Thursday, October 25, 2012

Political Carnival of Stupid

Is there something in the air right now? There seems to be a carnival out there. A carnival of stupid. Two are just side shows of stupidity and one is a serious threat.

Donald Trump acted like the carnival barker that he is and announced to everyone that he had something that's going to change the course of the election.  It's like he's saying this:

Ya got trouble, my friend, right here, 
I say, trouble right here in River City

Trouble with a capital "T"
And that rhymes with "P" and that stands for pool!
- from the Music Man

His hyped up youtube video of stupidness lasted approximately 2:30 minutes. Trump basically said: "I'll give the charity of his choice FIVE MILLION DOLLARS!!!(said in best Dr. Evil/Bob Barker voice) If Obama will just release his college records in a way that is satisfactory to me by 5pm eastern standard time. I really WANT TO WRITE THIS CHECK!"  I'm sure the President is real scared and will capitulate immediately….

Then you had Sarah Palin, someone who could sell oxyclean on an infomercial to a man who loves dirt, then get mad at him for not being clean enough when he was done. She posted that Pres. Obama should stop the…

"…shuck and jive shtick with these Benghazi lies...”

Uh huh. It's not racial. Nope. Obama's black, so he knows all about shuckin and jivin. I'm sure he carries a razor wherever he goes and sings ham bone under his breath to amuse his foreign affairs team.

Then there's the serious one. Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock stating in a debate on Tuesday that rape resulting in pregnancy is what God intended. First you have Todd Akin saying that a woman can't become pregnant where there is a "legitimate rape" and now you have this person saying that "legitimate rape"-induced pregnancies are acts of God. Which one is it?! 

These people are on ballots and you can vote for them to be in office. They are in tight races which means that there are people who either believe this hogwash or are holding their noses and pressing a lever so they can win majorities in government. This is where I now completely understand why character and values are of great importance in a candidate. If these two candidates, Mourdock and Akin are a part of fixing the economy, who are they fixing it for and when they introduce legislation will it be to limit woman's ability to make a horrifyingly difficult choice? It's like we're in the 50's. I'll repeat the reason again why my  formerly anti-abortion Christian conservative southern black mother is pro-choice: She worked in the hospitals as women were brought in bloody and dying from coat hanger abortions. She said she couldn't take seeing the death and destruction and if having abortion legal would stop the suffering she saw daily, she was for it. It was the poor people she said that were dying. The rich people could quietly and safely get whatever procedure they needed. A good economy doesn't matter so much when you have been sexually assaulted.

These side show salesmen and women statements have all happened in the space of 48 hours. It's not like there is not more important news out there that needs to be covered, but when a a confluence of events starts happening, you have to take notice like the Houstons(a reality show about Whitney Houston's family) just premiered. The real hucksters have stood up. Yea, I said it…hucksters. They just need to take their malarky and go back to Europe…. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Character Really Does Matter

 “And I—and I went to my staff, and I said, ‘How come all the people for these jobs are—are all men.’ They said: ‘Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.’ And I said: ‘Well, gosh, can't we—can't we find some—some women that are also qualified?’ And—and so we—we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said: ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.” - Mitt Romney, debate #2

The comment by Mitt Romney in the latest presidential debate about "Binder's of Women" has created a thunderstorm of controversy. It's all over my Facebook friends pages and twitter is all a-twitter with comments about it. What this statement has cemented for me is something that I never really believed in before: character really matters.  Now this doesn't mean that I never thought it was important before, but that I just never put it on the same level as competency. When Republicans would state that character is really the most important thing in a presidential candidate, I would just turn off.  I thought it was a cop-out. But now I actually see the merit of this reasoning.

When Romney said that he didn't have any qualified women to fill cabinet positions during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, that right there is a very telling comment. The fact that it didn't happen the way he said it is not as material to me as politicians change past events all the time to fit their version of the story (though this is problematic as well).  He was in business for 25 years and didn't meet and get to know 5-10 women who could fill those positions?! We're not talking about 1965, we're talking about the mid 1990's. There should have been loads of women whom Romney knew at least professionally, that should have been able to fill those posts; he should have been able to name 3 or 4 off the top of his head!  This is a character issue. Say what you will about Bush II, but his friends were of many hues and cultures. He was loyal and supported them with high visibility posts. They were hispanic, black, and female…Kanye wasn't accurate when he said George Bush didn't like black people.

Nonetheless, Romney's limited exposure to people outside his wealthy business lifestyle really concerns me. Maybe he can fix the economy, but for whom would he fix it? He talked about his having given his chief of staff flex time so she could go home and "fix dinner for her kids". I'm going to leave that alone because many women, including my mother, worked a full-time job(s) and fixed world class meals for their children. But there are many positions in today's workforce that can't have flextime. The money IS the important thing. Equitable pay means more take home pay for her and her children, which eventually means more churn in the economy; from the bottom up. 

