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Friday, April 28, 2006


Log jam ... !

Am experiencing an unfamiliar problem and it's affecting my ability to write. Too much input, too little time. No way to assimilate those thoughts that are obviously screaming more loudly as the result of the past week's experiences. Sleep doesn't come easily -- though my need for sleep is actually less these days. Have no idea whether I'm less tired or simply afraid to waste time being unconscious and unaware when the value of time has increased so noticeably in these later years. The sense of urgency that comes as a natural consequence of aging, waxes and wanes, but is more acute as the days shorten.

I'm also struggling with the feeling of being out of step on some important issues, and with the sense that I, alone, know. That is so dangerous to my sense of propriety that -- rather than that awareness coming with a proud sense of possessing some superior knowledge and therefore privilege -- I'm left feeling conflicted; feeling a disconnect with others whom I respect -- and ... old. That, because I know this cannot be true. Despite all, the feeling persists and a sense of increasing isolation comes with it.

Case in point: The immigrant question may be the most troubling. I know that I'm not a racist but that's what nearly all racists convince themselves of. None but the most evil would own such biases, surely not willingly. But I truly believe that we're in the wrong conversation. We've allowed questionable political forces to frame the debate and they've done it to their advantage.

I felt it so strongly the other evening while watching the president repeating ad nauseum, "...they do the work no American wants to do!" I thought of the countless times I've heard that phrase over the past months and years. The real truth is that no one should be asked to " ...do the work no American wants to do" surely not at slave wages. The question is less about immigration than it's about the need to pay a living wage to all workers. That's the conversation we need to be having. How long since we've seen a rise in the minimum wage?

The fact that illegal immigrants are being shamelessly exploited by corporate interests by forcing wages down for everyone is rarely discussed. Those workers are only trying to better their own lives but in the process are benefitting by white racism, innocently. The debate should not be brown against black but both against corporate exploitation!

The displacement of service workers is no longer a part of the conversation, and should be. No more pump jockeys at gas stations; no newspaper delivery boys; no elevator attendants and fewer non-skilled jobs across the board. Called Earthlink Help Desk a week ago and the techie I spoke with was in India! We've out-sourced many jobs to other countries and in-sourced more and more to those who can get past the barriers at the borders in a quest for economic salvation. And all to the advantage of corporate interests and at the cost to non-skilled and low-skilled poor whites and people of color who are being robbed by a broken system of public education and little or no health care.

Homelessness is growing exponentially. People where I live are doubling and tripling up in modest structures designed for a single family. Many are invisible because they're living in outbuildings and garages. They have no legal addresses (therefore are disenfranchised) because their makeshift "homes" are most often illegal and in violation of city codes. They are in no position to complain about roof leaks or faulty plumbing, or lack of heat, and ... .

Learned this morning that 70% of young black males are now high school dropouts. That 70% are either incarcerated or on parole by the time they're thirty. That means that we've substituted prisons for institutions for learning in the lives of the young, black, brown, and under-educated. In California 50% of students of color (both boys and girls) are "... pushed out of the public school system by the ninth grade." It's disgraceful! Small wonder that I can't sleep.

How many of these (do you suppose) would have been the gas station attendants, the janitors, nurses aides, phone operators, artists and musicians, bank tellers, elevator operators, bus boys,gardeners, red caps and barbers and cosmeticians, of another day? What ever happened to vocational training and the jobs that went with them in the crafts and service industries? And -- if we were providing preparations for such jobs would our schools be educating kids for a world that no longer exists? Isn't that another of the conversations we ought to be having?

Is the only answer warehousing our young in prisons where they're asked to provide slave labor to corporations who pay them little or nothing for their labor making furniture or assembling widgets -- (the new form of "rehabilitiative" prison practices). It's ironic that some of that work provides training of a sort, but upon release former inmates are confronted with prohibitions in those same industries that -- bans that prevent employment due to having been convicted of a felony and having served prison time; the classic "catch 22."

We're in the wrong conversation ... but how on earth do we change our course when the media and the forces that control it holds us to this mantra that eats away at our sanity and leaves us with the choice of either joining their conversation or run the risk of being branded racist -- UnAmerican -- and even more tragic than that; old!

No one can possibly survive in this country on what "guest workers" must settle for in order for the machine of American industry to continue to serve our collective needs. The costs to the rest of us are a persistently rising poverty level for the least able among us, a large section of the population subsisting on the ill-gotten gains from the underground economy fueled by the drug trade, and a bloated upper class now obscenely wealthy and powerful.

We must bear the costs of healthcare for those who cannot possibly take care of themselves as they continue to crowd the emergency rooms across the country or have no healthcare at all or suffer in silence until easily-preventable diseases bring death. And, at a time when so many of the middleclass can no longer afford health care services even for their own families. There is constant threat of deportation and the disintegration of families as children born in this country (Americans by birth) face the possibility of losing parents through discovery of their status as illegals. Who would wish that on anyone? Who but the wealthiest and least caring would see such lives as livable, or, that anyone should deserve such a fate? What kind of arrogance requires that anyone be relegated to lives of such desperation? And -- all for the purpose of allowing us to continue to live beyond our means in a collapsing world economy?

Yes. We're being seduced into the wrong conversations, as we are about the need to drill in Anwar while failing to mention the need to conserve (junk the SUVs!) or R&D of alternative energies; and about that issue that's allowing for the surveilance of US citizens in the name of National Security ... all wrong conversations.

I'm thinking that -- come November -- if we play our cards right, maybe we'll get to frame the debate again. Do you suppose?

(Think I'll click into MoveOn.com and pledge my $15/month as requested in today's plea for support.)

Photo: Taken in front of the slave quarters at Arlington House, the ancestral home of General Robert E. Lee. Our National Park Service guide was a well-informed young woman whose very existence in this position would argue against the enslavement of any American over another. This setting was strangely sanitized and bereft of any signs of the lives lived within those brick walls. Found myself over these past days wondering if we're now seeing slavery reconfigured (as is torture) but still destructive of families -- parent's ever-constant threat of separation from children -- forced to live substandard lives of desparation -- for beyond the ability to overcome, ever. The new face of slavery in our time?

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