October, 2012

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#642 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #60. Bludgeoning “Union”

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

It doesn’t take close attention to notice that a prime Republican narrative in this election is anti-union, particularly public sector unions.

Union hating is in. What are the Republicans afraid of?

I spent most of my career – 27 years – representing teachers as an employee of the teacher’s union, first Minnesota Education Association (MEA), now called Education Minnesota.

Before that I was a junior high school teacher and teacher union member and, immediately pre-staff, a local union leader. Before that I was in the Army.

I know a bit about that word “union”.

The first contract under Minnesota’s Public Employment Relations Act (PELRA) coincided with my first year on MEA staff 40 years ago, 1972. Best as I recall, PELRA passed because it was jointly supported by Republican and Democrat leaders of the time. In those quaint old days there was a healthy mix of cooperation and competition. People worked to get the peoples business done in a healthy way.

My last staff assignment included the teachers of South Washington County Distrct #833. I retired from Union work in January 2000, and since October of 2000 I have lived in the same house in Woodbury.

The propagandists in the GOP have long identified the very word, “Union”, as evil, something to be stamped out.

Employees banding together must be fearsome and dangerous, or so it is made to seem. We must have mythical powers to control others.

The argument is absurd, but apparently is thought to be salable to working people who, ironically, owe much of their status as members of the middle class to unions, even if they never belonged to one of the unions which negotiated the wages and benefits people take for granted, and are now losing.

It doesn’t take long to learn that unions are collections of people of differing opinions and concerns. Union members and leaders know this.

Union staff people like myself were and are constantly in a position of having to help people of different minds come to some semblance of agreement. This might be between labor and management; often it is person to person within the union.

Once in my time with #833 there was a very close call on a threatened teacher strike. It was a very cold January night in the mid-1990s, with pickets set to go up the next morning. Very late at night another union staff member and myself had to take the lead to get some very reluctant members to reach a tentative agreement with school district management. Tempers were high for some time; but the resulting proposed contract was easily ratified. The bargaining process had worked.

I don’t recall hearing of a strike in South Washington County #833 in 40 years of collective bargaining; for certain, there were none on my watch, and there have been none since I’ve lived here.

In the early years, when we neophytes in bargaining were learning, there were more strikes. But most of those were clustered in a single year, over 30 years ago.

Union members, like management, learn it is preferable to negotiate and settle differences.

Some do not like the idea of employees being able to negotiate. Public Workers, it seems in particular, are supposed to be Public Servants. My parents were career public school teachers. I know what “Public Servant” means….

My proudest accomplishment in this district, at the very end of my career, was to help organize a Union sponsored and financed Community Conversation About Public Schools in 1999. With the cooperation of the School District, and volunteers like current candidate for legislature JoAnn Ward, a 23 member committee helped community members engage in civil conversations about public education in this community.

Financing for the pilot project came from the National Education Association and Education Minnesota.

The model worked well, but unfortunately was not continued.

I still have the file from 1999, and the 12 page participants guide from the final conversation. It could/should be resurrected.

Like any institution, public or private, unions are not perfect. They are, after all, made up of people.

I dislike the Republican Party and assorted “Independent Expenditure” groups targeting Unions as the problem when, in fact, they are as they have always been, an important part of the solution.

Unions are positive society assets not liabilities. The Democratic Party seems to realize that.

What does the union look like? Here’s a recent picture of one union member, now a 12-years retired Senior Citizen, me:

Dick Bernard, speaking at a recent Fench-Canadian cultural event in Minneapolis.

Tomorrow at this space: the thus far untalked about ‘time bomb’ in the MN Voter ID Constitutional Amendment.

#641 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #59. Hurricane Sandy, the Regal Princess and the end-game of the 2012 U.S. Election

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

A week from today the final voter will exit the polls somewhere in the United States and the 2012 election will be over except for the counting and the postmortems. Many of us have already voted. At this point few will change their minds.

We are barraged by messages of all sorts from all directions. The swill that passes for “information” in TV ads and independent expenditure mailers has been non-credible and unending, and will likely get worse.

We are buried in a flood of highly selective misinformation, from all sides on all issues. It is all designed to confuse and inflame and divide.

And Minnesota, where I write, is not even considered a “battleground state”. Oh, how it must be in those….

Last night I watched some of the incessant coverage of Hurricane Sandy, then hitting the east coast in conjunction with high tide. A day or two earlier, Sandy was described as “a truly massive storm on satellite. One of, if not the largest tropical cyclone to ever develop in the Atlantic basin” according to Accuweather.com. It had earlier devastated oft-beleaguered Haiti* for several days. As I write in early morning Oct 30, no one is sure of the extent of the damage this storm will inflict on the U.S.

Of course, the hurricane was about the only news last night, and that news was frequently interrupted by wave upon wave of political attack ads.

Some commentator talked about how we Americans put politics aside during times of crisis, such as during this storm. Nonetheless the ugly process of political destruction of the enemy other continued on its very profitable way. Indeed, someone else correctly noted that disasters are good times for business and the economy. What is wrecked has to be rebuilt. There is lots of money to be made….

In political campaigns, wreckage is the objective leading to a win; rebuilding is irrelevant. November 7 is day one to the next war two years out.

I got to thinking of we Americans – all of us – as passengers on a luxury liner. We’ve been on such a liner only one time, and that was on a Baltic cruise in June, 2003**. It was quite a vessel, the Regal Princess. (It now sails under another name out of another port in the Pacific).

