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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Today I want... to shake my fellow Americans

No, that is not a euphemism. When I say "shake" I mean "pick up by the shoulders and shake". I am also considering adding a nice smack upside the head here and there. Granted, this doesn't apply to all of my fellow Americans, but definitely some of them. Why? Because I am sick and tired of the generalized statements, paranoid mind sets and flagrant ignorance that seems to saturate nearly every bit of news, every bit of internet chatter and every conversation these days.

There are people, groups and entire organizations I want to bury in copies of Denis Leary's Why We Suck and Jon Stewart's America - the Book. During moments of particularly strong desperation I go and re-read passages from both these books just to remind myself that sanity still exists somewhere out there. However, the consolation is usually brief, because yet another person makes yet another statement that makes me wonder, why Americans bother living in this country if they care nothing for its political and economic history (both of which would provide much insight into current events).

Ground Zero Mosque

For the fiftieth time, people, it is not a mosque. It is a community center. It has a prayer space, because Muslims pray five times a day and would prefer to do it in a designated space rather than in the middle of a gym (which is going to be a part of the center) or an auditorium (which is also going to be a part of the center). It is not "in poor taste". It is not "inconsiderate". Not "all Americans" are against it. There was a rally organized by 9/11 families to support it. There was a rally organized by rabbis to support it. There was a rally organized by people of New York City to support it.

If you want facts, watch the fantastic video by Keith Olberman and read an equally fantastic article by Roger Ebert and leave it alone, for crying out loud.

Islam is all about terrorism and killing infidels. All religious hate crimes are committed by Muslims.

Ri-i-i-ight... And I suppose the Crusades were just a walk in the park? And the witch burnings in Europe and in America? Those were not religious hate crimes? Uh-huh... Someone told me that these things happened too long ago to matter today. I find that argument frankly stupid. If we dismiss the past outright, how are we supposed to create a better future?

But alright, for the sake of argument, let's say that things of distant past don't apply. How about the not-so-distant past? How about the ethnic cleansing and atrocities committed against Muslims in Bosnia? That happened less than two decades ago. And at that time the United States had no problem stepping in to support the Muslims.

And what of the war in Kuwait? When Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, the United States supported Kuwait, whose population is predominantly Muslim. Ah yes, there was that thing called "oil" that was involved too! So, apparently, when it serves American political and economic interests, the Muslims are our friends to be loved and protected. And when it doesn't - they are all terrorists.

Do you want to understand Islam and Muslims? Read the Quran. Not just the quotes torn out of it by the anti-Muslim pundits, but the entire thing. Anything can be twisted and turned at one's will when taken out of context. ‎"But if you judge, judge between them with justice." You know where this is from? The Quran. Not bad for a text that allegedly encourages intolerance and hatred. How would the Jews like to be judged based on that part of the Torah that speaks of the elimination of any "false prophet"? How would Christians like to be judged based on the many violent passages from the Bible (my particular favorite being Exodus, where the entire country is being punished in the name of god, including innocent children, because the pharaoh is a jerk). Attend Islamic studies. You don't have to convert - you can just sit and listen and learn. And if you have no desire to learn, then acknowledge that it's your own choice, shut up and stop polluting the air with your ignorant statements.

This is the worst recession we've ever had and the jobs are not coming back.

Oh dear... Where do I begin... First of all, with the exception of a few Great Depression survivors (more on that later), I honestly don't think there are a lot of people living in America today who know what a real recession looks like.

To me, recession is when you are walking down the street and see a guy carrying a tote bag full of rolls of toilet paper and more rolls strung around his neck. You stop him and ask him, where he got the toilet paper from, how much was left and how long the line was. Then you run home and call all your friends and relatives with that information. You ask the ones who can make it to hold a place in line for you, if they get there before you. You take down the names of those who can't make it and how many rolls they need. Then you run there and stand in line for an hour and a half to get toilet paper.

Recession is when hot water pipes down the street explode in the middle of January and damage the electrical lines in the process. And there is no Duke power or local county sanitary district office you can call to ask to get it fixed - the repair people come when they come. In the meantime, you are without hot water or electricity - in the middle of January, for a week.

If you don't like my two definitions of recession, ask anyone who grew up in a third- or second-world country - they can give you a few dozen more. One thing you will notice is the general consensus that what you have here is not a recession but, frankly, a Sunday walk in a park.

If you don't like that either, ok, fine. Let's pretend that there are no other countries in the world and America is the only one that matters (a mind set that quite a few Americans seem to have adopted already). How about Civil War-era South? How about Great Depression? Those things happened right here, in US of A.

