance in an unwanted pregnancy, and if they become desperate in places where abortion is illegal, women will find other methods of taking care of the situation – coat hangers in alleys are the path that some will take, and we will lose women’s lives in the process.

I realize that it may be a new concept for some of you to consider abortion as an act of love, but I believe a large majority of pro-choice advocates base their viewpoint on compassion. Democrats don’t want more abortions. They want to prevent the unwanted pregnancy to begin with by providing comprehensive sex ed and free contraception. Moreover, they want to lift people out of poverty so that women who get pregnant unexpectedly will be more able to keep the baby or bring it to full term and give it up for adoption.

Keep in mind that we are a country of 330 million people with numerous religious beliefs, cultures, and sexual preferences. But certain evangelical groups, especially those who are hostile towards abortion clinics, impose their beliefs on others, and those religious beliefs spill over into politics. Many of these groups promote single-issue voting – with abortion as the most important issue they consider when selecting a candidate.

Red states, in particular, have been coordinating efforts in recent years to formulate anti-abortion laws for the purpose of getting challenged at the Supreme Court level, and ultimately having the chance of weakening or even reversing Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion up to about 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

To set up this anti-abortion coalition, many religiously conservative communities endorsed political candidates a few years ago on the state and federal level, including President Trump, with the understanding that when elected, they would heavily promote anti-abortion legislation and select pro-life judges. Thanks to the recently appointed Justice Kavanaugh, we have a conservative majority in the High Court now.

Several states, including Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia, have recently pursued what are being called “heartbeat” bills, which ban an abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected. Alabama’s law would establish that a doctor performing an abortion can be charged with homicide and face a two-year jail sentence. Alabama and Missouri provide an exception if an abortion is necessary to prevent death of the mother or if death of the baby is imminent, but Missouri would not permit abortion in cases of rape or incest.

Mississippi’s heartbeat law is even more strict by prohibiting abortions after six weeks and only makes exceptions for preserving the life of the mother and not for rape or incest, and Ohio’s law is similar to that.

Several of the anti-abortion laws passed by states in 2019 have been stayed, or put on hold, while they go through the courts, but if enacted, this country could see a pre-Roe v. Wade world again. During the Covid-19 pandemic the Supreme Court has been hearing cases remotely through the internet, and an opinion from the High Court could be delivered this month. Most of us don’t even remember what that world was like before Roe v. Wade, and those of us who do might think twice about returning. Do you really want to go back to coat hangers in alleys?

President Trump’s base continues to support him because of his commitment to make abortion illegal, but can anyone else detect the dripping irony? I mean, can we even count the number of accusations he has received of sexual assault, harassment and even rape? And the pay-offs given to two of Trump’s extra-marital porn stars? Don’t forget the Access Hollywood video where Trump brags about how he grabs women by the um-um, and there is plenty of evidence of Trump’s wild parties with accused child rapist Jeffrey Epstein. And Trump’s misogynistic behavior is not just in the past – his verbal attacks against prominent congresswomen, governors and foreign heads of state are practically commonplace these days. And while we are on the subject, Justice Kavanaugh is not exactly a pillar of society for the drunken parties in his youth and his accused violent treatment of women.

The Republicans have their approach to stopping abortion turned upside down. If they would get down from their judicial high horses and show a bit of mercy, love and respect for women, perhaps there would not be as big of a need for abortion in the first place. Mothers and fathers unwilling to accept that their daughters may have gotten into trouble create such a double standard – while appearing to be pious, they leave their daughters in the dust when it is their job, and the job of society by extension, to embrace them.  

That is why I have given my best effort in preparing this podcast. I feel that so many political conservatives are deeply misguided in their intolerance for abortion. In a perfect world, there would not be a need for it, but until we can lift people out of poverty, prevent abuse and enmity between loved ones – and until we can restore the yin-yang relationship of men and women, society will still have a need for abortion.

Despite my church’s belief that abortion is immoral, the policy for years of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been that abortion may be necessary in times of incest, rape, or if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. But a lot of the legislation passing in individual states in the last few years does not even align with this, so I can further justify my opposition to the strict laws getting passed throughout the country. And don’t even get me started on the most recent actions of states like Texas that have attempted (but failed) to classify abortions as “elective surgeries” during Covid-19.

Don’t misunderstand me – I will advocate all the way for carrying an unwanted baby to full term and then pursuing adoption.  But there are circumstances when carrying a baby to full term is not possible. Obviously in cases of rape or incest, a woman could be traumatized and she may be emotionally incapable of carrying the baby, especially if she is a child herself or her pregnancy creates a medical danger for her.

But there are also endlessly numerous, more subtle circumstances where a woman may consider an abortion, usually when there are social or economic constraints. Going back home with a “problem” will be seen as a failure, and she may be blacklisted by her community. If her family is unable or unwilling to assist, what will she be able to do?

Further, laws should not be designed to increase births at the cost of reducing a woman’s freedom. I believe it is the job of society to support and facilitate whatever decision a woman makes regarding the needs of her body. After all, a woman, a trusted partner if she has one, and her doctor are really the only ones who know what the best choice is for a given situation.

Although I personally believe that abortion should only be used as a last resort and after much contemplation, I do not believe that abortion should be considered murder. Things get sticky when you have a life inside another life that is capable of creating other lives.

Personally – and I will get religious here – as a member of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, I believe that all people are God’s children and that He wants the souls still waiting in heaven to have a chance to be born. Abortion inhibits, or at least delays, God’s plan for these souls, but you must remember that we, who are already alive, are also souls and God loves us all equally. God has given us free agency to make choices, right or wrong – better or best – that ultimately set the course for our lives and often the lives of those around us. God has also given us the ability to be forgiven of our wrongdoings. When a woman doesn’t have access to a safe abortion, it often limits her ability to have children down the road when she is able to start a family. Further, there is so much we don’t know about God’s work and the nature of souls. I would like to think that souls who were unable to be born once get a second chance to be born at another time.

The Declaration of Independence states that we are all equal and eligible for the same freedoms. The legal standpoint must take priority over our personal morals regarding abortion. Bottom line: what happens inside a woman’s body is about as personal as you can get, and I do not think the government has any business regulating it. OK – there is my two cents.

As a middle-aged woman who doesn’t have any children, I wish to offer some maternal advice to any young people who seek it: when you are my age, I hope you can look back on things and be satisfied with your life choices. When I have made difficult choices related to having a family – oh, I sound so much like a mom when I say it like that – but I had to really sort out my goals, and situation at hand, and my feelings. Sometimes I had to revisit those feelings and reiterate my goals later when my heart panged regarding a medical need or a love lost. I think it is important to live life – breathe it in, make good friends that you enjoy being around, respect others, learn about lots of things, and develop useful skills. But beyond all else, know that you are beautiful and important and that there are people who love you no matter what. I believe in marriage and in families, and I admire those who make sacrifices in their lives to strive towards the goal of having a family.

The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice For All.

References
Tolkien, JRR. “The Lord of the Rings,” three-book series including “The Fellowship of the Ring” (1954), “The Two Towers” (1954), and “The Return of the King” (1955).

