Archive for September, 2012

  • Blog
  • September 28th, 2012

Speaking for the 47 Percent

By Joel M. Vance

             Mitt Romney has exposed himself once again.  As far as he is concerned, half the citizenry is a bunch of freeloading whiners who live only to suck off the government tit.  They didn’t earn it like he did (inherit from daddy) and he and his one percent of super rich white guys have to support them.

            He brags about his business experience and what a great job creator he would be.  He scoffed at the President’s speech which rightfully said that no one builds a business without help—from road builders to firemen, police, Medicare, Medicaid and the many other social and governmental services that smooth the way for “rugged individualism.”

            A politician once said rugged individualism was “a political banner to cover up greed.”  That politician was George Romney, father of guess who.  That same elder Romney in 1964, dismayed by the extremism of Barry Goldwater (“extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”) warned against “the efforts of irresponsible individuals and extremist groups to infiltrate our party.”  But as Rick Perlstein writes in The Nation, about today’s Republicans, “A major American political party, shorn of all moderating influence, has finally, inalterably gone insane.”

            Mitt & Co. says let’s turn insurance coverage (and the premiums they could charge) over to insurance companies, open up the now-closed donut hole in Medicaid so those who need pills will have to pay full price for them, cripple Social Security, turn the clock back to the time of the sainted robber barons, somewhere in the late 1800s.

I’d like to ask Mr. Romney if he considers the 9.6 million military personnel covered under the Military Health Care system as freeloaders, unworthy of coverage because they aren’t out there working (i.e. working to make him a profit)?  How about the thousands who have been maimed in two Republican wars who depend on Veteran’s Administration hospitals and who are unable to work.  Does he expect them to leap out of their wheelchairs and join the work force.

Mainly what I would like to ask him (and I wish some of the useless reporters working today would ask) is how he can be so clueless about reality, how he can be so disconnected with the way things really are.  He is a robot, programmed to be an elitist, callous and cold-blooded corporate raider.  People are not real to him unless they are members of his select circle.  When he spouted off about half of America being unworthy of his attention, he was showing the real Mitt, the arrogant, unfeeling butthole who would be president.

Here is a man whose largest donors are a gambling magnate and a pair of oilmen whose history is grimy with wheeling and dealing.  These and others like them are the ones to whom Romney was talking when he peeled away his shiny exterior to disclose his grubby subsurface.  They are exploiters, every bit as heartless as the plutocrats of the Gilded Age.

It’s worth quoting again Romney’s remarks to a peer group of financial sharks at a fund raiser: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

            Republican attempts to suppress the vote are nothing new.  When FDR ran for a fourth term, Congressional Republicans tried to prevent soldiers fighting in World War Two from reading anything political in Stars and Stripes, the GI’s own newspaper.  Robert McCormick, the publisher of the extreme right wing Chicago Tribune called the paper “an out and out Communist New Deal paper.”

            It’s instructive to read Final Victory, Stanley Weintraub’s fine book on FDR’s last Presidential campaign to realize that the more things change the more they stay the same.  Harry Truman, campaigning for vice-president, nailed it when he said, “when you’re on a train, speaking from the back of a train, and the further you get away from that, the worse off you are, the worse off the country is, and the easier it gets for the stuffed shirts and the counterfeits and the fellas from Madison Avenue to put it over on the people.”

            Substitute attack ads and today’s Madison Avenue blitz for Truman’s stuffed shirts and counterfeits and you couldn’t tell the difference.  The little, much maligned guy from Missouri won the 1948 presidency by campaigning from the back of a train in every little whistle stop he could reach.  He touched people where they lived, not on television, not through lying boughten advertising.  FDR did the same with his Fireside chats, nevermind that none of them were given from a fireside, but in a radio studio.  That was the joy of old time radio—you created the world you were hearing and if you imagined a comfortable fireside, with the president talking to you, it was there in your mind.  You had to think a little and maybe pay attention to the meaning of the words—not just gaze gawp-jawed at a Madison Avenue falsification of character.  No computer imagery,no special effects, just your mind and the words of the President.

            Contrast the warmth of FDR, the feistiness of Harry Truman with the stuffy penguin-like preen of Thomas Dewey, the 1944 Republican presidential candidate.  He was famously described as looking “like the little man on a wedding cake.”  He was stiff and robotic and the parallel with Mitt Romney is unmistakable.  Dewey was no zillionaire, but neither was he a man of the people.  FDR was very rich and very privileged….but he conveyed empathy to every poor to middle class person in the country.  Harry Truman was so common as to be your neighbor.  And he and FDR represented the greatest social advances in the country’s history—Social Security, farm aid, environmental concern, civil rights (it was Truman who would integrate the armed forces) and many other program that benefited the average person. 

