Trump’s Conflicts of Interest: What Are They, and Why Do They Matter?

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The fact that President Donald Trump has taken office with an unprecedented number of conflicts of interest, which he has failed not only to resolve but even to properly address, is a matter on which prominent critics from both parties can agree. His ascension to office has been a particularly fraught one—according to an analysis by USA Today, Trump has been party to over 4000 lawsuits in the past 30 years, and is currently embroiled in about 75 ongoing suits. All of this is a distraction from the many other issues plaguing this administration, and the issues that threaten the wellbeing of the American people.

Why aren’t more people talking about his conflicts of interest? Trump was elected because people perceived him as both a savvy businessman, and as someone who (against his previous record) would fight for the rights and livelihood of blue-collar voters. But surely his refusal to separate himself from his many money-making ventures is an indication that he still has his own financial interests very much at heart, at the expense of his constituency. Even without the ethical entanglements of his many conflicts of interest, the fact that he is still going to, for example, be an executive producer on The Apprentice is a clear sign that he is not exactly prioritizing the duties of the highest office in the land.

Below, a layperson’s summary of his conflicts, and why they pose a problem not only to his administration, but to the interests of the American people Trump is supposed to serve:

The Emoluments Clause
It’s in the Constitution, folks. (Remember the Constitution? We still care about that, right?) Article I, Section 9: prohibits an elected official of the United States from accepting any gift, office, title, or present from a King, Prince, or foreign State. This clause was written into the Constitution by our founding fathers (Republicans! Remember how much you claim to revere the founding fathers?) as a response to the threat of foreign influence on the United States, then a young and fledgling nation. It was intended to prevent private financial interests from holding sway over the decision-making of elected officials. On this we should all be able to agree: opening the door to foreign influence through monetary channels will lead to vast potential for corruption, weakness, and bias. With Trump and the Trump Foundation, there’s a finger in pies all over the world, many of which we don’t even understand clearly because Trump has maintained a shroud of secrecy over much of his finances. What we do know is that his personal financial interests both create a dependency on foreign states and their economic interests, while also allowing for foreign states to buy influence or access to him. President Trump stands to benefit personally from financial decisions made by foreign governments and their economic agents. Given that he has refused to divest himself from these personal stakes, he will almost certainly use his political office to benefit himself—a temptation that would sway a far more ethical man than Trump. He will also open himself up to influence from foreign state agents who can sway decisions that will affect his personal finances. Below, a few examples of potential violations of the emoluments clause, from a report by the Brookings Institute:

  1. “Mr. Trump’s businesses owe hundreds of millions to Deutsche Bank, which is currently negotiating a multi-billion-dollar settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, a settlement that will now be overseen by an Attorney General and many other appointees selected by and serving at the pleasure of Mr. Trump.”
  2. “The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China—owned by the People’s Republic of China—is the single largest tenant in Trump Tower. Its valuable lease will expire, and thus come up for re-negotiation, during Mr. Trump’s presidency.”
  3. Foreign diplomats who stay at the Trump Hotel in Washington DC perceive it as a direct line to presidential influence, and can spend millions of dollars booking its suites and ballrooms. Even if Trump donates these profits to the US Treasury as he has promised, the fact that foreign dignitaries spent the money creates an opening for them, and a sense of obligation on the part of the Trump Foundation. Ultimately the issue at stake is influence and access, not just fair-market-value.
  4. President Trump will be a producer on NBC’s The Apprentice. While this is far from his largest conflict of interest problem, it is perhaps his most undignified. One would assume that the President of the United States and proclaimed leader of the free world has better things to do with his time than run a reality TV show, but even his cozy association with the network and the multinational brands sponsoring the show raise questions (and eyebrows).

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The bottom line?
Well, political decisions will now affect Trump’s bottom line, and his bottom line may very well affect his political decisions—especially since his transfer of management to his children is an inadequate response to his violations of the clause. Ultimately, ownership of these financial ventures still rests with President Trump. Handing things over to his sons is hardly distancing himself. If he, his sons, or the company that bears their name could personally benefit down the line from a small (or large) adjustment to national policy, he might well think: why not? Indeed, this has already been the case: in a rather absurd turn of events, it’s been reported that “Mr. Trump opposes wind farms because he has decided that they ruin the view from his golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland. Recently, Mr. Trump openly lobbied Nigel Farage—a British political ally of his—to oppose wind farms in the United Kingdom, an issue that does not otherwise appear to be of relevance to American foreign policy.” You might think wind farms are not, in the end, the biggest deal to the American public. But Trump has used his position to influence even a matter that seems to come down to mere aesthetics. This indicates that he will not hesitate if the stakes are more real for him.

