Land of Opportunity?

                          Unless you have visited New York, you might not realize these words are printed on a bronze plaque at the base of The Statue of Liberty. It certainly seems our government as well as many of our citizens have forgotten the spirit these words represent. America used to be infused with idealism. We used to call ourselves the “Land of Opportunity.” However, as we descend into the draconian, self-absorbed society espoused by our current leadership, the ideals that inspired our citizenry and the entire world are slipping away. Of course, you are free to agree with this ‘new’ direction even if it is not necessarily new. Human beings are very short-sighted when their perceived best interests are at stake, and we feel threatened and/or under attack. We went through the “Red Scare” of the 1920’s, and the McCarthy Era in the 50’s. These are only two examples where national security trumped free expression. Of course, the modern equivalent is “The War on Terror” which has consumed us ever since the attack on The World Trade Center in 2001. This is certainly a legitimate concern, but where does this “war” end? By banning everyone of the Muslim faith from our shores? Certainly we will not eradicate every threat in sight through exclusion alone.

Presently, illegal immigration is the other major concern on the scene. It is perceived by many as a major threat to our society, but not for the reasons given by the government. Whether we know it or not, this country was built by an infusion of immigrants looking for greater opportunity. Looking at our present day and time, has this fundamentally changed? If you listen to the constant drum beat from The White House, we are beset with terrorists, murderers, gang members, rapists, and drug dealers assaulting our borders in droves. Lost in the cacophony of accusations are the aspirations of immigrants… human beings like us… searching for a better life in a safe and secure environment. This is the truth of the matter beyond all the fear-mongering. The short-sighted view is that all these immigrants are a drain on our economy through the rise in demand for social services. This may be true to the extent it takes families awhile to get established in their new environs, but I don’t personally believe that is why they arrive on our shores. If social services are what they are looking for, then why not keep going north to Canada where far more generous benefits are available?

There is something far more insidious in the mix. Do we feel beset by an ‘invasion’ of those who are racially and culturally different from us? The short answer is yes. The long answer is much more complicated. We have had resistance to changing demographics for well over a century. Students of history might remember events such as “The Yellow Peril” that accompanied the influx of Chinese into California in the mid-1800s; the xenophobic responses to the arrival of Jewish,  Italian and Irish ethnic minorities into the Northeast by the predominately white Anglo-Saxon society. Often, these demographic changes were spurred by the economic reality of the times. We needed the workforce to promote the Industrial Revolution. Conveniently, the Chinese were hard workers partially responsible for the construction of the trans-continental railroad. Inconveniently, we look back on slavery as directly responsible for promoting the agrarian economy of the Southern States just as migrant labor has been so fundamental to the growth and maintenance of agriculture in many of our western states. Without a doubt, these factors have all had a positive impact on the growth of our national economy. Native Americans, on the other hand, were pushed into Oklahoma only to become an obstruction to the development of oil rights in the area. To say otherwise is to deny reality. Our economy has thrived in part on efficient, cheap labor in order to profit. What happens to those ‘instruments of convenience’ when they wear out their usefulness; or have none to begin with? Are they to be ignored and discarded? Evidently.

This seems to be the tone that is being applied to illegal immigrants on our borders as well. The message is clear. They are not welcome. Yet, who has benefited from the labor of these “illegals” in the onion fields; the meat-packing plants; the building trades; and the restaurants of America for decades? It seems we want our cake and to eat it, too. Hard manual labor is below the station of most Americans today, but somebody has to do it, right? So what is our solution? Separating children from their families in order to scare people from coming here? Building a wall to maintain The American Dream for all those contained even if we don’t aspire to change with the times? The truth is the United States has as much territory; or more, as all of Mainland China with less than a quarter of the population. Hard-line strategies will not work in the long-run. We are only alienating ourselves from the ideals that made this country great, and inhibiting further growth in the process. The rest of the world used to see us as a beacon of hope for humanity, but that outlook is quickly being eroded. While we make nice with authoritarian regimes and trash our friends and allies for not paying their fair share, we only shoot ourselves in the foot. Disdain, not respect, is the eventual outcome. As our President likes to say: “Sad. Very sad.”

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An Indictment On Our Society?

