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I have been avoiding the comment section of Facebook posts lately. Other than wishing my friends a happy birthday or anniversary, or sending a complimentary word about a family photo, I have tried to stay out of the fray of these comment threads – especially political ones.

First of all, I doubt that my arguments with other Face-bookers will change their minds. Whether the subject is Donald Trump, gun violence, sexual harassment or racism, people have their strongly-held beliefs, and I’m just not going to change them. Worse, arguments on Facebook often lead to ill will. Without the social filter of physical proximity to the person with whom we are arguing, we tend to get more strident and offensive.

I’m also trying to eschew online comments because they are bad for my own mental health. Every time I enter the fray of a heated argument on Facebook, my blood pressure starts to rise at some of the responses I get. The only way to calm myself down is to refer to the point above and realize that my righteous indignation will change nothing.

Still, it’s very hard for me to refrain from offering my opinions. I grew up in a very argumentative household where it was almost a badge of honor to shout the loudest and make one’s judgments heard. Yes, family dinners did often give my poor mother a headache.

Also, I like to think of myself as a maven. I fancy myself in possession of lots of knowledge and wisdom, and I just know others would benefit from my sharing it. Well, in the context of Facebook or other social media, not so much.

So I will continue to work on repressing the need to comment on Facebook posts while still being my friends’ online cheerleaders. It won’t be easy, though. I shudder to think what would happen if I got an account on Twitter.

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In Praise of Moderation

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America is a nation of extremes. Either we are subsisting on grass and twigs with the Paleo diet, or we are Supersizing our fast food hamburgers and fries. We can’t just use our phones to stay in touch with each other. We have to have them in our hands constantly to check email or go on social media. And watching a television show or two won’t do. We have to binge watch an entire series in one sitting.

Nowhere is our penchant for extremes more obvious – and potentially more dangerous – than in our politics. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have been skewing far to the left and right respectively in the past several years. The Tea Party movement on the right has pushed candidates with views that go way beyond traditional conservative beliefs about limited government. Tax cuts at all costs seems to be the new Republican mantra, regardless of how severely they will impact the national debt. And the election of Donald Trump shows a disturbing trend on the right to vilify immigrants and minorities, roll back environmental protections, and normalize the white nationalist movement.

On the Democratic side, we see the popularity of socialist-leaning Bernie Sanders and such idealistic but impractical agendas as providing free college for all Americans. And while I personally favor a single-payer health care system such as the ones found in most Western European nations, the hue and cry over the baby steps of Obamacare shows that the country is not ready for quite that massive of an overhaul. I believe that Sanders supporters’ refusal to get behind Hillary Clinton in the presidential election was in part responsible for the election of Trump.

The political polarization is being fed and magnified by social media algorithms and the various websites that have sprung up pushing extreme agendas and often fake news. There is no more talking or meeting of minds. We are simply shouting at each other, and our political leaders are, for the most part, perpetuating the great divide we have between the left and the right.

There needs to be a new movement: not the Tea Party nor the Coffee Party. Let’s call it the Milk Party. Milk is a little bland and unexciting, but it’s also wholesome and nutritious. It builds strong bones and teeth. Likewise, we need our leaders to come together and work with each other. Compromise is not a bad word. As Sheriff Hopper explains to Eleven in Stranger Things, it means “halfway happy.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be halfway happy than completely miserable.

After the recent tax bill passed, legislators admitted that they had not even read it. And already the U.S. Treasury Department is being deluged with complaints about ambiguous language and unintended consequences of the new law. We are paying our government leaders well. I think we deserve better than the dysfunction in Washington, which, contrary to the intentions of the Tea Party, has grown worse.

In short, we need the moderates to stop hiding or being co-opted by the extreme right and left. We need the leaders in the sensible shoes and serviceable haircuts to step forward and lay claim to being the voices of reason in the insanity that has grown up around politics in America.

As in most areas of life – including our diet, exercise, religious practices, child-rearing, and the like – moderation in politics may be the key to saving our democracy.

Cult of Celebrity

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America’s cult of celebrity is ruining our democracy. Our obsession with being famous brought us the presidency of Donald Trump, a reality TV star more than anything, who gloried in shouting “You’re fired!” each week at a hapless contestant on The Apprentice. Now Trump is playing a high-stakes version of The Apprentice with the highest office in the land.

The ouster of National Security Chief H.R. McMaster yesterday is just the latest in dozens of firings from our volatile president. I used to be worried about Trump’s peopling his administration with military men. Now, as Trump starts combing the ranks of Fox News pundits and resurrecting the career of John Bolton, I’m missing those generals with wistful fondness.

It’s a measure of our fascination with famous people that someone like Oprah is being considered a great presidential candidate in 2020 . And just the other day, Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame announced she will run for governor of New York. Of course, we’ve already had the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in California, as well as the presidency of the late Ronald Reagan, an actor who parlayed his work with the Screen Actors’ Guild into a stint as governor before becoming a two-term Republican president.

I’m not saying celebrities have no right to run for office or that their fame makes them unqualified to hold a government position. But I think that if we continue this obsession with electing people on the basis of their fame, we are apt to have Pauly D. from Jersey Shore as our next president (with The Situation his chief of staff).

I understand that voters are tired of business as usual in government. Career politicians whose every move is calculated against their chances of winning re-election have left a bad taste in our mouths. But we still need thoughtful, principled and knowledgable individuals to make laws and shape policies so that our democracy continues to be the thriving and vibrant envy of the world it has always been.

Politics as entertainment has to go. As volatile as this fledgling presidency of Donald Trump has been, I dread the prospect of seeing the reruns in 2020.

 

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

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28058365_883296441852265_4748931391964434677_nYesterday, which happened to be both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, a 19-year-old walked into his former high school and shot and killed 17 people, wounding numerous others, with an AR-15 assault rifle.

As I sit here calmly sipping coffee, dozens of family members are grappling with the unthinkable. Because a troubled teenager was able to get his hands on a semi-automatic version of a military style weapon, residents of Parkland, Florida, must face the reality of burying their children and other loved ones.

Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, more than 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings. The Florida incident marks the 18th school shooting in less than two months in 2018. If the cause of all this death were anything but guns, legislators would already have passed numerous laws to safeguard the lives of the American people. Meanwhile, lawmakers in New York are considering a ban on Tide Pods because they look too much like candy, despite the fact that there were no fatalities reported last year from the ridiculous “Tide Pod Challenge” idiotic teens were participating in.

Suffice it to say, we have our priorities screwed up in this country.

Yesterday evening, it was standing room only at my church for the annual Ash Wednesday Mass and distribution of ashes. For some reason, Ash Wednesday services seem to be more well attended than any other events in the Catholic Church. The ashes are meant to represent both our mortality and our sinfulness – and to encourage repentance.

As a nation, we need to repent our inactivity in the face of evil. We need to atone for the countless preventable deaths due to gun violence.

The only way to effect common sense gun legislation is to elect local, state, and federal officials who are not beholden to the gun lobby. Decades ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving began an effective campaign to strengthen drunk driving laws and save lives. We need to join the Moms Demand[ing] Action for Gun Sense in America and fight for legislation that will protect us from this uniquely American scourge.

Alternate Reality

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MadHatterSignpostDHThe other day I overheard Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson getting indignant over a New York Times story revealing that U.S. intelligence officers had paid $100,000 to a Russian operative for dirt on Donald Trump. Curious, I pulled up the actual Times article and read that the intelligence community paid the money to retrieve stolen NSA cyber weapons, not intel on Trump. The article specifically stated, in fact, that the officers did not want any “dirt” on Trump during a presidential election. This is the alternative reality that Trump apologists like Carlson have created – aided and abetted by a behemoth of an organization called Fox News.

The whole so-called political scandal inside the FBI is a creation of the right wing establishment and Fox News, who have been desperate to deflect attention from the very serious Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Instead of welcoming the truth, conservatives want to taint any findings that might come out of that investigation by claiming that the investigators themselves are all politically motivated.

The problem is that millions of Americans get their news from Fox, including the president himself. This leaves us in an Orwellian world where truth is a function of what one believes, not of what can be factually demonstrated. We should have been more frightened back in 2016 when Kellyanne Conway blathered about “alternative facts.” So between a steady diet of Fox News and an algorithm on Facebook that presents them with only pro-Trump, anti-Hillary/Obama/Democrats information, Trump supporters can live in their own alternate reality.

I’m not claiming that the editors of other news organizations are always free from bias. But I have never seen the deliberate omission and/or twisting of facts to fit the right wing, pro-Republican narrative as I have witnessed on Fox News. Even when something negative happens, such as the drastic drop in the stock market last week, Fox News calls it a “correction,” whereas in the Obama era, it would have been considered a sign of the president’s unfitness.

