Not Just About Freddie Gray

All the white indignation in the world will not
solve any of the systemic problems of our minority neighborhoods. We have known
that there have been people, our neighbors, who, for whatever reasons, have
opted out or have been left out of America’s economic prosperity and who have
been left isolated on cultural-economic islands that we became frightened to
build bridges to or visit. I don’t care who is at fault. There is plenty of
fault to go around.
Americans of African Descent have been shunned and
the more they were shunned the more cut off they became from the culture as a
whole. Their own pride and the defenses they erected to show that they did not
care and that perhaps they did not want anything to do with white people either seemed
to effectively burn any bridges or stop people from building bridges altogether.
There have been programs to lift people in pockets
of stubborn poverty up and out. Someone always puts shame into these programs,
accuses poor folk of taking something for nothing (when it seems as if that must have been the whole
idea) before the programs can do their work and then either abandons the
programs or turns them into just another burden.
I was around for the last bout of “riots” in the
sixties which were mostly concerned with securing basic civil rights. Our
government did throw some money at these problems at that time. I worked
for a program that helped people who left school, or graduated but still lacked
the basic skills they needed to get along in areas like reading, writing and
math. A bit of money was wasted before these programs got up to speed, got rid
of the greedy few trying to rip off the government, and started making true inroads into preparing adults for
college. Students in these programs were saddled with big loans in the early
years because they would be given school loans and they would fail their
courses and drop out again, being still improperly prepared for higher
education but now, also, in debt. Eventually the programs improved and were
able to help almost every student earn a college degree.
There were still factory jobs in those days and
Americans of African Descent had a tough time getting hired at factories (men
more than women) because employees worried about their work ethic, sometimes
with justification, sometimes not. No sooner did people from poor neighborhoods
begin to get jobs in factories than all of the factories left America. At the
same time Washington decided to link welfare to work (sometimes educational or
training programs were also acceptable). With good paying jobs disappearing
poor people were once more put between that proverbial rock and a hard place.
Everyone in America wants success – everyone wants
to get rich. Our changing economy and attitudes towards the poor left Americans
of African Descent with few choices – music (entertainment), sports, or drugs.
I taught young people who would refuse to read at all unless the material was
about rap or basketball. I was not so married to western culture and tradition that
I refused to pick up some magazines at the bookstore which centered around rap
and basketball. Such materials still functioned to raise reading levels, which
was my main goal. Then we could read some Shakespeare.
But, of course, selling drugs is a criminal act.
Flashing around town with a big car and diamonds in your teeth did not sit well
with the establishment. They declared a “War on Drugs” and so we began the
years of locking up black men and women, breaking up families (isn’t this the
same thing that happened to black families in slavery and yet we wonder why
intact black families are sometimes rare) pitting cops (policemen) against
segregated neighborhoods, creating an impetus for the formation of gangs to
fight the law and to protect the turf. Call something a war and it becomes a
war. Language matters.
That puts us right where we are today in almost any
American city with a community at war with law enforcement to defend the
criminal activities some of the poor see as the only “opportunity” they are
left with to achieve the American Dream. The police form that blue wall to
protect themselves, but that same blue wall is now a wall bad policemen can hide
And so we ask how does a black teen get killed
making a convenient store run for Skittles and iced tea? How does a black man,
admittedly a large black man, end up dead for selling a few “loosies”? Why is
running away from policemen when they have never been your friends something
that leads to your being shot in the back? How does a healthy young man get
taken into police custody for no discernible reason and end up dead with a broken
And why won’t the police every say they are sorry,
admit they were wrong, make amends, at least explain what they are afraid of
that is making them gun down innocents like a 12-year-old with an air rifle?
Why does everyone act so surprised when people get upset because they are never
given an honest answer? Our police forces have to deal with this. It almost
seems as if they have been told to shoot first and ask questions later. There
must be some transparency in these matters. We all want answers. People were told they would get answer about Freddie Gray this Friday, May 1st. Now we are told that will not happen. And yet people are expected to stay calm, to not get angry.
The War on Drugs is supposedly over, but it isn’t.
The War on Poverty ended too soon and did too little to be effective. We should
be putting money into schools in poor neighborhoods. Higher education and/or
training should be free, on us, paid for, with no loans as part of the package.
We need to declare peace and a cease fire and mean it. We need to empty jails
of low level offenders. We need to go back to community policing and mentoring.
We need a few more moms like the Baltimore mom who show their children that
they really mean it when they say they want them to have good lives.
I have heard some great ideas being kicked around.
Now we need to collect them, plan how to implement them, and get on with it.
Perhaps we’ll fail again, but we have to at least try. Let’s ignore the cries to
do less, and do more! We have a long, long list of issues we need to deal with. Income inequality is supposed to be at the top of this list. Well here it is, in Baltimore and cities all across America. Americans need to know that it is still possible to find opportunities to succeed and be prosperous in America.
By Nancy Brisson

