Empathy III

I hate common sense. Here we are, pontificating about giving. You have to do it sensibly, or you can do harm, he says. For example, if you give to a beggar, you enable them to continue in that lifestyle. Charity can produce dependency- in Africa, people from the village say “That pump you gave us broke down. Fix it.”

This produces nods and noises of assent round the room. Am I the only one disagreeing? What makes you think those Africans are dependent? They might have any number of ways of dealing with a broken pump, but demanding that the NGO do something is surely something worth trying. And- You are not my tribe, if you want to feel you are Good by doing Good for me, you should at least do me some good rather than giving me a pump that breaks down.

And- giving may enable the beggar, but not giving does not incentivise them to become independent. If they could see a better way open to them, they would take it. Spurning them reinforces their worthlessness. That is why Francis says you should give generously, look them in the eye and smile. Benefits sanctions are not the kick up the arse which someone needs to get on, but the kick in the teeth which will crush them.

I hate common sense because you can make these Rational Arguments, making you feel good about not giving- for, what is the purpose of Rational Argument if not to make you feel good?- and not fit the actual thing happening now. Rules never do. Love does.

Though I have only ever dealt with individual cases. If you deal in policy, you have to consider the bigger picture.

I don’t know why Quakers talk so much. Maybe we should not be talking before going into meeting. It does not aid centring down. Isn’t it lovely to see all these people? That man has the look of a man who is Looked After. His jaunty straw hat is someone’s way of protecting his pate from sunburn, I feel. It’s his way of looking down at the floor, or something about his face- it’s a feeling I get from lots of stuff, some of which might be unconscious, and it may be mistaken. I hope he is comfortable here. If he is embarrassed about being dependent, I hope he is not made to feel that.

One reason for talking is to increase understanding of each other, but this morning we produce more heat than light. It is not true that no Quaker can be a Tory, but there are not that many of them. I have been leafleting for Labour, I say.

“You’re not saying you want Jeremy Corbyn negotiating Brexit?” he asks, as if Jez and Donald Tusk would arm wrestle then Britain would be sunk. Trained negotiators we do not have and cannot afford do the negotiation.

“I want a Brexit for all the people, not a Brexit for Billionaires” I say sententiously. This adds nothing. It is a sound bite. It will not bring us together, it is a way of shutting down communication. Would a Tory Government trample on all rights of workers, consumers and the environment as I suggest? I can articulate arguments. He says if people do not vote for strike action, they should not strike. I say 40% of those eligible voting for strike action is an impossible target. A 50% turnout is unusual. We were unclear about the rules, so I have just looked them up. All we are doing, here, is stating the arguments of our own side, even in words which are other people’s.

I say I need ESA, and F. tells me of being dumped on her own resources in her teens. The iron entered her soul and she realised how capable she is. I hear this as a judgment. I do not trust myself, or the World. Bad things will happen, and I will be incapable. I am delighted that she bounced back, but that is not relevant to me. “Do you have any relatives?” she asks. I say my sister refused to let me see her children after I transitioned in 2002. We are not in contact. She tells me how her brother spurned her generosity, and how she is going to try to see him again. He accused her of rubbing his nose in the fact that she was better off than him when she gave him a gift. “I’m no taking that!”

I can empathise with him. It’s not a constructive position, but I see where he’s coming from. And that does no good at all. Then she tells me how she hates the Nationalism and Catholic/Protestant sectarianism in Glasgow. She wore a green coat and someone spat at her.

Softness II

Leafleting for Labour. Such is politics, where I am- doing what I can to achieve what I want. The first house I come to has a stiff brush inside the sprung letter box, and I push the leaflet through. As I have my hand inside, a dog bites the base of my finger, drawing blood. I try not to bleed too much on the leaflets, or get them scrumpled pushing them through. I have a heavy bag of leaflets to empty. Saliva on skin makes a natural antibiotic, so I suck and lick the wound. The dog must be a Conservative.

