Thursday, November 25, 2004

Native Artists/New Mexico

Last weekend I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a few days.

I went to hear Pat Smith at the Zimmerman Library of the University of New Mexico (UNM) do American Indian storytelling. Pat along with her husband John Crawford, my publisher, were my hosts. Pat is part Micmac (Indians who lived in New Brunswick, Canada, and in Maine) as well as part French Canadian and Irish. She had recently published along with Michael B. RunningWolf the book Glos’gap Stories of the Micmac Indians (Persea Books), and told us stories about Glos’gap, a mythical hero of the Algonquin peoples. The stories she told were delightful, particularly the one how Glos’gap tamed a womanizer male Indian.

I also read Pat’s essay “Grandma West to Smith All Right: But She Went from Nine to Five” from Working Class Women in the Academy: Laborers in the Knowledge Factory. Pat’s Micmac grandmother was a maid at Smith College, so Pat was able to go on scholarship for daughters of former employees. After Smith, she got a Ph.D. in English from Yale where she became a scholar of Edgar Allen Poe and then got a job teaching English at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. At the same time she was raising her two small sons.

Not long after arriving she volunteered to teach part-time on the Navajo reservation, commuting hundreds of miles to teach on small towns on the Reservation: Sanostee, Toadlena, Ramah. She said, “I learn enough Navajo to help my students begin to work with Navajo kids writing in Navajo. For three years our students in UNM’s Title VII bilingual teacher-training program graduate with Bachelor’s degrees in Elementary Ed and become luminous teachers.” She begins to include American Indian literatures into American Literature survey courses. A retired American Literature professor complains, "She’s gone native.”

But she thinks she hasn’t gone native but is only trying to teach as well as learn from Native peoples. She directed the Ph.D. dissertation of Laguna Pueblo writer Paula Gunn Allen that Allen later publishes as The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in Native American Tradition. Smith says, “Under Paula’s direction, a number of us pool essays and syllabi for the Modern Language Association’s Teaching Native American Literature: Curriculum and Course Design.” At UNM she teaches a generation of Native and Chicano writers: literary critic James Ruppert; Navajo poet and scholar Luci Tapahonso; part-Apache poet Jimmy Santiago Baca; Maidu poet-scholar Janice Gould . While taking Pat’s class Baca wrote his wonderful book of poetry Martin and Meditations on South Valley (New Directions).

Besides teaching, Pat’s published a book of poetry; criticism; and now non-fiction and fiction. Over the weekend I got to see Pat’s other recent books for young adults about Native Americans: Weetamoo, Heart of the Pocassets (Scholastic Inc) about a Indian teenage girl in 17th century Massachuttes and As Long as the River Flow: The Stories of Nine Native Americans, short biographies of nine prominent Native Americans she wrote in collaboration with Paula Gunn Allen, a major Native American poet, essayist, and anthologist.

The next morning John Crawford and I stopped at the Indian Pueblo Center, learning the history of the Pueblo peoples from being a hunting gathering people thousands of years ago to growing corn as the Indians were the first to use irrigated farming here. For the present day an exhibit showcased the arts and crafts of each of the nineteen Pueblos including Maria Martinez’s stunning black pots. In New Mexico the Catholics put their churches near their already existing pueblos, not like California where the Indians were forcibly removed to the missions. We also saw a short film about the Pueblo woman painter Pablita Velarde who made wonderful paintings of the dances at the pueblos and was a pioneering women artist; we watched her make her own paints out of the New Mexican earth. Since I had come I had been seeing the art work and hearing about the writinng of Indian women--writer Pat Smith, Navajo poet Luci Tapahonso, Laguna poet/critic Paula Gunn Allen, potter Maria Martinez, and painter Pablita Velarde.

Next at the Rio Grande Nature Center I walked the river trail about a mile to the Rio Grande River—muddy, majestic and broad--and stared at the other side of the river with heights crowned with houses. As I continued on the Bosque (forest) trail through the cottonwoods a sunburst of yellow leaves in November. Pat picked me up and pointed out the sand hill cranes in the field a few blocks from her house, making me realize this whole area was a wetlands full of birds. At her own house a large flock of sparrows perched in her front yard. Birds and Native women artists were everywhere.

In New Mexico: poets and cranes

Visiting Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico I went to hear Joy Harjo read poetry. A Creek Indian from Oklahoma, Harjo is one of the great contemporary poets. She had graduated from this campus with a B.A. where she was now reading. She read her famous poem “She Had Some Horses,” which is the title of her breakthrough book (1983). She explained her ex-husband Acoma Pueblo poet Simon Ortiz was writing horse songs that inspired her to write her horse song. She stunningly read this poem that described how her narrator had so many kinds of horses with great surrealistic metaphor. She also read a lovely piece about her daughter Rainy Dawn as well as played one of her songs from her work with a band. She has a dazzling original voice combining her Creek background, jazz, and European modernism.

