Monday, June 20, 2011

Upside Down Marxism and a bit of Harry Lauder

You may note that I have dropped the ads from the blog.  I had no control over them and I found some were political in nature and inappropriate for this blog.  No great loss.  And where, may I ask, are the regular contributors?

UPSIDE DOWN MARXISM

Here’s a further thought on the economic philosophy of Ayn Rand.  (See the posting immediately preceding this one.)  I was intrigued when I looked into it and found it being referred to as “Upside Down Marxism.”  Let’s try to figure that one out.


I may be a bit weak on theory but I have always assumed that the key to the workings of a Marxist society is the worker.  Didn’t the Communists call their local paper in the United States the Daily Worker?  Remember the hammer and sickle on the old flag of the U.S.S.R.?  Well, those symbols represented the labor performed by workers in factories and on farms.  In Marxism, all wealth in the economy is supposed to arise from that labor. Regardless of how well planned and well funded an economy may be, without labor, nothing will happen they say.  Everything was supposed to start with the worker’s labor, ostensibly the source of all wealth, and economic progress would follow.  So they said.

Ayn Rand wrote in the shadow of the Great Depression, when everyone was looking for solutions.  Marxism was one of those solutions, and while not infatuated with it, our government did borrow from it and adopted a greater role in our economic system than ever before, primarily in an effort to get the worker back to work.  New Deal agencies such as the WPA, the PWA, the CCC, the NRA and farm subsidies were tools of government stimuli to the economy. 

Rand abhorred this approach.  She felt that the worker, rather than being the key to the economy, was merely a tool ultimately to be utilized to toil on the projects which were started by those who had the funding, inspiration and guts to initiate a venture.  Everything was supposed to start with the brave entrepreneur, and economic progress would follow.  This was “Upside Down Marxism,” with the worker’s contribution, his labor, now the least significant factor in the mix whereas in Marxism, it was the most important part.  (In today’s thinking, such labor could even be “outsourced” eliminating the domestic worker entirely.)  

Sounds a lot like our free enterprise system, doesn’t it.  That’s why some Republicans, and all Libertarians, are in love with Ayn Rand.  That’s why there is a concerted attack on labor, with the National Labor Relations Board as well as those remaining unions  still active in government, industry and the service sector of our economy being painted darkly.  

Ayn Rand would applaud legislation which deprives workers of the right to organize into such unions.  In the name of “freedom,” Right to Work laws supposedly open up jobs to individuals who will work for whatever the employer offers rather than for what a union can gain for them through bargaining. Such laws have been passed in 22 states. When the G.O.P. thinks of Rand’s ideas, they see “Marxism Turned Upside Down,” with the worker getting only what his employer chooses to pay him, locked at the bottom of the economic ladder, and they like what they see. The G.O.P. does everything they can to keep him there, although they would never admit it.  They continue to claim that when the economy is healthy and business makes profits, benefits will trickle down to the workers. We have been hearing that for years and it never happens.  Never.

Any move to better the lot of the working person, in their myopic eyes, is a step toward turning their corrupted version of Marxism “right side up,” with the worker back on top.  Hence they maliciously hint and not so subtly suggest that the Democratic Party which has significant union support includes evil Marxism in its agenda for America and that the President really is a socialist.  

Here is a billboard which a Tea Party group erected in northern Iowa last summer.  As you can see, there is no limit to the depths to which they will sink in order to get working people to vote against their own interests and for candidates who are basically anti-labor, pro-business and against any kind of tax increases, even at the expense of Medicare and Social Security. 


The only "fearful and naive" who are preyed upon by stuff like this are the gullible Tea Party folks who have been conned into hating their government and end up voting for candidates who have adopted the Grover Norquist extreme anti-tax position.  Norquist is the fellow who said he would like to shrink government to a size where it could be drowned in a bathtub.  He is extremely influential among Republican legislators. (See recent postings on Norquist.) 

This complex of Republican lies is a wonderful tool to use in convincing people to support such candidates.  Remember, as I pointed out many posts ago on this blog, in a not-so-close election which might result in the winner getting 54% of the vote and the loser 46%, this kind of dishonest garbage can easily swing the five percent needed to change the result. 