The Associated Press. “Who’s getting abortions? Not who you’d think,” NBCNews.com, January 18, 2008. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/22689931/ns/health-womens_health/t/whos-getting-abortions-not-who-youd-think/#.Xp54Ipl7kdU

“The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” Luke 10:25-35, The New Testament, King James Version. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/nt/luke/10?lang=eng

Rojas, Rick and Alan Blinder. “Alabama abortion ban is temporarily blocked by a federal judge,” The New York Times, October 29, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/29/us/alabama-abortion-ban.html

Law, Tara. “Here are the details of the abortion legislation in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Elsewhere,” Time Magazine. May 18, 2019 and updated July 2, 2019. https://time.com/5591166/state-abortion-laws-explained/

Kilgore, Ed. “Kavanaugh sends a strong signal on how he’ll approach abortion rights,” New York Magazine, April 23, 2020. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/04/kavanaugh-signals-how-hell-approach-abortion-rights-cases.html

Allen, Jonathan and Jonathan Stempel. “FBI documents point to Trump role in hush money for porn star Daniels.” Reuters, July 18, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-cohen/fbi-documents-point-to-trump-role-in-hush-money-for-porn-star-daniels-idUSKCN1UD18D

ABC.Net.au. “Donald Trump: Billy Bush says infamous Access Hollywood ‘grab them by the p***y’ tape is real.” Updated December 3, 2017. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-04/billy-bush-says-infamous-access-hollywood-trump-tape-is-real/9224358

Reinhard, Beth, Rosalind Helderman and Marc Fisher. “Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein partied together. Then an oceanfront Palm Beach mansion came between them,” The Washington Post, July 31, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/donald-trump-and-jeffrey-epstein-partied-together-then-an-oceanfront-palm-beach-mansion-came-between-them/2019/07/31/79f1d98c-aca0-11e9-a0c9-6d2d7818f3da_story.html

Prasad, Ritu. “How Trump talks about women – and does it matter?” BBC News, November 29, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50563106

McIntire, Mike and Ben Protess. “At the center of Kavanaugh Accusations: Heavy Drinking.” The New York Times, September 26, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/us/politics/kavanaugh-drinking-yale-high-school.html

An Endorsement of Medicare for All

Originally published in March 2020, this podcast discusses the healthcare plan proposed by Bernie Sanders. Although he has ended his presidential campaign and now endorses Joe Biden, he did so with the understanding the Biden would adjust his stance on healthcare to appeal to progressive democrats. And in light of the current pandemic, providing affordable healthcare for all is more critical and has more mainstream demand now than ever. Reading it now, I am amazed at how my attitudes have changed about the Coronavirus.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Liberty and Justice For All Podcast. I’m Emily Olsen, and I enjoyed watching the March 15 Presidential Debate between Biden and Bernie. I think both of them did well. I enjoyed the one-on-one format that gave them more time to discuss their policies.

But I am amazed at how the Covid-19 outbreak lessened the gap between Biden’s expansion of Obamacare and Bernie’s Medicare for All policies. Covid-19, or Coronavirus as it is commonly known, has changed a lot of things around us, just in the last few days, such as the availability of toilet paper. But I was going to say that Covid-19 certainly accentuates the need for everyone in our communities to have access to affordable healthcare. The health of one affects the health of all. We can all accept this in regard to extremely contagious diseases like Covid-19, and this principle applies to our economy also.

I want to talk today about more of the details of Medicare for All. I will say that as a layperson watching Sunday’s debate, I was left with questions about Bernie’s policy, and I think there is more interest than ever about what he has to offer. All insurance is complicated, and Medicare for All is different than Obamacare in a number of ways that is important to understand for comparing Bernie from Biden.

So before I get into a big discussion about the benefits of the left-wing policy of Medicare for All, I will reiterate that only a few years ago, I still identified as a moderate Republican. How could my views change so drastically in such a short time?

My husband, Paul, had a big influence on me in that regard. He will join us as my guest in a moment. About three years ago, he completed his master’s project on a health economics subject, and I assisted him in preparing the written report and literature search for it. Even the title is quite technical, which is, “How Socioeconomics and Limited Access to Healthcare Relate to the Onset of Secondary Symptoms in Diabetes.” He completed multiple sets of regression analyses, which are statistical comparisons of a group of data. I have included a link to the whole report and his data in the text below, if you’re interested. His project identified a statistical correlation between poverty and the onset of both Type 2 diabetes and the onset of secondary symptoms in Type 2 diabetes.

So basically, poor people are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and also develop complications later on from it, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, or blindness. Being poor makes you more susceptible for many other medical conditions, as well. That info is really important to you if you are poor, but it’s especially important to all of us, when you combine it with the fact that about half of all estimated national expenses associated with diabetes are related to emergency and/or hospital care. And most emergency and hospital care can be avoided if patients are maintaining their diabetes well by keeping blood sugars within the safe range on a consistent basis and by being able to keep the recommended quarterly doctor’s appointments for diabetics. Those who are maintaining their diabetes well are less likely to have an emergency low or high blood sugar, which could worsen their diabetes or even cause death in extreme cases.

To maintain their diabetes well, patients need access to affordable healthcare and pharmaceuticals. They need to be able to see a doctor on a regular basis, as well as receive medications and diabetic supplies without breaking the bank and without having to sacrifice some of those things so that they can afford food or food for their families or a roof over their heads.

When they experience an emergency or hospital event, poor individuals are often not able to pay the associated bill, which can easily get into the thousands – even with insurance. So what happens if they have to go bankrupt? The hospital and ambulance service and doctor that attended to them have to eat the expense, and that means that in order to keep their businesses running, they have to raise their rates for everyone. As a result, we all pay more for our medical emergencies to cover the cost of those who can’t pay.

So if everyone in our communities had access to affordable healthcare, everyone would experience lower costs – in theory, that is – but you know how hospitals and doctors and insurance companies, and especially pharmaceutical companies, like to make a buck – how could Bernie’s plan actually produce the lower costs? Let’s ask Paul, who has substantially researched and embraced Bernie’s plan. Welcome to the show, Paul.

Paul:      Thank you. First of all, Medicare for All would be significantly lower cost to the consumer. You would simply pay a 4% income-based tax. For a family earning $50,000 a year, that’s only $844 a year after the standard deduction.

Emily:   Which is so much less than the average annual cost of premiums that families are paying right now. And that is all they pay – no co-pays, no lab fees, no ambulance fees.

Paul:      That’s right. And families earning less than $29,000 would pay nothing.

Emily:   So how would Bernie’s plan have the leverage to reduce the costs of hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, and pharmaceuticals?

Paul:      Bernie’s plan would eliminate the insurance companies altogether. And when you allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of drugs and other healthcare costs on behalf of all of us, Medicare would have the necessary leverage to reduce costs substantially, like having a union would.

Emily:   But what would happen to all the people who run insurance companies. Wouldn’t they be out of a job?

Paul:      The people who run insurance companies have net-worths of tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. I think they’ll be fine. And as for the employees, the Medicare for All system is going to be covering the entire country, so we will need all their labor that we can get.

Emily:   What about people who want to keep their private insurance – like the unions that negotiated so hard for it?

Paul:      Bernie’s plan actually allows people to opt for keeping their private insurance for the first few years, but they will pay more and so will their employers than if they choose Medicare for All. In fact, a lot of companies will probably stop offering private insurance and switch to the public plan because it will be so much cheaper for them. If we go with Medicare for All, Unions can then put all their resources into fighting for higher wages and don’t need to spend time negotiating their benefits packages. Most union workers are in favor of Medicare for All.

A second point on this: People just want their medical bills paid, and Medicare for All offers a safety net. People won’t have to worry about going bankrupt if they experience an expensive medical procedure. People purchase medical insurance to reduce their medical costs especially in an emergency, and Medicare for All not only gives people coverage, but at a substantially reduced cost not only for the individual consumer, but for the whole country.

Emily:   You indicated that Medicare for All will cost less for employers. I’m sure if people didn’t have to worry about having insurance, there would be a lot more people starting their own businesses. And people who get sick and have to leave their jobs can be rest assured that their medical bills will get paid.

Paul:      Absolutely. There are many people who have great ideas for starting new companies, but they can’t leave their jobs because they get their health insurance through their employers. Medicare for All solves that problem.

Emily:   In that sense, it will be great for the economy. Will Bernie’s plan be able to ensure a smooth transition from one program to the next? I know that especially for medical professionals, transitioning to Obamacare 10 years ago was grueling.

Paul:      Many hospitals and doctors already accept Medicare, which is already established in the system. We would simply expand it over a four-year period. Furthermore, many doctors love Medicare because it guarantees that they get paid.

Emily:   We’ve already talked about how Medicare for All would reduce costs because we would no longer have to pay for those who can’t pay. Would the policy also save costs in other ways?

Paul:      Absolutely. Insurance company executives would be eliminated, so we would no longer have to pay their exorbitant salaries. The Medicare program also does not have shareholders taking a large slice of the pie. Medicare does not need an advertising budget. You don’t see that many commercials for Medicare. The number one reason why healthcare costs have skyrocketed over the past few decades is the administrative costs. Hospitals have to deal with thousands of different insurance plans – different patients have different deductibles, and some patients are covered for a procedure where others are not. Keeping track of each insurance plan requires knowing a complex medical coding system, but under Medicare for All, you just send the bill to the government.

Emily:   Presently, there is an entire college class that medical professionals have to take to learn the medical coding system. You’re saying that we could simplify that system substantially under Medicare for All?

Paul:      Well, you just look at the numbers. Before Obamacare, of every dollar consumers paid to their insurance companies, only 50 to 60 cents was spent on actual health care. The ACA increased that, requiring 80 cents of every dollar be spent on health care. The Medicare system spends 93 cents of every dollar on health care.

Emily:   But Medicare will still negotiate prices for service?

Paul:      Sure, they already do in the current system.

Emily:   But aren’t Medicare payments less than other insurance companies? Will doctors be OK with that?

Paul:      Medicare will ensure that doctors and hospitals will get paid for each claim, and as a result, doctors and hospitals can charge a more accurate fee instead of inflating it to make up the slack for those who can’t pay. They won’t have to hire collection agencies anymore either, which will also save them money.

Emily:   So basically, medical insurance companies have failed?

Paul:      Medical insurance companies are motivated by profits, and the profit-motive is turned on its head in the medical insurance industry. They make more money the less they cover you. This is the reason why certain politicians are pushing customizable insurance plans, which are really more-loopholes-for-the-insurance-company plans.

Emily:   In other words, customizable insurance plans allow insurance companies more excuses to deny claims.

Paul:      Yes. And customizable insurance plans completely defeat the purpose of insurance. You don’t know what medical afflictions you’re going to have down the road.

Emily:   So explain to us how insurance works. You get a pool together. People pay premiums, the insurance company pays claims.

Paul:      Basically, and more people who contribute to the pool, the lower the cost per person for premiums and deductibles.

Emily:   So if the whole country was pooled together into one insurance plan, it would reduce costs for all us. But are there any downsides to having only one system? I mean, you could have a server go down –

Paul:      And like any large system, you would create a back-up system or two. Any competent engineer knows the importance of redundancy.

Emily:   I guess crooks would have a larger motive to hack such a system –

Paul:      Sure. But there are plenty of precautions that can be taken. Blackhats would have to imitate a hospital or doctor’s office to siphon off any money.

Emily:   But what about all of those Medicare fraud problems that we have had in the past? The government has a bad reputation for poor oversight of Medicare and other programs.

Paul:      Oversight concerns will need to be written into the legislation.

Emily:   And what happens when a Republican president is elected? This is a really different plan than we have now, and Republicans will resist when they are back in power.

Paul:      The Trump Administration has tried to do away with Obamacare. But people started realizing that they liked the new benefits, and it really hurt the Republicans in the 2018 midterms.

Emily:   That’s true – people started to really depend on their coverage and didn’t like it when the Republicans tried to take it away from them.

Paul:      Yeah, people like having health coverage, even if they don’t know it yet.

Emily:   OK. So with your master’s degree in economics, explain to us how the healthcare industry does not follow the standard supply and demand models.

Paul:      It’s quite simple. In most sectors of the economy, demand for a given product varies with its price. The higher the price, the less of a product is purchased. And the lower the price, the more of a product is purchased. I’ll give the example of a clothing store trying to sell a shirt for $10,000. They are not going to sell very many shirts at that price. They will have to lower the price if they expect to sell more.

Emily:   So there are a few designer shirts made of like ostrich leather or something which could cost $10,000. But I imagine that supply for those would be low, and the cost of manufacture would be high.

Paul:      And they would only sell a handful of them.

Emily:   Yeah, and those shirts would likely become collector’s items in a few years and sell for even more, probably. But most stores simply want to make a marginal profit after the cost of manufacture, advertising, etc.

Paul:      Right. Now, switch over the healthcare field. Suppose tragedy strikes and your child gets cancer.

Emily:   That would certainly be a case of demand regardless of price.

Paul:      Your choice in that situation is to pay whatever the chemotherapy costs or watch your child die. The pharmaceutical company knows that so they can get away with price gouging. Another example is a Type 1 diabetic. The have to use the same amount of insulin regardless of the cost. Too much they get sick; too little they get sick.

Emily:   Unless they compromise the amount of insulin they take to pay for other household things –

Paul:      And then their health rapidly deteriorates. It’s another case of being pence wise, pound foolish. It may save a buck in the short term but cost a lot more in the long term. Another example people have cited is that no one got an appendectomy because it was put on sale. Hospitals don’t have sales.

Emily:   They don’t need sales. There are enough sick people in the world. So people criticize Bernie’s plan because it doesn’t appear that he knows how it will get paid for.

Paul:      Every study that has been done – including ones from right-wing think tanks where they gave every conceivable benefit of the doubt to the private sector – shows that Bernie’s plan will save this country trillions of dollars. To ask how you are going to pay for saving money – I’m scratching my head. If that question still makes sense to you, you’re a hack.

Emily:   I see. It’s clear that Bernie’s plan will save us money. Thanks, Paul, for the great explanation. OK, I have a few more questions – I have heard the concern that Canada’s system often requires people to wait for a while to get a procedure. For example, a man who needed knee replacement surgery had to wait 6 months.

Paul:       Yes, and we often have to wait months to see specialists under our private system. Cases from Canada that require these long wait times – they often involve things like an organ transplants, and that has nothing to do with cost or resources – it’s about waiting until a suitable match becomes available.

Emily:     OK. Um, what do you say to people who don’t like the idea of the government running their healthcare?

Paul:       Like big brother is watching? Or I don’t want the government screwing up my healthcare?

Emily:     Yeah.

Paul:       The answer is that the current Medicare system is not a government-run system. The government just picks up the bill. So why would expanding that system to the whole population be government run health care?

Emily:     Another concern people have is that reducing the cost of prescription drugs will eliminate the R&D budgets of pharmaceutical companies, which may eliminate the ability for them to develop new life-saving medications.

Paul:       The government already pays for much of their R&D through grants and corporate subsidies. The government pays for R&D at universities, as well. It would be less of a conflict of interest for R&D budgets not to be associated with the cost of medications. When medications cost too much, it can cause a barrier to entry, which defeats the purpose of the drug development – if people can’t afford the medications, they can’t reap the benefits, and in some cases, that means death.

Emily:     Clearly, the present price gouging done by pharmaceutical companies isn’t to benefit their patients. It’s about profits instead. Thanks very much for joining us, Paul.

So in my interview with Paul, we didn’t get into the socialism aspect of Medicare for All, and that is something that a lot of people seem to have qualms about. So let’s talk about it now.

The right-wing media uses the word socialism as though it were authoritarianism. But there are so many uses for the word socialism that it has lost its meaning. What is Bernie’s version of democratic socialism? I’ll explain.

With the exception of North Korea and the like, all governments in the world have a mix of free market and socialism in their economies. For example, the government provides fire stations, roads, and libraries that we pay for through taxes. Can you imagine if fire stations were free market instead? We would each have the option of buying into supporting the fire station in our community. But if our house catches fire and we haven’t paid in, the fire department simply wouldn’t come and our house would burn to the ground. However, it would be in the best interest of our neighbors for the fire department to stop the fire as quickly as possible because the fire could spread to their properties. And it would be an administrative hassle in an emergency for them to identify who we are and if we have paid in. Such delays could cost lives. So you see that socialized fire departments are the best solution.

The United States has generally taken the stance that we are a free market economy to a point. Free market doesn’t always take into consideration the well-being of the people, and that’s when the government steps in with regulations like OSHA that ensures safe work conditions, for example. Medicare and Social Security were created to ensure that we have some income and medical insurance when we retire. And Bernie’s plan shows why it would be better for our economy and our health if we were all on the same plan that was managed by the government. When we all have coverage, the cost for everyone goes down, which is better for our GDP. I encourage you to check out Bernie’s plan on his Senate website. I have not given up on Bernie – he still has a lot of support out there and I know he would make a fabulous President. He has all of the people in mind.

One more thought I want to share with you: This Coronavirus is serious stuff. It is an adjustment to all of us as we try to hamper the spread of the virus especially among vulnerable populations. Just over the weekend, my nephew had to go into a 14-day quarantine because a student in one of his classes tested positive for the virus, so it has hit home fast for a lot of us. Paul and I spent some time on Saturday helping a few of our friends get to the store for supplies. I got to see firsthand the empty shelves – no hand soap, no dish soap, no diapers, no wet wipes. People are ready to hunker down for a while.

