Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

On Inequality

May 11, 2017

Since at least, the bought and paid for result in Bush v Gore (2000), a saying of mine has been, “Never has an increase in public cynicism failed to benefit the Republican”.   Today, reading Joseph Stieglitz The Price of Inequality, he explains it in easy-to-understand terms.  On p. 120:

If the belief takes hold that the political system is stacked, that it’s unfair, individuals will feel released from the obligations of civic virtue… In the United States today and in many other democracies around the world, mistrust is ascendant.

The irony is that the wealthy who seek to manipulate the political system for their own ends welcome such an outcome.  Those who turn out to vote are those who see the political system working, or at least working for them. …

Moreover, if voters have to be induced to vote because they are disillusioned, it becomes expensive to turn out the vote; the more disillusioned they are the more it costs. But the more money that is required, the more power that the moneyed interests wield.  For those with money, spending to shape the political process is not a matter of civic virtue; it is an investment, from with they demand (and get) a return … That, in turn increases the sense of disillusionment that pervades the rest of the electorate and boosts the power of money further.

I’d leave it there but for an anecdote.  I’ve volunteered to make phone calls for John Wisniewski, NJ Assemblyman, and a candidate for the June 6 Democratic primary.     We use a robo-dialer with prepared lists of likely supporters or likely persuadable.  On the evening before the first TV debate we were using the latter.   I happened on a citizen whose standard reply was “they’re all crooks”.   Realize this is not an opportunity to debate with such an attitude, I offered that she might challenge herself and tune in and see how she felt after the debate.   “They’re all crooks” — Thank you for your time.

At the risk of disappointing my candidate and supporters, having watched the debate on Stockton University’s Facebook live stream, I’ll offer this judgement:  the least among the Democrats will be a much better public servant than any of the Republicans.    A bit of background. My support for Wisniewski is for his being the Assembly leader in the “Bridgegate” investigation, attempting to hold Gov Christie responsible for the actions of his immediate subordinates.   Wisniewski’s strongest points, in summary, are his plan to right the state’s troubled pension system, protect our environment, make good the Irene/Sandy recovery,  and reduce the influence of the state’s political county chairs.    I think he was unique among the four Democrats in calling for eliminating one of the state’s standard tests, the PARC, which he says the test-preparation costa the students and teachers 15 days/yr of valuable education time.  Depending which poll you follow, he’s either 2nd or 3rd, behind Phil Murphy, the latest Goldman Sachs gubernatorial candidate.   I’m feeling good about my choice.

So, bottom line, I’m invigorated by a Nobel Prize economist having illuminated the cause of political cynicism.   It’s important to me …







Guns on Planes

January 7, 2017

Yesterday, (Friday, Jan 6, 2017) an army veteran, off a flight in Ft Lauderdale, killed 5 passengers at the baggage claim area for his flight.

the problem

Not being that close a follower of the gun problem, I was surprised, but maybe not, to find you can pack an unloaded gun in your checked baggage on a plane flight.

I guess packing guns in your checked baggage hadn’t been a problem until yesterday.  You’d now agree it is a problem, right?

outline of a solution

Independent of all the upstream approaches to the gun problem, involving gun permits, psychiatric evaluation, and the like, let’s search for a solution to this single problem: guns on planes.

My knee-jerk liberal self says, since you may not bring any weapon in your carry-on, let’s extend the thought to “no guns in checked baggage” either.  But my more reasonable self says, “wait a minute, that’s unfair to the countless law-abiding gun-owners”. Let’s figure out a simple way to permit a gun in checked baggage that doesn’t become a lethal weapon at the baggage claim.

Why not station federal marshals next to the outside baggage checkers. A marshal will receive a gun to be checked, while another at the destination will return the gun to its owner after the flight arrives.  Sounds simple, but here’s the catch: The gun owner will have to show a boarding pass to a flight that day, leave the gun with a marshal who then gives it to an airline baggage handler who further places the gun in a container designated for the flight. When that container arrives at its destination, it is unlocked by an airline attendant at the curbside baggage station, again with a federal marshal to hand the gun, in its own case, to the traveling gun owner.

time and money

Implementing this will take time and money.  The time is borne by the traveling gun owner; there will be an additional time at check-in for an airlines to tell its passengers what time they need to handle the weapon.  And the money.  There are at least three interested parties, or roles.  The gun carrying traveler, the gun, airline and travel industries, and the public at large.  One could ask each gun-carrying traveler to pay whatever fee the airline imposes for their service.

But it’s probably more reasonable to share the cost burden.  I don’t have a spreadsheet armed with the necessary data to make an estimate of the per-travel cost.  So, each airline could prepare an estimate of its costs, based on available data, which if not currently available, they would do well to answer the question: how many guns where checked last year?  They might then suggest a per-flight fee, if the other interested parties would offset the difference.

