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Monday, 29 August 2005
History of Cattaraugus County
Topic: poetry
Another poem on the farming/working class, this one revived by my recent biking trips in the North Country and Southern Tier:

History of Cattaraugus County

Down the gully lies the cage
of a Plymouth towed there in the Fifties

by some farm kid on a tractor.
And while I’m dreaming I’ll guess

he lived in that house with the roofline
still clipping the horizon.

Don’t knock. The house dropped its guard
when lumber was honest, and now the weather

comes and goes, no questions asked,
through walls reduced to an invitation.

Even the road signs at the corner,
weathered with a soft brush,

hide something under their laurels
of creeper. All visible speaks of a living

or the lack of it. No new pastures
for this kid, he'd had his fill.

He had the wind and rain
from Lake Erie to answer to

and a future anywhere
but under his boots.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:37 EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005 06:08 EDT
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Sunday, 21 August 2005
Future in peril?
Topic: economy
The Bush domestic battlefield is littered with burned-out WMDs. Administration officials and assorted flunkies have hurled their most potent ordnance against Social Security, and thankfully most of the stuff fizzled or was defused by sound public opinion. But Social Security continues to suffer oblique attacks, especially from ‘independent” mass media. Fewer and fewer WMDs here - but lots of crapola-filled paintballs.

Look at what Democrat and Chronicle reporter Ben Rand fired off recently in a piece on Americans’ retirement prospects. Economic and demographic changes, said Rand, “are financially straining programs such as Social Security and Medicare.” This, he said, citing “experts,” will eventually “force profound social changes.” In passing, Rand let the business world off the hook, saying that an aging population, etc., will “make it harder for many companies to continue affording traditional pensions, health care, and other retiree benefits.”

Rand went on to cite an analyst at the Washington-based National Center on Policy Analysis, to the effect that “Social Security is clearly on a trajectory for insolvency.” This despite the conclusions from both the Social Security Administration and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that the program will be able to pay all scheduled benefits over the full 75-year planning horizon, i.e. longer than the program has been in existence, with only tiny adjustments – maybe a tax increase of 1-2 percent. Many of you remember when the combined employer-employer contribution was around 15 percent of payroll, compared to around 12 percent today. I’m not proposing we go back to that – there are more progressive ways of doing things; I’m merely showing that any necessary change would be neither unimaginable nor unprecedented.

But Rand didn’t stop with underscoring this fib. He quoted an expert who maintained, “If we don’t do anything, Social Security and Medicare together will be taking a third of everything people earn in a few years. By the time today’s college kids retire, it will be taking half of earnings.” The expert added that any solution will “involve some pain in the form of reduced benefits.” But as the Center for Economic and Policy Research says, any “shortfall” in the future will require compensatory funding smaller than what we’re losing through the Bush tax cuts. So to translate from the expertise: we can’t afford history’s most successful and efficient social-welfare program and simultaneously let the rich keep getting endlessly richer at the majority’s expense.

By the way, Rand didn’t bother to inform us that the neutral-sounding National Center on Policy Analysis is a conservative thinktank headed by the ineffable Pete du Pont, hereditary foe of economic fairness. (Remember Grinning Pete's flat-earth, er, flat-tax nonsense from the 1988 presidential race?) A sample of the NCPA’s current offerings: a health policy heads-up from the Wall Street Journal with the redbaiting insinuation that “Canada is the only country other than Cuba and North Korea to ban private insurance and private care.” Why didn’t Rand go to CEPR or some other delightfully progressive source for another view? I wouldn’t even have minded seeing a standard tag, like “a foundation-supported liberal thinktank.”

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:56 EDT
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Friday, 19 August 2005
Democracy - tomorrow?
Topic: media criticism
You’ve probably tuned in to the media tug-of-war: When will WXXI stop digging in its heels and start airing Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now?