            Mitt Romney will never connect with Joe or Josephine Average no matter how hard he tries and Lord knows he has tried.  He isn’t average; he’s a multi-billionaire whose social circle is rich people like him.  They don’t think like we do because they can’t and, for that matter, they don’t want to.  They operate in the rarified air of opulence where the deal is everything and people are assets, not human beings.  You matter only as a unit of productivity, not as a human being and profit is based on how productive you can be made to be at how little cost.

            In Romney’s case, his overweening ambition is to be President, not because he cares so much about the good of the country, but to win the ultimate trophy, the one triumph that even his peers can’t match.  And as for the peers if they get one of their own in the catbird seat, they can run things by indirect means—especially if their chosen one is agreeable to their manipulation, is malleable to abandon principle for advantage.  So, there is the throne and the powers behind the throne and that only works to the common good with a compassionate throne and benevolent powers behind it. 

Given Mitt and the Kochs and Adelsons, the reality of compassion in a Romney administration would be as foreign as the proverbial whore in church.


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  • Blog
  • September 19th, 2012

Speaking for the 47 Percent

By Joel M. Vance

                I’ve been invited to speak to a gathering of Democrats.  Since my first vote in 1956 I’ve prided myself on being an independent.  I’ve voted for Republicans, thinking in those cases they were the best for the country, but in recent years I’ve gone exclusively Democrat.  This is what I’ll say to the Democrats and the first paragraph says it all—I’m 78 and if anyone doesn’t like it, screw ‘em:

Tomorrow is my 78th birthday.  I don’t say that to promote congratulations or expensive gifts—after all you’re all Democrats so expensive gifts are out of the question.

                No—I say it to make a point.  My first election was in 1956 and I cheerfully and enthusiastically voted for Dwight Eisenhower, although I had some reservations about his running mate.  Eisenhower was a Republican but today saying that is like saying an elephant is a brontosaurus.  Different times, different philosophies.

                Today’s Republican….and again I’m speaking from the experience of years….is one mean S.O.B.  And yes I know it’s unfair to categorize all Republicans as mean spirited, bigoted, ignorant fools, but on the other hand they do seem to go out of their way to prove themselves mean-spirited, bigoted and ignorant.

                Here’s an example.  Some of you here tonight are farmers and some may be Farm Bureau members.  The Farm Bureau has endorsed Todd Akin, that knuckle-dragging Neanderthal who is running for the Senate against Claire McCaskill.

                Akin is opposed to the Farm Bill.  How can the Farm Bureau, which claims to represent Farmers, endorse a man who opposes the Farm Bill?  For that matter how can any woman endorse or vote for a moron who claims that a woman can’t be impregnated by way of rape because her body will reject the invading sperm.  Akin probably thinks babies are delivered by a stork.

                Mitt Romney, that pitiful excuse for a candidate dismisses half the citizenry as freeloading whiners who won’t take responsibility for their lives and who expect the government to provide for them.  How about the thousands of veterans maimed in two Republican wars who CAN’T work, who are in wheelchairs or beds.  Are they irresponsible? 

                How about the abject poor who don’t make enough to pay taxes or the out-of-work who can’t find a job.  How about me and Marty who paid into Social Security for many years and who paid taxes every one of those years.  Are we irresponsible for living long enough to qualify for government benefits?

                Mitt Romney is a cold, calculating, phony billionaire who doesn’t give two hoots in hell about you or me unless we’re in a position to donate big money to help him satisfy his fantasy of running the country. Yeah, he would run the country….right into the ground.

                This is your extreme Republican today, not even in the same world as those of my early years.

                From 1956 through 1959 I worked in Montgomery, Alabama, for the Alabama Journal.  This was a tense time in the South.  Martin Luther King still was the pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and had just led a successful bus boycott that won black people the right to sit anywhere they wanted on a Montgomery bus.

                It was a time of racial unrest and simmering hatred.  I covered a Ku Klux Klan rally with a reporter from the paper who happened to be Catholic.  That night the head Klux or whatever he was focused on Catholics instead of blacks and as we stood there mutually disgusted, a little boy right in  front of us projectile vomited and my reporter friend said, “That’s about right.” 

                My much admired co-worker Archie Mckay had been a rural school principal and when the Supreme Court mandated equal schooling for black and white in 1954, the local school board asked Archie what he would do and he said, “Follow the law.”

                They fired him.

