American American

Monday 4 July 2011

It’s July 4, y’all, the day we celebrate the creation of these (wonderful) United States of American in 1776 with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and I’m back blogging with a vengeance!

I’m not going to pretend the U.S. doesn’t have some pretty great things going for it; if you check out the kind of overt oppression happening the last few months in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, I think all of us citizens of the U S of A can all be thankful to live where we do.

But, if you know me or have read my blog in the past, you know I like to get critical.  And I figure what better day than this one, a day we think with inflated egos just how great and awesome we are, to look a little deeper at some of the ways I think we’re getting it wrong:

Economic Disparity: If you ask me, this is from where all the problems stem. We’re a country where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and with a system where those with money are in power or paying to get their friends into power (see below), the cycle will continue. A few infographics (Inequality, Stupid; 15 Facts) and this amazing article, “Who Rules America,” tell the story pretty well, but the basic idea is that the top 1% of Americans has as much money and wealth as the bottom 90%, a group that itself is fairly stratified. Thus, the $1 you and I might spend on a meal means Oprah gets to spend $90. Does that seem right to you?

“Free” Speech: In the past few years, the Supreme Court has basically determined that the right to free speech means the right to as much speech as you’re willing and able to pay for. This means that should I run for office, I can choose to forgo getting in bed with corporations and wealthy individuals and stay true to my ideals, but if someone else is well-financed, they can pretty much drown out me and my voice. Basically, free speech doesn’t mean equal amounts of speech, and in this game, if you have money, you win and get to make the rules that help you get more money, though this has been true for awhile, it’s just become even moreso as of late.

Health Care: I’m guessing I don’t have to inform you that we still don’t have universal health care.  Yes, there was a bill passed that requires everyone to purchase health care, I’m aware, but universal health care this is not.  Instead, what this does is create an even a larger pool of participants for private insurance companies to reap more money and profits from the estimated 50+ million without insurance.  And with Medicare and Medicaid on the ropes, those who would lose such benefits would now also be required to “buy” insurance, again putting money in the hands of private companies.  Why is health care not something we feel is a human right, afforded to everyone, like a high school education?

Education: While we’re on the topic of universal rights, can we discuss the horrific state of the education system of this country?  In Chicago, the high school graduation rate in 2010 was only 56% (an improvement from 1999’s 47%, but still a travesty).  Big cities across the country have similar stories.  A lot of this, again, comes back to money.  With all the states of which I’m aware using property taxes to fund education, this means more money is spent on education in wealthy areas than poor areas.  And if you have money and don’t like your school system, you either move or simply send your kids to a private school.  If we truly valued education the way we give it lip service, we’d fund it as such.

Competitive Eating: If anything is representative of the excess that has become this country, it’s the event held on Coney Island each July 4: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.  This year’s winner, Joey Chestnut, ate 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes (and of course the 20 or so other contestants ate a lot, too).  Yet there are still families heading to soup kitchens and food pantries because they have nothing to eat.  What drives something like this?  Well, this year’s event was (again) broadcast live on ESPN, with Pepto-Bismol as a top sponsor.  I’m going to guess advertising money.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I don’t have time today to write about issues of housing, transportation, Social Security, unemployment, prisons and criminal (in)justice, war and foreign policy, and many others — I want to enjoy my day off, too!

But as we celebrate today and in days to come, let’s not be complacent with the current ways of our country. We still live in a democracy, which means power to the people if we choose to claim it.

I leave you with a great op-art piece with a humorous look at our nation’s not-always-so-pleasant-looking history: Like It or Unfriend It

(The title of this blog post is meant to be read as an adjective followed by a noun.  The second “American,” the noun, is meant to signify that I, being someone living in the U.S., would colloquially be called an American.  In the first word, the adjective, I am affirming my belief that to act in an American way is to challenge the status quo and to work to make  a better country for everyone — EVERYONE — and that’s what I believe I try to do, and hopefully this blog is just one such example.)

