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Americans on the Brink April 12, 2010

Posted by Kate Ryan in Bank Bail-Out, Democrats, Economy, National Politics, popular culture, Republicans, Tea Party, Tea Party Activism.
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Yesterday was a typical secular Sunday in my household.   An early riser by nature, I drove off at 8 am to get doughnuts and a paper, and was comfortably ensconced in my recliner in time to watch the Sunday news shows.  During the roundtable feature on “Meet the Press”, host David Gregory was asking the panelists to comment on the retirement of Justice Stevens and any potential Obama nominee to the high court.  Conservative columnist David Brooks supported the idea that the President should choose someone outside the judiciary this time.  Brooks placed it in the context of the current political climate:

“Listen, there’s a social context here.  We have become a divided society based on college education and non-college education.  People without high school–without college degrees, much lower incomes, much higher divorce rates, much less social trust.  They take a look at people running Washington and running corporations, and they say, ‘Those people don’t get me.’ And that’s behind a lot of the anger we see in the country.  And every single issue reflects that in some way. ”

Brooks’ comment got me thinking about the anger in America these days and, I have to say, I disagree with his reasoning.  Americans are not angry because the people in charge don’t “get” them.   They are angry because they are afraid.  They see that country is changing culturally, racially, and economically – perhaps not to their perceived advantage – and this scares the hell out of them.  They feel powerless in the face of this change and are lashing out at anyone and everyone that they feel are responsible.   Unfortunately, they are lashing out at the wrong people entirely.

For the working and middle classes in America, the last 30 years has been a steady and planned destruction.  Beginning with Ronald Reagan’s first tax cuts in 1981, through the paroxysms of globalization and free trade, to the near-collapse of the American economy at the hands of Wall Street bankers, average Americans are losing ground.  If you are lucky enough to have a full-time job, wages and salaries have been stagnant or decreasing.  The cost of living is getting ever higher.  Family lives are suffering because we have to work more and longer hours just to make ends meet.  Teen pregnancy, drug use, and crime are rising because too many parents can’t be home to supervise their children.   Household debt is crushing, health insurance or medical costs are crushing, our pensions are gone in favor of 401Ks that have been decimated by the economic meltdown….the list goes on. 

In the mean time, we have bloated our military budget beyond all reasonableness and have pursued two expensive and largely unnecessary wars – a third if you consider the next to useless “war on drugs”.  We have looted our treasury to enrich political contributors and lobbyists with taxpayer money.  We have ignored the health and well-being of our fellow citizens by gutting every paltry social safety net that we ever provided. We have allowed our roads, bridges, railways, and air-traffic control system to disintegrate in favor of shoveling over 90% of the country’s wealth to the richest 1% of its citizens.

Most of the above can be laid squarely at the feet of Republicans and Conservatives.  Tax cuts for the wealthy, union-busting, incentives to off-shore jobs, deregulation of banks and Wall Street, pursuit of “law and order”, pre-emptive war, destruction of private pensions, ballooning budget deficits…all what the Conservatives want for us.  Now they sit in Congress, gleefully blocking anything that would make things better for the average American out there, and the American people are finally angry.

BUT NOT AT THEM.

To me, that is mind-boggling.   I look at the faces in the crowds at Tea Party protests and see a lot of people who look like my parents, my brothers, my friends and neighbors.  Just regular old working-class shmoes that have the simple desire to see their children do better than they did.   They are motivated by a strong desire to just go back to the time when a guy could graduate from high school, get a manufacturing job that paid well enough so that the wife could stay home and raise the kids, maybe take a vacation every summer, and the kids could go to college – graduate without being a bazillion dollars in debt –  and get an even better life.   

What the Tea Party activists need to realize is that this particular vision of America is gone forever.  What they need to realize is that by embracing change, they will be able to shape change, and that will guarantee the better future we are looking for.  What they also need to realize is that voting for people and parties that are working against their interests will never get them there.

