Monday, October 25, 2010

'PROGRESS' AND A PLAYWRIGHT


     There is in my county – Rockland – in what just a short 50 years ago was mostly rural land, a slice of leftover heaven. Though within 25 miles of New York City, the absence of interstates and direct rail had until the 1950s kept growth on the other side of the Hudson River. To this place, this country of apple farming since the 1700s, came many artists and writers, who could keep in touch with business/career matters in Gotham and then escape to create in soulful respite. One of these gifted people was John Patrick (Goggan), playwright of “Teahouse of the August Moon,” screenwriter of “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” and other notable properties.

The author guarded his privacy, and he could do that well, living on more than 200 acres of God’s land in the woods, hills and marsh of the Town of Ramapo, off old State Highways 202 and 306. For a very long time, even as “progress” filled in surrounding acreage, Patrick was able to keep his retreat, and, presumably, his quiet so that “Some Came Running,” “High Society” and “Three Coins n a Fountain” could be written. His lavish parties at the estate, which included stables and farm animals, attracted well-known neighbors like the actor Burgess Meredith.

In time, Patrick would leave, as would Meredith, playwright Maxwell Anderson of South Mountain Road, New City, and so many others. The assumption is Rockland’s loss of innocence had something to do with the exodus.

What seemed heaven-sent, so much open and wooded land, in a place where seasons changed, where long country walks in great quiet could be had for free, was replaced with too-many-to-count housing developments, strip shopping centers, then low-rise and high-rise apartment houses, indoor shopping malls, traffic, congestion, noise and high taxes, all made possible by two interstates and a bridge called the Tappan Zee.

This “progress” surely was that for many, just as 1800s growth on the island of Manhattan gave us part of New York City, enormously influential, enjoyable yet teeming in great emotion with all the elements of human living. Paved over was simplicity, nature’s sounds and the awe of masterful creation, there for the taking by eye, ear and heart.

Now, the same “forward” movement of growth is set to gobble away John Patrick’s farm, which, amazingly, has not yet been developed. And it would not be today, in the stress of the challenged and changing economy. There is little money for more housing, even in such a bucolic setting as Patrick’s retreat. Too many homes are already for sale, too many through foreclosure alone.

The equation here for “progress” is a different formula. Ramapo government is trying to accommodate a religious group that contends it needs God’s bucolic acres for its interpretation of God’s work. So, the acreage, once zoned for homes on two acres, with much of the land held back as flood plain, has been rezoned, and the town Planning Board is probably going to approve 87 single-family homes and 410 multi-family units. Guarding the marsh areas in the aquifer will mean heavy, urban-like density, quite unsuitable for this relatively country-like section of Rockland.

Government is failing to balance the quality for life for all in this rezoning, and the religious group is not seeing the wisdom of building a smaller complex so as to be a better neighbor.

Such a script is part of the “progress” play, for old-time Rocklanders could argue that too many developments replaced the apple farms, or early Manhattanites could contend that their neighborhoods were blitzed for growth. Or our Native Americans could justifiably claim that sacred land was taken from then for the white man’s “progress.”

An old story. One even worthy of a John Patrick theme. Certainly fodder for Maxwell Anderson, whose play “High Tor” detailed growth and consequences, too.

Ironically, it is for the sake of God, or, more exactly, for one people’s view of His call to life on this earth, that “heaven” will transform into what would others would term its opposite.

Monday, October 18, 2010

WE MUST DECLARE WAR


    It is time to declare war, America. We are at our united best in such action, one that begins after an attack on our people, noted by the president in a stirring speech and legalized by the Congress. We’re talking World War II-like declaration and subsequent adrenalin load, mobilized defense and full use of our can-do brains and muscle.

Our nation has been attacked, not by terrorists but by special interests who buy our officials and who cunningly direct growing populist rage against government and policy, playing on the fear foaming out of the stirred pot of a prolonged and most severe economic crisis. Feeding the fire are rumor-mongers, nonsensical beings who reason not, who, for example, blame minorities for anything and everything, as if no minority ever helped build this country.