Public education is in crisis. Teachers are on strike. Fatal violence is becoming almost a weekly phenomena in our schools. Betsy DeVos is on a mission to cut spending for public schools. The N.E.A. has been vilified by fiscal hawks like Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Where will it end? Will educators be subjected to “Right to Work” laws like so much of the rest of our workforce? The primary question I would like to pose in the face of all of the above is… How can we maintain an informed society if students are more interested in their Facebook accounts; and their safety, quite frankly, than learning about governmental checks and balances?

I could spin some fine conspiracy theories about ‘dumbing down’ our society through undercutting funding for education, but I am not into such A.M. radio banter, nor do I believe that people-in-general are ‘dumb’. However, we are only as informed as we choose to be. If we have preconceived notions about our world that we are fed by the media, and our Chief Executive, for that matter, just where are we heading as a society? And if our preconceived ideas have no real basis in reality, are we simply subject to manipulation by the powers that be? You bet we are! If we simply believe what we are told by the media and our politicians we are charting a dangerous course. We need to be able to filter the information we are fed; check its authenticity; and then, come to our own conclusions. These are skills we learn where? In school. If we don’t know the difference between China and China Grove we are in trouble.

The mind that follows the ‘party line’ without any thought to the contrary is not prepared to adjust its course. This is what compromise is all about, and this is what is not happening in America today. We are polarized, but do we really know why? We may think we do according to what we have heard someone else say, but do we? Without a sound, unbiased, and yes, secular education we seem doomed to continue with this trench warfare. If I am entrenched in my beliefs, I do not leave myself open to change as I learn more. And, for me, this is not a one-sided issue. “Political Correctness” has become responsible for much of the mess we find ourselves in. It has driven a wedge between us that is deeper than fiscal restraint ever will. Remember Charlottesville?

Debate begins in classrooms. It should not end with violence on the streets. For better or worse, our public schools have been responsible for providing access to a free education. As such, the development of  our free society depends on education. It is the ‘engine’ that provides opportunity to countless millions of our citizens for almost two centuries. The precedent was set by our Founding Fathers shortly after the establishment of our country. Here is a quote attributed to our Second President, John Adams: “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,” wrote Adams. “There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Of course, this was a revolutionary idea. Education was considered a privilege not a right in most of the world over the course of history. Granted, our system of public education has not been perfect. We can talk about the exclusion of women; the demands placed on rural children to contribute to the production of the family farm; and the evils of segregation. It has been a long, arduous journey to provide free access to all members of our society. Indeed, I am a product of a public school education. As a child, I remember anticipating First Grade because my parents did not have the means to enroll me in a pay-as-you-go Kindergarden program. Would we deny our children the same opportunity today? It seems we are heading in that direction. Teachers are not paid their due. Many are forced to get a second job, and work summers to supplement their income. Their hours and benefits have been cut due to fiscal restraints. And, on top of all this, many spend some of their paychecks to provide students with the supplies they need to be successful in their classrooms.

Education should be a priority, not a burden. The Free Market will only carry a limited amount of this ‘burden’. School vouchers and Charter Schools will not solve it. Communities with the resources will benefit most from these schemes. A school voucher will never address the inequities found in our public school systems. If we are to live up to our ideal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all,” we must find ways to open doors, not close them. Then again, there may be those who say education has nothing to do with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I beg to differ. Shall we debate the issue; or continue shouting at each other?

How Can We Live Together?

