Monday, June 1, 2015

'Middle Class' Fading from Candidates' Vocabulary

            On July 28, 1908, in a speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination, William Howard Taft said that in an ideal society there is a “middle class tending to build up a conservative, self-respecting community, capable of self-government.” Taft’s speech became the first documented time “middle class” had been used by an American politician, however, the term began to be widely used to describe a large social economic class of people between the poorest and wealthiest of Americans. Referring to the middle class as developing a community “capable of self-government,” Taft’s speech shows how the middle class has always evoked a sense of stability in American society. Today, being middle class is supposed to mean having the ability to send your kids to college, having money saved up, and easily making rent. However, a shift in political speech among candidates for the presidential election of 2016 shows that the term “middle class” is not relevant anymore because many Americans are no longer able to afford the comfortable lifestyle that the middle class embodies.
            From 2000-2008, 60 percent of Americans identified as middle class, whereas 51 percent of Americans have identified themselves as middle class before this upcoming election. More and more Americans are beginning to believe that they have not followed the upward climb in class of the “American dream,” instead they believe they have become lower class. This shows that the majority of American people are well aware the middle class is shrinking and that they are at risk of falling down the ranks of socioeconomic status. For this reason, the term “middle class” now evokes a sense of fear within the large portion of Americans, and many politicians are careful not to use it.
            Although it’s shrinking, the middle class still makes up the largest portion of voters, which is why the fearful candidates are addressing it by going around the term. Republicans are using more specific and elongated phrases, such as “people who work for the people who own businesses,” “millions and millions of Americans who aren’t rich,” and “people working full time.” This is because, as seen in a video made by the New York Times, there are many more potential Republican nominees than Democratic. On the Democratic side, Hilary Clinton seems to have minimal competition going towards the presidential election, which is why she is basing her campaign off of a much more generic term to refer to the middle class: “everyday Americans.” In contrast, Republican candidates can’t use such generic terms because they need to find a way to stand out during the presidential primaries.
            All in all, political speech in terms of class status has changed since William Howard Taft first used the term “middle class.” As we have further studied The Kentucky Cycle in my American Studies class, we have seen how American society has progressed, but not always for the best. The shift in political speech has made it even more evident that the middle class is disintegrating, and that the gap in social class in the United States has progressively increased.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

'White Appreciation Day'

            Edgar Antillon, co-owner of Rubbin' Buttz BBQ and Country Cafe in Colorado, has received many threats after taping the sign above to the window of his restaurant. What started of as just a conversation with friends about why there’s no holiday celebrating the white community led to Antillon making June 11th “White Appreciation Day” in his restaurant. At first, Antillon said that white costumers on that day would be able to receive ten percent discounts on any purchases. However, after the unanticipated magnitude of backfire, Antillon changed his mind and said that all races will be allowed the discount because he felt that the message behind “White Appreciation Day” was being misinterpreted.
            Many people that disapprove of the message say it lessens the importance of the history of racial inequality in the United States. It’s undeniable that white men have made the past a living hell for minorities in the United States, which is why we celebrate the amazing accomplishments of the oppressed due to their historical circumstances. Antillon says he is well aware of this and that he is not trying to put the white race on a pedestal. In fact, he claims it’s not about being black, white, or any other race, but it’s about being American. In an interview with CNN, Antillon explained, “We are an amazing culture here in the U.S. We're a melting pot. But we should include white people in that, too.” He is a Mexican-American himself and feels that no race should be “segregated” to be celebrated one period of time a year. There is Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and he hopes that “White Appreciation Day” can send a message that we should all be celebrated as Americans every day of the year.
            In all honesty, I can't say I've never thought about the concept of a holiday like "White Appreciation Day" and in a way, I agree with Antillon. I don't think that any race, should be "segregated" to being celebrated only during one month of the year because I feel, like Antillon said, we should all be celebrated as Americans everyday. To me, this would be ideal, however, American society is far from perfect. I think that that in order for society to move forward from the racial inequality that is still present, people need to understand historical racial inequality by designating certain months to celebrate minorities and their contributions to society.
            What do you think about “White Appreciation Day” and the concept of all Americans being celebrated? Do you think the holiday downplays historical racial inequality? Why or why not?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Baltimore: An Issue of Race or Class?

