RSSCategory: History

Elementary Election Protest Too Muchedness

July 31, 2012 | By | Reply More
Elementary Election Protest Too Muchedness

For the last few weeks I’d been receiving approximately daily post cards protesting the electric company considering a rate hike of more than a few percent in order to finance and build future power plants to replace some of the nearing dangerously obsolete ones. Some mailing came from a very liberal local politician with whom I generally agree. Someone is spending bales of money to encourage people to not-want to spend more for what they are already getting. Seems like sweeping the water downstream, to me.

But I’m a Tanstaafl skeptic: Rebuilding infrastructure without incurring crippling debt does not seem like such a bad idea, my knee jerks. Also, local electric rates are lower than when I was in college, when adjusted for inflation, so it seems about time for a rate hike, anyway.

Yesterday I finally got a rebuttal mailing that describes the finances behind this odd campaign: PAC affiliated with aluminum corporation at play in state Senate primaries. Yep, an aluminum company fears that it will have to raise prices, because a major part of the process of making it requires megawatts of electricity.

Here’s how aluminum is made, if you are at all curious:

So now we know who has the profitability to outspend a huge power company on a campaign to make people do what they want to do anyway, and things are making sense, again.

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What Being An American Means To Me

July 3, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More
What Being An American Means To Me

I am not given to setting out pronouncements like this very often, but in light of the last several years I thought it might be worthwhile to do so on the occasion of the 236th anniversary of our declared independence.

I don’t think in terms of demonstrating my love of country. My affection for my home is simply a given, a background hum, a constant, foundational reality that is reflexively true. This is the house in which I grew up. I know its walls, its ceiling, its floors, the steps to the attic, the verge, and every shadow that moves with the sun through all the windows. I live here; its existence contours my thinking, is the starting place of my feelings.

The house itself is an old friend, a reliable companion, a welcoming space, both mental and physical, that I can no more dislike or reject than I can stop breathing.

But some of the furniture…that’s different.

I am an American.

I don’t have to prove that to anyone. I carry it with me, inside, my cells are suffused with it. I do not have to wear a flag on my lapel, hang one in front of my house, or publicly pledge an oath to it for the convenience of those who question my political sentiments. Anyone who says I should or ought or have to does not understand the nature of what they request or the substance of my refusal to accommodate them. They do not understand that public affirmations like that become a fetish and serve only to divide, to make people pass a test they should—because we are free—never have to take.

[More . . . ]

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Why is Jerry Sandusky News?

June 19, 2012 | By | 6 Replies More
Why is Jerry Sandusky News?

I was sitting in the barber chair this morning, where they had on some national news show that spent the entire time I was there discussing the ongoing trial of (alleged) pedophile Jerry Sandusky. I’ve been hearing about this on news stations for months. They are spending as long on the nightly news discussing this trial as they do on the collapse of the European economies or the coups in various major oil-producing nations.

I am truly puzzled about the coverage. There are likely several pedophiles on trial any given day. Why are they not newsworthy? Is it because he is a coach? Many of them are. Was it because he was a winning coach?

I just don’t understand why this one (alleged) pedophile is as newsworthy as wars deposing dictators to replace them with democratically elected Islamist regimes. Are both events shaping the course of civilization?

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Luxuries of sickness

May 16, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More
Luxuries of sickness

Ever since I heard the detailed story of holocaust survivor Ben Fainer, I’ve been haunted by Ben’s story. His video interview is about an hour long and it is riveting.

I was sick for most of the past four days, including two days on which I barely crawled out of bed. I had a fever, my muscles ached, I had chest congestion and migraine headaches and I couldn’t think straight. I’m better now, but while I was at my sickest, I wondered how Ben survived Nazi concentration camps for six years, even through the sicknesses that people periodically experience, especially when they were in the process of being starved. Ben just happened to call me yesterday (on another matter), and I took the opportunity to ask him: What would happen at Buchenwald if a prisoner was so sick that he was unable to report for work duty on even one occasion.

Ben answered:

“The system was simple. If you didn’t report for work, several people would go inside the barracks to pick you up, and they would walk you over to the crematorium oven, which was burning 24 hours a day. Even if you were still alive, they would throw you into the oven. I saw this happen and I heard the screams.”

I still can’t conceive of how a young boy could have survived this horror, even as he aged into a teenager during his six years of captivity. And I’m so very lucky to live in a situation where sickness is usually not life-threatening, either biologically or socially.

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Bonus clawbacks and fair play

May 15, 2012 | By | Reply More
Bonus clawbacks and fair play

Businessweek is reporting that JP Morgan is considering moving to “clawback” bonuses which had been awarded to executives and others responsible for Morgan’s recent $2 BILLION dollar loss.:

The lender can cancel stock awards or demand they be repaid if an employee “engages in conduct that causes material financial or reputational harm,” JPMorgan said in its annual proxy statement. The company will claw back pay if it’s appropriate, said one of the executives, who asked not to be identified because no decisions have been made.

But wait! These big Wall Street firms told us that bonuses were untouchable after they blew up the economy in 2008. Am I the only one that remembers that? There was all sorts of bullshit about how these employees were simply too valuable, that if they didn’t get their massive bonuses they would leave to seek other employment, that contracts and bonus structures were sacrosanct and untouchable (untouchability does not extend to unions and teachers, by the way). Oh, but I guess that was when taxpayers were paying the bonuses. Now that JP Morgan took a big hit in their own shorts, they want their money back. Funny how things change.

