Archive for October, 2012

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  • October 29th, 2012

We Haven’t Come a Long Way, Baby

        By Joel M. Vance       

              Every so often I am reminded that no matter how far we think we’ve come we haven’t done much more than baby steps.  Right after the 2008 election when the nation elected its first black president, the blogosphere and the chat groups seethed with racist feelings, coming to the top like methane bubbles in a septic tank.

                It’s worth quoting in full what one fellow I know said on a chat group site.  This man is a college professor,  a highly educated and literate person who not only reads but collects and deals in books.  He also is from the state that fired the first shot in the civil war and that, to this day, spawns some of the most Neanderthal politicians since Fort Sumpter (think Jim Demint).

                Here, in full, is what he said:

We are rapidly approaching a tipping point in this country, one where there will be more than 50 percent of the population with “you owe me” expectations of one sort or another, and when that point of no return is passed we are in deep trouble as a nation.

 

As for old-time blacks, one of the true joys of my life was a woman universally known as Aunt Mag, and today another woman who is well into her 80s does various types of work for my 99-year-old dad.  She’s almost an institution in a county with less than a hundred blacks, universally loved, and quite possibly the hardest working person I’ve ever known.

 

I heard a fellow here in South Carolina put the whole matter pretty well a few years back.  He said words to the effect that he remembered, before welfare and all the government “help,” that all the blacks were immensely happy.  Then, when they were “uplifted,” they quit working, got deeply involved with drugs and alcohol, forgot the church and any semblance of morals, and are always angry about something.  He pretty well pegged it, in my view.

 If the foregoing makes me a racist, then that’s a burden I’ll just have to bear.

            Well, the foregoing does make him a racist.  His comments are so overtly racist in the  context of today that they should be obvious to all….especially to him.  But this guy is not alone—a recent Associated Press poll indicates that 51 percent of the American people are racially biased.  More than half the population harbors racist beliefs.  And you wonder why the 2012 race is so close. Race should never be an issue, any more than JFK’s Catholic religion or Mitt Romney’s  Mormonism should be issues, but apparently to more than half the population it race is a factor.   I found exactly the same attitude in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957 when I worked at the Alabama Journal as I saw in the Carolina professor’s mean critique“We don’t hate the nigras,” the paper’s society editor told me.  “It’s those Northern agitators stirrin’ up trouble.” 

                Well, of course we know that Yankees are the root of all evil.  The sports editor stoutly maintained that it was “those goddam Yankees” who got Auburn put on football probation, nevermind what the evidence showed.   These were people who worked at the local daily newspaper, educated and a long way from stalwarts of the Ku Klux Klan.  But they shared the views of the bed-sheeted bullies, albeit not quite as violently.

                I thought that the days of George Wallace and his ilk were fading, but then my educated buddy pops up with language right out of Gone With the Wind.  He even has his own Aunt Jemima to laud, the faithful Mammy who ruled the kitchen and kept the slaves in line (and would never dream of being uppity).  How sad it is that upscale folks like that still have their 1950s racist underpinning, once you peel away the thin veneer of hypocrisy.

            It seems more and more that the 2008 election was an aberration fueled by the nation’s weariness with the despicable Little Georgie regime which spawned two bloody wars and took a whopping surplus to a crushing deficit.  Possibly anyone could have beaten the fading John McCain (who in retrospect looks like a paragon of cooperation, compared to today’s snarling idealogues on the right). 

            But Obama came in with expectations almost beyond what anyone unable to walk on water (and remember the lynch mob that did in Jesus) could have done.  Granted he was tentative his first months when he had an agreeable Congress and when he finally stiffened up and realized that he was never going to get anything from the smirking Mitch McConnell and his Tea Party nutcases, it was too late.

            Obama promised a change and said “Yes, we can,” and he probably could have had not a Republican Congress vowed to thwart him at every turn.  Obama has had to fight an almost impossible battle to get anything done and it’s a miracle we’ve seen as much accomplishment as we have. 