(Oh, and why not a throwback to a post I wrote in September 2007, too: economic oppression)

Advertisements

apparently there is money to be made in Afghanistan…

Monday 14 June 2010

As if the U.S. needs any more reasons to continue it’s colonialist/imperialist/empire building ways, I read the following headline this morning:

U.S. Identifies Vasts Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan

It gave me a good laugh.

Conspiracy theorists might say they’ve know about this for years, but even if it is a new discovery, why do we have “a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists” looking for this kind of stuff?

For those who say (this) war has no economic incentives, another blow to you, I believe.


Gulf spill blame? Find a mirror

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Today marks the 50th day oil has been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.  Thought the rate of flow and total amount are still unknown, it’s been largely agreed upon that this is the largest oil release ever in U.S. territorial waters, eclipsing the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident.  As the event is still ongoing and difficult to estimate accurately, it is unclear where this event will rank when the oil finally stops gushing.

The environmental and economic effect on the area, and perhaps the world, is still largely unknown.  The damage is already vast, and it’s unclear when the leak will end.  The ecosystem of the Gulf region will be altered for generations to come, if not forever.  A negative economic impact has already been felt by those who fish in affected waters, and the effect on tourism is likely to worsen as the slick grows and the summer begins.

It thus comes as good reason that, since the oil started flowing on April 20, people have been looking for someone, individually or collectively, to blame.  Much talk has fallen on the corporations involved in the operation of the oil rig that exploded (British Petroleum, TransOcean, and Halliburton) that led to the current state of affairs.  Others have cried out that the government regulators from the Minerals Management Service failed to do enough to prevent this occurrence.  Some have said the blame then falls on others within the government, including the president, and others have even pushed blame to environmentalists, saying the need to drill in the Gulf would have been avoided by drilling in Alaska.

However, as I’ve reflected on what appears to be the new reality for the Gulf of Mexico, I think blaming the people and entities listed above is a bit shortsighted.  If we’re going to truly answer the questions, “Why did this happen?  Who can we blame?” we need to move beyond the specific and look at the bigger picture.  When we do this, the answer to the question of blame hits much closer to home.

Who is to blame?  You and me.

The reason we all are to blame stems from the answer to the other question, Why did this happen?  BP didn’t just decide to poke a hole in the earth, in a place where sunlight doesn’t even reach, because they were bored and thought it would be fun.  It wasn’t part of some scientific mission either, or an attempt to “go where no man (or woman) has gone before.”  No, it’s because we asked them to.

“Well I certainly didn’t ask them to,” you may be saying.  You may not have written them a letter, no, but the high demand for oil, and especially the stated U.S. desire to lessen dependence on “foreign” oil, gave BP economic incentives to search for oil anywhere they could find it.  One such place they decided to search happened to be 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, 5000 feet under the water’s surface.

Every time you put gasoline in your car, purchase an airplane ticket, or use any other oil byproduct, you’re telling the oil providers to “keep it coming.” While the U.S. does not rank #1 in per capita oil use, a 2008 estimate put the U.S. total use of oil at #1, approximately  33% more oil than the entire European Union, and 2  1/2 times the amount used in China.  In addition to the massive amounts of oil we demand, we also crave cheap oil, which can only be sustained by continued high production levels across the world.

While many would argue this specific event could have been avoided, as Jeff Potent noted in a May 16 Letter to the Editor of the International Herald Tribune, such events are a “predictable outcome” of the current oil economy.  Until we collectively alter the system, “accidents” will happen, oil will flow, and we all will have to deal with the consequences.

Our oil-dependent society needs to practice some preventative medicine, and perhaps the current events happening in the Gulf of Mexico will be the heart attack that helps us all realize that little bit of truth.

I’m not so confident it will happen, but I can hope.


globally, women anything but equal

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Sunday night, I posted about the wealth inequality for women of color here in the U.S.  Another report I was turned on to is from October 2009, and it tells the tale of women in general, in the U.S. and around the world.  The 2009 Global Gender Gap report of the World Economic Forum provides a ranking of countries around the world.  According to the report itself:

“The Index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education- and health based criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups…

“There are three basic concepts underlying the Global Gender Gap Index. First, it focuses on measuring gaps rather than levels. Second, it captures gaps in outcome variables rather than gaps in means or input variables. Third, it ranks countries according to gender equality rather than women’s empowerment.”