Sandtown-Winchester, Baltimore
           Media coverage of Baltimore has labeled the rioting in the city to the same familiar theme as in Ferguson: an all-out racial war. The media makes the two cities seem almost identical by showing footage of black protestors against a white police force. Many believe that because of this, the solution for Baltimore is the same as the actions taken after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson: creating a more racially diverse law enforcement.  However, this may not be the case because Baltimore is very different from Ferguson.
            Ferguson is a community that is 67 percent black, but before the Michael Brown shooting only had three black police officers in the community. In contrast, nearly half of Baltimore's police force is black, including its police commissioner. Taiwan Parker, a resident of Sandtown-Winchester (the neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested and fatally injured), explained that "[Police] see us down here, they label us as drug dealers, we live in poverty." What Parker means is that tension in Baltimore does not stem from racial differences but class differences. In a city where 25% of the population is below the poverty line, Baltimore residents like Parker feel that they are automatically labeled as criminals by police because of their socioeconomic statuses.
             The majority of arrests in Baltimore are drug-related and as Parker mentioned, the poor residents of Baltimore have experienced a sense of downward classism from police in which they are all viewed as drug dealers and have their neighborhoods constantly patrolled. According to the Washington Times, Tim Lynch, director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice, explained that "In poorer communities in Baltimore where crime rates are higher, officers tend to use extreme policing tactics against innocent minority residents in anticipation of potential crime being committed." These "anticipations of potential crime" in impoverished neighborhoods are the preconceptions of police officers due to classism and are what caused outcry in Baltimore. Although the media has chose to display the riots in Baltimore as a racial war, I believe the protesting in Baltimore had been sparked by class tensions.

Friday, May 1, 2015


            As tradition, today’s halls at New Trier were crowded with seniors wearing t-shirts displaying where they would be attending college. It's no new practice to New Trier, however, Michelle Obama has declared May 1st as "College Signing Day" through the Reach Higher Initiative. Students all over the country have been posting pictures with the hashtag #ReachHigher on their social media accounts wearing their college gear. The White House website explains that "The Reach Higher initiative is the First Lady's effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school" because "in today's economy, a high school diploma just isn't enough". It is clear that the White House is directing the program towards students of less affluent neighborhoods and that #ReachHigher is being used to motivate students of these neighborhoods to pursue a higher education. However, the Reach Higher Initiative is said to be a national program. In this case, how would students from New Trier interpret #ReachHigher differently than other schools? Most students at New Trier are raised in affluent families and for them college is not a reach but instead an expectation. For this reason, students are looking to #ReachHigher than their classmates. I relate this to the story Mr. O'Connor told us in class today. When he walked up to a student to acknowledge the university they were going to, the student felt that he needed to justify his choice of school by explaining that he was going to the business school of that university, which is more difficult to get into. Mentalities like that make it feel like May 1st at New Trier is a competition to see who's going to a "better" school.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blackwater Sentences Will Not Stop Growing Dependency on Contractors

