Ghosts do talk: JFK’s advice to Barack Obama

November 18, 2014

Didn’t sleep well over the weekend.  Maybe I should have gone camping with the Scouts in the cold at Camp Wisdom — I always sleep better out of doors, in a tent.

But I fell asleep waiting for the weather forecast, wading through another round of news in which, it seems, Santayana’s Ghost is telling us too many people, especially conservatives, did not study history adequately.  We may have to repeat some of the ugly lessons of history.

Does anyone remember the SS St. Louis?  No one remembers when the braceros from Mexico flooded over the border to take up the hoes and plows, and harvest buckets, when our men were at war beating back a Fascist horde?  No one remembers the difficulty America had getting war materials from one coast where it was stockpiled, to the other coast where it was needed, and Dwight Eisenhower’s doubling down on the national debt to build a road system that would sustain us in war?

No one remembers?

It wasn’t Santayana who shook me awake, though.  It wasn’t the Spanish-born Harvard professor, but a Boston-born Harvard student, with that Boston Brahmin accent.

“Can you get a message to Mr. Obama?” he asked me.

I blinked. I didn’t speak.

Dickens didn’t get it quite right, I thought.  I can close my eyes and this apparition disappears.

But I couldn’t close my eyes.

“The torch isn’t burned out.  If there is not a willing torch bearer to take it up, it can’t be passed,” he said.

I wondered what in the hell he was talking about.  I  heard a horse’s galloping hooves and a warning.  It was after midnight I assumed; I couldn’t make out the warning.  Was that the same Boston accent?

“There’s a dark path still ahead. He’ll have to run it on his own, for a while longer.”

A podium appeared, and the apparition stepped behind it, and smiled.  I almost recognized the room. A luncheon. Reporters.  I found myself in that balcony upstairs where I’d often sat, having not paid for the lunch. Late again, I missed the introduction.

His chin held high, he stared straight at me.  My midnight ideas notebook was open to a blank page, and I fumbled for a pen. Did I imagine that gibberish squeal that audio tape makes when it’s rewound?

I missed some joke.  The audience below me laughed.  The apparition, more solid than before but faded in color, nodded as I understood he meant I should take notes. If it was a dream, surely his voice would not be so clear. He looked briefly at his notes, smiled, then got a serious look on his face as he surveyed the crowd.

The modern presidential campaign covers every issue in and out of the platform from cranberries to creation. But the public is rarely alerted to a candidate’s views about the central issue on which all the rest turn. That central issue — and the point of my comments this noon — is not the farm problem or defense or India. It is the presidency itself.

Cranberries?  It’s close to Thanksgiving.  Oh!  The cranberry scare!  I remember that Thanksgiving we swore off the things.  Some pesticide issue — I was a child — I strained to recall the details.  We lived in Burley, Idaho, then.  It must have been the early 1960s.  Some message about pesticides? I wondered.

Of course a candidate’s views on specific policies are important, but Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft shared policy views with entirely different results in the White House. Of course it is important to elect a good man with good intentions, but Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding were both good men with good intentions; so were Lincoln and Buchanan; but there is a Lincoln Room in the White House and no Buchanan Room.

Campaigns. We just ended one. Does this guy know what he’s talking about?  How weary we are?

The history of this Nation — its brightest and its bleakest pages — has been written largely in terms of the different views our Presidents have had of the Presidency itself. This history ought to tell us that the American people in 1960 have an imperative right to know what any man bidding for the Presidency thinks about the place he is bidding for, whether he is aware of and willing to use the powerful resources of that office; whether his model will be Taft or Roosevelt, Wilson or Harding.

Not since the days of Woodrow Wilson has any candidate spoken on the presidency itself before the votes have been irrevocably cast. Let us hope that the 1960 campaign, in addition to discussing the familiar issues where our positions too often blur, will also talk about the presidency itself, as an instrument for dealing with those issues, as an office with varying roles, powers, and limitations

During the past 8 years, we have seen one concept of the Presidency at work. Our needs and hopes have been eloquently stated — but the initiative and follow-through have too often been left to others. And too often his own objectives have been lost by the President’s failure to override objections from within his own party, in the Congress or even in his Cabinet.

The American people in 1952 and 1956 may have preferred this detached, limited concept of the Presidency after 20 years of fast-moving, creative Presidential rule. Perhaps historians will regard this as necessarily one of those frequent periods of consolidation, a time to draw breath, to recoup our national energy. To quote the state of the Union message: “No Congress . . . on surveying the state of the Nation, has met with a more pleasing prospect than that which appears at the present time.”

