Monthly Archives: November 2008

Word-Salad Politics


Who writes the adjectives and adverbs used by news readers?  For instance, when CNN’s David Schuster reads,  “First Lady, Laura Bush, graciously invited Mrs. Obama and the children to the White House…”  who decides to use the adverb, “graciously?”    Who decides Laura Bush’s reputation will survive her husband’s perfidy?

Who assigns folksy monikers to the powerful people who determine the policies by which the world collapses or thrives?  Who told us to think of  Bill Clinton as “Bubba”  and war mongers as “Condi,”  “W” and  “Hillary?”  Who decided that their policies would be more easily swallowed if we thought of the people behind them in folksy, friendly terms?

Who decided “Union” was a dirty word?  Who permeates the airwaves with worker-descriptors like  “greedy lobbyists?”    How did “bargaining for the rights of workers”  become  anti-American in the automaker bailout discussion?

When the CEOs of The Big Three showed up in Washington in their corporate jets,  who decided it was a “public relations nightmare”  rather than the latest example of a rapacious mindset incapable of seeing or understanding  the horrors faced by us, our neighbors and friends.

Harry Reid reacted angrily to “the public relations nightmare” because The Big Three’s arrogance made it impossible to pass a bailout without taxpayer, homeowner and Main Street protections.  The Congress was forced to delay the bailout  the same day it  gave Ted Stevens a standing ovation.

Who characterizes former Senator and felon, Ted Stevens as “the lion of the Senate”  and gives him a standing ovation as his talons slip from power?

Whose nightmare?

Who’s  teaching us to think in easily-digested terms?  Who wants us to ignore the wasted humans piling up along the roadside?  Who wants us thinking about White House puppies?

Who began calling families and children  “the foreclosed?”   And if we think of them as “foreclosed,”  are we tempted to think of them as having fallen into an abyss?  Does it wipe them from our national consciousness?  Where do they go?  Where do they live?  How do their children do in school?  Perhaps it doesn’t matter.  Perhaps they cease to exist for us once we’ve tagged and obscured  them with a derogatory, dismissive phrase.  (Which reminds me,  if your community doesn’t have a food or clothes bank or a  kitchen,  now’s the time to help  establish one.  People need food, diapers and winter clothes.)

Who  promulgated the now-accepted notion that Hillary is “enormously qualified to be  the next Secretary of State?”  On what basis?

Who’s providing texture for our perceptions and thereby,  guiding us to a few carefully-designed conclusions?

Bailouts: Tired of Linear Thinking and Threats?


I’ve been listening since the election to the national  “discussion” of the automaker bailout and  I’m not the only one who’s noticed it sounds like the “discussion” we had before the Iraq invasion.  “Either-or,”  again and again.  It’s played out like this,  “If we don’t give the Big Three Automakers another $25 billion dollars, the United States will swirl down the drain.”   The other side counters with, “If we  give The Big Three another $25 billion, it will be the end of the Capitalist model.”

As near as I can tell, we need six pieces of unequivocal information which are not, apparently available:

:     are The Big Three “toxic”  and are they equally-toxic?

:     would  a loan of $50 billion dollars ensure that  The Big Three  are market-competitive in  five years?

:     what structural changes have to be made in their physical plants and business models to ensure they’re market-competitive in five years?

:     are there viable buyers and/or investors for The Big Three? If not, what makes Paulsen and the Treasury Department believe that We The People want to invest in a raggedy Wonderland?

:     how long will it take to create green manufacturing jobs for people clobbered with job losses?

And, just because we should be alarmed by  the increased vilification of the poor, working poor and middle classes:

:     how did workers’ wages and insurance premiums destroy The Big Three?  Workers were being paid to build products nobody wanted.  Successive generations of families worked  in the same plants forty years or more. It was one of the few corporate sectors where “trickle-down economics”  actually benefited workers as well as CEOs.  Auto workers set a standard for participating in our economic booms and after forty years of feeding the economy with the products they bought, the homes they built and the children they sent to college, they’ve earned better than bankruptcy when their employers “bail out” of their pension and health care contracts.  Our economy runs on the notion that “workers” will earn enough to have “expendable income” which they will use to  “consume and invest.”  How did we achieve a topsy-turvy understanding that blames worker/consumers when corporate profit margins for worthless products exceed all rational models?

Why isn’t  the information we need for good decision-making  available in  discussable form?  Economic journalists have morphed into “opinion” journalists.  I read Robert Reich, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman and for balance, I watch CNBC.  The analysts are just as frightened as the rest of us and I’m tired of hearing the same “mushroom cloud” analyses  we heard before the Iraq invasion. If I hear “economic Armageddon” or “world-wide meltdown”  one more time from trusted analysts….

Instead,  I want to hear from Buffett and Soros.  I want a team of their analysts to audit the automakers.  I want an analysis of each company’s future viability.  I want to know the conditions they need to meet in order to be market-competitive.  I also want to know what they’ve done with the first $25 billion they were given besides tuck it in their back pockets.  Why is that money collecting interest in their corporate accounts?  I want those interest dollars reimbursed to a Green Manufacturing  and Job Creation Fund.  (Relatedly, every single person whose job is threatened should be enrolled in all-expenses-paid educational programs today.  Let’s make sure every single community college and BOCES offers vocational training in computer- and green-based manufacturing because  there are other sectors on the brink of failure.  Hospitals, for instance, are in desperate straits and everyone knows we have a nursing shortage. One reason for that is the huge number of good nurses who’ve run screaming out of hospital work because the system is cruel and unusual to patients and workers.  Clean up the system and the “nursing crisis” will evaporate.)

Sorry for that sidetrack.

Structural changes to The Big Three’s physical plants and business models.  I want a full-blown analysis of both these areas for each of the Three. I don’t want another bundle of toxic assets. Is there a law of  magneto-physics that links the three inextricably?

The team of analysts who audit The Big Three should include representatives from  green manufacturing sectors, autoworkers and anyone who sold their patent rights to the automakers — anyone whose bright idea so threatened the automakers that they bought the patents and buried them under a pile of over-priced and poisonous vehicles.  Let this team of analysts examine the physical plants cooperatively. Let them tell us what’s possible.  I’ll bet there are hungry and innovative enterprises fully-capable of building a better mousetrap in abandoned car factories all over this country. All they need is the investment capital that, heretofore, was siphoned off by the companies at the top of the heap.  In fact, I’ll bet innovators are  already buzzing with  brilliant ideas as I type this. I’ll even  bet there are stymied Ford engineers and line workers with boxes of great ideas that have been trampled in the race to the mediocre bottom.  Maybe innovative employees could create a research, development and implementation  plan.  In the meantime, let the bean counters do their work.  When the chickens are counted, let’s invest in the demonstrably best bet.

Presumably, after offering its cost analysis,  this team of structural and financial experts would be able to provide business plans for retrofitting the abandoned factories for a variety of industrial purposes.   Hell.  I’ll bet there’d be investors all over the world lining up — anything to keep the US economy intelligently afloat.  (I wonder what the rest of the world will trust us with next.)

Plenty of respected economists  believe we don’t have time to do a thorough analysis of the companies’ financial prospects.  In point of fact, we don’t know our timeframe, do we?  We have claims and counter-claims without verifiable proofs.  Our distrust is  one price of being lied to for eight years.  It’s one price of all the dead and maimed in Iraq.  Regardless, if it’s too late for a thoughtful analysis, then it’s probably too late, period. Supporters of The Big Three Bailout cite their increased European profile and the fact that GM makes more 30+ MPG models than any other company. (Their sales lag but their production is up.)  I’m not convinced we should let them fade away.  I’m not convinced we’d be nuts to invest in The Big Three;  but  we do need to know if they  can be market-competitive in five years or if they’re hopelessly behind the eight ball.

Soon, there’ll be a lot of soldiers coming home.  Among the many things they’ll need,  fair-wage jobs have to be a priority.   Are the automakers — America’s industrial backbone — going to provide those jobs?

No?  Then perhaps we need to answer the question:  what are the viable alternatives? Should we throw good money after bad for, perhaps, the sake of egocentric nostalgia?   At our root, isn’t this more a referendum on what it means to be American?  Aren’t we afraid of what we’ll see in the mirror (or what else we’ll cede)  if we admit publicly  that we don’t make cars anymore?  Don’t we need a stronger backbone for our US economy than what’s been provided by The Big Three?

*    *    *    *

Related questions:

How did teachers, plumbers, farmers and nurses outwit  bankers, lawyers and their maze of legal documents  to create the mortgage meltdown?

Why aren’t AIG’s hyenas in jail instead of lolling poolside with  private masseuses and standing in front of Congress with their hands still out?

Why aren’t rating agency employees (Moody’s,  Standards & Poors, Fitch) who colluded to award falsely high grades to toxic bundled assets in jail?

Election Day, Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving


In early  November,  we come together on Election Day to cast our votes — to  pick the candidate whose  priorities and manner  we most approve.  It’s hard to beat the excitement of an Election Day that dawns on millions of citizens  re-enlisting in the future of our Republic.

On November 11th, Veterans’ Day, many of us  honor the military service of our men and women.  We stand in mourning beside their families.  We visit them in crowded  VA hospitals.  We see them in divorce courts or on sidewalks outside  homeless shelters.

According to emails exchanged by a  VA physician (Dr. Katz)  and The VA’s Assistant Deputy of Health in 2007:

“18 veterans kill themselves every day and this is confirmed by the VA’s own statistics.  Is that true?  Sounds awful but if one is considering 24 million veterans.”  That same day, Dr. Katz responded: “There are about 18 suicides per day among America’s 25 million veterans.”

Despite our poor track record in caring for our veterans, the earliest European settlers in The New World intended to defend and protect them.  The Plymouth Colony legislated pensions for veterans of the “Indian Wars”  (1636).  However, the vague language of the old law should be noted  (bold added for emphasis):

“That in case necessity require to send [forces] abroade …  any that shall goe returne  maymed [and]  hurt he shall be mayntayned competently by the Colony duringe his life.”

In 1930, Congress established the Veterans’ Administration  in order to streamline its provision of services.  Unfortunately,  a system of  shell games  was promulgated  wherein  services were underfunded by the Feds and under-delivered  by the States.

Thanksgiving is the third of our November days  and through the years, its date and purpose have been remarkably fluid.

Residents of  The Virginia Colony gave thanks to God in 1619 at the end of their grueling journey across the Atlantic.

In 1621, The Plymouth Colony gave thanks to God for the bountiful harvest.  In years to come, they would fast in prayer and penance when their stores ran thin.

When wars ended in victory, our political councils decreed that the populace should rejoice before God and praise Him.  In Charlestown, Massachusetts, for instance,  the good people gave praise and thanks in 1671 for their “advantages” over,  and  defeat of,  “the Heathen Natives.”

In our darkest national moments,  the people have been urged to praise God officially and pray for Divine Intervention. On November 1, 1777,  The Continental Congress declared the first National Day of Thanksgiving.  By its language and exhortations, the early legislature seemed to hope that  the nation’s piety would appease The Almighty;  that soldiers and commanders would gain vital courage from the Colonies’ renewed bond with The Father.

The next month,  General George Washington declared another day of Thanksgiving after the Continental Army’s victory  at Saratoga.

During the Depression, depending on whether November had four or five weeks in a given year,  Franklin D.Roosevelt  designated Thanksgiving  the third or fourth Thursday of the month (1939 and 1940).  Roosevelt   had hopes that an  additional week of consumer spending  between Thanksgiving and Christmas would  stimulate the broken economy.

How would it be if we designated November as our national month of remembrance?

What if every November we studied The Constitution — the only thing our soldiers are sworn to defend and protect.

We could renew our gratitude for religious freedom.

We could study the peoples and cultures we usurped when we swarmed the continent.

We could learn from our history.  We could develop humility.

We could teach our children civility and the richness of debate.

We could designate Election Day a  National Holiday — a national day of citizenship and conscience.

Perhaps  our Veterans would fare better if our political will was more comprehensively pricked.

*   *   *   *

Much of the information in this article can be found at The Veterans’ Administration’s (VA) history pagehttp://www1.va.gov/opa/feature/history/docs/history1.pdf,    The Plymouth Colony Archive Project: http://www.histarch.uiuc.edu/plymouth/laws1.html ;  the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs http://veterans.house.gov/news/PRArticle.aspx?NewsID=242 ; and Early America’s Thanksgiving pages:   http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/firsts/thanksgiving/

As a matter of medical interest, you might visit The Veterans’ Administration’s  Research & Development page: http://www.research.va.gov/

Emissaries For Obama


When the Bush regime gained control of the three branches of the Federal Government, it did so with an ideologic  righteousness that belittled opposing  points of view.  There’s no  evidence  that the outgoing regime enjoyed debates or  evolved through meetings of the mind.

Over the past several weeks, as it became more credible  that  now-President-elect Obama (such a kick to type that!) would be the 44th President of  The United States of America (an even bigger kick to type that!)  the rants of partisans like Bill Maher and Sean Hannity seemed increasingly mean and superficial.  They echoed the hateful tones of a nurse whose blog  vilified destitute refugees from Hurricane Gustav and my equally-hateful response to her.   None of us stopped to imagine the other’s experience but rather, retreated to our comfortable, exclusionary paradigms.

Isn’t intolerance  a fancy way of saying,   “You’re either with us or you’re against us?”  (“You’re either like me or you’re strange.”)   Isn’t it a  swampy place  where we consign  people  and points of view that challenge or threaten us?   If the clerk in the grocery store tells me s/he “voted for  McCain,”  and my response is an aghast,   “Are you nuts?  What the hell were you thinking as a working person?”  will my intolerant ignorance of her life make the clerk feel welcome in the Obama tent?

When Bill  Maher says  religious people are too stupid to vote or too ignorant to have an opinion,  isn’t that just one more way of delineating his  Real America from Another America?

When a foreclosed farmer or an unemployed college professor  is  shadowed by debt  and loss,  where do they turn?  To the familiar.  To the things and ideas that have been traditional sources of comfort.   Mine are my children, family, a few dear friends,  chocolate cake, knitting, Mark Twain, the first three seasons of  Boston Legal,  barbeque chicken and potato chips.    For a vegan,  comfort  might be a bowl of  steamy tofu chili.  Whatever comforts we seek, they’ll be alluring or repugnant to others.  More important than the specific comfort we  seek is the fact that most of us do retreat to familiar cultural  bunkers when we’re threatened.  And you’d better know, I won’t relinquish my comforts to suit you unless you  convince me that my  bunker provides false comfort.  Telling me that  my choice of chicken wings is “stupid and irresponsible”  won’t do it.  Forcing tofu down my throat will just make me throw up.

When The Daily Show and others sneered at “undecideds,”  were those voters encouraged to support Obama?  I know a number of undecided voters who  finally chose in the voting booth.  In the main, they were  social conservatives who disagreed with McCain’s lack of economic vision; or,  they were terrified of  electing an inexperienced President but were equally terrified of Sarah Palin.  They aren’t stupid people and they agonized over their choices until the last possible minute.  One of them wanted so desperately to do what was right, she nearly voted as her deceased grandmother would have.  She knew how proud the life-long Democrat would have been to vote for the young Senator from Illinois.

In the end, I believe  there are remarkable men and women who walk onto the public stage because the historic moment cries out for them  —  great Statespeople who teach us to imagine the minds and lives of our “enemies” and  to walk in their shoes.   I believe that Barack (like Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.) is one of those people.  They teach us that we all  have fears and therefore, prejudices.  As a Populist,  I’m suspicious of anything that divides me from others and mostly, I’m frightened by what happens when we combine fear with ignorance.  Justice and unity  cannot co-exist with intolerance and it doesn’t much matter if the butt of intolerance lives rural or urban,   is  a trades person or  a comedian.

In a pre-election segment of Morning Joe (MSNBC) Willie Geist tried to sell McCain-Palin tee shirts on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.   He found two sympathizers among the crowd flowing past him.  The vast majority, however,  were Obama-philes and their snippiness was instructive:  “I don’t know any McCain people.  I wouldn’t have one for a friend.”

None of us is 100% consistent.  Most of us have squirrelly bits that glare balefully at our better selves. They’re easily-recognizable, though;  they often snarl loudly and pound  their fists.   Sometimes the only way to counter  our irrational parts is to poke around in their origins;  to wonder aloud, “What am I afraid of?  What are you afraid of?”

This is not to say we can stand mute in the face of racism, sexism, religious intolerance,  attacks on intellectual freedoms, homophobia or any other threats to civil society; but as Obama emissaries, we must listen to and understand the fears of others.  How else can we  lay those fears to  rest?  How else can we  open our doors  as far as possible and create an innovative and more civil future?

Election Day – Bipolar Day


This may be a day for reflection, but I’ve turned off my brain.  Its wild fluctuations make me dizzy.

“McCain has the narrowest path to victory.”

“Where the heck’s the ‘youth vote?'”

“Votes suppressed!”

“Don’t underestimate the  Republican ground game.”

“Barack has changed the face of  ground-side organizing.  Millions of volunteers getting out the vote.”

“Republican headquarters are eerily empty.”

“The polls were wrong in New Hampshire.”

“Polling didn’t catch up to the vote in New Hampshire.”

“Obama wins in landslide in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. The little town last voted Democrat in 1968.”

“Republican down-ballot incumbents are crashing.”

“Voters will change their minds at the last minute and vote for the familiar — the ‘safe.'”

“People are desperate for a larger, more-inclusive vision.”

“People retreat to their comfort zones in times of trial.”

“Hope will triumph over fear.”

“Obama could win the popular vote and McCain could take the Electoral College.”

After voting and taking a few others to the polls, I’m packing  my pajamas, laptop, potato chips, banana nut bread and knitting needles and heading to  my son’s house.  He’s going to cook for me.  His roars, moans and curses will drown my own.

In 1997, after  forty-four years of living and dying with  the Cleveland Indians, I watched every pitch of that year’s playoffs and World Series until  the last batter of the last inning  of the last game.   Cravenly,  I retreated to the back porch and lit a cigarette. Under the gigunda mountain sky,  I heard a stadium of Marlin fans erupt in triumph at the last pitch.

Forty-four years of diligence blown in the last fifteen minutes.  I’ve never stopped feeling guilty.

So today, there’ll be  no phone calls,  no writing, no struggling for the perfect word, no thought.

This day,  nothing will distract me until we either plunge into darkness or resurrect with selflessness of purpose.