Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Attack de Blasio--That '70s Show Redux

Ray Lhota, the Republican candidate for NYC mayor, is eating the dust of Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate.  Some estimate that de Blasio is outpacing Lhota six to one.  So Lhota decided to advertise himself as the bulwark between law and order and a return to the '70s of rampant crime and graffitied-scarred subway cars.

He's not the only one presenting this persona.  Some newspapers and magazines are also helpful in sketching Lhota as the uber-Bloomberg, the only person between the voters and chaos.

The New Yorker delicately touches upon this meme in the 10/14/13 issue.  A writer compares the "wilding" of a group of bikers attacking the driver of an SUV to the movie The Road Warrior, a dystopian vision of tribal warfare over scarce gasoline.  As the author writes:

"It was a Bloombergian's nightmare of Bill de Blasio's New York--except that de Blasio isn't even mayor yet.  De Blasio has chosen as a campaign theme the phrase "a tale of two cities."  In a certain light, the biker attack read as the revolt of one of them against the other."

I don't know what kind of rarified world the writer lives in, but here in New York City we interpret "Tale of Two Cities" as standing in for the greatest income inequality in the nation.  The 99% vs. the 1%.  This is the same paradigm that was used to describe Occupy Wall Street as a churning sea of lawlessness.  It de-legitimizes the call for social justice.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Syria is not Iraq. It's Vietnam.

President Obama is selling the concept of attacking Syria as a “limited” war: clean, surgical missile strikes like a surgeon with a scalpel.  The idea that all we have to do is fire a few missiles and Assad will retreat in fear reminds me of the selling of another war.  Not Iraq.  Vietnam. 

The war lasted through three presidents, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, but it was under Johnson that the war escalated.  Technically it lasted from 1962-1975 when the last helicopters picked up people fleeing the war-torn region.  The killing was horrendous:

Guenter Lewy assumes that one-third of the reported "enemy" killed may have been civilians, concluding that the actual number of deaths of communist military forces was probably closer to 444,000. The most detailed demographic study calculated 791,000–1,141,000 war-related deaths for all of Vietnam. Between 200,000 and 300,000 Cambodians died in the war, along with about 60,000 Laotians and 58,220 U.S. service members.
The idea of fighting the war was sold as “containment”—that stopping the communist Viet Cong by assisting the corrupt regime of South Vietnam would prevent communism from spreading.

There are stark differences between the war in Vietnam and the way we fight wars today, although both were sold as “limited” wars.  At the time we had access to graphic images of the fighting on the evening news and there was a draft which forced discussion of the merits of the fighting at the dinner table.  It’s not like today, where you can go years without seeing a single death and the soldiers fighting our current wars are a distant memory for many.  Out of sight, out of mind.

If President Obama is serious about the dreadful images of dead civilians from Syria, he should take note of the collateral damage he’s caused through his drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, among other countries.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Silk Purse out of a Sow's Ear

The most recent New York Times article about charter schools had educators and principals praising the young teachers who intend to work 2-3 years as the most.  These kind of theories do more to harm the teaching profession than almost anything else.  They study teaching for 2 weeks and then they’re raring to go.,
Charter schools, which are private schools fueled by public money, are too delicate to contrast with public schools.  One big difference between the two is that public schools have to take all students whereas charter schools can choose to sift out the worst performers.  We hear about the bad marks attributed to public schools but nothing about the progress of the charter schools,  Is that because charter schools are attached to the spigot of Wall Street?

I think the NY Times reporters on this story forgot to ask either veteran teachers or students how they felt about being taught by a youngster with 2 weeks of training and one foot out of the door,

Friday, August 2, 2013

Yellen the Future, Summers the Past

Helicopter Ben Bernanke is stepping down as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  There are two candidates bandying about: Larry Summers and Janet Yellen.  Larry Summers, the protégé of Robert Rubin, doyenne of Citigroup when it was technically bankrupt back in 2008 if not for the government bailout.  Rubin and Summers pushed for bank deregulation back in 2000 to allow structured vehicles to be created and traded, like CDOs (collateral debt instruments) and MBSs (mortgage backed securities), a form of bad sausage making done in the dark.