Unfortunately this is not Mr. Eisenhower’s last message to the Congress, but Calvin Coolidge’s. He followed to the White House Mr. Harding, whose sponsor declared very frankly that the times did not demand a first-rate President. If true, the times and the man met.

But the question is what do the times — and the people — demand for the next 4 years in the White House?

They demand a vigorous proponent of the national interest — not a passive broker for conflicting private interests. They demand a man capable of acting as the commander in chief of the Great Alliance, not merely a bookkeeper who feels that his work is done when the numbers on the balance sheet come even. They demand that he be the head of a responsible party, not rise so far above politics as to be invisible — a man who will formulate and fight for legislative policies, not be a casual bystander to the legislative process.

Today a restricted concept of the Presidency is not enough. For beneath today’s surface gloss of peace and prosperity are increasingly dangerous, unsolved, long postponed problems — problems that will inevitably explode to the surface during the next 4 years of the next administration — the growing missile gap, the rise of Communist China, the despair of the underdeveloped nations, the explosive situations in Berlin and in the Formosa Straits, the deterioration of NATO, the lack of an arms control agreement, and all the domestic problems of our farms, cities, and schools.

This administration has not faced up to these and other problems. Much has been said — but I am reminded of the old Chinese proverb: “There is a great deal of noise on the stairs but nobody comes into the room.”

The President’s state of the Union message reminded me of the exhortation from “King Lear” but goes: “I will do such things — what they are I know not . . . but they shall be the wonders of the earth.”

In the decade that lies ahead — in the challenging revolutionary sixties — the American Presidency will demand more than ringing manifestoes issued from the rear of the battle. It will demand that the President place himself in the very thick of the fight, that he care passionately about the fate of the people he leads, that he be willing to serve them, at the risk of incurring their momentary displeasure.

Whatever the political affiliation of our next President, whatever his views may be on all the issues and problems that rush in upon us, he must above all be the Chief Executive in every sense of the word. He must be prepared to exercise the fullest powers of his office — all that are specified and some that are not. He must master complex problems as well as receive one-page memorandums. He must originate action as well as study groups. He must reopen channels of communication between the world of thought and the seat of power.

Ulysses Grant considered the President “a purely administrative officer.” If he administered the government departments efficiently, delegated his functions smoothly, and performed his ceremonies of state with decorum and grace, no more was to be expected of him. But that is not the place the Presidency was meant to have in American life. The President is alone, at the top — the loneliest job there is, as Harry Truman has said.

If there is destructive dissension among the services, he alone can step in and straighten it out — instead of waiting for unanimity. If administrative agencies are not carrying out their mandate — if a brushfire threatens some part of the globe — he alone can act, without waiting for the Congress. If his farm program fails, he alone deserves the blame, not his Secretary of Agriculture.

“The President is at liberty, both in law and conscience, to be as big a man as he can.” So wrote Prof. Woodrow Wilson. But President Woodrow Wilson discovered that to be a big man in the White House inevitably brings cries of dictatorship.

So did Lincoln and Jackson and the two Roosevelts. And so may the next occupant of that office, if he is the man the times demand. But how much better it would be, in the turbulent sixties, to have a Roosevelt or a Wilson than to have another James Buchanan, cringing in the White House, afraid to move.

Nor can we afford a Chief Executive who is praised primarily for what he did not do, the disasters he prevented, the bills he vetoed — a President wishing his subordinates would produce more missiles or build more schools. We will need instead what the Constitution envisioned: a Chief Executive who is the vital center of action in our whole scheme of Government.

This includes the legislative process as well. The President cannot afford — for the sake of the office as well as the Nation — to be another Warren G. Harding, described by one backer as a man who “would when elected, sign whatever bill the Senate sent him — and not send bills for the Senate to pass.” Rather he must know when to lead the Congress when to consult it and when he should act alone.

Having served 14 years in the legislative branch, I would not look with favor upon its domination by the Executive. Under our government of “power as the rival of power,” to use Hamilton’s phrase, Congress must not surrender its responsibilities. But neither should it dominate. However large its share in the formulation of domestic programs, it is the President alone who must make the major decisions of our foreign policy.

That is what the Constitution wisely commands. And even domestically, the President must initiate policies and devise laws to meet the needs of the Nation. And he must be prepared to use all the resources of his office to ensure the enactment of that legislation — even when conflict is the result.

By the end of his term Theodore Roosevelt was not popular in the Congress — particularly when he criticized an amendment to the Treasury appropriation which forbade the use of Secret Service men to investigate Congressmen.

And the feeling was mutual, Roosevelt saying: “I do not much admire the Senate because it is such a helpless body when efficient work is to be done.”