           We’re out of Iraq, getting out of Afghanistan, have a health care bill that covers millions previously left in the cold and, whether it seems like it or not, the economy has turned around.  Remember—the Great Depression was nine years along when World War Two began and jump started the economy.

                    If it takes a war to solve a fiscal crisis, Romney with his chest-thumping rhetoric about Iran and Syria, probably is the guy.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see us spilling kids’ blood in another Middle East quagmire within a year of a Romney administration.

                    But the right wing, with its relentless racist attack and its unlimited big money spending, has so conditioned voters to Obama’s supposed incompetence, nevermind the facts, that the country may well return to its old plantation mentality.  We are in danger of electing a racist President in Mitt Romney.

                Make no mistake—the guy is a racist.  He lets his spokespeople do his dirty work, but he stands behind them.  His hands are dirty by association.  Historically the Mormon Church has labeled people of color as being tainted by the mark of Cain—in other words, spawn of evil.  That attitude still is widespread in the Mormon Church and Mitt Romney is quick to profess his Mormon devotion.

            He’s clever about his white man feelings.  He lets folks like Rush Limbaugh and the loathsome John Sununu speak for him.  Notice that no matter how disgusting their comments, Romney does not disavow them.  Sununu, the Jabba the Hutt of politics, in fact is Romney’s senior advisor.  Romney still supports the Indiana Senate candidate who piously says that if a rape victim gets pregnant as a result of criminal assault “it is God’s will.” 

            It was that fat toad Sununu who called Obama lazy and other thinly-disguised racist characterizations.  It was him who, when the universally-respected Gen. Colin Powell, a Republican, endorsed Obama, said it was because both are black.  That alone should have been enough to force Romney to disavow what his right hand guy said, dismiss him, and further make a strong statement that he does not believe in such patently racist rhetoric.

            Didn’t hear anything from Romney.  Gee, maybe he isn’t aware of what Sununu said….  Mitt has a remarkable ability to pretend that unpleasant things which make him look bad never happened.  He literally adopts the Scarlett O’Hara philosophy of “Oh, well, I’ll think about it tomorrow” when he says he has a plan to solve all problems—just elect him and he’ll tell you what it is.

            In a few days we decide whether we continue with the Obama measured approach to solving the economic problems one that has worked despite concerted right wing opposition, or buy the racist pig in a poke that Romney is offering.  It’s a clear choice for anyone concerned enough to get behind the name calling and decide who is the more trustworthy and savvy of the two.

            Or you can just vote against the nigger…..

-30-

 

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  • Blog
  • October 25th, 2012

Great-Grandpa’s Hogleg

Great-Grandpa William Siebert Vance

By Joel M. Vance

             If Frank and Jesse James and I have anything in common, it’s that we’re Missourians.  I haven’t robbed any banks and I’m not dead….but I do have a Colt Army .44 pistol, a model that that both Frank and Jesse packed in their early days of homicide and lawlessness.           

             Chances are Jesse and Frank James opted to upgrade from their relatively low-power .36 caliber Navy Colt single action pistols when the gun’s big brother, the Army .44 caliber became available to aspiring bushwhackers.  Too often if you shoot someone with a .36 caliber ball he gets up and shoots back.  Not so with the .44 which equates to using a baseball bat to get someone’s attention rather than a willow switch.

            My great grandfather was no bushwhacker, just a Chariton County, Missouri, farm boy whose brief military career in the Civil War lasted all of three months and whose combat experience comprised one morning.  He did, however, have that Army Colt .44 and it has made its way through three subsequent generations to me.  

            I also have blurry photographs of GG William Siebert Vance and his brother John Alexander Vance in uniform as well as copies of their Union Militia enlistment record, which began July 2, 1864 and ended October 15.  Both men ostensibly were farmers, although Great Uncle John was afflicted with virulent wanderlust and a misguided sense of adventure and, in the manner of big brothers everywhere, he dragged his kid brother along.

