Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Be careful of language. It could take you somewhere you never wanted to go.

A few days ago, Indivisible released two pledges, one for presidential candidates and one for every single Indivisible member in the country. Monday night, April 29, Rachel Maddow devoted her opening segment to these pledges and the force that Indivisible has become across the country. One of the beautiful things about Indivisible when it improbably exploded into thousands of groups across the nation, was the sweet and desperate hope of a place and a message to fight what most progressives knew would be a complete unraveling of our norms and values as the United States of America. Because of that explosion of interest and Indivisible's insistence of autonomy among these diverse groups, activists took stock of their districts, planned actions according to the reality on the ground and the imagination and creativity was local and genius.

We all experienced a few bumps in Florida when, during the 2016 primaries, most groups in the state opted not to proceed with endorsement via questionnaire of candidates. We wanted our voters to decide. North Florida isn't South Florida; the Panhandle isn't Orlando. When one Indivisible group decided to endorse, totally within their right to do so, then successfully went through the process and subsequently announced their endorsement, it unintentionally appeared to many other groups in the whole state that this was a statewide endorsement, causing consternation and some resignations. We regrouped and got on with the work supporting the winner of the primary. 

While the pledge for candidates  is well written, elevates the primaries after two horrific election cycles, and is a truly unifying document, the one for Indivisible members may not translate into the same result. Why do I think this? Several reasons.

First of all, after the Maddow broadcast, we got requests to be put on our list. While it's understandable people want to be on the side of a successful movement, it's a siren's call. If members do sign the pledge for individuals, what's the guarantee they will be willing to do the work for the next 17 months? It starts NOW. Many groups have a solid core they can count on to do the calls,visits to MoCs (members of congress) emails, texts, door knocks and actions. This takes time and training and energy and needs to be a sustainable commitment. When Indivisible St Johns started in December 2016, our first meeting was over 500 people. We got little done. The second, at 435, was to be an organizing meeting and it too, was unworkable. Gradually and appropriately, groups split off geographically and each has a solid core of activists who have been there since DAY ONE. These are the kind of people it will take to make change.

Which brings me to my second point: we immediately got new requests to join. This is great (and actually happens every time we have a general meeting), always advertised as open to the public. What will a pledge mean to these new members? It seems pretty heavy handed. I pledge allegiance to the flag. There have been times in my life that I didn't but still appreciated that fact that I could. There is nothing else in my life to which I make a formal pledge. There are many people and things I commit to without a formal pledge: the love of my family and friends, the vulnerable people in my community, the beautiful environment I'm privileged to live in, my anti war activities. Would signing a formal pledge deepen those commitments? I haven't needed it to date and frankly worry that such a pledge is reminiscent of Trump's insistence on "loyalty". It smacks of the Mafia like behavior we've witnessed since 11/9/16 and normalizes it. I reflexively resist authoritarian demands like pledges, uniforms and unjust laws and abuses of same. Is this the path we want to take as the critical thinking, issues based and non partisan individuals that we claim to be and that have achieved so much these past 2+ years without a pledge?

Some will say "Mary, it's just a pledge. You're supposed to be a leader and set the example. It doesn't really mean anything so sign it and shut up". Well, have I not just made my case? 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Buddha, the Screen Free Week and my kitchen floor

This coming week, April 28, is Screen Free Week. Who knew, right? The main idea is for parents with kids but everyone is encouraged to try: stay off all screens, including TV, go outside, play board games, read stories, talk to spouses, family, friends. Sounds absolutely next to impossible for most of us yet also very enticing. I don't know how much I'll follow through on this, not out of any FOMO syndrome but more out of "damn!  giving up another bad habit". 

Monday I will be six months cigarette free. I purposely quit before the midterm elections, figuring if I could get through that without smoking, I could do anything. Well, the first part was obviously true; the second part turned into something else entirely. I couldn't do anything; I found my limitations early. Shocker.

I remember, but cannot find, some quote about brooms and sweeping, by Thich Nhat Hanh, probably the only Buddhist who ever made sense to me with my constantly churning mind. I also remember years ago reading his book "Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames" when I wasn't nearly as non stop outraged as I am today. In retrospect, I should've reopened that book in 2016 after the election and sat with myself before acting. Well, I'm still here and it's right by my side. It's time to get reacquainted.

