September 22nd, 2009


A Lesson Not To Be Repeated

I've noticed these parallels myself. I am pleasantly surprised that Obama has survived this long. I will be delighted if he makes it to the end of his service alive.

Eric Boehlert | A President Was Killed the Last Time Right-Wing
Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America: "I've been thinking a lot of Kennedy and Dallas as I've watched the increasingly violent rhetorical attacks on Obama be unfurled. As Americans yank their kids of class in order to save them from being exposed to the President of the United States who only wanted to urge them to excel in the classroom. And as unvarnished hate and name-calling passed for health care 'debate' this summer."

The media are faced with a serious challenge. On the one hand, free speech is a vital pillar of American life. On the other hand, some kinds of speech can cause serious damage, along the lines of "Will no one rid me of this troublesome woman?" We really need to stay focused on facts and actions, not idealogy and personality. If you say, "This guy is evil and deserves to die," that's more likely to result in actual injury than if you say, "This guy's proposal is flawed because X, Y, and Z so we should use Alternate Solution B instead."

How Americans Treat Each Other

Today, let's take a look at some news articles and think about how we treat each other in America today.

It is accepted to pick on someone who is not like you. Pretty much any difference will suffice, but race and socioeconomic class are really popular ones. The problem with this is that, in a diverse country like America, it means you feel surrounded by enemies. Nobody feels comfortable that way, so it makes people aggressive. That raises the chance of somebody getting hurt. It also undermines our ability to use our diversity as an asset to solve problems creatively. So hatemongering is generally a bad idea.

There's No Denying Obama's Race Plays a Role in Protests
Tony Pugh, McClatchy Newspapers: "The collapse of the housing market, the government bailout of Wall Street, record job losses, long-term unemployment, trillion-dollar deficits, shrinking retirement funds, growing government intervention, foreign economic competition and America's changing demographic landscape left many Americans angry at the direction of the country, confused about the source of their problems and fearful about the future."

It's accepted to treat human beings as replacable cogs in the corporate machine. Companies are not expected to have loyalty or responsibility to employees. But somehow, individuals are expected to pay all their bills, buy food, buy their own health care and insurance, pay for a place to live -- whether or not there are jobs where they can earn enough to meet all those expenses. Somehow it is always the individual's fault if they are poor, not the fault of the company that fires them so as to hire someone else at half the price, not the fault of the company that drops health coverage or diddles the hours so nobody qualifies, or whatever other idea they come up with next. The problem with this is that people aren't gears; people have feelings and needs. When people are abused, they become hurt and angry. That either turns inward, crushing them down towards failure and illness and death; or it lashes outward in violence. That violence rarely strikes the real target, but instead impacts family members or innocent bystanders. And when millions of people are routinely abused, and this is considered a laudable way of doing business, the country fills up with hurt angry people who hate their lives, hate each other, and generally feel like the world is a horrid place. They may not have the energy or the will to fix it anymore. So then when a disaster strikes that we didn't actually create ourselves, people are less able and willing to respond and help others, because nobody helped them and they can't spare the energy and they feel like people aren't worth saving anyhow. That's not a very good way for a country to survive, let alone thrive.

Connie Schultz | Outsourcing Hotel Housekeepers Creates a Real Mess
Connie Schultz, Truthout: "Recently, housekeepers at three Hyatt hotels in Boston thought they were training new workers for vacationing staff. Unfortunately, the housekeepers didn't know they were taking a high road thick with weeds."

It's accepted to break people on the job, then discard them and replace them with someone else. A person whose health is destroyed by their work may or may not have any recourse, and often winds up with neither job nor health care because they are unable to work and therefore considered worthless. The problem with this is that not only is it morally degrading for everyone, it is also impractical -- when jobs frequently damage people's health because considerations are not made for safe working conditions, then the workforce as a whole gets less and less healthy. The sparse availability of health care compounds this problem. So then there are hordes of people who can't work very well, or can't work at all, which makes it ever harder to get things done.

"We Made Them Millions, and They Complain About Insurance"
Lupe Chavez, a housekeeper at the San Francisco Hilton, tells her story to David Bacon: "My hands tingle and ache, and my fingers go numb. Sometimes, my arms start to hurt during the night and I can't sleep. The pain starts about 3 AM and I can't stand it. The doctor said I have carpal tunnel syndrome and gave me two braces, one for each hand. My hands now feel better, but I still use them during the day. I take a Motrin pill before leaving for work in the morning and another one in the afternoon and before going to bed. I don't want to be dependent on them, but it's hard. My doctor told me many housekeepers have the same problem. It's very difficult to work in pain. It's something I cannot get used to. I have to continue working because I need the insurance."

It's accepted for rich, powerful people to use their money and influence to evade the consequences of their actions. They may not always be above the law, but often they are. It's a probability thing -- they are less likely to be caught, less likely to be charged, less likely to be convicted. They do terrible things with impunity. The problem with this is that it diminishes people's respect for the law -- if they're privileged, they think it doesn't apply to them; and if they're unprivileged, they know it's stacked against them. And everybody knows that none of that is really justice. Well, a nation short on justice runs into a lot of stumbling blocks whatever it tries to do.

Why Haven't Any Wall Street Tycoons Been Sent to the Slammer?
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "More than a year into the gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression, millions of Americans have seen their home values and retirement savings plunge and their jobs evaporate. What they haven't seen are any Wall Street tycoons forced to swap their multi-million dollar jobs and custom-made suits for dishwashing and prison stripes. There are plenty of civil and class-action lawsuits from aggrieved investors angered by the losses in their mortgage bonds, hedge funds or pensions. Regulators have stepped up their vigilance after the fact. But to date, no captain of finance tied to the crisis has walked the plank."

I don't think any of that is a good idea. That's not the kind of country I want to live in. If we don't take care of each other, and respect each other, then we create a very nasty environment for ourselves. I don't want people to call each other names and talk like killing people is a good solution for disagreements. I've stayed in many hotel rooms; I want a room to be clean and tidy, but I don't want somebody to destroy their body to make it that way. I don't want to stay in a place where my money will go to some corporation that abuses its employees. I don't want a legal system where rich, powerful people get away with atrocities and poor, powerless people get jailed for annoying someone rich and powerful. This kind of nonsense makes other countries lose respect for America, and with good reason. These are horrid ways to behave, and we should not be doing them.

Call for Good News

I often blog a lot about intense and controversial topics, because part of my responsibility includes spreading information. Too much of that can lead to burnout, though, both for readers and for bloggers.

So, I'm making an effort to increase the amount of positive, noncontroversial news. What "good news" have you heard recently? In what ways is the world becoming a better place? What cool discoveries or inventions have people made? Please share links or stories in the comments below. Remember, "Energy flows where attention goes." Let's send it somewhere good!

Flunking School

This article caught my eye today:

Educated and Ignorant
Only one in four Oklahoma high school students can correctly name the first president of the United States, according to a survey released Friday.</div>
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs conducted the survey to find the students' basic knowledge of civics, Tulsa World reported. Students were asked 10 questions taken from the U.S. citizenship test.
The passing rate for Oklahoma high school students was 2.8 percent. About 92 percent of candidates pass the test for U.S. citizenship. Take a sample citizenship test below the video.

I took the sample test and scored 7 correct out of 10 questions. By my personal standards, that is moderately crummy. On the other hand, I haven't taken a civics class in years and I was answering these off the top of my head without studying. If I needed any of the information, I could easily find it; and if I was going to take a serious test, I darn well would study for it.

I think that a lack of awareness as to America's history and its proper functioning is contributing to problems today. I find it rather alarming that incoming citizens are doing so much better on that test than natural-born citizens. Our schools are not doing a very effective job of educating students, and many of the "reforms" are making things worse instead of better.

The Recycled Mall

Some folks took an abandoned mall and recycled it into an arts center. I am delighted by this story and would love to see that concept replicated elsewhere.

Reuse as Art
Recycling bottles and cans and other stuff can be darn boring. Yet a new use for an old building took an exciting turn in Amarillo, Texas. A former shopping mall, sitting forlornly in a sea of cracked asphalt, was transformed into a thriving arts center.</p>

Air-conditioned hallways that sat empty after department stores and specialty shops closed or decamped for bigger malls are now lined by artists’ galleries and studio spaces, as well as the Amarillo Arts Institute, the Panhandle Arts Center, and the West Texas A&M Gallery and Studios. Replacing a big swathe of the old parking lot is a sculpture garden. Lively casts of frolicking children, bathing women and a buckaroo on a rearing horse arrayed amid flower-fringed pools greet visitors to the main entrance of the Sunset Center, near the corner of Plains Boulevard and Western Street. The recycled mall is in a commercial area along the historic Route 66 corridor that got bypassed by the nearby interstate highway, I-40.


Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month

These two items came from Teaching Tolerance for Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month:

Sonia Nieto reflects on the nomination of the first Latina to sit on
the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our new lesson plan on Hernandez v. Texas explores the court case that
set the stage for the Latino Civil Rights Movement.