Romney's limited familiarity with people outside his experience means that if he becomes president, he will have very little clue how his legislation will affect the rest of us who don't have parents who have enough money to send their kids to college or to help start a business. The fact that he has difficulty connecting with average people outside of his church is not because he's rich…it's because that's who he is! There are plenty of people of means who have been able to connect to people outside of their sheltered existence.  When creating legislation and consulting with different parties about how to go about crafting them, one's empathy and understanding of people's needs affects the decision-making process. 

So I say again, maybe Romney can fix the economy. But who's he gonna fix it for?! 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Music is more than just a prep period....

I read this LATimes article and was heartbroken. My husband, who is a saxophonist, and I were talking about his students and how finally, after three years they are starting to be able to really play. This is with kids he gets to see once a week, who do not get to take home instruments because there are not enough for everyone. Music makes kids want to stay around the school. It gives them something to be proud of, something they alone accomplished but do communally. It is one of the first times many children have to work together for a goal where just their personal effort doesn't cut it. If you sing or play the wrong note, everyone looks bad. But when you work hard, try your best, and succeed…there is no better feeling. This skill of playing music with a group is like no other. Parents in upper middle class schools ALWAYS have ridiculously good music and arts programs because it is understood that these programs make for a well rounded child and a well rounded adult.

So why is it that we don't have the same standards for our urban schools? Why is it that the music program is consistently treated like a prep period for a classroom teacher (which is actually how music programs are able to exist…for real)? Music is important to the well being of children. It's a place where creativity, information and cooperative learning mix, which is what every employer is asking for; the ability to be creative in finding solutions and working constructively towards a goal.

In this article a high school music teacher took a group of kids from a tough neighborhood who didn't know anything about music and turned them into an award winning band. And then he was fired.  Oh, he was hired back, did a great job,  and won awards again. And then he was fired again. Kinda makes one feel like people don't appreciate what you do. This teacher decided to just goto another school district where he could just stay and do his job without having to worry whether he would have a job every year. The implication from the article was that the school where he is now employed was not in an impoverished area.

Music is an intangible. Knowledge of music has been the mark of educated upper middle class people for a very, very long time.  There is a reason for this. Good teachers of music can make sure that students walk into the door of a school, especially in the very tenuous high school years when kids need a reason to deal with rigorous homework and class schedule that they don't really feel affects their daily lives or futures. People say they want music in the schools. It's time for us to really understand why.  Middle and upper middle class parents won't let their children out of their house unless they are in choir or take an instrument of some sort for at least 6 months. It's time we as a country understand that just the three Rs won't cut it in our schools.

Although glad to have put a band together in his first year at the school, Vizcarra did not want to settle. He pushed his students, taking the group of new musicians to competitions. 
They soon were winning so many competitions that trophies filled their classroom's shelves and spilled onto the floor. 
"There was just something magical with my students at Fairfax," he said. "I would be in tears by the end of their performances." 
Last month, Vizcarra's former band students threw him a birthday party. They presented him with a scrapbook and photo album depicting silly moments and performances. 
"To the best music teacher we have ever had,"(emphasis mine) they wrote on the scrapbook's first page. "You are such an amazing person. An awesome friend. A father to us most. Thanks for everything you did for us." 
The Fairfax band's absence has been strongly felt this fall. The school's football team is playing on a newly built field, which held its first game this season without music.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Urban gentrification ain't helping everybody....

Elections have consequences.  I'm saying that because we as a country have been doing the top down approach for many years. It has made a lot of people really wealthy.  In real estate markets in San Francisco, some parts of Washington, DC and my old hometown, Brooklyn, NY, (I have three hometowns BTW) brownstones in formally destitute and crime ridden neighborhoods are now worth hundreds of thousands, if not million(s) of dollars.  How do I know this? A friend of mine who is in real estate just told me the houses on my former neighborhood in "do-or-die-bed-stuy" were selling for $900,000. WHAT?! You mean the block where guys used to smoke weed all day?! Where Ms Ida sat on the stoop all day long and my neighbors blared their music without even being outside?! Wow, the neighborhood must be great now. I wonder where all the people I know are today? Are they doing any better financially? Are the people that lived on the block benefiting from the real estate boom? Apparently, as I expected, Forbes says no…

...lower middle-class Brooklyn “is pockmarked with empty stores,” Siegel notes. With its once robust industrial- and port-based economy shrunken to vestigial levels, opportunities for Brooklynites who lack high-end skills or nice inheritances are shrinking. Some other areas, like Bensonhurst and Sheepshead Bay, have been revived through immigration. 
Jonathan Bowles, president of the New York-based Center for an Urban Future, sees a divide between, on the one hand, “the creative class” and some immigrant neighborhoods, and on the other, “the concentrated poverty” in many other struggling areas like Brownsville (where my mother grew up) and East New York. “There are clearly huge swaths of Brooklyn where you don’t see gentrification and there won’t be anytime soon,” Bowles observes.
The article goes on to talk about the structural issues of transportation that can make it more difficult to get to the jobs within the borough. But I think it's deeper emotionally and spiritually than that. The Republican idea that a rising tide lifts all ships is not at work here. There seem to be a lot of rising tides in Brooklyn, but a bunch of ships are sinking or never left the bottom of the ocean. As the people who have money have less identification with the difficulties of living paycheck to paycheck, they see the poor's difficulties as their own fault, completely. What does not seem to be taken into consideration are the difficulties with transportation, higher taxes due to higher housing values, lack of education that prepares children for the jobs that actually exist, crime, frustration, health costs…whew. I'm tired just listing it.  When poor people have a financial problem that might have to do with one of these listed items, they have less of a buffer to handle it as opposed to those who are owners of those hip brownstones.  

I work with this population's children now and have for many, many years. I'm not talking about Shequana, who's a stripper with five "boyfriends" who's taking her kids to school in tight pants and spike heals cause she just got home from the club an hour ago. I'm talking about Jamia who works two jobs and takes her kids to after school choir because it's free and her child can get homework assistance. That woman tis he majority of people in the working poor. The real estate boom before and the little one happening now haven't helped her AT ALL. She couldn't afford to purchase a house even before gentrification happened and if she did, she may not have had the extra money saved to handle any of the problems that inevitably occur with home ownership. (i.e. my hot water heater broke 2 months after we bought our first home and one month later I had to put a new roof on. These kind of expenses can send you into foreclosure real quick if you don't have a savings cushion) There are no jobs in the "new economy" for barely high school educated but hard working Jamia. So gentrification just got her…a higher rent.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration identifies itself closely with Manhattan’s “luxury city” economy. Focused on finance, media and high-end business services, this approach does not offer much to blue-collar Brooklyn. New York over the past decade has suffered among the worst erosions of its industrial base of any major metropolitan area. Brooklyn alone has lost 23,000 manufacturing jobs during that time. 
Inequality in the Bloombergian “luxury city” is growing even faster than in the nation as whole. In fact, the gap between rich and poor is now the worst in a decade. New York’s wealthiest one percent earn a third of the entire city’s personal income — almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country. 
So while artisanal cheese shops serve the hipsters and high-end shops thrive, one in four Brooklynites receives food stamps.
If a rising tide lifts all boats than my boat should be a yacht or at least a 60 footer with a fly bridge and a place to fish. The working poor in cities are struggling, no one in government is addressing it with any seriousness, and a certain group of people says their poverty is completely their own fault; pull yourself up by your boot straps! All I'm saying is that the top down approach to economic empowerment does not seem to be working. Elections have consequences…

Friday, October 5, 2012

Should we fire Big Bird?

At the debate Wednesday Mitt Romney said that he would cut funds for PBS. He loves Jim Lehrer and he LOVES Big Bird. But he's not going to go into debt to China over funding PBS.  Now if any of you all know me, you now that I am an NPR listener! I love Public Television. I grew up on it and so have my kids(Sid the Science Kid anyone? And I love me some Word Girl) Kai Ryssdal on Marketplace is my favorite and I stream the Diane Rehm show on my phone regularly; yes when you see me on my iPhone bopping my head while shopping, I'm probably nodding my head to the beat of a particularly good question being asked.  But Mitt Romney's going to cut all that out if he's elected president.

I just want to go against the grain and even my own likes for a moment. Do we really need governmental support of TV and Radio at this time? We sure did back in the stone ages of TV when there were literally four channels. (anyone remember UHF vs VHF channels?) Public TV was a bastion of educational and quality programming. It actually still is, BUT…. there are literally hundreds of channels that have quality and educational programming. We pay for them through cable subscriptions that nearly everyone I know has. There's a channel for every proclivity that you can imagine and now there's satellite radio with every piece of music, talk, or idea that you can think of.  

