Well, you might think I am using a metaphor or something.
Some of you might think, especially after you’re through with this article, that I’m actually using the magician metaphor for something else. Knowing me and having read my tons of blog posts so far, some others might think the E Train is actually a metaphor too: maybe, it means the Economy train, or perhaps, Employment train. Or, perhaps…Energy train. Something…or something else…imaginations could run wild.
But, believe me, I am not using any metaphor. I am actually talking about a little magician on the E subway train here in New York City. The only creative liberty I’m taking as the author is with the word “little,” only because, as they always say, ordinary people are little people.
This magician I’m going to talk about is a no-name magician, I’m sure; otherwise, he would not play his magic in front of a reluctant, tired New York subway audience, and jump from car to car to make a living. I tend to believe this is not even his primary job; who can live and feed mouths in Bloomberg’s only-for-rich New York on enchanting a few, sleepy subway commuters late in the evening — with their magic or music?
I’m only telling you this story because it was so exceptional. I’ve never seen anything like it in my un-magical life. I even gave him a dollar — an exceptional act of benevolence if you knew my miserly middle-class Indian-Bengali upbringing. My sense of charity and benevolence could easily match up Shylock of the Merchant of Venice!
Ah, well…getting back on with the story.
I was tired and trying hard not to doze off on the train — I became extra careful to stay alert since a few months ago, a bunch of kids tried to pull a prank on a sleepy me on the G-train. I taught myself about the necessity to stay up especially in these difficult times. Phone snatching, pickpocketing and other such untoward things here in Bloomberg’s only-for-rich New York has now become commonplace.
I was tired and trying hard not to doze off on the train, and contemplating on the mundane-ness of a commuter’s life…or something philosophical like it. Or, maybe, I was just thinking nothing. Something like it. Then, this guy got on the train and things changed in a few seconds…like magic!
He was a tallish, whitish, middle-age’ish guy who showed visible signs of lifelong strife and struggle. Maybe, he is a loner. Maybe, his wife and children left him and his inability to make a decent living. Seeing his manners and magic, I remembered Satyajit Ray’s short story on the little Bengali magician Mr. Tripura Mullick who said to his one-and-only student: “Look, I know all these tricks, but the only trick I don’t know is how to make money.” And that little magician in Ray’s magical story was also a loner, with nowhere to go and no place to live.
This little magician’s tricks — unthinkable and quite unbelievable — also reminded me of Ray’s little magician: they were all done without any use of pomp, grandeur or big stage or footlights, or without the help of any glittery woman assistant — or for that matter, without the typical, non-stop patters magicians often use to distract the viewers. He didn’t do any of the above. In fact, all the tricks this guy did were so right front of my eyes that unless I knew he was pulling tricks, I wouldn’t believe he was pulling tricks. That’s how magical they were!
His games were also not something I’ve never seen; in fact, I’ve seen them many times. I’ve seen the cut rope trick where the magician pulls out a piece of white rope, asks someone in the audience to hold the two ends tight spreading it apart, and cuts it in the middle. He then measures the two halves and shows that they are indeed much shorter than the original length. He then gives one half to a member of the audience and keeps the other half. He does an abracadabra on the half he has, rubs his fingers a little magically, and snaps it! Walla, suddenly the half length of the rope becomes a full length again!
(At this point, YOU — some of my longtime readers, now familiar with my way of pulling my own writing tricks, would say: “Okay, wait a minute, we know what you’re up to. You’re trying to say that these little, no-name people are the ones who are constantly pulling the broken pieces of the economy back together with their unsung heroism — acts like magic that nobody knows and nobody cares about: magical acts that behind the scene put the world back together especially in times of serious crisis — like the crisis the American society is now going through, or especially at this difficult time after Hurricane Sandy. You’re telling us to compare the incredible, magic-like work of these small, low-wage workers — electrical workers, plumbers, construction workers, subway workers and so many more — that New York Times or CNN would not talk about. Right?” — Well, I could easily have said that and used this whole article as a metaphor; but really, I’m not doing it because repeating something over and over again is the last thing an intelligent author would do because it drives even his ardent, admiring readers crazy and totally disinterested. You are welcome to judge using your own judgement. I leave that up to you.)
So, on with the story (I hope not to be interrupted again…please).
The little magician went on to show a few little tricks — the usual stuff we see on TV or in a theater — like changing the color of handkerchiefs and all. Remember, all of it is happening just over six or so minutes on an express stop between Forest Hills and Jackson Heights; he would hop on to the next car as soon as the train stops. Now, the final game — with some small amount of cheerful talk from a not-so-cheerful-looking magician: the card trick.
He pulls out a pack of cards and juggles with all fifty two of them in a way that I could only imagine in my dream! Up and down, side to side, inside out, and outside in. He takes the pack in his lifted right palm and throws them down on his left — in a never-ending chain with no cards misbehaving. He then obviously asks one of the subway commuters to pull a card of her choice — and the poor magician had a hard time finding a volunteer because everybody was so reluctant to do it for the fear that they’d probably have to show some gesture of charity which they would not want to do. He then turns his eye away from the woman who volunteered; she now put the card back in the pack the magician was holding out. The rest of the game we all know: he does some more abracadabra, walks his long, uncanny fingers on the pack of cards, and wallah, he pulls out the right card the woman chose!
Finally, in the last thirty seconds or so, the magician shows us something I’ve never seen before in my life. He pulls out a number of cards from the pack and starts spinning them horizontally in the air — halfway between the train floor and ceiling, and the cards floated and danced and circled around in an incredibly synchronous movement, and it appeared they would never stop, as if they were all held together by an invisible string.
Again, it reminded me of Satyajit Ray’s little magician Mullick who trained a coin to come out of his wallet, walk to another coin on the floor, and walk it back together into the wallet. Our little, no-name magician on the E-train also instructed his cards to stop their wild dance and come together quietly into the pack. It was time for him to pack up and hop on to the next car on the E-train. Jackson Heights had arrived and the train had stopped. He collected a few dollar bills — one from a totally inspired and woke-up me, without saying even a word of thanks.
He was not one of the talkative, patterful magicians. He was not David Copperfield of America or P. C. Sircar of Calcutta. He didn’t know the tricks to make a decent living. He never learned that magic.
I hope to see him again some day — on my way back from work on the E Train. He certainly deserves an extra dollar from me…or two.
These days, I am trying to keep my patience and save my energy as much as possible.
I keep telling my students, colleagues, family and friends that one of the biggest challenges in life has become how to keep calm in the face of the numerous reasons you could otherwise be angry. I keep telling them that this is one of the top lessons we need to teach our young generation and children — i.e., those who still want to learn from oldies like us and have some faith and confidence in our wisdom. Honestly, we the older generation is leaving behind a horribly messed-up world for them; its up to them to decide whether they want to clean it up or destroy it even further. If they want to clean it up — and I hope they do — they need to learn how to stay calm, composed and focused in spite of the many provocations and turmoils caused by the people in power. They need to learn how to be stoic, and sift through small, mundane things to deal with the real important ones.
Now, what the heck does it have to do with the title of this post: This is Brooklyn, New York. [This is] Not your United States? What does it really mean? I mean, look at the sentences: on the surface, together, don’t even make any sense!
It has a little, real-life story behind it — as a vast majority of my blogs have had some kind of real-life connection. What happened was that this morning, I went to do some small groceries at a locally-owned store here in Brooklyn. I picked up some fruits and vegetables and stood in the line that had perhaps three or four people in front of me, and no one behind. It is a small store and there is not much space to move around near the cashier’s check-out machine. This is a store run by a Hispanic owner; most workers, if not all, are also Latino women and men.
So, waiting in the line, I saw an old white woman pushing her cart full of stuff she bought and she was tentatively looking at me as if she was trying to find out if she could get in front of me, or behind, in the line. I would have no problems letting her come in front of me especially when I was the last person in the line; in fact, my deep-rooted Indian courtesy for older people often makes me do such little acts of benevolence. So, I said, “Would you like to come in here?” Or, maybe, I thought, she was trying to sneak by me into the isle for milk and dairy products.
And then the old woman said something that was quite out of the blue. She yelled at me, really yelled at me on top of her voice, “This is United States. We don’t do it around here. In the United States, we do not come that way. This is United States…here…”
Oh my Gosh, why did I even bother to be nice and polite to her, I thought! I was so taken aback (a mild way) that I even told the cashier girl about my feelings. Of course, she didn’t want to comment: after all, she wouldn’t want to remark on another customer’s behavior. Maybe, she was all too familiar with such incidents happening regularly in her workplace.
