May, 2012

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#574 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #19. One week to the Recall Election in Wisconsin

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

UPDATE June 1, 2012: I posted the below on Tuesday May 29, and there are quite a number of comments at the end.

This is an election with far more than routine long-term implications, far beyond “right” vs “left”, “conservative” vs “liberal” or “union” vs “right to work”. This one, with “divide and conquer” to the absolute max, is the ultra-rich and powerful versus the rest of us, which means almost all of us, including everyone I know.

We sent $50 “across the border” so we’ve now become part of the outside money. It doesn’t quite match the $500,000 from the “swift-boat” guy in Houston TX or the $500,000 from the Beloit billionaire (see blog)- and these are only the contributions to the sitting Governor which they have to disclose (see Minneapolis Star Tribune front page article for June 1 here.) There’s pots full of “swift boat” money that doesn’t need to be disclosed as to source.

The only people who will see this blog of mine are people from the middle class – working people like I am, representing the overwhelming vast majority of potential voters in the upcoming election. In the next five months, starting Tuesday, we determine our fate…

Pay attention. Get involved.

(click on photos to enlarge)

Wisconsin State Capitol March 4, 2011

Less than a week from now the Wisconsin recall election will be history. Those of us in the border area media markets, sitting much like spectators at a parade, will have been inundated by the same half or non-truths as our neighbors across the St. Croix, but we won’t have an opportunity to vote for any candidates. That is as well, because those policy makers elected don’t make policy for our own state.

Those in Wisconsin will have to live with their decision next Tuesday.

We outsiders simply have to put up with the Wisconsin circus for a few more days. And in the process we can learn what’s ahead for us in the coming months.

It has long been known that Citizens United money would come in by the gazillions of dollars for this election. I call it “Citizens United” since it arrives by the boatload largely from very wealthy interests and is essentially anonymous. It is what pays for those ads, the assorted (and abundant) “dirty tricks” we’ve read about, and will continue to hear about through June 5.

Then, like the aftermath of a tornado, on June 6 Wisconsin will sift through the rubble to see what is left standing.

A couple of weeks ago, more or less at the same time, I heard two pieces of information about Wisconsin that seem to well frame the over-arching Election Issues for the election.

1. There is the now famous “divide and conquer” video of Gov. Scott Walker meeting with the billionairess from Beloit; the lady who wanted assurance that her contribution would lead to a permanent “red state”. I’m sure the video is readily available, and anyone can look it up, very easily.

2. Then came the flap over the apparent reluctance of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to cough up $500,000 to at least help match the tornado of money coming in to support Walker. If memory serves, estimates were that the Republican-Democrat campaign money differential might be as much 25 to 1.

I was less than impressed by both narratives.

“Divide and Conquer” is a frequently used strategy, and it never works, except in the short term.

Perhaps one of the worst examples of a supposedly successful “divide and conquer” strategy is the disaster that has been Wisconsin since Jan. 2011. Scott Walker and his party won by division. That is all. But they conquered nothing, at least not permanently. The people of Wisconsin are the losers, and if they have some collective intelligence they will repudiate what they’ve had to live through, and not tolerate such nonsense again. Whoever wins next week will inherit abundant anger from those who lost. There is no “win” for anyone.

As for the Big Daddy (or Big Party) Cash Cows coming to the rescue of Walker of the Dems, I can’t see how that helps either.

Conventional wisdom these days (which is not very wise, in my opinion) is that you win and lose by dollars spent on media advertising and the like.

But where the election next week will be won or lost is by the presence (or lack of) local “boots on the ground”, and, then, people actually showing up at the polls next Tuesday.

Daddy (or Mommy) Warbucks can have ships full of money to dispense, but in the end they are – each of them, including that billionaire – a single vote, just like everybody else. Those who vote uninformed, or stay at home and don’t vote at all, are de facto voting by their absence.

We’ll probably spend a few bucks across state lines (I emphasize “few”), but in the end, the win or the loss will come from the people of Wisconsin who actually show up on Tuesday. It is for this reason that I had little sympathy for the crew that wanted a national group to come in and rescue local people from their own necessary efforts. We’ll never succeed in getting money in politics under control, if we try to win every battle by money alone.

Next week we’ll know what Wisconsin decided.

And in a few months we’ll have our own demonstration in our own state of whether we care enough, or not.

Governors Office, Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison, March 4, 2011

(For other election 2012 commentaries, simply enter the words election 2012 in the search box, and other postings will be identified.)

UPDATES (COMMENTS)
Andrena: We’re 85% on the same page. I still believe the DNC should have given the WI Dems what they requested. The money could have been targeted to the GOTV efforts & media. Moreover, it would have been nice if the DNC could have strategically produced media ads ready to go regardless of who won the primary. In any event, I’ve signed up to phone bank this weekend. I don’t think I would be as effective door knocking in Hudson as an African American woman with MN tags might not go over well with the local folk. My phone voice is flat – aa midwestern/Canadian accent as I’ve often been told.

Fred: Thanks for the report from the front and your response. You’ve got to feel sorry for Wisconsin and its people. Every state has similar political divisions these days but this already-partitioned territory has to publicize the news to the nation. And when it’s over, the anger of the losers will deepen.

Jeff: (1) Just spent the weekend in Madison. And previous weekend in Hayward.

Walker signs are all over most of rural Wisconsin, barely any Barrett signs seen up en route to either city in our drives.

I didn’t watch much local tv, so cannot say about advertising.

Turnout is expected to be 60 to 65 pct, the recall proponents will need to get every last vote.

Polls are pretty much the same… Walker has a 4% lead with the margin of error 4%.

My daughters boyfriend, is a firefighter and EMT, he is canvassing for the recall, and has been a bit frustrated from Dems he calls on … they don’t seem energized… the unions and the teachers and the hardcore are energized, but the hoi polloi seems a bit lackadaisical. Maybe fatigue is the right word, I think a better chance he will be indicted in the ongoing corruption investigation in Milwaukkee county might be more fruitful

There seems to be a portion of Dems and independents who don’t like the guy but also are not in favor of recall. That is the margin of error.

