Majors and Minors

– J. Tortorici

Enigmatic counselors and “dark ministers” of the political system have an enduring history in America. My liberal’s dismissal of Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and their ilk, is rooted in remembering genuine, diabolical giants of the Washington power drama. Over the decades, perspective is revealing.

One of my first memories of world events involved the Dulles siblings, John-Foster and Alan. Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John-Foster, built Cold War alliances, most prominently NATO. With his brother, Alan, head of the CIA, he helped instigate Operation Ajax, the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, and the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état. Alan oversaw the U-2 spy aircraft program, and the Bay of Pigs Invasion. After President Kennedy abandoned the Bay of Pigs, he forced Alan Dulles out of government service. Thus began one of the premier conspiracy sagas surrounding the Kennedy assassination.

Robert McNamara was the classic hero/villain conundrum. He was an author of an imaginative global nuclear strategy known as “MAD” (Mutually Assured Destruction). As Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson he escalated the United States involvement in the Vietnam War, yet advocated the use of a blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis, averting a nuclear confrontation. I highly recommend “The Fog of War” for his unique view of global power politics.

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, USMC, oversaw an illegal arms program (from the basement of Reagan’s Whitehouse) with Iran (designated State Sponsor of Terrorism) and Nicaraguan rebels, the Iran-Contra scandal.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is a contemporary legend. Rumsfeld played a central role in planning a response to the September 11 attacks, which included two wars: Afghanistan, the seat of terrorism; and Iraq, an inspired, erroneous WMD conflict. His tenure then became controversial for prisoner abuse.

Imagine the cost in human life and physical resources this gallery represents. It is not arbitrary to say “immeasurable.” These were cabinet secretaries, administrators, and principals of the National Security apparatus… the major league of decision makers with high executive function. Their influence and the consequences of their decisions were so profound as to effect the course of history in ways we continue to experience.

No, the Bannon coterie, including Stephen Miller and Kellyanne Conway, appear like so many Dick Tracy villains by comparison. Strip away the bravado and hyperbole, little of purpose remains… and I always worry less about the guy needing to tell me what a bad-ass he is. For the time being, they have access to the halls of power, and history proves these characters will fade along with the aberrance of their views. Consider the fate of so many that had the same access, the same bombast, the same imagined elevation, whose existence is now more ignominious than influential. Their ideas were not durable.

Perspective, indeed. Time is an ally. Every organization, General Electric down to your local Cub Scout Pack, reflects the tenor of its leadership. In spite of all the media exposure, we are dealing with a farm-team of limited political acumen and untenable schemes. Deep governmental skills elude them, they refuse to be “coached,” in many ways to our good fortune. Their limits become our safety net.

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November –

GettyImages-855728_2640652aWhat a time to be alive! Let’s take a moment and contemplate the sweep of history unfolding before our eyes. The crystal ball of speculation grows murky as pundits, politicians, and the general electorate contemplate a future full of promise, or the need to stock food and water.

Through the coming weeks take a break and listen to your favorite music, draw a picture, sing a song, dance, sip your best wine, and read for escape and stimulation. Central Standard Time can help with reading part. Here is our new edition and it’s all about you, the reader.

David Edward Sims graces this publication for the first time. I can only hope it is the beginning of many more articles from this exceptionally talented man. David’s beat is the creative muse in all its forms and we are treated to an introspection of the spectacular Carmen McRea and the Triumph of the Lyric. Hear his interview program every Sunday morning at DePaul Radio – radio.depaul.edu

The round-table of political opinion may end up as kindling from the heat generated by our crew. Consider these offerings:

Marc Piane delivers a pair of essays. Marc continues his “Outside In” series with a new chapter, “Time.” Never at a loss for an eye-catching title, Marc embraces the philosophy of politics in “An Attempt at Cutting Through the Bullshit”…and cut he does.

John Zielinski clears away the campaign sensationalism by examining our constitution in “Decide!” Informed observation is John’s realm and it’s never stated better than in his article.

My friend Greg King returns to the pen with his essay “Rigged!” The title goes beyond the media blather and observes some of our election history.

Steve Buschbacher gives us a definitive down-ballot look at the congressional elections and the mandate for change in “Taking Back the Senate.” Steve’s detailed research and comprehensive presentation is second to none. A must-read.

The Zenpundit, author Mark Safranski, takes us to the cradle of self-government for an illuminating look at the writings of Greek historian, Polybius, and the contrast to today’s political atmosphere. Grab a seat for “This Election and the Nature of Republics”.

Regular contributor Brule Eagan can paint a word-picture like few others. Take a stroll through South Texas during the election season with “Una Palanca.”

Had enough? I hope not.

As Game #5 of the World Series goes to the Cubs, resident baseball guru Tom DeMichael celebrates the victory and looks to an exciting week ahead in “And They’re Heading For Home!

What would this publication be without Charley Krebs and his razor-sharp illustrations? Check his page for new drawings.

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And finally, visit the Publisher’s Desk for some obtuse thoughts on Optimism and Psychohistory.

Pull up a chair and pour a cup of your favorite coffee…join us for some good conversation.

September –

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Welcome to the September pages. This month we offer a diverse set of reading material from a lively and talkative group of very clever people. We mark the Equinox with balance and prudence…nah, let’s party!

Marc Piane continues his trek through the forest of self-awareness in a new chapter of “Outside In.” Grab your backpack, turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.

We are treated to more of Steve Buschbacher and his discovery of Philadelphia. Every evidence proves the truism “you can’t take Chicago out of the boy”…or something like that. His question is “Are You Comfortable?”

The Zenpundit, Mark Safranski, offers a wonderful review of  Bob Woodward’s new book “The Last of the President’s Men.” For those of us that lived this crisis in leadership, it’s easy to see the reflection of those times in our daily life. A must-read. More coming from Mark later this month.

The “Sports Oracle”, Tom DeMichael, runs down the state of baseball in Chicago as we head into the post-season. What a year it is turning out to be. Will the Bride’s Maid finally catch the bouquet? Tom gives up the details in “Here They Come, Rounding Third Base…

Charley Krebs graces several pages this month. Look for his current work on the “Publisher’s Desk” and his own page.

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I had the extreme pleasure of visiting with Brule Eagan recently. We are truly fortunate to have his intellect in our midst. That said, his essay speaks to “Writer’s Block.” Don’t ask, just read.

In an adjustment of format, a new page is added in place of my normal blog. The “Publisher’s Desk leaves our front page free to summarize and tag the content for each writer, each month. Navigation will be a breeze and indexing will allow a larger readership. This month is an indulgence in casual conversation: Genius and the Jester, and Great Expectations.

Drop us a line on the CONTACT page and help us improve your reading experience.

Will the New Deal Survive?

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Detractors tout an argument that the New Deal was more of a historical aberration prompted by the Great Depression than a triumph of the welfare state. As it exists, you cannot call our current state of affairs a Liberal utopia, let alone a triumph. But perhaps the New Deal was an aberration. Most analysts agree it produced a powerful political coalition that sustained the Democratic Party as a majority in national politics into the 1960s.

A companion question asks: Was the New Deal was hijacked by a global conflict in 1941? Are we suffering a massive entitlement hangover from the powerhouse binge of the World War II economy? In many ways, the horrors of global and regional conflict are eclipsed by the machines of the commerce they drive. Yet, it works. Money moves around the system and social programs get funded. Imagine unemployment at 1.3% (1944)! Re-live the rockin’ Fifties and an industrial base that purred like a V8. The wartime economy has been in place for over a century of our history. In one form or another, we generate foreign intervention and military adventure in support of commerce. Perhaps we need to replace “Semper Fi’” with “Business is business.”

