Here in Ohio and around the nation the issue of “wokeness” is a bell constantly being rung by some conservatives.
‘Woke’ people are those liberals hip to all the repression concerning gender and race, especially in its more subtle psychological forms. It is about pronouns like using “he” or “she” when a person is bi-sexual, and it is about “systematic ” prejudices and barriers rather than very explicit and historically acknowledged overt acts of repression like Jim Crow laws. Well at least its something like that.
I must admit that I am not that good at some of these subtleties. I trip up on the pronoun issue fairly frequently when substitute teaching. Its hard to tell a lot of the girls from the boys (and vice versa) in some of my high schools. I have caught on to that in recent years and try to be more careful, more ‘woke’ about it, I guess I could say.
Much of what is being contended by ‘the woke’ is true and important, I think, but some of it does seem a little nagging , trite, and awkward; this is what conservatives especially jump upon. I do get crossly reprimanded some times when I mistake girls and boys and use the pronoun they do not prefer. In very ‘woke’ meetings among Democrats desired pronouns are often specifically clarified, and some “non-binary” sexual people want to be referred to as “them”!
The conservative columnist who I will focus on below, has recently contended that the objection by progressives to the content of some classic literature is not only trivial but book banning. Discussed in this light was Roald Dahl’s revisions to Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory(both the book and the movie) in the early 1970s. To my knowledge, Dahl made these revisions voluntarily and in response to the Civil Rights Movement of the time and more specifically to the complaints of some black organizations. Afterall, the original book said the “Oompa Loompas” were African Pygmies smuggled from that continent in crates by Wonka! Also revised was the repeated and prominent description of several of the “golden-ticket” winners as “fat” and “ugly.” It was toned down, our columnist contends, because modern parents and children are so “sensitive.” (The sissies: unwilling to be shamed and toughened-up like in the good old days!)
I do not refer to myself as ‘woke,’ and it is younger people that seem to, more generally. I do see the point of much of it, particularly the role of “systematic” prejudices. Its not laws and white-sheeted Klansmen that are the bulk of repression these days, but more ordinary and developmental barriers that restrain the open and optimal growth of too many individuals and whole categories of people. Much of what restrains America’s black community, for example, is poverty , addiction, lack of education, and violent acts and expression. These often seem to be self-inflicted wounds in a way; but this is a difficult contention, too big to specifically discuss now.
The following is my response to the columnist recently submitted to the Columbus Dispatchbut not yet published:
Conservatives Need to Wake Up
Conservatives are dreaming. They see stolen elections where none exist. They imagine evil in vaccination and a hoax in the death of a million Americans from Covid. They see ‘murder’ when a woman asserts her bodily autonomy and aborts a pregnancy long before viability.
Conservative USA TODAY columnist, Ingrid Jacques, suffers from similar delusions. She needs to wake up. In “GOP stands against ‘woke’… but what does it mean?” (3/15 Columbus Dispatch) she contends that Critical Race Theory “has been adapted at the K-12 level” and “is teaching school-children to dislike each other.”
In my 35 years of teaching social studies in the Columbus area, and especially in recent years as a substitute teacher, I have been in many classrooms and in a variety of schools. Never once have I witnessed a teacher teaching students to dislike each other. Never have I seen a lesson plan that I would have explicitly called CRT, nor have I heard a teacher advocate that approach.
Granted, there are lessons taught—and I have authored more than a few of them—that do focus on injustices both past and present. But that is not CRT, it is honest social studies teaching.
Jacques quotes a supposed expert on this topic. Those of us who are awake (‘woke’) to some of these issues think that disparities of achievement between groups are “largely if not entirely the product of oppressive social forces.” But when I see the achievements of Fredrick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, Paul Robeson, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg for example, I see great talents, effort, and courage. I also listen to their testimony that great prejudices and unjust obstacles had to be overcome in their pursuits.
Barack Obama has recently become the first black president, but what of the first woman president? By the logic of Ms. Jacques, maybe ‘the gals’ are just not capable, or maybe they are just too happy to be pregnant and in the kitchen. Surely it is not systemic bias.
Do I hear a wake-up bell ringing?
I got a real kick out of writing that last paragraph. It seems like a real zinger! And imagine American conservatives continuing in this way their dismal sequence of supposed revelations about what is really going on in this country! They are on one pathetic roll, and they continue to double-down!
A feeling of connectedness, is yet to come. The final entry in theOur Sacred World: The Tree of Life and Its Distinctions will be forestalled until next week. I have had some supply chain issues in my brain. I hope I have worked out some of these final problems that I have been struggling with. It’s a good series I believe, and the ideas in it are fairly profound, it seems to me. I’m searching for a more active, a more vibrant, a more hopeful, sense of belonging to my own life and to this universe.
I feel a fog is lifting. The last year or so has been difficult; many things have happened both personally and generally. Many of those things have weighted upon me and weakened me; they have made me less optimistic and energetic. One of those is that I am now 70 years old. That seems a long time, and much has changed. Older, weaker, sick; stiffer and flabbier is how I often am; and the idea of decline and death seem far too obvious. Yet, now I am struggling to see—and a light is dawning—how much is left to be hoped for and accomplished. All has not been in vain.
I have been moved by some recent events. My dear Ohio has once again disappointed me in its political choices. Strange that I even feel such allegiance to My State—O-H-I-O; why should I care about such often insignificant geographic boundaries? But I do. Boundaries are important, and yet not. That is the message of Mother Nature and The Lines She Does or Does Not Draw: Our World can be Sacred!
A concluding story, the pertinence of which I am not sure.
Recently I went up the road one weekday morning to get some eggs and coffee. It is a little local diner at which I have eaten breakfast fairly often. Owned and run by a Greek man and his family; he has made the local paper for his efforts, working his way up and through the Columbus restaurant industry and now running his own rising little establishment. The music played there is inconsistent and often rather bad, but not obtrusive. This recent morning it was obtrusive to me. It was contemporary country-style Jesus music. It was laying it on pretty thick and soon I noticed.
“God this” and “Jesus that” it heartfully contended, and continued in that vein song after song. Once I had noticed, I could not shake it. Soon I called the waitress over and asked her, “Since when have you started playing such religious music?” Her eyes got large and round and astonished, “Why every weekend, we play it,” she informed me. “But it’s Jesus-music,” I said, “I come here for eggs and coffee, not a double-side order of Jesus.”
She paused and then replied, “Sir, if you do not like it, do not eat here.” I was now somewhat astonished. I had expected at least some respectful sympathy and maybe even an apology, but that not at all.
I was finishing up, anyway. I saw her talking to the owner’s wife and looking back at me. As I left, I approached the owner and politely told her I did not appreciate this kind of music with my breakfast. To which she replied, “I love you, sir; but we like this music and if you do not like it do not come here.” That galled me; I’m not sure if it was the “I love you, sir,” or the “do not come here” that bothered me the most. I assured her she would not be seeing me again, and left without a monetary “tip,” only the clue thus far given.
I have seen other signs of this kind of insidious anti-modern mythology growing in my neighborhood, and I vow to fight it. We can feel connected in other and more truthful ways, I say.
For those ways of understanding our real connections to Larger Realities, see the first three parts of Mother Nature Draws No Lines in this section of The NatureReligionConnection! Next Sunday the Concluding Part, I promise. Sorry for the delay.
With Friday June 27th’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, I was surprised to hear how little discussion was spent on the exact argument used. Surely to most people the legal justifications were far less significant than the simple fact of its undoing, but still its grounds matter. There is an interesting mindset that lies behind its reversal.
