Tag Archives: politics

America is not the greatest country in the world

I’m first generation American, a position that gives me, I think, an interesting perspective on this country. I was bilingual until kindergarten when I came home from my half day of school and informed my mother that “this is America and we speak English here.” After that, I no longer was willing to speak German, a genuine loss when I visit my family in the Black Forest where most of them still reside.

Speaking a second language was not considered an asset in this country which arrogantly calls itself “America,” despite the fact that that is the name of two entire continents of which we are only one single country. In contrast, my mother spoke 3 languages while living in Europe, learning her fourth, English, upon arriving here in the mid-60s.

Growing up, we were encouraged to work hard in school because my mother saw education as the only means available to create a life better than the one into which we were born. My brother is a doctor and I hold an advanced degree. We own homes, have retirement accounts, travel, and generally have comfortable lives. In spite of childhoods consisting of a single parent home, Medicaid, and the shame of food stamps and free lunch, we made it.

Through hard work and social programs, my brother and I achieved what in many regards is considered the American Dream. So, why aren’t I more of a believer in the claim that America is the greatest country in the world? Well, it seems like there are quite a few reasons.

The income gap in the United States is outrageous. I don’t know about you, but I will never be convinced that a CEO is entitled to receive a salary that is on average 361 times the salary of the average worker. I’m not suggesting that the rest of the world is perfect, but America really excels in compensating executives at a more outrageous level than any where else in the world.

Do you have any idea how much our country spends on the military? How does the number $649 BILLION sound to you? It’s an amount comparable to the spending of the next eight countries – combined. Granted, this amount is less than what is budgeted for K-12 education,  but it remains an incredibly large number.

Speaking of education, when I was in Greece last month, I spoke with a couple from Scotland and asked them how college “worked” in their country. How much does it cost? Who pays for it? Their response – tuition is free and students are only responsible for related expenses such as room, board and books. The cost of those items can be met with loans, which essentially have an interest rate close to zero with repayment of the loans not beginning until the borrower reaches a certain level of income. Doesn’t that sound a lot more fair and reasonable than our government, which is the largest lender to students, earning interest off citizens trying to improve their lives?

During my travels I’ve been struck by the price of groceries (low) and the quality of public transportation (high) in the European countries which I’ve visited. Access to health care, while not perfect, does not seem to bankrupt families in the way I’ve observed it occurring in this country.

Solar and wind energy seem much more common in Europe and vehicles are more compact and fuel efficient than those found in America. Homes are smaller, not requiring the same resources to maintain, heat and cool. Vacation time is more generous, as are family leave policies when it comes to child rearing, with tax incentives available to soften the blow of losing an income while a parent stays home to raise a child.

America has been good to my family, but it is not the greatest country in the world and we need to recognize that. While it once may have been a true beacon of freedom and opportunity for all, that time has passed. A country which separates families seeking asylum, fails to provide preventative healthcare to the poor and the underemployed and has different justice and education systems for people depending upon the color of their skin really doesn’t sound all that great to me.

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Filed under Education, Europe, ideas, musings, Observations, politics, Rant, travel

Hearing voices

Driving in my car the other day, I caught WAMC’s Joe Donahue conducting an interview with a woman whose name I didn’t catch, having tuned in mid broadcast. As I listened to the conversation I realized the woman’s voice was familiar…it was my friend, Sally, who works for the University. How cool! I turned up the volume and enjoyed listening to the smart and compassionate conversation about important things impacting college students today, like food insecurity, stress and mental health.

From what Sally said, there are many resources available to assist the population with which she works. The Campus Center seems to be the hub for where students can physically access this support and I hope the various programs in place are able to work to their capacity. They’re doing good work.

I imagine the two perpetrators of last weekend’s mass shootings were each of the age the resources of Purple Pantry and related services are designed to aid. If they weren’t currently students, there were probably community programs to assist with mental health issues available to both young men. I know, from a meeting I sort of* attended at the Savoy last month, that the city of Albany offers referrals to numerous low cost or free counseling and other support systems for those in need and I would think most communities offer something along these lines, right?

Let’s just argue, though, for the sake of arguing, because that’s what we do when we’re afraid and hesitant to make hard decisions, and say that there was no possibility for either of these cold blooded killers to access any resources which might have improved their lives, and potentially avoided the taking of dozens of innocent lives.

Ok, if that is indeed the case, why in the world were either of these two young men permitted to purchase weapons and ammunition that would allow them murder people at a rate of approximately one every 8 seconds? Why are the laws in place so inadequate that a man who caused his high school to be placed on lock down, because of his threats to classmates via lists of whom he wanted to kill or rape, is permitted a few short years later, to purchase guns capable of wreaking that kind of carnage?

I’m starting hear more and more people coming to the same devastating conclusion – this is who we are. This is America, land of the free, home of the gun. If an arguably not for profit organization, like the NRA, and its demands trump the expectation that our children, siblings, parents, lovers and friends should be able to conduct lives in schools and stores and offices and concert venues and festivals and places of worship and not be gunned down…well, I guess it’s time to either own it or fix it. Because next time it just might be you or yours.

