Tag Archives: economy

On Ordinary People: Essay for November 19, 2011

With almost 40 years of travel experience under my belt I have become something of a subject matter expert in the field. Name the mode and I have experience in it. By sea, by rail, by motor coach and automobile, I’ve done it. And in each class of service, too. Two years ago I received my updated frequent flyer card from American Airlines. It designates me as a million-miler. Now I get to check my bags for free.

There once was a certain romance about travel. I started my career on ocean going ships that plied the seven seas. The British coined the term posh in the days of the Raj to describe first class travel to India before the days of air conditioning. Port Outbound, Starboard Home accommodations would keep you on the shady side of the ship during the long hot voyage. My wife’s grandfather was a frequent flyer back in the 1940’s. Allegheny Airlines even featured him in a print ad. Then there is travel by rail. People would spend days and nights traveling by train. Arlo Guthrie’s depiction of rail travel was an endless card game punctuated with cigarettes in the parlor car.

When I wrote this, I was sitting in South Station waiting for my son to arrive by bus. Hollywood was never very kind to busses. They were depicted as dank and cold on the inside, stopping along some dusty road deep in the south to pick up a drifter, bus travel was the domain of common folk. It still is. Today’s busses are comfortable and feature movies, the internet and power outlets in every seat. And by common I mean ordinary people: those who have places to go and people to see without crazy amounts of money to spend on planes or time to waste in an airport with the ramp delays and weather.

As I looked around the terminal I saw a reflection of America that appealed to me. There were a thousand people with a thousand different stories. I saw their industry in quickened steps; I saw determination on their faces. They were of many races and colors and backgrounds yet they shared the common purpose of moving onward towards their next endeavor.
Bus terminals are not the domain of the elite but they ought to be. When those of the corporate jet set are without their planes, they are unlikely to be on the Megabus from New York but they should try it now and again. We can learn a lot from the denizens who partake of this most egalitarian of transit modes. In fact, we can all take a lesson from those ordinary people with extraordinary talents who make our world run. They make courageous calls every day on how to make ends meet and how to balance the demands of raising a family under expectations that continue to diminish.

Our elected officials ought to join us in the bus terminal, as well. Limousines and NetJets are no way to commune with the common man. You won’t find the ordinary man at Occupy Wall Street, either. When our elected officials hob-nob with the elite to exchange access for money on one end, then pause for the photo op at Dewey Square at the other end, one thing is clear: there is no ordinary man in sight.

The ordinary people of our country are caught in a vice. The political elite are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while our ship of state founders. These elite are fat, dumb and happy engaging in turf wars while our futures are at stake. The ultimate example of abrogation of responsibility is the Super Committee in Congress who is charged with making unpleasant decisions that neither chamber of Congress would make last summer when raising the debt ceiling became a crisis. In Washington, a crisis postponed is as good as a crisis solved. With their backs against the wall the big question is whether they can come to a courageous compromise just like ordinary people do every day. The problem is that they have not yet demonstrated that they have the courage that ordinary people display every day to solve that problem. Funny thing is the last word they would use to describe themselves is ordinary.
In that I concur. Maybe they need to take a Greyhound.

Press on.

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On Redistricting and Courage: Not Necessarily in That Order– October 29, 2011

It is very hard not to wax poetic about baseball, America’s national pastime. As Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager and subject of the book, Moneyball, says: How can you not be romantic about baseball? True. And for those of us baseball stalwarts who watched Game 6 of this World Series last Thursday night and into the wee hours of Friday morning, who could not have felt that romance?

Baseball is an egalitarian game. No room here for whiners. If you want to “Occupy Busch Stadium,” you have to earn it. And you have to want it. Mark Lowe was the Texas Ranger pitcher who surrendered the game winning home run to David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals. Freese will go down in the annals of baseball as a bona fide hero. Who among us has not fantasized about hitting the game winning home run in the World Series? But Lowe may have emerged as an exemplar of heroism. Do you know what he said after the game? He said, “If you don’t want to be in that situation I was in, you’re in the wrong business. This is what I’ve worked for my whole career and I was where I wanted to be.”

It may only be a game but is there a lonelier feeling than facing down a hitter in the bottom half of an inning with the game on the line. One swing and it is over. And as two Ranger pitchers can attest, getting that last strike is not a given even if the odds are with you. Each of those pitchers, especially Mark Lowe, will be ready to go again, ready to take the ball, because that is what people of courage do. Maybe we make heroes out of baseball players because the game is so pure, so perfect. And maybe we know that sports cannot transcend politics.

We get spoiled by that purity because when we look to extend it to courage at a political level we are most often disappointed. So what does courage and redistricting have to do with each other? In Massachusetts, sadly, the two do not cross paths too often. At the State level, it is complicated and of course it is political but at least the numbers of seats do not change. At the Congressional level this year in Massachusetts, when the music stops, there will be one less Congressional district in the State. One incumbent Democrat has to get “voted off the island” by fellow Democrats. Conjecture about who that might be has haunted the process since the US Census numbers were announced early this year. Every incumbent declared they were going to stand for re-election in 2012. No quarter given and none asked.