After a short solo walk the next day by the Rio Grande, I went with my hosts Pat Smith and John Crawford as John drove 90 miles south on Highway 25 parallel to the Rio Grande River. On the way we passed South Valley near the Isleta Pueblo where poet Jimmy Santiago Baca lived. In an interview Baca, who identifies as part Indian part-European, talks up going up to the Isletas holy mountain to sit and talk with them but he also tries to combine his Indian background with his experiences growing up in the city. But now we were driving away from the city to Bosque del Apache, a huge national monument of marsh and birds. We saw thousands of white snow geese close together in the water, more thousands of sand hill cranes standing on their spindly little legs, hundreds of ducks, a couple mule deer, a pheasant and a juvenile bald eagle.

At dusk while we were looking at more thousands of cranes in the water ahead of us while hundreds more flew in overhead—it was breathtaking. The cranes flapped their wings hard for a few second and then glided on the wind. For the first time since Bush’s election I was utterly caught up in enchantment of looking at over masses of cranes in front of me in the water and seeing them soar ahead. New Mexico was so much like Los Angeles a hundred years ago, when there were still wetlands covered with birds.

Over breakfast Pat, John and I discussed Willa Cather’s book Death Comes for the Archbishop with Pat arguing that Cather got her history all mixed up in the novel. The archbishop that Cather glorifies is modeled on Bishop Lamy, a French clergymen in the 19th century who was patronizing to the Mexicans and Indians. Cather in her writing attacked Padre Antonio José Martinez, a New Mexican who fought for the poor; started the first seminary in the Southwest to train native clergy; started New Mexico’s first printing press, and was the true hero. Well, the visiting Anglo writer got it wrong.

The next day I took my third walk by the Rio Grande. New Mexico seemed a long thin strip of farms, towns and a city paralleling the river. My hosts lived in North Valley, about three blocks from the river that used to flood over its banks right up to the house, so a drainage ditch was dug behind the house to stop the flooding. As I walked to the river I saw this area had recently been a small Mexican-American farming village with irrigated fields. I walked besides the irrigation ditch, inspecting the metal gates that could either let in or hold the waters. I was only beginning to see how New Mexico's writers and artists were rooted in the land with it grand river, its marshes, irrigated fields, thousands of sand hill cranes, and colored soil used to make paints.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

How the Democrats Can Win

Why do all those working people people in rural America vote for the Repbulicans? Thomas Frank has brilliantly argued in Whatever Happened to Kansas why blue collar people in rural Anmerica stopped voting for the Democrats. During the last 15 years the midde class was getting smashed in many planes in rural America: small family farms were going bankrupt; small towns dependent on these family farms were being deserted; unionized jobs in such industries as meatpacking were being destroyed in Chicago as firms moved to Kansas and Nebraska setting much lower-paid nonunionized plants there. At the same time the Democratic Party unfortunately abandoned economic justice policies to help working people in the mid-1990s.

Since 1993 the Democratic Party has been dominated by right-wing group of the Democratic Leadership Council (D.L.C.) whose leaders are Clinton, Kerry, and Joe Liberman. The D.L.C. has repositioned the Democratic Party so it has abandoned economic justice issues which are very important for my family and millions of others. Thomas Frank said about Clinton, "Whether it was NAFTA, deregulation of various industries, or welfare reform, he basically adopted the Reagan agenda on economic issues." When Clinton signed off on N.A.F.T.A. he lost the House and the Senate to the Republicans in 1993. Did the Democrat Party learn enough from this? No.

Take 2004. Bush handed the Democrats an incredible issue—the high cost of drugs as well as his hypocritical pharmaceutical plan for seniors, which actually shoves billions at insurance companies and drug companies while not lowering prices of the drugs. Kerry proposed no plans for lowering drug prices. The next presidential nominee or Democratic senate candidates for the Democrats could say if president s/ he would have Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices; s/he could have seniors enroll in a government discount plan to cut costs; and s/he could said it was legal to import lower priced drugs from Candada. Well, the Democrats if they would truly fight for lower drug prices could get millions of seniors and others’ votes.

Bush’s dismal record on being the first president since Herbert Hoover losing jobs gave Kerry a great opportunity to pick up millions of votes. Kerry supported N.A.F.T.A. and W.T.O. (rammed through by President Clinton) that cement in an international system of trade laws encouraging outsourcing of U.S. jobs. Labor unions fought incredibly against NAFTA and WTO but lost. Blue collar voters, particulary in the red states like Kansas, often feel abandoned by the Democrats for supporting N.A.F.T.A. and the W.T.O. In the 1990s corporations moved millions of factory jobs overseas but after 2000 they are outsourcing middle class jobs such as information technology. According to Peter Hart, one of the leading researchers who does polls for the Democrats, “polling in battleground states showed that a bit more than half of all voters worry very often about jobs moving overseas (and three-fourths of swing voters say this loss of high-tech and white-collar jobs is a very serious problem). Ohio particularly has lost thousands of jobs; whole communities like Youngstown have been hurt.