The government is unlikely to absorb the whole cost itself;  it has a few means at its disposal.  Raise the difference from the gun industry and its supporters.  A per company fee based on the percentage of its sales pro-rated against the guns allowed, or a per-gun tax on any such gun.  Remember, the cost of responsible gun ownership just went up because a deranged individual just abused the privilege of checking a gun.

on baggage checking and claiming

In full disclosure, I started thinking about baggage checking, and fairness when I came across a Change.Org petition:  Don’t Force Travelers To Pay For Overhead Bins (12/7/2016).  That one I regard as absolutely backwards.  Which most of the airlines have wrong anyway: it’s the overhead bins which should cost, and the checked baggage should be part of the ticket cost.  Why?  Simple fairness.  A carry-on bag imposes a burden on other passengers, unlike a checked bag.  And supposedly provides an additional service: escaping the terminal more readily.

So, now, the idea of free use of overhead bins opens a perverse disincentive to use checked luggage.  Especially if you think a deranged gun-owning traveler might be waiting with you at baggage claim.

But, let’s forget the entitlement sought by the overhead-using  traveler, and focus on the increased public mistrust of your fellow Americans as you wait at baggage claim.  So the public has an obligation to reclaim the public trust for this problem.

where are our leaders

And at the risk of sending the idea down in flames, my proposals to this point haven’t cost me a dime.  What I see missing in many solutions to our social problems is a tendency to avoid any personal sacrifice.

The sensible alternative is, “don’t offer a solution until you have some skin in the game”.  As a member of the public we have an interest in solving this problem as well.  We should be prepared to divide the cost equally among the gun carrying traveler, the gun, airline and tourist industries, and the public.  Or some other proportion.  I’ll leave that to our elected leaders.

follow up

I’ll update this when I’ve shared it with any of our elected leaders.

The Road Not Taken

November 15, 2016

Because of the recent national election disaster, I’m tacking my boat to port.   I’d spent way too much time on Facebook, and not enough time reflecting, pondering, thinking and then writing.   In a follow-up post to my sister Meg, on that other forum, I left a thought I’ve been simmering these past seven days:  I’ll be restricting my posts there to the family stuff, like our children, and theirs, our six grandchildren.   Recently their gift of Blue Apron to grandma and grandpa, for example, can make it’s way to Facebook.

Otherwise, my only self-restrictions on Facebook will be political comment and cat videos.    Political comment will be here, with references on Twitter, and in our closed family mailing list.

So, looking down the road not taken, we see the poem allows us to ponder that path for the remainder of our lives.   And in the case of this election, we’re allowed to consider the person of Uncle Sam as the one who trod the path.

President Obama, in recent days, advises us to “give the man time to make his choices” before getting rankled on first appearances.   I believe Obama has learned greatly in his time in office.   An early judgement of mine was his apparent political naiveté on the possibility of political comity from the other side.  And, I’ve not said it here, but I “blame” VP Joe Biden, while as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in his last blanket-trust act in behalf of the Republicans, gave Clarence Thomas a free pass to the Supreme Court.   He had the power to block him, and didn’t.   Obama came to office not having learned the lesson, and thought he could lead by example.   I daren’t count the number of times he was rebuffed.  He must have been listening to his mother’s advice, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again”.  So, in the present instance, I’ll be taking the President’s advice, and giving the president-elect some room to make his own naive mistakes.  But not for long.

In an exercise of self-correction, and hence withdrawing from the sand-trap that is Facebook,  I’ll take more time — days and weeks — rather than minutes, to render an opinion on the scandal of political news.

For my father and his, recorded in  The Cub’s Corner and Martinis, respectively, the publishing cycle allowed them a week to fill their column. They occasionally felt the pressure of the deadline.  This suggests one of the great things about the past: as we chose to filter our memories, the past was “slower”; we felt less pressure to be in the moment.  Martin’s Sr and Jr chose their own way to observe their present.  Sr gave us classics such as “The Family Dog”, “The Plumber”, “Our Congressman”, “My National Readership”,  while Jr was about the cup of coffee on Main Street, the troubles of the local merchants, introducing HHH around town, his own growing brood, and awe of his own father. These were more imminent than Sr’s and reflected the quickening post-war prosperity.

We have some sense of their “roads not taken”.   In the case of Sr, it would be the early death of his first bride, and loss of a daughter, but his later re-marriage brought us yet another lovely family.   And my father, Jr, had imagined a career in the big-city news. But the WW II that required my grandfather to operate the family newspaper also brought my father home.    How do we relate those to the present need?    Those men, in their own times, and possibly halting efforts,  were effective models in extending the promise of the American dream to those around them.   They lived and flourished in  the 30’s and 60’s respectively, where social progress was taken for granted as the essence of that dream.   The brief resurgence offered by the ’90s has been trimmed by the general hostility of the 80’s and the current 10’s.   So, my hope is the present moment is but a brief interlude, and the generation before us returns America to a sense of shared, rather than exclusive progress.