It is impossible that his decisions as President will not be affected, in ways both large and small, by the stakes that he personally holds in a tangled web of multinational financial interests governed by foreign states. Has a particular foreign government dealt fairly with one of his businesses? Does he stand to benefit from a particular policy, if it is enacted? These and other considerations blur the boundaries, to say the least, between his sworn duty to act in the best interest of the American people and his own personal gain. And as we know, President Trump has never been shy about how proud he is of those gains, and how much he prizes them. His refusal to disclose his personal finances is a clear sign that he doesn’t plan to stop prioritizing them anytime soon.



Note: This article was jump-started when I heard an episode of Fresh Air featuring Norm Eisen (special counsel on ethics and government reform under President Obama) and his friend Richard Painter (former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush). You can see more sources, and more of that conversation, below:

Ethics Lawyers on NPR

http://www.npr.org/2017/01/20/510616166/as-trump-takes-office-he-still-faces-questions-about-conflicts-of-interest

http://fortune.com/2016/11/15/donald-trump-conflicts-interest-ethics/

https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/gs_121616_emoluments-clause1.pdf

Justice Sotomayor Dissents in Landmark Fourth-Amendment Stop and Search Case

If you think this case doesn’t affect you, you’re not paying close enough attention.

The implication of the court’s ruling, Sotomayor explained, is that “you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor added to her growing list of notable dissents on Monday with a blisteringly fierce objection to a major Fourth Amendment decision. Sotomayor’s dissent touched on individual rights, police authority, and how people of color feel when they’re constantly stopped, searched and catalogued by the state. For good measure, she…

via Sonia Sotomayor cited ‘The New Jim Crow’ in a dissent that’s the best thing you’ll read today — Fusion

Anita Hill Hearings Sparked National Conversation on Sexual Harrassment

“I think it was something that was meant to happen, actually,” Hill explained. “I had an experience to share that went to the fitness of an individual who was going to be sitting on a Supreme Court with a lifetime appointment. It was important, not only to the integrity of this individual, but also to the integrity of the court itself.”

In the years after Hill’s testimony, the number of workplace harassment complaints to the EEOC skyrocketed as more and more people became comfortable with the idea of speaking up. Though Hill recognizes the role she played in sparking a national conversation about sexual harassment, she stressed the fact that there’s still much more work to be done.

via 25 years after accusing Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, Anita Hill says she’d ‘do it all again’ — Fusion

What to Do About Depression: The Limits of the Social Model

How do people usually talk about disability, and is this model of thought applicable to thinking about mental illness and depression? Writer S.T. takes us on a journey through her own experience, both experiencing mental illness and researching the subject.

My sophomore year of college, I went through the worst depressive episode of my life. Making it to class – not even participating, just getting myself there – was a victory. I could barely leave the apartment, and some days, I couldn’t even leave my room. Pulling out details is difficult – most of the year is still submerged in a thick fog – but I remember sleeping through a psychology exam in November. The next day, I went to see my professor, sobbing hysterically in her office as I tried to explain why I had slept through two alarms. Abstractly, I knew what depression was, but as I sat there under her unsympathetic gaze, I didn’t feel like I was suffering from an illness. I felt like I was just lazy, weak, a bad student. A failure. My professor was hesitant to give me a makeup test. Her anger felt physically painful to me, but it was a pain I felt certain I deserved.

sad-505857_960_720.jpg Continue reading “What to Do About Depression: The Limits of the Social Model”

The Obsession with Compartmentalizing Women

Writer De La Fro brilliantly explains the compartmentalization of women, and how categories of women are weaponized on behalf of misogyny:

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When I was a child, my parents told me that I could be anything I wanted to be if I put my mind to it. I could be a doctor, a lawyer, a singer, a firefighter, anything my little heart desired.

As I grew older and became more aware of societal gender dynamics, I noticed that, outside of what my parents taught me, the “You can be anything you want” mantra regarding women was very watered down. In fact, it was very specific.

Women are taught that being a “respectable, classy lady” is the ideal and anything outside of that mold is being a “hoe.” So many times I’ve seen people–especially cishet men–say that women are either pretty or smart or sexual or studious. We either know how to twerk or know how to read a book. Never both. If we don’t fit in one box, we’re placed in another.

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Election Roundtable Discussion: Three Young Women Talk About Bernie and Hillary

 

Recent remarks by Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright which have been reduced to ‘the boys are with Bernie and you’re a bad feminist if you are too’ made me desperate to know whether or not this divide between the Democratic candidates is a fair one. And what would a supporter of each candidate have to say about it? After scouring the internet for robust writing by women about the election, particularly about their candidate preferences, and coming up relatively empty, I decided to call upon some brilliant women I know for their thoughts. This roundtable was primarily inspired by recent talk around the overly simplistic “sexist Bernie Bros” vs. “Hillary feminists” as well as an article from Monday declaring that single women are the most powerful voting block. I wanted to find out what women think of how the media is portraying them as supporters of each candidate (or not), as well as their rationale for choosing one over the other.

Below is a conversation that occurred from Wednesday February 17-February 21 between myself (a supporter of both candidates), a Bernie supporter, and a Hillary supporter.

