The Broad is Back!

February 12, 2014

Happy Birthday, Abe. Bring on the Revolution

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It used to be a national holiday until we replaced it and Washington’s Birthday on February 22nd with the more generic and easier to plan around Monday holiday, Presidents Day.  Out of all the presidents, we honored Lincoln because he “saved the Union” and also signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a good legal first step to ending slavery in the US.

 

I have to admit that there are times when I wonder whether the Union should have been saved. Don’t misunderstand me–I love the South. It’s beautiful, full of wonderful people–my grandfather was a Virginian–and provides the United States with much natural bounty.  Much of the country’s wealth comes from the resources of the South.  My concern does not come from a dislike of a place or a group.  My concern is that the United States is just too large to govern effectively.

 

We are theoretically a collection of sovereign states and four commonwealths, each theoretically with a large measure of autonomy.  But over the years, the federal government in DC has been taking over more and more of this sovereignty, often using money to wield its will. Federal aid is cut to states that don’t toe the federal line. Money makes an excellent leash.  And when a small group of people–1oo senators, 435 representatives, a president, vice-president and a Cabinet of 15 heads of executive departments–rule over 314 million people, give or take, things are not going to go smoothly.

 

In his first inaugural address, Lincoln said, “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.”

 

I think many people are currently weary of our government. We are weary of a government run by corporations and special interest groups.  We are weary of our protests being ignored. We are weary of illegal acts being carried out in our name without our permission. We are weary of an elite in Washington that thinks it is the elite because it’s special and above us, not because we elected them to stand for us.  We are so weary of our government that many have given up–they believe there can never be change, so apathy has sunk in.  Frankly, that’s just where the power elite wants most of us to be.

 

No group is easier to be led than a group that no longer cares.  Too many of the hundreds of millions can be bothered to pay attention.

 

Perhaps if the Union had not survived, there would be a less powerful national government.  But now is the time to speak up.  There was the “Bloodless Revolution” of 1688. Rooted as it was in religious intolerance and bigotry, it’s not a perfect model, and it doesn’t actually correlate well, but my point is revolution can happen and change can come without bloodshed.  And as Lincoln reminds us, it’s our constitutional right to overthrow an ineffective government.

 

We the people have the power.  We just don’t realize it.  What was that Reagan-era slogan? “Just say no!”  Say no to a government that forgets that it’s, as Lincoln reminded us in the aftermath of a bloody Civil War battle, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

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January 3, 2014

But Why Did You Come Back?

Yesterday I had a conversation with a stranger (I will talk to anyone, really) who is currently waiting for his green card to settle in America. We were doing the “food talk” (where to get good tea–he’s English) and chatted a few minutes.

Then he asked me: “Why did you come back?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked that once people learn I’ve lived overseas.  Family is the answer. But sometimes I think, “I have no freakin’ idea. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

I came back to an America I don’t fully recognize and it’s one that is crushing the life out of me.  I hobble together a life from three part time jobs; I’ve had no health care for the past year; my son is ill and even though I pay for insurance for him, medical bills are mounting because insurance refuses coverage; and I’m one of those middle class people who falls through the cracks. I make too much to get help but not enough to easily make it.

 

Luckily, the National Bank of Mom has easy lending terms and doesn’t mind missed payments, but being my age and needing the NBoM is demoralizing to say the least.

I am a highly educated person who is very good at what I do, but while I was gone my society decided to change the rules. It decided that money was more important than quality eduction, and it’s slowly but surely destroying one of the best systems of higher education in the world.  It’s already destroyed the k-12 system, so higher ed’s demise was a foregone conclusion. And no, this isn’t hyperbole.  Google “destruction American higher education” and you’ll find information on both sides of the political divide.

I also blame that political divide. The US is more polarized than it has been in a long time, with idealogues on  both sides so deeply entrenched that I fear compromise and cooperation are words that have been lost in our political discourse.

As faithful readers know, I have been trying to leave again.  I have realized that for right now I’m here for a reason, so moving has been shelved for a while.

I really do want to stay here and make America better–to serve people who need me–but I may not be able to. American society loves people who serve, but just be willing to live hand to mouth like everyone else.

Feeling a bit hopeless today.  That’s why I write, because as long as I’m writing, that means I must be hoping–hoping that there are enough people out there who are ready to take America back, to steer us to a better way.

And this doesn’t mean moving more Right or more Left. It means letting go of those labels; letting go of entrenched politics and policies and seeing that we need something else, something new.  Because right now America is on a collision course with destruction, but too many people are too harried trying to survive to notice it.

