Rules Without Question

***I’m updating my 2017 post on being rebellious without fear. I re-read it recently and felt it needed more commentary to reflect what is going on today, especially as we approach the New Year. Namaste, and thank you for reading. All the best to you for a productive and healthy 2020. 

As society marches obediently into its inevitable Orwellian authoritarian future I find myself troubled by the herd mentality and the general lack of tolerance for rebellion among our citizen ranks. Political correctness and outrage culture is  mutilating language, homogenizing large swaths of U.S. citizens into camps of “Right” and “Left” trapped in infantile, oscillating and completely mutual psychological projection and annoying what-aboutism.

McCarthyism is back in vogue, rounding up what’s left of the critically-thinking public into a town-shaming rife with innuendo, baseless accusations, and outright censorship by our forum gatekeepers. The gatekeepers I reference, at least in this essay, are the mainstream cable media, social media, and the political power elite.

Google, Facebook and YouTube are de-platforming, shifting algorithms, and outright yanking content that it deems “suspicious”, a deliberately vague term that gives plenty of margin to stifle the flow of actual information.

Journalist Max Blumenthal had a swat team show up to arrest him at his D.C. home last month. Apparently some food was thrown at a protest at the Venezuelan embassy in D.C. earlier this year, and though I’m unclear as to whether Blumenthal was himself armed with produce, the U.S. government takes assault with a deadly banana very seriously and promptly arrests offenders… 6-9 months later.

The irony of our looting, murderous government taking umbrage to fruit tossing as a punishable act is hilariously hypocritical. But that’s how the cookie crumbles I guess: when you report on CIA shenanigans and economic hitmen, you’re bound to make powerful enemies. Blumenthal’s arrest comes conveniently on the heels of his recently published book The Management of Savagery, an unflinching and fascinating investigative tome on American hegemony abroad. After two days of being locked up without a phone call or a lawyer, he was released.

Charges have since been dropped but the unspoken threat to journalists is crystal clear, just as with Julian Assange. As a two-bit journalist myself, I’m both scared and outraged that this happened. The violation of constitutional rights, due process, and the targeting of an American journalist by the police on a Saturday morning for a surprise arrest should have had the news networks on fire. But the mainstream press was largely silent on the targeting of one of their peers. 

The silence of MSM on many nuanced issues of national interest has been deafening.  The idea that “America” was founded on tax evasion and revolt against an over-reaching British hegemony seems at odds with what we’ve become. The press was a vital part of that revolt: producing pamphlets and disseminating information helped form the binding ethos of the American Revolution. Yet today, in the age of the internet, the public seems unable to muster much outrage over the grift at the Pentagon, another topic not getting anything more than fleeting mention on any news outlet I’ve seen.

This is mind-boggling to me! What company missing over $21 trillion would get 100% budget increases year over year? It’s logistically insane. And yet, that’s what the Pentagon does with our money. Rather than put a freeze on spending until they can make sense of the first damn audit they’ve undergone in 20 years, quickly and quietly rules were put in place that will make their future audits even less transparent. Where in the actual fuck can anyone get a job with zero accountability and unlimited cash flow? If you stole money from the bank or mismanaged the books at your office you’d be fired or in JAIL. Christ, the police shot the boy in Ferguson – a child! – over a stolen $5 CIGAR. Right??

The rules apply to you and I but not to the people with any real authority or actual responsibility for stuff that matters. Our leaders are hanging out with pedophiles and sex offenders, grabbing the world by the pussy and living very well off our money and hard work. Meanwhile, they’ve thrown so many boomerangs and distraction bombs into the news, they’ve got us policing ourselves! We the Sheeple, strangling every opportunity for true debate because we’re too busy attacking each other over petty grievances, shaming counter-culture and ridiculing critical questions as conspiracy. 

Everyone is home watching Netflix, smartphones in hand, grumbling about tweets instead of  protesting in the streets. In fact, the very act of protesting and demonstrating is now looked down upon. Ask yourself, why is that? When did that happen? 

It’s time to get angry at root causes, not gender pronouns or tweets. I honestly believe the spectacle is by design, not by accident.

It’s not a bug: it’s a feature, these distractions. There is rumbling around the world about alternatives to the U.S. dollar as a world currency. If the U.S. loses it’s status as the global benchmark for currency we are in for another looting of taxpayer money on a very serious level. 

