The Broad is Back!

September 30, 2017

Heading for a Fall of Massive Proportions

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln quoted the synoptic Gospels when he stated, “A house divided against itself will fall”. At the time, the Abolitioist Movement was growing, Dred Scott had been implemented, and the nation faced a decision: would slavery be outlawed everywhere or nowhere? It had to be one or the other.

His contemporaries were not happy with the speech or him. It was too radical, not good politics. It lost him the election to the US Senate, too.

In hindsight we see the speech as political prophecy. Three years later, America was in the midst of a bitter, violent civil war, the repercussions of which are still being felt today. We like to pretend it’s all over, done, settled, but one look at America today, and I think we can see it’s not.

So here we are, 152 years after the end of that war, 151 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and pretty much we’re still seeing a house divided.

I have never seen the US this polarized in my entire life. Granted, I’m not ancient, but I remember my Republican grandfather swearing that Kennedy stole the election. I remember the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate, assorted Clintongates, the GWB election, the start of the Iraqi War. Those were pretty rough times in the US.

Although I very much remember the anger and the hatred spewed by the non-Left members of my family and our neighbors, I don’t remember severed friendships, threats of violence. I heard about violence, but not around us.

Perhaps we were just as polarized, but the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle has changed the world. We hear about everything moments after it happens. It’s not that we’re more polarized; it’s just that we know how bad it is.

Forty years of poor education in large parts of the US has also lead to a nation that is unable to critically think. That’s not me being elitist (though when did elite become a bad word?). That’s from a career college professor. Much of my teaching has been in urban community or four year colleges. Currently, I’m teaching the exact same demographic I started teaching in 1988.

My students today are as bright, as talented, as lovely as the students I had then. Not all are wonderful to be around, but on the whole, I teach good people. But the students today are far less prepared to be in college. Their math, reading and writing skills are hovering somewhere between 8th grade and 10th grade. I’m a writing teacher, but if you need to figure out your grade, you need to know math.

They are ill prepared for college and ill prepared for life. And they know it after about the first three weeks of college. The plaintive cry of “why didn’t I learn this in high school” is heard almost every week. I tell them they might have just forgotten, but anyone in education can tell you just how poorly American secondary schools doing.

I don’t want to make this about education–it’s about polarization and our house being divided–but I also see daily proof that education is a major part of our problem. People can’t think. People won’t think.

They also have lost the ability to listen, to reason, and to have civil debates. This is also a topic I’ve written about in the past. Slap my face and call me Cassandra. No one listens to me.

The current president is not popular, especially here in New York City where I live. But it wasn’t too long ago that I was living in Tennessee, surrounded by his supporters. There are many who do not think his actions are racist or bad for America. We can say “that’s because they are racist” but that’s not the whole story.

He’s also called an illegitimate president because he lost the popular vote. He’s not the first, and until the Constitution is changed, he probably won’t be the last. To those who argue that he lost, I say, by three million votes. The final popular vote for the top two candidates was 62,980,160 to 65,845,063. But that translated into 304 electoral college votes to 227. We all know the numbers.

Three million sounds like a lot of votes, but according to the US Census Bureau, the US population in 2016 was 323.1 million, so that’s a less than 1% margin of the population. Of total votes cast it was about a 2.1% difference.

That’s almost half a nation’s voters supporting him. Sure, we can say sexism or Russian influence (and they are valid, Russia seeming more valid by the day), but we also have to address the fact that we are a nation ruled by fear mongering, hatred, and hysteria.

So right now, two sides of the country are at each other’s throat. I know young people who won’t even discuss politics anymore because it’s become dogmatic, intolerant, and personal.

Every day my twitter feed and even the news sources are full of ad hominem attacks against anyone who makes a point or an opinion known. If one of my freshmen tried that, I’d send the paper back with  “take this out–poor logic” in red letters. Actually, many of my freshmen do try this, because it’s what they see around them daily.

Many of the people I know are only able to do the same. I’m not claiming I’m better, but I do think I try harder to listen to people. When they spew hate, I’m more apt to ask why they think that then to spew back.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings are so deeply ingrained in me that I find it repulsive when I respond with hate. I’m human. I think bad things. I’ve said bad things. But at least I know what I’ve done.

Most people on earth are not horrible, soul less, evil, inhumane. In fact, they are very human. We’re not a very nice species. Racism is evil, but if they knew better, they’d do better. So let’s teach instead of firing back hate and insults. Education doesn’t always change minds, but hate doesn’t ever change a mind. Love can change minds. Love can open doors. Oh, I’ll just say it: love can move mountains.

I am, by nature, a Pollyanna, a Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, a person who is going to believe the best will happen. But I’m also a student of human nature and of history.

We are on a collision course in this country, and we’re pretty much split down the middle. There are nuances, of course, but the polarization is stretched pretty far and pretty tight. It is read to snap.

I do not want to see civil war, violent revolution, or an armed civil rights battle.

But I see it coming.

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September 26, 2017

It’s Official–I’m Woke

I’m a writing teacher, so in our classes, we tend to talk about current events and “issues.” Now that I’m back in New York City, the majority of my students are people of color. I tell them I have a color, too. It’s pink. Sometimes red if I get in too much sun. They laugh at the silly lady. But as you can imagine, the subject of race comes up a lot when we talk about current events.

Today, in a class that happens to be all students of color, a student told me I was “woke.” I told him, “honey, I’ve been woke since before you were born!”

A second student added, “we can tell. You’re never gonna not be woke.” That’s up there with one of my favorite student compliments ever. No lie.

I truly don’t understand how people can live in the US and not see the systemic racism and classism in our country. I mean, okay, I teach, so I see the effects up close. I take a deep, personal interest in the lives of my students, so I hear so much–learn so much. But seriously, how can people miss it?

My mom was “woke” back in her youth. Hell, my grandmother was having none of that inequality stuff, either. This is how I grew up–knowing, without a doubt, that we are all brothers and sisters and there is one race: the human race.

Because a student asked how I got “this way,” I explained about Mom and Nana. His response: “you’re lucky.”

