Category Archives: History

What it is ain’t exactly clear

In this edition: Okay, Buffalo Springfield, NOW I get it. Poor makers and rich takers. If we can’t pull them from their expensive cars and torch the cars while cheering in an unruly mob can we at least tax them appropriately?

For What It’s Worth

There’s somethin’ happenin’ here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Tellin’ me, I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speakin’ their minds
Gettin’ so much resistance from behind

I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

— Written by Stephen Stills, Recorded by Buffalo Springfield (1967)

Okay, so that song is about Vietnam war protests, right? Err… sorry, no. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

Though often mistaken for an anti-war song, it was the first of the Sunset Strip Riots which inspired Stephen Stills to write For What It’s Worth. Sunset Strip Riots? From 1966 through the early 1970s a series of protests occurred in Hollywood. Music clubs like Pandora’s Box and Whiskey A Go-Go were drawing thousands–mostly students, many under 18. The resulting noise and traffic issues caused police to enforce a 10:00 curfew for teens under 18. The law had been on the books but was not usually enforced. The rock and rollers considered this an affront to civil liberties and gathered for a protest that got out of hand, resulting in arrests and property damage.

Now I have a better understanding of the second verse’s “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong” and the third verse’s “mostly say hooray for our side.” I always wondered why the commitment was so diluted and that explains it, the cause was not as righteous as others of the time. This was about young rockers facing a curfew not civil rights or the Vietnam war.

In 1966 James Meredith, the first black to attend the University of Mississippi was shot while on a march through that State. Congress defeated the 1966 Civil Rights Bill that would have ended discrimination in home sales and rentals. It had only been two years since 3 civil rights workers had been lynched in Mississippi. In Vietnam, troop strength had escalated to 360,000 soldiers. More than 5,500 Americans were killed that year. In antiwar protests, 20,000 to 25,000 marched in New York, and demonstrations took place in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Oklahoma City and in other countries, Ottawa, London, Oslo, Stockholm, Lyon, and Tokyo. Hollywood youths being told to go home early, not so compelling.

LB_Rule

Media Matters sent me email with this striking quote:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

I found it was from FDR’s Second Inaugural Address  made on January 20, 1937.

So obviously this demonstrates Roosevelt’s Socialist leanings. At least, that’s the way conservatives read the statement. (I think we need a little more perspective than that.) First, look at the times he witnessed. Second, consider his own story. While growing up, Roosevelt was surrounded by privilege and the associated sense of self-importance. He was educated by tutors and governesses until age 14, and the entire household revolved around him as an only child. He went to the University, married, had children. Then, he was stricken with polio at the age of 39. This affected him to his core. Through great effort he rehabilitated himself to get some use of his legs. So I’m suggesting that this thought of being concerned with those who have too little is really simple empathy (or even Christian values) but applied to the domain of government. The empathy was surely part of his nature (seems unlikely that it suddenly appeared) but his own struggle and the extent of the hardships he witnessed in the Depression certainly contributed to his contempt for the bankers and barons who had put their personal quest for wealth ahead of the country’s economy and even survival.

This issue, government as the solver of social problems, lies at the heart of the conflict between social conservatism and social liberalism. Social conservatives simply do not believe that it is the role of government to assume responsibility for services provided through churches and other charities. Social liberalism believes in the government’s role is to solve big problems including those of citizens in hunger and poverty (justified by the phrase “promote the general Welfare” from the U.S. Constitution’s preamble.).

More recently, social conservatives have moved into the realm of religion (here and in northern Africa and the Middle East) and adopted the issue of abortion as a critical political concern. The ability of conservatives to simultaneously over-interpret the second amendment’s juncture that the militia could be armed to mean concealed carry without restriction while ignoring the first amendment’s demand to keep religious views out of governance is a little mind-boggling. The Constitution taken á la carte.

Roosevelt went on to say, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

And this leads to:

Lefty Boomers Unified Theory of Politics and the Economy.

Point of View #1. The masses, their low success proving their lack of effort and ability, want free stuff. So they elect politicians that will give them free stuff. The free stuff must be paid for and the masses have little, so the industrious “makers” are robbed by the needs of the slothful “takers.” Obama won the election by promising Medicaid healthcare to low-income people, relaxed immigration policy for Latinos, free contraceptives for women, Food Stamps for millions, etc. This is the thrust of much of the conversation from the right after the 2012 elections–including defeated and humiliated but not humbled candidate, Romney.

Point of View #2. If you have wealth, you have the ability to begin to reform the law to give you more advantages. You can change tax laws, banking restrictions, anti-trust laws, avoid responsibility to keep air and water clean or externalize those costs to communities, and find various ways to poison Americans at profit. You can forge a Supreme Court that will say that corporations are people and money is speech so that the ability of money to influence politics becomes integral to the process.

So… one of these seems true, and one is not supported by fact.

Every single person in America gets benefits from the U.S. government. We get defended from invasion, we get roads to drive on, we get reasonably clean air to breathe, we get parks and schools and more. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to figure out that many, including those the conservatives might deem morally worthy, get plenty of stuff from the government. So that’s the first point–everybody gets something–perceived makers and takers alike.

Who gets more the wealthy or the poor? Consider this:  General Electric spends between $20 million and $40 million each year on lobbying. They lobby for changes to tax laws, win, and profit from it. In 2010, billions in profits, zero tax liability, and tax credits for things like wind turbines. We continue to hear that corporate taxes hurt American business at 35%. But few companies pay that rate. The GAO reports that the actual corporate tax rate overall is 12.6%. The next time somebody throws the 35% corporate tax rate at you, respond with oh no buddy, they actually only pay 12.6%.

Republicans passed the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 under GW Bush. It contained more than $13 billion a year in tax breaks for corporations, many very beneficial to G.E. Some provisions seemed tailored for the company, and according to its 2007 regulatory filing, the company saved more than $1 billion in American taxes because of that law in the three years after it was enacted. The Congressman on the House Ways and Means Committee that introduced the House version of the Bill was Bill Thomas, who the year before had an adulterous affair with a female lobbyist, she became a VP of Eli Lilly corporation, which steered huge amounts of money back to Thomas’ campaign fund. That year, pharmaceutical companies were blessed with  Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 which gave prescription drug benefits to Medicare recipients but prohibited the government’s ability to set the prices for those drugs (the way they do for hospitalizations and physician visits). She rewarded Thomas (in more ways than one), he rewarded Pharma, they rewarded her.

But moving away from the corporate benefits, wealthy individuals also do well. Warren Buffett famously pointed out that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. Carried interest is the skim that fund managers take from clients, and it’s taxed at the long-term capital gains rate of 15%, a 24.9% savings from the top rate. So Romney’s income of $22 million in 2010 would have paid another $5 million in taxes if the income was treated as ordinary income instead of sweetheart-deal-for-millionaire-hedge-fund-managers income.

Romney pockets $5 million, complains about those in the 47% who get a maximum of $2400 per year (individual maximum) for food from the SNAP.

Walmart is actively anti-union, wage suppressing, and supportive of conservative causes. They benefit to the tune of $500 million  SNAP dollars each year through payments for groceries. At the same time, because of Walmart’s low wages and benefits many of its employees are forced to turn to the government for aid, costing taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store, according to a report released Congressional Democrats. So the recession took away the low- and moderately-skilled worker’s ability to get a decent paying job and many were forced to work at Walmart. Their wages qualify them for food assistance, utility assistance, and possibly Medicaid. At the same time the Forbes list reveals that six Waltons have a combined income equal to the total wealth of the entire bottom 30% of wage earners.

Is Medicare morally superior to unemployment? Why would it be? They are both programs that you pay into and benefit from when need arises. But conservatives tip-toe around Medicare (because their constituency is largely older and white–the Medicare demographic) but attack unemployment mercilessly. The mortgage interest deduction isn’t morally superior to food stamps, even though conservatives like one but not the other. One subsidizes food and one subsidizes housing. It’s good to provide incentives for home purchasing, but it’s better for the lenders as a quick check of a mortgage payment times the months in the term attest.

The entitlements to the poor don’t compare to the entitlements of the wealthy (while those in the middle get little and complain little). Meanwhile, the conservatives send enough money to Karl Rove to solve any number of social problems in order to keep someone they perceived as sympathetic to the poor out of office.

So how do we know who is the taker in this modern world? Well, maybe the 20% annual growth rate in food assistance proves that the lower end of the wage scale is growing while more wealth is held at the top that than at any time since the late 1800’s Gilded Age. The number taking SNAP isn’t the issue, it’s the number NEEDING SNAP! The privileges of wealth have never been greater. Their taxes have never been lower. Thanks to Citizens United they are now free to use money to make and break candidates while suggesting the way their employees should vote. While wealth and income gravitate to the top the share of company’s income that goes to labor has dropped 4.5% in the past 20 years.

If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000. In the 1970s the top 1 percent received 8% of total income while today they receive 18%. Middle class income, adjusted for inflation, fell 7% in the past decade. The need for greed destroys our free market system because the workers can’t be good partners in the consumer sector.

The true takers are those that have the economic power to modify the system to benefit them. They cry about pennies to the poor while they push millions of dollars’ responsibility for operating the government onto the backs of their fellows. Enough never seems to be enough. Reiterating FDR’s point, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

LB_Rule

More on this topic at Mother Jones’ 12 Charts to make your blood boil.

Okay rude cellphone user, we surrender. Read about the customer holding up the line who when confronted had the nerve to say, “Er, excuse me? I’m on the PHONE?”