Another report I read said that Walker will take suburban Milwaukee and Wausau and Green Bay; Barrett will take Madison and the surrounding counties, the city of Milwaukee and the Southwestern part of the state

So they say the margin of victory in out in the small towns and rural areas of central, western and northern Wisconsin.

(2) It is risky, but latest polling shows it is getting tighter… Barrett and recall forces have had to wait to spend until the last week. Its going to be a turnout battle. Lets hope the recall works. Another person in Wisc. Told me they think if Walker wins, that Feingold will run against him in 2014.

Denise: Thank you for your posting to your blog on Tuesday! This must be very frustrating living so near to Wisconsin and having to listen to all of this. It is even more frustrating living here and having to deal with our current governor.

Here in Racine, we have a tough unemployment situation. There are jobs for skilled labor, but the cuts to the local technical college have made it even more difficult for anyone who wants the training to attend classes. Some local employers are training interested high school students with the promise of a job after graduation, but the situation is still so aggravating.
We all want a good outcome and positive changes here. Even if Scott Walker is ousted, which I hope that he is, all of this billionaire advertising will pit neighbor against neighbor for a long time.

Our prayers for peace are not only for what happens abroad, but also for our own neighborhoods due to this divisiveness.

Corky: Well worded Dick. We are flooded with calls, letters and pictures like never before. The WEAC supported Democratic candidate fell a LITTLE SHORT of a win in WISC primary. What qualifies as middle class today? Where is the national agenda for education from either party?

Stephanie: Beautifully said, Dick. I was in Hudson the other day and was encouraged by the homemade signs supporting Barrett …there were more of them than the pre-fab Walker signs…this would be such a sweet win for working people…heck, for everyone who cares about a sane society.

Leila: Sane society? We just had a entire Michigan school district turned over to an “emergency manager” who proceeded to hire a charter school company and fire all 80 teachers because the district was $12 million in debt. I hope that Minnesota remains poised to fight off attacks on public education because they are really fighting dirty in Michigan.

Jermitt: Walker is a very dangerous man. He has created great harm to public education, the environment, the poor and the elderly. This past year he paraded around with his rich friends, mostly from states other than Wisconsin, and raised multi-millions of dollars from his rich friends. Wisconsin is losing it reputation of being a “clean political” state with all the corruptions and big money taking over.

Patricia: Yes, those of us in the Duluth-Superior area know only too well what you mean about being inundated with ads. I ALSO think our being just across the bridge with adds to our understanding of the situation. A lot of the “outsiders” manning picket lines etc. are from our side of the border. Duluthians and North Shore residents shop in Superior a LOT, our kids go to UW@S, we work on either side of the border and feel a strong kinship.

Norm: Recall elections of any kind let alone of this magnitude are hard to win and Walker will probably win by the current poll margin of 4% or so or about the same margin as he beat Barrett by last time. Many union folk apparently are not all that enthusiastic about Barrett having preferred another candidate in the primary so that may explain the lack of enthusiasm that Dick mentions in his fine blog. As per Dick, I have also heard of many Democrats who don’t like Walker but feel that he should be allowed to serve out the term to which he was elected by the voters…and that will be a crucial factor in a close election as Dick noted. And there are always a certain number of folks, as Dick and others very well know that have a continuing [grievance] against public employees that can easily be exploited in their favor by the supporters of Walker and the ALEC agenda. As a public employee myself, I am well aware of the negative feelings of many citizens about us regardless of whether they have a rational reason for feeling that way.

Walker will likely win by a small margin although the margin could be larger and surprise all of the pundits and so on…prior to the start of the predictable adaseum analyses on whether or not outside money affected the race or not.

Jeff: Look past Madison. The economy here is slowing down in concert with the impending euro collapse and its tsunami effect worldwide. China and India are also slowing down and no longer have the froth to prop up the world as in 2008-2009.

This is not good for our mutual friend the POTUS [President Obama], I would have said he might have won if things kept improving slowly, but if things head the other way which is what I am seeing in past 60 days, this election is a toss up. Just like in Europe, its really not an ideological things, incumbents will be punished regardless of the party.

Dick, responding to Jeff: The American blood sport is to blame the President for everything. It is prudently noted that the first act of the Republicans when President Obama was inaugurated in 2009 was to obstruct everything, and create failure, hoping they could take credit later and blame him for the current problems. Never forget where the dominos were first set up to fall: easy credit and paying for a long war on the national credit card beginning in 2002 in a heavily Republican dominated government.

Will: The Wisconsin recall election is America in microcosm. In this election year, it will tell us a lot about where the electorate is re the Nov. 6 election.

Always remember that Republican master strategist Karl Rove has as his goal installation of a permanent Republican majority in the three branches of government. He has the Supreme Court in hand by a consistent 5-4 margin on key issues for the nation. Whether he can succeed for the long haul in the House and Senate remains to be seen.

John: My baptism into the teacher union movement was in 1968-69 when I was chief negotiator of a first contract for the Albany EA with the Albany , WI public schools. This was bargained under the provisions of the Wisconsin public sector bargaining law. After a few more years of teaching music, in 1971 I began my professional career as a union organizer for with the Minnesota Education Association, later known as Education Minnesota. Just as I was retiring last year, after 40 years with the union here in MN, Gov. Walker was throwing a monkey wrench into the works in my home state. It seemed, and still does, as unbelievable.

Make no mistake: the assault on public sector unions in Wisconsin is part of a much bigger push by the right wing to dis-empower all workers, unionized or not, both public and private. The fight to recall Walker and his conservative legislators has been intriguing to observe. I am pulling for a successful outcome. If only the right wing push in Wisconsin were an aberation! All to many citizens either “think” they are in the top 1% or expect to be (winning the lottery?) and don’t realize how assaults on any workers is an assault on them.

The motto of the State of Wisconsin is “Forward”. Let’s all act on another slogan: “Forward ever, backward never”.

Susan: Dick, well written and true, although Wisconsin (where I live) is a flashpoint for all the battles in this country. We can’t win with money – the boatloads went elsewhere. But we can fight back with bodies knocking on doors. We Wisconsinites will have to live with what happens. And Minnesota has its own challenges too.

