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2013 in review

December 31, 2013 Leave a comment

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 20 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: National Politics

History In Today’s Politics – CAPITALISM III

May 29, 2012 1 comment

                  Oops! After the Great Depression, American Capitalism entered a period of calm and even prolonged prosperity. But what also happened was that the underpinnings of the Reform Capitalism initiated by Franklin D. Roosevelt were slowly being undermined. The Glass-Steagall law that limited bankers’ risks was set aside. Forces were marshaled against the gains made by Unionized labor, a rising tide that had lifted all ships for working people, organized or not. The vast truly middle class of Americans enjoyed a standard of living that was the envy of the world.

So in 2008, a Recession hit. Downturns, of course, had not been unknown in previous periods of American Capitalism. There had been panics, speculations that had gone awry, bubbles that burst and industries whose stodgy, unimaginative management had let become obsolete. Some of these episodes had had serious consequences, yet the economy always seemed to rebound. That is, until the Great Depression. Then, it required a dozen years of continuous domestic struggle and the demands of a global war to get back on track. And without sounding pollyannish about it, thus began a period of extraordinary growth and change. No longer was one-third of the population deeply mired in poverty, labor-management relations became better than they’d ever been and working people had money enough to take vacations just like the rich folks did. We became the leading power in the world, free or otherwise, and isolationism died. Education – higher education particularly – boomed. The G.I. Bill helped get thousands of veterans back into peacetime. We even began to make some headway on our racial problems.

Yet all through those years when we were defending American Reform-style Capitalism, first against Nazism and then Communism, there were mutterings, an expressed nostalgia for the ”good old days” of unpunished cheating on consumers and the open toleration of financial shenanigans. Polluters cried they were losing their freedom when they had to stop dumping parts of their costs of doing business on the public. To these people, liberty meant doing anything you wanted to do and, if it turned out to be criminal, you could always hire an expensive lawyer. Imperceptibly, the wealthy got wealthier. Bigger chunks of the pie went to less and less individuals.  All business frustrations could be blamed on government oversight and, indeed, there were plenty of glitches in the system. But during 2008, when the housing bubble burst, suddenly, one-tenth of the U. S. population found itself out of work.

Apologists for tooth and claw American Capitalism call this creative destruction. It is a favorite Mitt Romney term. Out of the ashes, allegedly, something new and better will arise. Fine. Tell that to the people whose lives and well-being are destroyed – ‘lucky you, it’s creative, you should be grateful.” The idea is actually in philosophic terms derived from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the German sage, whose dialectic theory was borrowed by Karl Marx in designing Communism and Hitler, too, since he called himself a Socialist. Those  two movements certainly account for the most destruction (of lives, property, etc.) in the world’s history and creative it certainly was not.

The American people should label this “creative destruction” for what it really is: the wreckage of many lives and immense gains by a favored few taking advantage of the turmoil caused. Never has our nation experienced such a discrepancy in the division of wealth as now exists in the United States. Government has in various places bee captured and manipulated by certain interests and non-elected, shadowy billionaires are beginning to dominate our public life that in a way far outdoes the excesses, of the Robber Baron days.

The Great Depression brought war and non-creative destruction to many parts of the world. Now, the Bush Recession at home is spreading to Europe and other places on the planet. The very idea of Capitalism remains – rightly in some instances – under attack again. The reforms that made America a land of opportunity once more, tempering the sharpest, most ruthless and selfish of the purveyors of Capitalism, have been worn down, even discredited.

That old bromide – “those who ignore history are bound to repeat it” – is quite pertinent here. What was an age of horror, of merciless poverty, enforced inequality, home-grown aristocracy- has been set as a goal for the political party now most loudly trumpeting the glories of tooth and claw Capitalism, as it existed before being mellowed and open to democracy.

Prosperity will never come from slashing salaries, denying opportunities, trashing education, and forgetting that God made this Earth and saw that it was good, and should never be wantonly despoiled.

Capitalism has many good points. But what it needs at present is an infusion of “creative creativity.” Growth, yes, but not at any expense. Fairness to all, rather than just a few. Our mothers told us to share, did they not? So did our fathers, but not in the same words. The sense of community, engendered by our past, is always with us. It has sustained us through all our vicissitudes, including those presented by various aspects of Capitalism. We will have to live with this form of financial arrangement. But let’s never stop trying to make it better  for everyone.