Getting back to Ayn Rand, were she alive today, and if the Republicans decided to put a woman on their 2012 ticket, she would blow Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann out of the water.

Jack Lippman

                    *****          *****          *****          *****


Enjoying Harry Lauder
The other day, I was listening to an ancient 33 1/3 record of Harry Lauder, the Scottish music hall performer, singing some of the songs like “a Wee Doch an Doris,” “She’s the Gal for Me,” “The End of the Road,” and “Wee House in the Heather,” which made him famous on both sides of the Atlantic, and got him knighted by the Queen.  Some may recall his appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, long before the Beatles.  

Anyhow, when you listen to Harry, your enjoyment is always enhanced if you accompany the music with “a wee doch an doris” which translates as a drink before departing.  The lyric Lauder sings in the song of that name goes “just a wee doch an doris afore we gang to war,” but it also seems appropriate even if you’re not leaving on a troopship, whenever you listen to him sing.  The only question is whether Johnnie Walker (any color) is okay. My answer is “Yes, but only if a single malt Scotch like GlenLivet or GlenFiddich is not available.  Vodka is never permissible.  It must be Scotch to best enjoy the music.” 

JL

To send this posting to a friend (or enemy for that matter) whom you think might be interested in it, just click on the envelope with the arrow on it right below this line. 


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan

There are a few "housekeeping" items which I'd like to mention up front today.  I've cut the ads down to one (I doubt if there will be any money made from them, but it's fun experimenting with them) and tried to limit them to subjects I think readers may be interested in.  I also have added a display showing how many times this blog was accessed over the past week.  Almost 20% of our readers come from outside of the United States.  I suspect some of this overseas interest is from folks who were doing a search using words like "butterfly farming" and ended up clicking on a listing leading to this blog.   


Here’s the little story which concluded my last posting

A prominent architect receives a commission to build a massive public housing project.   When he returns from an extended vacation, he finds that the structure was not built according to his plans, but modified to some extent by other architects involved in the project, so that it was no longer the exact building he had designed.  He was greatly offended by this.  Which of the following courses of action should the architect take? 
  1. Because the building would still provide homes which would be a great improvement for families who were presently living in slum-like conditions, accept the changes and move on.
  2. Take legal steps to have the unauthorized construction which deviated from his plans removed and reconstruct the building the way it should have been built, even though this would require the government to agree to double the cost of the project.
  3. Sneak into the almost completed structure at night and blow it up. 
As at least one of our readers told me, this story is taken from the plot of Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead.  Yes it is, and if you haven’t read the book nor seen Gary Cooper play the role of Howard Roark in the 1949 filming of Rand’s 1943 novel, he blows up the building!   Howard Roark was a nut job, albeit a “heroic” one in the eyes of Ayn Rand.

                                                          
                                                                           Ayn  Rand


I remind you of this because Congressman Paul Ryan who sponsors the bill which will "save" Medicare by taking it away from those presently under age 55 and replacing it with a far less costly voucher system, is a follower of Ms. Rand’s “philosophy” and requires, I have been told, his staffers to read Rand’s follow-up novel, Atlas Shrugged, all 1170 pages of it.  I admit to reading The Fountainhead but not doing more than a quick scan of Atlas Shrugged, which was just made, incidentally, into a very poorly received movie.  Apparently, Ryan’s staff and their relatives didn’t fill enough seats to make it a box office success.

Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, seems to exalt the ego and individual accomplishment, from which all success flows.  It puts a premium on selfishness, which narrows and betters one’s focus on success, with no feeling for others (when Roark blew up the building, he didn’t care a bit about those who would be living there) and considers altruistic thoughts as highly undesirable.  You can learn more about Rand’s philosophy, which some have referred to as “upside-down” Marxism, by doing some searching on Google.  It isn’t easy stuff.

As it relates to Congressman Ryan though, let me quote Jonathan Chiat who wrote the following, citing quotes from the Congressman, in the New Republic:

“Ryan would retain some bare-bones subsidies for the poorest, but the overwhelming thrust in every way is to liberate the lucky and successful to enjoy their good fortune without burdening them with any responsibility for the welfare of their fellow citizens.  

This is the core of Ryan's moral philosophy:  ‘The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,’  Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of  Atlas Shrugged  and The Fountainhead.


At the Rand celebration he spoke at in 2005, Ryan invoked the central theme of Rand's writings when he told his audience that, ‘Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill ... is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict--individualism versus collectivism.’


The core of the Randian worldview, as absorbed by the modern GOP, is a belief that the natural market distribution of income is inherently moral, and the central struggle of politics is to free the successful from having the fruits of their superiority redistributed by looters and moochers.”   

                                       
                                                              Paul Ryan


If I may burden you with one more bit of what Ayn Rand is all about, here is a quote from Atlas Shrugged:


“John Galt is Prometheus who changed his mind. After centuries of being torn by vultures in payment for having brought to men the fire of the gods, he broke his chains—and he withdrew his fire—until the day when men withdraw their vultures.”


Now, since I haven’t more than scanned the book, I resorted to Sparknotes.com, where I found the following explanation of this quote (Italics are mine):


“Francisco says this to Dagny in Part Two, Chapter V, after they discover the words ‘Who is John Galt?’ scratched into a table at a restaurant.  She says there are so many stories about him, and Francisco tells her that all the stories are true. Metaphorically speaking, they are, and Francisco’s Prometheus story is especially apt. Prometheus was a figure from Greek mythology. He was a titan who stole fire from the gods and brought it to men to improve their lives. In return, he was chained to a rock and tortured. Vultures ate his liver each day, only to have it grow back at night to be eaten again. In Francisco’s comment, Prometheus (personified by Galt) represents the great industrialists who have provided men with prosperity and improved their lives with their inventions and products, but have received only condemnation and government interference in return. These men, led by Galt, have disappeared and taken their prosperity-generating minds (the ‘fire’ they had provided) with them. They will no longer allow themselves to receive torture as payment for their talents, and they will only return their talents to the world when they are no longer punished for bringing them.

                                                                       Prometheus 

Enough?  Now you know why Howard Roark blew up the housing project, and why Paul Ryan wants to blow up Medicare ... and anything else the government does to interfere with “the great industrialists who have provided men with prosperity and improved their lives with their inventions and products but have received only condemnation and government interference in return.” 

That includes tax increases for the wealthy which is what this really is all about.

(A footnote to the "Paul Ryan - Ayn Rand" tale is the opposition which has developed to Ryan and his ideas by clergy throughout the country, who object to Rand's atheism. This has created a problem for "social conservatives," who have difficulty with a philosophy which values selfishness over altruism, and which apparently has greatly influenced the GOP's point man for health care reform .) 

Jack Lippman


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Rainmaker, Some Poetry and an Opinion Question

At least one of you is reading my Email because we have a poem from one of our readers included in this posting.  Give some thought to what she says.  Consider sending in something you have written.  It will reach a lot of people. 

                          ****          ****          ****          ****

The Rainmaker 

About five years ago I recall there was a mortgage broker who advertised on one of the local radio stations using the nickname of “The Rainmaker.”  He touted inexpensive, low interest rate, or even “interest only” mortgages which while inexpensive, ultimately ballooned into mortgages with prohibitively high monthly payments.  The Rainmaker urged his listeners to call him to apply for these mortgages, pointing out that all they had to do when the cost went up was to refinance with him to achieve a lower monthly payment, as many of his happy “clients” had done.  He pointed out that with just a minimum down payment, or even none at all, a renter could become a homeowner and reduce his monthly outlay for housing.  He made people with traditional 30 year fixed rate mortgages seem like a bunch of suckers.  

Many followed his advice and that of similar hucksters but sadly, when the payments went up, refinancing at a lower rate was no longer available.  This is one of the reasons why Florida is near the top of the list of states in regard to foreclosures and “short sales,” where more is owed on a house’s mortgage than its market price. 

Complicit with the Rainmaker and those like him across the country were real estate appraisers (who valued properties far above their worth), real estate agents (who sold homes to people who they knew couldn’t afford the payments), banks (which blindly gave out the mortgages) and law firms (which made sure all this skullduggery was “legal”), all of whom made money from the home purchases the Rainmaker’s mortgage peddling made possible.  Although a few individuals, law firms and banks have experienced difficulty stemming from these mortgages, many of them are still merrily going along their way, doing their business of making money, which today is centered on resolving, for a fee, the unbelievable debt some of their victims have accumulated and “helping” them go through foreclosures, loan modifications and bankruptcies.  In less civilized countries, there would be general agreement that those who inflicted such harm upon “the people” should be lined up against a wall and shot.  That is what happened at the time of the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution.  It did not happen, however, in the American Revolution.   

Today, however, all we can hope for is increased regulation of our free market system which allowed these people to make life miserable for so many Americans.  If this doesn’t take place, we may be in for trouble the next time the system allows the people, and the nation, to be ripped off.  Real trouble!  

The problem is not one stemming from something the government has done but rather from what the government does not do in terms of regulating a free market economy which sometimes does whatever it wants, regardless of its consequences.
Jack Lippman

                        ****          ****          ****          ****

"Lovers"
  Libby Klein

If we are all to die, what good is it to cry?
Let's live our life today, don't think of yesterday.
When we were young and full of glee,
Who thought of death and eternity?
We had happy thoughts in mind,
Anticipating what we'd find, on our journey throughout life ...
joined together as man and wife.
But, when I lost my one true love, there was one thing I was
certain of.
The emptiness of life will pass for me, and then I will
keep you company.



                 ****          ****          ****          ****                                 



And here is a little story about which I would like your opinion.  Please send me your comments.  (Instructions for making comments are at the top of the blog, or you can simply send me an Email at riart1@aol.com.)

A prominent architect receives a commission to build a massive public housing project.   When he returns from an extended vacation, he finds that the structure was not built according to his plans, but modified to some extent by other architects involved in the project, so that it was no longer the exact building he had designed.  He was greatly offended by this.  Which of the following courses of action should the architect take? 
JL

  1. Because the building would still provide homes which would be a great improvement for families who were presently living in slum-like conditions, accept the changes and move on.
  2. Take legal steps to have the unauthorized construction which deviated from his plans removed and reconstruct the building the way it should have been built, even though this would require the government to agree to double the cost of the project.
  3. Sneak into the almost completed structure at night and blow it up. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Butterfly "Farming" ... Illustrated! (Plus a Comment on Congressman Weiner)

I’ve had milkweed plants behind my house for a few years and they have always managed to attract Monarch butterflies which lay eggs there which hatch into caterpillars which, in turn, form pupae from which a new Monarch butterfly emerges in about a week.  Their life span is several weeks and they continue to reproduce this way until about October.  (Monarchs from more northern climes migrate to an area in Mexico every winter and return, several generations later, in the Spring.  Florida Monarchs remain in the Sunshine State all winter, although not much is seen of them during those months.) This year, however, I expanded from just the milkweed plants to a more ambitious “butterfly farm.”

Butterfly farming requires:  (1.) an area with a reasonable amount of sunshine, a requirement for the female butterfly to lay eggs, (2) some “larval” or food plants on which the eggs will be laid and whose leaves will provide nourishment for the caterpillars which hatch from those eggs until they leave to form pupae and (3) some “nectar” plants which, while not hosting caterpillars, will attract butterflies to the general area with their aroma.  For the Monarch butterfly, the milkweed fills both of these functions.

“Nectar” plants are easy.  Porterweed, penta, plumbago, thryallis, lantana, firebush and many other plants fill this role.  I have them on my “farm.”  “Larval” plants are another story entirely. Each plant’s particular aroma attracts a specific variety of female butterfly.  If you lack the right plant for a species, there is no chance that the female butterfly will show up (and even if you have it, she might not). Once a female is attracted by the plant’s aroma, a male may follow shortly thereafter and the eggs will follow.

I have been fairly successful with a passion flower vine (passiflora suberosa) which is a “larval” plant for several kinds of butterflies, including Florida’s state butterfly, the Longwing Zebra, and the Gulf Fritillary, a lovely orange creature.  I had purchased containers containing Longwing Zebra pupae at Butterfly World (more about them shortly), which produced butterflies in about a week.  I released them near the passion flower vine, supposedly their larval plant, where they hung out for a while, sniffing a little and then disappeared.  Occasionally they come back but to my knowledge, no eggs have been laid. Similarly, I have also “hatched” a Giant Swallowtail butterfly from a Butterfly World pupa.

Another variety of passion flower vine (passiflora subrotundo) which I purchased wasn’t doing well, but apparently attracted a female Gulf Fritillary which laid eggs on it which produced caterpillars which I transferred to the leafier passiflora suberosa.   Some of these have gone through the pupa stage and the resultant butterflies visit that plant occasionally.  The most prolific producer of butterflies, however, remains the Monarch and its host, the milkweed.

Near the community where I reside in South Florida is Butterfly World, one of the world’s great centers of butterfly research.  Besides their butterfly, bird and plant collections, they give free courses on Saturdays.  Coupons to lower their admission price are always in the newspapers, and their $40 annual pass is a real bargain.  (Parking is free except on weekends.)  Their garden shop sells nectar and larval plants at reasonable prices and their staff is very knowledgeable.

You can turn your home into a butterfly haven by planting just one milkweed plant on your property. (In addition to Butterfly World, Home Depot and Lowes stock them.)  It’s a perennial and doesn’t need much care.  Some pictures of butterfly activity on my “farm” follow.

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar


And this is what this caterpillar turned into, a Gulf Fritillary butterfly



And here’s a Monarch caterpillar



Which turned into this Monarch Butterfly



I had purchased a Giant Swallowtail pupa from Butterfly World (mentioned above) and here it is in my kitchen where it sat for a week or so




Until it dropped to the bottom of the container.  I then placed the container outside and the butterfly started to try to get out



It took him half an hour to reach the rim.



I gently turned the container on its side and the butterfly then climbed out onto the rocks

 
Here is the Giant Swallowtail making friends with a sprinkler head.  Note the underside of the folded wings are a different color than the top of the wings.
The butterfly took off shortly thereafter, and I haven't seen him since.  I hope he returns.

Jack Lippman


                    *****          *****          *****          ***** 


Weinergate and its Implications for All of Us
It is my opinion that the Congressman should resign.  I say this not because he appears to be a fortyish dirty old man but rather because he attempted to lie his way out of the situation into which he put himself.  There is little chance of his district replacing him with a Republican so the Democrats in the House have little to lose and much to gain since they would rid themselves of an embarrassment among them.  The Democrats cannot have someone like this speaking forcefully against Republican positions.  Why should anyone believe him?

And in regard to how he got into this mess, Weiner apparently hit a wrong key on his Blackberry and his Twitter message and the accompanying picture was distributed more widely than he intended it to be.  This is a danger posed by all "social media" to all users of them.  At present, I do not belong to any of them.  After a brief experience with Facebook, I decided that access to my address book was something I wanted to personally control and not put into the hands of outsiders, even with supposed restrictions on their use of it..  So I am no longer part of Facebook.  (I hope.)  I recently commented to a right-wing friend that if the United States Government invaded privacy in the manner that Facebook and similar sites do, even he and his Tea Party buddies would be running to join the American Civil Liberties Union!
JL 




Sunday, June 5, 2011

Grover Norquist - Holding a Scimitar over the Heads of 208 Capitol Hill Legislators

WHO WANTS TO DROWN OUR GOVERNMENT IN A BATHTUB?

What do you think of someone who says that the goal of his organization is to shrink government to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub? Someone who wants to, in effect, do away with government in that manner sounds like an anarchist to me!  

