Newt Gingrich Momentum to What…?

As Newt Gingrich arguably just blasted one out of the park at the Iowa debate, his poll numbers are sure to skyrocket even further than they already are in his surprising comeback. But similar to all the flavors of the month littering the GOP nomination, similar to the farces and circus acts, candidate oops moments onlookers, voters have to ask themselves where is all this momentum really going? Is it momentum to what, strain things with our allies like Israel considering his comments about the Palestinians; is it to anger said Palestinians making us at best a target for hostility at worst for potential terrorism? Is the end goal to plunge us back to the turn of the 20th century not only in terms of financial regulation, social safety nets but in regards to child labor laws, all in a misguided effort to give poor children a work ethic? Judging by his comments, that’s exactly what he intends to do if elected president to among other things “radically change the culture of poverty in America,” thinking he’s going to change international policy, the perception by calling an entire people invented, better the world by executing drug dealers, foster young peoples’ interest in science and math with lunar miming? Mr. Gingrich has also published number of books sounding the alarms on electromagnetic pulses that could cripple America, hypothesizing on what if Hitler were never born causing one MSNBC commentator to liken him to the guy in the tinfoil hat. Others are sure to think he belongs in academia being an eccentric college history professor, as opposed to any kind of elected official.

Unfortunately the facts are the facts and he remains the current GOP frontrunner despite going on the Jewish Channel and calling the Palestinians an invented people, following up such controversial comments at the debate with a comparison between himself and former president Ronald Regan saying, in part, it was time to have a president of the United States that tells the truth, as he did in identifying the Soviet Union evil, going around his advisors to say “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.” Gingrich continuing on to call the Palestinians terrorists, describing textbooks teaching math by problems like if there are 13 Jews and 9 Jews are killed; how many Jews are left?  Opening the door for Mitt Romney who said it was fine to tell the truth but we don’t speak for Israel that it would be better to contact the Israeli prime minister asking if saying that will help, asking what Israel would like the United States to do. Whether Gingrich is historically correct that the right of return is based on a misreading of one document or about rockets bombing Israel daily, while we try to engage them in peace process, so telling the truth couldn’t possibly make things worse isn’t the issue. Neither is whether or not the Palestinians are indeed an invented people; they nevertheless are living, breathing, possess a culture and call themselves Palestinians, meaning we have to deal with the current reality not historical accuracy. What is at issue is does this do anything to help foreign policy for the US or internationally, aid in giving stability to the region, answer, no. Does it do anything in the positive to change mindsets, mentalities or policy that will make working toward peace that much more attainable, answer, no.  All he did was potentially alienate an ally, as if the US has so many of them to begin with, and make it that much harder for these people to do what inevitably must be done, sitting down amongst themselves, hammering out their issues, coming to an agreement they both can live with.

Further hanging out your shingle advertising yourself as a plausible candidate for leader of the free world, especially this late in the race, mere days to one of the most pivotal voting states, you don’t pour gasoline on an already raging fire particularly when your own country is keeping back other terrorist threats with a whip and a chair, has seen the potential power of the homegrown element, how devastating it can be. You certainly don’t do that at a time when officials can barely keep track of possible terror threats, are openly saying they don’t have the man power, the resources to handle what is already on their plate. And painting a target on your country, taking the chance of endangering the wellbeing on 300 million people “because you wanted to tell the truth” isn’t going to mean much if we find out the next Oklahoma City like attack came from a completely unexpected source, as a result of a politician putting his foot in his mouth. It does nothing to bolster our reputation, credibility internationally; retuning to our MSNBC commentator, they read a tweet from one of their correspondents in the middle east relaying a Kuwaiti question about how can we take the United States seriously when leaders deny the existence of the Palestinians. More compelling was the answer the correspondent wanted to give, wanting to tell them to ignore fringe, radical element except he’s the GOP frontrunner ending with a hash tag and the word awkward. Raising the giant question of, if this is what he does even before he is elected, before he is given any national decision making power, what will he do once he holds the title president of the United States?         