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Bring back Nelson Mandela

In this edition: A few words from Hugh Masekela. Are Americans under the age of 35 wondering who the heck Nelson Mandela is? Who stopped South Africa’s dehumanizing apartheid policies? WE did. Bam. Ray LaHood too Republican to stomach the tea party. Wendy Davis, America’s Sweetheart.

Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela)

Bring back Nelson Mandela.
Bring him back home to Soweto.
I want to see him walking down the street in South Africa – Tomorrow.

Bring back Nelson Mandela.
Bring him back home to Soweto.
I want to see him walking down the street with Winnie Mandela.

— Hugh Masekela (1987)

I bought the 1987 CD Tomorrow by Hugh Masekela sometime in the late 90’s at a used CD store. This song, with just 6 lines of lyrics, is surprisingly effective as an anthem and IMHO lifts the soul and spirit, especially with retrospective knowledge of the historic significance of Nelson Mandela. Masekela is a South African-born trumpeter who through a series of fortunate encounters became an international star and key disseminator of African influence in music. In the late 1960s, Masekela had hits with Grazin’ in the Grass, a laid-back tune that hit the Top-100 charts with both Masekela’s instrumental version and soon after with a Friends of Distinction vocal version. He also had success with an instrumental version of the pop hit Up, Up and Away.

Here’s a version of Bring Him Back Home from a 1987 concert with Paul Simon in Zimbabwe.

Whatever happens in the coming days regarding Mr. Mandela’s health we should remember both his legacy of non-violence and the power that the international community brought to bear to overturn white supremacy and apartheid in South Africa. When given the chance, and with the proper circumstances, wide-spread agreement about injustice will and does create political change, even under a conservative swing in the federal government.

As an aside: Researching Masekela, I ran across a charity that he is associated with called The Lunchbox Fund at http://www.thelunchboxfund.org. With the slogan “Hunger Devours Potential” the fund provides one meal per day to disadvantaged South African students and deserves support.

LB_Rule Do they teach American children about apartheid, Nelson Mandela, and America’s contribution to ending white supremacy rule in South Africa? My best Internet friend, Professor Google, doesn’t show classroom support articles for that like they do for other topics I’ve explored. So in this post, as we frequently hear Nelson Mandela’s name due to his illness and hospitalization, I would like to tee up what nonmilitary government intervention, instigated by grassroots popular activism, looks like. SouthAfrica

The background. After World War II the conservative National Party came into power in South Africa, the southern-most nation on the African continent. They established 4 classes of race-based inhabitants: “native”, “white”, “coloured”, and “Asian”. Residential areas were segregated, sometimes by means of forced removals. As if this were not bad enough, in 1970 they eliminated political representation and South African citizenship for the black Africans. Instead, they were citizens of the semi-autonomous Bantustans which were ethnic or tribal-based “homelands” that evolved out of tribal reservations from the earlier part of the century.  The government segregated education, medical care, beaches, and other public services, and provided black people with services inferior to those of the governing white minority. Black children received 1/16th of the educational resources of their white counterparts.

It’s estimated that 3.5 million people were forced from their homes from the 1960s through the 1980s, many being resettled in the Bantustans. The government’s ultimate aim was the total removal of the black population from South Africa. A Minister of Plural Relations and Development told the House of Assembly in 1978:

“If our policy is taken to its logical conclusion as far as the black people are concerned, there will be not one black man with South African citizenship … Every black man in South Africa will eventually be accommodated in some independent new state in this honourable way and there will no longer be an obligation on this Parliament to accommodate these people politically.”

The goal was never achieved. Only about 55% of South Africa’s black population lived in the Bantustans; the remainder lived in South Africa proper, many in townships, shanty-towns, and slums on the outskirts of South African cities. The townships were usually fairly large areas bordering large cities. Outside Johannesburg, Soweto township had formed (from the words SOuth WEstern TOwnship). The residents were often low-wage domestic workers or laborers in the cities or if near mining areas like Soweto was, mine workers.

The National Party passed a string of legislation which became known as petty apartheid.  Marriage between white people and people of other races was made illegal by the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act 55 of 1949. The Immorality Amendment Act 21 of 1950 made illegal “unlawful racial intercourse” and “any immoral or indecent act” between a white person and an African, Indian, or “coloured” person. And that only begins to describe the history of repression and injustice that the conservative National Party wrought on South Africa.

Nelson Mandela’s clan name, as President Obama reminded us this week, is Madiba. Originally Rolihlahla Mandela, he was given the name Nelson by an early British teacher, as was the custom at that time. He was educated in Methodist schools and went to a University in the Cape area. He eventually joined the African National Congress (ANC) an organization dedicated to a free South Africa. His first marriage ended in divorce, and he became involved with, and later married, an activist named Winnie Madikizela. Winnie Mandela was very active in the ANC during the days of her husband’s imprisonment (August 1963 – February 1990), but the couple separated soon after his release and subsequent presidential career. Still politically involved and popular today, her legacy was damaged by advocating violence against black Africans seen as being conciliatory to the government and for a case where she was involved in the kidnapping and murder of young men.

In all, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for charges related to his activism, often in isolated and cruel conditions. He (and other activists like martyred Stephen Biko) became a focal point for rising world condemnation of the South African government and apartheid.

In the 1960s South Africa had economic growth second only to that of Japan. Trade with Western countries grew, and investors from the United States, France, and Britain rushed in to get a piece of the action. But the economy was poorly designed in that the majority population (70% black African) were too poor (and paid too little) to contribute to their consumer segment while the cost for security and the setup of homelands was great. The government relied heavily on outside investment and the sale of gold coins called Krugerrands.  Between 1974 and 1985, it’s estimated that 22 million gold Krugerrand coins were imported into the United States alone coinciding with a bull market on the metal.

The anti-apartheid movements in the United States and Europe were gaining support for boycotts against South Africa, for the withdrawal of U.S. firms from South Africa, and for the release of Nelson Mandela. South Africa had become an outlaw in the world community. An opportunity developed for people of conscience to have an effect across the globe and they took it.

In October, 1985 President Ronald Reagan instituted a ban on the import of Krugerrand coins. (I’ll give you a second to reflect on this fact!) From the October 2, 1985 Chicago Tribune newspaper:

President Reagan imposed a ban Tuesday on imports of South African Krugerrand gold coins, stressing that his action is  “directed at apartheid and the South African government” and not against that nation’s population or economy.

The ban, to take effect Oct. 11, follows up limited economic sanctions Reagan placed against the white-minority regime last month for its failure to institute racial and political reforms.

What would cause a conservative U.S. President (the ultimate icon of conservatism) to support economic sanctions against South Africa? Overwhelming public and bipartisan support forced his hand.

Universities, often overlooked as investors even though they manage large portfolios of endowment funds, rose to oppose apartheid during the mid-1980s. This was driven by student and faculty activism.  Disinvestment campaigns on campuses began on the West coast and Midwest in 1977 having early successes at Michigan State University,  at New York’s Columbia University, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The initial Columbia divestment, focused largely on bonds and financial institutions directly involved with the South African regime.  Backed by a diverse array of student groups and many notable faculty members the Committee Against Investment in South Africa held numerous teach-ins and demonstrations through the year focused on the trustees ties to the corporations doing business with South Africa. Trustee meetings were picketed and interrupted by demonstrations culminating in May 1978 in the takeover of the Graduate School of Business.

These initial successes set a pattern which was later repeated at many more campuses across the country. Activism surged in 1984 on the wave of public interest created by the television coverage of the  resistance efforts of the black South Africans. Students organized to demand that their universities cease investing in companies that traded or had operations in South Africa.  The University of California system authorized the withdrawal of three billion dollars worth of investments from the apartheid state. Nelson Mandela has stated his belief that the University of California’s massive divestment was particularly significant in abolishing white-minority rule in South Africa.

In 1985 Steven Van Zandt (little Steven of the E-Street band) organized Musicians Against Apartheid. Dozens of top artists participated in the song “Sun City” with the chorus “I’m not going to play Sun City.” Sun City was an entertainment venue in South Africa that catered to the country’s wealthy and to wealthy tourists. It was a song and it was a promise to boycott the venue. Sun City became another economic pressure point in the opposition to apartheid.

Eventually, 26 states, 22 counties, and over 90 cities had taken some form of binding economic action against companies doing business in South Africa. The time to reach critical mass, resulting in the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, was more than 20 years. The movement had small beginnings with protests at docks where South African goods were arriving and students closing bank accounts at banks providing loans to the regime. The American Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war efforts, the Women’s Rights Movement, and Gay Rights Movements all created a framework where activism could be directed to a new and worthwhile cause. This milieu of activism inspired the movement in South Africa as well.

Although Reagan vetoed the Anti-Apartheid Act (pause a second to reflect on that) the veto was overridden in a striking testament to the strength of the anti-apartheid movement by the Republican-controlled Senate. It’s interesting to note that the Carter administration was sympathetic to the anti-apartheid cause but enacted no legislation. Reagan’s “new right” administration explicitly supported the South African white power structure. This may have stimulated progressive-minded people to work even harder at the dissemination of information that would lead to sanctions and divestment. So while the government turned more sympathetically to South Africa (partially due to GOP interest in business above all else and partially due to the sense that black rule would be communist), the people continued to build anti-apartheid sentiment and seek solutions.