In today’s column , Paul Krugman outlines the Washington whispering campaign against Ms. Yellen and points out that there would be no question she had the appropriate credentials:

[S]uppose we were talking about a man with Ms. Yellen’s credentials: distinguished academic work, leader of the Council of Economic Advisers, six years as president of the San Francisco Fed, a record of working effectively with colleagues at the Board of Governors.  Would anyone suggest that a man with those credentials was somehow unqualified for office?

The Federal Reserve has two mandates: 1) keep inflation down, and 2) stimulate job growth.  Ms. Yellen has been a voice in the wilderness talking up job creation.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Elephant in the Room is Racism

I watched Anderson Cooper’s interview with a juror from the George Zimmerman case.  She constantly referred to the defendant as “George” as though he was a friend of hers.  It was obvious to her that “George” was merely defending himself.  By stalking an unarmed teenager, then shooting him.

Americans have to face the truth—in the criminal justice system (and other situations), white lives are more valuable than black lives.  If Trayvon Martin had pulled a gun on George Zimmerman, who thinks he would be able to use the “Stand Your Ground” defense?  Unless we have a major discussion on race, black children will always be in jeopardy.  They are guilty until they prove their innocence.

To hear the professionals share on MSNBC their stories of sitting down with their sons and explain the facts of life (behave with the police, don’t resist) especially if they are innocent of any charge made me so sad.  White people are not aware they have invisible white privilege.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Trayvon Martin Verdict: It's Dangerous to Walk While Black

George Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed teen after confronting him while stalking him, was found not guilty by an all-white jury in Florida.

The trial was rigged from the start.  The prosecution did a piss poor job of portraying Trayvon as the exemplary teen that he was.  Instead, they let the defense show Trayvon as a dangerous thug.

If that verdict didn't prove that we are not a post-racial society, the SCOTUS knocked down part 4 of the Voting Rights Act.  The opinion was that there is no reason to have certain states notorious for their voter suppression tactics have to register with the federal government because black and white individuals are treated the same.  Plessy v. Ferguson: Separate but unequal. 

I don't know if SCOTUS caught a glimpse of the terrible travesty of 2012 election day, especially egregious in Florida, where people waited patiently in line for hours to get a chance to vote, but it seemed pretty political to me.  The day SCOTUS ruled against Part 4, states got busy making it harder to vote.

Now the vigilante law of Stand Your Ground is enshrined as a license to kill.  All one has to do is shoot first and answer questions later.   

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

FEDCAP Commencement at Apollo Theater

As a former and/or current ReServist (ReServe is an employment agency under the FEDCAP umbrella), I was invited to the FEDCAP commencement.  FEDCAP is an organization whose mission statement (in a nutshell) is jobs for people, services for business.  I wanted to go.  FEDCAP acts as a liaison between its business sponsors such as Fairway and ADM.  Not only do they underwrite many expenses, they also hire a lot of graduates from FEDCAP training.

The most moving parts of the graduation ceremony were the alumni telling their stories.  One person told the story of how he was helped after he got out of prison.  A woman living in a family shelter talked about the difficulty getting and keeping a job (all the speakers emphasized “keeping” a job—retention) because she suffered from a learning disability.  Since she trained at FEDCAP, she was placed and working, and filled with hope that she’d be able to finally leave the shelter.  She was trembling as she spoke, swept up in her emotions.  I think all the graduates were strong and managed to survive.  They were so grateful to FEDCAP and they wanted to succeed despite the odds.

The event was held at Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater on 125th Street.  I’d never been there.  It was beautiful, ornate gold trim and red velvet interiors.  It had balconies on the side.  While the attendees were being seated, the PA system issued songs and artists who’d performed there: the Jackson Five, Billie Holiday, and everyone in between.

Bill Thompson, one of many running for mayor, gave the keynote address.  He praised the graduates and asked them to be role models for the community.  I was impressed with how happy the graduates were.  They cherished every moment that they were being feted.  (There was a little problem at the end, when the person read their names before they could step up to the plate.  I wondered what they were going to do when the diplomas had to be given to his/her rightful owner.)  They went through real job training with a good chance of a job offer afterward from one of FEDCAP’s business partners.

One of the alumni stories was that of a home health aide caring for her client during and after Sandy hit the shore.  There was no electricity or communications between the aides and the agencies they worked for.  But she soldiered on and didn’t leave her post.  She stayed with her client until the electricity was turned back on.  In her mind there was never a thought that she would abandon her, not a thought for her own safety.