For the People: Herr Obama and the Socialist States of America

A basic principle upon which I’ve learned to live my life is that I should never be surprised at people’s ability to disappoint me. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, and begin relationships from a position of trust. I believe that most people want to do what is right and good and fair. I have simply learned that I am often wrong about that, and I should not let myself get too down when people reveal themselves to be of a different persuasion.

As part of that principle, there comes a corollary requirement to forgive those who disappoint.
I have been feeling a great deal of disappointment lately. Though I have remained steadfast in my insistence on not being surprised, I’m having more difficulty with the forgiveness part. So, before I begin my criticisms of the poor behavior I’ve witnessed, let me take a moment to embarrass you fools who clicked into my post solely for the title, believing this would be another outlet to reinforce the hateful and barely masked racist attitudes you’ve promoted. You’re not going to find what you want here. I do hope you’ll stick around, though. It will be good for you.

I’m disappointed in our President. I feel that President Obama has squandered a tremendous amount of political capital and good will, just as his predecessor did. The people in our own country and throughout the world looked at the election as a graduation from our own past. Because our national history is riddled with inhumane transgressions against people of non-white races, to see a brown-skinned man elected to the highest office in the land gave all a sense that we were moving on, and the change in attitude towards race was interpreted as a signal of further and greater changes to come. Our President and the newly-empowered Democratic Congress have unfortunately demonstrated a tendency to stay the course, and follow in the footsteps of the “leaders” who participate in a puppet-show of political debate while allowing and assisting in quiet Constitutional erosion. But, to borrow a common quote from our Chief Executive, “let me be clear.” My complaints about Obama and the Democratic Party are based in reality. Comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, or shouting the word “socialist” every time a piece of legislation is designed to benefit all Americans (not just the rich ones) is nothing but hateful, lazy, and uninformed fiction.

Adolf Hitler is no longer simply a historical figure – a point of reference for those with an understanding of history. He’s the very opposite. He is a euphemism made possible by his wide recognition, and thereby becomes a simple and fast symbol to communicate negative characteristics to a populace without the time or inclination to think through such a comparison. He is a synonym for Darth Vader. Any person who dislikes another person can lazily invoke the name of Hitler as a slur and achieve some success at disparaging them. Just a partial list of the people who have been subject to that comparison includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, the nation of Israel, Clarence Thomas, Martha Stewart, Bill O’Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Howard Dean, global warming, and vegetarians. It’s absurd. It’s wrong. It’s offensive.

When people discuss Adolf Hitler, is the major criticism that he wanted to ensure health care for all of Germany’s citizens? I don’t see that as Hitler’s defining characteristic. Socialism? There are many nations of the world that operate under socialist governments, yet we don’t label each of their leaders as another Hitler. Even if you want to label Obama as a socialist (and I’ll get to that fallacy in just a minute), I still know that the following conversation has never taken place:

“Class, I’d like you to get your text books and turn to page 213. Today we’re going to begin studying World War II, the Holocaust, and the evil of Adolf Hitler.”

“Mr. Professor, what made Hitler such an evil historical figure that he still evokes extreme disdain and nearly universal condemnation?” asked young Johnny.

“Well, Johnny,” said Mr. Professor, “He was a socialist.”

Never happened.

Comparing a fascist dictator responsible for the extermination of 6 million Jews to a democratically elected President attempting to make sure all Americans have access to health care is reprehensible in every way. It might be wiser instead to remember that Hitler came to power and outlawed opposing political parties, which brings to mind Karl Rove’s blueprint for a permanent Republican majority. He cultivated a populist base by exploiting xenophobia and racial pride, like the Republican “birthers” and the persistent anti-immigration platforms of the Grand Ol’ Party. Those today so vocally opposed to same-sex marriage might be reminded that Hitler was also interested in the sanctity of that institution, and banned marriages between Jews and Aryans. He was a proponent of war and military expansion and was uninterested in the stress those pursuits might put on the national economy, an attitude mirrored by the last three Republican Presidents, at least. So if we want to draw comparisons, let’s make sure we draw them all.

