Who is Bruce Ohr, and why is Donald Trump saying nasty things about him?

August 31, 2018

Who is @aliasvaughn? There are at least two views, one very flattering, one less so, and others. For my mileage, I’ve come to regard the handle on Twitter as a gossip columnist on the Trump administration troubles with criminal law.

That’s not to dismiss the work at all. Jack Anderson took over a Washington gossip column, and became an investigative powerhouse during the Watergate years.

We could use another Jack Anderson now, to present what is known about scandals in the White House, with assured publication in 1,000 local newspapers that right now get almost none of that news.

Plus, as anyone who heard me talk to corporations, an organization’s gossip reveals information vacuums that great leaders will fill with good, accurate information, and often reveals details about events that do not appear in the official versions of a story, but which can make all the difference in the world in properly dealing with a situation. Leaders listen to gossip, and answer it.

In any case, today Ale (@aliasvaughn) offers a lengthy-for-Twitter explanation of why Donald Trump lashes out at Bruce Ohr, who you and I don’t know from Adam nor Adam’s off-ox. The explanation has a lot of hyperbole in it — but it also offers information you can’t get from the Trump echo chambers, and a lot of connections today’s newspaper doesn’t have time to explain.

Assistant Attorney General and past champion Russian organized crime fighter Bruce Ohr.

Former Associate Deputy Attorney General and past champion Russian organized crime fighter Bruce Ohr.

So I saved the thread here, and offer it for your edification and entertainment, and to convince you to go vote the bums out in November.

Who is Bruce Ohr?


Americans want EPA’s environmental protections; Verge film tells why

October 19, 2017

Verge caption:  A woman holds a jar of undrinkable water from her well in Ohio in 1973. She filed a damage suit against the Hanna Coal Company, which owned the land around her house. Photo by Erik Calonius / US National Archives. From EPA's Documerica project.

Verge caption: A woman holds a jar of undrinkable water from her well in Ohio in 1973. She filed a damage suit against the Hanna Coal Company, which owned the land around her house. Photo by Erik Calonius / US National Archives. From EPA’s Documerica project.

Short film from The Verge:

It’s good to be reminded of the burning Cuyahoga River, from time to time. As a great example of EPA’s successes, the the Cuyahoga has not caught fire for many years.


History and art: Lyndon Johnson, Civil Rights, Vietnam, Stephen Stucky, the Dallas Symphony, and “August 4, 1964”

August 4, 2017

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jaap van Zweden, presents the premiere of Steven Stucky's oratorio

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jaap van Zweden, presents the premiere of Steven Stucky’s oratorio “August 4, 1964,” with soloists, from left, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, soprano Laquita Mitchell, tenor Vale Rideout, and baritone Robert Orth. Photo from the National Endowment for the Arts, Jason Kindig

In an era when our president and Congress appear unable to deal with one issue on a good day, it may be instructive to look back to a day upon which one U.S. President handled a lot, all at once.

On August 4, 1964, President Johnson awoke to the news that two U.S. Navy ships cruising in the Tonkin Gulf had been fired upon by North Vietnamese Navy gunboats; then the FBI called and announced that the bodies of three civil rights workers had been found, young men registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.  Both of these events rumble through history like a Rocky Mountain avalanche to today; either was a make-or-break event for any presidency.  

Lyndon Johnson dealt with them both, the same day. And though Vietnam did not turn out for the best, it’s useful to note that Johnson’s call for Congress to grant authority to act on the Tonkin incident got results just three days later.

Sadly we note that Stephen Stucky, the composer of this great piece, died of brain cancer on February 14, 2016.

“August 4, 1964,” is an oratorio covering a remarkable and fantastic coincidence in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.  On that day, the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been missing for nearly seven weeks, were found in shallow graves near Philadelphia, Mississippi — they were the victims of violence aimed at stopping blacks from voting.  The incident was a chief spur to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

And also on that day, the U.S.S. Maddox reported it had been attacked by gunboats of the North Vietnamese Navy, in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to expand and escalate the war in Vietnam, which he did.

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony's performance of Steven Stucky's

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony’s Grammy-nominated performance of Steven Stucky’s “August 4, 1964,” Jaap van Zweden conducting.

The Dallas Symphony commissioned the work, from composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer, in commemoration of President Johnson’s 100th birth anniversary — he would have been 100 on August 27, 2008.  The works were premiered in Dallas in 2008.

The music is outstanding, especially for a modern piece.  The Dallas Symphony played at its flashiest and most sober best, under the baton of new conductor Jaap van Zweden.  It was a spectacular performance.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. van Zweden, hailed in his debut as music director a week before, scored another triumph here. And the orchestra’s assured and gritty performance was rivaled by that of the large Dallas Symphony Chorus, both corporately and individually, in shifting solo snippets charting the course of the fateful day.

The strong cast, mildly amplified, was robustly led by the Johnson of Robert Orth, last heard as another president in John Adams’s “Nixon in China” in Denver in June. Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Conner, wearing period hats, were touching as Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman. Understandably, the taxing role of a high-strung McNamara took a small toll on the tenor of Vale Rideout in his late aria.

The entire thing deserves more commentary, perhaps soon.  There is stellar history in the choral piece.  And there is this:  Consider that Lyndon Johnson, the best legislator and second most-effective executive we ever had as president, got hit with these two crises the same day.  On the one hand the nation got the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, executive orders and government support to end segregation and the evils it created.  On the other hand, we got stuck with the disaster of the Vietnam War.

How would the nation fared had a lesser person been in the White House on that day?

(August 4 is a busy, busy day in history; much to think about.)

More: 

This is an encore post.

Much of this is an encore post.

Save

Save

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September 30, 1794: George Washington marches on tax protesters

September 30, 2015

On September 30, 1794, President George Washington mounted his horse to lead a 13,000-man all-volunteer army, against Americans who refused to pay, or threatened to not pay taxes on whiskey.

Tea Partiers and Republicans might do well to spend a few minutes refreshing their memories from history class — or getting the information they didn’t get the first time around.  Citizens in western Pennsylvania, and that part of Virginia that would be come West Virgina, and the Ohio Territory, complained that federal taxes on whiskey were “theft.”

No, taxes are not “stealing.”  Here’s an offending but explanatory poster I found on Facebook:

Who are the history-illiterates who make these offensive posters? Taxes are not

Who are the history-illiterates who make these offensive posters? Taxes are not “stolen,” at least, not according to patriots like George Washington.

I told one guy who posted it that I thought it was a crude misrepresentation of George Washington, there on the left — but that I had always suspected he didn’t like the “founders,” and was grateful to have any doubts I may have had, removed.

He said, “Huh?”

This Prominent Americans series stamp of the U...

Pay your taxes, maybe they’ll put you on a stamp. This Prominent Americans series stamp of the United States from 1968 features Oliver Wendell Holmes. Wikipedia image

One could always refer to that wonderful line from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., about how he liked to pay taxes because “with them I buy civilization.”  But I suspect most tax revolters in the U.S. don’t much like civilization (and they have the guns to prove it).

Instead I simply told the story of George Washington and the Whiskey Rebellion, the first, and mostly-forgotten, case of U.S. tax rebels.  You know the story.

I wrote:

Yeah, in 1794, a bunch of farmers out in western Pennsylvania got ticked off at taxes. They said paying taxes was like the government stealing from them. And, they had their representatives explain to President George Washington, didn’t they fight a war against paying taxes?

Washington, you may recall, was the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the great American Revolution against Great Britain. “No taxes without representation” was one of the original war cries.

Washington said, ‘It takes money to run the government, and that money is collected from the people in taxes fairly levied by their elected representatives.’

The farmers weren’t having any of that. They were way out in western Pennsylvania, near the wilderness Fort Pittsburgh. The federal government, what little bit of it there was, was in Philadelphia. ‘How are they going to make us pay taxes?’ the rebel leaders shouted to crowds.

George Washington

A more friendly portrayal of George “Pay Your Taxes or Swing” Washington – Wikipedia image (which bust is this? Library of Congress?)

Washington got a dozen nooses, and a volunteer army of 13,000 Americans, and marched to western Pennsylvania to hang anyone who wouldn’t pay the tax. Oddly, by the time Washington got there with the nooses, the rebels decided maybe it was a good idea to be patriotic about it after all.

So I assumed you just updated the pictures a little. [In the poster] There’s George Washington on the left, with his Smith and Wesson “noose,” telling the big corporate farmer to pay his taxes.I think your portrayal of Washington is a bit crude, but it’s historically accurate, with regard to taxes.

I always suspected you didn’t like George Washington. Now I know for sure you don’t.

You could have looked it up: The Whiskey Rebellion – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/duel/peopleevents/pande22.html

And it was on this day in 1794, September 30, that Washington and the army set out to put down the rebellion.

How would Washington have dealt with secession, or the Texas Republic movement?

I don’t much like crude political dysfunction and disinformation from people who don’t know U.S. history, and won’t defend American principles.  Am I being unreasonable?

More:

Gen. Washington, astride his favorite white horse, reviewing his troops at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, before the march to the western part of the state to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. Image from the Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Gen. Washington, astride his favorite white horse, reviewing his troops at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, before the march to the western part of the state to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. Image from the Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. (Just try to find who painted it!)

” . . . to execute the laws . . .” a painting by Donna Neary for the National Guard, on the Whiskey Rebellion. National Guard Caption: In September 1791 the western counties of Pennsylvania broke out in rebellion against a federal excise tax on the distillation of whiskey. After local and federal officials were attacked, President Washington and his advisors decided to send troops to pacify the region. It was further decided that militia troops, rather than regulars, would be sent. On August 7, 1794, under the provisions of the newly-enacted militia law, Secretary of War Henry Knox called upon the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for 12,950 troops as a test of the President’s power to enforce the law. Numerous problems, both political and logistical, had to be overcome and by October, 1794 the militiamen were on the march. The New Jersey units marched from Trenton to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There they were reviewed by their Commander-in Chief, President George Washington, accompanied by Secretary of the Treasury and Revolutionary war veteran Alexander Hamilton. By the time troops reached Pittsburgh, the rebellion had subsided, and western Pennsylvania was quickly pacified. This first use of the Militia Law of 1792 set a precedence for the use of the militia to “execute the laws of the union, (and) suppress insurrections”. New Jersey was the only state to immediately fulfill their levy of troops to the exact number required by the President. This proud tradition of service to state and nation is carried on today by the New Jersey Army and Air National Guard.

Tip of the old scrub brush to the historians and other fine people at Mount Vernon, for the reminder:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Who wrote “A Day in the Life of Joe Republican?”

January 30, 2015

As it came to me. Similar to a module we used to use in Orrin Hatch speeches back in the Pleistocene (probably would have gotten him voted out if he used the old module now, let alone this one).

Why do this usually come with no author, or “author unknown?”  I’ve tracked it down to Crooks and Liars and a recitation by Thom Hartmann, who attributes it to a guy named John Gray in Cincinnati, in 2004. Is that right?

A Day In the Life of Joe Republican

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards. With his first swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer’s medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance – now Joe gets it too.

He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for the laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

He walks on the government-provided sidewalk to subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe’s employer pays these standards because Joe’s employer doesn’t want his employees to call the union.

Hal Coffman in the New York American, 1912. Via Superitch

Hal Coffman in the New York American, 1912. Via Superitch

If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he’ll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn’t think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It is noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe’s deposit is federally insured by the FDIC [FSLIC] because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe’s money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime. Joe also forgets that in addition to his federally subsidized student loans, he attended a state funded university.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards to go along with the tax-payer funded roads.

He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn’t want to make rural loans.

The house didn’t have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and demanded rural electrification.

He is happy to see his father, who is now retired. His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn’t have to.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn’t mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees: “We don’t need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I’m a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have.”

Thom Hartmann recites:


Trickle down economics made Kansas business dry up

September 30, 2014

Kansas voters are angry; they elected Sam Brownback governor on his promises that slashing state budgets and slashing taxes for the wealthy would make Kansas prosperous.

Now the roads are bad, schools are suffering, and many other state services can’t be done.  Kansas is crumbling, and the state government is too broke to do anything about it.

Which explains this picture, in Mother Jones:

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback meets with Kansas farmers about why the roads to get their crops to market are so bad, breaking their trucks and costing them time and money. Illustration by Roberto Parada, in Mother Jones Magazine.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback meets with Kansas farmers about why the roads to get their crops to market are so bad, breaking their trucks and costing them time and money. Illustration by Roberto Parada, in Mother Jones Magazine.

I do love that illustration. It tells an important story.

From the story, by Patrick Caldwell:

That the RGA had been forced to mobilize reinforcements in Kansas spoke to just how imperiled Brownback had become. After representing Kansas for nearly two decades in Congress, he had won the governorship in 2010 by a 30-point margin. Once in office, Brownback wasted no time implementing a radical agenda that blended his trademark social conservatism with the libertarian-tinged economic agenda favored by one of his most famous constituents, Charles Koch, whose family company is headquartered in Wichita and employs more than 3,500 people in the state. Other GOP governors elected in the tea party wave, such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, garnered more ink for their brash policy maneuvers, but in many ways Brownback had presided over the most sweeping transformation.

