Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Anti-government candidate: Oxymoron or Just Plain Moron?

At his 1981 inauguration, [Ronald Reagan] voiced his simple revolutionary credo: "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem."  That remark was prescient, although not in the sense that Reagan intended. His naive faith in the private sector's capacity to regulate itself, along with his disdain for many of the necessary functions of the modern state, allowed cronies and crooks to flourish. Inept government, corrupt government and cynical government became severe problems during his tenure, leaving fiscal wreckage that remained for many years after he returned to private life.                  Joe Conason,  "Reagan without Sentimentality"

Hope for the corporates, change for the workers--
and downhill ever since.

It's one thing to want to win a spot in congress in order to change the government.  Wanting better government is a fine and noble calling, and more power to ya'll.  But it takes colossal chutzpah to go after a job where your salary and perks are paid for by the same people whose government you're out to destroy.
We have a government in place, for better or for worse, because we the people are doing our share to keep big government going.  Big government is big because we are a big country.  We've seen what happens when big government is undermined and/or watered down.  It becomes tasty carrion for Big Vultures to feed on, and they won't stop until they're down to bloody bones.

Rand Paul, the libertarian running for a Republican senatorial seat in Kentucky, tells his Tea Party followers, "Capitalism is freedom, we've come to take back our government".  That kind of Gekko talk is building momentum among the Limbaugh/Beck/Palin/ crowd, even though they haven't yet explained what it means to "take back our government".  Take it back to when?  And give it to whom?  Which of the Tea Party heroes is equipped to get us out of this mess?  How will Smaller Government do it?

Last week Sarah Palin backed Clint Didier, a Washington state Tea Party candidate for senate who calls the federal government "a predator" and sees public spending as a "Marxist utopia".  I'm betting Palin, in her rah-rah speech, forgot to mention that over the last 15 years the rabidly anti-government Didier has collected almost $300,000 in Federal farm subsidies.  I'm betting neither one of them consider that little gift from the tax-payers an entitlement

At the supposed heart of all the anti-government caterwauling is our astounding deficit.  The truth is, it is totally astounding.  Even I, a complete ignoramus when it comes to budget numbers, know a monster  when I see one.  It's terrifying.  So when those Tea Party greenhorns yak on about how they're going to change things, I want to know exactly how they're going to do it.  What magic plan do they have for altering the course of this out-of-control projectile called SOL America and bringing it back down to earth?  Give it over to private industry?  Isn't that how we got here?  So if not private industry, what's left?

Oh, anti-G people, you're not gonna want to hear this, but. . .

Big government.  They looked the other way when the marauders were laying waste, and now they're left to rebuild our villages (after they've cleaned up a massive oil disaster perpetrated and perpetuated by those same interests who would love to be joining you in your crusade against authority).  They're going to have to do it by re-regulating, by in-sourcing, by creating life-sustaining jobs for Americans, and by assisting the people most affected by the economic downturn.  If that means smacking down a few bankers or forcing corporations to play fair, it won't be the end of the world.  The big guys got greedy and they blew it.  Now they have to play nice.  We can't have people out of work and out of food and out of homes and out of options.  This is America.

 We the people have to take top priority, and you the Tea Partiers have to get your priorities straight.  You can't, for instance, still have control of your taxes once you've paid them.  (If we could, mine would go to free clinics and food banks and homeless shelters--those socialistic necessities now currently swamped and overwhelmed because of America's refusal to end its love affair with Corporatist Bad Boys.)

If you've got gripes, join the club. We've all got gripes. But be mindful that your Tea Party movement, giving succor to the vicious, paranoid rantings of the Limbaughs, Becks, Bachmanns and Palins of the country, also eggs on the hate groups, trained and ready and itching for a reason to do bodily harm.

Do us all a favor and think about who you're actually choosing to run things around here. If your candidate's main qualification is a clever way of expressing his or her hatred for the government, just remember--in America that would be you.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Battle for Public Schools - Kids? What kids?

On C-Span's Washington Journal, the question this morning was "Should Public Schools receive a bailout?"  The majority of the callers said no.   I don't know where these people live--offshore, maybe--but My God.  I've lived a good long time, as my creaking joints are so keen on reminding me, but how long do I have to go on being amazed and chagrined that even now, even in the 21st century, forces from the dark side are still working on getting us out of the edjamacation business?

(By the way, what's the matter with C-Span?  Am I the only one who's noticing a definite Republican bent to their questions, their newspaper choices, and their programming?  The C in C-Span stands for Conservative these days.  Their idea of Fair and Balanced is moving suspiciously closer to the Fox's lair. That's a pity.)

These days we're looking, talking and acting more and more like some comic's version of a third world country, but so far we've kept the mercenaries at bay when it comes to our most sacrosanct obligation--basic education for all.  The Right Wing in our country have been beating their gums for eons now about the need to turn public schools over to private interests, but so far we've been able to brush them off like the nasty little gnats they are.

They can't rightly come out and admit that their idea of absolute nirvana is a wholly-privatized, for-profit, non-regulated society, so they latch onto the one guaranteed button-pusher:  taxes.  They use the threat of more taxes going to unworthy (read "socialist") causes as their reasons for denying every kid a chance at the American dream.  They know their audience well.  Dreams are for suckers when it comes to doling out their tax dollars.  Who wants to pay more taxes for anything?  Not we.  Cut the funding!  Kill the unions!  Minimum wage for teachers!  Pack those kids into the classrooms!  No free lunches!  Leave no child behind except yours!

 Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote a piece that found its way into the Wall Street Journal, (yes, truly) in which she makes the plea for more government funding.

According to a survey of more than 80% of school districts by the American Association of School Administrators, 275,000 teachers and other school staff will receive pink slips. It's not that these schools will educate fewer children, or that students won't need the personnel and programs that will be cut. But the cuts could rob an entire generation of students of the well-rounded education they need and deserve. Class sizes will swell, and students will lose important classes and programs, such as art, music, physical education, Advanced Placement classes, and counseling and intervention programs for those who need the most help.

Nowhere does she use the word "bailout", but the headline shreiks it.   It's a convenient word--it suggests we taxpayers have a choice.  Should we or shouldn't we keep funding our schools?  Will we or won't we bail them out?

Bail them out from what?  Ourselves?  Our neglect?  Our contempt?   What a sorry state we're in if the best we can do for our schools is to threaten to put them on the auction block if they don't behave. 

The funding for public schools should never be in question.  If you want a voice in how schools use taxpayer funds, fine--do it from within, at the local level. Work hard to make the schools better.  Give the kids a chance. Our education system is being bullied and battered, and in the end it's the kids who take the blows. (Ironic, isn't it, that it's the Family Values mob doing the bullying?  And, as with all bullies, they're not about to pick on somebody their own size. )


Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's Official - Goldman Sachs harbors and nurtures Creeps and Crooks. But we love the rich, so lay off.

The financial crisis has unveiled a new set of public villains—corrupt corporate capitalists who leveraged their connections in government for their own personal profit. During the Clinton and Bush administrations, many of these schemers were worshiped as geniuses, heroes or icons of American progress. But today we know these opportunists for what they are: Deregulatory hacks hellbent on making a profit at any cost.


In his superb Alternet blog this morning, Zach Carter published his Top Ten list of America's most corrupt capitalists.  Not surprisingly, almost all of them have had or still have substantial ties to Goldman Sachs.   And equally not surprising, even while Carter exposes them and dazzles us with the length and breadth of their successful efforts to corrupt everything within yodeling distance of their corporate grasp,  the worshippers of their Fat Cat sugar daddies are, as Carter described yesterday, out there defending their good name. 

There are plenty of people roaming these great states who would have us believe the Goldman Sachs types are simply honest brokers who made a few--okay, pretty big--mistakes, but they're all family men with little, chirpy mouths to feed and we're all liberal, progressive, bambi-loving, tree-hugging, welfare-grabbing, anti-embryo, pro-intellectual, socialistic, communistic meanies if we can't see that. (Blankfein didn't say that, of course, but he didn't have to, what with all the vociferous toadies out there who will do it for him.)

But thankfully, Andrew Cuomo isn't one of them.  Cuomo, son of my hero, Mario Cuomo, is New York state's Attorney General.  He's out to get those guys, and it's not just lip service.  They know that, and they'll go after him with a vengeance.  They already have.  But nothing beats the scope of the Goldman Sackers for raiding and pillaging, and no amount of self-righteous diversion is suddenly going to turn them into grateful recipients of the E Pluribus Unum Award.  They deserve every justifiable take-down our few brave heroes are attempting.  ("Attempting" is the operative word here.  "Accomplishing" would be so much more satisfying, but we know from past experience how likely that is.  One look at the latest hand-slap from Congress proves that the proof is in the pudding.  Looky here:  "As the executives testified, Goldman Sachs was the only stock among 79 financial companies that gained in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. The stock rose $1.01 to $153.04 as of 5:04 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.  Goldman Sachs, the most profitable securities firm in Wall Street history, was sued for fraud earlier this month by the Securities and Exchange Commission on a similar deal. The company contests the claim.")

Now, okay, in this paragraph I should be pulling this all together and making my point.  But the truth is, I know nothing about finances or financial transactions, or the reasons for booms or busts, or why those guys look like freakin' nuts down there on the trading floor.  I'm not expected to, since I'm not in the business, but what scares the living daydreams out of me is that way too often even the so-called Wall Street experts don't seem to have a clue.  That happened last week, when, for 20 minutes or so,  the market went into "Flash Crash" mode and we caught a glimpse of just how insane the grand scheme of all capitalism all the time really is.  (I'm sending "Flash Crash" to the word banishment people at LSSU.  Amidst all this doom and gloom, they're still having fun with reading:  "The [2010] list this year is a 'teachable moment' conducted free of 'tweets,'" said a Word Banishment spokesman who was "chillaxin'" for the holidays. "'In these economic times', purging our language of 'toxic assets' is a 'stimulus' effort that's 'too big to fail.'")

Almost finished, but I can't leave here without mentioning Ronald Reagan.  He started this, and there was nothing heroic about it.  We wouldn't be in this fix if it weren't for Ronald Reagan making "deregulation"  and "anti-government" household words.  A president who usurps his duties to the people in order to build a golden throne for corporate fat cats is no hero.  (A president who follows along in order to make friends or hide transgressions is no better--before you accuse me of forgetting about Bill Clinton's blind eye toward outsourcing and union-bashing.  And neither is a president who salts his cabinet with the same money people who were in on this without expecting some good-works penance from them.)

Deregulation.  Anti-government.  The best way to banish those words is to banish the practices.  We need regulation.   We need good, all-encompassing government.  And we need to do more to the Gold men than to try and embarrass them in public.  They don't embarrass.  They don't do anything but hoard money.  And they won't do anything for us until we make them.

Let's make them.  I'm tired of having to watch people beg for jobs while the undeserving flip us the bird by closing off the money sources to create them.

That much I do understand.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Ernie Harwell -- in Remembrance of You

Baseball is the President tossing out the first ball of the season and a scrubby schoolboy playing catch with his dad on a Mississippi farm. A tall, thin old man waving a scorecard from the corner of his dugout. That's baseball. And so is the big, fat guy with a bulbous nose running home one of his (Babe Ruth's) 714 home runs.

There's a man in Mobile who remembers that Honus Wagner hit a triple in Pittsburgh forty-six years ago. That's baseball. So is the scout reporting that a sixteen year old pitcher in Cheyenne is a coming Walter Johnson. Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex. A game of inches. Every skill is measured. Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered, or booed. And then becomes a statistic.

In baseball democracy shines its clearest. The only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rulebook. Color merely something to distinguish one team's uniform from another.

Baseball is a rookie. His experience no bigger than the lump in his throat as he begins fulfillment of his dream. It's a veteran too, a tired old man of thirty-five hoping that those aching muscles can pull him through another sweltering August and September. Nicknames are baseball, names like Zeke and Pie and Kiki and Home Run and Cracker and Dizzy and Dazzy.

Baseball is the cool, clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby. The flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, an over aged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.

Baseball just a game as simple as a ball and bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion.

Why the fairy tale of Willie Mays making a brilliant World's Series catch. And then dashing off to play stick ball in the street with his teenage pals. That's baseball. So is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying., "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies day, "Down in Front", Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and the Star Spangled Banner.

Baseball is a tongue tied kid from Georgia growing up to be an announcer and praising the Lord for showing him the way to Cooperstown. This is a game for America. Still a game for America, this baseball!

Ernie Harwell, Hall of Fame Induction speech,  August 2, 1981

WASHINGTON – Sen. Carl Levin delivered the following statement on the Senate floor on May 5, 2010:

“For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

Mr. President, spring after spring, for four decades, a man named Ernie Harwell would recite those words. He would recite them at the beginning of the first baseball broadcast of spring training. And those are the words that would tell the people of Michigan that the long, cold winter was over.

Ernie was the radio voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 years, and in that time, there may have been no Michiganian more universally beloved. Our state mourns today at his passing, yesterday evening, after a battle with cancer. He fought that battle with the grace, the good humor, and the wisdom that Michigan had come to expect, and even depend on, from a man we came to know and love.