In 1990 the government released political prisoners including Mandela and talks began to dismantle the apartheid system. In 1994’s democratic elections Nelson Mandela became president, counseling reconciliation over retaliation. Presiding over the transition from apartheid minority rule to a multicultural democracy, Mandela saw national reconciliation as the primary task of his presidency. The lessons to learn include the power of the people to enact change, the incremental nature of change, and the ultimate triumph of reconciliation in response to injustice. For our role in ending South Africa’s apartheid Americans can take great pride.

LB_Rule

I read a great piece in the paper by outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. At his last press conference he said:

“What I believe it is,” he said, “is a small group, maybe 30-40 in the House, who have come here to do nothing — and that’s what they’ve done. They’ve done nothing. They’ve accomplished nothing. . . They didn’t come here to vote for solutions. They came here to do nothing, and they stand in the way of the president and his agenda. But also I would say they stand in the way of getting a bipartisan immigration bill passed or a bipartisan farm bill passed.”

Apologists, like the Washington Post that carried the statements, would say that the do-nothing House is there serve as a bulwark against increasing government size and intrusion. If the obstructionists believe this, it flies in the face of 200 years of democratic principle. LaHood added:

“The idea of getting elected to Congress has always been about moving America forward, solving America’s problems, not about stymying, not about stopping, not about ignoring.” He added: “The idea of their (Tea Party faction’s) philosophy doesn’t square with the traditions of Congress, the traditions of why people come here, the traditions of how we move America forward. These are people without a vision.”

Is it time to start believing that sanity can return to the House? When will Speaker Boehner face the fact that he has squandered his big shot? Instead of being part of the long tradition of speakers that hammered together deals that moved our country forward, he’s allowed a minority of 40 to undo the interests of the other 194 Republican representatives as well as the 201 Democrats of the 113th Congress. Will he just stand there blinking when the American people clean house in 2014?

The Washington Post article is here.

LB_RuleA star is born.

Wendy Davis: From teen mom to Harvard Law to famous filibuster

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Like we was lost and nobody cared…

In this edition: Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath not ripening in post-Reagan America, what’s the matter with unions, if you put yourself on a pedestal then my instinct is to knock you off. Please do the same for me.

Quotes from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath

Ma Joad: I ain’t never gonna be scared no more. I was, though. For a while it looked as though we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn’t have nobody in the whole wide world but enemies. Like nobody was friendly no more. Made me feel kinda bad and scared too, like we was lost and nobody cared….

Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain’t no good and they die out, but we keep on coming. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out, they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, cos we’re the people.

Tom Joad:  Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.

Jim Casy: I wouldn’t pray just for a man that’s dead, ’cause he’s all right. If I was to pray, I’d pray for folks that’s alive and don’t know which way to turn.

Grandpa Joad: It’s my dirt! Eh-heh! No good, but it’s – it’s mine, all mine.

My custom on this blog has been to abuse the copyrights of songwriters to introduce posts but in this entry I’ll abuse the copyright of an author and a screenwriter instead. I saved the 1940 film The Grapes of Wrath on the DVR and finally got around to watching it one recent night. My wife, who HATES old movies, got interested in it and watched it with me. Not born and schooled in the U.S., she was shocked by the portrayal of the Okies and the Depression-era abuses they endured. To me, the resonance with the themes we face today were fascinating.

Steinbeck outlined his main aim saying, “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for the Great Depression and its effects.” His goal was realized by the film but by blunting Steinbeck’s razor-sharp edges of realism the film became a better method of communicating to the wider audience.  Outrage induced by the injustices endured by the dust bowl migrants renews whenever this classic is shown.

The content is quite socialist but the people involved in bringing the film to life were far from that. The director was John Ford whose life encapsulates the development of the American film industry from silents to talkies with star-building thrown in and rejection of studio controlled films in order to preserve freedom of expression. We can see from his films a strong sense of justice but not an outright rejection of capitalism. The producer was Darryl F. Zanuck. Reportedly, Zanuck was nervous about the left-wing political views of the novel. Red-baiting is both a part of the film and a part of the times it was produced in. Then, as now, when the focus shifts to the interests of the common man the response of “conservatives” is to call it socialism or communism. Zanuck sent private investigators to Oklahoma to investigate the plight of the tenant farmers and collected documentation that would help him to defend charges that he was pro-communist.

Steinbeck wrote, “In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” The metaphor is based on the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Which in turn was taken from the New Testament’s book Revelation, in 14:19–20 which is big on prophetic visions:

And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

All this led me to the question of “Why aren’t the grapes of wrath growing heavy today?” How have we been convinced that the good of the people at the top is more important than the good of hard-working people who make all success possible?

For example:

From 1978–2011, CEO compensation grew more than 725 percent, more than the stock market and remarkably more than the annual compensation of a typical private-sector worker, which grew just 5.7 percent. As of 2011, the figure of CEO comp to average worker was 231 to 1. Just before Ronald Reagan took office, that number was 35 to 1. In many industries, especially retail, the ratio is over 1000 to 1.

Wal-Mart’s ratio is more than 600 to 1, even while they actively fight unionization, include applications for federal aid as part of their hiring packet, and fight the expansion of covered healthcare costs. The six remaining Walton family members have a fortune equal to the combined wealth of the bottom 30 percent of the American population – 100 million people. And in one year they spent nearly $8 million lobbying politicians to work against trade regulation, to reduce corporate taxation, and to degrade worker’s rights (like paid sick days). They are supporters of conservative policy thinktanks like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, and of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. They fulfill a mission of providing low quality, low-cost goods and admittedly, that can help low-income people. But they’ve created a situation where predatory practices do more harm than good.

It has been reported that the average Wal-Mart worker required $730 in taxpayer-funded healthcare and $1,222 in other forms of assistance, such as food stamps and subsidized housing due to low wages and miserly benefits. More here…

While such fortunes accrue to the few, 47 million Americans–or one out of seven–need food  assistance. Almost half of the hungry are children. For every food bank we had in  1980, we now have 200. At the same time, 20 people made more from their investment income in  one year than the entire 2011 food assistance  budget. That’s $73 billion, taxed at the capital gains rate. Meanwhile, President Obama couldn’t get the $1 billion per year he needed to improve childhood  nutrition in schools.

Some will argue that in a free market compensation follows value. This is not true. Money=Power=Influence and once at the top, those driven by greed and narcissism use their power and influence to stack the deck in their own favor. This is not free market capitalism, and in fact free market capitalism would demand that wages have equity externally and internally since that’s the path to the highest levels of employee performance resulting in higher levels of business success. There’s a good Harvard Review article on the topic here.

Those with influence have had great success in avoiding taxation, reducing the amount of money available to serve the other 99% of Americans. Loopholes and exemptions cost the public about  a trillion dollars a year, and under-reported income costs another $450 billion. The total is much more than the cost of our stable but always threatened Social Security program. Since the recession, Fortune 500 corporations have  cut their tax payments in half, even though their profits have doubled in less than ten years. If that were not enough, it is  estimated that between $21 and $32 trillion is hidden offshore, untaxed, with up to 40% owned by Americans.  U.S. PIRG estimates that the average taxpayer in 2012 paid an extra $1,026 in taxes to make up for tax havens by corporations and wealthy individuals. The average small business paid $3,067.

Were you aware that America has the highest death rate for newborns on their first day in the industrialized world?  According to a report published by Save the Children, an international aid group, an estimated 11,300 babies don’t make it past their first day in the United States. “This is 50 percent more first-day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined,” write the authors of the report.  America may have good healthcare, but it’s not universal and the poor and underprivileged are left out in our for-profit system. Where are the leaders to champion a cause like reducing newborn deaths? I hear crickets chirping.

A news release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports:

In 2012, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union–was 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2011. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.4 million, also declined over the year. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

And the benefits of unions:

$917 = Median weekly earnings in 2010 of union members.

$717 = Median weekly earnings in 2010 of non-union workers.

That’s a yearly difference in salary of $10,400 for union members vs. non-union members.

But the problems of unions are that they make products and services too expensive! Bullshit. Bullshit for two reasons.

1. The differential is reasonable.

From BLS:  In private industry, unionized electricians earned an average of $21.05 per hour, compared with $15.11 for non-union electricians. In the public sector, these figures were $18.07 and $13.51, respectively. The wage differential was greater in private industry ($5.94) than in the public sector ($4.56).

Working a normal workweek a union electrician in the private sector would make just $43,784 per year. This amount seems very reasonable for a trained person doing a quality-critical job.

2. The cost of labor represents only a portion of the cost of producing a product. Costs are generated by labor, capital costs like machinery, and raw materials costs.

Analysts at JP Morgan have written:

Let’s put the importance of labor costs in its proper perspective. It may be surprising to note that labor accounts for a relatively small 16% of total manufacturing costs in the US. This moves as high as 30% for certain sectors such as electronics and apparel, to as low as 6-7% for sectors such as Motor Vehicles, where capital costs are so much more significant. Raw materials and components are clearly the biggest drivers of input costs (emphasis mine).

So while industry fights the worker over wage gains along the lines of what unions provide this may represent a 1 or 2% uptick in pricing (25% increase of labor on 6% of the  item’s costs). More on the proportion of manufacturing that comes from labor costs here.

The term Fordism refers to Henry Ford’s system of mass manufacturing but it also includes a component that encompasses the idea that the system must afford its workers decent enough wages to buy the product that is being manufactured. Disregard for the worker seems to be the hallmark of those we entrust the strategic planning in companies to.

So these concepts have fallen out of the conversation since around 1980:

1. Around 2/3 of the economy is consumer spending and by restricting wages (caused by anti-unionism, shifting of funds to investors and top management, and outsourcing to create a labor surplus in the U.S.) the economy struggles.

2. There are people in need at the bottom of socioeconomic spectrum, there are always needs there (e.g. beggars in the Bible), their lives will not be improved by “tough love” impulses to have them raise themselves by their own bootstraps (whatever that chestnut means), and a certain amount of our prosperity must be focused on helping them and intervening on the rising generations to “mainstream” children into the productive economy.

3. The people at the top are more likely to be money-hoarders than job-creators and we need to knock them off the pedestals they’ve assigned themselves to.

4. The kind of greed and injustice that befell migrant farmers lured to the California orchards in the 1930s (for the express purpose of creating a labor surplus that would drop labor costs dramatically) still exists and maybe even thrives in our current world. There are a subset of people who will never have enough, and begrudge a fellow American wages or healthcare while they themselves develop un-spendable quantities of wealth.

LB_Rule

“But ain’t nowhere near the fella I was. Jus’ let me get out California, where I can pick me an orange when I want it. Or grapes. There’s one thing I ain’t never had enough of. Gonna get me a whole big bunch of grapes off a bush, or whatever, an’ I’m gonna squash ’em on my face an’ let ’em run offin my chin.” Quote from Grandpa Joad in Grapes of Wrath. Didn’t a Firesign Theater bit parody this?

LB_Rule

Since this is a “literary” edition, I wanted to share this gem:

In an eon came evening, to cool and to displace the sounds of daytime with whispers and croaks and sounds like rusty hinges from grass-tuft sanctuaries in woods and pastures and from lily pads a quarter of a mile away.

That single sentence paragraph comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s posthumous book We are What We Pretend to Be and is from a novella he wrote in the 1940s called Basic Training. The amazing thing is that the work was rejected by publishers and didn’t find its way into the world for 72 years.

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Don’t let the plastic bring you down

In this edition: The Boston Marathon bombings in perspective. The rise and fall of psychedelic funk music and boomer idealism. Quick takes on Broooooccee!, the Women’s Movement (careful what you wish for), and Wanting More!

You can make it if you try

Push a little harder
Think a little deeper
Don’t let the plastic
Bring you down

Time still creepin’
‘Specially when you’re sleepin’
Wake up and go
For what you know

You’ll get what’s due you
Everything coming to you
You got to move
If you want to be ahead

(All together now)
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah

You can make it if you try
You can make it if you try

– Written by Sylvester Stone, Performed by Sly and the Family Stone (1969)

Sly and the Family Stone was both a product of and catalyst for the times. The band was interracial, and although the roots were black gospel music, Sly’s own funk sensibilities made the appeal universal. It was a groove that white and black kids could get into. The message was about freedom and independence and transcending the joyless realities of life to reach new ground. But the generation gap held. We’d heard in the previous year’s single, Dance to the Music, “Cynthia and Jerry got a message they’re sayin’, All the squares, go home! “

Three band members were siblings, Sly, brother Freddie, and sister Rose. The drummer on 5 of the group’s albums was Greg Errico, a white San Francisco player who went on to play or produce many outstanding acts. He toured (but didn’t record) with Weather Report, played on David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, and collaborated with Mickey Hart and the Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, Bill Wyman, and many others. He even played on David (Don’t Give Up on Us Baby) Soul’s 1976 album, David Soul. Larry Graham was the bassist, an African-American with roots in Texas (like the actual family Stone). He was a pioneer of the slap style that added percussive elements to the bass line. Trumpet and attitude came from Cynthia Robinson, the first black female (and for that matter, just female) in a major band. Finally, saxophonist Jerry Martini rounded out the lineup. He and Cynthia went on to collaborate with Prince.

Sly-Stone

Whenever you think of psychedelic funk music, you should think of Sly and the Family Stone. But that probably doesn’t happen too often!

Sly Stone’s story is the story of many from the free-wheeling 60’s and early 70’s. He fell into obscurity thanks to cocaine and other drugs and continues to struggle with it. In case you were unaware, the brief history of the sixties boomers is this:

  1. Become socially aware. Stand up for what you believe in. Have enormous potential to transform the world into a place of peace, love, and understanding.
  2. Reject doing things the way they’ve always been done, opening up the world to innovation and change.
  3. Include sex and drugs in your new ideals of freedom.
  4. Become way too involved in drugs and give up all the positive momentum to movements like Disco and Reaganism.
  5. Allow a sexual culture to color the understanding of the importance of AID’s emergence and fail to understand the consequences of unprotected sex. Add counter-establishment fervor to create camps of “can’t happen to me” vs. “deserved to get it.”
  6. Wind up in a world where the Kardashians make millions, the underclass is stricken with violence, wealth has markedly shifted toward the top percentiles, and the government is paralyzed (bizarrely considering inaction to be the way to serve). 
  7. Have some influence at the edges, but no realization of the original promise of remaking society.

That seems a little depressing. Because it is. I was also depressed to see the video of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev walking among the men, women, and children along the marathon’s route in the FBI video. How can people get so disconnected from the reality of the bomb’s effects to remain unmoved by the humanity of the crowd around them?  It speaks to some kind of darkness that infects and sickens the perpetrators of the violence. Tamerlan evidently influenced by politics, but Dzhokhar seemingly more influenced by the will of his older brother.

It may be little known (or dimly remembered) U.S. history, but we did suffer similar violence around 40 years ago at Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A think-tank called the Army Mathematics Research Center (AMRC) was housed in Sterling Hall. In 1970, four activists, in protest of the Vietnam War, used a van loaded with explosives to attempt to damage the AMRC. They grossly underestimated the strength of the explosives and in addition to that miscue, they placed the van too far from the AMRC, under a physics lab instead. One physics researcher was killed, three were seriously injured. That bombing featured two brothers as well, Karleton and Dwight Armstrong. Three of the bombers were caught after years on the run, the fourth remains a fugitive.

The victim, Robert E. Fassnacht, was a physics post-doctoral researcher in the field of superconductivity with no connection to the AMRC. He left behind a wife, 3-year old son, and twin daughters, just one month old.

What justification did the bombers have for the Sterling Hall bombing? The bombers didn’t renounce the act, only the unintended results. Students had recently been killed in the protest at Kent State. The war in Vietnam was increasingly seen as senseless and cruel–of benefit to the war-machine profiteers who gave little value to American fighters, mostly college-age, and to the population they claimed to be protecting in Vietnam. These and other factors created a justification in the minds of the bombers. The Tsarnaev brothers must have had that same sense of justification. They, like the Wisconsin bombers, were completely wrong.

Little constructive benefit comes from destructive means. It serves your enemies over your cause, as you will be seen as  heartless and crazed. Peaceful protest is much more effective as it holds the potential to convert your opponents or at least, open the possibility for dialogue.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ideas on the Run

Got the Springsteen in NYC concert CD for my birthday. Then happened to catch the video on cable. The effort of the boss seemed a little forced sometimes, but the overall themes of rock and roll redemption tie in well to the funky joy of Sly and the Family Stone (pre-Sly-demise). I was struck by the theatricality and message of the final song, If I Should Fall Behind from 1992’s Lucky Town. Bruce sings the song to Patti, I imagine,

If as we’re walking a hand should slip free
I’ll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me

The band sings the verses giving the idea of their unity and brotherhood. Well, not all the band. Only the front row team, Bruce, Scialfa, Clemons (may he rest in peace), Lofgren, and Van Zandt . I guess poor Roy Bittan, Gary Tallent, Max Weinberg, and deceased Danny Federici should not expect to be waited for. Still, that wouldn’t have felt as bad as they must have all felt in 1989 when Springsteen said he wouldn’t be recording with the E-Street band in the foreseeable future (and that turned out to be about 6 years).

+_L_+_B_+_L_+_B_+_L_+_B_+_L_+_B_+

Thinking about the issue of deteriorated sixties idealism, the idea of the women’s movement came to mind and the following slippery slope argument. In the beginning, men had the identity of provider and woman had the identity of house manager (with some administrative work thrown to younger, single women). Then, women sought to break out of their role and to look for some fulfillment functioning in the outside world. So the eligible workforce ends up being about doubled.  Labor, being a market, finds it doesn’t have to double the money paid to a household. They can hold pay down and nearly get 2 for 1. So in my parent’s day, a single income meant a new car and suburban home. Nothing fancy, but no giant debts. In my day, you need a dual income for that. If things had stayed the same, we’d have two incomes with 2 new cars and a summer home on Lake Geneva. Oh well.

And that fulfillment thing–I don’t know. Maybe just chasing an illusion. Most jobs are just like the teeth on the gears of the sub-assembly that runs some portion of the corporation where 10% of the staff have nice offices, take normal lunches, and are enjoying 90% of the payroll.

+_L_+_B_+_L_+_B_+_L_+_B_+_L_+_B_+

The AT&T commercials featuring Beck Bennett speaking with precocious but only semi-cute kids is definitely attention grabbing. It’s caught the attention of many ad people and an everyday curmudgeon like me. There’s one in particular… you will know it:

More is better than less
because if there’s more less stuff,
then you might want to have some more.
But then, your parents won’t let you because there’s only a little.
If you really like something, you’ll want more of it.
We want more,
We want more,

Like, you really like it,
you want more.

So I have two issues. First, do these commercials work? The concept is to sell AT&T mobile service and the ability to multitask on the iPhone (surf and speak). The connection from the kids to the product seems weak. Second, that whole “wanting more” thing should be a parent’s nightmare. Why can’t the kids want “enough” or “some sustainable amount”?

