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On Political Crosshairs and the Massachusetts 4th: Video Essay for April 20, 2012


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On Equal Opportuities and Equal Outcomes: Radio Essay for November 4, 2011

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On Equal Opportunities and Equal Outcomes: Essay for November 5, 2011

If you ask me, the Occupy movement has gone from preachin’ to meddlin’. This once cozy rabble of young adults, backed by forces both seen and unseen, has long past the annoying stage and is fast becoming anarchic. What once looked like campouts with pup tents and s’mores is rapidly becoming shanty towns with Molotov cocktails and mob violence.

I have frequently commented upon some of the common roots between the Occupy movement and the Tea Party movement. Recent events have even more clearly defined the divergent paths that these loosely confederated organizations have taken to achieve political awareness and drive change. The Tea Party clearly emerges as the more rational and more mature of these movements while the Occupy movement emerges as the more dangerous.

I came across a descriptive chart on the internet this week that illustrates both the common roots and the distinctly different paths that these movements have taken. They were born from common concern that “We Have a Problem.” Government collusion with special interests created outrage. Government should not be picking winners and losers in our economy or place bets with our money. The bailouts of major industrial segments of our economy were wrong. Hallelujah, we took to the streets! But here is where the paths diverged.

The Tea party is looking to fix the system; the Occupiers want to break it apart. They disagree over the role of money in politics. Occupiers want to get money from politics; Tea Partiers want to get money out of politics. The Tea party wants to keep what they earn while the occupiers think people deserve everyone else’s money. Occupiers are arrested for violent behavior while Tea Partiers are accused of violent rhetoric. Perhaps the phrase that caught my eye the most was this one: Occupiers wish to replace the Constitution while Tea partiers wish to restore it.

The beauty of our Constitution lies in its protection of equal opportunity. It is silent on assuring equal outcomes. It is precisely why generation after generation of immigrants has come to America. We are the Land of Opportunity. To be sure, over our history we may have fallen short of consistently protecting that opportunity but we know that every governmental system that has attempted to assure equal outcomes has failed. There is an underlying obligation to take one’s unbridled opportunity and turn it into a favorable outcome through endeavor and industry.

This incessant whine of gimme-gimme is beginning to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. And much of this is coming from no less than the President himself. In an effort to spread Federal largesse to as many people as possible from all walks of life, the President has effectively offered to forgive student loans. Students would never be obliged to pay more than 10% of their income nor pay for a term longer than 20 years as long as they worked for non-profits or the government. That being the case, the government would pick up the remainder of the tab and indenture an entire generation to the government. Can special interest pandering get any more obvious than this?

In the spirit of full disclosure, the Federal government picked up my undergraduate expenses, too. In exchange, I became a Cold War naval officer and served for 8 years in order to fulfill my obligation.

I am proud to be associated with the Tea Party and people who share their values. Even my oldest daughter, one who is not easily confused with a Tea Party member, looks at the occupiers and says: “Why don’t they stop whining and just get a job?” She should know. She is of their age and perhaps has similar inclinations towards a more liberal view of social justice. What she cannot abide is the transfer of wealth and entitlement mentality of those who refuse to work. My daughter is employed by a non-profit and works a second job to make ends meet. She pays her bills, services her student loan (yes, she has one of those, too) and is planning her career. Like many, she is making do with what she has. Despite the gloomy economy that stalled her shortly after her graduation in 2007, she has a plan and executes it as circumstances dictate.

No doubt, these are tough times but they are not the toughest of times. Nor is it unusual for a crop of graduates to find themselves faced with formidable challenges. If this were 1942, prospects would be quite different for these children. Occupy Wall Street? How about occupying Berlin? Or Tokyo?

So we come back to that word again: obligation. It is an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment. How about it, you Occupiers? How about you pack up your tents and tidy up the area so we can have some green grass to enjoy come spring. It is time you began to expend your energies on making this a better country through engagement in the electoral process rather than through anarchy. The whole world is watching.

Press on.

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Conservatively Speaking: October 29, 2011

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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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