Somehow, behind the tightest of closed doors, the Statehouse committee was making some choices. Let us consider what the process yielded 10 years ago. It yielded the First District that comprises 40% of the land mass of the State and runs from the New York border on the west to Pepperell, a town just south of Nashua, NH. It is 3 hour car ride. The Second District incumbent benefited from this madness by the obvious exclusion of Springfield and Northampton, bastions of Democratic Party legacy and the home field of that incumbent. The Third District snakes along a torturous path from the Worcester suburbs in Central Massachusetts to Fall River. That is a 70 mile drive. The Fourth District shares Fall River with the Third and winds its way north to the edges of Boston proper. Five Congressional districts split up Worcester County horizontally, thereby diluting any clout it has in promoting a more conservative political outlook. Central Massachusetts sent a bevy of conservatives to the Statehouse in 2010.

The outcome of this year’s deliberation was nearly at hand when the bolt out of the blue announcement that Congressman John Olver, the incumbent who presides over 40% of the State, would, indeed, retire. If there were any thoughts in our minds that courage would prevail in this redistricting process, the words of Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin put an end to that. He said that the announcement might require the entire process to be rethought. Why? Was not the committee to be looking independently of the incumbents and focusing on the needs of the constituents of the Commonwealth? I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you, that the needs of the incumbents and the perpetuation of power in the hands of the Democrats has taken precedence over the concerns of the people. I cannot imagine that Worcester County will soon reunite under a single Congressional District, or even two.

No, the spineless are in control on Beacon Hill, and many other Statehouses, by the way, while the courageous, those want to be given the ball, are left to toil on the pitcher’s mound in Busch Stadium. What I wouldn’t give for a legislator with one half the courage of Mark Lowe. Give me the ball.

Press on.

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On Occupying Congress: Radio Essay for October 22, 2011

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On Occupying Congress: Essay for October 22, 2011

It was in mid-September that the Occupy Wall Street movement began. It has continued unabated in New York since then and has spread throughout the country; indeed, throughout the world. I had a hankering to understand this movement in more depth so I went to the Occupy Wall Street dot org website. Here is a quotation from a former Wall Street analyst cum organizer for OWJ that describes the movement:

“(I am) Concerned about the egregious Wall Street bonuses — particularly after the industry accepted a tax-payer bailout and the middle class continues to be squeezed — I believe it’s time for a fairer system that provides health care, education, and opportunity for all, and rejects corporate influence over government.”

What is there to effectively argue about with this statement? Many a Tea Party advocate could make a similar statement. We could debate how much contribution the government might make towards achieving these goals but the key point is that the middle class is getting unnecessarily squeezed by a system that promotes crony capitalism at the expense of the unconnected. No objective observer of the current situation could dispute the disproportionate role special interests play in doling out a status of Most Favored Company or Most Favored Federation. There is no status the decrees Most Favored Middle Class. We are on our own and have been for quite a long time.

Has the time come to Occupy Congress?

At the untainted heart of this movement lies a kernel of common ground around which we all can muster. There is a place where the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers can agree: government is failing the people because it has become slave to the interest groups that own Congress. Pay attention to the heavy hitters in contributions since 1989:
ActBlue $56 million
AT&T Inc $48 million
American Fedn of State, County & Municipal Employees $46 million
National Assn of Realtors $41 million
Service Employees International Union $38 million
National Education Assn $37 million
Goldman Sachs $36 million
American Assn for Justice $35 million
Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers $34 million
Laborers Union $32 million

Are you getting the picture? Our government is for sale. These organizations lean heavily towards the party of the Democrats but influence peddling is always in season on Capitol Hill.

On top of that, Lobbyists play a prominent role in directing policy in Washington. In 2010 there were almost 13,000 registered lobbyists stalking Capitol Hill. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks political spending, lobbying efforts reached a record $3.5 billion last year.

We very often hear that class warfare is being stoked by the highly charged rhetoric from no less than the President himself, his Vice President and other members of government. The Occupy Wall Street crowd talks about being part of the 99% who are disenfranchised, not the 1% who hold all of the cards.

I tell you this: there is a war between the classes but it is not who you think it is. It is not between rich and poor; not between left and right. It is between the people and the political class in Washington.
Our elected officials in Washington have become corrupted by the power, the prestige, the money and the influence it brings. They cling to their seats in Congress or offices in Washington in hopes of being the martinet who inflicts pain and later comes to the rescue using other people’s money to solve the inflicted problem. They have created a Munchhausen syndrome that only they believe they can fix. I disagree.

Despite the pain and dislocation caused by our current economic woes, and they are substantial, I see no evidence of a percolating class struggle that exists naturally. The embers of discontent are fanned by ill-intentioned members of the political class who have agendas far from those the likes of us.

If I had to suggest another place to occupy, it would be Congress. I would gladly link arms with a fellow sojourner bent on changing the face of the political class in Congress.

Press on.

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Speaking with Carolann Doherty Brown: October 15, 2011

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Conservatively Speaking: October 15, 2011

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On an Economic Solution: Radio Essay for October 15, 2011

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