(click to enlarge)

Princess Regal official photo 2003

You have to have money, either real or borrowed, to be on that kind of boat, and such vessels become little states of their owns: a Captain, crew, passengers…. Even in large vessels there is no room for disorder. They are communities.

What if we Americans were collectively sentenced to live on this luxury liner, endlessly sailing from place to place. And what if we had to confront ourselves daily, with our contemporary political system, where the constant emphasis was on taking control of the ship represented by the Captain and crew. Where one ‘sides’ priority prevailed, and the other side – the losers – were forced to comply with the winners wishes. The Captain, secure in the wheelhouse, set the course to wherever, whatever.

Oh, what a dismal vessel that luxury liner would be. The winner would win nothing whatsoever as the losers regrouped and sabotaged the winner. And maybe those losers would then win, putting a new Captain topside, with an entirely new crew.

But what would be won? Absolutely nothing. And how would the passengers benefit? Not at all.

Come to think of it, we are sentenced to life on this kind of luxury liner….

Next Tuesday night there will be election watch parties here and there. In the end, there will be the winners parties, and the losers parties.

The debris – and the hangovers – will be the same, whether at the winners or the losers party.

If we members of the wealthiest society ever known cannot figure out how to do Win-Win in politics, we are doomed to a truly dismal Lose-Lose future.

Vote wisely November 6.

My personal view: summarized here. Election 2012 in Search Box for a list of all the commentaries.

* – October 26, 2012: I am writing you to let you know of the situation in Haiti following Hurricane Sandy. I just returned from a trip to Port-au-Prince. The situation is devastating. The storm stayed for almost five days. The rain fell without ceasing. The wind was very strong. The streets are flooded. In some areas the water is waist deep. On my drive to and from Port-au-Prince, I saw many bridges that have fallen and are destroyed. I have seen streets that I pass everyday, now are rushing rivers. As much as this saddens me, I am not surprised. With the infrastructure we have, these results are to be expected. The departments that were affected the most were the South, South East, West, Nippes, and Grand Anse. It saddens me that school just began three weeks ago, and already there is another problem for the people of Haiti. There are many people who were still living in tents or in unsafe housing, and the hurricane took away what shelter they had. Hurricane Sandy has left many people displaced and with no place to turn to. Many families in Haiti already had a difficult time providing for their families. Now after the hurricane, it is more difficult to find food to eat, and people who give food cannot provide for everyone who needs it. I am asking for you to please continue to keep the people of Haiti in your prayers. It means so much to me, and to the Haitian people. Thank you so much for these prayers and for everything you have done for us already. It is appreciated so much. I cannot put into words how you have helped the people of Haiti.

Blessing to you,

Rev. Dr. Kesner Ajax

** – The highlight of that cruise was a visit to the magnificent Peterhof and Catherine Palaces outside St. Petersburg, Russia. The opulence was almost overwhelming. I couldn’t help but think of the peasants and artisans who built those luxurious places but never really shared in the wealth. Of course, nothing is ever permanent. Seated in our bus waiting to depart, we watched a couple of old beggar women. I was tempted to take a photograph, but it was too sad. It was an uncomfortable moment. History will continue to be the great leveler.

UPDATE October 31: It was gratifying to see Gov Christie of New Jersey and President Obama working together. It is how government should work.

Here are a couple of photos sent from NYC by my friend Michael Knox of the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation. Michael was stranded in the city near one of the most photographed problems caused by Sandy.

New York City after the hurricane passed by.

Another view. Both photos by Michael Knox

Virgil Benoit: a personal retrospective by Dick Bernard

Monday, October 29th, 2012

click to enlarge photos

Virgil Benoit Dec 19, 2011, at Cafe Aster, Minneapolis. First in-person meeting with Virgil about Franco-Fete 2012

The eleven of us who were the Twin Cities Franco-Fete Committee* on site Sep 28-30 are preparing to debrief this years event on November 15. This seems a good time to recognize the man whose vision and determination and passion led to Twin Cities Franco-Fete in the first place: Dr. Virgil Benoit of Red Lake Falls MN and the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks and IF Midwest.

Readers who were at the event know that Virgil had a serious automobile accident three days before Franco-Fete began, Tuesday night Sep 25.

As I write, Virgil is recuperating at home. My evidence is occasional e-mail messages, and a response he just filed to the base blog post about Franco-Fete! This is no epitaph or eulogy, in other words. It is a small tribute from someone who’s learned much about his French-Canadian culture through years of contact, mostly indirect with Dr. Benoit.

We all have our stories. Here, very briefly is mine, as pieced together from assorted documents I retain here at home.

I first “met” Dr. Benoit in the Les Francais d’Amerique/French in America calendar for the year 1985. There were to be sixteen more of these calendars, the last for 2002, which were a joint project of Virgil Benoit and Marie-Reine Mikesell of Chicago, all printed in Grand Forks. I have the calendars through 2001 – a precious possession (why didn’t I get 2002?!). The color photographs from the collection were posted and remain on the internet here.

While we lived far apart, geographically, I seemed often to be somewhere within his sphere.

