Speaking from the left, far from my starting point

Great ideas remain the heart of a revolution. The kind that strike the core of one’s being and inspire action.

They must have a foundation in irrevocable reality if they’re to succeed in the long run.

Not lies, which are shifting sands. Or dreams, which float far from their anchors. Instead, some touchstone that resonates and holds fast, even on the great prairie.

And that’s it, for now.

Carry on.

Respectfully, I hope. Or else.

NIMBY can be a manifestation of racism, no matter how subtle, but true

This time, it’s a Not in My Backyard reaction triggered by opposition to a wind-energy farm 20 miles offshore because it “would spoil the view.”

From what, the yacht?

Get real!

I’m sure they wouldn’t be as vocal if it were a coal-fired plant going up near neighborhoods next to industrial wastelands – the places poor people live.

The people and the places they’re trying to escape, along with the shared responsibilities and real community. And poor people are largely envisioned as Black, no matter that many are white.

Well, the NIMBY crowd might pipe up if they can see the development from the expressway into town. Heavens!

The fact is that if we want electrical power or sewers and water or trash removal, it all has to happen somewhere. Shipping it off to the less fortunate rings sour in more ways than one.

Less fortunate, indeed.

Just don’t try to put them in you-know-whose backyard.

Missing the news cycle with a big story

Let me admit that hearing about Joe McQuaid’s recent book on Bill Loeb stirred a range of reactions in me.

The first was a yawning, “Who cares? Who cares now?”

The second was a recognition that most stories have short shelf lives, and Loeb was ancient history now, even in New Hampshire.

For background, you must understand that I spent the second half of my journalism career at the statewide newspaper Loeb had owned and notoriously thrust into the national spotlight from Manchester, New Hampshire. When I arrived, he had been dead six years and the paper was in transition from one known more for its vitriolic front-page editorials than for its reporting. The editorials had retreated mostly to the opinion page, and I was among the hires intent on improving the professional quality of the coverage. Or, as I overheard three figures accuse the managing editor my first week on the job, of already being “liberal media.” (That’s how far right much of the state was – and in some parts remains.)

McQuaid, under the wing of Loeb’s widow, Nackey, was a hometown boy on his ascent as executive editor and after her death, publisher. His father, Bernie, had been Bill Loeb’s righthand man in the newsroom – and Loeb kept a loaded revolver in his desk drawer, as I heard a few years before my move to the paper. In many ways, their arrangement was like family and a family business. I had worked for enough newspaper chains to appreciate the differences, as well as to appreciate Loeb’s determination to keep the paper independent of chain ownership.

There was always gossip, of course, which now gave me a sense that that if Joe could look hard and candidly at his subject, he might have enough inside dope to open fresh material for historians while also doing a bit of self-therapy in his retirement years. To me, his project looked something like my own attempt to better understand my grandfather and his legacy, pro and con – the man who labeled himself Dayton’s Leading Republican Plumber. What I had was mostly genealogy and local history, one where my remaining living sources could openly differ with each other and with what I had collected from those now passed.

Joe, on the other hand, was dealing with a once well-known rabid anti-communist archconservative who was credited with derailing more than one presidential candidate and leaving a long shadow over local and state politics. New Hampshire politicians still dare not speak of income or sales taxes as a funding option. People either adored him or hated him – reader and advertiser aversion to his approach had killed several other papers he owned – but he was largely a curiosity and enigma, one sometimes seen as a big joke with occasionally fatal consequences. Take Loeb seriously? For starters, Joe had to go beyond Kevin Cash’s 1975 Who the Hell IS William Loeb, a fat blast that nobody I’ve met ever finished reading, even during Loeb’s last years on the throne.

The result was William Loeb and His Times: Provocative Publisher, Private Paradox by Joseph W. McQuaid, published by New Hampshire-focused Plaidswede Publishing in Concord at the beginning of the year.

Joe’s tome faces several huge challenges.