The financial “crash” of 2008 was just such a looting. The word “crash” is pure propaganda, considering a crash implies an accident and the financial institutions actually caused that crisis quite purposely by betting against their own shady derivatives and predatory mortgage instruments.

They double dipped: make money on the sale of repackaged “AAA rated” (ha) financial instruments to investors, then place market bets to undermine them because they’re actually at high risk for default. Grift on the way in, grift on the way out. Oh, and the bailouts? They reinvested that money overseas, ba-bye now.

Austerity for the American people, griftopia for the elite few. Free market my ass. 

Many news outlets made fun of the Occupy movement, or treated them as an annoyance. I have to admit, I didn’t fully understand the movement at the time because I hadn’t been educating myself: I blithely accepted whatever CNN told me, even when I was in my gut uncomfortable with the pat explanations. I looked no further, as many do, busy with the day to day of my life. 

My original post follows below. May you be inspired to rebel in 2020. I bid you peace. 

 

It strikes me oddly that society-at-large is respecting rules set by those who don’t follow them whatsoever. When you think about it, most people are pretty structured. And decent.

Still, I’ve got a problem with the hypocrisy of today and I don’t see any good reason to follow most of the rules I follow, so why do I? Fear of my government. Fear of prison. Fear of having everything I’ve ever owned or worked for taken away from me. Those are the big ones, anyway.

Most of my life, I’ve set my own rules. Sometimes this has frustrated the people in my life, but I’ve kept them entertained. It’s mostly frustrated me, really. One can’t be too principled, at last in my eyes, but my principles have often thwarted my efforts at achieving much of anything.

I write this today because in the midst of planetary tension and transition that I think we are all feeling, there is another type of tension occurring. Because for all our religious institutions and rules, many of us are in a spiritual crisis.

My values are not the values of my parents. I’m a child of the 70’s and grew up with lots of freedom; some might say too much. It didn’t matter. What wasn’t given to me I took without a second thought about who I hurt or what danger lie in my choices. I was fearless, I suppose. But it was the type of fearlessness that accompanies naivete and curiosity.

Today, as a parent myself, I often shudder when remembering particular moments in my life. Like the time I got stuck on a slender shelf no wider than my 9 year-old feet on the face of a mountain in the woods for hours. Or at 19, when I accidentally almost blew my own head off with a gun.

The very fact that I remain in my human vessel is suprising to me.  Some might even call me “lucky”, a word I despise because it fails to recognize my will, or give me any credit at all for the choices I have made. “Lucky” gives all the credit to an invisible God, who may or may not exist, never mind have any preference about particular outcomes.

Given the kind of person I was, the kind of people I had for parents were ill-equipped to deal with the particulars of bringing me up to deal with the sort of mind I had. I was brought up to follow the rules, strictly. To repress anger. To become something decent in this world – what was expected of me, not only by my parents but what they felt was expected of their child by the familial bonds of authority they adhered to all their lives without question.

I began questioning my given religion in the third grade, and these questions were always unwelcomed and shut down by both the church and my family. So, I found my own avenues of Earthly knowledge and hid much of who I was, and who I was becoming, from my family.

This is not an indictment of my parents. They were doing as they were told by their own parents. They were following rules they never criticized or questioned. Their path to happiness was not varied: it was clearly defined by those who raised them as the path of least conflict, least resistance, most obedient, and least individualized.

Part of this happened, I believe, as a result of their parents having lived through WWII. My grandfathers both served: my father’s father in the Greek Army, and my mother’s in the U.S. Navy. Things were very difficult for people in Greece in the 40’s and Dad’s parents desired for my father to come to the U.S. rather than be an Air Force pilot and risk life and limb. He obeyed and came here in 1969, and he and my mother obeyed years later when the Catholic church threatened Mom with excommunication if my parents baptized me as a Greek Orthodox as they’d been planning.

I think the one rule my parents ever broke was their marriage itself, which was frowned upon by both sides of my family. Alas, my mother was already pregnant with me, and cardinal rule no matter what your ethnic background in 1974 was to keep things respectable. Abandoning the pregnancy and the responsibility of duty to be a married, two-parent household would have meant an emotional hardship and ostracization from their communities that would have been deeply difficult to bear.