Let us also remember that Federal Reserve's recession policy had changed. And yes, it's the Fed - not the President, not the Senate, not the majority political party - that holds the reins of economic change in this country. Prior to 1980, the Fed would simply drop the interest rates to heat up the sluggish economy. That is no longer the case.

Recessions of 1991, 2001 and the most recent one were all far less dramatic than the Great Depression or even the one that took place in the 1970's. Yet, for each one of them, it took up to four years for the job market to fully recover. Four years! Do the math, people, and realize, that we may not see the desired job growth rates until 2013 - 2014. Read this great report by NPR's Jim Zarroli on this history of economic recessions in America and quit expecting the President to fix it all in just two short years. His name is not Harry Potter. Speaking of which...

Obama hatred

What is your problem with President Obama, exactly? I have never seen a man this diplomatic, intelligent and competent to be this reviled. What's the problem? Is it that he uses long words and sentences that consist of more than five words? Is it that he doesn't speak in bumper sticker phrases? Or is it that you can't figure out how to spell his name?

Obama is a Muslim

I've made this argument in the past, and I'll make it again. Aside from the fact that the President is a Christian, and the only Muslim in his family was his grandfather, whom he only met once in his life, why is that such a problem anyway? This is America, right? We have freedom of religion here, the last time I checked the Constitution.

It is illegal to ask a job candidate about his or her religion, nationality, race or sexual orientation during a job interview. It is also illegal to grant or deny someone a job based on any of the above. President of the United States is a job. It's a big job, to be sure. But it is a job - like any government job. So, why is it ok to be a Muslim computer programmer, or a Hindu analyst, or a Buddhist librarian, but it's not ok to be President of whatever religion he chooses? I personally don't care if he is an atheist, or agnostic, or practices vodoo or witchcraft. It's his personal choice and none of my - or anyone else's business.

And I don't buy the argument "majority of this country is Christian, so the President should be a Christian too". You know what? A few hundred years ago, majority thought the Earth was flat and the center of the Universe. So, I would think twice before pushing the whole majority card. Or, if you insist on pushing the majority card, consider that two thirds of the world's population is not Christian.

Obama is not a citizen

All around the world babies are being born to American embassy and military base personnel. If their parents' assignments are long-term, chances are these children will go to whatever schools are available in those locations. I suppose we should warn them in advance to not even think of running for Presidency, because their citizenship will be questioned and used against them. What a crock!

I believe that the whole rule about having to be born in the United States in order to be President is bogus anyway. It is a fact that immigrants are better educated, bi-lingual, and have a better global outlook, not to mention know American literature, history, economy and politics better than Americans themselves. But that's beside the point...

Do you have so little faith in your very own presidential election process? Don't you think that Mr. Obama's legitimacy was checked, double-checked and cross-checked multiple times before his name came anywhere near the ballot? Look at all the paperwork and legal stuff surrounding something as basic as getting a mortgage. Do you honestly think that applying for the job of the President of the United States involves any less rigor?

And if Mr. Obama did manage to pull an unprecedented fast one on the process? Heck, I applaud him heartily - as I would any immigrant who manages to sneak into the Oval Office.

And how is it that nobody raised any stink when Senator John McCain, who was born in Panama outside of the US-controlled zone, ran for President? Oh, and incidentally? The first seven American Presidents were not born American Citizens. They were born British subjects.

Obama is a socialist (or communist)

As one of our Russian poets said, "This would have been funny, had it not been so sad." The reason this could be funny, because, when asked, most people who make such statements, cannot give a clear definition of either socialism or communism. The reason it is sad is because they continue using these terms despite their ignorance in order to inflame negative sentiment against the President.

Unfortunately, elimination of this ignorance requires extensive reading and study, both of which seem to be very low on the priority list of those who treat socialism and communism like some sort of cusswords. You may be surprised to know that what you think of as examples socialism or communism - the Soviet Union, Cuba, Korea, China - are actually nothing of sorts. All these countries attempted to establish socialism, but failed, ending up with totalitarian rule resembling most closely a form of monarchy minus the right of succession. If you want to see better examples, consider France and Norway instead. While neither one of these countries is purely socialist, they have both successfully implemented elements of socialism into the otherwise capitalist structure.

As for communism... That particular form of society does not exist anywhere in the world - and never has. If you take time to read about it (I would recommend Karl Marx's Capital - and no, Karl Marx was not some kind of a raving lunatic, but actually a very intelligent and well-educated man), you will realize that, while communism is a great idea in theory, its practical application requires a level of human moral evolution we are unlikely to achieve for centuries, if ever.

He's damned if he does, he's damned if he doesn't

Health care reform was one of President Obama's election promises. Had he not passed it, he would have been accused of not following up on his promises. Not that he had passed it, he is being accused of the fact that the new law is expensive and imperfect. Um, in case you haven't noticed, we wouldn't have needed a health care in the first place, had our existing health care system been all that and a bag of chips.

Mr. Obama promised to bring troops home from Iraq, which is happening as we speak. Had he not done it, again, he would have been accused of lying and causing more American deaths (despite the fact that it wasn't he who started the war in Iraq under false pretenses to begin with). Now that he had done it, he is accused of being soft on terrorism.

Mr. Obama is blamed for the fact that the health care bill he signed into law includes "hidden" taxes. It is a well-known fact that every law is full of such things. They are called riders, and were introduced (I am sad to say) by the Democrats in 1880 setting the stage for a controversy known as "Battle of the Riders" during President Rutherford B. Hayes' administration.

That, unfortunately, is what it takes to get support and get things passed all the way to the President's table for signature. Do not tell me you've never heard of it before - this has been a standard practice for decades. How do you think "the bridge into nowhere" came about? It was just such a tag-along in another larger bill that became law. Are you going to pin that on President Obama too?

Mr. Obama showed Benjamin Natanyahu into the White House through an old slave entrance. Oh, gee, he must be anti-Israel! This was done for security reasons, people! To protect Bibi's life. Had Mr. Obama shown him in through a more prominent entrance and had Bibi been shot because of it, the same people would be howling that Obama was anti-Israel because he didn't take sufficient precautions to protect Natanhyahu.

Mr. Obama is accused of robbing the American middle class. That - after he requested to keep the tax cuts for all who earn less than $230,000 per year (which is, I am sad to say, most of us). If I were him, I would have lost my temper by now, pulled all of the tax cuts to save money and let everyone make do on their own.

Obama is the most incompetent President we've ever had

I have to wonder about people who make this statement. They must be either born yesterday or have a VERY short memory, because in order to be the most incompetent President, Mr. Obama would have to be the only President they ever knew. Otherwise, these individuals suffer from gross lack of knowledge of American history and American Presidency. Considering that, I think being given an American history lesson by a mechanical engineer from Ukraine wouldn't do too much damage.

- President James Monroe (1817 - 1825). It is during his administration that the first genuine American economic crisis known as Panic of 1819 had occurred. Mr. Monroe gets some slack, because honestly, how well can one deal with something that's never happened before? Unsure what action to take, he limited his response to minimizing government spending and suspended payments of bank deposits. Sadly, the latter set the stage to the crises of 1837 and 1857. The Panic of 1819 lasted for four years.

- President Franklin Pierce (1853 - 1857). It is nice when a man sticks to his guns. It is bad when his guns are pointed in the wrong direction. President Pierce is best known for his steadfast support of the slave-owning interests - the conviction that caused outrage among his own cabinet, not to mention the constituents, and cost him his second election.

- President James Buchanan (1857-1861). He was such a good lawyer. He really should have just stayed a lawyer. But no, Mr. Buchanan insisted to run for Presidency, which he won... only to commit one of the biggest in-actions in American history, which ended up being one of the factors to propel the country into Civil War. During his inaugural speech, Mr. Buchanan declared the territorial issue "a matter of but little practical importance", and left the entire thing to the Supreme Court to decide. The Supreme Court had promptly handed down the infamous Dred Scott Decision, declaring that the Congress had no power to exclude slavery in the southern states. Oooops...

The territorial issue Buchanan dismissed so flippantly during his inauguration came back to bite him during the 1854 Kansas crisis, during which the state of Kansas was torn to pieces by the opposing abolitionist and pro-slavery factions.

Then came the Panic of 1857 due to America's over-spending on imported products, over-construction by then-dominant railway companies and a few other things (does this sound familiar?).

- Andrew Johnson (1865-1869). Of course it must have been hard to follow in Lincoln's footsteps. But screw up this badly? I mean this guy managed to alienate everybody. He blocked the readmission of the secessionist states to the Congress and then blocked them from voting in the 1866 election. He vetoed the Civil Rights bill. He caused a veritable political war between the parties. I mean, how much do you have to be disliked to earn not one, but two attempted impeachments?

- Grover Cleveland (1885–1889 and 1893–1897). While not the most awful President, this boy was definitely veto-happy, including the veto of pensions to American Civil War veterans, the veto of pensions for people with disabilities not caused by military service, and the veto of $10,000 to assist several counties in Texas, whose crops were lost due to a drought. His explanation was that these were all examples of individual hardship, and it wasn't the government's job to interfere. I suppose the guy forgot that those individuals, whose hardships he opted to ignore, were also registered voters.

- William Howard Taft (1909-1913). Again, not the worst of the worst we've ever had, but it his him we can thank for the 16th Constitutional Amendment - the income tax.

- Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929). The jury is still out as to whether Coolidge was a truly awful President or just a moderately sucky one. On one hand, he presided over the "Roaring 20's", so chances are, people were fairly happy during his term in office. On the other hand, some argue that his "sit back and enjoy" and "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" attitude may have led to the economic deterioration and the Great Depression. The part that stands out to me is his refusal to provide assistance to the victims of the Great Mississippi Flood - a catastrophe that was unrivaled until the 2005 Katrina disaster. Echoing President Cleveland, he reasoned that the government was not obligated to interfere in the tragedies of private individuals - even if those tragedies came through no one's fault.

- Herbert Hoover (1929-1933). Continuing with the theme of his predecessor, Mr. Hoover left the banks and businesses entirely to themselves. The approach proved to be disastrous, as the gross domestic product dropped, unemployment soared and in came Great Depression. There was also the little issue of civil rights, which Mr. Hoover left unattended, believing that African Americans and other minorities would make much better progress, if only they strove to better themselves to the level of their white counterparts. The fact that in order to better one's self, one needed opportunities and venues to do so, had completely slipped his mind.

- Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969). Let's just say he was really busy during those years. On one hand, I applaud his support of the civil rights, the creation of Public Broadcasting, Medicare and Medicaid. On the other hand, there was the forceful coercion to gain support of other politicians and, of course, the Vietnam War.

- Richard Nixon (1969-1974). 'Nuff said...

- George W. Bush (2000-2008). He was busy too! Not to outdo his "frivolous war" predecessors, Mr. Bush drew the country into the Iraq war based on false evidence concerning the non-existent weapons of mass destruction. He announced the war finished in short order... only to have it go on for years afterward. Then there was the Hurricane Katrina fiasco and the introduction of one of the most ineffective education improvement programs in history. ...Not to mention the near-destruction of the country's reputation globally.

Even some of the better American Presidents had issues. Not to destroy a sacred cow, but it was on the beloved FDR's watch that a ship full of Jewish refugees from rapidly-turning-Nazi Germany was turned away from American shores and sent back to Europe. And yes, Harry Truman may have ended the war with Japan by dropping the bomb, but was it really necessary to drop the second one? On yet another civilian target? Yes, we all like Ike, but there was also Korea and communist witch hunts. Yes JFK was King Arthur, but there was the Bay of Pigs and the standoff with Khrushchev that nearly led to the first - and possibly last - nuclear war.

Yes Ronald Reagan had ended (allegedly "won") the Cold War, by involving the Soviet Union into an arms race of such magnitude, that it simply could not keep up. Reagan was - and still is - very popular back at home. But let us not forget that the fall of the Soviet Union that followed had also plunged the entire East European region into chaos, traces of which we can still see today.

And much as I love and miss Bill Clinton, I don't miss the scandals and I also realize that it was the euphoria of economic success and the laid-back attitude toward credit that set in during his Presidency, that set the stage for the economic recession that we are only just beginning to climb out of.

So, in light of all of the above, get off the President's back, my fellow Americans. If you think you can do better, why, it's a free country! Run for public office, run for President if you wish - see if you can come and fix it all. No? Then quit griping and whining and give the man credit, where credit is due. Mr. Obama had inherited a country in recession, in debt, at war, and in the throes of suspicion and animosity between people of different races, faiths and sexual preferences. Trying to make peace inside and outside the country is a tough task within its own right. Trying to do this with the behemoth of a country that is United States of America is a gargantuan task. The very least we all owe to the president is a big thanks for not running away screaming from this formidable job and for doing whatever he can for getting things better. Are you American enough for that?


DriveGoddess said...

MARIA DAHLINK....nice words, great outlines but you have a couple of errors that need to be corrected starting at the 1819 economic crisis...you said 1918. As well the president from 1961-63 was Kennedy....otherwise all is good and some excellent points.

Maria K. said...

Hey, Goddess! ;-)

Thank you for pointing these out, I was jumping like a mountain goat, between sites, articles and gigantic volumes of Encyclopedia America while writing this, so a couple of thinks slipped through the cracks.

Anonymous said...

Maria, if you've seen some of my posts, you know
we are mostly on the same page. I am so bored by
Commentators constantly repeating "worst economy
since the Great Depression." Based on? Not unemployment. That has been higher in the 80s.
Not on banks failing. More went under during the
Savings and loan collapse. Not on real estate prices,
Or virtually any other metric. And, having been around
The world a bit, from Brazil to the Carribean to China,
Most Americans have NO idea how comfortable they have it....

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