I will not join those who predict or hope for failures from  the incoming administration.   Rather expect a growing political awareness to distinguish between our leaders directing shared spirit and purpose, rather than exclusive gains.   Those are at the fork in this road.  Which will be the road not taken?


One Summer: America 1927; Minnesotans in its pages.

April 12, 2016


Here is a list of 10 Minnesotans I could identify in Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927 (OSA 1927):

  • Charles Lindbergh
  • Graham McNamee — Yankees broadcast reporter
  • Pierce Butler — Supreme Court Justice
  • F Scott Fitzgerald
  • Sinclair Lewis
  • Frank B Kellog — Secretary of State
  • John Monk Saunders — directed “Wings” the first ‘Best Picture’
  • Andrew J Volstead — the Volstead Act, think Prohibition
  • Simon Lionel Rothafel — built the “Roxy” in NYC
I’ve developed a new hero from these names.   And you’ll come to see why.

Among these names, those I knew as Minnesotans from my first learning of their names: Lindbergh, Lewis, and Fitzgerald.

One of the two names new to me is John Monk Saunders, who deserves further exploration because of the praise heaped on his movie “Wings” which won the first ever Academy Award for Best Picture.   And if you believe Bryson, the movie still stands in its technical achievement.   Speaking of movies, the “granddaddy of them all” (theaters) was the Roxy in New York.  It was built by Simon Rothafel (the other new name on the list) who was nicknamed “Roxy” well before he built the “bejeweled Roxy Theatre on 50th St at Seventh Ave”.    He also built Radio City Music Hall, where the Rockets were originally the Roxyettes.

Graham MacNamee — I’m sure I’ve heard his voice on Dad’s copy of I Can Hear it Now recordings from the history of radio and TV by Edward R Murrow.   Bryson’s  book reinforced the view that McNamee’s was the most famous voice of his day.

Andrew J Volstead earns notice for the act bearing his name, which supplied the weak legislation enabling the Prohibition Amendment.   He was merely doing his job, and retired to Granite Falls MN, well before prohibition was repealed.   My personal connection is through Pioneer TV, West Central Minnesota’s PBS outlet established by my father and others in the mid ’60s in our hometown of Appleton, which is moving headquarters 45 miles down highway 212 to Volstead’s Granite Falls.   This latter stands a better chance for survival as a more prosperous center in the area.   “Granite” was one our frequent sports rivals when I was in high school.

Frank B Kellog was Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of State, having been a Senator from Minnesota.   He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1929, having drafted the Kellogg-Briand Pact, recalling my high school history, which outlawed war.    Kellogg catches passing mention in OSA ’29 since the fun and lights were elsewhere.   Bryson hasn’t linked his name to Minnesota.   Encountering his name was my inspiration to collect this list.

Pierce Butlter is interesting to me since we’ve frequently travelled on “Pierce-Butler Route” in St Paul, which parallels the railroad, just south of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.   In McGowan-speak, the question is: “This guy, what did he ever do?”.   I learned by a recent (before reading OSA 1927) of Butler’s having been a Supreme Court Justice, and had it refreshed here by his lone dissent in Buck v Bell. He went against the majority opinion, written by the esteemed Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, in one of the lowest decisions of the court, as it affirmed forced sterilization.

Lindbergh, Lewis, and Fitzgerald still stand at the top of nationally recognized names, not that the others weren’t so in 1927.   Few of these names, with Fitzgerald as the likely exception, are recognized as Minnesotan.   This thanks to Garrison Keillor’s witness of Fitzgerald, since  the Fitzgerald Theatre has long home of GK’s Prairie Home Companion.    Keillor has fused the name of Fitzgerald to Minnesota.

A few years ago, in a single day, Pat and I had the occasion to visit (in just passing by) both the Sinclair Lewis museum in Sauk Centre, and the Lindbergh boyhood home outside Little Falls.  This was while driving from Mom’s ancestral Nolan home of Brainerd, to Dad’s and our family’s of Appleton.   The route took us through the very setting of Keillor’s  Lake Wobegon, somewhere in the vicinity of Westport and Villard.

Sinclair Lewis has long been one of my favorite authors, numbered on the fingers of one hand.  He, for his depicting rural American life in Main Street, and in Babbitt,  our national self-seduction by progress of the 20’s. My favorite book of all is his  It Can’t Happen Here describing how the facism sweeping Europe shouldn’t be ignored on these shores.   The plot connects Vermont, by coincidence the ancestral McGowan roots,  to our home state of Minnesota.   Other fingers are reserved for Philip Roth, Louis Menand, Upton Sinclair (The Jungle) and … ( who gets the thumb ?)

Lindbergh (save a thought for Roth) was a national hero of a generation.   But a deeply flawed person.   His Nazi embrace clouds any luster on his virtual statue.    Lewis, and in our era, Roth in The Plot Against America expose the ugly side of the American psyche which might have installed Lindbergh as President.   Roth makes an oblique reference to Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here in American Pastoral, when his character, Swede Levov recalls scenes from that book, but can’t remember the author.  Roth is piquing the curiosity of the reader unfamiliar with Lewis.

As a professional Minnesotan,*  it’s with humble pride I draw attention to these figures.   We are no less flawed than any such group of people.   Lindbergh, as the “greatest” Minnesotan of any such list, in my judgement was the most flawed.   My personal choice for ‘new hero’ is Pierce Butler.  For example,  the Wikipedia entry for his name takes you to a Revolutionary War figure, where our Minnesotan is found under “Pierce Butler (disambiguation)” as Pierce Butler (jurist).   This is all the evidence one needs to validate a claim of “flying under the radar”.

Butler, in his sole opposition to  the majority in Buck v Bell, struck a rare note of reason at a time when it was too easy, too popular — because of the eugenics movement sweeping the country — to marginalize the powerless.   He is noteworthy as the first Democrat appointed to the Supreme Court by a Republican, in his case Warren Harding. Buck v Bell is remembered for Oliver Wendel Holmes Jr’s majority opinion.  There is another connection here.   Holmes is a major figure in Louis Menand’s  The Metaphysical Club.  For my mind, Holmes is too-widely respected a jurist.   Menand revealed, dis-positive in my mind,  a Holmes quote:   “Decide first, reason later” to describe how he framed his judicial opinion.    I sadly feel this has survived to the current era, and was given added currency by the now-departed Antonin Scalia.   The mistaken approached allowed Scalia to wrap his preconceived judgements in the emperor’s new clothes of “constitutional originalism”.

In Buck v Bell, the case in OSA 1927, the result allowed the eugenics craze in this country to feed Nazi furnaces.  Bryson points at frequent Nazi visits in the ’30s to Cold Spring Harbor, which was the home of the Eugenics Institute.

Therefore, Pierce Butler is a new hero, a necessary figure in any age. He exemplifies the notion that on occasion, all but a single person stand between us and the brink.   I’m glad that he is a Minnesotan, and equally glad it’s not what he’s known for.


* professional Minnesotan — you know “professional Texans” since they are immediately indentifiable as such.   The reason you’ve never encountered one of us is our objective is to remain anonymous.  Think of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.   Minnesotans are most alike members of the Second Foundation.   Try to identify us.

Dark Money, the Koch Bros

February 21, 2016
This letter went to a good friend, a member of the MIT of Northern NJ Club.
    Your challenge to MIT President Hockfield is often on my mind.   It’s a story I relate at appropriate moments.   Here’s more fuel for the fire.   The current NY Review of Books has a review of a book by Jane Mayer, Dark Money, where Bill McKibben, the reviewer, summarizes Mayer’s laying bare the Koch brother’s outsized, and corrupt (my characterization) of the influence of money on the election process.
   I’ll be writing, not a review of the article, but an indictment, to be posted on Facebook (and anywhere I can do some good) challenging those who give money to any Republican to point out they are wasting their money, since Charley and Dave have all the influence money can buy.   And then working to support my cousin, Rick Nolan. (D, MN 8th) who faces Koch money at every turn.  He’s won re-election twice (’12. ’14) since he last held a seat in Congress (’79-’81), the record interval in US history.
  I’ll be looking for you to again raise the challenge to the MIT board since you last challenged the president.  Here’s probably the least damning of the indictments from the Review article:
   What makes this book more than a study in sociology and history is the effectiveness of these billionaires in dominating our political life.  They merged three forms of political spending — campaign dollars, lobbying expenditures and philanthropy at think tanks. universities, and media properties — into a juggernaut. 
   After this article, and the reviewed book which I’m about to order, my prior remarks about reviling the Koch brothers have been too timid.
   Stay tuned for my posting on Facebook  and a public web link.
  Marty McGowan   908 NPA-NXXX
bcc: a bunch of close, influential a/o liberal friends, a few conservatives, family, classmates, and associates, begging forgiveness from those who may receive multiple copies
p.s. for those who may not know, charley, dave and i share the “university” in question, where i’m limiting my formerly generous (too me anyway) contributions now to a dollar per year per year.  (i.e. this year I’ll give “the Tute” $50, since it’s my 50th reunion coming up).  when a solicitor asks to up my pledge i tell them “chuck and dave are covering for me”, followed by my explanation.