In the 1995 film, “The Usual Suspects”, Kevin Spacey’s character Verbal Kint says, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”.  The greatest trick the Republicans ever pulled was convincing ordinary Americans that they were just like them.

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Racism, Reid & Republicans…Can’t We All Just Get Along? January 11, 2010

Posted by Kate Ryan in Barack Obama, Democrats, Harry Reid, National Politics, Racism, Republicans.
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Years ago, when my daughter was 10 or 11, she was assigned to read a book about Langston Hughes – the early 20th century African-American poet and playwright – for Black History month.  She came to me one day to ask me about the terms “colored” and “colored people” that cropped up throughout the book. I explained that in the past, “colored” was a term used to refer to African-Americans.  That it was once acceptable, but now was considered perjorative, and that the correct term was African-American.  My daughter chewed on this for a while, then asked, “why isn’t everybody  a colored person?”

Surprised, I asked her what she meant.  She went on to explain that she knew lots of African-Americans and that were not one color; some were dark-skinned, some were brown, some were almost white.  That she had Indian and Hispanic friends that were brown.  That even she – a supposedly white girl – had a dark complexion (olive-skinned) as compared to me (white as a sheet).  “Can we be colored people?”, she asked.  It took a while to convince her that, no, we would not be colored people.

I was reminded of this conversation with my daughter this weekend when the flap broke over Senator Harry Reid’s comments about then-candidate Barack Obama – whom he described as a “light skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one”.  Reid’s comments were revealed in the new book, “Game Change” by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, and were made to explain Obama’s acceptability to white America as an African-American candidate. 

Of course, Senator Reid’s gaffe has caused a great uproar among our friends on the right.  GOP Chairman Michael Steele said on “Meet the Press” yesterday that Reid should step down as majority leader.  Steele likened Reid’s comments to those of former Senator and majority leader Trent Lott wh was forced to resign in in 2002 when he commented that had virulent former segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond been elected president in 1948;  “…if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either,”  implying that the civil rights movement was a “problem”.  Not quite.  Steele also conveniently forgot that he was under fire in the same week for saying that he was an “honest Injun”, something Native Americans found a bit racist. 

The fact is that just about everyone from every background and every race and every political part of the spectrum is racist.  That is human.  There is a basic human desire to be better than someone else – especially if you’re on a lower socioeconomic rung  – hence the prevalence of racism and racist activity among the most impoverished communities of any race.  I challenge anyone out there to really examine themselves and what they have said and done over the years.  I doubt that there is anyone out there that has NEVER told a racist joke, uttered a cringing racial epithet, repeated and believed in some stereotypical characteristic, or fretted over the “advantages” that other races have over one’s own.  The 2004 film “Crash” illustrated this beautifully, showing white racist police officers, black racist thugs, hispanic racist drivers, and asian racist accident victims.  The film even showed an Iranian woman cleaning her store after it was vandalized saying, “Why do they call us Arab?  Don’t they know we are Persian?”   I find that the people I know that harbor the worst racist feelings are people who insist they’re not racist.  That’s usually because they have a black friend and never use the “N-word”.  

I know that I have worked very hard over the years to free myself from racist language and the like – and I still find that I fail at times.  But I also know that I believe in equality of opportunity for all Americans and I support politicians, policies, and programs that will help our nation succeed in that achievement.  Real racism is not found in the words that we use.  Real racism is found in how we treat each other; how we arrange our society in such a way that it fosters great success for one race but dooms another race to poverty and despair. 

People who support tax policies that obscenely benefit wealthy white people are probably racist.  People who oppose a woman’s right to control her own fertility, force her to have an uplanned or unwanted child, then abandon that child to poverty because they oppose social safety nets for single mothers are probably racists.  People that oppose equalized funding for education so that children from wealthy, usually white, communities get superior educations while children in the inner-city study from torn texbooks in crumbling school buildings are probably racist.  I could go on and on – but I’m sure you get the point.  I’m willing to bet that not all Republicans are racists, but most racists are Republicans.