I'm not debating quality at this moment. But if the point of government support of Public TV and radio is that we need to have a non-commercial based quality media station for all due to lack of access…well that argument is gone.  What is public TV for? Why do we need it? I love it but I also love shopping at Saks Jandel.  But I can shop at Loemann's and not put myself into a debtor's prison.  This is not me trying to get rid of PBS and NPR, just saying that if we don't know what something's really for, we have to reassess and re-evaluate or we can't pretend that we're serious about fiscal problems in this country. I also know that that this is an easy target budget-wise and looking at Public media funding cuts won't dent the debt or deficit. But…I'm just saying…

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

We're "raising" a spoiled brat Congress

WIth the election fast approaching, I have really thought about voting and what makes this particular election so fractious. The people who don't like Obama, really hate him and are basically stomaching candidate Romney just so they can get rid of the current president. It reminds me a lot of how I and many of my friends and family thought about the last president Bush. We just knew the country was going down the toilet with Bush in power, and see: the country actually was circling the toilet, i.e. the great recession began. However, Republicans think the same thing about Obama. 

From my perspective, and not just mine mind you, the Republican house has been especially obstructive since Obama took office; not allowing Obama to get his agenda across to the public.  However, it is his job to find a way to get legislation passed that he is in favor of.  It doesn't matter how hard it is.  But I think the job of governance has become a lot harder because of Republicans, but not in way that many of you may think.  And it is not only Republicans who have benefitted from this or created it. What is it? Gerrymandering of voting districts.  Originally, I was for a certain amount of gerrymandering because it allowed historically oppressed or under-represented ethnic groups to be elected so that the governing body looked more like the population at large.  Now, I think it's destroying our country.  

Gerrymandering has allowed for republican districts to stay reliably Republican, and vise versa for the Democrats.  This has made it so that you can have an Allen West or Michelle Bachmann saying all sorts of wacky things like there are socialists/communists in the congress or that we need to have hearings about the loyalty of people in the government who are of Arabic descent. They didn't just start "getting retarded" after having a vaccination. Since voting districts are reliably one party, the elected official doesn't have to appeal to any other strain of thought, thereby electing representatives that can go into government proudly saying that they will not reach consensus with anyone who doesn't think as they do. 

It's like the congress has forgotten the rules of the playground. You know, the ones that say play fair and when you make up games, everyone has to participate in the rule making process and come to an agreement how the game will be played and then follow the rules that you made up?  Isn't that a novel idea? We EXPECT children to learn to work together and get mad at them when they don't. Parents and teachers know that children will always leave the unpopular or un-athletic kid out and we call that a character defecit to be trained out of children.  We then force all kids to be involved in the game.  At a playdate or a party, we enforce that everyone must have a say and kids must work together to have fun.

Gerrymandering means that no one has to get along. It rewards extreme behavior.  It penalizes humans learned behavior of consensus building.  It limits the efficacy one's individual vote has during an election.  It allows for only winning, no loosing; safety with limited responsibility.  We punish children with timeouts, loss of privileges, extra homework or chores for this type of behavior. We tell teachers that they have to create lessons based around cooperation. We have our children in sports to teach them cooperative competition.  We, the electorate need to start paying attention because we're raising a spoiled brat of a congress, and no one likes that kid…their parents suck….

Here's part of an article from The Atlantic that explains part of the issue. I suggest one read the entire article.

[Former Tennessee congressman John]Tanner says that redistricting’s impact has evolved over time, from simply creating safe seats for incumbents to creating rigid conservative and liberal districts, wherein the primary contests are a race to the extremes and the general elections are preordained. “When the [final] election [outcome] is [determined] in the party primary—which now it is, in all but less than 100 of the 435 seats—then a member comes [to Washington] politically crippled,” the retired congressman told me. “Look, everyone knows we have a structural deficit, and the only way out of it is to raise revenues and cut entitlements. No one who’s reasonable thinks otherwise. But what happens? The Democrats look over their left shoulder, and if someone suggests cutting a single clerk out of the Department of Agriculture, they go crazy. Republicans look over their right shoulder, and if someone proposes raising taxes on Donald Trump’s income by $10, they say it’ll be the end of the world. So these poor members come to Washington paralyzed, unable to do what they all know must be done to keep the country from going adrift, for fear that they’ll get primaried. 
“It’s imposed a parliamentary model on a representative system,” Tanner went on. “It makes sense for Democrats to vote one way and Republicans to vote another in a parliamentary system. It’s irrational in a representative form of government. So what that’s done is two things. First, it’s made it virtually impossible to compromise. And second, as we’ve seen in this past decade, it’s damn near abolished the ability and responsibility of Congress to hold the executive branch of the same party accountable. The Bush years, we were appropriating $100 billion at a time for the Iraq War with no hearings, for fear that [those would] embarrass the administration. Hell yeah, that’s due to redistricting! The Republicans in Congress and the Bush administration became part of the same team. We’re totally abdicating our responsibility of checks and balances.