Monday, May 2, 2016

OLD FRIENDS, OLD DAYS


On April 18, 2016, I sent the following email to four old friends:

Dear, dear friends:

I am hosting a little dinner party at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham on the evening of April 28, 2016, and I would very much like you to be my guest.

The occasion is the 65th anniversary of the day Pauline Mary Weinberger consented to be my bride. She is the very best person in the whole world, and I am incredibly fortunate that she has spent a lifetime trying to make something of me.

Dinner will be at 6:30 PM. No gifts will be accepted, except the incalculable blessing of your friendship and willingness to share the occasion.

TEB

We started the day as we had started our wedding day 65 years before, by attending Mass. Then, breakfast at the little bakery around the corner before I delivered Polly to the hair stylist and went off to get the car washed.

In about forty minutes, she emerged from the hairdresser’s sporting a perky hairdo and a mischievous smile that told me she was happy with the result.

If you have never been romantically interested in an 86 year old woman, you may not appreciate the heady anticipation with which I drove the 330 miles to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham.

Suffice it to say that my little dinner party was a roaring success, filled with laughs, and stories of bygone days; the vividly remembered events that called up unforgettable people we all knew and loved, back in the day.

On Friday, after a comfortable night at the Townsend, we drove to the refurbished Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit to meet Tom, Jr., his wife, Julie and our grandson Patrick.

They were at the Book Cadillac to attend a wedding. But there was more. Tom and Julie were celebrating their 39th anniversary, and Patrick, the lawyer-turned-seminarian has finished his first year of Theology and will be doing some missionary work in Belize this summer.

And so Tom and Julie hosted another celebratory dinner, this time at Roast, the 4.4 star upscale steakhouse in the hotel. They know how to help you celebrate. Of course, the gregarious Tom Brennan, Jr. made sure that every bellman, waitress and bartender knew that his Mother and Dad were celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary, and that we had our first date on April 2, 1948 at a college dance right there in the ballroom of the Book Cadillac Hotel.

Earlier that day, while driving down Woodward Avenue from Birmingham, I had an itch to detour by some of the houses we shared in our 65 years. 19347 Berkeley Road; 17334 Cherrylawn; 12310 Cloverlawn, 10311 Morley; 14921 Ward.

We cruised by the Berkeley house and Polly’s childhood home on Warrington Drive; we saw Gesu, the church where we were married, and our Alma Mater, the University of Detroit across the street.  

But not the other places. A few minutes of sightseeing along Six Mile Road and Wyoming were more than enough to discourage further exploration. The city that lives in our memories is gone; like Father Norbert Clemens, of sainted memory, who married us in 1951, and presided at our silver and golden anniversaries in 1976 and 2001.

The gift of time is a mixed blessing. It fills a life with sights and sounds, with places and people, with events and emotions. My darling wife embraces all of it in her inexhaustible memory.


She can tell you what she wore on our first date, who we saw at the dance, where we went afterwards. All I remember is that I kissed her goodnight. But, hey, that really mattered.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

FREE COLLEGE

I matriculated at the University of Detroit in the Fall of 1947. My financial package consisted of an offer from my Father to provide free board and room during the school year.

I found employment close to home at the Michigan Alarm Company. I checked in on Friday evening and stayed in the office until I was relieved on Sunday morning. My job was to alert the police and dispatch a serviceman whenever one of the burglar alarms went off.

On Monday morning I picked up my check for $13.25 and hurried to the Bursar’s office at the University. I gave him $10 and kept the rest for bus fare and everything else.

1947 was a banner year for higher education in America. Nearly eight million returning servicemen clogged the classrooms of colleges, Universities, trade schools and high schools. They had in hand the benefits of the GI Bill, more properly known as the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944.

It was a privilege for a fuzzy cheeked eighteen year old to sit beside 23 and 27 year old veterans of World War II. They had not yet been christened “The Greatest Generation,” but they were special young men who had experienced much, learned a lot, and matured incredibly. They studied hard, played hard and lived the life of college men to the hilt. Over the next thirty years, they triggered the most historic and enviable national prosperity ever known on Planet Earth.

In the Army, the Navy and the Marines they had learned to rise and shine, to make their beds, to follow orders, to be a team, to suffer in silence, to overcome failure, to tolerate pain, and to give one hundred percent of their heart and soul and their physical, mental and emotional selves to finish the job; to win the war.

They were good students.  And they set a high bar of competition for kids like me.

My son, Tom Jr., since retiring as a District Judge in Ingham County, has taken on the task of teaching Criminal Justice at Michigan State University and Lansing Community College.

He tells me that he always has three or four veterans in his classes. They are, he assures me, the very best students. They are always in class, always on time, always prepared. They complete their assignments. On time. On target.

