You Can Come Out Now, Liberals

It might still be a little risky, but America’s liberals are safer showing their faces today than they’ve been in decades. I know this may seem strange to non-Americans, but over the past half century or so, the liberal label has become a badge of dishonor in the USA.

Republican candidates have routinely used the label to discredit Democratic opponents. For example, Republican Connie Mack defeated Democrat Buddy MacKay in the 1988 Florida Senate race with campaign posters and sound bites that simply said, “Hey, Buddy, you’re a liberal.”

I suspect this odd situation resulted from a deliberate propaganda campaign funded by right-wing billionaires in reaction to the social upheaval of the Sixties. They have used their deep pockets to establish think tanks, buy up media outlets, shape curricula in colleges and universities, and so on.

But it seems Americans catch on eventually.

I just read in the Daily Kos that “approximately one quarter of all Americans are now liberals.” The article quotes a recent poll published in the Washington Post, which found that “a record low number of Americans now identify as ‘moderates’ — at least going back to 1992. And perhaps more illustrative, a record high number of Americans identify as ‘liberal.’ ”

According to the poll, the “liberal” label is accepted by 44  percent of Democrats. The Post notes that “just 29 percent of Democrats used the L-word in 2000.”

Of course, no self-styled Republican would never want to be called a liberal. Indeed, the Post reports that 70 percent of Republicans identify as “conservative.”

The Daily Kos writer speculates that the actual number of “liberal” Americans night be quite a lot higher than the poll indicates. Polls always show Americans favor programs that are generally regarded as liberal even though they might shy away from the label itself, the writer explains.

The writer, who uses the pen name Phoebe Loosinhouse, can’t resist crowing a little over the new trend:

Well, well, well. How about that? Perhaps after 40 years of seeing middle class living standards eroding, stagnant wages, and wealth being funneled upwards as a result of the Big Lies of trickle down economics combined with squishy moderate centrism pragmatism incrementalism I got Mine-ism, people are finally ready to dish up some push back.

The article makes the point that November’s dismal results were caused by the Democrats’ wishy-washy campaigning.

“Democrats win when they’re loud and proud about their commitment to justice and equality for all,” the writer declared. “It’s time for the Republican wing of the Democratic Party to step aside. Young people, workers, people of color, women, and people of conscience are taking the helm, and our country will only be better for it.”

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you know that’s exactly how I feel.

Click to find out if you’re a liberal.

Click for the Daily Kos article.

Click for the Washington Post article.

 

How Times Have Changed

same sex

 

To codgers like me, the photo above has to be …. well… startling. To some it might be a shock. It was published today by the Daily Kos, and it shows Detective David Currie kissing his new husband , Aaron Woodard. The two men were married shortly after midnight Tuesday in Florida.

Yes, Florida.

You know how conservative Florida is. Republicans rule the Legislature, and once you get north of Orlando, you are in deep red territory. But even in Florida the state government has had to accept the fact that times change, customs change, perceptions change.

When I was growing up in Jamaica, the concept of same-sex marriage was not just unacceptable, it was unthinkable.  Even in the early Seventies, the sight of men kissing each other on the lips could be frightening.

I was in the Carib Theatre one evening… I think I was watching  a film called “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”…. and two male actors exchanged a passionate kiss on screen. A scream of terror pierced the gloom and I made out the burly shape of a man scrambling for the exit as if he was pursued by demons.

I don’t know whether Jamaicans are less homophobic today. I haven’t been “home” in many years. I suppose some Jamaicans, the older ones, are still horrified by the thought of men kissing each other. But I suspect that there, as in most of the world, the young folks think it’s natural for two people who love each other to kiss – and marry – whatever their gender(s) might be.

The battle against homophobia is not over, of course. In some countries, like Uganda, the government has even decreed that homosexuals should be put to death.

And in Florida, the fight against the future drags on.

My sister Elizabeth told me the other day that courthouses in Pasco and other counties were refusing to perform marriages so they wouldn’t have to marry same-sex couples.

