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)

if you don’t like socialism…

Wednesday 25 November 2009

…then you must HATE communism, right?

I’m not going to get into the discussion now of whether or not “socialized medicine” is a good thing, and I’m certainly not going to discuss whether the current US health reform constitutes such a phrase and how I feel on the topic.

However, the comments being thrown around in this whole debate have shown that a lot of people don’t support socialist ideas, and we all know that communism is the extreme form of socialism, right?  Are those who decry socialism so much (and thus communism) aware that China happens to be a communist country?

If you’re one of those complaining about socialism/communism in this country, you don’t want to support a communist country, do you?  If not, you should put your money where your mouth is and protest products made in China.  It’s not that hard; everything has a label where it’s been made, so check it out and made a conscious decision.  We all know that the only vote that matters these days is the one you make with your pocket-book, so if you’re truly against the evils of socialism/communism and gung-ho for capitalism, try not to be a hypocrite as you do your shopping this holiday season.

Shop Capitalist!

giving it all away

Monday 10 March 2008

I wrote last week about striving to truly give away all one has and a world with no possessions, so it was appropriate that I glanced over at a woman reading the New York Times on my plane ride home Sunday night and saw her reading this article that I was then able to read when I returned home: Easy Come, Easy Go for Idealistic Heirs.

It’s an interesting article you should read that I won’t talk about in detail, but there was one quote at the end of the article by non 59-year-old David Crocker who gave away a lot of money when he was younger: “I don’t know if it’s because I’m older, having come a long way from where I was, but I see that it’s important for people to be kind to themselves and prudent with their financial resources.” I won’t give away Mr. Crocker’s profession, which is also quite ironic, but his mindset is interesting, as is his phrasing: “Kind to themselves.”

It is a great challenge and responsibility to have money. In fact, if you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you fall in the top 15% of people financially worldwide (if you earn over $9500 a year). So you and I both, as are so many others, are responsible for great wealth and must use our current power to distribute the world’s resources more equitably. Can we do it? Let’s give it a try.

breadth of information

Friday 8 February 2008

So this could probably be classified as the “random blog of the month” if there was such a thing, but I figured “why not.” Anyway, I was starting to read this short article when I read the author and it reminded me of the boss I had @ the Transportation Library where I worked while in college. So I went to their website, and sure enough, on the staff page, there was his name, still working in the same place I had left him four years ago, after four years of working in document delivery.

Thinking about my days there got me thinking about these things called Environmental Impact Statements, which really don’t have anything to do with transportation but we had become a repository for some years earlier when someone donated a lot of them to our collection And thinking of those triggered in me the time when EISes had somehow come up in conversation with someone (it took me brushing my teeth to remember exactly who — a librarian friend of mine in Chicago).

And all that, then, got me to thinking how fun it is to have a breadth of knowledge about many and varying things. I like to be in the know about things like waterboarding as well as who’s with or not with who on Grey’s Anatomy (or currently what exactly is up with the writer’s strike) — which is maybe why I don’t feel bad subscribing to Entertainment Weekly! I really enjoy talking to people (once we get started), and being able to discuss topics we both have knowledge and interest in makes for successful conversation. There are, of course, things I really enjoy and love to talk about — like socialism, the movies, and Ohio — but getting around and being able to draw from a large, sometime random, base of knowledge and experience is no only fun, it’s helpful.

So next time someone gets on you for gaining knowledge about something they deem inappropriate or unworthy of your time, just think of it as research for that next unknown conversation where you’ll be able to bring it up. (But watch how much time you spend on any one thing — unless it helps you win a game show or it’s your job, no one needs to be a snobby savant.)

more consequences

Thursday 31 January 2008

I love when people leave comments, as they lead to me (and maybe you) to think more about a subject.  I know I’m not the final word on any issue, and I don’t want to be, but writing a blog without comments can sometimes feel that way.  Thus, I encourage you who do read (be it often or infrequently) to leave some comments of agreement, challenge, question, or otherwise — as Karen did to my last post on consequences — (read it now if you haven’t already).  And sometimes, a comment even leads to a second post with new or different thoughts on the same subject (as it did back in September about enlightenment).  So today you get more about consequences :)

Karen’s ideas of “healthy maturity” and that “we could all do a better job of thinking about direct and real consequences and refusing to be controlled by more distant and less healthy motivators” made me see that I probably didn’t convey exactly what was and is in my mind about the subject.  I think that what maybe irks me about consequences is that it is sometimes those “direct and real consequences” that make me act in a way that is not necessarily in harmony with my beliefs.  A few examples:

Poverty is a very real problem in the US and around the world.  I’d call myself a socialist in the belief that wealth should be distributed equally among all parties.  If I had access to the bank accounts of millionaires, I wouldn’t necessarily think it wrong to take their money and distribute it to others who were not as well off.  However, this would likely be illegal (and some might say unethical, though “ethics” are somewhat relative), and the illegality of the situation and the likely consequences of jail time and fines might end up being a larger contributor in my decision making than my beliefs.  Am I selling out on my beliefs or just showing a “healthy maturity?”

Most of us realize that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are very common (according to the Planned Parenthood website link there, “up to 75 percent of sexually active women and men will get an STI of some kind”).  No condom or protection method is 100%.  As a virgin (gasp! — yes, I went there), I can be confident that I don’t have an STI, but once I start having sex, that would open the door to an uncertainty I haven’t had to experience yet in life and don’t know if I want to.  I do think my choices about sex relate more, though, to the need and desire to be in a committed and loving relationship when I do end up having sex.  In that relationship, I would want to fully love and trust that person (I’m not necessarily saying it be within marriage, mind you — not to open up that can of worms, though), and part of that love and trust would be discussion about our sexual histories.  And if she did have an STI, then what?  I surely wouldn’t love her any less, but knowing the 100% aspect I mentioned above, would some fear or consequence freeze me into taking actions that I surely wouldn’t take if that consequence wasn’t there?  (Even for me, as this is something I still have yet to deal with directly, this is a difficult subject for me to wrap my mind around as I write, and an area of thinking that continues to develop in my mind, so comments and questions could definitely be relevant.)  —  And certainly the idea of premarital sex being a “sin” might be argued as an external consequence by some and an internal consequence by others, which again is a whole ‘nother can of worms.

So I guess my issue about consequences is that sometimes they can, at least in my experience, make one go against her or his beliefs and ideals, and those, I think, are the consequences I have a problem with.  And my question then becomes, “How does one reconcile one’s ideals with the possible negative consequences that might occur when one acts on said ideals?”  (Perhaps a discussion about issues like civil disobedience is now in order?)

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.)