 

MH: Hey all! I wanted to begin with the source material: Weekend of February 5-7 at a rally for Hillary supporters, Madeleine Albright said, “A lot of you younger women think it’s been done. It’s not done! You have to help! Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Subsequently, Gloria Steinem made an offhand remark Friday February 5 in her interview on Real Time with Bill Maher, “Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.” To be fair, she followed it up in the “Overtime” section of the show with, “We’re not voting for Sarah Palin, excuse me! We’re voting for a woman who represents the majority of women and men. Of course we’re not voting for [her just because she’s a woman]… Most of us are raised by women. Whether women or men. Because we are mostly raised by women, we associate female authority with childhood, emotionality, irrationality… I really don’t think we will be able to recognize human talent in all of its forms when men are raising children as much as women are and women are in the public forum as much as men are.”

 

I found these comments and the backlash against Albright and Steinem really fascinating because it encroaches upon this territory of feminism that is still quite uncertain: would a female president be a different kind of president? Is it inherently meaningful that the leader of the free world is a woman? If so, how?

What is your general reaction to the divide among women voters that Albright and Steinem establish above,  that “good feminists are with Hillary // Bad feminists and bros are with Bernie”? 

 

AD: I just want to start by saying that the comments made by those so-called “feminist” women really grate!! They are so patronizing to younger women, as if we AREN’T making informed political decisions. And, at least in the super-progressive liberal circles I run in, women *don’t* think the battle for equality is “over,” rather they are attuned to the many other facets of feminism, i.e. intersectional feminism that cares for poor, immigrant or women of color, among others.

Also, it would be one thing if the two candidates running had roughly the same politics–in that case the “you’re sexist//you don’t understand women’s struggles” accusation might stick better–but Bernie and Hillary really have fundamentally different politics, and to me that makes all the difference. In my view, Sanders’ strong aversion to war, his fight for a $15 minimum wage, and his proposals for universal healthcare and free public college education will significantly impact women who are most at-risk—that is minority, poor, non-American women—in addition to the policies he shares with Clinton (Planned Parenthood support, LGBTQ rights, minimizing the gender pay gap), are what earn him my young feminist support. His stubborn hatred of the big banks also makes my anti-capitalist heart skip a beat.

 

That said, I do think having a woman president would be great, if only to break the (largely white) male leader streak. I just don’t think that a victory for one woman is a victory for all women. I’m also not sure that I see an essential “difference” in the way a woman would lead…women are for sure not a monolith…is that the question? Interested in getting into this more.

 

MH: I definitely agree that the patronizing tone of Steinem and Albright was disturbing (Steinem later apologized and on that very same episode said young women are more radically feminist than we [her generation] ever were) though I tend to expect this kind of hypocrisy from white feminists, and especially white feminists in their 70s and 80s. But I disagree that Bernie and Hillary have fundamentally different politics currently. I think I would agree that their track records demonstrate some differences, but I cannot imagine Clinton being against the markers of Sanders’s platform you mention “fundamentally.” I think they are actually fundamentally the same politically (they believe in equality of wages, fair immigration regulation, some kind of racial justice) but they have different approaches and/or strategies. Maybe I misunderstand the difference between politics and strategies? I’m really interested to hear from Sophie on this front.

In terms of the very essentialist-leaning question I posed, What difference would a female president make? I think the answer is interestingly twofold: on the one hand, a female president would make no difference and on the other hand it would make all of the difference. That is to say, I don’t think it would make a difference to the day-to-day job of President, but it would make a substantial symbolic difference. Not only will a whole generation of young American women grow up thinking that femininity and the presidency (and, by extension, a stereotypically subservient gender marker and authority) are no longer mutually exclusive, but also the country will take on a different global symbol. As seductive as these historic and symbolic changes are, I support Sanders (for now) because I prefer someone whose ideals hope to generate “real” change rather than the mere visual appearance of change. Some of the celebrity endorsements of Hillary have backfired for me in this way, namely http://www.people.com/article/lena-dunham-hillary-clinton-campaign-video-celebrities. Though I know that’s not necessarily a fair assessment of reasons to support Hillary.

I want to add that it does not matter so much to me whether or not Sanders achieves the changes he pronounces, but rather the mere fact that he says them out loud. The word “fearless” has been attributed to Sanders and many feminist Clinton supporters have claimed that Hillary cannot perform in such an aggressive way because she would be, as Nicki Minaj would say, a “bitch” whereas Bernie is a “boss.” What do y’all think of this inequality in how Bernie and Hillary are judged? Is it real or imagined? Should it sway our votes? Or, feel free to respond to any and all of the random statements I’ve made above.

