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Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar studying ethics, peace theory, public discourse, and the civil rights movement.



The Cost of Crazy

Apr4

by: on April 4th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

If Donald Trump was not bound by the limitations of his own ego and by alternative facts, if he was not obsessed with seeing crowds of people that do not exist or insisting that two to three million people voted illegally in a desperate attempt to avoid the reality that he did not win the popular vote, if he was truly the deal maker that he claims he is and not just someone who played one on television, the country could solve some big problems and move forward.

Instead, we are where we are with a president who is not only stuck on stupid, but on crazy and very possibly beholden to a foreign government.

Imagine if Trump had admitted in his inaugural address he did not win the popular vote. Imagine if he said that his mission was to unify a divided country and that he was willing to work with Democrats to solve the nation’s problems. Where would we be now? Remember, coming into office, Trump owed the Republican establishment nothing. They were lukewarm at best with the prospects of him becoming the 45th president of the United States. He could have claimed a mandate from the people to be independent.

Imagine if Trump had said that he recognized that he gave a list of Supreme Court picks generated by right wing groups and many people voted for him because of that list, but because of his status as a minority president, he felt an obligation to bring the country together. He could have nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court seat that the Grand Obstructionist Party and its Senate leader Mitch McConnell stole from President Obama. All the Democrats with enough sensible Republicans could have confirmed Garland easily.

We would not be facing, in my opinion, a justified filibuster in the Senate. The GOP would not be looking at the nuclear option to blow up the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. McConnell and his minions will do it. I say good riddance. The GOP abused it during the Obama administration, and it is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. There is worry that this will make the Senate more like the House of Representatives, that the filibuster is what preserves minority power. However, this is not true.

The length of terms in the Senate is what makes it different from the House. Senators hold terms that are even longer than that of the president. Senators elected in 2016 will be in office two years after Trump has to stand for reelection. Members of the House of Representatives must face the voters every two years which means they are held to accountability more often.

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A Modest Proposal

Apr1

by: on April 1st, 2017 | 1 Comment »

We know that President Donald Trump says he has the safety of the America people in mind when he imposes travel bans from first seven then six predominantly Muslim countries. Both bans have been held up by the federal courts. Let us presume that Trump is serious about the safety of the American people. Thus, I offer this modest proposal.

Write an executive order and support legislation in Congress that would prohibit men from buying a gun until they are at least 65-years-old. Studies show that nearly 90 people in the United States die from gun violence every day God sends. Nearly 55 of those deaths are suicides. Women who live in households with a gun are more likely to be injured or killed by a gun, and children are often not only victims of accidental shootings by other children, but they are the shooters. In contrast, no one from countries who are subject to the travel ban have perpetrated terrorist attacks in the United States. We are killing ourselves.

I can hear the howls of “what about our second amendment rights?” echoing across the land. I say: “what about them?” We have a Congress, especially the United States Senate that does not give a hoot about the Constitution, especially if there is a president in the White House not of their party. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell led his party in stealing a Supreme Court seat from a duly elected president who won with a majority of the popular vote as well a majority in the Electoral College, to make way for a pick by a president who did not win the popular vote. Never mind the Constitution.

Supreme Court Justice Scalia writing for the majority that said people have a constitutional right to bear arms apart from military service, read words into the text that were not there. So much for strict constructionism. Further, whenever there is a mass shooting pro-gun people say that the problem is not guns, rather we ought to think more carefully about treating mental health and keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental health issues. Since Trump has been president, the Republicans in Congress have made it easier for people with mental health issues to own guns, and their healthcare replacement plan would have dropped the requirement for insurance companies to cover mental health.

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Hidden Figures

Mar11

by: on March 11th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

For me, the most splendid moment of the 89th annual Academy Awards was the surprise appearance of Katherine Johnson, one of the NASA mathematicians portrayed in the movie “Hidden Figures.” The 98-year-old wheel-chair bound Johnson was beautiful in a sky blue dress as she graciously received a well-deserved standing ovation with a simple “Thank you.” She has lived to witness the world’s appreciation. However, as Black History Month – February – becomes Women’s History Month – March, and as we have witnessed International Women’s Day demonstrations, it is important to recognize that at this moment in time, the story of Katherine Johnson and her colleagues inspires us to keep our grace through this moment of madness.