And I am. Very lucky. My elders taught me by example that the only way to judge a person’s worth is by their actions. If they are rotten to people, that makes them less. Not worth less than me, but less developed, less enlightened; people to be pitied, not hated. Hate only hurts the hater.

Because some of my students hadn’t done their homework for today, I turned being “woke” back at them (because I am not above poking my students for their own good).

Thinking critically and learning are revolutionary acts, I told them. Vive la révolution.

Learning to analyze things and think about subtext means they gain more power over their own lives. It’s harder to manipulate people who think. Teaching, especially college, is all about empowerment.

The skills we learn in my class are not “school things.” They are “real world” skills that hopefully they will use their entire life.

May they never stop learning and thinking, that’s my prayer for them.

Yes, this is me in my “preacher mode,” but as a preacher, I believe teaching is a vocation with a very high purpose–the betterment of humanity. There’s the idealist in me again, but I’m also very pragmatic. I know most of my students don’t see their educations the way I do. But that’s not going to stop me spreading the word.

And frankly, I wrote this tonight because I was tickled pinker to be called woke by a student. They get me. They get I care. They respect it, too. And that just felt good.

 

 

 

September 20, 2017

Oligarchy is Real & Love Doesn’t Make Money

The Graham-Cassidy bill is out and has people in a frenzy.

I keep seeing social media postings of parents telling the stories of their seriously ill children. “Are you willing to let my child die?” they ask in one form or another. Short answer: yes.

Prolonging the lives of the sick and dying who can’t be saved or cured is a waste of money and resources.

Did I just say that? Yes I did. Do I believe that? Logically? Yes. Do I think it’s morally right so something we should allow? NO!

And that’s the difference between me and the people in charge. I put human life at a higher value than wealth. Many of us still do.

But we will never change minds about our moral stance unless we can back it up with less emotional reasons than “my child will die”. Appealing to law makers’ humanity is a waste of time. Their standards are not ours.

Even when they profess to be Christian, it’s a different Christianity. Bet you dollars to donuts they come from a Calvinist strain, where financial reward is an outward sign of being one of the elect. While not all Calvinists are less than Jesus-like in their approach to the poor, there is a strong idea of “deserving poor” in this country. And fewer and fewer are falling into that category.

I went looking, quickly, I admit, at the net for real information about it, and most are against it for good reasons. FamiliesUSA: the voice for health care consumers posted “12 Facts About the Graham-Cassidy Repeal Bill” which, while written by a biased organization, pulls in information from non-biased sources like the Congressional Budget Office as well as other biased sources like AARP, the AMA, and Children’s Hospital Alliance.

From all I’ve read, and I’ve been reading a lot these days, it looks like an awful bill.

So yes, I’ve written and called and made my voice known. And yes, I’m shaking in anger. It’s no secret that I have a pre-existing condition as does my son. And it’s no secret that I am in medical debt up to my ears. This year alone, and it’s not over yet, I have a stack of bills totaling $8000. That’s not a lot considering what our health care needs have been this year, but put in context, I make a little over $27k a year. I made less the year before. I’ll pay, but it’s taking a while.

Now, part of that was a choice to live in a lower paying state so I could live with my mom and pay reduced rent. If it weren’t for my 85 year old mom living on a pension, I’d be in much worse shape. Now that I’m back in NYC, my salary has gone up, but so have my expenses.  And I’m still part time. So no health care and no guarantee I’ll be working in the spring. I think I will. I have hopes I will. I’m a damn good teacher and schools usually want to keep me because I am cheap as an adjunct, but nothing is guaranteed in this life.

But that’s a problem for another time. Yes, I have a sad story. Millions and millions of us do. My son is literally alive thanks to the ACA and my mother’s help. He had a crisis, it’s over, we know the problem, and blood monitoring 4-5 times a year should keep him healthy and back in the workforce. I’m at the start of my chronic illness, but if I take care of myself stringently and luck and God remain on my side, I should be able to work for another 25 years, which is the plan. I’ll be 81 when I retire, but I work with many people in their 80s who are still teaching.

So how to change minds, then? There’s the problem of living in an oligarchy. The Koch brothers have warned Congress: no more money till there are changes in health care, changes that save insurers money, not the insured. Google it. It’s been in the news since March. Now while I applaud their criminal justice reforms, the Koch brothers and the rest of our wealthiest citizens should not be running our country. That’s not democracy when the rich can buy the kind of country they want at the expense of the poor.

So we can vote Blue or Green or anything but Red and vote out the people in charge of the law, but they will be replaced by other people who can be bought and sold. As long as we have an oligarchy, we have a problem.

We’d think people would revolt against this, but they are held in check by that other bogeyman, socialism.  When I hear people talk of socialism, their fear and disgust is palpable. They collect their social security checks, but socialism is bad!

Socialism, I’m told, gives us Death Panels that decide who lives or dies.

That’s what insurance companies basically are doing now.

How many times have I donated to a crowd-funding campaign to help people I know get through devastating illness? I don’t mind at all, and I am happy to give, and frankly, I think we should care for each other. Many people think that this is how it should be done–communities and churches should help one another, not the government.

I get it–the frontier spirit of the Americans and our “I’ll do it myself” attitude. I believe that, too, but this is the 21st century. The world has changed radically since the days of the American frontier.

And they will say that they do support the sick, but they want to be able to choose who gets their money. That’s fair. I can understand that.

But often their money is earmarked for the “deserving poor,” and they are the ones who decide who is getting help or who isn’t.

And that’s the Catch-22.

I’ve lived in two countries with national health. It had problems, but it had benefits. I’ve lived in Switzerland, which had excellent health care which was mandatory, but expensive. But it was honestly the best medical care I’ve had in my life. But for mental health? It was terrible. So there’s that.

This current crisis will pass. I’m hoping that Graham-Cassidy will go down in flames, but I have a sick, sinking feeling that it won’t. It will be a shallow victory, though, because I’m thinking that this might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Take away people’s health care, take money from their pockets and food from their mouths in dire emergencies, and then all Hell truly will break loose.

 

September 16, 2017

Dealing with Change

I truly am like a bad penny. I keep turning up, even when you think you’re done with me.