Sabrina: I sent postcards to the DNC and asked that they openly support the Democrats in Wisconsin. The Democrats have got to also be concerned with what state legislatures are doing cause they are the ones working to take away our rights.

Mary Ellen: Thanks, Dick. It’s not easy living in Wisconsin lately. But, neighbors are still friendly and we all try to avoid the divisiveness promoted in every political ad and sound-bite. We’re also refusing to take their dumb polls. The 4% is bogus. Walker is on his way out. It’s only a question of how big a margin it will be. Tuesday can’t come soon enough. That’s the day we can prove that the vote is mightier than the dollar.

Dick 8:30 p.m. June 3: Latest report, on CBS news this afternoon, was that Gov. Walker had a 3 to 1 advantage in $’s for his campaign. I suppose somebody could say that “that’s almost even”. Of course it isn’t almost even….

#573 – Dick Bernard: Three Memories on Memorial Day 2012. Frank Peter Bernard, Henry Bernard and Patricia Krom

Monday, May 28th, 2012

SEVERAL UPDATES, INCLUDING PHOTOS at end of this post.

I’m at the age where death is an increasingly regular visitor to my circles. This Memorial Day three deaths come to mind.

The first came when I was 1 1/2 years old, when my Uncle Frank Peter Bernard went down on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor HI. He was 26 years old, and I had “met” him in Long Beach CA five months earlier, at the end of June, 1941.

(click on photos to enlarge them)

Henry Sr, Josephine, Josie, Frank Peter, Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard, Long Beach CA late June, 1941

I’m the family historian, and I recall no talk, ever, about any kind of funeral or memorial service for Frank.

He was from Grafton, ND. On Dec. 7, 1941, his brother, my Dad, was a teacher in the rural ND country school called Rutland Consolidated; his sister lived in Los Angeles; and his parents were wintering in Long Beach CA. Indeed, according to my Dad, they were not sure, for some time, whether or not Frank was dead. His good boyhood and Navy friend, John Grabanske, was reported to have died, though later was found to be very much alive (and lived on, well into his 80s). Here’s my Dad’s recollection, as recounted by myself 50 years after Pearl Harbor: Bernard H Pearl Harbor001

The closest I have to a “memory card” about a formal remembering of Uncle Frank is a long article in the February 17, 1942 Grand Forks (ND) Herald, reporting on a large ND picnic somewhere in the Los Angeles area on about February 12, 1942. Such picnics were common in those days – a gathering of winterers and transplants.

There is a poignant passage which I quote here in part: “A touching incident occurred during the program. [The counsel for the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles] read a press report telling of the death of a young man of Polish descent at Pearl Harbor, the young man being a native of the Grafton area. When he had finished reading a man and his wife arose in the audience, the man asking if he might interrupt for just a moment…the man [my grandfather] said the report of the boy’s death later was found to be in error, but that the man actually killed at Pearl Harbor was the pal of the boy mentioned in the first press report. “The boy killed,” said the man, “was our son!”…The entire audience arose and stood in silence for a moment in honor of the dead hero and the parents who made the sacrifice.”

Uncle Frank’s grave, on the USS Arizona, is probably among the most visited cemeteries in the world. I know his sister, my Aunt Josie, visited there in 1969, but my Dad and his parents never had that opportunity.

The next funeral I remember is for that same Grandfather of mine, who died May 23, 1957 at age 85. I was 17.

His funeral was in Grafton, on May 25, 1957, and many people came to his funeral.

Grandpa was a Spanish-American War Veteran, Philippines, 1898-99. We still have the flag in recognition of his service.

It has 48 stars. Alaska and Hawaii had not yet been admitted as states. It is the flag we raised on a flagpole the family purchased at Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL, after Dad died in 1997. We raised the flag on Memorial Day, 1998, dedicating it to Grandpa’s sons, my Dad and Uncle Frank. (Here’s an interesting piece of research about percent of Americans who actually serve in the Military)

Dedication of flagpole with Grandpa Bernards 48 star flag, Memorial Day, 1998, Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL

Plaque for the Our Lady of the Snows flagpole, 1998

Time passes on, many more deaths and remembrances of all assorted kinds.

The most recent came on May 19, 2012, in Langdon ND, a memorial service for my cousin Patricia (Brehmer) Krom. Pat actually passed away in Las Vegas on January 25, and there was a memorial service there at that time, but the Langdon area was her home, and my Uncle Vince and I went up for the Memorial Service.

All funerals are alike; all funerals are very different. Pat’s was no exception.

I doubt I will ever forget the eulogy at Pat’s Memorial, given by her husband of 42 years, Kent.

He retraced two lives together in a truly memorable way, one which any one in any relationship for any length of time could immediately relate to; from the first awkward dance at Langdon High School, to her death at only 62 years of age.

Pat Brehmer Krom's life, May 19, 2012

The details are unimportant, except for one which I will always remember. As I recall it, regardless of how their day might have gone, it was a frequent occurrence for exchange of a simple expression of affection: “I love you Kent Krom”; “I love you Pat Brehmer”.

Can’t get better than that.

Arriving back in LaMoure, before I left for home, I picked up a new flag for the flagpole at Vince and Edith’s residence, Rosewood Care Center.

Friday, May 25, at 10:30, they dedicated the new flag to the memory of Patricia Brehmer Krom.

Happy Memorial Day.

Spring at Redeemer Cemetery near Dresden ND May 19, 2012 near the grave of Mary and Allen Brehmer

UPDATES:

Memorial Day, which began as Decoration Day in post-Civil War times, has a long history. Ironically, it was born of what was likely America’s deadliest war ever (in terms of casualties related to the entire population). Americans slaughtered other Americans.

Here are some impressions of today received from individuals. Possibly because the day has an over 140 year history, and because the means of war has changed so much in recent years, making war almost impersonal (see the Pew Research above), there are differing interpretations of what Memorial Day means: is it an event to be solemnly remembered, enjoyed, celebrated, etc.?

How we look differently at the meaning of Memorial Day is good reason for increased conversation among people with differing points of view.