The movie is an excellent portrayal of women working in the early space programs as computers doing the mathematics necessary to get a man into space and back safely. It takes place at a time in American history when apartheid ruled the land both in overt and covert ways and when the space race was a visible aspect of the Cold War. In the movie we see the inconvenience and stupid waste of time of an apartheid system where African Americans were assigned to certain bathrooms in certain buildings. In the movie, Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, has to run across the campus to use the rest room. Here the movie takes dramatic license because the real Johnson did not do this. She simply ignored the rules and used the nearest women’s rest room.

There is another example of the way the women maintained their dignity and grace in the midst of a dehumanizing system that is described in the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly. (Do not walk, but run to your nearest bookstore, library, e-reader and get your copy of the book. It fills in details that the movie did not have the space to include.) Shetterly describes the persistence of the women in the lunch room to remove the sign that designated the “colored “section. The woman would remove the sign, but some unseen hand would place another. They kept removing the sign. Another sigh would appear. Until one day, they removed the sign and the sign did not reappear. These women were confident in the knowledge of their own worth, of their own humanity, and they acted accordingly.

They found their humanity not only in their own excellence, but they found it in community, in family, church, sororities, and other civic organizations. They were not only encouraged by their parents, teachers, and husbands, but they also lived the maximum of “lift as you climb.” They were leaders and mentors in their communities.

The story of these women reminds us that the only limit to what we can achieve is the limit of our own imaginations. Their story helps us and young people to see beyond the stereotypes that seek to limit us and who we think we are or can be.

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Craven, Contemptible, Political Hackery

Feb8

by: on February 8th, 2017 | 5 Comments »

craven: having or showing a complete lack of courage

contemptible: not worthy of respect or approval

political: involving, concerned with, or accused of acts against a government

hack: a person who works solely for mercenary reasons

–ery: the practice of

–Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 

Let us be clear. When Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority in the United States Senate voted to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren as she attempted to read from a document that had been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee and kept out of the Senate record, they showed their true colors as craven, contemptible, political hacks. Under the cover of Senate Rule 19, using the same tortured, twisted hermeneutical logic that led him to think he and his party were not acting against the US Constitution when they stole a nomination to the Supreme Court under President Obama, McConnell trashed the first amendment to the Bill of Rights on the Senate floor.

Fortunately, this nonsense only had authority on the Senate floor, and Senator Warren was able to continue to read a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 by Coretta Scott King in opposition to the nomination of Jeff Sessions for a federal judgeship. If it is true that past is prologue, the concern then, as if is now, was that Sessions would not uphold voting rights for all citizens of the United States.

Coretta Scott King said in her letter:

“Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”
In a written statement to the Judiciary Committee, King testified to “politically motivated voting fraud prosecutions” on the part of Sessions and “. . . indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws.”

Unfortunately, her words still resonate in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act with a number of states instituting laws that make it more difficult for citizens to vote, especially minorities, the poor, and the elderly. The current president of the United States has made unfounded claims of voter fraud that only feeds the myth that widespread voter fraud exists and that laws that actually restrict legal voting are necessary.

King wrote of the importance of the Voting Rights Act to our democracy:
“The Voting Rights Act was, and still is, vitally important to the future of democracy in the United States.” She wrote about voter intimidation and Sessions’ participation in it:

“The actions taken by Mr. Sessions in regard to the 1984 voting fraud prosecutions represent just one more technique used to intimidate Black voters and thus deny them this most precious franchise.”

She wrote of the long way we as a nation have to go “before we can say that minorities no longer need be concerned about discrimination at the polls.” She says further:

“Blacks, Hispanics, Native American, and Asian Americans are grossly underrepresented at every level of government in America. If we are going to make our timeless dream of justice through democracy a reality, we must take every possible step to ensure that the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution is honored.”

More than thirty years ago, then chair of the judiciary committee, Strom Thurmond, wanted to keep Coretta Scott King’s words out of the Senate record. In February, 2017, Mitch McConnell tried and failed to do the same thing. After he silenced Senator Warren, some of her male Democratic colleagues completed the reading. He did not silence them. In the end, Coretta Scott King’s words were heard.

Political pundits are reading this event within the context of presidential politics. Are the Democrats still angry about the outcome of the 2016 election? Is this the first step by Senator Warren on the road to a presidential run in 2020? Neither of these questions gets to the heart of the matter.