Glenn Beck is an Idiot

I have to call this article “Glenn Beck is an idiot”
because if I call it “Glenn Beck and Collectivism” no one will read it. See,
you’re probably ready to tune out right now. Well you are an individual and
that is your right.
Last night I saw Glenn Beck in a clip on MSNBC going
on and on about Collectivism. I doubt many Americans sit around bemoaning
encroaching Collectivism. Most Americans have no idea what he is going on
about. They are not interested that Beck is trying to make a connection between
Communism and Democrats (by using a Communist buzzword), and, for some reason,
coffee. He was holding a bag of coffee in each hand and I guess one was a
mundane coffee purchased by people with little taste – just your ordinary coffee
produced by good old American corporations. In the other hand was a truly
unique bag of coffee, chosen by a discerning individual, probably imported
(isn’t all coffee imported) and not processed or packaged in America.
His point, I think, is that the Democrats want all
Americans to drink that same meh coffee so that no one will be unequal to
anyone else, and that Democrats would do away with all the gourmet brands, in
others words they would do away with our individualism (I am beginning to think
this little talk he is having with American has nothing to do with collectivism
vs. individualism but is more than likely about the issue of income inequality
or as Republicans like to call it “the redistribution of wealth”.)
Is he against Democrats, who as far as I know have
made no laws about what coffee Americans have to drink? Is he arguing against
American coffee processors and packagers (which would certainly be odd; a
Republican against corporations)? He certainly needs to do a far better job
with the examples he chooses to explain Collectivism to Americans if his goal
is to get us to bother to pay attention to this twaddle and if he really wants
to back up this argument that Democrats are turning American, the land of
rugged individualism, into a collective of cloned comrades.
I remember a time when each American small village,
large town or city in America had its own personality, its own flavor, and lots
of thriving small businesses. Now all our towns and cities look basically the
same except for a few natural features or landmark institutions that are
difficult to undo. Every town has that strip of fast food sellers, Walmarts,
Targets, etc. and if it is a larger town or city it has more than one of these
strips. And, almost every one of these towns has a town center with lots of
dusty plate glass windows and empty storefronts.

Beck and the Republicans like to blame this
transformation to sameness in America on overregulation by Democrats, but I
blame it on a tax structure that helps Big Business and the wealthy thrive. If,
as I expect, Collectivism is a code word to suggest that Americans who want a
more equitable distribution of wealth are actually Communists and are
destroying American Democracy and our cult of the individual then we should be
very insulted that Glenn Beck and his cohorts think a little name-calling will
get us to back down from calling attention to the disappearing middle class and
those responsible for its disappearance. It looks to me like corporations are
far more responsible for killing individualism than any policies ever supported
by Democrats.
By Nancy Brisson

Bill Gates Speaks on Raising the Minimum Wage

Williams reported on Monday’s evening news that 85 people in the world have as
much money as the bottom 3.50 billion people in the world. Yikes! Say income
inequality.  He did not say how many of
the 85 at the top are Americans, but it is a stunning figure. To these rich
folks it probably means that there are 85 individuals unique enough and savvy
enough to amass a huge fortune from their own ambition and their own skill
set.  To the rest of us it may seem like
just the luck of the draw. How many of these very wealthy people started out
poor. Well we do know that some started out from rather average-income families
because we know that Bill Gates made his fortune in computers and we know that
Warren Buffet grew up in a middle class family and that he was born with an
interest in and innate talent for the science or mathematics of probabilities
which he parlayed into money by buying bad companies and turning them into
great companies. Wall Street did not hurt the fortunes of either of these guys
because they had acquired enough money to weather its ups and downs. 

caught the tail end of an interview with Bill Gates on MSNBC this morning in
which Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough sat at the feet of the master, so to
speak, and asked the oracle for financial advice on behalf of the American
economy.  Bill Gates does not feel that
financial regulations and deregulations have benefitted the rich, apparently.
He, rather glibly, stated that he doesn’t believe we should raise the minimum
wage across the board because the results will be complicated. The employers
will turn to robots or leave the area and go where workers cost less.  (Oh they already did that.) Most of the mainly
service businesses we currently find in our economy right now, that we would
ask to boost people’s wages could not switch right now to a robot workforce or
leave the area because that is the area where their customers live. 
It is usually true however that no action,
however simple it seems, will bring about only the wished-for results. There
will always be unintended consequences. Can all the unintended consequences be
anticipated and avoided? We don’t have a good track record with this. So, does
this mean we shouldn’t raise the overall minimum wage in America, just on the
say-so of Bill Gates, one of the 85? Maybe it doesn’t mean that at all because,
although wealthy and smart, Bill Gates is not really an oracle. But it might
mean that we need to have experts, without a vested interest in the outcome,
study the issue. Maybe we will have isolated areas like the one in Oregon who
experiment with raising their minimum wage and these areas will furnish us with
case studies for what might happen on a wider scale. There is no doubt that we
are rather risk averse right now when it comes to making any demands on our
employers. Of course, that gives employers lots of power over their workers who
can be hired and fired at will. Can consumers help workers by boycotting
businesses which do not offer a living wage? Once again we can try this, but it
might backfire because this marketplace belongs to employers, not to workers,
or even, apparently, to consumers.

Gates has taken his wealth and he has gone into the world’s poorest places and
used his wealth to do good things for really poor people. He described the work
that his foundation has done in making sure people receive vaccines against the
diseases that have been almost wiped out in the inoculated parts of the world.
This campaign has been very effective, in fact it has probably been the most
widely accepted of all the anti-poverty campaigns around the world and has had
the most positive outcomes.  He also
mentioned providing poor cultures with seeds so that they can grow their own
food, but I have heard more controversy around this particular campaign. Critics
say that the seeds that are given out or sold are hybrid seeds which do not
reseed in following seasons, but must be repurchased each season in order to
produce new crops. This argument is often discounted as conspiracy theory, and
perhaps hybrid seeds are necessary to resist insects or other conditions in the
environment where the seeds will be planted, or perhaps hybrid seeds are more
productive and produce better crops. However, I have not heard a lot of push
back against those who are doubters about the efficacy of the seed campaign.

Bill Gates did not act at all threatened by learning what a small group of people
he belongs to,  he did not offer to
divide his fortune by the number of Americans in the 99.9% and give us each a
portion of it either. It is obvious that he believes he earned his money and
that it is his to do with as he wishes. I guess we are very lucky that he
chooses philanthropy instead of authoritarian power and we do admire him for
this. However, I don’t think the interview was helpful in terms of discovering
what structures in our economies allowed all that cream to rise to the top and in
helping us make any decisions about what structures would keep more of that
wealth circulating among a larger number of earth’s people. I am betting that
if anyone could figure out what happened, how it happened, and how to make sure
it doesn’t happen again, these 85 people would probably be the ones who could
do it, but they are also the least likely to have the incentive to do it.

do we buy this argument that there is nothing to see here folks? Do we buy the
argument that our laws were never skewed to favor certain groups like employers
and investors? Do we wrack our poor inferior brains to keep trying to come up
with that one idea or product that will boost us to the top of the food chain?
Do we sink back into our sofas and conclude that the halcyon days when fortunes
could be amassed from pennies are over? Do we risk more punishment and ask that
we be given more of a fair share of the wealth, at least in terms of being paid
a living wage? How many really wealthy people can there be? Can each and every
one of us be wealthy or must there be a certain proportion of a society that is
not wealthy in order to produce a few wealthy people? Is there math on this?
Well, I sort of agree with Mika and Joe that if only we could pump one or more
of those 85 very rich people we could discover the secret formula to join that
elite group, but Bill Gates was no help at all in that regard. He didn’t offer
one single step to success, not one coded remark worth a fortune, although he
did give us a whiff of conditions around the world that are still much more
primitive than ours here in America. We’re on our own here folks. But I still
don’t believe it would hurt to revise the tax code and close a few of the most
egregious tax loopholes. And perhaps we can take the risk and raise the minimum wage.
This is the view from the cheap seats.
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By Nancy Brisson
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Thank You India

My mind is wandering to a number of far-flung places and
seemingly unrelated thoughts. But, as we decided on Monday, all things are
interrelated and even Disney knew this; he said “It’s a Small World After All”
and he made a whole experience about it and he has made a fortune from it.
So I was remembering that Alanis Morissette song, which I
love, “Thank You (India)” because I just heard it over the weekend in a little
spiritual film called The Way with
Martin Sheen in which his son begins a pilgrimage across the Pyrennees to a
cathedral in Spain. His son is killed in an unexplained accident so the Dad
takes his ashes and walks the pilgrimage. He thinks he does this for his son,
and, of course, he does, but he changes his own heart in the process. It is a
movie that asks “are you just alive, or are you living.”
Then I read TGC Prasad’s blog post on in
which he expressed his concerns about his country, India. (see link below) India can be quite
volatile at times and as India comes to terms with its own income inequality
problems (which are even bigger than America’s because, although vastly
oversimplified, there are so many more people) he worries that chaos will be
unavoidable and he hopes this will not be the path India takes to the future
(as do we all).
My mind moves on to a story on last night’s edition of the
national news. Brian Williams is zeroing in on a country the size of Texas in
the center of Africa. He is telling me about tribal thuggery in the Central
African Republic. Ann Curry talks to an 8 year old young lady whose loses are
so great all we can do is cry with her and pray that somehow she makes it
through more of this wretched part of her life until she arrives at a life that
is not wretched at all. Watching the march of greed, hatred, powerlessness, and
some kind of misguided belief that good things will follow from violence gives
us all a feeling of the terrible waste of it all and the helpless wish that we
had a solution for the Central African Republic, or South Sudan, or any of
these storied nations on the continent of Africa.
Which leads me back to America, because I am as
self-centered as anyone, and because it is what I know, and leads me to that
statement Obama made that caused such rage among the “makers” when he said “you
did not make it”, and he meant you did not make it all by yourself. And, of
course, he was right, in a way. You came up with a business idea. You built it
from the bottom up and gradually hired more and more of your fellow Americans.
Or perhaps you were wealthy to begin with and your business sprang up as a big
enterprise and then just kept getting bigger. You deserve credit for your
But Obama is right also. You couldn’t have built your baby,
your business without the use of things you don’t own like workers and
consumers and deliverers, and sellers and warehousers and roads and bridges and
railroads and airplanes and power and water. Your factory and your bank balance
benefited from a convergence of historical moments which placed you at the very
heart of the Industrial Age.
Will you hold on to every last cent even as you watch your
once-beloved country subside into the same chaos that Mr. Prasad worries
about in his beloved India? We are not usually a volatile nation; it’s probably
not hot enough here or crowded enough. We will probably just accept our fate as
we gradually fall back into the ignorance and hard-scrabble lives of our forebears. 
But all I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be that way. You were the
builders and you used to share a vision of America with the rest of us “takers”,
a vision that made America brash and indomitable. Perhaps the vision we have
for the future will be different from the one we all had in the Industrial Age,
but it can tap back into that creative spirit you used to build the old America
and produce a new and even better America, an older and wiser America that will
be a proud pioneer in the Global Age.
So thank you India, and Africa and Walt Disney and Alanis Morissette and GE and Carrier Corp. and Obama and the American workers and on and on and on ad infinitum, which I hope is how long our little blue planet lasts and thrives.
Disclaimer:  These lyrics and this you tube video are referenced for your enjoyment. I am not claiming any connection between my ideas and Alanis Morissette. Hearing this song just inspired me and sent my mind on a trip. That is all.
Thank You Lyrics
How ’bout getting off of these antibiotics
How ’bout stopping eating when I’m full up
How ’bout them transparent dangling carrots
How ’bout that ever elusive kudo
Thank you India, thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty, thank you consequence
Thank you, thank you, silence
How ’bout me not blaming you for everything
How ’bout me enjoying the moment for once
How ’bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
How ’bout grieving it all one at a time
Thank you India, thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty, thank you consequence
Thank you, thank you, silence
The moment I let go of it
Was the moment I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it
Was the moment I touched down
How ’bout no longer being masochistic
How ’bout remembering your divinity
How ’bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
How ’bout not equating death with stopping
Thank you India, thank you providence
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you nothingness, thank you clarity
Thank you, thank you, silence
Here’s a link to a youtube video:
By Nancy Brisson
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