The American middle class, created by the Industrial Age, Progressivism, two world wars and manifest destiny, is disappearing. Corporate greed has outsourced jobs overseas. Focusing on the immediate bottom line instead of the future of the American economy/social structure is creating a third world-like underclass that will be out of work permanently.
At stake is much more than loss of buying power, a stalled economy and the threat of renewed recession, even deflation. No democracy long sustains itself without a healthy middle class and the hopes therein. Cities and suburbs will decay, and crime and social problems will increase. Children will be lost as progress regresses for the short-term almighty dollar.
    
Aspiring to be in the middle class, with its great comforts, its sense of arrival, has been the carrot that so many Americans have chased, even while under the stick of poor job conditions, long hours and sacrifice. It has always been worth it – the carrot usually has been eaten. Until now.

Now, the rules are different. Greed is the only rule, with profits ever higher for the very rich, for corporations built by the middle class that now outsource work overseas. Greed that is aided and abetted by ever-more powerful special-interest groups, through 501C (4) political action committees and a Supreme Court decision that essentially allows big money to drown opponents and their contributors in a sea of cash. In 2010, big money rules elections, rules Congress. That is an attack on America.

So, let there be war, never desirable but once again necessary since the conflict has not been avoided by true campaign finance reform. Call it “The Greed War,” one that awaits national address by an articulate president who nearly has been done in by special interests and their manipulation of national rage into awful moments of untruths, extremism and even violence, and by himself, since his leadership has been most lacking on what he promised to do. But he is still the national leader, and he can still help save the nation.

Once his words are given in an address to a joint session of Congress, that body will then, as agent for the people, declare that this nation is now at full war with those who thwart our national aims of equality and social and economic advancement through their push for the big dollar and for the special powers – military/industrial/political – the investment dollar might bring.

Once war is declared and the enemy is identified as special interest, it must be eliminated. No more fat wallets for any candidate or office holder, with each and every campaign instead fully funded by the people. Lobbyists would still have their voices, but through public hearings on any cause or government question and not through questionable “donations.”

Then, the war won, a new “Marshall Plan” of recovery, not for Europe but for America this time. Funded will be a new industrial/scientific age that creates innovative work (jobs), the seeking of a new frontier that can guarantee a vibrant middle class, and with it, the wealth of the upper and the sustenance and dreams of the lower. And the hopes of the future for all in this nation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

FREE SPEECH TAKES COURAGE


     Most postings to online news stories are an embarrassment to free speech. The same people seem to post over and over, often answering one another back and forth, in diatribe reminiscent of the old radio call-in shows, also dominated by “regulars.”  What is written is usually not thought out, poorly phrased, full of spelling and grammatical errors and not edited by anyone. Worst of all, they are unsigned, which makes their frequent fear- and prejudice-based “reasoning” all the more troubling since their authors strike in anonymity. Rumor-mongers, these posters play on “e-bites,” the Internet equivalent of sound bites. But the full meal, the thoughtful argument, is rarely there. 

Is this how we are to “inform” in the new age of declining print and quick electronic comment? If so, the nation, the world, the neighborhood is in trouble. It’s like uttering a joke in one language, translating through the idioms of 10 other tongues and then back into English. The intended meaning is lost, even skewed toward idiocy.

How did we get here? As revenue has declined in dwindling print journalism, newspapers and other media have encouraged online viewpoints, thus giving almost anyone a shot at speaking in the public square. In doing so, there has been editorial ballyhoo about protecting democracy through added, unrestricted comment, but that's a convenient argument used to rationalize marketing for website hits. The more people who visit the sites, the more advertisers you get. 

How is public discourse encouraged when too few posters think through what they want to say, often getting off the subject completely and instead pushing whatever agenda they may have? Some examples: A recent Associated Press story about Kim Jong Un, the new North Korean leader, contained many postings, including one that suggested America send “that fat little pork chop” to South Africa where sharks could eat him alive. Attached to a suburban newspaper piece about a highly paid police chief who may retire was the comment that many houses “where lost do to forecloser.”  No, many homes WERE (perhaps) lost DUE to FORECLOSURE. In a Louisiana story about that state’s review of the Gulf oil spill, there was this:  we should “believe the findings of this committe? yeah tell it to the friggin pope!” (Spelling, grammar, vulgarity not changed “to protect free speech.”) How do these postings add anything coherent to debate?

As a retired 42-year newspaperman who fought for the right to access facts and print them and for the right to express both the newspaper’s views and the people’s, I cannot call for a narrowing of the online response pipeline. Instead, since I am still free in this nation, I will continue to ignore most of this comment, just as I switched off many of the old “hotline” radio callers. But as a former editorial page editor who, together with my newspaper, insisted that letter writers identify themselves, I urge all media companies to require the same for online posters. And any poster immediately should show courage of conviction and stand up using his/her real name. This should make people think first, and think deeply, before posting. It would weed out the ridiculous.

In the letter-writing days, some of the correspondents would ask me to use a pseudonym, for fear that “some nut will call me” or “I will be harassed by calls.” I would reply: “When you use our – your – free speech forum, you hang yourself out there. The right to offer opinion comes at risk. Be willing to take it.” Almost all did.

That’s not the case with online posting. There are too many participants who do not have the courage of their convictions.

Monday, October 4, 2010

STATE OF THE NATION




     Taxes are up, people’s confidence down. Health insurance is ever more costly despite  “overhaul,” the rich are richer, and they don’t share opportunity. Manufacturing, once the bedrock of our economy, is silent, its machines now spinning in China. The American middle class, created by the Industrial Age, Progressivism, immigration, two world wars, suburbia and manifest destiny, is disappearing. A third world-like underclass is forming, one that permanently will be out of work.

     At stake is much more than loss of buying power, a stalled economy and the threat of entrenched recession. No democracy long sustains without a healthy middle class and the hopes therein. Cities and suburbs will decay, and crime and social problems will increase. Education will not progress in such limited optimism. Children’s dreams will be lost as opportunities dwindle.  

The squeeze of the common man is on for the short-term, almighty dollar to enrich the already wealthy, with scant evidence that the largess ever trickles down to reinvigorate consumers who buy most of the products and who want to climb the ladder of success that is the foundation of the middle class.

     Our longest war continues without clear strategy. There is no end in sight. It is killing our young and draining not only the borrowed treasury but the nation's future as it will be our children’s children’s children who will have to repay the borrowed debt, if they can.

Special interests – some of polarized political bent, many others industry-driven (health insurance companies, military suppliers, financial houses) – determine our legislatures, our executive branch, too. If “Mr. Smith” went to Washington to tell us this in what was once plain, simple, direct – and honest – language, he probably could not get through Homeland Security.

Politics in 2010 is polarized talk, not service to the people, now delivered in quick sound bites and e-bits meant to inflame, not inform, playing off slogans, playing off fear, based not a whit on facts. The downsizing and less-profitable media devotes too little in investigative reporting and explanatory writing to structure the debate and thus forge the choices that a democracy must make. Instead, we have sloganeering, innuendo, deliberate distorting of facts, pushed rumors – all meant to push a simplistic agenda, such as “take government back” or “change.”

If only it were that simple.

Government investment – deficit spending – was supposed to gas up the stalling economy, but it has not. Bureaucracy, special interests and deliberate distortion of aims have largely wasted borrowed money. It seems the system we have simply shoots itself in the foot, yet the ordinary American feels the pain, not government.

The handwriting is on the wall, and it is one word: “greed.” What the nation requires is a teacher who will erase that from the blackboard and write “investment.” Investment in jobs, in what must become a new industrial/scientific age in America that creates innovative work, the seeking of a new frontier that can guarantee a vibrant middle class, and with it, since it is America’s historical bent, the wealth of the upper and the sustenance and dreams of the lower. 

All good will follow – money for schools, for health care, for infrastructure, for defense, for debt.

One last thing: Teacher should send special interest to the principal, recommending permanent suspension. Can’t teach with a bully in the classroom.