In the news: sifting through facts

For a while now, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been pretty excited about a vague path I see for myself which brings together my legal and political background with my long spiritual journey.  And part of that, since “fake news” became a massive problem, has involved a LOT of fact checking.

Between the history major, research when I worked on my PhD and loads of legal research, I have a lot of research experience and I’ve learned to navigate more easily since the internet makes a lot of those tools available without having to go to a library and stand around at the card catalog.

Recently it occurred to me that some of the stuff I’ve been doing might be useful to other folks trying to navigate the world of fact and fiction in the news.  Not suggesting other people don’t know how, just not everyone does and not everyone is aware of all the resources I am.

First up is figuring out which media outlets and fact checkers are trustworthy.  I separate media bias as an issue from media reporting falsified info.  These days you can search the name of a newspaper or website and “Is it legit?” and there are some pretty good sites that come up. Politifact has a good list but it’s old.

Media Bias Fact Check is pretty good but I have found some places that haven’t been updated to reflect a change of ownership that has impacted both bias and veracity (Patheos, for instance, has changed hands so the middle of the road and wide representation in writers has changed to purely evangelical and a biased point of view; no info on truth or fiction).

I’ve memorized some places that come up often for me that don’t measure up when checked, so I automatically am skeptical of anything from Occupy Democrats or Breitbart, to name two.  Fake news and truth stretching happens on both sides, so it’s good to be vigilant whatever your persuasion.

Some of the venerated places like the New York Times or Washington Post  (CNN, CBS, NBC, et al) generally do a pretty good job, but they do have a big liberal bias and sometimes present more of the info that supports the bias.  However, I don’t find they actually make anything up and one nice thing about the better news outlets is they often give you info on sources.

It’s easy to do some fact checking because they often reference studies made by Homeland Security or the Department of State, etc. and I have tracked down enough studies to see if the news story accurately reflected it to feel confident they report real info and are not making stuff up.

Fox, on the other hand, not only makes stuff up but rarely provides a serious study or report — or indeed any evidence at all — so they make it a little harder.  But generally if something is in the news you can use a search engine and some key words from the story to track down whether there is any supporting evidence for their claims. I’ve researched enough of their stories to feel confident they routinely make up news and ignore studies, facts, etc.

I know many on the right have vilified Snopes and Politifact, but I’ve researched facts on both sides of many issues and I find they’re just as willing to debunk Democrats and liberals as the GOP and conservatives.  To the extent I’ve followed some of their source trails, I’ve found both do a good job of fact checking and I trust their results.

All these sources are the ways to get an easy fix.  But if you really feel unsure about what’s true, there are a few places you can go.  As mentioned, there are often studies cited that were carried out by departments of government and use statistics they collect.

For instance, you can look at lots of data collected by the State Department, Homeland Security, the DEA and various state and federal law enforcement agencies to find the following info about the flow of drugs, immigrants in general, and immigrants from Central America and Mexico in particular:

  1. more drugs come in from Canada than Mexico
  2. most drugs enter through ports, not across southern border
  3. immigrants actually commit far fewer crimes than citizens
  4. there are more illegal immigrants who came in on legal visas and stayed after the visa expired than there are immigrants who came across any border illegally
  5. the largest number of those illegally here on expired visas are from Canada

You get the idea.  A huge amount of stuff being floated by the President, the GOP and Fox news is a complete fabrication and there are facts you can check.  There are many topics for which the government collects data and prepares studies, so you can often go straight to the source to find out what’s true.

Another source on line is to check on bills at government sites.  At the federal level the Congressional Record has every bill that’s been proposed and you can follow the stages of it and find out who voted which way.  At the state level, every state I’ve looked in on (by no means all) has had an on line government site where you can track bills and votes.

To find out about court cases, you can order a transcript on line but you have to pay.  If you just want to track proceedings and the basics of what happened, you can get a lot of info on line.  Just look up the court, i.e. federal district court or local county court or a state supreme court, etc. and somewhere in their tabs you’ll find info on court cases.

Most major universities have lots of grants to do studies and publish loads of material on every subject.  When you run a search to find data on many issues, look for studies by, say, Stanford or Northwestern or the University of Michigan, for example, and read some of their research.  Multitudes of studies are available on line for free.  Even universities have crackpots, so you might also do a check on the professor(s) who ran the research 🙂

Those are enough basics you should be able to negotiate sorting fact from fiction in most cases.  Hope it helps.