It’s less offensive but equally absurd to paint our President or the Democrats in Congress as socialists. First of all, socialism is not a terrible concept. Like many other parts of our language it has been turned into a pejorative by people who have poorly understood it and misused it. It doesn’t help that the word became guilty by association with foreign governments that were often opposed by our own in the last century, even though those governments were not actually socialist but rather fascist. Have you ever seen those dreams of the future from the 1950’s, in which all of our lives were made better by robots and computers? The fantasies of a 20-hour work-week made possible by advances in technology – technology which would eliminate manual labor, solve the social ills of hunger, poverty, and illness? Those were illustrations of socialism – the application of technology and resources for the betterment of all members within a society.

Obama is no socialist, despite contrary misconceptions. He still supports the American capitalist idea that you can start with nothing, work hard, be competitive, and have it all. He’s actually not a bad example of that concept. He believes in that idea, as many Americans do despite the fact that they’ll never achieve it because they’ll never really be allowed the opportunity. Americans cling to the notion of rugged self-sufficiency without recognizing the publicly supported advantages they already possess, and remain willfully ignorant that barely-checked capitalism in this country has allowed the rich to get richer while the poor become poorer; that the gap between the two groups grows ever more wide; that the laws and organizations of the nation are undermined by corporate interests; and, that most citizens and a growing number of corporations benefit from “socialist” services all the time. I wonder how many people that have bandied about the word socialist at town hall meetings or at the dinner table or on Facebook in relation to their disapproval of our President have ever driven on a road, walked on a sidewalk, visited a public park, checked a book out from the library, had a relative on Social Security, called the police, learned something at a public school, left trash at the curb for pick-up, been thankful to have a fire department, cheered for a sports team at a publicly-funded arena, or supported our troops. Those services and benefits have all been as socialist as a national health care plan could be.

My point is simple. I’m not mad at you, just disappointed. Grow up. If you have a disagreement, discuss it like an adult. Name-calling has no place in civilized debate. It just makes it appear that you don’t know your facts because your ideas were spoon-fed to you in the first place.

Jake Negovan strives to shine a light on truth and hypocrisy when the mainstream media overlooks those small details. “…For the People,” Jake’s column, is his platform to address the issues that our country faces as we continue growing toward a society of equality.

Hispanic Parents and Children Have Options Too

I remember entering school in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a kindergartener. There were no Hispanic or bilingual teachers to help me overcome the language differences I encountered. We spoke Spanish at home. Many people think that this is just a problem for immigrants and that somehow we should go back to where we came from or just “Speak English…you’re in America now!” Well, interestingly enough I was born in Weslaco, Texas where my mother was born and my father was born in Chicago, Illinois. I know that makes me American. I never expected that I would encounter a system so resistant to accommodation for my family’s language and cultural differences, but I did and somehow survived to complete my studies. The closest role models in the teaching ranks of the schools were Italian American and Irish American teachers who understood the language issues and cultural assimilation issues my family experienced.

For the most part, White teachers told us to “Stop speaking Spanish at home…speak American… (English)…change your Spanish names to English …and fit in!” Perhaps these experiences have helped me to understand the emotional hardships of modern-day immigrants. We too, worked in menial jobs growing up harvesting crops in nearby Nunica, Hudsonville, Sparta, and as far away as Traverse City. I remember my escape from the fields to work in restaurants locally and later in the factories while attending school. These experiences made me well rounded by the time I reached high school. I left home at 16 and continued attending high school until graduating from Grand Rapids Central High School.

I hadn’t expected to go on to college but was recruited by a Chicano Counselor to Eastern Michigan University and the rest is history! I completed my degree and began working in the Grand Rapids Public Schools to change the system. I went on to earn my Master’s Degree at GVSU and Doctorate Degree from Wayne State University. As an educator I have been at the forefront of several movements to change the school system from within. Change has been slow to come and in recent years pushed back to the philosophies of yesteryear.

