The Broad is Back!

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?

November 29, 2013

Can We Reverse the Trend?

Right before I left school on Wednesday, I was helping a student with her classwork.  She’s only been in America two years–coming from China with her family for a better life.  As we were packing up I asked if her family would be celebrating Thanksgiving.

She brightened right up and happily exclaimed, “Oh yes! My mother will make the traditional turkey tomorrow and then we will join the traditional shopping on Friday!”  My heart cracked a little, but I had to go to another class.  I didn’t correct her. She seemed so happy that her family was being “American” for a few days.

Black Friday, a term from business turned against consumers to now whip them into a shopping frenzy. Taking advantage of Black Friday deals has become *the* thing to do the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, the masters of manipulation have brainwashed our society so well that we now start the madness on Thanksgiving night itself.  No more a day off for people to share with their families and friends. To feast, to gather, to rest. Now people must eat then go into work for a late night shift.

One friend in retail went in to work for 9PM last night then has to do a double shift today.  This retail job is her second job, too. The one she had to take to help meet expenses of college for her children.  Sure, she’s getting paid, but the company she works for is the one really making the killing.

Corporations have convinced us that Black Friday means great sales.  Take a look at prices and you’ll see that’s a lie. Oh sure, there may be one or two door buster specials, but that’s about it.  Google it. Consumer advocates publish articles every year saying this. It’s not just my anecdotal evidence.

And I know many people have to shop for holiday gifts, but does it all have to be done a month ahead? And why all today? How much of today’s frenzy is a manufactured need spurred on by clever manipulators, skilled in human psychology? My nine year old niece made a passing complaint yesterday about all the Black Friday advertising she’s been seeing, and she doesn’t even have a television in her home!

I rarely use my own television, but every time I open my email, there’s another “Black Friday Special” junk mail. Every site I visit with advertising has ads for today.  It’s revolting.

When I left America in 1995, Black Friday was just starting to be a “thing” that was being strongly marketed, but it was no where near “tradition” level.  And on Thanksgiving itself, hardly anything was open.  Forget something for the dinner table? Oh well, you’re probably going without unless you spotted it by 2PM. I remember spending 40 minutes one year looking for something my mother forgot. My grandmother liked it, so off I went only to find one lone deli open that was getting ready to close minutes after I left.

But when I came back to the US in 2007, it was to the land of Black Friday madness and instant gratification.  It’s horrendous.

When I lived in Europe, one of the things that drove me slightly batty at times was the store hours. Stores had certain hours, and when they were closed, that’s all she wrote. In Switzerland, the strictest place, stores were closed on Sunday all day and closed at 5:00PM Saturday evening.  But we knew that was the system.

People had all day Sunday off to spend with family and relax.  For all its rules, I think the quality of our family life in Switzerland was the best it ever was.  Every Sunday we went to a museum, the park,  the lake or for a family stroll. Restaurants and the big museums were opened, so some people were working, but because the shops were closed, I was forced to get the errands done beforehand giving me time with my family on Sunday.

Switzerland, for all its wealth, was not a retail mad country, and no one was urging us to BUY BUY BUY.

Can we here in the US reverse this trend? Can we be “unprogrammed” to rush to the stores early on “Black Friday” to buy, buy, buy, emptying our pockets into the corporate maw and depleting our own stores of happiness?

I think so, or frankly I wouldn’t be writing, would I? Resist.  As a nation we must learn that we are being manipulated and used by corporations.  More and more I’m seeing this, and it’s breaking my heart.

And I know some people think of shopping as a hobby, but I have never heard one person talk about the pleasure of shopping on Black Friday. They complain of the crowds, the crush, the tempers, the surliness, the lack of parking.  After a lovely, relaxing day, why subject one’s self to that?

Want a tip from someone who hates shopping (I love giving the gifts, but I hate the actual shopping part and always have)? Early morning Saturday the week after Black Friday is a totally different experience. I went into Macy’s when it opened and had the place practically to myself.  It was still three weeks before Christmas, so I wasn’t too frantic, and the crowds had spent their money the week before.  Lesson learned.

I have friends who are happily out shopping today, and that’s their decision. I refrain, mostly out of my hatred for the manipulation, but in part because of my abhorrence of crowds and long lines.

If you shop today, though, all I ask is that you do it mindfully not because you were brainwashed. And please, please please treat the workers politely, Many have given up family time to help you and far too many people are rude and nasty. Kindness costs nothing, and really, truly is the American way.

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