Life and a meditation

I have posts buzzing around in my head, from my spiritual journey lately to more People Power to mulling over Mueller, but life has been getting in the way.  My 93-year-old mother relies on me to get to all appointments and to do all shopping and she’s been having lots of appointments.  Between busy-ness and periodic sleep deprivation I’m winding up writing in my head but getting nothing down.

In the meantime, I continue to periodically explore Steve Nobel’s expansive offerings and I’ve found his meditation, “Releasing Anxiety/Fear” to be powerful:

Separating Church & State Honors Our Ancestors

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

U.S. Constitution, First Amendment, Establishment and Free Exercise clauses

For some time I’ve been observing a growing trend among some Christians (mostly evangelical) to want to end the separation of church and state mandated by the Constitution and make every one conform to Christian values and participate in Christian practices.  They say they love America but their stance is so adverse to the foundation stones of our nation, it’s hard to imagine they even know our history.

I’ve been particularly thinking about it in light of my genealogy research and the many ancestors who came here to get away from religious persecution.  My 10x great grandfather, William Brewster, was a Puritan Separatist and his religious views first forced him to flee England for Holland.  He later managed to return to England long enough to board the Mayflower and come to the Plymouth Colony.

He was one of multitudes of Puritans who fled England because their religious beliefs were outlawed.  They braved the hazardous voyage across the ocean and came to the new world in the hope of finding freedom to worship as they chose.

On my mother’s side I’ve long since lost count of the number of Scottish Presbyterians — they’re all over the tree on both sides of her family.  Some broke off from the Presbyterian Church in Scotland and came here to establish their version of Presbyterianism.  Others, after accepting land in Ireland for some years, wound up fleeing to America when England began persecuting Presbyterians for their failure to follow Anglican law.

Presbyterians weren’t particularly welcome here either as the established religions along the coast disapproved of their beliefs.  They gave the Scots land at what were then the frontiers, in order to let them serve as buffers against the Native tribes.  In other words they were expendable.  Presbyterian ministers were rare in those parts, so many became Baptists.

These are just some of the stories of religious persecution that led many of our early citizens to the Colonies.  The Founding Fathers were well aware of the persecution that had hounded so many out of their homes and across an ocean.  There is also a great deal of evidence many of them were aware of other religions, such as Hinduism, Islam, etc.  So when they established free exercise of religion and forbade the establishment of a state religion, they were specifically safeguarding people from the kind of persecution so many had endured and, by their explicit failure to name Christianity or any denomination thereof, they extended that freedom to all religions.

Ironically many of those who are trying to force everyone to conform to their religious beliefs, to bring Christian prayers back into schools and make Muslim and Jewish and Hindu children participate, are descendants of the persecuted Christians who arrived in a new land seeking freedom to worship as they chose.

Every time I see one of these calls for the State to violate the First Amendment and participate in promoting evangelical Christian beliefs, I feel my ancestors have been dishonored.  That their suffering has been forgotten.  “Separation of church and state” were Jefferson’s words, describing the meaning of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses, a separation created to make sure such persecution would not be repeated.

This wall between state and church was built to ensure all people freedom to pursue their religious beliefs without interference from the government.  Every call to take down that wall is an assault on one of the great foundation stones of the United States of America and shows either ignorance of or contempt for one of the most important lynch pins of our democracy; one which is central to its greatness.

Let’s not forget why so many of the original settlers came here.  Honor their pursuit of religious freedom by honoring religious freedom.

People Power: Think outside the box

In the last post I examined some issues in which most of us are so buried in cultural beliefs we can’t see past them.  This time I’m taking up a few issues and suggesting possible alternative views that could change the game.  Change the belief, change the thought=change reality.

Health Care — Change it all?

When the GOP first started attacking the ACA, threatening the health insurance of millions, I joined the multitudes in wringing hands.  One day, though, as I contemplated people having no access to health care, I suddenly shifted to thinking about the health care I have known and used for the last 30 years –alternative.

Suddenly light bulbs flashed and I thought about how much better alternative care has served me than western/allopathic ever did.  I could see people going to herbalists and body workers and acupuncturists and actually healing issues instead of covering the symptoms.  And I thought, “could this actually be the way to shift our health care system to one that’s holistic and healthy and really good for people?”