            Great grand uncle John was a restless type and he lit out for California, lured by the discovery of gold in 1849 at Sutter’s mill.  He was convinced he would return home every bit as rich as that Sterling Price fellow from south of Dalton who not only was rich, but also an Army general.  Like most of the Forty Niners, John returned home sadder but not necessarily wiser with what he ruefully called “a case of cooties.”

            Undaunted, he mounted a second trip to the gold fields and may well have encountered another Missouri would-be prospector, Samuel Clemens, from Hannibal, whose fruitless attempts to dredge gold from the California creeks he would later document in a book titled Roughing It under the pen name of Mark Twain.

            The second time he sought California gold, great grand uncle John dragged along his younger brother Bill but the trip was no more successful than the first one.  At least he got to share his cooties with family.  Both men, cured of gold fever, came back to Missouri to resume farming….just in time to be a very minor part of the national madness known as the Civil War (or the Late Unpleasantness if you happened to lean to the south). 

            Missouri during the Civil War was a hotbed of armed conflict and Chariton County was among the more contentious areas—most of it in the form of what today would be simple criminal activity not organized military action.  The bushwhackers may have claimed they were fighting for a cause, but mostly their fighting was the lure of mayhem for the sake of mayhem.

The Chariton County area was a maelstrom of divided loyalties.  Adjacent Howard County, where Vance’s Rangers would start and end their brief military career, was heavily Confederate.  Chariton County had many Union sympathizers, including the sheriff who paid for his allegiance to the Union with his life when Johnny Reb bushwhackers invaded the Courthouse and killed him.  Great Grandpa Bill’s granddaughter married a Finnell, a family that fought for the Confederacy.  And a John Vance fought with Quantrill’s notorious Confederate bushwhackers and was captured at Rocheport in 1863 (Rocheport was a Missouri River town that functioned as a headquarters for Quantrill).  Whether that John was kin to the Chariton County Vances is anyone’s guess—there are John Vances all over the family history.

            Many of the bushwhackers were just violent criminals.  Bloody Bill Anderson, nominally a Johnny Reb, said that he really didn’t owe allegiance to the Confederacy.  He just enjoyed killing.  Missouri ranks third among all states in the number of Civil War shootouts, behind Virginia and Tennessee (where the battles tended to be large and organized as opposed to Missouri’s skirmishes between small forces).

            On Sept. 27,1864,  Anderson, a psychopath, with about 80 heavily armed and murderous bushwhackers, some dressed in stolen Union Army uniforms, occupied  the town of Centralia, about 70 miles southeast of the Vance homestead, ostensibly to derail the North Missouri Railroad. The guerrillas were more interested in looting the town than in military tactics and reportedly drank whiskey from stolen boots to loosen their trigger fingers—a good indication of their degree of military discipline (not to mention disruption of their taste buds).  By the time the train hove in view, the guerillas were drunk and bloodthirsty.

 Anderson lined up 23 Union soldiers, heading home on leave, and his men killed all but one, sparing only Sgt. Thomas Goodman to, as Anderson said, tell the tale.   Later, Anderson added to his gory nickname when his gunmen slaughtered 127 Union soldiers sent in pursuit.  In retrospect it’s scary to think of this gory band of trigger-happy psychopaths roaming the central Missouri area so close to my kinfolks.

Among the Anderson shootists were two brothers destined for dubious legend, Frank and Jesse James, along with their equally vicious friend Cole Younger.  My grandfather, son of William Siebert, would be married by a minister named Younger, supposedly related to the infamous Cole, Jim and Bob, all three of whom would be shot up and captured after their abortive attempt to rob the Northfield, Minnesota, bank, along with Frank and Jesse who escaped back to Missouri.

