Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dread Scott

Hosni Mubarak & Gov. Scott WalkerI write a lot about the American dream, and how we expend our time and energy in pursuit of it. The "dream," itself, isn't good or bad, it's just a dream. What makes it either good or bad, is what we give up to attain it. If we give up integrity in the pursuit, it's bad. If we give up what's good and decent in our being, it's very bad.

Sometimes, the price that's paid to realize the dream becomes bigger and more expensive than the dream itself.

In walks Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin. Assuming the office on January 3, 2011 Walker has already made a splash with his party, and has grabbed a large portion of the national mega-media spotlight. Palin did it by becoming John McCain's running mate. Walker is doing it by becoming the first Republican governor to challenge his state's time-honored reverence for employee unions. Other Republican governors are expected to follow his lead.

A recipient of Koch brothers money during his run for the governorship, Scott Walker came to the position bought, if not bossed. Barack Obama is often described as a Manchurian candidate. We could say, with a measure of accuracy, that most elected officials, those who have taken vast sums of money from a cadre of donors knowing full well that pay-back is expected, or, once in office, taken large sums of money from lobbyists with similar goals, are effectively Manchurian candidates. The difference: these public officials knowingly do the wishes of their benefactors; a Manchurian candidate, unknowingly.

I put Governor Scott Walker in the "knowing" category.

Thank you, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, for waking a sleeping giant.
Thank you for the awesomely uplifted spirits of Wisconsinites from Superior to Kenosha and Eagle River to Platteville, who trekked to the state capital to defy your union-busting grab.

Thank you for the caravans from North Carolina and New Jersey and Utah who came to a small city in the Snowbelt to join the cause. They know this is not Wisconsin's fight alone. They know that in fifty states, we all are targets of a nasty national conspiracy to destroy unions and the middle-class society unions have built.
Thank you for those whose signs proclaim, "Former Republican."

Gov. Walker, when you concocted a fake budget crisis to have an excuse to rush a union-busting bill through the Legislature, you showed yourself to be as deaf as the Hosni Mubarak so many signs have compared you to.

I've never felt so rejuvenated as when marching with thousands on cold evenings in Wauwatosa and Menomonee Falls shouting, "This is what democracy looks like." It evoked my memories of long-ago marches for civil rights at home and peace in Vietnam.

This much I know: Were it not for unions, the American dream which undergirds American exceptionalism, a term we hear thrown about now with the ease of a baseball, would not be something in which this country takes pride. Unions gave us 40-hour work weeks, weekends, pensions, and other concessions from Big Business, hard-won worker benefits too innumerable to recount.

I don't happen to believe, as some Republicans do, that unions are bad--bad for businesses, and bad for America. Without unions, compensation for a days' work would have been at the pleasure and munificence of employers. The rise of the middle class would have looked more like a molehill, than a rolling hill, and American exceptionalism and the American dream wouldn't have entered our national, political lexicon.

George Carlin, now deceased, says it best in the following video clip. "A high school dropout, Carlin enlisted in the army, [where he] got his high school equivalency....[O]n June 22, 2008, Carlin died of heart failure," most likely the result of a broken heart, given the deep disappointment he carried for his beloved country.

Although a comedian, Carlin had a Solomon's wisdom grasp of the American condition and an amazing insight into what makes our country tick, and what is needed to seize the American dream.

The audience laughed, clapped wildly, and cheered. It would have been better had they resolved to be M.A.D. as hell, but they weren't. Under the heading of TrUSt?, I warned that government shouldn't receive our unquestioning trust.

On another blog, I posted this observation on the current political scene unfolding before us:

Unfortunately, politics is a game. It’s a game that’s played for the players and not for the spectators, who can find their fortunes reversed and sacrificed so that the players can assure a win.

The difference between Repubs and Dems is that the Dems don’t play as ruthlessly as the opposing team: they usually follow the rules of the game, don’t foul as often, and believe that the spectators should have some stake in the outcome of the game. But make no mistake about it, Dems are as eager to play for the sake of the team, as Repubs, but Repubs are out to play for themselves and themselves only, and the spectators be damned, if they get in their way.


Monday, February 7, 2011

The "Father of Black History"

This is Black History Month. It was once known as Negro History Week. Rather than highlight Martin Luther King Jr, and other civil rights leaders this year, I thought I'd take a closer look at the founder of this national observance, Carter G. Woodson.

I have Woodson to thank for all those stern black faces on posters that once a year, during Negro History Week, looked down upon me disapprovingly, as I walked the halls of my high school.

How would I ever live up to the fierce demands that those inquiring eyes imposed upon me, a mere lad of the south?

Perhaps this was why Woodson founded Negro History Week: to sear into the black consciousness a challenge that asked: "How will you use your life to continue the work that these civil-rights stalwarts and pioneers began and you inherited?"