As the virus spreads, President Trump has started taking it a lot more seriously, especially after the market tumble of almost 3,000 points on Friday. But his missteps are really hurting him, especially regarding the availability of testing kits. Apparently, the President wasn’t willing to purchase test kits from the World Health Organization (or WHO), but kits that were distributed by the CDC aren’t working properly – I guess that’s the next scandal for Rachel Maddow to unearth. I wish the very best to all of you, and I have faith that good things will come from all of this.

The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice For All.

Gaslighting

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Liberty and Justice For All podcast. This week we watched the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump adjourn, and he is still President. Getting the Republican majority to do anything but acquit him was an impossibility, really, especially since convicting him would have required a super-majority two-thirds vote.

But the senators voting against the head of their party would have maligned them against their caucus, as well as the RNC, a significant campaign funding source that they heavily rely on. The challenge is that although senators took an oath to be impartial in their deliberation, or consideration, during the trial, their bias hung heavily over them.

However, freshman Senator Mitt Romney, Republican from Utah, made history just before the vote, when he became the first Senator of the same party as the president to vote against him. Romney’s vote of “guilty” for one of the two counts did not change the end result, but his action was instantly and vocally attacked by Trump supporters. Even members of the Utah state legislature are considering a bill to censure and possibly remove Romney from office as a result.

But I am so proud of Senator Romney for “following the dictates of his conscience,” the phrase he used in his sincere and well-drafted speech, which was a quote from the Eleventh Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney is a member of the church, also known as the Mormons, and so am I. I respect his vote because it aligns with my detailed understanding of the evidence against President Trump, and in addition, I admire his loyalty to God and his commitment to the truth and to facts – even when it means facing extreme scrutiny.

Senator Romney explained his religious convictions in an emotional speech before the Senate. “As a senator-juror,” he said, “I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.” Romney’s speech was on the front page of every newspaper in the nation this week because his convictions gave him the courage to adhere to moral principles instead of peer pressure.

I identify with Romney in terms of my personal religious devotion, which comes from a place deep in my heart, the real foundation of which began with my fervent and frequent prayer as a young teenager that developed into a loving and personal relationship with God. Despite personal trials over the years, my commitment to God continues to stand the tests of time.

I am grateful for Senator Romney’s example, which was a surprising turn of events that day. I understand that among the four senators who were on the floor to hear Romney’s speech in person, three of them were moved to tears, including Senators Patrick Leahy, Richard Blumenthal, and Chris Murphy.

Senator Murphy spoke to Chris Hayes on MSNBC later that day, explaining that he had spoken on the floor just before Mitt Romney’s speech. He had put himself in the shoes of his Republican colleagues, saying that he didn’t know if he could do what the Democrats had been asking Republicans to do. But Romney’s speech reconfirmed his faith in the Senate body. “He provided the answer that it is possible for senators of good conscience to put the nation before their partisan interests,” Senator Murphy said.

“… The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfill our duty,” Romney said in his 8-minute speech. “The grave question the Constitution tasked senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did,” Romney confirmed.

President Trump’s attacks on Romney in response have been loud and frequent. At the National Prayer Breakfast the next day, Trump unjustly attacked Romney’s religion. “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that’s not so,” Trump said.

But Trump has a way of twisting things – Romney did the complete opposite of what Trump suggested – Romney used his faith as justification for doing what he knew was right. And President Trump, who lies all the time to suit his every whim, wouldn’t have a clue what it’s like to even be devoutly religious.

It is this very twisting that I would like to talk about today. The concept is called gaslighting. I will confess that I was not familiar with the term until the Trump administration, but apparently it is widely known among political scientists, psychologists, and, oddly, among more recent veterans who often receive it from their higher-ups. My niece, who served in Afghanistan, recently explained to me that being able to recognize the signs of gaslighting apparently helps vets deal with PTSD.

OK, so the term “gaslighting” comes from an old British movie by the same name about an abusive husband who manipulated his wife by messing with her reality. For example, he would hide a personal item of his and then accuse his wife of misplacing or stealing it. They would have arguments every night where he would blame her for things, and over time, she would get confused, scared and feel so misunderstood that it would bring her to tears all the time. Her community thought she was mentally ill and had compassion on the husband when she would act out in public at his probing, while secretly, she was victim.

Gaslighting is a dishonest method of gaining more power over someone or a group of people.  Trump uses it all of the time to influence his base, and if you aren’t aware of what it is, you should be. An article in “Psychology Today” by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., lists 11 types of gaslighting, and at least half of them apply to President Trump’s tweets and his ad hoc talks to the press. The following are just some gaslighting tactics that Dr. Sarkis talks about, which I have identified as Trump classics.

1. They tell blatant lies.
Once someone tells you a blatant lie, you’re not sure if anything they say is true. In the case of President Trump, he, or his administration’s narrative, which is then repeated by Republican congressmen, offers – air-quotes – “alternative facts” that seem as preposterous as his actual behavior. Reality is stranger than fiction in the Trump administration, and as a result, people don’t know what is true and what is a big, fat lie.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.
President Trump has done this time and time again. When his close relationship with Michael Cohen, his attorney and fixer, became inconvenient, Trump claimed he hardly knew him, even though Cohen has Trump on tape instructing him how to handle the payoff of a former Playboy model.

More recently, Trump has distanced himself from Rudy Giuliani, his new attorney. Trump now claims that Giuliani’s work in the Ukraine may have been related to one of his other clients instead of Trump himself, when we know that the opposite is true. In the summary that Trump released of his July 25 phone conference with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump encourages Zelensky more than once to get in touch with Giuliani, who he praises as his attorney, as well as the former mayor of New York City.

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.
President Trump’s base is very patriotic. Whether they are more patriotic than other Americans is questionable, but Trump identifies himself as the country itself, which, of course, is a fallacy. He may be narcissistic, yes, but there is another reason he uses this tactic.

For example, last year President Trump said that CNN’s Jim Acosta was –quote– “bad for the country” after CNN sued Trump for taking away his press pass when Acosta challenged the President on his characterization of the migrant caravan moving through Mexico as a –quote– “invasion.” Acosta’s persistence in the press conference simply brought to light that Trump’s focus on the caravan was out of proportion and discriminatory. Therefore, Acosta wasn’t bad for the country – he was bad for Trump.

President Trump has also said that the Mueller investigation and the impeachment hearings were also “bad for the country,” when both are constitutional and legal processes. Although the impeachment hearings may have actually been bad for the country because of the polarization we have experienced as a result, I will argue that it would have been worse for the country if we didn’t proceed with this process.

Even though Trump was acquitted by the Senate, he was impeached by the House, and that will remain. Nevertheless, Trump has been empowered by getting away with the things he has been accused of doing, and without question, we will see him commit more misdeeds, likely more blatantly than ever before. In addition, the actions by Congress have set a precedent that will likely embolden future POTUSes.

OK. Back to Dr. Sarkis’ list.

4. They know confusion weakens people.
Dr. Sarkis says that “gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy.” Gaslighters seek to challenge this stability by getting you to question everything. Then the gaslighter appears to offer you the stability and normalcy that you seek.

President Trump has self-described himself as “the storm.” The famous Photographer Platon (Plă-tŏn) told the story on his “Brief But Spectacular” moment on PBS Newshour about when he photographed President Trump during the 2016 presidential election. He acknowledged this chaos and frenetic energy that always seemed to surround Trump. Platon asked him, “Donald, how do you weather the storm?” He responded, “I am the storm.” Platon came to the realization that the chaos around President Trump is easy for him to navigate because he created it.

You would think that evangelicals, which make up a large portion of President Trump’s base, would oppose his personal misgivings, including former affairs and multiple accusations of sexual assault. But Trump’s base is willing to look the other way when he promises them economic prosperity. However, we’ll see how long people believe Trump’s promises when the economy tanks. His bully tariffs are hurting multiple job sectors, not just abroad but right here in the states, including farmers in the Midwest.