A last anecdote – a friend, who owns a local food business and vends at many markets, shared the following:

You can bet that’s my new Starbucks’ name.

 

*The room was packed and I couldn’t get in to the meeting. Closed circuit tv allowed for viewing from the bar.

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Filed under Albany, Local, musings, News, Observations, politics, Rant, Schools

Don’t worry about a thing

Wednesday evening when Stephen Marley sang that lyric I wanted to go there with him to a place where there are no worries. Releasing the weight of worry sounds amazing. All that energy previously occupied with fretting about things beyond one’s own control can be put to use so much more productively. Instead of creating scenarios of doom, our brains could be creating something beautiful. God, that would be such a nice change from beginning the morning with the latest shit Twitter storm and then being consumed with the responses and breaking news for the remainder of the day.

The Right and the Left, along with the Socialists when they’re able to participate in the war of  opinion overload, are producing so much information that it feels like an assault, a mental and emotional injury almost. It hurts.

Turn it off, you say? How does one do that? It feels to me like we’re living a reality that we’ve read about in history books, very pre-WWII. I stay connected to media because I don’t want my grandchildren to ever ask me what I did during these dark and divided days only for me to respond with “I ignored it.” Digesting, processing and trying to understand news and information these days is an excruciating job, but as invested humans we have to make an effort.

I looked around the Plaza and saw so many different and unique looking people, all together enjoying great music on a beautiful summer night. As you might imagine, “Every little thing is gonna be alright,”* is certainly a statement in which I’d like to believe. Maybe I’m focusing on the “wrong” things, universal health care, access to quality education, the acknowledgement of everyone’s equal civil rights, instead of the unemployment rate and the performance of my 403B.

Is it me or are you worried too?

*Confession: I inserted “once Trump and his ilk are gone” after every verse.

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Filed under aging, Albany, concerts, Events, musings, News, Observations, politics, stress, Uncategorized, upstate New York

I want my country back

Nearly every day there’s another anxiety inducing situation or remark delivered courtesy of the incompetent and corrupt Trump administration. There is no end in sight and I’m growing increasingly concerned about the state of our country and what the future may hold. To be perfectly blunt – shit is scary and I find myself frequently on the edge obsessing over the direction in which the President seems to be leading us. It is really bad.

As a librarian, I was trained to evaluate information and seek multiple perspectives on topics and I try to apply those skills in my personal media consumption. I sometimes listen to conservative radio when I’m in the car and have made a point of checking Fox and other media outlets to get the “other side” of the story because I really want to understand their position. I truly don’t want to only absorb opinions that match my own, but when I listen to right wing commentators I feel my heart start to race. How are we interpreting the same actions in such radically different ways?

My only explanation for our divergent viewpoints is differing motivations and priorities. Personally, I’m not particularly motivated to accumulate money, so the purported tax break doesn’t impress me. I’d be much happier having any reduction of my tax burden being redistributed to people who need it more than I. The popular technique of demonizing refugees and other people seeking safety and opportunity isn’t very effective either. I’m not afraid of people who don’t look like me or who have skin of a different color. I’d like to think that I’m evolved enough to recognize that if fear of “other” was compelling me to behave in a particular way towards certain people, I would know that it was a deficit in myself, and not them.

The things in life that are most important to me, my priorities, are things like clean water, breathable air, a stable home, and access to food, education and health care. I’m not interested in building walls. Instead, I want to know why in a country as rich in resources as ours, there are people who do not have their most basic needs met. Why are there families who have to choose between food and medicine? How do low and middle income families ever get ahead? Hard work no longer reliably gets rewarded in our society. How many people do you know who work their asses off 40 or 50 hours a week to, at best, barely hang on to basic necessities?

Speaking of bare necessities, we can agree that these include a place to safely sleep, essential hygiene products like a toothbrush, and linens suited to the environment are essential, can’t we? I’m disgusted to know that employees of the federal government are in a position in which they must either:

A. seriously argue that a blanket is not a required item for a child sleeping on a concrete floor or 

B. actually resist that avenue of thinking and, perhaps, even decry the kind of fucked up logic that is currently being put forth by the Whitehouse and refuse the task.

I’ve always refused to allow fear to be the reason behind the choices I make and resent the Republican game which makes this emotion such a central part of their playbook. I have to admit, though, that I am afraid. Our government is becoming something I’ve never before seen in our country and there does not seem to be a bottom to our fall. I’m tired of hearing about the economy and I don’t care how well anyone’s portfolio is doing. It doesn’t mean anything to me if unemployment is at historically low rates, either. You see, those highs and lows mean nothing if our souls are bankrupt and the expectations for our elected representatives are satisfied by the quality of the people currently in those positions. It’s time to get involved and resist. I want my country back.

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Filed under musings, News, Observations, politics, Rant

Lock her up – four books about young women who have lost their freedom

I’ve been known to seek out books and movies set in locales which I have plans to visit, but beyond that I don’t often read thematically. That probably makes it all the more remarkable that the four most recent books I’ve read all deal with young women contending with the loss of liberty. Three of the titles were from the historical fiction genre while the third, disturbingly, is currently classified as science fiction. After reading it,though, I’m inclined to believe that that title will eventually be reshelved in realistic fiction. Not a good thing.