For his part, Woodson is rarely mentioned in the context of black history, nor is he given proper credit for his contribution to Black History Month. This year I wanted to make up for this oversight. You'd think that the person responsible for Black History Month would, at the very least, receive some "love", too, during this time of the year.

In the spirit of doing my part to restore Woodson to his rightful place in black history, and as the "Father of Black History," and the founder of what is now Black History Month, let me offer this background information--a brief summary of his life as a gifted scholar, and educator, and as an unlikely activist:

Carter Godwin Woodson founded The Journal of Negro History in 1916 and began Negro History Week (later Black History Month) in 1926, earning him the nickname "The Father of Black History." The son of enslaved African Americans, Carter Woodson earned undergraduate degrees at Kentucky's Berea College in 1903 and at the University of Chicago in 1907. He also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, and after he earned a graduate degree at Chicago (1908), he went on the earn his doctorate in History from Harvard University in 1912.

Woodson taught in public schools in Washington, D.C. and served as a dean at both Howard University and the West Virginia Collegiate Institute. But his greatest impact was as the leader of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, an organization he founded in Chicago in 1915. (The name was changed to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History -- ASALH -- in 1972.) Woodson and his colleagues were energetic advocates for the study of black history as its own field, and they spread the word through their Journal, as well as through articles in Marcus Garvey's Negro World, public lectures and an ambitious community outreach program that welcomed students and non-academics. He also used the study of history as a spark for social activism, as evidenced in his most famous book, The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933).

Carter Woodson began Negro History Week in 1926, designating a week in February, because that month held birthdays for Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. That went on to become Negro History Month and then Black History Month, designated as February each year by presidential proclamation. Carter G. Woodson's other books include A Century of Negro Migration (1918), A History of the Negro Church and The Negro in Our History (1922).

Carter G. Woodson was the second African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard -- the first was W.E.B. DuBois... Woodson served as an education administrator in the Philippines from 1904 to 1907... He launched the publication The Negro Bulletin in 1937 as a way to reach younger audiences... President Gerald Ford began the tradition of declaring February to be Black History Month in 1976.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wall-ed Street? No more!

For most of the day, MSNBC televised pictures from a part of the crime scene, Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, as Molotov cocktails from a bridge rained down upon anti-Mubarak protesters.

I say part of the crime scene, because the full crime scene extends far beyond the Square, and Egypt, to embrace most of the world, including the United States.

The most perfect crime is one where no suspicion is raised, and the perpetrator escapes the long-arm of the law (now shorter, by design), and is never brought to justice.

We saw evidence of the crime months ago, August of last year to be exact, but little was done then to prevent further crimes from taking place, or to soften the blow to potential victims:

Wheat prices continue to rise as Russia has set a ban on the exports of the crop. Wheat hit a 23-month high of $8.25 and the price could go higher. It is not clear if yields from farms, particularly in Canada and the US, can make up the shortfall. The perception is that demand will outstrip supply this year. Wheat futures are up nearly 25% this week based on that assumption.

The question arises over how much the shortage is to blame for the run-up and how much comes from simple speculation. In mid-2008, crude futures rose from $80 to $140, and that was not solely the result in an imbalance between supply and demand. Oil prices may have been artificially inflated, but that did not keep gasoline prices from spiking and that undercut profits in fuel-dependent sectors like airlines. It also took gasoline prices to over $4 a gallon, which made life for average Americans even worse than the recession alone.

Crude prices moved back down as speculators took profits.

The price of wheat will cause at least temporary inflation in food prices including bread and cereals. Inflation in the US is low now, but so is the rate at which real wages are growing. Any cost burden put on consumers due to higher food prices is likely to cut purchases of other goods and services.

If you're the sleuth I think you are, you have already identified both the crime, and the perpetrators--Wall Street speculators. Wall Street not only created the economic meltdown we're experiencing here at home, but it contributed to the world-wide woes gripping other parts of the world.

If you take another step back, you'll see that capitalism--as it is currently run by unscrupulous corporatist practitioners, recently freed from the bars of restraint that once held them in check--is the overarching criminal:

As Nouriel Roubini who was among the first to predict the financial crisis while others were pooh-poohing him as “Dr Doom” says don’t just look at the crowds in Cairo but what is motivating them now, after years of silence and repression.

He says that the dramatic rise in energy and food prices has become a major global threat and a leading factor that has gone largely unreported in the coverage of events in Egypt.

"What has happened in Tunisia, is happening right now in Egypt, but also riots in Morocco, Algeria and Pakistan, are related not only to high unemployment rates and to income and wealth inequality, but also to this very sharp rise in food and commodity prices," Roubini said.

Prices in Egypt are up 17% because of a worldwide surge in commodity prices that has many factors but speculation on Wall Street and big banks is a key one.

Here's the big question: How long will it be before the excesses of our economic system, and this rapacious Wall Street criminal--the one we have locked up from time to time, and walled, where appropriate, with various laws and regulations--plunge us all into a Third World War?