Categories: National Politics

History in Today’s politics – CAPITALISM II

           When we last left our hero, Capitalism, he was flexing his muscles, having laid a knockout blow on Mercantilism and turning his pugilistic attention to dominating the entire economy of the Western world and, before long, that of the rest of the planet as well. An offshoot of the power of the fast-growing nascent business class was its reach fully into the phenomenon soon to be called “Imperialism.” Undeveloped areas were conquered and their resources, on the cheap, absorbed into the Capitalist maw. “Taking up the white man’s burden” was the smarmy, advertised interpretation of this legalized thievery.

           The U.S., because of its colonial past, was not originally in the same camp as Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, et. al.  It  took almost a full century before the U.S.A  joined the rapacious pack, picking up a few stray dependencies like the Philippines, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico, while keeping a wary eye and military invasion plans on most of Latin America.

A lynchpin of the growing industrialization in the U.S. was the development of railroads that began just prior to the Civil War. Much has been made of the transportation explosion that helped link our scattered settlements on the North American continent. The men who built the railroads were hailed as heroes of progress (although later some of them slipped into the less glamorous category of robber barons). But to listen to certain gurus of American free enterprise, you would think these bravos did it all on their own without any help from (gulp) our U.S. government.

I had evidence of such an attitude provided at a meeting of a group I once belonged to called the Presidents Circle of the National Academy of Sciences.  Also a member was Bill Koch, one of the now notorious Koch brothers, two of whom are pouring millions into present-day political campaigns. Bill is not one of these political heavies – he seems to prefer collecting art and sailing (he won the Americas Cup for the U.S. in the past). But his ideology aligns with his brothers, the Koch boys seemingly having had dinned into them the philosophy of their father, a founder of the arch-right wing John Berch Society. In the course of a discussion at the Presidents Circle, Bill Koch made an impassioned plea for returning  to “the good old days,” when free enterprise had encountered no restraints nor  government assistance and he especially lauded those railroad pioneers for their initiative and daring.

However, Bill never mentioned the most salient fact about railroad building in our country – that it all depended on the immense land grants received from the Federal government in Washington, D.C.  These gifts were turned into cash as collateral for bonds sold to create the capital necessary for the vast enterprises cropping up all over the country. When I reminded Bill Koch of such Federal help, without which the railroads could not have been built, he sheepishly admitted he had to agree with me and had forgotten that aspect of American Capitalism.           

An illustration of the amplitude of these land donations can be observed through the microcosm of a single particular project – the creation of the Illinois Central Railroad Company. The donated lands backing up this one example alone (and hardly the biggest of them) amounted to 3,840 acres for each mile built or an aggregate of 2,572, 800 acres. The value placed on the Illinois line’s real estate in toto was more than $21,400,000

From railroads to oil to steel, the expansion of American industry in the the mid to late 19th century was extraordinary. Given birth ideologically was not only a boastful and brash Capitalist society but what came to be known as “Social Darwinianism,” the rule of Survival of the Fittest and the moral superiority of winners, no matter how reprehensible their behavior. Capitalism’s harshness in the use of its workers led to the formation of Unions and almost continual labor strife. So extreme were some of the abuses that in 1887, Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act, “the federal governments’ first attempt to interfere with the conduct of business.” The activity of the railroads in playing favorites in rate cases was specifically cited as causing the impulse for Uncle Sam to level the playing field.

Nevertheless, the industrializing trend maintained itself and – heading into and out of World War I – seemed invincible, producing such powerful political slogans as “The business of America is business.”

The 1920’s saw the climax of prosperity, but following a pattern seen in the U.S. economy since before the Civil War was beset by yo-yo periods of recession and then recovery. The habit of speculation became rooted and the first major Depression arrived in 1929. The walls of wealth came tumbling down and, before long, one third of Americans were out of work once the economy collapsed.

We all know that Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office on a pledge to combat the Depression and its effects. He saw clearly the need for, as he put it, “a re-appraisal of values.” Stating that “a mere builder of more industrial plants, a creator of more railroad systems, an organizer of more corporations, is as likely to be a danger as a help,” FDR went on to declare that “The day of the great promoter of the financial Titan, to whom we granted anything if only he would build or develop is over.” He insisted that “equality of opportunity, as we have known it, no longer exists” and that “the task of Government in its relation to business is to assist the development of an economic declaration of rights, an economic constitutional order…”

Such rhetoric won Roosevelt the job of Chief Executive and from 1932 until his death in 1945, he labored with eventual success in forming the U.S. into the greatest  and fairest economic giant in the world.

