Friday, June 29, 2007

Brown vs. the Supreme Court 2007

And let us not grow weary while doing good,
for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart

Galatians 6:9

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected diversity plans in two major school districts that take race into account in assigning students but left the door open for using race in limited circumstances.

The decision in cases affecting schools in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle could imperil similar plans in hundreds of districts nationwide, and it further restricts how public school systems may attain racial diversity.

The court split, 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts announcing the court's judgment. The court's four liberal justices dissented. Federal appeals courts had upheld both plans after some parents sued. The Bush administration the parents' side, arguing that racial diversity is a noble goal but can be sought only through race-neutral means.[1]

With its latest decision on school desegregation the Supreme Court has once again rejected the concept of diversity in public education. We are steadily reviving the concept of separate, but equal. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling and the opinion of many White Americans, we have yet to overcome discrimination in this country. If we agree that there is still discrimination and yet we choose to do nothing about it, what does that say about how we really feel about discrimination?

To acknowledge the obvious requires no courage, but to stand on the side of right with action and sacrifice is another story. Let’s face it there is no easy answer to the race problems we face as a nation, but what bothers me the most is that in order for this country to become what it is today millions of Black men and women had to make a sacrifice unwillingly through slavery. Now that a sacrifice is needed from those who have benefitted from the previous sacrifice is required, we want to hide behind “reverse discrimination”. We want to say all things can now be equal; ignoring the past will not bring justice. Confronting it, acknowledging it, and making changes is how the past is remedied.

Can someone explain to me how you can repair racial discrimination without taking into account race in its mending? Did I miss the class where we learned how to fix gender discrimination without using gender? Does anyone remember the remedy for Title IX, for those who don’t remember let me give you some figures to chew on.

In 1972, Congress enacted Title IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. In the 25 years since its passage, Title IX has helped women and girls make strides in gaining access to higher education, athletics, and nontraditional fields of study.
In 1972 women made up 44 percent of undergraduates; today women are 55 percent.
In 1971 girls made up 1% of high school varsity athletes; today they make up 40%.
Until Title IX, many high schools prohibited girls from taking certain courses, such as auto mechanics and criminal justice.
In 1970 women earned 0.7% of bachelor's degrees in engineering; in 1994 women earned 14.8% of these degrees.
In 1970 women earned 7.1 percent of law degrees and 9.1 percent of medical degrees; in 1994 women earned 43 percent and 38 percent of degrees in those fields.[2]

A conscious effort was made to give women preference in athletics to make up for past discriminatory practices and we can see the results. There were men who screamed “reverse discrimination”, but the country stuck to its guns, because it was the right thing to do. The justices talked about diversity being an admirable goal, but talk is cheap without the tools to carry it out.

Louisville's schools spent 25 years under a court order to eliminate the effects of state-sponsored segregation. After a federal judge freed the Jefferson County, Ky., school board, which encompasses Louisville, from his supervision, the board decided to keep much of the court-ordered plan in place to prevent schools from re-segregating.

The lawyer for the Louisville system called the plan a success story that enjoys broad community support, including among parents of white and black students.

Attorney Teddy Gordon, who argued that the Louisville system's plan was discriminatory, said, ''Clearly, we need better race-neutral alternatives. Instead of spending zillions of dollars around the country to place a black child next to a white child, let's reduce class size. All the schools are equal. We will no longer accept that an African-American majority within a school is unacceptable.''[3]

We will no longer accept that that an African-American majority within a school is unacceptable”, to me this sounds dangerously close to separate but equal making a comeback. It is unfortunate that we as a nation require these types of remedies to bring us together. It would be preferable for us to just unite and say let’s all live together in equality and harmony, but that is not reality today. It is always easy to give up on doing good; to say, “We’re tired. Aren’t we there yet? Pull yourself up, we quit calling you ni**er, didn’t we?”




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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires?

As the number of residents moving to lands that sit adjacent to federal lands increases, the mission of the U.S. Forest Service has changed. Initially designed to do campground maintenance, research, road repair and backcountry wilderness management, they have become the fire fighters for wealthy land owners who want to enjoy the great outdoors at tax payer expense. I have no problem with people living where they want, but if you choose to live in a dangerous place (sides of mountains, near forests, etc.) you must be willing to accept the inherent risk of doing so. Why should we the tax payers subsidize your million dollar dream home?

News Flash – Forests catch on fire; mountains erode, these are natural phenomenon that have taken place in nature from the beginning of time. If you want to spend millions of dollars to get that perfect view of the ocean off the side of a mountain more power to you, but don’t do it on my dime. For some reason some people have gotten the idea that protecting them in high risk areas of nature is the federal government’s job. Many of these same people decry big government and poverty programs, but have no trouble demanding that the government fight the wild fires and if necessary repair or replace their million dollar homes if they become damaged due to what occurs naturally.

Some residents in the high-risk areas worry that the federal government will be tempted to pass the problem along to local governments or homeowners.

“The federal government is there to protect the community from disasters,” said Ron Ehli, 50, a volunteer fire chief in Hamilton, Mont., an increasingly popular getaway in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula.

“Where Florida might have hurricanes, or California earthquakes, we have wildfires,” Mr. Ehli said. “And the federal government should be there to protect us.

Truth be told, the nation’s founders would probably be shocked that the government was still in the land or firefighting business. Land, as the early framers of the republic saw it, through legislation like the Homestead Act, was for settlement and farming, and especially for private ownership.[1]

Excuse me, these people have chosen to live in harm’s way. If I pitch a tent in the middle of the highway, do I have a right to expect the government to protect me from the cars? Why is it ok for the government to protect those who need the least protection, but not ok for the ones who need it the most. This is another instance of where we have gotten our priorities mixed up; government is to protect those who cannot protect themselves, not those who foolishly tempt fate to live some extravagant dream. We are still struggling to get New Orleans rebuilt almost two years later and these folks want government fire and mud-slide protection; give me a break.

“Both of us were aware that these things happen,” said Ms. Morris, 47, as she looked out the window to the charred hillside. “We just didn’t think it would happen this fast.”

A new generation of Americans like the Morrises, in moving to places perched on the edge of vast, undeveloped government lands in the West, are living out a dangerous experiment, many of them ignorant of the risk.

Their migration — more than 8.6 million new homes in the West within 30 miles of a national forest since 1982, according to research at the University of Wisconsin — has coincided with profound environmental changes that have worsened the fire hazard, including years of drought, record-setting heat and forest management policies that have allowed brush and dead trees to build up.

“It’s like a tsunami, this big wave of development that’s rolling toward the public lands,” said Volker C. Radeloff, a professor of forest ecology and management at the University of Wisconsin. “And the number of fires keeps going up.”[2]

It has always amazed me how people claim to love nature, so long as they can control the environment. I like the great outdoors, but I don’t like the bugs, the rain, or the fires; this is of course what makes nature, nature. So many today want a virtual reality, they want the experience without the experience. They want a buffer between them and the great outdoors. Nature has a pattern and these patterns are how it renews and regenerates itself. Because of our wanting to control those patterns for the sake of development we have perverted the natural ebb and flow.

“I personally feel if they’re stupid enough to build their house with trees and stuff all around, it’s their dumb luck,” said Nancy Garness, 53, a baker at the Coffee Cup Cafe in Hamilton, who came to the area with her parents in the late 1950s when she was 4.

Insurance professionals say much the same thing.

“We all went through a period of, ‘write the policy and take the money,’ ” said Barry Whitmore, a State Farm Insurance agent in Hamilton. “Now we’ve got a wildfire checklist, and based on the answers, a home is either insurable or not insurable.”[3]

As the cost for protecting these developments continues to escalate it appears that people are starting to realize the nature of the beast. Even the greedy insurance companies realize this is a no-win situation, that nature will run its course. If anything as the climate patterns change there will be more fires and mudslides that will be more devastating. You want to be Davy Crockett, go right ahead, but when his cabin burned down he was looking for Uncle Sam to bail him out, why should you?


[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Swift Boats To The Rescue

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court loosened political advertising restrictions aimed at corporate- and union-funded television ads Monday, weakening a key provision of a landmark campaign finance law.

The court's 5-4 ruling could become a significant factor in the upcoming presidential primaries, giving interest groups a louder and more influential voice in the closing days before those contests as well as the general election.

The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that an anti-abortion group should have been allowed to air ads during the final two months before the 2004 elections. The law unreasonably limits speech and violates the group's First Amendment rights, the court said.

''Discussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues may also be pertinent in an election,'' Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. ''Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor.''[1]

With this Supreme Court decision, what was already going to be a contentious election has now been ratcheted up a notch. I am dreading the level that some will be willing to stoop to in the name of “fair and balanced” information. This decision has opened the door for distortion and misrepresentation of our political process. The Court had the opportunity to rein in the fringe that has turned our political process into a cantankerous and character assassination tour de force. Rather than strengthening our political reform process they have in effect continued to place politics over the people and allowed political money to overrule not only good law, but good judgment. At a time when we need to reform our political process, these political hacks have chosen to keep the status quo.

The McCain-Feingold bill was not perfect law, but it was atleast the beginning in the process to restrict the effects that money has turned our elections into. Unfortunately, as we try to control the tap of runaway campaigns and special interest money, there are those who still want to have the best government that money can buy. It appears that we can no longer count on the politicians or the judges to shut off this spigot; it has to come from you and I, the people. We should realize that if we continue to let the special interest groups, corporations, and unions have unlimited access to our elected officials through contributions and by intimidation ads, we will continue to get the politics of division and fear.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has been critical of McCain's stance, promptly hailed the court's decision.

''McCain-Feingold was a poorly-crafted bill,'' Romney said in a statement. ''Today's decision restores, in part, to the American people a right critical to their freedom of political participation and expression.''[2]

What has been masqueraded as free speech is no such animal; it is influence peddling and corruption of our political process. I fail to see the harm in limiting the amount of contributions any single person, corporation, or union can give. If our goal is to give equal representation to all of our citizens then this is the place to start. Is there anyone among us who truly believes that these entities give away all this money and they receive nothing for it?

There were four justices who were willing to stand up and pull the curtain open to see what this really is about. They recognized that this is not about free speech, but an outright attempt to influence elections by those with the money to do so with false and misleading ads. These ads don’t help the political discourse and they allow the politicians to rise over the fray and claim ignorance to the misrepresentation that they spew.

'Thus, what is called a 'ban' on speech is a limit on the financing of electioneering broadcasts by entities ... that insist on acting as conduits from the campaign war chests of business corporations,'' Souter said.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens joined Souter's dissent.

These guys are like roaches, you close one loop hole and they run in through another. Until we begin to put limits on political contributions we will continue to have politicians that ignore our desires and wishes and vote for the special interest. They go where the money is and the money is with special interest lobbies. We need to level the playing field; it’s like anything else you take away the money and the rats run back into their holes. We have to begin to demand an end to this endless money pit and political influence peddling. It is happening on both sides and everyday there is a new indictment of some politician who received campaign contributions and denies any quid pro quo. Yes, these people give hundreds of thousands of dollars just to make the acquaintance of these guys. I know politicians have big egos, but to think that someone is going to give me money just to know me is the height of arrogance or the bottom of foolishness. It is past due time for real campaign reform. It isn’t going to get any better.


[2] Ibid

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New Orleans – Let The Good Times Roll

For years, New Orleans and Louisiana have had reputations as centers of political corruption. Former Gov. Edwin Edwards is serving 10 years in prison after being convicted in 2000 in a fraud, extortion and racketeering case. Within the past week, a former New Orleans school board president pleaded guilty to taking bribes to help a business consultant win contracts for an employer, and a one-time associate of former Mayor Marc Morial was sentenced to prison for his role in a kickback scandal.

Historically, the city and state have been tolerant of corruption, Letten said. Still, he and Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, believe that tolerance is eroding, particularly in the nearly 22 months since Katrina flooded much of the city[1]

Time is supposed to heal all wounds or so they say. It has been 22 months since the disaster known as hurricane Katrina; hit the city of New Orleans. While there has been significant progress in the city as a whole, the 9th ward has not been as fortunate as the rest of the city. For those who are not familiar the 9th ward is where the majority of the poor people of New Orleans resided. I originally wanted to do a piece to respond to a challenge on a blog site, asking if the Black bloggers had forgotten about New Orleans. I had to admit that I had not done one post on it and it kind of bothered me. I was ready to do a post blasting the incompetence of the federal, state, and local governments and how the well documented history of corruption in Louisiana was playing out on the national stage.

However, as I began gathering my facts and figures and preparing to start into my tirade an interesting question came to mind. I must say I was somewhat troubled and yet intrigued by the question. The question speaks to how we respond to disaster as a society and as a nation; the things we value and want integrated into our fabric. I could find no right or wrong response to the question, but a difference in the values we have as individuals. It made me question what are we entitled to as citizens of a city and a nation.

Does the city of New Orleans have to provide for the poor people to return to New Orleans? Before you go into the immediate knee jerk response think about it. Due to the disaster New Orleans has a chance to rebuild the city; do they have to bring the poor people back that are not home or property owners? Is the city served by having poor people relocated back to the city, with the inherent problems of crime, homelessness, drugs, etc? Does the city have an obligation to include creating a ghetto in its redevelopment plans?