The first time in person was probably L’Heritage Tranquille conference in November, 1985, at the new Riverplace development just below Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Minneapolis. He did the keynote at that conference, and a group of us had come down from Hibbing for it. Later, I learned he had essentially organized the conference for Concordia Language Villages, and I still have the book, L’Heritage Tranquille, which was sold at the conference. Here’s what Leonard Inskip of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had to say: L’Heritage Tranquille 001

The next year, 1986, some of us from Hibbing went over to Red Lake Falls for a fall event, Le Festival Rural, which was in the town hall of the community. It was a stimulating day of immersion in things French-Canadian, including guests from St. Boniface MB. Lorraine deMillo of Hibbing had told us about the event and later wrote a summary about it for the newsletter I edited, Chez Nous: Virgil Benoit:Midwest Fr001

Time went on, and I recall seeing him at Alliance Francaise events in Minneapolis. I was at an event, Espaces du Francophone, of which he was part, which includes a photo of him at the time (1989):Espaces Francophone 1989001

At one point he came down for the St. Paul Winter Carnival and I introduced him to a couple of elderly Nun friends, French-Canadian, at Bethany Convent at the College of St. Catherine. It was a rich moment for Sr. Ann Thomasine Sampson and Sr. Ellen Murphy. They with Virgil in his buffalo coat.

Virgil and Michael Rainville with the Buffalo Coat January 20, 2012

Le Festival Rural at some point moved to rural Red Lake Falls to Huot Crossing on the Red Lake River, where the Old Crossing Treaty 1863001 transferred the rich land of Red River from the Indians to the whites. It was the last major event of the 1862 “Indian Wars” whose 150th anniversary is being commemorated this year. I traveled north for a few of these events, now called Chautauqua, all organized by Virgil Benoit.

Virgil Benoit "up north" spring 2008 photo by Anne Dunn

About 2007, Virgil had the introductory event for IF Midwest at the University of North Dakota. I was able to make it to all of the subsequent events: first in Grand Forks; thence a tour including my ancestral home parish at Oakwood, places like Pembina, Bathgate, Leroy and Belcourt; in 2010 in Bismarck, 2011 in Fargo, and now setting root in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis St. Paul.

Let’s leave it at that.

A hardy Merci Beaucoup to Dr. Benoit for celebrating a rich culture: the French-Canadians (or whatever we happen to call ourselves) of the Midwest!

Virgil Benoit with Francine Roche and her niece from Montreal, July 17, 2012, also at Cafe Aster

More about Franco-Fete here; more about French-Canadians in the Midwest here.

* (in alphabetical order): Dick Bernard, Bob Dedrick, Mike Durand, Jerry Foley, Pierre Girard, Mark Labine, Fr. Jules Omalanga, Jane Peck, Marie Trepanier, Jon Tremblay, Mary Ellen Weller

#640 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #58. The Local Election for State Legislature in SD District 53 and 53A&B

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

There is a clear choice in this years election: essentially we are choosing between a moderate Win-Win Democrat philosophy where all matter; or an increasingly extreme Republican faction where Winning is all that matters.

“Exhibit A” are the two constitutional amendments on which we’re voting. Both were ramrodded through the 2012 Republican dominated legislature, ignoring Democrat ideas and avoiding the Governor. Those amendments are, in my opinion, the face of the contrast between the two parties this November.

I’ve lived at the same address in Woodbury since October of 2000. My home is now in a new Senate and House District due to census redistricting. I’m now in Senate District 53A. Representing my District 2011-13 are Ted Lillie and Andrea Kieffer. Lillie is running to continue as Senator; Kieffer is now in neighboring 53B.

The Democrat candidates:

I am supporting Susan Kent for Senate and JoAnn Ward for House of Representatives.

Yes, I’m Democrat, but it isn’t all that simple. Kent, Ward, and Ann Marie Metzger in 53B, have a very strong sense of this community and commitment to our public schools and children. And they know business. They are multi-dimensional candidates, important in a multi-dimensional community such as ours. I would class them all, as I did Senator Kathy Saltzman and Rep. Marsha Swails, 2007-2011, as “Win-Win” candidates. To borrow a phrase from Paul Wellstone, who died ten years ago today, “we all do better when we all do better“.

I’ve known JoAnn Ward since the late 1990s when, as a school volunteer, she helped a great deal in organizing a Community Conversation About Public Schools for South Washington County ISD 833. That program was organized and funded by the National Education Association (NEA) and I was assigned to help pull it together.

JoAnn Ward was a great help as a volunteer with the School District. The conversation was a success (there need to be more such conversations.) I was delighted when I learned JoAnn Ward was running.

Recently, former ISD 833 Superintendent Tom Nelson wrote an endorsement of Susan Kent for State Senate.

While I didn’t know him personally, I do know that Supt Nelson had a long and very distinguished career as a school administrator, including time as Commissioner of Education for the State of Minnesota. His is a sterling endorsement.

While she’s not running in my part of the District, I believe Ann Marie Metzger is more than equal to the task of fairly and competently representing all of the citizens of 53B.

When I wanted to meet with her, even though I was not part of her legislative district, she took the time to actually meet with me. That impressed me. When elected, she will be ‘on the court’ for all of us.

The Republican candidates:

In my dozen years here I have gotten to know pretty well eight local candidates for state legislature. Four of these served during my time here, five ran or are running as incumbents, six are Democrat, two Republican.

From career experience, I know the process and the reality of legislating very well. It is hard work to fairly represent all points of view, and requires working together. It’s called “win-win”.

During 2010-12, when Ted Lillie and Andrea Kieffer represented my district (they’re still my legislators till January), I elected to attempt to engage constructively with both of them, even though I had strongly supported their incumbent opponents, Sen. Kathy Saltzman and Rep. Marsha Swails. My engagement was mostly handwritten letters – I know how busy it is at the legislature, and didn’t park on their doorstep. They ran primarily as candidates favoring business, so I didn’t feel much possibility of impacting on them, but I could watch and see how or if they responded at all.

Rep Kieffer was pretty good about communicating; Sen Lillie was very bad. I noted that he picked up the title of “Majority Whip”, which gave him additional power (and responsibility) in the Republican caucus. He was a leader in that caucus.