Loeb died 41 years ago and few readers remember him or the era. Why should folks care about someone others have tagged a pipsqueak? Quite simply, he’s no longer news. Move on to today.

Newspapers are no longer the powerful institutions they were, diminished both by the right-wing attacks of Loeb’s ilk and by internet sapping of readership and advertising. Who’s interested in their internal operations? Or even of Loeb’s uneven track record in advancing his causes and candidates?

Politics itself has become toxic, a consequence of unchecked right-wing shenanigans. Informed folks are still shell-shocked by the daily scandals from the Trump White House.

Joe’s attempt to make sense of Loeb’s sordid personal life and financial dealings could be of importance, not so much as something that happened “back then” but rather in the ways it seems to foreshadow the emergence of Trump and his ilk and of Fox television’s slanted presentation of public affairs.

Not that Joe can quite make the connection from the late 1940s and ‘50s that gave Loeb his rise to today’s quagmire. He can’t honestly paint Loeb as a hero, though the publisher’s diatribes fit that role for many, so that omission costs Joe potential readers on the right. But his revelations about Loeb’s personal life make an already repulsive subject even less attractive to potential readers in the middle and left. Even morbid fascination has its limits. Besides, these days it fits a pattern. Clarence Thomas? Ted Cruz? Newt Gingerich? Mitch McConnell? As for New Hampshire? It’s still seen as too tiny to matter across much of the nation.

And as a footnote, Clem Costello, publisher of the newspaper just downstream in Lowell, Massachusetts, could provide a similar subject for the era, if only to round out the history.

Mortality and the passage of time

Realizing I really did need to get some regular physical exercise last winter, I finally caved in and ventured into the senior center for fitness class twice a week. It took three friends to nudge me into it, and it’s embarrassing to have to admit what 50 years of neglect have done to my body. I’m a long way from my yoga glory. Well, I’m also the only male in the circle, not that it inhibits the lively, enlightening, and laughter-riddled banter that occurs while we’re plodding through the routine. Their hour-plus dialogue could fill a hit sit-com or bestseller novel, if only I could find a plot. Well, much of the running commentary there is also about ailments afflicting folks in the community, sometimes leading to offering rides to their specialists or food deliveries – what I’ll call “good gossip.” And, oh yes, I much prefer to refer to the place as the Old Firehouse, skirting around the stigma of “senior center.”

That has me recalling an aside years ago when our managing editor told of a phone call he’d received from a reader complaining about being referred to as elderly.

“How old are you,” my boss asked and was told 78. “I see,” was the best he could respond with.

After that, I always struck “elderly” from news copy, along with “little” from child or kid.

Getting older is a multistage passage, most notably with the skin and stiffening joints, but the physical changes are only part of the experience.

One part is an awareness of being on borrowed time. Even when I was editing obituaries, I noted how many of the deceased were younger than me, and that was a little more than ten years ago.

Moving around the country has lessened some of the impact of aging, since I haven’t had to watch us grow older together. My high school classmates, for instance, will always never be more than 18 in my mind. Ditto for others left behind, they’re all frozen in time, even the few who are still in correspondence.

So another part is hearing that more of these colleagues of my generation are passing – a situation akin to personally knowing more people who have had been diagnosed with Covid and the recognition that it’s not just multiplying “out there” somewhere – that is, knowing only the abstract – but close at hand.

I recently posted two memorial minutes of Friends I worked with clerking Dover Meeting and have been reflecting on others in my Quaker circles.

Now I get word of the passing of an esteemed reporter who was six years younger than me, and somehow it hits more than those from the workplace who died earlier. To my surprise, it has nothing to do with how close we were in our daily interactions. (He and I weren’t, apart from a comment or two in passing. I should note that he produced “clean copy,” requiring little editing, and that meant little interpersonal friction.)

