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My daughter bought several grocery bags full of “discarded” books at the Moorhead Public Library the other day for three bucks a bag. What a bargain! She picked out a couple she thought I would be interested in. I have long been an admirer of Garrison Keillor, his fictional hometown of “Lake Wobegon,” and his radio show “The Prairie Home Companion.”
She knew I would love his 2004 discarded book “Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America.” Published just before the 2004 presidential election featuring Lurch W. Bush and the robotic Al Gore, his book outlines in sometimes angry, often humorous, occasionally censorable, and always-on-message language the differences between Progressive Democrats and Regressive Republicans, sometimes mislabeled as “Conservatives.” Some of the political faces have changed in eight years, but the policy issues and differences have only become more extreme by 2012. His book is more relevant today than ever.
He gets right after it in Chapter One: “I am a Democrat, which was nothing I decided for myself, but simply the way I was brought up, starting with the idea of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ I grew up among Bible-believing people in Minnesota, a cold weather state when the jet stream slips and the wind blows steadily from Manitoba; it gets so cold your skin hurts, your innards clench up, and a man’s testes shrink to the size of garden peas....Here we have the democracy of flatness: there simply aren’t so many hills for rich people to live on top of.”
2012: The Battle Between The Rich And The Poor In The U.S. And World
The value of unions has been questioned since the first guilds were formed in Europe in the 10th century. Of course, a union or guild will diminish a company’s profits by improving the workers’ share, but economists for hundreds of years have determined that unions have a minimal impact on growth and profits—while building a middle class the rich cannot get richer without.
Both John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie finally figured out that killing workers who wanted to form unions was, in the end, bad for business. That great hater of unions Henry Ford, smart enough to recognize he had to pay his workers enough so they could actually buy his Model T’s and A’s, doubled the wages of his assembly-line workers. He realized it was a terrific economic investment.
Republicans have never liked unions because unions bargain for wages, benefits, working conditions, and safety. It would be fascinating for someone to determine how many lives crusty old John L. Lewis, once president of the United Mine Workers Union, saved in his lifetime.
Perhaps the deaths of 29 miners in the West Virginia Upper Branch Mine explosion in 2010 would have been prevented by a strong union. The Massey Energy Co. run by CEO Don Blankenship violated hundreds of safety rules and made the production of coal a priority over the lives of its workers. It should have been closed down long before 2010 by Bush administration regulators. Blankenship, who bribed many a West Virginia legislator, should be in jail for negligent homicide.
North Dakota: Land Of Poverty And The Bakken Formation
Republicans have always pushed for “right-to-work” laws to keep unions weak. Since the Republicans won majorities in some state legislatures in 2010, they are currently trying to add ten states to the 22 right-to-work states that are mainly in the South and West. Big battles are presently going on in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio. It is an economic fact that six out of the ten states with the highest unemployment rates have right-to-work laws. North Carolina, as an example, has a private sector unionization rate of 1.8 percent, the lowest in the nation, while suffering the sixth highest unemployment rate in the country. Republicans don’t seem to realize that keeping workers out of the middle class is simply terrible economics over the long run.
North Dakota is known country-wide for the lowest unemployment rate and a prosperous future based on Bakken Formation oil and agriculture. The state has a billion-dollar surplus. But in this right-to-work state, many families don’t have enough to eat. Food pantries are almost constantly bare, and free school lunch programs are seeing record increases. When was the last time a full-time worker got a raise in the midst of all this prosperity? Why is Fargo breaking all records for the number of homeless? What are the Republican governor and the Republican Legislature doing about the Crystal Sugar lockout? What are they doing for all the employees and small-town businesses that are suffering because of it? Is the policy “Let Them Die?” This is union-busting at its worst.
There is a guy called Extreme who is currently running for president of the United States. His platform is mandatory teeth-brushing, zombie preparedness, and federal funding of time travel research so he can “kill Hitler with my bare hands.” He probably has a tougher work schedule than the ND Legislature.
Keillor reminds us what Democrats are for: “The spiritual base of the party is the union...it proposes that employees have a say in the workplace and bargain as a group and not be beaten down one by one. The holy martyrs who opened the way to labor unions were those Jewish immigrant women, some of them teenagers, locked by their bosses into the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village on March 25, 1911, who, when the fire broke out in the scrap bins, had no escape and leaped to their deaths, 146 of them....That’s not America as I know it. A house divided against itself cannot stand; we cannot long endure half predator, half prey....Unions are a little fence against sadism. You can’t, even if you are a genius with wild hair and a long baton, keep the orchestra rehearsing through their scheduled break. Even if you’re tuned to the universal harmony of the spheres, people still have the right to pee.”
And The Cries Of “Socialist” Choke The Political Airwaves
Should a right-to-work state like North Dakota have a socialist bank and a socialist mill and elevator within its borders? Some Republican pundits, such as George Will, claim the socialist post office should be totally privatized. The last time I checked, UPS would take a night-letter from Fargo to Minneapolis for $16—compared to the 44 cents for the socialist post office. Let’s see. What would be the estimate to deliver a letter from Fargo to Grassy Butte, North Dakota? It’s about twice the distance of Fargo-Minneapolis. Would $32 be reasonable—and profitable? Or would 44 cents?
Should we have socialist or private sewers? Should we have socialist or private water? Should we have private or socialist fire and police? More Keillor: “The Rural Electrification Act extended electric power to farms and villages that couldn’t afford the capital investment: good old American socialism. The Keillor farm was one. [So was the Raymond farm one.] Democrats brought about the (socialist) school lunch program, the (socialist) Head Start, the (socialist) food stamp program, and the (socialist) GI Bill of Rights, which boosted a whole generation into the ranks of white-collar professionals.”
The Great Republican Economic Reality Show
Someday voters in the U.S. will look north to our Canadian friends and ask, “Why didn’t you folks have a housing bubble like we did?” We presently have 12 million homes in this country under water—that is, valued less than their mortgage. The answer is relatively simple, according to Canadian housing and mortgage experts: “Canada did not become enthralled with the laissez faire ideology that dominated U.S. economic policymaking in the 2000-2007 years (Bush administration), and thus did not allow major gaps in its regulation of housing finance to develop.” Because “socialist” regulations were enforced, few Canadian homes are under water. Greed and fraud did not win out.
Nobel Prize-winning Paul Krugman of the NY Times put a facetious cap on the U.S. problem: “In the universe of the Republican Party we found ourselves in a crisis because Democratic Representative Barney Frank forced helpless bankers to lend money to the undeserving poor.” Actually, U.S. “banksters” were handing out subprime mortgages by the smelly thousands, mixing them up in an explosive cauldron with good stuff, and then peddling this financial crap all over the world to unsuspecting investors. Thank you, Mr. Gekko.
Republicans have always been opposed to regulations that might cut into profits. Witness the present battles over financial regulation laws (Dodd-Frank), Environmental Protection Agency rulings such as “fracking” regs, and Clean Air act laws (ND coal-Mn air).
Keillor has many comments about regulations in a complex society: “It would be nice to eat a breakfast that isn’t full of poisons, send our children off to a good school, ride a safe bus to work at a building that complies with health laws, and use a cell phone that won’t give us brain cancer. We’d like our employer to treat us fairly according to accepted practice. We’d like the police to guard the city against predators and vandals. Walking into the supermarket, you are powerless to investigate the meatpacker who packaged these Glo-Brite wieners so the government must do it for you. The government is there to do battle with those who would sell you cars that are firebombs or TV sets that cause cancer in small children or vitamins that make hair sprout on your palms or hamburgers from diseased springer spaniels.”
What Planet Do You Want To Live On?
So far, the four surviving candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president are madly working the same sacred right-wing trinity they have used for years: “GOD, GUNS, and GAYS.” To these major political planks, they have added additional flooring: (1) Abortion should be illegal in all cases, (2) All 12 million illegal immigrants from Mexico and Latin America should be put on buses or under them, (3) Climate change and global warming is a Democratic conspiracy, (4) The 48 million people without health insurance can be taken care of and cured in emergency rooms, (5) Any aspect of gun control is unconstitutional, (6) Tax increases only enlarge the bathtub where government should be drowned, (7) Regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, the Department of Education, and all departments and agencies regulating Wall Street hedge funds and the mortgage industry should be eliminated, and (8) Civil unions and same-sex marriages must be banned in the entire country.
It’s a bit ironic that the Minnesota culture wars against gays and same-sex marriage are centered in Keillor’s hometown of Anoka, where he went to high school. The people who believe in Leviticus when it is about homosexuals, but who disbelieve Leviticus when it is about stoning to death adulterers, fornicators, and cheating husbands and wives, are raising hell in the Anoka schools about the acceptance of gay students as certified members of the human race. The Anoka Parents Action League, evidently loaded with central Minnesota Bible-thumpers, think gay students can be “transformed” to adopt straight sex and should not be allowed to have supportive GLBT organizations in school. This is really 14th century stuff. Six gay Anoka students have committed suicide over the last two years, probably because teachers have not been allowed to counsel them. They have to remain “neutral.”
Keillor responds to such sexual and racial discrimination with the following: “That’s the Republican Party: Its Christianity is about half fake because it scorns Jesus’ command to love thy neighbor as thyself and it abuses any who take the commandment seriously....Democrats have changed America in simple basic ways...Race has become less and less an issue...Women have moved into every realm of society...The Great American Story is Huck Finn sticking with the nigger Jim and not betraying him to authorities.”
Raymond is a former Marine officer and school board superintendent, and resides in Detroit Lakes