Since I’ve not seen a “western” doctor or participated in any way in allopathic medicine for 30 years, it’s kind of funny it took me a while to make this mental leap.  But I’d dutifully signed up for insurance to obey the law and am sufficiently immersed in the cultural thinking that I felt some measure of relief in having the “safety net” of insurance. When they tried to take it away, I felt the same sense of outrage most people were feeling.

As soon as I saw the path to a complete alternative, I calmed down about the sense we HAVE to have government-provided insurance.  Most people spend so much on premiums and co-pays, if those payments were all removed, far more could afford  the much-less-expensive alternative health care costs and we might become healthier for it.

Do we really need the allopathic health care system at all? Or should we be funding alternatives that treat people holistically and without the use of harmful pharmaceuticals.  (Take that big pharma!!!)  Changes the insurance debate completely.

Put the Burden on the Men

I’ve been seeing some deep and thought-provoking articles exploring men’s role in unwanted pregnancies and pointing out many ways in which making men legally responsible for pregnancy would change everything about the abortion debates.  Others are pointing out that better support for pregnant women and young children would remove another set of reasons for not wanting a baby.

As I ruminated I realized we need to change the whole dynamic of the argument.  It’s time to quit discussing in terms of Pro Choice and Anti-Choice, abortion or not abortion, both of which place the issue entirely on women and both of which lead to legislating women’s rights to their own bodies.  Whichever way the legislation goes, it still suggests women need governments to direct or protect their own decisions and how they choose to deal with their own bodies.

As this terrific article pointed out, men are 100% responsible for unwanted pregnancies.  But no one is discussing legislation to regulate their participation in unprotected sex.  No one is talking about increased penalties for rape.  No one is talking about regulating men as predators.  And yet that is precisely where the discussion should be centered.  Change men’s behavior and most unwanted pregnancies never happen so the need for abortion never arises.

Others point out that if you we put the time and attention into making it easier for women to keep and raise their babies, many abortions would never happen.  Lower birth costs, find ways to help fund those costs, better and cheaper child care, increased wages, increase and expand the WIC program (supplemental nutritional program for pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children under 5.  If we helped women who choose abortions because they can’t afford to have children, many would choose to keep the baby.

If the Anti-Choice crowd really cared about “Life” they would pursue these regulations for men and work on improving aid for pregnant women and their young children so the need to even consider abortion would drop dramatically.  The fact that they choose to focus only on stopping abortion makes it clear that saving fetuses is not their real concern; regulating women is.

But I want to be clear, as long as liberals in general and the women’s movement in particular continue to accept the right wing framing of this issue as a problem for women instead of insisting on discussing it as what it really is — an issue about men’s irresponsible and arrogant behavior and refusal to own the consequences of their actions — we continue to condone the misinformed viewpoint that it’s women’s problem.

Stop Buying

In the west, and particularly in America, our rampant consuming habits are responsible for (1) a vast portion of the climate change issues we face and (2) for providing the 2% with the profits they need to control us.  It’s such a deep issue but one we really need to face.

I can see it in myself and I’m not even much of a shopper.  But I own too much.  And in the years of illness, as carry out and prepared foods have become ever easier to access, I have realized I waste huge amounts of wrapping, packaging, etc. by taking advantage regularly of the chance to have a decent meal without having to stand around preparing it.  I’m working on re-thinking my buying habits and also how to contribute less to packaging waste.

When I look around I see many people far more immersed in consumerism than I am.  I watch some of the design and house search type shows and have been finding two interesting extremes.  The one that disturbs me involves people feeling they “have” to have the latest, nicest, and the most.

People who don’t cook but upon seeing a perfectly adequate but not recently-renovated kitchen announce, “it would HAVE to be redone”.  And the number of women who, without a shade of embarrassment, inform us they need a 10×10 closet and will barely fit all their clothes in it are turning my stomach regularly.

I smile then at the other side, which is the tiny house movement in which people are reducing their possessions to a couple of trunks full and reducing their living space to incredibly small spaces (to me, claustrophobic!). I’m not sure we need to go to quite that extreme, but certainly a move much more in that direction is needed.

This tendency to buy and buy without worrying about whether things are fixable or recyclable or whether we could get something used runs so deeply in American culture and habits it’s going to be tough to get out of it.  But if we’re really worried about the environment, it’s time for us to own how we contribute by mindless consuming and to find ways to reduce our enormously wasteful buying habits.

