Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Facts Matter


Facts matter, unless you are an ideologue.

Obama’s economic successes—and ultimately his legacy—stem from a progressive, policy-rich administration.  Yes, one might argue that a progressive economic ideology favors more government control over economic activities and a greater redistribution of wealth—both a bane of any truly right-minded conservative—but the success of his progressive agenda implemented over his last two terms have actually improved the lives of most Americans, both middle-class and the working poor.

Conversely, conservative economic policies have not improved the lives of most Americans.  Conservative policies most abide by a free markets ideology, an ideology that contends only truly free markets will produce the most prosperity for the most people.  It is an ideology that contends that somehow big companies will be able to lift up the poor out of poverty, and that somehow the economic benefits generated by these companies will “trickle-down” to the lower middle class and the poor, thereby improving their economic lot in life.

But facts matter.  The evidence that “trickle-down” economics works simply isn’t there (see Mehrun Etebari’s essay “Trickle-Down Economics: Four Reasons Why It Just Doesn’t Work” from the United for a Fair Economy website).

Ultimately, the only people who truly profit from free-markets capitalism are the those who already inhabit the top one percent.  These companies don’t strive to continually expand their profit margins by creating jobs for the poor out of an altruistic belief that their profits will lift up the middle and lower class, but rather by the ideological belief that they have a “right” as practicing capitalists to increase profits even at the expense of cutting jobs.

The Right has always clung to the belief that their conservative economic ideology is pure because they believe their policies have created millions of jobs.  But check the facts:  Since the 1950’s, Democrats have created 58 million jobs while Republicans created only 26 million (see Christine Branch’s article “Fact Check: Democrats Have Created Twice as Many Jobs as Republicans Since 1950’s,” at the Occupy Democrats web site).

Facts matter.


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Racism denial thrives on uninformed beliefs.   Like the one that says the Civil Rights Movement is over, that Civil Rights legislation has solved all the problems of discrimination, and so now because African-Americans have achieved their civil rights, laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that outlawed any barriers to voting are no longer necessary.  The Supreme Court ruling of 2013 is a kind of denial of the possibility that racism still exists to such an extent that Black voters become disenfranchised.  Of current civil rights laws, Chief Justice Roberts says, “Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” Consequently, southern states with a history of Black voter Texas Voter ID Lawsdiscriminatory practices would no longer need to have federal approval for any changes in current state voting laws.  No need because we can rest assured southern states will not pass laws that will restrict Black voter rights.  The consequence of this was that the state of Texas immediately announced that the voter I.D. laws that had been blocked by the feds would now go into effect.

The belief that America is no longer racist has had other “unintended” consequences, especially among young, white high school aged teens from the south. Many school districts (in Texas for example) are forced to deal with state and local school boards who pressure districts (some willingly, some unwillingly) to adopt textbooks that are more propaganda than fact. I point to the continuing controversy over Texas’ reluctance to acknowledge its racist past and, instead, adopt a “revisionist” approach to teaching Texas history. There are, of course, in the case of Texas, many reasons for this, not the least of which is that currently Texas is dominated by a pandering republican governor and a republican majority in the state legislature. However insidious as it may seem, the underlying rational seems to be that the state of Texas wants to ensure that its hundreds of thousands of high school students get the “state adopted” version of Texas history (and science for that matter) which doesn’t need to include any inconvenient truths about its racist past. I have no sympathy for Texas constituents (or constituents of any of the other southern, republican states in the south), but I do have sympathy and concern for the students who sit in their classrooms and learn Texas propaganda instead of the truth.

Critical thinking skills do not come easily to students. The ability to differentiate between fact and opinion, while on the surface may seem an easy process, is entirely dependent on the developmental stage of the student. In my thirty years of teaching high school students, I can attest to this. Without instruction and practice in critical thinking in all subject areas, in the developmentally incomplete brain of the high school student, opinions can easily become facts. I have always tried to teach my students that opinions can never substitute for facts, that opinions must be tested and verified, and that it must be those tested and verifiable facts only that inform our decision-making processes, never opinions.

In the news just today, the Huffington Post reported that two white high school students from Mountain View High School in Stafford, VA, about 50 miles south of Washington D.C., were reprimanded by school officials after a photo of the two wearing sleeveless T-shirts with a racial slur emblazoned the backs during spirit week surfaced on the Internet. Obviously, it was “dress up day,” and the girls were in costume. The backs of their shirts read “N16GA WE MADE IT.” The number 16 replaces the letters I and G in the slur, referring apparently to their class of 2016. The phrase on the shirts refers, according to the Huffington Post article, to the lyrics in a Drake song “We Made It.” The story was picked up by more internet news services than I can count and will probably fuel the many fires kept ablaze by politicians ready to proclaim that this is just another example of political correctness gone wrong. Their point, on the one hand, is echoed by many of the students themselves: the phrase is just a part of a song lyric and there is no deliberate intent to offend anybody, so people just need not to take it so seriously. I admit that there is a point where the intended purpose of striving to be “politically correct” is lost because it becomes the “end” and not the “means” for deeper understanding of the origin of why such a word is a slur. To teach the “why” of this is not a political action that a teacher plays out in a classroom; teachers are not “activists” in a political sense. To say that the use of the word nigger in any context is blatantly offensive to many African-Americans is not a matter of opinion; it is fact. The understanding of why it is offensive must be rooted in a factual understanding of the history of the word’s origins and not simply because it is not “politically correct.” How would a teacher explain the difference between the following two photographs of the offending girls in question?