I remember as a child growing up in a large family in the 50s among other large families who didn't coddle their kids, insisted on chores at all ages, practiced swift punishment for transgressions and let us have the run of the neighborhood after the work was done. We had little black and white screens and about 3 boring channels. We were a tight little community of 14 identical houses on an asphalt road northwest of Pittsburgh. Saturdays were chore days and one of the worst was scrubbing the kitchen floor. Cheap linoleum, square by square, and with that rough harsh bar soap a parent would probably be arrested for these days for just having it in the house. When a friend was behind on kitchen floor scrubbing, we went over to help so we could all go out to play quicker. There was never any question of this and each of us knew each other's kitchens intimately. How weird that that feels like a loss now.

Today I got down on my creaky knees and scrubbed  my kitchen floor; not out of any sense of mindfulness or longing for a past simpler life. I have a big long haired dog who drags in incredible amounts of dirt. Hiring a steam cleaner isn't the same as doing it myself because I know where the bad spots are. It took two hours. It looks freakin amazing. I feel deeply fulfilled and proud.

How often can we say that about our days? Deeply fulfilled and proud. I guess I should just keep an eye out for more of these mundane opportunities and step into those gaps. It led me back to a book I should've re-read 3 years ago and cannot wait to start again. And I know where my bad spots are.

Friday, April 26, 2019

What the big banks did to us and how to fight back.

This is kind of a two pronged issue today but both involve the same issue: the unacceptable control Wall Street and the big banks have over our lives. You may not bank at sneaky Wells Fargo (we're watching you assholes) but trust me, what they and others do every single day affects your life somehow. Stay with me.

Probably most people weren't as incensed as I was when, having done nothing to deserve it, my puny IRA funds lost over a third of their value and an equity line on our house was mysteriously frozen in 2006 by Bank of America. I'm not a risk taker and we pay our bills on time. I felt like a fish in a barrel and it pissed me off.

Having only lived here a year or so when this "crash" happened, I made it my business to squint through pages and pages of foreclosures in the Record in those early years. I saw my friends' and neighbors' names there. Over and over, the same banks were mentioned: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Deutsch Bank, JPMorgan, you know the list. The notices always included "mortgage backed asset" with a date ranging from 2004-2008. (many with that bogus MERS robo signing outrage). These are the crap bundled "CDOs": collaterized debt obligations, that mixed subprime loans with some decent prime loans, sold them off to investors and just to be safe when the house of cards fell, bet against them with securities derivatives, which along with credit default swaps, another betting method, made sure the money churned in both directions just in case. And all those derivatives got sold to guileless pension funds and naive investors. Slick JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs even bet AGAINST the crap they were selling and made money off the crash and the misery of millions.

I'm oversimplifying here but hope you get the big picture. I still read the foreclosures every day. Today there are two, both associated with mortgage backed assets dating from the mid 2000's. But wait! There's more. The foreclosures I read now are associated with the banks that survived (thanks to us) and mortgage backed assets dating from 2012! So they never stopped! Even though we were all supposed to breathe this big sigh of relief after Dodd Frank, the lamest "regulation" ever passed, to these banks, it's just a cost of doing business.

Still here? So, also for years I've been following Ellen Brown and also the Public Banking Institute . After the 2008 debacle, many smaller banks got sucked up into larger ones, one of the reasons given that they were too small to deal with ALL THOSE REGULATIONS demanded by Dodd Frank. Right, because...accountability in a bank is too much work. We always banked locally, knew who was on the board of directors and literally had to keep changing banks as ours kept getting swept into larger ones. But guess what? During and after the big financial crisis, one bank came out absolutely fine. Ever hear of this? The Bank of North Dakota was founded in 1919 in response to a farmers’ revolt against out-of-state banks that were foreclosing unfairly on their farms. Since then it has evolved into a $7.4 billion bank that is reported to be even more profitable than JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, although its mandate is not actually to make a profit but simply to serve the interests of local North Dakota communities. Along with hundreds of public banks worldwide, it has demonstrated what can be done by cutting out private shareholders and middlemen and mobilizing public revenues to serve the public interest. Banks now create most of our money supply and need to be made public utilities, following the stellar precedent of the Bank of North Dakota, which makes below-market loans for local communities and businesses while turning a profit for the state. Ellen has been a big proponent of public banks and I've always thought it was a great idea but never knew where to start. Now both California and Washington state have legislation to create a public bank. Pensions can be invested safely, money stays in the state for low cost loans to business and infrastructure projects.The CEO's salary is capped and the bank is controlled locally, not by Wall Street. This is possible. We would do well to follow what's happening in both states as we deal with our climate change challenges. Anybody know some retired bankers to get this rolling? This would be so cool.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Doing Justice: a game changer book