I believe Kieffer and Lillie’s signature issue – indeed that of the entire Republican majority in House and Senate, are the two constitutional amendments we are asked to vote on November 6. These amendments were ram-rodded through by the Republicans, passing on essentially party-line votes and passed specifically to avoid the Governor. Both amendments deserve to be defeated. Amending the constitution is no way to make partisan policy.

Rep. Kieffer early on pledged formally to “support all efforts to institute a requirement to show photo I.D. to access a ballot in any election for public office in the State”. I was surprised to find her unwilling to commit how she would vote on the initiative at the recent League of Women Voters Forum. Indeed, none of the Republican candidates revealed how they would vote on this, their own, initiative (the Democrats all said they’d vote no.)

The Mailers about Local Candidates

Of course, there are other kinds of communication, and I want to comment on the flood of political issue junk mail we’ve received this fall.

When the first political mailer came to our mailbox quite a while back, I decided to keep them all and see what would transpire.

Yesterday, October 24, I took out the stack. It is most interesting.

There were 31 of these easily identified mailers (which does not count 6 mailings from and in behalf of 4 candidates for office. So far no mailings have been received from two local candidates in their own behalf.

Four mailings have come from the state Republican Party (all four Anti-Susan Kent and Anti-Union.)

Two mailings have come from the state Democratic Party (both Pro-Susan Kent and Anti-Sen Lillie.)

The remaining 25 are from assorted “independent expenditure” groups which by their text are all pro-Republican, anti-Democrat and anti-Union.

The current Republican position seems basically this: there are winners and there are losers. And judging from the mailers and the Republican legislators positioning, the main, indeed sole, priority is what’s good for “business”*, and “unions”* are apparently viewed as competition and must be reined in or eliminated. It has worked in the cutthroat and vicious world that is contemporary attack politics, but it isn’t good for the greater society.

It is important to note that of the 31 outside fliers that ended up in our mailbox, 29 came from the Republican side. And none has come from Sen. Lillie himself, who apparently has plenty of friends with money for advertising in his behalf.

The sources of those mailers are worth looking into. In order of number of mailers attributed to them, here they are: Minnesota Future; Freedom Club; Pro Jobs Majority; Coalition of MN Businesses; Housing First. You may not be able to learn much about who is behind them; but their fruits have been in your mailboxes.

Freedom Club, with a Champlin MN PO box and no website I can find, deserves special scrutiny. It is the group which bankrolled the huge Lillie billboard just east of 3M. It exists mostly in Federal Election Commission Reports (FEC) and occasional news articles about it. It appears to be a closed-membership cooperative of a very few individuals, 90% or more men. We likely will not know its true expenditures until the FEC reports at the end of January, 2013. The last report deadline was September 30, so any subsequent expenditures are hidden for the next three months.

Similarly, Minnesota Future is not at all transparent. It seems much like a “trojan horse” group, initially founded on a premise that got some interesting endorsers (still on its website), but whose agenda in this election is very different.

Vote for the reasonable candidates who really care about our entire community November 7: Susan Kent for Senate; JoAnn Ward and Ann Marie Metzger for House of Representatives.

And after this election lobby for major changes in the way that elections are funded. Our democracy is imperiled.

* – “Business” and “Union” are generic terms that are best not judged generically. The political posturing, especially from the contemporary Republicans, is that “business” is all that matters; and that “unions” should cease to exist. Neither business nor union are monoliths, and should not be considered as such.

#639 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #57. “God Bless the Uns”

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

In his homily, Sunday, at Basilica of St. Mary, Fr. Greg Welch recited a declaration in behalf of the “uns”, spoken by Cardinal Dolan at the Al Smith dinner in New York City last week.

Of course, about all that is newsworthy about the Al Smith dinner is the Presidential candidates poking fun at themselves in front of the elite of New York City. I don’t recall any other mention of Cardinal Dolan’s remarks, which I easily found on the internet, here.

The remarks are well worth the brief time necessary to read them.

Here is the specific section about the “uns”, as articulated by Cardinal Dolan at the Al Smith Dinner:

“– the un-employed

– the un-insured

– the un-wanted

– the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb;

– the un-documented

– the un-housed

– the un-healthy

– the un-fed

– the under-educated.”

Interesting words I’m well familiar with, as a life-long Catholic.

I was also interested in another more complicated topic diplomatically touched on by the Cardinal in these remarks. He welcomed:

Catholics, Christians, Jews, Latter-Day Saints, people of no particular creed;

people of wealth, yes, but some folks as well who barely get by…

Politics makes for all sorts of rhetorical gymnastics.

Of the list of “uns”, the hierarchical Catholic Church – the management, if you will – pays lots of attention to only one of Dolan’s listed “uns”. I don’t need to spotlight which un that is.

The rest of the uns have been traditional roles for the Church, but are no particular priorities to the hierarchical institution. They are the past “laurels” on which the institutional church rests its reputation. For a time this past summer the Nuns on a Bus tour emphasized these, and the dissonance with Republican philosophy.

Temporal power is the churches emphasis these days: to stop birth control; to give its most zealous members priority status when it comes to what moral rules to follow, or, alternatively, to determine what others practices might be, even if the others have different beliefs.

As a friend powerfully noted recently: “A bumper sticker I saw this past week on an automobile parked in a supermarket parking lot: If the fetus you are trying to save turns out to be gay or lesbian will you fight for its rights? Kind of says it all, doesn’t it.”