I am going to make a concerted effort to be back. Last I posted it was February, and I wrote about possible treason. Here it is September, and the same story is blowing up the news. The administration is still in power. The stories get scarier. And Congress is still full of spineless wonders. That’s what I called them in my penultimate post.

But I am a very different person than the one who last wrote. Well, yes and no. Last February I was midway through a journey that got settled in June. I’m going to recount it here because much has happened, and because of it, I am learning to live with a new reality. And not just the political one.

It’s been a whirlwind. I’ve written in the past about my son being ill. He just wasn’t getting better, and the doctors were starting to give up hope. He was slowly sliding into a life of permanent disability.

By May, symptoms were at their worst, and on Mother’s Day, he was an hour or so from death. And that was the best thing that could have happened to him.

Seems that to treat this and that, he was on four medicines that were leeching his potassium. The morning of Mother’s Day, he and I were out walking the dog when he fell on the gravel path. It’s a hill, we laughed about it as he was unhurt, really, and I went on to work. By that afternoon, he had to crawl to the car so my mother could take him to ER. By the time they’d made the 5 minute trip, he couldn’t get out of the car. By the time I got there 3 hours later, his arms didn’t move. Next, they told us, it could have been his heart stopping had he not come in. He was berating himself for making a fuss.

After 3 days in the hospital on IV potassium and 3 more weeks of trial and error, his potassium is stable. He is as good as he’s gonna be. Many of his symptoms were of low potassium, but because they are also the symptoms of the things he’s being treated for, they were overlooked.

We found the answers and now it’s just time.

But at the same time, I was seeing doctors because I knew something was off. My GP was getting frustrated, specialists ruled out most major diseases, and to make a long story short, finally, it was discovered that I have Sjögren’s Syndrome.

What’s that, you say? One of the most common auto-immune diseases in the US. But because this is me we’re talking about, no one knows what it is (I have a habit of flummoxing doctors).

And while I’ve been searching for answers since July ’16, things have really accelerated. In fact, a test this past April came back “suggestive, but not definite,” but the test another GP ran in June came back “hell, yeah!”

Sjögren’s most prevalent symptom is dry eyes and dry mouth. Doesn’t sound too bad, eh? Actually what got me to the doctor was the fact I was falling asleep driving. Literally. I thought that might be a bad thing. Symptoms include profound fatigue, muscle and joint aches, depression, peripheral neuropathy, and memory problems. I’ve got all of these symptoms and a few more.

I was working as a thrift store manager for a not for profit, a surprisingly physical job, and my doctor didn’t want me doing it any more. I was also a part time professor, as that’s my “real” job, and living in Tennessee because of my son’s health.

Presto change-o. We are now living in the Bronx again, and I’m back to being a full time part time worker. I teach five courses at two schools, but that keeps body and soul together. Son is back working two part time jobs. He’s not ready to go back to his career, which is acting, but he’s slowly but surely getting better from being severely ill for five years. It’s a process.

I used to be one of the most high energy people around. I now spend more time in bed than ever. I used to sleep 5-6 hours a night and not break a sweat. Now I’m exhausted if I don’t sleep for 8, and I honestly try for 10 a night. It’s a bone deep physical exhaustion. The depression doesn’t help. I’m taking meds for that, which help but don’t fully alleviate it.

I’m usually a very private person, but I’m making a concerted effort to be more vocal about the struggles of living with Sjögren’s. I spent the years 15-48 living with endometriosis, another “invisible disease” that upended my life, and I learned then that more people need to learn about these things. Young women today are still being told the same sexist claptrap I was told when I had active endo. If sharing my story helps someone or raises awareness, then talk I shall.

Luckily, I feel fully alive and engaged when I’m with my students, bless them. My passion for teaching is still burning bright. My passion for social justice and change is still burning, but I’m learning how to live with a disease that’s getting more and more debilitating. To be honest, this is messing with my head, too.

I work harder than ever at remaining an optimist, about being positive. I know that getting back to my writing is a big part of this journey, so I’m back.

I can’t help but be political, but I am not sure how this blog is going to evolve. All I know is that I feel compelled to write, so write I will,

The Broad is definitely back yet again.

February 14, 2017

Is it Treason?

I started this  blog post on the 11th, and it was taking too much time to think about and write, so I set it aside to write about the gutless wonders in Congress–both Dems and Repubs.

So tonight, I go out with friends for a lovely dinner and come home to my twitter feed hopping like, I don’t know, a bunch of very active resistance fighters realizing that the current administration is imploding.

As I’ve been arguing since before the inauguration, if there was contact with Russia, that’s treason. For the POTUS to commit treason in support of Russia is like something out of the cold war thrillers I devoured as a young woman.

But as many reporters have said in the past (my first post-college career was political reporting), “you can’t make this shit up”.

Reports have come out in the New York Times and Washington Post stating that Trump Campaign aides had “repeated contacts” with Russian intelligence.  The parties being investigated claim they weren’t aware that they spoke to Russian intelligence. Seriously? A weathy US businessperson with ties to a person running for US president didn’t realize the Russians would be interested? And with Russians I mean the intelligence community. What did they read when they were young? Did they miss the entire cold war? Did they miss the fact that the current president of the Russian Federation is former KGB and doesn’t seem to have forgotten his early training?

OK, I admit it. It’s a jump from aides talking to committing treason. I suspect it, but it will take a while to prove, and that’s if it’s ever possible to prove.

But it’s certainly looking like the Russians interfered with the US election. At the very least, the very least, that need to be investigated thoroughly by investigators. Not Congress. Skilled investigators. Who are the best in the country?

And it’s looking very much like the US needs to void the 2016 election and have an emergency reelection with the Republicans finding another candidate. And the entire first however many days need a CTRL + ALT + DEL. It never happened.

In this country, money talks. Fame talks. I have neither. I have intelligence, I have education, hell, I even have a pretty good background in understanding politics and history. But no one listens to me. Folks read my blog, but I’m not getting any recognition, and that’s not the point. I AM A VOICE.

My voice is being added to hundreds and thousands of other voices in this country and we may just be able to drown out the voices of the super rich. That’s what democracy is supposed to do.

