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Don’t think twice before you help others

Christmas is a time where you spend time with those that are closest to you. It’s a time where you receive and give presents if you can afford it, and it’s a time of relaxation and sharing. That’s not only the case in America, but all around the World. 

Some of my fellow students at The Danish School of Media and Journalism have launched a Christmas calendar called Hjemløs jul where you are presented for a homeless person every day, and get to know how they spend Christmas. 

It’s interesting to read those kind of stories, and it makes you reflect. These stories help me realize just how lucky I’ve been throughout my life, and also how lucky I am to go home and spend Christmas with my own family. 

Plenty of people need help

However, even though homeless people might be an extreme in American society as well there are plenty of kids and families out there, who could use some help

As I’ve mentioned before the gap between rich and poor is bigger every year in America. I’ve made an Infograph that shows some numbers on the subject. 

You might be able to compare your own money situation, when you see the graph. And if you realize – just as I do – that I can find some extra change to spare, then share it with those who don’t have. It could be a teddy bear for some kids, some old clothes or spare change after you’ve bought something in the supermarket. 

Merry Christmas. 

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Porno Allen is aiming for the stars

Every year new artists, actors or actresses and reality stars become famous in not only the U.S. but all around the world. Some participate in talent shows such as The X Factor or American Idol. Others play for little or no money for years before getting the opportunity on the big stage.

One of them is Allen Chiu also known as Porno Allen from San Francisco. So far he’s played at The Warfield in San Francisco as one of his biggest gigs. He hopes that he’ll rise to International fame one day.

I met him, and this video will show a bit of his character and some of his music.

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Stan and Joe are examples of the American attitude

I realize that I’ve been harsh on American society in several of the posts on this blog. Not only for creating huge student debts, creating a big financial gap between rich and poor or the fact that it seems more or less impossible to agree on a health care law so all Americans can get help when they want or need it.

But there are also several reasons why I came to America. Not only did the American popular culture, that Danes experience from birth, attract me. During my travels to the U.S. and other parts of the world my experience with Americans have been overall very positive, and this has only been confirmed on my stay in San Francisco and California and during my visits to other parts of the U.S.

Even though I’ve praised Americans in one of my other blog entries, I’d like to elaborate on that.

A month ago I went to Zion National park, and I met a guy named Stan. He visited the park with his wife, and initially contacted me because he thought I was from Switzerland. Half an hour later I knew his views on religion, politics, travel and nature etc., and I was invited to stay with him and his wife in Santa Cruz.

Even though I haven’t talked to him since, and I don’t know yet if I’ll be able to take him up on the offer, it’s a story that shows why Americans are special. If it’s been in California, Utah, New York, Florida or Arizona, people have been greeting me in such a nice and open minded manner.

This brings me to my next evidence. A couple of weeks ago I watched Craigslist Joe. A documentary from 2012 about Joe Garner who for one month lives on the goodwill of his fellow Americans, with no money or credit cards on him, and only a laptop, wireless card, toothbrush, passport, and a phone with a new number with him he uses Craigslist to travel in America.

He thought of it as an social exploration:

Are we a society that can take care of each other? – Joe Garner

Differs from political views

Without ruining too much of the documentary he does quite well and goes on a fantastic trip, where he meets all sorts of Americans.

So even though this blog entry only tells of my positive experiences with Americans, and the view of Joe Garner in an edited documentary it shows some positive sides of the U.S. where people actually help each other. I’m not sure that this attitude would show in a lot of countries.

And that just makes it even harder for me to understand that the political system in America seems to differ so much from the open minded and helpful nature of the citizens.

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To be in debt or not to be in debt

Student loans are becoming a drag on the U.S. economy and is a debt that won’t go away. The stories about American students accumulating huge debts just to attend universities across the country are many. 

Every time I talk to fellow students at San Francisco State University, I get more and more pleased that I come from Denmark. A country where everybody is entitled to get a free education, and on top of that get financial support from the government so the student has an easier time paying rent and buying food. 

But students at San Francisco State University and other universities in America don’t share that privilege. Not only do they spend a lot of time at school, they also take out big student loans and work several hours a week on the side. Just as the Golden Gate Xpress covered last year. 

And even though most students in Denmark work on the side as well and spends a lot of time in school, they graduate in a better financial situation than American students.

40.000 dollars in debt or no debt

The audio feature below tells you the story of two female students from America and Denmark. Both are in their mid-twenties, and both graduate in the next six months.