Obviously, this was an old woman who was probably quite a bit on the crazy side and didn’t know what she was talking about; it’s likely she was upset at something else and took it out on me at her first opportunity. It could be she thought she had reached that age where she thought she had the right to yell at anyone she met. Or, it could be that she thought I didn’t know the rules of “her” United States: obviously, with a brown skin, mustache and beard, and with a “non-mainstream” look, I definitely did not fit her traditional concept of someone who belonged in “her” United States, and she thought she could tell me that she was not happy that “we” invaded “her” United States.
I know I’m making a big deal out of it. Sure, I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill, so to speak. But I am doing it for a reason. I know that living in Brooklyn, New York, this is not a totally extraordinary incident; in fact, I have had such experiences — more memorable in nature — over the past few years. (No, I’m not talking about the post-9/11 anti-immigrant hate crimes and violence that I wrote about on this blog before; I’m only talking about small, personal, hard-to-deal-with experiences here in New York City, the so-called paradise of diversity and tolerance).
I know such things happen in life, and it was not in any way that bad or hurting. Living in a mega-city like New York, Calcutta or London has its pluses and minuses. We need to know how to deal with it and ignore the insignificant. But the incident still troubled me a little. I would not remember this morning’s experience for too long; but I would want to remember it for at least twenty-four hours before it slipped into oblivion.
I would not even want to say too much on it. But I would want to remind ourselves and our young generation about the absolute necessity to stay calm in the face of provocations — big or small.
Congratulations, President Obama. And more congratulations to Elizabeth Warren.
I hope your second term is pro-people and radically different from your first term. Make Warren the Wall Street watchperson. Bring back Glass-Stegall. Pass Employee Free Choice Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Bring back the New Deal economy. Reward work and workers. Stop all wars and bombing and droning.
The American people have kept faith in you. You show us how pro-people you are. It’s time to sever ties with the same-old iron-walled elitist politics.
But I do hope he wins. ONLY because I never want extremists and war mongers to win.
Anyway…it’s too early for politics.
5 A.M. — Alarm rang. It’s too early. Too dark. Had to wake up. Got stuff to do.
5.30 A.M. — Started that old car and warmed it up for a while. That sucker may not run in this cold. Man, it looks like freezing chill in the backyard.
5.45 A.M. — Drove a sleepy wife to the polling station. She works there every time there’s an election. She is really the helping type. Always helps. Wants to help. Just a couple of days ago, she went to a shelter at Brooklyn Armory where hundreds of people began spending nights since that hurricane Sandy struck. She distributed food. She cooked food. She took a whole bunch of blankets and sweaters and shirts and pants, without asking me, and gave them away. Ah, well…I did my part too. Calcutta, Bengal, flood, drought, collecting rice and dal and clothes…campaigning by car…announcing with a hand-held microphone…truckloads of donated supplies…some money…completely honestly handing it all over to Ramakrishna Mission…yeah…I did it all!
6 A.M. — Did not go back home. Normally, after dropping her off, I go back and take an extra hour to sleep. Not this time. Got stuff to do.
6.15 A.M. — Drove up to a gas station where my friend Sinha works as the head mechanic. He said last night they were going to pump gasoline at 4 A.M. today. Had to be there. Sandy sucked New York and New Jersey dry of gas.
Oh God, the line was already so long! Cops were managing the long line of cars and people. Stood behind the line. Turned off the engine. Waited…waited…
Drove up one inch at a start. This stupid, old car is gonna quit soon with so many starts and stops.
Moving…slowly…slowly…like a metallic snail…
7.15 A.M. — Finally I can see the gas station. It’s still not totally morning yet. Even though, just two nights ago, they turned the clock back to end the daylight saving time. Without it, it would now be really dark. At least, I can see the gas station and the people lining up long lines…with containers, big water jars, whatever they got…to get petrol.
I kept thinking of my old Calcutta school days when I would stand up behind long lines to get kerosene, or coal, or bread…remembered those war-torn days in the sixties…
7.30 A.M. — Got gas. Filled up the tank. Paid by credit card. Off I go…
I’m not returning home. Let’s go straight to work. Had to work from home yesterday. No gas, no subway. And I can’t fly to work!
8.05 A.M. — Work. Office. Yesss! Turned on my office computer. Turned on my personal laptop too.
Worked. Had tea. Somebody’s class had extra bagels. Picked up a couple. Not bad. Didn’t have time for any breakfast in that hurry.
11.30 A.M. — 12.30 P.M. — My colleague cum director asked us to come out help load some trucks with bags full of supplies for the hurricane victims. That was not bad, doing it like they do it in an army supply line…pick up bags, throw bags to the next person…like passing the baton in a relay race…catching bags…throwing it to the next person over…bags get loaded…trucks full of bags of supplies…not bad…not bad…did something good…worthwhile…
Worked more…putting together materials for classes…labor workshop for next year…other classes…writing reports for past classes…not bad…not bad…
4.30 P.M. — Had to leave. Didn’t have lunch. Hungry. Got a piece of Sicilian pizza and some coffee. Off to the road…back on Jackie Robinson Parkway…Pennsylvania Avenue…Atlantic Avenue…home.
5.30 P.M. — Parked that old car in the garage. It’s cold, man. Chilly! Need to go pick up wifey very late. She says long voter lines. She might be working until 11 P.M. or midnight!
6 P.M. — Walked to vote at our usual school building. Long line again. Man, this is a day for lines. Lines. Lines. Spiral lines. So many people are voting…Why? What do they think? Next four years will be different from the last four? Sheesh!!
6.30 P.M. — Voted. Filled up the scan sheet. Scanned through the machine. DONE!
Voted. Because I am a completely nonviolent person. Nonviolent thinker. Activist. Writer. My middle name is nonviolence. My second middle name is mainstream.
Regardless of how many vote. Regardless of how many can stay nonviolent.
P.S. — 1 A.M. — I drove my wife back home from the polling center where she worked since 5.45 A.M. (yesterday). She will make a few hundred dollars. Peanuts…compared to what the people who just got elected would make.
That’s the ultimate irony of this so-called democracy!
Note: This is my last blog post before the November 6 elections.
Hurricane Sandy just left us.
The superstorm left behind a huge trail of devastation. Here in New York, millions of people are without power. Many homes and neighborhoods are flooded. Many people are spending nights in local shelters. Some forty people have perished in the storm.
I want to say a word of prayer for all those who suffered.
New York’s mayor Bloomberg graciously toured the devastated areas in his God’ly helicopter. On the other hand, New Jersey’s governor and some other city mayors and elected council members worked with affected people and brave rescue workers, standing in knee-deep water, shoulder to shoulder. Thousands of construction workers, electrical workers, plumbers, pipe fitters, sanitation workers, subway workers, glass workers, carpenters, health care workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, police officers, firefighters, National Guard volunteers, and numerous other professionals are working 24/7 to pull America out of this incredible mess.
I want to say a word of prayer for these brave souls too. These workers are our unsung heroes.
I wish Barack Obama left all his campaign stops over the next few days, and did just the same, round the clock. But who am I to say it? He has his privileged, elite professional aides to direct him. (I was happy to see he spent some time on the ground to help the victims; I wish he did much more. That is the real campaign: campaign to work for the poor and vulnerable.)
Some of my friends — a large majority of them Democrats — got upset at my prediction and sent me messages expressing their disapproval and anger. Some of them un-friended me from their Facebook. I am deeply sorry that I made them so unhappy. As someone who worked very hard and with high energy and hopes for Obama’s victory in 2008, a looming Obama defeat in 2012, and that too, at the hands of Mitt Romney — someone most Americans never heard of and a super-rich, elitist politician even his Republican Party was not excited about just three months ago — was not something I had envisioned. But it is now a real possibility.
In this post, I’m only quoting a few messages myself and some of my friends have wrote on my Facebook page over the past couple of days — since Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern Seaboard. I hope some people notice and think about it. I have no money, no media power, and no pedigree. Even though some of my friends blame me (at least partially) for my so-called “anti-Obama” blogs for an Obama defeat next week, I really I have no such power to make or break anything — especially something of this grand magnitude.
