The Big Picture! Where is it in this 2016 election year?

This election campaign focused tightly on one candidate’s apparent sexual adventures and the other candidate’s emails.  How important are both of these issues to the future welfare of our nation, and for that matter, the world?

Think about it.  Donald Trump’s apparently boorish, sexist behavior certainly makes him a distasteful person, but would it make him a bad president?  Other presidents have displayed such deplorable antics in the past.  Hillary Clinton’s opponents describe her as manipulative and devious; whether that’s accurate is hardly the point.  Read the history of earlier presidents and many of the truly great ones had those traits and yet accomplished tremendous good for the nation.

This is one of the most critical periods in history and to make the right decision we need to consider which the candidates offers the best hope for developing positive outcomes on the truly important issues of our year — issues that have not been fully discussed.

Consider the growing gap in incomes between the privileged few and the rest of us.  Donald Trump claims he’s the truest friend of struggling American workers, but his only answer to accomplish that seems totally wrong-headed.  He would cut taxes across the board in such a way that the wealthiest would get the biggest benefit; his tax cuts further would seriously increase the national debt.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, offers a steady approach to improve the economy and narrow the wage gap; her policies generally follow those of the Democratic Party over recent decades.  That includes increasing the minimum wage, developing a stimulus package aimed at strengthening our infrastructure and giving constant attention to wage equality in the workplace.  Yes, it would be an expensive effort, and it would be paid for by increasing rates for those at the top of the income bracket from 36% to 39%, certainly not so high as to scare these billionaires out of the country.  Her plan, according to independent economists, would raise the national debt far less than Mr. Trump’s.

Never even mentioned in the current campaign is the state of the nation’s labor unions which history has shown have often fueled the greatest impact on increasing worker wages.  Trump would certainly support the traditional Republican goals to weaken unions.  Clinton would veto antiunion legislation that might be passed by a Republican Congress and appoint pro labor members to the National Labor Relations Board.

What about our national security? Certainly bringing peace to the Middle East is critical to our nations’ security. President Obama and most students of the conflict have come to the conclusion that it is to be a long-standing fight, requiring difficult decisions to resolve a complicated situation.  Meanwhile, the president will have to be aware of challenges, such as the role of China, chaos in many African nations, and continuing conflicts between India and Pakistan and between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Donald Trump promises that he will take care of the Islamic State as his first order of business should he become president; yet it is unclear as to how that would be accomplished. In Nov.2015, he told CNN he would “bomb the s— out of ’em,” and then employ troops to protect the oil fields that would be liberated. The fact is we do not know what he would do and more than one person fears that his actions might include pushing the nuclear button in a moment of personal frustration.  How he would handle the troubles elsewhere in the world is unknown.

Hillary Clinton’s approach seems to continue policies similar to those of President Obama to work with our coalition partners with a continued emphasis on diplomacy.  Some of us are not totally comfortable with Secretary Clinton’s apparent solution to expand the no-fly zone and her generally more hawkish positions. Yet it appears that she would be more cautious and that any overt action she takes will be well-considered based on listening to military and diplomatic experts.

Climate change has been largely forgotten.  It was never mentioned in the three presidential debates. Donald Trump, of course, seems to be echoing the climate denial position of many of the most reactionary Republicans. Secretary Clinton is expected at the least to follow the lead of President Obama to complete the emissions controls regulations promulgated from the Obama Administration and to support alternative forms of energy.

There are many other remaining issues not the least of which is reducing the levels of gun violence in this nation, support of LGBT rights, reducing college debt, fixing the Affordable Care Act, providing for choice in the woman’s right to control her body and many other critical issues.

Hillary Clinton was not our first choice. Our vote went to Bernie Sanders in the Wisconsin primary as the more consistent progressive.

Bernie didn’t make it.  Nonetheless we’re fine with Hillary Clinton.  In these critical times, we need an experienced and pragmatic person to guide our nation.  To me the choice is easy.  When we look at the Big Picture, that person can only be Hillary Clinton.   Ken Germanson, Oct. 29, 2016.