            With the news of the Centralia slaughter fresh in their minds, Great-Grandpa and Great-Uncle traveled a few miles south less than three weeks later to help defend Glasgow from Gen. Sterling Price’s peripatetic Confederate army which had been wandering all over north Missouri looking for trouble.   It’s possible Great Grandpa Vance’s hogleg was intended for defense of the farmstead, rather than as a weapon of organized war, but he and his rowdy older brother embarked on their quasi-military mission to save Glasgow, a Missouri River town, probably motivated by one of Great Granduncle John’s Quixotic enthusiasms.  It was a Great Adventure, like the California gold rush, only with bullets. 

Gen. Price also was a Chariton County boy, with a plantation only a few miles from the Vance homestead as the crow flies.  You have to wonder if the Vance boys didn’t occasionally think of Price this is a hell of a way for a good ol’ Chariton County boy to act.  Price, a major general, was an overachiever, especially for a Dalton Bottoms product.  He was a brigadier general in the Mexican War and then was governor of Missouri from 1853-57.  An unreconstructed rebel, he fled to Mexico after the Civil War, failed to establish a Confederacy there, and returned to St. Louis where he died poor in 1867.  The Glasgow “battle,” such as it was, was at the apex of Price’s Civil War career.  It all went South from there—literally as his increasingly shredded army retreated to Arkansas and Texas.

Since John formed Vance’s Rangers it was logical that he would be the commanding officer and his little brother would be whatever rank the Cap chose for him which turned out to be corporal.  Was there sibling rivalry (“You got to be a captain and I was only a corporal!).  After Price captured the Rangers, he allowed the officers to keep their sidearms; else my Colt would not be here today.

Which makes me wonder if my Colt really is Great Grandpa Bill’s because he was an enlisted man and Price’s army confiscated the enlisted weaponry.  Grandpa Bill has a muzzle-loading rifle visible in his photograph, not a pistol.  Perhaps the Colt came later or perhaps it belonged to John or who knows?  It has traveled down the hereditary turnpike to me. 

            The Army Colt was new when the War started—it debuted in 1860, a $20 beefier version of the Navy .36 caliber Colt which dated to 1851.  The .44 was built on the same frame as its Navy cousin, and Union Army officers eagerly snapped up the new six-shooter as did their Confederate counterparts.  The gun was a vast improvement over earlier pistols.  Not that it was the ultimate in sidearms—that would come later with the introduction of cartridge pistols that could be reloaded far faster than cap-and-ball types.

            Loading it involved pouring powder into the chamber and seating a ball with a loading lever attached to the bottom of the barrel.  There always was the danger that firing one chamber would ignite adjacent ones as well, a dire incident called a “chain fire” which was as threatening to the shooter as the shootee. 

            Most used paper cartridges, with the ball and powder sealed inside a stiff paper wrapping which could be dropped into a chamber and seated with the ramming lever.  But it still was a cumbersome process and many who carried the guns, especially guerillas and bushwhackers, stashed several weapons around their body so when they shot out one loaded gun, they’d simply grab a fresh one and keep shooting.  James family photos show Jesse James with an Army Colt during his Civil War stint with Bloody Bill Anderson, although he favored other weapons in his later career as a criminal. 

            Before it became obsolete, sales of the .44 numbered 200,000, of which 127,000 were Army-issue.              Great Grandpa Bill lived until 1889 and as far as I know never fired his Colt in anger.  My grandfather used to load up the old .44 on July 4 and torch off a few rounds to celebrate the birth of the nation (and also the war that preserved it, so inefficiently fought by his daddy).  Grandpa Bill was lucky to have survived the Civil War unscathed, especially in a county where Southern sympathy was widespread and where guerilla raids were common.  It was murder on a daily basis.  Marauding bands of thugs would stop at a farmhouse and almost routinely kill the man of the house.

            The roving killers operated on both sides of the fence—some Union, some Confederate.  Some wore military uniforms; others didn’t.  But they shared a thirst for the most appalling murders, including hanging a 17-year old kid and leaving him still alive (he died).  Rebels captured the Chariton County sheriff in the courthouse at Keytesville (which later would burn, destroying countless irreplaceable records), shot him in the head and left his body in the middle of a county road. 