From Susan Lucas: Dick, at the end of your blog you say, “Happy Memorial Day.” I’m afraid I don’t find this day a happy one. The three flags represent our three sons. I’m just so sorry that so many in our society regard Memorial Day as the first day of summer and a three-day weekend to go to the cabin. Anyone who visits Fort Snelling or any other national cemetery can truly appreciate why we have a Memorial Day. While Tom did not die while actually in the service, as the original “Decoration Day” was meant to be, the day should honor all who have been in military service. It’s a day to honor their memory. I question whether it should still be a national holiday when, as Pew Research suggests, so few families are actually impacted by military service anymore.

May 27, 2012, at Ft. Snelling Cemetery from Susan Lucas

From Carol Turnbull: Beautiful!

Scouts observing Memorial Day at a Cemetery in South St. Paul MN, doing upkeep of graves, and placing flags at the stones of veterans.

Scouts at So St Paul cemetery May 28, 2012

Daughter Heather and granddaughter Kelly at grave of Mom and Grandma Diane in So. St. Paul May 28, 2012

The annual commemoration by the MN Veterans for Peace at the State Capitol Grounds, St. Paul MN. Many Vets for Peace, but no means all, are Vietnam Veterans. I have been part of Veterans for Peace for over 10 years.

Veterans for Peace near MN Vietnam Vets Memorial on the MN Capitol Grounds May 28, 2012

Local VFP President Larry Johnson at the MN Capitol area observance May 28

Gita Ghei, whose father was caught in the conflict in western India (a civil war of sorts) at the time the British transferred authority to Indians.

Vet Jerry Rau performs a composition on May 28

Commentary here from Digby related to a Veterans for Peace event in southern California.

Other commentaries on the label “hero” as a topic of contemporary political warfare are here and here.

Of course, such a term is a moving target. In the 2004 Presidential Election, candidate John Kerry, whose military service and heroism in Vietnam was ridiculed by “Swift Boating” negative ads, was made to seem the opposite of what he was: a serviceman who had done his job above and beyond the call of duty. I agree with the assessment that the word “hero” is often misapplied in todays political conversation. Personally, I’m a lucky Vietnam era veteran. I served during the first Vietnam War years 50 years ago, and can prove it. I did everything I was asked to do, and I never left the United States. Indeed, we were preparing a reactivated infantry division for later combat in Vietnam, but in our frame of the time, we had no idea that such a war was developing. We simply did our jobs. If that is heroism, so be it.

But, then, John Kerry was far more a hero than I every thought of being, and he was viciously ridiculed for his service….

President Obama spoke at the Vietnam Memorial on Monday. I had the lucky privilege of having been at that Memorial the very weekend it was dedicated in the Fall of 1982. Vietnam Mem DC 1982001

A little photo album of my service time as a “hero” at Ft. Carson CO can be found on the internet, here. Note my name in the first paragraph, click on the link to the album, and open the link to a few of my “Photographs of 1/61….” in 1962-63.

#572 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #18. Four days without the “news”

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Last Friday I took a four day one thousand mile trip related to family matters in North Dakota. The trip included a visit to an Aunt and Uncle and a drive to a family funeral near the Canadian border. Over half of the trip was by myself, which always makes a trip seem longer, at least to me.

The 450 mile portion of the trip with my Uncle – my Aunt was not feeling well and stayed home – was a pleasure, albeit connected with a sad occasion: the final memorial and burial of one of my cousins.

There was lots of time for us to just visit, in the country manner.

In those four days there were scant idle moments. If I wasn’t doing something, I was sleeping. Such is how it goes.

As I age, it takes longer to recover from these trips, but they all have their pleasant aspects: “visiting”; arriving at the assisted living facility to find a couple entertaining the residents with karaoke; taking a side trip enroute home from the funeral to see the dikes attempting to hold the ever-swelling Devils Lake from flooding even more territory (my Uncle seriously tempted to stop to do some fishing); going to church; doing some routine work on the home farmstead; experiencing a whole lot of old-fashioned hospitality….

In 1000 miles, 450 of it essentially new territory for me to actually see, one sees a lot of interesting things, and much beauty, even in an ever more sparsely populated state like my home state of North Dakota.

Something else happened this trip.

I didn’t watch television, listen to radio, or even read newspapers, not even the local weekly, The Chronicle, which I am in the habit of buying when at my relatives town. The Chronicle is a throwback to the ‘old days’. Indeed, when it is published tomorrow, I will appear as “news” in the community events section of the paper. I was a visitor, after all, and such things are noticed in those not-always mythological “towns that time forgot and the decades cannot improve” of Garrison Keillor.

*

Then I arrived home Monday night and was reunited with the real world conveyed through television and newspaper.

This particular time, the evening of May 21, 2012, the battle was still raging over what Mayor Corey Booker of Newark NJ had passionately opined on one of the Sunday morning news program. The topic is irrelevant, but the outcome was predictable.

Because the statement was passionate, probably not scripted, and because Mayor Booker is identified as partisan, favoring one candidate for President over another, the statement was quotable, and it was instantly manipulated into useful sound bites for political advertising and partisan commentary, and required response from the other side.

The statement seemed to have basically swamped the news cycle of this particular day in history. It had even outlived the traditional one-day ‘moment of fame’.

Mayor Booker’s major sin, it seems, was that he was honest in his expression of opinion. Honesty in politics is truly politically dangerous, We seem to not only expect, but demand, that our politicians be dishonest.

I had come back from my isolation in “Lake Wobegon” to the battlefield of today’s contemporary politics where the objective is for one side to win, by making another lose; the elevation of an ever meaner and nastier side of what passes for political conversation in this country.

We witness it all, most of us from an easy chair in front of a television screen, too many of us picking up our reality from one extremely partisan side, or another.

It is not a winning strategy for our country, our larger community.

Election 2012 is looming.

Either we are part of the solution, or part of the problem…and the solution is not demolishing by any and all means the opposing ‘other’, or dismissing the other point of view.

We are, after all, part of a very large family of humankind.

*

Monday early afternoon, visit over, it was time to head back to “the Cities”.