                That the dominant party in the South at the time was the Democrats is an indication of how things have changed.  Now it is the Republicans who embrace bigotry and I don’t like it any better now than I did then.  While opposition to Barack Obama has many forms, I’m convinced that much of it is racial.  They call it by other names and they disguise it as policy disagreement or use code words, but to the extreme right wing the unspoken bottom line is that our President is an uppity black guy.

                That’s just one facet of the mean spiritedness that has infected the country.  Sure, the economy sucks.  It has cost Marty and me much of our retirement income and has eliminated many of the small luxuries we enjoyed during the Clinton years.

                 But hard times have not turned us into Tea Party morons, nor will they.  We’ve been down this road before, knowing lean years and economic downturns, and we’re smart enough to realize that this economy is almost wholly the fault of Reaganomics and eight disastrous  and expensive warmaking years by Little Georgie Bush.  You elect a president who subscribes to “trickle down” economics and then let one of his inept successors start two disastrous wars and you’re going to have a huge debt and an almost impossible problem for a successor to turn around.  In this case Barack Obama.

                Couple that with a Congress infected with Tea Party head lice, and a Supreme Court that has some of the most radical jurists in history and you set up a wall of opposition that Sir Edmund Hillary couldn’t have climbed. 

                Here we have Mitch McConnell, that weak-chinned Mr. Peepers from Kentucky vowing that his party has only one objective, to defeat Barack Obama and forget the good of the country.  You might as well play Taps over bipartisan cooperation.   Is that why we elect public officials?  To get one up on the other guys, never mind that the country goes to hell.  This is why I am so disgusted with the state of the nation.  I’m 78 and I’ve never seen it so bad.

                How the Supreme Court could have ruled that a corporation is a person defies the understanding of anyone with even half a brain.  The decision did what it inevitably had to do—open up the floodgates for the rich to buy elections.  I just saw that the so-called superpacs of the Republicans have raised nearly $400 million through August and that money largely will go to attack ads against Obama.  Policy and issues and the good of the country, all take a back seat to portraying the President as a Communist, an illegal alien, a Socialist, a you-name-it—as long as it’s bad.  You may recall that it was a Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, who warned the country against the military-industrial complex.  Just look around you.  They’re in control now and it’s a frightening thing to see.

                I grew up a Republican and I suspect my folks also were Republicans, although they never tried to influence me.  It took Joe McCarthy and a banjo to swing me left and I’ve been trending farther left ever since.  McCarthy was the Tea Party darling of his day, a truly awful excuse for a human being.  Fortunately his own lying excess and too much booze caught up with him but not before he became an historic example of what happens when extremists try to take over.

                In the 1960s I lived through the cruelties of the civil rights crusade, watching white cops beat black marchers, use dogs and fire hoses on them, threaten school kids with bayonets and it didn’t take much to realize that no one should be treated like that.  I was in the National Guard and most of our training was in how to put down civil unrest.  I was a battery commander when Ohio National Guardsmen shot several Kent State students to death and I realized there was no way I could order any of my men to kill kids….just as I hoped there was no way they would have obeyed me.  Fortunately I never had to give such an order or to order them to fix bayonets to keep black kids out of school, the way Orville Faubus did with the Arkansas Guard at Little Rock’s Central High.

                Along came Pete Seeger whose banjo playing I admired.  He was and is a hero to me.  He represents all that is good in American life, a real environmentalist and a defender of the downtrodden.  He told a Congressional committee to get stuffed when they asked him about his personal life and served a year in prison for contempt—something they richly deserved.  He has been married to the same woman for about 70 years and never has compromised his principles.  He’s so much more American than the phony patriots like that despicable Rush Limbaugh that the contrast would be laughable if it weren’t so discouraging.

                Between my admiration for Seeger, my disgust at McCarthy, my admiration for civil rights workers, my revulsion for those who opposed and in some cases killed them—all this and more swung me away from the party of the rich and mean and toward the party you all cherish.  It hasn’t been a flawless love affair.

                I think Democrats too often are passive.  You let yourselves get pushed around.  I think Obama should have started fighting back earlier.  I think he should have been more aggressive with jobs programs.  I think he missed an opportunity recently when Hurricane Izaak hit.  He could have acted quicker and overwhelmingly with help.  He should have been on the scene before the wind quit blowing but he waited three days and let Romney slip in ahead of him.  That’s the kind of political mistake that could cost him his re-election.

                A Romney/Ryan victory would, in my opinion, mean the likely death of the ideal of democracy.  It would take decades to recover if, indeed, it ever happened.  We would become a plutocracy like that of the Gilded Age—and that was nearly 150 years ago when the robber barons called the shots and we had only very rich and very poor. 