Roosevelt’s “reform Capitalism” did save the Capitalist system and give it a new lease on life. Other countries, like Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan, reacted with totalitarian dictatorships. But the reprieve offered by the New Deal would last only a few decades until attacked by Darwinian forces working to restore a golden age of laissez-faire, which never ever really did exist or whose dependence on governmental subsidies was conveniently forgotten, the way Bill Koch had done.

To preach that Adam Smith’s invisible hand – i.e., the market – if left alone will correct every flaw defies common sense and past performance. It is a step down the road to economic hell. But people do forget, as we have seen. Raw Capitalism’s rapacious imperative that in selfishness lies salvation once more is experiencing a revival here in the second decade of the 21st century. Whether we can survive another onslaught of needless economic recklessness and its resulting financial  inequality remains to be seen.      



Categories: National Politics

History In Today’s Politics – CAPITALISM I

                  The world-class French economic historian Fernande Braudel once posed an interesting question in one of his books. “Which country,” he asked, “just prior to the Industrial Revolution, would experts have predicted to be the first to become industrialized?” His answer was even more interesting. It was neither a place in Western Europe nor was it the United States. No, India then had the most advanced manufacturing system and seemed on a springboard to catapult into a full-fledged Capitalist society?

So why didn’t India fulfill this expectation?

Braudel’s reply was that India’s employers kept wages so low for its workers that there was no impetus to seek labor-saving machines and techniques to cut down costs. Thus in Western Europe and the U.S. where labor scarcity had led to higher wages, innovations appeared that helped to usher in the beginnings of Capitalism, as we know it.

Already, in 1776, when the American Revolution was already in progress, a work of economic philosophy was published that has been deemed the “Bible of Capitalism.” It was written by a Scottish professor named Adam Smith and the shorthand version of the long title of his masterwork was The Wealth of Nations. In opposition to the then current theory of economic governance known as Mercantilism, which rated countries on how well they hoarded gold and silver and entailed a lot of governmental restrictions, Smith imposed a concept of Laissez-faire. The full French quote was “Laissez-faire et laissez-passer, la monde va de lui meme,” or “Let do and let pass, the world goes on by itself.” He also postulated “an Invisible Hand,” sort of like the Islamic passive concept of kismet – “let God take care of it, don’t do anything and the market can do no wrong.”

Or at least that part of Smith’s philosophy was seized upon by the businessmen and entrepreneurs of the day and given such a meaning. They deliberately ignored his opposition to monopolies and belief that some restrictions on Capitalism were necessary.

The Capitalism that emerged during Adam Smith’s years has been referred to as “pre-industrial Capitalism”. In the U.S., it began with factories – particularly those producing cotton textiles. A spinning mill started operating in Pawtucket, R.I. as early as 1791. New England became a center for this type of production. By the second decade of the 1800’s, other similar mills had opened on a much larger scale in Waltham, MA, then Lowell and Lawrence, MA, then Manchester, NH and into Maine. These companies were capitalized at $1 million and for the most part had young women workers off the farms who were paternally housed in well-kept and chaperoned dormitories and “encouraged to participate in amateur literary exercises.” Some persons called it “welfare Capitalism.”

Whatever its name, this early, formative reorganizing of economies away from the Mercantilist model has in three centuries expanded into the world’s reigning mode of business operation. It has come forth with rules and philosophies that essentially say: “There should be no rules and restrictions on us and let us do our own thing.” And they add: “We can do so because Adam Smith said we could.”

But a careful reading of the Wealth of Nations and other works by the Scottish professor reveals that he never said anything of the sort.

Smith emphasized that “a true laissez-faire economy would quickly become a conspiracy of business and industry against consumers, with the former scheming to influence politics and regulation,” and could degenerate into price fixing monopolies. It would not have surprised the old gentleman that the number one board game invented after his death to teach youngsters about business is called Monopoly and has been selling the concept of grabbing all you can for almost a century.

