what now?

Okay here’s the scoop.
Let me preface this by pointing out that the National Suicide Hotline exists, its number is 800/273-8255, it is open 24 hours a day, and exists to talk to you if you or someone you know are in crisis. They are not going to laugh at you or preach at you, they are not going to dismiss your concerns. If you’re thinking of hurting yourself, or worried that someone close to you is, please call that number. Won’t cost you a dime. There is help.
Regardless of whether you were disconsolate or elated by last night’s results, the last few months have made one thing extremely clear: Our political system is sort of broken. We’ve lost the ability to see our neighbor as a person with hopes and ideas if we see them with an opposing political candidate’s sign in their yard. We’ve stopped treating each other like fellow citizens of a nation and started treating them as potential enemies. All sides are guilty of this, and I’m not excluding myself from the path of this wide paintbrush either, we’ve all done it.
This has gotta stop.
For good or ill, Trump is the president-elect, and whether this makes you scream in terror or delight, we all still have a job to do: Making the next four (or eight) years go as smoothly as possible for everyone. Whether you want to support him or battle him, the answer is the same: Participate in our government. You don’t have to brush up your resume and run for local office or anything like that, but take a few minutes a day and read the news, national and local. Pay attention when they say an election is coming up, no matter how local or miniscule. If you’re not happy with either of the two parties, well, starting from the bottom is how a new political party gets going.
Stein or Johnson didn’t exactly have a hope of winning the election last night, but at least they were on the ballot – because a lot of hard work by a WHOLE lot of people brought their parties up from the bottom. That same effort could apply to any new political party, and heck, more work from more people and they could easily have a shot in four (or eight) years.
Voter turnout went up this election – but a whoooole lot of people stayed home. This worries me. I hear from a lot of people who refuse to vote because they think the system is broken – and, well, if we’re being honest with each other, it is. But the way to fix it is to vote out the jerks that broke it, and vote in the people to fix it.
Please, please, PLEASE participate in our government. It needs you more than ever, no matter which side you fall on, or whether you fall on no side at all. I’m not asking you to agree to political ideas you hate, or make compromises – all I’m asking is that you make your ideas known at the ballot box. None of the candidates for a given race satisfy you? Write someone in, or don’t pick anyone at all. I’ll bet you a Snickers that there’s SOMETHING on the ballot you have an opinion on, you don’t have to fill out the whole thing.
To close, I’ll fall back on the words of Ben Franklin: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Be excellent to each other, I love you all.

matthew 25:40

I want you to do me a favor.  It won’t take long and won’t cost a penny.  Think back to when you were five years old, and try to remember what the biggest worries in your life were.  The sort of things that kept you up at night.  For the vast overwhelming number of people fortunate enough to have the internet connection required to be reading this in the first place, it’s probably stuff like ‘I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow so I can go play on the swings’ or ‘I wonder what I want for my birthday’.  Simple worries from small times, nothing too earth-shattering, despite the fact that at five, those were definitely Big Concerns.

And then there’s Omran Daqneesh.

I’m sure by now you’ve seen That Photo – if not, here’s a New York Times article that has That Photo right at the top.  That’s Omran – he’s a five year old boy living in Aleppo.  For pretty much as long as he’s been alive, his homeland has been the site of a brutal and hard-fought civil war.  He has literally never known the sort of peace required for one’s biggest concerns to be ‘I hope Mom doesn’t make me eat brussels sprouts again’.  I obviously don’t know the family, but it’s probably safe to assume that the parents do their best to try to make their children’s lives as happy and fulfilling as possible – but needs must, and happiness necessarily takes a back seat to simple survival; so I can only imagine that despite their best efforts, Omran and his siblings have had to see and experience the sort of things that you and I couldn’t imagine even in our worst nightmares.