Using their methodology, they created rankings for 134 countries around the globe.  The top five in their list were Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.  Before you get to the U.S. at #31, you pass by South Africa (#6), Lesotho (#10), Sri Lanka (#16), Mongolia (#22), and Cuba (#29), to name a few.  (Remember — it measures gaps, not levels, so this doesn’t mean a woman’s life in Cuba is necessarily better than that of a woman in the U.S., but the gap is greater.)

According to the U.S. country profile, education and health are strong points, with equality more or less being established (ranking #1 overall for educational attainment). However, economic and political equality leave something to be desired (the U.S. ranked #61 in political empowerment, with 1 female for every 5 males in “parliament,” as they denote it).

So what does all this mean for us here in the States?  Well, for starters, it shows that while we may say men and women are equal, the end results don’t point that out.  We may educate women equally, and they may even live longer (on average) than men, but women here do not possess the same economic resources  and wealth as men and are not represented in government even close to equally.  We must again recognize the systematic structures in place creating these disparities and work to truly make women and men equal, in this country and around the world.

(As a side note, I found out about this report though an article that appeared in The Nation.  As readers wrote in response to that article, there are some areas for critique of that article and the report itself, but regardless of comparing the U.S. to other countries, the fact of continued inequality in certain areas of society here in the U.S. still needs to be noted and addressed.)


textbooks and their impact on our ideologies

Sunday 14 March 2010

Ah yes, school textbooks.  Where would any of us be without hours and hours of reading and learning from these wonderful books.  Perhaps one of my favorite parts of textbooks was covering them with brown paper bags and drawing mazes on them (and now they have pre-made plastic or even “mesh” covers — the shame).  I even remember keeping my desk so full and organized in 3rd grade that I had no room for some of my textbooks and had to sit on them!

Perhaps the fact that my memories of textbooks are not of their contents is a good thing after reading this article, Texas Conservatives Win Vote on Textbook Standards, though sometimes the more harmful items of learning is actually the indoctrination that you DON’T remember.

Basically, the article talks about how the Texas Board of Education recently voted to approve the state curriculum for the coming decade.  A panel of teachers had proposed curricula in each subject, and then the TX Board of Ed. offered their own amendments to deal with the “liberal bias” they said they found in the curricula of certain subjects, such as history and economics.

This is an interesting subject to me because what it really comes down to is the question, “Who should decide what our children learn in school?”

We all know children are impressionable, and people of different ideologies, be they economic or religious or political or sociological, of course what children to grow up to believe the same things they believe and thus propagate the ideology further.

Two amendments noted in the article that the Tex. BOE made stuck out to me:

“Dr. McLeroy pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent approach.”
“… an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians were interned in the United States as well as the Japanese during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.”

(My note: if you follow the link, you’ll see that 10 times as many Japanese Americans — about 110,000 — were interned than whites, and an act of congress in 1988, signed by Reagan, mentioned “race prejudice” as one of the reason for internment of Japanese Americans.)

I’ll simply leave those for you to ponder as well.

The reason Texas’s decisions matter is because their have stringent textbook rules which ultimately dictate what is printed in textbooks that are then used in schools across the country.  I’ve heard of high school history teachers supplementing textbooks with Howard Zinn‘s (RIP) book, “A People’s History of the United States,” looking at events from another point of view that surely would not go over well with the conservatives on the Texas Board of Education.

I’m all for people getting all the information possible, but we all understand that there is limited amount of time in a school year, so someone has to decide.  Who and how is obviously not an exact science, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For me, it just further affirms the need for continuous education as we get older and a never ending quest for the truth, obtaining all the information we can get our hands on — whether it’s in a textbook or not.

Updated: you can check out The Colbert Report’s take on this subject, as well — looks like I broke this one people!
Update 2: Oh, and apparently Jon Stewart on The Daily Show got wind of this, too.