Out the window at the assisted living facility I had noted that the American flag on the flagpole was badly frayed from too long in the North Dakota wind.

Down to the hardware store I went, and picked up a replacement which will be posted in time for Memorial Day, in memory of cousin Pat, and for all of us.

Happy Memorial Day.

*

An album from May 18-21, 2012: (click on photos to enlarge)

Karaoke program at Rosewood

Remembering a life at Langdon

A little lunch after the service

The ritual photo at Mom and Dad...and Sisters...grave at Dresden

spring

Wimbledon

Bedstead and old harnest in the haymow of the old barn

In the old barn. Dad helped make these beams when the roof of the old barn blew down July, 1949.

1915 Stanchions for milking cows

An old stove in a shed

where the old house used to be, from the haymow of the barn

Uncle Vince planting tomatoes

#571 – Dick Bernard: Customer Service

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Monday my wife and I were enroute “between here and there” and I suggested we stop in at Maplewood Toyota as we might be in the market for another car.

The stop was a logical one: we’ve purchased four cars there, the most recent one 7 years ago, all from the same salesman who’s very easy to work with.

We parked and got out of the car and saw a man crossing the street. He gave a friendly greeting. He was in front of us, and saw we were heading towards the same door he was entering, so he held it open for us.

Cathy said we were there to look at a car, and were looking for Tim. It turned out that Tim was the one who had just held open the door for us. He didn’t recognize us, and we didn’t recognize him. It had been, after all, seven years, and we don’t hang around auto dealerships as a matter of course.

We laughed about it, did our looking, and I told him that if we were to buy a car, it would be from him. And we went on our way.

But I got to thinking about this routine but extraordinary act of customer service, without any notion of who we were or why were there. It was simply Tim Ehlenz being Tim Ehlenz. And by the way he was selling himself, he’d made a sale without selling anything. He was being with us as he’d be with anyone coming in from off the street.

One never knows who the “customer” is, or when he or she will show up on your doorstep.

We are no longer an isolated world where you all live in the same little town and know everyone.

I did a little piece about that just a few days ago: about Montrose SD.

Nowadays our community is much larger, and we’re at risk if we don’t recognize that reality.

A couple of years ago I had occasion to write specific letters to a number of legislators, only one of which was “my” legislator. Each of them happened to be on a committee dealing with a particular policy issue in which I had a specific interest. I went to each legislators website and in several instances found a “welcome” note that basically said, in different words: “if you’re not from my legislative district, don’t bother me with your prattle cuz I won’t answer your e-mail.”

It wasn’t much of a welcome. For all they knew (nothing, since they didn’t even look at my letter), I could have been helpful, or damaging to them in many ways. Maybe a friend or one of my kids lived in their district, and I would pass on good news, or bad, about them…

Further back, in April of 1999, I remember a very similar happening under completely different circumstances.

I had been driving home from a meeting and heard the first radio announcements of something bad that had happened in Littleton CO – a shooting at the high school.

My son and family lived in Littleton, and had the natural need of a parent and grandparent to know if everyone was all right.

They were.

As the information began to come in about Columbine, I came to know that the school was only a mile from where my family lived, and Tom felt he had probably seen the two perpetrators the day before in a local McDonald’s.

The day after the carnage at Columbine, I happened to be in a learning session with about a dozen colleagues, all of whom were school public relations professionals in Minnesota school districts.

We were talking about Littleton, and somebody said, “I’m sure glad that isn’t my district right now”.

I said, “my granddaughter lives only a mile from that school”.

The tenor of the conversation changed completely in an instant.

It hadn’t occurred to anyone that our world is indeed a village without borders, and that just because the carnage hadn’t happened in any of our districts, didn’t mean that people in our districts were not affected.

Customer service is always, every day.

Regardless of what you’re selling….

#570 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #17. A Funeral

Monday, May 14th, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I attended the memorial service for a former colleague of mine. He was 78 when he died, and the memorial service was in a small city outside the twin cities area.

John had been my colleague for 24 years. I didn’t know him well, as we were among about 40 staff people in a state-wide organization, and other than relatively frequent staff-meetings, he & I didn’t have any day to day relationship. He was from another part of the state. But we were part of the same staff group and saw each other frequently.

John’s was an open casket funeral. We were there, family and friends and colleagues. A Methodist minister officiated.

(click on photos to enlarge)

We’d seen the obituary before the funeral, and it mentioned John’s “significant other for 37 years, Oliver…”

I asked our colleague who I was riding with, “was John Gay?” Yes. Obviously he was. I’d never noticed anything. He was simply ‘staff’ like me.

With John’s casket was a military-folded American flag, recognizing his military service. He’d been a Marine in the Korean War years. For nine years he had been a public school teacher before he was a union representative.

I’d guess there were about 30 of us at the service, mostly family members.

It was a very nice send off for John.

I noticed in the obit that while John grew up and went to college in Iowa, and had lived for almost all of his work life in Minnesota, that his burial was to be in a rural Norwegian cemetery in eastern North Dakota.

As is my tendency, I asked a stupid question of Oliver, his partner: “why is the burial to be in North Dakota?”

Oliver replied politely that the cemetery was his families cemetery, and he and John had bought adjoining plots some years earlier. It was a matter of fact answer. I felt foolish.

They’d loved each other for 37 years, why wouldn’t they want to be buried together?

John’s funeral occurred at the very time when the issue of Gay relationships is under the spotlight in the United States. In the last few days President Obama has weighed in, powerfully, on the issue; and North Carolina has enshrined anti-Gay marriage language in their State Constitution.

Such a matter is pending in Minnesota in the Fall election as well, and politically savvy people are calling the Gay issue a wedge issue….

As the casket was about to be closed, Oliver said the final goodbye to his partner. I don’t recall ever seeing such a tender farewell from one to another. It was a gentle, powerful moment.

Perhaps, just perhaps, John’s death on April 29, might be part of the death of the anti-Gay hate campaign that has been so useful to so many for so long.

One can hope.

TWO VIGNETTES plus two other points:
1. My Aunt Jean passed away in 1994, and I volunteered to give my friend, Fr. Paul, a ride to the memorial service.