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When our noses smelled Milwaukee’s prosperity!

There was a time when you could tell by your nose where you were in Milwaukee.

When you felt the sour, sweet odors of animal renderings impregnate your senses you knew you were likely crossing the old 6th Street viaduct; scattered across the acres under the bridge and to either side stood Milwaukee’s thriving packinghouse industry with names like Plankinton and Armour.

If the rotten egg scent entered your head, you might be driving along S. First Street at about Greenfield Avenue, created by the old Milwaukee Solvay Coke Works that was cooking up fuel for foundries and other manufacturers or for residences that burned the fuel.  Maybe, too, the sharp scent of foundries stung your nostrils as you wandered  along South First or along Greenfield Ave. in West Allis.

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A 1954 photo shows smoke emanating during manufacturing process.

Also emanating from the Industrial Valley that rimmed the Menomonee River to about 50th Street were foul scents of tanneries like Pfister and Vogel; similar scents arose from along North Water Street from Gallun and around N.32nd Street and West Hampton Ave. and South Greeley Street in Bay View from the two Greenebaum tanneries.

Driving along West St. Paul Avenue about 20th Street you’d likely find a yeasty odor in the air brought on by the old Red Star Yeast Co.

At about South 43rd and West Mitchell Streets, you’re suddenly hit with the malty smell from the huge silos of Froedtert Malt preparing the goodies that filled Milwaukee’s four major breweries, Schlitz (the largest brewery in the USA in the late 1940s), Schlitz, Miller, Blatz and Pabst and two popular secondary brewers, Gettleman and Braumeister.

Gone from downtown is the sweet scent of Ambrosia Chocolate plant that brought smiles to the workers and lawyers entering the Courthouse or the students at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

As a child of the Great Depression and a teen during World War II, these were the smells that permeated my senses and all of Milwaukeeans then.

Some of the scents were downright nauseating – such as what occurred on stuffy summer nights when it was necessary to open windows to get priceless breaths of air, only to be greeted by a combination of all the scents.

The scents are gone from the city today, along with the jobs that created those scents as well as a comfortable standard of living for so many Milwaukee families.  At one time, Milwaukee was called the “machine shop of the world” and there’s no doubt that the industrious spirit of workers and ingenuity of many of the entrepreneurs were critical to the production of U.S. industries to help win World War II.

In addition, the city often ranked among the top three communities in the country for production in leather, beer, shoes, hosiery, machine tools and other areas.

We don’t wish the foul and intrusive odors to come back, though we’d welcome them again if it meant the jobs that created them were still here.  Ironically, with a mix of EPA regulations and modern technology such production could return nearly odorless.

No doubt about it, Milwaukee is a changed city.  Somehow all of our leaders and citizens need to figure out how to thrive in the new odor-free environment. November 16, 2013.

A Liberal’s Lament: Preaching to the Choir!

Why is it that I have the impression that liberals are losing the battles?  Yet, I wonder:  How can that be when you analyze the polls about various issues and find the public as a rule favoring individually virtually every major progressive piece of legislation?

Take the idea of taxing the wealthy and the corporations.  It’s no contest: the public – even a plurality of Republicans – loves the idea.  And the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: the majority says get us out of there.  Global warming: it’s not only 95% of scientists who see it as a real human problem, but so does a majority of ordinary citizens.

Yet, the politicians who favor these ideas are scared stiff of pushing them through to law, afraid they’ll alienate some hidden power (read Tea Party and similar nuts) out there that will short circuit their careers.

A carload of us drove out to spend seven hours Saturday, Sept. 17, at Madison’s Fighting BobFest 10th Anniversary program, hearing from a host of progressive (or is it liberal?) speakers wax eloquent on issues close to all of our “bleeding heart” sentiments.  To a person we wondered if – as exhilarating as the day was – whether we wasted a day that was only more preaching to the choir.

Some of the finest speakers of the liberal community brought down the house with successive applause, standing ovations and cheers and whistles.  The crowd – which filled at least two-thirds of the house (seating capacity is 10,231) – seemed to erupt in applause almost constantly.

After introduction by Ed Garvey, the Madison attorney and two-time statewide candidate, the program began immediately with Mike McCabe, executive  director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, who called the growing amounts of money going into political campaigns “a crime,” and noting that the historic development of Wisconsin’s  progressive legislation of 1911 (workers compensation, the vocational school system and much more) grew out of earlier legislation that banned corporate money in political campaigns.   Now, with recent Supreme Court rulings that have brought corporate money into campaigns, he said the “first problem facing the nation is money in politics.”

Tony Schultz, a Farmer’s Union member from Athens,Wisconsin, showed that farmers can be eloquent progressives, as well.  Retired Congressman Dave Obey offered an eloquent and philosophical commentary on the social contract that Americans of all political persuasions had accepted as standard American behavior until the growth of the uncaring reactionary right after the Reagan years.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the only Independent in the Senate (and a socialist), offered a full menu of reforms which – as they were citied – drew raucous applause and often standing ovations.  Along with former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, Sen. Sanders stressed the need for strong unions.  “Without collective bargaining, you’re reduced to collective begging,” Sanders said, while Hightower called the dramatic landing on the Hudson River in 2010 a “union-made miracle on the Hudson,” since all of the actors in that heroic rescue were union members from Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger himself and the flight attendants to the rescuing firefighters and EMTs.

What Sanders also said made the most impression on me as we pondered about the futility of “speaking to the choir” only.  After running down the progressive agenda, which included single-payer health insurance, stronger labor unions, taxing of the wealthy, fairer foreign trade policies, and removing our troops from current wars, he said pointedly, “Not one point that I mentioned is not what the overwhelming majority of Americans want.”

And he was right, if you are to believe many recent polls.  Now more than 80% of Americans agree that spending to build bridges, roads and schools is important; 71% said that any budget deficit plan should include both spending cuts and more taxes, particularly on the rich.

So how do we begin to get this message out to the entire congregation of American voters – and not merely keep the secret within the choir loft.  For one thing, we need to figure out a way to speak out over the constant falsehoods spouted by Fox News and talk radio; we need to get the local media more aware of these issues, a difficult task since the news hole is tightening up.

Somehow, we have to make an issue of the fact that this gathering in Madison of perhaps 7,000 persons listening to top national speakers was worth covering.  (To my knowledge there was not a word about Fighting BobFest in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel nor on the local television stations.)  It’s a fact that our message is getting lost in the din of a mainstream media that seems to find plenty of space for Tea Party meetings that attract even one-tenth or one-hundred as many participants.

Yet, my friends, there is the social media; witness the April Spring in the Mideast where Twitter and Facebook and such helped spur those citizen uprisings; there are the traditional door-to-door, citizen grassroots efforts as well.

Whatever we do, we must recognize that while such feel-good gatherings as Fighting BobFest may be exhilarating they are indeed nothing but choir practice; we need to sing out across the rooftops to the entire congregation.

Ken Germanson, Sept. 19, 2011

 

What to do when demoralized?

Dems can’t afford to ‘cave-in’ as Indiana did in 83-20 defeat

Many liberals and progressives are demoralized over the results of the November 2nd elections, ready to give in to the corporate-supported public policy agenda that is being rammed through by smug, arrogant Republicans.

Case in point: The waffling by the White House and key Democrats regarding ending the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.  True, they’re basing this indecision on the belief that in order to continue tax cuts for the rest of us they’ll need to compromise and continue it for the wealthy as well.

Why are the White House and so many Democrats caving in so easily?

It makes no sense.  Virtually any rational person who looks at the facts will come to the conclusion that continuing to give the wealthy a tax break will do nothing to help the country climb up and out of it’s economic valley.