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Carrie Fisher: A Woman of Many Parts

Jan14

by: on January 14th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

On December 27, 2016, Carrie Fisher died days after suffering a heart attack on an airplane flying from London to Los Angeles. She was sixty and known primarily for her role as Princess Leia and later General Leia Organa in the “Star Wars” movies. However, it is important to note that Carrie Fisher was much more than her portrayal of one fictional character. She was much more than a child of celebrities – Debbie Reynold and Eddie Fisher – living her life and, in the end, dying her death in the light of her mother’s star. (Debbie Reynolds died the day after Carrie Fisher.)
She was a woman of many parts, and she was more than the sum of those various parts.

In her one woman show – “Wishful Drinking” – she describes her birth. The hospital personnel were star struck with her movie star mother and her crooner father. They paid little attention to her.

She says: “When I arrived, I was virtually unattended.” She says she has been seeking attention from that moment. But Carrie Fisher was more than a Hollywood child seeking attention.

She started acting as a teenager with a role in the movie “Shampoo.” At age 19, she landed the role of Princess Leia in the movie “Star Wars.” These movies became cult classics, and people relate to Princess Leia as a brave warrior princess general, mother of a Jedi knight who has been seduced by the dark side of the Force, but even Princess Leia is more than that. She is the feminine divine in the realm of the Force.

In her most recent book, “Princess Diarist”, she writes about her experiences with fans who want her to still look like and to be a young princess. Yet, she is more than this. She knows after all these years that people see her and Princess Leia as one. She reflects upon this in the HBO documentary, “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.”

“They love her, and I’m her custodian; and I am as close as you’re gonna get. She’s me and I’m her. They talk to me like I’m Princess Leia who happened to have all these difficult experiences to go through and it’s like me fighting for the Force.”

She has had difficult experiences that many other people have also had except she spoke openly about hers. In the “Princess Diarist” she writes about her relationship with Harrison Ford when they worked on the early Star Wars movies. He was older and married and she was wise enough at that young age to know there would be no happily-ever-after with him. She writes about a love that takes her breath away and of wanting her breath back.

She writes: “If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumorously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire after life blushing.” I suspect that she will not be blushing, but laughing at her young self. I image her free of the pain and embarrassment and filled with nothing but joy.

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Yes We Can

Jan11

by: on January 11th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

In his farewell address, President Obama returned to the basic theme that propelled him to national attention and to the White House – We the People have the power and the duty to make the United States a more perfect union. The audacious challenge comes at a moment when we face a transition of power to a presidency that no doubt will be, charitably put, one of the most unconventional in history.

I say: Now is the time for us to take up this challenge and organize to resist a Congress and a president who will take us backward on any number of issues.

President Obama reminded us that the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness “while self-evident, have never been self-executing.” The work of citizens is to use our freedom to work toward both our own dreams and toward the common good. He spoke of his achievements, and he said they were also our achievements:

“reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, . . . unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history. . . open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9-ll . . . win marriage equality and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens. . . ”

These achievement are a testament to democracy, but President Obama warned of three major threats to our democracy – income inequality, racism, and societal fragmentation along with self-selected facts. He called upon us to stay engaged with the global struggle “to expand democracy and human rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights.”

He warmed us about complacency. He said: “our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” He spoke of the importance of voting rights, of the “corrosive influence of money in our politics” and the problem with gerrymandered congressional districts. He warned against seeing our political opposition as malevolent rather than misguided.

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Santa Says Give Your Children Squeeze Hugs

Dec22

by: on December 22nd, 2016 | Comments Off

It was one of those cold, grey December days that makes me happy that I work from home. Ordinarily, it would have been a day when I made myself a hot cup of coffee or cocoa and snuggled under the covers with a good book or magazine. But, not on this particular day. This was a day when I had to get up and out, cold or not, and buy a gift that I needed to get in the mail if there was any hope of it arriving at its destination before Christmas. The things we do for love.

Getting dressed in the winter is a pain, and the older I get the worse I hate it. To stay warm, you must layer. So there is the long underwear, then the regular clothes, then the sweater on top of that then a scarf and coat and hat and gloves. I drag my bundled up self out to sit in a cold car. I wait a few minutes and then drive slow until the car warms up.