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In line with his consistent decrying of occupy Wall Street, looking at the state of jobs in America it is feasible for one to say he tried to outline his plan to better America’s economy and improve the odds of creating more working individuals, but was bashing poor kids the way to do it? It was one thing to call child labor laws stupid as it leaves 10-12-13 year old kids poor with no money, pointing out the successful people he knows who began with a paper route, babysitting or snow shoveling gigs before traditional working ages. It was quite another to go on and insult those living in poor areas by saying they have no habit of working, no concept of “I do this you give me cash” unless it’s illegal. Not stopping there saying they have no habit of showing up on Monday even if I had a fight with my girlfriend. Added to the incendiary nature of what he’s saying is his plan to “radically change the culture of poverty in America” including making students work in the front office, libraries, or as janitors. Of course this drew justifiable backlash forcing him to clarify his intent should he become president and be allowed to implement his plan. But was the backlash enough; did it do enough to challenge this simplistic view of solving urban poverty, challenge the stereotypes it invokes, challenge the consequences, foreseen and unforeseen, should it be tried?   Apparently not considering most of his assumptions are don’t hold water misnomers judging by the fact that many of the poor neighborhoods he speaks of are likely public or subsidized housing where an astonishing number of residents do hold jobs; in my local area’s public housing there is one person driving a taxi, one driving a bus for the local school bus company and a mother of 2 in the doughnut hole as far as assistance, meaning she makes just enough to scrape by, just enough not to qualify for assistance with childcare, food but likewise not enough to move out of her public housing apartment. Those just the ones I know about.

So this idea young people don’t have anyone around them who works is blatantly false and disregards those being raised by grandparents who “don’t work” because they are retirees who’ve put in their years of work already, parents, guardians who used to work but who are now disabled by disease, got hurt on the job as a construction worker, truck driver and there are no job retraining programs available to them or their injuries were that severe. Gingrich shoots himself in the foot talking about work habits ending it with, unless it’s illegal, meaning they do understand I do this I get cash and the challenge is to channel that into legal activity; bringing us to the dirty, not so little secret, no one wants to address, these young people also know they can make more dealing drugs, turning tricks than in any minimum wage, inevitably where everyone starts and too many are forced to stay no matter what socioeconomic class they came from, job they get.  Outside of that if the young person is going to school and passing all classes they do understand showing up Monday through Friday, they’ve learned to turn in at least some work on time, not get in fights, disrespect authority regardless of what’s going on at home, who they had a fight with; schools are set up to mimic the working world in exactly those ways while simultaneously teaching good habits and affording children the opportunity to learn. Again the comment disregards children who miss school due to chronic illnesses like asthma exacerbated by living in a place with spotty electricity, shoddy heat, too often none of either, normal children routinely sick because of the same conditions. It ignores the estimated 1 million children running their households, whose days begin bathing, dressing, providing meals for younger siblings, caring for sick, disabled parents before they ever get on the school bus, who may be late as a result or distracted during the day, younger ones who consequently use school as play, due to the responsibility at home. It ignores the student who is putting in the effort, who is showing up, who is trying but has lower, failing grades because of a learning disability, diagnosed or not.                      

