Civil Servants are the best

I estimate that 98% of my work life was spent either in government or with a nonprofit so I think I know a thing or two about both kinds of organizations.  I have been thinking since the election in November that government workers, bureaucrats, civil servants and nonprofit organizations will be the ones to save our democracy.  The two actions that have gotten the most attention thus far are the State Department’s dissent memo with over 1000 signatures and the Alt National Parks websites.  And employees in other agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA are also acting by just doing their jobs and setting up alternate media sites through which they can release information.  So I was interested to come across this story expressing a similar point of view.

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One of our National Park Rangers.

I had just come home from Boston where I had picked up a print copy of the Globe and I started reading the Magazine and began laughing.  In his Perspective essay, Dear civil servants:  Keep it up.  No, really., Scott Helman begs the nation’s civil servants to keep doing their jobs.

Good day, Mr./Mrs./Ms. Servant.

I ask humbly: May I approach your coffee-splattered desk? I promise this won’t take long. It’s only the survival of the republic that we need to talk about. I’ll speak quietly. I can even sing my plea lite-rock style, so it blends in with the tunes from your clock radio. Better not to arouse your supervisor’s curiosity.

Let’s clear the air first. Listen, it’s true. For years you’ve been a punch line. Admit that sometimes you made it easy, with your interminable cigarette breaks, your surly manner, and your dawdling pace — unless there was only one glazed cruller left in the box.

Wait, wait, wait — come back! You’re right. Sorry. Really sorry. Old habits, you know?

Seriously, though: You, my friend, are the most important person in America right now. A nation turns its jittery eyes to you.

Helman continues

As the political churn reaches your cubicle, I ask of you this: Smile, nod — hell, bake a Bundt cake if you need to. And then: Continue on your merry way. Keep doing your thing.

Please continue producing non-biased, fact-based reports and stats on global warming, federal deficits, health care coverage, and whatever else comes across your desk. Go where the science or the numbers lead you, not where someone above you wants them to go.

Please speak up if you’re asked to do something unethical, and blow the whistle if you see something wrong.

Look, I know you can’t buck every political decision. Elections have consequences. I get that. Maybe you even welcome the change, unlike those cheeky chums from the national parks who started shadow Twitter accounts.

But this is bigger than politics or party. We need you to protect that bedrock as if our lives depend on it. Because they might. You are but a cog in a massive machine, yes. But the machine cannot run without you. Exercise your judgment and talent and authority wisely.

I know it can’t be easy.  When I was working in Virginia state government, the Governor appointed a new agency head who was not all that competent.  (I learned years later from him that much of what he did was at the direction of the Governor’s Office.)  At one point an employee moral survey was conducted, but the results were not released.  A couple of us got hold of the results and leaked them to the Washington Post.  To this day, I’m not sure any one except us leakers knew who the source was.  We knew we were taking a risk, but in the end, some changes were made, changes that impacted all State employees.  So I know that civil servants can act against the powers that be.  Helman ends with

One more thing. Don’t let anybody tell you that pushing back against a sinister agenda is somehow un-American. To the contrary. It’s the most American thing you can do.

 

Photograph:  Nick Adams / Reuters

Resistance

Beverly Gage had an interesting essay in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, A ‘Resistance’ Stands Against Trump.  But What Will It Stand For?  In it Gage discusses the history of the word, resistance, and how it has transformed at various times from being against to finding what it is for.  Right now, when we talk about resisting Trump, or perhaps I should say that when I use the term, I mean taking a stand against his proposed (and some implemented) actions that can remove my civil rights and civil liberties.  I think each participant in the current Resistance stands for his or her own reasons.  So how can we coalesce into a positive movement?

Before Trump’s election, anyone who claimed to have been a member of “the resistance” was most likely over the age of 85, a veteran of anti-fascist struggles in France and other Nazi-occupied territories during World War II. That resistance involved armed conflict and personal risk of the bleakest sort, with guerrilla fighters hiding in the catacombs of Paris while Hitler’s forces did their worst above ground. Under fascist rule, there were no plausible options for political engagement. It was a fight to the death, and in early 1940s Europe, before the arrival of Allied troops, the outcome was far from certain. Talking about resistance still evokes this sense of honorable struggle against an occupying power. It implies patience as well as militancy, the ability to say no over and over and over again, to refuse to cooperate until the whole system crumbles.

After the war, anticolonial movements from South Africa to Northern Ireland found their own strategies of resistance, settling in for long, sometimes bloody fights.

Of course, the American south had “massive resistance” to school integration.  I remember well the year my hometown of Moorestown, New Jersey, hosted a group of young men and women from Prince Edward County, Virginia who were just trying to finish high school after “massive resistance” closed the schools.

The American left created a different language of resistance, much of it focused around the anti-conscription activities of groups like the War Resisters League. This anti-draft sensibility reached its peak in the late 1960s, during the Vietnam War, when student activists proclaimed a transition, per one slogan, “from Protest to Resistance.” As the movement veterans Staughton Lynd and Michael Ferber pointed out in their 1971 book, “The Resistance,” that shift grew out of a desire to embrace “a deeper and riskier commitment, a move that warranted a new term to replace ‘dissent’ and ‘protest.’ ” The goal was no longer simply to object to the war; it was to throw a wrench into the war machine and make it stop. Antiwar activists continued to engage in peaceful protest — but now some also burned draft cards and firebombed R.O.T.C. centers. A small number, like the Weathermen, took up bona fide guerrilla activity, planting bombs at the Capitol, the Pentagon and other prominent buildings.

The Michigan Republican who tweeted that we needed another Kent State to put down the current protests hasn’t read his history:  Kent State stiffed the resistance to the Vietnam War rather than ending it.  I remember the nonviolent movement being galvanized by Kent State.

As the war and its life-or-death stakes came to an end, so, too, did the embrace of resistance as a literal armed underground conspiracy. But while it faded as a political strategy, it began to gain prominence as a category of academic social analysis, the sort of thing that anthropologists and historians looked for in their studies of human societies. This was part of a broader trend toward “social history,” with its insistence that ordinary people — not just generals and politicians — could be the agents of serious historical change. Sometimes this meant studying organized revolts, like slave rebellions or peasant uprisings. By the 1980s, though, “resistance” had come to encompass a much broader set of behaviors. Enslaved or oppressed people might resist by taking up arms, but they might also resist simply by refusing to do as they were told. The political theorist James Scott called these “everyday forms of resistance” — a category that could include giving a sullen look to an employer, deliberately misfiling forms or just living life, as much as possible, on terms of your own choosing.

As I wrote earlier, the current resistance movement allows each participant to participate for her or his own reasons.  But can we become something bigger?  Gage leaves us with some hope.

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As a movement-building enterprise, designed to achieve the greatest possible participation, this mode of resistance makes sense. But despite its good cheer, it still emphasizes what is not possible: It says that Trump is about to take a sledgehammer to the nation’s finest institutions and principles and that the only thing most citizens can do is shout “no” as loudly as possible.

Many organizers have vowed that this yawp of dissent represents a beginning rather than an end — and history suggests that they may well be right. Some of the most significant shifts in modern American law and political culture came out of efforts birthed in panic and despair. During World War I, for instance, the United States banned criticism of the government, interned thousands of German Americans and instituted widespread surveillance of immigrants and political radicals. Many Americans supported these policies; others feared that the country was abandoning cherished traditions of tolerance and free speech. In response, a small group of alarmed progressives founded an organization that came to be known as the American Civil Liberties Union. They lost many early courtroom battles, but their vision of a nation in which “civil liberties” were taken seriously eventually changed the face of American law and politics.

If I have any prediction about what the future holds, I think that the women’s movement, the environmental movement, and civil liberties movement will all gain strength as we each decide where to put our energy, time, and money into positive actions.   While we continue to resist it all.

Photograph:  Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

“We are a gentle, angry people…”

Yesterday was a rather phenomenal day.  The media reports of women’s marches on all seven continents.  Posts by friends from all stages of my life with pictures of themselves, their children, and often, grandchildren at marches and rallies all over the world.  I’m sure I’ll be writing more about the why and certainly will write about what happens next, but today I want to celebrate a song I hadn’t thought about for a long time, but which seems to be the appropriate one for this new movement.

We sang it at the Brattleboro Sister Vigil and, later, a friend posted that she had seen the words on a sign in Boston:  “We are a gentle, angry people.”  She hadn’t realized that those were the words of a song by Holly Near.

Here is a clip of Near singing it in 2015 at a conference on the anniversary of the first national demonstration against the War in Vietnam.

And here are the words.

We are a gentle, angry people
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a justice-seeking people
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are young and old together
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a land of many colors
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are gay and straight together
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a gentle, loving people
and we are singing, singing for our lives

Learn the tune.  Make up more verses.  We are singing for our lives.

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Taken at Pliny Park, Brattleboro VT on January 21, 2017 about 20 minutes after the formal Sister Vigil had ended.

Photograph by Robert Wyckoff

Race and Gender in the Trump Cabinet

Many of us are paying a lot of attention to important things about the Trump nominees:  Do they believe in Climate Change?  Support torture?  Want to cozy up to Putin?  Create a Muslim Registry?  Know anything about the job they to which they are being appointed?  Important things.  That is why this analysis is so interesting.  It was the headline that caught my eye “Trump’s Cabinet So Far Is More White and Male Than Any First Cabinet Since Reagan.”  Written by Jasmine C. Lee the New York Times story is full of charts and pictures.

If Mr. Trump’s nominees are confirmed, women and nonwhites will hold five of 21 cabinet or cabinet-level positions. He has not yet named nominees for two additional positions.

Those five members will also be in some of the lowest-ranking positions. None of them are in the so-called inner cabinet, the four positions in place since George Washington’s presidency: the attorney general and the secretaries of state, Treasury and defense (formerly called the secretary of war).

Barack Obama had 14. Bill Clinton 12, and George W. Bush 9.  Trump is doing a little better than Reagan who only had two:  Jeanne Kirkpatrick at the United Nations and Samuel Pierce at HUD.

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The cabinet of President Ronald Reagan in February 1981.

The first cabinets of George W. Bush and Mr. Obama were both noted for their diversity. In Mr. Bush’s initial administration, 45 percent of the cabinet and cabinet-level officials were women or nonwhite men. In Mr. Obama’s first cabinet, that figure was 64 percent.

What does it mean that the clock is being turned back on diversity?  I think that diversity and inclusion are bad words to the President-elect.  They certainly are to his supporters.  But I think a great deal is lost when there aren’t persons from different backgrounds, genders, and races at the table.  If everyone is a super-rich white man, who represents the rest of us?  And who represents the Trump voter?

Official White House photo of Obama Cabinet

The cabinet of President Obama in September 2009.

Photograph of Reagan Cabinet from the Reagan Library

Photograph of the Obama Cabinet from the White House

Senate in a hurry

The Senate, that body that couldn’t seem to muster enough energy to do very much since 2010 except hold endless hearings about Hillary Clinton, has suddenly gotten busy.  Last night – or rather early this morning – they took the first steps toward repealing the Affordable Care Act.  The New York Times reporters wrote

The approval of the budget blueprint, coming even before President-elect Donald J. Trump is inaugurated, shows the speed with which Republican leaders are moving to fulfill their promise to repeal President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement — a goal they believe can now be accomplished after Mr. Trump’s election.

The action by the Senate is essentially procedural, setting the stage for a special kind of legislation called a reconciliation bill. Such a bill can be used to repeal significant parts of the health law and, critically, is immune from being filibustered. Congress appears to be at least weeks away from voting on legislation repealing the law.

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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is leading the charge to make Hill Republicans own the Obamacare repeal process.

The Democrats staged a protest on the floor, taking turns speaking even while being ruled out of order.  The vote was 51 to 48.  So, what can someone who is opposed to repeal do at this point?  I found a New York Times Op-Ed Seven Questions About Health Reform to be a useful guide to the questions we should be asking any Senator or Congressperson who supports repeal.  The piece by Harold Pollack and Timothy S. Jost should be read in full, but here are what I think are the most important of the seven questions. (The numbering is mine not theirs. And they are not in the order of importance.}

First, “How many millions of Americans will lose coverage?”  Among the issues pointed out is

Proposals by Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s choice to run Health and Human Services, and by the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, would repeal the expansion of Medicaid and replace the A.C.A.’s income-based subsidies with less generous tax credits. Another plan from the House Republican Study Committee would offer deductions. We particularly need to know how this would affect low-income Americans, to whom tax deductions are nearly worthless, and who would generally not be able to afford coverage under these plans.

Second, “Will people over 55 pay higher health premiums for the same coverage?”  If the repeal is paired with cuts to Medicare, all of us over 55 will be in trouble.  And younger folks who may not have saved much for retirement yet will find it impossible to save enough.

Third, “… how much more will those with costly illnesses or injuries have to pay in out-of-pocket costs?”

Critics of the A.C.A. often argue that the law has made health care unaffordable. But many Americans would pay much more without it. The A.C.A. capped out-of-pocket spending at $7,150 for individuals and $14,300 for families for 2017. Republican proposals appear to offer no protection from high deductibles and other cost-sharing.