There’s a video, if you can bring yourself to watch it.  In the video, Omran is sitting alone in the back of an ambulance after having been pulled free from the wreckage.  He’s covered in dirt and blood – blood that he only notices when he wipes some off his face, and looks at it with only mild surprise.  A world where a five year old kid is only barely surprised by blood coming out of his head is troubling.

A few days after that iconic photo of Omran was taken, his brother Ali died.  So now Omran has one less shoulder to cry on when the blasts get too close, one less set of arms to hug him and tell him he is loved and that he will be safe, and one more hole in his life when he already has so many.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Ali is one of a hundred children that have died in Aleppo since July 31.  As of the time of this writing, that’s 22 days.  A little more than once a day, one more Ali closes their eyes forever; one more Omran learns far too soon the meaning of grief and loss and that the world is not fair; one more family tries to figure out how to move on, like a car missing a wheel.

We’re lucky.  We can get through a basic day without worrying about our homes being blasted to ash or roaming death squads shooting us to ribbons because we go to the wrong church.  For all of its problems – and it does have problems – America truly is a land of plenty.  We need to use these gifts for the greater good.  We need to house and feed and clothe and care for as many refugees from Syria and all other places, as best we can, as many as we can, for as long as we can.  It’s on the Statue of Liberty, for sanity’s sake:  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We need to do it, otherwise we’re all talk.  We owe it to ourselves, so we don’t have to feel ashamed of the missed opportunity.  We owe it to our children, to show them the meaning of compassion.  We owe it to fellow nations, if we have any hope whatsoever of the favor being returned should we need it later.

We owe it to Omran, for reasons I wish I had the words to express.  Just look at that picture again, and look in his eyes, and try not to shed a tear.

“I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” – Matthew 25:40

thought police

The Intercept, a news and commentary outlet not known for fabrication, recently published an article about four citizens of Detroit who were arrested for social media postings.  None of the four have been named or formally charged.

Three of the accused – or is that even the term for a person arrested but not charged? – allegedly made posts that, on their face, appear to be legally actionable.  The first was “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter.  Kill all cops.”  I was behind him one hundred percent until those last three words, but those last three words don’t take a particularly creative prosecutor to wangle into an incitement charge.  The second was less eloquent but similar – “It’s time to wage war and shoot the police first.”  Again, incitement, and pretty clearly actionable.  Number three allegedly posted photos and videos of police officers being shot and said “This needs to happen more often.” Incitement.  Then we get to the fourth.

The fourth referred to Micah Johnson as a “hero”, and stated that “He inspired me to do the exact same thing”.  This one’s a little… less clear.  Since the author isn’t commanding or even suggesting that others act, incitement doesn’t apply.  A clever prosecutor could still turn this into a terroristic threat, though.

My issue isn’t with the first three being arrested for fairly unmistakable incitement, or even really with the fourth being arrested for something that might or might not be a threat.  My issue is that all four of these men were arrested first and then attempts made afterward to determine if a crime took place.  Two of the men have been released for now with warrants pending, the other two remain in custody due to outstanding warrants.

Police Chief James Craig said (according to this Detroit News article) that ‘it should be a crime to make threats to kill police officers’ (quote from reporter) “Especially now, in this current climate […] I don’t think that’s protected speech.” (quote from Chief Craig)

Here we see the meat of the problem.  By saying it SHOULD be a crime, he’s implicitly saying it MIGHT NOT be a crime, and if it might not be a crime, why the arrests?  Last I checked, in order to be arrested, a law enforcement officer needs to have a probable cause to believe that you have committed a specific crime.  Even people who get pulled over for ‘driving while black’ are ticketed for a busted taillight (which just might have been busted when the officer ‘accidentally’ ‘tapped’ it with their nightstick) or ‘erratic driving’ (which is so far from a subjective judgment it’s impossible to prove or disprove) or something like that.  There’s at least the appearance of an actual specific infraction.