            Another Union sympathizer, William Young, died along with the sheriff.  He tried to run, but the bushwhackers cut him down.  It’s possible I was related to him—William Siebert married Hannah Young, but there are Youngs all over Chariton County to this day and I don’t know if the unfortunate William was close kin to my Great Grandmother or not.

            The bottom line is that my Great Grandfather was lucky to have escaped the Civil War alive and live another quarter century.  He died at 52 in 1889, not an old man.  But, given his ineffectual military career, likely he would have had a much shorter life had Bloody Bill Anderson and his bushwhackers come knocking at the door, even if he met them packing a Colt .44.

-30-

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  • Blog
  • October 10th, 2012

The Big Bird Hunter

                By Joel M. Vance

Finally Mitt Romney has gotten specific.  He has been pressed for weeks on how he would pay for an across-the-board 20 percent tax cut and now we know.  When Herbert Hoover was running for President, he promised “a chicken in every pot.”

                Mitt does not promise even the pot which middle class Americans will find they don’t have either to cook the chicken or do anything else in it under the Romney/Ryan hatchet job.  No, Mitt has only one chicken in mind—Big Bird whom he singled out specifically for execution in the first Presidential debate.

                “I like Big Bird,” he told moderator Jim Lehrer.  “I even like you,” he said to the anchor of Public Broadcasting System’s “Evening Report.”  But the man who “likes firing people” has Lehrer and Big Bird in his sights and that cut of less than one-hundredth of one percent of the cost of his overall tax plan is supposed to make us feel good—that he has the economy in hand.

                Lehrer, who used to drink beer with me at the fabled Shack in 1956 during our University of Missouri Journalism days, should have leaped from his moderator’s chair, charged the podium, shouting, “You clueless butthole!” but he’s too much a professional reporter for that.  And if Romney wins Jim may be out of a job after 47 years and the extreme right which hates PBS and National Public Radio because they don’t spew fanatic venom like their buddies at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News will have succeeded in stifling the only rational and inquisitive voices on television and radio.  Rush Limbaugh must be rubbing his grubby, porky hands in glee at the prospect.

                Lose PBS and you not only lose Sesame Street which has been educating the nation’s children for 43 years, but you lose the Ken Burns documentaries which have been educating the nation’s adults also for many years.  Kill off NPR and there goes Garrison Keillor and “A Prairie Home Companion” which is far funnier than any sitcom currently on the air.  An estimated 170 million people rely on PBS for education and entertainment.  Public funding makes up about 20 percent of the PBS budget and many rural stations could not air it without that help.  About three of every five kids under five is a Big Bird fan. 

                Romney says he will make cuts in spending to offset the estimated $5 trillion that his tax cut will cost.  But he pledges not to cut military spending (in fact raise it) and that leaves Social Security and Medicare as the two biggest ticket items where cuts could be made.  And who benefits most from those two?  The middle class, not Romney and his billionaire buddies who presumably will wind up paying no income tax (20 percent off the 14 percent Romney admits he pays kind of takes the tab below zero for Mitt & Co.).  I believe the term for these folks is “robber baron.”

                Without Medicare my wife and I would be on the street or dead.  Like most senior citizens we’ve had medical problems in recent years that, had Medicare not picked up almost all the expense, would have cost us everything and then some.   Ryan’s voucher system will not work.  To pay for the tax cut the vouchers would have to total far less than the current Medicare cost which means that those covered by the vouchers would have to pay the difference. They’d also have to pay for medicines falling in the so-called “donut hole” which has been closed by the Affordable Health Care Act.  Just today we got free flu shots, compliments of Medicare.  It was an instant savings of about $50.  Zillionaire Mitt can afford to pay $25 or more for his flu shots, but we’re many millions of dollars short of that luxury. 

