Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Stay Awake, Be Aware, Become Informed

Bernie is working hard to bring about his New Year's resolutions. Are you?

Stay Awake, Be Aware, Become Informed
by Cindy A. Matthews

When we are mentally asleep, unaware of our surroundings, and don't work hard at staying informed as to what is happening in our world, nasty surprises have a way of catching up with us.

During the bustle of the holiday season, one such nasty surprise occurred in Ohio. As of December 19, 2016, Ohioans can no longer use Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) strategies against the Israeli government to protest its treatment of the Palestinians. Ohio House Bill 476, signed into law by Governor John Kasich, has made doing so illegal. The bill is seen by many as an unlawful reaction to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, a nonviolent global campaign which uses boycotts of Israeli goods and products to pressure the state of Israel to end its illegal occupation and collective punishment of, and violence against, Palestinian civilians. 

Ohio H.B 476 represses freedom of speech while extending a suspect economic benefit directly to a foreign government. A last-minute amendment to the bill doubled the amount of State of Ohio assets which may be invested in foreign nation debt instruments from 1% to 2%. Available state assets for investment were estimated at $13 to $14 billion. Coincidentally, Israel is the only nation capable of meeting the standards for the investment by the State of Ohio Treasurer. Besides critically undermining the free speech of its citizens, Ohio seeks to extend up to $260 million in credit to a foreign nation. 

Ohio H.B. 476 contradicts core free speech values and stifles debate. Telling others why your institution doesn't support the oppression of the Palestinian people is now a crime in Ohio. You cannot host pro-Palestinian rights speakers on your campus, for example. The punishment for violating the bill is the withdrawal of all state funding from your institution. 

And don't feel safe if you're not an Ohioan--similar federal legislation is currently in the works under the name of the "Anti-Semitism Awareness Act Bill."  In a Trump administration with a majority Republican Congress, its odds of being passed are seen as good. The title of the federal bill is extremely misleading. The BDS campaign against Israel is actually a criticism of the state or government, not of a religion or race. Palestinians are a related Semitic people after all, and American BDS actions are taken in their support, not against them because of their race or religion. 

So, where in our Constitution's First Amendment does it say every American must believe exactly as the government tells us to? Where in our First Amendment does it say the government of Israel can tell American citizens what strategies they can use to protest the mistreatment of Palestinians? Why are Palestinians treated as second class citizens in the first place? What other peoples are we to mistreat and ignore around the world simply because another government wishes Americans to mistreat and ignore them as well? 

Being asleep and not being aware of what is happening around us can lead us to losing our freedom of speech--and to the loss of freedom and life for others. Blissful ignorance of the facts isn't always blissful--it can be down right dangerous. As intelligent and compassionate progressives, we owe it to both ourselves and our communities (if not the entire planet) to become informed as to what is going on and what actions we can take to make the world a better place for all peoples.

Bern Notice now gives us some information on how a thorough civics education can open the door...

Opening the Door
by Bern Notice

Education is an important component of having a successful life in America. It opens the door to higher paying jobs like IT, electronics, engineering, law and many others. However, as much as Americans like to claim it’s the greatest country in the world, our quality of education clearly is not.



Much has been made about how the US is in the middle of the pack in subjects such as science and math. Little is mentioned about Americans' knowledge of civics.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center states:

 The survey, released for Constitution Day (September 17), found that 26 percent of people can name the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial), a statistically significant decline since 2011, when 38 percent could name all three. In the current survey, 31 percent of respondents could not name any of three branches, about the same as last year.
 Reference: http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-knowledge-of-the-branches-of-government-is-declining/

This is significant because while many are on the streets complaining about the results of the presidential election, this poll indicates that a minority actually understand its role in our government.

An example of how lack of understanding civics potentially affects voters is described by comparing presidential vs. mid-term elections. The legislative branch consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislative branch is responsible for (among other things) controlling fiscal spending and taxation, writing and passing laws, and declaring war. It is also a check on the executive branch (the president).

Reference: http://www.house.gov/content/learn/branches_of_government/

These are important responsibilities with serious consequences for their constituents. Senators and representatives are up for election at both mid-term and presidential years. Logically, if you are aware of how critical their role is in government, you would likely have a large turn out in both years.