(Another much longer article on Texas’s textbook-making process was in the NY Times last month, too — How Christian Were the Founders? — if this subject particularly interests you?”)


unemployment and bad places to live

Friday 19 February 2010

Continuing the website/article suggestions, a few quick ones about the economy.

First, a great, short multimedia presentation simply showing a county by county visual picture of unemployment numbers growing since the start of 2007.  It’s pretty eerie how the country gets darker and darker (representing higher unemployment) as the recession begins and continues.  And we’re supposed to have at least two more years of these high unemployment numbers?  Good luck!  The Decline: The Geography of a Recession

Second, Forbes magazine does a lot of “lists,” and I came across this one detailing America’s 20 Most Miserable Cities.  Of note, 5 of the top 20 are Northern Ohio cities (Cleveland, Canton, Akron, Toledo, and Youngstown), with another 5 coming along the same line in northern Illinois and Indiana (Chicago, Rockford, and Gary) and southern Michigan (Detroit and Flint).  Apparently the area between Iowa’s Quad Cities and Pittsburgh, PA is not a good place to live (even if I’ve enjoyed the approximately 23 of my 28 years living there)!


economic oppression

Monday 24 September 2007

In the past week, I’ve met a few times to talk about socialism with a man I met @ a war protest a few weeks ago (maybe I’ll post on that sometime, too).  It has been quite the enlightening experience (in a different way from my spiritual postings) and a good way to think more about ideas that have been rolling around in my head for awhile.  We’ve talked about the ways of creating a socialistic world and what needs to be done currently, about filling voids in the current political system with things like talking about socialist ideas with anyone and everyone you know and the need for a general workers’ strike to start the necessary revolution.  It’s been very great.  He even used “comrade” to talk about an acquaintance tonight — that part was kind of funny.

But something like using the word comrade to speak of someone else gets at the idea of equality and the end of oppression, which I think most of us want.  But if you’re really open to the reality of our situation, you’ll recognize that any capitalistic society is built around the idea of oppression, economic oppression.  We talk all about the horrors of oppression that occurs based on race, gender, sexual identity, ethnic background, and so many other areas, but we rarely, if ever, talk about the oppression that happens economically.  If you’re lucky, you might talk about oppression based on class, but even that one makes it sound a little too nice, like there’s some “class struggle” that is necessary, when really, why can’t we have a classless society?

Here in America, we have a ruling class.  It’s not something like the Nazi party or some kind of dictator.  We have a better name for them: corporations.  If you’re willing to play their game, they might reward you with power or prestige or money, but they’re definitely in charge.  Even if you don’t work for them directly, you’re likely called upon to do their bidding: politicians create laws that benefit them; the military creates opportunities for them to make money in places like Iraq; teachers teach workers who will work for corporations; most, if not all, jobs can be traced back to corporations (think about construction workers, postal employees, doctors, and even those in non-profits, who work to fill a void ultimately created by corporations).

And that’s why we need this revolution my socialist discussion partner has been advocating for.  Those of us in the “working class” (and there are so many of us) need to recognize our collective power against the economic oppression we’re experiencing.  We think we’re stuck in our sad state of things, but we aren’t.  Your struggle is my struggle and vice versa, and it’s true for the millions of us around the country and around the world.  Change can happen, but radical change won’t simply happen with a new president, at least not the kind of change we need — it will happen by speaking up and binding together to tell the ruling class that (to paraphrase a quote in Network), “We’re mad as Hell, and we’re not going to take it any more.”

How do we do that?  Well, we need to begin recognizing the solidarity we have in one another.  We need to share our beliefs and hopes for a better life for all people with our friends, family, and perhaps most importantly those we work with.  We need to help others understand the need for change.  And, first and foremost of them all, we all need to start believing that a change is possible.

I could probably talk more about all of this, but I don’t like these to get too long, so stop there for today.  If you haven’t seen The Corporation yet, you need to.  I own it and would love to loan it to you.  It’s probably at your library, too.  (Network is a good anti-establishment movie, too.)

(If you’re so inclined, check out the official list of “discrimination by type” on the left side of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website.  You’ll find nothing about discrimination based on how much money you make or the people you’re connected to.)