White Mountains Lecture #5: Protecting the Rock and Roll of Democracy, July 4, 2014
We cannot sanitize our politics without losing the essence of democracy because dangers lurk in all democratic societies.
When you eliminate entirely the inherent fear and threats of an empowered and enraged populace, you give up on the democratic project altogether. When you ban hate, you take away the possibility of love.
- Democracy requires every now and then Americans must go out into the streets and do battle the old fashioned way, creating injustices, martyrs and victims.
- Democracy demands more than audiences for scripts written by Ivy League graduates seeking status and recognition in New York City or Hollywood.
- Democracy cannot be made safe all the time.
- Democracy has produced in our country white race riots in the hundreds in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and Black ghetto riots from the sixties thru the nineties.
White Mountains Lecture 4: Finding Triggers To Social Change
The Kingdom of the Red Knights and their conservative opponents
The freight train coming our way, making this route for the thousandth time since 1973, travels with the speed and velocity of all the wealth and power of America, or so it would seem, and it’s nearly unstoppable by critics and skeptics and bystanders in the middle and working classes—and the farther you are from one of their cities on the east or west coasts, the less chance you have of putting up any noticeable resistance. On the other hand,that lonely distance from New York City to Tupelo, Mississippi or Lincoln, Nebraska or Show Low Arizona or Dothan, Alabama, allows for the development of a perspective in defense of American democracy, rather than a celebration of its increasing control and its impending demise within a system which preserves democratic forms. Continue reading
This, the third in my series of lectures on why our political system has failed to address any major problem for three decades—the longest failure of our democracy in its history, will be the shortest because I am confronting a subject of which I know very little. I am writing this out of respect to the Jewish Left which I have criticized as the main source of democratic failure in the first two essays. This one is the simplest of the essays so far, and the most impoverished, based on a limited set of readings and my extensive experience working closely with Jews on the Left. Continue reading
White Mountains Lecture #2: Our political system today
“You believe in dreams, in a dream forsaken land.” ~ Roseanne Cash, April 5th
As I write this introduction I sit in Johnny’s Drive Inn, which has been one of the few restaurants in the east-side neighborhood of Tupelo, Mississippi for more than fifty years. This is an area which has changed little since Elvis lived here in the fifties, or when I was a young child in the mid-sixties. The one difference of the present over the past in east Tupelo is one small park recently developed by the town government, Veteran’s Park, with our flag flying in multiples and a wonderful walking trail.
In front of me is the booth Elvis Presley used to sit in—there’s a picture of him sitting there hanging above the booth. One mile to the north of the restaurant is his birthplace and about a mile in the other direction, which I am facing, is the East Tupelo Federal Housing Project, where I spent my early childhood thru third grade and where my paternal grandmother spent her final years. My two aunts lived there too. It was the projects for poor whites, the other one across town served African Americans. Continue reading
White Mountains Lecture #1: the character of the American Left today
The argument in this essay is the Left as it is today was created by a peace treaty made during the Clinton presidency among different factions of left leaning and far left secular Jews well-placed on Wall Street, in universities and labor unions, in Hollywood, in television and the newspaper and publishing industries, and in the legal profession. This coalition of former rebels, many of whom played some role in the counter-culture or New Left politics or in intellectual circles of Manhattan, have created an arrogant Left unresponsive to segments of society which received some relief in the New Deal Era, and by closing ranks they along with moderate Republicans have fashioned a tyranny of moderation regarding efforts to address any of our serious domestic problems. Not since the Civil Rights Movement has the United States had a decisive domestic policy initiative, which has led to a decline in the quality of urban public schools in spite of vast increases in funding and in a de facto immigration policy which fails long-term national needs. Continue reading
Take a sad song and make it better,
better, better, better…
Lennon/McCartney, ‘Hey Jude‘
That a majority of public-school students in our two largest states, California and Texas, perform more or less the way my own students did where I taught for sixteen years–at the Hispanic majority Milby High school on Houston’s east side–should be a daily topic of discussion at the dinner tables of every American citizen.
At Milby in the Houston Independent School District, forty to fifty percent of kids dropped out before graduating and three-fifths of the rest received diplomas only because of pressure on teachers to pass kids regardless of performance. And it was usually above average for Hispanic schools in HISD. Continue reading
Compared to earlier periods in our history, political power in this country has become increasingly concentrated, and the range of free speech and political experiments may be narrowing.
The concentration of media power, and the end of the era where every city had locally owned newspapers each of which had distinct approaches to public policy and political parties, is one reason.
In many areas of policy, elites have created what I call packages, or a set of possible options, each of which makes certain assumptions. In education for example, you can identify public school teachers as the source of unequal student outcomes, but you cannot bring up Hispanic immigration as a factor enlarging school mediocrity. Protectionism, which is practiced by nearly all of our East Asian competitors, is automatically off the table. And some issues, such as the economic decline of small towns and rural areas, get far less attention in the national media than gay marriage. Continue reading
Since Watergate, when media elites transformed a non-event into one of the greatest catastrophes encountered by the American presidency, it’s hard to recall anything as overly marketed and phony as the current politics of urban schools.
The reality of student performance in our cities is far worse than someone of my generation, especially a civil rights liberal, would have expected it to be, say, thirty years ago, and Hispanic immigration is the primary reason. We passed all those civil rights laws so this would get better. And there’s the affirmative action and minority scholarships and increased per-pupil spending on public education. Continue reading
“When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way.
‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from is so small.
But it’s as big as the promise – The promise of a comin’ day.”
~ Southern Cross, Crosby, Stills and Nash
I am not a great cook, but I like to cook and I believe I have good instincts, and for a straight southern male, I own a decent number of cookbooks, about thirty in all–not such a great number if I were bourgeois born and bred, but my favorite cook-author is Helen Nearing, who writes anti-cookbooks. She claims to hate cooking and reduces ingredients to the minimum and the very simple. And I mean really few and really simple. Continue reading
Every community has its lore and hidden secrets.
Back in Tupelo it was that Elvis Presley brought something on ice back from Germany circa 1960, a product of early German research into the science of genetics.
And when I was in Arizona recently, it was the widespread, apparently disconnected prosecutions of anti-immigration activists for a variety of unrelated crimes.
And you can’t prove things like that.
And you have to have a sense of humor about I all. Continue reading
Your leadership has a detrimental impact on the character of our society everywhere you have accumulated power. Here or in Hispanic countries, you seem to lack the ability to spread hope among your people without engaging in widespread corruption. You have little history of creating a broad middle class of hopeful citizens seeking constant self-development and positive self-expression through education, voting and civic participation. You have lots of history inculcating corruption and preserving great levels of class stratification and that’s evidenced in nearly every Hispanic nation. Continue reading
Media coverage of the congressional debate over immigration reform stands out as predictably one-sided. It’s also too abstract and divorced from the realities of how Hispanics are impacting our communities. The national newspaper chains and the television media share a pro-immigrant bias which prevents them from analyzing these impacts.
The educational statistics covering cities, towns and rural communities where Hispanics of Mexican and Central American heritage make up majorities show overwhelmingly poor performance compared to most cultural groups, including immigrants of Asian, Caribbean, East European and Cuban backgrounds. Continue reading
What we have in the Houston Independent School District and many urban school districts across the country are self-serving, self-promoting systems which fail to educate from fifty percent to seventy percent of students who enter our schools. To solve this problem, our federal and state governments have adopted standardized tests which attempt to set a minimum level of knowledge and skills all students should attain upon graduation.
My concern with Community Voice for Public Education, and the Anne Sung campaign for the HISD District VII trustee position, and the various elements of this coalition, including the Houston Federation of Teachers and the Houston Gay and Lesbian Alliance, has to do with their inordinate focus on testing as the problem.
The real problem is too many of our minority students are not learning much in spite of a significant financial investment. And the anti-testing movement appears to be a politically motivated con game to distract citizens from the real issue. Why aren’t minority students learning? Continue reading
I had an argument the other day with an Hispanic school administrator and I made the statement that seventy-percent of your students were failing to get a good education, and he jumped up happily to call me on my error. He said, “no, it’s only fifty percent.” Continue reading