But you say, “They were here before the hurricane” and yes this is true but they are not there now. The reason I ask these questions is because the city is in the process of recreating itself by demolishing the public housing or projects and replacing it with “mixed income” housing, which is code for getting rid of the poor. The area that the city is “renovating” lies very near to the French Quarter and I am sure would be prime redevelopment real estate.

After the last remnants of ‘the city’ are removed, we stand and look across the dead silence of the empty projects – it is a somber reminder of the city and federal governments’ failure to ensure low income housing in New Orleans. St. Bernard, like 80% of the public housing developments in the city, is slated for demolition, despite the fact that they have sustained very minimal hurricane or flood damage. HANO, taking leadership from Housing and Urban Development has condemned the projects as contaminated, and declared a plan to destroy them while simultaneously announcing a plan to provide ‘mixed-income housing’ instead. Ironically, the buildings themselves were some of the strongest in the city, and had sustained very little real damage.

Either way, for public housing residents across the city, the prospects are bleak. They are locked from their apartments despite holding leases, and told they may not have a place in the new slimmed down version of public housing that is being proposed. The truth is, the plan for ‘mixed income housing’ would provide a small fraction of the actual units that are afforded low income families, discouraging those without other means from returning to New Orleans.

Many people believe the long history of racism in New Orleans that has led to government neglect in the rebuilding process. They simply don’t want low income blacks to return. After volunteering in New Orleans for the last 7 months, it is a hard statement to rebuke. Everywhere you look the evidence is around you. Demolished homes, skyrocketing rent, lack of public health care, underfunded public schools, and one of the highest incarceration rates for young black men in the nation. A large gap in mental health services, particularly for those suffering ‘Katrina trauma’ and a lack of decently paying jobs has led to drug wars and staggering murder rates.

Meanwhile residents in the poorest areas of New Orleans are still awaiting the long promised Road Home money, awarded by congress to aid home owners in the state of Louisiana. More than eighteen months after the storm, as few as 1% of the families who applied for this assistance have received checks. Meanwhile the city has begun demolitions on ‘neglected’ properties, part of an ongoing land grab that is being called by some “the largest gentrification project in the history of the United States.” As one black woman who was waiting for her Road Home check told me, “I’d like to see who that 1% is, because I can guarantee you, it’s nobody I know. “

Often these things can be written off as result of neglect and bureaucratic in-action. But times like today it appears intentional -- as if a small war is being waged – with red-tape and bulldozers, at a time when housing is needed more than ever.. .According to HANO’s own documents St. Bernard could be repaired for $41 million, or substantially modernized for $130 million. Demolishing them and building ‘mixed income’ apartments will cost at least $197 million, and reduce the number of low income units from 1400 to 160. The new buildings would be less secure, and more likely to suffer future Hurricane.[2]

So does the city owe the poor a return ticket to poverty or a relocation back to the slums they once called home?



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Monday, June 25, 2007

Tony Blair’s Promotion

Due to his tremendous success with the war in Iraq, President Bush wants to reward Tony Blair by naming him a special Middle East envoy. Maybe he could throw in a Medal of Freedom for Mr. Blair as well. While, I admire the fact that Mr. Blair won’t be unemployed for long thus lowering the worldwide unemployment rate, I question him for this particular role. With the Middle East in particularly worse shape than usual, which seemed nearly impossible until George Bush got into office, I don’t think one of the principal partners in the Iraqi war should be handling difficult negotiations. I believe that due to his almost “groupie” adoration of George Bush, Mr. Blair has lost credibility in the region.

Does anyone besides this befuddled administration think this appointment will work? This just shows how much the Hamas takeover of Gaza has shaken up things in Middle East politics. I am sure that Tony Blair is a fine man and wants to do the right thing in the region, but because of his unwavering support of George Bush, he will always be identified in that role. This will prevent him from being seen as fair and impartial in negotiations. My thinking is that he will not be sent to broker any final terms of a peace deal, but more than likely to help build credibility for the Fatah faction of the PLO.

You would think that the fiascos in Iraq (Chalabi) this administration would get that you can’t pick and choose the leaders for others. Whether you like them or not, you have to negotiate with the people’s representatives, not who you want to negotiate with. An agreement with someone who cannot deliver is not worth the paper it is written on. Rather than continue to bolster a leader who has lost his base, it would be better to work toward bringing Hamas into the process. How can you rehabilitate a terrorist organization? The same way we have rehabilitated all the others that were once on our list (Sandinistas, IRA, etc.) we use carrots and sticks. You cannot hope to resolve an issue without one of the major players involved in the process.

When Hamas first came to power after the election, they desperately sought recognition from the West, but due to our intransigent foreign policy apparatus we let the opportunity slip away. Hamas realizes that now it must govern which a terrorist organization cannot do. They know that they have to deliver on the basic services that the people require. It is not in their self-interest to allow the people of Gaza to starve. The MSM media will make it appear that the people of Gaza are leaving because of Hamas, but the reality is the people are leaving because they know the storm that Israel will unleash against them. It is one thing to promote democracy, it is quite another to undermine democracy when you don’t like the results. Of course that has never happened (Chile, El Salvador, etc.).

The time is overdue to discontinue the rhetoric and demagoguery of the past and begin to make serious efforts to resolve this conflict. There will be no peace until we do. The only reason to continue to support Mr. Mazen is to allow the foot dragging and corruption to continue. Israel knows as long as this conflict between the Palestinians continues they will not have to do any serious negotiations. And rather than call them on this, the friendly regimes in the region (none of which are democracies) go along with this charade to placate their people.

There will be an uprising in the Middle East, not because of what Mr. Bush has done but in spite of it. The people of that region will one day rise up against those who have sold them out and it won’t be because we planted the seeds of democracy, it will be because they are tired of being misled by their own governments. We can continue our age old policy of supporting lost causes or we can finally for a change support the winds of change, before they blow us away.

Mr. Blair will bring nothing substantive to the negotiations because he will not have the power to persuade Mr. Bush or more importantly Mr. Cheney and the Jewish PACs into making any real sacrifices. Without the freedom to negotiate independently, Mr. Blair is just another mouthpiece of this administration. We would be served just as well by sending Tony Snow. Using a different messenger to deliver the same message is not going to work. It is time for a different message not only for Israel and Palestine, but for the region as a whole. If Mr. Blair is not coming with a new message and a new policy how can anyone expect to get anything different. Insanity; doing the same thing and expecting different results…

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Friday, June 22, 2007

The Union, Jack

In today’s technologically advanced workplace, do we still need unions? Have unions lost their viability? There is debate going on concerning the Employee Free Choice Act and its impact on the American worker and economy.

