Jul 312012
 

Last week, I talked about the inevitable presence and place of elites in American Society. While we believe that all men are created equal and certain of their rights are unalienable and should never be threatened, we understand that some of us have advantages and abilities that others do not. Nonetheless, we hope that our children and grandchildren might yet find exceptional success for their efforts.

America has continued to struggle to define, expand, and guarantee our liberties. American slaves have been granted the rights of citizenship. Their descendants are increasingly able to vote freely, serve in the military, and sit, as free people, on any free seat on any bus. Women have been given the right to own property, vote, earn equal wages, and use birth control. Recently, more of us have received additional health care protection so that we don’t face the choice of staying healthy or dying quickly.

Nonetheless, America has always faced groups determined to twist government to favor their private wealth, power, and industry. In the years before World War I, this was called “The Gilded Age.” Corruption was open, corporations organized violence against their workers, stark poverty ravaged the lives of the poor crowded into tenement housing. If you were hurt on the job, you could consider yourself fired before you hit the ground.

The “Panic of 1893” was the result of corporate corruption and embezzlement on a massive scale. They even got the US Army to intervene in labor disputes. The “Great Depression” preceding World War II was triggered by the collapse of unregulated financial speculation by financiers. The Financial Collapse of 2007 was also the work of bankers and financiers trading in fabricated instruments derived from bundled lots of high-risk investments. Greece, other countries, and banks bought these investments, thinking that they could lower their own interest payments. The inevitable collapse shook the finances of not just Europe, but the entire world.

Today, self-serving business interests seem to have seized the reigns of the Republican Party. This goes far beyond the conservative or liberal dispositions of voters. They are dismantling needed regulation of finance, pollution, and labor practices. They are undermining and trying to privatize public workers including teachers, law enforcement, and even the military. They are outsourcing and cutting jobs while reducing wages and benefits for those who do still work. They are making it harder for most students to get or afford the college degrees that are demanded for entry into everything but minimum-wage service jobs. And, they are even trying to eliminate the minimum wage.

Today, well into our struggling recovery from the collapse of their economic house of cards, corporate profit margins are again at record highs while U.S. wages, as a share of our economy, are at record lows. If there is “class warfare” going on, they started it. Income inequality is stunning and it is getting worse. I believe that Americans of both parties need to push back against those who are intent on compounding their private wealth and power at the expense of everyone else.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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Jul 112012
 

This morning, one of our neighbors dropped off a clipping about Harry Truman. We had been discussing presidents after my column mentioning FDR. The piece was complimentary and praised President Truman especially for his modesty and humility after retiring back to his home in Independence, Missouri.

I have to tell you that I have a soft spot for Harry and Bess. I was raised across the river from Independence in Liberty, Missouri. How about those city names for symbolism? (Then again Peculiar and Normal are city names in Missouri. Go figure.) Kansas City still embraces “Give ‘em Hell Harry” as a beloved native son.

Anyway, the clipping mentioned his few personal assets including Bess’ house, an Army pension, and a special allowance granted by Congress. He did not “enjoy” Secret Service protection after leaving the White House. Harry declined corporate positions saying, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.” Of course, this would be a great place to take a pot shot at the corporate interests that seem intent on buying power and influence in our government, and putting one of their own where he can sign their regressive legislation into law,  but that would be out of place and beneath me, so I won’t mention it here.

In balance, the clipping seemed to be a nostalgia piece for simpler, kinder, and gentler times. I like the comfortable, warm memories of earlier days that it invoked. That was a time when people knew what to expect, every man stood on his own two feet and was often too proud to take charity and too quiet to talk about his service in the Great War. Except, it wasn’t exactly like that at all. World War II killed an estimated 50-70 million people – over 2.5% of the world’s population. About 416,800 US servicemen gave their lives. It was a dangerous, disruptive, and complicated time.

Our current president is getting a lot of flak for personally authorizing selective drone attacks on targeted individuals (and any anyone in a twenty-foot radius.) The United States fire-bombed entire cities during World War II and President Truman personally authorized nuclear weapons over two large cities. Our current president is getting a lot of flak for limited support of other economies. President Truman signed the Marshall Plan to help rebuild seventeen countries of Western and Southern Europe. Our current president is getting a lot of flak for getting a law passed letting our gay and lesbian sons and daughters serve in the military. President Truman signed an Executive Order forcibly integrating the armed forces, letting our black neighbors serve their country.

The fact is that we now live in especially complicated and difficult times. And, I for one, am proud to support our current president – a complex man of family and community, yet gifted with courage, intelligence, vision, and the capacity to inspire us to nurture the goodness that we all hold and the empathy to care about our neighbors.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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Jun 072011
 

Very few people now alive have had the experience of what I think of as “Real War.” Oh, we still use the word “war,” but it doesn’t seem to carry the same sense of dramatic finality that it formerly did. War, and our thinking about war, has gotten soft. Our changing values affect the way we respond to the victors and victims of war.

These days, our wars tend to earn euphemisms such as: border skirmish, police action, regime change, nation building, civil uprising, popular revolution, government standoff, and gorilla opposition. Similarly, killing becomes: targeting, eliminating, taking out, and collateral damage because the idea is too repulsive to be named as what it is without shame. We rarely see Group A attacking Group B with the intent of killing or enslaving everyone and taking all of their land and property. And, of course, Real War only begets more war. Yeah, Real War used to really mean something. Continue reading »