For as long as it has been around, shame as a tool has never stopped anyone from doing anything shameful. It simply goes dark, the disobedience. And I mean dark in the sense of secretive or even illegal actions, and also those which are psychologically rested within the subconscious. The subconscious is where the repressed turns deviant and acts as an Executive Director to the Ego, manifesting in all sorts of quirky behavior that people are blind to in themselves.

When we shame someone into following the rules, we attempt to control them through fear. It’s not a fair fight, in my opinion. But we also live in a world where the God-figure of every religion is a deity of preference and judgement, both very human characteristics, ironically. We humans accept all sorts of unfairness in our lives, without question.

I’ve broken all the rules, and eventually I learned that to be a true rebel sometimes you need to follow the rules – or at least enough of them to get near the marrow of the rules you really want to break. Breaking the right rules is much more effective than I could have ever dreamed. I live by my values, and those values were not handed down. They were closely examined and set by me, who, as co-creator with the Divine, am the ultimate master of my soul.

A life without examination is not worth living; feed your soul! Test your boundaries. Give your head a chance to expand and explode and then put it all back together again. It’s completely spiritual work and will bring you closer to the God of your choosing than you ever could have dreamed. Heck, you might even witness a miracle. I know I have. And believe me, I am not special.

Just don’t ever tell me, “just because” or “that’s the way it’s done” because I will overthrow any chains that bind me very quickly and unapologetically. I remain respectful to myself and those around me, of course.

In the workplace, I don’t refuse my boss’ request for me to do something a certain way, for example. But I do point out that there might be a better way and sometimes argue my point before doing exactly as I am told. If asked to do something which diverges from my core values, then I simply refuse. And yes, I have quit before when in toxic work situations. Explosively so, in one case, but that’s a story for another day.

We can apply this attitude to politics, our churches of choosing, our communities and our families. The effects ripple right out. People are more flexible than we imagine them to be, and often the outcomes we fear are not even close to what occurs when we honor our personal truths.

Now, I know it’s not simple to switch into this rule-breaking mindset. I’ve probably read a hundred spiritual texts to aid in the development of my particular mindset. One has to question their intentions unremittingly and be willing to call themselves out at the slightest whiff of bullshit. This takes a little practice because our egos are in the driver’s seat and the ego wants to win, always.

Spiritually I suppose I’ve got a Buddhist-Pagan vibe going on. I blend detachment with potential outcome to arrive at my decisions. I’m not Wiccan but part of the Wiccan rede seems a fitting summation for today’s thoughts: “Do what ye will and harm none.” It asks us to evaluate the morality of a decision, before taking any action.

Federal Prisons Continue Contracting with Private Industry // Clinton-Era Setencing Rules That Just Won’t Die


The Trump administration has quickly abandoned the Obama administration’s resolve to no longer contract with for-profit private prisons. Companies like The GEO Group and CoreCivic Inc. lead the industry and have contracts with the federal government, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Obama announced the move away from the private prison system last September. It came shortly after a Mother Jones undercover investigative report (June 2016) took Americans inside one of the country’s most dangerous, run by Corrections Corporation of America in Alabama.

With Trump green-lighting private prisons in the federal system once again, there seems to be little hope that for-profit prison’s history of cutting corners (CO pay, overcrowding, safety violations, keeping inmates after their sentences are up) will see desperately-needed reform.

Already a source of major profits for shareholders who make more money from higher occupancy rates, many major companies (Whole Foods, AT&T, Walmart) now utilize prison labor, somewhat under the radar from the public. Under scrutiny for paying wages as low as 16 cents/hr in some cases, the rules surrounding fair pay for inmate labor favor businesses rather than protect laborers – and I’m guessing (no data on this) it impacts American jobs and salaries.

There are laws that govern prison wages, such as the Percy Amendment, but these are outdated. Private companies contracting prison labor must meet minimum wage requirements or something close to it,  but there are tax breaks that companies get for using this labor. Laborers which are not declared as official “employees” and thus do not have to pay unemployment taxes, for example.

Additionally, up to 80% of prison pay is deducted from their checks for various fees that go back to the prison, like room & board. This seems like double dipping to me, at least in the case of private prisons since they are already given a guaranteed stipend from the state they’re in based on minimum contracted occupancy levels. Also if there is a room and board charge only for those who work, it is unfair and inconsistently applied.

I have firsthand observed how stressful it is for inmates to successfully assimilate back into society and meet financial obligations upon release. Finding a place to live, meeting the terms of parole and fines imposed by the courts are heavy responsibilities for someone with no income. Recidivism could be greatly reduced if the corporations leveraging prison labor were forced to acknowledge them as actual employees, making prisoners eligible for unemployment benefits upon release.

And that brings us to this past Friday, when a two-page memo was released by Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructing US attorneys to, among other things, “immediately” adhere to mandatory sentencing guidelines which have been proven ineffective.


He asserted in a statement to the public that he was looking to punish drug traffickers, but the Clinton-era crackdown on crime has long been proven a total disaster. Minimum mandatory sentencing laws disproportionately jailed people of color and non-violent drug users who pose no threat to public safety.

Former AG Eric Holder said the easing of mandatory minimums for non violent offenders has enabled the Justice Department to jail more high-level drug dealers.

Muddying the prison pot are Session’s investments, which might prove a serious conflict of interest. I’m trying to track down if he followed up on orders to divest once he took the AG office, but the jury is still out…here’s what I did find:

Sessions has considerable holdings in Vanguard, the largest purveyor of funds with investment in the private prison industry.

  • iVanguard Total Stock Market Index Admiral Shares – consists of both GEO Group and CoreCivic, Inc. stocks worth over $164,000,000. Sessions investment value is from $15,001 – $50,000.
  • Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Admiral Shares – same fund as above, but Sessions lists investment value between $1,001 – $15,000.
  • Vanguard Small-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares – consisits of stocks from The GEO Group and CoreCivic, Inc. valued at over $173,500,000. Sessions shows investments valued from $15,000 – $50,000.
  • Vanguard Total International Stock Index Admiral Shares – contains GEO Holdings Corporation stock valued at over $4,400,000. Sessions owns $1,001 – $15,000 of this fund.

Vice Motherboard reported in January (2017), Sessions failed to disclose the 600-acres of subsurface oil and mineral reserves located beneath a wildlife refuge in Alabama. I’m not super-wealthy, so I have no idea what it’s like to completely forget I have land worth more than I could dare to guess. But Sessions does not adhere to the same strict rule of law for himself as he is ready to impose on others.

I am not aware of any reports that he divested from his Vanguard funds listed above, and if he hasn’t it wouldn’t surprise me. It’s a story I’m watching with a weary eye.

The two-page Sessions memo is linked via NPR:
https://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=3719268-AG-Memo-on-Department-Charging-and-Sentencing

Spotlight on Sex Slaves Around the World

I understand you might have errands to run today so if you want to catch the key part of this almost two-hour Senate hearing, Ashton Kutcher’s opening remarks begin around the 27 minute mark and last for just over 15 minutes. It’s unpleasant to think about but 24 million people are trapped in the sex trade against their will and forced into slavery, and 27 million people are enslaved overall worldwide. That, to me, is unacceptable.

Kutcher’s THORN foundation has developed a technology called Spotlight that has already tracked down thousands of victims in the last few months. He’s only got 25% of the data in thus far so it stands to reason those numbers might be quite a bit higher. I watched this at 5am this morning and it really hit a nerve. I’ve been doing too much research into the depravity of humankind lately, but I’ve gotta say, abducting people and molesting them has got to be the lowest expression of the evil we can get up to.

I got to thinking about the Podesta emails, which I had downloaded from WikiLeaks and read just for kicks last month. I went so far down that rabbit hole I came back up and said, no way…this can’t be true. It’s utterly ridiculous. But then again, with the arrest of former Speaker of the House and friend-to-Podesta, the Dennis Hastert case serves as a reminder that there are dots to connect here. And the recent LA Child Trafficking sting in which 474 people were arrested basically screamed “this is not a fringe issue!!” into my heart, though mainstream cable media will not cover it.

Then I remembered when I used to do illegal things I had a motto: Hide In Plain Sight. Yup! Seriously, the next time you’re in Ibiza trying to pass your friend a pill or have an adult refreshment, don’t try to be sneaky about it. Just do your business and get on with your evening, OK? Acting all furtive and paranoid only calls the wrong kind of attention to you, and nobody wants to get pulled into a back room by security goons or a police officer. Just be cool. Nothing to see here.

And that’s how Americans are able to brush off a lot of intense news, because it gets reported so casually that even the people involved don’t lose their cool. With some of the more technically intense stories, like the logistics behind 9/11 for example – it is probably way beyond the scope of most American’s understanding of how structurally things work in our government, or to know chain-of-command and procedural protocols should we be under threat. Also, the U.S. being way behind other countries when it comes to science education crippled our ability to even know what questions to ask. Generally speaking, people accepted whatever story the press laid out, and if certain details didn’t get discussed we certainly didn’t miss them. Like the fact that three buildings collapsed, not two. I’m guilty – I didn’t even remember WTC building 7 until I dug into the story again 15 years later.

So you see, that “nothing to see here” approach works quite well in our churn and burn news cycle. But the reporting on the tragedy that occurred on 9/11 was probably the worst journalism ever…with a close second being the 2008 financial crisis that absolutely nobody saw coming. Aye. Well, I want to talk PizzaGate all day long until I figure out that there is either something to it or there isn’t. But I’m like a dog with a chewy toy: I’m not letting go.

Maybe writing this and talking about things without censorship is my way of calling out to the collective for a level-headed approach to emerge. Can we give life in the news to so-called conspiracies like PizzaGate in a way that doesn’t feel bombastic or hyperbolic? A single reporter – Ben Swann – discussed the landscape of the evidence available on a local affiliate news station in Atlanta and was immediately ridiculed and threatened. He’s actually missing now, and all his social media has gone dark. Scary!

I spent a long LONG time researching 9/11 and I will say this:  getting data dumps of declassified documents and learning physics only to get a collective eye roll from the people around me as though I’m out of my mind – it does sting a little. But evidence is compelling nonetheless. So if I look a little silly to you, that’s OK with me. I’m going to ignore your look of condescension because I’m not crazy.

Back to the video. Kutcher’s passion really shines and he’s very educated on this topic, especially in drawing a direct line from foster care to sex crimes and trafficking. He rightly points out that our current corporate culture of manufacturing abroad in poor conditions is contributing, which I thought was a really smart connection to make.

Years ago I used to think by not shopping at Walmart I was making a political statement. My daughter went in Walmart for the first time when she was 10,  only because I was desperate for a router. I realize my well-meaning protest is just a small whisper into the gaping abyss of human suffering that is inherent in EVERY thing we buy. I can not absolve myself; I am absolutely contributing to slavery no matter where I shop.

I think by holding America’s largest corporation’s feet to the fire, we could get the Walmarts and Apples of the world to lead the way for the rest. For American companies and American citizens to condone working conditions that are anything less than the conditions we demanded for ourselves at the turn of the 19th century is uncivilized. Why would we want to buy goods from manufacturers that are not following good business practices worldwide?

Maybe you’re the type of person who thinks that people in other countries should be treated and paid an inferior wage, because they had nothing before and so now at least they have jobs. If you are this type of person, contact me for a hug, seriously. By pressing for ethical business practices we not only show our humanity, but we might just get some of those jobs back here in the states and get those corporations to pay their taxes.

Leveraging poor people for profit and acting like it’s a favor is a ridiculous notion that feeds into American exceptionalism,  a description I loathe because it sounds so self-indulgent. We can have patriotic pride without making the leap to exceptionalism that basically says to the world “it’s all about me.”

People are jumping out of the windows to commit suicide and getting burned alive in fires so they can make less than a living wage simply because that is better than nothing. It’s standard operating procedure for a parent company to contract a third party vendor with little to zero oversight, absolving themselves of responsibility for the conditions in factories  and ultimately, these people’s deaths. And for half their pay, employees get to live in these shitholes, dormitory-style. Sometimes they don’t get paid at all. Migrant workers will often leave one country to go to a neighboring country to work and get totally used. President Trump’s  Dubai project is a nightmare, for example. Workers on that project can’t even get their passports back to go home because they’re being held from them by their employer.

These are the conditions that both women and men find themselves in across the planet and American “fast fashion” is a big part of this equation. It’s easy to kidnap young boys and girls working in these environments. Just like it’s easy to leverage foster kids in the system here in the states for unsavory ends, or look at the Catholic church’s record of abusing lots of troubled kids over their years.

Censoring these stories or not covering them because of political or corporate pressure is a failure to protect these lives and their inherent freedom to self-determine. The Podesta emails are pretty odd, and it could be a coincidence in some cases. But there was a few emails that appeared to be discussing something in code. The infamous Comet Ping Pong Pizza has a strange website and a sister store two doors down – also selling pizza, by the way – called Buck’s Camping and Fishing. They’ve scrubbed their website since a crazed lunatic (or Podesta political plant, haha) ran into the place with a gun one afternoon last month. I found an archived version of the old Comet Pizza website and their “Friends” section was still intact somewhat – check it out, it’s weird. I don’t get why any of those links are affiliated with a pizza place, but it’s possible I’m not hip enough.

I’m not saying there’s a Hillary Clinton photo in a compromising position: I AM saying there is something fishy here. It’s global. And Podesta’s associate has already been implicated. I’m not a fan of jumping to conclusions and I will ALWAYS question a received reality. There is so much more beneath the glib surface.

How can we do better? Stop buying so much crap at Walmart and use the money you save to travel. One thing I’ve learned working for low pay at a nonprofit these last 6 years was how to live on less. I mean, roughly $30,000 less than I made when I was 25 years old. I really wanted to change my career and nothing I did before lent itself to what I did at my last job so I chose to start over rather than do something I didn’t want to do. That’s a First-World problem for ya. It’s nice to have choices, but it’s also a burden to have so much abundance. Our task is to be responsible with that abundance.

Here are some ways I humbled myself to my new pay grade: I drove an embarrassingly shitty car for a few years while I saved money to buy my sassy, gently-used Acura last year.  I didn’t lease, I bought it outright. I don’t have cable. I buy new clothes seasonally, not weekly. If there’s an event or a festival I want to go to I apply to volunteer so I can donate some time and grab a free pass. Readers who know me will note that do enjoy travel a lot. But in my 4th decade I learned how to love the adventure of meeting new people in youth hostels or I will sleep on a friend’s floor or couch.  Five-star hotels are for pussies, and you know what happens to those under the current administration.

Below is a link about an initiative working it’s way through appropriations in Congress right now. If I can find some grassroots corporate activism happening “out there” I will add them later. To create new business practices will require some serious organization. We can’t just slap on our collective pussy hats and march, though that often helps too. In conjunction with demonstrations, I predict activists have got to take a page from the Koch Brother’s manual to be effective. Well, minus the short-sightedness. And the dishonesty. And pretty much everything they stand for. OK then… Stay tuned for updates on this topic.

Fight Slavery Now! website with information about the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Striking a Balance in Uncertain Times

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I took an unintentional hiatus from writing, dear readers. I had so many ideas. Too many ideas. As many of you know, I am a news and politics junkie. Having no designated horse in last year’s presidential race, I thought the ideal thing to do here would be to discuss politics in a way that could divest us from the sheer emotionality of it. I wrote several essays I never published about facts, digging into history, blah blah blah… I came off preachy; at least I realized it before I hit the “publish” button.

Part of being a writer is being an observer, but at the beginning of this year my observational compass was askew. The sheer volume and volatility of the daily news necessitated that I respond before the topic got stale, something very difficult to do given that I have few resources that other journalists have.

So I turned inward. I needed to work on myself or nothing I put out as a creative writer or a news-commentator will be without bias. True, it’s impossible to eliminate it entirely. But a self-aware person who is mindful of their intentions can create something of value to both themselves and their community.

That’s where things began to come into focus. I have always said, “You can’t change what’s happening in Afghanistan, but you CAN be a good neighbor.” I had forgotten my own commitment to community in the midst of election hoopla. Resolving to re-commit to mine, I reconsidered current commitments (Malden Cultural Council) and pondered the stories that were happening all around me that were not being told. Stories that deserved life, I felt. I am a proud Maldonian, and so I set out to discover my local scene again, never-minding the national drama.

For $30 I signed up for a class at MATV called “Writing Local History.” Currently working on a historic-fiction-genre novel, this class has turned out to be right up my proverbial alley and – bonus –  is being taught by Globe reporter and author Stephanie Schorow.

I feel blessed that a course of this caliber is being offered for such short change; I’m getting a lot more out of this class than the one I spent $2K for at Harvard last year (insert eye roll). My plan is to roll my historical novel research and interviews right into my class project, which is to write a local history piece for Neighborhood View. I’ve received so many contacts of WWII vets right here in Malden – it lends itself perfectly to a story about them for my class-related feature. What the details or theme will be will emerge as I write and interview my subjects. Part of the process is not holding on too tightly to preconceived notions so I can allow the best of these interviews to emerge. (Sidebar: contact me if you know or ARE a WWII veteran interested in being interviewed for my project.)

I recently attended Mayor Christenson’s “State of the City” breakfast and emerged with many notes about stories I wanted to investigate and potentially write about. Look for these in local outlets like the Patch or the Advocate soon.

Yet another project in development is a podcast called “In My Head” which will empty out the contents of my brain for an hour-long weekly format I hope to take to radio airwaves one day. The concept is still a secret but it will not be dull; I promise you will laugh, and you will learn something – my two favorite things to do.

So you see, I found the best way to continue is to simply add value to the world I live in. Bitching and moaning on Facebook does not change anything. I encourage readers to stop un-following and un-friending folks who hold a different worldview from you. Human beings are not here on this planet for safety or consistency, (though we crave it with every fiber of our survivalist-programmed selves). We are here to stretch, to grow, to evolve, to change, to become a better version of ourselves today than we were yesterday. Anything less than that and we live in sin, which in ancient Greek means to “miss the point of existence”.

Seek to understand your neighbor, and when you don’t? Love them anyway. That is what the Creator calls us to do, if you’re into the whole God thing. And if you’re not then just be a decent fucking person – you’ve only got one go-around, eh? I have been good and I have been bad – being in the Light is much more fun, believe me.

In the meantime, since someone else developed an online database much more quickly than I ever could (ahem, Michael Moore), I will leave a couple of links below to get your political mojo active, if that’s your cup of tea.

Myself, I’m taking a step back. As a critic and commentator I think it’s important to my readers that I remain independent – for now. I may change my mind, as I often do. But that is what balance is about: minute adjustments made on a moment-to-moment basis allow me to stay in the center. Have a blessed day.

The Resistance Calendar

The Action Group Network – activist network created by House of Cards writer Beau Willimon, who’s taking a break from writing to get involved in grassroots work nationwide.

5 Calls App – **the best activist hack, like, ever…

You Down With TPP? Me Neither.

TPP

 

Bad grammar and old rap references aside, why I’m not down with TPP is made pretty clear in the transcript (below) of my letter to my district’s Rep. and state Senators, sent recently via email to all three (Warren, Markey and Clark). I wanted to share my letter with readers, and to show that my assertions did not come out of thin air, I’ve linked sources throughout the letter itself and included a pretty extensive set of footnotes. Whether you support the TPP or not, I hope it inspires you to write a letter of your own or to generally get involved in grassroots action in whatever way that makes sense for you. – JP

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Dear Senators and Representative:

 

First off, I’d like to thank you for your continued service on behalf of the people of Massachusetts. As a registered Independent voter I have voted for all of you, and I consider myself fortunate to live in our “purple-ish” state where reason can play a part in the political process.

With regards to the TPP, I think I already know how your vote will go and hope that I am correct in assuming you will vote against this horrific (and binding) agreement. As I learn more about the details I am left scratching my head in wonder trying to understand why our supposedly Democratic President would think this agreement is a good idea.

Never mind wonder – it alarms me that your fellow colleagues might also be supporting this agreement along with our President. I implore you to reach out to them and convince them this would be a disaster for not only our country, but people around the world. Rising cost of medicines, US industrial farming pushing small eco-friendly farmers out of the market, and potential for more fracking are all a likely by-product of this agreement.

I am currently reading through the Intellectual Property section on Wiki Leaks, and though I’m not a lawyer I can understand that digital rights and freedom of expression will be inhibited under the terms, and that copyright infringement will be treated as a criminal offense. Sanctions against those who “misuse” digital property accessed from a computer (which seems deliberately vague) could ostensibly harm what’s left of our free press. As a writer myself, I find this unacceptable.

We all know how the political process has been corrupted by special interests, and in this case we are not only inviting them in for a hot meal but also handing them the keys to the castle. It infuriates me that the will of the people would be LEGALLY overruled by corporate interests. We the People already have so little influence on outcomes: academic studies have shown the average citizen literally has a net zero effect on current policies enacted. (It’s under 1%.)

The fact that a multi-national corporation could sue the United States for infringement on their profits is not just a possibility, but a sure thing under the provisions of the TPP. TransCanada has already sued us under NAFTA for blocking fracking and Wall Street crybabies have had hearings to fight reduction in subsidies to their industry. These companies get to bid on taxpayer funded contracts and/or benefit from tax breaks and subsidies, and then they follow up with lawsuits against our government because they want more… Talk about ridiculous.

