Thursday, February 24, 2011

Union Suit

Ronald Reagan’s handling of the air controllers strike may be his only decision of consequence with which I agreed. I had forgotten the reason but was reminded of it recently by one of those MSNBC types who are in the habit of throwing around facts. The controllers were striking in violation of a contract they had signed. If this bit of “trivia” were widely known it would put an end to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to draw a parallel between his action and Reagan’s in 1981. 

Governor Walker, along with several other Republican governors, is simply trying to kill the already declining labor movement. Since the administration of the first President Roosevelt it has been pretty well accepted that, like it or not, unions are here to stay. Having dealt with musician’s unions, both as a member and employer, I’d say they are something less than perfect. But we read almost daily of abuse by police and have seen filmed evidence of inhumane action by our military, yet few of us question the need for these institutions. The need for the right of workers to organize in their common interest was proved over a century ago by the abuses suffered during the Gilded Age, sweat shops and child workers to name two. People are still people.

The argument that government services are essential and therefore should be immune from strikes is not without a degree of credibility, but none in the case of Governor Walker. Police and firefighter unions who had supported him for governor were exempt from his edict.

The governor’s story took an interesting turn yesterday when a man, who somehow was able to pass as one of the Koch brothers, got him on tape in what sounds like a politically compromising situation. This may be considered dirty pool. But it’s been meat and potatoes to the right for some time. Remember the “pimp and hooker” who did in Acorn dressed for the occasion and filmed most of the “evidence” outside the building? These events are almost mirror images except that this guy didn’t go to all that trouble. He just called the governor on his phone.     

The possible demise of union labor is frightening to contemplate. But if there’s a silver lining in the cloud it’s that the guy leading the charge appears to be a bit of a bumbler. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Egypt and Others

The situation in Egypt has been dominating the news for the past few weeks, as well it should, in light of egalitarian movements now afoot in other Middle Eastern nations, at this time Libya. While these events have yet to clearly evolve into partisan politics in this country, I think it’s a matter of time before they do, with the line of Mubarak supporters forming on the right. For most of us more time is needed to reach reasoned conclusions.

This is not true of Niall Ferguson and of Newsweek which featured his article, “Egypt, How Obama Blew It,” on last week’s cover, which went to press three days after Mubarak resigned.  Whether this is a case of presumed prescience or simply jumping the gun, it drew my immediate attention.

The writer lost me right off the bat by contrasting Barack Obama’s missing “the wave of Middle Eastern democracy” with Otto Von Bismarck’s having caught  and surfed “the revolutionary wave of mid 19th-century German nationalism.”  It’s quite a stretch to compare supporting a political movement in a string of nations stretching across a hemisphere with nationalizing contiguous Teutonic sovereign entities covering an area smaller than the State of Montana. Few people would consider the word “balkanize” in relation to Prussia, Bavaria and the other former nation states that constitute today’s Germany.

In making his point the writer mentions the chagrin of Israel and Saudi Arabia over events in Egypt. But he didn’t suggest continued support of Mubarak so it can be assumed that he felt we have been tardy in our support of the uprisings. It’s a mystery to me how America could have effectively supported “democracy” while controlling possible mob rule in so many nations covering so large an area in view of our military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe he envisioned holding Lawrence of Arabia auditions, assigning the winners to the various nations. Imagine the fun the political right would have if we openly advocated overthrowing our accommodating dictator friends. It would probably be prudent to let someone like G. Gordon Liddy or Oliver North, select the Lawrences. 

I don’t know what Obama did or didn’t do to blow it. There hasn’t been a clear explanation for Mubarak’s 24 hour about face. I think it highly probable that strings were pulled by the White House. One can guess what the cessation of $1.5 billion of our foreign aid would have done to the salaries, morale and loyalty of the Egyptian military. Word has it that both our Secretaries of State and Defense favored delaying the transition. This should add perspective to our habit of passing all responsibility for an event to a member of a president’s cabinet, as in the case of Donald Rumsfeld and the invasion of Iraq.

I haven’t drawn any conclusions as to how our government should have reacted, other than that it would have been foolhardy to support the status quo. What does concern me is that a magazine to which I’ve subscribed for over fifty years would print this sort of tripe and worse yet feature it on its cover. Considering Newsweek’s change in management, it smells strongly of the effluvia from Citizens United.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Let's All Stand

On March 3, 1931 Herbert Hoover signed a law making the star Spangled Banner our national anthem. In a previous letter (I have an unexplainable aversion to using the word “posting”) I expressed dissatisfaction with that selection. 

I have no problem with the lyrics, written by Francis Scot Key on witnessing the action from a ship outside Baltimore’s Ft. McHenry in the War of 1812. While dated, they are a genuine piece of Americana. The melody is another matter. It’s taken from an English drinking song which I find strange inasmuch as a war with England was the setting for the lyrics. Borrowing melodies from the British is not without precedent. “My Country ‘tis of Thee” is a note for note replica of “God Save the Queen” or King as the case may be. To my musical palate “Dixie,” particularly at a slower tempo, is a more pleasing melody. Having won the Civil War, I wish the Union would have co-opted it as the spoils of victory.

But like it or not the “Star Spangled Banner” is our anthem and as such has been sung for years by groups of Americans in a sincere, although not always successful, attempt at unison. This has been a ritual at major athletic events, usually with a professional singer leading the audience.

This tradition was broken at the 1968 World Series when Jose Feliciano, a gifted musical performer, altered the melody, and has evolved to what we heard at this year’s Super Bowl. Here I draw the line! A national anthem is not meant to be a showcase for an individual singer, in which case it becomes impossible for the audience to participate. The great Irish tenor, John McCormack, recorded two choruses in just over two minutes, the time it took our most recent offender to sing one. Just singing the word “wave” took six seconds.

In my last letter I made the mistake of mentioning the Super Bowl culprit’s name, something I have resolved never to do again. Should circumstances cause me to break that resolution I promise to bend every effort not to spell the name correctly.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Day

I apologize to Eleanor Roosevelt for purloining the title of her newspaper column. It also might seem a bit egocentric were it not for the fact that enough recipients of this letter probably watched the Super Bowl, or had to watch it, to comprise a quorum.

To avoid the pre game nonsense my TV day didn’t begin until the kickoff, scheduled for 6:30, but starting ten minutes later, probably to squeeze in a few more commercials. So I missed the Obama-O’Reilly segment, more on that later.

My guess is that given the length of commercials and the half time show the mute button was on at least half the time. I missed Christina Aguilera’s singing the national anthem, a truly classic rendition which I caught later on U Tube. What a display of narcissistic body language! Bing or Frank never did this sort of thing. But then they didn’t have to. 

Parts of the halftime show, to which I’m too timid a soul to have listened, were impressive, the aerial shots in particular. But I thought they fell short of those Busby Berkeley kaleidoscopic dance numbers of the 1930’s which were filmed in black and white in the confines of the Warner Bros. set. On viewing the throng of gyrators my thought was that if there was a record for calories burned per minute per acre it had to have been broken right then and there.

I found the game interesting. But in view of dropped and poorly thrown passes it was not the sport at it best. The fact that the new champions are from Green Bay, Wisconsin, says something about the way the game is run compared to baseball, a game which I prefer. It’s to the NFL management’s credit that it rarely elicits the phrase “small market team.”

As to the interview with the president, which I didn’t see till later, we didn’t expect softball questions and did expect follow ups. The situation figured to be adversarial. But what we heard was more like a police grilling. O’Reilly did most of the talking and all the interrupting. MSNBC ran a running count of interruptions which came to 43. I wish they’d kept count of his questions to which Obama wasn’t allowed to complete his answer. My guess is around 43. 

There have been presidents with whom I would not have deigned to shake hands. You might guess their identity. But if I happened to be with one of them in public, particularly at my request, I’d have given the pretense of respect that the office demands.

I had prepared to say something profound about Egypt. But today Mubarak announced his resignation which changes everything. It puts an end to my idea of looking for a clone of King Farouk.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Has anybody noticed the sound of silence on the subject of “earmarks” from Republicans in the three months since the election? These are federal appropriations for projects in 435 Congressional districts, the lifeblood that keeps members of Congress in office.  It works this way. If your representative votes for an expenditure of questionable merit in Colorado you can be sure he’s getting the other fellow’s vote on something he wants at home.

A sudden end to earmarks would amount to a rash of de facto term limits. It is understandable why, as a substantial minority in the House of Representatives, Republicans found it an inviting target.  Now that they’re in the majority, the less heard about it the better.

Earmarks amount to only one percent of the budget. I’m curious as to the formality under which these terrible things are proposed. Does a Congressman say “I would like to present the following earmark suh?” Hardly! Like beauty, an earmark’s recognition is in the eye of the beholder.

Military or “Defense” facilities installed or maintained in a district have the same effect, although their financing is perennial. As I recall it the late Chalmers Johnson, after speaking favorably about the two Senators from the State of Washington said “at the mention of Boeing and they turn into fascist hyenas right before your eyes.”

Wikipedia defines earmark as “a legislative (especially Congressional) provision that directs approved funds to be spent on specific projects, or that directs specific exemptions from taxes or mandated fees.” I had no idea about the italicized (by me) part of the definition. Possibly the John McCain types don’t either, or just assume that the voters don’t.  If you start with the oil industry exemptions and subsidies and work your way through the pertinent part of our corporate structure my guess it we’re dealing with much more than one percent of the budget.

In this area neither of our major political parties have clean hands. Both have legislators for sale, although I admit to a firm conviction which party has the most. From several proverbs that fit here I choose the one about the pot calling the kettle black, my apologies to the kettle.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Comes The Revolution?

History shows that when oligarchies, or their monetary equivalent, plutocracies, become too oligarchic or plutocratic, they are initially ended by egalitarian movements. After that anything can happen and usually does. Examples are Louis XVI France, Tsarist Russia, Iran, and today, most prominently Egypt, to which might eventually be added Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan and Syria.

That sort of thing couldn’t happen here, could it? Fair or not we have laws which in theory, and often in fact, are representative of the will of the people to whom they apply. The same can be said of their enforcement. The closest we’ve come to revolution was during the Great Depression when many of the perceived oligarch/plutocrats were replaced by election. The nation survived.

We weren’t then, and aren’t today, as autocratic as these nations. We have another thing going for us. Our left wing, the logical source of a serious revolution, consists of a bunch of amateurs when compared to the right wing equivalent. In their l960’s heyday they attracted plenty of attention. But there was no central theme. There were the ghetto riots, a strange way to thank Lyndon Johnson. The installation of the draft led to anti Vietnam War activity from college age students. If anybody knows what the Symbionese Liberation Army was about please let me in on it. The proof of the pudding in all this random left wing activity was the election of a Republican president.

When the right gets into gear they know what they want and how to get it. The 1994 “Republican Revolution” and today’s Tea Party movement were bloodless affairs, the only damage being to truth, reason and, in my opinion the nation. They managed to sweep Congress in both cases. This was done largely with the votes of poorer Americans, acting like alumni of the School for the Gullible.  

A revolution from the left is probably distant. We have never been a pure democracy or republic, take your pick. After slavery Jim Crow was with us for a century. But the seemingly inexorable economic stratification of the past thirty years has taken us well in the direction of a plutocracy. The Citizens United is the most prominent of several events pointing us towards oligarchy. The two often go together.

I’ve always derided the debating technique of those who argue a political point with a sentence beginning with “The the next thing you know.” Whatever the issue, it is rarely the “next thing.” This thing will usually do nicely. But in view of the likely consequences of a government default should the Republican House of Representatives refuse to raise the national debt ceiling, I’m beginning to think that the next thing could be this thing.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Letter to the N.Y. Times

Charles Blow is on target when he mentions the disappearance of the word “poor” from the lexicon of Democratic presidents. He might have added Democratic politicians. Many voters, even those verging on poverty themselves, don’t like the idea of their tax dollars being spent on the less fortunate. Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen has been with us figuratively for quite awhile. She helped Republicans take over Congress in 1994 and she popped up this week in Paul Ryan’s reference to Social Security recipients in their “hammocks.”

Democrats are doing what any politician would when confronted with a third rail word, use a euphemism. In  this case “middle class” has served the purpose.