 

ST: Maya, I agree that Bernie and Hillary don’t have fundamentally different politics. I do think Bernie speaks more to and for the working class, which I like, but I don’t think Hillary is in any way a corporate shill. I’ve read a couple good pieces dismantling that lately (here—though the first couple paragraphs seem no longer true, Bernie definitely has a shot at pulling the nomination). I think, for the most part, the distinction you draw between politics and strategies is correct. There are places where their political views differ—I agree with Bernie on the death penalty (he is squarely against, whereas Clinton is an “in the rarest of cases only” person), but Clinton on gun control. Bernie is far from a gun nut and it makes a difference that he’s from a rural area, but having grown up in DC, I am for the strictest gun control possible. When it comes to the strategy for implementing the politics they basically agree on, Hillary’s strategies just make more sense to me. For example, when it comes to college tuition — I don’t think making public colleges free for everyone is feasible or necessary. I am very lucky in that I was able to go college without going into debt. I did not need and therefore did not deserve to have public resources go towards making college free for me. Clinton’s plan — detailed here — seems like a much more feasible way to make college free by significantly reducing tuition, making community college free, and replacing loans with grants.

 

I also agree, Maya, that having a female president would make a difference in an important symbolic way. A generation of women and men will grow up without seeing a distinction between femininity and presidential authority. Of course identity doesn’t trump politics; Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson would both be nightmares. But, I would love to see my niece and others in her generation grow up and hit voting age without having yet lived through a white male presidency, where gravitas and authority weren’t associated with white men (I imagine that were Clinton to become president, she would face some of the same ridiculous shit Obama has faced. As much as the GOP tends towards partisanship in general, I cannot imagine the same level of obstructionism with a white male president).

 

It feels to me like Albright was more patronizing than Steinem; the rest of everything Steinem said in that interview (notably, the interview was with Bill Maher, who is kind of the worst) was complimentary towards young women’s activism and involvement in politics. That she’s in her 80s and has been working towards this for most of her life doesn’t justify the dumb part of what she said, but I think it does make some sense of it.

 

I think from both Hillary and Bernie camps, although as far as I have seen, more from Bernie camps, there have been a lot of patronizing assumptions made about women:  that women only vote for Bernie because of “the boys,” that women are only voting her Hillary because she has a vagina, etc.

 

Aldona—to call people sexist *simply* for supporting Bernie over Hillary is absurd and offensive and unfair, and absolutely a thing some people do. But, a lot of the criticism leveled at her is sexist and/or misinformed. Maya’s Nicki Minaj analogy seems apt. The thing that has bothered me most are the memes that have nothing to do with their politics.

 

AD: Okay, I definitely have to elaborate on what I mean by “fundamental” because I stand by it. I was not clear in my original comment, and definitely like the policies/strategies distinction. There are two aspects of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and by extension what I believe his presidency will look like, that stand out to be as fundamentally different than Clinton’s, regardless of similarities in their positions on key issues. They are (1) he is unwilling to take campaign donation money from large special-interest groups, and (2) he doesn’t talk about trying to work with Republicans. Those are the fundamental differences I see, although I do also like how he goes further than Clinton on the issues they dis/agree on (he wants a $15 min. wage, she only wants it raised, for example).

 

I’ll for sure vote for Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination, but speculations about who can better work with Republicans seem absurd to me. I don’t see the GOP as rational, responsible, or caring lawmakers at all and am pretty sure they’ll stubbornly oppose any Democrat in office. I am positive Obama’s blackness has fueled their hatred, but am also fairly positive that the Republican party is so fucked up and antagonistic at this point that even though a white male president might not meet the same level of obstructionism, obstructionism would still make things unworkable, and conceding to the GOP’s increasing extremism on any level would be harmful. The only solution I see is to vote them out of office and get special interest lobbyists out of the government process completely, not to try to work within our already-messed-up framework.

 

Thankfully, I have not really been witness to the “Bernie bros” that I see everyone talking about, nor do I watch cable news, so I haven’t seen much of the sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton that you mention. (Although my roommate did tell me how much she “hates Hillary’s voice”…cringe) I really want to push back against the “bitch/boss” thing though. The moments I can remember in which the nation really loved Hillary Clinton are also times when she was, or appeared, unapologetically in charge (I’m thinking “Texts From Hillary” http://textsfromhillaryclinton.tumblr.com/, and the Benghazi hearings specifically). The criticisms of Hillary Clinton I’ve seen from my FB vantage point have been how she doesn’t go far enough with her progressive politics. I have yet to see evidence that sexism is the reason for this hesitation but keep on seeing writers insisting on it. It’s worth considering the myriad privileges she has as a rich, cis, straight white woman who has many long-standing powerful political connections. I find it hard to believe such a woman would structure her politics around “bitch” accusations…I could be wrong, but I have yet to see anything more than conjecture to bolster that claim.

 

As for seeing a woman in the White House, I have no doubt it will happen within our children’s lifetime. It could even happen in 2016, which would be great, but I’m too excited about Sanders, his democratic socialism, and his larger critiques of the political system to not vote for him in the primary.