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic  National Committee, admittedly is a biased commentator, but it’s worth reading what she said about Mitt’s lying on health care: ‘At the debate, Mitt Romney looked the American public in the eye and said: “I do have a plan that deals with people with pre-existing conditions. That’s part of my health care plan.’  His campaign quietly admitted afterwards that, no, it is not, in fact, a part of his health care plan.

“As a breast cancer survivor and someone living with a pre-existing condition, this statement was more personally offensive than any of his repeated promises to repeal Obamacare. This kind of say-anything dishonesty is typical from Mitt Romney and the Republicans.”

                My wife also is a breast cancer survivor and that Romney would lie about something so close to so many families makes me want to beat the crap out of him.  He is a lying scumbag, simple and pure, and anyone who votes for the lying piece of crap should suffer from a pre-existing condition that won’t be covered, thanks to their poster boy.

                We could begin to chop away big time at the national debt by ending all participation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fiscal equivalent of pounding sand down a rathole.  We could further cut spending by eliminating earmarks, subsidies to oil companies, subsidies to suspect crops like tobacco and other long-time identified unjustifiable expenditures.

                Politicians and political action committees are pouring a billion dollars or more into this campaign.  Think what that money could do if applied to crumbling infrastructure or poverty or education?  Yet Romney wants to kill school lunches, Pell grants and other programs that directly affect education….at the same time piously proclaiming how much he reveres education.  He’s a fraud, a liar and a plutocrat.  Ryan is just a gee-whizzy zealot.

                The hypocrisy of these guys is astonishing.  Their economic plan is the tired old “trickle down” philosophy which says that if you give all the money to the rich, they will dole it out to the poor.  It brings to mind visions of John D. Rockefeller scattering dimes to make the abject poor feel better.   Trickle down under  Reagan resulted in the biggest national debt to that time.  George W. Bush carried that on to take a large surplus into the biggest national debt to his time, one that we still are digging out from.  And now Romney/Ryan would like to pick up the baton and do it all over again, giving more money to the rich, meanwhile promising the credulous mob that Santa will be along any moment now.

                No one should believe this grim fairy tale.  The rich don’t share the wealth—they keep it.  Rockefeller scattered dimes but kept dollars.  It has ever been thus.  The Koch Brothers haven’t become billionaires by trickling down.  They spend their money instead to buy politicians who will do their bidding, like Romney/Ryan.  Sheldon Adelson, Romney’s biggest donor, is a gambling magnate, making his money through casinos worldwide that suck money often from folks who can’t afford to lose it. 

                Gambling is an addiction, often regarded as a sin.  How can the super pious Romney, who often mentions his Mormon tithing and faith, justify eagerly accepting money from a guy who preys on schlumps who can’t resist the lure of the cards and dice?   But then he also endorses the idea of marriage being between one man and one woman….when his forebears moved to Mexico so they could practice polygamy.  Doesn’t there seem to be a whiff of double standard here?

                How about the Romney party’s widespread attempts to suppress voting by making it tougher to vote (photo id’s, limited early voting).  These restrictions, not seen since the days of literacy tests and poll taxes are aimed at African Americans or Latinos, who are least likely to have a photo identification, or at the elderly who often no longer have a driver’s license.  Any other excuse (non-existent voter fraud) is purely a smoke screen and basically a reprehensible damn lie. 

                While it may have nothing to do with racial prejudice and more to do with simple dirty politics, it might be worth noting that the Mormon Church was notably cool if not hostile to black people until relatively recently.  Even after a longtime ban on black priesthood was rescinded in 1978, historians, including Mormons, have reported many instances of less than friendly treatment of black Mormons.  You’d think that Mormons, themselves victims of intolerance, often resulting in bloodshed, would be more agreeable to folks who’ve been in the same fix. 

                I keep hoping I’ve said the last word on Romney and can move on to other things, but then the mendacious Mormon does or says something else outrageous and we’re off again.  Let’s pray for better times and more pleasant subjects.

                Like anything……

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