I still want Obama to win over Romney. I shall never vote for Romney and Ryan.
You can be upset with me, but honestly, your blame is misplaced. You should have been upset with Obama, his administration and the Democratic Party that simply failed to deliver. Plus, you have the right-wing media such as Fox TV or Rush Limbaugh radio show who slandered Obama and punched him below the belt; on the other hand, the so-called liberal media neither exposed the real criminals behind the economic crisis on one hand (because of their own ties with some of them) nor did they chastise the Obama government on their terribly wrong moves and horrible choices of top executives who failed the ordinary, working Americans the second time over.
The American voters who were raped by the Bush administration for eight years were raped all over again by these sinister people and their policies over the past four years. And knowingly or not, Obama did not do much to stop them. Republicans took advantage of it.
Then came Obama’s disastrous first debate that tipped the election — so far on Obama’s side — to Romney’s favor. Obama squandered a golden opportunity the Mother Jones “47-percent” undercover exposé landed on his lap.
So, here’ the final few passages from my Facebook page — in the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. Hope you read them once and perhaps, if you please, read them twice.
I wrote as my status update during and post-Hurricane Sandy:
1. WE ARE OKAY here in mid-Brooklyn. Thank God. New Jersey, Manhattan and Long Island were not so lucky. Many of my labor union colleagues and immigrant friends are having a hard time right now. This unprecedented late-October mega-storm off the Atlantic Ocean is big-time proof of drastic climate change and global warming. ALSO, I keep wondering how Americans still can’t see the important role of the government especially at such difficult times. Just think if there were no FEMA, OSHA or EPA (and private companies ran their jobs!). Government, in restraint, is a friend and not a foe. Ronald Reagan was wrong.
2. IF I WERE OBAMA. – I would just show the enormous, massive work American workers are doing right now to pull the country out of this huge environmental calamity. I would show the important role the [restrained] government is playing with help from FEMA, EPA or OSHA. I would just show the president providing leadership to the rescue operation. Not like Bloomberg flying on a helicopter, but standing in knee-deep water, shoulder to shoulder with the ordinary, suffering men and women. There would be no need for any more campaign blitz. (But who am I? They have all the power, and I don’t. They have their media and machinery and money, and they must be more intelligent than I am.)
3. MY FIVE POINTS FOR REAL CHANGE. — (1) A pro-working people coalition of moderate left and right that believes in true equal opportunity (class, race and gender-wise) for upward social mobility, (2) A Keynesian economic system that rewards labor, helps the poor, and regulates-restricts corporations (including war and prison corporations), (3) Refrain from too much power for the government ensuring rights, justice, liberty and freedom, (4) Find alternative environment, energy and peace policies, and (5) Do not promote or sustain a global, violent hegemonic power and economic aggression. For whatever its worth, this must be the future education for our children. It’s a start.
4. HURRICANE IN NEW YORK. — It was a new experience for us here in Brooklyn to go through this big storm. We survived, except for some power cuts, broken trees and small house damage. Yet, can’t help thinking how people all over the world — in Bangladesh, Orissa, Cuba, Haiti, Indonesia, etc. deal with it ALL THE TIME, and we take their lifelong suffering for granted. Maybe, we need to wake up. Or, will we, ever? I doubt it.
5. THIS ELECTION AND MY PREDICTION. — Who cares if predictions I made over two months ago turned out to be correct? Nobody is going to give me any money, fame or award (and some people are pretty upset at me, as if I am partially responsible for the outcome). Plus, I’d be terrified, petrified myself that fascists, racists and bigots came back to power, that Obama squandered an historic opportunity, and that the world is back on the doom and destruction track again. Don’t blame me. Blame them!
Think about it.
Sorry about the somewhat incoherent way to put it all together. But I hope you can find the underlying messages I tried to send across. I hope we can engage in an honest and sincere, urgently necessary conversation — NOW and also after the November 6 elections.
I still hope Obama wins and Romney loses. Just because I would NEVER want racists, sexists, war mongers, supremacists and bigots come back to power.
But our conversation and grassroots bridge-building will go on, regardless of the election outcome.
Brooklyn, New York
Obama didn’t deliver. But Republicans didn’t want him to deliver, either!
Guess what, I still have the Obama-2008 bumber sticker stuck on my old American car.
We all thought you were going to use your enormously powerful position to drive this country and virtually the entire world back to the direction of the ordinary working people and families, promote economic equality, hold the corporate criminals accountable and bring them to justice. We thought your leadership would stop global warfare and bloodshed, and bring some peace to mankind especially after the horrors of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft.
I am very sorry and dejected to tell you that you have not fulfilled our hopes, dreams and aspirations. You have let us down.
Of course, at that time very few people thought you could lose; and I wrote the article even before that scandalous and racist “47 percent” Romney speech Mother Jones magazine broke: speech at a $50,000 per plate fundraising dinner Romney had in Florida ($50,000 is the average annual income for an American family; in many Third World countries, it’s the annual income for an entire city, perhaps). When that exposé came out, hardly anybody thought you could ever lose; in fact, even diehard Republicans thought Romney threw the elections straight in your lap; the Florida speech was so devastatingly damaging for him and the Republican Party. But who knows, maybe, that episode had made you overconfident, and you took the first presidential debate casually with no preparation whatsoever; your election prospects since then took a nose dive. Boy, how quickly things turn!
You took that debate with your now-familiar demeanor: you took your audience — your supporters and sympathizers and onlookers across the country — for granted. That non-performance in the debate was really symptomatic of your four years of non-performance. That abject failure to rise up and overpower your fierce, well-oiled opponents and their media with measured documents and reasons was symptomatic of your four years of abject failure to rise up and do the right thing at the most critical moment.
You’re going to be paying a hefty price for that non-performance. And you’re going to drag us all down with you, by your non-performance and lackluster presidency. Your elite circle of advisors — dubious and ill-reputed political insiders who are really part of the now-infamous 1 percent, exposed because of Occupy Wall Street’s resistance and challenge — have ill-advised you. You believed in them, and took us for granted. Your drones killed many innocent people overseas; your political actions killed hopes and dreams of many here in the U.S.
President Obama, let me be clear. I would be very sad and disheartened if you get a shock defeat in this election. I would get a chill in my bones if someone like Romney whose racism and hypocrisy is now exposed becomes the president of America. I know he’s going to start another devastating war in Iran: the war industries and Karl Rove are working hard for his victory. I would be frozen to death if a social and economic extremist like Ryan with his Tea Party Glenn Beck doctrine becomes the vice president of this country. I know he is going to kill off the last remnant of the New Deal, including Medicare and Social Security as well as collective bargaining and such precious rights of the working people of America. His party will probably overturn Roe v Wade too, destroying women’s precious reproductive rights. Corporate America, NRA and Koch Brothers as well as organized bigoted groups are working hard for his victory.
Even though I have serious, major issues with your presidency and every single day, I feel cheated by the promises you and your administration didn’t keep, just because I NEVER want a racist and a bigot become the world’s top leaders, I would want you to win.
The only problem is that deep inside, I feel you are not going to win. And you can blame nobody other than yourself for this looming, historic defeat. Your likely loss would be the final letdown of the billions of people — particularly the young generation here in America and peace and democracy soldiers all across the world — who believed so much in your message of hope. They believed in YOU!
You let them all down. How terrible this letdown has been!
Anyway, either title would have been just as fine. I could’ve also included IMF and 1% in the title. All of the above would have been just as fine. And just as true. And just as powerful. And just as appropriate.
But I settled on the Obama and vote title. Just because I thought it might find a wider audience if I made is a little more controversial, sensitive, sexy.
Now that Rahm Emmanuel has found such strong support from Romney and Ryan — Republican candidates one of whom is far right Tea Party and the other is a known union basher and private outsourcer — who’s going to block his path? Plus, Koch Brothers and Murdoch and Heritage Foundation and some other big media (and foam-in-the-mouth Rush) will pump in big money and other resources to support Rahm. Who knows, maybe, he will be the education secretary in a new Romney-Ryan cabinet!
Unbelievable to see the anti-labor-union sentiment in this country called USA where the entire middle class was built with the blood, sweat and tears of the working people and labor unions — for at least forty years. Most of these people who are calling the striking union names, blaming the teachers for all the problems of the poor and failing students, and expressing outrage that these teachers are asking for better wages and benefits either lie about or are ignorant about that glorious history from not too long ago.
