Category Archives: Politics

Practiced at the Art of Deception

In this edition: That’s right, you can’t always get what you want, but… The beat of another drummer. We’re Number 1! (number one jailer in the world). Obama nearly reaching the status of Bill Clinton (with regards to impeachment). Hijinks and Highlights.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I saw her today at the reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she was gonna meet her connection
At her feet was a footloose man

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, “We’re gonna vent our frustration
If we don’t we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse”

[Chorus]

I went down to the Chelsea Drugstore
To get your prescription filled
I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy
And man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda
My favorite flavor, cherry red
I sung my song to Mr. Jimmy
Yeah, and he said one word to me, and that was “dead”
I said to him

[Chorus]

I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced at the art of deception
Well I could tell by her blood-stained hands

[Chorus repeating]

– Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Recorded by the Rolling Stones (1969)

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is from the Rolling Stones’ 1969 album Let It Bleed. The London Bach Choir opens the song, highlights passages throughout, and brings it to its conclusion. Al Kooper plays piano and organ, as well as the French horn intro. Stones drummer Charlie Watts wasn’t on the recording. For some reason, he was having trouble getting the part and when Jimmy Miller, the producer, offered to show him he suggested Miller just do the drumming on that song. There’s some contention about whether that was done in a snit or not.

Jagger had developed the song on acoustic guitar, referring to it as “one of those bedroom songs.”  (If you didn’t know, all guitarists sit alone in the bedroom noodling on a guitar.) Mick thought a gospel choir would be a nice touch, but they didn’t find one. When someone suggested the London Bach Choir I think they shrugged and said “Wtf, mates, why not?”

In 1969 the world was awash in protest, the sentiment of brotherly love, and casual drug use. The song covers those topics, but in the fashion of the Stones love wasn’t about dreamy hippie generalized love, but more about the love of some bad girl practiced in the art of deception and with metaphoric blood-stained hands at the reception. In a way, it is a more down-to-earth view that points to the following decade’s creation of new sexual ethics.  The protest they attend features frustration and abuse. Finally, the drug use isn’t characterized in 1969 terms of stoned goofing or trippy psychedelia–we’re talking about people looking ill who say one word and that is “dead.”

Just as some wrongly heard song lyrics make their way into wide acceptance (like Creedence Clearwaters’ “There’s a bathroom on the right” or Elton John’s “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”) I seem to make the wrong connections with a lot of the classic rock music I am acquainted with. I’ve always connected the Chelsea Drugstore reference to the British National Health Service’s policy of allowing heroin by prescription. This practice peaked in the late sixties and declined with the rise of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction. Many people go through methadone treatment without success, and in these cases it is still possible in the UK to get heroin by prescription in doses that avoid withdrawal symptoms but don’t give a strong buzz. There may be a lesson here for the U.S. as addicts create an underground market for the drug that spills over into the general population in varying and unpredictable strengths and purity.

The_Chelsea_Drugstore

The Chelsea Drugstore

Instead of a gathering place for addicts the Chelsea Drugstore was, in fact, more of a symbol of Swinging London (See YouTube below). The store was a modern building in West London where customers would find bars, a pharmacy, newsstands, record stores, and other concessions. They were also infamous for the “flying squad” delivery option. Those who used this service would have their purchases delivered by hand by young ladies adorned in purple catsuits arriving on flashy motorcycles. CVS and Walgreens take note.

Back-up singer Doris Troy is also featured on the song. She’d had an early sixties hit with “Just One Look” and was sought after as a back-up singer for British rockers of the time. She also sang on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, but was not the powerhouse singer who nailed the wordless melody in the song “The Great Gig in the Sky”. (That was Clare Torey.)

There’s an apocryphal story that Mr. Jimmy was actually a resident of Excelsior, Minnesota where the Stones had played to a small, unenthusiastic crowd. Mr. Jimmy was a kind of street person who knew everyone in town. I didn’t find much to sell this story, but you can Google Mr. Jimmy and Excelsior if you have the inclination. In a trip to St. Paul in the mid-eighties I had seen a man in a pyramid hat visiting bars and restaurants to universal welcome so I was open to the theme of Minnesota eccentrics. But I still don’t think that was in Mick’s head at the time. More about Minnesota eccentrics here.

In the end, the song is about the end of a period in London history, when the city was awash in top stars in music, film, and fashion. Mitigating the song’s gloominess is the chorus’ suggestion that while you can’t always get what you want, if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

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On August 12, 2013 Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will no longer charge nonviolent drug offenders with serious crimes that subject them to long, mandatory minimum sentences in the federal prison system. The speech serves to provide new guidelines for federal prosecutors. He’s also called for the expanded use of prison alternatives, such as probation or house arrest, for nonviolent offenders and for lower sentences for elderly inmates.

One big reason for the new guidelines is seen in this graphic.

federal-prison1The most significant factor in increasing prison populations in the 12 years portrayed is imprisoned drug offenders, followed by weapons and immigration issues. Nearly 50% of federal inmates are in for drug offenses. The U.S. houses a total of 220,000 federal inmates.  At the same time, the national budget for drug control has been on the rise, from $10.8 billion in 2002 to $15.5 billion in 2011. If it’s working then the problems are greater than we think!

Holder said, “We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken… And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget.”

The federal prison population doesn’t tell the whole story. The states are housing about 1.4 million prisoners. While only about 20% of those prisoners are there on drug charges, the segment has grown by a factor of 20 between 1986 and 2004. And while the states are much more likely to imprison offenders on violent crimes, drugs still are common as secondary charges. Costs for these prisons and inmate care are in the neighborhood of $74 billion per year. Ten states now spend more on imprisonment than they do on higher education—six times more, in the case of California.

The average length of a prison stay is going up, too. From 1990 to 2009, the average length of stay for prisoners increased by 2.9 years. As a result of this progression, the prison population is not only growing, but also aging,  and due to costs of healthcare, prisoners over the age of 50 are twice as expensive to house on average. One in every 34 U.S. adults was under some sort of correctional supervision in 2011 – whether it be in prison or jail, or on probation or parole, according to figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This represents a slight decline from the previous decade’s numbers but is an incredible figure nonetheless.

To a relatively small subset of people, that $74 billion represents not an egregious line item on the state and federal budgets but an opportunity.  Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group are the nation’s first- and second-largest operators of for-profit prisons. These corporations are solidly optimistic about the future of imprisoning Americans. The GEO Senior Vice President John Hurley assured investors recently:

“We have a longstanding partnership with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the United States Marshal Service and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. … We continue to see meaningful opportunities for us to partner with all three of these federal agencies. The federal bureau of prisons continues to face capacity constraints coupled with a growing offender population.”

The first quarter of 2013 represented a 56% spike in profits for GEO. This was partially driven from a tax break they and CCA received by successfully arguing to the IRS that they were not prison companies but were instead real estate companies with prisoners analogous to “renters.” As Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) they are subject to tax breaks as the intention of IRS rules was to modulate the taxes of passive real estate owning companies. Prison companies are not the only ones screwing the U.S. taxpayer by dodging their fair share, casinos and document storage companies are pursuing the same strategy.

When an ex-convict leaves prison, he or she has a 40% chance of returning within three years. One big driver is that it’s very difficult, especially in this economy where low-skilled workers have few opportunities, to enter the work force. There are both social and security stigmas that affect felons. Another key factor is that the drug use that led to imprisonment picks back up again. 65% of American inmates are clinically addicted to drugs, only 11% receive any form of treatment.

What many in the U.S. fail to appreciate is that the cycle of poverty, ignorance, and hopelessness creates downstream costs to the society that are increasingly difficult to maintain. As a nation we seem unable to create the kind of bold strategies that actually alleviate problems as our politicians quibble over ideological trivialities. We have to ask ourselves, “What kind of future do we want for this country?” Do we stick with the “I got mine” mentality that has driven us since the Reagan years or do we look at the stats, consider the causes, and drive improvement in the way that corporate America succeeds by driving process improvement throughout organizations?

Many statistics came from this Harvard Political Review article and this article at Think Progress.

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Hijinks and Highlights!

Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage landed in the national spotlight following an August fundraiser. According to two unnamed state lawmakers, LePage told a group of conservatives at a GOP fundraiser last week that President Obama “hates white people.” LePage denies it but the denial carries little weight.

Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz is the junior U.S. Senator for the state of Texas and the future target of a Democratic-led birther movement. Well, maybe not. It’s come out that Cruz, a GOP presidential hopeful, was born in Calgary, Canada and holds dual citizenship (he plans on renouncing that). His “supposed” claim to U.S. citizenship is that his mother was American (which although it sounds more like the proof you need to be Jewish should work). His father, like Obama’s, was a foreign citizen. Cuba not Kenya. However, since Obama was born to a Kansan citizen but is still under a cloud of suspicion about Kenyan roots then should the Left be willing to give Cruz a break? I think not, friends! Cruz’ politics are all about de-funding Obamacare, denying a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, spending more on walls and militarization of the Mexican border, raising the age for Medicare eligibility, denying reasonable gun restrictions, and restricting unemployment benefits that “exacerbate joblessness.” And did I mention de-funding Obamacare?

Whackjob “news” site WND.COM (World News Daily) is spearheading an “Impeach Obama” campaign. They support 12 reasons offered by the Overpasses for Obama’s Impeachment group, and if you have the stomach for it, they are found here. Portraying the Overpasses as a booming grassroots group they miss the salient point that 40,000 purported members represents just 1/100th of 1% of the population. No mandates there!

Tom Coburn, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, warns us that Obama is “getting perilously close” to the standard for impeachment (in Coburn’s head). Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) suggested that he’d like to impeach President Obama, telling a disappointed constituent that he would file such a bill if he could find the “evidence” to make it stick. Bentivolio said “You know, if I could write that bill and submit it, it would be a dream come true.” He needs more useful dreams for his constituents. Bentivolio is a former Santa Claus impersonator and reindeer farmer (no joke!) And in the same week, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) answered questions from a fervent anti-Obama constituent at a town hall, (telling the woman that he would take a closer look at her birther conspiracy document)  suggesting that House Republicans had enough votes to impeach the president. (Btw, the House begins impeachment but the Senate tries the matter.)

So the Tea Party spirit of Townhalls in 2009-2010 is revived with encouragement from the anti-American wings of the Senate and House of Representatives. When you disagree with a president’s policies you 1.) Cease the consideration of all normal legislation to assure said president’s “failure” and 2.) try to impeach the president rather than win a war of ideas.

That first tactic started on the night of Obama’s first inauguration, when a group of around 15 Republican Representatives and Senators (brought together by Frank Luntz) met for a boozy dinner in the Caucus Room, a “high-end D.C. establishment,” to discuss methods to “win back political power” and to “put the brakes on Obama’s legislative platform.” Those attending the meeting included Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, and Pete Sessions as the House Representatives and Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign, and Jon Kyl from the Senate. Newt Gingrich also spoke there. There’s something very disgusting about planning a president’s failure at the height of an economic downturn in order to be complicit in causing his failure to enact legislation to improve the lives of suffering citizens.

Cat_scratch_fever_coverBut I digress. On the topic of impeachment, the most eloquent voice remains with the wild-eyed legendary superstar Ted Nugent, who tells us there’s “no question” Obama should be impeached (in his head), blasting “the criminality of this government, the unprecedented abuse of power, corruption, fraud and deceit by the Chicago gangster-scammer-ACORN-in-chief.”

“It’s so diabolical,” he adds.

I think I’ll start an Overpasses Against Ted Nugent movement. Too bad, I still love “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Stranglehold.”LB_Rule

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Filed under Complaining, Economy, Politics, Social Issues, U.S. Prisons

Ease the Day that Brings Me Pain

In this edition: Berserkers and other Norwegians, 2 sides to the Youngbloods, Chicago gun violence, the Chicago Public School system, and if that weren’t enough… Medicare for All!

Darkness, Darkness

Darkness, Darkness
Be my pillow
Take my hand, and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow
In the silence of your deep

Darkness, Darkness
Hide my yearning, for the things I cannot be
Keep my mind from constant turning
Toward the things I cannot see now
Things I cannot see now

Darkness, darkness,
Long and lonesome, ease the day that brings me pain.
I have felt the edge of sadness,
I have known the depth of fear.

Darkness, darkness, be my blanket,
Cover me with the endless night,
Take away, take away the pain of knowing,
Fill the emptiness of right now,
Emptiness of right now, now, now  [Repeat verses 1 and 4]

Oh yeah, Oh yeah
Emptiness, emptiness
Oh yeah

Written by Jesse Colin Young (1969)
Performed by The Youngbloods, Jesse Colin Young

I have two versions of “Darkness, Darkness” on my iPod (the first from The Youngbloods’ Elephant Mountain album and the second a Jesse Colin Young re-do from The Very Best of Jesse Colin Young released, I believe, in 2005. That “Very Best” album remasters many original Youngbloods songs and re-interprets “Darkness, Darkness” with a harder edge and scorching guitar work from Larry Mitchell.

Young was one of the early 1960’s folk artists working at New York City Greenwich Village clubs (like Dylan, Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary).  The period is explored on this YouTube channel. The next step in his career was the jug band style of the folk music revival along the lines of John Sebastian who went on to The Lovin’ Spoonful’s and Joe McDonald who went on to Country Joe and the Fish. Finally, evolution moved all these bands to the folk rock scene and a few survived the sixties British Invasion including Jesse Colin Young.Young released a couple of folk albums and then joined with Jerry Corbitt, Lowell “Banana” Levinger, and drummer Joe Bauer to form The Youngbloods.

“Darkness, Darkness” was featured on the 1969 album and was produced by Charles E. Daniels. Charles E. (you may know him as Charley) Daniels contributed the violin part. It’s pretty interesting to contrast the 1969 release with the same violin part remastered and used on the 2005 version. You can hear the tone of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on that second version including one bridging riff that is reproduced exactly on the Charlie Daniels’s song.

The Youngbloods’ bigger hit had been “Get Together” with the refrain “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody come together, try to love one another right now.”  That song was written by Dino Valenti (a.k.a. Chet Powers) whose story could be a movie about the California folk rock scene in the sixties. Check his Wiki page.

The contrast between that dreamy epic of fraternal love and the invitation for Darkness to be a pillow or blanket is pretty astounding. It is likely a reference to emotional depression, but it was associated with the darkness of jungle warfare in the Vietnam period and the darkness veterans survived after coming home to a world that no longer could relate to them or their experiences.

Young currently lives on his own coffee plantation in Hawaii and CDs and coffee are available at http://www.jessecolinyoung.com.

And now the segue…

One of the arguments about gun control is that no amount of control will stop the handgun killings in Chicago’s poor neighborhoods. (Of course, that’s not exactly true because if dealers weren’t selling guns in bulk in Virginia and other states to gang members or gang vendors to drive to Chicago then the supply would dry up.) But I’m not sure that knives or worse wouldn’t take the gun’s place. It is a valid point that the problem is the culture of violence not the method of violence. I came to this conclusion, believe it or not, reading a book about the Vikings.

I enjoyed the History Channel series about The Vikings and have always held a little affinity for them (although not a lot of real knowledge). The affinity is based on an e-mail I got 2 decades ago via AOL from someone researching their genealogy. My fraternal grandfather (who hadn’t stuck around–a sperm donor in my father’s words)  was from England. So I attributed that to 25% English ancestry. But apparently the name is originally Norwegian and comes from a specific fjord-littered area in Norway. But the Scandinavians settled in various parts of England and that may explain it. And that’s what put Vikings into my consciousness to this day.

Here’s a quote about violence from the book:

“At any moment, say the sagas, the daily round of farming, herding, and fishing might be torn asunder. A single spark of violence might set off an endless success of duels, ambushes, pitched battles, murders, maimings, and burnings. These blood feuds were pursued with deadly intensity as each fresh killing stoked the hatred.”

The Vikings of the times (around 800 to 1000 AD)  lived in loosely connected enclaves of farms and villages and the first loyalty was to their immediate family.

I find two connections to the killing in Chicago and other cities. First, it reminds us that the behavior is not inhuman in any way, humans have always done this type of thing. Not civilized, maybe, but that’s a different concept and we would find such uncivilized behavior in any state at war. The second, is that disconnection to a larger group interest leads to action that always pivots on personal exchanges. Each local group then controls their own justice. I would suggest that the failures of connection to immediate family, with families in sub-optimal configurations, leads to adoption of gangs as families and that a lack of connection to the mainstream leads to lack of consideration for institutions. Sub-optimal would mean many fathers, no fathers, teen mothers, and households out of control due to drugs, alcohol, or other failures to make it to the mainstream.

If we were smart enough and had sufficient enlightened self-interest, we would be attacking the problem of violence in our cities from a completely different angle, probably with education and opportunity because it is ignorance and lack of opportunity that creates the chasm between life on gang-controlled streets and life for those who are participating members of the U.S. economy. Those of us who live in relative security and even abundance, as well as institutions like government, social welfare, or religion could partner on this.

In addition to the normal fierceness of the Vikings, whose gods mimicked their penchant for feasting and destruction, a sub-group of warriors existed called berserkr, from which our word berserk originates. These fighters wore no armor, just skins or bare skin, and would roll their eyes and bite the edge of their shields as they charged adversaries with no fear for their own lives. While not related to the lines I drew between Viking behavior and the gang-controlled streets of Chicago, it reminds us that extreme behavior is part of our human makeup (as evolution isn’t a thousand-year proposition) and that in war or under stress some people will have the capacity to react with abandon against their enemies.

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I don’t like Michael Gerson’s editorial work too much but I think he is a smart guy and thoughtful about his conservative point of view. In a Washington Post article this week, he argues that the right’s perpetual efforts to derail Obamacare is being fought “in a particularly counterproductive way, which discredits responsible opposition and makes a Democratic takeover of the House more likely.” He thinks the Tea Party House members may save Obamacare by marginalizing the GOP as voters come to understand that 40 attempts to derail the healthcare bill is idiocy, not governing. He argues that it will take the same configuration to kill the bill as it took to make the bill, Democratic President, Senate, and House.

He likens Ted Cruz (R-Tx), Marco Rubio (R-Fla), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) as fighters most like General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Tea Party and their supporters may be intoxicated by a certain romance in the notion of the fight against overwhelming odds, but the outcome won’t be the one they are looking for.

In the most recent four Congresses, Democrats controlled the first two House of Representatives and Republicans the second two. The Tea Party ascendance resulted in a loss of 63 seats for Democrats in 2010 (after gaining nearly that many in the last Congress under GW Bush and the first under Obama). Democrats will need to gain 34 seats in 2014 to reach the majority.

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From Pope Francis’ speech in a Rio de Janeiro slum, “Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices… The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world…”

Now that’s good Pope-ing.
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Highly recommended is the Dick Kay show on the radio at Chicago’s WCPT and online from the same place. Dick Kay and his helpers are generous enough to podcast the shows, and last Saturday’s with Carol Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, was eye-opening for me. How much of the city’s budgeting woes are related to killing unions and appeasing the interests that absorb our tax dollars in charter schools? Do we really need to pull schools out of neighborhoods and generally make children’s lives less enriched by killing music and other programs? Look for the July 27th, 2013 MP3 here: http://doogiesplace.com/podcast.html. Lewis is a formidable opponent of those who want to commercialize the schools in Chicago.

The Teacher’s Union Website lays it out this way, “While the policy of neighborhood school closings and charter openings has not moved education in Chicago forward in any significant way, the benefits to charter school operators, private testing companies, real estate interests, and wealthy bankers are growing.”

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Lastly, I want to make sure that readers have H.R. 676 on their radar. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan is promoting his bill, H.R. 676, “The United States National Health Care Act,” or “Expanded & Improved Medicare For All.” When the ACA health care bill was being debated, part of the discussion was on the idea of opening up Medicare to more people. This would benefit the income and actuarial sides of the equation making Medicare more affordable to the nation.

I heard Congressman Conyers speaking of the various wasted spending and bureaucracy associated with our current system (1/3 of healthcare dollars spent on supporting staff and computers to manage the bills to insurance companies, $350 billion spent on administrative costs, waste, and profits to insurers) and I was impressed.  If the costs of healthcare are making single-payer the only viable solution, this type of thinking gives a shortcut from the “lemon-dropping” and “cherry-picking” of commercial insurers (whose profitability is not driven by efficiency or quality, merely by restricting membership to the healthy) to a system where all Americans could enjoy low-cost treatments, medicines, and even dental work.

Lyndon Johnson, “We can say this of Medicare: By honoring the fundamental humanity, which is the spirit of democracy, it is a triumph of rightness in America.”

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Filed under Economy, Education, Healthcare, History, Politics, Social Issues

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.

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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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Listen children all is not lost

In this edition: Sorry in advance for 2,000 words.  Whoa-oh “We can make it happen, We can change the world now, We can save the children, We can make it better” and other dreams I have. More labeling on products, less labeling on ideas. Saying goodbye to the 9-11 era–too soon?

Saturday In The Park

Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July
People talking, people laughing
A man selling ice cream, Singing Italian songs

Can you dig it (yes, I can) 
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For Saturday

Another day in the park, You’d think it was the Fourth of July
People dancing, really smiling,
A man playing guitar, Singing for us all
Will you help him change the world
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For today

Slow motion riders, Fly the colors of the day
A bronze man still can, Tell stories his own way
Listen children all is not lost, All is not lost
Oh no, no

Funny days in the park, Every day’s the Fourth of July
People reaching, people touching,
A real celebration, Waiting for us all
If we want it, really want it

Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For the day…

– Written by Robert Lamm, performed by Chicago, 1972

8 of the 10 songs on Chicago V, the band’s 4th studio album, were written by Robert Lamm who was having an enormous creative surge at that time. Keyboardist Lamm performs the vocals, backed by bassist Peter Cetera. (The album is number V not IV by virtue of the album Chicago Live at Carnegie Hall.) We in Chicago at the time assumed it was about Grant Park in our fair city, but in reality the song’s inspiration, apparently like some brands of salsa, came from New York City and Central Park. Lamm came home from a day in the park inspired by what he’d taken in and wrote the song. Lamm was born in Brooklyn and his family had moved to Chicago when he was 15, so much of his identity might have been tied to his old home town.

Chicago was (and is–they still tour) an amazing band. Multiple vocalists, wide-ranging influences, the ability to incorporate rhythmic and textural complexity into 3 minute pop songs, and the tasty musical choices they favored. The early albums also explore the questions that were being asked in the late sixties and early seventies and to many degrees, today. Another song, Dialogue (parts I and II), from Chicago V portrays a conversation between two young people–one is socially conscious and the other is more or less blindly complacent.

Ultimately, a song like Saturday in the Park is about hope and the ability to rise above daily conflict to embrace joyful living. Friends, history will portray the first decades of this century as time when hope and joy were severely challenged. If we could only recapture this point in time, when change and hope were embraced not denigrated as meaningless slogans, then we might be able to break on through to the other side–and really move forward.

Chicago’s Dialogue (parts I and II) explodes musically at the end with repetitions of:

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better

Before continuing, get some inspiration watching this video. Guitarist Terry Kath’s Telecaster work, the rhythmic emphasis the horns add, the interplay of the vocals, the final gospel-tinged finale. Awesome. Note the “natural” haircuts (probably done by girlfriends or in the mirror) and the ubiquitous facial hair, hallmarks of the early 70s.

While not overselling the meme of inscrutable oriental wisdom, this story illustrates perspective. When President Richard Nixon made his groundbreaking visit to Communist China in 1972, he asked Premier Zhou Enlai what he thought about the French Revolution (1789). He replied: “Too soon to tell.” Similarly, we have to wonder how we can put society-shaking events like 9-11 and Great Recession into context with our long-term post-war economic boom, our continuous technological advances, and our current place as a world-leading nation. Is it too soon to tell?

I know this. We are not the same people we were before September 11, 2001. We fear more and we expect less and get it.

America went into a defensive crouch. A response to protect ourselves at any cost was triggered. We suspended our national ideals by:

  • Agreeing to government measures that eliminated the privacy of email and telephones.
  • Creating a large and over-powerful security bureaucracy and gave them the funds to cast a wide net that included much of American’s personal business when looking for bad guys.
  • Torturing terror suspects and publicly defending the notion through the Executive Branch.
  • Running a secretive prison in Baghdad where we abused and tortured Iraqis.
  • Violating all notions of due process for prisoners in our custody with “wartime” exclusions.
  • Re-electing George W. Bush even after he burned a government surplus and lied us into a war for the sake of his and few of his associates misguided ideology.

Following that, the American people were so trusting that we gave financial institutions free rein to gamble our wealth away and paid dearly when the housing and stock market collapses ravenously digested our home equity and nest eggs. We believed the notion that Afghanistan would be a better place to spend blood and treasure than Iraq (correct answer: neither). Then, we gave enough attention and credence to the Tea Party and its ignorant old fart notions that they became a political force that stripped the government of tools to manage the economy, take care of infrastructure, set national priorities, tax appropriately, or do just about anything else that exceeds the import of renaming a rural post office.

Having 20/20 hindsight, I can see that we should never have let airplanes fly into towers symbolic of American enterprise. While I feel sorry for the passengers they were really the only ones who could save themselves. And I think it’s even money that Flight 93 was shot down by the US regardless of the heroic tales that we’ve been told. Intercepting hi-jacked planes may be one of the only lessons we have learned. The financial industry is bigger than ever and more consolidated (if too big to fail then, they are really, really too big to fail today). No laws have replaced the Glass-Steagall Act and the taxpayer-revived financial sector can return to gambling when it deems it sufficiently profit-worthy. The fear and sense of retribution we followed into Iraq and Afghanistan returns anew as we flirt with boots on the ground involvement in Syria supporting rebels that will likely install Islamic rule and join the anti-American Middle East factions.

Today we are shocked that the NSA gets our phone and even e-mail records just by asking. But it should be “shocked” in the sense of Captain Renault’s shock in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” Croupier: “Your winnings, sir.” And while it is likely that the metadata only contains who we called and how long we spoke, and in parallel efforts who we e-mailed and cc’d, it violates the established principles of evidence gathering by casting a net far too wide to meet the 4th Amendment standards:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The acceptance of the NSA intrusions ignores another piece of historical perspective. J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI from its inception in 1935 to his death in 1972. During the time, he used FBI-gathered information to blackmail politicians and public figures like Martin Luther King. Today we may trust the government to be doing the right thing with that data–or maybe we don’t–but are we protected from all possible futures?

Now the hope and change part.

First, we must abandon all thinking based solely on identification with left and right, liberal and conservative. Oh I know, partisanship is a hard habit to break and labels have become so commonplace that we take them for granted. For example, as a progressive, I react against the Keystone XL pipeline. (Won’t be our oil, environmentally dangerous, yada yada.) But the truth is that there will be economic stimulus there. The effect will be somewhere in between the projections of the antis and the pros. Tar sand oil is coming, like it or not. The pipeline has risks but if we use the best possible engineering–sourced on-shore not off–then we could greatly benefit from a big step forward in technologies. There are union and non-union blue-collar jobs to gain, American manufactured pipeline and construction equipment. We could make it work. So if the president (through the Congress) comes out with a plan that trades the pipeline for higher coal-burning emission standards, then we get an incremental improvement that can not be gained in any other way. In a successful negotiation, both parties have to walk away with the sense of having gained something.

As a progressive, I support the idea of whistle-blowers like Manning and Snowden. They do a service by sparking the debate about important issues. But there are two sides to those stories and critical thinking is needed. We should take care in condoning the unauthorized sharing of classified information and we shouldn’t necessarily think we see the whole picture when the information shared is from someone who is struggling with perspective in their personal lives. If you want to see how the unauthorized sharing can work out, in this case sharing by virtue of outing a CIA operative, check out Valerie Plame’s memoir or the excellent film made from it, Fair Game.

Second, let’s abandon support for the politicians who live on uncompromising ideology. In the press and in our discussions with each other the intransigent need to be marginalized. Intransigence is antithetical to a governing structure like ours. Maybe we need a compromise rating system? Factor in voting across party lines? This week’s failure to pass a farm bill is an excellent example of the ideological problem and where it leads.

Lee Hamilton, once a Democratic Congressman from conservative Indiana, served 34 years in the House. He is now director of the Center on Congress at IU.  His common sense hits uncommon sentiments. See this article describing the difference between a functional government and the one we have today. Hamilton writes, “They can be politicians at election time, but once they reach Capitol Hill our Constitution expects them to be policy makers and legislators. So do ordinary Americans. The partisan maneuvering, the compulsion to send a message rather than legislate, and the lack of solid accomplishment have driven Americans’ disdain for Congress to record highs.”

Third, we need to lobby to change the direction of the War on Terror and exclude the military from the picture. For internal security, we should use the FBI and law enforcement to find those who would do us harm at home. The intelligence apparatus should be directed to locate and track our enemies and help us to predict their level of danger. Today we gather so much that individual pieces of valuable intelligence are swamped with nonsense. Terror groups are not foreign armies, they are small groups of people engaged in criminal action. Of G. W. Bush’s many, many missteps, this was one of the worst–framing our responses in terms of war. Let’s reward those who move the conversation from War to Law and push all the hawks and chicken-hawks into the wilderness of outmoded ideas.

It may be too soon to tell, but my sense is it’s time to move on. We screwed up the first decade pretty thoroughly. It’s time to right some wrongs and start moving forward. These are some of my ideas, feel free to add yours.

LB_Rule

I don’t do a lot with Twitter but I’ve been enjoying comic and Viewpoint host John Fugelsang’s feed. See it all here https://twitter.com/JohnFugelsang and sample some of it here:

– And God looked upon his Creation & saw that it was Good. And then His Creation created Anthrax, Auto-tune & Turducken.

– If men could get pregnant not only would abortion be legal, locker room schmucks would brag over who’s had more.

– Wow, Paula Deen hates other races almost as much as she hates everyone’s arteries. Paula Deen is so upset that she’s on the verge of a 2nd facial expression.

– I would call the Congressional #IRS hearings pure theater but actual theater creates jobs. Darrell Issa questioning your ethics is like Michael Lohan questioning your parenting skills.

