The Broad is Back!

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.

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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.

September 11, 2013

Remembering Once Again

The title of my blog, The Broad is Back, comes from the fact that once upon a time, when I lived overseas, I wrote a weekly essay called A Broad Abroad.  A large part of the impetus for that blog was the 9/11 attacks. I’d been living abroad for six years at that point, and no other thing in that time made me feel more alien or more homesick than the attack on New York (and Washington and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, but I’m a New Yorker. My dad was a construction worker on the Twin Towers. I’m partial, I must say,)  The first Broad essay went out on September 11, 2002.

So because of this, I really wanted to post today.  Last night the president addressed the nation about the situation in Syria. As one tweeter mentioned, he was addressing a “war weary nation.” so he’s garnering less support than he’d like for a military option.  I’ve written about my ideas on Syria earlier in the month.

Last night, in response to a tweet of mine about how bombing wasn’t going to help the situation, a friend whose opinions and mind I respect, asked “but are we supposed to ignore it?”

My facebook wall answer was “We ignore plenty that goes on in the Middle East. Atrocities happen all the time. Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds living in Iraq in 1989 and we ignored it just fine because he was our ally then. We cherry pick what we (as a nation) react to instead of giving a concerted unified reaction of “this is not acceptable behavior”. Up to last summer Assad was being treated as a friendly ally by the West, even invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queen’s Golden. Some people complained, but most people ignored it. And I do believe if we’re gonna have a UN, we need to let the UN work. The problem is, the UN has no authority, so it’s basically failing its mission. Great IDEAL, lousy reality. The Syrian people, who are the ones being attacked by Assad, don’t want an American military strike. I do think what they want should count if we’re ostensibly helping them.”

To another friend I responded, “Not saying they aren’t worth the uproar. It [the gassing] is wrong. But why start publicizing dead children NOW? They have been being killed for a while. And why is it America’s problem? Why not defer to the UN? Oh, yeah, because the UN has no authority, legal or moral. Why all of a sudden is this a US security problem?  Every Syrian I speak to, who all have or had families on the ground in Damascus, does not want military intervention in terms of bombing. They are terrified that it will make things worse. And since they are on the front lines, in their own country, don’t they get a say? Or is the US so paternalistic that we know what’s best for everyone? Assad feels confident because he’s gotten away with it for so long.”

So basically, that’s my take on the situation. I find I’m much less censored on facebook than I am here. But I’m feeling tired and disgusted with the government’s hypocrisy. It ignores bad things until it is expedient to address them. Realpolitik, but wrong.

But how does this all tie in with 9/11? Well, it’s all inextricably linked, of course.  The idea of a military strike right now is abhorrent to me. But I’m one person, but I’m one person with a pen, metaphorically speaking, and I’m gaining the confidence I need to share ideas.

But what I really want to talk about today is not the future, but healing the past. In fact, what follows is mostly what I wrote on my “crunchy granola” blog. I try to keep that apolitical, but I am who I am. Opinionated and trying to pay attention.  BUt for me, the healing is more important.

“It’s when we start working together that the real healing takes place… it’s when we start spilling our sweat, and not our blood.” ~David Hume

From the building I teach in, I can see the construction of the new Freedom Tower in New York City. I walk through a construction zone in the bottom of the old World Trade Center to reach my train.

Sweat is spilled every day. Downtown New York is being rebuilt from the ground up, even more shiny and bold than before. This is what’s bringing healing to many. Not the talk, not the debates. The reconstruction.

People like me can not not remember. Even though I lived abroad 12 years ago, I am still a New Yorker. It was all too close to home.

I had a friend, someone I baby sat when he was a boy, who worked in the Pentagon. At the American Church in Geneva, which I attended. our priest’s brother was missing.  All too close to home.

I had students from America and some from Saudi Arabia in the same class. They were all terrified. The memories of the next day are actually more poignant to me than the first day. First we had shock, but then we had aftermath, even in Geneva. Students far from families needed mothering more than teaching.

What I remember best are the hugs. There were so many hugs. Barriers were broken because hugs were needed. Faculty hugged students, co-workers hugged one another, friends clung a little tighter.  I remember the shock and fear, but I remember the love best of all.  For me, that was the overwhelming reaction.

Oh, there were a few ugly incidents, but they were overshadowed by the positive.  Love started the healing process, and it continues.  There is still a nasty, nasty scar, but the healing is in process.

Someday people will forget. Impossible, people tell me. But I teach. I ask my students every December 7th, “what’s today”? Most have no idea.  I mention Pearl Harbor and they say, “oh, yeah, I learned that in school.” So they remember, eventually, but the healing is pretty much complete.  The youngest of those who were alive and old enough to remember are close to 80 now. Within two decades, there will be no living memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Because I teach so close to Ground Zero, on the day itself I used to have students write a narrative of their memories.  At first students loved this. They were a little edgy being there, and many said they found it cathartic.  But  I stopped two years ago because the essays I got were mostly variations of, “I don’t remember much, but I was in my second grade class.”  For my current students, it’s just something the grownups talked about.

So today in America we remember. But we are healing, which is the most hopeful thing of all.

August 30, 2013

And So We Sit and Wait

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” ~George Orwell, 1984

The events in this prescient novel written in 1949 were to have happened almost 30 years ago.  While the dystopia of the novel is not yet fully blown, I read these words, and I want to weep. In my country, ignorance has become strength and war may as well be peace for so many people appear unperturbed that we’ve been in a constant state of war since 2001.

I remember exactly where I was when news of the first airstrikes against Afghanistan broke. I was in a church. It was in Switzerland, and I was with a room of mostly women from many different countries, predominantly American and British, but from all over the world.  “Viet Nam” was muttered by more than one person, and I thought, “No, not again. It couldn’t.”

Just a month earlier we’d faced 9/11. Many of my students were seriously frightened that they had just seen the start of WWIII. But when the Afghanistan War started, they were no longer afraid. They were angry.

Just two years later, I was in a different country, Sweden, when the Iraq War started. Let’s just say that reaction in Sweden was far from positive. I don’t have pleasant memories of that time. Sometimes when tempers flared, people would forget that I am not the US government, nor am I even a representative of the government. Water under the bridge.

But again, WWIII was mentioned in passing.

And now we wait and watch what will happen in Syria. More than one person has mentioned WWIII, as if another World War is inevitable. As if “the war to end all wars” never happened. Oh wait. Never mind. Not counting the Cold War, the US was embroiled in another war five short years after WWII ended.

My tone is may sound bitter today, but I’m actually not feeling bitter. I’m feeling sad. I’m an unrepentant child of the 60s and early 70s. I do believe all that peacenik stuff people called “Commie”.  It’s out of fashion now, but as John Lennon, a powerful voice in the peace movement, said, “If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliche that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal.”  But we seem to have lost our way, John.

These days, I teach many vets and even active service people. I have nothing but the utmost respect for them.  They don’t start the wars. They just fight them. As Gen. Doulgas MacArthur said, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”  I mostly agree with him, of course. My soldiers write things to me that break my heart. They tell me what they’ve seen, what they’ve done, what they’ve experienced. I can not even imagine, but I am privileged to carry their stories. If I can relieve their burden one iota, I will do it gladly.  One student wrote to me: “I like reading poetry in your class because it’s the only time the guns in my head stop.”  I would read poetry with him for hours if I could.

But of course, it’s the civilians I worry about. War is cruel. A student this morning told me of a bombing near a Syrian school.  Children.  But children have always had the worst of war.  Still, things have been insane and dangerous in Syria for too long now, and something has to change.

So this compounds my sadness. The peacenik, the mostly pacifist, can’t see a way to calm things. Do I think attacking Syria will help? No.  But this is too big for me. I can’t think.  But I can pray, which is what I seem to do best these days.

The UK House of Commons voted to not support a military intervention in Syria, and I’m wondering whether the US Congress will have the same opportunity.  According to an article on CNN, “More than 160 members of Congress, including 63 Democrats, have now signed letters calling for either a vote or at least a ‘full debate’ before any U.S. action.”  But Congress is in recess until September 9th. Yes, I can see the White House waiting till they are all back. Yes. Sure.

This situation is changing rapidly.  So we sit and wait and see. And nothing is worse than waiting.

July 14, 2013

National Anger

I’m watching the maelstrom of anger, sadness, disappointment and frustration on social media since last night’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial. The reaction was expected, of course, especially by anyone who remembers the response to the Rodney King beating trial verdict and the fear following the OJ Simpson verdict.

I’m glad to see that things are peaceful–well, perhaps peace isn’t the proper word, but non-violent.

My comment on Twitter last night was to repeat the old Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr quote, “this is a court of law…not a court of justice.”  In his address to the nation today, President Obama said something similar: “we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”

That’s what they do. Was it overt racism, bad prosecution, good defense? Who knows? I didn’t follow the trial testimony for the same reason I don’t follow many of the sensational trials splashed on television and the news outlets.  While the death of a teen is lamentable, while vigilante justice is wrong, in the big picture, the US has worse things to worry about. Teens get killed every day for stupid, stupid reasons. Most of the time, the rest of America doesn’t notice.  But every once in a while, a trial will catch the nation’s attention.

Deep in my heart, I believe that when this happens, corporations and government heave a sigh of relief. Another weapon of mass distraction to help keep people from paying attention.

It’s not that I’m callous. In fact, it might be a little too close to home. I deplore the entire situation, and as a mother, as someone who teaches and loves the many young black men (and Latino, and Asian, and White) I teach, my heart breaks.

In my own family I’ve seen the anguish of the mother, grandmothers and aunts when the woman who killed my cousin and damaged his brother so badly he lives with pain every day got off with a slap on the wrist. It broke their hearts once again.  His father, grandfathers, brother, and uncles were shattered as well, but it’s the mother love that speaks most closely to my heart.  But the entire family felt stripped of justice.  It’s been years and there’s still anger.

I pray that Trayvon Martin’s family will find peace in their hearts, because I have seen the damage done to a family like his up close.

George Zimmerman will have to live with his actions for the rest of his life. I also pray that he realizes the enormity of what he’s stolen from the world. I pray that he turns his evil to good somehow. But that’s for time to tell.

In the meantime, I just feel sad and hope is hard to find. The fact that the streets are not burning is a good sign, I think.

But perhaps this is one more straw in the camel’s basket.

 

November 1, 2012

Voter ennui

When I came back to America mid-2007, within months I was smack in the middle of a presidential election. It started with primaries, building to a fever pitch in November. I had been away for three elections, it had been a strange 12 years, and I was raring to be involved. This blog on being an expat got temporarily hijacked as I wrote about watching and participating in the process after so long. This year? Not a peep. And I’ve decided it’s ennui.

There’s a lot said in the country about voter apathy. I am not apathetic. I do care; I care far too much, and as a result I am experiencing “a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety.”  And not satiety in a good way. It’s the surfeit of politicking that has done me in.

America has become so polarized, so mean-spirited, that there are very few people I care to discuss politics with. Make that dare to. Vitriol, hate, venom and absolutes are the order of the day. It’s disgusting.

Sometimes I agree with ideas on both sides. Sometimes I want to say, “I agree, but…” but there is never time to finish the thought. As soon as I start “I agree” the fireworks start.

A lot of the talk is disrespectful and downright childish. So many times I want to say, “what are you? Eight?”  I don’t, but I’m thinking it.  So instead, I am just quiet.

I’ve become completely convinced that the system needs a complete overhaul. A Constitutional Amendment level overhaul. The days of the two-party system have got to end.  There are over 300 million people in this country and around 220 million of them are eligible to vote.  Two parties–two people–representing that many people is just impossible.  Oh, sure, there are small parties. Good old Wikipedia lists five major parties: Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, Constitution.  It also lists 33 minor parties.  So that’s 38 parties in the US, and for 220 million, that’s better.  But we all know there are only two viable parties.  And if I were to cast my presidential vote for even one of the “major” party candidates who was not Obama or Romney, I’d be “wasting” my vote.

If I even said the names Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or Virgil Goode, who would recognize them? (I had to google for Goode’s name!)  I’ve explored Johnson and Stein’s candidacies, but I’ve realized, I need to play it safe.  As a New Yorker, I’m probably “okay” voting my conscience but I probably won’t.  I’m still up in the air about it.  I’ll see how I feel Tuesday.

Oh, I will vote. I always vote. It was drummed into my head as a child that we vote.  And I’m paying attention.  I just don’t want to talk about it, and I don’t want to hear about it, either.

But I am calling for an end of the two party system, an end to the antiquated Electoral College and more intellect and less emotion in American politics.  The first two can happen through Constitutional Amendments.  The last? An act of God, perhaps.

May 6, 2011

Nice to know humans don’t change

Yesterday I wrote about the death of bin Laden. Do I believe he’s dead? Of course. Do I need a picture? No, and frankly, I don’t want one. I don’t think they should be released not because they might upset Muslims and incite terrorists. I don’t want them released because it will upset me.  My high school history textbook had a small black and white photo of Mussolini hanging by his feet. It still haunts me. Pictures of lynched African-American men in America’s south haunt me. So a close-up color shot of a high-powered rifle bullet to the head? I’ll pass.

And frankly, people who want to doubt are going to doubt. Even if the photos are released, and the president has vowed not to release them, there will be those who cry “Photoshop”. So really, releasing them isn’t necessary.

The kill has been confirmed by Al-Qaeda itself. I don’t really think Al-Qaeda cares about Obama’s approval ratings. I don’t think its leadership has an interest in making the US look “good”.  Of course, my mind can do paranoid and conspiracy as well as the next guy’s. Maybe bin Laden is still alive, and well, the US is lying to make itself look good and Al-Qaeda is lying to reenergize itself. They haven’t been as popular as late, you know. They had no role in the liberation movements that have been happening throughout the Middle East. This is a perfect way to drum up support, having their leader be “dead”. But truly, I don’t think so.

Conspiracy theories have been around as long as there have been people. Do governments lie? Yes. Can governments be fully trusted? No. Should they? No. But does that mean everything that a government does is bad because, by definition, governments are evil and everything said is a lie? No.

During war, bad things happen. Soldiers are trained to kill and are rewarded for doing it well.  Decisions are made in less than an instant and unless I was there, I am not going to second guess a soldier’s actions in the heat of an attack. As George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay “Notes on Nationalism,” “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.” I don’t like that uncomfortable truth, but there it is. I live in a world in which violence is used by nations on a regular basis. As an idealist, I wish that weren’t so. But as a thinking human, I know it is. I can work to change it, but in the meantime, battles rage.

Do I question the legality of the raid? Yes. The US did violate another country’s sovereignty to carry it out.  Do I understand the realpolitik thinking behind the decision?  Of course. I do think the US should be above reproof not because it’s the US and what it does is inherently “right,” but because its actions are right and proper indeed. On the other hand, this “War on Terror” has changed the art of war . No longer are the combatants clearly defined. War against a thing and not a nation? How can this work? Obviously not well, at all. But the world is changing, so the rules of war are changing as well.  How can the old rules work when the board and players are radically different?

And humans like to think we’ve changed, too. We  are civilized and compassionate. We have learned much about violence and how it’s a bad thing. Yet we still want the world “safe for democracy”. We want our peaceful comfortable lives. We want to “fight the good fight”. As long as no one dies, is injured, is damaged in any way.   People want Al-Qaeda gone. They want the terrorism to end. We send soldiers to fight, searching for the terrorists and those soldiers die or are injured. And people are shocked.  What part of “going to war brings death” are they confused about, I wonder.

We are constantly shocked and outraged about “women and children” and “innocent civilians” being killed during attacks. I don’t want to see children killed, or women, or civilian men, but since when is it a surprise that it happens? Once upon a time wars might have been taken place in battles outside a town or city on a field, but even when the fighting was mostly hand-to-hand, civilians got caught in the crossfire.  Children went to battle on a regular basis. If family legend is true, my own great-grandfather was in the Crimean war at the age of 10, sent as a bugler, but still on the battlefield. 

I am not saying these deaths are right or are to be accepted. What I’m saying is why the shock? What do we expect? A bloodless war?

We want it all–all the benefits of war without the drawbacks. This would be great if we could figure out how to stop human beings from resorting to war, but we can’t. Why? Because human nature doesn’t really change.

May 5, 2011

We live in interesting times

After I had gone to bed on Sunday, I got a text message. Grumbling at inconsiderate students, I decided it would be best to check it since I was mostly awake.

“Osama bin Laden is dead. Prez about to speak” read the text from my sister.

I immediately put on the computer and the TV and called my son out to watch.  And history unfolded itself in front of my eyes for the second time in a weekend, but this was much more somber news.  I’ve been meaning to write about it since it happened, but I have no time. I work 70 hours a week, sometimes more. Leaves little time for thinking much less writing.

So many emotions. I teach many vets and active service people, so my first thoughts went to them. Maybe they weren’t part of the raid, but they played their roles in the War on Terror.  I have students who are in Afghanistan, so of course I worry but my overwhelming emotion was pride–I’m proud to be their teacher because they are the best. All of them have volunteered to face a danger most of us cannot conceive of ever facing, and while they are at it, they earn their college degree.

I watched the president’s speech. I liked it. I followed Twitter. I was disgusted by tasteless jokes and impressed by deep thoughts that can be conveyed in 140 characters. The talking heads came on right after the speech, and I pretty much tuned them out. The 24/7 news cycle has destroyed thought in this country, at least, probably elsewhere, as well.  

Because I live in NYC, local news programs had many of the WTC victim’s family members. Each one spoke movingly. Almost all said this was a time for somber reflection not jubilation, a sentiment I share.  I watched till 1AM, but since I get up at 6, I soon had to force myself to bed.

The next morning, reaction in my classroom was mixed. Relief, joy, fear, disinterest, disbelief.  As a whole, I think that matched the rest of the country.

Today President Obama came to NYC to visit Ground Zero. He also visited a fire station in my neighborhood that lost every man on duty that morning.

All week I’ve been wanting to write, but now when I’ve carved out a little time to do so, nothing is coming. Sitting here I realize I feel numb, and I don’t know why. I think in part it’s attributable to this being the last two weeks of classes, so work has become intense. I’m tired from a year of teaching, exhausted from having to work three jobs to survive. I’ve come to the conclusion that while it’s a good sense of closure for the families that bin Laden is dead, I’m far more concerned with America’s crumbling economy and wealth inequity, and to be honest, my own state of underemployment for the past three years.

I have two students facing eviction next week–just in time for finals. Many of my students have just learned that due to budget cuts they won’t be able to finish their degrees on time.  They are more real to me than someone a half a world away.

There is much to think about, of course, and for someone who sincerely cares about America, this numbness is a frightening, much more frightening than any terrorist threat.  

 I know I’m not saying anything of value here, but I couldn’t let this momentous event pass uncommented upon. I couldn’t come back in a few weeks and write about something without pausing to at least mention something so important here in America. 

Good riddance to bin Laden.

September 10, 2009

Good one, Mr. President. Will people listen?

Last night, President Obama gave a 40 minute speech to the Congress making a plea for his health care plan and vowing to be the last President to deal with the crisis.

Overall, the president kicked some Congressional butt, called liars liars and cleared up the confusion that has reigned for many Americans, myself included.  This is the first time I feel like I have a clear picture of what is being proposed.

He clearly listed the points of his proposals and pointed out the lies and rumors put about by the competition.

He even told us the projected cost of the project over the next 10 years–$900 billion.  Sounds like a lot, but “less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration.”

He also warned that he won’t “waste time” on political games nor will he allow fear mongers to muddy the waters.  It was encouraging to see a show of backbone from him.  Too many times in the recent months it’s looked like the president was holding back from showing his mettle.

He ended the speech quiet brilliantly by reminding Americans of what makes us Americans:

One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and, yes, sometimes angry debate. That’s our history.

He quoted a letter from Teddy Kennedy and mentioned how some Americans thought Kennedy had a passion for big government for the sake of big government.  But the president countered that Kennedy’s motivation was always based in a large-heartedness–a concern and care for others, and that’s something shared by all Americans:

That large-heartedness — that concern and regard for the plight of others — is not a partisan feeling. It’s not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character — our ability to stand in other people’s shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

When put like that, it makes anyone fighting against health care reform look mean-spirited.

And the president was careful to give credit to Republicans on more than one point–to John McCain for his ideas, to the Bush Administration, to the Republican party’s push for limiting malpractice claims.

I’m sure some of my Republican friends may beg to differ, but I thought he tried hard to make this look like a bipartisan effort blocked by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum–the difference being that the people on the Left were called “progressives” instead of Democrats–though, yes, I admit, the Republicans took more hits than the Progressives.  Of course, that’s Washington for you.

But his point is that Democrats and other people on the Left holding out for national health or nothing are also jeopardizing the chances for health care reform.

For those who missed it, the NY Times has posted an interactive video of the speech along with transcript and commentary here.

One major drawback for me was that there was too much self-applause and self-congratulation on the part of Congree for my tastes.  Too many standing ovations, especially since nothing has been done yet.

Clap when the job seekers have jobs, when the businesses thrive, when the homeowners don’t default on their mortgages, not when the government promises to help.  Clap when we have some meaningful reform on the health care issue.

I do understand that speeches to Congress are political theater.  No one was standing because he or she supports the President.  It’s theater for the voters back home.  “See me stand?  This is good.  See me sit and scowl? This is bad.” This is all part of the political game, and it has been since the very first Congress convened, but it’s tiresome.

Of course, Rep Joe Wilson probably shot himself in the foot with his outburst of “You lie.” He broke protocol beyond the Pale, and what’s worse, he’s wrong.

It’s quite clear from this blog’s past posts that I do support President Obama, but I like to flatter myself by thinking that I’m not a blind follower–I listen, I weigh his words, I think for myself.  And I encourage all of my readers to do the same.  It’s the American way, after all.

As the president pointed out, “Our collective failure to meet this challenge — year after year, decade after decade — has led us to the breaking point.” And I think Americans are at a breaking point, at least when it comes to patience with this matter.

But the facts are scary. “We are the only democracy — the only advanced democracy on Earth — the only wealthy nation — that allows such hardship for millions of its people. There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage.”

We are a wealthy nation. Some people call us a Christian nation.  Do wealthy people, people who call themselves Christian, allow others to go without health care?

Well, yes, obviously.  People are afraid to give up the freedom that the president talked about.  They are more afraid of paying more money or losing insurance benefits they already have.  Thirty million people sounds like a lot, but it’s less than 10% of the population.  That means 90% of Americans do have health care.  Put like that, it doesn’t sound too bad.

But 30 million is a lot, percentages bedamned. And to stop change, people have been reverting to fear mongering and lies–the worst of Washington, as the president noted.

But what we’ve also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have towards their own government. Instead of honest debate, we’ve seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.

Hopefully people watched or listened to the speech, or at least paid attention to some of the commentary.  Technically speaking, it was a good speech.  As a former public speaking teacher, I’d give it an A.

But at the end, it was just a speech. Nothing is set in stone.  The proposals for bills are just that–proposals.  The fate of American health care reform drags on.

January 22, 2009

Oh Happy Day! The Torture is ending!

Filed under: New Broads,Obama,patriotism,politics,torture,Uncategorized — by maggiec @ 11:16 pm

Tuesdays events were historic, but today’s were almost as  important. President Obama signed executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay prison camp and to stop waterboarding along with other tortures. God bless the man!

America was a great country and will be great again, but for too many years now we’ve been behaving in a morally reprehensible manner.  Because this is my country and I love it fiercely, I hold it to a higher standard.  And if we say we are fighting the good fight, we have to behave properly.  Breaking the Geneva Conventions is wrong.  Torture is wrong.

I have no sympathy for terrorists.  As long as the spirits and accomplishments of  Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  live, no one on earth can convince me of the need for terrorism.  Over the years, in many arguments, people have tried to tell me that oppressed people have no other choice.  That is just wrong.  Yes, I know that there are millions of politically wronged people on this earth, but I will never condone terrorism.  So contrary to my more radically conservative relatives’ claims, I’m not a “bleeding heart liberal”.  Really, I’m not.  I’m not against torture because it’s bad for the tortured.  I’m against it because it’s bad for the torturer.  When someone tortures a prisoner in the name of the United States, it weakens my country.

Finally, we have a president who understands that.

I know that torture works.  I’m quite aware of that fact, and knowing me, if I thought I could save a family member by torturing someone, I’d do it in a heart beat.  But I know I would dehumanize myself in the process.  Something in me would die, and I would be in the wrong.  Expedient, but wrong.

But I am an individual.  My actions are between me and my God.  The United States is a different case.  We can’t tell other countries not to torture, tell them to give prisoners due process of the law, and then turn around and break the same rules ourselves.

According to today’s story in CNN, “The president said he was issuing the order to close the facility in order to ‘restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.'”

About the order banning torture, Obama said, “This is me following through … on an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy but also when it’s hard.”

This is a hard decision, but it’s a great one.  Thank you, Mr. President.

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