Friday, January 22, 2010

6 Generations to Go

6 Generations to Go

Valley housing sprang up boom style after the war with little attention to storm drainage in the temperate climate. There was a big storm when I was about five and Fulton Avenue turned into a river. I remember the strangeness of water rushing down my familiar walnut tree lined street. I have lived briefly in other places but have spent most of my life in Southern California where extremes in weather are infrequent enough to become etched on my memory. Our old Echo Park Owl House is a 1920s bungalow on a walk street below Elysian Park. The walk is paved and relatively flat except for a dip about 100 feet from our house that would accumulate water. During another atypically heavy storm, I traversed this veritable pond and was soaked to the waist. I vaguely recall being pregnant at the time but this might just be a trick of memory to dramatize the discomfort.

The present condition causes some fearsome roof leaks at the office. Water accumulates in bulging bubbles of paint. It is satisfying to pop these with a screw driver and see the water burst through into a strategically placed bucket. We move films and tapes and jerry rig tarps cut from trash bags. At home, our street is filled with rubble from the crumbling hillside. From the living room window I see the branches of the jacaranda sag in the pounding rain. Booming wind threatens to explode the graceful trunk to smithereens. My memories of rain are tinged with feelings of lostness and melancholy. I love the green of Ireland and it is where Himself yearns to be I can’t imagine living for days on end in the sad rain.

My memories of storms in a typically mild climed place stand out from the day to day of life lived and the accretion of years like other milestones of birth and death and ritual. Recollections of my wedding are colored by my sister’s refusal to attend, anxiety about my parents and stepmother being present together and my in-laws fury at Himself’s yarmulke and their subsequent abrupt departure. The cake that arrived was not what I’d ordered. The leftovers prepared by the caterer for us to consume on our flight to Mexico the next day were badly packed, leaked and were thrown out at the airport. Despite a lesson even, Himself didn’t really want to dance and having eye surgery several days before the ceremony left him even more tepid. The rabbi had asked us several times if we wanted him to bring his guitar and sing at the ceremony and we had gently not availed ourselves. He arrived for the ceremony guitar in hand and we both must have looked stricken because he quickly explained that it was too hot to leave it in the car.

The births of the two boys run together. Same hospital. Same doctor. When the seventeen year old was born my mother-in-law surprised me and showed up at the hospital. She sat at my bedside when my OB, a woman the same age as I, came in on rounds. I felt awkward asking my mother-in-law to leave and when I did she was embarrassed and said, “I thought she was just one of your friends.” After Spuds was born I was famished and ordered matzoh ball soup from Jerry’s Deli across the street and I remember it as being particularly delicious. I also remember that big brother was delighted with the Winnie the Pooh bathroom décor when he and Dad came to pick up mom and baby. It’s funny how such huge earth shattering events fade into peculiar memories and weird feelings.

Spud’s Bar Mitzvah has been my raison d’être for many moons as was his brother’s four years ago. I had just had surgery and was still bleeding and felt pretty lousy for the first go round with #1 son. I was freaked out about my parents and stepmother again as I don’t think they’d been together since our wedding. It turned out to be a wonderful event but my recall of it is skewed a bit because I wasn’t feeling my best and all of the anxieties about family members that preceded it.

Since then my dad died and my mother is fangless in another universe. My stepmother, as I’d expected, calls in sick for Spud’s event and along with the regular congregation at our woebegone temple we are joined by loved ones who do not judge us and take pure pleasure in our pride and our joy. I do not remember a happier day in my life. I hope that I have earned it and will continue to earn it. We are indifferent about formal services and organized Judaism so our home is the center of our Jewish lives and the place from where we strive to do justice to our heritage and mentor the two boys who have publicly averred their Judaism.

Back in the work a day world, I languish in bar mitzvah post partum, relentless rainy gloom and a week of particularly distressing news. It is unbelievable to me that the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates for corporations to wield even more political control by ruling that these entities cannot be restricted in their contributions to political candidates.
“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt in an April 29, 1938 message to Congress warned that the growth of private power could lead to fascism.

Obama, so far is less persuasive than FDR and the possibility of parity in health care for the citizens of the world’s largest economic power seems slimmer. I am haunted by how sad this would have made Ted Kennedy, adding insult to injury that the senate seat he held for 46 years now belongs to someone who brags about driving a truck. There is widespread suspicion and pessimism about the incursion of government into our lives but I doubt that many who benefit from the Medicare program would promote severing the entitlement program’s government involvement. Given this nation’s resources, I am surprised at the strong opposition to legislation towards reducing the suffering and deaths of those who lack access to medical care. It is couched some I guess in legitimate skepticism but to me the vitriol loosed against nationalized heath insurance smacks of the same greed and selfishness that spawned the current economic crisis.

The Gini coefficient measures the disparity between rich and poor on a scale of 1-100. Information is collected to measure Gini coefficients by the United Nations and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. In a society where all citizens earn equal income, the Gini is zero The most recent figures for the United States and China, are 45.0 and 46.9, respectively. Iraq is at 42. Cuba, Canada and Mexico are 30, 32.1 and 46.1, respectively. The countries with the most equitable income distribution are mainly social-welfare or mixed economy countries such as Sweden at 23, Denmark 24, Iceland 25, Luxembourg and Bosnia-Herzegovina at 26, and Norway, Germany and France at 28. The United Kingdom is a 34. The most unequal distribution of wealth registers in Namibia 70.2, Equatorial Guinea 65, Lesotho 63.2, Sierra Leone 62.9, Angola 62, Central African Republic 61.3, Afghanistan and Gabon 60.

In 2007 the richest 1% of Americans held 34.6% of the nation’s wealth. While the U.S. is in the top fifteen of countries with high literacy rates perhaps a more telling statistic is that one of the largest gaps between high and low performing students is found here. This suggests strong correlations between education and the distribution of wealth. Certainly too, unequal educational opportunities relate to the fact that 1 in 10 Americans has a connection with the criminal justice system. Now that our selfishness and greed has caught up with us, it seems that those who were already disenfranchised will slide farther into destitution and the elite and privileged will claw all the more viciously to protect the disparate amount of wealth they feel entitled to control.

Common wisdom is that boundless American imagination and a knack at innovation determined the U.S. position as the most powerful nation on the planet but now those qualities are only nurtured in a select few. The rich in this country would still be very rich indeed if personal and corporate taxes were imposed towards a goal of reducing our measure on the Gini scale by ten points or so. It is urgent that we reform our healthcare system, modernize and increase the accessibility of our educational system and return to the national ethic of humanitarianism that helped establish our position in the world. In addition to instituting a more equitable taxation system, it is time we go for broke as a nation. Our fears about leaving our children in hopeless financial debt are stoked constantly but this reflects an insidious and pernicious cynicism that our investment in education and health and social programs will not build a new generation better equipped to demonstrate the imagination and innovation that brought our nation to power. This seems so critical that perhaps it is time to print as much money as we need not only to demonstrate a shift back to the original philosophical tenants on which this country was founded but on a practical level, groom a future taxbase that’s positioned to pay off the investment.

Perhaps it is time we begin to practice the Native American ethic of considering all our actions with regard to the consequence they will have seven generations in the future. Maybe this is the compass I need to be less disheartened by the seemingly miniscule amount of change that’s feasible in my lifetime. The rain makes me blue and this week, so does being an American. My connection to the ancient people is tenuous but my boys have come forward and averred their bond and a commitment to justice and compassion which I pray stretches to the next generation and the one after that, until the seventh, and beyond.


Fionnchú said...

I will use some of this, with credit, on my history discussion with my students online this week: why socialism & communism had such appeal (outside the USSR at least) during the Depression. Thanks for enlightening me and them.

Yesterday, I took a Pew political typology quiz, the same one as last year, and oddly I went from "Disadvantaged Democrat" to plain "Disaffected." Weird as I am still lumped with junior-high level trailer residents of color and who never vote and never pay attention to politics, even as you have on "The Daily Show." But you do cook nicely and therefore can watch whatever you want as you prepare rice and plants; I cited a factoid about Haiti from your blaring "The Colbert Report" to my same class last night. So, it all works out. Even if the Supreme Court really screwed us over, unions from the left, corporations from the right. xxx me

harry said...

Up and down, yin and yang. The great joy of seeing Niall shine and the Murphys at their best, and the fact that most American will see the Gini index, understand it, and not care...