And even if all the above things highlighted weren’t true, weren’t part of the complex reality immune to a quick fix, even Mitt Romney, to say nothing of anyone who knows the age young people can work in their state, understands you don’t have to change the child labor laws to accomplish what Mr. Gingrich wants to, nor does it mean his plan will succeed. Because children can work as young as 15, so put them in the office, library, cafeteria, janitorial work at that time. As to this idea it leaves kids broke with no money before then, that’s what parents are for; at 10, 12, 13 parents are supposed to be providing for kids, not the other way around.  That’s called having a childhood; it’s what’s supposed to happen. Same goes for this idea the only thing standing between poor kids becoming the next Warren Buffet, Bill Gates is a paper route, grass cutting, snow shoveling or babysitting job; mostly jobs, by the way, that are either sporadic or seasonal. Grass cutting happens in summer when kids are out for the summer and they have the time, kids may shovel snow for 2-3 houses to earn a little money, babysitting is something many already do at home and just don’t get paid, independent of whether they live in a poor family and there are many subsequent things keeping poorer kids from that kind of success. Another truth belying the GOP frontrunners mindset on young people who work, contrary to his statements about what middleclass kids have the chance to do poor kids should as well, many middle class parents, parents across all income levels, don’t want, allow their children to work once they are of traditional working age because they want their child focused on their education. One of the downsides of working at 16, 17, 18, never mind younger is illustrated in an ABC news report on poor families where the oldest child in one did work; he went to school roughly 7:45-2:45, got on a bus at 3:00 to go across town to a fast food job by 5:00 worked till 9:00 maybe home by 10:00 sometimes 11:00 depending on how late he had to work, still having to make time for homework and get up at 6:00 a.m. Result, he had many missing assignments, barely graduated high school, later dropped out of college largely due life burn out of having to do so much so early.

Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, running on the hypothetical Gingrich is absolutely right about young people and poverty, his plan is still doomed to fail, because when you put them in the office, add them to the janitorial staff, make them a fixture in the library, it’s what they’re not learning that counts, and we haven’t even gotten into it cutting into the school day and the time teachers have to teach, or the vicious cycle you begin similar to the paragraph above created by using it as an after school program. While our GOP candidate is primarily concerned with instilling a work ethic, responsibility exc., it’s the job skills these disadvantaged kids won’t get that matters. Putting a student to work in the front office for example, they will be relegated to stuffing envelopes, won’t be allowed to answer the phone because an adult has to do that, may not be able to do filing because of the sensitive material they could be handling, information they might see, schools either from prudence of avoiding potential problems or because of a sure to come up incident, won’t allow students, especially these students, to do or learn how school website updates are made, help in creating the school newsletter. So they walk out on graduation day with little skills opposing clerical want ads asking for database management, website maintenance, updating, or creation, accounting, bookkeeping, 2 years business school, marketing experience/knowledge, at minimum a working knowledge of any and all of the following PC programs: MS office, adobe applications, publisher, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, PageMaker, InDesign. It  parallels volunteer opportunities for older kids, college students and adults  offering file, phones and mailing experience while employers want so much besides; it parallels community training programs in PC software, clerical duties, covering the basics but not going far enough for graduates to implement on the job.  Putting kids in either janitorial or cafeteria work poses serious risks, yes similar to those raised about coal mines in the 1900’s, pertaining to possible injury in handling hot food, heavy boxes, trays or industrial sized cooking equipment. Food safety becomes a possible issue as kids so young may not be able to consistently adhere to food safety rules and the program will be disbanded the moment students get sick, no matter if it was to blame. Janitorial work presents a hazard due to the chemicals used, similar to the issues had with high school upper level chemistry classes  and the possibility of explosions, inhaling fumes of cleaning fluids, accidental mixing of chemicals that could harm themselves or others. Expecting 12, 13 year old kids not to be impulsive, somewhat irresponsible because of their ages is a recipe for disaster, not to mention half the janitorial staff Gingrich wants to displace to do this. Making the library the most viable choice but severely limiting the number of kids who can participate; then it’s what to do with the ones who want the chance but are left out?    

Next are the consequences no one is thinking of, seen only in the positive of giving poor kids a sense of pride, responsibility and a little cash too, but there is a darker side like what the child does with the money he earns, the exposure to the wrong kind of job. Does he use it to huff chemicals found there; does he go out and use it to support a low level weed habit, as a coping mechanism for his hard life, if you believe the common hysteria on drugs, leading to harder drugs and the life of an addict, something he would have avoided with no money, not being put on the cleaning staff? In that same vein, what happens if the parent takes the money to support a drug habit or to buy alcohol, abuse prescriptions? After all you’re dealing with “bad people who don’t work and only have knowledge of illegal behavior.” Of course this also coincides with his plan to execute drug users, so it matters little to him. Socially what happens when a bright student wants to go on to college become a lawyer, doctor, social worker, teacher and because they go to X school, participate in one of these programs are discouraged from doing so, told because of who they are, where they live, their ethnicity, they would be better off just working in whatever type of work they are doing for their school? We see this type of thinking by school staff already in schools where tracking systems are applied, where kids are shifted into remedial track, college track and not much in between, based on school performance, regardless of whether the student is good at art, wants to be a mechanic, likes landscaping and the school offers no courses on those topics. If child labor laws are removed or relaxed, imagine what employers will do with that, not reduce their hours as law mandates, lie about the age of younger workers to keep them there. Doing so opens the door for younger people to work everywhere reducing the minimal effectiveness of school based programs and causes parents and students, driven by home/family economics, to devalue education more than it already is, leading to earlier drop outs and an attitude of what does my child need additional education for he can read write and now work? An attitude of at least one century passed.  