In fact, this Catholic hierarchy, including Dolan, wants in power the party least interested in the well-being of most of the “uns”. As some would define them, most uns are “takers” not “makers”. As Governor Romney himself so clearly defined them, they are the 47% who are to be disdained.

But the Al Smith Dinner was a political gathering, in behalf of Catholic Charities, where the rich and powerful gather for an evening of fun and frivolity. And the Presidential candidates were there. And maybe one or two lesser folks, invited to represent the “poor ones”.

Cardinal Dolan welcomed, of course, all creeds to his gathering.

The conservative Christian power structure, including Catholis, is having a “come to Jesus” moment when it comes to religious tolerance, now with a Latter Day Saint as its standard bearer.

Mormons never counted as Christians in any sense of the word, and this is until very recent times. Two or three years ago, in Salt Lake City, a place I have visited often, I saw a sign posted outside the Catholic Cathedral, on Cathedral grounds and thus sanctioned, more or less lampooning the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” whose world headquarters was within sight, just blocks down the street.

In my 1955 Baltimore Catechism – the book used when I was being confirmed – much print space was taken to define the Catholic Church (then considered to have 37.5% of Americans as members). It is now about one-fourth.

In 1955, Mormons, Latter Day Saints, didn’t make the Christian cut.

The new tolerance is certainly a phenomenon of a “latter day”, and probably temporary if Romney loses.

(click on illustrations to enlarge)

Baltimore Catechism 1955 page 21

Back in the good old days when I was growing up, when Catholics and Protestants were in pretty active conflict, there was off and on talk about Catholic gymnastics: how we knelt, sat and stood during Mass, and the Priest rarely looked at the flock, except during the sermon. It puzzled the curious from other faiths.

Today there is a new conservative Christian gymnastics, easily understood, though at the same time quite puzzling. Religious Belief marries Secular Political Doctrine with not always positive results.

Baltimore Catechism p. 37

Baltimore Catechism 1955 p. 19

Baltimore Catechism 1955 p. 32

Of course, this commentary/argument can be endless…and perhaps, pointless too.

The Al Smith dinner, and the remarks at that dinner, are not directed to the “widows mite” crowd; rather more to the bunch who have earned their riches on earth, and will have the biblical problem of being like the camel going through the eye of a needle heading into heaven (including Cardinal Dolan and most of us Americans who are pretty well off).

(“Amen I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who have been putting money into the treasury. For they all have put in out of their abundance; but she out of her want has put in all that she had – all that she had to live on.” Mk 13:43-44; “And further I say to you it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 19:24)

The people in that room, whoever they were, control how their riches are spent, including to who or what they contribute.

The Smith dinner was not a celebration of the “uns”, rather than a recognition of the “haves”.

Here’s a closing comment politically related from someone I know who is much closer to the New York City “haves” than to the “uns”:


In the spirit of “let’s just laugh because politics is bullshit” I thought I would send this along. President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney spoke at the Al Smith dinner last week. The beauty of this event was the humanity that both candidates showed – THEY let go. No one won, this is not a politically motivated email…I know MANY on this list disagree with whatever view they perceive I have. That said, it is just FUN! These two guys NEED TO and DO make fun of each other and themselves…It brought a level of CIVILITY to a press oriented contest that I applaud.

That said…I am RESPECTFULLY asking for no replies or political views. THIS IS NOT intended to stir a debate, but to HAVE FUN. I have not sent any political emails to date…and I won’t send ANY! This one brings up Mitt Romney but there is a link on the right pane for President Obama’s! IT IS EQUALLY AS GOOD IF NOT BETTER ON MANY COUNTS – WATCH THEM BOTH – IT WILL TAKE 20 minutes out of your lives to laugh at the 20 months of BS we have listened to!!!!”

The correspondent says his comment isn’t political, and wants no replies….

I’ll respect his wishes.

But note this: he has his say; he says he doesn’t want to hear mine, or anyone elses.

This is sort of how it works, eh?

For other posts on Election 2012, simply put the words in the Search Box and click. A list will come up.

#638 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #56. Political Lyin’

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Tonight is the third “debate” (I really don’t consider them debates at all – they are more political theatre, like two gladiators in the Coliseum in ancient Rome.) Unlike the Coliseum, every frown, misspoken word, will be captured for posterity, to be sliced out and to be used ad infinitum forever…at least until the election, then stored away to be used whenever it is convenient.

This noon I was at the Minneapolis Club waiting with my host for his two other guests. He and another man, like him a long-time and older member of this very exclusive club of less than 1000 members, engaged briefly in conversation about tonights debate.

Neither was certain they’d take time to watch it. Lying came up. No candidate name was mentioned, though it would be a fair guess that it will be the other candidate – whichever one they don’t support – who will be judged to have crossed the line; and it will depend on what fact-checker is relied on to support the claim that the candidate lied.

Such is how it is in the American political conversation. Unfortunately, most of us who care are pretty hard-wired into our final position.

“They all lie”, one of my relatives likes to say, which is her rationalization for supporting her own personal choices for office. He or she lies too: she just likes them better: “he seems like a nice man”.

A few days ago I responded to the most recent lying “forward” from an arch-conservative friend in Colorado.

As is my custom, I respond to everyone on the open cc list, and one person, a long-time friend, wrote back: “Not as false as the outright lies of Obama”, with no specifics offered of course.

I responded back “Thanks for response. Probably we have very little to talk about, politically. I have followed politics pretty closely for a very long time, including hundreds of those ‘forwards’ from _________, almost all since 2010, virtually all of which are false, but seemingly accepted as truth by the one who forwards them. The only true ones are those where somebody who is said to have written some screed or other is the one who actually wrote it. I always reply to anyone and everyone who sends this stuff on. Gets tiring, but I never ask to be taken off of any list.”