Though Katrine Andersen and Jessica Worthington have a lot in common their countries of birth make a huge difference on their lives after graduation. 

the support from the government has made me able to choose the education that I wanted, and not choose it because of the expenses – Katrine Andersen

Jessica Worthington’s sister wasn’t that lucky, if she didn’t want to drag on a huge debt for a lot of years at least. 

My sister has experienced the load of debt you accumulate, so she has decided to change her major. She wanted to be a neurosurgeon and has now decided to be a physicians  assistant – Jessica Worthington

Katrine Andersen even makes the point that it’s only the wealthier Americans – or at least the ones who are prepared to accumulate a big debt – that are ready to attend one of the more expensive schools. 

Both students agree that education is something that everybody should have access to. While Katrine  Andersen has been able to travel the world, study abroad and be paid as an intern, Jessica Worthington hasn’t shared these “luxurious” privileges. She will graduate with a debt of 40.000 dollars. 

And you wonder: Isn’t the consequence of huge debts that American students:
a) drop out of college
b) never attend college
c) finish with a lower degree than they initially hoped for? 

If any of the above listed theories are spot on you could argue that completing an education is a dream in America that maybe can’t be accomplished by everyone if they can’t afford it. 

Then we’ll end up yet another time with the words that were written in The Declaration of Independence from 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

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Are Danes indeed the happiest people in the world?

For the last couple of months I’ve studied Malcolm X – In The Context Of Black Nationalism at San Francisco State University. Oba T’Shaka has passionately lectured me and my fellow students on African American history.

We had a midterm yesterday and I talked to one of the African American girls from my class. I asked her: if African Americans are supposed to be proud of being black,  why are European Americans not allowed to being proud of being white?

She responded in a respectful and thoughtful manner: “You’re not really allowed to in the U.S.” And then she added:

But YOU can be proud of being Danish.

I answered “yes” pretty quickly and thought about some of the things I prefer about Denmark, when I compare it to the U.S. or some of the around 35 other countries I’ve visited so far in my life.

And the award as the happiest country in the world goes to… Denmark

A day later I’m looking at an article from The Huffington Post. It was published yesterday and my home country is yet another time crowned as the happiest country in the world. Back in 2009 North America’s only female black billionaire Oprah Winfrey visited Denmark for the first time and saw The Happiest People On Earth.

Here are some of the reasons that Denmark is back to back winners on the happy scale:

  • Families receive 52 weeks of parental leave. Mothers are able to take 18 weeks and fathers receive their own dedicated 2 weeks at up to 100 percent salary. The rest of the paid time off is up to the family to use as they see fit.
  • Children have access to free or low-cost child care.
  • Denmark is in the top 10 of gender equality. 79 percents of mothers return to their previous level of employment, compared to 59 percent of American women.
  • Citizens expect and receive health care as a basic right. Danes are in contact with their primary physician seven times a year. Americans don’t have this continuity.
  • Half of the citizens in the capital Copenhagen rides to job or school = living 1 to 2 years longer.
  • More than 40 percent do volunteer work.
  • 87,7 percent voted in the national elections in 2011 – A woman – Helle Thorning-Schmidt was elected prime minister.

All of the above mentioned are things that I’m proud to pay nearly 50 percent in taxes to keep. On top of that student’s older than 18 are paid to attend school.

But… maybe we’re not that happy

Even though I consider myself a happy person and think it’s rather cool that The New York Times have written articles on the Danish bicyclists Superhighway, I just don’t agree with the word happy.

I don’t consider Danes to be the happiest people in the world. So even though the list above consists a lot of things that Welfare Denmark is proud of it cover some parts of the truth.

Several bloggers, including Somethingmanky and Peter H. Fogtdal have noted that some Danes are xenophobic which comments on their blogs will support. 

Even though I favor the Danish welfare system over the American and more capitalistic system where everybody is supposedly born equal, I think Americans do have some basic qualities that Danes could learn from.

  1. Americans contact you on the street and help you with directions if you’re lost.
  2. Service is better when you’re shopping or going to a restaurant in the U.S., and people in the service industry smile a lot more (maybe because of the tips they require, but still).
  3. Americans talk to everybody and are interested in answering tourists question and curious about tourists origin.

These are some of my own observations and they aren’t true on every single person in either country. How people in public the U.S. is different from what a tourist or exchange student would experience in Denmark, where people are too reserved and are hiding behind their phones walking around in their own world. Me included.