I buy my present, but while I am in the mall, I decide to go to the Hallmark store for more Christmas cards. I walk the length of the mall, get to where the store once was only to discover that it is no longer there. So, I drag my layered self the length of the mall again. I tell myself with every weary step that this is a good for me. I need the exercise. I am way behind on my 10k steps a day. The only good thing is, on my trip back, while I am telling myself that this walk is a good thing, I see Santa. The real North Pole Santa. Not the store helper, the real Santa.

Someday I will tell you the story about the first time I met Santa, the North Pole Santa, but not today. When I pass, he is off the throne talking to a young mother holding a child who seems to be about six-months-old. There are no children in line which is not surprising for mid-day on a week-day. I wave, he smiles and gestures for me to wait.

When he is finished we hug. “What are you doing here?” I ask.

“You know I sometimes visit in person. I like to see for myself how things are going. I’m glad I ran into you because I heard you were not coming north this year.”

I ought to explain that since my children are now adults, I sometimes go to the North Pole to help out. My job is usually to help Santa locate children who have moved. Some years it is a hard thing to do when there have been wars and natural disasters that displace people. This year, I had not planned to go because I am working on a Christmas novel, and I am behind schedule. I did not speak to Santa directly, but I left a message with Mrs. Claus. She understood.

I think part of me was using the book as an excuse not to go because I am just not feeling Christmas this year. I am still suffering serious Trump trauma. I still cannot believe that a vulgar reality show celebrity will be the next president of the United States of America. And worse, when I think I am about to get to a place of equilibrium, I hear the news of one of his cabinet appointees, and the Trump funk returns.

Santa smiled with a twinkle in his eye. “I know you are still getting over the election.”

“Sorry to say that I have not yet recovered.”

“Let’s get some coffee.”

His helper put up the out to lunch sign, and we walked around to the Starbucks. After we ordered our coffees, we talked.

We talked about the perfect storm that hit Hillary Clinton in the final days of the campaign – ACA premium increases, the Comey letter, Trump acting for a minute as if he had some sense. We talked about the Russian hacks of the DNC and the drip, drip, drip of information that no doubt left many Bernie Sanders supporters feeling as if the system were rigged against their man. God only knows how many of them decided they just could not vote for Hillary and went to a third party candidate.

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The Obama Doctrine and the Limits of Violent Rebellion

Dec19

by: on December 19th, 2016 | Comments Off

I say and say again that the Obama doctrine of foreign policy is just peace pragmatism.

I know that President Obama eschews the notion that there is a theory or a doctrine that provides a structure for his foreign policy and lends it coherence. He sees a messy and unpredictable world in more detail than most ordinary people. He knows that each situation is unique, that as commander-in-chief of the largest, most powerful military of the most powerful nation on earth, he cannot be constrained by the contours of abstract theory. The most he is willing to say regarding a defined doctrine is: Don’t do stupid stuff.

However, President Obama pronounced a doctrine consistent with just peace theory in his 2009 Nobel Lecture. I wrote about that then, so I will not repeat that analysis except to say that the fundamental elements of just peace theory remain evident in his thinking. (http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2009/12/10/an-expanded-moral-imagination/)

In remarks on his administration’s approach to counter-terrorism delivered at MacDill Air Force Base, President Obama explained seven key points in a counter-terrorism strategy: perspective; no over reach; values and the rule of law; fight terrorists in a way that does not create more terrorists; transparency and accountability; diplomacy; and upholding civil liberties.

In my interpretation of just peace theory there are three main pillars – truth, respect, and security. When we keep terrorism and terrorists in perspective, when we realize that terrorism is an asymmetrical tactic of warfare used by the weaker force, we are looking at the situation with true eyes. When we are transparent about our own actions and hold ourselves accountable for our actions, the power of truth becomes a benefit.

Further, in a post-truth, post-fact, political climate, it is more important than ever that we are honest with ourselves and with the world. Facts do not stop being facts because they may or may not cohere with our ideology or the political spin we want to put on an issue. Wisdom teaches us that the truth will out. Thus, policy ought to be driven no only by the right perspective on the capabilities of terrorists, but it is important to recognize facts and the limitations that constrain even great powers.

Respect, the second pillar of just peace theory, means a respect for the dignity of human beings, nature and creation. Such a respect requires us to maintain the best of our values of equal justice and the rule of law. We know what justice is because we know what injustice is. Little children know this when they say: “it’s not fair.” I believe that we could solve most of the problems of the world in the morning if we would only treat every person the way we ourselves would want to be treated, if we allowed everyone a full measure of fairness.

This also means that we remember that the fight against terrorism is a means to an end and not an end in itself. President Obama told us that in using drone strikes against terrorists that there is a possibility of civilian casualties and that precautions are taken to prevent this. Yet, the hard truth is that drones are no different than any other weapon. The missiles they fire do not have a particular individual’s name on them. They are indiscriminate. Sadly, they are sometimes necessary for security’s sake.

While we correctly think about the nation’s security in terms of armed police and military force, security also comes through diplomacy and civil liberties. It is imperative for a nation and its leaders to be secure in themselves in order to stand with confidence before the world and seek peace, not through a power-over logic, but through a power-with logic. Diplomacy, therefore, is not weakness, and the call for universal human rights and civil liberties across the globe is another way to insist upon justice.

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Bravo Hamilton

Nov30

by: on November 30th, 2016 | Comments Off

I stand in solidarity with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton who made a statement to soon-to-be Electoral College-elect vice-president Mike Pence when he attended a performance of the play.

Bravo Hamilton.

The statement was respectful, and, all things considered, restrained. It was civil. According to the New York Times, the statement said:

“We-sir-are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

Full disclosure: I have not seen the play, but I am a fan. I ride around listening to the sound-track in my car.

The beauty of the production is that it uses Hip Hop, an art form invented by America’s non-white citizens, to present an interpretation of the early history of America with a multi-racial cast. It does what all good art ought to do, make us see the ordinary with extraordinary sight and thus help us know our own humanity better.

There is good reason for a diverse America to feel alarmed and anxious after a divisive campaign of fear and lies that Donald Trump and Mike Pence inflicted upon the nation to win the Electoral College and thus to win the presidency and the vice-presidency. Let us be clear: Trump and Pence are minority winners. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million votes. More than seven million people voted for a third-party candidate. Nearly half of Americans who could have voted did not. Most citizens of the United States do not want Donald Trump to be president, yet, he will take the oath of office in January, becoming both head of state and head of government, representing the United States in his person to history and to the world.

Since his campaign that emboldened white supremacists, violence against people of color, immigrants, and Muslims have risen. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 867 incidents of harassment in the first ten days after the election. (https://www.splcenter.org/) The Trump/Pence response to such hate has been tepid at best. Trump has made Stephen K. Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News Network, a news organization that caters to white supremacists, his chief White House strategist. His other choices for cabinet positions, including Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and his choice for the person to head the transition of the Environmental Protection Agency indicate that he will not protect voting rights or the planet.

Since we value a peaceful transition of power, what is the majority of citizens of the United States to do? We ought to resist in every peaceful way imaginable. We ought to stand up and boldly state what the shared values and beliefs of our society are.

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In Memory of Gwen Ifill

Nov16

by: on November 16th, 2016 | 4 Comments »

There is so much bad journalism running helter-skelter through the land that when the world loses one of its premier journalists, it is a moment to pause and to grieve.

Gwen Ifill, co-anchor of the “PBS Newshour” and host of “Washington Week”, died November 14th from cancer. She was 61-years-old. Many journalists who were her colleagues and friends have spoken and written about her as a person. They have commented on her excellence as a journalist, about her no nonsense approach to the work of giving the public solid information with which to understand the world around us. They have shared their memories of her faith, of her smile, laughter, singing, and hospitality.

I did not know Gwen Ifill personally, so I can only write about her from the perspective of someone who invited her into my home nearly every week-day evening for seventeen years. I quit network news decades ago, deciding that bad journalism is a waste of my precious time. I watched the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report” in the late 1970s and continued watching when it became “The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour” in 1983. My children were reared on this program because I wanted them to be aware of the world around them beyond our street and city.

When Gwen Ifill joined the program, I welcomed the presence of a more than competent journalist. Over the years, I have found little to complain about in her work. She was always respectful and friendly with the guests on the program. She moderated difficult discussion with aplomb, with an even-handed fairness that, in the end, left me with a better understanding of both sides of an issue.

 

I especially appreciated the respect she gave to ordinary people when conducting focus group discussions or town hall meetings. She never made anyone feel small, uninformed or illogical when she could have. For example, in a town hall meeting in the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, one young man complained that he had voted for President Obama twice, but that he was still facing police harassment in his community. She did not ask the young man whether or not he had voted in local elections. She resisted the urge to tell him that President Obama does not appoint the police officials in his town.

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