At the beginning of the last century, anarchists were pictured in cartoons as bearded individuals attempting to throw bombs aimed at our government and its institutions.  Well, today’s anarchist, if we can believe what he says, is Grover Norquist who heads up Americans for Tax Reform, which serves as the bomb in his hand.  

This organization which in a less democratic nation than ours would be considered subversive because of its leader’s aim to “drown our government in a bathtub” asks candidates for State or Federal office to solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases so long as they are in office.  They ask them to put this pledge before their constituents in writing. 

The remarkable thing about this pledge is that it has been signed by 34 sitting United States Senators and 174 Members of the House of Representatives!  These elected officials have apparently allied themselves with Norquist in order to guarantee that they get the votes of those Americans who strongly oppose tax increases.  Without having signed Norquist’s “Pledge,” what they say would have little meaning for these single-minded voters.  More significantly, if an elected official who signs the pledge should decide to use their brain and come to a conclusion that some kind of tax increase, or the removal of a loophole which would have the same effect, is absolutely necessary, he is subject to having his signed Pledge thrown in his face and being called a liar.  Signees have thereby given up the right to think for themselves and not necessarily do what is best for their constituents.  They have turned over their power to someone dedicated to “drowning our government in a bathtub.”

Needless to say, almost all of the Pledge’s signees are Republicans.  Of the few Democrats who have signed the Pledge, some such as former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter have been formally listed and castigated on the ATR web site whenever they have been caught violating it. 

Therefore, individuals should be extremely careful before casting a ballot for any Republican candidate at any level who has signed onto the Americans for Tax Reform Pledge.  

As the voting pattern of most of the 208 mostly Republican Senators and Representatives who have signed it indicates, they have chosen to live up to Norquist’s pledge in order to get re-elected, which means they have put the radical and questionable agenda of the Americans for Tax Reform ahead of the welfare of their constituents and of the Nation.

Digging out from where Americans for Tax Reform get its financial support is difficult, but internet searches have found that it gets money from many very conservative sources, including the Scaife family and many companies in the tobacco industry. From this it would appear that the desire to avoid tax increases on the wealthy and on corporations is the reason for much of Norquist’s support.  It may go beyond that, however, and that is troubling! The following list of ATR supporters was secured from www.sourcewatch.org.  Those interested in researching this further can use that web site as a point of departure.
It is interesting to note that during the Bush administration, and prior to it, Norquist ran meetings in his office every Wednesday afternoon. There, various conservative groups such as the NRA and others interested in limiting government would get together and coordinate their efforts to get their message to the public and the media. It is reported that the Bush administration was represented at these weekly conservative strategy sessions. 

Oddly enough, there is a hazy link between Norquist and radical Islamist Jihad organizations, of which some conservatives who support him are not aware.  Back in 1998, it is reported that Norquist established the Islamic Institute with seed money from an individual who is currently serving a 23 year Federal sentence for terrorism related activities.  That group appears to have been, during the Bush years, a principal vehicle for the Islamists’ aims to gain influence into Adminstration, Republican and conservative circles. 

To follow this line of thinking further, start with www.thinkprogress.org and http://americanpatriotscommission.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/cpac-islam-norquist/, an interesting blog, as well.  Searches on Google.com keying in on the words “Norquist” and “Islam” may open your eyes to dangers far beyond tax reform.  This taken together with a philosophy which wants to “drown our government in a bathtub” suggests something that is in actuality far more dangerous than an anarchist with a bomb in his hand.  Do we want a man like Grover Norquist holding over the heads of 208 elected officials on Capitol Hill a signed pledge to follow his “no tax increase” agenda?  I don’t. 

(Some of the internet sources mentioned in this posting are from groups which do not claim to be non-partisan and may have an agenda of their own.  Therefore, try to separate what they report as “facts” from their often undocumented and opinionated interpretation of them.)
Jack Lippman

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

World War Two Story plus an Elephant in the Closet

Some of you have commented to me on the short story (Brave New World) in the last posting.  If you liked that one, here's another one from half a dozen years ago.  Meanwhile, if you enjoy this blog, submit something to it.   It gotta be more than just me.

Following the story is a continuation of my thoughts on the economy, in which I discover an "Elephant in the Closet."  Also, in the works for a future posting is a "feature" on butterfly farming of which here's a sample, pictured nibbling on a plant in my yard:



But let's get on to that short story I promised you.

                                             
                                          *     *     *     *     *


A Matter of "Life" and Death
Jack Lippman
It gets very cold in the mountains of central Italy in the winter, especially if you haven’t any fuel to put into the stove to heat the house.  And beside the cold, there was the hunger.  The retreating Germans had taken whatever food had been stored in the barn, so Katarina and her brother had to go out and look for frozen berries, roots and maybe a wild turnip or two with which to make some soup, as well as some branches to use as kindling for their cooking fire.  Pietro had been able to trap a rabbit last week, but they had about finished eating that, even the little bones from which they had been sucking marrow.  Perhaps today he would catch another one.  Their mother had died in an accident two years ago and their father, who hadn’t spoken a word since he came back from the Army three years before that happened, gratefully shared whatever ten year old Katerina and Pietro, two years older, managed to bring back to their bleak farmhouse.

The Germans took more than the food.  Before they fled the rocky farm community in the Apennines, they went through each house, carrying off whatever jewelry and clothing they could find to take back to what they called the Fatherland, but worst of all, they had stolen all of the shoes that they could find.

“Pietro, my feet are very cold,” said Katerina, pointing to the ragged covering she had wrapped about her feet.  “I’m glad I found this old pair of Papa’s boots, but there are more open spaces than leather on the bottom and my feet are packed with snow.  I am so cold.”

“Little sister, be grateful.  All I have is wet newspaper tied around my feet.  I think my toes are about to fall off.  I can’t feel them any more.  Look, though, at that bush!  The birds didn’t get all of the berries on it last summer!  Go pick them while I dig some roots.”

“How much longer can we go on like this?  I am so tired.”  Pietro put his arm around his sister and smiled.  “The Americans will be here soon, now that the Germans are gone.  Then everything will be alright.  But we have enough for today, I think.  It’s starting to get dark. Let’s go back to the house before we freeze to death.”

                                                      *     *     *

Some days earlier, after the arrival of hundreds of cartons marked with the highest security markings at the Luftwaffe airdrome near Bologna, Major Kurt Von Seckel grimaced after leaving his Commandant’s office. 

“What are you annoyed about, Major?” his aide asked as they strode down the ramp to the field where their dozen remaining Messerschmitt fighters sat under white and grey camouflage netting.  “You won’t believe it, Fritz, but the psychological warfare people in Berlin have come up with an interesting idea to slow the advance of the American Fifth Army up through Italy.  They want me to drop leaflets, or more precisely, magazine covers, on the Americans.”

“Major, excuse my saying so but we can put our aircraft to much better use.”

“Of course we can, but they are all going crazy in Berlin.  But orders are orders and we shall follow them.  But listen to me, Fritz.  This is important!  First, do you know what the most popular magazine in America is?”

“Of course, Life Magazine!  I used to be in intelligence analysis, you know, Major.”

Von Seckel smiled. “Good!  Then you must know that all of the Americans recognize the magazine.  Well, Berlin has printed up thousands of ersatz covers of Life Magazine showing a pretty girl on it under the Life logo in its usual red rectangle, for us to drop on the Americans instead of bombs.  Here, take a look at one of them, Fritz.”

The aide examined the magazine cover for a minute and exclaimed, “What is this supposed to accomplish, Major?  I would rather our planes dropped bombs than give the Americans pictures of pretty ladies to look at.”

“Turn it over, you idiot!”

“Ah, now I see.  Oh, how very clever we are!  On the backside is a picture of a skeleton’s head wearing an American helmet, and the name of the magazine is changed from “Life” to “Death” in the red box.  Yes, Berlin is exceedingly clever.”  The Major smiled. “I’m sure that this will convince thousands of Americans to drop their guns and desert, don’t you, Fritz?   What do you think?”

“You don’t want me to answer that question, Major, do you?”

The two Luftwaffe officers strode back to the warehouse, thinking about how many planes they might lose in dropping the magazine covers on the advancing Americans.

      *     *     *  

“Pietro, what is that coming down from the sky?” asked Katerina as they got closer to their farmhouse in the frigid twilight. 

“I hope it isn’t more snow.”

“Pietro, it is too big to be snow.  It looks like paper birds, floating down in our old vineyard.  Run and pick one up!”

Before long the two children had collected armfuls of the magazine covers and, along with the roots, berries and kindling wood they had gathered, as well as a mouse that Pietro had caught in his trap, they carried them back to the house.  After warming their frozen feet near the small cooking fire, they fashioned paper sandals out of layers of the magazine covers they had collected.  Tied around their feet with scraps of cloth, they called them “our new shoes” and were the closest thing to dry footwear that they had worn in weeks.

Two mornings later, some American troops came by the farm house.  They left some food with the children and told them that someone from the village would be coming to look in on them in a day or so to see if they were alright.  They smiled when they saw what the children were wearing on their feet.  “I bet the Nazis never thought they’d be helping keep some kids’ feet warm, maybe even saving their lives, when they dropped those screwy Life Magazine covers from the sky,” a tall corporal from Newark chuckled to himself as they marched off, trudging up the snowy hill toward the vineyard.

(Well, the story is fiction … but the magazine covers were real!  Here is a copy of the front and back of what the Germans were dropping behind the Allied lines in Italy in the winter of 1944.  Some were far "sexier" than this example, but you get the idea.)








                                      *****     *****     *****     *****     *****





THE ELEPHANT IN THE CLOSET

For years, I have been preaching that the real answer to our nation’s economic problem is job creation.  I used to think protectionism was the way to accomplish this, but our global economy has more or less eliminated that option.  Jobs produce income which can be spent, and that spending creates still more jobs, and on and on.  It really is just that simple.  Now, let’s go back to my recent suggestions (I suggest you read them again, but if you choose not to, brief summaries follow) for solving the three problems besetting America and see how they specifically relate to job creation.

The Real Estate Crisis:  By selling bonds, the government gets the money to buy up “underwater” mortgages at a discount, and auctions them off to bidders who manage these properties on a rental basis, usually with the former mortgagor as the tenant.  This takes many older properties off of the market, enabling the construction industry to step in to keep up with the need to put new housing on the market.  This creates jobs in construction and real estate.

The Wall Street Crisis:  By stopping the extraction of undeserved funds from the economy by speculators, hedge funds, banks and private capital firms, more money becomes available for real investment in real businesses committed to hire employees as they grow.  Otherwise, these funds would be used non-productively by those whose only investment aim is profitability through extracting wealth from the economy. Tightened regulation will stop this.  When have hedge funds, for example, benefited anyone other than the very rich who invest in them? 

The Budgetary Crisis:  Significantly raising personal income taxes on the wealthy will provide the funds necessary for today’s essential government programs (and they are essential) which include unemployment benefits and investment in job creation, particularly in regard to education, health care and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.  At the same time, these increased tax revenues will also be used to eliminate the deficit and start to pay down the debt.  Reducing corporate taxation will give businesses the incentive to start up and keep operations in the United States and create new jobs here.  

The elephant in the closet which the politicians refuse to recognize and talk about is that personal income taxes must be increased on the income of the wealthy.  Cutting government investment in essential services, and reducing those services, is an acceptable answer only for the wealthy who do not need these services, and for the gullible who have been duped into believing that what is good for the wealthy is good for the economy.   For the vast majority of Americans, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are essential and there is no reason these services should be reduced in order to preserve the assets of the wealthy.  This is what the Bush tax cuts were all about and it is shameful that the Democrats, including the President, went along with continuing them.  The time has come to raise personal income taxes on those individuals whom the economy has treated very well and blessed with great wealth.  (If you want specifics, I consider great wealth to start with an annual income of $300,000.)

Jack Lippman

A Quiz:  How many of you have ever heard of Grover Norquist?  More about him in a future posting.