Early in his tenure, he said he wanted to turn Kansas into a “real, live experiment” for right-wing policies. In some cases relying on proposals promoted by the Kansas Policy Institute—a conservative think tank that belongs to the Koch-backed State Policy Network and is chaired by a former top aide to Charles Koch—Brownback led the charge to privatize Medicaid, curb the power of teachers’ unions, and cull thousands from the welfare rolls.

“[Brownback] said, ‘I’ll be glad to campaign for you coming up, but I want all of my guns pointed in the same direction,’ meaning there’s no room for difference of opinion. From there on it was chilling.”

But his boldest move was a massive income tax cut. Brownback flew in Reagan tax cut guru Arthur Laffer to help sell the plan to lawmakers, with the state paying the father of supply-side economics $75,000 for three days of work. Brownback and his legislative allies ultimately wiped out the top rate of 6.45 percent, slashed the middle rate from 6.25 to 4.9 percent, and dropped the bottom tier from 3.5 to 3 percent. A subsequent bill set in motion future cuts, with the top rate declining to 3.9 percent by 2018 and falling incrementally from there. Brownback’s tax plan also absolved nearly 200,000 small business owners of their state income tax burdens. Among the “small” businesses that qualified were more than 20 Koch Industries LLCs. “Without question they’re the biggest beneficiaries of the tax cuts,” says University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis.

Laffer told me that “what Sam Brownback has done is and will be extraordinarily beneficial for the state of Kansas,” but many Kansans beg to differ. Brownback had said that his tax cut plan would provide “a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” Instead, the state has gone into cardiac arrest. “The revenue projections were just horrendous once the tax cuts were put into place,” Loomis says. The state’s $700 million budget surplus is projected to dwindle into a $238 million deficit. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s downgraded the state’s bond rating earlier this year as a result. “The state’s on a crisis course,” says H. Edward Flentje, a professor emeritus of political science at Wichita State University who served alongside Brownback in the cabinet of Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden in the 1980s. “He has literally put us in a ditch.”

Conservatives once celebrated Brownback’s grand tax experiment as a prototype worthy of replication in other states and lauded Brownback himself as a model conservative reformer (“phenomenal,” Grover Norquist has said). “My focus,” Brownback said in one 2013 interview, “is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, ‘See, we’ve got a different way, and it works.'” By this fall it was hard to imagine anyone touting the Brownback model, especially with the Kansas governor at risk of going down in defeat—in the Koch brothers’ backyard, no less—and dragging the entire state ticket down with him. The Wall Street Journal recently dubbed Brownback’s approach “more of a warning than a beacon.”

More at the website.

Income inequality, failure of trickle down economics, dramatic tax cut disasters, all come home to roost at some point. Kansans, it appears, are ready to change things.

How about the rest of the nation?

More: 


President Obama on Constitution Day 2014

September 17, 2014

President Barack Obama literally standing with the Constitution, at the National Archives. (source of photo?)

President Barack Obama literally standing with the Constitution, at the National Archives. (source of photo?)

Your flag is up. You’ve already read the Constitution and all 27 amendments.

Time to pass on greetings to others:  Happy Constitution Day!

From the President of the United States:

CONSTITUTION DAY AND CITIZENSHIP DAY, CONSTITUTION WEEK, 2014

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

Eleven years after a small band of patriots declared the independence of our new Nation, our Framers set out to refine the promise of liberty and codify the principles of our Republic.  Though the topics were contentious and the debate fierce, the delegates’ shared ideals and commitment to a more perfect Union yielded compromise.  Signed on September 17, 1787, our Constitution enshrined — in parchment and in the heart of our young country — the foundation of justice, equality, dignity, and fairness, and became the cornerstone of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.

For more than two centuries, our founding charter has guided our progress and defined us as a people.  It has endured as a society of farmers and merchants advanced to form the most dynamic economy on earth; as a small army of militias grew to the finest military the world has ever known; and as a Nation of 13 original States expanded to 50, from sea to shining sea.  Our Founders could not have foreseen the challenges our country has faced, but they crafted an extraordinary document.  It allowed for protest and new ideas that would broaden democracy’s reach.  And it stood the test of a civil war, after which it provided the framework to usher in a new birth of freedom through the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

America’s revolutionary experiment in democracy has, from its first moments, been a beacon of hope and opportunity for people around the world, inspiring some to call for freedom in their own land and others to seek the blessings of liberty in ours.  The United States has always been a nation of immigrants.  We are strengthened by our diversity and united by our fidelity to a set of tenets.  We know it is not only our bloodlines or an accident of birth that make us Americans.  It is our firm belief that out of many we are one; that we are united by our convictions and our unalienable rights.  Each year on Citizenship Day, we recognize our newest citizens whose journeys have been made possible by our founding documents and whose contributions have given meaning to our charter’s simple words.

Our Constitution reflects the values we cherish as a people and the ideals we strive for as a society.  It secures the privileges we enjoy as citizens, but also demands participation, responsibility, and service to our country and to one another.  As we celebrate our Nation’s strong and durable framework, we are reminded that our work is never truly done.  Let us renew our commitment to these sacred principles and resolve to advance their spirit in our time.

In remembrance of the signing of the Constitution and in recognition of the Americans who strive to uphold the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, the Congress, by joint resolution of February 29, 1952 (36 U.S.C. 106), designated September 17 as “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day,” and by joint resolution of August 2, 1956 (36 U.S.C. 108), requested that the President proclaim the week beginning September 17 and ending September 23 of each year as “Constitution Week.”

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 17, 2014, as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, and September 17 through September 23, 2014, as Constitution Week.  I encourage Federal, State, and local officials, as well as leaders of civic, social, and educational organizations, to conduct ceremonies and programs that bring together community members to reflect on the importance of active citizenship, recognize the enduring strength of our Constitution, and reaffirm our commitment to the rights and obligations of citizenship in this great Nation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.

BARACK OBAMA

In that case, Happy Constitution Week!

What should we do tomorrow?


History in art: August 4, 1964, and the Dallas Symphony

August 4, 2014

On August 4, 1964, President Johnson awoke to the news that two U.S. Navy ships cruising in the Tonkin Gulf had been fired upon by North Vietnamese Navy gunboats; then the FBI called and announced that the bodies of three civil rights workers had been found, young men registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.  Both of these events rumble through history like a Rocky Mountain avalanche to today; either was a make-or-break event for any presidency.  