Here’s how the Daily Kos writer sees the situation:

We have finally turned a corner in this state. We went from rampant homophobia (perfectly encapsulated by former governor Jeb Bush’s rant comparing gays to pedophiles and drunk drivers) to now seeing statewide support for marriage equality.

Marco Rubio and other backward politicians are pushing Florida AG PamBo to continue to fight this already lost battle to the US Supreme Court, even though they recently shredded her last minute plea for an injunction. PamBo tried to argue that marriage was meant only for couples who planned to breed and provide “enduring family relationships”.

I used to talk with Pam Bondi on the phone when I was a Tampa Tribune reporter and she was the press representative for Hillsborough County. She is certainly no codger; she won’t be 50 years old till November. And her own two marriages haven’t worked out.

In a recent political campaign, a critic noted that: “Personally, she has no children and lives with her 60 year old eye doctor boyfriend.”

But Pam is very conservative – politically, anyway.

Click for the Daily Kos report.

 

Yes, America is “Exceptional”

I read an article in Salon.com this morning that teasingly asked, “Has America gone crazy?” The author,  American globetrotter Ann Jones, then went on to ask some serious – and disturbing – questions.

Ms. Jones says that Americans are increasingly viewed as strange by the rest of the world. Here’s the first paragraph of her article, originally published by TomDispatch.com:

Americans who live abroad — more than six million of us worldwide (not counting those who work for the U.S. government) — often face hard questions about our country from people we live among. Europeans, Asians, and Africans ask us to explain everything that baffles them about the increasingly odd and troubling conduct of the United States.  Polite people, normally reluctant to risk offending a guest, complain that America’s trigger-happiness, cutthroat free-marketeering, and “exceptionality” have gone on for too long to be considered just an adolescent phase. Which means that we Americans abroad are regularly asked to account for the behavior of our rebranded “homeland,” now conspicuously in decline and increasingly out of step with the rest of the world.

I live in America but I grew up in Jamaica, and that may be one reason I find so many popular American positions bizarre. The nationwide obsession with guns, for example. Why would so many Americans want to have a nation armed to the teeth when each new gun that’s sold increases the chances of them getting shot?

What sane person would advocate arming teachers? Yet in our local school board elections all of the candidates said that might be an idea worth exploring.

My imagination runs wild at the thought of my wife Sandra taking a magnum .357 into class with her. I wonder how long it would take one of her students to pick the lock of her desk drawer and go on a shooting spree, for example.

That’s just one of many things that puzzle me about America today.

For one thing, I have found Americans individually to be generous to the point of gullibility. Tell them a sob story and they reach for their check books. Yet they vote for hard-hearted politicians who oppose school lunches for poor children and food stamps for struggling families.

And I find American women (I married one) as confident and assertive as any in the world. Yet many of them vote for politicians who claim the right to control women’s reproductive destiny, who support higher pay for men doing the same jobs as women, and who argue that when a woman says no she sometimes means yes.

I can’t recall personally encountering “racism” since moving to America from Toronto more than 35 years ago. Indeed, to tell the truth, Canadians seemed more conscious of my Jamaican origins than the Americans I have dealt with. True, I am not visibly all that different, but there’s that unmistakable accent … Furthermore, Julius, my golfing buddy, is African American, and we’re always treated well – even affectionately – at our golf club.

Yet when it comes to politics, police and the media, America seems to get more racist every day. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of those unarmed black men being gunned down by police – with impunity. (Or of those disgusting caricatures of America’s first black president!)

Then there’s Fox News – America’s most popular all-news cable channel. I read this morning about a Fox News host who wondered out loud how police could tell “the bad guys” if they couldn’t see “the tone of their skin.”

I could go on and on. Don’t you find Americans remarkably religious, for example? I’ve never lived among so many “Christian” people. Yet the politicians they favor are ready to bomb some foreign nation at the slightest provocation, killing and maiming innocent children. Is that what Jesus would do?

I have to confess that I find my adopted country contradictory and bewildering. And I have no answers for Ms. Jones’ questions. As one of Sandra’s “exceptional” students always replied when asked a question in class, “Beats me, I have no idea.”