October 22, 2013

Infant Nation

My students are currently reading Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” one of my favorite Emerson pieces. Ironically, I didn’t even assign it to them–the department did.  As I tell my students, I’m not a fan of Emerson’s style, but what he has to say? Wow!

Rereading the essay, I’ve been struck by how very relevant it is in 2013.  There’s one line I particularly wanted to talk about today:

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.”  Taking in stride the 19th century use of mankind to mean all of us, this is pretty much what I see every single day of my teaching career.

I teach at a college. I do not teach at a high school or lower because frankly, I don’t like having to deal with children’s recalcitrance. And I don’t like spoon feeding information.

But American society treats young people like children far into their adulthood. We know this is getting worse. Just google “extended adolescence,” read and weep.

My students have been infantalized throughout their k-12 educations, by teachers and parents alike, and information is spoonfed into them. They no longer take responsibility for their own learning, but worse, they don’t like to take responsibility for their own behavior.

Emerson would despair.

I despair.

We have crippled a good chunk of a generation with all the good intentions in the world.  Maybe. But what if the point of infantalization was to create a generation of sheep more easily manipulated than many generations that went before?

I have been told, point blank, that I must change the standards I set for student behavior, lower them, because this is what we do now.  The Transcendentalist in me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s as good a label for me as any other, roars in pain.

I am calling for a revolution. It’s not just our government that needs to be changed. Our whole society needs reform. I’m not saying go back to some “good old time” in the past. I’m saying look at the mistakes we’ve been making and change. Change radically.

We are too married to the old ways of thinking and the old dead forms of authority.  It’s time to take bold measures. As Emerson says: “It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; their property; in their speculative views.”

I say, “bring it on!”

Points to ponder, I hope. And in the meantime, take a look at “Self-Reliance.” It’s a doozy.

 

October 16, 2013

Good Question

Filed under: New Broads,patriotism,Voting — by maggiec @ 6:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

What do you do

When democracy fails you?

What do you do

When the rest can’t see it’s true?

***

What do you do

When democracy is through?

~ from “What Do You Do” by Charles Stobo Reid & Craig Morris Reid

These are words from a song by a Scottish duo, The Proclaimers. Heard it on the radio today and almost wept.  The song is about Scotland and its desire for independence, but you know what? This is perfect for America right now.

I voted in a special senate race today. Why? Because even though I’m sure the system is broken, that the Legislature is so corrupted by corporate influence that my vote means very little, I still have to participate in the charade in the hopes, the barest hope, that I’m wrong.

The one “good” thing about the government shut down is that people are becoming much more vocal in their disgust with the government. I used to be singing alone. Now I’m part of a chorus.

I felt very daring a few months ago saying that we needed revolution. I am serious. This country needs a revolution to overthrow the corruption in Washington.  I am calling for a bloodless revolution. They have happened in history before (England 1688), but they are rare.

Am I afraid? Yes and no. Revolutions are never comfortable. But neither is the state of my nation. Change is scary, so in that sense, yes, I’m afraid. I don’t want to see people die. I don’t. But people in this country are not known for being shy of violence. I don’t agree with it, but there it is.

Bleak thoughts, I know, but honest.

So glad I came home for the last days of America.

October 2, 2013

Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into

Sequestration. That’s a rather benign sounding word, isn’t it? Doesn’t sound like it could hurt a fly. Automatic budget cuts that put some people temporarily out of work and cut services doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

And as everyone here in the US knows, we’re in day two of sequestration. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

On Tuesday morning, I found myself steaming mad. Why? Because a small, and I mean small, core of hard line Republicans are holding America hostage because they don’t like a law that was passed by both houses, signed by the president and decided upon by the Supreme Court of the United States. Welcome to democracy, folks. Welcome to the “three ringed circus” that is American federal government.  Checks and balances. Sometimes you don’t always get what you want.

Maybe it’s not a great law. It’s certainly not perfect. But bad laws have been passed before. Then even repealed sometimes. But the repeal didn’t come from playground level hissy fits. It came through getting out to the people and changing their minds. Engaging in discussion that leads to change. Instead of winning the people, theoretically the most powerful force in a democracy (but I’m not an idiot. I know the reality of that scenario), most Americans are now livid with all of the government.

Personally, I’m glad.  We need to be mad. We need to be hopping, spitting, crazy mad.  And we need to channel that anger, hone it to a fine point and use it to say “Enough! We the people are taking, no, wresting back our government!  Because obviously the people we’ve elected are not fit to lead.”

I pray that this comes to pass.

As Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.” The press is this country is freer than in many, I admit. But it’s tamed. My first career was as a reporter, a legislative correspondent in Albany, NY, to be precise. That was 30 years ago. A lifetime ago. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hirsh just wrote about the decline in the quality of the American press. He called it “pathetic,” which sums it up from my view. Very interesting reading, and you can find it here, ironically in The Guardian, a British paper!

The whole point of this blog is that I left America for 14 years, but now I’m back, so I comment on the changes. One of the huge changes is the quality of the news media. While I was gone 9/11 happened, and that event, terrible and evil, has done more to change American cultural values than I care to admit.  The Internet has changed people, as well. Because of it and jumps in technology, ideas about personal privacy are shifting at an alarming speed.

Whistle-blowers are vilified and praised. That’s a topic for another day, one I don’t find myself ready to discuss.  But we have truly undergone a cultural sea-change.

And then there’s education. This, as faithful readers know, is my personal bailiwick. I am a professor. I teach writing and literature, but mostly writing these days because few students can write well and even fewer can read. I teach college level students, but I’m teaching skills I learned in 6th-10th grade. If I had to guess, I would say the average reading level of my students is 8th-9th grade. They struggle to read The New York Times, a paper routinely read in American high schools. I do not teach stupid people. I teach bright people, lovely people, hardworking people. But they have been very poorly educated in New York City’s public schools.

When my parents attended New York City’s public schools, they were the finest in the nation. In fact, my mother remembers observers coming from all around the world to see how excellent public education was run. She graduated reading adult level works, in two languages, with a third language at conversational level. Sure, she was a smart cookie and worked at it, but she went to the neighborhood PS4 and Long Island City High School. Now I’m not saying New York City doesn’t still have some fine schools, some of the finest in the nation. But statistically speaking, over 50% of New York City high school graduates are not prepared for college level work or an entry level job when they leave school. And that comes from the city’s own reports.

Sure, there are a lot of challenges facing New York, and I’m not picking on New York, but I’d guess that about 80% of the students I teach are from New York City high schools, so it’s what I know best. About 5% are from other places in America and the rest are from foreign schools. I had a class last term with a student from Italy, one from France and one from Germany. I almost wept with joy as their academic skills were so strong. Until I wept with pain that their American peers were so weak.

And I do spend time from students from other places and even at other schools, good schools, Ivy Leagues, even. And I am amazed, constantly, at what they don’t know that I know I knew when I was their age. This is what happens when as a culture we glorify stupidity and are proud of ignorance.

And sometimes, in the dark recesses of my slightly Orwellian soul, I do hear whispers of “This is not a terrible mistake.” And Orwell’s whispers are joined by Huxley’s ruminations in Brave New World. There are times I think the brave new world is now. (Though to be perfectly honest, I do not believe in a huge government conspiracy. A huge corporate conspiracy is much more likely. As far as I can see Congress is the lap dog of corporate interest in this country. Corporations really don’t want you educated. Why educate a slave race? That was Hitler’s view. It’s rather pragmatic when striving for world domination.)

So, we live in a populace without a truly free press and with men, and women, since it’s the 21st century now, who are unable to read. We are not safe. We have much to fear.

If our government is so easily hijacked, it needs to be replaced. If the people ruling this country are so weak and ineffective that a tiny minority can close down government, well, I can’t see why they are staying in office. With pay yet.

Many have called for their pay to be docked. We the people are their employers. Fire them. And if we don’t do that, at least don’t pay them. Not that I think the predominantly wealthy people who run this country will suffer much with the loss of a month’s salary or so.  But how many of the federal workers who are now sitting home, effectively out of work, are living pay check to pay check? How much do support staff, park rangers, computer tech people make?

I realized yesterday that I had to do more than tweet my anger, that 140 characters weren’t enough. Well, I’m about to hit 1200 words, and all I can really say is please, Americans, let’s join together to stop the madness. Even if we’re of different parties we have to realize that what’s happening in America is a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s stupid, pig headed stupid, and we deserve better than that!

 

September 2, 2013

A Call for Labor

Because today is Labor Day, I want to make a plea for those who would labor in this country but who can’t. I want to make a plea to bring manufacturing back to America.

We keep saying the jobs of the future are in technology. Many of them are. And factories don’t need as many people as they used to before robotics. But because Americans want to buy cheap, cheap, cheap, we’ve taken bread out of our neighbors’ mouths.  And hurt the country in the long run.

Why should a company pay a living American wage to a craftsman or a worker when work can be done in a developing country by someone with no union, no laws protecting workers? I may be thought naive because I’m going to answer, “it’s the right thing to do.”

Our country prospered when our working class prospered. When a “working man” or in many cases a working woman, could support a family with an honest wage. I hear many people blaming the unions. Hogwash. Unions got you a weekend and safe working conditions. Unions make sure you’re compensated if you’re injured at work.  Is there corruption in unions? Yes. Is there anywhere humans are that does not have corruption? No. Unions, churches, governments, corporations. It’s humans who are corrupt, not unions.

Since I’ve been back in America, I’ve gone through countless small appliances, clocks. chairs, the list can go on and on. Things break. They just stop working. I’m not saying one country or another is doing shoddy work, and I often think, in my paranoid moments, that companies do it on purpose to up their bottom line. But I know I would rather pay more for something that will last than keep throwing things in the trash. Living in a disposable world is wrong on so many levels.

But I’ve started to look at labels very carefully. I’m buying more things built in Germany, Switzerland and England because I want better quality. Yes, I’m paying more, but in the long run, I am sure I will save money.  I would rather buy things made in America in order to support my fellow Americans. But I can not find them!

I’ve said it before, more than once. If a clever person opened a factory here and made kitchen appliances, he or she would make a mint. Yes, I would pay twice as much for an American made toaster. I did it already for an English made one.

Not everybody wants to go to college.  Not everybody wants to work in an office. I’ve never worked in a factory, but I’ve worked in a factory lunch counter. It was not pleasant. It was hard work. But it was 9-5 with a regular and good paycheck.  The more skilled workers got paid more, which makes sense, but they had jobs. Now the jobs are gone.

Don’t tell me that working for a subpar wage with no health care or retirement benefits at a big box store is less stressful or easier on people.

My late father-in-law was a machinist in a mill. He and my mother-in-law raised nine kids on his paycheck. It was tight. Very tight. He supplemented his income with providing much of his own food with gardening, hunting and fishing, but his children were fed, educated and went on to good lives. But there’s no mill anymore for any of them to work in. The area they live in has been hit hard economically, and not just in this century. Things were getting bleak there in the 80s and they’ve never truly bounced back.

There are only so many tech jobs that can open up.

We’re being sold the story that we live in a service economy. That the jobs have moved overseas and there’s no getting them back. Why not? Prices will go up if people get paid a living wage. Americans have to say well, I will pay $6 for quality that will last instead of $1 at the dollar store. I’m no stranger to dollar stores. But how many times have I thrown out things in a matter of months and then had to replace it?  That’s false economy.

I feel like I’m on a soapbox right now. There are so many issues that are part of this problem. But I know there are people who want jobs and we keep telling them: “There are none. Learn a new skill.”  We have the factories, shuttered, many being turned into luxury housing for those in the professions. Housing is good. But so are jobs. Why repurpose a factory into housing when we could reopen it and start bringing in jobs?

I’m not an economist, so what the hell do I know? I read, though. I know history, though.  We see what happened to Detroit. We’re at a crossroads. Time to start a revolution in thinking about this country. Americans have to wrest America back from corporations and governments, local, state and federal, that pander to their needs.

July 4, 2013

A Thought about a Declaration

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” From the Declaration of Independence of the thirteen united States of America

I really can’t say it any better than this section of a document written 237 years ago before this was the United States. We were just united. This is what we’re celebrating in America today.

And this is a very long segment from that Declaration, one of the main documents forming American culture. But when I read it today, it makes me think. And it makes me think hard.

I do think that the American form of government is a fine one. But I have to wonder if the Government itself is protecting our citizens and allowing us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Daily I see a “long train of abuses” done in the name of the American people that are actually causing nearly irreparable harm. Change is scary. Revolution is a hard word. The men who wrote this document knew that they were taking a destiny-changing step. They were either about to change the world or die trying, quite literally. Had the revolution failed many, if not all, would be hanged as traitors.

I would truly hate to see armed conflict in this country. But I also hate to see my country run by corporations and oligarchs. And from what I see, this is what it’s become. Maybe I’m alarmist. Maybe I’m crazy. Or maybe I’m just paying attention.

I believe in the ideals of this nation. I love this nation. But when I see what’s happening to my nation, my heart breaks.

We need change, change we really can believe in. A number of times in my adult life, I’ve thought there was going to be real change. But so far all I can think is: “The king is dead. Long live the king.” A few things change, but nothing of substance.

I know this isn’t very cheery and holiday-ish. I should be barbecuing and picnicking with family. And later today I will be. But I couldn’t let this solemn and important day pass without voicing some very real concerns. If we want another 237 years–another 50 years–something has to change.

*****

This is another blog inspired in part from Patchouli Haze, my daily inspirational blog. I realized that it had turned dire, so I moved it here and expanded.

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