Paul had married Uncle George and Aunt Jean in 1944, and had baptized me in 1940. In his later years, he and I had become good friends.

During the long drive from his home to the place of the memorial service, Paul began to reminisce about his growing up, seminary, and his many years in the Priesthood in North Dakota. By all accounts, he was a very faithful Priest, a very good man. We talked about many things: about the loneliness and isolation of his profession, and of how he and his colleague Priests coped, and of occasional serious lapses. Priests are human, after all. He allowed me to tape his reminiscences.

There was only one point at which he became visibly agitated about anything, and that was when he talked about homosexual relationships. “I just don’t understand that”, he said. And on we went.

It has occurred to me that it was not homosexuality of someone else that was Paul’s problem; it was Paul’s unwillingness to understand it that was his own perception problem. So it goes for those who rail against it. It is not a religious issue so much as it is an understanding issue.

2. The Catholic Church hierarchy (happens to be my church too) is in the forefront of the marriage/man/woman campaign. It is not quite as simple as the Bishops and Cardinals ‘teach’.

I have the marriage contract of my first Bernard ancestor in Quebec in the year 1730 (in its entirety here: Quebec Marriage Cont001)

The document speaks for itself. Quebec was a Catholic country: non-Catholics were not welcome. So this civil contract did in fact require marriage in the Catholic Church. But the civil contract was entered into two weeks before the religious marriage, and they were separate and distinct entities. Even in an all Catholic country, there was separation between Church and State. In the Bernard-Giroux case, the marriage in the church happened two weeks after the civil contract of marriage. Would there have been a valid civil marriage if one or the other of the couple died before the religious bans? Doubtless that happened more than once.

3. I keep thinking of my classmate, Jerry, who died in 1993. We were simply classmates in a tiny school (senior class of nine) and it wasn’t till years later that I learned he was Gay, from his Aunt. Recently I googled his name, and up came a short obituary of him. It would seem appropriate to add this web reference to Jerry, which speaks well for itself. I particularly note the anonymity of the two brief tributes. That is how it has been, to be Gay in our society.

4. A longer summary of the current political conversation about the Gay Marriage issue is here.

#569 – Dick Bernard: Mother’s Day 2012. “A woman’s work is never done”

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Happy Mother’s Day.

This phrase, (link) “A woman’s work is never done”, keeps rattling through my brain. (The link is an interesting compilation about “woman’s work”.)

There are infinite variations to the theme, “Mother’s Day”. For us, one event will be the always fascinating May Day Parade in south Minneapolis (this years version was postponed due to weather.)

Two recent events lead to this days post.

May 9 I rendezvoused in Sioux Falls SD with my friend from 8th grade, Emmett. Emmett and I have been “Christmas card friends” over the many years since we first met in 1953-54 in western North Dakota. Because he lived on the west coast, and I in Minnesota’s Twin Cities There were rare “faceoffs” (as my Dad would describe face-to-face meetings). I recall brief ‘faceoffs’ between Emmett and I in 1958, 1997 and 2007. That’s about it.

This time a wedding in Emmett’s family in Sioux Falls gave a good excuse for my 250 mile trip west, and the two of us had a great conversation, just “catching up”.

We met in 8th grade, the only year we lived in his tiny town of Ross ND. He was a farm kid, and I the oldest son of two teachers in the tiny town school.

My Mom, then 44, was our teacher in the 7th and 8th grade room. Her son, my brother John, then 5 years old (there was no kindergarten in these tiny schools), spent his school days in our classroom.

click on photo to enlarge

Esther and Henry Bernard at the Ross Prom, 1954

May 9 and 10 Emmett and I had maybe five hours to ‘catch up’ and he told a simple story, a memorable one which seems to fit Mother’s Day.

When he was a kid he had a great interest in airplanes, and one day he happened to see a wing of something protruding out of a bag he probably wasn’t supposed to see. It was a model of a B-17, an important aircraft in WWII, planned as a gift to him.

Somebody had noticed Emmett’s interest, and paid attention to it, and the gift became part of his life memory bank, and possibly a motivator as well.

It was a single item, a single event, but Emmett went on to become an aeronautical engineer and a very successful one.

I don’t have a lot of memories of my Mom as my classroom teacher, and likely Emmett didn’t have either. But as generations of students know, good teachers are best at helping students become functioning and aware adults…and I think both Mom and Dad succeeded at that, and not only with me. Life lessons from our elders are very often doled out in ‘bits and pieces’, most held below the conscious level. Memories that stick.

The second event impacting today happened several weeks earlier when I received an invitation to a reading of a new book by the author, Annetta Sanow Sutton.

Annetta is someone I’ve known for over 25 years, but I can recall only twice actually seeing her in person in all those years.

I went to her reading, and bought the book, and read it: Catholic Alcoholic, A Witness to Addiction and Redemption. (No, it’s not just for Catholics….)

The title is serious, but it is a memoir, and I found it to leave openings to reflect on my own life experience within my own family. While it was a mother’s story, a sister’s, a daughters, a niece’s…it left plenty of room for reflection for me.

One reunion with an old classmate, male, and another, a reading of a book by a career professional in counseling, female, brought me some new insights into the many and diverse ways women – mothers – live on in all of us.

My own Mom died 31 years ago, at my current age, so I think of the moving on of life more so than usual this year.

None of us is perfect. The best we can do is to contribute at least a little to the betterment of our communities, families and world.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Yes, “A woman’s work is never done.”

The falls of the Sioux River at Sioux Falls, SD, May 9, 2012

UPDATE May 16, 2012:

Will, on May 13, responded to this post as follows:
It is among the least politcally correct things to say on Mother’s Day but there are a number of us who were tormented and some who even required mental health care for years because of mothers who, for one reason or another, made our young lives miserable.

I believe it was the writer Philip (sp?) Wylie who wrote about “Momism,” the dark side of motherhood.

When I visit the family burial plot at the Jewish cemetery at 70 1/2 St. and Penn Av. S. Richfield, MN it is decidely with mixed emotions for both my late mother and father.