Lyndon Johnson dealt with them both, the same day

“August 4, 1964,” is an oratorio covering a remarkable and fantastic coincidence in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.  On that day, the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been missing for nearly seven weeks, were found in shallow graves near Philadelphia, Mississippi — they were the victims of violence aimed at stopping blacks from voting.  The incident was a chief spur to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

And also on that day, the U.S.S. Maddox reported it had been attacked by gunboats of the North Vietnamese Navy, in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to expand and escalate the war in Vietnam, which he did.

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony's performance of Steven Stucky's

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony’s Grammy-nominated performance of Steven Stucky’s “August 4, 1964,” Jaap van Zweden conducting.

The Dallas Symphony commissioned the work, from composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer, in commemoration of President Johnson’s 100th birth anniversary — he would have been 100 on August 27, 2008.  The works were premiered in Dallas in 2008.

The music is outstanding, especially for a modern piece.  The Dallas Symphony was at its flashiest and most sober best, under the baton of new conductor Jaap van Zweden.  It was a spectacular performance.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. van Zweden, hailed in his debut as music director a week before, scored another triumph here. And the orchestra’s assured and gritty performance was rivaled by that of the large Dallas Symphony Chorus, both corporately and individually, in shifting solo snippets charting the course of the fateful day.

The strong cast, mildly amplified, was robustly led by the Johnson of Robert Orth, last heard as another president in John Adams’s “Nixon in China” in Denver in June. Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Conner, wearing period hats, were touching as Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman. Understandably, the taxing role of a high-strung McNamara took a small toll on the tenor of Vale Rideout in his late aria.

The entire thing deserves more commentary, perhaps soon.  There is stellar history in the choral piece.  And there is this:  Consider that Lyndon Johnson, the best legislator and second most-effective executive we ever had as president, got hit with these two crises the same day.  On the one hand the nation got the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, executive orders and government support to end segregation and the evils it created.  On the other hand, we got stuck with the disaster of the Vietnam War.

How would the nation fared had a lesser person been in the White House on that day?

(August 4 is a busy, busy day in history; much to think about.)

More: 

This is an encore post.

Much of this is an encore post.


December 20, 1620: Mayflower passengers finally disembark at Plymouth, after agreeing to the Mayflower Compact

December 21, 2013

Item from The Associated Press‘s “Today in History” feature, for December 21:  “1620 – Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower went ashore for the first time at present-day Plymouth, Mass.”  Why in December?  The arrived at the place almost a month earlier, but because of delays in getting out of England due to the leaky second boat (which didn’t make the trip), and difficulties encountered en route, when the group anchored, they first had to come to an agreement how to govern the colony, so far out of the territory of the charter they had been granted, as explained below.  Originally, a version of this desultory ran here, on July 26, 2006.

Credit: Sarony & Major.

From the Library of Congress, one of the few illustrations of the event that makes it clear it was near winter: The Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, December 1620 Credit: Sarony & Major. “The landing of the Pilgrims, on Plymouth Rock, Dec. 11th 1620.” c1846. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars features a set of comments on an interview right-right-wing pundit John Lofton did with Roy Moore, the former chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court who lost his job when he illegally tried to force his religion on the court and on Alabama. In 2006 Moore ran for governor of Alabama, losing in the primary election.

One of the grandest canards in current thought about U.S. history is that the Mayflower Compact set up a theocracy in Massachusetts. Lofton and Moore banter about it as if it were well-established fact — or as if, as I suspect, neither of them has looked at the thing in a long time, and that neither of them has ever diagrammed the operative sentence in the thing.

The Mayflower Compact was an agreement between the people in two religiously disparate groups, that among them they would fairly establish a governing body to fairly make laws, and that they would abide by those laws. Quite the opposite of a theocracy, this was the first time Europeans set up in the New World a government by consent of the governed.

That is something quite different from a theocracy.

I think people get confused by the run-on sentences, and the flattering, intended-to-be-flowery language in the clauses prefacing the meat of the document.

First, a very brief history: There were two groups aboard the ship in 1620, about 70 artisans and craftsman along to provide the real work to make sure the colony made money, and about 30 religious refugees. The London Company (accurately) thought the religious refugees lacking in key skills, like trapping, hunting and hide tanning, and barrel-making (barrels were needed to ship goods to England). So the London Company had insisted the craftsman go along, to make sure somebody knew how to harvest stuff and ship it back.

The London Company had a charter to establish a colony in Virginia. Because of delays with leaky ships and uncooperative winds, the Mayflower got to America late, and much farther north. The Mayflower landed well outside the territory the company was chartered to colonize, and the 70 craftsmen announced they were striking out on their own. Bradford realized his group would freeze, or starve, or both, and at gunpoint he kept both groups aboard ship to work out a compromise.

Here is the full text, from the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law site:

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&.

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620.

See what I mean? It’s loaded with clauses that tend to obscure what is going on. Starting out with the standard contract language of the day, “In the name of God, Amen,” it loses modern readers. We tend to think that with so many mentions of God without a “damn” following, it must be a religious document. But it’s not.

Here’s the meat the the document, the money quote:

We, whose names are underwritten . . . do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

Got that? They promised to form a government, enact fair laws, and obey those laws — government by consent of the governed, by mutual compact, not by divine right.

Just because God is mentioned in the document doesn’t change its nature. It’s a secular compact, an agreement between men, outside the stricture of any church, outside any particular belief.

As we noted over at Ed Brayton’s site, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, many New England settlements and towns became little theocracies. But it wasn’t the Mayflower Compact which set that up, or encouraged it.

More:

 


Big health care news story you probably missed (because your local media didn’t cover it)

December 10, 2013

Just sayin’, you know?

This is news economists and budget watchers and policy makers have been hoping to hear for 60 years.

Here it is — did you see it in your local paper? On TV? On Facebook?

Chart showing news coverage of record low health care cost rises.  From ThinkProgress

Chart showing news coverage of record low health care cost rises. From ThinkProgress

One criticism aimed at the Affordable Care Act that had some legs was that it did not go far enough to control actual costs. Cost controls would have been impossible to add to the bill, politically. So the hope was that this first step would have some impact.

In 2009, health care cost inflation ran about 20% per year, despite the recession. For the previous two decades, health care costs inflated at a greater-than 10% clip every year.

By 2012, with a push from the reforms in the ACA, Bill Clinton reported that health care cost inflation had dropped to 4% per year.