We haven’t been a democracy in a long time, but maybe this disaster of an election cycle really will have a silver lining. Maybe we’ll get rid of the worst of our oligarchy.

What follows below is what I managed to write on the 11th before I got a massive headache. As you can see, the past three days have been enormously eventful. The moral of the story? Do not piss off the press.

Treason is a crime I’m very interested in for personal reasons. My great-uncle, about whom I’m writing a book, was a government witness in a treason trial against an American man who had tortured him during his time as a POW in a Japanese camp during WWII. The man was convicted and sentenced to death, which was commuted to life in prison without parole by President Eisenhower. Later President Kennedy commuted that sentence to exile back to Japan.

Uncle Tom was crushed but dealt with it.  While I’m glad the guilty party wasn’t executed–frankly, I can understand killing in hot blood, but not in cold blood, especially by the state–I wish he had lived out his sentence. And when I raise questions of treason, which I’ve been doing for months now, I have no desire to see anyone executed. What I would like to see is Russian collaborators out of the White House.

Yesterday’s news was full of Michael Flynn most likely lying about his meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. I have no insider information, but I didn’t believe my five year old when he said, “I don’t remember.”

Nor do I have insider information about whether or not Putin interfered with the 2016 presidential election. President Obama surely thought so, because that’s why he imposed the sanctions in December. The question is, though, did Trump know and, if so, when did he know it?

I’ve read a number of posts about Russia’s sale of 19.5% of Rosneft, its oil company. According to sources, the supposed dossier the Russians hold states that if Trump won the election and lifted Russian sanctions, his cronies would get a 19% share in Rosneft. This was reported by the Daily Kos on January 30th. On February 9th, the story about Flynn meeting with the Russian Ambassador broke.

***

That’s it, as far as I got. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s revelations will be.

February 11, 2017

Spineless Wonders

Every day I read the news, incredulous at the members of my government. I’m also heartbroken that party is more important than our beloved country. When are the 535 members of the United States Congress going to grow spines?

A few have chosen to use their voices and their votes to challenge the insanity, but sadly, that’s mostly on party lines, and the Democrats are in the minority.

But don’t the Republicans see that we’re in danger of being destroyed? They can’t be as stupid as they seem to be, can they?

I’m not a member of any political party but I admire members of most parties. When I see men and women who I thought had a measure of integrity blithely rubber stamping obviously unqualified people for Cabinet positions, my faith in our leadership dips ever lower.

When Senator McCain, a man whose integrity I’ve never questioned, approved Betsy DeVos, my heart cracked a bit more. That woman is going to tear down what’s left good in American education. And if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know that I don’t think much of American education at all.thanks mostly in part to federal interference.

The administration in today’s White House leaves me speechless. It is not only inept and amateurish in the most negative meaning of that word, it is either woefully ignorant of American law and government structure or so megalomaniacal that it truly believes that it is above the law. And I’m not just looking at the chief executive. I’m looking at all of them.

Why is this happening? That’s rhetorical because I have no answer.
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January 28, 2017

Carnival of Love 2017, We Love You, Skid Row

In one of the crazier things I’ve ever done, chalk this: I flew from Tennessee to Los Angeles to participate in the 2017 We Love You Skid Row Carnival of Love.

The day was full of smiles and tears and children’s laughter as they got to play games, draw, eat ice cream and get toys. It was full of music and dancing and hugging.

There were a number of guests who seemed overwhelmed. Quite a few were obviously mentally ill, withdrawn and abrupt. But that’s ok. I was there to serve.

I came with my son. He was a guide, who brought guests through the myriad of services—clothes, shoes, hygiene products, blankets, a full barbecue dinner, ice cream, legal services, therapy services, DMV services to get IDs, barbering, hairdressing, medical screenings, pet grooming, animal services, glasses, hearing checks, massage, foot washing and hot showers. Every bit of this was donated or sponsored. Many of those giving out services were students from nursing programs or hairdressing programs, but there were fully fledged professionals giving up their Saturday to help people in need.

A touching fact—the foot washing volunteer positions were the first to fill up. That’s the kind of people this event attracted.

I was a listener and a hugger. I would listen to people who had to talk. Not many wanted to, and most just asked questions, but I gave out a lot of hugs.

Many thanked me for giving them a wonderful day. I didn’t. They gave me a wonderful day. One young man said, “Thank you so much. You know, you guys thought of everything. I’m a vegetarian, and you have vegetarian meals. Just because I’m homeless, I don’t want to eat meat.” He wanted a big hug. He got one. I told him he’s not forgotten in his ear, and I got a good squeeze. And we can’t forget him.

Two guy guides were flummoxed by a crying baby while her mamma was getting medical checks, so I stepped in and got to hold a beautiful 23 month old little girl. I guessed she was Latina, so I used Spanish. She didn’t answer, but she calmed down and let me show her the dancers and street performers. We bopped to the music and watched the TV reporters with their camera folks. Her mamma told me yes, she understands Spanish and her name is Melissa. She’s too thin and homeless right now. But she was beautiful and I snuck in some kisses on her temple. She’s a baby like any other.

The reason for the cameras was Justin Baldoni, who’s project of love this really is. He’s one of the great ensemble cast of the CW’s Jane the Virgin, a Peabody award winning, tongue-in-cheek telenovela dramedy with true heart. I am not a television watcher except for BBC stuff and now a full roster of CW shows of which Jane the Virgin is my absolute favorite. I started following most of the cast on twitter because they are some of the most positive, loving and role-modely folks I follow (I needed to make that a parallel sentence. Deal with it). I saw almost all of the ensemble at today’s event, not being “TV stars” but in there working like the rest of the volunteers. Watching the show, I sense the love and respect they have for one another, and seeing that love in action was wonderful.

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Justin thanking us for making the day possible. But he did the heavy lifting. Thank you, Little Brother.

 

I’m not one to hold actors in awe, seeing as my brother has acted, my son is an actor and I spend a lot of time with them what with occasionally directing and being on the board of a NYC theater. I know better than most that actors are people with a cool (and very hard) job, but there are the ones who are a little too invested in ego. Today I saw technically beautiful people, yes, but their goodness made them more beautiful. There were some other CW stars there, as well, supporting and just being people.

They were gracious and did pose for selfies because they realize that it’s their names that draw people, but they were also working hard. I didn’t ask for any selfies. While I love these people, for their hearts and talents, today was not for that for me. I think my age helps. If I were 20 and still had those youthful good looks, it might be a different story.

Justin’s wife, Emily, also an actor, is his true partner and was there working hard, but smiling and gracious even as she flew about the place. She’s Swedish, so my son and I chatted with her a few minutes in Swedish early in the day before the guests arrived. I make judgements about people quickly based on many things. She’s genuine in her love and her love of service. She thanked us and gave us real hugs. She’s good people.

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It was hard to get a good picture of Emily during the speeches. This isn’t very good, but she’s a typical Swedish beauty.

The Baldonis are Baha’i and they live their faith openly by showing faith in action. That is what I try very hard to do in my life, and while not a Baha’i, I also believe that all are my brothers and sisters. Little Brother and Little Sister are a joy to watch. But this was not a religious event. A Christian mission lent its parking lot for the “restaurant,” a church overlooked us physically, some volunteers wore overtly Christian shirts to identify why they were there, I saw a number of Muslim women judging by the hijabs, so I assume Muslim men, as well, and some folks there are just good people without a faith motivation.

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While I no longer identify as Christian (I’m a Believer), I found this symbolic.

CBS Cares and CW Cares sent a number of folks, and Justin’s own production company, Wayfarer, formed a foundation to support charitable events. This was huge and as someone who has “done” events, this represented hours and hours of hard grunt work.

While I loved interacting with the guests (sort of an extension of my day job), probably the proudest moment for me was as a mom, seeing my son interact with the folks he was escorting. He didn’t know I was watching and to see him smiling, polite, and waiting on the men he was helping brought tears to my eyes. I tried to raise a good person, and I did. He was born that way, but I encouraged it. Parenting is hard, so please excuse my moment of motherly pride.

Justin explained that he wanted a carnival because it’s fun. Seeing people who live in a tent city or sleep on cardboard boxes dropping their cares for four hours, playing some games, dancing, laughing, enjoying a street fair where they are welcomed, not hurried off by security, filled my heart to bursting. I needed this day as much as they needed it, I think.

Walking toward the site around 8 that morning, my son and I passed many people sleeping on the street. Then we saw the tent city and my heart broke. How can I live in one of the richest countries in the world, be in one of the richest cities in the country, and see this level of poverty?

I actually asked, out loud, “What kind of country am I living in?”

I know much of the answer, of course. Many mental health facilities were closed in the 80s, so mentally ill folks were often left unmedicated and unhelped. Soon they were on the streets. That trend hasn’t stopped. We have a safety net in this country, but there are folks who thought they were okay, but lost so much in the financial crash of ’07 that they are forced out. Some have temporary setbacks like domestic violence or job loss. Others were thrown away by their families because of teen pregnancy, being gay, being transgendered or some other perceived trespass.

Many have addictions and aren’t ready to stop them yet. When drugs or alcohol take over your life, homelessness can often follow. We know scientifically that addiction is an illness, but many still moralize about it and think addicts “deserve” what they get. I am the last to romanticize addiction, having seen it up close and personal, hating every moment of it. Addicts can be really terrible people who do horrible things. But they are still humans who deserve our help if at all possible.

I did have sort of an ulterior motive for going. I would like to bring this idea back to my community. If all the thrift stores in town and their organizations pull together, bring in the Lions, the Rotary, the local hospital center and so on, we could so do this. Justin said he wants to see this idea spread. We need this in America, so while I post this not to show off about how “good” I am (I am so not good) or how wonderful the Baldonis are (they are), I do post it to encourage folks to help.

A carnival is a huge undertaking. Most of us don’t live in communities that have famous names to draw attention. But we can organize clothing drives, offer a hot meal once a week or once a month, be kind to folk. Smile at a homeless person instead of rushing past. I’ve seen folks drop a dollar in a cup without even acknowledging the person asking. Smile. Say hello. Yes, some are mentally ill. But most will respond, many with gratitude for being seen. We strip the homeless of their humanity in this country. We strip the poor, as well. But they truly are our brothers and sisters.

Here are some images–there aren’t many because I was busy doing not photographing, but some street performers, a little boy dancing at the Dance Par-tay, a little boy sitting on Justin’s shoulders during a live musical performance by Justin’s friend, Andy Grammer, finally, Tyrone and Justin. Tyrone is a resident who has danced up a storm for the past three years. I saw him dancing from 12 noon till it ended at 4. The man is a dance machine!

Thank you, Justin and Emily and Wayfarer for this wonderful opportunity to serve.

January 27, 2017

Too Big to Fail

When the financial crisis of ’07-08 was addressed by incoming president Barack Obama, many Americans were unhappy with the resolution. Yes, we got “back on track,” and things did get better for many. But banks were declared “too big to fail” and were bailed out.  That, I think, was one of the seeds that led to our current president.

For good reason, people blamed the banks. When banks got help and no punishment, many Americans who had lost homes, cars, jobs, and even a lifetime’s work got rightfully angry. And for the next six years that anger brewed.

Sure we got the ACA, which to me will always be Romneycare as I first encountered in when I came back to the US in ’07 and lived in Massachusetts, but I know people who literally had to choose between insurance and food. Even the subsidies through the ACA were not enough. It depends, of course. When I came back to the US the second time, I used the ACA because I had no health care in my part time jobs. I paid a lot but got excellent coverage. My subsidy was about $500 a month, but since I literally paid more into the government in taxes than American Airlines, United Continental, and Hewlitt-Packard, and now it seems, President Trump, my conscience is clear. I have always paid every penny of taxes due, and I am willing to pay them to cover things like medical care and roads and so on.

So in spite of the ACA, we have millions of people who realized that they were unimportant to the government in spite of all its propaganda. Protecting the banks was protecting them, we were told, because if the big banks failed, the economy would suffer.

Well, you know what else is too big to fail? The United States of America. And failing we are.