I don’t even know if you will read this letter. I expect that a lot of these mass-emails get lost in the shuffle. But I wanted to speak up and will continue to pay attention and do my part as a citizen to keep the pressure on. The fact of the matter is, sadly, is that less-than-1% influence I referenced is shrinking even as I write this. Please ask yourselves and your colleagues to call upon integrity now and fight for the rights of folks who have no voice. Don’t let the voice and will of the People completely disappear.

 

Respectfully,

Jennifer Psallidas

Footnotes

Care to blow off a little steam of your own? Write a letter to your state reps in the House and the Senate and let them know you are paying attention. Also linked below are some other references of potential interest.

LOCAL – Find House of Reps from your district by entering your zip code here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/.

NATIONAL – Find your state’s elected Congress officials here: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

The academic study I referred to is by Gilens and Page: Average Citizens have little impact on public policy. Published in Perspectives on Politics, April 9, 2014.  PDF of study is linked in my letter but the abstract can be found here: http://www.pnhp.org/news/2014/april/gilens-and-page-average-citizens-have-little-impact-on-public-policy

The TPP – or most of it – is available on Wiki Leaks, and notably was not made public initially by the current U.S. administration. https://wikileaks.org/tpp/.

Electronic Frontier Foundation: a website dedicated to understanding rights in the digital world, breaks down key elements of the Intellectual Property chapter of the TPP. https://www.eff.org/issues/tpp

Footnote about Bank subsidies: this relates back to the comments in my letter about businesses being able to sue the U.S. Government – read: the taxpayers – when their profits are at stake. The example I cited in the letter is possibly a little vague for readers but I expected the state Reps to know what I was referring to. A brief history of my perspective follows:

1913: Entitlements: 6%, just for showing up: The banks receive an annual dividend of 6% from the Federal Reserve, which totals roughly $350 million apiece for JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. It was first established in 1913 as a reward for banks, just for joining the Federal Reserve system. Readers should note that Federal Reserve is an incredibly independent government agency which is not audited by Congress and can basically create money out of thin air. But I digress.

The Fed payouts to banks are not structured to exert any influence or encourage banks to push the benefit out to the public in any way. This is just one example of the types of kickbacks and payouts our taxes support. There are many more. (Sort of outrageous when one considers the outcry against welfare for the poor, which is comparably only 5% of the entire federal budget. Hypocrisy rules this country.)

In the meantime, our infrastructure needs improvement and people need good-paying jobs.

2014: White House Fact Sheet: President Obama’s Infrastructure plan, laid out in February of 2014 lays out the initiative to improve American infrastructure and funnel funding to the states for local projects, the by-product of which would be more blue-collar jobs. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/02/26/fact-sheet-president-obama-lays-out-vision-21st-century-transportation-i.

2015: Senator Sanders proposes a deficit-neutral Amendment to the Infrastructure Bill: Bernie Sanders is the ranking member of the Senate’s Budget Committee, and asked the Finance Committee to close corporate tax breaks for companies to fund the proposal. He was denied, even though the federal Highway Trust Fund is nearly depleted. The members of the Finance Committee would not budge on long-term subsidies for big business, saying it would be a “tax increase” on business, which is an incorrect twisting of semantics – it is a subsidy decrease. Subsidies are kickbacks to companies from our government. The newest proposal by Obama was that the funding would come from the Fed’s 6% payout, which would not suddenly end, but rather decrease over a period of time. 2016 would be the first year the cutback in the payout would take effect. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/478b-infrastructure-bill-blocked-senate-123000148.html

2016: Banks fight back with a letter from Rob Nichols, CEO of the American Banking Association arguing for banks’ 5th Amendment rights under the Constitution of the United States. He argues that the 6% Fed payout is protected under the 5th Amendment and that these funds should not be diverted to boost America’s failing infrastructure. Link to ABA for all kinds of interesting info: www.aba.con.

I have to say, calling upon the 5th Amendment and claiming that taking the payout away is akin to theft is pretty fucking genius. These bankers have serious chutzpah. When recently asked about the payouts (July, Wall Street Journal article), Fed Chair Janet Yellen lamely said that she didn’t want to discourage banks from participating in the Federal Reserve system — even though the Fed has the same oversight powers over banks whether they take part or not.