How to prepare young people for parenthood should be part of the education curriculum, in my opinion.

What do you-all think?

Dick, in response: Will’s is a valid point. Not all mothering…or fathering, for that matter…experiences are all that positive.

Speaking for myself, I was Mom, and Dad, for nearly nine years to first an infant, then, later, to a teenager, my son. I can say, I guess, “been there, done that”. It wasn’t an easy task single, nor married. People have differing skills, priorities and demands. You only hope that in the end things turn out for the best. There is a great deal more to my story, which my family could tell very well. Suffice to say, I understand Will’s lament.

Annetta Sutton in her excellent book, Catholic Alcoholic (see above), makes comments on this issue within her own family.

I noted on Sunday at Basilica of St. Mary that there was a different emphasis in the traditional end-of-Mass blessing for Mothers. This Sunday, the Priest asked all women to stand, and blessed them all, acknowledging that “mother” is a much broader term than simply having given birth. It was handled very well, and I think the congregation was pleased.

#568 – Dick Bernard: A short visit to Montrose SD

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

A friend just wrote an excellent book, and in it a town was mentioned, Montrose SD, just 20 miles from Sioux Falls.

Since I was going to Sioux Falls anyway, I decided to pop in on Montrose, just to see what it was like.

It was a bit like going back to the old days. I kept thinking of Mayberry RFD and recently deceased “Goober” from that popular show. Also entering my mind was the old Garrison Keillor saying about Lake Wobegon: “the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve”.

Montrose is surprisingly invisible on the South Dakota prairie. It is only two miles off the freeway, but you could almost go past it without actually seeing it. It is nestled in a valley and there are no tall buildings, not even grain elevators.

Best I know, no train tracks go through Montrose.

Montrose’s less than 500 residents are hidden in plain sight.

Thanks to google maps you can sneak a peak at Montrose via satellite.

Driving the streets of Montrose, it was easy to become nostalgic about the “good old days” that I remember in even smaller towns in long ago North Dakota.

There were the little, older houses, and some more impressive ones, none of them cookie cutter suburban development homes. They had yards. These were the yards of ordinary folks.

The downtown, such as it was, was a few stores on a sleepy main street. No traffic jams or traffic lights or even stop signs, here.

St. Patrick’s Church, in this community that seemed to have a pretty heavy Irish ‘cast’, was an anchor.

A gaggle of young people on bikes, gathered on the edge of a street.

But this was 2012, and it didn’t take much imagination to know that the people in this little town were connected to the larger world much more so than when I was growing up in similar little towns in the 1940s and 50s, before television, the internet, etc., etc., etc.

Indeed, I had booked my motel in Sioux Falls by doing a google search of Montrose SD.

Every place with a name seems to have an entry these days, and while there were no motels in Montrose, the web offered a garden variety of options in nearby Sioux Falls, only (in my case) 23.8 miles away.

Back in the day of WWII, when I first became aware of the world outside my little town, 23.8 miles was a pretty long trip, not taken without good reason. Here I was, 275 miles from home, on what was essentially a single day trip on mostly four lane highway in two states.

Times have changed. Have we?

(click to enlarge photos)

St. Patrick's Cemetery, Montrose SD

#567 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #16. Six months from today, it’ll be Wednesday, November 7, 2012…

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

… the United States will wake up to the residue of the 2012 election.

There will be campaign offices in disarray, activists everywhere with hangovers, either the euphoria of victory or the depression of defeat, victors, vanquished.

Election 2012, America’s biennial Civil War, will be over…for a few hours, then election 2014 will begin.

We do Politics as War in this country. The talk will always be in war terms: “battles”, “campaigns”, “wins”, “losses”, “victories”, “defeats”….

We will pretend that this is constructive.

It is utterly insane.

Political A-Bombs and Poison Gas will be in the form of television advertising and mailers and robocalls and on and on and on.

There will be billions of dollars spent on campaign advertising…carpet bombing claiming one is good, another evil.

It has been proven that negative campaigning works.

Politics has become amoral: lies are neither good or bad, they are, in fact, expected; indeed, they are demanded. They are entertainment, like TV.

And like the rubes at the carnival, many of us will lap them up. “Boy, he got in some good licks”. While we all get fleeced.

Many, far too many, will retreat into caves and try to ride out the war: “I can’t deal with it”; “war hasn’t ended, they can all go to hell”, Etc., Etc., Etc.

There are never permanent winners in war. The winner of the battle is marked for a later loss. But, really, we all lose.

Personally, I’m going to be actively engaged, personally and financially.

I will be supporting President Obama, as I think he has done a great job overcoming overwhelming odds – his opposition has, since his victory, sworn to make him – thus all of us – fail. They haven’t succeeded.

His major criticism from 2008 supporters was that he attempted to compromise with partisans he knew wouldn’t compromise unless forced. I consider that a major strength he had, not a weakness. We are a country of diverse opinions.

There is, in my opinion, a major contest this time between a truly radical Republican Party, and a more moderate Democratic Party. There is far more than “a dime’s worth of difference” between Republicans and Democrats; this is not going to be a contest between the “lesser of the two evils”. (This is a recent phenomenon. Today’s Republicans are not the Eisenhower, or even Nixon or Ford variety. The leaders are radicals, sworn to take control of the government they despise.)

Today’s Democrats are probably quite similar to the 1950s and 1960s Eisenhower Republicans. One can debate if that is good or bad. As I said, “we are a country of diverse opinions.”

My plea, at minimum: before you vote (or refuse to vote) on November 6, know what the issues (plural, issues) are, and know what the candidates truly represent, as opposed to their campaigns, and vote well informed on all the many officials you’ll be electing.

It is the least you can do for yourself and for your childrens future.

More here.

#566 – Dick Bernard: National Teacher Appreciation Day 2012

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Today is National Teacher Day, a day with a long tradition. Since 1985 the first Tuesday in May has been the specific day, but the tradition goes back to an idea of a teacher in the 1940s.

More so than in any recent years, Teacher Appreciation Day is an essential one this year.