Then I notice the mail box on the wall.

These houses have long drives. There is intermittent light rain. I plod grimly on. In a front yard I cadge a plaster off a man. He has a first aid box in his car, so gives me a wipe to remove the dried blood, and asks if my tetanus is up to date. As we talk of what happened, I note myself explaining. I wanted not to scrunch up the leaflets, but push them through neatly. I am a perfectionist. I start to cry.

-Perhaps you should go home and finish off another day, he says.
-Oh, I am emotionally labile, I get like this.

On. I note the self-talk. I would, perhaps, rather not cry in that situation, but I do not rebuke myself as cruelly for it as I would have, once. It is how I am. When I permit my weeping rather than fighting it, I can stop. I was doing my best, and I was hurt. I resent these long drives, and how the breaks in the fences to give the postman a shortcut between doors have often been blocked up. I note myself grizzling. I am peeved at the blockages, the residents are mean, why have those stiff brushes anyway? Houses need ventilation, do they want to accumulate argon gas? Again, I might not want to be heard grizzling under my breath like that, but find it tolerable. I sympathise with myself- what a skill that is!!- allow my whinging, and can laugh at it when it gets out of proportion. I don’t like people walking in front of my front window either. How lovely to find that man! How lovely, his kindness!

It feels great to empty that bag of leaflets. I note where I got to and will continue later. I phoned up the GP: Americans should note this is the NHS, paid for by taxes, free at the point of use. British people should note the NHS is still paid for by taxes, free at the point of use, and not yet privatised, and should vote accordingly. The GP is of Polish origin: how wonderful that EU citizens come here and work in our NHS! Her computer was not working this morning, but is now. She tests function of my finger, which is all OK, and gives antibiotics; the nurse washes out the wound and gives a tetanus jab. The bandage is only necessary because the small wound is at such an inconvenient position.


I was out canvassing this evening with Beth Miller, Labour candidate for Corby and East Northants. I want to avoid a Billionaires’ Brexit: we need a Brexit for Britain. Vote Labour! It was wonderful to canvass, with so many enthusiastic voters. Of course they will vote Labour, they have always voted Labour. Or, yes they will vote Labour, they do not like the current MP, a Conservative who “volunteered” for a Brexit campaign then paid himself £40,000 from it. Yes, they want posters.

On 8 June, we might get rid of this weak, chaotic government and their huge increase in the National Debt, and their Back to the Fifties policies with Secondary Modern schools, fox hunting- what next? Hanging? Labour is our chance to reverse the destruction of our welfare state, all the things we do together for the good of all.

I delivered leaflets for three hours today. Getting Beth elected motivates me more than anything else this year!

Elections and the Moneyed elites

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has announced an election. Buoyed up by the success of Mr Erdogan, Mrs May will follow him to go full-on Putin. Politics all around what used to be called the West is a conflict between the people and the moneyed elites, who use right wing populism to gain power, for a programme that will involve destruction of public spending except on weapons, and the end of legal protection of workers, consumers and the environment. Mr Trump is moving this programme forward in the US, such as with a drugs policy which will increase mass incarceration of ethnic minorities, though his attempt to withdraw health care from those the Affordable Care Act granted insurance was foiled.

Democracy is under threat across NATO countries. Russia seeks to destabilise us with fake news, sock-puppet tweets, facebook shares and comments, and hacking of progressive political parties. Billionaires buy politicians to reduce regulations on billionaires, increasing their freedom to pollute, shove up rents, and despoil the biosphere.

In the British election, with first past the post votes for single-member constituencies, I will vote Labour. Labour has a chance in my constituency to unseat the hard-right nationalist who is standing for the Conservative party, formerly thought to be a centre-right party but now wholly in the hands of the anti-democratic hard right lie machine. Tactics the BNP used twenty years ago, the Conservatives use now, with the difference that at least the BNP promised its supporters council houses. The Conservatives offer nothing but higher taxes on workers, higher rents for the benefit of international investors, and the destruction of public services. For example, they incite hatred of immigrants, but admit they will not reduce immigration after Brexit.

The Right attempts to demonise a “Liberal elite”. Well, globalisation will not favour workers over rentiers, but with strong democratic control it can be managed. We could tax multi-national companies, and reduce the curse of transfer pricing and opaque offshore companies with no clear ownership. Better a liberal elite than a moneyed elite.

The Right, offering nothing, has good slogans. “Take back control,” they said, and a small majority voted for them. They will reduce regulations protecting us, and increase surveillance on us claiming to protect us from an almost entirely imaginary terrorist threat. In Britain, Get Rid Of Them: find the party most likely to defeat the Conservative, and campaign for it. In France, probably Mr Macron is the most sane candidate. Mr Putin’s lie machine working against him is the best indicator I have.

Mr Trump’s flotilla steams towards North Korea, which will destroy Seoul in a murder-suicide rather than surrender. The world has gone mad. But there is something I can do: campaign for Labour in my own constituency.

Mrs Clinton’s silence

After Mr Trump boasted of sexually assaulting women, Mrs Obama has made an inspiring speech against him, but Mrs Clinton has changed the subject, talking of insults to other groups,  even of watching cat gifs. “But we’ve got a job to do, for people and for cats“.  Mmmmmm. It is good to see her drawing laughs.

If she brings up Mr Trump’s assaults, she risks her husband’s use of political power to gain sexual favours being brought up, and her response to allegations in the 1990s. It was not pretty. He paid $850,000 to Paula Jones who alleged he had propositioned her and exposed himself. Ms Jones’ lawyers sought to show a pattern of behaviour to make her testimony more persuasive, and asked him about Monica Lewinsky: he denied having “sexual relations” with her, and her semen-stained dress was shown in evidence for the attempt at impeachment. He was not impeached because insufficient Senators voted for it; should he have lost the Presidency?

One issue is respect for the office. Garrison Keillor has pointed this up, claiming Mr Trump is not human, and desiring him to show his belly-button to prove it. Some allege Mr Trump was sniffing because he was on coke. He calls for drug tests before the next debate. The political landscape has been coarsened by birtherism; but still it is disrespectful to demand the President’s birth certificate, or that the candidates be blood-tested.

That means that certain possible wrongs will not be brought up.

Should Mrs Clinton had left her husband? Some say infidelity breaks a marriage. I don’t believe in hard and fast moral rules like that. It is a relationship. Two people decide what they want and can bear. There are grey areas.

We talk of views “evolving”. The US has equal marriage, only a little after England won it. Equal marriage is clearly right, so President Clinton’s policy in the US army of “Don’t ask don’t tell”, where gay men could serve (and get training, and worthwhile careers) if they kept quiet about their sexuality, is monstrous. Yet before he brought it in, on 28 February 1994, men could be ejected from the army for homosexuality. It was a move forward. Possibly more might have been politically possible, but the policy lasted until 2011. The world’s view has moved on since then, despite the hate groups.

Powerful men should not exploit that power for sexual gratification. Sex should be consensual. This is clear. And, Republicans should not have been able to undermine the democratically elected President because of it. These things are murky, but I absolutely support her staying with her husband and fighting on his side at the time. And it makes it difficult for her to criticise Mr Trump. Mr Trump’s boastings are far worse than anything proven against Mr Clinton, but such comparisons are disgusting.

Mrs Clinton does not need to refer to Mr Trump’s sexual assaults. Others can do that for her. She can “go high” on this one. She is qualified to make the decisions a president must make, and it is clear he should not. Completely clear: so his tweet, Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and should be in jail. Instead she is running for president in what looks like a rigged election, does not seem threatening or dangerous to me, but pitiable.

Meet the Jeannetts

How could anyone vote for Trump? Well, some consider abortion is the most important issue of the election. Two facebook friends resident in the US, both met through WordPress, were brought up Republican and in one case conservative Evangelical, but both will be voting for Mrs Clinton in November. However, through them I get to see what their friends say.

Andrew Jeannett shared a despicable video from a programme called Faith for our Nation, broadcast on the Believers’ Voice of Victory Network, Dish channel 265. Kenneth Copeland says, You’re going to be held seriously, seriously, to account by God if you don’t vote… You’re going to be guilty of murder, you’re going to be guilty of every baby that’s aborted from this election forward. God speaks to Copeland, and told him personally, I know my way around politicians, I’ve been dealing with them since Nimrod, and I’ve never failed yet… This is God’s nation and no body is going to take it away from him. Mr Jeannett shared this as a video from Right Wing Watch, commenting, fear fear fear!!!! guilt guilt guilt!!! hear it, see it, distance yourself from it. I say, The LORD will not hold him guiltless, who taketh his name in vain.

Not even all pro-life people take this view. Charissa comments, Y’all do not have the corner market on life issues. We are all equal in the eyes of God, from the unborn babe to the convicted killer…each life is exactly equally precious to God. […]What about the Syrian refugees who are literally trying to escape being starved to death or bombed or some other horrendous end[…] There is an incredible amount of false guilt that goes around Christian circles especially. When you have people in places of presumed authority and leadership telling you constantly that you are doing something wrong, whether or not you actually are, you are probably going to feel guilty. She asks what would lose Trump their vote?

One answers, only if he adopted Hillary’s platform. Another agrees: Mr Trump would have to change his publicly stated position on abortion and adopt Hillary’s. Yes, he may not follow through and stay the course once he’s elected, but I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt. What choice do we have, after all? Hillary has already made it abundantly clear that she favors killing babies in the womb–even up to the moment of birth. Nothing–I repeat–NOTHING! could be more heinous than that.

Trump is a liar, says someone. David Record (Uncle David) most pro-Trump here, says Trump hasn’t been a pathological liar over his lifetime… Benghazi… emails… He didn’t defend a rapist and get him off Scott free. That last line is an attack on American justice. A jury finds not guilty, but Record knows better, and thinks people he thinks guilty should not have a public defender- or that public defender should not do her job. He is incorrigible. So is Susan Jeannett Neal, who says I’m voting for Trump. I believe that he is God-driven and will restore law and order to this country and wipe out ISIS, which no one else has even tried to do.

Mel uses striking language to attack Trump. Where are his fruits? Where are his treasures stored? He is not your savior. He will hand you over to the Romans to be crucified.

Abortion is not the only lunacy prayed in aid of Trump. Open borders = 600 million people estimated to come here, what kind of life will it be for the children and grandchildren WAKE UP AMERICA! Hmm. Is that Poe or Godwin? I can never remember.

Dan sees it in apocalyptic terms. Israel was overtaken when it did not follow God. We could be too. But Keaton, whose evangelicalism I dislike- As I understand the Bible, those poor souls who are aborted would be ferried instantaneously to Heaven, bypassing all of the sin, pain, and ugliness of this world is unduly negative- nevertheless brings in climate change. Do not rape the planet.

I went to Susan’s page, counted twenty pro-Trump or anti-Hillary posts in one day then gave up. They include “I was the Clintons’ Hitman” by Larry Nichols, and a meme calling Paul Ryan a traitor. David Record’s page has a post calling Christians against Trump “Pharisees”, a Clinton Scandal video, and another calling Mrs Clinton the most pro-abort candidate we’ve ever seen.

I see what she says, but don’t understand why. She thinks abortion is the most important issue; she thinks Mrs Clinton is a monster; but I can’t understand why anyone would think like that.

Susan is deplorable, possibly; incorrigible, certainly. But not even all conservative Evangelicals will vote Trump. Thank God!