It’s absolutely unbelievable to see that there is so little in-depth information and analysis on mainstream media about the key demands of the striking teachers and what forced them to finally come to this point where they have no other way but to strike. Why historic? Because they risk losing and they’re fighting to expose both big parties and their anti-union agenda — one explicit and the other hidden.
Even in the mighty, all-important New York Times, there is hardly any serious analysis of the CTU strike with drawing connection between this strike and other recent strikes across the U.S. and other places of the world. I have already mentioned the UPS strike of 1997. There is hardly any serious discussion of labor unrest and what economic and political games global powers are playing to crush organized labor. How many people know what International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Program is that works so closely with global political powers, as well as multinational corporations — GE, Wal-Mart, Disney, McDonald’s or Monsanto — that are so infamous for their long history of oppression and violence on any labor mobilization?
How many people know the deep-rooted connections between all these dots?
Yet, that discussion would be so critical at this point. New York Times and Wall Street Journal and CNN would not get into that discussion. So, as I often say, the onus is on us.
Now, today on September 11, Jobs with Justice — an activist group that emphasizes rights and justice for the working people of America — threw their support behind the CTU strikers, and huge rallies came out on the streets of Chicago. That is reassuring, even though I have doubts how long the public school teachers’ union would be able to sustain their energy and strength, especially when mighty forces such as Obama and Clinton on the Democratic side and Romney and Ryan on the Republican side would clamp down on them so heavily, with help from corporate and mentor media.
I have worked with unions closely here in America, and also in India — for many years. My father was a factory employee most of his life. I have seen good unions with honest and caring and efficient leadership. I’ve also seen unions with dishonest and inefficient bosses.
But regardless of the good or bad union bosses and their good or bad politics, I have every drop of blood in my body to support the cause of organized labor. Labor unions are the last stumbling block for the elite, powerful 1 percent and their absolute, global economic tyranny against the poor and middle class working people and families. I’ve talked about it before. Check it out here.
Now, people who are expressing their outrage at the striking teachers of Chicago, have the same-old points that anti-union power such as Scott Walker or Mitt Romney or the union-busting corporations (yes, some companies only specialize in union busting, for a hefty fee) always use. They are:
(1) Union workers (in this case, the striking public school teachers) are asking for too much salary and benefits; they already make a lot. Plus, this is the time for austerity: the country is going through a severe recession. There must be austerity now.
(2) Students are failing because these teachers are incompetent and lazy. So instead of giving them tenure, the education department and mayor should fire them.
(3) Labor unions (in this case, the striking teachers) only care about themselves; they don’t care about the larger society, or the students or their parents. That’s why the striking teachers are against the teacher evaluation system.
(4) Union leaders are all thugs and crooks; they make big money and cut secret deals with the government.
(5) Public sector enterprises (in this case, public education system) have failed; it’s time to kill the government and government organizations. People should not finance public employees, public teachers and public health officials, etc. with their hard-earned money and taxes.
There may be more points. I am sure you can find more points to add here.
Sure! We all know where you’re coming from. You can find it all in Heritage Foundation or IMF’s manuals. Or, just read Ronald Reagan’s biography.
Let’s take these points one at a time.
1. Union workers make too much money. — Chicago striking teachers make too much money already. How much do they make? In a major city like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston or New York, where the living expenses are way too high, a $70,000 per year salary for a family of four is not that high. In fact, if you have to pay back your high income taxes, student loans (or help your grown-up children to pay back theirs), car loans, house mortgage (or apartment rent) and car insurance (most places in America do not have public transportation: you must have a car to go to work) on top of your other monthly expenses, it’s definitely not much. In fact, with that kind of salary with no perks or bonuses, you have to be very careful not to get into additional debt.
But most importantly, why not talk about the obnoxious, outrageous, unconscionable income gap that middle class (including these teachers) has with the affluent of this country? I’m not even talking about the nauseating money Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Countrywide, Merrill Lynch, Chase or AIG executives made before or even after the 2007-2008 crash. How much Lehman Brothers CEO made when he was actually driving his company into ground? I’m not talking about how GE didn’t pay their income taxes. I’m talking about an AVERAGE worker’s salary at Goldman Sachs, which is over $600,000. Why do they make so much, and produce or manufacture or create NOTHING (except more wealth for themselves), and yet nobody talks about their outrageous earnings?
Why don’t these people talk about the fact that in the U.S., an AVERAGE CEO makes 450 TIMES more than the average working person at the same company? In other words, for an average worker to make the kind of money their CEO makes in one year, they have to work for 450 years. Nice!
What about the corporate reformers who always tell us that teachers make too much money? Here’s a recent chart.
2. Students are failing because of these incompetent teachers. — Is it really the teachers or a failed education system that funnels and shifts money and resources from public education to charter schools or other elite schools, sucking the already-malnourished public schools dry? I’ll give you two examples from my own experience. I know very well about Stuyvesant High School, located next to Ground Zero (today is a stark reminder: some of our students saw the WTC terrorist attack from their chemistry lab on 9/11). New York City pumped in maximum resources for their prestigious public schools such as Stuyvesant, Bronx Science or Brooklyn Tech — and you wouldn’t believe how affluent these schools are. Yet, so many public schools in the vicinity of Stuyvasant have practically nothing: they are in such as sad state of affairs with no money to repair their classrooms, fix their toilets, and upgrade their chemistry lab. Or, maybe, they don’t have a chemistry lab. I know they definitely don’t have an Olympic-size swimming pool that Stuyvesant has — indoor.
I also worked with an East Harlem public school when I was a journalism student at Columbia University; I wrote a feature on one of the teachers there. She showed me their biology lab; the entire high school had only one microscope for its entire body of students. She showed me how the ceilings were leaky and students sometimes had to sit outside of the classroom when it rained hard. The students told me how they worked hard, but were depressed that they would not be able to go to a good college because they were not well-prepared, or didn’t have money for college.
And I’m not even talking about the privileged private schools. Even within the public school system, there is so much outrageous disparity. Teachers’ fault? Really?
3. Teachers are against the evaluation system and uncaring about the students and parents. — I’ll answer the second part first. I have been a teacher all my life. I have taught in an extremely poor village in India for years before coming to America. Here in the U.S., I have taught at schools near Chicago and then I have taught in two cities in New York. I am a teacher now. Teachers care. Teachers care about the students, and teachers care about the parents. Teachers go out of their way to help their students. This is true across the board — public or private school teachers. Guess what…many of these teachers are parents themselves! They experience the process of education both various sides of the issue. In fact, these teachers know how parents feel when the student doesn’t do well; they know what needs to be done. But again, public schools everywhere have gone through major budget cuts draining their scant resources even more. In many places in the U.S., pro-privatization governments with help from corporations have funneled money from public schools to charter schools.
In case of the striking Chicago teachers, they have never said no to a fair evaluation system. But Rahm Emmanuel’s administration has imposed more and more rigorous and threatening evaluations on the teachers: they’ve recently increased the share of student performance in the evaluation process from 25% to 40%. Teachers failed to negotiate with the arrogant mayor; in fact, Rahm refused to see the teachers at the bargaining table for months. Many say that had he not been so arrogant to sit down with the teachers, this strike would not have taken place.
4. Union leaders are all thugs and crooks; they make big money and cut secret deals with the government. — This is a ploy anti-union politicians and media use all the time — all over the world. But U.S. media have taken it one step further. You never hear a pro-union story on radio, watch on TV or read in the big newspapers. You never get to see the working, struggling side of labor. You never get to see the Labor Day parade. You never know the contribution of the labor movement in building a strong middle class. Organized labor, through many years of anti-labor propaganda on the media, has lost its popularity and reputation it had. Most people here in America believe that labor union is a bad thing and has no relevance in a modern society. Nobody knows that Dr. Martin Luther King was a labor leader too; in fact, the last speech he gave the day before his assassination in Memphis was to a group of poor, striking sanitation workers. Nobody knows what collective bargaining really means. Nobody knows what some of the rights and benefits we enjoy today — and ALL workers blue-collar or white-collar enjoy them — ONLY because labor unions fought so hard for them, for generations. Anti-union propaganda has really reached a new low in this country. I know from personal experience that India is the other country where similar propaganda has tarnished the image of labor unions.
5. Finally, pro-privatization forces are now extremely powerful. USA and India are two places I know where the public sector has suffered enormously. Public schools, public hospitals and health care facilities, public employment, public transportation and all such government programs especially for the poor and middle class have declined miserably. Conservative think tanks and corporate media have blasted anything connected with the government; in the U.S., the schools of Ayn Rand, Milton Freedman and Alan Greenspan with their powerful libertarian followers in the seat of power have maligned the concept of the government altogether. Now, both the Tea Party far right in the Republican camp and Blue Dog Democrats have given away the economy of this country to private corporations. That was the primary cause of the current financial disaster.
With help from IMF, World Bank and such global organizations, and with special help for corporate media, a so-called economic reform has neocolonized the entire world: the two largest democracies such as the U.S. and India perhaps have suffered the most. In my classes and workshops, I simply this process for the students and show them the four most important policy doctrines that have expedited this global economic aggression. They are:
(A) Deregulation of every aspect of the economy, which has caused havoc to the U.S. economy.
(B) Tax cuts for rich individuals and corporations, which has created even more debt to an already-depleted U.S. treasury. Federal Reserve, which is anything but federal, has been given historic, unprecedented powers by the government to print money and loan it to the government itself, at a high interest rate. Major wars have contribute to the debt.
(C) Drastic cuts in public assistance and welfare for the needy and underprivileged. Ronald Reagan started the process, and Clinton continued it through cutting the U.S. welfare system, virtually ending the New Deal economy that was the cornerstone of American democracy for forty years.
(D) Clamping down on labor unions. There won’t be any collective bargaining anymore. Do away with all the pro-labor laws that working men and women fought for over centuries.
I began this article with a few other tentative titles for it. I mentioned Bangladesh to show how in the less-law-enforced Third World, labor leaders who are mobilizing against this global tyranny are being repressed and killed. Just a few days ago, Aminul Islam — noted textile workers’ leader in Bangladesh — was killed. In the eighties, many say, CIA broke down a massive textile workers’ strike in Bombay, India and planted its own man Bal Thackeray — who has turned out to be as much a bigot and fascist as there can be: perhaps only KKK would come close. In more law-enforced countries such as U.K., Italy, Greece or USA, the people in power and their media have clamped down on the labor movement differently. The newest barrage of hate on the right-wing media and more subtle, moderate-looking opinion pieces in so-called neutral, liberal media are doing just the same.
Who could have saved labor unions, and at this particular moment, the striking Chicago teachers, from such draconian repression?
I would think it’s someone like Barack Obama.
Think about it, Mr. President. I don’t have much power. But I SHALL decide on my vote — based on your actions.
Because the so-called mainstream media is not asking them, I thought the onus is on us.
Even though it’s an American election where U.S. citizens vote to elect their president this November, actually it’s an election that has serious impact for the entire world. In a way, it’s a global election. Therefore, politically enlightened people from all over the world need to understand the various aspects of the election as clearly as possible. For the entire world, the stake is too high.
I was happy to see the level of reaction to my posts. A surprisingly high number of readers of this blog — now from near and far corners of the world — read the questions I asked to the Democratic and Republican candidates. Some wrote their comments directly on the blog, and some others sent me their feedback personally. Some of these friends had a strong disagreement with my position on Obama; they were also unhappy to see how a super-excited 2008 me turned into a less than enthusiastic 2012 me. These friends challenged my political acumen when I asked some critical questions to the Obama campaign. When I said I was not feeling excited at all for Obama, they warned me not to pop their excitement balloon. They said my wet blanket to douse their party bonfire might hurt Obama’s chances.
I felt delighted — by the thought that my little, no-name blog had so much power!
Of course, this is almost an academic discussion. Neither Romney nor Obama is going to read my blog, let alone answer my questions. But this is all I can do. I have said it many times before: other than my writing that I use to make my readers, friends and sympathizers think, I have no power. I have no money, no pedigree, no political connection and no real hope for publishing my thoughts for a wide mainstream audience. Therefore, this is really the extent of my political activism. This is the best use of my experience, analysis and energy.
I try to make people think. I try to challenge their minds. This is my only non-violent weapon.
Now, for the sake of time, let’s select only a few issues that are critically important both for an U.S. and global audiences. Food, clothes and shelter: these three have always, historically, been the most primary for the ordinary people across the world. In today’s globally-connected society, some other issues have become critical: I could perhaps select war and violence, energy, environment, education and health for the list. Then, we could perhaps include the subject of labor, immigration and society. I’m sure you quickly see a few other issues that you would want to include in your first list. I am sure I myself would later reflect on it and include a few more that I might have missed this time around.
But at least for the time being, not to make this post unnecessarily long, let’s put together our first list of issues and compare the two big parties and their two big candidates on these issues. It might help us to understand the nature of the electioneering process as it is heating up here in the U.S., and determine objectively what exactly is going on. Often, these critical issues do not surface our way — the ordinary, powerless people’s way — in the 24/7 conversation on big media done by their big experts. I call it Journalism of Exclusion.
Therefore, again, the onus is on us to do it. We must do it. Questioning is democracy. Analyzing is too.
So far, we have identified the following issues to be critical to compare the positions of Obama and Romney and their two big parties.
(4) War and violence
Of course, the all-encompassing, all-pervasive, overarching factor would be economics and money. Given its overlapping nature, I decided not to itemize economics as a separate point. The discussion of money would feature quite prominently when we take up these points — one point at a time. Foreign policy would be another such aspect: it’s going to be interwoven in the discussion of all the other points — one way or the other. And obviously, jobs, wages and unemployment would be another — if not the most important — all-pervasive subject. It brings us to the question of poverty, exploitation and injustice.
But in this intricately-connected world society of the new millennium, where political boundaries have become almost meaningless, especially when we consider how economics and money (and work) can move from one part of the globe to the opposite part — with a speed of light, and considering how the people in power are using the global connectedness to their advantage, I believe that perhaps we could add one more item on our list. And that item would be:
There! I believe we have come up with a good list, at least for the time being. Now let’s see if we can briefly discuss and compare the positions of the two candidates and their parties on these issues. I’ll try to do it as simply as possible, without making it sound too academic. I’ll try to do it with a language most of us — including myself — would understand. You tell me, please, if this language works for you.
If we think carefully, there is practically no way we can discuss one of the above twelve topics exclusively: they are all overlapping. What role does food and water play in today’s politics? Food prices, food quality, water sources, water quality — and the politics of U.S. government and its two big parties — one that media hardly talks about? Coca Cola’s capturing of natural water displacing millions of poor people from their land (and putting a famous movie celebrity as their PR)? U.S. seed company Monsanto’s forced replacement of Indian farmers’ traditional seed banks with their one-crop, genetically engineered seeds forcing those farmers to go bankrupt and commit suicides in hundreds of thousands every year? McDonald’s food colonization with substandard, unhygienic food that caused obesity and serious harmful effects in the U.S. and throughout the world?
Where is the discussion either at the huge, confetti-covered RNC or DNC? Is there going to be any discussion at the presidential debates? Will New York Times, NPR, PBS or CNN talk about them between now and November?
Now, let’s see. war and violence are two subjects where the two parties’ positions are different, they say. Okay, it is true that Romney, Ryan and Rush Limbaugh’s Republican Party openly talk about a new, imminent war on Iran (or Syria, or Yemen…it doesn’t matter); on the other hand, Obama and Hillary Clinton talk about how they have finished the Iraq war and how they’re going to withdraw from Afghanistan in two years. And then of course comes Joe Biden and gives a war-drumbeat speech at DNC…as if John McCain or Joe Lieberman (remember him?) was speaking. And there is rousing chants all around at the convention…USA…USA…USA…
But let’s see: was there any reason for U.S. to be in Iraq in the first place after six or seven years of destroying an ancient civilization, killing hundreds of thousands of people, and looting their oil, gold and other treasures? It’s almost like the British colony withdrawing from India after total plundering, brutalizing and partitioning a once-prosperous civilization, putting their handpicked, subservient, “Gandhian” feudals in power. The aggressors were going to leave sooner or later anyways: there was no more reason either for the British to stay in India or for the U.S. to stay in Iraq. Where is that perspective?
Can we talk about it in a straightforward way? Oh yes, can we also include the politics Israel has always played and has been playing in this incredible mess? Isn’t Iran or Syria or Egypt or Libya or Saudi cards used in the same game?
And then come Obama’s hit list and the drones and the relentless bombing…the war is over?
And then comes Julian Assange and Wikileaks and Bradley Manning…didn’t they say whistle blowing was actually patriotic?
Would New York Times, NPR, PBS or CNN talk about them? Would anyone throw these questions — this straightforward way — in the presidential debate?
We’ll now talk about globalization, immigration, labor and the economy — and their interconnectedness. We need to know how these two parties and their candidates are different on these issues.
I hope you come back to participate in that discussion. I need you in that discussion.
NOTE: I wrote this blog using my personal time and resources.
Recently, I wrote two articles on this blog — both on the subject of the U.S. presidential elections. They were both popular — beyond my expectation. I want to thank all the readers — practically from all over the world — for their kind interest. It’s been a gratifying experience.
In the first article (click on the link here), I expressed my fear that Romney and Ryan — the Republican ticket — would win (that was before the Mother Jones “47%” expose broke out). In the more recent article I posted just a few days ago during the Republican National Convention, I challenged and asked some questions to the R&R ticket. You can read it here too.
Readers visited both articles with surprisingly high interest; particularly, the newest post where I challenged Romney, Ryan and Republicans to answer my questions got a very high number of readers. I was delighted. Of course, I never got any response from the Republicans at all; my doubt is that they never even heard my name, let alone read my questions. I wish they did.
But it was reassuring that so many readers took a moment out of their busy life to think about what I had to say on the political and economic scenario — of USA and almost by default, of the entire world. Given that my readership — especially my American readership — has a more liberal tilt, and that too, perhaps with a Democratic affiliation, I felt happy that my questions reached them and that they had the opportunity to use and share those twelve bullet points in their own circles. Who knows, maybe, some of these people are going to attend the Democratic National Convention that’s happening in North Carolina this week; chances are, at least a few of them who perhaps heard my name and about my OneFinalBlog through grapevine, Facebook and Twitter would talk about the issues I addressed in my articles, and have some productive, positive discussion.
At least, that is my hope. With that hope in mind, I’m now going to ask a few questions to President Obama and his Democratic Party — again, on the current political and economic scenario of America, and almost by default, of the entire world.
Republicans are now asking the American voters, borrowing the famous line from Ronald Reagan: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Actually, even though I have absolutely no soft spot for the Republicans and I said it loud and clear that I would never vote for Romney and Ryan, I believe the question they’re asking is not irrelevant at all. In fact, that is a perfect ask any voters should ask themselves: are we now better off or worse off? And, what is the measure of being better off or worse off? Is it economic, is it the war and violence situation, is it domestic repression, is it the elitist status quo, or is it something else?
The only problem is, Republican leaders are asking the question disingenuously, and cheating their ordinary Republican (or undecided) voters who may or may not remember the whole story. If these leaders — most of them affluent and powerful and with deep ties with Corporate America and its powerful lobbyists — were not so dishonest and if they didn’t have an equally disingenuous media on their side, they would rather phrase the question this way:
“We know eight years of Bush completely destroyed the American economy, created an astronomical budget deficit, gave obnoxious tax breaks to the super wealthy, bailed out billionaire bank executives and corporate criminals, waged catastrophic genocides in Iraq and Afghanistan killing millions, looting oil and destroying history of ancient civilizations and bleeding us the U.S. taxpayers here to death, and tarnished the American superpower image once and for all across the world, but still, we believe that we are better than the Democrats to run this country. So, would you not vote for us? Please?”
Neither the Republicans nor the disingenuous, gloss-over U.S. mainstream media would frame their question to the voters this way. They don’t have the guts or honesty to do it.
(And Bill Clinton, in spite of his jackpot speech at the DNC, forgot to tell us how he destroyed age-old American welfare especially for poor women, imposed NAFTA with majority help from Republicans drastically cutting U.S. manufacturing jobs in the U.S., overturned landmark Glass-Stegall, rehired Greenspan to destroy the economy even more, and deregulated financial derivatives with help from Rubin and Summers. He also forgot to tell us how he and war criminal W. Bush have been great buddies ever since. Maybe, he’s preparing us for a Hillary 2016 and a Jeb Bush 2020. Who knows? Nobody but the elite knows anything: it’s all elitist secret. And they call it a democracy!)
In any case, we can never believe that Obama-Biden and the Democrats did a wonderful job in these four years and should be able to put all the blame on those eight years of a Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft presidency; hence, we should all be happy and happily vote for another four years of Obama-Biden. Not so easy. We have some serious questions for President Obama and his Democratic Party, and here they are. Again, for the sake of time — both of my esteemed readers and Obama and the Democratic leaders who are busy and important people, I’m going to ask only a handful. I’ll save the rest for later.
You know what? I like Barack Obama as a person. I like Michelle Obama too. They are two of the smartest and modernest first couple America has seen for the first time in generations. And I know for sure that just because they are black, a large number of Americans (and Indians — from India) hate them. It’s unbelievable that even in 2012, millions of people especially in USA, Europe and India believe blacks are inferior to whites (and to browns and red and yellows and olives and purples and grays…) and a black president is a disgrace for this God’s Country called USA.
Well, let me tell you this. I think these people are pure racists and sexists and bigots and jerks too; and just because I know them so well from my own long experience to be with racists and sexists and bigots and jerks, I think at the end of the day, I’ll come out and vote for Obama, even though I think his Democratic administration has cheated me of my hope, expectation and enthusiasm for a change. But that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to vote FOR a presidential candidate FOR him, and not AGAINST his racist and bigoted and sexist and lying opponents.
So, at this point, without annoying my patient readers to death, I’ll ask a few questions to Barack. Mr. President, Sir, would you please be kind enough to respond, or at least ask one of your colleagues to do it? It would be much appreciated. My questions are not prioritized in any particular fashion.
Question 1.(I asked this to Romey and Ryan too). — Rachel Corrie, a young American woman, in 2003 stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer to protest against Israeli government’s demolition of houses of Palestinian civilians. The bulldozer crushed her to death. Your Democratic Party leaders such as Hillary and Bill Clinton had blasted Chinese government’s human rights violation when its tanks threatened to kill Chinese protesters at Tienanmen Square a few years ago. Do you think your Democratic Party can show the same resolution to protest against the action of the Israeli government when they killed Rachel Corrie? (You might also add here the drama of including Jerusalem as the Israel’s capital in the Democratic election platform.)
Question 2. (I asked this to Romey and Ryan too). — Multinational, U.S.-based companies such as Monsanto, Union Carbide, Coca Cola, Chevron and Disney (among many others) have caused havoc in many other countries because of their ways of doing business. For example, over the past decade, 200,000 Indian farmers (yes, you’ve heard it right!) have committed suicide — the largest in human history — because of Monsanto’s permanent seed replacement with their own genetically engineered products and false promises of crop yield. Union Carbide’s infamous toxic gas leak in Bhopal in 1984 had killed thousand of poor workers and their families; women who suffered are still delivering crippled babies. Are you going to bring these companies to justice and compensate the victims for the disasters they went through?
Question 3.(I asked this to Romey and Ryan too). — Have you ever visited an agricultural or industrial farm in California, Tennessee, Arizona, Florida or Texas where owners work immigrant workers like slaves in a toxic situation — with zero human rights? Many of them die of cancer, tuberculosis and such diseases — because of their inhumane work conditions. Do you see any difference between their condition and that of the black workers and their families in a cotton plantation during the slavery days? Your government has detained and deported more undocumented immigrants — many of such poor workers — than even Bush and Ashcroft government did.
Question 4. — Why did your administration let Goldman Sachs, one of the biggest corporate criminals in the history of modern human civilization, off the hook even after their criminal activities were exposed beyond doubt at bipartisan Congressional hearings?
Question 5. — Why did you include people such as Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Jeff Immelt, et al. — some of the worst-known corporate elements responsible behind the financial disaster — in your administration and would not purge them in spite of repeated pressure even from the pro-people sections of your own party? Why did you not stand behind the Overturn Citizen United campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders — 100 percent?
Question 6. — Why did you not take up, let alone pass, the Employee Free Choice Act when labor unions have always been such an ardently faithful ally? Isn’t that one of the worst examples of not keeping your 2008 campaign promises?
Question 7. — President Jimmy Carter has condemned your drone attacks and hit lists that killed thousands of innocent civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan (and recently in Yemen too). Isn’t that one of the grossest violations of international peace treaties and human rights laws? (And we all know you also backtracked on closing down Guantanamo.)
Post Script. — This is from New York Times tonight (click for the news story here). Obama’s top strategist, David Axelrod, said, “We’re in a better position than we were four years ago in our economy.” But Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, a Democrat, answered “no” on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” though he blamed Republicans. Other aides equivocated.
I’ll tell you this. Martin O’Malley and the other aides are honest. David Axelrod is dishonest and arrogant with his answer. And that is my problem with this Democratic Party and its top people who run the show. If you tell me we’re better off than four years ago, you’re kidding me. If you tell that to an ordinary American voter — Democrat or Republican or undecided — you’re going to lose their vote. Remember, many of these people didn’t watch Bill Clinton last night: they were working a late-evening shift to make ends meet.
We, the ordinary people who live and work in the U.S., who lost their jobs, health care, life’s savings and houses, and who can’t afford to play the stock market, are not better off. People like us do not see light at the end of the tunnel. President Obama and Mr. Axelrod, you must face the truth. You must tell the truth.
Most importantly, tell us why should we vote FOR you, and not just against your bigoted, lying, racist, sexist opponents?
Thank you, Sir, for your valuable time and kind response. Sincerely Writing,
I came up with a list of questions that I think media — big media, corporate media, multinational media, mentor media — should ask Romney and Ryan. But I have a feeling they won’t do it.
So, I guess the onus is on us. Let’s do it ourselves.
(Update on September 18: Especially after today’s breaking news that progressive publication Mother Jones exposed Romney’s gravely disparaging comments that 47% Americans love to live on government entitlements and don’t pay any taxes, mainstream media such as New York Times are jumping all over it, and conveniently ignoring many other issues. Hence, it’s even more important to address these issues now. The political debate is getting shifted from economy to race, etc., and while race is extremely important, this election should be primarily about the economy and the 1%. We must not let vested interests to shift the debate from the economy.)
American media’s coverage of the Republican National Convention was as usual shallow, superficial and sentimental. Just like the previous conventions I’ve seen since Reagan, corporate media didn’t provide any serious analysis on any serious subjects. Its big-name journalists and experts did not show any critical thinking at all. It was all glossing over, spinning, twisting and distorting.
Question: Why is it always that way? Answer: Either they are stupid or they’re not doing their job on purpose. I think it’s the latter because these otherwise well-dressed and articulate (and definitely well-paid) people and their [very well-paid] bosses do not want to lose their tons of ad dollars and traditional viewers that might switch channels once real debates, controversies or unpopular, unpleasant narratives are brought in. It’s like, if someone on TV presents serious research data that among ALL the developed countries, USA has the highest income inequality and also highest social and health problems because of the grotesque divide (these are all facts — look it up here), most people would not like to hear it. They have been brainwashed for decades. They would switch channels.
It’s pathetic to see how American media have totally degenerated especially since Reagan. There is no hard-hitting journalism at all! There is no real analysis that matters to real people and their real lives. The whole RNC 24/7 coverage was, just like before, done almost in a vacuum — as if, it was a fantasy world out there! I have a feeling the Democratic convention will be this way too.
I also have a feeling we’ll see another pathetic repeat of the above when time comes for the so-called presidential debate with similar hoopla and meaningless moderation. I have a feeling it’s going to be another exercise of naiveté, glossing over, window dressing and scratching the surface — with exclusion of critically important issues.
Maybe, Karl Rove and Koch Brothers, among others, are watching over these media establishments. That’s why they’re so afraid to ask the right questions!
However, if I were one of these big-name media personalities with big privilege to work with these politicians, I’d ask them some straight-shoot questions. But because I do not have that privilege and I have no other power than writing them down in this blog for my friends, readers and sympathizers — now surprisingly from many near and far corners of the world — I’m writing them down here. My hope is that you find these questions worthy of asking; and in case you are one of those privileged journalists with access to these big-name politicians, please see if you can ask some of these questions — and get some meaningful answers that everybody can understand.
So, without further ado, here’s my short wish list. I know, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan, you are extremely important and busy. Therefore, I’ll only ask you about a handful of topics. I’ll save the others for later.
Mr. Romney, Mr. Ryan, either of you can answer them. Considering you are planning to be commanders in charge of not just America, but de facto of the world, consider people like me all over the world are eagerly waiting for your honest, thoughtful and straightforward answers. Don’t haze it. Don’t faze it.
Thank you for your time, Honorable Sirs.
Question 1. Trickle-down economic policies have failed us the middle majority, working people. Giving tons of money and power to the rich at the top of the pyramid didn’t work. It has caused enormous income inequality, and the middle class has suffered greatly. What is your plan to change the course of our economic policy and actions?
Question 2. You propose more tax cuts for the rich — individuals and corporations. And, in fact, richest corporations now Supreme Court-validated as individuals — such as General Electric — do not pay any taxes. Don’t you think it’s unfair that we the ordinary, low-income people are paying about 33% federal income taxes (some say, to pay back to Federal Reserve which is a private, all-powerful entity that nobody really knows); yet, the richest corporations are not paying any taxes? For that matter, you said you paid only 15% income taxes yourself. Isn’t that outrageous discrimination against us who make so little?
Question 4. Bush-Cheney’s brutal genocide in Iraq and Afghanistan has destroyed world peace, bled American taxpayers (i.e., us) to death, caused a catastrophic budget deficit, and tarnished the American image (whatever was left) worldwide. Now you’re drum beating another war as soon as you come to power — perhaps against Iran (or is it Syria?). How do you think that would promote either peace or economic prosperity — two things you frequently talk about?
Question 5. Rachel Corrie, a young American woman, in 2003 stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer to protest against Israeli government’s demolition of houses of Palestinian civilians. The bulldozer crushed her to death. You blasted Chinese government’s human rights violation when its tanks threatened to kill Chinese protesters at Tienanmen Square a few years ago. Do you think you can show the same resolution to protest against the action of the Israeli government when they killed Rachel Corrie?
Question 6. At the RNC in Tampa, you and your party’s top leaders such as Chris Christie have championed the cause of the American workers and families who are going through a horrendous time because of high unemployment that some compares with the situation during the Great Depression. Especially younger people, according to some research, have 30 percent joblessness, which is a record in American history. The economic situation our young people are in is simply horrible — check these facts. Are you going to create new jobs within America by supporting traditional job bases such as manufacturing and construction, and stop U.S. corporations’ massive outsourcing of these jobs to China, India and other countries? Are you going to take on Wal-Mart or Apple and their massive outsourcing?
Question 7. Multinational, U.S.-based companies such as Monsanto, Union Carbide, Coca Cola, Chevron and Disney (among many
others) have caused havoc in many other countries because of their ways of doing business. For example, over the past decade, 200,000 Indian farmers (yes, you’ve heard it right!) have committed suicide — the largest in human history — because of Monsanto’s permanent seed replacement with their own genetically engineered products and false promises of crop yield. Union Carbide’s infamous toxic gas leak in Bhopal in 1984 had killed thousand of poor workers and their families; women who suffered are still delivering crippled babies. Are you going to bring these companies to justice and compensate the victims for the disasters they went through?
Question 8. It seems both of you and your colleagues such as Chris Christie, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal — and of course, Scott Walker — have fiercely anti-labor-union position. Can you please tell us if you’re in power, are you going to destroy organized labor once and for all? Are you going to take away their non-violent weapons such as collective bargaining?
Question 9. Are you going to overturn Roe vs. Wade and bring American women back to the coat-hanger alley days, with help from a partisan Supreme Court?
Question 10. Are you going to follow the dictates of your party’s “mainstream voice” Tea Party and abolish the separation between the church and state? Are you going to mandate Biblical prayers in U.S. public schools?
Question 11. Are you going to destroy Social Security and Medicare? Yes or no?
“Oh God,” some of you — my friends, sympathizers and global readers — might grunt. “This guy is again writing a depressing note.” Some of you might say, “Doesn’t he get it? Nobody wants to read his depressing notes anymore!”
Honestly, I can’t blame you if you felt that way. Because, feeling cheated all my life is definitely not a happy feeling. It does make me depressed. It would make you depressed too if you thought about it, and asked yourself the question, and challenged yourself to come up with the most honest, no-inhibition, straightforward answer. (Perhaps that’s why many of you do not want to talk about it.)
