Monthly Archives: March 2017

View from the Alley: Let’s Make Congress Part-Time & Cut Their Benefits!

Why not? They seem to have no idea what it’s like for a substantial portion of the American workforce. We do full-time, professional quality work (I’m thinking of adjunct professors because I am one, but also administrative and clerical, blue-collar and service workers –well, that covers just about all of us who are not Congressmen or Senators, doesn’t it?

We do full-time, professional quality work, but our job descriptions limit us to just under the number of hours it takes to qualify for benefits like leave, health insurance, life insurance, pensions, and overtime (because they DO expect us to put in those extra hours out of “professionalism” if a crisis arises). This is what American workers have settled for to do our duty for “the economy.” And yet, statistically, the economy is only profiting the 1% at the top.

Meanwhile, many of the tired, angry workers of this country have spent several decades  now in a systematically controlled exercise in distraction from who is really screwing whom–trying to get government to control gay people, birth control generally,women’s bodies specifically, and where people pee. This has yielded a “denial script” for Republican leaders about stopping people from doing things that they consider should not be their right to do, taking something away from people that Republicans think they don’t deserve, and cutting taxes for the rich so-called “job-makers.”

While the Democrats failed to counter this juggernaut of negativity in the last Presidential election, that is not to say that they don’t have what it takes to do so. I’d like more of them to argue (much as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have done) that these are not the best pursuits (or even the legitimate pursuits in some cases) of government. In a country as rich as ours, we ought to be thinking about how to keep the poorest, most vulnerable people among us (children, elders, and the physically and mentally disabled) from destitution–not how to judge them like we are all God at the Gate of Heaven. We should not want to cut them off.  First of all, we are paying for them anyway! Those who choose to go uninsured, for example– either because they don’t want to pay or can’t afford to pay for health insurance–still get sick and still get old and still end up getting medical care that the insured pay for. So, how is their “freedom” from health insurance so great for the economy? It’s only great for the health care providers and the prescription drug companies.

The idea that in a powerful and economically strong nation, we should all accept some “pain” to take care of each other, is not a radical notion. It is fundamental to just about every religion, and yet there is little evidence of it in our political rhetoric, especially not in the so-called religious right wing of the Republican party. So much judgment and so little humility . . . and over the past several years an astonishing evangelical promotion of Right Wing “values”that amounts to “social engineering,” a term Republicans like to reserve for Democratic programs and policies but view with a blind eye when it comes to their own.

Meanwhile, look at our jobs . . . and look at our leaders’ jobs. And while we’re at it, look at the jobs of CEOs and the super rich, and the benefits including freedom from taxation, that they enjoy. Are they ever in danger of losing income, hours, or benefits? And yet they wield the axe over the rest of us like there’s no tomorrow! This is what I’ve been thinking about as I watched the repeal of Obamacare sour and curdle like very old milk. In the end, not even Paul Ryan wanted to drink it–at least not in public. So, I suggest that Congress socially engineer itself into a part-time workforce without benefits. And, by the way, I don’t care which bathroom they use as long as they behave decently. So, no need for legislation on that.



What’s New in the Alley_March 2017

Looking out over the urban landscape in these days of political division and inertia, I have a literary reaction.

My book Paris Thibideaux & the World of Lost Things is about a boy with a knack for making something out of nothing, and the great “junk horse” he creates for the Powderhorn Parade is a metaphor for the power of a child’s love and imagination to make something beautiful out of other people’s trash. But there is more being “recycled” than the debris that accumulates in the dumpsters and alleys of Powderhorn Park.

I tried to suggest this with my original title for the book: The City of Paris. My beta readers didn’t find my play on words as clear or engaging as I did, so I gave it up. I think, however, that with the recent rise in negative public discourse around immigration and diversity, I’d like to share what that title meant to me and what I was trying to get across.

This narrative is more than a coming-of-age novel about the individual identity quest of a young boy. It has always been equally important to me that this story represents the dynamic and essential, ever-changing face(s) of a community—specifically an urban American community. The Powderhorn neighborhoods and the “Parises” who live in them are not unique to my imagination or to Minneapolis; and, that is why I wanted to feature “the city” in my title. In my opinion, “the city” suffers from a negative stereotype that I wanted to challenge. I also hoped that readers would see Paris and children like him more clearly and empathetically, and recognize that it is they who make the cities of America hopeful places, full of creativity, resourcefulness, and families created not necessarily through blood but through need and empathy.

Based on responses from my readers of all ages, the message gets through regardless of the title—so I’m not going to change it! But I think it’s important in light of today’s divisive political climate to stand up for the array of ideals embodied in America—not only individualism but also community; not only America first ahead of all others, but America first to be humane. Paris Thibideaux & the World of Lost Things is about the challenges facing all of us, to make something out of nothing—a “coat of many colors” for Lady Liberty woven from the threads most of us should remember with humility that we have carried from someplace else to these shores.