The Employee Free Choice Act, would require employers to recognize a union if the majority of workers simply sign cards showing their support rather than hold a vote. It also strengthens penalties against employers that violate federal law against union organizing. There are many who argue that because of the loss of manufacturing and more physical type labor the need for unions has passed. I would submit that because of the weakening of the labor movement we have a shrinking manufacturing industry and a loss of middle-class opportunities.

Protecting the right to form unions is about maintaining the American middle class. It’s no coincidence that as union membership numbers fall there are growing numbers of jobs with low pay, poor benefits, and little to no security. More than half of U.S. workers—60 million—say they would join a union right now if they could. Why? They know that coming together to bargain with employers over wages, benefits, and working conditions is the best path to getting ahead. Workers who belong to unions earn 30 percent more than non-union workers, and are 63 percent more likely to have employer-provided health care. Without labor law reform, economic opportunity for America’s working families will continue to erode.[1]

Because of intimidation and media savvy consultants the major corporations have convinced a generation of workers that they did not need unions. They promoted how unions were corrupt and outdated; it is no surprise that as the populace became more self conscious (me generation and the greed generation) that the argument held sway with many younger workers. These workers were too young to remember the conditions that brought about the need for unions in the first place, the long hours, the unsafe working conditions, and the low wages of their parents and grandparents generations. Those were greedy robber barons back then the modern corporations would be more benevolent towards it workforce. Let’s ask the employees of Enron, Tyco, and a whole slew of other corporations how benevolent the modern corporation is.

Why has this happened? It’s not a result of a neutral, inevitable economic fact, like the sun setting in the west. It happens because corporations can get away with hogging the fruits of economic activity. It happens because politicians will not stand up and decry either the unfairness of the theft and the underlying corporate greed that siphons away workers’ deserved rewards.

And, sadly, it reflects the weak state of the labor movement. When unions are strong, everyone benefits—union and non-union workers alike. Through collective bargaining, unions act as a counterforce to an unjust diversion of income, creating a system that spreads out the rewards for hard work. Unions turn bad jobs and low wages into good jobs and decent livelihoods. The best middle-class jobs program is, indeed, mass unionization.

Let me make two side points here. First, when wages don’t grow, even when productivity is high, it undermines our nation’s retirement system. This is because taxes on workers wages are the central revenue source for the Social Security system. A key reason the 1983 Greenspan Commission’s modifications to the Social Security system came up short is precisely because wage growth did not match what had been forecasted more than two decades ago. “If wages had grown as the Commission forecast, and inequality had not increased we wouldn’t even have a Social Security shortfall over the next 75 years,” observes Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Weisbrot is quick to point out that the projected shortfall is quite small, and according to President Bush’s numbers, the program today is financially stronger than it has been throughout most of its 70-year history.

Second, the outsized corporate windfall from productivity works hand in hand with the other factor propelling the massive redistribution of income in society: Compensation and tax policies that are shifting vast wealth to the upper 10 percent of the population.[2]

It is nothing short of amazing how the wealthy have convinced our nation that welfare for corporations is good, but welfare for the poorest Americans is bad. That record profits for corporations and record salaries for executives is good, but minimum wages and wage increases for average workers is bad. How have we allowed ourselves to be co-opted into this outrageous scenario is beyond words. These things can only occur because we allow them to, while we are so busy fighting over crumbs they are stealing us blind. While we are so concerned with the color of the skin of the guy next to us in the same life boat we are in. Is that insane or what? As long as we continue to allow foolish things to divide us, we will never be able to overcome those who want to keep us all down. If you think that those in power are more concerned about your needs than mine because you are a different shade than me, you are sadly mistaken. There is only one color that matters and that is green. The middle-class has not shrunk because of illegal aliens from Mexico. The manufacturing base has not been outsourced because of unions. The country is not going to hell because of minorities. It is time to wake up and realize who the real enemy of the middle class is.

Have unions been corrupt in the past? Yes, but have they been anymore corrupt than their corporate cousins? There have been more workers who have had their retirements decimated by corporate malfeasance than union corruption. If we want to increase wages for average Americans and gain some semblance of job security, unions are our best bet. Unions help all workers, even non union workers. Unions are good for America.



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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Insane Enough to Vote?

Unfortunately there appears to be an effort on the part of some in state government to curtail or limit the voting rights of those who they deem mentally unfit to vote. The main focus of these arguments is that people under guardianship for mental illness do not possess the capacity to vote. If there were some voting competency test, I know quite a few people that would not be voting or holding office for that matter. Should people who have been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity be allowed to vote? How about people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, should they be allowed to vote?

This summer, recommendations for national standards will be released by a group of psychiatrists, lawyers and others led by the American Bar Association, suggesting that people be prevented from voting only if they cannot indicate, with or without help, “a specific desire to participate in the voting process.”[1]

I find this standard to be a fair criterion for accessing one’s ability to vote. I think that if a person has a real desire to take part in the voting process and can without help indicate that desire, they should be allowed to vote. The problem occurs when voting standards are set up to determine if a person is competent to vote. Any voter competency test will be fraught with danger and sure to be misused by those wanting to limit the access of these people to vote. To go any further would require that we use the same set of standards for all voters or it could be used in a discriminatory fashion.

CRANSTON, R.I. — Behind the barbed wire and thick walls of the state mental hospital here are two patients who have not been allowed to live in the outside world for 20 years. Both were found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.
Still, they have voted in elections nearly every two years, casting ballots by mail. Now, however, election officials are taking steps that could ban them from voting, arguing that state law denies the vote to people with such serious psychiatric impairments.
“I just think if you are declared insane you should not be allowed to vote, period,” said Joseph DeLorenzo, chairman of the Cranston Board of Canvassers. “Some people are taking these two clowns and calling them disabled persons. Is insanity a disability? I have an answer to that: no. You’re insane; you’re nuts.”

How will we determine who is competent? Shall we have them discuss the candidate’s platform or positions on various issues? Shall we have a voter IQ test administered at the polls? How many of us could pass such test for every election we vote in? I don’t advocate that anyone be allowed to vote, I believe to maintain the integrity of elections there has to be some criteria. However, how many severely mentally ill people even want to vote? Most of my experience with the people who suffer from extreme mental illness they have no desire to vote or to participate in the political process. Anyone that has a capacity and a desire to want to vote should be given atleast the opportunity to vote, if possible.

I am a firm believer and advocate for the expansion of voting, not the shrinking of it. With all the voter apathy we have today, we should be developing ways to bring more people into the political process, not fewer. If someone is astute enough to consider voting as their right and they can do it, I say why not. They can’t do any worse than the rest of us. I mean, who is going to determine a voter’s competency?

