Archive for the ‘Correspondence’ Category

The following is a letter and link sent to me by my old chum and wonderful Minneapolis composer, Mark Gottlieb — and my response.

http://insider.foxnews.com/2016/02/12/video-indiana-workers-learn-jobs-going-mexico
Hi Russ — Check out the video and the incredibly callus manner he explains to the pink slipped worker how “…this will have an impact….”.
Even in their vocal anger there is a quiet and more subtle heartbreak.

I sent my US Rep Keith Allison, a fairly decent fellow a note suggesting such a move makes good sense if all their product remains in Mexico or south. But then asked that once Carrier Corp moves to Monterey, Mexico what % of their product will end up here.

Russ, I’ve probably sent several hundred letters, calls, emails to my reps and others. I should have saved every response and made a book.
It would have been the funnest and most depressing book .. all at the same time.
I don’t know how you keep at it without needing gallons of antacids.

Love,
Mark (really a more musical guy than political)

Hey Mark –

Well, isn’t this heart warming? This little Scrooge has the gall to scold the “class” for being too noisy after telling them he has pawned their livelihoods. This is what the corporatocracy looks like. Began in earnest with “Close-the-Pits” Thatcher and “Fire-the-Air Controllers” Reagan, maintained and encouraged by Clinton, then went into overdrive with Bush/Cheney

I knew things had changed when my unions last went on strike. As a member of long standing, I had seen my fair share of strikes and near-strikes so I was used to the adamant cries of poverty by producers — how much productions cost theses days, you actors are breaking us, blah blah blah. But from both sides I could always feel a sense of resigned inevitability, that there would ultimately be compromise and a deal would be struck.

Fast forward to the commercials strike of 2000. After a few years of trickle-down economics, free trade pacts, right-to-work and other union-killing legislation and, most importantly, our government’s abrogation of its anti-trust responsibilities that allowed and encouraged ad agencies to gang up with multi-nationals, like Seagrams and Sony, who had gulped down every film and production company in the universe, we members of SAG/AFTRA now encountered a monolith of power that saw us as ants at THEIR picnic. Compromise was out of the question. Management’s attitude toward us had morphed into something like, “How dare they ask for more money and better conditions? Don’t they understand that we are the King, and we do and pay what we want?” This was not a negotiating tactic — they meant it. Needless to say, the strike went on forever and was ultimately a failure.

The responsibility for all this, of course, lies with the American people — the chumps of the universe. As one of my favorite political writers put it, “Where did America’s middle class go? It committed suicide in the voting booth.” Okay, I confess, that writer was me, but I always liked that line, depressing as it is.

Be well, my friend –

RB

John Buchanan taking on the funeral industry

A friend wrote the other day to ask if my dad had been on the Blacklist.

My friend had been reading about America’s waltz with fascism during the 50s when demagogic politicians and rightwing zealots attempted to ruin the lives of show folk, teachers and other public figures — sometimes with great success– for being a little too free in the Land of the Free. Dad was a professor and locally high-profile lefty political organizer/activist, and my friend figured my father had at some point endured the wrath of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Joe McCarthy’s merry band of commie hunters. He hadn’t. Dad did have problems with cops and feds later on, but in the 50s he was still in his pre-activism stage, just settling into his new job teaching at Pacoima Junior High in the San Fernando Valley, going to grad school and helping mom raise my sister and me.  The activism that would become central to his life was still a few years off. My buddy’s email got me thinking about my father’s life choice, though. What changed? What inspired this mild-mannered, soft-spoken, Mr. Chips-type academic to become a full-throated crusader for peace and social justice?

The Bandleader and the Bastard

Though dad and I never talked much about his political awakening period, I’m pretty sure it began during the civil rights era. I was about six years old when I began hearing dad talk about the plight of Negroes. Even at my tender age I noticed that TV images of Dixie cops and clan types beating up dark-skinned people would send my father into a funk. He would get very quiet. Then he’d talk to my sister and me about how immoral it was to mistreat people because of their skin color. He told us that we should always stand up to bullies of all kinds, whether they were attacking us or others. To illustrate his point he would often tell us about the time during World War II when he and mom went to see the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in mom’s hometown, Great Falls, Montana. While the band was playing, someone in the audience yelled “nigger” at Dorsey’s only black musician. Dorsey stopped the orchestra mid-song and the crowd went silent. He called out into the microphone, “You! Hey you. Yeah, you in the yellow tie.” The heckler was trying to scamper away into the crowd but couldn’t get around the throng in front of the bandstand. He finally looked up at Dorsey, who was shaking with anger and pointing down at him like a vengeful god with a trombone. Unfortunately for the yellow-tied bigot, the black trumpeter happened to be a good friend of Dorsey’s and had just returned from duty in the Pacific, where he’d been wounded. According to dad, Dorsey went crazy, yelling into the microphone about his friend’s heroism, then verbally filleting the bigot, whom he called a stupid, un-American bastard. At the end of his rant, Dorsey ordered the guy out of the dance hall and refused to continue the show until he left. Whether for noble cause or the fact that the crowd was ready to jitterbug and had shelled out good money to see Dorsey’s whole show, many in the audience sided with Dorsey, booing and hissing the guy out of the dance hall. The show went on. Though the full meaning of the tale was over my 6-year-old head, I never got tired of it. I loved hearing dad do the Tommy Dorsey parts. “Yeah, you with the yellow tie,” dad’s baritone rumbled, as he pointed at some imaginary racist in the living room. I also got a bang out of hearing dad say the word “bastard,” a word rarely heard in our house–a word I probably assumed meant bad man in a yellow tie. For my sister Pam and me, the story was a great example of someone using his position to stand up to a bully. For dad, who knows? Tommy Dorsey’s wrath might have been an important inspiration. After all, it was the kind of thing dad would soon be doing full time, only on a larger, relentless scale, against bullies ranging from Richard Nixon to the funeral industry. Inspiration or not, by the time the 60s started, dad was taking on the bullies of the world with a vengeance.

The Art of Activism

The first piece of dad’s activism I remember–helping a black family move into our whites-only neighborhood–was relatively small-scale and personal. For months after the Holmes moved in, it was dad’s job to protect the house from vandals when the family was away. There wasn’t much he could do about the rocks thrown through the Holmes’ front room window during the night, or the cross burned on their lawn one very early morning. But during dad’s watch, just the sight of him sitting on the Holmes’ front porch, grading his students’ papers, was all it took to keep the Bubba brigade off the property. I don’t know how long dad had been at it before I realized that threatening phone calls in the middle of the night and flat tires from tacks and nails scattered on our driveway weren’t part of everyone’s hearth and home, but I gradually came to understand that dad’s dedication to fairness was not shared by everyone. As for the 3 AM phone calls, we discovered that the cardboard stick from a Sugar Daddy sucker made a terrific telephone bell dampener when jammed through the proper hole in the phone’s access plate. My contribution to the struggle, of course, was to eat the Sugar Daddy. Ah, the sacrifices of activism. Sometimes dad’s protests verged on street theater. During his quixotic run for the California Assembly in the mid-60s he delivered a campaign speech at a local shopping center while stomping a bathtub full of grapes. This might have been a fine way to draw attention to the farm workers’ strike and grape boycott raging at the time, but the sight of dad in the tub, wearing his trademark Petrocelli business suit with the pant legs rolled up for the fruit-stomp, did not sit well with my teenaged notion that parents should always strive to be invisible. For weeks after, I was known to my rotten buddies as “Grape.” To dad’s supporters, though, it was a beautiful sight to behold–and it worked. Lots of people gathered to see the lunatic in a bathtub, and wound up learning why they should support Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers and stop eating grapes. Dad lost the Assembly race in a rout, of course, but his son’s embarrassment over his father’s unusual forms of activism soon morphed into pride and admiration. His low-key protest of the Vietnam War was particularly memorable. Every day during his lunch hour he would set up a card table full of anti-war literature next to the college flagpole. For that hour he stood silently next to the flagpole wearing an armband featuring the number of GIs killed that week. For two years.

Dad’s Final Years

Dad started in the 60s and never let up. He was still active in the Memorial Society — a consumer activist group — well into his 80s, fighting the good fight against the predatory practices of the funeral industry. A 1992 L.A. Times interview about the Memorial Society found dad in top form.