I included a link to a previous blogpost on the topic. (This isn’t the only one I’ve written on the topic.)

So it goes.

I’m not sure I’ll watch the so-called debate tonight.

Both candidate will be on his guard against making inadvertent statements – rather fragments of statements – that can be used against them tomorrow.

Then the true barrage of political advertising – most of it so misleading as to be false, especially the independent expenditures against candidates – will take control of our lives.

Two weeks to go.

Thank goodness, it will soon be over.

But before it’s over, prepare to vote very well-informed on all your local races on November 6.

Minnesotans, here’s how you can find out who’s running in your local area.

UPDATE: October 23: I watched only fragments of the debate. Here’s a summary of analyses of the debate from a blogger who I respect.

Other related posts: enter Election 2012 in the search box.

#637 – Dick Bernard: George McGovern. A Memory

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

George McGovern has died. He was 90 at the time of his death in Sioux Falls.

Permit me a memory of a great man and humanitarian.

October 21, 2005 – 7 years ago today, it was a Friday – at the Bell Museum Theater at the University of Minnesota, we went to see the film about George McGovern: “For One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern“. As I recounted below, in P&J #968 on October 23, 2005, we apparently sat very near him, and afterwards I stood in line to get an autographed copy of his book, described below. I still have that book. Here’s the cover and his autograph: G McGovern Ending Hunger001

Here’s what I wrote, after that evening:

I remember I voted for George McGovern in 1972 and before him Hubert Humphrey in 1968 – from the earliest I never felt any trust for Nixon.

But other than that, politics was for me, then, a pretty passive activity.

Friday night in a little less than three hours many of the blanks of that time period were filled in for me.

The new documentary, For One Bright Shining Moment, The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern, brought it all back.

We watched the documentary only a few seats away from George McGovern himself, who spoke and answered questions before and after the showing. We and several hundred others had One Bright Shining Moment in the soft-spoken but powerful presence of greatness. (What I heard him say is at the end of this P&J).

It was a peak moment for me.

The ‘60s and early 70s passed me by, politically, though I was voting age the whole time, and voted. Life happened for me, then, and was too great a distraction.

In the climactic political year of 1968 I was in my third years as a single parent of a youngster who had just turned four – his Mom had died in 1965. I knew that Lyndon Johnson chose not to run for a second term in ‘68; I knew of the chaos surrounding the Democratic convention in Chicago. Heroes fell early that year, and not only in Vietnam: Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy. I remember a short by-myself-in-my-’65-Volkswagen-bug geography tour through the east in August of ’68, driving through part of the wreckage that was post-riot Washington D.C. (map here)

In 1972, when Nixon steam-rollered George McGovern, winning 49 of 50 states in the greatest Presidential election rout in American history, I was in a brand new job doing something I had never done before: staff person for a large public employee union bargaining its first contract under my state’s first full-fledged collective bargaining law for public employees. A competing union wanted our status as exclusive representative and that and the companion contract negotiations were too big distractions. (We prevailed in that political campaign, and got our first contract that late summer.)

In between, before and after, Vietnam raged. For awhile in the late fall of 1969 one of my brothers stayed with us for awhile; he was a fighter bomber pilot in Vietnam whose plane had gone down in a mid-air refueling collision over Thailand, and he got lucky – his only damage some burns that had him in hospital and then on leave for some months.

May 4, 1970, the tragedy at Kent State happened. And so it went.

The film views the 60s through the lens of file footage, and through interviews with several people, most of whose names will be instantly recognizable to anyone old enough to remember that time in history.

I think McGovern was a candidate of real substance in the insane (to me) game of U.S. killer national and even state and local politics. Politics is not a game for the weak of ego. A WWII bomber pilot, McGovern’s passion was for an end to the Vietnam War…even when he was virtually a lone voice. He identified with the powerless more so than most in the political game. His Army of volunteers created a grassroots organization seldom seen in this country and reflected the best that is the U.S. His was a powerful campaign that in the end ‘flamed out’ for reasons which each can see (and many of my age remember) for themselves. Still, even in the end, 40% of the voters in this country voted for him. His is a political career that progressives ought to study carefully.

Hubert Humphrey does not get too kind a portrayal in the film, and maybe that’s the gentle criticism Mr. McGovern expressed about it before we saw it – though he wasn’t specific. But Humphrey was an extremely competitive man – you don’t get to even vice-president without a ‘killer instinct’ – and when one of you, there in the same auditorium, said you didn’t care for the small Humphrey-bashing aspect of the film I thought of a little quote of HHH which I included in last years Christmas letter.

McGovern remains a passionate person, and ending hunger in our time (we bought his book “The Third Freedom Ending Hunger in Our Time”) is at the top of his list. This is not a new passion for him. JFK had him as Special Assistant for a new Food for Peace program 1961-63.

Someone asked Mr. McGovern to comment on what he would do, today, if in the office of commander in chief.

As I recall it, he said he would do four things:
1) Get our troops our of Iraq
2) Re-deploy the National Guard and Reserves, and the vast resources spent on Iraq, to rebuild the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina
3) Reinstitute some form of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) of the 1930s.
4) Write a ‘one sentence bill’ (he called it) extending Medicare initially to every child six or under, thenceforth every year further expanding Medicare until everyone is covered.

