Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Wealthy Also Have a Dream (final installment)

Don't Wake Us From This Dream

To their credit and despite the brutal attacks waged against them by workers—often out of sheer jealousy—the rich continued to make money. The number of millionaires grew from a mere 50 in 1848 to 5,000 in 1910. Despite a crippling income tax that stole virtually every dime they made, the number of millionaires somehow—by hook or by crook—grew to 50,000 in 1958 and 500,000 in 1980. But always in the back of their minds was the notion; how much more money could they have acquired were taxation not robbing them blind—or at least making them teary-eyed.

Workers continued to accuse their bosses of being greedy and indifferent, some might say insensitive, to the plight of labor. But workers didn’t have to walk in fine Italian shoes or ride in long limos or fly in company jets and know that those shoes could have been even shinier, the limos even longer and the jets bigger and faster. Workers didn’t have to spend every waking moment burdened by images of how things might have been, could have been—dammit, should have been.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. The “Money Movement” that had begun with so much promise with Taft-Hartley was faltering. Who would deliver the spark needed to restore dignity to the downtrodden rich man? The young didn’t worry about the rich the way they had worried about the Vietnam War. Blacks didn’t concern themselves with the plight of the rich the way they had obsessed about Civil Rights. And the rich certainly couldn’t count on Feminists, whose concerns were lagging so far behind that “glass ceiling” wasn’t even in the vernacular yet.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Wealthy Also Have a Dream (continued)

The Dark Days
Many say the beginning of the end to actually enjoying being wealthy was the great railroad strike of 1877 and the many other labor strikes that occurred in its wake. These events served fair warning to the Captains of Industry that the gilded train they had been riding was about to derail. Maybe derail is too strong a word, but the ride was going to get a little bumpier as their grip on the purse strings loosened. But they weren’t going to roll over and die without a fight. They weren’t called Captains of Industry for nothing.
In 1957, the Mafia held an informal, casual dress board meeting at the palatial estate of Joseph “The Barber” Barbara in Apalachin, N.Y to devise a game plan for dividing the underworld empire of assassinated kingpin Albert Anastasia. Big news at the time, it wasn’t the first time the rich and powerful got close and personal. Back in 1889, the great railroad magnates assembled at J. P. Morgan's home at No. 219 Madison Avenue to form, in the phrase of the day, an iron-clad combination on how to deal with the labor issues confronting them.
Key to their plan was maintaining their control over the federal government, which was already very much beholding to these money magnates. How beholden?

In 1887, President Cleveland vetoed a bill appropriating $100,000 to draught-stricken Texas farmers because he didn’t want to weaken the sturdiness of our national character by encouraging the expectation of paternal care by the government. This tough-love approach was for the farmer’s own good. That same year, when it came to dealing with wealthy bondholders, his paternal instincts kicked in, and his concern for the sturdiness of our national character took the day off as he used a treasury surplus to pay off $100 bonds at a rate $28 dollars above value—a gift of $45 million.

Whether Republicans or Democrats held office made little difference because the real power rested with this small group of men with all the money. Socialist and Populist groups took up the cause of workers, but were never more than weak third parties capable of small gains but unable to make a real difference.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Wealthy Also Have a Dream

The Good Olde Days
Shedding the shackles and scourge of oppression is never easy.
Just ask the wealthy.
Never have so few had so much taken from them under the guise of helping so many inferior and ungrateful peons. Why, they’ve been down so long, they don’t know which way is up.
But, you say, aren’t they rich? How hard can being rich be, and might their sense of oppression be all in their heads?
The answers to these questions are yes, harder than you think and of course it’s all in their heads. That doesn’t make their oppression all right or even a little right—or them all wrong or even a little wrong.
Charles Dickens didn’t know the half of it when he wrote in 1859, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” He could have also added, “And you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The decades just ahead would be recognized for both the unfathomable accumulation of wealth by the very, very, very few and the unspeakable poverty experienced by the many, many, many millions of workers. 
There was a time—and you may find this hard to believe—when the wealthy controlled everything. Captains of Industry, sometimes irreverently referred to as Robber Barons, had it all—money, power, Congress and presidents in their back pockets—not to mention the hatred of almost every American worker. This hatred was more telling than you might imagine as any CEO will tell you: if the workers don’t like you, you must be doing something right.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fourth of July—the way our forefathers intended it to be

There are probably a dozen different ways to celebrate the Fourth of July, but this year I found myself focusing on only two. One I actually participated in and the other, an imagined Tea Party rally based on what I’ve garnered from the nightly news over the past four years.

Both celebrations included flags, lots of them, often incorporated into shirts and vests, but everything else about the two happenings were very different.  

The Tea Party party I envisioned in my head featured a number of speakers who called for taking back the government—from whom, no one would say. They also touched on the notion that our president is a dictator; that our unemployed—once productive workers when they were working have somehow morphed into lazy moochers now that their jobs are gone; and that the immigrants flowing across our borders are a different, substandard class than the ones most of us are descended from.

The speakers were confident that once this government take-back was accomplished, taxes would go down, the economy go up, roads will become drivable again, and the nanny state will get off our backs—freeing us all up to become the millionaires we were always meant to be. We will again be a nation of God-fearing, patriotic, self-reliant rugged individuals like the ones that built this nation into what it is today before all the losers started tearing it down into what it is today.

It goes without saying that there was a multitude of guns present, which any freedom loving American will tell you is the cornerstone of a strong free nation—not to mention, the lynchpin of a strong economy.

The Fourth of July celebration that I actually attended took place in the community of Brockport, New York along the banks of the Erie Canal. It consisted mostly of farmers from the neighboring towns or men and women who used to work at the nearby Kodak plants before those in charge cashed in their chips leaving Rochester’s industrious workers to fend for themselves. These people now worked in the local businesses that dotted the area more known for its cabbage, corn, and fruit crops. In spite of the hard times that have bedeviled this area for the last 20 years or so, everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Because the real world they lived in kept them from trouncing around the country all the time, and they were too practical to invest in something they could wear only once a year, I saw a lot of overalls but no tri-corned hats.

The flags at my real celebration were your basic “Stars and Stripes.” I didn’t see a single “Don’t Tread on me” or any flags with images of Sarah Palin. There were no Confederate flags because even though New York fought in the Civil War, New Yorkers choose to associate with the war that won our independence, not the war that almost tore our nation apart.

The Brockport celebration didn’t depend on outside agitators with agendas to carry the day but rather on locals with unbounded spirit. Instead of incensing the crowd with rhetoric, they inspired us with song—patriotic music performed by community choruses and ensembles and, of course, the world famous Brockport High School band. Each performance, no matter the group, included present members, future members and alumni from across the nation. To my untrained eye, the adults, young adults, children and senior citizens seemed to value each other’s contributions.

One highlight was a medley of service songs, calling on those in attendance to stand when their anthem was played. This was as military as it got. There was no discussion of America’s involvement or lack of involvement in overseas struggles.

Our president wasn’t insulted. He wasn’t accused of being too weak, too strong, too hardheaded, or too indecisive. It wasn’t even suggested that he is un-American. In essence, the whole affair seemed to be a celebration of America and not a condemnation of Americans.

I didn’t speak to anyone during my stay in Brockport who wasn’t a hunter or didn’t own a gun; but I saw no firearms. And there didn’t appear to be any militias present, although everyone seemed capable of defending themselves and property. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, was exercising his or her own second amendment right to own and bear arms but apparently, the right to own and bear arms does not entail making a spectacle of yourself. 

I came away from the two events—one witnessed in person and the other seared into my brain by three or four years of news reports, with one very intriguing question about America.

Why do people who proclaim to love their country seem to hate their president, government and fellow citizens so much?