I've been listening to Preet Bahrara's podcast for a long time. I'm so taken with his calm voice, measured approach and clear language in explaining our justice system. You might remember that after the 2016 election, he was personally asked by tRump to stay on as US Attorney for the eminent SDNY we're all hearing about, only to be fired weeks later. Preet has turned his experience and leadership skills into educating Americans about our judicial system. This podcast: Stay Tuned with Preet, is free: https://www.npr.org/podcasts/551791730/stay-tuned-with-preet. I became so hooked I subscribed to his pay podcast with Anne Milgram, called Cafe Insider. So naturally, when his book came out I had to get it in print form, to hold it in my hands, make notes and be able to loan it to friends.

When I do hold this book in my hands in a quiet house with my animals dozing on or next to me, I find myself somehow becoming a better thinker. Preet uses examples of past cases he's prosecuted to explain investigations, charging decisions, wrongful convictions and his personal challenges in leading such a high profile office of talented people. His humility and self awareness are not just endearing, they're life lessons. There are no convoluted legal arguments to drag you down. You get the brilliance and rationale (and the weaknesses) underlying our legal system through his conversational story telling approach.

People who know me know I'm always recommending books. This one is special and will change your thinking about the word "Justice". 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A personal journey towards Impeachment

When this national nightmare began on 11/9/16, I guess I always knew at some point, we'd have to discuss impeachment. We already had enough information to assume that somewhere along the line, the country would rise up like a sleeping dog and shake off these bloodsucking ticks. What I didn't expect was the rapidity at which our institutions and norms would be torn down from within and the scope of the incompetence and corruption of the administration. The daily and persistent infractions and outright crimes kept me off balance with panic and so many unanswered questions left over from the campaign. I tried to keep up, I really did: there were protests and actions to organize, meetings to inform and energize people, calls and letters to write to deaf ears in this super red district, larger movements to ally with. It was exhausting as everyone involved in the resistance well knows. I stopped being able to sleep past 3AM for weeks.  I got sick, had to take a month off. Then, I came back into the fray with a more global perspective. I had to pull back and assess where to put my limited energy and talent. I decided to limit cable news exposure, listen to podcasts from smart people I trusted (and some who I didn't but needed to hear that "other side") and read books. Lots of books: fiction when my brain needed a rest, non-fiction from respected authors. My mind is clearer and I'm sleeping fine.

Okay, so now the Mueller Report is out, telling us little we didn't already know. For two years, the Democratic leadership put down any talk of impeachment. Then we all worked our asses off and the Blue Wave happened and something flipped. AOC called out the establishment simply and eloquently Omar told the truth about AIPAC albeit in language not precise enough to avoid the whines of the establishment snowflakes. (Wait, you thought we were the snowflakes? Newsflash: when people label YOU, they're pre-empting any assessment of their behavior). Our candidates for 2020 are speaking truth to power with real policy proposals behind highly progressive and realistic ideas. That word, impeachment, gets used more and more everyday so I think it behooves each of us to examine our feelings and motives about our own and Congress's next move.

We all worked so hard to win the House, did we want to risk the 2020 election by overreaching? Some of us worried about the MAGAs getting violent and the possibility of civil war, encouraged by irresponsible rhetoric from a never ending stream of provocative craziness. Some of us just didn't think we'd get anywhere because the Senate would not convict. And incredibly, we heard that "it wasn't worth it" from the fucking leadership of the House. That was my turning point.

We have normalized a compliant Congress to the point where the country doesn't expect anything anymore from government. I was getting Medicaid Expansion petitions signed yesterday at the library. A young white guy of voting age walked by and my first question is usually, "Are you a registered FL voter?" because we have so many visitors here. He kept walking, telling me no, and that he didn't care. I told him he just broke my heart but he kept walking. Lesson learned.

We must impeach. Pick a couple of the 10 or so statements from the Mueller report and get busy calling your deaf and clueless members of Congress. They have staff. Of course they don't want to hear from you on this issue. Of course they'll think MoveOn or Indivisible organized massive call ins. So what? The Congress has a constitutional duty to pursue these charges and frankly, if they can't walk and chew gum at the same time, maybe it's time to retire? 

And pace yourself. After we get our government back, the real work begins to rebuild our institutions to serve us and backstop corruption and self dealing among our politicians. Don't get me started about Citizens United. We fight for the progressive policies we're just hearing about now. We stay rested, calm, determined and informed. We stick together and care for each other. 

And seriously, FBI? Enjoy this love while you can because we all remember a time decades ago when you were NOT on the side of the people and you know what? That's gonna change too.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Likely unknown to most northern Floridians, the Homestead Detention Center for Children has been operating since March 2018 in our state, to our shame. There are currently more than 2000 minor children detained there with plans to expand to 3200 this month. These kids are 13-17 years old; about 75% male and 25% female. It is operated under the federal department of Health and Human Services and is not only the largest child detention facility in the country, it is the only for profit center and the only shelter deemed “temporary”, thus avoiding the 20 day Flores amendment restriction. It’s also unique in that it sits on federal land and is not required to meet Florida state standards and licensing. DC Capital is the private, for profit company running this facility. Their board is stacked with former top military and intelligence officials, most with ties to NSA, CIA and DOD. Why is this important? While other child detention centers in the US charge $256/day/child, Homestead Detention center charges $750/day/child. With the imminent expansion, the daily cost to taxpayers (directly into pockets of shareholders) will rise to approximately $2.5 million a DAY.

For over 70 days, small groups have been showing up in Homestead and bearing witness. They climb on ladders when the kids are let outside and raise signs in English and Spanish to let them know we’re there. Groups have held up big red hearts and sing to the kids. The kids respond with smiles, waves and make heart signs with their hands. Over Easter weekend, members of Indivisible Clay and Indivisible Flagler bore witness and connected with the other various groups who’ve been there all this time. The Miami Herald and the Sun Sentinel seem to be following this disaster, but it hasn’t yet risen to state let alone national attention.

What can we do? Take 3 days and go there to witness. Visit the Facebook page: Witness: Tornillo Target: Homestead. There are resources to help you get there and a GoFundMe page to help those who cannot afford housing once there. It’s a tight organized group that will even help with transportation from Miami and Ft Lauderdale airports. More and more groups are signing on and showing up. Write to Senators Scott and Rubio and demand this facility be shut down, not expanded. Talk about this to your neighbors and friends. If you’re not enraged over the immorality of jailing children, then consider the enormous transfer of tax payer dollars upwards to DC Capital and its shareholders. Whatever motivates you, act.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sowing the Seeds of Peace 10 years later

I started a garden this spring, determined to learn how to grow my own food. I needed a lot of help, did a lot of reading and talking to gardeners and it struck me how much a seed depends on so many factors to grow and thrive. Then I started thinking about the peace and justice movement and wondering why IT isn’t growing and thriving.

HOW CAN THIS BE, when the steady drenching rain of tears forces our seed to germinate and break through the surface to grow towards the sun of truth and justice?

HOW CAN THIS BE, when the slow dripping irrigation of the blood of our kids and innocent civilians all over the world draws our roots down deeper and stronger into the soil of anger?

HOW CAN THIS BE, when the ravaged compost of dead children’s bodies enriches the ground of our rage?

HOW CAN THIS BE, when the winds of economic hurricane batter us and force us to strengthen both our roots and our resolve?

HOW CAN THIS BE, when the sunlight of the true human cost of these “wars” energizes us to grow new branches and produce ripe fruit full of new seeds?

We are those seeds. We are and always have been the seeds of peace. We have everything we need to grow strong and propagate our message. This is our time; the ground is fertile with rage, death and despair. When spiny thorns and insidious roots of weeds of derision and dissent try to crowd out our vitality, we fight back and grow stronger. This is the ground where peacemakers grow. This is where we will prevail, propagate and bear the fruit of peace. This day, this hour, this minute is our season to plant and grow. We must not wilt, we must not wither, we must not succumb to the weeds of despair. This is a harvest we cannot afford to lose. Plant your roots deep in the soil of anger, spread your branches wide to the truth, throw your seeds onto the winds of the apathetic and the ignorant and multiply the message of peace a thousand times. We must spread the peace, one seed at a time. This is a harvest we cannot afford to lose.

The Best Valentine

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On a sunny day in February
A special wish is sent
To my fun and silly Aunt Mary
For whom this poem is meant
She’s my special Valentine
I love her and she’s cool
I can’t wait for her to visit
And play volleyball in my pool
Aunt Mary helps the homeless
And protests the Iraq war
She never stops to take a breath
And she’s out to help some more
I hope she has a special day
With flowers, gifts and cards
She deserves these things anyway
Because she works so hard
So Aunt Many I’m glad you’re mine
You brighten up this place
That’s why you are my Valentine
And I’m your happy face
Noah Hofmann 2/12/09
Age 10