For months, local activists led by Metro Justice have been petitioning, demonstrating and demanding that Norm Silverstein and his crew do the right thing. But no go. WXXI insists that Goodman and her radio/TV/webcast weekday news show are beneath its standards. I won’t go into all the details here; just remember real pros like Bill Moyers and Diane Rehm take another view. Rehm has said Goodman’s doing “a first-rate job.” The newly-retired Moyers, in a recent appearance with Goodman, urged people concerned about the decline of media democracy to get local stations to carry DN.

That should be ‘nuff said. But there’s one other angle I think has been overlooked.

When Silverstein, et al., pronounce DN unworthy, they’re actually serving a community consensus stronger than the one that’s formed in favor of the show. I mean the gentlemen’s agreement, particularly strong in a postindustrial company town like Rochester, that left opinions are to be left out. Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzales may interview plenty of right-wingers, middle-of-the-roaders and official sources, but they won’t get absolution from the company men for an original sin: giving airtime to authentic lefties.

Compare what Goodman gives you to what you get from WXXI and other mainliners.

The past week or two, the media have been dealing with Ariel Sharon’s Gaza pullback. The mainliners, including NPR and the PBS NewsHour, follow every word and gesture of the far-right colonists (not that there aren’t innocent victims among the latter who should have their say). This coverage, echoed from network to network and station to parochial station, is so relentless that you’re left with the feeling that the colonists have garnered more interest in a few weeks than have thousands of Palestinian evictees - put on the street, or worse, while their homes were bulldozed - during the full 38 years of occupation.

DN, though, has given voice to the voiceless. Goodman recently interviewed a Palestinian family whose home was destroyed in Rafah, a community beside the Gaza-Egypt border that last year suffered what leading Israeli human-rights activist Jeff Halper calls “collective punishment” and “state terrorism.” (Rafah will also suffer endless occupation by Israeli forces, “withdrawal” or no.) It happens this family’s home was the one that young Rachel Corrie was defending when she was killed by a Caterpillar bulldozer (made in the USA). Goodman also interviewed Corrie's mother. So Goodman provided vital information from two sources - one here, one “over there” - that have largely been muzzled.

In this connection, DN also has carried a studio interview with Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, and gave him a polite hearing. But again, that kind of balance won’t make the pendulum swing toward Goodman. That’s because she consorts with the wrong kind of people. For example, more than once she’s interviewed celebrated - and often wrongly reviled - Israeli journalist Amira Hass, a Gaza-based writer with the highly respected Ha’aretz daily.

Check out Hass’s work online when you’re looking up DN. You’ll find both women get to the real sources on the ground, and that both are unafraid to be of the left.

In Israel, though, being a leftie or courting the near-occasion of sin by talking to lefties doesn’t get you banned from the “major” media. You may get an earful from your opponents, but you do get heard.

Parting shot: I recall a Curt Smith show on XXI a few years back when several guests, including current XXI news chief Michael Caputo, were asked who was their most-admired woman of the 20th Century, or something to that effect. I was rooting for someone to say Emma Goldman, especially given the Rochester connection. One guest did say Eleanor Roosevelt, I believe. But it's Caputo's choice that stuck in my memory: Golda Meir, the Israeli leader who infamously said there was no such thing as the Palestinians. I try hard not to read too much into this. But it's interesting how a guy who must be helping bar the door against Amy Goodman can be so generous to a very troubling historical figure.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:20 EDT
Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005 16:58 EDT
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Wednesday, 17 August 2005
Topic: poetry
Here's one of my poems about the Depression and the Bradigan family's collective memory. West Chicago, Gary, downtown Toledo and Fort Wayne reminded me how little things change for the working class.

--- for men between the wars

Around to the back door they come,
as asked, for a boiled potato, an egg,
any little thing, putting a meal together
house by house the length of Pittston.

They used to be themselves, now
they’re a favorite uncle or a distant cousin
needing a shave, even wanting one.
We’ve got no advice to give
with the handout, and they’re thankful.