 

ST: I agree with your assessment of the GOP; very much not a fan (have either of you seen the document circulating the internet right now that’s taken from something Mitch McConnell wrote in law school? He states very clearly that the senate should not take a SCOTUS nominee’s political philosophy into account. The hypocrisy is incredible). But I think it is inevitable that we will have to work with them. They control Congress right now; even if they don’t hold onto congressional control this election, midterm elections with a democratic president in office tend to result in GOP congresses.

 

Something I’ve seen circulating facebook a lot that has struck me as, at least, as somewhat sexist are those memes with questions about random things (music, etc) and made-up answers marking Bernie as “cool” and Hillary as not. Which is maybe some of what Steinem was getting at in her “where the boys are” statement—not that young men are making their political decisions thoughtfully and young women are just following them, but that everyone is gravitating towards the “cool” candidate, and “cool” is often synonymous with “guy stuff.” (This does, of course, still imply that young voters don’t really know what they’re doing. Plenty of them probably don’t—there are people who research and think and decide to support Bernie for lots of real reasons and there are people who support him because it seems like the cool thing to do; there are people who support Hillary just because it seems like the thing to do for them, too).  

 

A note that doesn’t directly have to do with this conversation: more than getting special interest lobbyists out of government (overturning Citizens United is super important, but would leave a lot to be desired), we need major, major redistricting. That is the best way to get congress to actually represent the interests of the country.

 

I also don’t think Bernie is quite as radical as he advertises, which isn’t surprising from a politician (which he is). That’s not to say he isn’t progressive or wouldn’t *largely* act in what I think are all of our shared interest.  But Dolores Huerta just endorsed Hillary, citing their respective records on immigration:

 

“My question for Bernie is, where the heck was he for the last 25 years? Where was he on immigration reform? On indefinite detentions? On vigilante justice against undocumented workers? He was nowhere. That’s where.

Perhaps he’s had a change of heart, in which case, great. But why is he speaking as though we, the advocates and community members working for years to keep families together and push for immigration reform, haven’t been trying to make any progress until now? Specifically, why is he pretending like Hillary Clinton hasn’t been on the right side of this while he was on the wrong side? She’s got the track record to prove that she was in the fight with our community, Ted Kennedy, and President Obama. Bernie certainly doesn’t.”

https://medium.com/@DoloresHuerta/on-immigration-bernie-sanders-is-not-who-he-says-he-is-b79980adff6a#.wug6qpcdv.

 

And, while Sanders certainly gets points for voting against the Iraq War, his record also isn’t exactly that of a pacifist. He has made deals with Lockheed Martin, and seems to support military technology development when it benefits Vermont’s economy:

 

During his 2012 reelection campaign, Sanders ran against a Republican who opposed the F-35 as a waste of resources. Sanders was all for it. In a 2012 statement, Sanders made the point that the F-35 would have to be located somewhere, whether in Florida or South Carolina or Vermont. “I would rather it be here,” he said. 
So I will stick by my view that politically, there is no fundamental difference. Both of them are progressive. Both of them have also voted and acted, at times, in ways that do not mean the highest progressive standards—standards we should continue to hold, while also knowing that in part *because* we live in a democracy (sort of), and not everyone shares those standards, they won’t always be met (again, redistricting will help get more accurate representation of the country’s interest, as will getting rid of racist and utterly unnecessary voter-ID laws). And, because I think that they are on pretty even footing in terms of their values —both the values they hold and their commitment to those values —because I find Hillary’s plans more specific and more feasible, because I think Hillary would be better at the sort of politics necessary to battle obstructionism, and, yes, because she is a woman with all of the above qualities, she is getting my vote (if Sanders wins the nomination, though, I will not only vote for him but volunteer for him, as I will do for Clinton if she wins).

MH: As often happens when you begin to talk about any two things that the media has made out to be diametrically opposed like Sanders and Clinton, the truth behind such opposition is much more ambivalent and complicated. Are some Bernie supporters sexist? Probably. But is it automatically anti-feminist to not support Hillary? Hell, no. Would a woman in the White House change the world? Nah. Would this particular woman in the White House make a significant impact on the trajectory of the country? This is where the true disagreement between supporters of each candidate lies. The only silver lining that I can see resulting from the heated divide that the media draws between this false marker “Bernie Bro” and “Hillary feminist” is that it has spurred us to talk about the very real facts of misogyny, ageism, anti-semitism, and economic (dis)advantage in this country. So whoever wins the nomination, at the very least, we as a general public have thought an awful lot about their identities and hopefully this, directly or indirectly, makes their presidencies that much richer and capacious.

#FeeltheBurnout: Can We Keep Caring?

Actually, I could care less.

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For those who try to navigate the world from a place of care, life can be exhausting.  Caring as a lifestyle is a recognition of the threads that tether us to each other and to the world; it is an affirmation of our interconnectedness.  But there are so many things to care about, so much suffering, cruelty, and injustice.  Human and animal suffering, the environment, social justice, poverty, hunger, political and institutional corruption—these all seem to be things we have an ethical obligation to care about.  So how do we navigate our whole lives from a place of care without burning out, without retreating into apathy from the sheer inundation of the world’s problems? How do we recognize and meet others’ claims on us?  It can be so much easier to walk a narrower path, to move through the world guided by an ethics of self-interest rather than an ethics of care.  Let me say from the start that I don’t have the answers. 