I got to thinking about all of this the other evening while watching the television. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who aspires to be the President of the United States, was addressing a group of Indiana voters, and  a young man stood and was recognized to ask a question of the candidate.

He is, he said, a high school senior, and while he had not yet made up his mind about the Primary Election, he was drawn to Bernie Sanders, whose promise to provide free college education certainly had a lot of appeal to someone in his position.

Cruz, the true and consistent conservative, proceeded to assure the young man that, if elected President, he would trigger a cornucopia of good paying jobs enabling college graduates to repay their monstrous student loans in short order.

Then a few days later, Donald Trump was addressing a crowd on Greta Van Susteren’s show and he was asked the same question by another high school senior.

He gave the lad the same unconvincing answer Ted Cruz offered. Somebody should tell the Republicans that Adam Smith’s free enterprise scenario doesn’t wash with Generation Z – the Centennials. That’s why they are ‘feeling the Bern.‘

The true Republican answer to the young folks ought to be very simple: “Join the Army.” The GI Bill was renewed after 9/11. Republicans should make sure it is well funded and better known. The free college education promised by Socialist Sanders would condemn the next generation to an extended adolescence. But the GI Bill will do for them what it did for their grandfathers; reward them for their service to the nation and recognize their maturity as veterans.

They should, in the words of John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what their country can do for them, but ask what they can do for their country.” 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

LEE IACOCCA

On October 23, 2012, Alex Taylor III writing for Fortune magazine, had this to say about Lee Iacocca:

Having saved Chrysler from bankruptcy, starred in its memorable TV commercials, and written a hugely successful autobiography, Iacocca was on the cusp of a presidential bid. In 1985, a poll of potential presidential candidates showed that he trailed Vice President George H.W. Bush by only three percentage points, according to the Encyclopedia of World Biography. While his political affiliation was a little difficult to pin down (he supported both Democratic and Republican candidates), nobody had any trouble figuring out where Iacocca stood on the issues. His favorite target was the Japanese. He loudly complained about trade restrictions and currency manipulation, and unleashed this characteristic broadside at the Detroit Economic Club: "If they [the Japanese] don't like our cars, then you'd think they could take some American parts and help shave the auto trade deficit. It's funny, isn't it? Those parts are good enough for Mercedes and BMW, but not good enough for Isuzu and Daihatsu?"

Sound familiar?

America hasn’t elected a businessman since Herbert Hoover. You have to wonder if the nation is ready to accept leadership from someone whose experience has been that of a Chief Executive Officer in private enterprise.

For one thing, many successful CEO’s are given to rather blunt expressions of opinion.

 Here’s GE’s Jack Welsh, on what to do with a failing corporation: Fix it, sell it, or close it.

Henry Ford II, on making mistakes: Never complain, never explain.

GM’s C.E. Wilson on free enterprise: What’s good for America is good for General Motors, and vice-versa.

Here’s some more from Lee Iacocca, in 2007:

Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course."

Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?


Lee Iacocca was born on October 15, 1924. He is 91 years old. I’ll be 87 next month. I agree with him.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

MARK MECKLER

About every week or so for the last three years, I get an email from Mark Meckler.

Mark Meckler is a vey bright, very energetic, very charismatic, very patriotic lawyer from California. He was a founder of the largest Tea Party in the United States, known as the Tea Party Patriots.

He served as President of that organization for some time during its formative years , but has since resigned to create an entity known as Citizens for Self Governance.

Citizens for Self Governance is one of many places on the Internet that seek to give voice to the frustration of the American people over the ineptitude and disarray of our national government.

Currently, Meckler is engaged in two projects. He is suing the Internal Revenue Service on behalf of organizations which claim to have been discriminated against because of their political opinions and he is supporting Convention of the States, an effort to require the Congress to call an Article V amendatory constitutional convention.

And he is energetically raising money for both purposes.  I don’t know how successful he has been. It seems that each plea is a little more frantic than the last. I have been waiting to see celebratory announcements that fund raising goals have been reached.

Every time one of his solicitations lands in my mailbox, I grieve a little. It is so sad to see a man of his obvious abilities and motivation frittering away his productive years chasing such ill advised and ephemeral objectives.

Certainly self governance is a goal with which most Americans would agree. The bedrock of our common civic heritage begins with the words, “We The People.”

But how much self governance is involved in the process of invoking a federal court to make the IRS reimburse Tea Party organizers for their expenses in trying to get classified as tax exempt organizations? 

I suppose there is a certain satisfaction associated with throwing sand in the eyes of the bureaucrats, but the reimbursement they seek, if it comes, will come from the tax payers. Not exactly a blow for freedom.