State laws vary and are inconsistently applied, said Jennifer Mathis, deputy legal director for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, an advocacy group in Washington. Ms. Mathis said most states fell into one of two categories. About 18 bar voting by people under guardianship or who are “non compos mentis” (“not master of one’s own mind”), a determination that is often not clearly defined. Another 18 prevent voting if there is a specific determination that people lack voting competence.[3]

For the most part the criteria used today by states are vague and could be used to prevent almost anyone from voting. As our population ages and more of us are dealing with age specific mental illness, these vague voting statues could be used to prevent thousands of seniors from voting. There are many seniors that are under guardianship, but still maintain their faculties. We must be very careful in a democracy anytime we talk about limited the rights of anyone to vote. Today, it may be the ex-cons, the mentally challenged, and the handicapped; who will it be tomorrow?

[2] Ibid

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tomato or To-mato?

I believe that the American military is on target when officers ask for a mission that includes maintaining -- either at bases in Iraq at the request of Iraq or in bases in Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- a military force powerful enough to launch special operations missions against al-Qaeda or Sunni insurgents in Iraq; train Iraqi troops to defend their own country; and guarantee the security of the Iraqi government, if so desired by Iraq.

This approach of drawing down our forces while maintaining the military presence needed to preserve democracy in the country and launch special operations missions against terrorists would save U.S. lives and tax dollars as well as prevent Iraq from becoming a base of operations for foreign jihadists and buy valuable time to train Iraqi forces.[1]

This is an excerpt from an open letter to the Washington Post from Republican presidential candidate, James Gilmore. It amazes me how important in the political spectrum words have become. It’s amazing because someone has obviously spent a lot of money and time figuring out that if you say the right word, it doesn’t matter what it is attached to it will sell or spin. We have completely divorced words from their meanings, they now just float aimlessly in space waiting to be brought down and used for any purpose we so desire. This administration has taken this talent to a whole new level; who could forget their many hits, Clear Skies, No Child Left Behind, Healthy Forests. Clear Skies weakened environmental laws NCLB has left millions behind and Healthy Forests allows for increased logging.

The point being if you say something often enough you can change the meaning of it. This of course is true, the reason the words have the definitions that they do is enough people used them enough to mean the same thing and it caught on. It is irrelevant that the words now mean the complete opposite of their original meaning.

Reading the above quote I was struck that the candidate was promoting a partial withdrawal from Iraq. Mr. Gilmore is attempting to distance himself from the presidents Iraq policy and current strategy. This on the surface would appear to be what the Democratic candidates are promoting, but according to Mr. Gilmore this would be in error. You see, Mr. Gilmore is promoting a “drawdown”, not a withdrawal. There is obviously a big difference between the two and yet for the life of me I am unable to figure out what they are. As I read through his letter I was looking for the differences, besides semantic and I couldn’t find it.

Like you, I reject the Democrats' policy of an immediate withdrawal or a withdrawal on a timetable. Unfortunately, they are playing to the polls to obtain political advantage at home, to the detriment of the United States. But I also believe we cannot continue our present policy. We must find a third way.[2]

So, when Democrats suggest another alternative for the failed Iraq policy they are playing to the polls, but when Republicans do it, it is for the sake of the country. This strategy is as much of a failure as Iraq has been. When the ship completely sinks which it will do, these die hard war mongers will have a difficult time selling this garbage. This just illustrates that both parties can see this war has been a failure, but for the sake of political expediency they have chosen to ignore our troops. I can hardly wait to see the language of withdrawal when the Republicans get done with it. I have a feeling withdrawal won’t really mean withdrawal; it will mean a “redeployment” of our assets. I don’t know about you, but I have had enough of this name game. It is time to do what everyone knows must be done. There is no honor in stupidity or stubbornness. Wishing will not make it so, more troops will not make it so, and word games will definitely not make it so…End this war now!

[2] Ibid

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Drug War IV

In my continuing series on the “War on Drugs”, I want to turn our discussion to the doctors who are now under attack by the DEA as drug pushers. It appears that the trust relationship between doctor and patient is now under scrutiny. Are there doctors who prescribe too many and too much prescription medication? Of course there are, but one must be careful when confronting this issue. It is reckless prosecutions that can send chills throughout the medical community and cause needless suffering on the part of legitimate patients. We live in a drug seeking culture, if you are not completely happy then take one of these pills and you will be. The pharmaceutical industry is spending millions on trying to find the perfect feel good remedy for all of us depressed Americans.

It’s a false choice. Virtually everyone who takes opioids will become physically dependent on them, which means that withdrawal symptoms like nausea and sweats can occur if usage ends abruptly. But tapering off gradually allows most people to avoid those symptoms, and physical dependence is not the same thing as addiction. Addiction — which is defined by cravings, loss of control and a psychological compulsion to take a drug even when it is harmful — occurs in patients with a predisposition (biological or otherwise) to become addicted. At the very least, these include just below 10 percent of Americans, the number estimated by the United States Department of Health and Human Services to have active substance-abuse problems. Even a predisposition to addiction, however, doesn’t mean a patient will become addicted to opioids. Vast numbers do not. Pain patients without prior abuse problems most likely run little risk. “Someone who has never abused alcohol or other drugs would be extremely unlikely to become addicted to opioid pain medicines, particularly if he or she is older,” says Russell K. Portenoy, chairman of pain medicine and palliative care at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and a leading authority on the treatment of pain.

According to the pharmaceutical research company IMS Health, prescriptions for opioids have risen over the past few years. They are used now more than ever before. Yet study after study has concluded that pain is still radically undertreated. The Stanford University Medical Center survey found that only 50 percent of chronic-pain sufferers who had spoken to a doctor about their pain got sufficient relief. According to the American Pain Society, an advocacy group, fewer than half of cancer patients in pain get adequate pain relief.

Several states are now preparing new opioid-dosing guidelines that may inadvertently worsen undertreatment. This year, the state of Washington advised nonspecialist doctors that daily opioid doses should not exceed the equivalent of 120 milligrams of oral morphine daily — for oxycodone or OxyContin, that’s just 80 milligrams per day — without the patient’s also consulting a pain specialist. Along with the guidelines, officials published a statewide directory of such specialists. It contains 12 names. “There are just not enough pain specialists,” says Scott M. Fishman, chief of pain medicine at the University of California at Davis and a past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. And the guidelines may keep nonspecialists from prescribing higher doses. “Many doctors will assume that if the state of Washington suggests this level of care, then it is unacceptable to proceed otherwise,” Fishman says.[1]

Despite popular belief, not everyone that takes drugs become addicts. I know from my own experiences that there are millions of people who take drugs and do not become addicts. The problem is no one can tell by looking who will and who won’t become addicted. But there is also the physiology of drugs and the human body. There are drugs that are physically addicting no matter who takes them (ie opiates such as heroin, morphine, etc.). It is these powerful drugs that are used to manage pain in most cases. Pain is not always a readily identifiable condition; there are sometimes no physical blueprints to follow. What degree of pain a person can tolerate varies greatly with each individual and also whether someone is actually in pain. There are no accurate tests for specific pain. I had a friend that suffered from migraines for years. He would go from doctor to doctor and no one could help him, sometimes they couldn’t even identify the pain that he was suffering. For many years in this country pain management was not part of most doctors practice's or part of any medical school courses. For that reason, many people suffered needlessly from under treatment of their pain symptoms.