Someone else inquired about the general task of Liberal message development. His answer was quite succinct. After saying that this country needs more than just one hugely dominant political party, he suggested that Conservatives, when confronting Liberals, be asked two simple questions: 1) what are some popular initiatives supported and advanced by Liberals which were opposed by Conservatives (things like Social Security and many other initiatives come to mind; 2) what are some Conservative successes that were supported by Liberals (things like the Interstate Highway System come to mind.) The succinct suggestion is that Conservatives come around, ultimately embracing things they originally tried to defeat; Liberals are more open to positive changes that impact people’s lives in a positive way. Liberal initiatives tend to benefit the greater number for the greater good. (Who coined the phrase, “if you want to live Republican, vote Democrat”)?

But that’s just my opinion of what he said.

Others may differ.

Go see the film.

PS: He offered a comment about a visit to Houston to visit the ‘refugees’ as he called them in the wake of Katrina. He recalled visiting with a man who had a wife and five children. He asked the man why he didn’t leave before the storm struck. The man said he didn’t have a car, and when the hurricane struck (which was, after all, at the end of the month) they had $6 to their name. If he had managed to get them out of town, they wouldn’t have been able to afford a place to stay, and all of the uncertainty led them to stay, so he boarded up his windows, hoping they could ride it out. McGovern said that was one of several similar stories he heard.

from Kathy: Also, McGovern wrote a book called Terry about the pain of his daughter Terry’s alcoholism.

Molly: Thanks, Dick. I forwarded it to a friend who spent most of her life in SD, and was also a devoted fan. This was perfect for a day I knew she’d be doing some grieving.

Mike: In 1992 Pat and I were in DC for the Clinton inauguration and we went to a post inauguration reception at one of the House Office Buildings. The MN House delegation were the hosts, but McGovern was there as well, greeting people with mutual acknowledgements of their help. Guests thanking McGovern for coalescing the progressives into a more powerful body, while the senator thanked them for their work to get Clinton elected.

I believe when our daughter Leah received her MBA in 1992 from St. Thomas, McGovern delivered the commencement address. Her in-laws (committed Republicans) attended and McGovern was probably the last person they would have wanted to hear speak.

#636 – Dick Bernard: “I DID IT!” Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

Thursday night with the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra was, I thought, as good as it could get.

But that was before the Saturday afternoon performance of Willy Wonka by a great bunch of thespians from Proact.

The Orchestra and conductor Skrowaczewski got their deserved standing ovations; so did the cast bringing to life Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Here’s the program booklet for today’s performance: Proact Players W Wonka001


The actors and actresses in today’s performance were all people of exceptional abilities, including my daughter Heather, who is Down Syndrome and is a charmer of the first order. In the casting, she was listed as Oompa Loompa/Grandma Josephine, and was on stage as the play began.

(click on photos to enlarge)

Heather, third from left, under the blanket.

By the time the one hour play ended, the full-house audience displayed all the enthusiasm of the Orchestra crowd on Thursday.

The cast and all connected with the performance deserved the accolades.

The cast on stage, October 20, 2012

Applause over, and treats awaiting in the lobby, cast and crew joined the audience.

Heather came down, exclaiming “I DID IT!”, reminding me of the same exclamation by someone else a year or so ago. You can read it here.

WOW! What a lesson….

Cathy, Heather, Dick after the performance.

#635 – Dick Bernard: An evening of resonance in the midst of dissonance with the LoMoMo (Locked out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra) and Maestro Stanislaw Skrowaczewski

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

UPDATE: October 20, 2012. Page E1 of Variety Section of Minneapolis Star Tribune by Larry Fuchsberg, here.

(click to enlarge all photos)
The musicians union website is here; e-address contact@MinnesotaOrchestraMusiciansDOTorg.

A volunteer at Minneapolis Convention Center Auditorium October 18, 2012

To the best of my recollection, this is the first time I’ve published two blog posts on the same day. (#634 is below, on this same page.)

Insignificant as my little blog space on the internet might be, this is my tribute to a great orchestra.

From the beginning when I saw the first “Labor” button, to the last of many standing ovations for an exhausted Stanislas Skrowaczewski and his great band, tonight with the musicians of Mn Orchestra was a magnificent experience.

There are major management problems at the Minnesota Orchestra (MSO).

The Orchestra Board has locked out its Orchestra, apparently refusing to negotiate, except on its terms. More in a moment on this. Here is the Union position as distributed this evening after its performance: MN Orchestra Union Posit001 The management position can be found below, in #634.

Here is the program all of us received this evening: Orch Program Oct 18 2012001

We gathered at the large auditorium at Minneapolis Convention Center Oct. 18. It was a full house, someone said 2100 of us in the audience.

I would guess that most of us were regulars at the Orchestra. I saw several I knew: Andy Driscoll from KFAI; the Borgens, the Harings, the Knutsons (who didn’t see me). There were likely others somewhere in that large, crowded space.

Unusual for the Orchestra, after warmup, all members exited the stage, then all filed in to sustained and greatly affectionate applause. We saw one of the violinists was in tears. I’m guessing there were others in the band similarly affected.

Then, to an equal or even greater positive response, came Maestro Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. At 89, the maestro marked his 52nd consecutive year making at least one appearance at the podium of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Skrowaczewski led the Orchestra from 1960-79, during which time it changed its name from Minneapolis to Minnesota Symphony, and it was under his leadership that the new concert hall was built in downtown Minneapolis – a hall presently closed for renovation.

An October 6 letter to the editor by Skrowaczewski and other emeritus conductors of MSO concerning the management-labor conflict was posted in the lobby.