What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper is a powerful book set in Europe during WWII. The novel opens with the main character, Gerta, being liberated from Bergen-Belsen by British soldiers at the end of the war. I’ve read many Holocaust stories over the years, yet there’s always something new for me to consider and in this novel it was what happened to the survivors once they were nursed back to health and could leave the camp or medical facility? What must that have been like for a teenager who has essentially been orphaned? Another scene in the opening chapter depicting soldiers forcing residents from the nearby community to tour the concentration camp and witness the atrocities which they allowed to occur by their apathy, is another aspect of this tragic time in history that I had never thought of before. What knowledge did citizens have of the victimization of Jews, gays, gypsies and the disabled? How were they able to avert their eyes from what was occurring? This book answers some questions while posing others.

Set in the same era, White Rose by Kip Wilson tells the story of a resistance group which made the ultimate sacrifice during a war that fractured families and devastated Europe. The novel, told in verse, provided insight into the conflict of Germans during WWII and the actions taken by young citizens in an attempt to thwart the Nazis. The selfless bravery of Sophie Scholl and other members of the White Rose organization, provides inspiration during a time when our own country is teetering on the edge of nationalism and xenophobia. A quote that stopped me dead:

People who
​refuse
to open their eyes
are more than ambivalent –
they are guilty.

Monica Hesse’s The War Outside brings the conflict to our own American shores in the form of the internment of Japanese-Americans and German-Americans during WWII. This historical novel describes what life was like for American citizens who were considered threats to national security despite having lived in America for generations. As the daughter of a German immigrant, I can attest to biases that I personally experienced 25 years after the war – being told to not speak German in public as a child, for instance. The camp, an actual place in Texas known as Crystal City, was depicted as a “family camp” with amenities such as a pool and community garden designed to distract residents from the reality that they were not considered equal citizens in the eyes of our government. I am certain that my family, had they been present during this dark time, would have been subjected to similar treatment.

Now, the Sci-Fi book I mentioned? Internment by Samira Ahmed is a bone chilling read because it seems all too possible in our current political climate. This was the one that made me the most uncomfortable because it relates the story of a Muslim American family who, after responding to a query regarding religion and ethnicity on the national census, find their civil rights being systematically eliminated by the government. No longer able to study, work or live in their communities, Muslim families are shipped to camps where they are separated by ethnicity and suffer limits upon their access to information, technology and loved ones who do not share their same cultural heritage. It is all the more horrifying because it is completely possible under the Trump regime. And – at a time when the federal government is attempting to insert citizenship questions into the upcoming national census that’s not an exaggeration.

What have you been reading? Do you have recommendations to share?

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Filed under Books, ideas, Observations, Recommendations

CivMix

I’m really excited to share a new site that I’ll be writing for – CivMix. My first post is live and there’s other content that I know will be of interest to DelSo readers. Please check it out, subscribe, follow and share!

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Filed under Albany, Local, Recommendations, upstate New York, writing

Keeping Christ in Christmas

As in “Jesus Christ, are you kidding me?” Let’s talk for a moment about babies and Christians and Christmas songs and greetings and how the upcoming holiday has become a battleground instead of a celebration and why reasonable human beings are allowing that to happen.

To begin, babies. Big confession here…I don’t find babies to be very interesting. When I say I didn’t even like my own babies all that much until I had my third, I am being completely honest. My lack of enthusiasm for infants, however, doesn’t prevent me from feeling incredibly sad for children who are separated from their families or born into situations which fail to provide opportunity or stability. You know, like Jesus – and all the children who continue to live in tents apart from their families in a state of imprisonment. How people who claim the mantle of “Christian” can fail to see the parallels between their savior and those babies is truly one of the wonders of Christmas to me.

“Baby, It’s Cold Out” is not a date rape song in my head or heart. They’re flirting, he’s cajoling her to stay and she’s finding lame ass excuses blaming everyone but herself for not being able to stay. That’s my read at least and I’m entitled to it. I refuse to feel icky about this song, but you can feel free to rail against it if you must. I’m not buying in to that craziness and I’m not taking that song off my holiday season playlist.

The phrase “Merry Christmas” should be received by non-Christmas celebrants in the same way “Happy Hump Day is. Maybe neither are your holiday, but it’s ok to acknowledge that they’re both important days to those who choose to celebrate. If someone wishes you the “wrong” sentiment, do you really get offended by their greeting? Isn’t there so much more to take offense from in our world? You know, like children in cages? As for me, I’m just going to keep saying “Merry Christmas.”

Migrants and other seekers of asylum and the chance for a better life, should be more compassionately dealt with, particularly by those who like to claim religion as their justification for how they approach the world. Please don’t talk to me about the miracle of a savior’s birth in a manger if you’re unwilling to recognize the efforts being made by contemporary families to achieve a similarly blessed life for their own child(ren).

I’m all about remembering the reason for the season, but, Jesus Christ, can’t we do a better job honoring him?

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Filed under Christmas, holidays, Music, musings, Observations, politics, Uncategorized