Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cold Comfort Up North

The Snowbirds have flown. The kids and grandkids have gone back home from the holiday visits. Some ATVs are plowing snow to their fishing holes, and the snowmobilers take to the ditches at quitting time and over the weekends. Quiet has descended on the Northland. With a fresh dumping of more than a foot of snow, the guys with the plows can finally earn some money. Trailer loads of toys are coming North to travel the snow trails that are groomed and ready.

Their drivers will buy the drinks, groceries, and gasolene while they’re up here. Retailers can sell their goods to the winter visitors and relax about any new downtown housing projects. Supportive housing apartments are years away, and will need grant subsidies from a stingy government - if they are ever built.

Up North at least, it is a time of peace. Away from crowded metropolitan airports. If the snowplows haven’t cleared the roads, we’ll just stay beside the fireplace and listen to the church service. Finally, the day after Christmas, the backup guy with the grader cleared a path so we could emerge.


In the last decade our nation has been attacked by terrorists in four planes. In recent days another attack nearly blew up a plane coming to land in Michigan. We are fighting two wars in the Middle East, and tens of thousands of our troops serve in danger for our protection.

As a veteran who once flew with bombs and torpedoes, I worried about the nuclear exchange that seemed so near. If we could only prevent such a doomsday, then all these other international problems could be sorted out, I thought. But almost half a century later anxiety continues as young Americans face danger overseas and the home folks can sense terror.

Looking out at the country snowscape, as our chickadees and squirrels feed, I remember lines of a favorite poet. Decades ago Wendell Berry of Kentucky wrote of “The Peace of Wild Things.” His words give me a kind of hope and comfort today:

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A House and Senate Divided

Tonight I watched Jim Lehrer on the PBS NewsHour interview President Obama on the eve of Christmas Eve. After much discussion of the Health Care debate and the three votes 60 to 40 in the Senate, Lehrer asked the President if he as President of the United States could do anything about the current abuse of the Senate's filibuster rule. Unlike the historical background of this rule, in 2009 just about everything that comes up in the Senate is now subjected to the paralyzing invocation of an organized partisan filibuster.

The President replied about his experience as a Senator and talked about putting oneself in the other party's shoes. He thinks the country soon will express disfavor on the practice that handicaps efforts for the government to address its urgent matters. As he put it, "Governance is more important than Politics."

Watching this President from Illinois put me in mind of another Illinoisan
one hundred and fifty one years ago. In the 1858 U.S. Senate race Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln debated Senator Stephen Douglas and a speech of his from that campaign has become known as "The House Divided Speech." I went over to Google and read the transcript of this historic event. The subject was the expansion of slavery into the territories as the nation then was growing westward. Lincoln discusses the alternatives before them. He quoted Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, "No house divided against itself will stand."
Lincoln simply said, "A house divided against itself will fall." And he concluded, "It will not continue to be divided."

From the Bible I read in full at Matthew 12:25:

Knowing their thoughts he said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand."

Moving from the First Century to the Ninteenth to the Twenty First Century, I can see the American Government in its present crisis of partisan combat setting up a such a "fall" as Lincoln spoke about - shortly before he became the War President to settle the slavery question finally - through bloody civil warfare.

Today our national challenges include health insurance reform, war policy in the Middle East, global climate and energy choices, deep recession, high unemployment, and a huge national debt. We are at a crossroads.

Will the people rise up and demand intelligent leaders to speak the truth that all need to hear? Stay tuned in the next decade.

Happy New Year, I hope.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who Wins? Who Loses?

For decades whenever a serious attempt at economic planning, referred to as Industrial Policy, has reached the point of debate on a national stage, the opposition would cry out "We don't pick winners and losers in America. We have Private Enterprise and a Free Market. Our economy is based on Capitalism, not Socialism!"

In this Great Recession of 2007-2010, take a look around at this "market."
Who is winning? Those who started out with the most gold, the most land, the best inheritance, the legacy education. With lobbyists to burn, with a congress beholden to them for successful election campaigns, the elites on Wall Street and in Country Clubs across the land, now have the opportunity to acquire more property at a discount - for the taking. Empty storefronts and abandoned construction sites dot the landscape. Foreclosed housing everywhere. Their winnings are manifold and their enterprises truly have become TOO BIG TO FAIL. Financial enterprises that are more than banks and more than insurance companies. Global corporations that set the rules we live by.

We the People have "picked' these winners. Don't tell me we haven't. What we haven't done has let them thrive.

The title of this blog is "Deregulate This!" On or about 1980 the idea of "Deregulation" was taking hold on a national scale. Lessons learned in the Great Depression had faded from the national memory. First it was "deregulate the airlines," then telephones, and other public utilities - gas, electric, water. Without pesky regulators, free marketeers could compete freely and lower costs; create new efficiencies for the greater good.

Yes, but it was the greater good of the owners, not as it turned out, the good of customers or the workers.

So who have we picked as losers? Wage earners, military service personnel, the disabled, less educated, immigrants, those caught in cycles of poverty and criminality, the sick.

In New York harbor there is a statue that bears reading once more. Let's pick again.
Pick some new winners this time. What can be more revolutionary than the United States of America?