Adam Smith is also famous for his striking phrase “the Invisible Hand.” This simile has been taken by free-market enthusiasts to mean that some god-like force is at work in sustaining an economy and so don’t worry about a thing. In reality, what Adam Smith intended to point out was that individuals, in following their own self-interest, also created opportunities for others without intending to do so. The way Smith put it was: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

Yet emphasizing his mistrust that the economic powers would use their muscle in the marketplace ever more acutely to aggrandize themselves, he proclaimed that any new law or regulation proposed by businesses should be scrupulously examined before being adopted. In his own day, he had the example of the monopolistic East India Company, whose clumsy efforts to control commerce in the 13 North American colonies had led to hated bad laws and ultimately a triumphant American Revolution.

In support of these suspicions, he openly worried that the infant industries he championed were supplied subsidies in order to help them grow yet when fully mature and successful would still demand the governmental money , although no longer needing it except to fatten the take-home pay of leaders of the companies.

Adam Smith said many things that would be anathema to the present-day Wall Street Journal editors or the talking heads at Fox News.

He consistently called for high wages for the poor – how purchasing power was essential for a healthy economy.

He was against flat taxes, arguing: “The rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more in that proportion.” Taxation to him was “a badge, not of slavery, but of liberty.” He spoke of “the gluttony of the rich” as “unproductive labor.”

Claims have been made that Adam Smith would have strongly supported a minimum wage.”

Most unusually, Herbert Stein, an economic advisor to President Richard Nixon, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and veteran Wall Street Journal contributor, has said he had deduced from what he read in The Wealth of Nations that Smith would have supported the FDA (Federal Drug Administration), the Consumer Product Safety Commission, mandating employer health benefits for employees, and even discriminatory taxation to deter improper or luxurious behavior.

Clubs have been formed and institutes created flaunting their own versions of what the great Scotsman meant. But be advised that Adam Smith would have been horrified by how his words, intentions and thought have been distorted to the “advantage” of others. It would not be the first time in history that unscrupulous self-seekers have twisted their founder’s message.

(to be continued)                 

Categories: National Politics

History in Today’s Politics – The Bonus Army

January 31, 2012 1 comment

Kronstadt Poster

WordPress has reported to me a response to one of my earlier blogs, which was about the Bonus Army of 1932, a forerunner of the current Occupy Wall Street movement, and how on this occasion several thousand World War I veterans were dispersed from their tent city in Washington D.C. by orders to the U.S. Army from President Herbert Hoover.

The person who commented, citing this blog, was an Angelita Fisher and she appears to be connected with an Internet operation called INTEL HUB, which is heavy on support for Congressman Ron Paul and dedicated to opposing “globalism,” whatever that means.

The first part of her response, which is actually unconnected to my blog, seemed somewhat mystifying, asking me to “Examine U.S. military policy during the Cold War from 1946-1989” discussing “policy development, military strategy, nuclear weapons and targeting” and a host of other such esoteric subjects. Her final words, though, still unconnected, were more concrete and within my capability to respond. Ms. Fisher stated: “Despite fighting the Korean War to stalemate and suffering defeat in Vietnam, the U.S. emerged victorious in its four decade long conflict with the Soviet Union. Why?”

I’m glad she asked. It has long been an article of faith in American right wing circles that President Reagan forced the USSR to its knees by ramping up our military spending and thus bankrupting the Soviets when they tried to compete.

I beg to differ. And Ms. Fisher’s question allows me to say why I think so, based on three trips I’ve taken to the entity we today call Russia, two of them while it was still the Soviet Union and one soon after it no longer was.

In 1977, during the height of the Brezhnev era and three years before Ronald Reagan was elected, I spent 32 days in the Soviet Union travelling as a tourist with my wife and youngest daughter Danielle, then six years old. It was my wife’s idea to bring Dany along and at first I thought it was a nutty thing to do. However, it really made our trip. Russians love children and they showered our cute little American darling with all kinds of gifts and attention. Also, it may well have lessened their usual paranoia about Americans being spies. The Iron Curtain had opened a crack by then  – at least to the extent that tourists were welcomed, albeit closely watched.

In a sense, though, we were unofficial spies – that is, I was. My goal in going to the Soviet Union then was essentially to see what it was like and especially to see what it was like in the non-Russian areas. I was not working for anyone, only for satisfying my own curiosity. Our itinerary was an extensive one. Within today’s Russia, we were in Moscow and Leningrad [not yet reverted to its old name of St. Petersburg] plus historic places like Novgorod, Vladimir and Suzdal. Other areas we visited, which are now independent nations, were the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, Georgia, Armenia and Latvia.