There is no one we cannot accept without the right understanding. Knowing that we are all unique on the outside while remembering we all came into life the same way is a start. I fancy myself as just as unique as anyone else, but is my uniqueness what makes me human? I do not have a definitive answer to this question, but I do know one thing… Love is the constructive force that sustains us all. We can justify our existence through many different ways, but if our intent is based on anything apart from love, we are only hurting ourselves. Intimidation, argument, and violence are still tools used by many to impose their will on others. But what is the price of such folly? Are we any happier by taking control of our world through force; or are we just stoking the fires of anger in others as well as ourselves? Recently, we saw the results of such anger in Charlottesville, Virginia. Are we progressing as a society by fomenting such conflict? Do we become better people by proclaiming the right to protest? Human history is full of protest; let alone outright rebellion, all to what end?  If we are students of history at all, we can recall that The French Revolution ended with Napoleon declaring himself Emperor. What has happened in Venezuela since Hugo Chavez took power? What about “The Arab Spring?”  It’s true, our experiment with democracy began successfully enough, but are we going to descend into the same conflicts that led to the guillotine; riots in the streets; and suicide bombings? You say it can’t happen here? Well, what was Timothy Mc Veigh’s intent in bombing The Federal Building in Oklahoma City? Or the terrible terrorist attack on 9/11 in New York? These crude attempts to intimidate and/or seek revenge just create more of the same. Anger and resentment just fuel our primal urges. It is a vicious cycle, and it is counter-productive to living peacefully with our neighbors. Ask yourselves: Isn’t there a better way to live than by imposing our views on society? Statues or not, are we all going to “re-write history” so it fits our view of the world as we see it. This is unfortunate because when we use history against each other the results can lead to what we heard about last week in Charlottesville. There are those that would white-wash the pain of The Civil War right out of our memory; and there are those who resist that notion in the name of their White Heritage. Who is right? And does it really matter? History is simply a memory of the past, and, as such, we have demonstrated again and again it is selective according to who is viewing it. Is it going to repair the damage to society-as-a-whole? Look into the eyes of your neighbor. Are they any less human than you? Does our desire to be ‘right’ super-cede their humanity? If I am filled with anger and hate, can I solve my problems by spewing it on others? Ask yourselves honestly… What does this do to our hearts?  Personally, I can find no peace in having to constantly defend my position from attack. Could it all be an misunderstanding based on a lack of love for our fellow beings? Perhaps if we stopped pointing fingers, and began talking to each other, we might begin to understand each others’ problems and concerns.What happened to compromise?  It takes maturity, and a balanced mind, my friends. No one has all the answers to the problems we create for ourselves. We need to figure these things out together to progress as a civil society. I leave you with one last thought… Take a look at the back of a nickel. You will notice the phrase: “E Pluribus Unum.” It means: out of many, one. Isn’t it about time we remembered what this country was really created to be? Thank you for reading these thoughts. If you agree with them, please feel free to pass them on.

To Fund Or Defund… That is the Question

President Trump and Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVoss, are out to defund after-school, and free lunch programs; if their budget proposals are implemented by Congress. Irregardless of your politics, this is flat-out wrong. Education is a cornerstone of our society. Without a decent education, you might as well toss the cell phone in the trash, and go back to using stone tools. Yes, our liberal Western democracy was built on a public school education that allowed everyone an opportunity to be the best they can be. The trouble seems to be that an informed public is a danger to the Conservative agenda. If the goal of Trump and DeVoss is ultimately to dismantle our public school system, this is merely the tip of the iceberg in dumbing down our society to their advantage. DeVoss, in particular, is a big advocate of “school choice.” However, just what kind of choice do most of us have? I am a product of public school education myself. Our educational system may be far from perfect, but where is the path to success without it? Such blatant disregard for the least among us is a warning sign for us all. If you don’t believe it, just check out how DeVoss’s philosophy worked in Michigan, where she was scorned for being totally unqualified to provide any leadership in the field of education. She is not an educator herself. She was a lobbyist for school choice who zealously gave of her time and money to bring education in line with her Biblical worldview. Her efforts have actually contributed to more disarray in the Michigan public school system by advocating for unregulated school choice. This has led to restricting education in under-served urban areas which do not have the means to send their kids to suburban schools with better track records. School busing is an option that ran out more than two decades ago, and the only “charter schools” in the Detroit Metropolitan Area are abysmal. For example, Hope Academy; a charter high school serving the Grand River and Livernois areas for the past 20 years, has some of the lowest test scores in the state. This kind of blatant disregard toward the disadvantaged is reflected in such moves by those who would balance budgets on the back of social programs. Leaving the states to handle education alone will lead to even bigger discrepancies in opportunities for those in economically depressed areas. It is not all black and white, folks, and we know it in our of hearts.                                                                                                                                                  Back to the topic at hand… A member of Congress recently stated: “There is no evidence that feeding hungry children helps them do better in school.” Could it be that an empty belly might make a child work harder to get out of their circumstances?  Reasoning like this will bankrupt us all morally. Of course, these proposed cuts to after-school, and lunch programs, have not been scrutinized by Congress as yet so I am not hear to proclaim the sky is falling. The simple fact that DeVoss and Trump are willing to try getting these cuts approved tells you something. I suppose the money saved can be put to better use. Perhaps it will be shifted over to national defense, or maybe help fund the Border Wall. I don’t know. Either way, what they seem to be saying is these programs are wasteful, and thereby, expendable.                                                                                      Public school education has been under scrutiny, and attack for some time now. Gov. Scott Baker went after the N.E.A. in Wisconsin as part of his “right to work” agenda in that state. Busting unions has been fashionable among Conservative politicians for generations in the name of fiscal restraint. Why? Because unions wield power to leverage businesses and government for concessions they pass along to their members. If education is such an important cornerstone of our society why is it not a priority to support programs that enhance the educational experience for all our citizens? When those who grew up attending the best private schools money can buy are in a position to dictate the future direction of education, perhaps there isn’t the perspective; nor the compassion, to realize how blessed they were.

Why do we build walls?

Our country is being led in a protectionist direction by our current Executive-in-Chief and his advisors. Yes, he is delivering on his promises by building a wall on our southern border with Mexico, and by banning entry to people from 6 Muslim countries. The current Executive Order; excluding Iraq, went into effect this week. One question we can obviously ask is: Will this prevent further terrorist acts against the United States? However, there are more questions that can be asked; e.g. Will we be any safer once these measures are in effect? Just who should we be afraid of? And can we control terrorism within our borders by restricting the inflow of specific immigrants?

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a devastating home-made bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people, and injuring another 600. This was the most significant act of terror within our shores until 911. Why should I mention this in lieu of our current situation? After all, these measures are being taken against people outside our borders, and Mc Veigh was a white American citizen whose motivation was entirely different. Or was it? His expressed intent was to inspire a revolt against the federal government. The reasons for his anger were the A.T.F. attacks against David Kouresh’s compound in Waco, Texas, and the siege at Ruby Ridge which led to the deaths of a U.S.Marshal, and the Perpetrator’s wife and son. These were his stated motives following his arrest and conviction. Surely, something had taken hold of Timothy McVeigh since his military days where he served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War. Then again, he was reprimanded for purchasing and wearing a “White Power” shirt purchased at a Ku Klux Clan rally in response to black soldiers wearing “Black Power” T-shirts around his base. Clearly, Timothy McVeigh had a very polarized view of the world which is shared by many people today.

During Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 inaugural address he stated: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” His statement was primarily directed towards the difficult economic times we found ourselves in following The Crash of ’29. Contrast these words with those of President Trump during his inaugural address : “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” All I ask you to do is check your heart after reading each statement. For me, the former has a ring of truth to it while the latter statement seems very foreboding. Just what does the word ‘carnage’ evoke? Webster’s Dictionary defines carnage this way: “The killing of many people.” Yet, when you look at the context in which Mr. Trump uses the word, he is mainly referring to our economy. Certainly this exaggerated use of the word appealed to enough people to place him in the Presidency, but at what cost?

Now, we are going to build walls both literally and figuratively around our country, but just exactly what will this accomplish? I cannot answer this question, but I will put it out there for each and everyone’s examination. All I know is, when we build walls around us to ‘control’ the chaos we perceive to be ‘out there’, we are denying our own humanity by denying the humanity in other parts of the world. The United States is not the first nation to do so. Did not the Romans build Hadrian’s Wall to keep out the Picts? And, of course, there is The Great Wall of China first erected by the Qin Dynasty to ward off the ‘barbarians’ attacking their northern borders. These attempts at controlling the movements of peoples throughout history were done to keep those perceived as a threat at bay. But how did those walls work in staving off the forces of change in those societies? How did they create mutual understanding? As we now know from history’s lessons, walls cannot protect us from the ills of our own society. The Romans were finally overcome not only by competing interests in Europe, but their own decadence. The Chinese Dynasties were convulsed by various invasions; followed by periods of stagnation over the last two millenniums. If holding on to what we have is an effective strategy in meeting the challenges of the Global Economy and Terrorism, we are certainly heading in the right direction. These questions remain to be answered, however… How long can we hold on? Or are we simply afraid of our own shadows? Time will tell.

What kind of world do you want?

    I am compelled to create this blog because of the direction politics is heading in our country. It is indisputable that the United States is looked upon as a great bastion of freedom and democracy amidst a world of strife and conflict. In this light, it seems we can continue to be looked upon for inspiration, or, we can become stuck in traditional ways of thinking and behaving. The latter could lead us to isolation and stagnation. The former will help us join with folks all around the globe who see the things we must address in order to adapt to a more crowded, interconnected, and ever more turbulent world. To do anything less is to bury our heads in the sand.

    There is no doubt that the global economy has leveled the playing field worldwide. The ramifications on the U.S. economy have been significant. The fallout has created widespread discontent among the many who have been left behind by globalization.This is what this current election cycle has brought to light in a big way. People are angry, and feeling shut out of The American Dream.

    The impact this has had on our society is very grave. From the coal mines of Appalachia, to the steel mills of Pittsburgh and Birmingham, and, yes, the car manufacturing plants of Detroit; the world economy has moved on. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, families who made up the backbone of these industries became accustomed to living a middle class lifestyle, or, at least, a blue collar lifestyle. The substitute? A job at the world’s largest retailer, or perhaps some other low-paying service industry job. This is a dilemma that has left many scrambling to pay rent; bills; and cover their basic expenses while working two or even three jobs.

    Meanwhile, the old adage: “The rich get richer” is even more apropos in a world where the elite 2%  control 90% of the world’s wealth.Most of us are aware of the statement: “Too big to fail.” At the same time, many might ask where their ‘golden parachute’ was during the financial melt-down in 2008. Just what is being done to address the needs of Main Street America?  This is the crux of the problem.

    How do we address this serious imbalance in our society? This has become the major issue in this campaign. It is the source of the insurgency candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The latter claims we need a socialist revolution to improve access to education, adequate healthcare, and create more equitable income. Moderates advocate for increasing tax rates on the wealthy and closing tax loop-holes, but these tax breaks are considered “business incentives.” If they are removed, there will be more motivation for multi-national corporations to run away from our shores. Can we take such strategies  to be genuine, or just more false political promises? This is the dilemma we are faced with…who to take seriously.

    While these issues are legitimate concerns to be addressed in our society, there is another voice that seems to be drowning out all other debate. This is the voice of Donald Trump. He claims to know how to fix our problems, but, all we know so far, is that he is bombastic; crude; and aggressive. If this is where are political dialogue is heading in earnest, this country, and the world, quite frankly, is in serious trouble. Do we really care about how to fix are economy, and re-create The American Dream, or are we becoming spectators of another ‘reality’ T.V. show? If that makes you uncomfortable, so be it. It is a question that needs to be asked because the tone of the debate seems to be controlled by he who shouts loudest.

    Unfortunately, there are many people who still cling to the idea that this is a dog-eat-dog world where everybody is responsible for their life’s outcome. It is an ingrained belief that fuels the fires of greed and avarice among us. To have or have not are the stark alternatives of this approach to life. If this way of thinking continues to predominate, where does that leave us “losers?” Are we at the mercy of some ‘savior’ to come and wave a magic wand to make everything right? It appears many are putting their faith in just such a savior during this election cycle. I also realize this is probably not going to change anybody’s mind because the people who buy into saviors are not going to read this.

    Gaining an advantage over others by winning the game of life will not help our world become a better place. For every enterprising entrepreneur who takes advantage of free enterprise to get ahead, there are hundreds pushed aside. This works as long as there is plenty of room on the playing field. However, our economic system is now reaching the saturation point. We will all lose out in the long-run unless civility and compassion are re-introduced into our political dialogue. Suspicion of government based on the rugged individualism of the 19th Century frontier spirit went a long way in developing our modern society. It has been emulated across the globe since the post W.W. II Era. I also agree that bureaucratic inefficiency, waste, and corruption are endemic in our government. Super Pacs call the shots in the halls of Congress.

    That does not mean it has to be this way. We need both free enterprise, and a responsive government that works for the benefit of our entire society. Government is not just a necessary evil. It created the most efficient interstate highway system in history under the Eisenhower administration. The Social Security tax created during F.D.R.s  Administration supposedly created a safety net for ‘Average Joes’ like me by involuntarily putting something away for retirement. However, the Social Security system is under assault by those that claim it  is no longer viable because of the National Debt. “I will never see any benefits from the Social Security system,” has become a mantra of the younger generations. If it is broken, I suspect ‘something’, ot ‘somebody’, is responsible for mismanaging the Fund. Money paid into the system should be available to all those who have their paychecks gleaned by the government. With interest, I might add. Anyone with half a brain can get my drift. There is a need to get government under control so it works for ALL Americans.

    A democracy is only as responsible as the people populating it. We must learn to work together to create the world we want to see. Self-reliance made America great, but, it could also be our downfall.The “I-me-mine” mentality we have tried to impose on the world is obsolete. If we are going to make tomorrow brighter than today, we must learn to work with the global community; not against it. Tough talk and name-calling won’t get it done for me.