In his case, I think the blow comes as a sense of an end of an era. He carried institutional weight in covering the New Hampshire’s political scene and soared nationally during the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. With the decline of newspapers in general, his replacement at the statewide Union Leader will never achieve such prominence or influence.

Imagine what Marx would have said about Putin

Or even Stalin.

The revolution was supposed to be about liberating the people, not obliterating them. Well, we have seen more than a few of them run amuck. The guillotine was one example.

As for wealth being the cause of war and class oppression?

It’s time for a devoted Marxist to stand up and expose the old spymaster. I was going to say “from the left,” but that distinction loses all meaning in our time. He’s going to brush off any criticism from capitalist countries, in part because of his Communist roots.

The tyrant’s grounding and career, let’s be clear, were largely party-line Communist, which claimed to be based on the teachings of Karl Marx. So somewhere in that philosopher’s matrix imprinted in Putin’s mindset may be the key to turning him around. Maybe even call him to repentance.

Just what manifesto is today’s czar wannabe following, anyhoo? Does anyone want to remind him what happened to the last one?

Ways American democracy is increasingly at risk

Spoiler alert. This is a rant. Here are some of the places I see us as American society being in deep doodah.

  1. Out-and-out lies, delusions, and false expectations “Making America great again” has done the exact opposite. And ideological preconceptions block any reality of what needs to be done. It’s a great sales pitch, but if you’re promising to fix something, you better master the details. Think about making your car or computer or anything else run better and who you’d trust doing the job.
  2. The center is coming apart, along with the breakdown of face-to-face community. Who belongs to a lodge or bowling league or even a church anymore? Without those, just how are our opinions tested and refined? It’s part of a decline of civic awareness and participation.
  3. Refusal to give and take, i.e. compromise, to work out solutions for the common good. Health care is a prime example. Any faults with “Obama-care” can be laid at the feet of those opposed to any health insurance for Americans who didn’t have union jobs or the like. And we know who’s opposed those unions.
  4. Disproportionate representation by rural states. Not just the Senate, either, but especially the Electoral College, which was a faulty way of accommodating Southern slaveholders to begin with.
  5. Disenfranchisement of voters, one way or another. Want to talk about “stealing elections”?
  6. PACs and other big-money corruption, leading to the undermining of the middle class. It’s why the rich are getting richer.
  7. An uninformed electorate, along with the economic collapse of responsible journalism coupled with the tainting of “liberal media” by certain self-interests. Where on earth have the left-wing editorial page columnists been in the past half-century, anyway?
  8. Blaming the victims rather than the super-rich. Talk about “entitlement”? Add to that the myth of the “self-made man.”
  9. The collapse of the tax system. I’m no fan of the Internal Revenue Service, but it’s been gutted to let those with the most to get away scot-free.
  10. Without excusing the left for its too-often sanctimonious airs, I’d say the real threats are coming from an increasingly barbarian right-wing. Or should that be “anarchists”? They’re not conservatives or patriots, OK?

Look, unlike many, I’ve read the Federalist Papers closely, the arguments behind the American Constitution. I can say definitively that MAGA is dead-set against its principles.

Your turn to weigh in. Just be polite.

 

The turmoil’s turned up, blowing the lid off simmering pot

Let’s take a look.

Over the past year, we’ve witnessed a range of economic jolts that seem vaguely related to the worldwide Covid outbreak, though I’d say the virus only precipitated troubles that would have been inevitable even without it.

The pandemic simply turned up the heat, as it were.

Among the headlines:

  • Soaring prices of houses, many of them going to buyers from California or New York, sight unseen. Who can afford these mortgages? None of us in our old neighborhood could have moved in today.
  • The relocation from big cities to small towns, for those whose jobs can be done from home. Will they stay or fit in? What will their impact be, especially in places that have been economically struggling?
  • A retail apocalypse in the face of rising online shopping – what’s the future of downtown or the malls? (If you’re “going to work” on Zoom, you don’t need to dress up in new clothes, for one thing.)
  • Superrich and corporate takeover of American farmlands – and mobile home parks. Another blow to the middle and lower classes.
  • Systemic problems in the nation’s health-care system, including the uneven distribution of medical services. A fourth of Americans, mostly rural, have no primary physician, and many others are afraid to use the system because of serious past racial abuses. (These appear to be the leading reason many people have not been vaccinated.)
  • The failure of “just-in time,” including the supply-chain issues that have plagued retailers and manufacturers alike. It’s also exposing the vulnerabilities of offshore sourcing to places like China and Indonesia, as well as looming national security weaknesses. (I blame the Walmart influence in shuttering American factories.)
  • While automakers have shut down assembly lines because of the unavailability of computer chips, what we found most striking was all the empty shelves during a run to IKEA, the home design line built on its international flair and savvy. Row after row, empty. So much for our shopping list and research.
  • Inflating food prices. Fuel and weather are only part of the problem. (Well, we should note climate change somewhere in here, though it has nothing to do with Covid.)
  • Customer and voter nastiness, no doubt intensified by the isolation and resentment.

~*~

More telling is the shift in the workplace, with all of the help-wanted signs for jobs that go begging. It’s not that people are lazy, but rather they’ve realized the positions are demeaning, or meaningless, and it costs them more to work than they’re paid. It’s time to admit that minimum wage is insufficient. Many apparently discovered during Covid that their jobs were costing more than they were earning, once child care, transportation, and related costs were factored in.

Add to that the fact that a certain percentage of the populace is, candidly, unemployable – in the old days, you could give them chores around the farm, but even those have been mechanized. So what can they do to still be contributing members of the wider society?

There has been a serious breakdown in the social contract that underpins democracy. And in the work ethic – or ethics, for those who look closer.

For decades now, employers have demanding loyalty but offering none of their own. Sometimes, there’s even a requirement of noncompete agreements, no matter that the worker has paid for the needed education and career. In reality, in a big company, you work for your immediate boss and colleagues and whatever satisfaction you can find – not the remote layers above. The fact is, nobody entering the workforce today will be at the same enterprise at the end of their career. Maybe public service – especially education – will remain the rare exception.

One of the more shocking reports I saw in the past year noted that only a minority of American males between 18 and 65 hold fulltime jobs – I think the figure was just a third of the total. What are the rest doing? School, prison, early retirement, or – as I’m suspecting – under-the-table ventures. They’re not all stay-at-home dads, are they?

~*~

My new community is an interesting place to watch all of this play out. The place has long been stressed economically, with few adequately paying jobs to sustain families, and that’s led to a population outflow.

Qualified contractors, on the other hand, have been booked out solid, as has been the case nationally. (See above housing sales.)

Our new old house needs tons of renovation, but we’re stymied. As my wife says, “I have money I want to give to somebody but just can’t find anyone to take it.” Well, if we had a crew lined up, there would have been the problem of getting building supplies, and then at prices twice what they’d been just months before.

We’re hoping that will all change in the months ahead.

~*~

These are all things that need to be examined closely in the months ahead, especially in the public arena like the upcoming elections, not that I expect much of it will come coherently from the candidates. The fixes, after all, aren’t easy or painless.

In a way, it’s reflected in the matters of even wearing a mask (or not) or getting the vaccine (or not). I’d say Covid has simply made more obvious the deep polarization at work in our nation – and the wider world.

We all have some important and difficult work to do ahead. We can start with small steps.

 

Passing the plate 102

The Wabanaki people of Maine and the Maritime Provinces have been working since the 1990s on legislation and public policies to combat racism and colonialism in the educational system. All I’ve been able to dig up so far using the plate, however, is a research paper by Rebecca Cardinal Stokbeson, “Cibenuk Red Hope: Weaving Policy Toward Decolonization & Beyond,” based on research in Alberta. I’m hoping to learn more.