Now?  1.3%.  This is huge news.

Who covered it?  Not many, according to ThinkProgress.

Bad news gets 24-hour coverage and bulletins during the ads.  Good news is an orphan.  How wrong is that?

Bookmark the chart and ThinkProgress; you’ll need facts in your discussions.

More:


Taxes are “stolen?” Those who don’t know history, shouldn’t pretend to complain about taxes

August 24, 2013

No, taxes are not “stealing.”  Here’s the offending poster I found on Facebook:

Who are the history-illiterates who make these offensive posters? Taxes are not "stolen," at least, not according to patriots like George Washington.

Who are the history-illiterates who make these offensive posters? Taxes are not “stolen,” at least, not according to patriots like George Washington.

I told one guy who posted it that I thought it was a crude misrepresentation of George Washington, there on the left — but that I had always suspected he didn’t like the “founders,” and was grateful to have any doubts I may have had, removed.

He said, “Huh?”

This Prominent Americans series stamp of the U...

Pay your taxes, maybe they’ll put you on a stamp. This Prominent Americans series stamp of the United States from 1968 features Oliver Wendell Holmes. Wikipedia image

One could always refer to that wonderful line from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., about how he liked to pay taxes because “with them I buy civilization.”  But I suspect most tax revolters in the U.S. don’t much like civilization (and they have the guns to prove it).

Instead I simply told the story of George Washington and the Whiskey Rebellion, the first, and mostly-forgotten, case of U.S. tax rebels.  You know the story.

I wrote:

Yeah, in 1794, a bunch of farmers out in western Pennsylvania got ticked off at taxes. They said paying taxes was like the government stealing from them. And, they had their representatives explain to President George Washington, didn’t they fight a war against paying taxes?

Washington, you may recall, was the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the great American Revolution against Great Britain. “No taxes without representation” was one of the original war cries.

Washington said, ‘It takes money to run the government, and that money is collected from the people in taxes fairly levied by their elected representatives.’

The farmers weren’t having any of that. They were way out in western Pennsylvania, near the wilderness Fort Pittsburgh. The federal government, what little bit of it there was, was in Philadelphia. ‘How are they going to make us pay taxes?’ the rebel leaders shouted to crowds.

George Washington

A more friendly portrayal of George “Pay Your Taxes or Swing” Washington – Wikipedia image (which bust is this? Library of Congress?)

Washington got a dozen nooses, and a volunteer army of 13,000 Americans, and marched to western Pennsylvania to hang anyone who wouldn’t pay the tax. Oddly, by the time Washington got there with the nooses, the rebels decided maybe it was a good idea to be patriotic about it after all.

So I assumed you just updated the pictures a little. [In the poster] There’s George Washington on the left, with his Smith and Wesson “noose,” telling the big corporate farmer to pay his taxes.I think your portrayal of Washington is a bit crude, but it’s historically accurate, with regard to taxes.

I always suspected you didn’t like George Washington. Now I know for sure you don’t.

You could have looked it up: The Whiskey Rebellion – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/duel/peopleevents/pande22.html

I don’t much like crude political dysfunction and disinformation from people who don’t know U.S. history, and won’t defend American principles.  Am I being unreasonable?

More:

Gen. Washington, astride his favorite white horse, reviewing his troops at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, before the march to the western part of the state to put down the Whiskey Rebellion.  Image from the Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Gen. Washington, astride his favorite white horse, reviewing his troops at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, before the march to the western part of the state to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. Image from the Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. (Just try to find who painted it!)

” . . . to execute the laws . . .” a painting by Donna Neary for the National Guard, on the Whiskey Rebellion. National Guard Caption: In September 1791 the western counties of Pennsylvania broke out in rebellion against a federal excise tax on the distillation of whiskey. After local and federal officials were attacked, President Washington and his advisors decided to send troops to pacify the region. It was further decided that militia troops, rather than regulars, would be sent. On August 7, 1794, under the provisions of the newly-enacted militia law, Secretary of War Henry Knox called upon the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for 12,950 troops as a test of the President’s power to enforce the law. Numerous problems, both political and logistical, had to be overcome and by October, 1794 the militiamen were on the march. The New Jersey units marched from Trenton to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There they were reviewed by their Commander-in Chief, President George Washington, accompanied by Secretary of the Treasury and Revolutionary war veteran Alexander Hamilton. By the time troops reached Pittsburgh, the rebellion had subsided, and western Pennsylvania was quickly pacified. This first use of the Militia Law of 1792 set a precedence for the use of the militia to “execute the laws of the union, (and) suppress insurrections”. New Jersey was the only state to immediately fulfill their levy of troops to the exact number required by the President. This proud tradition of service to state and nation is carried on today by the New Jersey Army and Air National Guard.


Outlaw flying in the American west

August 15, 2013

Old Jules tells a great story here about cranking up the old Cessna and climbing high enough to watch the vast powers of the U.S. military run training operations in the New Mexico Desert.

Pilots, bless ’em, tend toward the ornery end of the scale.  That’s what you want if something breaks on your airplane.  You want a guy at the stick who says, “Dagnab it, let’s see how to get out of this one safely.”  (Shades of Flight.  A great movie, really — did you see it?)

This is the place to insert the heroics of pilots in various times of stress, Wally Stewart and his crew bringing their B-24 bomber back over the Mediterrannean and dropping it perfectly on the runway, where it fell apart from the bullet holes [See KUED resources here].  That brave American Airlines crew in the DC-10 over Detroit, Flight 96, who lost hydraulic control when the rear cargo door blew out, and after a string of blue talking, brought the plane down safely (one flight attendant died in the explosion). Those United Airlines pilots who brought the DC-10 Flight 232 down in Sioux City, Iowa, after the rear engine flew apart and destroyed all control of the tail and rudder.  That brave U.S. Airways crew that executed a perfect landing in the Hudson River with Flight 1549.

I think if you talk with pilots much, you get the idea that they like things a little on the edge.  They don’t develop those cool, steely nerves that save lives by having nothing go wrong, ever, or by not pushing their aircraft where the wonks at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C., say aircraft should not be pushed.  We hope they do all this pushing in flight simulators; but we also know better.

Cessnas, and just violating some of the rules, don’t deserve those accolades, really.  These stories tell how pilots might develop the skills the brave guys use later.  But they are stories, nevertheless, and they deserve to be told.  They may not save your life flying, but they’ll enrich your life, and help you get through the stuff here on the ground.

So go read Old Jules’s tale.