Gingrich’s plan is doomed to fail because radically changing the poverty culture in America requires radically changing the business culture in America so that businesses are no longer “too busy” to offer internships, apprenticeships and real world work opportunities to college, tech school graduates or young people simply passionate about a career field. Changing the business culture so that they are no longer “too good” to offer on the job training to people exhibiting the character traits exhorted by him, returning the business culture to what it was in his youth, his prime where people can get jobs based on that instead of being judged by their teeth, normal walking gate, glasses, credit score. Where people are fired for incompetence, bad work habits or illegal activity, not the law abiding things they choose to fill their time with or what their kid said about them on Facebook. Actions that would drastically reduce the number of not working people in poor neighborhoods or subarea, as would no longer allowing businesses to get away with trashing job applications, résumés of applicants wearing corn rows or dreadlocks in their hair or because they live in a poor area, public housing or place considered the wrong side of the tacks. The Gingrich put young people to work plan is doomed not to create future billionaires because as introduced before there are other barriers to success, access to college prep courses to name one, so students don’t qualify to apply to college. Affordability to go to college is another, and, if our GOP candidate bothered to look at the business culture, he would see working your way there isn’t the option it used to be. To say nothing of the number of college graduates who can’t get jobs, are still stuck in minimum wage jobs for want of any real job experience in their field of study. The only advantage supposedly middle class kids have is mom or dad works in an office, may know the CEO or other influential person and can get their kid a clerical internship, a business internship, leaving out any kid whose parents don’t work in the same environment. Let’s say his plan was a marginal success in giving kids work ethic, he’s priming them for only minimum wage, very poorly on top of it, of which there aren’t enough jobs for everyone and you can’t really live on so it will do little to change the cycle of poverty only creating more disenfranchised working poor; as opposed to changing the dysfunctional core of business eliminating the need to put kids to work at all before traditional working ages.                           

Moving away from potentially dangerous foreign policy, audacious plans to reverse social ills, arguably throwing us backwards not forward, Newt Gingrich may not be the best candidate for America based on other fundamental facts; 1.6 million taken from failed mortgage giant Freddie Mac for a historian gig, thousands of dollars per public speaking engagement and more importantly, a double in infamous earmark spending while Speaker of the House could signal he’s just another career politician, particularly off-putting as he speaks about poor kids. Then there is his performance in that job, a conservative championing the wrong in government waste, preaching welfare reform quickly became the most unlikeable guy in congress, once complaining about his seat on Air Force One; many speaking out that they can’t support his leadership as speaker never mind as president. Others have spoken about his kooky pet projects being a distraction; had he spoke about mining minerals from the moon as a project for NASA, advocated for keeping NASA operational to begin with, rather than waiting for the Iowa debate to make himself clear, he might have gotten more support for it, to say nothing of making much more sense. Holding radical ideas isn’t a sin, because it’s never been done before is not an excuse not to try; however there is something to be said for trying in the best way to make what you’re doing a success. Opponent saying it or not, zany is not what we need in a president; further, zany isn’t going to work toward what people care about, isn’t going to put the millions of adults back to work so they can support families, isn’t going to be able to deal with the complexities of health care. Zany doesn’t meet our needs; zany doesn’t make us better.

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