But what are we to do with those who are addicted? They appear the same initially as the real pain patient, if anything they may appear more normal. Is the doctor responsible for what a patient does with his medication? Can a doctor accurately monitor a patient’s behavior that he may see once a month? Is it fair to expect that type of scrutiny from our doctors with our 15 minute HMO visits? It is questions like these that will cause many to suffer from pain or lack of treatment for other ailments due to the fear on the part of doctors to be arrested, sued, or even investigated. An investigation can cause a doctor to lose his livelihood.

Will another casualty of the “War on Drugs” be that patients suffer due to fear on the part of their doctors to do their job? There will always be people who abuse the system for their own personal gain, which goes for patients as well as doctors, but we must not allow the government in their zeal to fight this war to intimidate those trained to alleviate pain and suffering. As anyone who has read my writings know, I am not a fan of big pharma, but I am also not a fan of an intrusive government that under the guise of fighting a losing war is causing needless suffering. It is up to the doctors to decide the plan of treatment for their patients, after all that is what they get paid the “big bucks” to do. Let’s keep the government out of the examination rooms and peeking over the doctor’s shoulder. Should we monitor the performance of doctors? Of course we should, but their treatment should not be micro-managed by bureaucrats and drug agents.


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Monday, June 18, 2007

A Friend Indeed?

The prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, said: “I call on my friend Abu Mazen,” referring to Mr. Abbas, who was in Ramallah, to take the opportunity, now that almost the entire world understands the viciousness, the brutality of Hamas, to exercise his authority as the leader of the Palestinian people.”

Israel will do what it can, he said in an interview with The New York Times in Tel Aviv, to “be helpful and supportive of the Palestinian people in every possible way, including economic cooperation and security cooperation.”

It is so refreshing to see that Israel’s prime minister is so willing to help the Palestinian people. As the Palestinians continue to struggle against one another in a push for power between the democratically elected government headed by Hamas and the Fatah party led by President Abbas, the Israeli government is now willing to help.

I think that it is interesting that throughout the “so-called” Middle East peace process the Israeli’s have done everything within their power to undermine Mr. Abbas, that now when faced with the prospect of a Hamas led government they are willing to support him. I am afraid that it is too little, too late for Mr. Abbas. The Hamas led government is a direct result of the foot-dragging and disingenuous negotiations that Israel and the US have been engaged end trying to placate the Palestinians while the Israelis continue to cement their land grab and occupation of lands taken in the 1967 war. If the Israeli’s had bargained in good faith in the past maybe we would not be in the position we are today.

The occupation has not made Israel safer and it has only inflamed the passions of the Palestinians and the Arab world. Before the Hamas victory in elections, Israel had ample opportunity to negotiate with the moderate Palestinians, but instead chose to stonewall the process and continue to build settlements, settlements that violate the letter and the spirit of the peace process. However, due to their lobbying efforts and media domination they have been able to present the occupation as being humane and in the best interest of the Palestinians. The Palestinians are too barbaric to be able to govern themselves and require the benevolent assistance of the Israelis to save them from themselves. This picture will again be played out in the main stream press as the violence intensifies.

Of course throughout this process what won’t be discussed are the efforts of the Israelis and the US to destabilize the Palestinians and to keep them splintered so they cannot mount an effective defense against the media savvy Israelis. Thus allowing them to present the Palestinians as uncivilized and therefore unworthy of having a place at the bargaining table. This has allowed the Israelis to continue to fortify their positions and settlements in the occupied territory. The Israelis and the US will disavow any complicity in the violence that is now taking place in Gaza, not accepting that this violence is in direct response to the fact that the lawfully elected government is being kept from governing by the interference of Washington and Tele Aviv.

Am I a fan of Hamas? Certainly not. But I am not a Palestinian and so my vote doesn’t count for anything in this struggle. I do know that you cannot create an environment that fosters frustration, hopelessness, and fear and not expect some backlash. You cannot restrict the daily movements of a people and interrupt their interactions with their families and then be shocked when they respond. Let’s not forget that for a long time this land belonged to them as much as it did to Israel, if not more. Are they also entitled to self-determination? Are they not entitled to their own state?

So what is there to do? We can continue to play the blame game and the retaliation mess or we can try something novel and maybe talk to all parties. If we continue to marginalize and isolate those who we disagree with we only continue to foster their beliefs that we are insensitive to their needs. We open the door for even more radical elements, because the moderates have shown little, if any gains. Hamas is a creation of the corruption of the Fatah party and the frustration at the lack of progress for the average Palestinian. In a conflict of this magnitude, one that runs this deep there are only two options: either we make peace and sacrifice for that peace or we kill all of them. Because as long as they are there, there will be no peace. There will be no peaceful co-existence. So either sit down with all parties and negotiate in good faith or stop the “snipe hunt” and let the killing begin…

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Friday, June 15, 2007

The Imperial Presidency Vs. Democracy

Many people believe that the Imperial Presidency is a new phenomenon, initiated by George W. Bush. However, the foundation of the Imperial Presidency was laid prior to 9/11 in a series of steps and maneuvers by several different presidents. With each new officeholder not only reinforcing the previous officeholder’s position, but also expanding it as they saw fit. But, what is an imperial president and what if anything can be done to restrain that unchecked power? Many will say the separation of powers built into the Constitution is designed to keep the president in check, but that doesn’t seem to be working out to good.

Imperialism is the policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations, countries, or colonies. This is either through direct territorial conquest or settlement, or through indirect methods of influencing or controlling the politics and/or economy. The rule of authority of a country is based on territory, economic establishment and political influence. The term is used to describe the policy of a nation’s dominance over distant lands, regardless of whether the subjugated nation considers itself part of the empire. It is also considered the action by which one country controls another country or territory accomplished by military means to gain certain advantages. Imperialism helps one country gain power and domain over other areas.

When did the Imperial Presidency begin and why was it allowed to go unchecked? The beginning of this trend began with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the implementation of the New Deal. FDR inherited the country in calamitous circumstances which required bold and extraordinary steps to remedy. There are many today who still decry those steps and the Congress that allowed him to execute them. Many conservative Republicans have made it their life’s work to rescind the policies and laws that define the New Deal. Prior to FDR, the president had been for the most part a caretaker who implemented the policies of Congress. The seeds of the Imperial Presidency were planted with FDR and continue to this day. The current President Bush many would argue after 9/11 inherited a country in a frightful state that required extraordinary steps to overcome the threat. It’s funny that many of the opponents of this President were curiously quiet when the extent of the threat was still being analyzed. This of course gives rise to the many conservative complaints of flip-flopping on the part of the critics.

There are four planks of the Imperial Presidency that I would like to highlight as important rungs on which the privilege is based.

1)Executive Orders – which allow the President to bypass Congress and the separation of powers, checks and balance provided for in the Constitution. These are opportunities for abuse and have been expanded to include anything the President can’t get his way on through normal channels.

2) Military Industrial Complex – warned of by Ike, these war profiteers have continued to influence our foreign policy and helped to insulate the President from the Congressional oversight mandated by the Constitution. Due to their influence many of the Presidents have felt emboldened to participate in misguided foreign entanglements.

3) Global War on Terror – what began as a response to 9/11 has now been reduced to a “bumper sticker” with no real meaning or direction. What is this thing and when and where will it end? It is this little gem that has allowed our current officeholder to usurp Congressional power (by choice) and ignore the will of the electorate. All is fair in war!

4) Spectator Citizens – this is the most important enabler of the Imperial Presidency. As long as we are more concerned with “Desperate Housewives” and “American Idol” these guys can do anything they want. These people count on our slothfulness; it is factored into their calculations. As long as all we do is complain, whine and take no action the Emperor is safe. You get the government you tolerate; this is true in the third world as much as it is in the first world. We wax poetically about the ills of other “less civilized” people and their tolerance of bad governance and yet look at our own refusal to act here at home. Get the splinter out of your own eye before you start trying to do laser surgery on the rest of the world.

The War Powers Act of 1973, was supposed to help rein in the Imperial President from just indiscriminately becoming entangled in foreign conflicts. It was designed to keep the President from committing American troops to combat without Congressional oversight. Glad we have that in place today, huh? It was suppose to restrict that ability by requiring:

1) The president has to inform Congress in writing 48 hours after he commits troops into a hostile situation.

2) Sixty days after committing troops into a hostile situation, Congress has to declare war or authorize continuous commitment. This gives Congress the power to recall the troops.

3) Congress, at any time, can pass a concurrent resolution (a resolution passed by both houses of Congress) to recall the troops. The president cannot veto this resolution.

The Congress has the power to recall troops that the President has committed to a hostile situation and does not have to stand idly by and watch the President decimate our military, our international allies and goodwill, or hold the rest of the world hostage. The reason that this is allowed to continue is that despite their protesting the majority of politicians of any ilk supports the Empire. Which can be further extrapolated to the fact that the majority of American voters support the Empire world view, too. Oh, of course not today with it going so poorly in Iraq, but the theory that we have the “Manifest Destiny” to democratize the world is prevalent, to impose our will on the uncivilized populace.

Unfortunately, the problem with the War Powers Act is that every president beginning with Nixon and including George W. Bush has claimed that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional and has refused to be bound by its terms. The Supreme Court has so far refused to rule on the constitutionality of the act. So, there you have it, for the Imperial President it is a mere courtesy to inform you of his war plans and exit strategies. It is past the time for all good men and women to stand against tyranny.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

As The Empire Turns…

It appears that Mr. Bush is at it again. You have to love this guy; he is always looking for ways to expand the empire. Hannibal and Napoleon have nothing on this guy. It appears the new target of American imperialism is Kosovo, formerly a part of Yugoslavia. In another case of it isn’t what it looks like, Mr. Bush wants to “liberate” Kosovo. Again, on the surface appears like an admirable goal, everyone should be liberated. Just ask the Iraqis. But could there be more than meets the eye?

Bush is pressing for "independence" for Kosovo, and the word needs to be in inverted commas as the Kosovo the US has in mind will be no more "independent" than Iraq or Afghanistan - though not out of concern for Kosovan Albanians, or a passionate belief in self-determination. Contrast Washington's stance on Kosovo with its position on the pro-Russian breakaway provinces in Georgia and Moldova, whose claims for statehood they regularly dismiss. Rather, Bush is acting because this is the final stage in what has been called the west's "strategic concept" - the destruction of the genuinely independent and militarily strong state of Yugoslavia and its replacement with a series of weak and divided World Bank-Nato protectorates.

Even more important, it has enabled the construction of Camp Bondsteel, the US's biggest "from scratch" military base since the Vietnam war, which jealously guards the route of the trans-Balkan Ambo pipeline, and guarantees western control of Caspian Sea oil supplies. The camp, which includes a detention facility used to house those detained during Nato operations in Kosovo, was described by Alvaro Gil-Robles, the human rights envoy of the Council of Europe, as a "smaller version of Guantánamo" following a visit in November 2005. To guarantee US hegemony in the region, it is essential that Kosovo is severed permanently from Serbia - a country which, with its strong historical links to Russia, is never likely to be as obedient a servant as the empire demands.[1]

These people leave no stone unturned; they can squeeze blood from a turnip. On the one hand they tell Putin that he has nothing to worry about with the new missile defense system and at the same time they are surrounding Russia with bases. Not only with bases, but with client states to thwart any unification ideas anyone may have. So while Bush is talking about how Russia is slipping back into old habits, it appears so have we. Is this another opportunity to project American imperialism as part of the overall neo-con world view? I think this is one of the final opportunities for Mr. Bush to enact changes to the geo-political landscape with little or no resistance from the American public. With the war in Iraq grabbing most of the headlines who is going to notice new bases going up in Eastern Europe? It appears this is more of the sleight of hand politics of the corporate elite to impose their bidding on more unassuming consumers. You have to love this country.

If we continue carving up the world in the neo-con mold, we will continue to draw the wrath of other nations who question our motives and our designs. There was a time when “liberation” was a good term and no one questioned its application, but thanks to these guys liberation will never be viewed the same way again. Many groups will resist our efforts to help liberate them and it will take years to overcome the damage done by this group of imperialist clowns.

Should Kosovo be liberated? To be honest, I don’t know enough about the situation to say for sure. What I do know is that when these guys talk liberation, it is rarely in the best interest of the country or its citizens. History has taught that it is only when it is in the best interest of the corporate bosses that liberation is mentioned. There are and have been so many countries that have looked to us for support and because they did not provide any strategic or economic value we turned our backs on them. If liberation is our goal, then let’s apply it liberally and to all who want to partake. Haven’t we had enough of using liberty in the name of corporate profits? Haven’t we had enough of shedding innocent blood; not to water the tree of liberty, but to fill the pockets of the wealthy?


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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Hidden Rules?

Have you ever noticed how we look at each other and based on our clothes, our language, and our body language we make decisions about people. I have people do it to me all the time and it is not based entirely on my being black. I dress a certain way, I speak a certain way and people make assumptions about me. If they take the time to know me and I give them the opportunity to know me, many times they are surprised to know who I really am. People assume that I will identify with their thoughts and ideas based solely on what they perceive about me through those outward manifestations.

Did you know that we all have hidden rules that we abide by? Oh, don’t look for them because they are never written down, but everyone in our sphere of contact knows them. Those who are not in our sphere do not know them. And this is how we tell who we can share and bond with and who we can’t and it doesn’t matter what color they are because these rules are deeper than color. Poor people bond together usually no matter what color they are because they know “the rules”, just as rich people bond together regardless of color because they know “the rules”. We base many of our assumptions about people we encounter everyday based on these unwritten rules.

So just what are these rules and who created them. The thing about these rules is that because they are unwritten none really knows where they came from, but they are taught to every generation. This is why you see young white men in ghetto situations taking on the characteristics of the dominant culture. Their speech, dress, and attitudes toward relationships change. They learn “the rules” are they are ostracized or physically harmed. In, the same way those young black men that are raised in affluent situations take on the characteristics of the dominant culture. Their speech, dress, and attitudes change. Hence, the infamous, he is so articulate. Both learn and imitate the values of the group they are exposed to. We have seen cases of both in all of our daily lives and sometimes it makes us just shake our heads in wonder.

“One of the key resources for success in school and at work is an understanding of the hidden rules. Hidden rules are the unspoken clues that individuals use to indicate membership in a group. The chart on hidden rules (see p. 5) provides details, but generally, in middle class, work and achievement tend to be the driving forces in decision-making. In wealth, the driving forces are the political, social, and financial connections. In generational poverty, the driving forces are survival, entertainment, and relationships. That is why you will have a student whose Halloween costume cost $30 but the textbook bill is not paid. Relationships and entertainment are more important than achievement.”[1]

Ruby Payne is an educator and lecturer; she has done extensive work in the field of these hidden rules and how they affect our interaction with the world, our successes, and our failures. She has made a list of some of the more common hidden rules that govern us not based on race, but based on class. I have always been a firm believer that race and class clashed and became inextricably connected in America through the slavery experience. Prior to the slave trade in America slavery was never for in perpetuity, all slavery was temporary. You were a slave for awhile and then you became free when your time was up. That all changed and with it race became more important than class. Now we cannot see one for the other and it is clouding our ability to move past the one to work on the other.

Payne’s journey into class consciousness began more than 30 years ago, when she met Frank, the man who would become her husband. Ruby was raised in a middle-class Mennonite family in Ohio, while Frank grew up in extreme poverty in Goshen, Ind. As Ruby began to spend time in Frank’s impoverished neighborhood, she realized that she didn’t understand the first thing about the lives of the people who lived there — and they didn’t get her, either. Frank’s friends were appalled that Ruby didn’t know how to defend herself in a fight; Ruby was stunned that her neighbors would regularly get paid on Friday and, after a weekend of carousing, be broke by Monday.

As Payne studied her new surroundings, she came to appreciate more subtle nuances of class division. She realized that her husband’s family’s poverty was what she would later come to call “situational”: they had been middle class until Frank’s father died when Frank was 6, and only then had they slipped down to the economy’s bottom rung. Most of their neighbors, by contrast, were in “generational poverty,” meaning their families had been poor for as long as anyone could remember. Each group, she discovered, had its own distinct set of beliefs and customs.

Payne believes that teachers can’t help their poor students unless they first understand them, and that means understanding the hidden rules of poverty. The second step, Payne says, is to teach poor students explicitly about the hidden rules of the middle class. She emphasizes that the goal should not be to change students’ behavior outside of school: you don’t teach your students never to fight if fighting is an important survival skill in the housing project where they live. But you do tell them that in order to succeed at school or later on in a white-collar job, they need to master certain skills: how to speak in “formal register,” how to restrain themselves from physical retaliation, how to keep a schedule, how to exist in what Payne calls the “abstract world of paper.”[2]

Ms. Payne teaches that it is unfair to hold others to these hidden rules that they are not familiar with. We assume because we were raised with these hidden rules that everyone else has been taught them as well and we become shocked or disappointed when others do not abide by them. And in fact we all have been raised with these hidden rules, it’s just that different groups have different rules. And rarely in the majority culture is it necessary to know the rules of the other groups. These rules she uses of course are based on lots of people and are not laws, they are just rules. They are some people whom they will not apply to. But for the most part they go a long way in explaining behavior and motivations. Many whites can never understand how seemingly successful people, both black and white can sabotage themselves for what appears to be no reason. We have a saying in the “hood”, “You can take someone out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of someone.”

Truth be told, these people are still being directed by their hidden rules. Unless these rules are replaced with new rules they will continue to control an individual’s life and choices. Just because I am now successful doesn’t mean I identify with other successful people. This is why whites discriminate between “old” money and “new” money. Old money has had generations to get use to having money; new money has not become comfortable with having money. Lottery winners are a prime example of those who are not accustomed to having money.

While I found a lot of her concepts valid, I don’t think Ms. Payne recognized or gave enough emphasis to the racial component of these rules. We have cultural rules as well and sometimes those can cause misunderstandings. Overall, I think that her ideas are valuable for educators and those who interact with people in another class and to help create an atmosphere of understanding and a bridge to communication.

I think that we here in “Blogoworld” suffer from these same symptoms. We come here and share ideas and think we also share “rules” and when we realize we don’t it is sometimes difficult to accept that others may still be sympathetic but in their own way, in a way that their rules allow or expresses. Many here are shocked when expressions of color or race are depicted and it makes them uncomfortable, because in their rules we just don’t talk about those things. We are color-blind, well that is not accurate and prevents meaningful dialog. I guarantee you if you are in an urban setting and 2-3 hip hop boys come your way on a dark street you will begin to notice color very quickly. If we are to come together and overcome the myriad of issues that confront us as a nation we must take the time and effort to know one another and not assume we know each other, but actually talk, discuss, argue, debate and not be fearful of the consequences. We must each one of us search our own consciences, fears, and prejudices. I can‘t get help if I can’t admit there is a problem.

There will always be those who can never overcome the stigma of racial superior thinking and that is their loss, but for those of us who are genuinely serious about addressing race in America, we must begin the dialog and not just here in Blogoworld, but in our homes, local communities and states. We should engage each other in personal ways, spending time with one another. This is no easy task, but it is one that some of us must try. It is in our “rules” to try and keep trying.



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