Especially since January 2011 there has been an organized assault on teachers and their organizations that I’d consider unprecedented. I knew it had been unremitting in the last year, but the extent was revealed by one of Governor Dayton’s veto messages here. (See CH 274 HF 1870 Veto Message). And this was just Minnesota.

Thankfully Governor Dayton, from a very well known Minnesota family, knows of what he speaks. Early in his adult life he spent two years teaching in poverty ridden public schools in New York City. A month or so ago I heard him speak about that experience at the Education Summit of Parents United, an independent non-partisan public education advocacy group.

The Governor related, among other things, his businessman Dad’s admonition that you must “inspect before you can expect”. For Mr. Dayton, this involved visiting the homes of his students.

Gov Mark Dayton at Parents United for Public Schools April, 2012

I come from a lifetime in teaching: my parents were career public school teachers. For nine years I was a teacher, then for 27 years I represented public school teachers in teacher union work. Even in the dozen years subsequent to retirement I’ve had close and continuing contacts with public education and educators. Today, May 8, 2012, one daughter will go to her job as Principal of a large Middle School; and seven grandchildren will be off to their Minnesota public schools with hundreds of thousands of their peers.

I’ve written about some of them recently: here and here.

But the assault on public ed is real, and at least here in Minnesota the battering rams apparently didn’t quite work.

Perhaps stability will begin to return.

I wasn’t a perfect teacher, nor a perfect union representative, nor are my union or its members perfect, but without equivocation the attack on Minnesota’s public workers has been unwarranted and unnecessary. Of course, the attack is all under the guise of “reform” or other high-sounding labels. But the intent was destruction and not reform, and you can see it in the morale of public employees under siege.

But even in the blitzkrieg of attempted destruction, there are good examples, not difficult to find. They are in those school programs that I wrote about a few days ago (see above), and in other sometimes unusual circumstances.

Some weeks ago I was driver for a 91-year old friend who wanted to attend his club meeting. He has for many years been a member of a well known men’s club, whose members are all prominent in their particular fields of endeavor. It is a by-invitation only group, and you can attend only as a member or a guest of a member. He’d long ago ‘paid his dues’ – both he and his Dad before him had been President of this Club.

Each month a featured part of the meeting is a talk by someone with particular expertise.

At this particular meeting, the speaker was a man whose first name is Erik and who is more and more well known among a certain twin cities and regional affinity group: his business is “Erik’s Bikes and Boards“. His website is here.

He gave his personal history – how it was he became successful – and among others he gave very specific credit to one unnamed public school teacher in one of the public schools he had attended as a young person.

I don’t know the teachers name, and it is unnecessary to find out who he or she was at this point. I know the school district, and it has always had a very strong teachers union, and most likely the teacher was part of that union. And more than just the teacher, the administration and the school district itself allowed the flexibility that helped launch Erik into his career.

Whatever the specifics, somewhere in the background of almost all of us is someone we remember as “teacher”. It only takes one, and all of we teachers know that. Someone, some time, we touched, even if we may never hear it directly.

Thank you all. And take a moment today to thank some teacher that you know who made a difference in your life.

#565 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #15. The Political Conversation

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

I had a dream overnight – this is literally true – of living in what seemed to be a somewhat primitive society somewhere where people, whether ordinary or high and mighty, had identical rights to have good ideas and actually possessed the possibility of having these ideas considered without threat of ridicule or worse.

The notion was that in the interest of the greater good, everyone had a chance of prevailing in the marketplace of ideas.

It was a pretty nice dream, actually, but it was a very threatening one to certain members of the society who stood to lose some power if some of these good ideas were actually implemented.

Things deteriorated rapidly, and I woke up.

As I say, it was a dream.

Almost exactly six months from today we’ll be having a hugely important election to determine who represents us at all levels, anywhere that we live, and unfortunately many of us, perhaps most, won’t want to talk – or listen – about the issues in that election, except with people who agree with us.

In our time of 24/7 access to infinite sources of information, we are ever more ignorant because we don’t consider other points of view…and we don’t have to.

Already I see the closed-minded “you can go straight to hell” attitude, and it comes from all sides.

It will get worse.

We’ve been taught to despise “politicians”, but we’re the ones who are “politics”, and thus are the very “politicians” we despise, and we’ll be choosing our fate in November.

We seem to demand and expect the very things that we despise in politicians and political advertising. It is not healthy.

Hopefully we’ll vote better informed than those ubiquitous – and lying – “forwards” that race around these days, and insulate ourselves from the sickening torrent of propaganda ads that will be funded by largely anonymous wealth and pollute television these coming months. These ads will not be meant to inform; only to manipulate and destroy. They’re the modern day version of carpet-bombing.

There is another way, and I was thinking about it yesterday in my “birthday” post. Indeed, what follows is what I wrote yesterday, and then decided to fold into a separate post.

I’m old enough to remember the edges of the “good old days”, and while they weren’t all that good, in many ways they were better than what we live in now.

At least people talked with each other.

They had no other choice.

A few years ago I read the book Bones of Plenty, by Lois Phillips Hudson. It is a college education in how it was, then. It is worth reading today.

Bones of Plenty was about 1934, perhaps the most awful year of the Great Depression. It is set in a tiny rural community 20 or 30 miles west of Jamestown, North Dakota. (The town still exists, just off I-94. I’ve been there.)

In 1934 there was no television, and while radio existed nobody had one, and telephones when one had one were not used frivolously.

There were newspapers and magazines – lots of them. They were the window on the world as then known. And if somebody wrote something, it was printed.

And they were read, every word, every ad.

Then there were the meetings: at the town hall, after church, in the saloon, at country dances. You could love Roosevelt or hate him but you not only needed to talk to someone who might disagree with you, but actually listen to the point of view of someone else.

Sure there were fights, often alcohol-fueled, but at the end of the day, if your barn burned down, it was your neighbors who you’d depend on to rebuild; and they on you.

We don’t think in those terms any more, and it’s killing us as a civil society.

We are the ones who can change the conversation….

November 6, 2012 is only six months away.

Those candidates we select are the most important single decisions we will make as citizens of our nation.

Be very well informed.

Directly related Post here and here.