And when I hear people I know murmuring about “the Deep State” or referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” I realize the extent to which Trump and his own special news network have infected the American consciousness. Conservatives mocked Hillary Clinton back in the day when she referred to a vast right-wing conspiracy against her and her husband. But after a brutal presidential election that featured relentless attacks against Hillary and investigations prompted by conservative groups like Judicial Watch, I have to say I find her theory much more plausible.

Liberals and conservatives will never see eye to eye on all the issues. That’s what makes the political system interesting and vital. But if we can’t even agree on what constitutes reality, we are in danger of becoming a society in which the loudest and most well-financed voices are the only ones we hear.

 

 

Hug It Out

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I’m thinking of setting up a “Free Hugs” booth somewhere in downtown Chicago – a busy train station, say, or Daley Plaza (once the weather gets nicer). I recently read the about the physical and emotional benefits of hugging.

Hugging stimulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes well-being and reduces feelings of anxiety and stress. Oxytocin is the hormone that helps mothers and infants bond, for instance. And studies have shown that hugging can help the heart and the immune system, making it not only a pleasurable activity but a potentially life-saving one.

I’ve noticed that as I get older, my opportunities for hugs have diminished. When you have little ones at home, you are constantly holding and hugging them, and being hugged in return. As they get older, kids often attempt to individuate by keeping their physical distance. And while I hug my husband on a fairly regular basis, I think I’d like to become more demonstrative with friends, even ones I see on a daily basis.

Amid the current divisiveness in America, I think it would behoove us to hug each other more. I’m reminded of a protestor approaching riot police in Charlottesville last year and offering hugs. There was also an instance of a black man hugging a white supremacist outside a Richard Spencer event. The black man kept asking the white man, “Why don’t you like me?” The white man had nothing to say until the black man hugged him and whispered the question again. The white man admitted, “I don’t know.”

Americans are much less physically demonstrative than many other cultures. Decades ago, psychologist Sidney Jourard studied how often friends from different countries touched each other. He found that Americans touched each other about twice an hour whereas the French touched each other an average of 110 times an hour. Puerto Ricans touched more than 180 times an hour. (“How Hugs Heal – Have You Had a Hug Today?,” articles.mercola.com, May 20, 2017)

In doing some web research, I found out that I’ve just missed #NationalHuggingDay, which was January 21. It’s interesting that this year the date happened to correspond to the Women’s March and followed on the heels of the March for Life, both events where like-minded people gathered in large groups for a common cause. No doubt there was plenty of hugging to go around.

What I’d like to see, however, are more healing hugs, where people take the risk to reach out and connect heart to heart with someone different from themselves, whether racially, politically, religiously, or ideologically. So maybe my Free Hugs booth is not such a bad idea. Or how about a social media phenomenon akin to the Ice Bucket Challenge from a few years ago. People could gather donations for every random hug they gave and posted.

Hugs are warm and life-giving acts, and I plan to start giving out more of them. How about you?

 

 

Stormy Weather

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im-1368There is a deep irony at the heart of the story alleging that Donald Trump had an affair with an adult film star shortly after his son Barron was born. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that a woman named Stormy Daniels was offered $130,000 in 2016 to keep quiet about her affair with Trump. It turns out that several news organizations already had information about the alleged affair during the presidential  campaign. So why are we only learning about it now?

The mainstream media, the very institution that Donald Trump likes to vilify on a daily basis, did not have enough corroboration and therefore declined to publish what would surely have been a lurid and game-changing scoop. In other words, they were responsibly upholding journalistic standards, despite what Trump and his apologists like to claim in their near daily attacks on the press.

Just a few days ago, Trump said he would be announcing the “2017 Fake News Awards” to continue his campaign of discrediting the media. This from a man who has uttered more than 2,000 false or misleading statements in the past 355 days. (Washington Post, January 10, 2018) Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, both Republicans, have pointed out that dictators across the globe are using Trump’s term “fake news” to justify stifling the media in their repressive regimes. (Chicago Tribune, January 18, 2018)

Revelations that Donald Trump committed adultery yet again are hardly surprising. The man has shown himself to have few moral qualms or principles. But the president owes the mainstream media a debt of gratitude for their measured, responsible journalism. Without it, his “locker room” talk with Billy Bush that was broadcast during the campaign might have been looked upon differently. And voters might have abandoned him at the polls.

Donald Trump’s image of himself and his exaggerations about support from the American people are beginning to crumble like a week-old cake. Or to use another metaphor, his White House is a house of cards that is getting wobbly. Even his chief of staff called his Mexican border wall idea “uninformed.” I’d say he’s in for Stormy weather regardless of how this latest salacious tale plays out.