At the same time our buying habits contribute to environmental issues by using up resources and creating waste, we also contribute to those issues by keeping the global corporations who love to destroy the environment in profits and power.

If we start drastically changing our buying habits AND work at creating local grass roots movements to grow, produce, manufacture locally and buy as much as possible from local businesses and co-ops, we also can drive the multi-nationals out of business and power.

This isn’t a change that requires government intervention at all.  It’s change that requires us to delve deep and shift our auto-buy behaviors while also creating new vibrant local economies.

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I’m just trying to provide a few examples of how we need to step outside our ordinary thinking patterns if we want to change the world, so I’m leaving it with these three examples.  I would love it if others who have thoughts about a whole new way to think about a major issue would either comment here, or better yet write a post about it and link it to this post.

The People Power posts:

People Power: Deep in the Cultural Fabric

Many of us (and everyone who regularly reads this blog!) have been delving into the depths of our psyches for a long time now as well as doing practices that raise vibration.  I believe we’ve raised the vibration of the whole to a place where the depths of whole cultures are rising to the surface.  This means it’s time to explore our cultural beliefs and release those which no longer serve us.

I’m just exploring a few of them here that seem particularly relevant now.

Women

Ever since I poked around the world of sports and wrote a piece on the dehumanizing attitude toward women (see post)– which I think reflects the general attitude of our culture in the U.S. — I’ve been thinking about patriarchy and the many ways in which it is insidiously deep in our culture — even in ways many women don’t see.

I’ve watched #MeToo impact men on Wall Street and in corporations by leading them to stop hiring women rather than cope with the possibility of accusations.  Not really the triumphant outcome women were hoping for…  And an indication of how deeply entrenched the patriarchy is.

There are still lots of women dressing like pole dancers and arguing that they’re “expressing themselves” and “feeling sexy”.  I shake my head and wonder why the ONLY way they feel they’re expressing themselves or can feel sexy is to dress like a man’s wet dream.  And it’s always the same Playboy type stuff.

How is that expressing your individual uniqueness to dress to suit someone else’s preferences?  How is there nothing women themselves love that makes them feel sexy? Unique would be wearing an electric blue fedora with an emerald green ’80’s jacket, a yellow feather boa and orange tap pants… Weird, but an outfit that would tell me the woman has a particular sensibility and she’s expressing it.  Dressing like every porn character and Playboy Bunny on the planet… not so much.

We’ve been so trained to define ourselves by our attractiveness to men, many women have no idea how to just be themselves and not care what men think.

Racism

For a long time I’ve worried occasionally about how much racism still existed.  But like most, I was content to complacently assume the Civil Rights legislation took care of it…  Still, a nagging worry that you can’t legislate people’s hearts kept appearing.

Nothing in those periodic doubts prepared me for the degree of racism we’re been confronting the last few years.  And I’m realizing subtle aspects of racism lurk in most of us — including the usual victims of racist attitudes, who often hold their own beliefs about races other than their own.  None of us can really know what it is to be in the skin of someone of another color, so none of us can totally understand.

Along with the overt white supremacy, equally worrying are many studies I’ve read about white people who aren’t overtly racist but who become emotional at training sessions about race.  Corporations have stopped training and sent the instructors home when white people complained about what people of color tried to tell them about insensitivity and subtle racism.

If we can’t even manage to listen when people try to tell us what hurts, what we need to understand, how they need us to change, how can we possibly imagine more overt racism can be addressed?

Media and the Bad News/Good News dichotomy

In this day and age of worldwide media we’re so affected by news.  The corporate-controlled mainstream media likes to focus on problems and negative news.  It serves the powers that be to keep us in fear and, especially, upset with one another.  Otherwise we might figure out our power and take over.

In the meantime positive news is happening every day.  As I saw in a lovely interview with Jack Kornfield,

Each time there is a bad piece of news that gets publicized, there are 100 million acts of goodness that happen in that same hour—people putting a plate of cooked spaghetti in front of their child, people stopping at a red light so you can safely pass on the green, people planting gardens and designing new homes, millions of acts of goodness. Then there’s the beauty of life itself, where even after a rainstorm, we see the lavender reflections of the sunset in the puddles in the street.”