Then come back here; here are a couple of stories, true as I remember them (a couple of which really should be tracked down; the American west of the latter-half the of 20th century is full of these stories, and they need to be told).

I told Old Jules:

What’s outlaw in flying?

Two observations.

Years ago, while I was staffing the Senate, my brother, Jerry Jones, who spent a good deal of time in his last 20 years in Page, Arizona, called to ask me to check in on a Senate hearing on some FAA issue or other.  Turns out someone — National Park Service, perhaps? — was asking FAA to significantly tighten rules on flying around NPS stuff, including around Rainbow Bridge National Monument.  Apart from the usual issues of air traffic congestion and safety around conflicts between “fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft” (airplanes and helicopters) in and around the Grand Canyon, there were complaints about small plane pilots flying under Rainbow bridge.  The thing really is massive, and you could put the dome of the U.S. Capitol under it, so it’s about 500 feet high . . . what barnstorming pilot could resist?

A somewhat skeptical group of senators quizzed the FAA and Park Service guys on what the problem was, other than noise and hubbub to hikers (who had hiked a mile from the marina on Lake Powell).  About that time Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, shuffled into the hearing.  Goldwater was very protective of grand things to see in Arizona, like Rainbow Bridge, and he was also a pilot.

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator (AZ-R)

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator, R-Arizona. Wikipedia image.

At some point, one of the officials making a case to yank licenses from pilots who pulled the illegal stunt made a comment that questioned the sanity of any pilot who would do such a thing.  Goldwater sat upright.  You mean any pilot who would do such a thing is crazy? Goldwater asked.  Well, yes — and we don’t want crazy people flying airplanes, the official said.  How about such crazy people representing the people of Arizona and passing judgment on your proposals? Goldwater asked.  Then he said he didn’t want an answer to that, that he had some grave reservations about the proposal, and he left the hearing.

I later caught a conversation with the senator in a hallway, in which someone asked him directly if he’d ever flown under Rainbow Bridge, and he said something like, not enough times that the FAA needs to worry about it.

Brother Jerry started a public service effort in his Page days, Page Attacks Trash, a project to clean up litter in and around Page, on the Navajo Reservation, and in the Lake Powell National Recreation Area (NRA) and Rainbow Bridge NM.  It was a great clean-up effort, got the support of the Salt River Project (who operate the Navajo Generating Station in Page); it was big time.  Iron Eyes Cody, who did the famous anti-littering ad featuring the tear in the eye of an American Indian, sometimes dropped in to help out.

Jerry arranged for some television Public Service Announcements (PSAs) filmed in and around Lake Powell, to fight littering.  One of the spots was shot at Rainbow Bridge.  Jerry’s health had been failing for years, but he’d get his cane and make the hike, just to watch the proceedings and keep it all going well.  They finished the spot, broke sticks (as they used to say in the filming biz), and were walking back to the boats at the marina, Jerry and his cane far in the rear.  Just before the film crew rounded the bend, they heard a small airplane buzzing around and the tell-tale cut of the engine, to lose altitude, before roaring the engine to pass under the stone formation.  One of the cameramen had some footage left, and had the presence of mind to turn on the camera and film the thing.

Well, the Park Service and FAA were outraged to hear of the event.  They subpoenaed the film footage, and blew up every frame to see if they could get the tail number on the airplane.  To be honest, I don’t know how that turned out.  I do know that on my wall I have a large photograph of my late brother, two by two-and-a-half feet, waving to the cameraman, with Rainbow Bridge in the background.  That frame didn’t have any useful information, and the law gave him the photo.

The Rainbow Brigde National Monument

Rainbow Bridge National Monument; no, I wouldn’t try to fly a plane under it, either. You could, if you had to, but the authorities would probably track you down like a woodpecker and yank your license. Wikipedia image

Two:

The West Utah Desert remains desolate. On the border between Nevada and Utah, there ain’t much of nothin’. A few roads connect a few ranches, but there’s a good reason U.S. 50 and 6 out there is known as “the loneliest highway in the world.” Bandits might be regarded as welcome company out there sometimes.

Anyway, it was expensive to run copper wires out there, say, 50 miles, to an isolated ranch house, or a lone gas station, or some other building said to be a business. So mostly, AT&T didn’t do it. People who lived and worked out there just had to get along without phone service. Enter a guy named Art Silver Brothers (I think; my memory fades, too), who figured out that radiophone service worked okay. Give people a radiophone — a device which existed then, but which required several pounds of gear and a lot of juice, relatively — and they could dial up the “local” grocery store to check to be sure the milk was good this week, before driving 50 miles to get some dairy whitener for the coffee.

A photo from Beehive Telephone in 2012, showing their service area.

A photo from Beehive Telephone in 2012, showing a part of their service area in Utah, or Nevada, or both. The company still exists!  On their website, they say:  “

Art strung wires where he could, using REA-installed power poles, or fence poles, or whatever he could, and thin, light copper wiring. His Beehive Phone Company was one of the last truly independent phone operations in the U.S., serving a grossly underserved area with patchy service. He didn’t get rich doing it.  He was the company’s only employee most of the time.

Stringing copper over 50 miles for one phone, a company can have difficulty maintaining such lines. Art had a pilot’s license, and he learned he could spot downed lines and other trouble from the air . . . and it was just one step to landing his small airplane on the local road, fixing the problem, and taking off again.

Well, that got the ire of the FAA. They said he shouldn’t do that. They argued that he was impeding traffic an imposing dangers. He said he was keeping lifelines open for people in far-flung places, and it was not a problem for traffic on roads where there might be two vehicles a week passing by. FAA paid for traffic studies on a bunch of those roads; and they enlisted the FCC to try to shut down Silver’s operations.

Remember, part of the system was wired, and part was radio. Turns out that in those pre-cellular days, the radio frequencies Silver used were in the “emergency” spectrum — radio frequencies used by cops and firefighters in places where cops and firefighters existed. FCC took to taping the “phone conversations” of Art’s customers, and in yet another hearing in the Senate, charged that Art was abusing emergency frequencies. The star audio was a tape recording of a woman ordering a significant amount of liquor from a liquor store that served probably six counties in eastern Nevada. FCC argued that obviously was not an emergency, and it amounted to an abuse of spectrum, and it was enough of an abuse to shut down the phone company.

Art finally got his chance to explain. Someone quizzed him about that liquor order, and whether that was appropriate use of emergency radio spectrum.

Well, Art started, the woman making the liquor order was the owning madam of [a] western Nevada brothel, set way in the hell in the middle of nowhere. “And I gotta tell you, if you run a whore house, and you run out of whiskey, that’s an emergency.”