Compassion fatigue is well-documented among those in what we can call the caring professions, from doctors, nurses, and veterinarians to, more broadly, social workers, aid workers, emergency first responders, and even defense lawyers.  I’ve seen it among activists in documentaries.  For example, the two young women in 2015’s The Hunting Ground (Andrea Pino and Annie E. Clark) who have dedicated their lives to helping other survivors of sexual assault, who listen to their stories and sometimes talk them down from suicide, at certain points seem understandably overwhelmed by the responsibility.

Maybe sympathy must be balanced with a measure of detachment.  In another documentary, 2014’s Pelican Dreams, I noticed a technique used by a man who rehabilitates pelicans that have been injured by increasing human interference in their environment.  The filmmaker at one point asks the name of a particular pelican, and the rehabilitator insists gruffly that he doesn’t name them.  He just uses numbers to keep track of them.  But it’s not because he doesn’t care about them; his every word and action shows he does.  The not-naming is a deliberately adopted measure to prevent himself from caring too much, from getting too attached, so that he can still sleep at night after releasing a bird back into the hazardous world.

I have a friend who is a counselor for troubled teenagers.  I’ve seen counselors and therapists who, having been in their profession for a long time, have found it necessary to build a self-protective wall between themselves and their patient’s suffering.  They have to remain detached, to let their patient’s problems go when they leave work, or they’ll be consumed by the suffering of others.  But how do they balance empathy and detachment?  How does one draw boundaries around care?  My friend is still learning; her work still follows her home.    

This same friend uses the metaphor of a bucket: she pours her whole bucket of emotional investment into her work.  In order to replenish that bucket, she has to practice self-care; she has to spend time not thinking about work, or, conversely, spend time talking with people in the same line of work who understand.  Humor helps too, she says; this reminds me that I’ve heard of nurses making jokes about patients in a way that would seem insensitive to outsiders, but really just allows the nurses to stay afloat emotionally. 

But you don’t have to be someone who specifically works in a field that alleviates suffering to experience compassion fatigue.  You can feel it as someone who nurses your aging parent or your sick child, who volunteers at a shelter for the homeless or a shelter for animals, who has a friend with PTSD, or who just reads the news daily.  So many of us are in some sort of constant contact with the suffering of others, and need to find the balance between apathy and taking all that suffering on ourselves.  Caring is hard emotional labor—the kind that, in many of its forms, has been most often demanded of women, and is rarely renumerated.  Given this, new demands on our care can leave us feeling resentful.

I have an email account specifically for the emails I receive from animal welfare or environmental organizations.  Once or twice a day I check it, sign countless petitions.  Occasionally—not often enough—I send money.  Sometimes stories or images in those emails, or in mail sent to my house, will haunt me for days, weeks, longer.  I feel angry at the human cruelty and ignorance they often expose, and frustrated at my own helplessness.  But that anger and frustration irrationally redirects itself at whatever organization is giving me this information, and thus asking me to recognize another claim on my care.  (Did you really have to include that graphic image, PETA?) It’s the same with ASPCA commercials; I have to change the channel immediately.  See me. Care about me.  That’s what the eyes of starved dogs and cats in cages plead to the strains of Sarah McLachlan.  I do care.  I don’t want to see.

Guilt and irrational anger also merge in the discomfort I feel when faced with human needs I can’t adequately meet.  In the warmer months of this past year, I used to see the same homeless woman begging on the sidewalk every time I drove to my nearest pharmacy.  I rarely carry cash, and I would always feel relieved when the traffic light was green, so that I had no chance to stop for her in any case.  But I remember she would stand with her arms outstretched, the universal gesture of supplication.  See me. Care about me

It’s easier not to really see, because then you have to care.  And then you have to help.

The temptation to turn a blind eye, to be willfully apathetic, stretches from small personal decisions—like my looking away from the homeless woman—to ones with much broader social implications.  For example, I find myself increasingly seeking out apathy when it comes to politics.  We have a responsibility to care about politics because the election of those in power affects every aspects of the lives of those most in need, as well as the welfare of the planet we inhabit.  I was fiercely passionate about re-electing Obama in 2012; I thought the election of Mitt Romney would be catastrophic.  I even (temporarily) unfriended a cousin on Facebook because of his pro-Romney postings.  But now, with far worse potential presidents in the running, the election season hurts too much to think about.  I find myself avoiding reading or listening to the news.  In the search for a “leader of the free world,” it may (sadly) be too much to expect a public servant of moral wisdom and practical integrity.  But to be forced to accept that such a bullying, blustering, buffoonish, narcissistic blowhard as Donald Trump could actually be president almost makes me want to throw in the towel on caring about my country.  Trump and his almost equally ridiculous GOP opponents, all preying on ignorance and fear, expose not only the moral bankruptcy of the Republican party but the seemingly irresolvable division of American society into two sides that can never see eye to eye. Given a problem so seemingly insoluble, the temptation to slip into apathy is all the greater. 