            In my last blog, I wrote about how the sentences of the four private military contractors of Blackwater served as a smokescreen in order to allow the U.S government to strengthen relations with the Iraqi government. It may seem that in the wake of these publicized sentences, the United States will begin to decrease the amount of contractors it deploys to avoid further controversy. However, the United States has not shown any signs of backing off of contractors since.
           A day after the sentences, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said that the agency is “moving quickly to improve investigative policies and strengthening procedures for use of force and less-than-lethal force by security contractors,” but she would not answer any further questions on how the sentences would affect the use of contractors in Iraq moving forward. Most contractors in Iraq work for the State Department, but the department does not release information on the amount of private contractors it uses. It is estimated that the ratio of contractors to soldiers in Iraq is roughly the same as Afghanistan, which has a ratio of 1:1. The government does not want to disclose this information because it shows how big of a failure the invasion of Iraq was.  
          In an interview with ABC News, U.S Army colonel Andrew Bacevich explained the United States purposefully chose to invade Iraq with a small number of troops. Bacevich said that, “The architects of the Iraq war in 2003 thought that our relatively small but very competent force could win a decisive victory in Iraq.” After many insurgencies, the United States realized that the initial force was not strong enough to fight off attacks so it began to deploy private contractors to support American soldiers. In order to avoid a similar public perception towards war as during the Vietnam War, the number of contractors being deployed to Iraq is increasing because the State Department is not required to disclose their numbers by law.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blackwater Sentences Are Really a Smokescreen

Blackwater contractors in Iraq
            On September 16, 2007, military contractors of the private security firm Blackwater opened fire on civilians in Yarmukh, a western Baghdad neighborhood. Nine civilians and one Iraqi policeman were killed, but not until eight years later were the men that were responsible for this wartime atrocity punished. Yesterday, a federal judge gave one contractor a sentence of life behind bars and three others were given 30-year prison terms. However, these contractors were not working for the federal government but instead the State Department. Although the magnitude of this case is larger than most U.S contractor incidents in the past, the federal government has rarely punished contractors in the past because it has claimed it does not have jurisdiction over them. Why all of a sudden, after eight years, has the government chose to sentence these four Blackwater contractors?
            Handed down a day before Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to meet with the Iraqi Prime Minister, the convictions seemed to come at the perfect time for a smokescreen. The U.S government desperately wants the Iraqi government to believe that it has full control and responsibility over all of its forces in Iraq. By sentencing the four contractors, the U.S government is looking to strengthen its ties with the Iraqi government. President Obama has made it clear that the United States plans to fight the Islamic State, which has its largest presence is in Iraq. In order for the United States to be successful against the Islamic State, it has to ensure that is has the cooperation of the Iraqi government.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

‘Anti-Tesla’ Legislation

            Tesla’s success with its “Model S” electric car has made the company a strong competitor in the auto industry. However, due to recent franchise laws, Tesla may face its biggest political obstacle yet.
            Since last year, Tesla was looking to establish a retail facility in West Virginia because of its ideal location. Bordering Virginia and Pennsylvania, West Virginia would be a convenient location to potential costumers in stronger electric markets. However, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill on Friday that prevents Tesla, a non-franchise company, from carrying out direct sales in West Virginia. Senate President Bill Cole, who happens to own a Nissan auto dealership himself, supported this bill as well.
            The bill states that vehicle makes may not “act in the capacity of a new motor vehicle dealer” or “operate a dealership, including, but not limited to, displaying a motor vehicle intended to facilitate the sale of new motor vehicles other than through franchised dealers, unless the display is part of an automobile trade show that more than two automobile manufacturers participate in.” This means that only is Tesla restricted from selling its cars in West Virginia, but it’s also not allowed to host Tesla “galleries”, which will really harm Tesla. These galleries, which do not conduct sales, are a strong addition to the company’s online-based market. Potential buyers can go to these galleries and receive information from Tesla employees, see the cars in person, and even take test-drives.
            Even though online shopping is becoming favored over retail stores, I believe that American consumers still value the ability to experience a product in person before purchasing it online. That is why I believe that these bills, which are now enact in West Virginia, Michigan, and New Jersey, will really harm the potential prosperity of Tesla Motors. Tesla is trying to revolutionize online consuming by still providing costumers the ability to experience its cars in person, but as the company is seeing, the auto industry is afraid from straying away from franchises, and it is backed by political constituency. That’s American Democracy for you.