Sunday, December 29, 2013

Poor People and Billionaires

When I was a kid the word millionaire brought to mind something that was not - nor would ever be - part of my life.  That word described someone who had more money than I could ever imagine and lived a life of luxury only afforded to few.  With that said, I also grew up in a time when the distance between millionaires and those who were not - while big - was not insane.  In other words, people were millionaires but then there was the middle class, the blue collar working class and then in the far distance - poor people.  That has changed.

Forget millionaires because today our country, and society in general, is minting what are now called billionaires.  The funny thing is, many of these billionaires are under the age of 40.  The other funny thing is that the gap between billionaires, millionaires, and the rest of us has gotten pretty big.  We have also seen the emergence of another social class: the working poor.  These are people who at one time made up the blue collar, working class sector.  Those blue collar jobs have since been shipped overseas to India and/or China, and these people are now forced to work at McDonald's, Walmart, or Burger King for minimum wage and no health benefits.

We live in a country where people are given the opportunity to become billionaires.  In some cases, individual Americans will make more money than an entire third world country's entire GDP, but yet, there are people in America who say our economy is "slow".  These same people also prefer to call our working poor "takers".

When I was a kid there was also a mentality of giving back.  People saw their good fortune as a blessing and felt the need not only to give back to those less fortunate, but also to a country that provided and gave them opportunity.  President John F. Kennedy summed up this mindset when he stated in 1961: "...ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

I know what we can do for our country: go into our inner-cities and fight poverty.  Tackle it with the innovation and vigor that made America great.  Imagine inner-cities that are not places of blight and struggle, but rather, are places of innovation, creation, and ideas.  Imagine if all of the children emerging from our inner-cities did so with their full potential.  Imagine what we could do!  The cure for cancer or the next great source of alternative energy could be sitting in a child's mind in a Newark housing project - we need to get that out.

Within that same inaugural address in 1961, president Kennedy also stated these rarely quoted words: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assume the survival and the success of liberty."  Kennedy was reminding us that we need to give back - always.  Not walk away.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Being An American Male

I am currently reading an amazing book by Sebastian Junger called "War".  It's about a platoon of American soldiers stationed at a remote outpost in Afghanistan, and is an unbelievable account of combat.  It's also an amazing look into the lives of combat soldiers.  There are stories that highlight the lives of soldiers and detail everything from brotherhood, courage, and death, as well as the strange boredom combat soldiers suffer in between battles.

Within all of these tales, there was one piece of information that hit me hard: Junger talks about death statistics - and not just in war.  When speaking of young men in America, Junger writes: "They are killed in accidents and homicides at a rate of 106 per 100,000 per year, roughly five times the rate of young women.  Statistically, it's six times as dangerous to spend a year as a young man in America than as a cop or a fireman, and vastly more dangerous than a one-year deployment at a big military base in Afghanistan."  Just being a young male in America is dangerous.

The city of Newark, New Jersey is engulfed in violence right now.  On Christmas day two High School students were shot and killed for no reason.  One of them - a 13 year-old girl - was shot as she was taking out the garbage.  The other was a 15 year-old boy.  Another boy was seriously injured - he is 14.  The two deaths brought the total in Newark to over 100.  That's over 100 people killed in one single year in an American city.  That's disgusting.

A lot of people are trying to figure out what's going on.  Lots of questions have been asked like why?, or how come?, or what's going on?  There's a lot of things going on in our cities and Newark is just one example.  One of the main reasons for this mess is abject poverty.  People are living a third world existence in America and some are doing this not too far from you (in my case, it's only ten miles).  In addition to this poverty there is crime, violence, and corruption.  It's embarrassing.

Another recent story that's relevant took place not too far from Newark (and not too far from my town).  A few days before Christmas at an upscale shopping mall (where I worked at one point in my life) a young man came out of the mall with his wife.  As they got into their car four men appeared, pulled the wife from the car, then shot the husband dead at point blank range.  The men got in the car and drove away.  The car was found a few days later in Newark.  A few nights later (in an unrelated crime) two more men were shot and killed outside of a bar in Newark.

Many people I know are shaking their heads and/or asking one of the aforementioned questions.  The thing is, no one seems to be doing anything about it.  There is no effort to address the poverty in Newark or in any other American city.  Many of the crimes being committed are perpetrated by poor,  frustrated men or boys who have no idea what a life is.  They don't understand anything except frustration and embarrassment.  They turn to an easy way "out".

I am not making excuses for what's going on - believe me.  How ever, I spent a year working in a school where most of my students had nothing.  I watched them get upset at Christmastime instead of happy.  I watched young children as well as adolescents suffer at the hands of poverty.  I've seen first hand what poverty does to people and it's not pretty.  If we really want to address violent crime in Newark, begin by addressing poverty.  Give people opportunity and the rest will come.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

One Year Later

The Newtown school shooting happened nearly one year ago.  It doesn't seem like that long ago when the awful news and horrific images were on the news, our computers and even phones.  The reaction was an overall stunned nation.  Questions about gun control and violence erupted into debates, and the issue was again given life on the floor of the government.  We also asked questions about mental illness, in particularly for children with mental disabilities and how we deal with both within our public schools.

What has changed since then?

We still live in the same country as December 14, 2012.  There have been no new amendments or legislative changes to our national gun laws.  Since the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary, numerous other shootings have occurred at schools, colleges, and public places - and continue to do so.  As I have written here numerous times, the community where my old in school in Newark, New Jersey is located is engulfed in extreme gun violence.

Decisions being made about our children's safety and the safety of our communities are being made by lobby groups.  They are not being made by elected officials.  These officials look at the horrific things that continue to take place at the hands of guns and then turn to lobby groups - not to us.  This is what ultimately affected the outcome of the Manchin-Toomey Background Checks Bill in the US Senate.  The vote had nothing to do with the safety of you, me, or your children but about receiving funding from a very powerful lobby group.  That's it.

There are people who are fiercely opposed to any type of gun legislation.  Having a background check performed when buying a gun would not hinder any one's "right" to own a weapon...unless they were suffering from a mental disability or had committed some prior offense.  I don't understand the need and/or want to disagree with something so simple that could effectively save lives.

The NRA's response was to suggest armed guards inside of our public schools.  Is that what we want our kids to see on a daily basis?  How about doing something so that we don't have to worry about it getting into the schools?