Those were good days to attend hearings in Washington. The Tea Party has ruined all that.

That’s my story; the true facts are probably better.

More:

Jerry Jones and Rainbow Bridge

A bad snapshot of the picture on my wall, Jerry Jones waving from the path in Rainbow Bridge National Monument, moments after a small aircraft flew under the Bridge.


Got questions about ObamaCare? Check out this site

June 24, 2013

I get e-mail; this one may prove useful to more than a few people, especially anyone who owns a small business and has questions about how ObamaCare — the Affordable Care Act — will affect your taxes, your hiring, your expenses, etc.:

The White House, Washington

Hi, all —

In fewer than 100 days, the new health care reform law takes an important step forward. On October 1, 2013, Health Insurance Marketplaces will open in every state, and millions of Americans will be eligible to apply for coverage. Between now and then, we’re sure that lots of people will be looking for information about the upcoming changes.

That’s why we revamped HealthCare.gov.

On the updated site, you’ll be able to get a personalized list of coverage options, tailored to your situation, and a checklist to help prepare for October 1. You’ll find a rich set of answers to frequently asked questions, powerful search features to help you find the specific information you need, and two great ways to talk to customer service representatives, 24/7: a new 1-800 number (1-800-318-2596) and online chat.

When open enrollment starts on October 1, 2013, you’ll be able to use the site to compare various health care plans side by side to find a plan that fits your life and your budget. You’ll even be able to use HealthCare.gov to apply for coverage or be directed to your own state’s application portal.

We hope you’ll use the site to get answers to your questions about the health care law — and forward this email to your friends so they can do the same.

Thanks!

Tara

Tara McGuinness
Senior Communications Advisor
The White House

P.S. — Have questions about what else you can expect from health care reform? Click here for a timeline of the key features of the Affordable Care Act.

Visit WhiteHouse.gov

[My e-mail address cut out ]

The White House • 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW • Washington, DC 20500 • 202-456-1111

Several people I’ve run into have questions about the program — some of the questions are serious, and difficult for me to answer, and some are silly (“Why do I have to give up my insurance now?” Answer:  You don’t.)  There’s a great need for answers.  Distortions of the plan from the nasty political fights involved, have taken hold in the mind of many as representations of what the plan weill do.

Go try the site.  Does it answer your questions?  What questions do you have that are not answered by this site?

More:

Screenshot of HealthCare.gov. Click to visit the site.

Screenshot of HealthCare.gov. Click to visit the site.


Dallas hearing on Texas redistricting tomorrow, June 6, 2013

June 5, 2013

I get e-mail from Sen. Wendy Davis:

Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Dallas Observer image

Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Dallas Observer image

I wrote to you last week about the Special Session that Governor Perry has called to address redistricting. As you know, state leaders have dropped their challenges to the Senate district map, meaning that the current makeup of Senate District 10 should remain unchanged for the remainder of the decade. This is wonderful news for our community. We’ve faced this redistricting battle for the past two years and have finally earned an important victory that continues to hold us together.

Unfortunately, Governor Perry is also insisting that the Legislature adopt the interim congressional and State House maps, which include features that a federal court ruled are in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act. The people of our district certainly know how important it is to have fairly drawn maps that allow voters to elect the leaders of their choice. All Texans deserve that.

You have a chance to speak out against the unfair congressional and State House maps.

I hope you will join us tomorrow for a public hearing with the House Select Committee on Redistricting. It’s vital that we make our voices heard. Let’s tell our state leaders to keep Senate District 10 intact and then to draw fair congressional and State House districts.

PUBLIC HEARING – House Select Committee on Redistricting
Thursday, June 6 – 2:00 PM – 1401 Pacific Avenue, Dallas
 

The Committee will hear testimony from any member of the public until 7:00 PM.
Once again, I understand that this is extremely short notice. I wish that there were more opportunities for the people of North Texas to have their say on this critical issue, but this may be the only chance that we get. If you are able, please come stand with us in the fight for fair maps.

Your friend, and proudly, your state senator,

Wendy
Wendy Davis

Will you be there?

English: Seal of State Senate of Texas. Españo...

Seal of State Senate of Texas. Wikipedia image. (Are those dots the Illuminati dots Gov. Perry insisted on?)

It’s a lousy place for inexpensive parking, so you may want to take the train — it runs within a couple of blocks of the hearing site.  But it’s a vital topic.

One wearies of the Texas GOP ramming their views down the gullet of citizens as if voters were just geese to be fattened for foie gras.

More:


“Rise Again”: How a sea chanty saved a sailor, and why government regulation saves lives

May 30, 2013

Stan Rogers?

P. Z. Myers was feeling a tad puny, though he’s in Minnesota where that Texas phrase might not win understanding.  In any case, he queued up Nathan Rogers singing his late father’s most famous tune, “The Mary Ellen Carter.”

That was Stanfest, an annual music festival dedicated to Stan Rogers, who died tragically trying to put out an airplane fire, in 1983. (Stanfest is July 5, 6 and 7 in 2013. Actually, Ricky Skaggs kicks it off this year on July 4, a day early.)

The Mary Ellen Carter” is a bit of an odd song, probably best performed where a bunch of people can join in, obviously fueled by a few pints to the guitar players, and seemingly not correct if not done with at least one twelve-string in the band. More, it’s a song with a story that you may not get the first time through, but you should get.  Stan Rogers’s poetry is not simple.  He tells complex stories.

Home in Halifax, one of three albums by Stan Rogers on which “The Mary Ellen Carter” appears. The song is also on Between the Breaks . . . Live! and The Very Best of Stan Rogers.

It’s a song about a group of men who were aboard the Mary Ellen Carter when that ship scuttled.  The song describes their work to patch her up, to raise her from the depths and make her “rise again.”  But we never learn whether the ship was refloated.  That’s not the point of the song.  It’s a song about getting back up when you’ve been scuttled, when you’ve got holes punched in your side, and you’re under water.

That doesn’t get lost on fans of Stan Rogers, nor others who listened to the song over the years.

The song has become a classic of the genre and many artists covered it even before Rogers’ death, including Jim Post who began performing it in the 1980s, as did Makem and Clancy, and the English a cappella trio, Artisan, who went on to popularise their harmony version of it in UK folk circles throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and Portland, Maine-based folk group Schooner Fare. Ian Robb recorded it with the other members of Finest Kind on his album From Different Angels. It was also recorded by the seven piece Newfoundland band The Irish Descendants as part of the tribute album Remembering Stan Rogers: An East Coast Tribute performed by a large number of acts at Rogers’ favorite venue in Halifax, Dalhousie University; the album is out of print though occasionally available from online sellers; the track does not appear on any of the band’s own albums.