The war with Iran that Trump almost started in January when he ordered the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani is another example of how Trump thought he could create a “minor” conflict with Iran and then quickly get things under control and be the hero. We are indebted to Iran for not attacking us more forthrightly than they did, but still, soldiers received head injuries when the U.S. base in Iraq was bombed. And unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, Iran accidentally shot down a commercial aircraft taking off from the Tehran airport, killing all 176 souls on board, including several Iranian and Canadian students returning to college after the holidays. And the conflict did nothing positive for our NATO relations, some who indicated that they were not willing to back us up in the conflict that Trump had created.

OK. Number 5.

5. They project.
It seems like President Trump is constantly dishing out criticisms about other people that best describe himself. During the House impeachment hearings, Trump called Chairman Adam Schiff –quote– “a deranged human being.” Trump said, “I think he grew up with a complex for reasons that are obvious. I think he is a very sick man, and he lies.” Lawrence O’Donnell, on MSNBC, interviewed Psychiatrist Lance Dodes about it, whose professional opinion is that Trump has an early childhood block which leaves him extremely self-centered and unable to have empathy for others.

But President Trump also uses projection to distract us. He creates a media frenzy, such as his beefs in 2018 with LeBron James, Maxine Waters, and the NFL players that knelt for the National Anthem, to draw attention away from himself when an item in the media paints him in a bad light.

6. They tell you everyone else is a liar.
Fake news. Need I say more? If an article paints Trump in a bad light, it is automatically fake news.  And Trump’s use of repetition with the phrase evokes almost a Pavlov-like response by his base, as though they don’t even need to think but just rely on him to tell them what is true and what is fake. Trump also uses repetition with his terms “witch hunt” and “no collusion” for the same effect. Of course, Fox News and other right-wing media play an important role in re-enforcing Trump’s narrative.

I will give it to President Trump: if there is one thing he is good at, it is the smoke-in-mirrors, shady business dealings that he perfected in his real estate business. I just hope people realize it before it is too late.

Too late, you ask? Senator Romney appears to have been fearful of something much worse than the wrath of President Trump. What some Christians call the Rapture – or their transport to heaven at the Second Coming of Christ – may not be such smooth sailing. As the Bible says, “no man knoweth” when Christ will return, but it seems that some evangelicals want to jumpstart it. They believe that supporting Trump and letting him loose to do his chaos is a way that it will come to pass.

A battle described in Ezekiel of the Old Testament between Gog and Magog is a “type,” or a mirrored foreshadowing, of a battle that will occur in what evangelicals call the End Times. Senator Romney and other members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ like me recognize that we are in the Last Days, where we must prepare ourselves temporally and spiritually for the Second Coming. But we don’t want the blood on our hands associated with unleashing such wickedness, and I believe Romney agrees.

As Romney explained in his speech this week, “…[M]y promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and political biases aside,” he said. “Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Very well said. The truth about Trump’s deep corruption will be revealed, and it will happen sooner rather than later. Too many people were in on the conspiracy regarding the Ukraine for it to stay in the shadows. Further, Trump is guaranteed to do something like this again. Will we be among the centurions like Senator Romney and finally be able to say, enough is enough?

The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice For All.

References
Roche, Lisa Riley and Katie McKellar. “Romney returns to Utah to explain vote as lawmakers talk censure of senator,” Deseret News, February 6, 2020. https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/2/6/21126433/mitt-romney-president-trump-utah-recall-censure-recall-vote-convict

ChurchofJesusChrist.org. “Article of Faith 11,” Gospel Media. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/images/meme-articles-faith-eleventh-1567827?lang=eng

The New York Times. “Full Transcript: Mitt Romney’s Speech Announcing Vote to Convict Trump.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/us/politics/mitt-romney-impeachment-speech-transcript.html

Hayes, Chris. “‘That speech will stand up for centuries:’ Sen. Murphy on Romney’s condemnation of Trump.” All In, MSNBC, February 5, 2020. https://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/-that-speech-will-stand-up-for-centuries-sen-murphy-on-romney-s-condemnation-of-trump-78201413965

Sarkis, Stephanie A. “11 Warning signs of gaslighting: Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used to gain power, and it works too well.” Psychology Today, January 22, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting

Cuomo, Chris; Kara Scannell; and Eli Watkins. “Exclusive: CNN obtains secret Trump-Cohen tape.” CNN, July 25, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/24/politics/michael-cohen-donald-trump-tape/index.html

Westwood, Sarah and Maegan Vasquez. “Trump slams Democrats and Romney at prayer breakfast as Pelosi looks on,” CNN, February 6, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/06/politics/donald-trump-national-prayer-breakfast-nancy-pelosi-impeachment/index.html

Arciga, Julia. “Trump denies Giuliani acted on his behalf in Ukaine: ‘Rudy has other clients,’” The Daily Beast, November 26, 2019. https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-denies-giuliani-acted-on-his-behalf-in-ukraine-rudy-has-other-clients

NBC News. “Read Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president: full text,” September 25, 2019.  https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry/read-full-transcript-trump-s-conversation-ukraine-s-president-n1058581

Gonzales, Richard. “White House revokes press pass of CNN’s Jim Acosta,” NPR, November 7, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/11/07/665497382/white-house-revokes-press-pass-of-cnns-jim-acosta

Steinbuch, Yaron. “Rudy Giuliani: Mueller probe was ‘bad’ for the country,” New York Post, March 25, 2019. https://nypost.com/2019/03/25/rudy-giuliani-mueller-probe-was-bad-for-the-country/

NBC News. “Trump claims an impeachment inquiry would be bad for the country,” September 24, 2019. https://www.nbcnews.com/video/trump-claims-an-impeachment-inquiry-would-be-bad-for-the-country-69785157629

Woodruff, Judy. “How photographer Platon gets up close to capture a person’s truth,” Brief But Spectacular, PBS Newshour, 2016. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/brief/211981/platon

Fassihi, Farnaz. “Anatomy of a Lie: How Iran Covered Up the Downing of an Airliner,” The New York Times, January 26, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/world/middleeast/iran-plane-crash-coverup.html

O’Donnell, Lawrence. “Psychiatrist: Trump’s project on Chairman Schiff is ‘primitive,” The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” MSNBC, December 3, 2019. https://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/watch/psychiatrist-trump-s-projection-on-chairman-schiff-is-primitive-74462277699

Schwartz, Nick. “10 times LeBron James stood up to Donald Trump,” USA Today, August 4, 2018. https://ftw.usatoday.com/2018/08/10-times-lebron-james-stood-up-to-donald-trump

Wagner, John and Avi Selk. “‘Be careful what you wish for Max!’ Trump takes aim at Waters after she calls for public harassment of his Cabinet,” The Washington Post, June 24, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/06/25/democratic-congresswoman-maxine-waters-calls-for-harassment-of-trump-officials/

Walsh, Kelsey. “Trump blasts NFL players for kneeling during anthem: ‘Stand proudly …. Or be suspended without pay,’” ABC News, August 10, 2018. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-blasts-nfl-players-kneeling-national-anthem-suspended/story?id=57131857

Matthew 24:36. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Copyright 2013 by Intellectual Reserve. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/nt/matt/24?lang=eng

Mencimer, Stephanie. “Evangelicals Love Donald Trump for Many Reasons, but One of them Is Especially Terrifying,” Mother Jones, January 23, 2020. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/01/evangelicals-are-anticipating-the-end-of-the-world-and-trump-is-listening/

Critical Request: Pay Attention to the News

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Liberty and Justice For All Podcast. Recently, I have been watching the first season of the award-winning TV drama “Line of Separation” on PBS. Also called “Tannbach,” it is a German mini-series that first aired in 2015, and I recommend it – if you can handle watching subtitles. The series is a marvelous account of how Germany transitioned from Hitler’s fascism to a Russian-owned, communist state at the end of World War II.

The story, which follows the format of Russian literature greats such as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, takes place in a rural town located on the east side of what had become the border between East and West Germany. Traditionally comprised of land-owning nobles who employed local peasants, the town’s nobles were stripped of their land deeds by Russian communists that had taken control. The Russians then separated the land into smaller plots and awarded it to the peasants.