This gentlemanly Georgian adopted our team, and our state, as his own. And his career would have been worthy had he done nothing more than bring us the sound of summer over the radio, recounting the Tigers' ups and downs with professionalism and wit, as he did.

But without making a show of it, Ernie Harwell taught us. In his work and his life, he taught us the value of kindness and respect. He taught us that, in a city and a world too often divided, we could be united in joy at a great Al Kaline catch, or a Lou Whitaker home run, or a Mark Fidrych strikeout. He taught us not to let life pass us by “like the house by the side of the road.”

In 1981, when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Ernie told the assembled fans what baseball meant to him. “In baseball democracy shines its clearest,” he said. “The only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rulebook. Color merely something to distinguish one team's uniform from another.” That was a lesson he taught us so well.

Mr. President, I will miss Ernie Harwell. All of Michigan will miss the sound of his voice telling us that the winter is past, that the Tigers had won a big game, or that they'd get another chance to win one tomorrow. We will miss his Georgia drawl, his humor, his humility, his quiet faith in God and in the goodness of the people he encountered. But we will carry in our hearts always our love for him, our appreciation for his work, and the lessons he gave us and left us and that we will pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Carl Levin

The Voice of Summer died in the spring, just before the Tigers’ first pitch of the evening. That was fitting. Ernie Harwell never wanted to interrupt the game.

Mr. “Looong Gone” is gone now. Like the home run that lands in the seats, like the final out of the ninth inning, like the thousands of games he closed with his signature sign-offs, his genteel voice telling us he’d see us tomorrow. Gone now. No more tomorrows. At 92, after a battle with bile duct cancer that stretched into extra innings, Ernie let go of this world and moved on to the higher place from which we were certain he was sent.
Gone now. We knew this was coming. Ernie, in his final grace, prepared us for it. He told us not to worry. We still worried. He told us not to cry. We cried anyhow. He told us he had led the life he’d wanted, that he was ready to say good-bye.

Mitch Albom, Gone Now but Never Forgotten, Detroit Free Press, 5/6/10

Yes, as Mitch Albom said, we knew it was almost time to let go of Ernie, but none of us wanted to think about it, so when it came, it came as a shock.  We were never going to be ready.

I"ll admit right up front that I don't love the game of baseball.  Even though I had lived in or near Detroit nearly all of my life, I had been to Tiger Stadium only once. I couldn't tell you who won or who played on that day, or even when it was.  What resonated for me was Ernie Harwell's cocky drawl--his "looooong gone", his "sitting like the house by the side of the road", his way of pulling us in, letting us know that at this moment, in this place, baseball is all that matters.

There were enough people in my family who did love baseball, so the Tiger game was on the TV or the radio whenever and wherever they played.  I didn't follow, but I didn't mind--I think mainly because of Ernie's voice.  There was a cadence to his voice that kept a kind of rhythm going.  There was nothing jarring or annoying.  It was almost soothing.  It was Ernie.

I had the honor of spending a couple of hours with Ernie Harwell once.  We were holding a book fair in our town and we invited him to come and sign his book, "Tuned to Baseball".  He showed up right on time only to find a near-empty room.  I don't remember the particulars, but somehow the word didn't get out, or the weather was bad, but for two hours I had Ernie nearly to myself.  After an hour or so, I practically begged him to go home.  I was mortified that he had taken the time to come to our town and so few people had come out to meet him.   He, gracious gentleman that he was, insisted on staying the full two hours.  I got over my mortification and we sat down and talked.

He told stories that I knew he had told dozens of times before, but he had a way of telling them with such enthusiasm I was lulled into believing they were told just for me.  He talked about Lulu, and I loved him even more because he loved Lulu unabashedly.  He asked me about my life and hung on my every word.  He asked questions and apologized because he got the name of one of my children wrong.

During that second hour my grandson came in, excited about meeting one of his baseball heroes.  The photographer from the newspaper happened to be there then and he took a picture of
Ernie with my grandson.  I wrote freelance for the paper at the time, and I asked the photographer if he would get me a copy of the print.  He did, and it's around here somewhere, and I've torn this house apart but I can't find it.  I know it's here because I've seen it within the last year, but it's hiding too darned well.  (When I find it, I'll post it here.)

I emailed my grandson, Mike, and asked him if he remembers meeting Ernie.  This is what he wrote:
"I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the summer of 1987, so I would've been 14. Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell was having the best year of his career that summer and I asked Harwell if he thought Trammell should win the American League Most Valuable Player award or if he thought it should go to George Bell of the Toronto Blue Jays. He said they were both deserving and that it was too close to call. :)

He was exactly like what everyone who has met him says about him: genuinely interested in what I was talking about. He was very nice to me."
During my talk with Ernie I told him that my father-in-law was the ultimate Tiger fan and never missed a game, to the point of carrying his boom-box with him everywhere he went so he wouldn't miss an inning.  I asked Ernie if he would say hello to him on the air, and he said he would be happy to.  He did it, too, during the very next game, and my father-in-law felt as though he had been knighted.

In 1991 the announcement came that Ernie was leaving his job as Tiger broadcaster.  Nobody believed for a minute that it was his choice to say goodbye to the broadcast booth.  Rumors flew that he was being forced out, but, ever the gentleman, Ernie didn't add to them.  But before long word came that Tiger management and WJR were--yes, indeedy--looking for newer, younger blood.

What boneheads! He was Ernie and they were idiots.  The uproar was long and loud and entirely predictable, but Bo Schembechler, former U-M football coach turned Tiger head honcho, stuck with the plan and added fuel to the fire by going around crowing about his decision-making skills.  So Ernie was side-lined during the 1992 season, when newer, younger blood came in--and flopped so pitifully you actually had to feel sorry for them.  Nobody could fill Ernie's shoes--not in Detroit, anyway.

By the spring of 1993, pizza king Mike Ilitch (Little Caesar's) had purchased the Tiger franchise from pizza king Tom Monaghan (Domino's) and BoSchembechler was out and Ernie Harwell was back in.  Life was back to normal in Detroit.

Ernie finally retired for good in 2002, and his fans were still not ready.  He died three days ago and we're still not ready.  We can't stop thinking about him or talking about him or caring about him.  Because every Tiger fan knows that wherever Ernie is, he can't stop talking about or thinking about or caring about them.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day: Workers of the World, Hang in There

In a proclamation printed just before May 1, 1886, one publisher appealed to working people with this plea:
•Workingmen to Arms!

•War to the Palace, Peace to the Cottage, and Death to LUXURIOUS IDLENESS.

•The wage system is the only cause of the World's misery. It is supported by the rich classes, and to destroy it, they must be either made to work or DIE.

•One pound of DYNAMITE is better than a bushel of BALLOTS!

•MAKE YOUR DEMAND FOR EIGHT HOURS with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds, police, and militia in proper manner. 
       IWW, The Brief Origins of May Day         

Okay, so that's the kind of thing that gives Socialists a bad name.  In the name of civility and good manners we've moved on to less violent (but probably less effective) ways of getting our message across.  The larger point here, though, is that since the 19th century, workers of the world have embraced May Day as the day to honor the sacrifices of the laboring classes.

In 1958, despite Joe McCarthy's earlier best efforts,  the Cold War Commies and Socialists were still purportedly climbing out from under every rock in every little burg in the US.  The VFW saw trouble in those May Day celebrations and foiled those plotters by renaming it "Loyalty Day".  Congress made it official and Ike actually signed it into law, but now, apart from a few VFW chapters and a few small towns, Loyalty Day is pretty much forgotten. (Not that loyalty isn't important, mind you. It is.  My loyalty to labor knows no bounds.)

But despite their best efforts, May Day demonstrations in America are still going strong.  Much of it centers on the controversial Arizona  "Show your Papers" law today, as hundreds of thousands in cities and towns all across the country are scheduled to march in solidarity against immigration and worker abuses. 

But even as I write this James Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family, is leading  May Day, a Cry to God for a Nation in Distress on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  Dobson and others, including Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association,  are calling it a "day of repentance and remembrance",  addressing "The greatest moral crisis since the Civil War", which seems to include abortion, Obamacare, Obama in general, and the scary notion that there are more "Socialists" than Republicans running Congress these days.

The Liberty Council will be there, as well.  They wouldn't want to pass up a chance to sell  their membership cards:

Oy. . .

May Day means different things to different people.  On the islands of Hawaii, May Day is Lei Day, a refreshingly apolitical approach to that first day in May.  Here's a little respite from the cares of the day:

So.  May our efforts this May Day and every day forward bring peace and equity to those who break their backs struggling to build this nation.  Solidarity until the sun ceases to shine or until worker equity is a reality.  Whichever comes first.