From Greater Good Magazine, “Why We Should Seek Happiness Even in Hard Times”

When our focus is constantly on the few negative things that happen and we ignore the millions of positive events every day, it skews our feelings about the world and then impacts our decisions to vote, participate, etc.

This negative focus mentality is so deeply embedded, it’s going to take a lot of concerted effort, releasing and shifting to move people’s focus to the positives of the world.  See previous post for more on this topic.

Governments have to fix things for us

I’m not sure historically when the general belief that governments run the show and we depend upon them to keep things safe and secure — possibly monarchies and empires? — but I can see in lots of reactions to environmental issues there’s a widespread attitude it’s more up to government than us to save the environment and the world.

The more I observe what’s happening in recent years, the more I think the opposite is true.  When we as individuals carry unresolved issues in our beings, we negatively impact everything, including the environment.  When we as individuals consume mindlessly and do nothing to curtail our personal impact on the environment, we are culpable and governments can only do so much to reverse our thoughtless habits.

A whole movement has been quietly building for some years in which individuals have invented answers to environmental problems, formed co-ops to deal with multiple issues and cities have been in the forefront of government action on climate change and social justice.

So why do we still want to wring our hands and hope for a change in power so the government can save us?

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These are just a few of the places in which we are so immersed in the beliefs and habits of our culture we can’t even see how we are trapped by them nor how we fail because of them to see other roads.  Consumerism is also a big one but I almost think it would need its own post…

For those of us who know how to dig in the depths of consciousness, it’s time to look at the ways in which we are immersed in cultural norms and release them within ourselves.  For those less familiar with tracking deep issues, it’s time to look at these issues and step outside the norms to create new ideas, programs, and directions.

The People Power posts:

 

 

Clearing and building energy

I tried out this Steve Nobel meditation a few weeks ago and then did it again and have been so impacted by it I’m planning to do it at least a couple of times a week.

The first part does a LOT of clearing old energy from every level of your being and then you build a pillar of light which is both super high energy and creates a barrier that keeps lower level energies from entering.

In these times when I feel it is SO important to be clearing as much lower level energy as possible and also lifting the vibration of the Web of All Life higher, this meditation seems like the perfect path.

I’ll be back to this in an upcoming People Power post, but wanted to share it now so those who want to can start working with it.

People Power: Create a New Business Model

Fall Line Farms Co-op

Back in December 2016 I wrote a series of posts about bring a spiritual, peaceful attitude to the political arena and in one of them, I wrote about the secondary economy I’d seen evolving for years among the “cultural creatives”.  Now I see a grass roots cooperative movement joining this secondary economy and in the two I see hope for leaving the 2% behind as we quit doing business with them and use only socially conscious businesses’ products and locally owned and run co-ops and small businesses.

I’ve spent a lot of time hunting around the internet on this question — and often Yes Magazine and Good News Network are dropping info into my lap.  I’m so encouraged by seeing the many ways in which people around the world are stepping up to create their own solutions.  From Black farmers creating cooperatives to neighborhoods like Northeast Minneapolis cooperatively buying buildings and supporting local businesses to the Village Financial Cooperative providing Blacks with fair banking opportunities people are coming up with creative sidesteps to the greed and unfairness of the 2% and their institutions.

There are also neighborhood repair events where people can bring their broken items and to skilled workers and either learn how to fix them or have them fixed (different ones have different practices).  Community markets where people can give unwanted items and anyone can take what they want.  Support for local produce and products.  Neighborhood solutions to environmental issues.

These things are already happening.  What I don’t see yet is a collective consciousness of purposely evading global corporations and creating an economy that doesn’t need them.  Bureaucracy tends to destroy more than helps so I’m not saying I want some unified organization to start running the show, just more people who are getting how much power we have to freeze out the 2% and their shady businesses and build our own system of trade on a more local and sustainable basis.

As I said in my last post, we don’t need the 2%.  Now we just need to grow the consciousness that not only do we not need them but we can create our own new economy.  [Way down at the bottom you’l find a list of links to the other People Power posts so far]


Some more to read:

Degrowth:  A Call for Radical Abundance

https://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/solidarity/a-radical-vision-for-food-everyone-growing-it-for-each-other-20171225

https://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/solidarity/no-price-tags-these-neighbors-built-their-own-economy-without-money-20180124

https://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/solidarity/a-populism-of-hope-begins-when-people-feel-their-own-power-20180116

and don’t forget my regular fave:

The People Power posts: