Friday, November 29, 2013

Giroux on 'Zombie Politics' and the need for imagination

The Burning House has been quiet, again.  Your correspondent has been writing in other venues and rehearsing an important acting project (while getting some audition material ready as well), applying for jobs, and more.

It may remain quiet for a little while, but we wanted to share with you this conversation between journalist Bill Moyers and the scholar Henry Giroux, as we found it compelling enough to listen to it multiple times.  It concerns democracy, capitalism, and what is required for true human freedom.

We hope you enjoy it, as we have.  Giroux is an energetic and doggedly optimistic man, who speaks of the importance of imagination to activism, legislation, and citizenship.  Please watch.

And then: cure the zombies. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

They just don't want to work

Here is my monthly "Desert Sage" column for the Deming Headlight.  It appears in the November 14 edition and was posted to the website on the evening of the 13th. 

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"They just don't want to work."

That is the enduring reactionary myth about the unemployed, the argument for slashing assistance to those in poverty: these people are leeches who don't want to work. So we punish them, and their children along with them. We see no need to address systemic problems.

At a time of maximum prosperity for major corporations and investors, job growth is slow, poverty has expanded, and it is the working people and small businesses that are squeezed to pay for the ongoing crisis of our economic system.

During a recent visit to Deming, Congressman Steve Pearce proclaimed himself bewildered that record-setting unemployment persists in Luna County. After all, there are job listings. As quoted in this newspaper, Mr. Pearce said, "The hospital says they have 33 jobs waiting to be filled and the schools have 20 positions open. Yet, no one is filling those jobs."

If you visit Mimbres Hospital's website or the New Mexico Workforce Connections site, you will indeed find a number of jobs listed. Like ripe fruit, they hang there waiting to be taken. For instance, there are numerous openings for registered nurses. They are also in need of medical lab technicians, physical therapists, and a phlebotomist. Step right up, Luna County! On the hospital's website, you can click on positions of interest to you and add them to your "job cart." It's just like browsing for books on Amazon.

These are, indeed, good jobs. Yet they require certain qualifications and prerequisites that are not in high supply within our community. I am an able-bodied person willing to work; I have a high level of education and lots of work experience; and yet I would not qualify for a single one of these jobs. Many of these jobs would have to be filled from outside the community.

It is not quite as simple as walking in and saying, "Here I am!"

Now let's check out these school district jobs. Earlier this week, the Deming Public Schools website advertised not 20, but 10 positions. Of these 10, one was a custodial position and nine were for teachers. Teaching jobs, again, require certain qualifications and prerequisites. If qualified for hire, you may have to enroll in graduate teacher training, adding graduate school to your full-time job.
Lots of people do this, and for those with a passion for education it can be a wonderful experience. Even so, it means a lot of work and stress even for people with the skills and education necessary to succeed. Often, these jobs have to be filled from outside the community. (This is, in fact, how your humble correspondent first came to Deming.)

As for that one custodial job: it is part-time, which means no benefits.

Almost without exception, the jobs mentioned by the congressman require a level of education or specialized training unavailable to most people in poverty. It is therefore just a bit disingenuous for him to point to these jobs and profess surprise at our high unemployment rate.

Unemployment is not solved by pointing to job listings and ignoring the realities of poverty, such as a lack of access to education and training; hunger; unsafe housing or homelessness; illness and lack of adequate medical care. Economic growth rewards investors but does not necessarily lead to job growth, as we have seen in this so-called recovery.

These factors can be addressed, but they require a commitment to social investment and public programs, the very things that Congressman Pearce usually opposes. But you know how it is with some of these politicians.

They just don't want to work.

[Image:  I took this photograph on Spruce Street in Deming.]

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In Defense of the Headlight

The Deming Headlight has been around since the 19th century, is currently owned by the MediaNews Group, and is the only newspaper in town.  The rest of the letter is self-explanatory, I think, and I've included some hyperlinks.

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13 November 2013

Sylvia Ulloa, Managing Editor
Las Cruces Sun News
256 West Las Cruces Avenue
Las Cruces, NM 88004

Dear Ms. Ulloa,

Congratulations on your new position as managing editor of the Sun News. It is my understanding that you will also be responsible for our Deming paper, the Headlight, and it is about our local paper that I am writing to you today.

The Headlight has no competition, and we depend on our single paper (or its website, though I still prefer newsprint) for our local news. Bill Armendariz, the editor, is well known and loved in our community as a hard-working and sincere man. It seems to me that Billy is doing the best possible job with limited resources.

When I arrived in Deming in 2008, there were a couple of local reporters employed by the paper, writing about local events. One died, one took another job, and since then there are a couple of bylines that turn up occasionally. I don’t know if they are full-time or stringing or what. But what I see very frequently is “For the Headlight.” The school district writes stories about itself, the state police writes stories about itself, and I’ve done it myself in order to boost performing arts events. I have seen editions of the paper where most of the articles have been “for the Headlight.” I have seen pages that consisted entirely of advertising, paid and unpaid.

There is no investigative reporting being done locally, and very little reporting on the activities of local government, government agencies operating in Deming, and matters of interest to our community such as economic matters.

As you know, our city made international news last week with a disturbing story about police activity and an expensive lawsuit. The Headlight has depended on the Las Cruces Sun News for what little coverage it has offered to Deming readers. A remarkable aspect of this story has been the lack of any official response – and this lack of response is, in part, attributable to a lack of local journalism. Last night, I attended a meeting of the Deming City Council – the first since these allegations were revealed, and the first opportunity for the public to comment or ask questions of the city pertaining to this matter. There was not a single reporter present from any media organization. Today’s story, front page and above the fold, was about a local CPA winning an award.

I should disclose that I am a volunteer columnist for the Headlight. Once a month, I submit a 600 word piece for Billy to run on the editorial page. There are a few of us who do this, because we very much want to see local writing, and some debate on local issues. I’ve also sent in photographs, and I’ve been tempted to write up city council meetings and other events in order to help the Headlight do more reporting on local stories. It feels a little strange, however, to consider volunteering on behalf of a private, for-profit corporation – indeed, one of the largest newspaper corporations in the country.

Luna County suffers record-setting unemployment, intensive poverty, and social problems related both to poverty and our proximity to the border. We need editorial voices addressing these subjects, which is why some of us write as volunteers. Otherwise, Billy is left to populate the editorial page with content from outside of the community. Variety is good, but there is not a sufficient balance of locally-oriented editorial writing or critical journalism. Meanwhile, again, the state police and the school district are covering themselves. I’m sure you see the problem.

Newspapers are a business. It’s been that way since the United States were still British colonies. I accept the presence of paid advertising. And I know that this business is getting tougher and tougher, and papers are being squeezed with budget reductions and fewer personnel. Yet the Headlight seems to be neglected, unable to carry on the essential social function of an effective local newspaper. If more resources cannot be distributed to the Headlight, then at the very least we need one or two Las Cruces reporters on a Deming beat. Yet I cannot help feeling that more should be done for this distinguished, old, and local newspaper.

If you wish to question me further about this or respond in any way, I can be conveniently reached via...


Monday, November 11, 2013

A Freedom Budget

It is Armistice Day.  (I much prefer that to Veterans Day, with no offense intended to the men and women who have offered their very lives for a vow of service.)  You are not going to see this before midnight, however, because Blogger seems to be having some trouble publishing the post. 

I have neglected this blog for a while.  A lot is going on, some of which I'll write about, and some of which leaves little to write, being the day-in and day-out of parenting and making ends meet and trying to open doors, or whatever metaphor of making opportunities you prefer to insert here.

Anyway, in the last few minutes of Armistice Day, I am popping in to tell you about a book.  If you only read one non-fiction book this year, I think you should consider making this the one.

A Freedom Budget For All Americans is an outstanding book, surely among the best in history and policy in 2013. It tells several complicated stories in a cohesive and highly readable narrative, making a large contribution to history and offering us tangible ideas for policy in our time.

One of these stories is the historic march on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the social movement preceding and following that event. It documents the involvement of socialists and communists in the movement, with particular attention on the work of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.

The organizational work is one story, but there is also a political story, about a moment where differing theories came together brilliantly and were soon dispersed again, in large part because of the Vietnam war's escalation and disagreement about how to proceed with respect to President Johnson, the Democratic party, and to the capitalist system itself. Some, including Dr. King, saw economic justice as the natural culmination of the civil rights struggle -- that racial equality meant little in the context of economic injustice, unemployment, and poverty. This contribution to a coherent history of the U.S. left is invaluable.

There is also the story of a much-forgotten document produced by these civil rights leaders, a shadow budget, a "freedom budget for all Americans" reflecting the budgeting and political economy of a good society, an attempt at a comprehensive policy approach to realizing the dream. This is a story that ends sadly, as the politics of the Vietnam war plays a large role in deflating the movement behind the freedom budget, until it languishes as a footnote and is largely forgotten.

And, finally, one more story: the story of how a new "freedom budget" might be designed for consideration, debate, and implementation in our time.

To achieve all of that in such a slender volume, in a book so enjoyable to read, is quite remarkable. This is one to pass around, friends.