– Actually quite a few straight people would love it if legalized Gay Marriage could somehow destroy their own. (LB: Ouch. Hmm. Ouch.)

– #NSA notices suspicious 1st-ever rise in sentences that include both “Kim Kardashian” and “Labor.”

– Well I’d hate government too if I totally sucked at it.

– Like Grand-dad always said, “Sex is like pizza. Even when it’s bad, you still have to pay for it.”

LB_Rule

Signs of what’s going on in America. I live in a suburb with a median income of $69,000. The new businesses are all “we buy gold” stores, thrift shops, dollar stores, and banks. The middle class is apparently selling grandma’s rings, wearing another family’s hand-me-downs, supporting Chinese too-cheap-to-be-believed goods, or paying for bank services that used to be free.

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I once believed in causes too

Prelude/Angry Young Man

There’s a place in the world for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans
He refuses to bend, he refuses to crawl,
He’s always at home with his back to the wall.
And he’s proud of his scars and the battles he’s lost,
He struggles and bleeds as he hangs on the cross,
And he likes to be known as the angry young man.

Give a moment or two to the angry young man,
With his foot in his mouth and his heart in his hand.
He’s been stabbed in the back, he’s been misunderstood,
It’s a comfort to know his intentions are good.
He sits in a room with a lock on the door,
With his maps and his medals laid out on the floor
And he likes to be known as the angry young man.

I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness & righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight.
I once believed in causes too, I had my pointless point of view,
Life went on no matter who was wrong or right.

And there’s always a place for the angry young man,
With his fist in the air and his head in the sand.
And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes,
He can’t understand why his heart always breaks.
His honor is pure and his courage as well,
He’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell!
And he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man.

– Written and performed by Billy Joel, 1976

From the album Turnstyles, this Billy Joel song illustrates the watershed moment when sixties idealism became a “passing fancy” and the practical world reinstated its dominance. And of course, by practical world I ironically refer to disco and cocaine abuse. I’ll return to one of those topics in a minute.

Turnstyles was Joel’s 4th studio album as a solo performer. The high point of the album (for me) was New York State of Mind.  That song represents Billy Joel singing from his personal point of view, where others, including Angry Young Man and Say Goodbye to Hollywood seemed more aimed to the strictly commercial side of the music market. Joel’s (and much of the generation’s) transformation is seen in the album cover art (below) from his first solo album, 1971’s Cold Spring Harbor to 1976’s Turnstyles. Nice tie, Billy! You have to wonder what would have happened if Billy Joel would have had a career with thoughtful and personal songs, shifting his career to pursue private “vision” as Bruce Springsteen has done. Instead he married and divorced a supermodel, wrote some hits and some very disposable songs, whined about the media a la Van Morrison, drank too much, and stopped recording pop music for 2 decades (one album of classical music was released in this time, and several compilations that Columbia Records put together to fulfill Joel’s contractual obligations).

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Today Billy Joel seems to be in a pretty good place. But his career has to be characterized in the light of fighting back to find himself after selling his soul in pursuit of fame and fortune. Today he performs a little, writes for himself, lives a quiet life, and teaches in master class fashion. There’s a pretty extensive NY Times piece here.

And a video of the song:

Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind:

Turning back to the notion of an activist generation derailed at its peak, I cited two reasons: cocaine and disco. I guess we could add Quaaludes. Quaaludes were eventually removed from the market by reclassification as a schedule 1 drug, but I think their addictive properties were overstated–users felt relaxed, confident, and in love with the world and that’s a good way to feel. They weren’t for everyone because they were relaxants and some people were looking for stimulation instead.

Pot was the drug of choice for the later boomers. (As an aside, if my state legalizes marijuana then I’m pretty convinced that the boomers will revert en masse after 40 years of abstinence to the kind of stoned behavior that characterized the early seventies. No convenience store will be safe from the giggling, rambling, zombie-like crowds hunting for chips and a Slurpee while struggling to remember what they’d just thought of a second before.) Weed was supplemented by hallucinogenics like the mind-effing LSD and milder relatives like mescaline (from the peyote cactus) and Psilocybin (from certain mushrooms). But, as in the turn of the century, cocaine raised its wicked head. While snorting was the most popular ingestion method, the late seventies found highly addictive free-base trending. As a point of reference, Richard Pryor burned himself nearly to death in 1980 while free-basing.

At the height of this round of cocaine popularity, 10.4 million people used the drug (1982). Due to legal and financial difficulties, i.e. the cost of cocaine use was unsustainable, the number had dropped in half by 4 years later and continued to fall until crack’s rising impact around the turn of the millennium. Free-base is  high-quality smokable cocaine, crack is  low-quality smokable cocaine. “This round” refers to the way that cocaine use had first been rampant in the 2nd half of the 19th century. There’s a lighthearted examination of cocaine use here.

I call the transition period (mid-seventies to mid-eighties) the “Drug Wars.” Veterans will have experienced the high of being a part of a progressive youth movement that threatened to stop wars, promised to treat all people equally, and fought to protect the environment. Many will then have been distracted and derailed by the Drug Wars, and finally found themselves putting ideals aside to make their place in a world where the only valued ideals were selfish and capitalistic. That “capitalism rocks” mindset has guided us since 1981 when the great manipulator made his way into the big time and handed the country to the elites on a golden platter.

Today, progressive politics focuses on the Democratic Party, with the Greens considered as an afterthought. Both major parties were considered “establishment” in those days. Today, many progressives cling to the Democrats as the only hope, and anyone daring to call themselves a Socialist could be investigation fodder. Progressive Eugene McCarthy ran as an independent in 1976 and garnered 1% of the popular vote. Four years later Illinois Congressman John Anderson ran and pulled in 6.6% of the popular vote. Anderson had some appeal to progressives because he was a fiscal conservative and a social moderate who was bucking the entrenched power structure. The best the Greens ever did in Presidential politics was the 2.73%  Nader received in 2000 muddying the results of a contested election. While both parties today are far to the right of the establishment that the hippies fought there’s one thing that experience teaches us and that is that the pendulum always swings back.

As Woody Guthrie once called himself, I am, in the end, a “hoping machine.” I can’t affirm that this is the best way to be and I can’t deny that neck-deep in trials and tribulation I don’t cling to hope with a tenacity that defies reason. So while I struggle to live with the Republican-light sensibilities of today’s Democrats, I can still see that the differences between the two parties are meaningful. All change will be incremental. Obama wasn’t the Great Left Hope, but he was far to the left of Bush, the Destroyer of Economies. He put in for marriage equality at a critical time and it mattered. He accepts the drone war as necessary because he thinks it keeps us safer. He struggles to keep the safety net in place, pushes for access to higher education, responds to the needs of our fellow countrymen affected by calamity, and pushes economy-stimulating infrastructure projects with passion and impotence.

For a long time now, presidential politics has been plagued by weak candidates. Be it Dukakis, Kerry, Dole, McCain, Romney, or even the Gore/Lieberman ticket we don’t get the candidates that transcend the status quo. We keep watch for a lion who has the wits and charisma to shift society to the benefit of the 99%. Meanwhile, the Republicans continue to work to establish a theocracy, take food from the mouths of the poor and aged, make higher education unreachable for the masses, dodge fair taxation, and enjoy the only kind of government subsidization they can bear–the kind that benefits them.

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If you wonder how I got from Billy Joel through the cocaine epidemic to GOP bashing, I consider questionable segues to be the hallmark of these writing exercises. And while I may be a step late for this particular Internet meme, I can’t help but laugh watching Jenna Marble’s “Thanks Obama” video.

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What do you think about the IRS/Tea Party drama? I’d like to attack the issue from another angle:

  1. 501 (c) (4) organizations are social welfare organizations. Their primary purpose must be social welfare, not political campaign support. They are not taxed, and the donors do not need to be identified. The way to understand that non-disclosure piece is to think of organizations like NAACP and ACLU whose supporters might actually be targeted by nut jobs for reprisals. The courts have elected to protect donors in those cases. Today, it has become a way to pump money secretly into organizations that promote political views while stopping short of endorsement of a candidate.
  2. Why any political groups associated with the Tea Party or patriot groups are considered to be social welfare groups takes a pretty large stretch of the imagination. They are instead “dark money” groups (supporting both major political parties but mostly right-wing) that support not social welfare, but political issues. 501 (c)(4) organizations can contribute to Super PACs. Super PACs are a new kind of political action committee created in July 2010 following the outcome of a federal court case known as SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election CommissionSuper PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations, and individuals, then spend unlimited sums (over $800 million in the 2012 election cycle) to advocate for or against political candidates (as long as they don’t donate directly to the candidate). Super PACs must report their donors, but the identity of donors become hidden by virtue of the fact that the money comes from a 501(c)(4).
  3. It was not prudent for the IRS to single out the applicants associated with the Tea Party and to collect donor information from them. The only ill effects for those groups were slowed application processing. While the right over-reacts and over-acts with their well-practiced indignation faces the key facts are lost. First, it’s the IRS’ job to make sure that the groups are legitimate social welfare organizations. Second, the quantity of these applications ballooned after the ridiculous Supreme Court Citizen’s United decision that money was speech and corporations were people and scrutiny was warranted. And finally, starting with Newt Gingrich’s “reform” of the IRS in the 104th Congress the resources of the organization have been challenged and their ability to investigate reduced. So now they do what we’d want them to do-protect us from those cheating with phony tax-free status–and they get slapped down big time. I almost feel sorry for them.

 The right’s persecution complex is in full display, but the idiom “no harm, no foul” might be the best way to process this fiasco.

LB_Rule

Last thoughts. Where I live, in the Chicago area, we are seeing some pretty stormy weather. Even in the mildest of years the wind is something to be dealt with. Recently, I’ve noted a number of hats pursued comically by their owners as they roll down sidewalks and across bridges, and the public trash cans downtown are spiny with wind-mangled umbrellas. I recalled the Lou Rawls song Dead End Street and his monologue about “The Hawk,” and found this performance from sometime in the late sixties. The setting looks like Playboy After Dark.

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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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Filed under Complaining, Healthcare, History, Politics, Social Issues

And I get my sticks and I go out to the shed…

In this edition: Rumination on work: is all this excellence malarkey worth it? Fond remembrance of a more colorful Chicago. The Idiot’s Guide to Preferring Sequestration  Over Thoughtful Governance–$19.95 at Amazon. Finally, what’s with those bangs, Mish?

Bang the Drum All Day

I don’t want to work
I want to bang on the drum all day
I don’t want to play
I just want to bang on the drum all day

Ever since I was a tiny boy
I don’t want no candy, I don’t need no toy
I took a stick and an old coffee can
I bang on that thing ’til I got blisters on my hand!

When I get older they think I’m a fool
The teacher told me I should stay after school
She caught me pounding on the desk with my hands
But my licks was so hot I made the teacher wanna dance!

Listen to this every day when I get home from work
I feel so frustrated, the boss is a jerk
And I get my sticks and I go out to the shed
And I pound on that drum like it was the boss’ head!

Because
I don’t want to work
I want to bang on the drum all day
I don’t want to play
I just want to bang on the drum all day

— Todd Rundgren (1983)

If anyone were to look back over my life they might find one or two moderately sharp turns but otherwise an easy-to-follow path. Musicians like Woody Guthrie (touched on in the last post) and Todd Rundgren have lives more like a series of lives stitched haphazardly together. Rundgren, turning 65 this June, has been in numerous bands; worked many solo projects; produced  respected albums (including for the New York Dolls, Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, Hall & Oates, Meat Loaf, Patti Smith, Shaun Cassidy, The Tubes, XTC, Cheap Trick, and Halfnelson, the first incarnation of Sparks), scored episodes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Michael Mann’s Crime Story TV show;  lectured and taught at IU; and pioneered MTV video, computer graphics, quad concert sound, social media, and Internet distribution of music (Patronet). He also helped raise Liv Rundgren, who later changed her name to Tyler (Steven being her bio-dad). GJ! on that.

Without a doubt, the song represents the duality of our lives as we run (mostly) uncomplainingly in hamster wheels of our own design–faced with a heavy load of responsibility, routine, and financial needs while we occasionally pause and are struck with the understanding that our human spirits demand more. More love, more peace, more warmth, more laughter, and more reflection. The song’s protagonist handles it with a drum workout–but more than that the song creates a sense of transcendent  exuberance. There is still life there for the claiming if we can give ourselves the freedom to enjoy it.

The whole line of thought was triggered by two things. First, the nagging sense that I need to have more fun in my life and that I will not live forever. Second, a bit of an epiphany listening to a caller to a radio station in Chicago. Making a short story long, Dick Kay (the host of Back on the Beat and an ex-newsman), Alton Miller (political consultant and educator), and Monroe Anderson (journalist) were discussing the “good ol’ days” of Chicago politics and newspapers  in the 1970s and 1980s. Chicagoans of a certain age will certainly remember Council Wars, Harold Washington, Jane Byrne, Mike Royko,  Chicago Daily News (RIP 1978), and other long-lost icons of Chicago. The host and guests were drowning in nostalgia relating their stories of the halcyon heydays of hard-drinking reporters and outrageous political personalities. The caller made the point that back then, it wasn’t only the news industry that thrived on quirky personalities and a sense of personal independence (my words), but that even the workers at the supermarket he worked at as a kid were like an extended family sharing history and hilarity. Then he said, “it’s not like nowadays, when going to work is like being in the Army.” Bam, that hit the nail on the head. We are so employment-insecure that we’ve evolved the workday (and often the evenings) into a demonstration of continuous self-sacrifice. We’re like those stupid motivational posters of the soccer player throwing himself in front of the locomotive to save the shot from scoring (if, indeed, such posters existed). We chase a corporate-serving ideal of excellence but often live something more like despair.

The wisdom of Mike Royko:
“Contrary to popular belief. It’s much wiser to take money from the poor than the rich.”
(Seems like Republicans got that memo.)
And Royko hilariously tells us how to cure a hangover here.

So while I don’t want to beat on the drum like it was my boss’ head , (I LIKE my boss), I do think that Americans have largely lost their sense of self in deference to the need to be ideal workers. As recently departed C. Everett Koop once told sham interviewer Ali G, he could guarantee 100% that he (Ali G) would die and that everyone knows they will die. So we need to make sure that before that happens, we take the time to live.

LB_Rule

Reading back on that relatively recent Chicago history brought to mind how Harold Washington’s fight against racism in Chicago and an entrenched political structure closely parallels President Obama’s fight against those in the House who seem to insist that he has no legitimacy. I found this article making the comparison. One big difference is that Washington’s first term was troubled by an Aldermanic block of 29 that would overrule his coalition of 21. Obama began with a majority in the House and Senate allowing him to get some legislation passed (when conservative Dems would join him to defeat Republican filibusters). Washington’s second term was a 25 to 25 split with himself as the deciding vote. Sadly Washington died early in that term. With the Tea Party House uprising in 2010, 60 new ultraconservatives were elected by virtue of having a single trait: anti-Obama extremism. Obama had little opportunity to enact policy after that great American misstep.

History will not treat the obstructionists well. (Yes I maintain my juvenile sense of justice learned from Marvel comics read at impressionable ages.) If the history books don’t take the Tea Party to task then it means that the oligarchs are writing them (and they are certainly doing that today).  In the worst recession since the Great Depression, the Congress willingly manufactured a lost decade by turning obstinacy into high art and dedicating themselves heart and soul to austerity even while slow-growing European nations disproved its benefits.  Fiscal austerity deflates economic activity causing lower tax revenues and higher social welfare payments (for unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps) and this leads to higher, not lower, deficits. What they sell as good for the country is only good for forcing us deeper into the muck and mire still plaguing us from the Bush Recession. And now we have Sequestration.

The Sequester was designed to be a policy so stupid that nobody would want to see it enacted. However, Obama and the Democrats greatly underestimated the capacity of their Tea Party opponents to act stupidly. Now Republicans back the Sequester cuts with the extreme Right-Wing being the tail wagging the dogs of the GOP middle (currently frightened into hiding). The Right’s cries of RINO and the billionaires’ money backing the Tea Party scares the bejeezus out of anyone that might actually consider voting across party lines and for the good of the country. The Sequester cuts will shrink government and that’s a simple thing their simple minds can get around. So instead of attacking waste, fraud, and abuse they attack all spending. And instead of getting to the heart of budget problems they force government agencies to cut not unnecessary programs but everyday staff because this is a part of their budget easily adjusted.

Almost everything related to the government is “stimulus.” Laws designed to give industries breaks are stimulus. Tax breaks to individuals and corporations are there to stimulate one behavior over another. Building an aircraft carrier is stimulus, sending money to schools is stimulus, building a bridge is stimulus, hiring an IRS agent is stimulus. We pool our money together to buy or pay for these things and in turn money flows out, workers spend paychecks and pay taxes, and the economy chugs along. Removing that money haphazardly is bad, and stupid, policy.

The annual federal deficit is dropping–see the graph below. The first and best approach to getting the budget in line with revenue is to increase economic growth, which means stimulating job formation and tax revenues–more jobs to generate revenues to pay down the debt.

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Will the sequestration cuts result in 750,000 jobs lost and a .6% drop in GDP as some maintain? Will FDA cuts threaten food safety? Air Traffic Control cuts cause delays? Will talented government workers head for the door stinging from lost pay on top of hiring and wage freezes? I guess we all stay tuned. Meanwhile, the Dems really ought to stop using this as a hammer to pound their opponents with and take the high road of information over scare tactics.

LB_Rule

News has a very short shelf-life these days. So I can’t help but feel we’ve already moved on from the Academy Awards. Still, I really enjoyed Argo star John Goodman’s rendition of Skyfall.

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And I had no problem with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Best Picture presentation, but her bangs… I just don’t know.

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The hand-off to Michelle via big video screens seemed to amuse the in-theater presenter, Jack Nicholson.

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And if you can stand the smirky bastard, FoxNews host Sean Hannity loses control of his show and raises his big chin unprotected–but Congressman Ellison misses the K.O. by a wide mark.

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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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