Then I found this in the Washington Times. The candidates are as bad as each other, says Suzanne Fields, and one commenter blames this on the MSM: Kasich could have trounced Clinton, but the MSM pushed the GOP to the Right, and promoted a candidate Mrs Clinton could beat.

The Trump Effect

The Presidential election is having a terrible effect on schools. Minority children are terrified. A kindergarten Latino child, told by classmates he would be deported, asked every day “Is the wall here yet?” Bullies are empowered: some use the word Trump as they taunt or gang up on others. Teachers who normally use elections for lessons in democracy and the responsibility of citizenship find that the word “Trump” alone is enough to derail a class, and that the election inflames ethnic tension and the fear and anxiety of children of colour.

The need for teachers to be non-partisan stymies attempts to impart positive lessons about the electoral process. Every student from pre-schoolers up is aware of the rhetoric, tone and catch-phrases. “We’re going to build a wall”. Now the notorious phrases include “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”  The campaign is omnipresent, on social media and rolling news. Children talk about this whether or not the teachers take part. If a child says When Trump wins, you and your family will get sent back in the classroom, they say worse in the hallway. Students take the campaign intensely personally, and marginalised pupils bear the brunt of abuse.

Children worry about being sent back to where their parents or grandparents came from, and even the descendants of slaves fear being sent to Africa. They cannot feel safe with the level of hatred expressed in the news and even by trusted adults. Undocumented students have a right to education but come to school fearful that they will be interned, and separated from their families. Students from six to twelve cry in class. This reduces grades and ability to concentrate. One student can’t sleep at night, another has panic attacks. A Muslim teenager was suicidal after other pupils shouted slurs from their cars. Where the home country is unsafe, the fear is greater. Syrian children are traumatised again. Students with undocumented relatives think all the other students hate them. Even very young children use the N word as a slur. Students in majority black areas, with less interracial tension in the playground, still feel fear, and wonder if this is what all white people think of them.

Distrust grows as students recall lessons about American ideals, then wonder how someone who holds those ideals in such contempt could be so popular. America is a “Nation of immigrants” but immigrants feel unvalued. The usual rule is that a teacher will not discuss their own politics, but how to respond to a child who begs you not to vote for Trump because he will deport their parents? I have tried to reassure my students that no matter the outcome, they will be okay. I don’t even know if that’s true.

Teachers work to keep their classrooms respectful, so must remind students that there are different rules there from the debate stage. Bullies are emboldened, claiming they are just saying what everyone is thinking, using slurs, name-calling and inflammatory statements. Muslim students are called “ISIS”, “Terrorist” or “Bomber”. Kids tell other kids they will be deported forcibly. Even at an all-white school, “Dirty Mexican” became a common insult. Bullying affects health and can lead to self-harm. Bullies claim they are not bullying, but “telling it like it is”. Students have become very hostile to opposing points of view, regardless of the topic. Any division now elicits anger and personal attacks. Bullying, though, crosses party lines and “Trump” can be used as an insult, implying the victim is the type of person who would support him. Students are angry, and their anger can escalate into fist-fights.

Educators want a lively exchange of ideas in healthy debate. One of the goals of education is to teach students how to make persuasive arguments, support opinions with facts and listen to the perspectives of others. Those goals are out the window in many classrooms. Some teachers are enthusiastic about the opportunities to teach about media bias and fact-checking rather than gossip, but find it hard to find age-appropriate factual information. Teachers find teaching about the election “stokes the fires”. If it can get you suspended from high school, it is not appropriate in a candidate.

Being a good citizen of the US democracy is a main goal of schools, but children are disillusioned and disconnected. The rhetoric does not help their ability to use reason and evidence.

From the Southern Poverty Law Centre report The Trump Effect (pdf).

Vote Green

With a heavy heart, I voted Labour.

