In Judeo-Christian tradition, three days are set aside for the dead to find their way to heaven. This is also a time for the families of the departed to grieve, but to grieve knowing that members of their family or community are guarding them against prying eyes or other grave-robbers in their moment of vulnerability while they deal with the tragedy that has befallen them. The impulse is to put on a brave face for the public, to try to keep it together, as if one should be able to shrug off such a horrible loss with nothing more than a mannerly tear or two.
Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, and the generalized addiction America has to outrage, this period of grief has been streamlined to about three minutes.
Recently, I read about the Rolling Jubilee – an offshoot of the OWS organization that focuses on buying up debt and forgiving it entirely – giving random Americans in crisis a surprise that could spell the difference between prosperity and a lifetime of poverty. (News article here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/... , read more about the organization here http://rollingjubilee.org/ .) An idea struck that by attaching a significant tax benefit to this, we could encourage wealthy Americans to invest a small amount of their resources in America itself by helping its most financially vulnerable citizens on the road to solvency. Rolling Jubilee estimates that with $50,000, they can buy up one million dollars of debt and forgive it, no strings attached. That is a remarkable return on investment. If the IRS considered debt forgiveness of this nature a charitable donation valued at the full value of the debt being forgiven, that would give debt forgiveness a compelling tax incentive for those in a position to donate. To this end, I have sent the following letter to my Senators and Representatives, and to those entering office:
If, like me, you're a white person in America, you have certain privileges that are afforded to you simply by virtue of your skin tone, whether or not you want to admit it. Those privileges also don't stop at simple, direct benefits like a lack of police profiling or more success at job interviews; there are more profound differences that change the very way we move in society that are harder to see - and these are the differences that are at the very heart of the institutionalized racism that haunts America, and will take a concerted societal effort to overcome.
Let's start at the very beginning - according to the CDC, if you are white, you have only half the risk of low birth weight (defined as less than 2.5 kg) - a condition associated with chronic health issues and significantly increased risk of infant mortality - as black people(1). Assuming you make it out of the hospital, your white parents' combined income (which necessarily affects the quality of your home, food, healthcare, etc) is going to be about 1.6 times the family income of a black family(2). As a result, as a white family instead of a black family, your home is more likely to be owned instead of rented(3) (and therefore more stable) and significantly less likely to be foreclosed upon in the event of financial trouble(4).
Here's the thing.
The American Dream has been twisted around and built up and made so impossible that not only is it something that can never really happen for most Americans, but it also lends itself to poisoning our sense of community. After all, if 'you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it' is true, then those less fortunate must not have tried, right? If the only thing required for reward is ambition, then the homeless must just be lazy. The jobless must not want to work, and the working poor must find it easier to complain about their lot in life than try to improve it. This is all self-evident from the 'effort equals reward' concept that lies at the core of the current American Dream.
And that dream is bull.
(in response to the article found at http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/... )
I grew up in Maine, and though we do have a few tall buildings, it is by no means a 'city' sort of state. You will not find the concrete jungles of New York, nor will you find the miles and miles and miles of sprawling city that California is so proud of, nor will you find the home offices of international powerhouses of finance or industry.
What you will find is about 1.3 million regular folks (roughly the population of San Diego spread over approximately 95 times the space), trying to get by as best they can in an area known for not a whole hell of a lot. Maine's biggest exports are blueberries, toothpicks, and Stephen King novels. Common activities involve cursing Mother Nature, enjoying the outdoors, and working your fingers to the f*#$ing bone.
Much - perhaps even most - of Maine's economy is labor-intensive. Fishing and logging, two of the most labor-intensive and dangerous jobs in the world, are responsible for a lot of the money made and spent there. Shipbuilding, leatherworking, agriculture - you name it, if it's a pain in the ass to do and doesn't pay near as well as it should, it's probably responsible for the economic survival of at least two dozen towns and villages in Maine. The point I am trying to make here is that the vast bulk of folks from Maine fall solidly in the 'labor' camp and not that of 'management'.
My wife, Mimi, had been in communication with a recruiter for some job up in Connecticut, and the topic of salary came up. She was countering his offer with a request for a higher wage, because after all, as she put it, 'a girl's gotta eat'.
His response was a picture of a half-naked anorexic girl - anorexic to the point where her abdomen was hideously deformed and the contour of her organs were visible. He apparently thought this was funny.
After she finished her immediate reaction (shock and horror, to be precise), she called the company's front desk to get to HR. It was shortly after 5PM, however, so they were closed. She replied to the email he sent with a request to have his supervisor call or email.