“Jane Roe” was the pseudonym adopted by Norma McCorvey in 1969 when when she sought to abort the pregnancy of what would have been her third child. She lived in Texas, which allowed abortion only when pregnancy was a threat to the life of the mother. McCorvey and her two female lawyers brought suite against the state by proxy through the local district attorney, Henry Wade. Their challenge to the antiabortion law was upheld by the District Court’s three judges and on the case went to the fateful day, January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled in her favor: she had a certain right to abort her pregnancy. Meanwhile, McCorvey had had her baby and given it up for adoption.
THE NEW CONSERVATIVE BLOCK of The US Supreme Court
On that Friday, Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority in overturning the prior decision. He was joined by Trump appointees Kavanaugh, Barrett and Gorsuch. Justice Thomas concurred and wrote his own opinion that was more radical than Alito’s, contending that other ‘rights’ based in the 14th Due Process Amendment could also be in jeopardy. Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the majority but in his opinion he sought to uphold the Mississippi abortion law in question (banning abortions at 15 weeks except for medical emergency) but without overturning Roe.
The crucial point in the Roe decision was the 1973 court’s ruling that a woman had a right to privacy concerning her own body, at least to a point. This right was supposedly based in some combination of amendments and was not explicitly stated in any one of them. Alito, himself, reviews these amendments and the possible combinations, and overall finds them lacking and writes of the Roe decision: “its reasoning was exceptionally weak.” The amendments in question are One, Four, Five, Nine and Fourteen.
The First Amendment has little to do with abortion, other than help to establish some clear limits to government action. An American government cannot be in the Religion Business. It cannot push its own form of religion and it cannot restrict the religious practices of others. Then similarly, the Constitution asserts the broader principle that Government cannot tell people what to say, write and when they can gather together. These limitations do provide a clear background concerning the character of “liberty,” in general.
The Fourth Amendment seems to me to be very relevant. It declares “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects,” Granted, its emphasis is on protection from governmental action (“unreasonable searches and seizures,” and the need for a warrant based on “probable cause”); not protection for your acts in your own house or body, but surely the one implies the other. The Fourth seems to declare a Right to Privacy in certain places and situations. This is not how the court’s majority reads it, or at least in terms of abortion. Most damming, they contend that the Constitution’s lack of explicit reference to abortion in any sense, puts an abortion right in grave doubt.
That the lack of explicit mention, or any clear boundaries, of a right has long been a sticking point for Constitutional Law. This problem surfaces repeatedly. Conservatives have leaped upon the band wagon of “original intent” ( see NYTimes, 6/28), that the Constitution should be interpreted in a stricter conformity to its exact words and historical context.
For example, all the state legislatures that ratified the Constitution were filled with men, and they perfectly knew well, and agreed with, the Declaration of Independence, that “All men are created equal;” yet “men” was interpreted literally at the time to exclude women from voting and other opportunities, and exclude men of different races from civic participation and protections. Where in the Constitution is “women” or “race” mentioned? Yet, we almost unanimously agree, now, that gender and race are irrelevant to political rights, and have amended and interpreted the Constitution to say so.
The Supreme Court proved its reason for being and its equality with the other branches of government, early on, by the necessity to interpret the Constitution. It was not perfectly clear and especially in reference to new circumstances. Gun law is a good example of the latter. Automatic weapons were not in existence in 1788. It took a person many seconds and even minutes to reload a rifle or hand gun after a single shot. Today, we have an abundance of mass gun-murder and the mass murderer in Dayton Ohio, for example, fired 41 times in 19 seconds to kill 9 people and wound 17.. Would the framers of the Constitution have written the Second Amendment today, as is?
To invoke “the original intent” of a document has value, but is clearly not decisive in the above cases. Conservatives invoke this strategy selectively and arbitrarily to suit their wishes. They risk killing the relevance to modern times of this historically great document—The US Constitution. Below, the 14th Amendment will be discussed; it too makes a broad reference to “liberty” and one which some “original intent” proponents contend should be held to mean what liberties were acknowledged in 1868, the year it was ratified! Now there is an ossified contention but lets return to the abortion issue of today and its specific grounds in American law.
The Fifth and Ninth Amendments do not seem to me to obviously help the pro-choice position, and Alito declares that it is generally agreed, by judges that support ‘rights’ not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, that the Fourteenth “Due Process” Amendment “does the work.” “Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” states the 14th, but Alito quickly dismisses the “due process protection” as not pertinent in this case. The prevention of abortion is not discrimination against women—no “invidiously discriminatory animus” against women exists in these cases writes Alito, quoting a previous lower court ruling. Therefore, no special scrutiny is necessary based on unfair or arbitrary treatment of some citizens, i.e. women. And this is the opinion of the majority of Justices, no matter how firmly this is disputed by numerous feminists. For example, Gloria Steinem has has stated, “the very definition of patriarchy is trying to control women and birth giving.”
Alito then turns to dismissing Roe on various grounds. One, no explicit mention of abortion in the Constitution. Two, no legal history or common law support for it before Roe (which to my knowledge is true, but misses the point that many women felt the need to obtain abortions in spite of its illegality). And three, that a right not mentioned in the Constitution’s previously established rights must be “essential to our scheme of ordered liberty,” a phrase used in previous cases concerning “rights” and possible “rights.”
“Constitutional analysis must begin with ‘the language of the instrument,” declares Alito quoting a ruling from 1824. The Constitution, “the instrument” in question, makes no mention at all of abortion. The majority of these conservative Justices then conclude that Roe was “an exercise in raw judicial power” as contended by Justice Byron White in this dissenting opinion to the 1973 ruling. Alito declares that Roe was “wrong from the beginning.”
And indeed, there is something interesting to this particular point. The Roe decision was like a detailed “piece of legislation.” From not a single direct reference in the Constitution, Justice Harry Blackmun, and his concurring six justices, created an elaborate abortion compromise in their original Roe v. Wade decision.
This was Roe’s Trimester System. A woman had the right to privacy and control of her own body up to the point of the fetus’ “viability.” At that point on, roughly the end of the second trimester, “the State had a legitimate interest in protecting ‘prenatal life,” writes Alito in summarizing Roe.
But here was part of the instability of Roe. Fetal viability has changed due to medical advances—coming sooner than the end of the second trimester, 21 weeks—and increased scientific knowledge has made us more aware of fetal development before viability. “Pro-life” proponents (as they are often called) seized upon these changes to push for decreased opportunity for an abortion. Ohio law, as it now stands in the wake of Roe’s reversal, is that abortion is illegal upon the ability to hear a heart beat (at approximately 6 weeks) and a new law has been proposed to declare conception as the moment of legal protection for what these believers call “persons.”
The final legal milestone preceding June 27th’s reversal, took place in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (known as “Casey”). The state of Pennsylvania had passed a new law requiring a woman to under go a waiting period, notify her spouse, or have parental consent (if a minor) before having an abortion. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood in general, but did uphold the waiting period and parental notification. The new law placed “an undue burden” upon the woman’s right to an abortion the court ruled in a divided decision. A woman has this right to abortion by the 14th Amendment’s “due process” clause, they declared, and supplemented the viability standard with this clarification of “an undue burden” can not be placed on a woman seeking to enact her right. Roe’s trimester system was dismissed, as no longer relevant.