This could be devastating to millions, including older Americans who often develop chronic illnesses.

Fourth on my list. “Will the new plan let insurers charge women higher premiums than men while offering them less coverage?”

Before the A.C.A. banned gender-based premiums, insurers in many states charged women more than men of the same age — some as much as 50 percent more. The A.C.A. also required all insurers to cover preventive health services without co-payments; for women, this includes birth control, Pap smears, mammograms and a host of other crucial services. Maternity care is fully covered as well. Republican replacement plans offer no such protection. And many Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood, too, which would deprive women not just of coverage but also of care.

And, as we have learned, many men, particularly Republican men, have no idea of how a woman’s anatomy works.  For those opposed to choice on abortion, this could have the effect of increasing the number of abortions – legal and illegal.

I think there is time while President Trump argues with Congress and Congress argues with itself about what should be in any new law.  If your Senator and/or Congressperson favors repeal, call or write or visit and ask some of the seven questions.  And express your support for those that oppose wholesale repeal.  Should you agree with what is happening, leave me a message explaining why you think this is OK.

Photograph:  Alex Wong/Getty Images

Repealing the Affordable Care Act

The Republicans have made a mantra out of repealing the ACA aka Obamacare.  I’ve lost track of how many times they have voted to repeal it, but close to 60, I think.  The surprising thing is how unprepared they really are to “repeal and replace”.  They seem to have the repeal part down, but in all the years it has been since the law was enacted, they haven’t come up with a replacement plan.  I think that even supporters of the ACA know that some things need fixing but no Republicans were willing to work with Democrats and President Obama to do so.

They could just repeal it.  This would create chaos in the health care system and upset millions.  I don’t think they want to deal with loss of support right away.  I’m not sure that voters who say they don’t like the ACA understand that things like free vaccinations, physical exams, and mammograms are part of the Act.  On the other hand, Republicans cannot seem to agree on a plan to replace the ACA.  There are a lot of ideas, but no plan and not even a framework for a plan as far as I can tell.

In the January 4 edition of the New York Times, Robert Pear had an interesting and informative article, Republicans’ 4-Step Plan to Repeal the Affordable Care Act.  In it he outlines the things that have to happen before Repeal.

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Vice President-elect Mike Pence, second from right, listened as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, spoke after a Republican luncheon on Wednesday.

Step One is to pass a budget resolution that is filibuster proof in the Senate.

The Senate intends to pass a budget resolution next week that would shield repeal legislation from a Democratic filibuster. If the Senate completes its action, House Republican leaders hope that they, too, can approve a version of the budget resolution next week. Whether they can meet that goal is unclear.

Step Two would add details.

Republicans say they will delay the effective date of their repeal bill to avoid disrupting coverage and to provide time for them to develop alternatives to Mr. Obama’s law. They disagree over how long the delay should last, with two to four years being mentioned as possibilities.

Step Three adds in ideas from President Trump.

Within days of taking office, President-elect Donald J. Trump plans to announce executive actions on health care. Some may undo Obama administration policies. Others will be meant to stabilize health insurance markets and prevent them from collapsing in a vast sea of uncertainty.

“We are working on a series of executive orders that the president-elect will put into effect to ensure that there is an orderly transition, during the period after we repeal Obamacare, to a market-based health care economy,” Mr. Pence said at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Step Four is replacement.  For which there is no consensus.

Meanwhile Democrats are also taking action.

In the Senate next week, Democrats will demand votes intended to put Republicans on record against proposals that could protect consumers. Defenders of the law also hope to mobilize groups like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association to speak up for patients.

This process is far from over.  Even Republicans put implementation of a new health care law a minimum of 2 years out – just in time for mid-terms- and more likely, 4 years away – just in time for the next Presidential election.

Photograph:  Doug Mills/The New York Times

Facing a new year and a new era

All of the kerfuffle about the electoral college and recounts is over and we face reality:  Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.  I have a number of resolutions for this new era.

First, bear witness.  For me this means a bit more blogging than in the past couple of years when I have slacked off considerably.  More shorter pieces will be my mantra.

Second, try to maintain a sense of humor.  I have friends to help me including Robert Waldo Brunelle, Jr. who explains things.

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Third, work for good local and statewide candidates.  Remember that in two years there is a midterm election.

Fourth, distract myself from 24 hour politics.  There are the Red Sox and bird watching for example.  There are many, many books to be read.

Keep reminding myself that life does go on.