Meckler’s other initiative is equally tenuous. The notion that the Congress of the United States can somehow be badgered into calling a convention for the purpose of clipping its own wings is patently contradictory.

Even if, in theory, petitions by a united and vocal super majority of 34 state legislatures would raise a serious political storm in Washington D.C., the universal fear of a ‘run away’ convention among state legislators, the media and the public at large makes the project more than daunting.

Despite the plethora of academic opinions to the effect that an Article V convention can somehow be limited to a single subject or proposal, the fact is universally conceded that, once convened, a convention is sui juris – a law unto itself.

The very fact that state legislatures find it necessary to impose criminal penalties on delegates who disobey their instructions is proof aplenty that the delegates have the power to disobey their marching orders.

In the last analysis, however a convention comes into being, its work product will be judged by two simple standards: 1) does the convention represent the people of the United States? and 2) does the proposal it makes have the support and approval of the American people?

Convention of the States, like almost all other Article V initiatives, contemplates a convention in which each State will have one vote. Obviously, since amendments must be ratified by 38 States, state by state voting is important.

But it is a serious mistake to eschew any voting that reflects the population of the nation. The League of Women Voters insists that convention votes be taken by the delegates and that delegates be proportional to population.

The rules of Convention USA incorporate both ways of voting, so that a super majority of the states and a majority of the delegates are both required.

It’s really the same compromise that our Founders made when they invented a bicameral legislature. Makes sense to me.

Monday, April 18, 2016

POLITICAL FOOT SOLDIERS

My Dad was a precinct delegate. He came to that august epitome of political power in the same way that most folks do. It was part of his job.

All of my Dad’s family were Democrats. It was de rigueur for folks of Irish extraction to be Democrats back in the day. Especially in big cities.

Still, there are exceptions. When the Depression hit in the early 1930’s Dad lost his job at Studebaker. Fortunately, my Mother’s uncle, Milt Carmichael, was a man of some consequence in the Republican Party, and Dad was employed as a clerk in the Secretary of State’s office.

I remember my Mother’s recollection of those years. As she told it, every year Dad supervised more employees and made less money. The job involved much more than selling license plates. Dad was expected to support his boss, the Secretary of State; to contribute to his election campaign; to campaign actively; to become a precinct delegate and to participate in the county convention.

She remembered attending fund raising events that imposed severe burdens on their family budget. But it was a job. And Dad worked all through the Depression.

Whether it was force of habit, or whether he ultimately became a true believer in the Republican Party, I shall never know. But I do know that he was a loyal Republican and that his loyalty trickled down to his children.

My first political fight was a seven year old wrestling match on our front lawn in which I defended Alf Landon and Frank Knox against Franklin Roosevelt and John Nance Garner in the Presidential election of 1936.

Nominating a candidate for President in the days before Presidential Primaries was pretty much the same in most states. In Michigan, there were county and Congressional District conventions attended by precinct delegates like my Dad. These local conventions chose delegates to the State Convention, which in turn selected the States’ delegates to the National nominating convention.

That process emphasized what I have often called “the aristocracy of the interested.” The fact is that there are probably no more than two or three percent of the people of each state who are actively involved in partisan  politics. They are elected officials at the state, county and municipal level and the members of their staffs, they are the lobbyists who represent associations of businesses, professions and activist organizations, they are the folks who write big checks to support the Parties and their candidates, and they are the folks who attend rallies, distribute literature, make phone calls, stuff envelopes and man campaign headquarters.

The Founders of our nation were leery of what they called “the spirit of partisanship.” They knew that partisanship is a natural human inclination, but they recognized the dangers associated with partisan politics.

What is so often called our “two party system” is not a system at all. The Republican and Democratic parties are not created or authorized by our constitution. They are private organizations voluntarily engaged in political activity. Nevertheless, the two major political parties have so completely dominated our state and national governments that the process of Party nomination has come to be regarded as an ‘official’ component or phase of the election of the President of the United States.

All across our land citizens have come to assume that they have a role to play in the nomination of Presidential candidates. While it is still true that the political parties are private organizations, state laws providing for public primary elections for the candidates of parties they define as ‘major’ parties have blurred the distinction between primary and general elections.

The bottom line is that many, many Americans think that they have a ‘right’ to participate in the nomination of Presidential candidates.  The 24/7 broadcast of Presidential debates, campaign rallies, news analysis and commentary only confirms that impression.

So when Donald Trump says that convention delegates from Colorado or Wyoming are chosen by the party establishment to the exclusion of the voters, he echoes a complaint that many disenchanted citizens share.


Now the Donald predicts that the Party leaders will have a rumpus on their hands in Cleveland. Certainly Trump delegates will be dominant on the convention floor. There may also be a lot of them on the street and in the parking lot. It should be quite a show.