Friday, September 24, 2010

A Pox on Both Your Houses

The war against the poor is at once brutal, subtle, and rife with contradictions.

The life lessons that had the most effect on me came while I was in the field. None more profound than while on a recruitment tour for a new college my firm had bought and hoped to reform. The argument offered in our catalog was that essentially the administration of this new college has accepted the premises laid out in Donella Meadows publication, Limits To Growth.

If our new reality was that we were going to have to learn to do "more with less", then our curriculum was going to reflect a new set of studies, teaching methods, and evaluations. We imagined these reforms would afford our students a skill set that would serve them well in a world about to radically change.

For example we integrated studies, proposed team work as of the highest value, moved teaching staff from the front of the class to within the body of the learning community, and created courses that included problem solving, design and planning, even within the traditional humanities.

I brought my program to guidance counselors in high schools in MD, NY, and was satisfied with responses from students indicating they would apply. I had yet to meet with parents. I had family in Hartford, Ct and they agreed to host a gathering of prospective students in their home. On the given evening I greeted more than 50 parents and students in this suburban setting. The students were animated, asking tough questions, most of which centered on accreditation. (because of the changes we proposed, our accreditation was under review). There were a disproportionate number of lawyers in the group and this became apparent when the parents, having heard enough, rose up in revolt. Let me reduce it to one parent's statement that summarized the spirit in the room: "I am going to assume that all of your presumptions about the future are correct. More and more people are going to be chasing fewer and fewer resources. In such a scenario I am going to strongly advise my daughter to consider the Ivy league options she has available to her, and increase her competitive advantage." This statement was seconded by all of the parents in the room, and the generation gap widened during the course of the evening. The lesson for me was laid out in that room and learned: When the times get tough, the haves are going to hang on like crazy. These neighbors were friends of my relative, a Democrat, an elected official. This was the voice of the suburban left.

Program policies directed at the poor were traditionally premised on a belief that what had hampered the development of the poor was their lack of inclusion in an economic system that was otherwise sound. No matter the regime, if the political world view was that ours was a nation of plenty, though the methods might change as to how one might stimulate income gains, poverty could be eliminated by the poor gaining access to the system. Now we know that the push back that started with Reagan; rejection of affirmative action, welfare reform, emphasis on the language of so-called equal opportunity at the expense of equal outcomes, might have been embedded in the reality that middle class America was already trying to make do with less. Rather than assuming malignant intent to those who waged war on the poor from the right, it is more likely that they share with their brothers on the left, an awareness that the economy is indeed shrinking, the times are getting tougher, and self interest trumps goodwill every time.

There was something honest about the stated self interest of Dems in Ct. Not so the current harangue from the right that would have you believe that their interests are really not classist, they are concerned with the welfare of the nation. Their objection to the expansion of health care to the poor is to protect the budget. They are deficit hawks, or so they would have you believe. Their stance on immigration is really about homeland security and not a threat to their piece of an ever shrinking pie.

As the ranks of the poor are swelling the questions for us are: Has the forecast of limits been realized? What kind of curriculum do we want in place today? Do we have any responsibility to any of our neighbors? Is this a nation or a pack of dogs, fighting for what they fear is their last meal?

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Freedom, Rights, Privilege

Phyllis Schlafly continues to head the Eagle Forum, a radical conservative "think tank" , that is part of the chorus of hard right reactionaries. One paragraph from their home page sets the tone:
"We oppose all encroachments against American sovereignty through United Nations treaties or conferences that try to impose global taxes, gun registration, energy restrictions, feminist goals, or regulation on our use of oceans."

At the 2010 Eagle Forum Collegians Summit, Chris Horner, was featured reading from his latest book,"Power Grab: How Obama's Green Policies Will Steal Your Freedom and Bankrupt America". He throws a lot of language against the wall and waits to see what will stick. The freedom concept, and loss thereof, seems to get a lot of traction if the q/a part of the program is any indicator. It was in this forum that Ms Schlafly interrupted the proceedings to make the following point: "I use a 200 watt light bulb on my desk. I don't want to use those squiggly things that have no light. I can't hardly find a 200 watt light bulb in the stores anymore. I want the freedom to use the lightbulb I chose. I am losing my freedom".

It boils down to that. Of course within that silly example is the demand that she be allowed to burn whatever energy she wants and no socialist government agency is going to tell her she can't.

Carrie and I had a two hour drive the other day and we talked about this issue. This loss of freedom thing. We then proceeded to list freedoms we had lost.
I can't raise a pig in my backyard.
I can't drive 100 mph.
I can't water my lawn during a drought.
I can't walk my dog without a leash and I must pick up his poop.
I can't park a trailer, boat, or RV, in my driveway.
I can't buy a bottle of booze till I am 21.
I can't quit school till I am 16.
I can't dump my sewage in the gutter.
I can't run a business out of my garage.
I can't leave my children unsupervised.
I can't spray DDT in my garden.
I can't ride my bike on the sidewalk.
I can't grow marijuana.

I no longer can play music as loud as I want.
I can't let my lawn go to weed.
I am not allowed out of the ward if I have typhoid.
I can't wear cut offs to school.
I am not allowed to walk bottomless in public.
I can't cut down a tree in the park.
I can't dam the spring, or poison the well.

All of the above are freedoms I once had and were sacrificed for the common good. To those on the right, who give voice to a new "contract with America" the idea of common good does not extend to any limitations on their freedom. They are shredding the social contract that limits the rights of say a farmer to poison my food source, or exploit stoop labor, or butcher a "mad cow". They would drill for gas without consideration of the impact on ground water. They would manufacture a defective product and bear no responsibility for the consequences. They retain the right to exploit any and all resources regardless of the impact on the rest of us.

The most maddening element of this practice is that the exploiters are able to rally the very people they are going to singe in the name of protecting their freedoms.

I think the key to forming an opinion on all of this is to ask yourself not what freedoms you fear losing, but which freedoms you want your neighbor to have.