High School Girls II

High School Girls I

The first one was published by the Huffington Post and somebody decided to display the phrase in its entirety. The second, from Opposingviews.com, a site that claims to have a “non-partisan, balanced approach to content” that makes them “a trusted leader in politics, world, and society news for the digital age,” made the decision to redact the “16G” part of the word in question. My curiosity was sparked, so after an informal search of news articles on the internet on this news item, of the eleven I found (though there seemed to be dozens of internet news services that picked up this story), four, including Huffington, opted to post the photo untouched and seven posted a redacted version of the photo.

Make of it what you will, but I find it interesting that there seems to be confusing justifications for making the decision to post the photos untouched or not. The politics of the decision making process I’m certain are complex, even though they probably needn’t be. All that is really required is a discussion of the inconsistencies, and what better place to have these discussions than in the classroom. It’s not up to the teacher to claim why one should or shouldn’t censor the word; it’s up to the students to make up their own minds, but only after they have a grasp of the social and historical facts of why this word is so controversial.

Mountain View High School staff may have missed their opportunity. By the time the students are reprimanded, it may be too late. Any discussion would now, after the fact, be a defensive, save-our-ass kind of response to the criticism. What should have happened is some kind of genuine attempt to help students—in a school that is about 70 percent white—understand all of the complicated ramifications of using this word. I think of how so much better it would have been for some observant teacher to seize the moment when she notices two of her students were sporting these shirts and then for that teacher to start the discussion in the classroom where it belongs.

Finally, can we just accept the fact that racism is still alive and well in America? Can we not pretend that the Civil Rights Movement is over, and that all of the racial problems exposed in the fifties have been solved? Yes, there have been small steps toward ridding our great country of the curse of racism— University of Southern Mississippi has stopped displaying the state flag which has the symbol of the confederacy and Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has recently acknowledged the need to debate the issue and proposed that 2016 may be the time to put the issue of the confederate flag on the state ballot and let the voters decide. This is a start, but there is still so much more to do. Still, for the first time, I sense the debate over the existence of racism in America is beginning anew.

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Hugh Masekela and flugelhorn http://galleryhip.com/hugh-masekela.html

Hugh Masekela peers through his flugelhorn.

Today is the 76th birthday of Hugh Masekela, South African flugelhornist, composer, and singer. He is truly a world class jazz musician. His music, like so much of the apartheid era in South Africa, was an important part of the defiant political voice against apartheid South Africa.  His music is powerful, full of energy and emotion, blending African rhythms with American swing and South African politics.

The first time I ever heard of Hugh Masekela was in June of 1967. I was finishing my first year of college at Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey, California (1966-1967). I knew nothing about what was going on in South Africa at the time. My political awareness focused on anti-Vietnam war politics only. But that’s what dominated the political discussions on campuses everywhere then, not apartheid South Africa.

Masekela was slated to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival—June 16th, 17th, and 18th, 1967—Saturday evening on the 17th.  My 19th birthday was the following day on June 18th.  Some of the festival’s producers showed up on campus on day, looking to hire ushers to work during the festival run.

Hugh Masekela at Monterey

Hugh Masekela at Monterey

I wasn’t hired, but I had several college friends (lady friends at that) who were hired and I was able to get comp tickets from them for several shows. That’s how I was able to hear him play. Sadly, I remember very little about his performance. Wikipedia places his performance between Moby Grape and the Byrds. I remember Moby Grape and they were amazing musicians. I would get the chance to see them again the following year in February of 1968 in Lewiston, Idaho, at a dance club on Main Street called Caseys.  I was living in Pullman, Washington, at the time taking classes at Washington State University.  Caseys

caseys of lewiston

was unusual in the fact that the owner, Pat Patoray, was somehow able to book many of the major rock bands of the sixties, including Moby Grape.  The club was close enough to Pullman to make a relatively easy job of driving, as long as the Lewiston grade (also known as “The Spiral Highway”)  was passable, especially in winter.

The act I vividly remember is Otis Redding’s performance, the last act that night. I couldn’t find any seats inside the arena, but the festival tech folks had set up this enormous outdoor screen outside and somehow projected his performance on the screen. For the time, it was pretty amazing technology.

Hugh Masekela at Monterey http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/a-bloody-battle-over-monterey-pop-festival-19680406

Otis Redding at Monterey chatting with Jimi Hendrix

Check out the power of his song “Coal Train” from the 2002 film Amandla. Reminds me of the train symbolism in Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country.

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