The overall impression in 1977 when the Soviet empire was at its height of power was that the place was a basket case. Nothing worked, because the Communist structure had been built on a false premise. Relying on Karl Marx’s notion that if the workers and peasants seized the means of production (i.e., took it away from the rampant capitalism of the Industrial Revolution), a nirvana on earth could be created. Instead, what happened was that a society was created in the USSR in which bureaucrats, not workers and peasants, totally ran the show. I’ve called it a burocy. An elite of bureaucrats developed that controlled all power and possibility of advancement. Moreover, its economic emphasis was exclusively centered upon production. You were judged by how well you fulfilled arbitrarily set quotas for goods and services. Consumer acceptance was utterly ignored. This worked well in creating military hardware but created a society in which most people felt they had no stake.

If you went to a food store or any retail establishment, the lines were horrific and the merchandise horrendous. You said a prayer if you entered an elevator. More than once, in hotels, we heard people pounding from within against doors that wouldn’t open. Nets hung from buildings to keep roof tiles from falling onto pedestrians below. Quality meant nothing. Quantity was everything.

Outside of geographic Russia, what I had anticipated was evident. The Soviet empire was merely another version of age-old Russian imperialism. The subject people hated their Russian overlords. You could tell even then in 1977 that such a situation couldn’t last much longer.

The party’s propaganda effort telling people how good they had it was relentless, but ultimately completely ineffectual. We westerners, particularly Americans, by our very presence, gave a lie to their false political advertising.

When I returned 12 years later, this time with a People-to-People exchange group of bi-partisan State legislators and officials, the internal changes were palpable. The Soviet powers-that-be had lost their totalitarian control. In Leningrad, I heard one party official sigh and tell us it was a bad time to be a Communist in the Soviet Union. In Uzbekistan, the Uzbeks seemed to have taken over. There were billboards warning that without reform, the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics would fall apart.

A spot-on prediction. The demise of the Soviet Union was brought on by its own inner contradictions, not outside pressure.

Ironically, talking about contradictions, Marx had insisted that Capitalism would succumb because of its inner contradictions. He was wrong – so far, anyway. But the return to the excesses that brought on the Great Depression and now the Great Recession may yet bring a crippling, even fatal, crisis to the system we call Capitalism.

I will have more to say about this phenomenon in future blogs.

My last trip to the land presently called just plain Russia was in 1992, about three years after the Soviet collapse. It was like being in the wild west, everything topsy-turvy amid the turnover of government property and industry to a primitive privatization of tooth and claw Capitalism reminiscent of the Robber Baron days in the U.S. In one case, I myself, was approached in a veterans hospital (I had come with a group looking at medical facilities) by a man who had been the commander of the Soviet paratroopers and who headed their veterans organization. He and his friends were trying to sell the formerly top secret naval base of Kronstadt near St. Petersburg for an industrial park and he wanted me to contact a man in San Francisco who was acting as their agent. [I did phone him when I got home, but he never returned my call]. Such audacious switches of public resources into privileged hands was commonplace at the time.

There is one final point I would make in answering Ms. Angelita Fisher’s query of why did the Soviet Union not last. For me, it is an intangible factor in the impact of the U.S.A. on the hard core Russian imperialism behind the Iron Curtain. This thought was indelibly impressed upon me by Olga, our guide and translator, during my second trip in 1989 with that delegation of State legislators and officials. Despite our political differences – we ranged from extreme left to extreme right and everything in between – we bonded together as Americans so spontaneously do, and our bus rides were often filled with merriment as we joked and sang and carried on. Olga, who was rumored to be a KGB agent, told us in unusual candor at the end of our trip as we bid her good-bye. “You Americans should know that it is not your wealth we envy. It is your ability to laugh.”

Angelita, I strongly believe this unconscious spirit of ours also helped bring down the Evil Empire.    

Categories: National Politics

History In Today’s Politics – LEON BLUM – BARACK OBAMA

January 15, 2012 Leave a comment

              History, as we know, creates many parallels. A favorite saying of people who promote the teaching of history is that “Those who ignore history are forced to repeat it.” Illustrations of this phenomenon are too numerous to quote in a single blog. Rather, I intend to focus on a single situation of the early 20th century, occurring in another country, which may offer lessons for today’s United States.

That country is France –the France that existed between the end of World War I and its collapse and surrender to the German Nazis and their fascistic French allies in 1940 – a dire situation that lasted until the Liberation in 1944.

The parallel with today in the U.S. involves President Barack Obama and the prominent French leader of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Leon Blum.

So how do these two mesh? One might answer that it is through the particular shock their ascent to political power aroused in certain circles within their populations. Both were considered members of an inferior race – Blum because he was a Jew and Obama because under American mores he was ipso-facto a Negro, despite being half white.

It was unthinkable to right wing conservatives in France that Blum would head up a government as Prime Minister. Equally, although a matter of pride in many quarters of the United States, it became an instant matter of outrage and silent fury among America’s silent racists for the Presidency to go to – in their eyes – an uppity black man.

The French were more candid about their intolerance. The extreme right wing there, carrying on the tradition of the Dreyfus Affair, were already banding into quasi-fascist groups. Charles Maurras, the fuhrer for one of these organizations called L’Action Francaise, said of Blum: “There is a man who should be shot, but in the back.” Another such bigot labeled Blum “A Palestinian mare” and suggested he be sent to a prison camp in Madagascar. A Royalist deputy during a session of the Chambre des Deputes where Blum presided cried out: “There’s room only for Frenchmen here.” Compare this refusal to recognize Paris-born and raised Blum’s Frenchness with that coterie of rightists in the U.S. who have come to be known as the “Birthers.” Despite all evidence to the contrary, they refuse to accept the fact that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. Part of this tactic, of course, is an effort to have him disqualified as President. But it also betokens their fierce determination not to recognize him as a full-fledged fellow citizen since, to them, he will always be the “other.” He is an usurper, in so many words. Due to his having had a Kenyan father, he has been deemed as steeped in a Mau Mau terrorist frame of mind, although never having set foot in Kenya nor having had much to do with his father. Then, there has been the lie spread that he is secretly a Moslem and that when he lived in Indonesia with his white mother, a native of Kansas, he was educated in a Moslem madrassa, or Islamic religious school, rather than the Catholic institution he actually attended. Blum, too, faced the same sort of distortions, such as that he was an “Asiatic” of East European ancestry. The myth was even published that he was born Leon Karfunkelstein in Vidine, Bulgaria. At least these French Birthers invented a foreign birthplace for him, something Donald Trump and his ilk, after poo-poohing Obama’s official Hawaiian birth certificate, haven’t had the guts to do.

In gauging the violence and hatred directed toward these two men, it is necessary to discuss their politics. Obama has repeatedly been called a “Socialist” by people who haven’t the slightest idea what a Socialist is, except to be used as an epithet to hurl at an enemy. The term has been used deliberately and erroneously on other American politicians, as well, like FDR and Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman and, in this State, Governor Percival Baxter. Leon Blum, conversely, was a Socialist. He was head of the French Socialist Party, whose major foes were the Nazis and Stalin’s Communists in the Soviet Union. Blum, in trying to deal with the economic disaster in France caused by the Depression actually set as his model Franklin Roosevelt’s reform capitalism New Deal. He even referred to his own program as a “French New Deal.”

The French right wing reaction to Blum was far more violent than anything the U.S. has seen against Obama to date. Egged on by Charles Maurras and his declaration that Leon Blum was “anything but French” and should be “shot down,” a crowd of fascists attacked Blum’s car in February 1936, savagely beat him, severing a vein in his neck and causing him to be hospitalized for two weeks. When the Germans invaded in 1940, Blum did not flee the country but was imprisoned and somehow survived the war. A moral to the story here is that the fanaticism of the right wing contributed to the French defeat and German occupation; their sabotaging of the government had totally weakened the country. After the Liberation, many of these traitors and collaborators were jailed and the worst of them executed.

Could the same thing happen in the U.S. today? Could a political program built solely upon the premise of driving Barack Obama from office defeat our nation, itself, as its problems multiply due to the neglect enforced by an opposition party acting on prejudice (both racial and political) and achieving what our greatest enemies want? For example, the Grover Norquist policy of shrinking the U.S. Federal Government small enough “to drown it in a bathtub”, i.e., to reduce it to a state of impotence, that would have Osama bin Laden cheering on such Republicans from his watery grave. There’s enormous danger to the U.S. from these tactics of scheming to bring the government to a screeching halt and ushering in an era of disorder and chaos.

History has shown us what happened to France. If we pay attention and take action while there’s still time, we need not let history repeat itself.