It’s easier to think of reasons why something or someone doesn’t really deserve your attention or help, to justify to yourself why it’s not your responsibility to care.  But I am afraid each time I find myself doing this, afraid I am burying deeper and deeper a voice in me that matters.  Afraid that someday I won’t be able to hear it at all.  I don’t want to let it fall silent.

“Meninist” Leader Plans Pro-Rape Rallies in Over 165 Locations

Literal piece of human garbage* “Roosh V” (aka Daryush Valizadeh) has put out a call to his followers and readers of “men’s rights” website ReturnofKings.com (it’s a DoNotLink, but click at the peril of your own eyeballs and brain). These charmingly trilby-clad men—and you better believe this is a men-only venture—will be gathering to take in the breeze, “make new friends,” and brainstorm ideas to legalize rape.

Update: the “official” meet-ups have been cancelled out of fear of harrassment, because Roosh’s sense of irony is about as deep as his humanity. However, chances are the meet-ups will still continue without being under the ReturnofKings banner, so stay careful!



Literal piece of human garbage* “Roosh V” (aka Daryush Valizadeh) has put out a call to his followers and readers of “men’s rights” website ReturnofKings.com (it’s a DoNotLink, but click at the peril of your own eyeballs and brain). These charmingly trilby-clad men—and you better believe this is a men-only venture—will be gathering to take in the breeze, “make new friends,” and brainstorm ideas to legalize rape.  I repeat, these are rallies to legalize the widespread rape of women. If you live in a big city and pass by a public park around 8pm on February 6, you may suddenly feel the irresistible pull of pick-up-artist magic, as these men struggle with their overwhelming hatred and resentment of women, men with feelings, the LGBTQ community, etc. etc. Steer clear of any straggling groups of lonely, awkward men shuffling their feet—you may quickly be sucked into their brilliant and persuasive line of arguing that rape should be legal, or that mass murderers like Elliott Rodger were killing because they had been spurned by women one too many times. (According to Roosh, “having game” is an important key to staving off murder.)

The mastermind has this to say about his series of play-dates (from DNAinfo.com): Continue reading ““Meninist” Leader Plans Pro-Rape Rallies in Over 165 Locations”

Kindness to Strangers

The Rabbi who spoke at the White House told the audience that his father came to the United States on the St. Louis, its last journey to the United States before making its famous “Voyage of the Damned.” As Obama said Wednesday night, now, it is other boats being turned away from potential asylum. Thus, as Jews, as people who have ourselves been turned away when seeking refuge, or have been accepted, begrudgingly and with a high tax for being who we are, we must open our doors to refugees, open our doors to the stranger as we are commanded to do each year on Passover.

By S.T.

 

Wednesday night – which happened to be both the 150th anniversary of the passing of the 13th Amendment and the fourth night of Chanukah – I stood in the White House, listening to President Barack Obama and a Rabbi (whose parents were both Holocaust survivors) talk about the origins of the holiday. Relative to Christmas, Chanukah is minor, but the story fits in with several other Jewish holidays – “they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat.” But I was pleased by the serious tone both the President and the Rabbi took; they both talked about the refugee and immigrant experiences of Jews, and how now, it is a different group that is in trouble, a different group to whom we must extend a helping hand. Both leaders drew a connection I often feel, between Judaism and compassion to those in need, and to hear a similar message from my president was deeply moving.

Continue reading “Kindness to Strangers”

Artist Profile: Supreme of the Mighty Wu-Tang Killa Beez

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“Shadow” and “Supreme” from Wu Tang Killa Beez | Photo cred: Yahsure Wright from SkinnyHeadTv 

By B.C.

Supreme of the Mighty Wu-Tang Killa Beez grew up in the struggle. His father, known as D.C., was prominent in the Black Panthers Party, a Black Nationalist and revolutionary organization pivotal in the Civil Rights Movement. D.C. was instrumental in structuring the widely-known “Free Breakfast for Children” program. This fed thousands of poor inner city kids throughout the country and eventually got the FBI’s attention. They halted the program because they saw the Black Panthers as a threat to internal security.

 

“[My father] basically got told by our government to shut up. They did that in a way that was pretty bad,” recounts Supreme. “Some people basically entered our house and I was the one who was threatened because I was his only child. So it was like, Shut the f–k up and take this job and retire or else. That’s the other side of the government that people don’t know about.”