Within moments, her phone rang. It was the person who had sent the email, trying to talk her out of getting him in trouble because hey, it was just a joke, right?
The other day, I was out shopping with my wife and son - my father had sent him some bookstore gift cards for Christmas, so we were taking advantage of post-holiday sales. On our way in to the store, an older guy in a beat-up Army jacket got my attention and asked if I knew where the local homeless shelter was. I gave him directions to the PORT program down by the shipyard, and he thanked me profusely and said that he'd been asking for hours, and I was the first person who had even bothered to reply. We talked a little while, I gave him a visa giftcard I had left over from the holidays that had five or ten bucks left on it, and told him where he could pick up a bus to the shelter.
While we were talking, a number of people passed by and gave me a look of... annoyed sympathy? 'You're not supposed to talk to those people, and I'm sorry you got roped into it', that sort of thing. It was being made clear to me that I had broken the social contract by acknowledging someone that is supposed to be invisible - especially near a 'nice' shopping area where poor people aren't supposed to exist at all.
Driving to our nation's capital from Southern Virginia, you pass by a whole lot of military and governmental installations: Belvoir, Quantico, Alexandria, and others. I was driving near Richmond, looking at the fog collecting over the swamps by the side of the interstate, and listening to Simon and Garfunkel singing about finding America. I had expected to write a pithy piece about how the Rally to Restore Sanity would show Washington that the loose assortment of hipsters, internet geeks, and slacktivists that they had previously largely ignored (with few notable exceptions) had suddenly become the Next Big Voting Pool, and write a message of hope for the future and an admonishment to not lose the momentum.
There's an unfortunate attitude among many members of law enforcement organizations that they are themselves above the law. You need look no further than a cursory Google search on abuses of power by police officers, evidence mishandling by prosecutors, or corrupt judges to see that. Law enforcement officers are, after all, human, and just as fallible and prone to hypocrisy and excess as you or I.
Enter the rise of technology. Video recording equipment has gotten smaller and cheaper, with cameras in teddy bears to help spy on the babysitter, built into mobile phones to let you take video snapshots anywhere, and helmet-mounted cameras to record adventures. Staff Sgt Anthony Graber (MD Air Nat'l Guard) has one of the latter, and used it while riding his motorcycle on March 5th (and admittedly driving VERY irresponsibly). He was pulled over by Trooper J. D. Uhler of the Maryland State Police - not in uniform or wearing any identifying clothing whatsoever - who displayed his sidearm BEFORE properly identifying himself as a member of law enforcement, a gross violation of departmental policy. ( http://www.baltimoresun.com/... )
Back in 1919, a German gentleman named Anton Drexler and five associates founded the German Worker's Party, hoping to represent the downtrodden workers of Germany: the poor, the unrepresented, the working classes sick of a government ignoring their needs and complaints. Fairly early on, it was infiltrated by a member of the German army sent to spy on the group and subvert it, largely to keep it harmless and stupid. Drexler and his associates swiftly found their party, which was intended to benefit all Germans by empowering and fortifying its lower classes, turned into the nightmarish Nazi Party, one of the very few groups in all of history who qualifies for the descriptor 'evil'.
There's a church in Gainesville, Florida ( http://www.doveworld.org/ ) that's planning on burning as many copies of the Qur'an as they can find on September 11. They've even set up a Facebook group to boost participation all over the globe. They claim that although they realize their actions will offend millions - many to the point of armed protest and military response, if General David Petraeus's warnings are to be heeded ( http://www.cnn.com/... ) - they feel their message is more important than its possible consequences. They claim that their message, aimed at radical Muslims only, is not one of hate, but one need look no further than their own website ( http://www.doveworld.org/... ) to see that their reasons to burn the book are based primarily on xenophobia and hate - and if you dig a little deeper, bald-faced hypocrisy.
Let me tell you about my friends Diane and Jack, and why I consider Labor Day one of America's most important holidays.
Jack is a journeyman ironworker, currently working in New York City on the 9/11 memorial site at Ground Zero. Diane, along with their three children, lives in Wisconsin, where they moved a few years ago because they couldn't afford the high cost of living in New York, and because one of their children has special needs that simply weren't being addressed. So for large parts of the year, Jack gets on a plane, flies a thousand miles away from his family, and literally rebuilds America. Diane is trying to get into social work as a means to give back to her community some of the assistance and guidance she and her family received as NYC expatriates - basically, helping to identify families in need of assistance, and providing counseling and guidance for where to find the assistance that best suits their needs. I'm not trying to wrap them in the American flag too tightly here, but these are the sort of folks that build good communities.