And Woodrow Wilson was even more bitter after his frustrating quarrels. Asked if he might run for the Senate in 1920, he replied: “Outside of the United States, the Senate does not amount to a damn. And inside the United States the Senate is mostly despised. They haven’t had a thought down there in 50 years.”

But, however bitter their farewells, the facts of the matter are that Roosevelt and Wilson did get things done — not only through their Executive powers but through the Congress as well. Calvin Coolidge, on the other hand, departed from Washington with cheers of Congress still ringing in his ears. But when his World Court bill was under fire on Capitol Hill he sent no message, gave no encouragement to the bill’s leaders, and paid little or no attention to the whole proceeding — and the cause of world justice was set back.

To be sure, Coolidge had held the usual White House breakfasts with congressional leaders — but they were aimed, as he himself said, at “good fellowship,” not a discussion of “public business.” And at his press conferences, according to press historians, where he preferred to talk about the local flower show and its exhibits, reporters who finally extracted from him a single sentence — “I’m against that bill” — would rush to file tongue-in-cheek dispatches claiming that: “President Coolidge, in a fighting mood, today served notice on Congress that he intended to combat, with all the resources at his command, the pending bill . . .”

But in the coming months we will need a real fighting mood in the White House — a man who will not retreat in the face of pressure from his congressional leaders — who will not let down those supporting his views on the floor. Divided Government over the past 6 years has only been further confused by this lack of legislative leadership. To restore it next year will help restore purpose to both the Presidency and the Congress.

The facts of the matter are that legislative leadership is not possible without party leadership, in the most political sense — and Mr. Eisenhower prefers to stay above politics (although a weekly news magazine last fall reported the startling news, and I quote, that “President Eisenhower is emerging as a major political figure”). When asked early in his first term, how he liked the “game of politics,” he replied with a frown that his questioner was using a derogatory phrase. “Being President,” he said, “is a very great experience . . . but the word ‘politics’ . . . I have no great liking for that.”

But no President, it seems to me, can escape politics. He has not only been chosen by the Nation — he has been chosen by his party. And if he insists that he is “President of all the people” and should, therefore, offend none of them — if he blurs the issues and differences between the parties — if he neglects the party machinery and avoids his party’s leadership — then he has not only weakened the political party as an instrument of the democratic process — he has dealt a blow to the democratic process itself.

I prefer the example of Abe Lincoln, who loved politics with the passion of a born practitioner. For example, he waited up all night in 1863 to get the crucial returns on the Ohio governorship. When the Unionist candidate was elected, Lincoln wired: “Glory God in the highest. Ohio has saved the Nation.”

But the White House is not only the center of political leadership. It must be the center of moral leadership — a “bully pulpit,” as Theodore Roosevelt described it. For only the President represents the national interest. And upon him alone converge all the needs and aspirations of all parts of the country, all departments of the Government, all nations of the world.

It is not enough merely to represent prevailing sentiment — to follow McKinley’s practice, as described by Joe Cannon, of “keeping his ear so close to the ground he got it full of grasshoppers.” We will need in the sixties a President who is willing and able to summon his national constituency to its finest hour — to alert the people to our dangers and our opportunities — to demand of them the sacrifices that will be necessary. Despite the increasing evidence of a lost national purpose and a soft national will, F.D.R.’s words in his first inaugural still ring true: “In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

Roosevelt fulfilled the role of moral leadership. So did Wilson and Lincoln, Truman and Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt. They led the people as well as the Government — they fought for great ideals as well as bills. And the time has come to demand that kind of leadership again.

And so, as this vital campaign begins, let us discuss the issues the next President will face — but let us also discuss the powers and tools with which we must face them.

For we must endow that office with extraordinary strength and vision. We must act in the image of Abraham Lincoln summoning his wartime Cabinet to a meeting on the Emancipation Proclamation. That Cabinet ha[d] been carefully chosen to please and reflect many elements in the country. But “I have gathered you together,” Lincoln said, “to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter — that I have determined for myself.”

And later, when he went to sign, after several hours of exhausting handshaking that had left his arm weak, he said to those present: “If my name goes down in history, it will be for this act. My whole soul is in it. If my hand trembles when I sign this proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say: ‘He hesitated.'”

But Lincoln’s hand did not tremble. He did not hesitate. He did not equivocate. For he was the President of the United States.

It is in this spirit that we must go forth in the coming months and years.

There was applause.  Am I waking up? I wondered. My apparition stepped from behind the podium and the scene vanished as if Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas were cutting from one Indiana Jones adventure to the next.  Are my eyes even open?

The hand on my shoulder gripped firmly.  “You don’t even have to update the years. Just pass the message.”

