Thursday, April 11, 2013

Women I Have Wanted To Like But Can’t: A Reflection on the Death of Thatcher

Posted by Kim Klein
When I was a child, there was a complete dearth of women in political office.  I remember having a fight on the playground (a way too often occurrence of my elementary school years) when a boy yelled, “Girls can’t be in charge” as I tried to be in charge of our mixed gender softball team.  I yelled back, “Yes, we can.  Girls are in charge of a lot of things.”  “Like what?”  he replied.  Too late I realized I had fallen right into a hole.  “Well” I stuttered, “England, dope.  Have you heard of the QUEEN of England?” 
He was temporarily chastened but came in the next day to tell me that the QUEEN was not in charge of England—the Prime Minister was, and he was A MAN!!!  For years after that, I looked for women in politics.  I felt my heart beat faster when Indira Gandhi came to power in 1966 in India  or when Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1969.  Meir died in 1978.  Gandhi was assassinated in 1984.  Both were called “Iron Ladies” well before the woman who would embody that title came to power.  In 1979, when I was in my late twenties, England elected the first (and, so far, only) woman prime minister—Margaret Thatcher, who died on Tuesday. 
I so wanted to like and admire these women.  The problem is that to know them was to despise much of what they stood for.  Golda Meir was tough, brave, smart, but so blind to the existence of Palestinians that she once said, “There are no Palestinians.”   Indira Gandhi created one of the darkest periods in Indian history, euphemistically called “the Emergency” where she savagely suppressed any dissent and virtually shut down India’s free press. 

And Thatcher?  Many of us who were activists in the 1980’s spent a lot of energy protesting her policies and disagreeing with her politics, along with her good friend and President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.  They always seemed separated at birth in some ways and ironically they both suffered from dementia for many years before finally dying.  Thatcher once called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.  She privatized British mining, causing 20,000 people to lose their jobs almost overnight.  The list of things she did that we decried could fill a book. 
But here is the funny thing about Thatcher as we look back on her.  Today she would be seen as almost a socialist.  Froma Harrop, writing in Nation of Change, notes Thatcher’s reflection in her memoir on the national health service, “I believed that the NHS was a service of which we could genuinely be proud. It delivered a high quality of care — especially when in it came to acute illnesses — and at a reasonably modest unit cost, at least compared with some insurance-based systems."   She goes on to point out that Thatcher greatly admired Friedrich Hayek's "Road to Serfdom," a book conservatives consider a great repudiation of socialism, but that Hayek himself wrote, "there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody ... Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision." For insurable risks, he added, "The case for the state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong."
The list of women in political power is much longer than when I defended the Queen in 1963, and I am happy to say that I do admire many of them:  Barbara Lee, who is my representative, Karen Bass, Maxine Waters, Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren….the list is long.  But I am now much more focused on keeping our country from moving any further to the right.  I do not want, from my perch at the Shady Rest Nursing Home, to watch the funeral of someone like Michele Bachman and have to say, “Today she would practically be a socialist.” 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Commons on the Airwaves

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

Born 4 years after the Fairness Doctrine was revoked in the courts, I can't tell you that I remember a time when listening to the radio was an opportunity to catch up on community issues and open productive public discourse.  But I was intrigued by this piece, recently posted on, that provides an excellent history on just how the American airwaves went from platforms for addressing community issues to the sports-talk-radio complex it has become today- filled with little more than Top 40 and hate-based political pundits (and the occasional This American Life episode).  I'm always most interested in ways that different technologies can both promote and hinder commons-based efforts, and this example is a bit of both.  Originally ruled as a resource that needed to be owned and operated for public benefit, the radio was perhaps the commons ideal- a cheap-to-produce broadcast system that was legally bound to offer an open dialogue and address community needs.  Yet over time, and with the changes in certain governing laws, radio has become a place (more on some stations than on others, for sure) for people like Rush Limbaugh to prattle on unstopped (and uncensored at least in the content of his speech, though perhaps not in the actual words he's allowed to use). 

As the authors note, "Fifteen years [after the Fairness Doctrine was revoked] talk radio has changed the nature of political discourse. Some persuasively argue it has changed our very culture. Media scholar Henry Giroux describes a “culture of cruelty” increasingly marked by racism, hostility and disdain for others, coupled with a simmering threat toward any political figure who comes into the crosshairs of what many now call hate radio".

How do we curb this trend? Can we go back?  In an era where the numbers of regular radio listeners  is continuing to dwindle, do we need to?  And if we don't, what are some other technologies that would allow us to establish a similar commons-based broadcast approach? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Entry Denied

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

I was always a sucker for any historical museum that did it's best to put visitors in the shoes of the people or the time period the museum was trying to illustrate.  As a kid (and future history major) my favorite family vacation was to Colonial Williamsburg.  So I was intrigued when I came across this link shared by someone I know on Facebook.  The site, run by a Jewish organization but focused on progressive immigration reform, takes users through how their ancestor's immigration story would play out if they were coming to America under current laws and regulations.  Its goal is to illustrate how hard a pathway to citizenship has become since boats of Western European immigrants were unloading at Ellis Island (though conditions then were not exactly great either, and new immigrants often faced various forms of discrimination), and to remind visitors that at one time or another most of our ancestors were similarly coming to America hoping to find a better life.

 Recently, we've become increasingly focused on individualism (take my recent post on "Prepping", for example), to the detriment of commons-based policies and practices that would be more beneficial for society as a whole . Too often we not only forget to put ourselves in the current shoes of those around us, but we also forget the common histories that link us all together.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Who Needs Government?

Posted by Kim Klein

Time is the most important commons we have.  This article shows how one of the government’s job is to help people have time to be engaged in pursuits beyond survival.

Read the full text here: