Posts for May, 2012
First, a personal note. Sorry I've been away from the blog for awhile. Everything is O.K. but April is a bad month, what with taxes and an idiotic court-required guardianship asset accounting in excruciating detail, required annually to prove I'm not robbing my wife blind. That's all done now, so I'm back. Don't all cheer at once.
Both of my parents immigrated from Germany in the late 1920's, They were escaping the horrendous depression that had gripped their homeland since the end of World War I. The unwise draconian provisions of the Versailles Treaty were designed to insure that Germany would never rise again. What they succeeded in doing was to destroy the German economy along with the lack of young labor due to war casualties. The mandated governmental system--the Weimar Republic--was ineffectual and disorganized, unable to right the ship. The net result, of course, was to create huge resentment which helped fuel the rise of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist (NAZI) Party. Guess that didn't work too well, did it?
Anyway, my parents, especially my father, came here for the promised opportunity afforded by a classless economic and social system that permitted upward mobility based on talent and hard work. There was no "middle class" or "upper class." There were poor of course--there always have been and will be--but even they had opportunity to climb the economic ladder and many did. Even they were not labeled a "class".
Sadly, what my parents and many others ran into was our own 1929 depression that shattered many an American Dream. They struggled, and despite the hard times, my father found work and a very modest income that kept a roof over our heads and food on the table. I never really felt poor, just not as well-off as some other folks. Father worked at anything he could find, even a short stint in the WPA which he never considered welfare because he worked for the meager wages. (He helped build a "road to nowhere" in a county park.)
He even took a job as a janitor in an apartment building in a black area of Cleveland (East 86th Street) because it came with a tiny basement apartment. I still can picture the single small rectangular window high on the wall of my bedroom. I attended an all-black elementary school (Bolton School; it still exists) and perhaps the best friend I ever had in my youth was a black kid by the name of Clifford Eucker. I remember his mother made him wear knickers to school, which he hated. Father always had crummy jobs, partly a result of the depression and partly due to some bad decisions. But he still loved this country and the opportunities it presented.
The Founders deliberately created a system that avoided the semi-feudalism prevalent in Europe, remnants of which exist even today in many countries both there and even more so in Asia. Yes, there was slavery here which was decried by some but sadly countenanced by others at the time. Nothing is perfect. The unfettered Adam Smith economic system was considered a model. While there were excesses, the result was an unprecedented economic expansion into the world's greatest economic engine, largely responsible for building the society that we enjoy today. Even our so-called "poor" today are often considerably better off than the poor of other parts of the world.
The great motivator of economic expansion is free enterprise and the promise of hard-earned reward. Poor could become comfortable and the comfortable could become rich. Yes, there's an element of greed in the system, but enlightened greed is not all bad. The great advantage of a classless social system and a free enterprise, Capitalist economy is the powerful motivation and opportunity to better oneself.
But times they are a-changin". Today we hear constant reference to the "rich" and the "middle class." There was no middle class whien I was growing up. At least I never heard the term. There was no "wealthy class," just folks who had done better than most of us. There was an attempt after World War II to "soak the rich" to help reduce the deficit from the war. Confiscatory tax rates of up to 91% were levied. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence was business and professional folks, who it turned out were the folks who kept the country running--stopped working part of the year and the government got less in taxes than before. (Sounds a little like Ayn Rand, doesn't it?)
I challenge anyone to precisely define the "middle class" we constantly hear about. Is it a single female legal assistant in New York making $85,000 a year, or the farm family in Kansas with an income of $60,000? How about the owner of a small plumbing shop making $110,000? Shoot, I made that much the last few years I worked. Was I rich? I didn't think so. Then there's the novelist who finally writes a good one and makes $275,000 in one year. Is he rich, considering that he made zilch in previous years?
The fact is, this business of class designations is a relatively recent political construct designed to create envy. The political system in this country--Republican as well as Democrat--has manufactured a class envy paradigm strictly to get votes and gain power. Democrats claim Republicans love the upper class and disdain the middle class and the poor. Republicans claim Democrats pander to the working classes and the poor to get votes. The elderly get stuck somewhere in the middle of all this. Sadly, the current administration seems particularly inclined to toss around class labels. This is grossly irresponsible and detrimental to the welfare of the nation.
The result is conflict and anger all around us, which is dangerous in the extreme. The great advantage of this country is its melting pot paradigm, with all citizens living and working together to better themselves. E Pluribus Unum really meant something years ago. What does it mean today except something printed on money?
Someone once said "divide and conquer." Karl Marx advocated class struggle in the Communist Manifesto. We're headed in a bad direction, folks. If this manufactured class warfare continues, we will indeed be "divided and conquered."
All for votes.
Will Shakespeare technically did not write a true farce, which generally involves nonsense and slapstick, but two plays, the subject line and The Taming of the Shrew are often characterized as farces. Here in Wisconsin, we are undergoing a farce fully worthy of the great Bard of Avon. The current comedy of errors called recalls are in full sway, characterized by outrageous expenditures of campaign money by both sides resulting from frantic fundraising by Walker and piles of union dues funneled to the Democrats. Then there's the $20 million or so to pay for the elections, most from local communities who did not anticipate these costs. Wait for that one to hit the fan!
As a matter of interest, over the last 100 years there have been a total of 36 recalls of public figures in the entire United States. This year, there are 17 in Wisconsin alone. Either Wisconsin knows something about democracy that the other 49 states do not, or this has nothing to do with democracy. This is in reality a frantic effort by unions--mainly the public service type--to reverse a policy, the loss of bargaining power with which they strongly disagree. There is an obvious attempt to downplay this aspect of the process, citing the $800 million in education budget cuts, inflated now to a billion which sounds more impressive, I guess. They have to hurry because those reductions in state education aid are actually working quite well for those districts who did not sign union contracts prior to Act 10 passage. Many school district administrations are actually rather enjoying their new-found power to set education policy without interference and obstruction by the teachers' unions. If the word gets around, the unions' main issue goes bye-bye.
Just a word about the job-creation issue. There is precious little politicians can do about jobs, which is solely a private enterprise decision. Walker was unwise to make the 250,000 job commitment. I think he counted on a fully compliant legislature to institue a panoply of business-friendly legislation. This has not happened so I lthink his prediction is doomed.
Wisconsin has a well-deserved reputation as being unfriendly to business. We have a widely-perceived unattractive climate, a very aggressive environmentalist movement that seems to oppose any major industrial development--witness the Gogobic mine fiasco--and high-and-growing energy costs thanks to very costly "clean energy" mandates like windmills. (As soon as the federal subsidies expire, which is pretty soon, watch the cost of these monstrosities soar.)
I won't further belabor the point, as I have written on this subject before. But either Wisconsin has found a new paradigm of super-democracy to replace the traditional Constitution-mandated scheduled elections that the rest of the country follows, or we are political idiots engaged in a Shakespearian farce. Take your choice.
P.S. See, I can write a short blog post!
Many years ago there was a war. Officially it was called World War II. Unofficially it was called the Great War. More recently it has been describd as the "Good War," because it was against Fascism and a ruthless enemy. It was not a "good war;" there is no such thing. It was a horrible war. Millions died in that war, mostly young men in their prime with their whole lives ahead of them. They did not plan to die, but that is the way of war.
They fought with great courage and bravery on both sides, for the German and Japanese armies were also made up largely of young men. On our side it was fought by what has been called the "Greatest Generation." Maybe so, for our armed forces performed with uncommon and unexpected ferocity and courage. The reason was that our young men were fighting for their land, the greatest country on Earth and its precious liberty. They fought for God and country, which unfortunately sounds trite in this modern blase and sophisticated age, but it definitely was not trite in those days, which I remember clearly. Did they think deeply about that as they charged into battle? Probably not, but somehow they knew that they were fighting for a great cause, for an ideal, a way of life that was so precious it was worth risking life itself. They were fighting for the protection and survival of their beloved America.
Perhaps the greatest display of bravery in the annals of military history was the invasion of "Fortress Europe" in 1944. Arrayed against the Allied invasion force on the shores of France was a formidable, battle-hardened and well-equipped foe who knew that this was the deciding point of the war. At Normandy, many thousands of young American men advanced into a wall of machine gun bullets and artillery, largely without cover and slowed by waist-deep water. They died by the thousands but kept coming. American Rangers scaled vertical cliffs at Pointe du Hoc in the face of point-blank fire from above, suffering 65% casualties but gaining the objective. At the end of the day, they had prevailed. Never in the history of warfare has there been a greater display of courage, in a battle that would determine the victor in a World War and the future of civilization on this planet. But make no mistake, the price was terrible.
In all the wars in which America has been involved, including the one we lost, our troops never broke and ran regardless of the odds. I don't believe any fighting force in history can make that claim. They paid a price--the nation paid a price--for freedom and liberty, home and family, God and honor. I believe Providence took a hand that day in June 68 years ago, for by all accounts the Allies should have been thrown back into the sea, battered and broken, and the war lost. But it didn't happen and we owe that to those boys who without exception covered themselves with glory and honor, especially the fallen. God was with them at Normandy and in other conflicts, not because they were perfect and holy, but because their cause was just and right.
There may be arguments that, while WW II was "the Good War," some of our subsequent wars and "police actions" were not so holy. Perhaps, but that is politics and our men and women were and are above politics. They fought against Communism in Korea and Vietnam, an adversary that threatened to "bury us." In Southwest Asia, they fought and are fighting an adversary sworn to destroy the "Great Satan" and kill all of us infidels. Have dishonorable events occurred in the heat of conflict? Yes, but they involved a miniscule minority. No one is perfect; we are all human.
So, on this day--yes, May 30th, is the "real" Memorial Day--we commemorate not the unofficial start of Summer (it really begins at 6 P.M. on June 20th) or even our veterans who certainly deserve our gratitude for their service and sacrifice, but rather we honor our dead who gave the greatest gift, their lives, so that we could enjoy the coming of Summer and all our good times in comfort and freedom in this the greatest nation on Earth, our--and their--America.
Therefore, please pause just a moment on this most meaningful of national holidays and reflect on the magnitude of that sacrifice and what it means to you and yours. And to those who gave all, in the final words of the first verse of "Taps":
"All is well, safely rest. God is nigh.
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