I turned, but there was nothing, just the Charlie Rose theme quietly chirping from the television. That’s not even the channel I’d fallen asleep to.

‘Lincoln’s hand didn’t tremble?’  I remembered the story. That’s a story Doris Kearns Goodwin told about Lincoln.  I can find that story, see if what I scribbled in my dozing note-taking makes any sense.

I Googled it this morning.  It wasn’t Goodwin I found telling the story, nor her words the ghost had spoken.

More rum in the kefir eggnog next time.

More:

Senator John F. Kennedy speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on January 14, 1960. (Henry Burroughs/AP) (Via The Atlantic)

Senator John F. Kennedy speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on January 14, 1960. Photo by Henry Burroughs/AP (Via The Atlantic)


Trickle down economics made Kansas business dry up

September 30, 2014

Kansas voters are angry; they elected Sam Brownback governor on his promises that slashing state budgets and slashing taxes for the wealthy would make Kansas prosperous.

Now the roads are bad, schools are suffering, and many other state services can’t be done.  Kansas is crumbling, and the state government is too broke to do anything about it.

Which explains this picture, in Mother Jones:

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback meets with Kansas farmers about why the roads to get their crops to market are so bad, breaking their trucks and costing them time and money. Illustration by Roberto Parada, in Mother Jones Magazine.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback meets with Kansas farmers about why the roads to get their crops to market are so bad, breaking their trucks and costing them time and money. Illustration by Roberto Parada, in Mother Jones Magazine.

I do love that illustration. It tells an important story.

From the story, by Patrick Caldwell:

That the RGA had been forced to mobilize reinforcements in Kansas spoke to just how imperiled Brownback had become. After representing Kansas for nearly two decades in Congress, he had won the governorship in 2010 by a 30-point margin. Once in office, Brownback wasted no time implementing a radical agenda that blended his trademark social conservatism with the libertarian-tinged economic agenda favored by one of his most famous constituents, Charles Koch, whose family company is headquartered in Wichita and employs more than 3,500 people in the state. Other GOP governors elected in the tea party wave, such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, garnered more ink for their brash policy maneuvers, but in many ways Brownback had presided over the most sweeping transformation.

Early in his tenure, he said he wanted to turn Kansas into a “real, live experiment” for right-wing policies. In some cases relying on proposals promoted by the Kansas Policy Institute—a conservative think tank that belongs to the Koch-backed State Policy Network and is chaired by a former top aide to Charles Koch—Brownback led the charge to privatize Medicaid, curb the power of teachers’ unions, and cull thousands from the welfare rolls.

“[Brownback] said, ‘I’ll be glad to campaign for you coming up, but I want all of my guns pointed in the same direction,’ meaning there’s no room for difference of opinion. From there on it was chilling.”

But his boldest move was a massive income tax cut. Brownback flew in Reagan tax cut guru Arthur Laffer to help sell the plan to lawmakers, with the state paying the father of supply-side economics $75,000 for three days of work. Brownback and his legislative allies ultimately wiped out the top rate of 6.45 percent, slashed the middle rate from 6.25 to 4.9 percent, and dropped the bottom tier from 3.5 to 3 percent. A subsequent bill set in motion future cuts, with the top rate declining to 3.9 percent by 2018 and falling incrementally from there. Brownback’s tax plan also absolved nearly 200,000 small business owners of their state income tax burdens. Among the “small” businesses that qualified were more than 20 Koch Industries LLCs. “Without question they’re the biggest beneficiaries of the tax cuts,” says University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis.

Laffer told me that “what Sam Brownback has done is and will be extraordinarily beneficial for the state of Kansas,” but many Kansans beg to differ. Brownback had said that his tax cut plan would provide “a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” Instead, the state has gone into cardiac arrest. “The revenue projections were just horrendous once the tax cuts were put into place,” Loomis says. The state’s $700 million budget surplus is projected to dwindle into a $238 million deficit. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s downgraded the state’s bond rating earlier this year as a result. “The state’s on a crisis course,” says H. Edward Flentje, a professor emeritus of political science at Wichita State University who served alongside Brownback in the cabinet of Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden in the 1980s. “He has literally put us in a ditch.”

Conservatives once celebrated Brownback’s grand tax experiment as a prototype worthy of replication in other states and lauded Brownback himself as a model conservative reformer (“phenomenal,” Grover Norquist has said). “My focus,” Brownback said in one 2013 interview, “is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, ‘See, we’ve got a different way, and it works.'” By this fall it was hard to imagine anyone touting the Brownback model, especially with the Kansas governor at risk of going down in defeat—in the Koch brothers’ backyard, no less—and dragging the entire state ticket down with him. The Wall Street Journal recently dubbed Brownback’s approach “more of a warning than a beacon.”