Furthermore, I’m pretty sure deciding what is and isn’t protected speech is for a judge to decide, not a law enforcement officer.  That deals with constitutional law, and that’s for high courts to decide.  There’s putting the cart before the horse, and there’s setting up the cart while you wait for the horse to be born.

Here, the four men – all black men, which should surprise precisely no one – have been arrested because ‘well, we’re pretty sure that the things we say they did shouldn’t be allowed.  We’re totally gonna check with the higher-ups to make sure, though.  We promise.’

Sure you are.  ‘Kill this cop’ – a clear and specific threat.  ‘Kill all cops’ – a clear but nonspecific threat, and generally left up to a judge to determine actionability.  ‘A cop died, I liked it, I was inspired to do the same’ – inspired isn’t the same as planning to.  I get inspired to do a lot of things I never do.  Worth keeping an eye on, sure, but arrest? And what’s next?  Are the surviving members of NWA to be arrested for their hit ‘Fuck Tha Police’ because the lyrics included nonspecific threats?  If so, is someone posting ‘fuck the police’ to twitter to be arrested because they are referencing the song’s lyrics? Or perhaps because the cops don’t like it and think it’s rude?

It doesn’t take a particularly creative mind to see where this leads.  The back-and-forth between law enforcement and civilians has long been a story of expansion and resistance – law enforcement attempts to re-interpret laws in ways that grant them more power (and honestly, they often have the best of intentions, but we all know what they say about the road to Hell…), and they keep pushing it until the citizenry (or a higher office) pushes back and gets it in front of a judge.  We’ve seen this play out time and time again from Prohibition to Jim Crow to profanity laws to speeding cameras to any number of issues where law enforcement has pushed and pushed until they get their hand slapped by a judge.

And now they’re pushing on the First Amendment.  This isn’t something we can afford to spend a decade getting cranky about before we do anything – because the nature of the issue means that if we give it time for it to be clearly something we need a judge’s input on, it could well be illegal to argue.

the art of sociological triage

Let’s say you trip over something and sprain your ankle.  Your regular doctor can’t see you for a week and a half, for whatever reason there isn’t an urgent care clinic available, so off you go to the emergency room.  At the same time you walk up to the registration desk, you see a person at the registration desk right next to you holding a wadded-up tee shirt over what appears to be a large wound on their neck that’s bleeding quite badly.  Raise your hand if you expect the gushing neck injury to be seen by a doctor before your sprained ankle.

That’s what I thought.  We expect the more urgent cases to be taken care of before the less urgent ones.  When lives are on the line, it only makes sense to prioritize care and attention to make sure that the people in the most danger get helped first.  Why, then, is it so difficult for people to understand the concepts behind Black Lives Matter?

I know, that was kind of a swerve.  Bear with me, I’m connecting the dots.

Recently, President Obama took a moment from a trip to Warsaw (he was there for a NATO conference) to say the following (quote from NPR)

According to various studies — not just one but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years — African-Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over.

After being pulled over African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched.

Last year African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.

African-Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites.

African-American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.

Recently, two separate black men were killed by the police.  Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul.  Sterling was shot by police – several times, in the chest and back – while officers were holding him on the ground.  Castile was shot during a traffic stop while following an order from the officer to produce his identification.

This is the part where the “can we please find a reason why this was Okay so I don’t have to think about it anymore” set starts wringing their hands and pointing out that Sterling had a gun on him, and the police were responding to a 911 call of him allegedly brandishing it, and that Castile had just informed the officer who killed him that he was in possession of a firearm (one which he had a concealed carry permit for, and informing the officer as early as possible that 1) the firearm exists and 2) you have a permit for it is EXACTLY what authorities tell people to do if they find themselves in a situation where they are interacting with law enforcement).  My point is none of that matters.  If you look at the video of Sterling’s shooting (widely available on the internet, I am not providing a link here as it is shocking and disturbing to watch a man be killed, if you want to see it, Google is your friend), you can see that although Sterling is struggling, he is on the ground with two officers holding him down.  He is neutralized as a threat.  Still, though, one of the officers drew his weapon, held it a couple inches from Sterling’s chest, possibly to scare him into total submission, and then when Sterling continued to struggle, fired multiple times.