In addition, many of the landowners were put in prison for being members of the Nazi party. These wealthy nobles were the loyalists who had enabled Hitler’s Reich. When they joined the Nazis in the mid-1930s, most could not comprehend the violence and human rights abuses that would ensue, and many did not know until the end of the war of the fate of the Jews, who had been forced onto trains out of their communities and killed in concentration camps. Some, upon realization of the truth, sadly ended their lives when they realized the fate of their beloved country, a destruction that would take generations to heal.

I do not consider myself to be an alarmist – and I understand the gravity of comparing modern-day leaders to the Nazis and communist Russia – but I am stunned to see the similarities between the conflict in “Line of Separation” and our current national affairs in the United States of America. I, for one, agree with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who refers to the holding facilities on our border with Mexico as concentration camps.

AOC has been criticized by some for saying it, because of the genocide component experienced by the Jews in World War II concentration camps. Gratefully, the present operations at the Mexican border have not come to that, but people simply seeking asylum in the U.S., and who have not broken any laws, have been separated from their children and placed behind chain link fences in terribly overcrowded, stiflingly hot, inhumane conditions. Many have inadequate food and water and have suffered greatly.

These people in U.S. custody have been dying of disease, neglect and malnutrition on our watch. The government didn’t initially establish a tracking system to use when parents and children are separated, and only some have been able to reunite once the parents are deported. I am not able to sufficiently express my horror and outrage about the situation on the border. It has not gotten as much press attention for several months, but we know conditions there are still acute with hardship. These stories are not fun to dwell on, but what is happening to some should affect us all, especially when it is being done in the name of our country using taxpayer dollars. As they say, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

However, just recently, their story returned to the media when we learned – again – of extreme white nationalism and racism in the Trump administration. Several hundred emails sent from Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller to Breitbart, an ultra-conservative news network, were leaked from a former Breitbart employee. In the emails, Miller offered hundreds of suggestions for adding white nationalist and racist content. Stephen Miller is credited with much of the administration’s current immigration policy, and as such, many democratic congressmen and women feel Miller’s racism is a conflict of interest, and have called for his resignation.

In college, I studied books about the holocaust like “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom and “Night” by Elie Wiesel, and I saw Spielberg’s “Shindler’s List.” I also studied Russian literature, much of which discusses the Russian revolution in the mid-1800s to early 1900s, including “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy and a play called “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov. Those works testify of the intense upheaval that these revolutions caused, including the break-up of families and the loss of whole cultures and dialects. Unfortunately, we know that many countries have experienced similar revolutions in the 20th century, such as China, North Korea, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Venezuela – to name a few.

The United States has been an inspiration to those who do not enjoy our freedoms. We are “the city on a hill” and “an ensign to the nations,” as referenced in the Bible. But do we as citizens even know what that means? I get emotional at the part in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” when Gandalf tasks Pippin to light the beacon in the city of Minas Tirith in Gondor. It acts as a distress signal to teams stationed on mountaintops, which light their beacons in a chain that extends for miles upon miles.

The distress call is successful is reaching Rohan, Gondor’s sister country. But so much could have gone wrong, as there are so many moving parts in the process. Each mountain station plays a critical role in transmitting the alert until it could be successfully received. Each station had to be constantly at the ready with these gigantic wood piles prepared with fuel properly distributed in order to respond within a moment’s notice. The exchange is such an act of solidarity, of organization and order. That’s the way it is supposed to be, despite the lack of leadership by the maligned Denethor, Gondor’s temporary ruler until the king could return.

Recently we watched as President Trump abruptly removed support for the Kurds in Syria. He did so upon the request of Erdogan, the president of Turkey, who intended to attack our partners, the Kurds, a minority religious group that differed from them in ideology. The Kurds had been helping us fight ISIS as boots on the ground for the last several years. The effort was critical to our national security after ISIS had caused multiple terrorist attacks on American soil and had threatened many others. The Kurds were loyal to our cause and fought valiantly, so leaving them behind so abruptly was a shocking turn of events for much of our military.

U.S. troops were initially instructed to leave immediately, and upon such short notice, they were forced to bomb our U.S. base there in order to prevent it from getting into the hands of the Turks, Syrians, ISIS or other threats. Many of our ISIS detainees were also able to escape in the chaos. We know that Trump reversed course and maintained troops in Syria anyway – but only to protect the oil reserves there and to claim them as property of the United States. We basically kicked the Kurds to the curb, and many are asking how this will affect future relations with our allies in places like Afghanistan or Iraq. Will they even trust us to be good as our word?

President Trump made a spontaneous, rash decision to remove these troops, and he did so without seeking counsel from the State Department or leaders at the Pentagon. He did not consider the delicate arrangement we had there or the consequences that an abrupt action could present. For example, without the U.S. there, Hezbollah, a militant group based in Iran, has been able to establish a base in Syria, the consequences of which remain to be seen. But more importantly, the Kurds were forced to move somewhere else. And we know that, for their protection against the Turks, they have now been forced to ally with Syria’s leadership, which has been the Kurds’ enemy in a civil war for generations.

Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, was likely the culprit of the illegal use of sarin gas in a chemical attack upon its own people, and the death toll was estimated in the thousands. Sarin is highly poisonous, and exposure to it results in a terrible, painful death. From a U.N. investigation, it is believed that Bashar al-Assad, who is allied with Russia, directed contracted militants to carry out the attack with the intent of blaming their opposition for it.

An additional complication to all of this is that Turkey appears to be allied with Russia also, despite its NATO membership. So Russia is aligned with both sides of this fight, not to mention their alliance with Iran, as well, which gives them tremendous control of the area now. And many are asking, how did moving the troops out of Syria benefit the United States at all? Didn’t our adversaries benefit more?

So why do we even care about things happening half a world away and that are so complicated? I will reiterate that we got in this fight because ISIS was causing terrorist attacks on American soil, and as such, they continued to be a national security threat.

President Trump chalked up his action of removing U.S. troops in Syria to that of fulfilling a campaign promise, but even Republicans have been in shock. They agree that Trump should have handled the situation more delicately in order to achieve better diplomatic results. Efforts after the fact by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to clean up the mess have been completely ineffective – the five-day cease-fire that they supposedly established with Turkey didn’t even last one day, and more Kurds have been killed as a result. Some critics have identified Trump’s action in Syria as additional evidence that he, as well, is likely personally aligned with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

Somehow the media has stopped paying as much attention to what is going on in Syria now that the House’s impeachment investigation has gone full-throttle, but things are still a mess there – just like on the Mexican border – and it is just one more example of Trump’s many ill-advised and haphazard actions during his Presidency. Trump’s dealings in the Ukraine is presently the subject of the impeachment investigation. But the results of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference of the 2016 presidential election still beg to be acted upon. And certain House committees likely still have plans to continue their inquiries regarding Trump’s knowledge and involvement in Russia’s interference, not only in 2016, but in the 2020 election, as well. So Russia continues to be an ongoing threat to one of our most sacred democratic functions – the voting of our citizens. And just recently, the British parliament released a report detailing Russia’s meddling in their 2018 election that decided on Brexit, or the U.K.’s exit from the European Union.

Can you can see why I pay so much attention to the news right now? There is so much happening, and I am particularly concerned with how these bits of news connect with other previously reported events. To keep track of things, I have been tempted to make a war board on my living room wall, complete with lines of string and thumbtacks, but the effort would be futile. We will spend the next century analyzing things that are happening before our eyes right now, and in 40 years, we will be the witnesses from this time who will tell the next generations what we experienced.

In the movie “The Post,” Meryl Streep’s character Katharine Graham, is the publisher of “The Washington Post” during its release and analysis of the Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s. She says, “You know what my husband said about the news? He called it the first draft of history.”  The media, often referred to as the fourth branch of government, plays an important role in documenting history. They don’t always get it right the first time, but they often do, and in that capacity, they hold people accountable by shining light on their acts.

The consequences surrounding the release and analysis of the Pentagon Papers by the news media is certainly included in most college curriculum in the communications field. The associated Supreme Court decision in The New York Times vs. the United States was a landmark decision that set the course for journalism in the United States regarding what latitude is given for freedom of the press. Yes, it is mentioned in the First Amendment of the Constitution, but this Supreme Courts decision permitted journalists to be critical of the United States’ government.