More at the website.

Income inequality, failure of trickle down economics, dramatic tax cut disasters, all come home to roost at some point. Kansans, it appears, are ready to change things.

How about the rest of the nation?

More: 


President Obama on Constitution Day 2014

September 17, 2014

President Barack Obama literally standing with the Constitution, at the National Archives. (source of photo?)

President Barack Obama literally standing with the Constitution, at the National Archives. (source of photo?)

Your flag is up. You’ve already read the Constitution and all 27 amendments.

Time to pass on greetings to others:  Happy Constitution Day!

From the President of the United States:

CONSTITUTION DAY AND CITIZENSHIP DAY, CONSTITUTION WEEK, 2014

- – – – – – -

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

Eleven years after a small band of patriots declared the independence of our new Nation, our Framers set out to refine the promise of liberty and codify the principles of our Republic.  Though the topics were contentious and the debate fierce, the delegates’ shared ideals and commitment to a more perfect Union yielded compromise.  Signed on September 17, 1787, our Constitution enshrined — in parchment and in the heart of our young country — the foundation of justice, equality, dignity, and fairness, and became the cornerstone of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.

For more than two centuries, our founding charter has guided our progress and defined us as a people.  It has endured as a society of farmers and merchants advanced to form the most dynamic economy on earth; as a small army of militias grew to the finest military the world has ever known; and as a Nation of 13 original States expanded to 50, from sea to shining sea.  Our Founders could not have foreseen the challenges our country has faced, but they crafted an extraordinary document.  It allowed for protest and new ideas that would broaden democracy’s reach.  And it stood the test of a civil war, after which it provided the framework to usher in a new birth of freedom through the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

America’s revolutionary experiment in democracy has, from its first moments, been a beacon of hope and opportunity for people around the world, inspiring some to call for freedom in their own land and others to seek the blessings of liberty in ours.  The United States has always been a nation of immigrants.  We are strengthened by our diversity and united by our fidelity to a set of tenets.  We know it is not only our bloodlines or an accident of birth that make us Americans.  It is our firm belief that out of many we are one; that we are united by our convictions and our unalienable rights.  Each year on Citizenship Day, we recognize our newest citizens whose journeys have been made possible by our founding documents and whose contributions have given meaning to our charter’s simple words.

Our Constitution reflects the values we cherish as a people and the ideals we strive for as a society.  It secures the privileges we enjoy as citizens, but also demands participation, responsibility, and service to our country and to one another.  As we celebrate our Nation’s strong and durable framework, we are reminded that our work is never truly done.  Let us renew our commitment to these sacred principles and resolve to advance their spirit in our time.

In remembrance of the signing of the Constitution and in recognition of the Americans who strive to uphold the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, the Congress, by joint resolution of February 29, 1952 (36 U.S.C. 106), designated September 17 as “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day,” and by joint resolution of August 2, 1956 (36 U.S.C. 108), requested that the President proclaim the week beginning September 17 and ending September 23 of each year as “Constitution Week.”

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 17, 2014, as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, and September 17 through September 23, 2014, as Constitution Week.  I encourage Federal, State, and local officials, as well as leaders of civic, social, and educational organizations, to conduct ceremonies and programs that bring together community members to reflect on the importance of active citizenship, recognize the enduring strength of our Constitution, and reaffirm our commitment to the rights and obligations of citizenship in this great Nation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.

BARACK OBAMA

In that case, Happy Constitution Week!

What should we do tomorrow?


History in art: August 4, 1964, and the Dallas Symphony

August 4, 2014

On August 4, 1964, President Johnson awoke to the news that two U.S. Navy ships cruising in the Tonkin Gulf had been fired upon by North Vietnamese Navy gunboats; then the FBI called and announced that the bodies of three civil rights workers had been found, young men registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.  Both of these events rumble through history like a Rocky Mountain avalanche to today; either was a make-or-break event for any presidency.  

Lyndon Johnson dealt with them both, the same day

“August 4, 1964,” is an oratorio covering a remarkable and fantastic coincidence in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.  On that day, the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been missing for nearly seven weeks, were found in shallow graves near Philadelphia, Mississippi — they were the victims of violence aimed at stopping blacks from voting.  The incident was a chief spur to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

And also on that day, the U.S.S. Maddox reported it had been attacked by gunboats of the North Vietnamese Navy, in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to expand and escalate the war in Vietnam, which he did.

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony's performance of Steven Stucky's

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony’s Grammy-nominated performance of Steven Stucky’s “August 4, 1964,” Jaap van Zweden conducting.