                It could happen.  The right wing will mobilize everyone.  They sense a chance to take over and turn this country into something too horrifying to think about.  The only hope is that everyone who is eligible will vote and that the many attempts to suppress the vote will fail.  Anyone who can vote and doesn’t has no room to complain come the day after election.

                There are so many things wrong with the system that it seems almost beyond fixing.  But you have to try.

                What needs to be done?  Here are some things that should happen in an ideal world:

1.Reverse the stupid Supreme Court ruling on corporate donations and establish strict limits on campaign contributions.  Let’s let people return to electing our government, not British Petroleum or their like.   It wouldn’t hurt to replace Justices Scalia and Thomas either.

2. Retain Obama’s health care plan and fix the few things that are wrong with it.  The right wingers who hate it so much generally have no idea what’s in it.  Their god-on-earth Mitt Romney told them it’s bad, no matter that he championed an identical plan as governor and like mindless sheep they believe every lying word he says.    How anyone can vote against a plan that will cover 30 million uninsured folks, add years to coverage for young family members, close the donut hole in Medicaid and mandate coverage for pre-existing conditions.  That is beyond me—but hard core Republicans believe what their lying leaders tell them and will vote to cripple their own health care.  Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

3. Do a complete overall of the tax code and eliminate the zillion and one tax loopholes by which Romney and his corporate raider littermates pay a tax rate close to zero while everyone in this audience pays a higher rate and in some cases more in total.

4. Eliminate the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy.  Take the rates back to the Reagan years, which the right wing doesn’t talk about because they were higher than they are now.

Establish—and this is something I think Obama should have done long ago—a works program similar to the Depression WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Create jobs while we’re fixing the broken infrastructure of the country.  Those were bipartisan programs, supported by both parties and only ended because World War Two claimed the manpower pool.

5. End the war in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq and curb military spending to maintain programs that are necessary.  That the Republicans endorsed two wars that have killed thousands of young people and maimed many more is a sin for which those responsible should rot in Hell—starting with Dick Cheney and working down.  Do a careful butcher job on pork projects. Instead put unneeded military spending into public works projects.

6. As unpopular as it may be, consider reinstating a draft or at least a mandatory public service enlistment.  If not the military, then a term in the revived WPA or CCC program or even local works projects or the Peace Corps.  More than 20 countries have such a program.    They have mandatory service in Israel and the country is lauded and praised by Romney/Ryan as our great ally.  Other countries with mandatory public service for young people include Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, South Korea, no to mention Russia and China who Romney thinks are our greatest enemies. 

7. Get government out of the debate over abortion.  Women are half the population and in my opinion far and away the superior half, yet a bunch of fat white guys or shrill Tea Party hags have managed to determine how a woman’s body should be treated.  It’s verging on slavery and that was a terrible sin 150 years ago and it still is.  Our own legislature just overrode Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that allows employers to refuse compensation for birth control pills and one legislator was quoted as equating the pill with abortion.  The inmates have taken over the asylum.

8. Sic the Justice Department on the various state attempts to purge voter rolls of registered, legitimate voters whose only mistake is that they tend to vote Democratic.  The officials involved should be purged from office for malfeasance….since flogging and the use of tar and chicken feathers is currently frowned upon.

These are just a few ideas.  But the bottom line is that if anyone in this room doesn’t vote, it amounts to endorsing the radical ideas that the Republicans are married to.  If every single eligible voter does so and we lose, we have no right to complain—but if we let them buy, cheat and steal the election, we’re just as guilty as they are….and we’ll suffer for a long, long time.

Thank you for letting me blow off steam.  Marty can tell you that I do a lot of it and while it makes me feel better, it usually doesn’t change things for the better.  Only all of us working together can do that.


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  • Blog
  • September 13th, 2012

Romance, Fifties Style

The Larry Don in 1956

By Joel M. Vance

 And here it is 56 years later and the Larry Don still trundles downlake from Bagnell Dam and presumably moony-eyed couples still hold hands and dance the slow ones in a dreamy haze.  But as I looked at the squat old excursion boat from the vantage point of 78 years, I looked also at Marty beside me and saw once again the young couple of 1956.

We were two college couples on a getaway weekend to the Lake of the Ozarks, a tawdry Mid-Missouri version of Las Vegas for country kids with almost no money.  We had no plan, hadn’t even thought about a romantic sail on the Larry Don until we passed a sign advertising the boat.