As I near retirement age, I often find myself at odds with individuals that seek to dismantle the progress we have made in hiring bilingual teachers and implementing programs to curb the horrendous Hispanic drop-out rate in the public schools. My two older sisters and my brother dropped out of school before the 9th grade from the Grand Rapids Public Schools. That left me, my younger brother and sister to navigate the system and graduate from high school. Therefore, the math worked out to 50% drop out rate for my family. Not much has changed in Grand Rapids according to the district’s dropout data for Hispanic children since…in fact, our drop-out rate is actually higher…nearly 75% and we are worse than Detroit and Flint pubic school districts.

A group of concerned Hispanic leaders met with Superintendent Bernard Taylor to express our concerns and were met with arrogance, condescending attacks and lack of respect for the elder leaders who expressed their concerns about the lack of progress of our district in meeting the needs of children learning English. The district is cutting back programs and in some areas has failed to meet state and federal laws regarding the education of ELL children in the classroom. We pointed out these concerns and challenged Supt. Taylor to address these issues. Dr. Taylor failed to take an opportunity to receive input about the concerns of the community which he had asked for in public meetings. He failed to be a problem-solver.

I am convinced that the Hispanic Community of Michigan will not meet success in our public schools classrooms until there is real reform. The statistics demonstrate that Hispanic children enrolled in private religious schools and in Charter schools are having greater success completing high school. The recent demographic statistics regarding urban flight to suburban schools by Black and Hispanic students also suggest that Hispanic parents realize there is a better standard of education in the suburbs. Wyoming, Godfrey Lee, Godwin Heights, Kentwood, Comstock Park schools all have experienced dramatic increases in Hispanic enrollments over the past five years. There is a lesson in this …Hispanic parents have options too! We can leave and take our children elsewhere if urban public schools continue to fail the majority of our children.

As a seasoned educator and community activist, I recommend that Hispanic parents consider enrolling their children in private schools or public charter schools where there are opportunities to do so. Many Hispanic parents live in the city and send their students to suburban schools by using friends and relatives’ addresses. Many Hispanic parents have moved and continue planning to move to the suburbs as a solution. I also recommend that we Hispanic educators who have the contacts and the knowledge base, expand the number of Charter schools with a Hispanic American centered theme in order to insure that more of our children achieve an education.

Public schools that cannot meet national or state standards should be closed or re-organized. Superintendents who can’t provide safe and orderly schools or provide “appropriate instruction” for ELL children to succeed should move on. I have reached new decisions on my next course of action. I strongly support the movement for a statewide demonstration of Hispanics to boycott our schools on the fourth Friday count day in September! Perhaps when districts lose the millions of dollars they reap as financial gain that we produce for them, they will begin to listen and act to properly educate our children.

Dr. José Angel Flores is the publisher of The Community Voice/La Voz Bilingual Magazine, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

CNN Commentary: Tragic Neglect of Immigration

One of the greatest challenges for minorities in any democracy is that their priorities often differ with those of the majority.

Consequently, even if a minority group does not experience outright tyranny, it can suffer tragic neglect. That’s the lingering problem with immigration reform.

Latino leaders have long called for comprehensive immigration reform. During the presidential campaign, it finally seemed destined for reality as candidates sought the crucial Latino vote.

But today, where’s immigration reform on the list of priorities?

Continue reading on CNN…

Rudy Ruiz has been hailed as a cultural visionary. A published author and multicultural advocate, Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies ranked by Ad Age as one of the Top US Agencies across all disciplines. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

For the People: Sickened by Health Care Debate.

If you become ill, you want to know that you’ll receive care from qualified professionals. Just as important, though, is the person next to you. Your co-worker. Your neighbor. Your fellow man. If they become ill, you should want to know that they too will receive care from qualified professionals. That’s called community. That’s called civility. That’s called human decency. Is this nation not a civil community of decent humans? Do we not at least desire to be? United, we stand, right?

Health Care. Yes, capital letters. That’s what we’re all talking about and it’s what they want us to talk about. Because we are being asked to debate the merits of “socialized medicine” against the ever-wise and just “market forces” so half of us will be able to chalk up another win for our favorite team. Instead of participating in the puppet-show argument that we’re told to believe is actual debate, though, I’m going to spell out the real story.

If we get health care reform this year, it is because the combined health care industries will make a lot of money off of the plan that is implemented. There will not be a plan that causes a net reduction in the profits of hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, or insurers, yet the only truly beneficial reforms for the average citizen would come at the expense of at least one, if not all, of those businesses.

The elected officials that are supposed to represent you do not care about you. They don’t. Unless you are on the board of a wealthy and powerful corporation, that is. But, I bet you’re not. They care about themselves. They care about their power and they care about their pursuit of wealth. We don’t have national health care because they care about those things more than they care about you or me.

As we saw with the Bush administration’s rush to war and fast-tracking of the PATRIOT Act, hasty legislation is a bad idea. The legislative process envisioned by the nation’s founders was deliberately slow, allowing for careful and extended debate. Now, following in Bush’s footsteps, President Obama is urging a quick ram-through of a health care reform bill. Despite his claims that he wants this to pass now because of all the people currently living without coverage, the reason for his urgency can only be that a proper and extended debate would expose enough flaws and logical fallacies that the bill would not maintain support.

Many people in the medical industry are not interested in your health. They are interested in money. As a doctor, it’s a lot easier to make money off of people being sick than to make money off of people being healthy. Those doctors don’t want a national health care system because they recognize the reduced revenue that would result from carefully regulated costs and a focus on preventative medical practices. There are plenty of doctors out there that are interested in your health, and really do seem to want what is best for you, regardless of how much money they make, but if the median income of a doctor were reduced at this moment to, say, $90,000 per year, I bet you’d see a lot of medical school drop-outs.

Insurance companies are not your friends. If you, for one second, believe any of the rhetoric being issued by American insurance companies about the dangers of socialized medicine, you’re being played. Insurance companies, like all other types of companies, care about only one thing: separating you from your few dollars that they may add to their own over-flowing coffers. They aren’t genuine when they tell you that competition between insurance providers creates lower costs and better care.

The power of the consumer to benefit from competition exists only when true choices are available to the consumer. For the most part, Americans are not provided that choice. We get the health insurance that our employer offers because to do otherwise is often cost-prohibitive. That isn’t going to change even if a public option is created because the insurance you get through your employer is not paid for with taxable income. Your public option would be. The end-consumer’s choices are not competitively empowering.

There is only one wealthy, industrialized nation on Earth that does not have a universal health care system. That country is, of course, the United States of America. According to a World Health Organization report from 2008, the U.S. spends 15.2 % of its Gross Domestic Product on health care. Out of 193 countries detailed in that report, only one spends a greater percentage – the Marshall Islands. Without researching, I am confident in stating that their GDP is dwarfed by that of the United States.

So, if we don’t have universal health care, but we spend more of our GDP on health care than Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, or the United Kingdom, all of which do have universal health care, why are we spending so much? Critics will likely point to government inefficiency and fraud, and claim they are plagues of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. I won’t make any claims that those problems don’t exist. But the problems of those programs are more easily fixed and pale in comparison to the problems created by bloated corporations.

According to a recent report, true health care reform in the United States as a single-payer system covering all Americans at no out-of-pocket expense to the patient would create 2.6 million new jobs. That number is equal to the number of jobs that dissolved in our country’s recession during 2008 across all industries. Not only would the single-payer system be an economic benefit to the country and its citizens, see the last page of that report to see how the cost compares to the other recent attempts that have been made to bolster our economy.