The Dallas Symphony commissioned the work, from composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer, in commemoration of President Johnson’s 100th birth anniversary — he would have been 100 on August 27, 2008.  The works were premiered in Dallas in 2008.

The music is outstanding, especially for a modern piece.  The Dallas Symphony was at its flashiest and most sober best, under the baton of new conductor Jaap van Zweden.  It was a spectacular performance.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. van Zweden, hailed in his debut as music director a week before, scored another triumph here. And the orchestra’s assured and gritty performance was rivaled by that of the large Dallas Symphony Chorus, both corporately and individually, in shifting solo snippets charting the course of the fateful day.

The strong cast, mildly amplified, was robustly led by the Johnson of Robert Orth, last heard as another president in John Adams’s “Nixon in China” in Denver in June. Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Conner, wearing period hats, were touching as Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman. Understandably, the taxing role of a high-strung McNamara took a small toll on the tenor of Vale Rideout in his late aria.

The entire thing deserves more commentary, perhaps soon.  There is stellar history in the choral piece.  And there is this:  Consider that Lyndon Johnson, the best legislator and second most-effective executive we ever had as president, got hit with these two crises the same day.  On the one hand the nation got the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, executive orders and government support to end segregation and the evils it created.  On the other hand, we got stuck with the disaster of the Vietnam War.

How would the nation fared had a lesser person been in the White House on that day?

(August 4 is a busy, busy day in history; much to think about.)

More: 

This is an encore post.

Much of this is an encore post.


Big health care news story you probably missed (because your local media didn’t cover it)

December 10, 2013

Just sayin’, you know?

This is news economists and budget watchers and policy makers have been hoping to hear for 60 years.

Here it is — did you see it in your local paper? On TV? On Facebook?

Chart showing news coverage of record low health care cost rises.  From ThinkProgress

Chart showing news coverage of record low health care cost rises. From ThinkProgress

One criticism aimed at the Affordable Care Act that had some legs was that it did not go far enough to control actual costs. Cost controls would have been impossible to add to the bill, politically. So the hope was that this first step would have some impact.

In 2009, health care cost inflation ran about 20% per year, despite the recession. For the previous two decades, health care costs inflated at a greater-than 10% clip every year.

By 2012, with a push from the reforms in the ACA, Bill Clinton reported that health care cost inflation had dropped to 4% per year.

Now?  1.3%.  This is huge news.

Who covered it?  Not many, according to ThinkProgress.

Bad news gets 24-hour coverage and bulletins during the ads.  Good news is an orphan.  How wrong is that?

Bookmark the chart and ThinkProgress; you’ll need facts in your discussions.

More:


Millard Fillmore nominates the government of the Utah Territory

September 9, 2013

Interesting exercise, probably for an undergraduate college history student:  What became of these men during their service in the Utah Territory, and afterward?  What effect did they have on Utah’s history, and Utah on them?

In September 1850, Millard Fillmore sent the Senate, for confirmation, his nominations of officers to run the Utah Territory, three years after Brigham Young had led the first band of Latter-day Saints into the Salt Lake Valley to settle:

Letter from President Millard Fillmore to the U.S. Senate, nominating people (all men) to govern the Utah Territory, September 26, 1850 - U.S. National Archives image

Letter from President Millard Fillmore to the U.S. Senate, nominating people (all men) to govern the Utah Territory, September 26, 1850 – U.S. National Archives image

Page 2:

Page 2 of President Fillmore's letter to the U.S. Senate, nominating officers to govern the Utah Territory , in 1850.  National Archives image

Page 2 of President Fillmore’s letter to the U.S. Senate, nominating officers to govern the Utah Territory , in 1850. National Archives image

National Archives notes:  Executive Nominations for the First Session of the 31st Congress, 12/03/1849 – 09/30/1850

Production Dates: 09/26/1850

Notes in red ink indicate that confirmation dates for each of these nominees — all but one done two days later.  Fillmore’s nominee to be U.S. marshall in the territory wasn’t confirmed until the following February.

Amazing to think of the speed with which these confirmations occurred, compared to today’s U.S. Senate — and remembering that Congress was not particularly friendly to Fillmore.

An animated GIF of the as it evolved from 1850...

An animated GIF of the Utah Territory as it evolved from 1850 to 1896, when statehood was granted. (Territory boundaries not exact, especially in the west, where early proposals took in parts of California) Wikipedia image

Nominations were:

  • Brigham Young, of Utah, to be governor of the Utah territory
  • Broughton Davis Harris, of Vermont, to be Secretary of the territory
  • Joseph Buffington, of Pennsylvania, to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory
  • Perry E. Brocchus, of Alabama, to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory
  • Zerubabbel Snow, of Ohio, to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory
  • Seth Blain, of Utah, to be U.S. Attorney
  • Joseph L. Haywood, of Utah, to be U.S. Marshall.