Oprah must have been paralyzed

So even though America’s beloved Oprah Winfrey highly recommended Denmark as the happiest place in the world, she must somehow have been paralyzed by the sight of The Little Mermaid (yes, she is that small…), and probably didn’t get to talk to a whole lot of people.

If Danes are indeed the happiest people in the world why aren’t they more open minded and at least  trying to show extra energy by showing a better attitude towards tourists, visitors and fellow Danes?

To me it seems like smiles are further apart from each other in Denmark than in parts of America or some of the parts of Asia and South America, that I’ve visited.

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Can Denmark teach America how to compromise?

What can American Politics learn from a Danish – and fictitious – television show?

A lot is the answer according to The Daily Beast’s senior writer Andrew Romano. He posted a blog yesterday where he argues that the television show ‘Borgen’ about Danish Politics could solve the Government shutdown that has influenced American lives the last week.

The Republicans and the Democrats still can’t agree on the ongoing conflict on ObamaCare or Affordable Care Act, even though most Republicans initially were supportive of ObamaCare.

So while the House still hasn’t found a solution to the conflict and America isn’t Denmark, Andrew Romano argues that some of the aspects from the television show could be implemented in The U.S.

I won’t go into details about the show, but ultimately it goes into detail on politicians building coalitions in order to compromise on different subjects.

With a background not only working as a journalist at The Danish Parliament but also at The Ministry of Education I’ve experienced the political scene from different perspectives. In my six months as The Ministry of Education I even worked under two different governments.

Basic way of politics 

I believe that a lot of the shows morale and political dilemmas has similarities to the political scene in Denmark. Right now eight parties are represented in The Danish Parliament and no party can pull anything through without getting help and backup from other parties. It’s just a basic way of doing politics in Denmark.

Even though you can’t compare the political scene in Denmark with America’s more polarized scene I agree with Andrew Romano in one of his conclusions:

The leaders on Borgen are not necessarily smarter or more sensible than the ones we’re saddled with; it’s the system that makes more sense. The characters simply work within it.

I would go one step further: The leaders in Denmark aren’t necessarily smarter or more sensible than the American leaders. The system just makes more sense.

And if you want further perspectives on not only the fictitious but also the real Danish politics you should read the comments on Andrew Romanos blog.

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The Government shutdown influences American lives

Alcatraz Island, Yosemite National Park and Grand Canyon National Park.

The above mentioned places has been among my future destinations in the coming weeks, as my girlfriend visits from Denmark. Unfortunately the recent government shutdown means that all national parks are closed.

Not only is the closure horrible news for tourists dreaming of visiting the national parks, it’s also a political conflict that influences a lot of American lives.

High taxes pay for hospital visits

I come from Denmark. A country where the high taxes paid by all citizens make sure that everybody can get the help they need at a public hospital. So it’s quite difficult to understand the ongoing conflict on ObamaCare or the Affordable Care Act as it’s also called.

In my opinion everybody has the right to get help at a public hospital. No matter income or status in society. And this could have been one of ways to close the huge gap between rich and poor in the U.S. that grows bigger and bigger.

If you can’t even dream of being helped at a hospital how would you be able to accomplish The American Dream?

But the Republicans and the Democrats don’t agree on this issue. Even though most Republicans initially were supportive of ObamaCare they’ve changed their minds and want it delayed by a year. Some Republicans even argue it’s unconstitutional as Jon Stewart explains on The Daily Show.

And this conflict also influences federal employees. Some aren’t able to work and therefore won’t be paid.

End of America’s superpower status?

It will be exciting to see how this conflict evolves in the coming weeks and when everything gets back to normal again. Last time there was a Government shutdown it lasted for 28 days when Bill Clinton was president in 1995, and it almost cost him the presidency at that time.

Some experts claim that Barack Obama is presiding over the end of America’s superpower status.

This is a story that makes the newspaper headlines not only in America, but everywhere. In Denmark American Politics Analyst Mette Noehr Claushoej follows the situation closely, but she has no idea on when the conflict will end:

The shutdown will end, when enough of the moderate Republicans demand a voting on a suggestion that can agree across the middle of the party. At some point John Boehner (Speaker of the United States House of Representatives) will have to fold. If not the party risks to be split up in two.

Mette Noehr Claushoej believes the conflict among other things are caused by the more established parts of the party who are afraid to stand up to the members Tea Party wing of the party.