 

The West Coast Wu-Tang producer-turned-rapper says his dad had to make a choice and live under the radar. When Supreme was twelve, his dad told him that if he wants to speak the truth, he either has to be willing to die or go to prison. But that didn’t stop Supreme from lecturing, marching, fighting and “empowering the people.” The rapper has a business degree from UC Berkeley and is soon releasing an album that addresses serious social issues, including racism.

 

Supreme is finalizing tracks on his album and recording some music videos in Cincinnati, Ohio. Earlier this year in July, unarmed black man Sam Dubose was shot by white Officer Ray Tensing in Cincinnati. Tensing was indicted but is still waiting to go on trial, which should be happening next month. It seems almost serendipitous that as Supreme works on his music here, the trial is upcoming and expected to draw national attention as the shooting and indictment did. I spoke with Supreme about his new project and making the choice to not shut the f—k up:

 

ACRO: Tell me about your new project:

Supreme: This new project is called “Supreme Life Volume 1.” We’re gonna drop the album in the spring. It’s done but we’re just mixing down and mastering. It’s going to be a set of three albums. The first album is predominantly hip-hop and rock. The next album will transition into more rock. It’s the first album on Wu Rock, the new label that I created, which will be another branch and continue the legacy of Wu Tang. It’s pretty high energy. It’s geared for performance; it’s geared for stage. It’s geared to incite the people to learn, to seek, to open their minds and hearts, and it’s geared to ultimately unite the people through the music and to address issues and to heal. That’s what our mission is. We say Wu Tang is for the children. It’s for the people. It’s for the masses. It’s about the human family. We’re trying to get out of racism and classism and gender issues and biases and get people back down to the basics of humanity, love and peace.

 

Can you talk about one track you’re working on that highlights all of this?

I have a track called, “White Man.” It’s a song that is greater in content than “Fight the Power.” I won’t say it’s a greater song than “Fight the Power” because all respect due to Chuck D, to Flavor Flav, and to Public Enemy as a whole. That song definitely inspired this song. We came from that. So it’s no disrespect to our elders and to our mentors, our predecessors. We can say the white man this, the white man that, but we have become that which we hate. We have become our own slave masters. So this is what “White Man” is really about. We got classic Wu-Tang stuff. We got stuff that’s entertaining. But we want to address issues. Yes, we did go through slavery. Yes, we are affected by slavery. Yes, there is still slavery today. Yes, there is racism and biases and ignorance, but there still is no excuse [for our own actions]. We’re going to be responsible for self first. These are the things we need to rectify and correct first. Black Lives Matter, you f–king right they do. Why do Black Lives Matter? Because black lives are human lives.

 

So you’re here in Cincinnati where in July, unarmed black man Sam Dubose was shot by white officer, Ray Tensing. Do you have anything to say about this case?

It’s a tragedy in every sense of the word. Our love, our respect and our prayer go out to the family of not only Sam Dubose but Officer Tensing. Just because a white officer shoots a black person doesn’t mean his family or friends support him; they’re affected by that too. They’ve had a lot of white people fight and die for black people. [However], the fact that [police brutality] is tolerated, the fact that [Tensing] even had it in his mind that it was okay to take another person’s life, regardless of race [is the problem]. Was race a factor? You’re f–king right it was. And you can’t deny that, because he’s had issues and encounters with Caucasian people and he didn’t shoot them. He knows and everybody in the United States and world knows right now what’s happening — how many thousands of black men are getting killed. They know what they’re doing. Why are they putting black men and men of color in jail? But the root of it all is the fact that it is condoned. It’s tolerated. It’s accepted. It’s overlooked. We need to go to the root of the issue and until 350 million correct 8,000 people in power, nothing is going to change. Until people fix this and rectify this in themselves, [nothing will change]. Marching. We’ve been marching. What does that do? These people been killing us and they’ve been getting away with it. The reality of justice in this country is the reality of what has transpired in each individual case. We’re already geared and programmed to expect this guy to get off.

 

How do you want to address this kind of police brutality through your music?

I was in an organization called Copwatch. I went to UC Berkeley. I had a group back in the nineties called Black Underground Movement — the BUMS. That was before we did the Wu-Tang jump-off. [Cops] shot their 15-year-old kid at the BART Station in 1991 or 1992 for a [having a] Walkman. [The cop] said he had a gun and saw a flash and shot him. He was 15 and had a Walkman. Jesse Jackson came out. We performed. [Jackson] spoke. Nothing happened. What can we do with our music to curb this? We can correct it, speak out against it, educate people against it, confront people with it and convict people. The same issues that we’re facing are the same issues that have been transpiring not only now but a million years ago. We’re occupied! We’re occupied by Europeans. This land belongs to the Native Americans and the Mexicans. We’re in an occupied country but people can’t see. Why is it taking us dying to wake up? We just came out of slavery. Women just got voting rights. People are still getting hung. This sh-t is still here. Music is the universal language so we’re going to utilize music to lead a vehicle and be a medium for us to get to the people, man. Because everybody responds to love, everybody gets hungry, everybody hurts, everybody cries — we’re all one and the same.