But I say: have courage and try it, my friends, sympathizers and global readers. Answer my question in the most mano-to-mano, womano-to-womano way (and in all other possible variations). Then come back to me and tell me if you still think I am the only person feeling cheated all my life and feeling depressed because of feeling cheated.
I would most sincerely — “cross my heart and so help me God” way — use all your honest feedback once you told me about the results of your soul searching.
But let me first tell you in a few minutes what the results of my soul searching have been.
Now, as soon as the word “cheated” gets in the mix of any conversation, the automatic knee-jerk reaction is “Cheated? So, are you talking about infidelity? Like, the husband cheating on the wife, wife cheating on the husband ( and all other possible variations)?” And then the automatic response would be, “Ah well, that’s too personal. I’m not gonna tell you about my personal life — for you to put out there for the rest of the world to see.” The response would be, “No Sir, I’m not gonna. It’s my personal life and it’s my privacy.” And who doesn’t know that America is too big on privacy? India, my other country, is also coming up fast and getting bigger on privacy. India’s elite and aspiring-elite upper middle class are getting bigger day by day on privacy — on an American mental Viagra.
But, please, rest easy. My question “How many ways have you been cheated in your life?” has nothing to do with your marital relationship or love life. So, don’t worry. I am never going to pry upon your private life. You can pump in more Viagra to get your privacy even bigger. I won’t bother you.
My question is about your non-private life: life’s other aspects that not only you, but all your immediate family members, friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, students, teachers, well-wishers, cursors, haters, bashers, blasters and such people can see. You might think they are not able to note and judge these elements of your life, but believe me, they can. They do. They are. So, don’t fool yourself believing that nobody knows. It’s obvious. It’s apparent. It’s transparent. It’s vivid. It’s not private at all. It’s already out there for the entire world to see.
Embarrassed? Confused? Don’t be. Take my example. It’s going to be much easier for you to understand the question.
So, the first cheat is that the leaders of my two countries — USA and India — kept telling me that if I worked hard and lived my life honestly and had a lofty goal to be somewhere, I would be somewhere. Just because I was born poor would not make me die poor: the leaders said I would be somebody. To support their claim, they gave me some evidence where a very poor man through hard work and honest living with a lofty goal actually became rich and famous. No, I’m not talking about the lottery winners. I’m talking about their examples where in America, Roger Sherman, who helped to write the American Constitution, was a cobbler; in India, a very poor low-caste woman recently became the principal of a college, and so on. Then, you have Barack Obama, et al…
Problem is, it doesn’t happen that way. People who show you those examples never tell you that they are exceptions and statistically insignificant. What is statistically insignificant? Simply put, if in a population of any random sampling, more than 95 percent of the people have one kind of trend and less than 5 percent have another kind of trend, then the trend that only happens in less than 5 percent of the population is statistically insignificant. That means, that trend is an exception: an aberration. You can’t say that trend is something that is legit or valid for the general population.
In this aspect of life, which I’d call social mobility or upward social movement, those people whom the leaders of my two countries tout as valid examples of upward social movement are too few and far between. Their numbers are so small that statistically they are absolutely insignificant. But neither the leaders nor their mouthpiece media would tell you the real story. The real story is that in this social and economic system — one that America practiced especially since Ronald Reagan and is now devoutly picked up by India and its neoliberal, IMF-sold leaders — if you are born poor, it’s very likely that you’d die poor. Or, if you’re born unknown with no pedigree or uppity country-club-type connections, you’d die more or less the same way.
That is reality. I am a living example of that reality. And I worked very hard in my life, lived honestly, and that too, with a lofty goal. I’ll tell you — kind of hesitantly — what some of those things are I’ve done in my one hard-working, honest and lofty-goal life. I must. Otherwise, you would not believe me at all.
But before that, let me show you a graph on upward social mobility — country by country. It’s important to put it here because I know some of my readers from various parts of the world are quite erudite and are not going to accept my argument unless supported by serious research. So, here we go.
The graph from the now-world-renowned book The Spirit Level shows that among all the developed and prosperous, capitalist countries, USA has the worst upward social mobility especially when graphed against income inequality (i.e., rich-poor divide) of those countries. In other words, USA has the highest income inequality (which means, the rich-poor divide is the widest) and it’s upward social mobility for the poor and middle class is practically non-existent. In India, it’s even worse: the one or two percent rich are extreme, filthy rich, while at the same time, the poor are miserably, haplessly poor. Recent IMF policies imposed by India’s ruling class are making the economic and social misery even more desperate. I wrote about it before (you can look it up here).
But our leaders and media and their advertisements always create this impression that even if you’re born poor, in this system, you can definitely be somewhere in one life.
Problem is, they’re lying. In this system — one that I’ve lived half of my life in each of these two countries working very hard, with a honest lifestyle and lofty goal — I will never be able to be somewhere. In short, the so-called American Dream propagandized in America and now in India is a myth.
In his new book The Price of Inequality, Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz has also said the same thing. He said, the American dream is an illusion. He said, if you’re born poor in American, the “overwhelming possibility” is that you’ll stay poor. If you want to read more on it, visit this link. It has a video of the Stiglitz interview too.
Okay. Now, some other friends, sympathizers and global readers might now get restless and ask me not to get too bogged down with hard research and statistics. They might say, well, what is YOUR personal experience to support that you’ve been cheated all your life? What is the real-life hard evidence?
So, here we go. Off of books and papers and research data. On with personal life — of this no-name, no-pedigree, born-poor, die-poor’s experience.
When I quit my more or less lucrative, totally stable and highly respectable job of a biology professor in India (I wrote about that place also in this blog — click here if you’re interested to know), and later forced my wife to do the same — only to come to America, the U.S. university that responded positively to my application to be an M.Sc. student in biology, never told me about the short-term and long-term consequences to immigrate into America. They never told me about the social and economic shocks my wife and I were going to be in. Two highly respectable, young biology professors surrounded by friends, family, familiar society and a large number of admiring students and colleagues, suddenly became extremely impoverished, culture-shocked foreign students the American society (especially outside of the university campus) was unwilling to accept as one of their own. They never told us that we’d have to live with their initially-offered $380 per month to survive (in a few months, graciously, they raised my graduate student assistantship to $420 of which I would pay 10 percent as income tax — percent-wise not much different from what Romney and Ryan paid last year). Two immediate consequences (other than feeling like Neil Armstrong when he first landed on the moon — perhaps even more alienated and blue than he was): (1) we could not return to India in nine years — we had no money to pay for the airfare and other expenses; and (2) because of the shocking, sudden departure of my wife from her parents who were never ready to see their only child leave forever, her parents lost their health quickly and did not live long — and my wife the only child so close to her parents could not go to see them one last time before their death.
Okay, enough sentimental stuff. Some of you — my friends, sympathizers and esteemed global readers might say (and I’m sure authorities of that university that took me in as a foreign student would say the same, even more emphatically): well, nobody forced you to come to USA; you came on your own. Why didn’t you do your own research and find out about the consequences? Plus, aren’t you happy that you did migrate? Aren’t you grateful that because of that decision, in spite of the initial culture shocks and economic hardship for yourself and your family, you did well, got two masters degrees (one in journalism from the coveted, Ivy League Columbia University) and one Ph.D. from reputed American institutions, became so proficient in English that you now effortlessly teach your American students (and write reasonably well in two languages), brought up your children in a developed education system, and earned a lot of respect from your friends, relatives and colleagues — both in India and here in America?
I can’t deny the above. But the feeling that I was a victim of brain drain, lack of comprehensive information and shortchanging my talents, experiences and energy for slave labor (and they wouldn’t let my wife — a foreign student’s spouse — work at all), sacrificing a number of very important years of my life — is simply overwhelming. Sure, both my wife and I came a long way and perhaps improved a little bit on the economic front too (never to be rich — always stayed in the middle of the money graph). But the price we had to pay was unbelievably enormous. And to see my wife’s parents die so soon because of the departure (other than the many emotional distresses, extreme alienation and being forced to be away from our familiar world in India) was brutal.
And then, there were SO many deaths of people we knew so well and loved so much! Almost felt some of those deaths we could perhaps prevent if we didn’t leave India!