Not having had the benefit of a police academy education, I can’t say for sure, but I’m reasonably certain deadly force is not necessary when dealing with a person who is armed, but prevented from accessing their weapon by the sheer force of two police officers holding them down.  One assumes that the more prudent course of action would have been to continue to restrain the subject, perhaps even with a less lethal method like a taser, without resorting to gunfire.

Castile’s killing was even less defensible.  He was pulled over.  The officer asked him to provide identification.  Castile informed the officer that there was a firearm in the vehicle, informed the officer that he was retrieving his wallet from his back pocket to comply with the officer’s instructions, began to do so, and the officer opened fire.

The fact that Castile was carrying a concealed weapon should not be a factor in his shooting.  Castile was granted a permit to carry the weapon in a concealed fashion.  He was exercising his rights as a citizen.  He followed the best practices given to him – always, always inform a police officer if you have a weapon, as early in the interaction as is possible, and narrate your actions – and followed the police officer’s instructions to provide his identification.  He did everything he was told and was killed for it.

That’s two men killed in two days.  Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota has gone on record as saying “Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and passenger were white? I don’t think it would have.”  Gov. Edwards of Louisiana offered a significantly more hedged-bets comment of the usual promises of a full and transparent investigation, while carefully failing to mention the racial aspect of the killing.

But the hell of it is, it’s not merely being killed that black people have to fear from law enforcement – if you look at the statistics mentioned above, or speak to any of the untold millions of black families nationwide that have to sit their children down and tell them to fear the police, to be on their absolute best behavior when in public, to expect that they are going to be harassed by law enforcement, and how to survive it – it becomes clear that at every level, at every moment, black people are treated badly by our society.

We can whine and cry and wring our hands all we want about how ‘well maybe he shouldn’t have been carrying a gun’ or ‘if that Freddie Gray fellow hadn’t gotten himself arrested, he’d still be alive’ or ‘ALL lives matter, you know’ or (my personal favorite) ‘he wasn’t exactly an angel’, but the fact remains: Our bruised ego is a sprained ankle.  The way we treat black people in this society is the gushing neck wound.  One is more important to immediately address than the other.

Black lives matter.

really don’t mind if you sit this one out

My words but a whisper, your deafness a shout.

I haven’t written as much as I’d like lately. It’s frustrating in the same way it’s humbling – it’s hard to reach people who don’t already agree on some level with the things I’m arguing for, and on the occasion I can get new eyeballs on things, it just gets lost in the noise.

I may make you feel, but I can’t make you think.

I think a part of that is that one of the unwritten rules of polite society is that we generally don’t confront people to challenge their views on politics, money, and other forms of religion.  For every Trump supporter you argue with, there’s probably at least a dozen others you just roll your eyes at because engagement isn’t worth the effort. Heck, I’m guilty of that too.  It’s a cultural issue, not an individual one.  By shying away from discussing our beliefs with others, we shy away from analyzing them for ourselves.  We should think more and +like less.

And the sandcastle virtues are all stripped away
By the tidal destruction,  the moral melee.

But we don’t, because polite society runs on compromise.  We agree not to start uncomfortable discussions with any but our close friends, and generally fail to do even that.  As a result, your average person can get through a basic day without having to discuss the philosophy of their politics for half an hour on the subway. A fair compromise, sure, as long as the big problems get addressed. As a result of that comprise and its attendant assumption, we avoid thinking about the deep cracks in the mask of justice and freedom Lady Liberty wears.  At least, until the atrocities start to pile up.

And your new shoes are worn at the heels

Then we discuss them, but always with a subtext of “can we please find a reason not to talk about this” like Tamir Rice and the pellet gun, or how Michael Brown smoked pot and shoplifted, or if Freddie Gray hadn’t done something to get himself arrested, he never would have died.  We look for reasons behind these things that are more palatable then “the American justice system and a too – large portion of its agents are racist as all hell”. And then we can stop thinking about it.

And you shake your head, and say it’s a shame.

Sure, it’s hard and scary to think Big Thinks and it’s not a lot of fun to really put a large amount of thought into a complicated issue.  It’s also a necessary thing if we’re going to make the world a place where everybody gets a fair shot.  In the words of Michael Arnovitz – a far better writer than I am and definitely worthy of your eyeballs – “…bigotry is a societal virus.  And to one extent or another, most of us are infected.  Our job is not to throw things at people who point this out, and it’s not to pretend that we are fine while we walk around coughing and sneezing on each other.  Our job is to get better.”

Now I’m not suggesting we start chatting up people at random about their political leanings.  That’s a good way to get banned from your favorite Arby’s. (Don’t hate.  Arby’s is good.)  Start small.  Next time you get one of Those Emails or Those Facebook Posts from that one person you went to school with so you don’t feel right about unfriending them or blocking their email – you know the ones, the ones where they’re hollering about how the political candidate you’d dismissed as the latest Villain Of The Week – ask them privately about it.  What do you like about this candidate? What don’t you like about the opposition?  What issues are most important to you?  Here’s what issues are important to me.

You’re going to get a lot of pushback, especially at first, because people are used to political discussion being a binary of ‘absolutely no discussion whatsoever’ or ‘holy war’.  We can’t be afraid to talk about what’s important.  We can’t be afraid to gain alternative perspectives.  After all, if we’re afraid to really explore our thinking and challenge our assumptions, then how confident can we really be that we’re in the right?

We can build our invincible fortresses of moral ‘rightness’ all we want, but until we recognize the cracks in the foundation, they won’t stand up to a whole lot of punishment.

Would you be the fool stood in his suit of armor
or the wiser man who rushes clear

(Post title and italic text from Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull)

No rest for the wicked or the innocent alike

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.

Earlier today, a terrible tragedy befell a town in Connecticut.  A young man, for reasons unknown, stormed into an elementary school in Newtown and viciously murdered 26 people – twenty of those small children, none more than ten.  This is a monstrous act, and one that we may never be able to understand.  I want to make clear that my thoughts and prayers go out to all the families touched by this horrible act – whether their children lost there lives, or merely their innocence.

Within hours of the shooting, I received emails from two different political organizations asking for my help in using the tragedy to push through laws favoring strong gun control – and donations were more than welcome.  I also received email from an organization opposing gun control, asking for similar assistance.  I have no reason to believe this is the last I will hear of these requests, but the fact that they were sent out before the dead had even all been positively identified – that their deaths were being politicized even before their bodies had gone fully cold – is also a monstrous, ghoulish act.  Less than six hours after the shootings, Mark Kelly, who is familiar with tragedy, being the husband to former Congresswoman and shooting victim Gabby Giffords, issued a statement offering condolences to the families who lost children, and in the same breath calling for gun control hearings, saying “This can no longer wait.”

Forgive me for disagreeing with you, Mr. Kelly, but I think it could have waited at least a day.  I think it could have waited until the parents of the children that were lost had time to draw a breath that didn’t immediately catch in their throat.  I think it could have waited until the children who survived finished crying themselves to sleep.

I think it could have waited until the families had a little time to mourn.

We’ve become addicted to sensationalism – we’re obsessed with more, with bigger, with better.  This is the culture that produces interviews like WTNH’s Erin Logan interviewing a young girl who survived unharmed, asking her what it was like – and when the answer wasn’t as sensational as she wanted, as we have come to expect, prodded her further and asking if everyone was “…crying, scared, wanting their parents to come get them?”

Pardon the vulgarity, but what the hell do YOU think? Is it really good journalism to poke at a victim clearly in emotional shock, and demand to know just HOW freaked out everyone was? Do you really need to push a small child into making a horrible, terrible tragedy worse by recounting the screams and cries of terrified children?  Is it truly newsworthy that children in danger will be upset?

There’s a difference between reporting the news, and manufacturing the news – and inappropriate questions like that plainly cross the line.  It’s obvious that the children were terrified – what next, shall we ask for direct quotes of the screams?  Recordings of the crying?

When does it cross the line?  As far as I can see, that’s long past.  Let them react on their own schedule, Ms. Logan.  Don’t pry the gory details out of a child.  Don’t pick at the scab before it’s even started to form.

Rolling Jubilee

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/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/9666748/Occupy-Wall-Street-campaigners-buy-up-debt-to-abolish-it.html , 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:

 

Recently, I read about the Rolling Jubilee project ( http://rollingjubilee.org/ ) – an effort by citizens to buy up debt of Americans in crisis for pennies on the dollar, and forgive it – giving a much-needed hand up to Americans working hard to maintain solvency.  This is a bailout of the people by the people – and it’s not costing Uncle Sam one dime.

I have a proposal that could make this charitable option very attractive for those Americans blessed with more disposable income than most – categorizing no-strings debt cancellation as a charitable donation for tax purposes, valued at the full value of the debt, not the price paid to purchase it.  This would allow wealthy Americans to see an immediate tax benefit to voluntarily sharing their wealth to assist those less fortunate, at a much greater return on investment than traditional charitable donations.

This would, of course, represent less tax revenue for the federal government over the short term.  However, the assistance this would provide to Americans in financial crisis would allow them to step out of poverty and rely less on government-funded social programs and community-funded charities, and perhaps allow them to use their resources to become small business owners – thus decreasing the cost of social programs, and increasing tax revenue overall in the long term.

I urge you to consider proposing legislation that would give wealthy Americans a strong tax incentive to cancelling debt.  It benefits the wealthy, it benefits those less fortunate, and it benefits America.

Sincerely,

 

 

If you think this is good for America, I strongly urge you to send a letter (feel free to use the above) to your Senators and Representatives asking them to please consider it.  This could benefit us all.

If you need help finding out who your Senators or Representatives are, visit http://www.senate.gov/index.htm and click the Find Your Senators area in the upper right of the page.  For Congresspersons, visit http://www.house.gov/ and type your ZIP code into the ‘Find Your Representative’ area in the upper right of the page.

Time For A New Dream

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.

We simply don’t live in a world where all efforts are rewarded, where you can do anything you want in life if you want it badly enough and try your best, where we have fairytale endings. We just don’t. We live in a world where you can study hard, throw yourself into your education, and finish the first in your class – but still accomplish nothing because you’re not able to get enough scholarships to cover college expenses and your parents are working-class citizens who simply don’t have the resources to help. We live in a world where you can refine your craft and be the hardest worker in your field, and still never be taken seriously because you’re a woman in tech. We live in a world where you can do years of soul-searching to find out who you really are, find that one special someone who makes you feel complete, and still not be able to marry them because your state doesn’t think gay people deserve rights. We live in a world of random chance, bigotry, and institutionalized injustice. We live in a world where the original American Dream can only come true for you if you are either born rich and white, or born very, very lucky.

We need a new dream. We need to admit to ourselves that sometimes effort does not equal reward (though reward does still require effort), that the world is not a fair place, and that only a few dozen people will ever be astronauts, and chances are one of them isn’t going to be you. We need to admit to ourselves that the less fortunate didn’t do anything to cause or deserve their situation in the vast majority of cases. We need to admit that many who lose themselves in alcohol or drug abuse don’t choose their lives, they wind up there either through mental illness or the entirely understandable desire to just escape for a few minutes, and never realizing until it is too late the lasting cost of their escape. We need to understand that the woman selling her body to afford food and shelter for her child needs options, not a sex offender rap (Thanks, CA Prop 35). We need to finally admit to ourselves and to our next generation that sometimes, no matter how hard you try or how much you want to succeed, sometimes it isn’t going to happen, and that it is not a personal failure. It’s just how it is sometimes.

We need to make our American Dream a little more real if we want to pass it on to future generations without setting them up for failure and misery. We need to reach out to those less fortunate instead of shunning them for imagined offenses. We need to remember that we are members of a society, and that we all benefit when ‘yucky’ problems like fiscal injustice and worker exploitation are fixed. We need to remind ourselves that not everybody needs to be a doctor or a lawyer or a fireman. After all, someone’s got to be the sanitation worker or the electrician, and these are also worthy careers – and in fact pay pretty darn well if you have the skill and drive. And as long as you are succeeding by whatever ambitious but realistic goals you set for yourself, and you’re being a helpful member of your community by helping who you can, how you can – well that sounds like something worth dreaming about.

On The Wrong LePage

(in response to the article found at http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/23/maine-governor-orders-labor-mural-takedown/ )

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’.

Enter Paul LePage, the new Republican governor whose politics are fairly typical of the post “oh crap those Tea Party guys are SERIOUS” Republican Party.

If there’s one thing the Maine government has fairly consistently gotten right, it is appreciation – or at least lip service – for the thousands and thousands of people who bust their humps from dawn to midnight, day after day, to keep the state working. The headquarters of the Department of Labor, for instance, has a gorgeous mural, spanning eleven panels and 36 feet, telling the history of the labor movement in Maine and some of its many conflicts. Students of labor history might remember reading of the massive strikes in 1937 at shoe mills sparked by ridiculously unsafe working practices and discriminatory management, or the strike in 1987 at the paper mill caused, among other reasons, by International Paper’s refusal to address environmental concerns and its attempt to eliminate the only holiday the mills granted its workers.

Furthermore, many of its conference rooms are named after heroes of the labor movement from all over, like the César Chávez room (if you don’t recognize that name immediately, you are doing yourself a great disservice by continuing to read this instead of Googling him), the Frances Perkins room (the Secretary of Labor under Franklin D Roosevelt – and the first woman to hold a department head position in the Federal government), and the William Looney room (a local boy from Portland who grew up to be the chairman of the House Committee on Labor and sponsored a bill limiting working hours for women and children in factories in the late 1800’s).

Governor LePage, however, has forgotten the thousands and thousands of people he attained his position on the very backs of, and is ordering the mural removed and the conference rooms renamed. It’s not as friendly to businesses as it should be, you see. Gives the message that Maine cares more about workers than it does about businesses, after all, and we can’t have that.

LePage, even though I no longer live in Maine, I grew up there and spent around two decades in it. I am still enough of a Mainiac to deliver this message to you without the slightest hesitation:

Get the hell out of our state.

For someone who cares so much about business, you certainly have none attempting to quiet the contributions of millions of hard working citizens who built this state from a blank forest to the burgeoning economy it is. You would not have your job if not for the hard working people in the Great State of Maine. The very house you live in, the Blaine House, was built by an old ship’s captain – someone who needed to really understand the delicate balance between labor and management, or risk being chucked overboard by the crew. How do you sleep at night within those walls, given how little you care for the people that put you there? Granted, nobody’s going to be tossing you over the side of a ship anytime soon, but you may find yourself woefully short of friends the next time the ballot boxes come out.

If there is one thing I learned after growing up in Maine, it is never, ever, ever anger someone – much less an entire population – near the tail end of a long, cold winter. Cabin Fever and other frustrations are at their peak, and folks from Maine have long memories. This won’t be forgotten for a long time, and 2015 is not as far off as you think. For that matter, we haven’t tossed a governor out early yet, but since you see no need to hold fast to history and tradition, why should we?