Just consider what Nicholas Kristoff wrote on Nov. 7 in The New York Times:

The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. . .   C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent. . . . The richest 0.1 percent of taxpayers would get a tax cut of $61,000 from President Obama. They would get $370,000 from Republicans, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. And that provides only a modest economic stimulus, because the rich are less likely to spend their tax savings.

Also, continuing the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% would add perhaps some $700 billion over 10 years to the deficit; secondly, it affects about 2% of all small business owners, and thirdly, the amount of extra cash the wealthy will receive will be hardly incentive enough to prompt any of the businesspeople to hire an additional person.

OK, the Dems say, that all may be true, but we can’t continue ANY tax cut unless we compromise.  Perhaps true, but don’t give in without a fight!

There’s wide evidence to show that if the Democrats put up a fight, they’d begin to win back some of the independents they lost in November.  Only a minority of Americans supports continuation of the tax cuts for the wealthy; if the facts were more widely trumpeted (and they would be in a prolonged fight), the truth might conquer.

The tax cut issue is but one example of how the White House and the Democrats are retreating, like a dog in a losing fight, slinking off with its tail between its legs.

Did the Democrats really get a “shellacking,” as the President said on the day after the election?  Not really, since on the average 47% of the votes cast nationwide went to Democrats, indicating at least half of all Americans still support the party candidates and more liberal issues.  That’s enough to build upon for the future and enough to encourage the remaining Democrats to stand up to the corporate onslaught.

A real “shellacking” is what happened to the Indiana Hoosiers on the Camp Randall football field in Madison, Wisconsin, on Nov. 13 when the highly ranked Wisconsin Badgers beat it, 83-20.  It was a gruesome sight to behold, watching an under-manned and talent-shy Indiana team put up a gallant fight for the first 20 minutes of the game, only to fold so completely.  The TV announcers said the “fight seemed to go out” of the Indiana team, as Wisconsin capitalized on a turnover in the second quarter and the Indiana star quarterback was injured.

The Democrats seem to be acting like a bedraggled second-rate football team, spiritless and demoralized.

If ever times called for some new “fight,” it’s now.  The stakes in the future are too high.  Democrats still have the facts on their side, not only on the tax cut issue, but also on environmental reforms, health care, education and on and on.

Sadly, I suspect, however, these political leaders will slink off, seceding the playing field to the Republicans and their greedy corporate cohorts.

That’s why we – as liberals, progressives and many others who believe in rational, good government – need to do more than cheer on the sidelines (though that helps); and we better not leave in the 3rd quarter when the score on the field is against us.

We need to raise our voices, through supporting groups like Move On, by getting the facts out through letters to the editor, through blogs and other Internet gimmicks, and by sounding off whenever and wherever we can.  Many of the cards in the fight are stacked against us, due to the undue influence of Fox News (an oxymoron, if ever there was one) and talk radio.  Let’s not let that deter our effort, but make us speak out louder and louder.

The real fight in the long run is for the minds of the nation’s people.

In the short run, some issues may be lost including the tax cut issue.  Even then, we should not be demoralized.  Remember, when a good football team suffers a loss, it goes back to the locker room to regroup and comes out even stronger to win the next game.

Kenneth A. Germanson, Nov. 14, 2010, Milwaukee WI

Change, but what kind of change?

In the past century, the 1900s, two major changes occurred in the United States — the improvement in living standards for working people and the growing inclusiveness for minorities, principally blacks.

In both cases, the nation was better for those changes.  In the first incidence, a strong middle class was developed putting money into the hands of ordinary workers and in the second millions of Americans found opportunities that had been denied them (although we know many still are striving for those opportunities).