It was also recorded by Williamsburg, Virginia-based Celtic rock band Coyote Run as part of their self-titled Coyote Run album. According to liner notes with their 10 Years and Running retrospective album, Coyote Run‘s recording of the song was done with the same 12-string guitar that Stan Rogers himself had used when recording the song.

As a tribute to Stan Rogers, “The Mary Ellen Carter” has been sung to close the annual Winnipeg Folk Festival every year since his death.

Surely you’ve heard it, no?

English: Winnipeg Folk Festival 2006.

Winnipeg Folk Festival 2006. “The Mary Ellen Carter” is sung to close this festival, each year since 1983. Wikipedia image

According to the lore, the song actually saved a sailor’s life once, in 1983, with the sinking of the Marine Electric.  The pedestrian version of the story:

So inspiring is the song that it is credited with saving at least one life. On February 12, 1983 the ship Marine Electric was carrying a load of coal from Norfolk, Virginia to a power station in Somerset, Massachusetts. The worst storm in forty years blew up that night and the ship sank at about four o’clock in the morning on the 13th. The ship’s Chief Mate, fifty-nine-year-old Robert M. (“Bob”) Cusick, was trapped under the deckhouse as the ship went down. His snorkeling experience helped him avoid panic and swim to the surface, but he had to spend the night alone, up to his neck in water, clinging to a partially deflated lifeboat, and in water barely above freezing and air much colder. Huge waves washed over him, and each time he was not sure that he would ever reach the surface again to breathe. Battling hypothermia, he became tempted to allow himself to fall unconscious and let go of the lifeboat. Just then he remembered the words to the song “The Mary Ellen Carter”.

And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Rise again, rise again—though your heart it be broken
Or life about to end.
No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

He started to sing it and soon was alternately shouting out “Rise again, rise again” and holding his breath as the waves washed over him. At seven o’clock that morning a Coast Guard helicopter spotted him and pulled him to safety.[1] Only two men of the other thirty-three that had been aboard survived the wreck. After his ordeal, Cusick wrote a letter to Stan Rogers telling him what had happened and how the song helped save his life. In response, Cusick was invited to attend what turned out the be the second-to-last concert Rogers ever performed. Cusick told his story in the documentary about Stan Rogers, One Warm Line.[2][3]

Truth is stranger and better than fiction once again. You couldn’t convince me that story was plausible, if it were fiction.

Cusick’s story has a coda, though, and it’s an important one.  From the survivors come not only tales of the trials, but information that, if listened to, can prevent future tragedies.

In a 2008 story in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, Bob Cusick related just how close and hard death breathed on him that night:

Bob Cusick is “still kicking.” That’s no small feat for any man about to turn 85. It’s especially notable when you are one of only three sailors to survive what was among the nation’s worst maritime disasters.

Tuesday will mark the 25th anniversary of the sinking of the coal ship Marine Electric in a blizzard off Chincoteague. Thirty-one sailors died.

Cusick was the ship’s chief mate. He still has nightmares about how the rusted relic of World War II rolled before the crew could launch its lifeboats. He can still feel the water swallowing him and hear the men screaming for help in the darkness.

But the nightmares aren’t as frequent now.

“It’s really been a long time,” he said from his home in New Hampshire. “And evidently, a lot of good came from that ship’s sinking.”

Most of it because of Cusick and the other two survivors’ testimonies.

Before we hear the good, let’s get the facts:

The Marine Electric was what mariners call a rust bucket. Its huge cargo hatches were warped, wasted away and patched cosmetically with putty and duct tape. The deck was cracked, and the hull even had a hole punched through by a bulldozer.

Still, inspectors cleared it to sail, and it routinely hauled pulverized coal from Norfolk to a power plant near Boston.

Its last trip was into the teeth of a violent nor’easter. The aging ship was no match for the weather. For more than 24 hours, the Marine Electric was battered by swells that stretched 40 feet from trough to crest.

For part of the trip, the ship had been diverted to escort a trawler into Chincoteague.

Not long after resuming its course, the Marine Electric started taking on water.

Seas crashing over those corroded decks rushed inside the hatches, mixing with the powdered coal to create an unstable slurry.

The water couldn’t be pumped out, because the ship’s owners had welded covers over the drain holes.

Cusick was lucky. He had just come off watch and was wearing an insulated coat his wife had insisted he buy and a raw wool cap she had knitted for him. They would eventually make the difference between life and death.

Cusick swam for an hour in the tempest before finding a swamped lifeboat. He climbed inside and wedged himself beneath the seats, slipping under the 37-degree water, to escape the howling winds. He gasped for breaths between waves.

Cusick found strength in a song about the shipwreck of the Mary Ellen Carter, and folksinger Stan Rogers’ refrain to “rise again, rise again.”

Cusick would spend 2 hours and 45 minutes in the frigid water, nearly double what Navy survival charts claimed was possible.

It was after dawn when a Coast Guard helicopter from Elizabeth City, N.C., running on fumes, dropped a basket into his lifeboat and Cusick was hoisted to safety.

Rogers’s song, and Cusick’s story, were put to great use.

As a result of this accident, and the detailed records of neglect Cusick kept, the Coast Guard launched its renowned rescue swimmers program. Ships sailing in cold waters are required to provide survival suits to their crews; safety inspections are more rigorous; lifeboats must have better launching systems; and rafts must have boarding platforms to allow freezing sailors to climb inside.

We lived on the Potomac when the Marine Electric went down.  We had the daily, sometimes hourly updates, and the growing sense of tragedy.  I well recall my amazement that anyone survived in the cold water.  In the 30 years since, I had never heard the full story.

This is why we study history.  This is why we write history.  This is why we revel in history, even faux history, being turned into art by the poets and troubadors.

Knowing history, and knowing the art, we can stand up to demand that money to inspect ships for safety be restored to the federal budget, that money to build safe air transport be revived, that politicians stop blocking the doors to the hospitals and clinics (Rick Perry, Greg Abbott), and that justice be done on a thousand other scores where cynics and highway robbers tell us it cannot be done or it’s too expensive.

And then we all may, as the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Marine Electric sank on February 12, 1983; Stan Rogers died less than four months later, on June 2, 1983, returning home from performing at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.  Listen to Mr. Cusick’s story, and listen to Mr. Rogers’s telling of his:

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