Casey is a difficult decision to understand. The five concurring judges agreed in general principle that Roe should be upheld but could not agree on specific reasons why. The four dissenting judges now for the first time questioned Roe in its entirety. This led to a new significance in this case for the legal principle called stare decisis (as in star-then long a, then the root of our word decision with a long i in the middle)—“to stand by things decided.” The three judges writing the plurality opinion relied heavily on this principle believing that The Supreme Court, and laws themselves, need stability. They could not always sway according to political fashion and varying trends, without losing respect. These three justices voted to uphold Roe on the basis of its character as an achieved precedent and asan established part of American’s sense of liberty. “An entire generation has come of age free to assume Roe’s concept of liberty in defining the capacity of women to act in society,” they wrote in their decision.
(Souter, O’Connor and Kennedy wrote the plurality opinion in Casey. All three were appointed by Republican presidents and voted to uphold Roe partly on the basis that it had become an ingrained element in our society and a part of what had come to be expected as a basic human freedom.)
But for Alito and four of the five concurring Justices did not see it this way. Chief Justice Roberts wrote his own opinion trying to form a middle ground that upheld the the new Mississippi law (banning abortion after 15 weeks) and also refusing to rule on Roe, but this path was accepted by no other justice. Liberal Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer maintained the law unconstitutional as an undue burden on a women’s right to abort.
Of course, the new decision striking down Roe does not make abortion illegal. It turns the issue back to the individual states to decide their own law. Alito contends this is where the issue properly belongs: “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” He approvingly quotes Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion in Casey: ‘The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations, upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting.”
And thus the ruling was decided.
And now the war continues on many different fronts. Ironically, Justice Alito in his decision criticizes the court’s previous rulings for notresolving the issue of abortion. He wrote: “far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.” And The High Court in the Case ruling also referred to this role of the court as ultimate arbitrator. The plurality decision contended, “the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution” (my emphasis).
In my opinionthis reversal of Roe will “enflame” and “deepen” conflict. Already here in Ohio, the Columbus City Attorney (a Democrat) has pledged to not prosecute abortion cases under the new law. Small towns, without abortion clinics in them, are attempting to enact abortion bans over the objections of many of their residents. And a 10 year old girl, raped and impregnated by a family friend, was forced to journey to Indiana with her mother to obtain an abortion.
The court should have upheld Roe but also allowed various states to modify the abortion right as they saw fit. A decision similar to Robert’s opinion, or the three liberal justices, would have done much to dampen the flames of controversy. The Supreme Court has ample basis to insist upon a basic abortion right based on a woman’s right to privacy; it should have held that line! States that wish to limit that window of privacy should be given that right up to the point that it infringes upon the woman’s privacy and places “an undue burden” on her ability to enact her right. For example, Ohio’s current 6 weak “Heartbeat Bill” should be unconstitutional; 6 weeks is too early for many women to realize and act. The newly proposed Conception Bill is outrageous. As my moderately conservative Republican brother-in-law stated, “to insist that a fetus shortly after conception is a person, that’s just your religious opinion!”
“Time and memory are the true artists; They remould reality nearer to the hearts desire.”
THE NATURE RELIGION CONNECTION—-Thanks for Dropping In, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT,I Would Love to Hear Your Ideas!
Two of the greatest scandals of today’s America are Gun Violence and The Lie that the 2020 Presidential Election was Stolen (and that so many people believe that). But ranking right up there has to beOur Inequitable Income Distribution.That the Democratic political party has acquiesced in this massive injustice makes it all the worse and even sinister.
For example, in 2018 America’s richest 20% of households brought in 52% of the nation’s income that year, which leaves 48% of income to the bottom 80% of Americans. This inequality has been increasing. In 1968, the top 5% of earners captured 16% of the nation’s income. In 2020, their portion rose to 23%. Each percentage point of difference represents a shift of around a hundred (or two) billion dollars! Let us recall from the previous post, that a billion is 1,000,000 millions; that’s a lot of millions!
Economically, how did we get to where we are? And what is its significance, anyway? Prof. Robert Reich of U. Cal. Berkley illustrates convincingly that far, far, too much of our nation’s and world’s wealth is concentrated in the hands and pockets of far too few. Political power then follows that money. Reich is one of our leading authorities on “Political Economy,” the old term for economics. That term is pertinent here because there is a circular relation between wealth and political power. It is Reich’s belief that this is true to the extent that currently Big Money (the super rich and giant corporations) control American politics. We have lost our democracy! contends the former Secretary of Labor in the Bill Clinton administration.
In the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, the first “Robber Barons” ruled our land. This is the accepted historical narrative to describe these times, but also often described as “The Gilded Age,” a period of great wealth accumulation and extravagant consumption. In America, giantrailroads were pushing their way across the west. Andrew Carnegie made millions supplying the steel for rails and locomotives. The oil industry was growing and then monopolized by Standard Oil. Children worked six days a week in coal mines and factories . Many cities were growing to an enormous new size.
The Progressive Era
The age of the the first Robber Barons came to an end (of sorts) with an era of reform. A rising middle class, a growing prominence for universities and their professors, the competition and growth of newspapers and magazines, all helped motivate changes. Journalists,government (especially local—like Governor “Fighting” Bob Lafollette of Wisconsin), and a growing labor movement including a rise in popularity of Socialism, asserted themselves as countervailing power to big businesses and businessmen. Some giant corporations were broken up by the first anti-trust suits. Working conditions began to be modified by labor laws. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 attempted to increase the stability and coordination of the banking system.
This is where Robert Reich takes up his case in his 2020 book, The System. By the 1950s, a system of “countervailing powers” had become established. Major labor unions existed in many industrial sectors in the U.S. Banking regulations and the Federal Reserve system were fairly effective. Markets and manufacturing were still largely nationaland not international. A certain balance of power to existed and this was reflected in how major corporations were run and how wealth was distributed.
This balance of power was reflected in A CEO’s pay. A Chief Executive Officer of a major firm in the 1950s earnedabout twenty times their average employee. Today, things have changed to 300 times, notes Reich. Corporations were run in a way that Reich calls “Stakeholder Capitalism.” An executive of a major corporation was considered to be “a statesman;” he maintained an accord among the vital components of his business: stockholders/owners, organized workers, customers, and the community in which the business operated. These were all the “stakeholders” in a corporation, and all needed consideration. In these days, a CEO had often worked his way up through the ranks of a company and had lived in that community for decades.
The chairman of Standard Oil stated in an address in 1951, that the job of management was “to maintain an equitable and working balance among the claims of the variously directly affected interest groups.” The Business Roundtable, the most exclusive organization of leading American business executives in the 1950s and today, stated as late as 1981 that, shareholders should receive “a good return,” but “the legitimate concerns of other constituencies must have appropriate attention.”
The Corporate Raiders: Accord Among the Stakeholders Ends
In the 1980s, American Capitalism began to change, reports Reich. Men like Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken and Carl Icahn— “corporate raiders”—realized large sums of money were to be made, not by the invention of a new product or improvement in the most direct methods of production, but by manipulating the economic resources already available. They would squeeze from them additional “wealth.” Companies who had a stock value that was lower than the value of their other assets were susceptible to takeover. The raiders would sell off parts of these firms, move their production facilities to low wage areas, and bust unions. Robert Reich contends this was the shift from “stakeholder” to “shareholder capitalism.” By the late 90s, The Business Roundtable now declared that “the job of business is in fact only to maximize shareholder wealth,” reports Reich. The former stakeholders of the community and workers are now abandoned to the goal of rising stock value.
13 hostile takeoversof companies worth over $1 billion occurred in all the 1970s, reports Reich, but in the 1980s there were 150. In the 80s, over 2,000 “leveraged buyouts” of large companies occurred. A leveraged buyout is when money is borrowed by the raiders, usually through the sale of a special bond, to buy a majority control of stock in the target company. These bonds became known as “junk bonds” due to their highly speculative and risky nature, and huge amounts of money were made on just the origination and trading in these bonds themselves (another example of abstract wealth.). A “hostile takeover” is one where the raiders meet opposition to their takeover by the corporation’s management and some of its traditional owners.
As the 80s continued, the management and shareholders of most large firms realized the times had changed and now stock value, shareholder wealth, meant all. The famous (or infamous) CEO of GE (General Electric), Jack Welch, recognized the trend early and by the time he retired in 2001 the stock value of GE had risen from $13 billion to $500 billion. In the early 80s, Welch laid off nearly one quarter of GE’s workers, totaling about 100,000 layoffs. By the end of that decade, the number of Americans working for GE was cut in half again (a decline of 160,000) and the number of foreign workers doubled to 130,000. General Electric has a history in electricity that goes back to Thomas Edison. Much of that history took place in the upstate New York city of Schenectady where in 1896 Edison moved his young company; today, according to Reich, GE has virtually abandoned that city.
In the early 80’s, corporate raiding became a major news story. Many conservative-leaning economists applauded the trend, believing takeovers “…improve efficiency, transfer scarce resources to higher valued uses and stimulate effective corporate management,” said President Reagan’s chief economic advisor at that time. Leading conservative economist, Milton Friedman, had long questioned the management philosophy of respect for all “stakeholders,” but Reich argues that the leading advocate for “shareholder value” was at The Harvard Business School, Michael Jensen. Before crowded seminars, he contended that targeted firms were inefficient, with economic resources “locked up” within them that deserved to be “extracted.”
The Transfer of Wealth
Today, the frenzy of corporate takeovers has cooled, and Prof. Reich sites several reasons. Maximizing shareholder wealth has become the standard philosophy for all large firms, leaving them far less susceptible to takeover. The fate ofUnions in our country is a fact that substantiates the contention that the distribution battle has been lost. In 1955, about 30% of all private sector workers were union members; in 2020 that percentage is down to 6.5%!
But “underperforming” firms still exist, and are still being bought and sold, dismembered and manipulated, by “private equity managers” and “private equity firms,” the new and more respectable-sounding name for the old term, “corporate raider,” notes Reich.
Warren Buffet and his Berkshire Hathaway are a prototype for this kind of firm, and probably the most well-known. Buffet calls himself a “value investor” and thus invests in not only underperforming firms but also small firms with growth potential, among other opportunities. Buffet has obtained his funds to expand his assets, not by the use of bonds, but by the acquisition of insurance companies, GIECO for example. Technically, and by law, the money an insurance company receives in premiums is not its own, but it is theirs to invest. (An insurance company has an obligation to meet its payout demands at any point, much like a bank. Insurance is another abstract form of economic product, and Buffet is another example of making money off of money, especially other people’s money.) Berkshire Hathaway can also be considered a “holding company,” and its assets are worth over $600 billion. In 1980, the value of a share of its stock was $275; in 2014 it was worth $186,000 which is an increase of almost 700,000%! Today a share is worth over $500,000 each!!!
Here at The Nature Religion Connection, we have often struggled with the problem of Abstract Ways of Thinking. All our experience, and thoughts about it, are to some extent abstract. It is often hard to separate the abstract from the more concrete, or which of the two is more real or important. The economic discussion above has that feature. Abstractions such as The Corporation, Stock, Bonds, Insurance, and even the homely $1 bill are significantly Symbolic and more abstract entities than The House that gives you shelter or The Soup in the pot that you will have for dinner. Among the NOT so abstract are the workers in your company. Yet, in conservative economic theory and in aggressive business practice, Real People become simply “economic resources,” an abstraction to be manipulated and moved about like trucks, buildings and machines!
Abstractions have been a great boon to economics and today seem to often constitute the bulk of it. Also, economic abstractions are currently the greatest problem. The current problem of Income Distribution would not even exist in its current form without a massive apparatus of banking and markets, “investment” and “saving,” record-keeping, reporting, and calculation. Certainly the serfs of Middle Age Europe had a sense of how little they had and how much the Lord of the Manor had. But, in today’s terms of Billions of Dollars, it is difficult to even imagine how much that is had, and what impact it has. Elon Musk, one of the greatest modern-day Lords of Our Land, is estimated to ‘have’ over $200 billion worth of accumulated ‘wealth.’ I find it hard to imagine how much 200,000,000,000 of anything would be: 200 billion grains of sand? drops of water? molecules of oxygen in the air? leaves in a forest?
The economic impact of such massive accumulations of wealth is only occasionally discussed.First, we have discussed the direct suppression of wages and benefits that took place with union-busting by the original corporate raiders, and then the less direct suppression by the placement of new factories and facilities in low wage and non-union areas (as in states with so-called Right to Work Laws and then foreign countries).
Second, an economy top-heavy with income distribution, often experiences a short-fall in demand, and this slows economic growth yearly by an estimated 2-4%. Rich people save more of their income than other Americans who largely spend their earnings on very concrete items as soon as they receive it. This spending has an immediate and direct stimulus effect on the economy. Large amounts of savings must find investment (or charitable) outlets that take time and are a less direct positive influence on production. As pointed out several times above, much “Wall Street” activity is just money chasing money; abstract forms of wealth breeding upon themselves. Prof. Reich often refers to much of Wall Street’s ‘wealth’ as gambling, as the “placing of bets” on the success or failure of other Wall Street ventures.
Finally, massive wealth accumulation skews much of an economy’s productive efforts into peculiar directions—like the Pharaoh’s of Egypt had their Pyramids, so Elon Musk has his SpaceX! I suggest that the governments of the Free World heavily tax, and provide no tax shelter, for the world’s super rich. This would take something akin to A New Progressive Era, granted, but with that redistribution of income solar panels, wind turbines, and electric-based transportation could be significantly subsidized around the world. Granted, SpaceX is “cool,” but so is saving the planet from massive climate change. Undoubtedly, we could think of a few other mundane (as in “worldly” and “ordinary”) projects that might also be worthy of the attention and income taken from other forms of modern-day cathedral- building. Excessive amounts of “savings” are always looking for extravagant forms of expenditure, as in the following:
(Top left, Musk’s Starship SN-15 making an upright landing! He envisions such a craft voyaging to Mars. Then rotating to the right, the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, over 1/2 mile high at 2,715 feet—tall and thin and used for luxury apartments, hotel, retail, offices. Prototype of a self-driving car. Bottom left, the Marina Bay Sands casino and resort in Singapore. Atop its three towers is The Sky Park that features restaurants, jogging paths, and the Infinity’s Edge swimming pool. Finally, the Volocopter, the prototype for a drone-like air taxi for two passengers and no pilot necessary; powered by eight battery-powered, small fan-like motors mounted along the circular track above it. ARE THESE “INNOVATIONS” REPRESENTATIVE OF A FUTURE GOOD FOR US ALL, and GOOD FOR THE PLANET, or a FUTURE BROUGHT TO US BY THE EXCESSIVE CAPITAL IN THE HANDS OF THE RICHEST 10%—1%—OF US?I fear it is the latter.)
There is much more to be said on these issues, and I plan to do some more reading on the topic. The overall impact of Globalization (US companies production facilities moving overseas, increased international trade, a global financial system…) is unclear. Several of the trends seem to be U.S. Consumers have benefitted by a drop in prices and a flood of low priced (in relative terms) products produced abroad. In this sense, the same American consumer can benefit by cheaper products but also be hurt by lower wages due to union-busting. Third World Countries can benefit by incoming manufacturing facilities, but also lose by the increased competition for their own companies from foreign giants.
But another of the trends that seems clear is that the world’s economic elite are Not, by and large, among the losers from globalization. The rich are getting richer.
Economic Valueisan Emergent Value of The Universe. Well, at least here on Earth it ‘exists,’ but not in the terms of Physics or Chemistry—Economics is nothing to them, literally—but in the terms of Human Societies and Social Organization, economics means a lot and especially to the Persons that compose these larger units, our so called “societies.”. In fact, “Value,” itself, is a term not at home in physics or chemistry, yet we are all quite sure that many kinds of value do exist to us and form the basis of our human form of existence.
It is curious that believers in Free Will, such as philosopher Dan Dennett and physicist Sean Carroll, have argued for its emergent reality by comparing it to music andmoney (Dennett), and Carroll to baseball, in a rightly noted (and short) article with the title “Free Will is as Real as Baseball.” ‘Things’ like these—free will, money, baseball and persons— have emerged all on the same existential “level,” so to speak.
From the point of view of “the hard sciences,” the universe is a machine that grinds out outcomes that are very predictable and even totally predictable in some ways. A Market Economy can work similarly. It too grinds out products, shifts resources, and creates and destroys new or old component parts (much like Natural Selection and the Evolution of Species in biology).. At its most abstract level, a market system or a Capitalist System (I’m not sure what the difference might be) can be said to “Produce Wealth,” as Adam Smith described in 1776 in his The Wealth of Nations, or David Ricardo in his The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817). Both of these intellectual pioneers argued for the mutual benefits of Free Trade between nations, but Ricardo went a step further and argued for the value of increased organization and willful coordination of this growing economic machine by the creation of Central Banks.
“Wealth” can be very concrete and very abstract. Most Americans who have a positive amount of wealth have it in their home and cars. A shockingly large number of Americans actually have No Positive Wealth; their net assets are worth less than their debts. A $20 bill is a concrete form of wealth considering how few of us even carry them any more; we now simply rely on electronic tabulations of how many dollars we have and how many we have spent. But mostly it is very abstract; the bill itself is only a piece of paper with print and pictures with a certain certification as to its integrity. Stocks and bonds are even more “figurative” forms of wealth, and this especially by comparison to a house or your flock of goats. (“How is your flock doing? Mine is very well, thank you.”)
Abstract forms of wealth are much easier to work with than wealth in concrete forms. If your pig is worth $750, you can sell it and buy a round trip air ticket to Acapulco. If you brought your pig to the airport to trade, none of the airlines would know what it was worth, what to do with it, or even want to deal with it in the least. Abstract forms of wealth are not only easier to deal with, but also easier to accumulate and maintain, in some ways. Yet, leave us not forget, that in the case of Economic Valueand Wealth,the Abstract is totally based in the Concrete. If you are hungry or cold, it will do you no good to have just a $20 bill. You cannot eat a $20 bill nor find shelter under it. You need real food and real shelter, or someone willing to provide those and accept your abstraction in their place.
It is one of the Central Theses of the Nature Religion Connection, that today we persons have great difficulty intellectually distinguishing and prioritizing our experiences that are Very Abstract from those that are Very Concrete. Each are real and equally important; all experience is a combination of both abstract ideas and concrete experiences. In Economics, we have an excellent example of where abstractions (money, stocks, bonds, credit) have both greatly enhanced our economic life and the wealth it has produced, and often brought the economicsystem to a halt or persistently diminished its functioning to produce the concrete necessities (homes, food, jobs) upon which we ALL rely.
Some Interesting Perspective on the Accumulation of Economic Value
The Cleveland (Ohio) Browns, an American-style football team, are paying their new quarterback $230 million total in a 5 year contract. That is over $40 million a year to chase around the other boys/men in a game with a ball. There are 22 women who have filed civil suits against him for sexual harassment and assault. I hope the women get a lot of that money!
Jamie Dimon is the CEO of JPMorgan Chase. He makes about $20 million a year and is worth almost $2 billion. In 2013 his bank was fined about $20 billion by the Securities and Exchange Commission for offenses from the Great Recession of 2008 (10 million people lost their homes then to foreclosure). JPMorgan still had a great year in profits, $18 billion after the fines. Dimon got a pay raise in 2008 and his company got a government bailout.
A billion is one thousand millions. Imagine Jamie Dimon with a personal wealth of 2,000 piles of a million dollars each. Imagine Michael Blumberg (no outstanding legal issues as far as I know, and this has nothing to do with him as former Mayor of New York either), he is about the seventh richest person in the world—he has 58,000 piles each of one million dollars! That’s a lot of piles, $58 billion worth.
The Walton Family, originally from Arkansas, are the heirs and owners of Wal-Mart, the worlds largest company (by revenue, and employees). They have an estimated worth of $175 billion. How many piles of a million is that? Let’s see: $175,000,000,000 is $1,000,000 times 175,000! Yes, that many piles of $1 million each. Hell, I wouldn’t mind having 175,000 piles of a single dollar each! They were considered to be the world’s richest family. Yes, they have more money than Bezos and Gates and Warren Buffet, but these guys are in the running, or should I say “in the ballgame.” They are in the contest of who can accumulate the most—abstract—wealth.
My wife is Not in that “race.” She has been a preschool and kindergarten teacher for many decades. She has taught hundreds of children to come to school, to learn to read, to look at science, math, and the geography of our world for the first time in a classroom. She has helped most of them to love learning. How many piles of a million dollars is she worth?
We do alright. My wife and I don’t complain much, but at my wife’s salary it would really take a while. In her entire teaching career, now spanning close to five decades, she will have earned about $2 million. Our Net Worth, our “Wealth,” is far far below even a single pile of a single million. Our new quarterback, he makes 40 piles a year (salary). But to put this in additional perspective, it has been estimated in recent years that over 13 million American families donothavea single dollar of net worth! Their debts are greater than the value of all they own!
Much of the above comes from Prof. Robert Reich’s 2020 book, The System: Who Rigged It, How to Fix It. It is a good read: not pedantic, full of facts, clearly laid out in ordinary terms. Reich is our greatest progressive advocate and expert on income distribution, economics and politics. That used to be called Political Economy. Reich was our former Secretary of Labor in the Bill Clinton administration. Of course, he is not responsible for the metaphysical contentions in the above, nor all the “piles of millions that make a billion” stuff. That is my own.
His conclusion is that way, way, too much money and power has become concentrated at the very top of our society, and that concentration works to the serious detriment of The System functioning well and functioning well for the vast majority of us and for the planet itself. His solution is To Break It Up! Like in the days of the old Progressive Era, to bring anti-trust action against many of the biggest corporations, seriously re-establish banking regulation, and heavily tax the super rich. His point is that Western European nations already does much more for their regular citizens, and we all should do more of it. We need to help re-establish governments and various community organizations as counter-balancing powers to Big Money and Big Business.
Our species has much Accumulated Knowledge. “Knowledge” is also an Emergent Reality and the above is a little Economic Knowledge that it is time to use to right this ship.
These two do NOT easily fit together! Yet here in The O-H-I-O it must happen. In November of this year (9 months from now) an election will be held crucial to this state and to the nation. Ohioans will elect a new governor and a new U.S. Senator. The recent Republican Party strangle-hold on this state must end! The newly drawn voting districts for this state are already being challenged in the courts by the Democratic Party, but also independent organizations as reputable as The League of Woman Voters (Update: The Ohio Supreme Court ruled yesterday that both maps for the state legislature’s districts and for our US Congressional Districts were unconstitutionally biased in favor of the Republicans that created them. They ordered new districts to be drawn once again!) A moderate (in some ways) Republican Governor, Mike DeWine, is under fire from the extreme right wing of his own party. The Democrats are fielding a strong candidate for Governor in opposition, Dayton Mayor, Nan Whaley, who has distinguished herself and her leadership abilities during several dramatic events in that city—a mass shooting and a tornado.
Nationally, the Senatorial race in this state is huge. The U.S. Senate is tied, 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the decisive Democratic vote in a tie. If Ohio goes Democratic with this seat, it will be a shift in this current stand-off (but only one of among a number of decisive races).
I have been working with a local, long-shot, candidate, Traci “TJ” Johnson. I fear the front-running Democratic candidate, Congressman Tim Ryan, will not adequately motivate the crucial Democratic voting bases in the big cities (Black Democrats) and in the suburbs (especially women). Even if TJ does not win the Democratic primary, at least she can help stir up interest, concern and awareness about the significance of this election. She will promote a bigger turn-out. See the earlier post—-https://naturereligionconnection.org/2021/11/28/tj-johnson-for-u-s-senate-from-ohio/
I have mostly been writing for her website and other campaign material, and making phone calls to create a campaign team. I have not gathered many signatures to qualify her for listing on the May primary ballot. I cannot go out in this pandemic, and now the Omicron surge, and interact with numerous and random people. This is not a good situation. I already have lung issues. Yet, here comes this crucial election!
Here is what I have written recently, in response to a Pac’s (Political Action Committee) request for information on these issues, before they will consider donating money to TJ’s campaign: Church and State, and Gun Violence.
The Separation of Church and State
“The right to worship in one’s own way is as fundamental as any Human Right. That our government and its agencies must steer clear of religious partisanship has once again become an increasing concern,” insists TJ.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when some Americans have insisted upon bringing their religious beliefs full square into the political realm. A very vocal wing of the Republican Party insists that they are “Pro-Gun, Pro-God, Pro-Life.” This is inappropriate and maybe even frightening.
First, it is unfortunate that the ownership of a gun has risen to a symbolic level comparable to belief in God and the respect for the value of human life. Gun ownership is not that important. Second, by “Pro-God,” these Americans have shown themselves to mean “Pro-Christian God.”Third, the decision that a human life starts at conception, or at the first audible heartbeat, is not a generally accepted standard. It is not endorsed by the scientific or medical communities. If you wish to believe in those standards, that is your private opinion, and one that often seems based in your specific religious affiliations.
In conclusion, the American Government is not Christian. Abortion is a basic option reserved to each woman in consultation with her doctor and loved ones, with some modifications based on community standards. Gun ownership is now a political issue only because too many gun-holders, sellers and manufactures are irresponsible and in violation of the general welfare of our community and themselves.
“Do Something” About Gun Violence
Once again it’s time for Ohioans to choose: continue with the bloodied status quo, or try to change it. There is no good reason that an 18 year old Ohioan is not old enough to buy a beer yet can buy an AR-15 Assault Rifle. There is no good reason that background checks are not universally required — close the gun show loophole! There is no good reason for our streets to be flooded with weapons easily accessible (often to teen-agers) for the use in robbery, homicide, domestic abuse and accidental discharge.
In recent years, four of our major cities have ranked in the nation’s top 50 in homicides per 100,000 population –Cleveland, Dayton, Akron and Cincinnati. Columbus and Toledo have set new homicide records in each of the past two years. The overwhelming majority of these murders occur by gun.
In 2019, a mentally disturbed 24 year old killed 9 and wounded 17 on a summer’s evening in Dayton in a shooting rampage that lasted less than 30 seconds. Daytonians gathered in the aftermath and shouted to the Governor, who was surveying the scene, “Do something, do something!” The Republican controlled State Legislature has refused. The U.S. Congress has refused.
“A majority of Ohioans have consistently voiced their support for reasonable increases in gun controls. When elected I will recharge this campaign to save lives and restore civility in this state and around our nation,” pledges TJ.
Yes, I have been busy for the last two months and blogging has not been one of my activities, so I felt an explanation necessary.
A teacher friend of mine at one of the high schools asked me to start the year for her in her English III classes. She enticed me by suggesting I could read ”Catcher in the Rye” with them. She had a unit plan all drawn up fro it. Well, I bit on that, and it was really fun and interesting. This is not a high income, high academic school. I wondered how many kids would get involved with it. But Holden Caulfield’s nonconformist, underachieving, emotionally damaged personality won out with a majority of them.
I read many of the major parts aloud —four times a day sometimes— so not to put all the burden on them to read on their own. I had a captive audience. I was curious how effectively I could read Holden’s free-flowing and affect-filled narrative. I did OK, sometimes all I could notice was the silence of the room as I read; students were either listening or quietly involved in their own thing—-social media or games. I tried to diminish those options but it is more like choosing your poison — off-task and disruptive or off-.task and quiet.
A large number of students expressed appreciation for the book as expressed in their essay answers. Just the unusual amount they wrote was testimony to their commitment. I felt obligated to read almost all of it, since I preached that detail and subtlety was necessary to give this book its due. It was a blessing and a curse, as I read and read over 100 tests with 15 essay questions each.
I, myself, gained a new appreciation for the book. Interestingly , all the events in the book were to have taken place over about four days, it seems. A number of kids explained their interest in the book as a curiosity with Holden himself: Did they like him or not? We had some pretty good discussions about Holden’s idea of ”a phony,” and whether Holden himself was a phony? Some kids were convinced that he was and that the whole theme of the book was not to grow up and be ”mature.” Apparently some of the ‘Cliff’s Notes’ and ’Spark Notes’ available on line, that some kids accessed too frequently, was pushing that interpretation. I kept suggesting other themes.
Holden is a gripping character, if you are at all prone to that kind of nonconformity. One evening I found myself in the grocery store thinking about ”the phony” standing in front of me. It made me laugh; that Holden, he is infectious.
I read —on line, of course— that JD Salinger carried a copy of the manuscript in his backpack as he fought at Normandy in WWII. You know, he never did sell the rights for a movie, even when Leonardo DiCaprio wanted to play Holden. According to someone who sought to have the book banned from public schools, Holden says ”goddam” 435 times. But I did a little censoring myself, I skip over chapter 19 (but it was still there for anyone who wanted to read it) because there is some homophobia there and a little elsewhere. That topic also led to a decent discussion with some of the groups about how times had changed.
The Pandemic also is worth mentioning. It greatly complicated the teaching. Early on we had 5 and 10 kids absent in each class and for 10 days at a time. Kids would get sick and I would get a call from the principal’s office asking who had sat near them earlier that day or the previous day. Many of those kids would then be quarantined. I had to keep accurate seating charts, space desks out, and keep kids from congregating unnecessarily. Due dates tended to disappear because I couldn’t keep track of who was out and when, and I didn’t even try. Masks were optional but a fair number wore them.
There were discussions about getting vaccinated or not and some kids had the craziest ideas. I, and most teachers, got vaxxed up real quick. A fair number of kids did also, when it became available to them. The quarantine regimen eventually changed and number of infections slowed, and attendance picked back up. Curiously that created a new problem. These juniors had not yet had a single undisrupted, normal, year of high school. As the room filled back up behaviors started to change. Some of those kids were out of practice at being students. That is the point at which my time was done; the teacher came back from maternity leave. Good luck to her and to so many of those wonderful young people I met. To even some of those that weren’t so pleasant to teach, it was hard to say good bye!
Tomorrow a follow-up post on THE OTHER ADVENTURE I HAVE EMBARKED UPON that slowed my Blogging————————————————————————POLITICS!!!————————————————
(This post was mostly written yesterday morning, 9/11/21.)
Twenty years ago today, at almost this exact time — 9am, I was standing in front of a small class of seventh and eighth graders. The final bell signaling the start of the day had just wrung. I was new to that school, having just transferred from a different assignment; but we were all rather new considering the school year had only started a week or so prior. A teacher from across the hall came to the door that day and simply said, “You might want to turn on the television, something important has just happened.”
I did not intend to write this postand tell this story, but his morning I found myself unable to think of other things. It was hard, of course, not to think of 9/11/2001 in recent days. The television, newspapers and radio that I peruse has been full of it, and rightly so. What really got me reflecting is that, once again, I was going to be standing in front of many young and impressionable minds, the day before –a Friday– this tragedy’s 20th anniversary. What should I say to them about it?
Sadly, I chose to sayNothing! I considered talking to them of it; they were not even born in ’01; I felt I had an obligation. And it would have been a difficult discussion. The students at the high school, at which I am now substitute teaching on a long term assignment, are not a highly sophisticated group, but they are a diverse group. We have a significant population of Muslim students and a significant group of working class white students who come from politically conservative families (when these families choose to be political at all.) I wish the current situation was more ideal. I would have liked to try it. Imagine attempting to explain the religious background of this historical event.
But our current situation is far from ideal. I am at my maximum in work and issues. In my 8th period class, out of 22, 15 were not present, but of those absent, 4 were out for reasons not of sickness or quarantine. Our high schoolers are encouraged to wear masks but only middle schoolers and lower are required to mask by our district. I am occasionally called by administrators and asked to look back at my notes and try to recount to them who was in contact or near or wearing a mask in the vicinity of a particular student now positively Corona-tested. And those students that are frequently attending, many of them are not re-adjusting well to a return to full-time learning. Motivation and on-task behavior are a frequent issue. I am teaching mostly juniors in their English class, and they have not had a normal and uninterrupted school year since their 8th grade year!
So, I chose not to mention 9/11 and no student did either.We have enough of our own tragedies today.
But, 20 years ago, we did not. Why did I turn on the television that day 20 years ago? I was teaching a Special Education class that was composed of mostly a small group of boys with ADHD, anger issues, non-compliance, and less severe autism. I have often thought since then, why did I so automatically just tune in? I think I had the confidence that I could walk them through whatever was happening.
No sooner than we tuned in, and no sooner than I was explaining that it was a terrorist attack, The Second Plane came curving into sight and crashed into the second tower! We sat in shock and watched, as did much of the rest of the nation!
My students handled it well, and I talked and explained and re-assured them for many hours that day. We did not watch the reporting for the entire school day, and an hour or two in, I decided to attempt to return to some normal school activities. I told my students, that is what we must do, that “the terrorists want us to panic and stop doing what we should do.” That went really well, those young guys rose to the occasion.
There are two things that stand out in my memoryfrom the rest of that day. First, throughout the day as we sat trying to focus on school work, the PA system began to increasingly interrupt us calling individual students to go to the office for dismissal. Parents were taking their kids home. Kids were calling home asking to be removed. By the end of the day, it was strange sitting there and talking to the students who remained, many of whom were kids in my room (thus part of the nature of Special Ed — families a little bit different).
Secondly, I remember a comment by one of my students, a rather highly-charged eighth grader This special ed. class had what is called, “a levels system.” It was to monitor good behavior and reward increasing or decreasing opportunities according to performance. “Level 1” was the lowest level for students needing the most guidance, the most structure, the most care. They were not even allowed to walk down the hall alone to the fountain, an adult had to escort them. After watching and discussing the tragedy for quite awhile, his comment was “I feel like I want to be on Level 1.” My response was, “Joey, I think we all feel that way.” Indeed, in the days of that tragedy 20 years ago, we all needed extra care, extra guidance and whatever additional security we could find. Today’s world feels a bit the same.
There are some interesting developments in the schools these days. I cannot comment on all schools, of course, only the few in which I work, and that is what I have been doing lately—working. I have taken on a long-term subbing job in a public high school, teaching algebra to the end of the year (about three weeks). Why, you may ask?
The school is an interesting one, to me. It is on the southwest side of Columbus (not far from my home) in an area that is rather impoverished and crime ridden. The neighborhood is definitely “blue collar” and high school educated at best. The school’s student population is very diverse. I will estimate racially, about 50+% White, 15% Black, 15% Hispanic, 15% Somalian (and other Africans), and even a small contingent of Ukrainians! In spite of these demographics, the school has been called “a little gem,” by some. It is generally orderly, and many students there are fairly successful in diverse ways. A veteran teacher once commented that “the kids are not great students, but they are good kids.” “Good” as in, good-hearted, well-intended, but not necessarily quiet and focused on the teacher.
Well, I am a retired teacher and I do enjoy the interaction with these kids, many of them at least. Even some ofthe less cooperative provide an opportunity for me to be influential: be creative verbally, engage them personally with a few jests-jibes and challenging directives. Some of them, you just mostly sit back; unfortunately, there is little to be done or little they will let you try to do to encourage them that school is worth trying. In three of my class periods I have the assistance of a co-teacher, an Intervention Specialist, because those classes have many students with “special needs,” like “learning disabilities” or “behavior problems” or both. And many of the kids are great, and very appreciative of my attention, concern, enthusiastic teaching, and treachery silliness. I do say and do things that often incite laughter or at least smiles.
One of my classes is “ESL” students, English as a Second Language, and this means mostly Hispanic kids in this school. It surprised me at first to learn that this does not mean overwhelmingly Mexican; a significant percentage of these students are Honduran, Porto Rican, Guatemalan. To me, they all seemed ‘just’ Hispanic, but to them, these differences are obvious and somewhat important. The famous tradition, Night of The Dead, is not celebrated much beyond Mexico, for example; various phrases and slang are also limited to specific parts of Central America.
One example of fun at school, involves this group of mostly sophomores and juniors. Recently when I continued to try to insist that they focus on algebra and less on chatting and silliness as they too often do; I was saying again that it is “rude” to be talking while I am trying to address the class. One of the louder and most prominent boys suggested that I tell the group in these situations, “mucho chingas,” to which most of the group snickered. I asked him what that meant and he said “too much talk.” And when I continued to seek clarification, several of the guys ended up agreeing that it meant ‘too much disrespectful talking.’ These students often have small discussions about what is the most accurate translation of a phrase they use, into English.
Well, I did then bark out, “Mucho chingas, Back to work!” but retained suspicions. The next day, I used the phrase several times, much to the delight of most of the class, but then cornered some of the “nicest’ and most studious girls later and asked, “Now, what does that Exactly mean?” They could not, and even would not, say; but all agreed– in the end — that I should not say it.
Now, I had to find out for sure, its exact meaning. When I had the opportunity, I went upstairs to the Spanish-Speakers Translator, and asked. Several students were present, and all present, including me, began chuckling. At first, she (the translator) had no precise answer but did say it meant something like “too much talk,” but there was a more precise translation that she could not tell me. “What?” I said, “does it have to do with sex or something?” and she said “No.” I persisted, asking her to whisper it to me quietly, but she said she could not. More laughter, by all present. Finally, she typed it into her lap top for a translation (which I could have done!) and showed me the answer. “Too much shit.”
Not All is Fun and Games
Being the end of the year, my duties included reviewing for the final Unit Test (quadratic equations), and its administration, and the same for the Final Exam which is coming this week. I take this Algebra seriously, but also try to make it like a puzzle, and a challenge that all can rise to. I pride myself on my ability to explain things clearly, and sometimes kids acknowledge that.
In the third period each day, I do a study hall, usually an easy assignment. This week, in the back of the class, a girl I had always marked as absent, and did not know, suddenly appeared on Monday and sat — quietly — looking at her phone. I did not engage her other than to remark I was glad she was here. The same went for Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, a few minutes after the start-bell, Markya (Mar-k[long i ] short a—but no real names used) stood up and quietly and quickly walked out the class door near her seat in the back. Luckily, I had noticed and wondered. After several minutes and she did not return, I went back to investigate. Thinking she had shot out to use the restroom (without asking), I looked down the hall only to here some rather loud voices from a nearby classroom. Soon the voices got louder. I heard someone yell, “You white bitch” and then the volume really increased. “Trouble,” I thought, and I turned to secure my own class, thinking “they’ll break it up.”
But a break-up did not occur. The shouting increased, noises of a scuffle became evident, and still I stood in the door directing my class to stay seated and calm. Soon, with my class cooperating and the fight seemingly escalating, I went to help.
As I was heading there, about three doors down, I was directing students to stay in their rooms, when another student I knew was rushing from the other direction. I told Serina to go back to her class, but she ignored me and rushed in ahead.
Serina is a very uncooperative girl. I knew her from my first period class. She is a junior and physically attractive, rather large and very fit; she should be a track athlete but is not. My experience with her in first period is she usually comes late and then does no work, instead talks on her phone. Twice when asked for her tardy slip, she did not have one. When asked to go get one, she just simply looked at us coldly and firmly said “No.” The day before we both arrived at that door at the same time, I had written her up for various acts of insubordination and defiance. Apparently, the write-up did not get processed in time.
So as I looked in that door of the room of the commotion, all I saw was a large tangle of people.Chaos. Some were students fighting; some were students trying to break it up, I later realized. Several staff were in there trying to disengage students. There was a lot of yelling and furniture knocking about. I could discern very little organization to it. Who were the combatants? Who were the aggressors? What exactly was going on?
But Serina apparently knew. She had been texted. She knew it was going down, who was getting jumped and why. So she went flying in ahead of me and went right to the middle of it and leaped on top with fists flailing. At least I could discern her role! I took her by the waste and pulled her back, but I could not hold her! She was like a bull; her adrenalin flowing full force. I turned to try to help some staff next to me who were pulling apart two girls who had hold of fistfuls of each other’s hair, only to realize it was making one of them totally vulnerable to the blows of a third girl.
At that point I began to worry. This fight was too much for us. We could not stop it, and I began to back out, thinking that I was not helping, that I could easily be hurt, and that re-enforcements were necessary. Just then, a male student suddenly stumbled toward me with a smaller girl in his grasp. She was screaming that she was going “to kill that bitch” and fighting his efforts to remove her from the battle. I took hold of one of her arms and told him, “lets get her out of here” and we pulled her to the nearby door, out of the room and across the hall to an empty class. She ranted and raved for a couple of minutes, but then started to calm. An assistant principal (and former college football player) soon came in and took over.
Apparently, across the hall re-enforcements had arrived, and the fight had been dissected into its individual raging girls, who had finally been separated and confined. Gladly, I returned to my room where I tried to catch my breath, thank my students for behaving so appropriately, and report to the principals what I knew.
Yes, Markya was the first girl from outside that class to arrive and help start the attack on the girl being jumped. The girl attacked did a fairly good job of defending herself after being sucker punched, and may have had some help from a friend. Serina was also one of the main aggressors and was suspended for the rest of the year. As last I heard, it was determined that there were 4 or 5 girls basically fighting, with three the definite aggressors.
Markya, I later learned from the Intervention Specialist, has had a rough row to hoe. Homeless with her mother for most of the year, now she was in a foster home. Those three days before the fight were the only days she had been at school for months, but no one gave me a heads-up. Those three days, and up to the the third period fight, are the only schooling she received (or will receive) in a long time. Suspended the rest of this school year. Sadly, that is the way it seems to work, sometimes and for some people.
I hope you don’t give up, Markya! Things can be better.
The Pandemic’s Effect on Some Children
I was talking to one of the older, lady teachers the other day, and she had some insightful comments. She felt that our juniors were like sophomores, academically and emotionally. They had missed an entire year and more of Normal Schooling; missed our influence on their emotional development on a day to day basis and under Normal Circumstances. There is a lot of absenteeism. At this point, when we are trying to resume normality, these students are behind and feeling awkward and struggling with Regular Schooling. These are high-schoolers. My wife says her pre-schoolers and kindergarteners are emotional basket cases; they cry at the least provocation. Each– pre-school and high school– have been isolated too long from the influence of our larger society.
With our children, we are going to have to play catch-up. The pandemic took this emotional toll, too.
Back to teaching Algebra Tuesday, Final Exams start Wednesday!
Acts of political and personal courage should be acknowledged, especially these days. Liz Cheney is standing firm against “The Big Lie,” that her party actually won the past presidential election, that it was “stolen.” 70% of Republicans believe it was illegitimate, according to CBS Nightly News. Cheney is the daughter of Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney and a conservative congresswoman from Wyoming. Despite these bone fides she is under attack from Mr. Trump and the Republican leadership for her efforts to uphold our country’s democratic integrity.
“The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” she wrote May 5th in an op-ed for the Washington Post. She declares that Republicans must stand with “the rule of law” and reject “the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”
Here in Ohio, we face a similar challenge. Will Jane Timken attempt to defend the indefensible? In her guest column in The Dispatch of 4/13, “President, Allies on Reckless Tax-and-Spend Policy Program,” Timken—former chairwoman of the Ohio Republican Party– emphasizes her allegiance to former President Trump.
She will “advance an America First agenda.” She will oppose “the far-left agenda” of the “radical” Green New Deal. She credits Mr. Trump with the development of the vaccines that have “turned a corner” on the COVID pandemic. Yes, these same vaccines that many Republicans now refuse to get.
This last contention, especially, raises the question, will she play fast and loose with the facts as does Trump? We all know that the Trump administration deserves no credit for containing or defeating this virus. Mr. Trump opposed mask-wearing and declined to social distance. Several of his events became mass spreaders. His administration provided little guidance, support or coordination to our states during this clearly national crisis.
Ms. Timken seeks the Republican nomination for Ohio’s soon-to-be-vacated senatorial seat. At the start of every Q & A session of her campaign she should be asked, “Do you believe the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen by the Democrats?” Unless she clearly and unequivocally rejects this lie, it should be held as the central issue of her candidacy.
There is little question that there is no real or ample proof of a fraudulent election. Beyond Cheney, other stalwart Republicans are disavowing the lie.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’scourageous speech after the traitorous events of January 6th stands out as a highlight in contemporary American politics. “Enough is enough,” he said, “It is over…Joe Biden is the legitimate President of The United States.” Graham continued by saying that he has been told there are thousands of fraudulent votes in Georgia and Arizona, to which he replied, “give me ten”—show me proof of ten—but the result was zero, “haven’t got one.” No proof has been presented to him, he declared.
Recently, an old hand in Ohio and American Republican politics—John Boehner, commented (NPR, 4/12) that he believes former President Trump has “abused the loyalty and trust of his supporters.” On the supposed illegitimate votes, “There’s really been nothing of any significance that would have changed one state’s election outcome, not one…nothing even close,” he said. Boehner is a former Ohio congressman and Speaker of The House of Representatives.
This lie needs to be rejected. The self-serving, delusional, and paranoid thinking that is at its basis, needs to be rejected. American politics is not often pretty, but our electoral integrity stands true.It is our American “miracle” writes Cheney, quoting the Republican Party idol, former President Ronald Reagan.
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