What other odd little delights are hidden away in the on-line holdings of the National Archives?  What sort of DBQ exercise can history teachers make out of this stuff?

More:

Brigham Young in 1851; photo from LDS archives

Brigham Young in 1851; photo from LDS archives


Outlaw flying in the American west

August 15, 2013

Old Jules tells a great story here about cranking up the old Cessna and climbing high enough to watch the vast powers of the U.S. military run training operations in the New Mexico Desert.

Pilots, bless ‘em, tend toward the ornery end of the scale.  That’s what you want if something breaks on your airplane.  You want a guy at the stick who says, “Dagnab it, let’s see how to get out of this one safely.”  (Shades of Flight.  A great movie, really — did you see it?)

This is the place to insert the heroics of pilots in various times of stress, Wally Stewart and his crew bringing their B-24 bomber back over the Mediterrannean and dropping it perfectly on the runway, where it fell apart from the bullet holes [See KUED resources here].  That brave American Airlines crew in the DC-10 over Detroit, Flight 96, who lost hydraulic control when the rear cargo door blew out, and after a string of blue talking, brought the plane down safely (one flight attendant died in the explosion). Those United Airlines pilots who brought the DC-10 Flight 232 down in Sioux City, Iowa, after the rear engine flew apart and destroyed all control of the tail and rudder.  That brave U.S. Airways crew that executed a perfect landing in the Hudson River with Flight 1549.

I think if you talk with pilots much, you get the idea that they like things a little on the edge.  They don’t develop those cool, steely nerves that save lives by having nothing go wrong, ever, or by not pushing their aircraft where the wonks at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C., say aircraft should not be pushed.  We hope they do all this pushing in flight simulators; but we also know better.

Cessnas, and just violating some of the rules, don’t deserve those accolades, really.  These stories tell how pilots might develop the skills the brave guys use later.  But they are stories, nevertheless, and they deserve to be told.  They may not save your life flying, but they’ll enrich your life, and help you get through the stuff here on the ground.

So go read Old Jules’s tale.

Then come back here; here are a couple of stories, true as I remember them (a couple of which really should be tracked down; the American west of the latter-half the of 20th century is full of these stories, and they need to be told).

I told Old Jules:

What’s outlaw in flying?

Two observations.

Years ago, while I was staffing the Senate, my brother, Jerry Jones, who spent a good deal of time in his last 20 years in Page, Arizona, called to ask me to check in on a Senate hearing on some FAA issue or other.  Turns out someone — National Park Service, perhaps? — was asking FAA to significantly tighten rules on flying around NPS stuff, including around Rainbow Bridge National Monument.  Apart from the usual issues of air traffic congestion and safety around conflicts between “fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft” (airplanes and helicopters) in and around the Grand Canyon, there were complaints about small plane pilots flying under Rainbow bridge.  The thing really is massive, and you could put the dome of the U.S. Capitol under it, so it’s about 500 feet high . . . what barnstorming pilot could resist?

A somewhat skeptical group of senators quizzed the FAA and Park Service guys on what the problem was, other than noise and hubbub to hikers (who had hiked a mile from the marina on Lake Powell).  About that time Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, shuffled into the hearing.  Goldwater was very protective of grand things to see in Arizona, like Rainbow Bridge, and he was also a pilot.

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator (AZ-R)

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator, R-Arizona. Wikipedia image.

At some point, one of the officials making a case to yank licenses from pilots who pulled the illegal stunt made a comment that questioned the sanity of any pilot who would do such a thing.  Goldwater sat upright.  You mean any pilot who would do such a thing is crazy? Goldwater asked.  Well, yes — and we don’t want crazy people flying airplanes, the official said.  How about such crazy people representing the people of Arizona and passing judgment on your proposals? Goldwater asked.  Then he said he didn’t want an answer to that, that he had some grave reservations about the proposal, and he left the hearing.

I later caught a conversation with the senator in a hallway, in which someone asked him directly if he’d ever flown under Rainbow Bridge, and he said something like, not enough times that the FAA needs to worry about it.

Brother Jerry started a public service effort in his Page days, Page Attacks Trash, a project to clean up litter in and around Page, on the Navajo Reservation, and in the Lake Powell National Recreation Area (NRA) and Rainbow Bridge NM.  It was a great clean-up effort, got the support of the Salt River Project (who operate the Navajo Generating Station in Page); it was big time.  Iron Eyes Cody, who did the famous anti-littering ad featuring the tear in the eye of an American Indian, sometimes dropped in to help out.