            Marty and Suzanne had taken a cruise during a Girl Scout camp at the Lake and one of them suggested we take the Moonlight Cruise, a two and one half hour excursion, complete with music and dancing. I was an aficionado of what we called “belly buckle polishing” (what Fred Astaire, who was considerably more sophisticated than I called “cheek to cheek”), so dancing seemed better than wandering The Strip, which was the name of the sleazy shop-lined road leading to the dam.

The pier was the dock for a private restaurant and club owned by Union Electric (now Amerin UE which built the lake), built in the 1930s and called The Casino which didn’t mean a gambling hall, but a place to eat.

            The Larry-Don arrived in 1948, built from parts of a World War Two landing craft.  It was named for Lawrence Fry Jr., and Don Fry, the son and brother, respectively, of the original owner Lawrence Fry.  Today the three-level boat has a capacity of 200 passengers and offers sightseeing, dancing, karaoke and private cruises.  In the 1940s many couples got married on the Larry-Don, not to mention at least one couple that got engaged in the 1950s.  The newlyweds got a souvenir good-luck horseshoe with “Larry Don” on it.

            The Larry Don left from Casino Pier on Lake of the Ozarks each night during the summer, cruised downlake, made a turn and headed home.  Lights from shoreside resorts and homes shone like fireflies and the heavy diesel engines thumped rhythmically. 

            For country kids it was as exciting as yachting on the Riviera.  The reality was somewhat different than cruising with the Jet Set.  The Larry Don is a converted Union Electric barge, used to transport equipment during the construction of the Dam.  No amount of paint and chrome will transform its squat outline from a barge to a schooner. 

            We recently stood on the street above the Larry Don and I took a photo of it as it gently rocked at anchor.  It is just as squat and rusty as ever, a toad among nautical amphibians.  I doubt it features a Fifties band today and the dancing would be just as foreign to me as it was then. 

            The boat was crowded with couples, swaying to the music and the gentle rock of the boat as it lumbered through the night.  The Larry Don, named for the two sons of the original owner, is the oldest excursion boat on the Lake of the Ozarks, dating to 1948, and still takes moony couples out on the lake on soft summer nights, their sweaty hands intertwined. 

            We paid our $2.50 per couple, a sizeable chunk out of my disposable income, and trooped onto the big boat, along with about 190 other lovebirds.  We managed to get a booth and took turns dancing so we wouldn’t lose our place.   I danced then like I dance now—awkwardly. 

            Fast dancing was an art form as foreign and unattainable to me as etching Biblical scenes on the head of a pin.  Marty on the other hand danced fast or slow like Cyd Charisse.  “Come on,” she urged when the band struck up a fast tune, “I’ll show you.”  I dug my heels in, bowing my neck with my lower lip stuck out, like a two-year-old on the verge of a tantrum. 

            “Don’t wanna!” 

            “Oh, come on!” she exclaimed, laughing.  She thought I was being coy, but I was being childishly adamant and had she persisted I would have been inclined to stalk stiffly out the door, except there was nowhere to go but a half-mile of deep water between me and shore.

            Fortunately the song ended and the next one was slow, something I could handle, and as we danced I felt the stiffness go out of her.  I tucked my head next to hers and kissed her on the neck and things were as they had been.

            We sat while Jim and Suzanne danced.  We started telling stories about silly names.  I said I’d heard that a woman in my home town had so many children that she ran out of names and when the next one came along she cast about desperately for a given name and happened to see a calendar on the wall and thus “Buford Plow Company Jones” came to be.

            Marty said, “I know a girl named Susie Collins, but she’s engaged to Don Genuse, so if she gets married she’ll be Susie Genuse.”

            With no forethought I blurted, “How does Marty Vance sound?”
            There was a pause during which the stars stood still, the boat didn’t rock, the music didn’t play and I didn’t breath, stunned by what I had said.  Marty started to laugh, thinking it was another joke, then the words sank in and she assumed the expression of a sheep that has just head-butted a locomotive.

            “Fuh..fuh..fine!” she quavered.  To this day I don’t know if she intended to say yes or if I surprised it out of her.  Actually, thinking back on it, she didn’t say yes, but it now is 56 years later and she still is married to me.  Whether she still thinks Marty Vance sounds “fine” is up to her, but five kids and nearly six decades of being that person probably is a good indication that it was an agreeable name change.

            Jim and Suzanne came back from their dance to find that their friends now were engaged.  They looked at each other and undoubtedly had one of two thoughts: 1. What the hell is the matter with them—they hardly know each other; 2. I hope to hell they don’t expect us to do it too.

            They would spend the next four months trying to talk us into waiting but to no avail.  Both he and Suzanne would marry others, but Marty and I, for all our impetuous and irrational haste, have stuck it out for 56 years and counting.


56 years ago

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