“You have to look at death as part of life,” Buchanan said. “‘If people looked at it that way, they wouldn’t need the limousines, the caskets and the tons of flowers, the embalming and all the other barbarities that go on at a so-called traditional funeral.’ ‘The hoopla is undignified,’ he said. ‘The other indignity is putting so much emphasis on the body, which is not a person.’ Buchanan has not made the trip to his mother’s gravesite in Spokane, Wash., in years, he said. ‘That grave site does not mean anything,’ he said. ‘What does mean something is that the dead still live in our minds,’ he added.”

“The hoopla is undignified” and “…all the other barbarities…” Dad had a way with words.

*

I’ll never know whether a big band leader’s outburst in the 40s inspired dad to help save the world. But damn, it was inspiring to hear him tell that story. Actually, there wasn’t a lot about John Buchanan that wasn’t inspiring. Though less active, dad still followed the news during his final years. I wish he had been spared America’s rightward drift during the 90s and new millennium and all the intentional unfairness it has thus far meted out. Mercifully, he wasn’t around to see the bully renaissance in full flower. If he were still alive, news of such bad-guy victories as the passage of voter suppression laws and the Citizens United ruling would have put him in a funk. He would have gotten very quiet…for a while.

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Hey Chuck –

Both of your recent forwards read like companion pieces. The New Yorker column shows us how nuts we’ve become, and the Houston Chronicle piece suggests a way—albeit a dangerous way– to sort us all out (I mean, Palin could win, then we’d all have to move to a commune in Norway).

Both are terrific reads.  The Surowiecki piece is terrifyingly accurate, though I think he’s a bit too forgiving of our countrymen.  “The anger is understandable,” he says, but what I find hard to understand is Americans’ refusal to invest even the least bit of intellectual effort to go past the soundbites and slogans to get a better fix on what’s really going on.  I can’t remember who said this, but his perfect answer to “I’m not really into politics ” was, “Oh yeah?  Well, politics is really into you, my friend.”

No wonder we don’t make sense; we don’t have any.  There is a long list of things pundits tend to blame for “The Dumbing Down of America”–TV, bad schools, busy schedules, blah, blah–but the real culprit here is a populace that is content to have reduced its political outlook to three categories: “Things That Save me Money,”  “Things That Piss Me Off” and “Things I Don’t Understand”–with the third category being the dominant influence on the first two. That’s why Tea Party types can call Obama a Nazi and a communist, and not get laughed out of the room.

However, there was an encouraging turn in the mid-2000s (for a discouragingly short period) when people became politicized during Bush’s reign.  He had scared the hell out of them. They began to look up terms like “fascism” and “unitary executive.” Friends who had never had a political thought in their lives began emailing me with their takes on the latest outrages of Bush and crew.  Sadly, many of these political tyros had zero grounding in modern American or world history so they were easy pickings for lunatic, politics-as-entertainment theories, like Bush planned 9/11, etc.  Their enthusiasm continued all the way up to Obama’s election, but then sort of petered out when, I suppose, the next season of American Idol began.  But other political novitiates really began to do their homework, making a real effort to wade through the crap to find out what was actually going on.  I still get email from them–sensible, thoughtful stuff.

There has always been a trace of anti-intellectualism flowing through our American veins, which I suppose began during our revolution against the sesquipedalian, be-wigged, English elite.  But, today, dumb seems to have grown into a movement, or at least an important part of what Surowiecki calls “the new populism.”

Though education does require effort, it is also naturally rewarding.  Evolution has hardwired us to fill our brains with new stuff– unless something gets in the way, like defeatism, hopelessness and good, old apathy.  A documentary called “The American Ruling Class”  suggests much of that hopelessness and defeatism felt by so many “average American Joes” is the result of a concerted effort by the American oligarchy to regain control of the nation from the grassroots movements of the 60s.  I’m not big on conspiracy theories, but so many of this film’s premises–from the successful corporate attack on organized labor in the private sector, to the continuing, destructive status of corporations-as-citizens are convincing enough to make me believe that a lot of the mess we find ourselves wallowing in is no accident.

I better go before this letter gets long.

Too late,

RB