This blog isn’t able to give a complete overview on the complex situation that furthermore changes all the time, but it might be able to answer Americans, who apparently like what ObamaCare consists, but don’t like it as a whole.

Some even like Affordable Care Act better than ObamaCare as this video from Jimmy Kimmel Live! shows.

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Liberty and equality define The American Dream

In my last post I finished with a quote from The Declaration of Independence. But even though it might have been an incisive and fitting way of welcoming the reader, we need to travel from the 4th of July 1776 to September 1565.

This is to understand WHERE the idea of the American Dream started. That’ll lead to an answer on WHAT The American Dream is.

Fort Caroline 1565

Almost 450 years ago a bunch of French colonists came to the New World. Like the later English Pilgrims – that came with the Mayflower in 1620 – these Protestants were victims of the religious wars that was raging in France and much of Europe. Just like the pilgrims they were looking for religious freedom and the chance of a new life.  And to attack Spanish treasure ships sailing back from the Americas.

Settling in Fort Caroline near present day Jacksonville the French were soon to be attacked by the Spanish. Almost all of the French were killed and weren’t able to continue their pursuit of happiness that Thomas Jefferson so famously mentions in The Declaration of Independence more than 200 years later.

Epic of America

Even though the historical facts above don’t erase the blurry picture of what The American Dream is, it fits quite well with James Truslow Adams’ observations in 1931:

That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement… It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

James Truslow Adams did, however, also have a more critical view on the dream.

Too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it.

Both quotes are from his book The Epic of America in which he is the first to define The American Dream.

To summarize. The French colonists, Thomas Jefferson and James Truslow Adams agreed on a couple of points:

  • LIBERTY: The French colonists came to America looking for freedom and a new life. Jefferson wrote that life and liberty unalienable rights in The Declaration of Independence.  Adams wrote: “A dream of a land in which life should be better and richer for everyone… regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
  • EQUALITY: The French colonist were escaping from religious wars. Jefferson stated that “All men are created equal”. Adams’ quote indicates he agreed on the idea of quality.

From 1565 to 1931 the idea of liberty and equality have been important aspects in shaping and evaluating The American Dream. Most noticeable is however James Truslow Adams’ observation that many Americans already had grown weary and mistrustful of The American Dream in 1931.

Conclusions

Since Adams’ observations became an international bestseller 82 years ago 13 presidents have led The United States of America through economical, national and international crises. But have they been able to give Americans liberty and equality that The American Dream describes?

Some would argue that isn’t the case. As I mentioned in my last post the gap between rich and poor are getting bigger. On top of that Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee who intentionally disclosed classified details on Americas mass surveillance to the press, probably didn’t help Americans believe that they are indeed residing in a land of liberty.

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Let the challenge begin

Christopher Gardner is a black single dad. He has just lost his house, his bank account and credit cards. He is forced to live out in the streets of San Francisco with his son and begins his desperate battle to find a steady job and a reliable future for him and his son. Soon, he takes on an internship position as a stockbroker. Despite the odds still being against him, the company eventually hires him. 

The plot is from the 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happyness. Based on a true story, it takes the viewer 25 years back to 1981 and has Will Smith starring in the leading role and his real life son, Jaden, as his on screen son.

In an emotional scene Gardner tells his son:

Don’t ever let somebody tell you you can’t do something. Not even me. All right?

And later on:

If you want something, go get it. Period.

The last quote even serving as a moral or words of wisdom to the attentive viewer. Since Gardner’s real life accomplishment 32 years has passed and as a foreign exchange student in San Francisco in 2013 I’m left with some questions that require answers:

  1. What is The American Dream? 
  2. How has it changed through the years?
  3. Does it exist? 
  4. If yes: Is it a dream that anyone can accomplish?
  5. Is The American Dream a good thing?

Whoopi Goldberg thinks she is The American Dream. The actor and activist does however also point out that it has changed through the years: 

The fact that you’re making it now, makes you 5,000 times the person than those who came before you were. Because we had a lot of help, and there’s very little help out there now.

She states it’s harder to accomplish The American Dream today. But has it become more of a utopia in a capitalistic country where the gap between rich and poor among other things gets bigger and bigger?

This blog will try to challenge The American Dream. Through interviews with Americans of lower and upper class, historians and with references to the cultural world I’ll try to answer the five questions above.

And try to remind the reader what is written in The Declaration of Independence from 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Welcome