Click for Ms. Jones’ article.

Click for Fox News host’s remarks on skin tone.

 

Father Knows Best? Still?

Muslims are not the only ones who believe in male dominance. Apparently Republicans do, too.

In the new Congress, only one female lawmaker has been named to chair a House committee. And that lone woman, Michigander Candice Miller, heads a committee you might expect to be in feminine hands –  House Administration. That’s the committee in charge of overseeing cafeterias among other things.

In the  new (Republican) Senate, only two females will wield committee gavels – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, in charge of Energy and Natural Resources, and Susan Collins of Maine, who runs the Special Aging panel.

In contrast,  Democrats, who had a Senate majority from 2007 until Republicans took over last week, had seven committees run by women.

Increasingly, the Republican Party is male oriented. Male voters – white male voters – put them in power, and white males dominate the ranks of party officials.

It’s not that the Republicans don’t try to present a feminine face. An article on the Bloomberg Business web site this morning observes that:

In 2012, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington was elected head of the Republican Conference, in charge of messaging and communications. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas was chosen as conference vice chairwoman, and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina as secretary. 

But I suppose men – middle-aged or older white men especially – are probably more comfortable administering policies that clearly discriminate against women and minorities.

The Bloomberg article suggests Republican women might not want to accept the reins of leadership. They seem to subscribe to the father-knows-best theory of past generations. Not one woman competed for a committee leadership chair this past year, for example.

With Hillary Clinton emerging as the Democrats’  likely presidential  candidate – and not one woman among the Republican favorites – next year’s federal elections are shaping up as a battle between the sexes. Or, put another way, a battle between the past and the future.

Click for the Bloomberg article.

 

Ball is in Muslims’ Court

I commend those who defend the Muslim community in the wake of the horrific French terror attacks. And I think gestures like today’s unity march are very civilized. But the grim truth is that if the Muslim community really wants to avert retaliation, they should cleanse their ranks of  extremists.

I don’t see how the extremists can flourish without tacit acceptance by their communities. The fact that they can hatch terror plots undetected suggests a sympathetic environment. We know this kind of environment exists in countries like Yemen. And I suspect there are also sympathetic environments in expatriate Muslim communities.

The underlying problem, as I see it, is that most Muslims accept Sharia Law.

Even in countries like Saudi Arabia, which has been an American ally for generations, Sharia Law is in force. I understand that women cannot legally drive in Saudi Arabia. And I have read of rape victims being hanged for defending themselves in that country. Recently, a Saudi blogger was sentenced to a thousand lashes for encouraging debate of the law’s provisions.

To me,  Sharia Law is barbaric.  And I suspect many Muslims not only accept that law but would like to see it imposed on the rest of us.

That’s the rub.

Reform is long overdue in the Muslim world. And that reform should come from within. According to Salman Rushdie, the author of Satanic Verses:

What is needed is a move beyond tradition—nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadi ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows of the closed communities to let in much-needed fresh air.

It seems to me that the alternative is a catastrophic confrontation with non-Muslims who reject the harsh and antiquated dogma of a hostile and aggressive culture.

I am not advocating retaliation against Muslims in general. That would be a tragic injustice. But sadly, I see it as inevitable unless dramatic changes occur among the billion-and-a-half Muslims in the world.

Fortunately, there are enlightened Muslims who see the need for change. For the sake of all humanity, let’s hope they prevail.

Click for more on Sharia Law.

Click for more on reform within Islam.

Click for an example of Saudi justice.

 

My Verizon Nightmare

I have a new Internet Service Provider – EarthLink. That means I won’t have the sggraham1@Verizon.net email address any longer (but the Yahoo address remains the same). Of course it’s a pain changing my ISP, but I could not stand Verizon any longer.

They were giving me a nervous breakdown.

I was spending more time trying to keep the computer working than I was using it. And because it was a DSL service, every time the phone went down I lost the use of  our computer completely.

On Tuesday, I lost the dial tone on our phones – and, of course, our link to the Internet. I called Verizon on our cell. I know that sounds simple, but unless you’ve been there, you cannot imagine how nerve wracking it can be trying to call Verizon.