In one of my favorite quotes ever, Justice Hugo Black states the following in his concurring opinion in the decision: “The founding fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”

However, some conservatives disagree with the Court’s findings and believe that our government leaders should be afforded certain protections from the media, and they consider such as an act of patriotism. But should our leaders be given such blind obedience when, more than ever, the media is legitimately unearthing serious corruption? And why is it fair for conservatives to support investigations of liberal politicians and not of conservative ones?

For example, Republican congressmen and women are doing everything they can to discredit the Ukraine investigation and Impeachment hearings, even though Congress is following much the same format as established by former Speaker of the House John Boehner. The format was used in the very partisan Benghazi investigation, where Hillary Clinton was believed – but was never proven – to have helped facilitate the 2012 attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of having a double standard regarding whether they credit or discredit another politician’s statements or platform. Often a congressman will base their opinion on what side of the aisle that the politician sits, and not on anything related to truth versus falsehood. Instead of honesty and integrity, politicians stick to their party narrative in fear that any deviation could leave them without monetary support in the next election.

Party loyalty among Republicans, in particular, has gotten very extreme during the Trump administration. But is maintaining party control worth the health of our country and global status? With President Trump as the current head of the Republican party, congressmen are practically being held hostage with the charge to look past blatant evidence of Trump’s misgivings and inadequacies, all in the name of appearing patriotic.

It is almost a given that President Trump will be impeached by the Democrat-managed House of Representatives, and in quick order – likely before Christmas. But once it is passed to the Republican-controlled Senate for the trial, will Republicans, despite ample evidence of guilt, continue to follow blindly and absolve Trump of his constitutional offenses?

The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice For All.

References:
“Line of Separation,” PBS. German mini-series, also known as Tannbach, 2015-2018.

All In with Chris Hayes, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Guest: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Merriam-Webster.com. “Concentration Camp, definition.”

Narea, Nicole. “Stephen Miller promoted white supremacist, anti-immigrant articles in private emails to Breitbart,” Vox.com.

Kanno-Youngs, Zolan. “Squalid Conditions at Border Detention Centers, Government Report Finds,” The New York Times, July 2, 2019.

Ten Boom, Corrie, Sherrill, Elizabeth and John Sherrill. “The Hiding Place,” copyright 1971 and 1984.

Wiesel, Elie and Wiesel, Marion. “Night.” 1956.

“Shindler’s List,” directed by Steven Spielberg, 1994.

Tolstoy, Leo. “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” 1886.

Chekhov, Anton. “The Cherry Orchard.” 1904.

“The Bible, King James Version,” specifically:
            “the city on a hill” – Matthew 5:14
            “an ensign to the nations” – Isaiah 5:26 and Isaiah11:12

Tolkien, J.R.R. “The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King,” Book 5, Ch. 1. 1955.

Kristian, Bonnie. “Does Trump really want to get us out of Syria? Apparently, not so much.” Op-ed, USA Today, Nov. 14, 2019.

Gilsinan, Kathy. “The U.S. Moves Out, and Turkey Moves In,” The Atlantic, October 9, 2019.

DeYoung, Karen, Cunningham, Erin and Fahim, Kareem. “Trump declares victory in northeastern Syria as Russian troops move in,” The Washington Post, Oct. 23, 2019.

“The Post,” directed by Steven Spielberg. 2017.

New York Times v. United States, The Supreme Court, Concurrence, Justice Hugo Black.

Navigating the News Media in the Age of Trump

“I believe the manipulation of the news media plays a significant role in polarizing liberals and conservatives through biased analysis and right out misinformation and other corrupt methods.”

Hello, and welcome to the Liberty and Justice For All Podcast. My name is Emily Olsen, and – I feel like this is kind of like a session of Alcoholics Anonymous here, but I will confess – I have an addiction to the news.

Now, I have a degree in journalism and I have training and experience in writing and reporting. I was trained to interpret the news, to identify accurate sources and to recognize a bias or slant. I have always been interested in the news – more so than your average person, but ever since 2016, I have made it my mission to absorb as much national news as possible and, in particular, to observe a press conference or congressional hearing in the raw – before a cable news channel has developed summary sound bites or added their spin to what has occurred. My goal by keeping up with the day-to-day news has been to maintain an informed perspective on what is happening in Washington D.C. right now.

But, especially in the last month or so, the frequent, major breaking news has just been overwhelming. Huge things are happening before our eyes every day, and sometimes every hour – very consequential things that are changing our world, literally. I mean, like a lot of people, I have been dealing with all kinds of anxiety. I’ve had friends and co-workers tell me to stop watching, that it’s not good for me and that I should focus my attention instead on things that give me peace, etc, etc.

But if I stop watching, the news won’t just go away. Instead, the news will continue to get worse and worse and I will just be – uninformed. After all, what you don’t know can hurt you and I believe it is my civic duty to witness and understand what our national leaders are doing. In addition, as a trained journalist, I believe that I should share my observations and help my friends and family understand my informed perspectives. Now, more than ever, I believe that people are being lied to and taken advantage of because they may not be keeping up with the news. We are getting hit with some tremendous political techniques right now, especially from the Right, and I worry very much that those I love are relying on wolves in sheep’s clothing to tell them how to interpret the news and what to think.

I will admit, talking about politics and other controversial topics – in the podcast format for all to hear – is scary to me, but I am compelled to do so. In time, I hope to develop a better sound booth and equipment, but what I have right now is an outpouring of thoughts and ideas that I need to put out there.

I hope that the Liberty and Justice For All podcast can be the start of a respectful conversation among friends from throughout the liberal-conservative spectrum. What is happening in the White House right now is going way past partisan politics, and I support Nancy Pelosi’s viewpoint, that the impeachment process currently underway and what Congress is fighting against, will very much shape the future of our democracy.  In listening to this podcast, I simply ask that you keep an open mind and have a desire to know the truth. I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything, but I hope you can learn a few things along the way and develop your own informed opinions about the news.

Most of us are not exactly – taught in school – how to interpret the news, and I actually think it should be a section in a civics, social studies or English class because it is such an important part of how we understand the world. I mean, if you are relying on links from Facebook to get your news, then I can imagine how confused you must be right now. A lot of people ignore national news completely because they can’t distinguish between what is true and – what isn’t. Now, I don’t have a beef with Facebook – I actually rely on them for many things – but their ability to publish accurate news is presently – questionable – at best. If you are going to get your news from Facebook, however, I encourage you to also choose at least two other reliable news sources to check in with on a regular basis. I give kudos to Twitter for banning | political ads and encourage Facebook to do the same, as neither are able to monitor their accuracy.

In this podcast, I want you to know who I am, where I get my news from, and why I trust my news sources. I want to explain some journalism concepts to you, and I also want to share my personal ethics and perspectives that influence my opinion-making processes.

I will begin by telling you | that I was raised in a very conservative, religious family. The first time I became conflicted about politics was when I attended high school in central California in the early 1990s. My parents were avid Rush Limbaugh fans, but my high school journalism teacher, who is still my good friend, was very left-leaning in everything from social issues to the environment. One day after school I sincerely asked her how she could be a liberal and be so nice. That was the start of a valuable conversation. She explained to me that generally, at their core, conservatives and liberals both have the same end goals of improving society, but they just have different methods of reaching those goals.

I was a registered Republican until 2017 when I changed to the dark side and became more politically active with my husband on a local basis. I will go into this transition in more detail in a future podcast.

But I have observed that liberal-minded people are very compassionate, sympathetic, and accepting of everyone despite their race, religion, sexual preference or socio-economic status. Although conservatives may also have some of those qualities, they are more focused politically on preserving their own rights, property and way of life. Both perspectives are needed in our society, but liberals and conservatives can only co-exist if they can provide a balance, a Yin and Yang, to keep Washington politics in check.

Unfortunately, both sides have lost a mutual respect for one another. There has always been conflict between them, but there has been a notable deterioration over the last couple of decades. I believe that the manipulation of the news media has played a significant role in polarizing liberals and conservatives through biased analysis and right out misinformation and other corrupt methods.

Actually, biased news is nothing new in our country. It was rampant prior to and during the Civil War – newspapers published what they wanted their constituents to believe. One newspaper would publish something, and a newspaper across town would publish a completely opposite perspective. Unfortunately, we seem to be right back to this tradition, although much has happened in the last 150 years to establish modern reporting techniques, such as requiring that articles cite multiple, credible sources.