We have a sitting president who is totally unfit for the job. Yes, he is a businessman who gets things done, (including bankrupting himself and many, many small businesses left in his wake) but countries are not businesses. It’s not about the bottom line. It’s about people’s lives. He has not divested himself from his businesses. He has named unfit people for almost every position in his Cabinet. Most are now in the position to make the very wealthy even wealthier. Many of them have outright conflicts of interest.

Many don’t know a thing about the departments they’ve been nominated to head. I could see Ben Carson as Attorney General. I wouldn’t like it, but the man is a physician. But as head of HHD? No experience. And don’t get me started on Betsy DeVos. As a career professor, I am appalled. I have been teaching students who have suffered at the hands of federal interference in education for decades. I’ve seen the steady decline in knowledge and skills. Not intelligence—preparedness. The thought of her policies literally makes me shudder. And I know the meaning of literal.

Ironically, in light of people’s growing fears of more wars, I think one of his best picks for a Cabinet position is Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense. While more hawkish than I’d like, he has the experience needed and is respected by folks in the Pentagon.

But the worst thing I see is the polarization between every day Americans. It’s been growing since the 2016 election cycle started, but instead of calming down, it’s getting worse. We are hating like we haven’t in a long while. We’re mean, petty, bitter, snide, personal, not only to people in government, but to one another.

We call each other names, generalize and stereotype. We’re more openly prejudiced than we have been in the past 50 years, not just against race but against one another based on political beliefs. I was never a fan of being “politically correct,” but I have always been a fan of trying not to offend people. I try to use non-gendered and people first language. I try to use the identifiers people prefer. To me, that’s just good manners and a fulfillment of the Golden Rule. Many quip that the new Golden Rule is “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Not a quip, the truth, and always has been the truth. But if we say we are the best country on earth, let’s treat each other with respect and humanity. Let’s act like the nicest people on earth. Bullying and hatred are not parts of greatness.

Don’t like someone’s choices? Think their life is a sin? Fine. But don’t curse them, threaten them, harm them or kill them. That’s not acceptable. And I’m not looking at one side or another or another here. I see people on ALL sides of the political spectrum acting unacceptably.

The true core values of our country, democracy, equality, and freedom, have eroded at a pace that frightens me. America is the only thing that’s too big to fail. And we are. America is an idea. And ideal, really. And because we are no longer living up to our ideals, because democracy was trampled on for decades, because corporations have the same rights as citizens, we’ve been a functional oligarchy for a long time. Equality in this country is a joke. Some lives are just worth less. Many see this on color lines, but I believe it’s more on wealth lines. The poor of this country have been abused, manipulated, lied to, and used as tools of the ruling powers since the beginning.

Race is also a problem. A middle class person of color does face stereotypes and prejudice. I am not unaware of the problem, and I’m not stupid. My own son identifies as “non-White” and has faced prejudice both from law enforcement and regular folks. But a poor white person has more problems and inherent difficulties than that middle class person of color. I live in a predominantly white place and the problems of poverty I see are only slightly different than the ones I saw in NYC. Drugs, poor education, lack of family structure (I’m not saying a traditional family is necessary, but when mom and dad are meth dealers, life is nowhere near normal), poor nutrition, poor medical care, and the list goes on.

This economic disparity, this racism, this throwback to “traditional Christian values” of intolerance and hatred for those who choose to live outside one’s ideas of Christianity, these are also seeds that led to Trump’s shocking victory.

Folks like to argue that race is the only reason he’s president, but that’s balderdash. Back in ’92, Bill Clinton’s famous campaign reminder was “it’s the economy, stupid” hasn’t changed these 24 years later. We allowed the oligarchy to grow, and now the White House has become the Palace of Versailles, especially the gilded New York White House in Trump Tower. Cronies and supporters are put into positions of power, regardless of ability, and dissent is harshly treated.

I’m not buying into Trump’s rhetoric of “make America great again.” It has needed work my entire life, but it’s always been a great country. Things are possible here. I am the daughter of a construction worker who earned a PhD. I have taught young people who have literally gone on to change the world, young people who grew up in poverty, or were immigrants, or were people of color, or all of the above. They are America. I love my country, and I love its people. We are what’s made America great, but America has failed too many because money rules.

Greed is not one of America’s values. We’re too great to fail, and this is something that needs to be addressed. I am not calling for communism. That was tried and failed in the USSR and China, among other places. I’m calling for competence in government, experts in charge of departments, not political cronies, corporations losing the rights of citizens, and support for measures that give a leg up. I’m calling for democracy to come back, unhindered by lobbyists, restrictive voting laws and outside manipulation, for freedom to come back through solid educations so that people can make good choices and for humans to live as they wish as long as they remember that their rights extend no further than the tip of their noses. That’s what I learned in 7th grade social studies. My rights are for me, and I can not force others to do what I think is right unless it’s something protected by the Constitution. And finally equality. No human being is born better than another. There is one race, the human race. Because of my personal beliefs, I believe we are all brothers and sisters, and I should treat you as I would a sibling. You may infuriate me, you may test me, but at the end of the day, I do love you. But you do not have to share my beliefs. Believe me, most people don’t as I don’t identify as any specific religion. But as members of the same race, we have to work together.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is my manifesto, I guess. We’re too big to fail. We’re an experiment in democracy that needs to backtrack a bit and see where we went wrong. I’m pretty sure I know where that was. Who will join me?

January 21, 2017

Childhood Flashbacks

As I have said many times on this blog, I am a child of the 60s. I was born in the opening months of 1961, and I have been blessed and cursed with a long memory. My earliest memories are of early 1963. I’ve been blessed and cursed with intelligence, so I was processing things faster than some of my peers. And right now, I’m having flashbacks to that era.

Unlike many people, I’m not a fan of nostalgia. The good old days weren’t all that good. My earliest childhood memories of the world are Vietnam, civil rights marches and abuses, National Guards shooting college students and the Cold War. Sure, I had fun playing with my friends, but my bestie and I discussed what we’d do when we learned the bomb was coming. We really thought there was a good chance we’d die. We were going to run to Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church and be near the statue of Mary if we couldn’t get into the church. These were serious conversations held by 8 year old girls.