You have to get past a condescending machine that advises you to check the Verizon web page on the computer that you’re trying to get fixed. To get anything done, you have to keep yelling, “I want to speak to an agent!” If you’re lucky, the machine will transfer you to a human being – but only after you answer a barrage of other questions.

Once transferred, you will be informed that your call is very important to Verizon but all their representatives are assisting other customers. You will then spend what seems like hours on hold while they torment you with the worst music they could find, occasionally breaking in to tell you how important your call is and how much the machine appreciates your patience.

Sometimes you will be lucky enough to reach a human being, but not always. On several occasions just as I heard the phone ringing in the Customer Service Center, my line went dead.

On Tuesday I was lucky enough to reach a human being, who tested my phone line and reported I had a short somewhere on my premises. The phone company could do nothing at their end. They would have to send someone out to fix the short.

Unfortunately, they were so backed up, nobody would be available until Monday!

I won’t bore you with the details, but if you know me, you know I pleaded and threatened, bullied and cajoled, calling back multiple times and asking to speak to supervisors and on and on and on…

I had no luck reaching a supervisor. Every time I asked for one, I was put on hold and tortured with that nerve-wrenching music (I would have gladly opted for waterboarding instead). After – literally – hours on hold, I gave up each time.

Defeated, I called a local electrical repair service. They came out on Wednesday and checked the wall jacks, connection boxes and phone lines on my “premises,” but found nothing wrong. The serviceman reported there was no tone coming from Verizon. His bill? Sixty bucks.

I phoned one eight hundred Verizon once again and went through the drill with the machine, finally connecting with a human (somewhere in India?). I told the human what the electrician said, and she politely but firmly informed me that made no difference. A Verizon repairman was still coming out on Monday (“before 8 p.m.”), and in the meantime I should just cool my heels.

That was it. I called around and discovered EarthLink could hook me up to the Internet via cable – no phone line required. So I told them to go ahead,  and they said they could get it done as early as Friday.

I drove around to the local Verizon sales center and tried to turn in their modem. “We only sell phones,” the lady at the counter told me. So I called Verizon on my cell phone and after a long chat, during which I answered innumerable questions – such as why I was giving Verizon the boot – I was told the service would be discontinued on Monday.

Thursday morning, as I lay in bed listening to an account of that horrifying attack on the French magazine, the phone rang. I thought Verizon might be calling to tell me they had relented and had decided to restore my phone service, but no, it was a foreign sounding gentleman who informed me I had won $7.2 million and a new Mercedes Benz.

I figured I had nothing better to do, so I engaged the gentleman in a lengthy conversation, during which I found out I had been selected from among 20 million folks worldwide to get the millions and the Mercedes. And this was only the second prize; the first prize winner was getting ten million dollars (as well as a Mercedes).

All I had to do to collect my millions and my motor car was to pay him $300 for shipping and handling. He would send me an email instructing me how to do that.

Is that a good deal or what? But, I already have a car that seems to be working OK, and I couldn’t think off-hand of anything to do with $7.2 million. So I regretfully declined his generous offer.

It didn’t take my agile brain long to figure out that since I had just received a phone call, the phones must be working again. So I checked. All the phones in the house had dial tone.

So the computer must be working again, right? Not a chance.

I had to go through the dreaded Verizon machine again. And again… And again…

And I still haven’t been able to cancel that Monday appointment with the Verizon repairman. I tried, I really did, but I could never get through to the appropriate department. I told the machine to cancel the appointment, but when I called Verizon the next time, the machine reminded me once more to expect the repairman on Monday before 8 p.m.

Anyway, I am no longer on the Verizon DSL network. My new email address is thegrahams@earthlink.net (gwgraeme@yahoo.com still works, too).

 

When “Reform” Misfires

welfaretowork_090310.jpg

The chilling implications of welfare “reform”  are becoming clear as the economy improves and jobless rates decline.

It might seem like good news in the media, but for a million unemployed Americans the recovering economy will mean loss of their food stamp benefits.