Ideally, we would have legislation introduced in Congress that would seek to cover all Americans under Medicaid. Guess what? It has happened in every Congressional session for the past six years. Representative John Conyers, Jr. originally introduced the Bill in 2003, but current debate won’t even allow mention of a single-payer plan as an option. Why not? Because we, the people, would benefit more than for-profit enterprises.

Sometimes, politicians wage wars of attrition against one another. They compromise and dilute to get something passed and claim the accomplishment, even if the end-result is a weak specter of the original intent. Other times, the point of the debate is to reframe the argument from “good option vs bad option” to “bad option vs worse option” (such as the recent cap-and-trade debate). I don’t appreciate my leaders asking me if I’d prefer to be punched in the face or punched in the gut without offering me the option of not getting punched. You can ask for single-payer coverage to be a part of the national health reform discussion, preventing politicians from playing these kinds of games.

It’s right. We have the ability. The greed of the few is preventing the good of all. We can not abide.

Blue Dogs Barking.

The Blue Dogs are identified by their conservative tendencies. And holding on to those tendencies, the Blue Dogs exhibit a partisan trend: reluctance to reason.

There are instances where followers of both of the major political institutions in our country sway from red to blue and vice versa; it is then that the boundary fades, often due to convenience more than conviction, and this is the case of the Blue Dogs who – although certainly members of the Democratic Party – act more like Republicans.

For those still learning the terminology, the Blue Dogs are a group of legislators who, although registered Democrats, are as conservative as most Republicans.

My friend and historian, Beto Calderón, tells me the Blue Dogs are members of a caucus that was formed in December 1994.

Another friend, Humberto Caspa, a professor of political science, explains: “It is a political coalition from the Democratic side of the aisle.  It was formed 15 years ago and is today 51 members strong.  They insist they are moderate Democrats, but they are really conservative on social and economic issues.  They are not in agreement with Barack Obama´s policies; many of them do not agree with the healthcare reform he proposes.  We could say they are the “Reagan Democrats” in Congress.  A more extensive explanation is being broadcast by the media during this period of pro and con discussions. It´s been said that these are Democrats that gained previously traditional Republican seats thanks to the havoc created by the Bush administration and its lack of popularity; however, their ideology on abortion or the right to bear arms is very close to the Republican position.  They are also opposed to an increase in taxes or public spending, and this is precisely how the Blue Dogs can be identified on the issue of healthcare reform.

Obama hoped the healthcare reform would be approved before the recess on August 8th, but that did not happen and the issue was postponed until September.

During this deadlock, the Blue Dogs left their demand on the table: a reduction in the cost of the proposed reform and a guarantee that Obama will not force a particular plan on the public.

It would appear the scales are tipping in favor of the opponents to healthcare reform, that is, the majority of Republicans and a handful of Blue Dogs. The postponement of the vote could be interpreted as a victory, but we cannot discount the fact that Obama is not the type of politician who will take a wait-and-see attitude.

He has increasingly spent time explaining and clarifying his proposal for healthcare reform and pushing for it, much as if he were campaigning. In effect, his actions and speeches are a campaign for healthcare reform. Hopefully we´ll see him acting the same way when it´s time to debate immigration reform.

The president is putting forth the same proposal he had mentioned prior to his election, a reform that will protect the public against unfair practices from insurance companies and provide affordable health insurance.  It remains to be seen whether the public will understand it as such and send a message to their elected representatives.  There is, after all, no better lobby than the voice of the people. Most Democratic legislators are doing their job and showing their support by explaining the proposed reform to their constituents.

The president assures the public that health care providers have already agreed to reduce costs and that pharmaceutical companies have agreed to reduce prices for seniors.  Under his reform plan, 46 million people who do not have medical insurance today would be protected and coverage would be extended.

Republicans hope they can defeat the president and obtain their first victory in the Obama era, then continue to build on that victory to invalidate the moves and political advances of the one who threw them out of office.

And they have certainly stirred up a hornets´ nest.

It would not hurt for the Democrats in Congress to mediate with those who will stir the nest each time there is a possibility of important change offered by President Obama. After all, during key and decisive moments in history, blue should remain blue at all cost.

For now though, it seems the real motivation of the recalcitrant blues is fear of change; they want to “let sleeping dogs lie”.

In response, Obama might well quote the famous words of Don Quixote: “The dogs are barking (Kathleen), we must be moving forward.”


Raúl Caballero is the Managing Editor of Diario La Estrella.

Bringing Balance to the Beer Summit.

Like many Americans, I was surprised to see Vice President Biden at the Beer Summit that anticlimactically capped the racially charged incident of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s arrest by Sgt. James Crowley with all the fizz of a stale brew from a flat keg. But whereas some might think he brought little value to the Brewfest, I believe his vital purpose was bringing balance to its flavor.

Perhaps in the normal world, beyond the constant gaze of the cameras, Biden’s function would have simply been that of designated driver since he eschews alcohol. But in that awkward moment of anti-pomp and all-circumstance that was the Beer Summit, the Vice President was actually the designated White Guy, bringing visual balance to the party.

Exploring how his presence at the summit reinforces the meaninglessness of Biden’s Vice Presidency, Jonah Goldberg of USA Today writes that:

“Finally, [Biden's] talents were perfectly matched for the job: Providing nothing of substance…to a photo-op designed to be substance-free in the first place.”

While Biden’s verbose contributions to the contrived conversation may have lacked substance, his presence resonates as a powerful cultural symbol laden with meaning.

Without Biden at the table, the scene might have been interpreted as two Black Ivy League intellectuals ganging up on a White street cop. This image would have tapped into two issues that have troubled many Americans: The rising power of minorities as well as the image Obama battled during his campaign of intellectual elitism vs. old-fashioned blue-collar values. By inviting Biden to join in the festivities, President Obama deftly avoided both possible interpretations.

From a race-relations standpoint, the Obama campaign always skillfully navigated the tricky waters of appealing to a broad multicultural base while being Black. By prematurely labeling the Cambridge cop’s actions as “stupid,” Obama inadvertently made his first misstep on this treacherous terrain. But bringing Biden into the fold helped steady the ship at a Summit meant more to diffuse any potential exacerbation of racial tensions by the series of events than anything else. Perhaps more tellingly, Biden’s requisite presence at that Summit illuminates the need in America for the White majority to perceive a modicum of racial balance while marching forward with the process of ceding proportionate power to ethnic minorities be it via elected or appointed positions. Underlying that need is an oft unspoken fear that may grip many who oppose the Obamas and Sotomayors of our world: that someday in the future Whites may become the minority. And given the history of discrimination and prejudice minorities have faced, that is not a future many may be looking to embrace. In that cultural-political context, the appearance of racial balance in the halls of power seems vital for the White majority to feel comfortable in accepting the inevitable changes in governance spurred by demographic shifts in our population. Ironically, the need for such “balance” is not felt by that same majority in situations such as the grilling of Sotomayor by a cadre of condescending White male Senators.

Goldberg poses the question “Why Biden?” At both the Beer Summit and in his broader role as VP, the answer is likely one and the same: Because Biden’s the token White guy. Test it this way, would the VP have been invited to the Summit had he been Black or Latino? And with a Black man as the Presidential candidate, would a Black or Latino have been chosen as his running mate? Of course not. At the intersection of race and politics, where images and emotion are palpable, Biden brings substance to the White House all right. And he always will. Biden’s role in simple terms: he puts the “White” in White House. He keeps the race equation in balance. For lots of folks, that might be just enough to finally give the Veep a break while raising a frosty mug of their own in his honor.

Rudy Ruiz has been hailed as a cultural visionary. A published author and multicultural advocate, Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies ranked by Ad Age as one of the Top US Agencies across all disciplines. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.