The core of the New Deal can be summed up in its branding, the “3-R’s,” Relief, Recovery, and Reform: relief for the unemployed and poor, recovery of the economy to normal levels, and reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. The New Deal also produced a political realignment, New Deal Liberalism, making the Democratic Party the majority, as well as the party that held the White House for seven out of nine Presidential terms from 1933 to 1969, losing only to Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1952 and 1956. As the first Republican president elected after FDR, Ike built on the New Deal in a manner that embodied his thoughts on efficiency and cost-effectiveness (soldier that he was). He sanctioned a major expansion of Social Security by a self-financed program. He supported such New Deal programs as the minimum wage and public housing; he greatly expanded federal aid to education and built the Interstate Highway system primarily as defense programs (rather than jobs program). A Republican? Clever?

New Deal Liberalism laid the foundation of a new American consensus. Between 1940 and 1980 there was a tangible momentum about the prospects for the distribution of prosperity within an expanding capitalist economy. Harry S. Truman’s Fair Deal, and in the 1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society used the New Deal as inspiration for a dramatic expansion of liberal programs, notably Medicare. Notably Vietnam.

In 1964 Barry Goldwater was the Republican presidential candidate on a platform that attacked the New Deal. The Democrats under Lyndon B. Johnson won a massive landslide and Johnson’s Great Society programs extended it. However, the supporters of Goldwater formed the New Right which helped bring Ronald Reagan into the White House. Reagan, at the time an ardent New Dealer, had turned against the New Deal and moved the nation in new directions, with his emphasis on government as the problem, not the solution. It should be noted the Gipper then raided the Social Security Trust. He maneuvered the government transfer of $2.7 trillion from the Social Security Trust to the general fund over a 30-year period.

Consider some of these enduring and familiar New Deal programs:

Social Security Act (SSA), 1935, provided financial assistance to the elderly and handicapped, paid for by employee and employer payroll contributions.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), 1933, was an effort to modernize very poor region (most of Tennessee), centered on dams that generated electricity on the Tennessee River.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures bank deposits and supervises state banks.

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) / Wagner Act, 1935, set up the National Labor Relations Board to supervise labor-management relations. In the 1930s, it strongly favored labor unions. Modified by the Taft-Hartley Act (1947).

Surplus Commodities Program (1936), gives food to the poor. This still exists as Food Stamp Program.

Fair Labor Standards Act, 1938, established a maximum normal work week of 44 hours and a minimum wage of 40 cents/hour and outlawed most forms of child labor. Hours have been lowered to 40 hours over the years.

One make-work idea that should be resurrected is the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), 1933–1942. It employed young men to perform conservation and preservation work in rural areas, under United States Army supervision. The scope of this immensely successful program is an adventure and deserves a separate feature.

 Debates concerning the Glass–Steagall Act regulating investment banking, repealed 1999, will likely continue for the next 50 years.

Pundits across the globe compare our financial meltdown in 2008 to the Great Depression, and rightly so. There is no argument of how catastrophic it was, how fatal to capitalism it could have been, and how level heads nursed the global economy back to survival mode. It has been a time to remember the “3-R’s.”

Will nihilistic partisan conflict allow relief, recovery, and reform? Can this country restore a robust manufacturing base in addition to a thriving and astute service sector? Will there ever be unemployment at or below 2% (omg)! How does this miracle happen in a global economy? Without the fuel of revenue, will blessings of the New Deal Liberalism last?

Where is a good war when we need one?

We require an effective alternative to the war economy…a fundamental structural change. I don’t have the skill of an economist, so all I can hope for is the adage “First, you must realize there is a problem.” My moment of clarity.

Consider the modern parable of “Big Tobacco” and “Big Coal.” Both multi-billion dollar industries, both of questionable benefit to mankind in the long view. As public service legislation became law and diminished these industries, did we give the human factor an alternative way of life, a replacement industry? Not really. Generations of lives and fortunes across the Virginias, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the Carolinas were left twisting in the wind. The recovery plans are never in synch with the moment of challenge. It’s a place to start improving.

Our government is living the same basic conflict. Social services, the element Franklin Roosevelt divined in a time of great need, are more beneficial than harmful. We will never return to 1933. The money engine must survive to support them and we must innovate to that end.

New Deal Liberalism will survive only if it can change. The jury is still out.