They will be the victims of simple math and the cold, bureaucratic application of “conservative” ideology.

Here’s how this kind of government works.

Because of the rising employment figures, many states will have to reimpose requirements that able-bodied, childless adults enroll in job training or work 20 hours a week to qualify for more than three months of food stamps.

According to an article in the Huffington Post this morning:

Thanks to the lingering effects of the Great Recession, for the past several years most states have received waivers from the time limit, which was first imposed with the 1996 welfare reform law (photo above). With unemployment now down to 5.8 percent and falling, however, the waivers will disappear from the 40 states where they’re still in effect.

And – here’s the Catch 22 – the vast majority of those states  do not offer the training or workfare programs in which the unemployed are required to participate in order to qualify for extended food-stamp benefits.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington DC think tank, estimates a million unemployed people will lose their food stamps next year as a result.

According to the Huffington Post article:

Congressional Republicans sought unsuccessfully to kill the waivers sooner, but food stamp legislation approved last year came with more modest restrictions on beneficiaries. Yet several states, including Kansas, Ohio and Oklahoma, reimposed the three-month time limit ahead of schedule….

You know, of course, that the states cracking down on the unemployed are run by Republicans.

The new Republican Congress is certainly not going to intervene to help the hapless victims of this misguided policy. And as a result of the Republicans’ victories in November, most states are under “conservative” rule. So, there’s no help on the horizon.

I suppose it’s easy to argue that able-bodied, childless adults should enroll in job training to get food stamps. But if there are no job training courses for them, what are they to do – starve?

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them turn to crime as a last resort. Is that the kind of society we really want?

Click for the Huffington Post article.

 

Proud to be a Jamaican

Dr. Patrice Smith

Yes, I became an American, and I’m proud to be an American in spite of all the things I would change in my adopted country. But make no mistake, I am also proud of my Jamaican heritage. Very proud.

When I was born nearly 81 years ago, Jamaica had a population of a million – or less. Yet Jamaicans were already making their mark on the global stage.The population has grown to well over two million, and even more Jamaicans are making remarkable contributions to the world today.

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of Usain Bolt’s prodigious feats, or of the many other track-and-field stars who come from Jamaica. Our tiny island is a legendary giant killer in sports. We even made a heroic – and historic – effort in the Olympic bobsled event, remember?

And who in this world doesn’t know about Bob Marley and Jamaican reggae?

But Jamaicans have been amazingly successful in other fields, too.  From entertainment to finance, from medicine to politics… General Colin Powell, whose parents are from Jamaica, springs to mind.

I often receive emails about Jamaicans who are world class stars in their chosen professions. Yesterday, I got an email from a friend, describing the achievements of Dr. Patrice Smith, a Jamaican who lives in Canada.

Dr.  Smith (photo above) has made a discovery that could help repair nerve damage.  Here’s how the tribute to her began:

Who would have thought that a little girl from Darliston in Westmoreland would turn out to be a First World scientist who may have discovered a new way to repair damaged nerves?

According to the email, “Dr Smith and her colleagues at Harvard have discovered a way to repair damaged nerves by allowing the adult brain to respond to repair signals that are induced after injury.”

Dr. Smith’s discovery will hopefully help people who suffer from brain and spinal-cord injuries by helping to repair not only injuries from an accident, but also damage from the natural aging process.

Apparently, as we get older, we lose the ability to repair damage to the brain and spinal cord, because our nervous system is actively preventing the immune system from sending out repair messages.

I get this kind of email quite often. Jamaicans excel in so many areas – not just sports, not just in medicine, not just in science and art, but in everything we set our minds to.

Of course not all Jamaicans wear white hats. Some are gangsters and dope peddlers. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the good the island produces far outweighs the bad.

Click for more about Dr. Smith.

 

Our Last Line of Defense

obama

 

As America braces for an all-Republican Congress featuring some of the craziest right wingers in the country’s history, I am even more grateful for Barack Obama. He is our last line of defense, the guardian of sanity in a nation that seems to have lost its collective mind.

