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?

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 7, 2012

Is it all over but the shouting? Reality bites

Victory went to Obama last night, as everyone is sure to know by now.  I knew when people outside my apartment building starting hooting and hollerin’. I was working against a midnight deadline, so I quickly checked CNN online, told my son the result, and went back to work.

I was hoping that once the election happened, it would end: the sniping, the nastiness, the general eight-year-old behavior.  Ever the optimist, that’s me.  I had “sworn off” Facebook for NaNoWriMo but between disseminating Sandy information and the election, it’s been difficult.  Today I just realized how easy it will be.

A big question of the election was “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” No. No I am not. I am actually slightly worse off. So I should have voted for Romney with that logic, but then he has a pretty negative view of public education, and I teach for a city university, so that probably would not be in my interest.

Job creation is “goal #1”. Sure. Who is going to create university jobs? Universities have discovered the joy that is “contingent faculty”. We’re replaceable cogs in a wheel, hired when there’s need.  There’s always need. In all of the places I teach, contingent faculty out number full time faculty.  We’re cheaper. So I work for three different schools. I teach the equivalence of one and a half full time positions and get paid less than a full timer.

Logic dictates I leave my profession. I’m trying.  After 23 years as a university professor, as an award winning teacher of excellence, I’m trying as hard as I possibly can to find a full time job.  Thanks to misconceptions about my profession, I’m not having much luck.  And I really don’t see how the president of the United States is going to help with that.

Somber thoughts.  Four years ago, I felt more hopeful, I admit. But then I’d only been back in the US for a little over a year.  I hadn’t realized then that moving back to my home country had been a mistake.

I never thought I’d leave the US to live overseas, but when I graduated with my PhD, I couldn’t find a job.  Things were hard in the profession, I was a single mom, and I thought, “what the hell?”  So off I went.  I almost came back three years later, but then I fell in love and married a European and moved there.  But then things happened, and I ended up back here. At the time, I wanted to return. It was good to be back with my family and friends.  

But the quality of life I had in other countries, no matter how dire things were (and at times they were dire indeed), was almost always better than my life here. This breaks my heart.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so somber lately. So sad, really.  I’ve realized that I cannot live successfully in my own country.  It’s not that I’m bad at my job. I turn down part time work every term since I can only teach so many classes according to union rules.  But I can’t find that elusive full time position.

I’m giving it another seven months. Then who knows? The Broad might be abroad again.

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.

May 16, 2010

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Everyone doesn’t need college!

For years, I’ve been saying that college isn’t for everyone. No one should be denied a college education based on race, creed, gender, class or sexual orientation, but no one should go just “because” it’s the thing to do. When I worked for the City University of New York in the 90s, I saw many students who would have been better served somewhere else, and many who were underserved in college because I was spending a disproportionate amount of time on the others. When I talked about this with some colleagues I was called elitist.

Then I moved to countries where not everyone got to go to college. Often university educations at public schools were free, but students had to earn a place through hard work. And if they didn’t make university, there were other paths that led to good jobs and respect in society. My view that Americans vest far too much in university educations was confirmed.

And sadly, now that I’m back in the US, teaching for a community college, I am teaching skills that should have been taught in 6th grade. Our community colleges have become the high schools of my parents’ generation. And I’ve learned from talking with students that many would rather be in trade schools, but they don’t get the financial aid that they get at a “real” school.

To me, this situation wastes taxpayers’ and students’ money, students’ time and faculty patience. This year I learned the statistic that 75% of community college students who start never finish. But I don’t know which 75%, so I treat them all the same. But a lot of those students drain me. School ends next week, and not a day too soon. In fact, I shouldn’t be writing this now, but in today’s New York Times there’s was a great article by Jacques Steinberg called “Plan B: Skip College“.  Read it.  In it he says everything I would like to say.  And he has “experts.”  I really do know what I’m talking about, but I’m not important enough to be listened to.

We need a revolution in education in this country, one not started by politicians or statisticians, but by educators.  We need to stop thinking of the “ideal” and get real.  President Obama says we need more college graduates.  We don’t.  We need better quality graduates and we need jobs and training for people.  We need to say plumbers, electricians, car mechanics, and carpenters are valued and dignified positions.  An excellent IT person doesn’t need a liberal arts degree.  If the IT person wants one, but all means get one, but why do we make people?

The system is screwed up. That’s why.

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.

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