You know, most people don’t even notice if there are any sources at all in an article or news broadcast – you know, attribution, quotes, citations? Instead people seem to base an article’s credibility on whether it has included the appropriate buzz words. We seem to have forgotten that the news should be based on facts – you know, like truth-telling.

When you read an article on the internet, do you know if they have cited enough sources? Do you know how to tell if a source is reliable and credible? Actually, for the most part, we really don’t. We have to trust the reporter and publication to do that work for us. Whether we trust them is based on the reputation of a publication, how long it has been in operation and whether they’ve won any awards. However, there are some clues we can look for to help us discern accuracy for ourselves.

Were you aware that news publications, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, go through several steps to vet an article’s accuracy? They have a separate team to verify facts, and an editor can pull an article at any stage of the editing process if it is missing information or needs clarification.

News professionals go through tedious methods to assess credibility, and even then, an article’s accuracy is only as good as its source material. But I have a glass half-full mentality and believe that professional journalists do their very best to report the truth and have a strong desire to accurately inform the public. I rely on news publications that go through this tedious vetting process, something that has become more and more challenging for them as we experience breaking news at an ever-increasing rate. And I admire those that make sincere corrections when they have published something that was inaccurate.

Oh – did you think that the reporters at the New York Times and Washington Post | evilly conspire to develop wild theories to mislead the public and discredit conservative elected officials? Have you accepted that well-established main-stream publications like these are simply fake news at face value because that has been ingrained in you by Trump supporters? Have you considered that conservative elected officials may have an ulterior motive to keep you in the dark and to control your interpretation of the news? After all, it is in their best interest to keep Trump in office in order to satisfy their corporate campaign donors and super PACs. Unfortunately, the news media is not making it easy for us to know what is really going on in Washington and elsewhere, and that means it is more work for us to decipher what is true and what is the real fake news.

As a journalist, I will tell you that it’s imperative for you to trust publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post – now more than ever. I trust their vetting processes, and I believe they genuinely want to get the news correct, despite how conservative media discredit them. At minimum, choose news sources that distinguish between the news and commentary. Commentary is editorializing and adding opinion based on a political perspective or other viewpoint. Broadcast news stations like to intertwine commentary with the news because it provides entertainment value – it sucks you in – and that improves their ratings, which ultimately pays their bills.

Like the Nirvana song, “Here we are now, entertain us!” I think it is good to take a step back and ask yourself if you simply want to be entertained by the news or if you really want to know what is going on. However, a lot of us want to be entertained more than informed, and if that gets people to watch the news, so be it. I accept that commentary alongside news is a necessary evil. I will note that commentary – is not always a bad thing, but you need to know the difference between it and the news.

The news is simply a collection of facts and events that have occurred, and commentary provides a spin or opinion on that news. Commentary is different than news analysis, where a cable news station like MSNBC or CNN will ask an expert in a relevant field, or a reporter who has been reporting on a particular topic, to provide additional information or perspective based on their extended knowledge of that topic. But be aware that experts, including me, often mix news analysis and commentary. I like to know what experts think and I often value their opinions, but I don’t always agree with everything I hear. That is my right, as it is yours.

But there is much more we need to know to better interpret the news these days. Unfortunately, we need to know how to identify propaganda techniques including gaslighting, which I will talk about in the next episode of Liberty and Justice For All.

It is amazing how differently my family understands news events than I do. They get an entirely different rendition of the news because they consume conservative media including Fox News, and I watch MSNBC and CNN. Now, I am here to tell you that there are no such things as alternative facts, as Kelly Ann Conway would have you believe. Truth is universal even in politics. It’s not just from the spin that they give – conservative media and conservative politicians alike are actually spreading misinformation – lies and half-truths – all in the name of protecting President Trump. How is it possible that they could pull the wool over our eyes so much? It’s because money and power are at stake.

Conservatives, just as liberals and everyone in between – want to give homage to the President of the United States. But I have observed that Trump’s base follow him to the extreme as though he were a religious leader. But I choose to separate church and state. My patriotism sides with the Constitution and with all of the people of this great nation, not just 33%.

More of us need to pay attention to the real news before it’s too late. Gratefully, I believe that people are waking up to the realities of the Trump administration. That gives me courage to pursue this podcast now. I am empowered by the fact that Congress is now pursuing an impeachment investigation into President Trump’s dealings with the Ukraine. I believe that the Democrats’ taking Virginia’s state congress and the close results in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race this month are also an indication that more and more people are tired of the drama and the corruption.

President Trump is wreaking havoc on this country. If you don’t believe me, just look at his White House and cabinet, which have experienced an 80% turnover rate. Some of the White House staff stay because they feel an obligation to quietly keep this country running amidst the chaos there, but it is becoming more and more difficult for them when honest, loyal ambassadors are getting in the way of Trump’s ulterior, self-serving agendas. Trump is impossible to work for because he will turn on anyone who becomes an obstacle to his rhetoric, and doesn’t care about existing laws or statutes unless they serve him personally. And he lies constantly and makes others lie for him. Some of his closest associates have gone to prison for him, and it is my belief that others will follow, unfortunately.

We should want our President to be truthful, but I know that many of us have become jaded as we see even our favorite politicians be accused of conflicts of interest or personal indiscretions. We have come to think that no one is Washington is honest anymore, but I will tell you that Trump is worse than you can even imagine. He makes even Nixon look like a saint compared to what he’s involved with. I mean, at least Nixon had a conscience and resigned when all was said and done.

I am old enough to remember 9/11. The world was a different place before Al-Qaeda operatives hi-jacked four different commercial jets simultaneously. As we know, two of those jets were crashed into the twin towers of the former Trade Center in New York City. One was crashed into the Pentagon, and the fourth, destined for the White House, was stopped by brave and patriotic passengers who gave their lives to protect | what many view as a sacred edifice. The world was a different place before 9/11, and it has been said that our intelligence sources didn’t see it coming because we lacked the imagination to believe that there are men wicked enough to do such a thing.

Perhaps Trump followers lack the imagination to believe that President Trump could really be as corrupt as mainstream media depict. But history is full of wicked leaders whose followers believed they were Saviors.

How can we tell the difference between those qualified to lead, who desire to protect, versus those who would do us harm? Here are a few pointers:

  1. Beware of leaders who just seek to represent their base instead of all of America.
  2. Beware of leaders who denigrate women and men, are racist, and/or discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. By their fruits ye shall know them. No matter what your personal religious views are regarding these things, the Constitution protects all of these groups, and we, and our leaders, should treat them as our equals.
  3. Beware of leaders who seek to please wealthy donors – to the extent that they pass legislation or develop policies in favor of their donors – especially to the detriment of others.
  4. Beware of leaders who are cruel to immigrants and the poor.

I am sure there are other pointers, but these four will get us started. The United States of America was founded on universal Christian principles such as the golden rule, loving thy neighbor, balanced stewardship of this world and its resources, and taking care of the poor, sick or elderly. I have a lot to say about how the Republican Party has strayed from its fundamental associations with these Christian principles, and how these principles, which are my personal values, have come to align more with the democrats. Look for future episodes of the Liberty and Justice For All podcast.

————
The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice For All.

References:
Ferris, Sarah and Heather Caygle. “Pelosi offers somber reflection on impeachment, with one eye on her agenda,” Politico.com, Nov. 13, 2019.

Feiner, Lauren. “Twitter bans political ads after Facebook refused to do so,” CNBC.com, Oct. 30, 2019.

MacKowski, Chris. “Outraged about “media bias?” Read a Civil War newspaper,” Emerging Civil War blog, Aug. 29, 2017.

“Mistakes, Misinformation and Media Accuracy and Balance,” Newspaper in Education: A Classroom Resource, The Washington Post. 2015

Loker, Kevin. “Confusion about what’s news and what’s opinion is a big problem, but journalists can help solve it,” American Press Institute. Sep. 19, 2018.

Calvert, Scott and Jon Kamp. “Election results 2019: Democrats Take Control of Virginia Legislature,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 6, 2019.

The 9/11 Commission Report. 2004.