October 18, 2012 - lobby

Tonight we were in magnificent company. From the opening Star Spangled Banner, to the last measures of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, in D Minor, Opus 47, where some members of the audience stood in silent tribute to something important and as yet unknown to me, I felt I was part of a very important event in American labor history. (A clue to the answer to my question might be found here, note the section on the Composition).

Tomorrow will dawn, and it will be back to the work of getting a settlement and getting back to the work of making wonderful music.

It will not be easy.

I spent an entire career, in person, trying to make sense of small and large disputes between management and labor, and I know the dynamics and angst likely going on within the union itself, and how difficult it is to find a way to help someone who has made a stupid mistake – in this case Minnesota Orchestra management – save face so that they can at least settle and at least appear like winners.

When you plant your feet in cement, the cement hardens, you’re stuck, and someone has to help you out….

Having “been there, done that”, I hesitate to make judgements on labor-management issues from outside.

Best as I can tell, though, the Musicians Union has done the right thing.

Now the right thing for us is to give support in the many ways available to us.

Bravo to the Orchestra. Bravo to Maestro Skrowaczewski. Bravo to those volunteers, and Bravo to all of us who give support.


A few snapshots:

The Orchestra rises to be recognized by the audience October 18.

Sam Bergman explains the issues after intermission.

Maestro Skrowaczewski takes one of many bows.

Skrawaczewski's final bow October 18

Judy: This one made me cry. We are so very blessed to have this magnificent orchestra in our midst. Please, please hang in there folks. We desperately need you. What is life without music?

Will: Graydon Royce [Minneapolis Star Tribune] wrote in his review today that a few civic officials finally are getting off the dime to try to achieve a settlement for both orchestras. It’s going to take more than that.

I urge separate letters to the [St. Paul Pioneer Press] PP and [Minneapolis Star-Tribune] S-T now briefly recapping last night but urging the governor and the leaders of both Houses to get involved now.

Ask them publicly why they [went all out] for Zygi Wilf and a football team that extorts big bucks from the state treasury and adds nothing to the commonweal but not for two orchestras which are the crown jewels of Minnesota’s cultural community.

Jermitt: Great Blogs on the lock-out. Thanks for sharing….

(in responses, below)
Andy : Great blog, great concert, incredible orchestra. We were as caught up in that as any rally we’ve ever attended. The stunning performances of the Dvorak and Shostakovich had to have been better for the support given those great musicians.

Good to see you there last night, Dick. Keep on keepin’ on.

Nancy: Although musicians honor the composers and performance traditions, and are sustaining an art form into the future, the most important relationship an orchestra has is with its audience. They’re why we do it!

#634 – Dick Bernard: Supporting the Locked-out Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Union

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Tonight we go to a special concert given by the locked out Minnesota Orchestra. The details of the concert are here.

You likely still have an opportunity to attend this concert.

At the very least, become aware of the issues in this most important attempt to break the back of a proud union of outstanding musicians.

Last week I submitted the below op ed to the Minneapolis Star Tribune which was declined for publication.

Stand with the Orchestra, and with union workers everywhere.

To the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

I’ll be keeping the Oct. 11 column by Jon Campbell and Richard E. Davis about the financial woes of the Orchestra (Orchestra Makes a Stand). Later they made sure we Minnesota Orchestra subscribers had a chance to see the column, through an e-mail.

We’re small fry within the MnOrch family, but regulars. This year as most always a six-concert series and perhaps an occasional additional performance. We’re the half-dollar customer versus the $1000 contributor (translation: $500 a year versus a $1,000,000 benefactor.)

Some years ago a docent who’s a friend happened to notice my ticket, and remarked we must’ve been orchestra fans for a long time – we had a relatively low subscriber number. The revelation surprised me.

But we’ve sat in row four behind the podium at Orchestra Hall for a long time. We were in the hall when guest conductor Itzhak Perlman took his scary (but still graceful) tumble off the platform; when Eije Oue led the Orchestra in the Star Spangled Banner in September 2001.

We saw the memorial rose on the vacant chair of the violinist who had died of cancer….

And now we see this failed negotiations where the Big People with the Purse are saying “enough is enough”.

Good fiddlers are a dime a dozen, after all.

I spent an entire career in and around negotiations as part of a union, so I have a strong sense of what goes on when there’s a labor conflict.

Both sides own their version of truth, and as Campbell and Davis are doing, management holds the financial hammer and thus, they will presume, control.

It is not quite so easy.

I find myself not terribly interested in exchanging my season tickets for other kinds of programs – we’ve got the e-mail and the phone call.

$500 is serious money to us, but I’m willing to take the hit in support of the musicians union.

At minimum that $500 for tickets translated into another $500 from us for Minneapolis business: eating, parking and the like. Every dollar counts.

For the Orchestra itself, the problem with we small fry is much longer term.

I’ve had season tickets for quite a number of years. Once you lose loyalty of customers like me, it is not easy to rebuild it.

And it is we little people who will sustain this operation in the long term, not the big benefactors who are carefully watching the return on investment in the Orchestra endowment.

For obvious reasons, my heart is with the musicians union.

I know there are two sides to every story, and Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis articulate only their own very biased side.

Find a way to settle.


I sent this opinion on to the LoMoMo and received this response from a locked out Orchestra member serving a PR function for the Union. Speaking in support has real meaning. Consider sending your own letter of support, today.

You will get a another thank you from someone who is better at words than I…..but I wanted to let you know right away how wonderful your oped made me feel. I will send it to the entire Orchestra (we compile letters each week). You have been through so much with us…..thank you for your support. We are deeply grateful.
on behalf of
The PR Committee
Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra