June 18, 2012 --
WARNING: The following eleven hundred words or so or in the form of an essay, I suppose you would say, written in order to make a point. If you have neither the time, the patience, nor the interest please just scan down to the first bold face heading accounts of the political activities of the week begin.
In a search for information on a project I was working on the actor Robert Preston came up and it brought to mind his remarkable stage presence. I always found him effective and workman like on film, but on stage something unique happened: he filled it with is presence, with energy, vitality, exuberance, he dominated it, you were always aware he was there.
In a way my father had that bigger-than-life quality, his presence dominating any setting, big in both body and personality, a central figure in any gathering of peers or business superiors alike. I spent a little time on Father’s Day thinking back on the life he led, the path he traveled in a world in constant change, progressively moving forward from 1892, the year of his birth, changes to improve the lives of his generation and all that follows. And isn’t that the role of civilized people especially as population grows in leaps and bounds? (My sister-in-law and brother-in-law started as a couple over sixty years ago as two people and now their extended family totals twenty, a pretty normal course of events).
At the time my father threw down his ax saying, “I am too damn smart to do this work” and left the farm to become a traveling salesman, or drummer like Preston in “Music Man,” the automotive age was just beginning, Henry Ford left the race track to go build cars turning the driving over to famed Barney Oldfield, the first man to go sixty miles an hour in an internal combustion vehicle. My Father’s first car was a pre-WWI Paige Chummy Roadster, but by 1940 he bought the first air conditioned car sold in Texas, a special model made by Packard (which certainly improved my ability to get a date that year in high school).
The product he sold on the road throughout West Texas was a popular cleansing agent called “Gold Dust,” and the images used in advertising, “The Gold Dust Twins” slipped into common usage, as in “those two people are so much alike they could be the Gold Dust twins.” But look how they advertised before 1920. As degrading as it was, no one, at least in the white community thought anything about it.
But in his lifetime my Father saw this slowly change, from the days we too had a cabin down on one corner of the property where a series of African-American couples lived, tar paper roof, coal oil lamps, chick sale in the back, the female helping in the house, the male with the livestock. The couples moved on from servitude to become the beginners of an African-American community in our little town, their progeny ultimately moving slowly into the mainstream. In the last years of his life my Father had progressed from the Gold Dust Twins to the point where one of his favorite fishing companions was an African-American.
He was born at a time when women, as his Mother did, normally were giving birth eleven or as in her case twelve times and their lives were restricted to being “brood hens” to surviving children. But in his time a lot of brave women like Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, at personal sacrifice and risk got that situation changed to the point where women are almost at the point of parity in the work place with their male counterparts, with a final bill now in Congress to require it that could someday pass if the Republicans stop blocking it.
After his service in the War-To-End-All-Wars, in which he was lost in action for two weeks and came home as one of two survivors of the squad he led as a sergeant, he went to work in industry. In the twenties and thirties we saw progress in the chopping down of a tree, in the acrid smoke billowing out of tall industrial smokestacks. It turned out a lot of the progress played havoc with the environment: the beautiful little bay in front of the house I grew up in, once about ten feet deep with a sandy bottom, full of fish and baby shrimp and blue crabs and pelicans and sea gulls and ducks in season slowly filled up with industrial waste muck and by the time I left home for college it died, devoid of life forms, just a giant mud puddle when a strong north wind blew out what water remained there. But in my Father’s lifetime the EPA went to work to correct to prevent more of such ecological disasters.
There came the great depression and the dust bowl years with widespread suffering until FDR came into office bringing the New Deal, spending public money to put people back to work again, creating Social Security to allow people to live out their lives in dignity, rules such as those regulating banks and financial institutions to ensure the life savings of citizens were protected and would not be lost. The accomplishments of my Father’s generation was the platform for the progressive programs that slowly but steadily developed for my generation. He lived to see and enjoy the growth and prosperity that followed until he passed away in 1980, the moment these civilized advancements ran into a speed bump and began to halt.
I am enraged by modern-day right wing conservatives who denigrate the FDR era New Deal programs because such ideas run counter to their aims for acquiring power and personal wealth. Their approach to governing is the approach Herbert Hoover took at the beginning of the crises which just made it deeper and harder on all. Their only view of those times comes from old photographs or black and white movies, but I lived it, I saw the young Hispanic kids in my town scrounging in garbage dumps behind grocery stores searching for anything edible for their family, the huge bread lines, the unemployed hopping freight cars traveling to look for work. These people today, like Congressman Paul Ryan and candidate Mitt Romney would say it is wrong to “coddle” people in need by offering them public assistance because they lose their dignity.
As on this past Father’s Day I looked back over my own Father’s life I was saddened to have to acknowledge that all of the existence of these steps we have taken as a nation, as a people are now threatened. A strange wave of self-centered individualism seems to have swept over the country. The movement is to reduce funding for or to eliminate entirely nutritional programs like food stamps, planned parenthood, the social safety net, food and drug oversight, environmental, financial and workplace regulations, and the means to collect revenue necessary for any program meant to protect or enhance the quality of life of ordinary citizens, the vast majority in order to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of those who already have it.
I have become an anachronism. I am a version of that Native American Indian you may remember from an old ad campaign about protecting the environment, shown looking down at a trashed and polluted stream with tears in his eyes. There are tears in mine.
“A Rose By Any Other name …”
Ah, the power of words. An article in The New York Magazine picked up on a subtle change in the way President Obama refers to his given November challenger, Mitt Romney. No longer is it “Governor” Romney, now it is “Mr.” Romney. Why you ask? Because, as the article says, “ ‘Governor Romney’ communicates an innate credibility and legitimacy that ‘Mr. Romney’ lacks.” Anybody walking in off the street can be “Mister,” but not so a governor. So it’s subliminal. And meaningful.
Actually, the stuffy watchdogs of protocol say the only person you should call governor is a sitting governor so there is nothing political about Obama’s change of verbiage, of course. Just a man trying to follow the rules.
Actually, I don’t think I like the rule. I rather like being called Vice President, a title I have held a time or two. That means a host at a crowded restaurant can no longer call out “Vice President Trav, your table’s ready.”
This Rose Does Not Smell So Sweet
Wouldn’t you think when you write a check for $10 million you might expect something for it? Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino owner, and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, gave $10 million to Restore Our Future, a SuperPAC supporting Mitt Romney. So far this political season they have given at least $35 million that we know of to Republican causes and of course they were the ones who kept giving Newt Gingrich money to attack Romney as long as Newt could keep going, about $21 million, wasn’t it? It seems they hate Obama more than they do Romney.
They made Texas billionaire Harold C. Simmons and his wife Annette look like pickers. They’ve given not quite half that much.
Millions and millions are pouring into Republican support organizations, from donors like Charles and David Koch, for example, who have pledged to raise as much as $400 million for issue groups, including the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity. Tip our hat again to the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John Roberts who made all of this legal.
And what is behind all of this public-spirited gift giving? It has been pointed out that these tycoons will get their money back many fold over with a Republican win, in terms of lowered taxes and fewer pesky, and expensive, regulations. It’ just good business. I’m playing word game conducted by the Washington Post which changes every week. One game required you to refute a myth of our own creation. One of the entries I submitted was: It is NOT true that the letters PAC in SuperPAC stand for “Purchase A Candidate.” I don’t expect it to be a winner because it isn’t a fantasy and it certainly isn’t funny.
“I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it.”
The caption on a memorable cartoon in The New Yorker in the 1930s as a small boy’s reply to his mother’s admonition to “Eat your broccoli, dear.” This poor vegetable, long defiled by many including if you remember George Herbert Walker Bush, continues to be an object of scorn. Now it keeps coming up before the Supreme Court in their deliberations on the mandatory clause of the Health Care Reform Act (O.K. Obamacare, if we must).
“Everybody has to buy food sooner or later. Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli”, argued Justice Scalia. As the arguments continued broccoli continued to be the useful metaphor. Akhil Amar, a professor of law and political science at Yale and author of a book on the Constitution, had this to say about it: “All the more so because it’s such a bad argument. They have been politically brilliant. They needed a simplistic metaphor, and in broccoli they got it.” That old thing again about choosing certain words to manipulate meaning.
If you are a Libertarian like lawyer David B. Rivkin you view it a different way: “If Congress thinks Americans are too fat,” he wrote in an OpEd piece, “can it not decree that Americans shall lose weight?” Personally, I say if the Court declares the mandatory requirement to buy health insurance unconstitutional, which will kill the effectiveness of the bill, I say you can’t make me wear a seat belt in an automobile. I claim my constitutional right to destroy myself any way I choose.
“Why should I kill myself to get a 2 percent raise if the C.E.O. is going to get a 20 percent raise?”
That is a kind of a counter reaction being seen at lower levels of management to the whopping increases in compensation to CEOs even in this time of economic stress. Median compensation still climbed by 5percent last year among the United States' 200 top-paid chief executives.
Some of the big winners: Lawrence J. Ellison of Oracle ($77.6 million); Leslie Moonves of CBS ($68.4 million). I get tired of hearing from my conservative friends about how these people need this kind of pay as incentives to do their job. What has happened over the last thirty years is the people who set those compensation packages look at what other chief executive are being paid in their field, then add some to it to keep their guy from jumping ship. Then another company does the same for their CEO, enhancing the already enhanced pay of the other CEO. And so it goes, a spiral that has over time reached astronomical heights. And continues despite a growing backlash. The old Mel Brooks line again, it’s good to be the king.
He Is The Very Model Of The Modern Major Financier
With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan. Every politician’s favorite Wall Street mogul (and why not since the company is a major campaign contributor) JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon appeared before Congress this week to explain an “embarrassment,” the loss of $2 to $8 billion by the company’s bet on shaky loans (Dimon, as reported before, is one of those CEOs who got a nice, fat bonus, despite the “embossment”). Questioning at the hearing seemed to be more like expressions of sympathy for what seems to be a beloved figure rather than a quest to determine what went wrong and how to fix it. Mr. Dimon may appear contrite but is as aggressive as usual in opposing any added regulations to try to prevent this sort of thing happening again. And the senators? They behaved as though they were part of that old song, about owing your soul to the company store.
Jon Stewart and The Daily Show had a fine take on this, and here are the links to it if you care to watch.
It takes money to play the horses
The horseplay in this case is the expensive sport of dressage, otherwise known as “horse ballet.” Cost of the horses alone can run up over a million. We will be hearing much more about this no doubt since the horse owned by Ann Romney, wife of man-of-the-people Mitt and trainer Jan Febeling has won a spot on the U.S. Olympic team that will compete in London this summer and the Romneys will be there. I am trying to picture Secret Service agents skulking around in those white riding britches and wearing those perky little hats.
This does not help Romney in his efforts to appear in tune with the common man since sport does not get more expensive than dressage. As competitive as we are as a nation I suppose we should be glad we have people rich enough to compete. So kick back, have a beer and let’s hear it for Rafalca, the dancing horse. However, since unlike human ballet it does not have the extra appeal of watching lithe young female and male bodies cavorting around in tight pants it may never catch on with the public. And if columnist Gail Collins were writing about this she would note how difficult it is to drive around with a 15-year-old horse tied to the roof of your car, as Stephen Colbert did in the following clip:
Win Some, Lose Some
Your perspective on how the President came out on a couple of pronouncements this week depends on your partisan stance but for the sale of argument that his establishment of “deferred action” on immigration that affects an estimated 1 million DREAM-eligible young people is on the win side, not only for the humanity of it but observers believe it will help the economy and give us more needed scientists, engineers, and technical workers. Politically, it also puts some stress on Republicans who oppose it while courting the Hispanic vote. The DREAM Act is a Republican nightmare.
But the President made a 50-minute-plus speech on the economy with less positive results. Both Republicans and Obama supporters complained that it contained nothing new, hard liners being against everything, his base looking for more boldness. Let’s just call this one an out of town tryout that needs some work before the big opening at the Democratic convention.
A Couple of Surprising Comments from the Republican Camp
Jeb, the favorite son of the House of Bush, told a House committee he would have taken the 10-for-1 spending cut and tax increase deal, a real no-no for the faithful. He followed that statement with another, realistically noting that that ought to prove he is not interested in running for office.
In a TV appearance Senator John McCain used that $10 million donation to a Romney SuperPAC to chastise the Supreme Court for its Citizen’s United decision. Corporations are not people he said (Romney has said they were). The quote: “We need a level playing field and we need to go back to the realization that Teddy Roosevelt had that we have a limit on the flow of money and that corporations are not people.”
These statements from Republicans today are like finding faint signs of life on another planet.
Ironic Sense of Humor
Despite all of the career rage, the spousal assault, the hotel room wreckage, none of which he seems to regret, Charlie Sheen has a new TV series coming up. The name of it? “Anger Management.”
If Elections Were More Like Theatre
The highly entertaining Tony Awards show came and went last Sunday with another superb opening number performed by mega-talented Neil Patrick Harris, “What if Life Were More Like the Theatre.” If you derive any pleasure at all from musical performances this shouldn’t be missed, but if you did miss it you have another opportunity if you like by clicking on this link.
I like the concept and in what is meant to be modest tribute considered how that might be adapted to politics: What if Elections Were More Like the Theatre?
What if elections were more like theatre?
A fantasy to see from its beginning
As the players faun and cater
To get your vote that’s needed for winning.
Like a play a script must certainly be provided?
Use the partys’ platforms though they’ll be much divided
To choose the cast have tryout speeches
In the cities where television reaches.
Primaries by the parties complete the casting call
Choosing the star performers for opening in the fall
In the theater producers put up money for the show
In politics the SuperPACs provide the needed dough.
Like out of town tryouts the candidates debate
‘Til the audience of voters decide their fate.
If elections were more like theater you say?
An idle question since isn’t that just the way they are today.
If we could get Harris and his writers to work on politics it might just go down easier and I don’ know about you but I could use that.