The Senate will now be under Republican control, and you can bet the new committee will try their best to undo the President’s work.

The environment is a prime target. Pollution control will be under ferocious assault.

And, of course these right wingers will do everything in their power to punish the poor. Programs like child nutrition, food stamps, school lunches and unemployment insurance will be under attack. as will  health care and immigration reform.

And you know how Republicans loathe Wall Street reforms. They’re hell bent on giving the robber barons the key to the national treasury – without let or hindrance. Main Street’s investors are in for a wild and scary ride.

In the House, a hard core of Tea Party crusaders are targeting such basic rights as equal pay for women and minorities, legalized abortion and birth control, tolerance of minority sexual orientation, religious freedom – and the civil rights achievements of the past half century.

Against this toxic tide, there stands one man, slight of build but with an iron will – Barack Obama.

The Founding Fathers had the foresight to endow the President with the power of the veto. And President Obama has made no secret of his readiness to use it.

I fear this resolve places his life in even more danger than it already is.

I’ve read that the Secret Service is dealing with four times as many death threats as for any previous President. His election and reelection as America’s first black President has enraged many in this still-racist society.

With the public in ferment over racist police killings – and the killing of police officers – and the feversih rhetoric pouring from the airwaves and the Internet, America seems already to be dangerously unstable.

I shudder to think of the shock waves that will be generated by the inevitable conflicts between the new Congress and the White House during the next two years.

Click for more on the new Senate.

Click for some of the crazies in the House.

 

A Treasured Memory

youth forum

 

I got  a surprise email in my in-basket this morning – so unexpected that it was a bit of a shock. It was a message from an Australian scholar. And it evoked memories of long, long ago, when I was very young and so very full of hope. Here it is:

Dear George Graham
I am a historian in Australia – researching the daily mail and NY herald tribune youth forums – am I right in thinking that you are the GG who represented Jamaica in London in 1951? Or have my google-searches failed me utterly and you are someone entirely different? I would very much appreciate if you could let me know! :)

My aunt was actually the New Zealand representative in 1949 in London and this personal connection has snowballed into a research project.

Regards, Cath

I thought some of this blog’s readers might be interested in my reply:

Dear Cath,

I was indeed the Jamaican representative to the 1951 World Youth Forum. It was a wonderful experience. As I recall, there were 26 of us – 16 to 19 years old – from all over the world, and we assembled in a London youth hostel, near Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street!).

We were there from the end of winter to the beginning of summer, I believe. We visited all the historic sites and watched the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

We stayed with British families, attended British schools, watched Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspurs, and participated in Brains Trusts. The final Brains Trust was held in the Albert Hall and I understand thousands attended. I also played on a Colts cricket team while in Yorkshire, attending Acklam Hall Grammar school. And I saw snow for the first time, while playing a pickup soccer match.

We met Prime Minister Atlee and Sir Anthony Eden, and I seem to have a memory (which might be apocryphal) of being presented to the then Queen at the English Festival. (It may be that I just knew she was there while I was. At 80 years old, my memory is somewhat tricky.)

You can imagine the impact on a 16-to-17-year-old boy who had grown up in rural Jamaica! I had never even seen an airplane up close before, and there I was droning across the Atlantic in a BOAC airliner. We were in the air all night, and the vibration of the engines made it hard to sleep. We made a refueling  stop in the Azores and stayed overnight in Estoril, Portugal, where I saw a casino for the first time (but naturally did not try my luck).

In London, I saw ballet for the first time and what a revelation it was! I had never imagined such ethereal beauty could be possible. I also experienced live opera and live theater.

The topic of our essay competition that year was “Our Way to Peace.” and I based my essay on the topic in which I was most conversant at that time – the Gospels.

I am afraid  this is more information than you bargained for, but you revived a treasured memory, and I could not resist sharing it with you.

Good luck with your project!

George

P.S. I am sending you a picture of me addressing the final forum at the Albert Hall – if I scan it successfully :-).

I guess our memories are our most precious assets after all.  We may lose material possessions but  memories are forever. As the old song reminds us – they can’t take that away from you.