We weren’t alone in those fears. Soviet children grew with fear, too. I know that my Swedish husband had no fond Cold War memories. Vietnamese children lived out many of our fears, of course. Bestie and I were relatively safe in our little New York City suburb.

Things changed. Vietnam ended, civil rights were almost fully codified into law, and the Wall came down. My fears died down, and I moved on to actively trying to change the world and keep the dream of a better world alive. So did my bestie, who after all these years is still my bestie and still fights for human rights and justice and a better America every day. We matured into True Believers and our 60s values of equality and justice for all races, creeds, colors and, a later addition, orientations have just grown stronger. We do not walk alone in this country, but there are far fewer of us than I’d like.

But everything old is new again. Today, the war has moved west to the Middle East, civil rights marches are still needed and happening, government authorities are still killing young people, and I actually saw the phrase Cold War 2 in print this week, written by a professional writer. Today talking to my adult son, I felt myself choking up when relating my flashbacks, because that’s what’s happening. The violence and hatred of that era is alive again. Much of what we fought for, and even in the 60s I fought, is gone.

Those childhood impressions run deep, and my childhood fears are reignited. But I am no child, and I know I must not only fight the fear but help the young ones, as well.

Today ushers in a new era, one that is terrifying me more than Reagan’s inauguration and later GW Bush’s. These are two presidents whose policies I believe harmed America. Lest you think me fully partisan, I also think President Obama’s financial policies harmed America. I shall miss him, but I wrote a fair share of letters of complaint to the White House during his tenure. But I fully believe all three men had a clear set of principles. Pragmatism, as well, and a too-large debt to the wealthy of this country, but principles. I admired them on some levels. OK, admire is strong, especially for GW Bush. Pity has always been the dominant emotion there. But while I feared what might happen, I never thought it a massive turning point in the history of my country. Obama’s election was historic and a great step in our country’s maturity, but I didn’t think it would bring a sea change.

But we have turned a corner and found ourselves back in the Gilded Age.  Almost. America in the Gilded Age had high wages, much higher than Europe, and that brought in waves of immigrants. Well, we do have higher wages than developing countries, which is bringing many immigrants, but wages for our middle class have dropped when adjusted for inflation. I know as a professor overseas, I made a comfortable wage. I’d never be rich, but I earned a wage that allowed me to work one job and use my summers for scholarship and learning new technology and methods of teaching. In the US, I’ve never held a college teaching job that has made that possible, and I’ve even had to turn down three positions because the salaries they were offering were literally not enough to live on in the urban areas the schools were in.

I’ve said it before. If we adjust for inflation, in America, I have yet to make an annual salary equal to what my father, the high school dropout, earned in the decade before he died in 1972. He was a heavy machine operator in NYC, a union man who helped build the original World Trade Center, the Verrazano Bridge, Madison Square Garden and countless New York skyrises. Yes, his job took skill. Yes, his job was dangerous—he operated the cranes up on the scaffolding—but my job takes skill, as well. And education. And in today’s world, it can be dangerous. I have been threatened with a beating by a screaming student (while pregnant), stalked for a while by another angry student, and threatened with murder by a very angry student. As an urban teacher, I’ve taught in schools where shootings have happened on the sidewalks outside our buildings and knife attacks have happened in the school.

And I’m not alone. One of my high school friends is a crackerjack secretary. Her grammar and spelling are above the level of the freshman I teach in college. She’s organized, professional and cool under pressure. Earlier generations of executive secretaries made good wages. She doesn’t. Many of my friends are teachers. Teachers are the lowest paid professionals in the country, and their pay has been stagnant for almost a decade. We have an education crisis because teacher burnout is so high and many people just can’t afford to stay in the profession. Even many of my lawyer and doctor friends aren’t making what they thought they’d make when they went into the professions.

These are the angry people who just want a square deal. But instead of Roosevelt (and I mean Teddy, the Republican, not his cousin, the Democrat), we now have as president Donald Trump.

I can’t tell the future. I don’t like the signs I see, but as the eternally optimistic idealist, I have hope. I’m trying not to worry because worry only makes us suffer twice. But I am concerned about my “kids.” In fact, I’m concerned about all kids. I don’t want any child anywhere growing up in fear. I’m worried about my country.

Today was a surreal day. I’ve avoided social media, only popping on for a few minutes before I left in disgust. Too much hate and nastiness from both sides. In remembrance of my 60s values, I wore my best tie dye.  I also wore my “courage” and “wisdom” bracelets, not because I think they give me anything, but as reminders that what we need are wisdom and courage so that this country that I love so much emerges from this dark period stronger and wiser than we’ve been since the beginning of this century.

January 13, 2017

Fasten Your Seatbelts…

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about politics, so I have to start today’s post with some backstory. Sit back and relax. This one’s been brewing for about a year. I’m gonna be wordy here.

The first time I came back to America to live it was 2007, and the country was gearing up for the 2008 election. I blogged quite a bit back then about that race. I was a Kucinich supporter, saw him speak on the campaign trail, spoke to the man myself and really believed in him. Didn’t think he had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the party nomination, but I’m a self-avowed idealist. The good thing about the primary elections in America is that we don’t have to vote strategically.

How the press marginalized that candidate showed me a lot about how things worked. When he finally quit the race, I moved on, reluctantly, to support Obama. His inexperience and relative youth (I’m 6 months older and knew I was too young to run America), were the major problems I had with him as a candidate. But I am much more left than right, as impossible as these labels are, so most times I’m gonna vote Blue on the national level.

I blogged those first four years, but by the time of the 2012 election, I was jaded. I don’t always agree with President Obama’s policies and choices, which is to be expected, and frankly, it is politics as usual in Washington. Gotta play the game. He did it well, but faced incredible racism and obstructionism. Anyone who says race wasn’t an issue must live in white bubble of ignorance about race and privilege. That’s not meant to be an insult. I geographically live in one now. There are so few people of color here that race issues aren’t “real” for most folks. Coming, as I do, from a large, multicultural city, I have a different perspective.

I’ve taught in poor New York City community colleges for many years. I’ve seen systematic, entrenched racism up close and personal, thanks. Those students are mine. I love them and want the best for them. The obstacles that are built in to block their success are things I take personally as well see as insults toward what I think my great country stands for. So to see it at the highest levels, while unsurprising, was enervating in a way.

I left the country again during Obama’s second term, and was thrilled that I wouldn’t have to be here for the 2016 election. I really didn’t see anyone I wanted to support, and being half a world away makes it a lot easier to avoid American politics. Unfortunately, I had to come back to the US to live. I love my country, but love being an ex-pat. And I was here for the worst political campaign in my memory.

Trillions of pixels have been spent talking about the divide in our country this past election exposed. My candidate didn’t win the nomination, but I switched over to HRC for expediency’s sake. She wasn’t who I wanted. Sorry, fellow feminists, but I don’t support women because they are women. HRC has done a lot for women, and she’ll go down in history, which I hope will be kinder to her than America has been, but she’s politically coming from a different place than I am.

But the prevailing Republican candidate made me wonder what had happened to my country. This was worse than 1980 when Reagan got the nomination. People joked that a bad actor had gotten the nomination, but at least the man had political experience—he’d been governor of one of our largest and richest states, one with a diverse population and warring needs. He had some experience, and while not a genius, he was no idiot. He had principles and morals and loved America with a strong patriotism. No one ever thought otherwise.

But this one? Our new POETUS? As a New Yorker, I’d been subjected to tabloid headlines about this man’s self-centeredness for the past 30 years. He’s shown himself to be sexist, racist and morally corrupt for decades.

He’s a master showman and an expert in smoke and mirrors, I’ll give him that. As good at creating a national fantasy as he was in creating the worlds designed in his casinos, places purposely constructed to keep reality at bay and fleece the suckers. No one ever beats the House. That’s a maxim as old as gambling dens themselves. He sells a dream and gives enough of a taste to build a need.

His promises to America will be as hollow as his promises to Atlantic City. He will suck out the life, destroy the middle class, make the poor poorer and increase crime. Don’t believe me? Look at Atlantic City today. Ask people from there. The casinos promised prosperity. They created it, too, and it was sucked out by the owners who lived anywhere but Atlantic City. Organized crime moved in with its drugs and its prostitution, its corruption. But today, organized crime is the least of America’s worries.

This is a man who has never shown the smallest amount of compassion for his fellow humans, who calls heroes stupid, and glorifies the worst traits of this nation: ignorance, self-glorification, anti-intellectualism, false piety and self-aggrandization.

I don’t actually hate him, though. I pity him. Because while he’s a master showman, he doesn’t run this circus. I truly believe he’s the tool of masterminds, people much better at the game of manipulation than he is. He’s so out of his depth, he even looks lost. He’s not the first US president to have “handlers,” or even a power behind the throne. But I do believe he’s the first to be handled by a foreign power. He’s a puppet. A bold, brash, self-serving puppet, but a puppet in the hands of people so much smarter, so much more in control of themselves and their actions, that our country is in the worst danger it’s been in years.

Rumors about sexual peccadillos and pettiness? Smoke and mirrors. Thirty years of poor education has created an American voting populace with no critical thinking skills. If you’ve read my writing, you know I’ve been singing this song for the past 10 years. A large percentage of American college graduates cannot tell the difference between a fact and an opinion. And they are the “educated” ones. Many Americans don’t know how to find reliable information on the internet. 

Another problem is that our press is no longer free. It’s in the hands of too few controllers.  On top of that problem, reporters too often see themselves as the shapers of news narratives instead of the people tasked with reporting it. The job title kind of says it all.  In Journalism 101, I learned rule one of writing a news story: get verification. Have none of today’s reporters even watched All the President’s Men much less read it? Woodstein went to great lengths to verify, verify, verify. Ben Bradlee, where are you when we need you?

The salacious bits become the focus, comedians mock the politicians (which is part of their job) then the reporters pick up the jokes as news. It’s an endless cycle that leaves many Americans morally outraged or entertained depending on their worldview yet unaware of what’s really happening. The American press has been a weapon of mass distraction for going on two decades now.

Sadly, over three years ago, I wrote about how the American people had to rise up and take control again.  And someone else sensed this need, this anger, this frustration, and tapped into it. An “outsider” who was relatively new to politics, though he had run for president before. A showman, quite literally, who is an expert at “give the people what they want.” But this time, unlike his 2000 run, he had expert backing. Millions and millions of angry, frightened people flocked to his campaign.

Folks who decried the “softening” of America enjoyed his taunts, his violence, his hate, his pettiness. Here was a tough man who put women in their place, knew that “retarded” was an all-purpose taunt, and didn’t take shit from no one. And he was a TV star! He made them laugh and always gave a good show. He didn’t rely on boring facts to make a point. He echoed their desires with his pithy soundbites.

He probably wouldn’t have won if it weren’t for some help from people who needed a puppet in the White House. This man’s narcissism played into their hands perfectly. There were plenty of other, more qualified Republican candidates—one of them surely should have gotten the nod. Ted Cruz was more experienced. And he also had the “angry outsider” schtick down pat.  Marco Rubio was more photogenic and appealed to many of my students. Why not them? Was it just the will of the American people? How long has outside influence been at work? Frankly, I didn’t think the poor Republicans had much of a choice going in, but their ultimate choice surprised many.

So now, instead of healing, the crack is getting wider.  Over 65 million Americans out of 200 million registered voters are terrified about what will happen next week. Another 63 million are mostly jubilant (though like Brexit voters last year, there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse being reported). And 80 million registered voters didn’t bother to vote, so who knows what’s up with them.

We’re in for a bumpy ride. I do believe there are ethics violations already in place. The word treason is also not too strong for me. Others, with more powerful voices, agree with me. We wonder what will be done.

Unfortunately, I’m a scholar, far too familiar with history not to have some uncomfortable moments. Things I see happening in my nation’s capital have me deeply concerned and writing my representatives. As I live in a Red State, I know this is like spitting into the wind, but like I said, I’m an idealist.

I will be blogging in the future. Change is coming. Real change. Often terrible change. I tell my students I want them to use their voices. I have one to use, and I will.

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