Kerry did have a plan to give tax credits to businesses for hiring more jobs. There is no guarantee any jobs, particular middle class jobs, would be created but businesses who would hire minimum wage workers would have benefited. Kerry really offered tax credits to Wal-Mart. Giving tax credits to business to hire is a right-wing Reublican position. Kerry again lost voters in the swing states.

One easy way to generate jobs is for Democratic candidates to propose a government jobs program similar to FDR's W.P.A. program or Carter's C.E.T.A. program both of which had government jobs for the unemployed. They were both successful programs. These programs could be targeted to rural America where unemployment is high, giving rural voters in those red states a reason to vote for the Democrats. Secondly, Democratic candidates could abandon N.A.F.T.A. and the W.T.O., showing blue collar and white collar voters that Democrats are on their side. The debacle for Democrats started when Clinton signed off on N.A.F.T.A. It will send when the Demcoratic Party commits itself to getting rid of N.A.F.T.A.

As for education, I had researched how both federal and state governments had defunded public higher education by 15% from 1980-2005, making it extremely expensive for many families. Since government is giving 15% less money to public universities, they are forced to raise tuition and to get money from private sources. Kerry’s plan was giving tax credits for families for tuition, a dreadful idea when the federal government is deeply in debt. His plan would have not stopped ever increasing costs of college tuition and public universities endlessly searching for private monies. Again, his education plans did nothing for his candidacy. Instead Democratic candidates could have had a simple plan to make higher education more afforable: increase government spending to pubic universities so they cut tuition.

Regarding health care, 70% of Americas are worried about the ever-increasing health care costs. We in the United States already pay $400 billion for a waste, privatized health care system that is the most expensive in the world--$50 billion for profits and $350 billion for bureaucratic red tape of insurance companies et al. Kerry’s health care plan by having federal subsidies for low-income people to enroll them in private insurance companies was also dreadful. According to Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. David Himmelstein, “Kerry’s massive new spending would leave at least 17 million uninsured (by his own estimate) and tens of millions more with inadequate coverage, and stimulate the malignant growth of healthcare costs.” Instead of wasting more money on insurance companies, Democratic candidates should expand Medicare as Medicare is a much more economical program than insurance companies.

The Democratic Party have endorsed programs which in no way try to help rural America whose economy is worse than urban America. Instead they’ve supported policies that caused jobs to flee the country; accepted a for-profit health care system that the most expensive in the world but gives worst care than any industrialized countries; sat idly by while many public universities become out of reach of many working people. At that point many blue collar voters in rural America stopped voting for Democrats. The Republicans with their phony right-wing populism gathers in these voters for Republicans on cultural wedge issues such as anti-gay marriage or anti-abortion.

I would add in a heartless world that right-wing Democrats as well as the Bushes have wrought, the idea of faith is comforting. The emphasis on values for many working people is as result of the bleak economic landscape so many face: if jobs are leaving, college is expensive, health insurance premiums go up and up every year, what one can rely on but faith? In the past 150 years when peoples face economic disaster with no help in sight, they’ve often turned to faith and their local churches/synagogues/mosques for help. The churches often give real help: food, furniture, fellowship etc. If the Democrats don’t fight for economic populism, they cede working people to the Republicans.

Despite all the Republican attacks on Kerry as one of the most liberal senators, he wasn't that liberal at all but on the right-wing of the Democratic Party with a billionaire wife. The Republicans have been using this right-wing populism for decades to paint any Democratic presidential candidate as an elitist, so the Democrats should pick a candidate like F.D.R. with a proven record of fighting for progressive issues when he was governor of New York. And the candidate needs a wife like Elinor Roosevelt who had a record of helping those in need. People voted for F.D.R. because he symbolized change and hope. Kerry did not symbolize any difference. The Democrats again need to find candidates who can symbolize change and hope.

If Democrats want to ever win a national election again they need to fight for cheaper drug prices and government-run health programs because they do the best job; fight for government refunding of higher education; end their support for NAFTA and WTO; and propose a government jobs program that would actually create jobs like F.D.R. and Carter did.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

U.S. health care compared to other countries

According to U.S. Census Bureau, International Database, year 2004, U.S. is #20 in health care compared to other nations. In life expectancy, the U.S. is behind Japan, Swedan, Australia, Finland, Switzerland, Norway, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, Austria, Greece, New Zeeland, United Kingdom and Cyprus. The U.S. in life expectancy is tied with Ireland and Denmark and actually ahead of the Czech Republic.

As for infant mortality, the U.S. is #21, behind all the above countries except Israel and Cyprus. Now when this country is behind in infant mortality 20 other countries, it really shows how really bad the health care is in this country. The U.S. is behind Portugal in both life expectancy and infant mortality--but our economy is much bigger. Under the next four years of Bush, I'm afraid these figures will all worsen, as Bush's priorities aren't health care. Under Bush's first terms another million people lost their health insurance. Remember, for this bad health care system Americans pay much more than any other country in the world.

When people say we can't have universal health care system as in any other industrialized country because it would cost too much, one most respond that we in the U.S. are pay more for our privatized health care system than people in Europe and Japan but we get worse health care.

Infant Mortality and Life Expectancy for Selected
Countries, 2004,
U.S. Census Bureau, International Database.

Country Life Expectancy Infant mortality

Japan 81 3.3
Sweden 80.2 2.8

Australia 80.3 4.8

Finland 78.2 4.4

Norway 79.2 3.7

5-Canada 80 4.8

Czech Republic 75.8 4

Italy 79.5 6.1

10-Germany 78.5 4.2

France 79.4 4.3

Spain 79.4 4.5

Israel 79.2 7.2

Norway 79.2 3.7

15Denmark 77.4 4.6

Austria 78.9 4.7

Greece 78.9 5.6

New Zealand 78.5 6

Portugal 77.3 5.1

20-United Kingdom 78.3 5.2

Ireland 77.4 5.5

Cyprus 77.5 7.4
23United States 77.4 6.6

1. Infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
2. Life expectancy at birth, in years, both sexes.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, International Database.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Bush's family values hurt families

When Bush voters were polled after voting, they said again and again they supported Bush because of his strong family values. I find this awfully perplexing because I think Bush’s health policies in particular have caused great suffering to families in this country. My brother has a chronic disease—Parkinsons—and has to pay extraordinary amounts for needed drugs. In the United States we have the highest costing drugs in the world. It harms families to have to pay so much of our incomes for drugs that people need. Further, the Bush administration has made it illegal to bring in lower cost drugs from Canada.

For seniors, the Bush administration did pass a pharmaceutical benefit for seniors which did not lower drug prices for them. The national health service in Canada negotiates with the drug companies and gets lower drug prices, but in Bush’s legislation the law forbade this government from negotiating for lower drug prices. When seniors sign up for the Bush drug plan, they are forced to stay on it for a year but the drug companies can weekly change their drug prices. Most seniors I know refuse to sign up for the plan. They feel it’s not a benefit for them at all but a giveaway of billions for the drug and insurance companies. I think again families are hurt by this Bush legislation.

The Bush administration is totally against a national health plan as in every other industrialized country, and they praise the present privatized health system. We in the United States pay more than any other country for medical care for a lousy health care system. The health of our citizens—measured by life expectancy and infant mortality—is less than any other industrialized country. We’re behind Finland, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, England, Australia, Austria, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden—yes behind them all. Actually, the United States’ life expectancy is very close to Costa Rica’s but in Costa Rica the average citizen spends $250/year on health care but in the U.S. our average citizen spends $1,500. Even Costa Rica has a better health system than the United States. When even tiny Costa Rica’s health care system is better than the United States, our families are really losing.

According to Dr. David Himmelstein who teaches at Harvard Medical School and is a cofounder of Physicians for a National Health Program, Americans spend less time in hospitals than people in other industrialized countries, visit the doctors less than in Japan and European countries, and get less high technology care than in Japan and European countries.

So if our soaring health care costs aren’t going for health care, what is it going for? Dr. Himmelstein says about “$50 billion a year in profit extracted from the health care system …. In fact, we spend each year about $320 billion or $340 billion on useless bureaucratic work in order to apportion the right to health care according to ability to pay, enforce inequality in care, and enforce the collection of profit by insurance companies, for-profit hospitals, the drug industry ….”

Of course, Bush doesn’t even talk about the 45 million Americans without health insurance. What about their families? I guess their families don’t count.

Personally, I fail to say how paying $400 billion to drug companies, h.m.o.s, and insurance companies helps families. As more and more of our babies die because of inadequate care for mothers and new infants, families are hurt. As more and more seniors can’t afford drugs and die earlier than they would in other countries, families are hurt. As people with chronic diseases are forced to pay ever increasing costs, families are hurt. Bush’s health policies are harming millions of families in this country.

If a U.S. citizen wants to improve their chances of having healthy baby or having their grandparents get good health care, they can always move to Canada or, better yet, France. Frances has a much better health care system than the U.S. It’s citizens live longer. More babies survive. Grandparents live longer. Now France has real family values.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Againt Bush

100,000 Iraq dead; 1,000 American soldiers dead and 8,000 wounded.
Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time. According to 10/31 60 minutes, American soldiers sent into harm's way without armour for their humvees, without night goggles, without enough radios. The Veteran's budget was cut right before the Iraq War started.