Johnny Cash, Politics, And Weaving The Handbasket To Hell

Ed Raymond

This week I was going to concentrate on commenting on the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and how much American politics has changed in those 60 years. Sixty years ago Corky and I lived on New Topsail Island in the North Carolina barrier islands while I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, the main eastern Marine Corps base. We got quickly acquainted with Southern Jim Crow, “separate but equal” educational facilities, segregation, and other Southern eccentricities. Corky’s sister lived with us and spent her senior year in high school attending a white “separate but equal” school in Hampsted. It was brick. The “separate but equal” school for blacks was close by. It was a framed shack covered with tarpaper.  Reality soon showed up, reinforced by “White Only” and Colored Only” signs on toilets, water fountains, theaters, restaurants, and other “public accommodations.”
One of the reasons I have supported the Brown decision and President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s civil rights legislation since their inception is we were up close and personal to the inhumanity in education inequality and racism. Two of my heavy machinegun platoon sergeants were black. Harry Truman had integrated the military in 1948. The two kept me from making rookie mistakes when I was a fresh lieutenant. Both were decorated Korean War veterans and had fought in the Chosin Reservoir. But in Jacksonville in 1955 they were not allowed to walk on the sidewalks with whites. They had to walk in the streets and alleys–in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Johnson, Politics, And The Great Society

LBJ was an activist president, attacking both societal problems such as race and poverty and the “little” things important to families. When Joseph Califano, his domestic affairs advisor, had to rush his three-year-old son to the hospital because he had opened and swallowed a bottle of colored aspirin, before he had gotten back to his White House office LBJ had ordered the writing of a bill to make it almost impossible for a small child to open pill bottles. The Child Safety Act making pill bottles more childproof soon passed Congress. Califano’s son is now a surgeon at Johns Hopkins University specializing in head and neck cancers. Would today’s partisan Congress of Barack Obama haters pass this legislation today? I doubt it.
LBJ’s  efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was predicated by his interest in solving national problems and his personal experiences with racism in Texas and Washington.  When he was senate majority leader he employed a black couple as a driver and cook who lived with them in the Johnson Washington residence. LBJ invited the couple to his Texas ranch for a vacation and asked them to drive to Texas after closing the Washington house. The wife refused the invitation because she didn’t want to “pee behind bushes all the way to Texas” because very few gas stations allowed blacks to use their bathrooms across the South. “Besides,” she said, “Some of that country doesn’t even have bushes.” That proved to be a great motivator for LBJ to work for civil rights and public accommodation laws. When campaigning in 1964 LBJ often shouted the phrase: “We’re in favor of a lot of things and we’re against mighty few.”

Are We Losing LBJ’s War On Poverty?

Most historians credit LBJ with being more powerful than Franklin Delano Roosevelt was during the Great Depression. When he became president in 1963, Social Security was the only nationwide social program. Now almost half of seniors depend upon SS for their main income. Poverty programs pushed by LBJ have added Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, disability payments, heating assistance, and other programs to improve the social welfare of many. We still have 47 million below poverty levels.
George Will, the great conservative pundit of the Washington Post and TV, recently wrote a column entitled “The Slow Decline Of America Since LBJ Launched the Great Society.”  George conveniently forgets that since Ronald Reagan, the great budget cutter, the One Percent has selfishly kept all of the profits made in 30 years to themselves, leaving the poor and the middle class with nothing to show for their 80 percent improvement in productivity. He also quotes the work of the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s Nicholas Eberstadt who analyzed the Great Society in a booklet: “The Great Society at Fifty: Triumph and the Tragedy.” He seems to say all of these programs have eliminated the poor.
He says in 31 years the poor have an average per capita housing space greater than the U.S. average in 1980. The poor have many more appliances than the typical home in the 1980’s. The poor have DVDs, computers, Internet and cable access, and cellphones, none available at the start of the War on Poverty. Evidently he thinks that the poor should resemble the peasants in the 17th Century with their dirt floors, sod walls and roofs, living with their animals, firepits in the middle of the living room, and urinating and defecating in the woods--where they also poached their landlord’s rabbits and deer for food. And then walked a half-mile to the nearest lake or river for water.
Just what is necessary to survive in a society today? What is essential for survival? Do you need a computer to get a job–or even apply for benefits? Yes. Should a home have running water, plumbing, and electrical power? Yes. Is a cellphone necessary to get a job? Yes. Should the poor have TVs–and, my God, cable TV?  Yes. And Internet? Yes. It’s funny that other countries come up with answers to life’s problems without filibuster or inaction. Finland, often rated with the best K-12 education system in the world, has installed and maintained computers in every residence in the country–because it makes economic sense. Just think of the cohesiveness and educational possibilities if every family is tied into several “nets.” Think of communications, banking, entertainment, and the lifelong education possibilities for every member of the family. All George Will can write about is how people have become dependent on government.

How Much Is Enough?