We see ourselves joining them.
Down the streets we go,
losing track as the sun shifts.
We head to the river for company,
grinding our way down clay chutes
till the knees beg off. Some of us fish,
some smoke. Here's the double quiet
we wanted, but we must listen
to a coal truck on the level,
straining behind a padlocked gate
while some guy jiggles the keys.

Everybody's got to live.
But when reports go around,
everybody's sister looks twice.
The more they look our way,
the less they see.

Honest men can’t do better.
And an honest man is always at war.
Peacetime, payback time.
One, two, many. Follow the bouncing ball
to the last note:
A man sweeps his hands under the weeds,
and there it is, a glove, even a coat
with a little life left for the taking. Grab it
and get lost.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:41 EDT
Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005 15:21 EDT
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Saturday, 6 August 2005
Hot days in Toledo
Topic: travel
I’m not entirely back from my late-July trip to the Midwest. It’s not an earthbound equivalent of jet lag, or the effects of the heat wave. It’s a generalized sinking feeling, the realization that things are bad all over, and not getting better.

The Buffalo News will explain for me. An 8/4/05 report, one of many lately on the decline of local public institutions, led with news about the Niagara Falls Library’s LaSalle branch. Earlier this summer city voters nixed a by-the-back-door measure that would have provided crucial funding. So the branch, which has so far survived because of a guarantee written into the city’s 1927 merger agreement with the Village of LaSalle, may soon close. This is a dual footnote to larger troubles: Even the main library in Niagara Falls has watched the angel of death pass by, and down in Buffalo/Erie County, two dozen library branches of a once-stellar system are on the budgetary chopping block.

The LaSalle Branch, housed in a historic village hall on Buffalo Avenue, sits on the route that took me home from school, first from the now defunct Cayuga Drive Elementary, later from the recently demolished LaSalle High. The library was a rest stop for me in more ways than one. After crossing the tracks (long since torn up and replaced with an expressway) where I probed ditches for frogs and snakes and heaved pieces of gravel at the passing freight trains, I could hit the books --- and I mean real ones, not the worn-out texts we got as hand-me-downs in school. At the library, despite the 1950s regime of censorship, there actually were books strong enough to hit back. How impoverished LaSalle will be if the branch shuts down.

Nostalgia is the gift that keeps on taking. Or so it seemed when I passed through Toledo, Ohio, on my trip. The bus let me off in downtown, and it wasn’t only because of the arrival time (Sunday evening) that the place was deserted. Toledo could pass for Rochester or Buffalo or Detroit in this respect. The physical center of the community is as barren as the psychological centeredness of the community is absent.

Oh, yes, there’s a fancy new development along the beautiful (no sarcasm intended) Maumee River, which cuts Toledo in two. The development sports a string of upscale restaurants and watering holes; mostly there are parking lots and other buffers from the surrounding neighborhoods. I was tempted by a pizza and pasta place, whose name I forget --- some local operation that, to judge by the generous servings of neon and fake brick, aspired to Olive Garden status. Then I checked my wallet and moved on.

Good thing, too, because instead of filling up on overpriced carbs, I stood at the smooth new railing by the river and took a long draught of the area’s commercial past. This was one of the Great Lakes’ busiest ports; still is, in fact, but the traffic is light all over these lakes. Toledo was once chock full of steel mills and other industries, too, and had the workforce to match. Now the money has gone west, barely, to the suburb of Sylvania, not so much a forest as a country club.

One feature of downtown Toledo tells the story. You know how every city’s Martin Luther King Boulevard or Avenue or whatever indicates the exact center of local poverty. (With a little luck and sweat, it can also be the focal point of a King-style poor people’s mobilization, even in Bush-league America.) Well, in Toledo they’ve got a Martin Luther King memorial bridge, which joins the East Side and West Side across the wide Maumee.

Thus the symbolism gains depth. The bridge and its name form a bond as well as a passage. But that probably means little to the people on both sides of the river, largely African-Americans and Latinos caught in a very modern form of bondage. Though it is a reminder that in the modern world, it’s always “they,” not “we” who are “all in this together.”

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 09:33 EDT
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