All the squares, go home!

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You can go your own way

In this edition: Don’t care? Repeal Obamacare. I had to pause the video and count Buckingham’s fingers because there just seemed to be too many. The Ryan Budget is one bad mother– watch your mouth! Shaft! GOP Hypocrisy! Hey it rhymes! Moon, June, Loons…

Go Your Own Way

Loving you
Is it the right thing to do?
How can I ever change things
That I feel?

If I could
Baby I’d give you my world
How can I
When you won’t take it from me

You can go your own way…

Tell me why
Everything turned around
Packing up
Shacking up’s all you wanna do

You can go your own way
You can call it
Another lonely day
You can go your own way.

– Written by Lindsey Buckingham, performed by Fleetwood Mac

Go Your Own Way was the lead single released from the 1977 classic, Rumours, from Fleetwood Mac. It was the group’s first top ten hit in the U.S. It is believed to be about the relationship between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Other big airplay songs from the album were Don’t Stop, Dreams, and You Make Loving Fun.

The members of Fleetwood Mac were experiencing emotional upheavals while recording Rumours.  Mick Fleetwood (the 6′ 5″ drummer) was going through a divorce. Bassist John McVie was separating from his wife, keyboardist Christine McVie. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were ending their relationship of 8 years. Because they were trying to capitalize on the success of their previous album, Fleetwood Mac, and maintain career momentum, the band had to keep their personal lives separated from their professional lives in the studio, which must have been quite a feat.

Many of us were unimpressed by Fleetwood Mac and the soft rock turn that followed the addition of Nicks and Buckingham. Still, Lindsey is definitely an artist of high caliber. He’s unaffected, self-taught, and doesn’t read music. But due to his lack of training he invented the playing styles and tunings that would enable his “orchestral” expression. Check the video below for solo work in concert from 2006.

The excitement for rock fans at the time came from the British New Wave with musicians like Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson, Graham Parker and their American counterparts Blondie and Talking Heads. But it would be silly to look down on a group that has sold more than 50 million albums and features veterans of the 60s British blues scene as well the outstanding finger-picking of Buckingham.

That would be like a politicians looking down on the 50+ million Americans who voted for Obama last year and reaffirmed their comfort with his policies, and still going their own way. (Progressives, don’t jump at that “comfort” statement. It leads to my point, but doesn’t take into account the flaws of his policies on drones, energy, etc.) Yet a political party continues to flaunt “the will of the people” and return again and again to minority POVs.

This is what I’m talking about: Attached to the Senate Budget Bill last week was an amendment from Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s that would repeal Obamacare. By itself, that may be understandable since campaign promises have been made. Still, it was the !36th! repeal attempt in the Senate. The House has similar numbers of bills, passed with the Republican majority, but were simply theater as the Democratic Senate would not move the bills forward and in any case, the President would veto repeal.

So what’s the point? It’s kind of a mystery for grown men and women to act that way. Are they so cynical that they think that such displays cement the loyalty of followers? Do they expect a miracle? Divine intervention? Whatever it is, they just can’t quit. They keep holding the votes. They continue to act as though it isn’t settled. The news they didn’t get is that the law was passed, the Supreme Court addressed it, and the voters gave Obama the nod. It’s settled.

Obamacare is certainly not perfect. If you really want to reduce healthcare costs then you create a system where there’s a single payer, (no need for doctors to have large billing staffs), and allow commercial insurers to manage it as not-for-profit entities. And this was never going to fly. So instead, the administration went with the concept that Richard Nixon proposed and the conservative Heritage Foundation filled in 23 years ago. The concept: everybody in.

Most of the alternative plans work well for people who are already in the system. The lack of compassion seen in that camp is rather startling. By advocating for high deductible, lower cost plans for the uninsured they ignore the fact that people won’t go to the doctor if the expense is significant and they are already living paycheck to paycheck as 68% of Americans are. This increases the overall costs in the system by allowing many routine and treatable conditions to become  acute and costly. Not only that, but why should the poor be put in the position of ignoring symptoms and self-imposing a death sentence when other Americans are getting the early treatment they need? Like those that insist that our budgetary woes require cutting Social Security and raising the age for Medicare the lack of human empathy makes one’s skin crawl.

On top of all that, many are motivated by the fact that they believe that it is morally wrong for the haves to provide for the have-nots, even though this type of cooperative social behavior is consistent with both our species and our nation’s history. George Lakoff of framing fame explains that here.

It’s interesting that the GOP has championed clean votes on bills but continues to tack unrelated amendments without consequence.  The programs they publicly decry are privately lobbied for. This article details some of the hypocrisy. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) placed a hold on every single one of the 80 administration appointees who had been cleared for approval by Senate committees, explaining that he thought the Obama administration had a bias against his home state. He feared that defense dollars for tanker aircraft were going to bid and might not flow to his home state.  The senator felt holding up all nominees would place maximum pressure on the administration to ignore other contract bids.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) campaigned against the stimulus, and asked for the funds on behalf of constituents. His vice-presidential run seemed to be revolving around outrage that Obama was cutting $700 billion from Medicare but his budget leaves those cuts intact. He also leaves all the other Obamacare tax provisions in place but without the actual healthcare benefits they were designed to pay for.

The American people really dodged a bullet with that guy. He’s a zealot without a trace of self-reflection and not the leader he claims to be as evidenced by his steadfast dedication to ideology over public opinion. So while his constituents (and the rest of America) support Medicare and Social Security, he wants to shrink them. While the components of Obamacare resonate positively when detailed to the general populace, he wants to abolish it. His idea is that he should not be held accountable to his constituency because he is a leader and a leader changes the polls, not the other way around. The truth, Congressman, is that you are elected to represent your district. You need to act according to their wishes and needs. But, there’s nothing wrong with you attempting to move opinion. It’s just that you need to wait until the polls agree with you before you try to change the laws.

Believe me Congressman Ryan, a 25% maximum tax rate sounds good. You just haven’t told us how we can get there with the benefits and services we currently enjoy. Undefined tax loophole closing has the stench of snake oil. You hide big reductions for food stamps, college tuition aid, child nutrition programs, and other programs that help the least among us by lumping them together in large categories hiding the detailed costs.  In addition to the millions who would lose insurance from repeal of Obamacare would be the millions you would add to their ranks by cutting eligibility for Medicare. Your idea of premium support is a little wacky. Substitute premium support for a “serial DUI driver” for “85-year-old with health problems” and “car insurance” for “health insurance” and you may have the light bulb go off. Premium support for unattainable coverage means no coverage.

And what is the overriding principle that you stand by to hurt Americans in this way? Tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. The tax cuts, according to the Tax Policy Center and this Washington Post article, create a nearly $6 trillion shortfall over 10 years. Creating a budget that simply cuts revenues and programs that benefit the nation is not that great of an idea. Yet, Ryan is the guru and darling of the right. As H.L. Mencken wrote, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

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That side was made for you and me.

In this edition: The other side of the fence–one group’s liberty is the infringement of another’s liberty. Quite a conundrum. Everything old is new again as the oligarchs expose themselves, figuratively. Drawing a line between child labor and right to work laws.

This Land Is Your Land

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway;
I saw below me that golden valley;
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

– Words and Music by Woody Guthrie (1940)

Purists will dispute that 1940 date since history seems a little vague on when to credit the writing of that song. We’ll just pick this date and go with it. The date has some meaning since it stands as the watershed between the extraordinary trials of the Great Depression and the more or less unified “greatest generation” postwar American identity.

This is NOT a boomer song (no, I am not being defensive, just putting it in perspective lol). It’s from the previous generation and relates to the generation before that, the boomers’ grandparents’ generation. This generation was passing as the boomer generation found a voice seeking social change in the sixties and early seventies. The boomers were most likely to have heard the sanitized version of the song including just the first 3 verses, perhaps even sung in grade school or endured in an elevator or on workplace Muzak.

It came to my mind following an NPR piece on the publication of House of Earth. The novel was written by Woody Guthrie and has only recently been published by Johnny Depp’s new publishing imprint at HarperCollins named “Infinitum Nihil.” Depp’s publishing partner, historian and author Douglas Brinkley, tracked the lost novel down after stumbling across a reference while doing research. I have not read it yet but plan to–it sounds like a powerful exploration of life in the 1930’s Dust Bowl and the economic inequity produced by the sudden reversal of fortunes in that era. It also has sex, lefty politics, and a man negotiating the enactment of his dreams amid difficulties, including lack of spousal faith.

A couple of Guthrie quotes:

“There’s a feeling in music and it carries you back down the road you have traveled and makes you travel it again. Sometimes when I hear music I think back over my days – and a feeling that is fifty-fifty joy and pain swells like clouds taking all kinds of shapes in my mind.”

“The note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine.”

Guthrie’s life story reads like 5 ordinary life stories. His daughter (from a 3rd marriage if that tells us anything) keeps archival information at http://www.woodyguthrie.org/ including an unapologetic biography tracking his Oklahoma birth in 1912 to his death of  long-undiagnosed Huntington’s Disease in 1967, just months before son Arlo released his classic album and draft-dodger “how-to”, Alice’s Restaurant.

I call attention to the last 4 verses of This Land. Caught up in the myth-history of Americana we tend to forget that the oligarchs–the small group of wealthy families and individuals that want to run our country–had moved against workers 100 years ago, employing Pinkertons, police, and even the National Guard to break up union demonstrations with beatings, imprisonment, and even shootings.