Categories: National Politics

History in Today’s Politics – THE ANTI-SCROOGE

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

A Christmas Carol

With Christmas upon us, productions of Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol, adopted for stage and screen, are popping up everywhere as they have for generations. In this redemptive tale that has so caught the imagination of the English-speaking world, Dickens has really fashioned a religious drama in which the message of Jesus during the celebration of his birth is brought home to a single individual and releases him from the mean, selfish, bitter inner misanthropic image that he projects.

Ironically, when we think of Ebenezer Scrooge, whenever we speak his name even, we conjure the first impression he makes upon us. We do not consciously acknowledge his conversion. Scrooge has become almost a noun, meaning someone who is not only a miser but also a disbeliever in the words and admonitions of Jesus Christ. The early Ebenezer neither accepts nor practices the idea of doing unto others what you would have done to yourself.

By the end of the story, however, the old gentleman has changed. A kindly side emerges. The spirit of the holiday reaches him through a series of ghosts and he arrives in the sunlight of sharing a charitable disposition with his fellow Londoners, employees and relatives. Ebenezer Scrooge is re-born, so to speak.

Consequently, keeping the final pages of A Christmas Carol in mind, a person who acts like the Scrooge of the opening pages could well be called the Anti-Scrooge.

This is a title that I feel I can confer upon Maine’s present Governor Paul Le Page. In one fell swoop just at Christmas time, he has put into the threadbare stockings of the poor and disabled of our State a massive lump of coal in the form of a draconian cut in the State’s Medicaid program. The cynicism of what he has done surely shrieks to the heavens.  He claims he has to fix a hole in his budget  – a hole he deliberately created through massive tax cuts, mostly benefiting our upper financial class. Indeed, here is class warfare in spades, directed against the poorest of the poor and the middle class on behalf of the richest among us. The gap the Governor manufactured – in the neighborhood of $220 million – will now be filled in by withdrawing that amount from services primarily provided to the sick, the elderly and the disabled, which action also will deprive the State of millions more in Federal matching funds. Hundreds of jobs will be lost. Thousands of dollars of purchasing power will disappear. Church officials who testified against these cuts were, by their mere presence, reminding Maine people of December 25 and its meaning for all human beings. Their words spoke their feelings.

The Reverend Jill Job Saxby, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, an organization of Protestant denominations, stated: “We believe that a fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the most vulnerable are faring…We cannot allow thousands of Mainers to lose health care coverage at a time when many are also struggling to put food on the table, find housing or at least keep warm through the winter.” Speaking for the Catholic Church was Bishop Richard Malone of the Diocese of Portland who said he had “deep concerns” about the families hurt by the cuts, which could affect some or all of 65,000 persons. “Eliminating health care coverage, including the drug program, is a tremendously risky enterprise,” the Bishop said, and would “result in worsening health care, and for some, given the complexity of their condition,  will lead to a premature death…Health care is a basic human right. It is no less essential than food, shelter and clothing.”

Yet so far, it seems unlikely that Governor Le Page is listening to any of these pleas. He is clearly the antithesis of the redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge. Maybe there will be some lip service for Christmas, itself, from him but an iron fist for anybody who has been needing help.

When Charles Dickens wrote his story in the 1830’s, it was the time of the Industrial Revolution. Conditions in the factories were horrendous. Social services were non-existent. “Are there no work houses?” the early Scrooge exclaims when asked to contribute to charity – work houses being places where the needy went to die and were worked like slaves to exhaustion. Wages everywhere were starvation wages. And one has a sense that Governor Le Page, who had something of a Dickensian upbringing in Lewiston, has a nostalgic longing for bringing back this kind of unfettered capitalism in its rawest state. His answer to the thousands whose well-being he is uprooting is that they are all malingerers engaged in fraud.

The Anti-redeemed Scrooge is on the prowl in Augusta and many Mainers, to the shame of our fair State, will suffer as no Americans should have to suffer.

Among the newspaper photographs illustrating the day of tumultuous hearings at the State House on the Governor’s proposal, one showed a gaunt elderly man confronting  a supporter of the Governor with a sign of his own on which he had hand-printed:  “Ebenezer  Scrooge Learned From His Mistakes. Will Le Page?”

If you listen carefully, you can hear the Governor’s reaction from his office on the State House’s second floor. “Bah humbug,” he is saying.

Categories: National Politics