Jerry arranged for some television Public Service Announcements (PSAs) filmed in and around Lake Powell, to fight littering.  One of the spots was shot at Rainbow Bridge.  Jerry’s health had been failing for years, but he’d get his cane and make the hike, just to watch the proceedings and keep it all going well.  They finished the spot, broke sticks (as they used to say in the filming biz), and were walking back to the boats at the marina, Jerry and his cane far in the rear.  Just before the film crew rounded the bend, they heard a small airplane buzzing around and the tell-tale cut of the engine, to lose altitude, before roaring the engine to pass under the stone formation.  One of the cameramen had some footage left, and had the presence of mind to turn on the camera and film the thing.

Well, the Park Service and FAA were outraged to hear of the event.  They subpoenaed the film footage, and blew up every frame to see if they could get the tail number on the airplane.  To be honest, I don’t know how that turned out.  I do know that one my wall I have a massive picture of my late brother, two by two-and-a-half feet, waving to the cameraman, with Rainbow Bridge in the background.  That frame didn’t have any useful information, and the law gave him the photo.

The Rainbow Brigde National Monument

Rainbow Brigde National Monument; no, I wouldn’t try to fly a plane under it, either. You could, if you had to, but the authorities would probably track you down like a woodpecker and yank your license. Wikipedia image

Two:

The West Utah Desert remains desolate.  On the border between Nevada and Utah, there ain’t much of nothin’.  A few roads connect a few ranches, but there’s a good reason U.S. 50 and 6 out there is known as “the loneliest highway in the world.”  Bandits might be regarded as welcome company out there sometimes.

Anyway, it was expensive to run copper wires out there, say, 50 miles, to an isolated ranch house, or a lone gas station, or some other building said to be a business.  So mostly, AT&T didn’t do it.  People who lived and worked out there just had to get along without phone service.  Enter a guy named Art Silver Brothers (I think; my memory fades, too)), who figured out that radiophone service worked okay.  Give people a radiophone — a device which existed then, but which required several pounds of gear and a lot of juice, relatively — and they could dial up the “local” grocery store to check to be sure the milk was good this week, before driving 50 miles to get some dairy whitener for the coffee.

A photo from Beehive Telephone in 2012, showing their service area.

A photo from Beehive Telephone in 2012, showing a part of their service area in Utah, or Nevada, or both. The company still exists!  On their website, they say:  “

Art strung wires where he could, using REA-installed power poles, or fence poles, or whatever he could, and thin, light copper wiring.  His Beehive Phone Company was one of the last truly independent phone operations in the U.S., serving a grossly underserved area with patchy service.  He didn’t get rich doing it.  He was the company’s only employee most of the time.

Stringing copper over 50 miles for one phone, a company can have difficulty maintaining such lines.  Art had a pilot’s license, and he learned he could spot downed lines and other trouble from the air . . . and it was just one step to landing his small airplane on the local road, fixing the problem, and taking off again.

Well, that got the ire of the FAA.  They said he shouldn’t do that.  They argued that he was impeding traffic an imposing dangers.  He said he was keeping lifelines open for people in far-flung places, and it was not a problem for traffic on roads where there might be two vehicles a week passing by.  FAA paid for traffic studies on a bunch of those roads; and they enlisted the FCC to try to shut down Silver’s operations.

Remember, part of the system was wired, and part was radio.  Turns out that in those pre-cellular days, the radio frequencies Silver used were in the “emergency” spectrum — radio frequencies used by cops and firefighters in places where cops and firefighters existed.  FCC took to taping the “phone conversations” of Art’s customers, and in yet another hearing in the Senate, charged that Art was abusing emergency frequencies.  The star audio was a tape recording of a woman ordering a significant amount of liquor from a liquor store that served probably six counties in eastern Nevada.  FCC argued that obviously was not an emergency, and it amounted to an abuse of spectrum, and it was enough of an abuse to shut down the phone company.

Art finally got his chance to explain.  Someone quizzed him about that liquor order, and whether that was appropriate use of emergency radio spectrum.

Well, Art started, the woman making the liquor order was the owning madam of [a] western Nevada brothel, set way in the hell in the middle of nowhere.  “And I gotta tell you, if you run a whore house, and you run out of whiskey, that’s an emergency.”

Those were good days to attend hearings in Washington.  The Tea Party has ruined all that.

That’s my story; the true facts are probably better.

More:

Jerry Jones and Rainbow Bridge

A bad snapshot of the picture on my wall, Jerry Jones waving from the path to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, moments after a small aircraft flew under the Bridge.


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