With the game stacked in their favor, those in control of industry and finance enjoyed an unprecedented economic boom in the 1920s. Then, as in the run up to the 2007-2008 crash, investors ignored any economic signs that were less than optimistic and rode a dangerous aura of invincibility, over-investing and speculating in stocks. Prices were inflated and businesspeople succumbed to the illusion of a robust economy. In the twenties a dollar would leverage ten in stocks. Because of greed, the whole economy came down on their heads, leaving workers to live with little support in a world where 25% were unemployed and another 25% underemployed.

Eighty years later the same aura of invincibility (driven by the same bad impulse: greed) drove the banks and investors to use similar leveraging, trading risky mortgages bundled into securities. The demand for the investments fueled lending which, with low-interest rates, fueled the housing boom and speculative purchases by buyers in the market who wrongly assumed prices would rise indefinitely. Unfettered free market capitalism, favored by so many these days, inevitably leads to a fall caused by greed.

Effective federal regulation and a labor force cognizant of the need for equity and justice are the balancing forces against greed. Yet, the mood is for less regulation and many of the masses eat their cold gruel and and say thank you; assigning god-like characteristics to the rich and powerful. The top 1% of earners’ real wages grew 8.2% from 2009 to 2011 while the real annual wages in the bottom 90% lost 1.2%. So many are willing to attribute this to some sort of moral superiority instead of understanding that the deck has been stacked against the average worker.  Forbes doesn’t tell us that 40% of the billionaires on their list received a start on their billions from wealth gained from family or spouses.

Certainly every regulation needs to be evaluated for its need and effectiveness, but those financing the candidates who seek to repeal all regulation are the oligarchs who would benefit from reduced legal constraints the most. Those building “defenses” against the equalizing power of unions are interested in only one thing: silencing the voice of the worker. Their reduction in labor costs is our loss of a living wage.

Union workers made up 32% of the workforce in 1953, 20% in 1983, 13% by 2007. The number will have dropped even more today since the economy continues to hemorrhage public sector jobs, often unionized.  In 1933, the number of labor union members was around 3 million. A decade before it had been 5 million. History repeats.

An argument against unions and against minimum wage regulation is that it drives up the cost of labor. To this I say good! I’m increasingly convinced that the answer to getting back some of the 5% of GDP that has moved from workers to investors and owners (and often from there to offshore tax shelters) is to attack the wage issue from the bottom up.

But does the higher labor costs leads to higher product costs argument even hold water? I think we have to think in terms of the unit price of labor. For example, if at the hot dog stand the owner is forced by a minimum wage increase to pay an additional $1.75 per hour per employee. That employee works a 4 hour lunch shift where he prepares and serves 240 hot dogs  (4 hours of a hot dog every 3 minutes–conservative numbers). This adds just 3 cents per hot dog to the labor costs. Now that 3 cents can be made up in any number of ways including efficiency. That concept of unit price of labor applies up and down the line. If the factory owner trades the union’s higher wages for the promised higher productivity of union standards then it’s a fair trade.

The auto unions, seeing the need to negotiate, made concessions to the manufacturers. This kind of common sense approach can work in all cases where the time-aggregated pay and benefits of workers exceed the necessities in changing marketplaces. Higher paid workers don’t hinder an economy, they benefit it because they are the drivers of demand. If we can learn one thing from the last 30 years, let it be this: demand is the driver of a robust economy, not supply.

How far would the oligarchs go? In 1910 there were 1.5 to 2 million workers in American factories that were 15 years old or younger. Hard to believe? “Businesses liked to hire children because they worked in unskilled jobs for lower wages than adults, and their small hands made them more adept at handling small parts and tools.”  Facing the outrage of ordinary people–and seeing pictures like the ones below–Congress passed the Keating-Owens Act that established the following child labor standards: a minimum age of 14 for workers in manufacturing and 16 for workers in mining; a maximum workday of 8 hours; prohibition of night work for workers under age 16; and a documentary proof of age. Sounds like it errs on the side of the employers, but in a display of social irresponsibility this law was later ruled unconstitutional on the ground that congressional power to regulate interstate commerce did not extend to the conditions of labor. We can guess who had purchased those judges.

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No, I don’t propose that a return to child labor is imminent. Instead, I’m trying to raise the issues that this is how far the greedy have gone in the past, that human nature hasn’t changed in the past 100 years, and that these same impulses still live in the sociopaths who guide large parts of the energy industry, financial firms and banks, and corporations like Walmart and GE.

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We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other, carry each other.

In this long-overdue post: Lincoln and Obama share a house divided. American reunification: Will we ever, ever, ever get back together? White guilt or long-overdue success? Killing us softly with Kardashians. Michelle Obama is real.

One

Is it getting better? Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you now?
You got someone to blame.

You say,  one love, one life
When it’s one need,
In the night.
One love, we get to share it
Leaves you baby, if you don’t care for it.

Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love,
And you want me to go without.

Well it’s too late, tonight,
To drag the past out into the light.

We’re one, but we’re not the same,
We get to, carry each other, carry each other
One!

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head.

Did I ask too much? More than a lot.
You gave me nothing, now it’s all I got.
Well we hurt each other. Then we do it again.

You say, love is a temple, love a higher law.
You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl.
And I can’t be holding on to what you got,
When all you got is hurt.

One love, one blood, one life,
You got to do what you should.
One life, with each other,
Sisters, brothers.

One life, But we’re not the same,
We get to,
Carry each other.
Carry each other.

– by U2 (1991)

The song One was composed during a session in Berlin for the album Achtung Baby and the single was released to benefit AIDS programs. The song was recorded at Hansa Studios (unrelated to the Hansa Foundation in the Lost milieu) in the period of German Unification. In 1989, negotiations between the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG/West Germany) produced a Unification Treaty, uniting the country in 1990 and returning Berlin to the status of a single city (the Berlin Wall had been constructed in 1961). So one shade of meaning for One is that historical event. Another shade of meaning is that the band was struggling with Bono and the Edge wanting to bring in European electronic and industrial sounds into the songs while bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. resisted. As they tell the story, the coming together of this song reassured the band that they could still successfully evolve their songs in studio jams and that the process could still produce good work.

If we have some level of awareness, we sometimes catch the universe beaming concepts to us from multiple directions. In this case, I was thinking about a song that would suggest post-election American reunification and found that the song had meaning in that way. Recent discussions I’d seen about why we (deservedly) care so much about the people of Newtown or those devastated by Hurricane Sandy were touching on the concept of oneness as Americans. (And the literature of spirituality expands that to the literal oneness of mankind–I save you from falling over the cliff because deep down I have the knowledge that you and I are one.)  Meanwhile, a book I’d picked up, “The Invention of the Jewish People” by Shlomo Sand, cast light on the ways that invented history and national fantasies produce personal identities intertwined with national identities often to bad ends. All gave food for thought about where we can go from here.

The election season was certainly bitter. The only way past it was through it–one insulting and obnoxious ad, robocall, and soundbite at a time. In my world, a vote for Romney was not a vote for the economic success of America as Romney’s campaign portrayed it to be. It was instead a brick in the wall of a country furiously dividing into the haves and have-nots. The classic Republican pro-business positions are all being carried forward by the New Democrats like Clinton and Obama while progressive ideas float around without impact and the GOP devolves, bound to some strange and half-realized philosophy of makers and takers.  The refutation of that Randian BS and the attacks on “You didn’t build that” is so easy that devoting even free and abundant pixels to it here seems wasteful.

Simply put, if you had a group of people who insisted on supporting their own subgroup factions instead of the good of the whole group you could expect less success.   “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” as Abraham Lincoln eloquently quoted in a speech accepting the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator in 1858. His single point was that looking forward, the states would have to be all free or all slave-owning because the issue was too critical to remain a sovereign decision of the States as his opponent Stephen Douglas (not Michael Douglas, who was just a child at that time) proposed. The anti-slavery North would never be able to turn a blind eye to slavery in Southern states, especially in light of their acceptance of ex-slaves as full citizens in the North.

Lincoln’s quote is from the gospel of Mark, but an expanded reiteration occurs in Matthew. The always-poetic King James Version gives us “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” And this is the challenge we face–letting our differences lead to our desolation instead of to the long and rewarding American mosaic that we enjoyed in the days before bitter divisiveness entered the mainstream through propaganda mass media and AstroTurf appeals to the uninformed.

It seems that now, fifty years after the federal government began to get serious about equality for all Americans, the vestiges of the Old South and State’s Rights have resurfaced due to a near Great Depression economic crash and the election of a black President. It’s part and parcel of the conflict around regulating guns, the overly-simplistic maker/taker dichotomy, presidential citizenship and scholarship, healthcare infighting, and widening American economic inequality.

President Obama’s 2nd Inaugural speech found Lincoln’s theme:

“Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.”

The U2 song has an interesting twist, the lyrics aren’t HAVE TO, NEED TO, or GOT TO carry each other, they say GET TO carry each other.

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In discussion boards the theme sometimes comes up that lefties just like Obama because he’s black and that we wouldn’t give such support to a white Democrat. As a white person, I think there’s some truth in that. For 50 years we’ve believed and proselytized the idea that all people are equal regardless of the color of their skin. Obama proves that the majority of Americans are on the same wavelength in that way. So I celebrate the fact that we’ve made this progress and I celebrate his accomplishment. If the candidate in 2007 had been Hillary and she was President then I might give her a little leeway as the first female president. After the sheer lunacy of the choices made under GW Bush and the gang that couldn’t shoot straight I would probably celebrate Michael Dukakis as the best ever if he had run and won.