My heart says vote Green, but with my constituency “too close to call”, with a risk of a Tory ousting the Labour MP, I had to vote Labour. The Conservatives, if returned, will gleefully eviscerate all public services, privatising all which they cannot yet destroy, and ensure wealth gushes up to the richest. There is no “trickle down”, all the leaks have been fixed.

The Labour party offers little hope. They will continue with austerity, though it harms the economy. They will not reverse any of the Tory damage, which ratchets us towards Oligarchichal capitalism. I only vote Labour because a Tory MP would be even worse. The Scottish National Party, if in coalition, may mitigate some of the harm Labour neglect would do.

The Green party offers hope. Getting rid of nuclear weapons is just part of our principled valuing people for more than just their value in the dog-eat-dog capitalist system and offering a genuine alternative for society, in which humanity may survive the threats to the climate and the biosphere.

May we soon follow New Zealand to a proportional system.

Knowing and partly knowing

I will vote according to prejudice, but this is not entirely my fault.

Andrew this morning was incredulous and sardonic: “The Government say the economy has grown, but what is the value in that when we are all worse off?” He tells me that the GDP growth since 2010 has been smaller than the population growth.

There you have it. A factoid, which I have from Andrew, whom I trust because he is a retired accountant so should understand these things, and a Quaker so should attempt truthfulness.

Conclusion: more Tory lies.

Then my prejudice kicks in: that is before we consider that the benefit of economic growth has gone to the richest- my impression from various sources, which I can’t remember reading or hearing in exactly those terms but believe; and that GDP includes consumer spending, so our economy “grows” if we spend more on imports.

What do I make of this? The UK had either the biggest debt in the world or the lowest debt in the G7, says HuffPo. I had heard of Public Sector Borrowing Requirement- oh gosh, back in the 80s, it may not even be a thing anymore- but not PSNB which is Public Sector Net Borrowing. I look at that word “Net” which I understand, and wonder what the whole phrase might mean. “Total borrowings” says HuffPo, which is different from the budget deficit: 11% rather than 7.7%.

The debt in 1997, when Labour replaced the Tories, was 42% of GDP, and now it is- oops, the article does not say. In 2008 the debt was 35%. The deficit in 1997 was 3.9% of GDP, and 2.1% in 2008.

You know the difference between the debt and the deficit, of course, you have been paying attention over the last seven years.

I am happy to conclude, more Tory lies.

I hear that 25% of the “new jobs” the Tories claim are Zero-hour contracts. What is to stop an employer needing a steady 350 hours’ work a week employing 35 people and giving hours to the ones who give it least trouble? Who cares about the workers? Not the Tories who want to increase benefit sanctions to destroy the safety net and so drive workers into jobs which do not provide a living wage…

That last paragraph is me emoting, but there are facts to be rational about, somewhere, here.

dismal science

May General Election Predictions in Full

My general election predictions, in order of likelihood:

1. Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party come out with around 280 seats each. With no other viable coalition, they enter a grand coalition. A quarter of the MPs of each can leave in disgust and they still have an overwhelming majority. The Labour Party is annihilated in the 2020 election.

2. The Labour Party, slightly ahead, forms a coalition with the Greens, Scottish Nationalists and Welsh Nationalists. David Cameron, proclaiming the slogan English Votes for English Laws and declaring the government illegitimate, boycotts Parliament, supported by the Tory councils across England and Tory Police Commissioners.

3. The Green Surge continues, increasing geometrically not arithmetically and buoyed by the success of Syriza in producing the first economic growth in Greece in five years and of Podemos in the Spanish elections. A Green majority government abolishes nuclear power generation and scraps British nuclear weapons. Foreign nuclear energy companies sue Britain for hundreds of billions of pounds in lost profits through the Investor-State Dispute Settlement procedure of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Britain refuses to pay up, and the USA invades to enforce payment backed by a UN resolution and the gleeful concurrence of Mr Putin and Mr Xi, who hope America will stop being so holier than thou at last. Jacques-Louis David, Helen and Paris