George doesn’t write about the top 25 hedge managers, while not  even making a single paper clip to contribute to our economy, made a combined $21.15 billion in 2013–while the Congressional Republicans refused to bring a bill to the floor increasing the minimum wage to a minimum “living wage.”  How can a person provide for a family on a wage way below poverty level? What did the 25 hedge fund managers do with the same money that would have doubled the wages of all the kindergarten teachers in the United States? They didn’t even pay half the tax rate of a teacher or law enforcement officer! They exist on “casino” financial speculation. They don’t create a single job.
Because of the One Percent’s “excess” money the 9,000 Wall Street hedge fund managers made 50 percent more than they did in 2012.  All that money floating around in the nether regions brought David Tepper of Appaloosa Management $3.5 billion in 2013, $1.3 billion more than he made in 2012. Steven Cohen of SAC Capital Advisers picked up $2.4 billion. John Paulson of Paulson & Company was close behind at $2.3 billion. They make their money betting that some businesses will earn big money while others will lose big money. How exciting. But you can buy a lot of politicians with that kind of cash. And you can buy law and order to keep the riff-raff under control. And you can avoid taxes as 22,000 One Percenters did by paying Swiss banks, particularly Credit Suisse, to hide over $12 billion from the clutches of the Internal Revenue Service. These people have a lot of money to cover big bets in the Wall Street Casino. The hedge fund industry currently has about $2.7 trillion to play double-down, with all dollars garnered from the One Percent--who have no idea what to do with all their money. But they do know enough to buy politicians by the dozen and lot numbers to keep the money flowing.

Sit-Lie Ordinances, High-Powered Hoses, And Fines For Feeding The Destitute

We have now reached the point in this country where cities and states are criminalizing the homeless instead of housing and feeding them. George Will doesn’t write about the homeless while he ridicules and humiliates the poor. He doesn’t write about the
thousands of homeless veterans who have saved his ass over the last half century.
Cities across the country, embarrassed by rented and sold politicians who won’t solve the homeless problem, are now passing “Sit-Lie” ordinances directly aimed at the homeless. It’s against the law in many jurisdictions to sit or lie on public sidewalks or in parks. Some cities use high-powered hoses to wake up and bath the homeless sleeping on the streets. Street cleaners in that great liberal city of San Francisco are instructed to turn hoses on the sleeping homeless to “wash them away.” However, the homeless in Golden Gate Park are treated better than the homeless in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They shoot the homeless there who sleep in parks.
In many cities it is against the law “to serve food in public.” A Daytona Beach, Florida couple with a Christian outreach was recently arrested by six police officers and fined $746 for serving meals to the homeless living in Manatee Island Park. The fine was later rescinded after public outcry—but the ordinance still stands. Other cities with similar laws are Birmingham, St. Louis, Raleigh, Philadelphia, and Orlando.  (Geez, I wonder what Jesus would do.)

In The World Of The Obscene, The Insane, And The Judeo-Christian Tradition

Sometimes it seems that our problems are so huge and complex there is no viable solution. As an example, each Koch brother, steadfastly opposed to a minimum wage and all societal safety nets, makes $13 million a day from “investments.” A minimum wage worker would have to work 700 years to earn what David and Charles make in a day just from investments.  The Kochs are currently sponsoring 67 bills in 25 states to reduce the minimum wage.
Maybe the Kochs need electronic probes inserted in their brains to change their selfish attitudes. Marian Diamond describes the brain as a “three-pound mass you can hold in your hand that can conceive of a universe a 100 million light-years across.”  A 59-year-old Netherlands man with a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder was recently treated with deep brain stimulation probes after every other treatment failed to cure his malady of 46 years. Strange things happened. The patient just had a minor interest in music, knowing a few Dutch ballads and a few Beatles and Rolling Stone songs.
But he started to feel better after deep probe stimulation. After about a year he was listening to Johnny Cash singing “Ring of Fire” and felt even better. He began to love “Folsom Prison Blues,” “A Guy Named Sue,” and other Cash favorites. Soon he felt so good he would only listen to Cash and his songs. But when the batteries that charge his brain probes with power run down or accidently go out, he loses all interest in Johnny and goes back to his Dutch, Beatle, and Rolling Stone songs. When his batteries are replaced its’s back to Cash and the powerful “Ring of Fire” to the exclusion of all other music.
The doctors treating him say with a hint of frustration and scientific wonder: “More research is needed.” We need to support this type of deep probe stimulation in the area of the brain called the “nucleus accumbens.” Perhaps we can discover a deep-probe treatment for the obsessive-compulsive love for money and power demonstrated by the One Percent. Perhaps we can probe the area that would provoke the payment of all taxes instead of attempting to avoid them by both legal and illegal means. Can we stop the weaving of the economic handbasket that will carry us all to Hell? Bring on the probes–and keep those batteries charged.
LBJ, who had no deep-brain probe in his nucleus accumbens, had a deep sense of the dramatic about his political ability anyway: “I may not know much, but I know the difference between chickenshit and chicken salad.”