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Sorry Gov. Dukakis.

At a party last weekend we peripherally spoke a little politics (it’s just such a delicate issue these days!). Once again, I am surprised that people didn’t know the truth as well as they knew the propaganda. One said of Obama, “He wasn’t a lawyer, was he?” Yeah dude, he worked for a big law firm that did some work for the Justice Department. That’s where he met Michelle. “Is she a lawyer?” Un-huh…. you didn’t know that? Guess that didn’t jive with the “community organizer who never worked a day in his life” meme. Another comment, “he raised taxes when he promised he wouldn’t.” Well, not exactly, we lost a temporary reduction in Social Security taxes that were intended as short-term stimulus in the still weak recovery. Otherwise, you kept your Bush tax cuts for your income under $450k.

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So I don’t think Obama is what’s wrong with America. I think that the insanity of our fascination with style and celebrity is. Check this shoe out:

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This is where America falters. Women, don’t be fooled. This is not attractive, will not make YOU attractive, and will probably lead to long-term orthopedic problems. Steve Madden, you should be ashamed.

More proof of the insanity? Click here.  Sears discovers you can make a lot of money rubbing a few Kardashians together.

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Evidently Michelle doesn’t share Barack’s need for kumbaya. Bless her heart.

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I need to get back home to cool, cool rain

Today’s musings: The Who Live! Mods and Millennials. Healthcare industry backs ACA. McCain chose Sarah but rejects Susan in confusion over the meaning of “qualifications.”

Love, Reign O’er Me

Only love can make it rain
The way the beach is kissed by the sea
Only love can make it rain
Like the sweat of lovers layin’ in the fields

Love, reign o’er me
Love, reign o’er me
Rain on me, rain on me

Only love can bring the rain
That makes you yearn to the sky
Only love can bring the rain
That falls like tears from on high

Love, reign o’er me
Rain on me, rain on me
Love, reign o’er me
Rain on me, rain on me

On the dry and dusty road
The nights we spend apart alone
I need to get back home to cool, cool rain

I can’t sleep, and I lay, and I think
The night is hot and black as ink
Oh God, I need a drink of cool, cool rain

Love, reign o’er me
Reign o’er me, o’er me, o’er me
Love, reign o’er me, o’er me

– Written by Pete Townsend, performed by The Who (1973)

I share this song because it’s still reverberating in my mind after catching The Who perform Quadrophenia live last Friday. Love Reign O’er Me is the final song in the 1973 rock opera. The musical theme surfaces in many of the songs–when it finally gets played in full there’s a huge emotional payoff.

The story involves a shallow and unreliable young Mod named Jimmy who takes too many amphetamine “blues”, can’t open himself to love, idolizes the wrong people, clashes with his family, and works his way toward suicide. Then, with nothing left to live for, he surrenders to the rain and finds a sort of redemption. As Townsend has said, “He surrenders to the inevitable, and you know, you know, when it’s over and he goes back to town he’ll be going through the same shit, being in the same terrible family situation and so on, but he’s moved up a level. He’s weak still, but there’s a strength in that weakness.”

The concert featured 10 players playing like 100 and some virtual treats. Long dead Keith Moon sat in to do the “Bellboy” vocals via film (Bell-BOYYY, keep me lip buttoned down) and poor dead John Entwhistle soloed mightily from a video screen above the state in the song 5:15.

After the Entwhistle solo Townsend ripped into his own solo with a sly smile on his face. While both Daltrey and Townsend get a little ragged on vocals at times, Pete’s  guitar playing was incredible. Happy that he kept up with his mate, we saw him mouth “Fuck Yeah!” as he finished.

There’s a lot in the album that ties to our modern life. In the early 60s England was hitting the kind of prosperity that allowed youth the capital and leisure to act out as Mods and Rockers. The old days of sacrifice in post-War Britain were willfully forgotten. Style ruled over substance.

It’s possible that this kind of comfort leads us (30 years later) to the Millennials,  Gen-Y young people little plugged into politics,  highly plugged into communications technology, and with a sense of entitlement regarding employment and success, in what we Boomers (and every generation before us) learns to see and understand as cyclical developments. Boomers, having falling short of the expectations of their WWII-era parents, decided to treat their children with unconditional love and support. Little Josh never had to actually color within the lines to get approval. Now he thinks his employer is there to nurture him with a rapid succession of promotions and raises in return for average performance.

Jimmy ends up disappointed in the Bell Boy, whom he’d worshiped as a Mod leader called “Ace Face.” The former star Mod winds up working in a seaside hotel–and liking it. “Ace Face” speaks to the idea of glory days and compromise that many of us face whenever we have too much time to think.

Republicans have had time to think and Obamacare repeal apparently has less appeal. I work in healthcare and I’ve seen that the industry is mostly pro-Obamacare. So regardless of the pundits and your cousin’s husband railing against the ruinous nature of the law at Thanksgiving dinner, I thought I could share some insider’s views.

My thoughts on this started out with a newsletter piece pointing to this article at USA Today. “Weak Obama Debate Showing Hurts Health Stocks.”  Most stocks in the hospital sector tumbled between 1.5% and 2.5% after the first debate and Obama’s poor showing. Of course, when I went back to dig into this by checking stock prices after each debate and the election (as someone who makes a living doing analysis is wont to do), I saw that the market moved after each debate and after the election. But guess what, the market is always moving. I quickly remembered that Nassim Taleb in The Black Swan (a book about once-in-a-lifetime events, not ballet craziness) wrote of this. He discusses an instance where he caught the same media outlet explaining market movements in both directions using the same bit of news:

When Saddam Hussein was captured, Bloomberg News offered the following headline: “US TREASURIES RISE; HUSSEIN CAPTURE MAY NOT CURB TERRORISM”. But a half hour later, Treasuries moved lower. The headline was changed to “US TREASURIES FALL; HUSSEIN CAPTURE BOOSTS ALLURE OF RISKY ASSETS.”

So I abandon the stock market angle except to say that if Obamacare was going to punish the for-profit hospital industry or insurers it certainly isn’t showing in their stock prices.

So let’s read what some industry leaders are saying about the ACA:

Susan DeVore, president and CEO, Premier: “Now that the elections are behind us, we need to, on a bipartisan basis, get back to the task of removing the barriers to transforming healthcare. The payment and delivery reforms in the Affordable Care Act provide a framework to move us in the right direction. We need to build on those reforms to align payment incentives and measurement with effective patient care. Patients and healthcare providers will be harmed by continual payment cuts unless we empower providers with the flexibility to improve care and drive out waste.”

Lloyd Dean, president and CEO, Dignity Health: “We think that healthcare in a country like ours is something this is a right as opposed to a privilege. We have been, as you know, supporters of the ACA because we acknowledge that right and we believe through the results of the election that momentum and actions will continue to full implementation of the act. We continue to believe that this will allow us to do something that is very important, which is to address and bring forward solutions to the national healthcare crisis in our country. … One thing there is no debate about on either side of the political spectrum is that the current status of healthcare, prior to some type of reform, was not sustainable. … Even if the act itself had been modified severely, we would still move forward with what we think is important to figure out a way to reduce costs, improve efficiencies, to raise the bar for quality and to increase access.

Dr. Robert Laskowski, president and CEO of Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.: “We’ve always been great supporters of the Affordable Care Act and the principle that it embodies; there’s always a few things in there that could be improved but overall the direction is clearly the right way. What the election did was clarified and made our lives simpler. … In the longer run the direction of the necessity for us to pay attention to value, to improve care and to make sure that the care is affordable to all citizens in the country—that was going to be independent of the results of the election. But there would have been rhetoric changes if the election had been different, and it would have slowed us up in the work that we need to do. So we’re happy for the clarity and think that taking care of our neighbors is vitally important.“

Dr. Donald Berwick, former CMS administrator under Obama, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress: “If Congress reads this as an endorsement from the public of healthcare reform, I’m hoping we can move into a phase of further exploration and adjustments of the law. However, the current breakdown between the House and Senate remains the same so the risk is if the opposition remains intransigent and uses funding to starve the implementation processes. … I hope that all of the states come on board (with the ACA’s Medicaid expansion). The people who would be covered under the expansion are getting care now—they’re just getting it late, when they’re sicker and their care is more expensive. For the states that turn down this money, it doesn’t solve their problem. It increases states’ burdens to care for these vulnerable people. It’s an unwise policy and it’s an incorrect moral stance.”

This is what you can take to the bank: Our current system is very expensive. We pay twice as much per capita as other developed nations and have fewer people covered and more people going broke. The incentives in the system are all wrong as we pay doctors per procedure and visit instead of for outcomes and quality. The ACA was a step in the right direction and to get to the finish line we need an honest dedication to the truth, not political gamesmanship.

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Bizarro World:

Senator John McCain of Arizona, said on Fox that he would be “very hard-pressed” to support Susan Rice if she were nominated to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. In 2005, President Bush was considering a recess appointment for John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, McCain said: “I would support it. It’s the president’s prerogative.” Flip flop or pure hypocrisy?

One thing we should remember, McCain, by picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, forever disqualified himself from commenting on any nominee for any high office.

House Republicans try to drag Social Security into the budget talks.

The Boehner “counter-offer” seized on raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 and cutting back on benefit increases. Heaven forbid we raise taxes on a billionaire when we can save money by taking it away from thousands of fixed income seniors!  Why don’t they watch this and learn from their guru?

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You’d buy or bury everyone, for liberty and life… and just plain fun

Content:  Remembering Central American misadventures. Post election thoughts. Megyn Kelly’s legs. Pundit slapping.