Also, both changes came about mainly because the people pushed for them through mass movements.  In the 1930s, it was the workers who realized that only through collective action could they have an impact on the policies of America; they realized unions were the only way to effectively gain their share of the pie, and once unions organized, the entire nation thrived up until 1981, and the election of Ronald Reagan began the decline of the middle class.  In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the civil rights movement when masses of people rallied behind the cause and the courageous actions of individuals like Rosa Parks in the Montgomery bus boycott and the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins.

If the nation had looked to its leaders to effect these changes, it would never have happened.  Most in leadership oppose change and those who support it are often too timid to push for it.  Franklin D. Roosevelt was not necessarily enthusiastic at first to embrace passing landmark legislation that gave working people greater rights to organize unions, but eventually pushed for it, since collective bargaining promised labor peace in response to strikes and riots of those years.  And, in the case of civil rights, the mass  demonstrations drew national attention (and horrendous reactions like the dogs and fire hoses that Bull O’Connor sent against demonstrators) which slowly dramatized the rightness of the cause of equal rights.  John F. Kennedy spoke eloquently about civil rights but history tells us he was timid about pushing the political establishment toward action (only his tragic assassination and the realism of Lyndon B. Johnson helped propel the nation to pass both the landmark Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the mid-1960s).

Today, the prospect of  change is coming from the Tea Party, and the change this group offers is frightening.

Yet, the Tea Party has been popularized by a press mesmerized by the outlandish behavior of some of the tea partiers.  The press has fallen completely for the belief that it is a “people’s movement,” rarely mentioning that its birth and growth would not have been possible without the guidance of old Republican warhorses like Dick Armey and the  fat bankrolls of corporate giants like the Koch brothers.

The Tea Party, sad to say, is onto something here.  It has indeed drawn in tens of thousands of frustrated Americans, many of whom sincerely believe the nation has lost its way.  It’s easy to see why people turn to it in hopes of improving their lives, since many have  faced loss of incomes, homes and even lifetime savings.

But, is it a true “people’s party?”  Look at who is NOT at the Tea Party rallies: obviously, the minorities are not there (except for a handful of misguided souls); the poor are not there, nor are the unemployed, or the low-paid workers.  Surveys have shown clearly the typical tea partier is white, above average income and with higher education levels.

What is really needed now is a counter “people’s movement,” a movement of working people, of people of color and of people in poverty (as recent reports show there now are plenty of people living in poverty, more than 14% of all Americans, the highest rate since 1986 when data was first collected).

The Tea Party members, if you belief the surveys of their participants, are not hurting as badly as those in poverty, the working poor and minorities.  Yet, these same poverty-stricken and near poor folks are strangely subdued, or even silent.  Why is that?

Have so many of us been bought off by the glitter of capitalism, the promise of  huge flat screen TVs and the numbing effect of rightwing propaganda that we are too paralyzed to move?  Have some of us, even in poverty, grown so obese that it’s difficult to move off the couch?  Have so many lose hope by living in neighborhoods where gunshots outnumber the gleeful joys of children playing?

It’s time for a true People’s Movement, like that of workers in the 1930s and civil rights campaigners in the 1950s and 1960s, to take control of the national mind and move change in the right direction.

President Obama promised “change you can count on.”  We think he was sincere in wanting positive change, but whether it was his own political caution or the steadfast promise of Republicans to say “no” to everything, the fact is his Administration has offered only limited change in the right direction.  What Barack Obama needs, more than anything, is the knowledge that the people truly want change, and not the backward-moving change promised by the Tea Party.  That’s why it’s up to us to organize from among ourselves; no one higher up is going to help.  That’s the lesson of history!

Who REALLY Won in Massachusetts?

Scott Brown, so full of glee that he joyously peddled his daughters as “available,” (though one apparently wasn’t), proclaimed his Massachusetts seat win was a “people’s victory.”

Wrong!