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The Story of 178873: Ben Fainer, Holocaust Survivor

May 2, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More
The Story of 178873: Ben Fainer, Holocaust Survivor

I met 81 year old Ben Fainer two weeks ago at Grand Center Arts Academy in St. Louis. Ben had been invited by one of the social studies teachers to tell the seventh graders about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. As a parent of one of the students, I was also invited to attend. I found his presentation to be stunning and inspiring. One of the things that stood out to me was Ben’s admonition that, despite all he went through, he found hatred to be self-destructive.

On April 21, 2012, Ben (known as “Bendet Urman Fajner” when he lived in Poland as a boy) allowed me to videotape the story of how he survived six years in several Nazi concentration camps, from 1939 until he was rescued by American soldiers in 1945. He was only 9 1/2 years old when he was captured. Therefore, in this interview, you’ll hear what it was like to be a child imprisoned for the crime of being a Jew. At first, he was assigned special chores like shining shoes and cleaning offices for the regime. He grew up in these camps, though, and eventually he was put to work in factories alongside adult prisoners. In this video, you’ll hear that he would never have survived had he not lied about his age.

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Dan Rather: “We reported a true story”

May 2, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
Dan Rather:  “We reported a true story”

Dan Rather discusses his story that George W. Bush went AWOL with Piers Morgan:

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Human time-bridges

May 1, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
Human time-bridges

A friend of mine, an attorney named Martin Green, was born in 1931. He has had a long successful career in St. Louis and he is still going strong, litigating complex cases. While at the courthouse today, I mentioned to Martin that a lot of things have happened during his life (and during mine–I’m 56). I mentioned that his life spans through a large swath of history. He responded with this story (this is a paraphrase):

When I was 7, back in 1938, I visited an old folks home in St. Louis, where I was introduced to “General Claypool.” His claim to fame was that he served as a soldier in the Civil War. He was quite young when he was in the war, only 15. He mentioned that he carried a flag.

Therefore, today I shook the hand of a man who shook the hand of a man who fought in the civil war. Pretty cool.

And now this post reminds me of my own ancient cousins and and ancestors.

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Motherhood and Politics

April 13, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
Motherhood and Politics

I don’t have a lot to say about this kerfluffle over the remarks of someone who, as it turns out, is not actually working for Obama regarding Ann Romney never having worked a day in her life.  This kind of hyperbole ought to be treated as it deserves—ignored.

But we live in an age when the least thing can become a huge political Thing, so ignoring idiocy is not an option.

I remember back in the 1990s a brief flap over Robert Reich.  I’m not certain but I believe it was Rush Limbaugh who started it by lampooning the Clinton Administration’s Secretary of Labor for “never having had a real job in his life.”  Meaning that he had gone from graduation into politics with no intervening time served as, at a guess, a fast-food cook or carwasher or checker at a WalMart.  Whatever might qualify as “real” or as a “job” in this formulation.  In any event, it was an absurd criticism that overlooked what had been a long career in law and as a teacher before Clinton appointed him.  It’s intent was to discredit him, of course, which was the intent of the comments aimed at Mrs. Romney by asserting that she has no idea what a working mother has to go through.

A different formulation of the charge might carry more weight, but would garner less attention.   It is true being a mother has little to do with what we regard as “gainful employment” in this country: employees have laws which would prevent the kinds of hours worked (all of them, on call, every day including weekends and holidays) for the level of wages paid (none to speak of) mothers endure.

Hilary Rosen raised a storm over remarks aimed at making Mrs. Romney appear out of touch with working mothers.  A more pointed criticism might be that Mrs. Romney does not have any experience like that of many women who must enter employment in order to support themselves and their families, that a woman who can afford nannies (whether she actually made use of any is beside the point—the fact is she had that option, which most women do not) can’t know what working mothers must go through.

But that’s a nuanced critique and we aren’t used to that, apparently.  Soundbite, twitter tweets, that’s what people are used to, encapsulate your charge in a 144 characters or less, if we have to think about it more than thirty seconds, boredom takes over and the audience is lost.

Unfortunately, the chief victims then are truth and reality.

So the president gets dragged into it for damage control and the issue becomes a campaign issue.

Which might not be such a bad thing.  We could stand to have a renewed conversation about all this, what with so many related issues being on the table, given the last year of legislation aimed at “modifying” women’s services and rights.  Whether they intended it this way or not, the GOP has become saddled with the appearance of waging culture wars against women, the most recent act being Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin’s repeal of that state’s equal pay law.  Romney is the presumptive nominee for head of that party and one of the things he’s going to have to do if figure out where he stands on these matters and then try to convince the country that he and his party are not anti-woman.

Yes, that’s hyperbolic, but not by much.  This is where the culture wars have brought us—one part of society trying to tell the other part what it ought to be doing and apparently prepared to enact legislation to force the issue.  Ms. Rosen’s remarks, ill-aimed as they were, point up a major policy problem facing the GOP and the country as a whole, which is the matter of inequality.

That’s become a catch-all phrase these days, but that doesn’t mean it lacks importance.  The fact is that money and position pertain directly to questions of relevance in matters of representation.  Ann Romney becomes in this a symbol, which is an unfortunate but inevitable by-product of our politics, and it is legitimate to ask if she can speak to women’s concerns among those well below her level of available resource and degree of life experience.

The problem with all politics, left, right, or center, is that in general it’s all too general.  Which is why Ms. Rosen’s remarks, no matter how well-intentioned or even statistically based on economic disparities, fail to hit the mark.  She can’t know Ann Romney’s life experience and how it has equipped her to empathize with other women.  Just as Ann Romney, viewing life through the lens of party politics, may be unable to empathize with women the GOP has been trying very hard to pretend are irrelevant.

Like with Robert Reich’s critics, it all comes down to what you mean by “real” and “work.”  And that’s both personal and relative. Isn’t it?

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