Burn

Look away across the bay
Yankee gunboat come this way
Uncle Sam gonna save the day
Come tomorrow we all gonna pay…

Something dead under the bed
Local diplomats hang their heads
Never mind what the government said
They’re either lying or they’ve been misled…

Philippines was yesterday
Santiago and Greece today
How would they ever make the late news pay
If they didn’t have the CIA?

Here it comes, the loaded gun
“Must keep the Commies on the run ”
You’d buy or bury everyone
For liberty and life… And just plain fun

And it’s burn baby burn
When am I going to get my turn

Written and Performed by Bruce Cockburn (1974)

Cockburn is a Canadian singer-songwriter whose work had moderate success in the US. I heard the song Wondering Where the Lions Are and got interested in him many years ago. Burn is about the CIA misadventures around the world and especially in  Latin America but he has spoken that it intersects with a more cynical Canadian’s point of view that if the country were ever to move too far to the left they too would attract the CIA’s dirty tricks, assassinations, and destabilizations.

In 1973, an US-supported military coup killed Chilean president Salvador Allende for the sin of being a lifelong Socialist. That brought Augusto Pinochet Ugarte to power (with America’s blessing) who then proceeded to imprison over a hundred thousand Chileans. Their interrogation commonly included torture and rape. Pinochet terminated civil liberties, abolished unions, extended the work week to 48 hours, and reversed Allende’s land reforms. His political affiliation, by all accounts, was not Tea Party but the parallels are striking.

About six years after Burn the CIA went to great lengths to support a military-led government in El Salvador in a civil war waged against the guerrilla forces of the FMLN. El Salvador was a true Oligarchy ruled by “The 14 Families.” Their wealth, from coffee crops and exploitation of the Indian population, was concentrated to 2% of the population while 98% lived in poverty. El Salvador’s rich–a small wealthy elite among an impoverished majority–were characterized as greedy, imperious, brutal, and uncaring (the kind of people who would tell the President of the United States “Hold on, you’ll get your turn” during a debate).

The 1980-1992 civil war left around 70,000 dead (58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War by comparison). The US provided military funding (to the murderous government) to the tune of more than $5 billion.  Salvadoran and other regional military personnel were trained at the US Army’s “School of the Americas” where they were taught the art of execution, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion against insurgents and sanctions. Manuals from the school referenced the use of “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum” to recruit and control informants.

At the same time the US was supporting Sandinista rebel forces in Nicaragua against the government of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Support for Samoza’s fight against the Sandinistas was withdrawn by president Jimmy Carter in 1978. Israel, against US wishes, continued to supply arms but eventually backed down when confronted by Carter’s administration. In 1979, the government forces were defeated and the Sandinistas came to power. They believed in free elections, a participatory bottom-up democracy, and in nationalizing businesses in the Marxist model. Those previously in power sided with right-wing rebels and their movement was called the “Contras” rebelling against the new Sandinista government. Ronald Reagan became president and began funneling support to the Contras. Contra human rights violations, out of the School of the Americas playbook, caused Congress to cut funding. Ronald Reagan worked around this, eventually selling arms to an embargoed Iran to provide cash to the Nicaraguan rebels. This became known as the Iran-Contra Affair and the president avoided much of the backlash by having poor powers of recollection. Others in his administration, the National Security Council, and the CIA were indicted, some pardoned and some serving in prison. VP George HW Bush also emerged unscathed although his knowledge of the Congressional end-run was suggested in testimony.

Some might say, Lefty, why the history lesson? Kinda boring. It’s because such recent history, with so much in common with today’s world, shouldn’t be lost.

1. The Marxists of the seventies and eighties are like the “jihadists” of today with regards to the powers-that-be guiding US policy using fear and broad brush accusations. Nicaragua and El Salvador were never a threat to the US, we were simply protecting the interests of those making money in the region in the years before  Reagan, and then we became codependent to his bizarre 1950’s style commie-hatred.

2. Many are concerned about Sharia Law and Muslim rule in Egypt and other countries. Twenty years from now we will wonder what the fuss was about. The world does not need US approval to fulfill their own vision of governance (and International Law says we must not intervene). Let’s not repeat the past and allow the CIA free rein in affecting the outcomes of other nation’s choices.

3. Many politicians on the right, and the right-wing media, idolize Mr. Reagan. His end run around the Congress was not only improper and illegal it was immoral in the sense that he provided financing and training for the use of torture and terror in Central America with the idea that there was a higher good in stopping Communism. Imagine the pain and sorrow for families in a small country where 70,000 men, women and children were murdered, many in terror killings unrelated to fighting. This lesson must not be lost on the Obama administration, even if we need to bring it to the streets, because he has been placed as the civilian leader of the military and intelligence apparatus for the sole purpose of balancing their power and not as the provider of rubber stamp approval of mayhem.

4. One of Reagan’s ideological children is Mitt Romney. Romney appeared to have little trouble with notions of Oligarchy because his policies would promote that. One interesting element of the Central American oligarchies were that they essentially put the workings of their entire governments into the business of serving the interests and needs of the few. (Hello, Koch Brothers, take note–it can’t happen here. Zappa fans click here.) Under Romney’s proposed policies, more wealth would have moved upward to an American oligarchy through reduced taxation, particularly that money made by investing with zero percent capital gains and reduced corporate taxes.

While the GOP platform only mentions removing the minimum wage for the Pacific territories (American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam) it is a common GOP refrain that the minimum wage hurts business. Perhaps the way they intended to stop jobs from going to China was to import Chinese-style wages to American workers?

The platform’s Peace Through Strength plank is related to Reagan’s actions that reduced unemployment by pumping money into defense and turned the US from the world’s greatest creditor nation to the world’s largest debtor nation. This economic stimulus to the poor needy defense contractors was certainly part of a promise made to the military industrial complex and would surely have finished the job of bankrupting the nation that Reagan began 32 years ago. So while W. Mitt Romney has gone down in flames today, the legacy he represents is still alive and kicking. It’s also interesting to note that Romney was the candidate of choice for the elder Bush and establishment Republicans as well as Neocon holdovers from the Bush years.

This story never seemed to get the attention it deserved:

In 1984, Romney was selected by his boss at Bain & Co, a consulting firm, to create a spin-off venture capital fund, Bain Capital. They needed to find around $18 million for seed money, another $18 million coming from the firm itself. The money proved a little difficult to raise. Then, a Costa Rica-born Bain official, Harry Strachan, invited friends and former clients in Central America to a presentation about the fund with Romney in Miami. The group was impressed and “signed up for 20% of the fund,” according to Strachan (about $6.5 million).  Back in 1984, wealthy Salvadoran families were looking for safe investments as violence and upheaval engulfed the region. The SEC filing mentions Eduardo Poma, a member of the “14 families” and it’s likely that Bain Capital got its start with those Oligarch’s millions.

More at this Salon.com article.

Thanks to Professor Google I found a page at http://www.zompist.com/latam.html  that details the US history of intervention in the Americas and the history is astonishing and begins in the mid-1800s.

Watching the election results I grew nervous as many surely did. When Ohio fell for Obama and the election was called in his favor I had trouble adjusting to the sudden change in fortunes. The reasons are that the media kept calling it a horse race and suggested momentum in Romney’s favor. HuffPost seemed to be backing away from their earlier Electoral College predictions that had Obama at 303. I was watching Nate Silver’s numbers and up until those last few days, the race did seem tight. Obama’s “odds” went from around 8 in 10 to 9 in 10 over the course of a few days at the 538 Blog but it was hard to feel comfortable about it. In retrospect, that WAS the place to keep an eye on.

In the days before the election Gallup had Romney ahead with “likely voters.” Rove was writing in the Wall Street Journal of a Romney landslide. On ABC, George Will was assuring the nation of a Romney landslide as well. Now some of this is certain to be strategic, aimed at the low percentage of voters who are likely to be swayed by wanting to fall in line behind a winner. Much of it was related to the self-delusion caused by living in the bubble where they simply could not believe that America didn’t see the same horrific truth they believed they saw in Obama and his leadership. More on those top deluded pundits here. Add Peggy Noonan to that list. She thought Romney was “stealing in like thief with good tools,” (but I doubt he’d do more than hire a thief with good tools).

I had the pleasure of switching over to Fox News channel in time to see a shiny-foreheaded, baffled, and stammering Karl Rove placing his objections to the Ohio call and to hear Megyn Kelly from the anchor desk say, “That’s, that’s awkward.” Megyn Kelly played a key role in Fox’s attempt to mollify kingmaker Rove (aka Bush’s brain).  Producers at Fox decided to follow Kelly, on camera, from the anchor desk to the analyst’s bullpen. Purportedly from a Fox News insider: “This is Fox News, so anytime there’s a chance to show off Megyn Kelly’s legs they’ll go for it.” More at ThinkProgress on this tidbit.  Kelly also asked Rove, “Is this just math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?” Ouch!

Who’s Megyn Kelly? I didn’t know until that night, but I was intrigued. Is she a right-wing nut, or does she just play one on TV? Idk. Sadly, I’m succumbing to the same psychological warfare that is used on Fox News viewers and it threatens to pull me to the dark side. So CUTE! Megyn Kelly!

Closing out my election meanderings, this AlterNet piece about 5 Very Bad Things That Happened to Karl Rove in Just 2 Days is fun.

On the back burner for posts in coming weeks: My solution for the Fiscal Cliff. The “other side” of embracing third party candidates.

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