The winners were those who would do very little to really help ordinary folks, middle class working families and the struggling poor.  The winners were:

  • The health insurance companies, which stand to maintain either a status quo in the health care system, or a compromised health care reform bill that will reward them even more generously by forcing folks into health plans without much public assistance to pay the high premiums.  They win either way.  The people lose!
  • The moguls of our corporations, who will benefit as an energized Republican minority will block every effort at restoring more protections for the welfare of people through OSHA, the EPA and other agencies of government.  And, the corporations, too, will win by blocking realistic hope for strong labor law reform, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, further stifling workers’ rights in the workplace.
  • The hotshots on Wall Street, who will be able to run wildly back onto the scene, making more speculative loans, avoiding oversight by even more clever use of derivatives and other such strange machinations, while pocketing huge pay checks at the expense of taxpayers who saved their hides.   The Republican roadblocks in the Senate may make it now virtually impossible to pass any protections.
  • The folks who would deny personal rights, such as same-sex marriages, the right to an abortion, the right to a fair trial and greater fairness in immigration laws.  All of these will face continued terrible hurdles in a Federal Court system already skewing to the right; President Obama’s effort to restore any balance to the courts will face the “nay-sayers” of the Republican Party that will block virtually any appointment, leaving the seats open for what they hope will be the next President, a Republican.

The Losers!  All of us, although it appears some 52% of folks in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may not think so now!

Resolutions for everyone else for 2010!

No, I won’t make a New Year’s Resolution this year.  Over the last few years, I’ve vowed to cure my addiction to reruns of “Law and Order,” the original and all of its offsprings, but alas, I seem to violate it on the very next “Law and Order” marathon day.  I’ve concluded I can’t be cured!

So let’s make resolutions for everyone else:

For President Barack Obama:  To free himself from being captive of Wall Street by firing Rahm Emanuel, Ted Geithner, and the other capitalist cronies who seem to be governing his decision-making on matters such as the economy, health care reform and labor union rights.

For Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.): To reinstall into the debate a single-payer health insurance plan as the only real reform for our sick health care system.

For Roger Ailes, the Fox Network boss, and Rupert Murdock, the media mogul: To gain an epiphany that their mind-numbing, totally biased, capitalistic news coverage is causing irreparable harm to the nation, by feeding divisive fodder to spur mindless, fact-empty behaviors, such as “tea parties” and “town hall meetings.”  And, therefore, to realize that they can use their considerable media power base to develop true, fact-filled news.  What a step to help return the nation to begin to embrace some common goals of fair play, decency and compassion!

For Brett Favre: To put the Minnesota Vikings management and fans through the same off-again, on-again retirement game that he did to Packers fans and the State of Wisconsin.

For Tiger Woods: To resolve never to leave his golf clubs within the grabbing distance of an angered wife!  But, better yet, to never give a wife an excuse to use the clubs.

For Governor Jim Doyle (Wisconsin): To use his last year in office to continue and strengthen support for strong prevention programs in the areas of juvenile justice, family violence, child abuse and neglect and basic health.

For Mayor Tom Barrett (Milwaukee): To show the same guts and courage he demonstrated in coming to the rescue of a West Allis woman facing an angered violent young man last summer, so that he can to fend-off well-financed and certain-to-be nasty campaigning by his Republican opponent, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce bunch, talk-show nuts and assorted rightwing goofs.  If you do, Tom, you’ll disprove Leo Durocher’s famous quote that “Nice Guys finish last.” *See note below.

For friends, families and everyone: To overcome a tendency to become disgusted with the matters of the world and therefore to become “turned off” and become a recluse to resolving our problems.  Let us continue to be committed to an appreciation that common decency and intelligence can help to steer us all to making for a better community in 2010 and the years to come.

*****

Now, my friends, maybe you have some resolutions you’d like to propose for others, or maybe you’d like to argue with mine.  Let’s hear from you by commenting here.

Enough of making resolutions for everyone else.  I see “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” is due on TNT in five minutes.  Gotta go!

Happy New Year!

*  Baseball manager Leo Durocher’s actual quote was:  “”The nice guys are all over there. In seventh place.”  Click here for more information.