The reality is that there is a substantial drop off in mid-term elections compared to presidential years--every time. Pew research states:

 Voter turnout regularly drops in midterm elections, and has done so since the 1840s.
In 2008 for instance, 57.1% of the voting-age population cast ballots—the highest level in four decades—as Barack Obama became the first African American elected president. But two years later only 36.9% voted in the midterm election that put the House back in Republican hands. For Obama’s re-election in 2012, turnout rebounded to 53.7%.
Reference: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/24/voter-turnout-always-drops-off-for-midterm-elections-but-why/

Because turnout tends to be high only during the presidential years, this means a large number of people could only be voting for all, half, or none of their congressional representation depending on how congressional terms work out where they live.

This is even more true for Democrat-leaning voters. The turn out is so low for them that there was an article written about it in 2014. Loren Fulton of the Cook Report wrote:

Herein lies the biggest danger for Democratic candidates in 2014.
Midterm elections have always drawn older voters, and usually drawn white voters, to the polls in disproportionate numbers.

Older voters are less transient, have grown deeper roots in their local communities, and pay much more attention to non-presidential elections than their younger counterparts. In the 1980s, that didn’t hold partisan consequences. Today, that amounts to a built-in midterm turnout advantage for Republicans.

It is important to recognize that as much as Democrat-leaning voters may be upset about Trump having the House and Senate in his pocket, it happened because Democrats by in large don’t show up for mid-terms. It is very likely that reason is because those who show up and vote have a better understanding of how government works than those who only show up on presidential years.

The data shows that there is a clear lack of understanding of how government functions. This is a fixable issue, but it’s one that we as a society need to start working on now. While knowing science and mathematics are obviously important in terms of competing for careers, understanding how our government functions is vital to understanding how try to fix the problems we complain about.

BIO: Bern Notice is dedicated to educating the public through his excellent commentary on Google+


 Informing the Public Through Letters to the Editor

Like Bern Notice says, we need more civics education in this country. We also need to know more about what is happening to our environment and how it will affect our community, state, nation and world. It's important to share this information with others, and one time-honored way to do so is by writing letters to the editor. 

Paul Wohlfarth wrote and sent the following letter to the Toledo, Ohio, Blade editorial staff in regards to the Nexus pipeline. Notice he's done his homework. He gives us the facts in a clear and succinct manner to help educate both the public and the editors as to what is happening with Nexus and what could happen if the pipeline is built. Thank you, Paul, for allowing us to re-print it here as an example and encouragement to others.
To the Editors:

I know the Toledo Blade editorial staff has given tacit support for the Nexus pipeline. I don't think the staff knows of the possible ramifications that could happen if this pipeline is built.

First off Spectra Energy is being bought by the Canadian company Enbridge Energy Partners. Enbridge has a terrible safety record. One notable is the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill. Its been learned that Enbridge and the EPA have not cleaned up the toxic tar sands spill. They have quietly chose to fine the company and walk away leaving a toxic mess that is being exposed by former workers.

I bring this to your attention because you have lead the way in calling for action on protecting the Lake Erie water supply. As you know, the Maumee River feeds this supply and Nexus plans a pipeline to cross the Maumee west of Waterville. The export Nexus pipeline has only a 56% subscription rate with 90% of that going to Canada. The outlook for this pipeline is sketchy as more pipelines compete for a limited customer base. Also, we have found that Nexus has future plans for two more pipelines in this easement. Pipeline companies are finding it harder to build new easements as opposition grows, so the Nexus easement becomes more valuable.

I told you that natural gas transmission is being squeezed by overcapacity, but when a pipeline is built anything can be transported either way in these pipelines. What's to say that when Nexus goes belly-up transporting natural gas they won't switch to transporting oil or other products? This leave us with possible multiple pipelines crossing our water supply (the Maumee River) by a company with the worst track record for safety. The Maumee crossing is near an earthquake fault and karst formations. Will the Blade stand with others to defend this water supply? 

Is there a local or state-wide issue of importance that you could research and write a short, coherent, fact-filled letter to your local newspaper(s) informing the public and asking them to take positive action to rectify things? Don't wait a day longer--just write it. If you're living in the path of the Nexus or other pipeline(s), or are located in the middle of a fracking zone, don't hesitate--do so today. We've only got the one planet, so we don't have time to waste. Water is life!


  1. Amazing how "stupid" our mainstream media pundits are sometimes with all this "Blame Russia" b.s. Are they just playing dumb, or are they truly brain dead?

    It's up to us as citizens to educate ourselves as to what is really happening so we can take the appropriate actions when the time comes. Power to the people!!!

  2. They're trying to obfuscate the truth of the matter. The United States has a thoroughly corrupt and perverted system of government, available to the highest bidder.

  3. Ain't that the truth, A J!

    Keep us ignorant of the fact of what's really happening and who's making all the money from it. Time to clean house in Congress and all levels of government.


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