Friday, July 31, 2009

Down with Dobbs

I leave CNN whenever the Lou Dobbs Show comes on and I want thousands and thousands of others to do it, too!
by Charlie Leck

I ain't gonna watch that show no more, no more!
I aint' gonna watch that show no more
I'm sorry to write about this subject on two consecutive days, but I'm really getting burned about the arrogance and conceit of Lou Dobbs. There's a lot I like about CNN, but I'm getting ready to personally boycott the channel until they get rid of Dobbs.

MSNBC is a perfect substitute for me whenever the Lou Dobbs stupidity comes on over at CNN. It's not a difficult change to make. At 6 o'clcok, my time, I just slide on over to MSNBC and I usually end up staying there all evening.

I'm just not going to allow my intelligence to be snubbed and insulted by Lou Dobbs anymore. Dobbs is like a broken record. There's nothing new with this man. He's just a sniveling idiot. He snivels at this and snivels at that.
Dobbs has nothing constructive or positive to offer. He lacks creativity and so he just keeps on singing the same song over and over and over again.

But, it was his latest encouragement of "the birthers" in the nation -- those people claiming President Obama was not born in America -- that has really got me ticked off. Dobbs keeps saying the whole thing would be ended if Obama would just produce his birth certificate. Obama has clearly done that. The certificate is on file and copies have been made available to hundreds of representatives of the press. (See image below!)

Hawaii has destroyed, by legislative order, all of its paper files and provides digital image copies of those old records, including the President's birth certificate. Somehow, "the birthers" consider this some kind of conspiriatorial fraud. Amazing! There are copies of newspaper birth announcements from the time that also announce the birth of Barack Obama. That's still not enough.

Such people are complete whackos and they should not be encouraged. It's crazy that Dobbs would do so.

If you want to speak out against Lou Dobbs and registered your disappointment with CNN, I provided an easy way to do it on my blog yesterday.

The Barack Obama birth certificate as provided by the State of Hawaii.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lou Dobbs Must Go

I’ve been asking about the qualifications and methodology of Lou Dobbs for more than two years!
by Charlie Leck

Lou Dobbs doesn’t belong on CNN. He should be over there on FOX. He is always so righteously angry and bitter. He goes on and on with his rage and attacks. He’s not a news man and, against everything he claims, he’s not a business journalist. Lou Dobbs is a shouter. He knows how to sneer and snicker. He doesn’t know how to be a newsman. CNN should get rid of Lou Dobbs.

The recent credibility he’s given to the movement to portray President Obama as something other than a U.S. citizen has been incredible.

James Rucker, of the Color of Change, recently wrote asking that I – and you – join the voices that are asking CNN to get rid of Lou Dobbs. Here is Rucker’s letter. I ask you to read it and join me in putting our names on the list of those who want Dobbs to go.

Dear friends,

CNN's Lou Dobbs has been using his show to give life to conspiracy theories claiming President Obama wasn't born in the U.S. The question was put to rest long ago, but Dobbs is pretending that this extremist nonsense is a legitimate national conversation.

Dobbs, intentionally or not, is stoking the fires of racial fear and paranoia in the same way that the McCain/Palin campaign did when they cast Obama as "not one of us." Even after being called on it, he refuses to stop.

CNN claims to be "the most trusted name in news," yet it is allowing one of its hosts to give legitimacy to debunked, racist conspiracy theories. Will you join me in calling on CNN to dump Dobbs -- and ask your friends and family to do the same? It takes just a minute:

For more than a year, folks on the far right have been claiming that Obama is not a U.S. citizen, that he was born in Kenya, and that as a result he can't be president. The theory has been repeatedly debunked. Not only has the state of Hawaii produced a birth certificate several times, there were also birth announcements in two separate Hawaii papers when Obama was born, placing his birth in Hawaii--for most reasonable people, that would remove any doubt.

Members of Dobbs' own staff have said they're uncomfortable with his insistence on pursuing this story, but Dobbs insists on claiming there must be something to it because "Obama refuses to produce the long-form of his birth certificate." Other news outlets have refused to give the idea any credence. The head of MSNBC, Phil Griffin, had this to say about the claim: "It's racist. It's racist. Just call it for what it is."

Dobbs and race
Lou Dobbs has a history of attacking immigrants by spouting hateful rhetoric and lies. He once claimed that "the invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans" through "deadly imports" of diseases like leprosy and malaria. This kind of rhetoric feeds anti-immigrant hate, which has led to horrors like the
beating death of Luis Ramirez in Pennsylvania and the shooting death of 9-year old Brisenia Flores in Arizona earlier this year. Dobb's role in creating this environment has led organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to call on CNN to reign in Dobbs in the past.

Now Dobbs is going after Obama by giving voice to the same kind of xenophobic rhetoric, stoking the deep-seated fears of angry right-wing extremists who, as CNN analyst Roland Martin has said, can't accept the fact that their president is Black.
Dobbs may not like Obama. But it's a real problem for him to use his powerful position as a moderator of discussion about the news to validate a dangerous falsehood that's rooted in racism.

Several watchdog groups have demanded action on the part of CNN. The head of the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote CNN last week asking that they fire Dobbs based on his recent actions9. Media Matters and others have launched efforts to hold CNN accountable as well.

CNN has the opportunity to live up to its description of itself as the most trusted cable news network. Or it can start to look like FOX, where the legitimizing of extremist propaganda is part of doing business.

I've joined in calling on Jon Klein, the president of CNN, to take Dobbs off the air. Will you join us, and ask your friends and family to do the same?

Thanks. Here are some links to more info:

Lou Dobbs Show, CNN, 7-23-09

"Mob scene or campaign rally?", 10-14-08

"(Still) Challenging Obama's birth certificate," Politics Daily, 11-24-08

"CNN chief addresses Obama birth controversy," LA Times, 7-25-09

"On Television and Radio, Talk of Obama's Citizenship," The New York Times, 7-24-09

"CNN's Immigration Problem," Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, 4-24-06

"Broken Record," Intelligence Report, Winter 2005

"CNN's Martin: Birthers' "I want my country back" comment means "How is this black guy all of the sudden running the country?" Media Matters, 7-22-09

"Major Civil Rights Group Demands CNN Remove Lou Dobbs From The Air," Huffington Post, 7-24-09

"CNN's Dobbs Problem," Media Matters

Additional resources:

"CNN president Jon Klein declares Obama birther story 'dead,'"
LA Times blog, 7-4-09

"CNN President brushes off criticism of Lou Dobbs' continued floating of 'birther' theories," Who Runs Gov blog, 7-24-09
I hope you'll sign this petition to get rid of Dobbs. Don’t worry about his employment. FOX will snap him up. He’s their kind of guy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dining on Memories

This French Restaurant was right across the street from my childhood home.

From Minnesota to New Jersey and back in an evening! I’m going to let you in on a personal conversation.
by Charlie Leck

Fred, a classmate from high school days, is visiting us right now. We are trying to show him the lovely side of Minnesota. He keeps talking about the mosquitoes – something Minnesotans have learned to ignore and survive. We keep talking about the wonderful, cool temperatures and the refreshing breezes that blow in off the lake. He keeps returning to yesteryear and the area in New Jersey where we grew up as kids. Last night we dined at one of my favorite restaurants in our area – a comfortable place called The Bluepoint. Even though there is no “r” in the month’s name, we started off with a platter of oysters – Bluepoints and some others from Prince Edward Island. How remarkably different the flavors were.

Another local friend and fellow blogger, Sam Stern, joined us for dinner. Sam writes Prairie Ponderings. Fred reads his blog and had suggested he’d like to meet him. Sam and I were reminiscing about the place where we were beginning dinner with a drink and remembering that it first opened as a really fine French restaurant. Fred countered by taking me back to my home town in New Jersey.

“You know, Charlie,” he said (Fred always, somehow, gets a ‘w’ inserted in the pronunciation of my name, like ‘Chawrlie). Anyway, he was off on a story about my home town.

“Chawrlie, the first French restaurant I ever ate in was in your little town of Chester. My parents took me there when I was a little kid. Oh, it was wonderful. Do you remember what it was called?”

It was a challenged thrown at me by Fred. He’s always doing that. He likes to stump me. He tried to get me by asking if I knew who Hunter Thompson was. My goodness, who wouldn’t know about Thompson and his novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the Gonzo journalism movement.

“Sure I remember, Freddy. It was the Auburge Proven├žale,” I told him.

I tried to think of the name of the owners, a husband and wife. His name was Pierre, I think. They were lovely and very French people. They stopped in our store, which was immediately across the street from their restaurant, to buy the newspapers from New York City. Sometimes they’d sit and have a cup of coffee. They liked a hot roast beef sandwich that my mother served occasionally and, if it was available on the days when they were closed up, they’d order it and chat with my parents as they munched away. The sandwich was made with very rare, paper thin slices of roast beef that were piled on a bun and smothered with dark, rich gravy. A pile of potato chips was served on the side.

I never ate in their expensive restaurant. We didn’t spend money that way – at least on children who wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.

Fred, though, was unusual, or strange. He matured more quickly than all of us in that class at high school. He had plenty of experience. His parents were people of the world and traveled often to “the shore” or into “the city.”

Though Freddy grew up only 9 miles away from my home town, it was like a different world. While we were a small, very rural and nearly a farm town, Fred was surrounded by people who worked in business and education and often computed into big communities like Morristown or Dover.

The more we talked about our young lives – those grade school years before we even met each other – the more we discovered similarities. The fact that he was from a Jewish home and I from a Protestant Christian home really didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

We chatted about how hard our respective fathers worked and how few men can work at that level these days. Fred’s dad had a grocery store and he would rise before the sun every day and drive from Succasunna all the way to Newark to buy fresh produce for his store. Once the van was loaded, he’d make the trip back in time for “opening.”

We talked, too, about childhood friends and he mentioned how much he liked my blog about Toby and I. He described the closeness of his friendship with Nick. They’d grown up as friends from a very young age and remain strong friends today. In all that time they’d only ever had one disagreement.

“It was a real estate matter,” Fred said. “We owned a pup tent together and there was some major disagreement about something – like who would keep it or something – and we couldn’t resolve it. I finally had to sell out my shares to him.”

My wife seemed vaguely interested in our reminiscences, but I’m betting poor Sam was bored stiff. He put up with it, however, and enjoyed his Oysters Rockefeller and then a nice platter of fish.

On and on we went, each with his own childhood stories. Sam was allowed in when the topic turned to living as a Jew in a Christian environment. Fred talked about classrooms where the Lord ’s Prayer was said. That’s not exactly a comfortable thing for a Jewish boy. It continues, as Sam pointed out, even to this day. He’s a Rotarian. Prayers at meetings are often concluded with a mention of Jesus. I’ve experienced the same thing at clubs and associations to which I’ve belonged. Such insensitivity has always disturbed me, but if one tries to explain it to a “born again Christian” one gets nowhere.

There was another bad automobile accident just up the road from where we live. Four people were killed yesterday when their SUV collided head on with a huge dump truck. Something happened in that vehicle to distract the driver. Police are investigating. It was a big part of our dinner time conversation. Two weeks ago two motorcycles collided head-on just within a mile of the same spot. One of them pulled out to pass a car. Both of the cyclers died.

Pay attention when you drive, we warned one another. Don’t let yourself get distracted by cell phones, dogs in the car or routine conversation. Driving a car is serious stuff and you’ve a big responsibility when you have passengers.

I’ve allowed you in, for just a few moments, to one of my personal conversations. If you think there’s nothing to learn from it, you weren’t listening carefully.

Fred, in a contemplative moment!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I struggle to remember and can only wish that I would remember more!
by Charlie Leck

Can I really vaguely remember the moment of the photograph above? Or, am I just remembering moments like it, when my father would frolic with me in the snow? Or, do I just simply remember moments sledding on the big piles of winter snow in front of my father’s general store?

I would have been less than 3 years old in this photograph. It was probably taken during the winter of 1943, at the very time World War II was raging in Europe and the South Pacific. I cannot remember particulars about those war moments, but I can remember a general mood of darkness, despair and desperateness. I remember grown women and men, crying in the store and in the company of my parents. News would arrive about someone’s death across the sea. It was as if the breath was taken from the planet for just an instant. There was a desperate attempt to catch one’s breath; then there was crying and painful moaning. Moments such as those were frightening to a 3 year old.

My mother held the sobbing, desperate woman in her big, strong arms. She had lost someone to the war. A son? A husband? A brother? I remember only the sobbing and my mother’s arms enveloping that poor soul.

I remember this photograph. I remember being in my father’s arms as I sat on that sled. I remember him laughing. These were difficult times and we did not laugh often. So many young boys were off to the war. Everyone was aware that some would not come home. It was a truth that hung on every moment of the day and covered us all like a thick, heavy cloud.

I remember my father huddling sometimes, during quiet moments, near the radio. He listened intently to the news of war. The news was glum. The Germans had taken control of Paris and France. They were bombing London and other industrial cities in England. Japan seemed to be ruling the Pacific and folks were wondering if they would dare attack California.

I remember nights when we were plunged into darkness. A siren would sound and everyone would rush around turning off all the lights. We would sit in darkness, aware that it was only a practice drill this time. There were no guiding lights for planes above to use. There were no targets. Darkness lay everywhere across the town and out over the fields. It was a time of war. At that time, the war was over there, across the wide, wide sea; yet, I remember that everyone wondered if it would come to our land, too. In the darkness, my sister held me close to her and tried to make everything all right.

I remember rationing certificates. There were gasoline pumps at our store during the war. My father would only supply gasoline to those who had certificates. Gasoline needed to be saved for the war effort. People walked more. It was difficult to repair an automobile. Parts were rationed also. Mechanics were in short supply. Other things, like milk, cheese, sugar and chocolate were also rationed. I remember that my father had access to ration coupons and that he would occasionally help out some poor soul by slipping him a coupon or two.

I also remember the Honor Roll. I was in awe of it. During the war it was constructed in a small park right out in front of “our store.” The names of the boys and men of our town who had served in war were painted on the sign. I stood looking at it one day as someone explained that the little stars were put beside the names of those who did not come home, but were killed in service to our nation. It was a heavy thought for a small boy to carry and it weighted me down. I often wandered over to the honor roll sign to see if any new names were posted, if any new stars were added.

Even though it was 66 years ago, I remember looking into that camera lens. It was a happy moment. My father held me. The war was not there for an instant. For that single moment my father was free of it. It was a happy, peaceful and hopeful moment; I remember it.

Later, in the evening of that day when that photo was taken, my father would again huddle with the radio and press his ear against it, trying to hear clearly the news of that day’s war. He turned to my mother. He could barely speak. Something caught in his throat and it made him breathless.

“Hitler is fortifying the sea,” he said to my mother. “He is building bunkers and laying barbed wire at all the possible landing places. Why have we waited so long?”

Of course I don’t remember those exact words, but I do remember a strong sense of foreboding from time to time, when something went wrong in Europe or the Pacific. The older men of Chester, many of whom, like my father, had served in the Great War that was supposed to end all wars, gathered around the old coal stove in the store and went over the news of war. Each day they gathered and some days there were smiles and cheers and there was gloom on others.

I was approaching 5 years when the war came to an end, first in Europe and then in Japan. There was a great celebration in town when it was all over – when the surrenders were official. People hugged, laughed and screamed. I have a strong memory of sitting out on the roof of the porch just outside my bedroom window in the dark, listening to the celebration over at the Chester House across the street. People sang songs and screamed hurrahs. I think my big brothers were out there on the porch with me and maybe my big sister, too. I can’t remember precisely, but I’d guess they were with me. John and Frank would have been nearly 11 and 12 respectively. Sister Jean of Blessed Memory would have been going on 15. It only seems right that we would have huddled out there together and listened to the noises of victory and the celebration for the boys who went to war and would soon becoming home.

Across the street they sang and danced and hugged and kissed. It was a happiness I’ll never forget.

“When der fuehrer says we is de master race
We heil heil right in der fuehrer’s face
Not to love der fuehrer is a great disgrace
So we heil heil right in der fuehrer’s face”
[Spike Lee]

The town's honor roll was in a little park straight across from our store and I could see it at night when I lay in bed.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sweet Home, New Jersey

That's my old man's luncheonette in the 1940s and that's some of the crowd that often gathered there for community discussions. They'd consume plenty of coffee. My dad and mom are in back row to the far right. (photo courtesy Chester Historical Society)

Why does it always seem to happen in NJ?
by Charlie Leck

My concentration has been on New Jersey lately. I am compiling a book of memories and stories about my early life in Jersey. It will be a private publication for, you know, the grandkids and, perhaps, their kids. It’s really just an ego driven attempt to leave something of myself behind – to hang on through a few more generations. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the exercise of stretching my mind and recalling stories of youth. I send most of the stories back to Jersey, to my brother Frank, so he can make comments and corrections. He has a much more finely tuned memory than I.

So, this week, the New York Times is carrying a lot of stories about corruption in my home state. They had another big bust by the cops back there that even pinched a few rabbis among the crooked mayors, assemblypersons and town councilpeople. Amazing! There aren't really big bucks involved. A genuine crook would sneer at the idea of being bought for such meager prices.

My old man’s general store and luncheonette was a gathering place for the “old men” in my hometown. Art Thompson, Ed and Dan McDonald, Fred Wyckoff and some other geezers would gather there on cold, snowy winter days when there wasn’t much else to do but gossip. They’d stake out a table near the big old coal burning stove in the center of the store. Coffee and buttered toast, with some jam on the side, was a popular order.

Some of the regular, retired old-timers would hang around for hours. On and off, they’d be joined by some of the working men in town who would take their coffee breaks at the store just to get in on a little of the banter.

One of the popular topics of conversation was crooked politicians. As a kid, listening in on all this talk, it was easy to get the idea that every big city and every big state was just as bad as New Jersey; but that wasn’t true. New Jersey holds a special and leading position in this category of political corruption. It seemed that the mayoral candidates of the big communities over near the Hudson River and New York City were always running against incumbents who were uncovered as crooks; and they were always promising to clean things up. A couple years later these new mayors would take a tumble and the cops would nail them for taking a bribe of a few hundred dollars to quash a health inspection report or something of the sort.

The men around the table would laugh themselves silly with funny stories about “the gang” and the pols. They were pretty much equals in the eyes of those guys sipping on their hot coffee while their booted toes were stretched out toward the coal stove. Local politicians in the urban areas of the state were stereotyped as crooks.

My mom would wander around the crowded table with a fresh pot of coffee, refreshing the 5¢ cups of coffee. The guys would stay an hour or more on those winter days. They would have each purchased a newspaper – a New York Herald Tribune or a Daily News – and they’d browse through them as they chatted.

This morning’s NY Times tells us that in the last decade “nearly 150 of the state’s senators, mayors, county executives and council members have been arrested and charged with leaping at the chance to engage in these lowest-common-denominator crimes, at times for laughably small sums of money.”

Well, it was no different 5 or 6 decades ago and, maybe, it was even a little bit worse back then.

The NY Times raises the question this morning: “Why is New Jersey so unshakably corrupt?”

In my mind, dimly, I can hear our little town’s long-time mayor, Arnold Nichols, answering the question.

“It must be the water,” he’d say. “They drink different water over there in the city. Corruption is so bad over there that you can smell the stink of it in the air.”

The other guys around the table would lean their chairs back on two legs and laugh it up loudly.

“Milly,” Dom Mercadante would shout, “can I get another order of toast with some of that marmalade.”

The Times quotes one of the self-confessed political crooks of these times as saying it is just too hard “to resist when the envelope appears.”

Citizens of New Jersey, today, seem like those guys sitting around the hot stove 55 years ago. They just laugh at it and they aren’t in the least surprised. It’s New Jersey, after all, and there’s a certain reputation that needs to be upheld.

If you’re a developer or contractor in New Jersey, at least over there in the urban corridor, you’d better know how to “kick-back” if you want future plans and projects approved by local governments. Without that approval, a company turns belly-up.

In Michael Barbaro’s story in the NY Times today, he calls “fraud, extortion and kickbacks” as “common as traffic jams on the New Jersey Turnpike.”

Barbaro points out that there are 566 municipalities in New Jersey and most of them have limiting budgets and leaders without experience or training, elected to positions of government that pay very, very little. A white envelop, stuffed with cash, is a mighty temptation in such a situation.

Another writer, Richard Benfield, has about the same take.
“There are three reasons why New Jersey is a hotbed of corruption: 1) it has a history that is less than pure, 2) it has more municipalities and other governing bodies than your average state, and 3) people tend to ignore what goes on in a state sandwiched between two powerful cities: New York and Philadelphia.”
A professor at Rutgers University (the State University of New Jersey), Ingrid W. Reed, puts a different slant on it, and I like the reasoning.
“Maybe a culture of corruption is a culture without outrage – by citizens or public officials. That’s New Jersey.”
I wonder how old, Dan McDonald would have felt about that. I think he’d giggle a bit and ask my old man for a cigar. His son, Ed McDonald, would holler over for my father to bring a package of Red Man, too. Ed would pull open the packet and slip the baseball card out, featuring one of the Major Leagues stars, and he'd hand it over to me. He'd stuff some tobacco in his mouth and nod at me.

"There you are, Charlie. Now don't grow up to be no politician, you know!"

That's one of the Leck boys (I think my brother, Frank) standing in front of the store. (photo courtesy Chester Historical Society)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Morning Quiet

It’s a quiet Sunday morning and all the world’s a stage and I a simple player with but a bit part in the drama.
by Charlie Leck

My Parents Wedding…caused a lot of readers to send many wonderful letters and my brother writes about it [The Marriage of My Parents]:


“I wish I was at that dinner with you.

“We heard plenty after the event – like Mom telling off Father Law [priest], then giving in to being remarried by Father Law – to please Grandma Svejda – but not in the church.

“The best man was a German (died by suicide during World War II (Arnold Ankerw). See the photo included.

I have a number of predictions and prognostications
for you this morning. It’s a great morning in Minnesota to contemplate these things. My library is up here on the third floor and I can look out to both the east and west as I work. The trees tower above me, however, and I can only see the sunshine splashing on the green leafs along with an occasional dab of blue sky. The door that leads out on to the east deck is open and brilliantly fresh air is streaming into the room. It’s in the 60s now (7 o’clock), but it is due to climb into the high 70s. What a day to be optimistic!

President Obama
is watching his popularity drop. It’s not surprising, is it? These are tough times. Two wars drag on and cost us a fortune each day (not his fault, but he is having a hard time implementing his campaign promises on our little tussle in Iraq). It will be years before we’re totally removed from that nation and we’ll always have a strong presence there in the future – looking at the size of our new embassy for crying-out-loud.

Our economy is improving, but unemployment continues to sag dreadfully. The DOW crawled over 9,000 on Friday. There will be up and down movement for the next month, but the climb will be steadily upward and it will reach 10,000 by year’s end. The recession will then be declared, officially, over. The Health Care and Health Insurance issues are difficult ones, but nobody said they’d be easy.

The deficit is disastrous and the Republicans want to blame Obama’s stimulus plan for it. Facts still pin the number on the wars and the military costs we’re facing. The war in Iraq was a disastrous mistake. There are not very many people who try to defend the decision any more. How can our nation continue to make such choices? It’s been interesting to listen to the observations of the late Walter Cronkite that are being played over and over since his death. He supported the war in Vietnam in the beginning and then grew to see what a mistake it was – how meaningless and purposeless. When Cronkite declared the war unwinnable, President Johnson turned to one of his advisors and said: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the nation!”

My assessment is that Obama is doing a good to very good job. Unlike his predecessor, he doesn’t duck questions and pretty much levels with the press. That gets him into hot water occasionally. If I was forced to predict, the economy’s steady improvement will save him; he won’t get the health care package that he really wanted; both wars will drag on and he’ll have a hard time meeting his withdrawal goals (that’s what always happens in gorilla fighting). If he avoids major gaffs, he’ll get reelected in 2012.

Minnesota’s health care system
(along with a couple of other states like Washington and Oregon) will become models for the nation’s future health care delivery system. Health care providers will be paid on the basis of achievements and successes and their doctors will be salaried. Laws about dropping insured consumers will be toughened and pre-existing conditions will not be a factor in coverage.

Taxes will rise
as they must; for they have been artificially low for the last decade. Those with more will pay more. It’s the only way a nation such as ours can really work. For the next 5 or 6 years taxes will be artificially high to make up for this decade of debt. By the time Obama leaves office, in seven years, the national debt will be very low or eliminated. Then taxes will stabilize. We’ve got to remember that wars cost money. Some wars are probably necessary, but we’ll need to be more careful about where and when we send our troops to fight.

will be revolutionized. The revolution is blowing in the wind. It will not be totally violent. The abuses in Iran over the last two decades have finally awakened a brilliant and creative people. These people want to be a real part of the developing world. In ten years it will be difficult for you to remember how awful the current Iran was.

will be a virtual democracy in ten years. It will have happened naturally, step-by-step, and we will have nothing to do with it. China will rank up there with us as a world power, as will India. Russia will still be struggling because it cannot now and will not then be able to define itself and its mission.

The Islamic World
will also change dramatically in the next decade. The demand for oil will be declining and the Middle East nations will not have that bully-club to wield anymore. Women will have demanded and will have achieved equal rights with men.

Troubled spots around the globe
will exist in many parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. Global warming will have impacted both those parts of the world and there will be great hunger. China will be a leader in feeding the hungry so will the United Sates.

will be one of the world’s major concerns. How do we keep providing clean, healthy water when so much of it is polluted? The great scientific minds of India and China will provide most of the answers and the problem will be solved – or at least a strong Band-Aid will have been applied.

General Motors
will survive and prosper. The game plan laid out by the President’s team will work. The new Board of Directors and the new CEO will be creative. It will be decades before it’s back to where it once was, but it will again be a mighty company.

Our cars
will be quiet, economical and comfortable. In 10 years most people will drive automobiles that don’t require gasoline. China will produce more automobiles than any nation on Earth. The United States will be way down on the list, in fourth or fifth place.

will still be a problem in America in ten years, but work will have begun to fix the problem. High speed rail corridors will have been mapped out using many of our current Interstate Highway routes. Construction will have begun on several of the important corridors, mainly all along the east coast, from Boston to Miami, and the west coast, Seattle to San Diego. Air travel will be in much small, lighter planes. Flying, in 20 years, will have lost popularity and rail will be the number one choice for domestic travel.

I can only hope
I’ll still be kicking and blogging, just so I can check out my own prognostications.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Oooooooh, New Jersey

You're doin' fine New Jersey... New Jersey, NJ
by Charlie Leck

Well, my wonderful home state, the land of my youth and innocence, has made a laughing stock of itself again – the land of Tony Soprano and the burial grounds of Jimmy Hoffa! Ooooh, New Jersey, where the stink rises up and the crooks run the show, look what you’ve gone and done again.

This time Rabbis are getting arrested along the with mayors and assemblymen, and there are some ladies among the clerks who've been thrown in jail.

It’s another scandal in New Jersey. Oh, hum!

New Jersey now moves into first place in blatant criminal activity – first place in scum bags and rotten politics – moving aside the amateur attempts of Louisiana and Illinois. It’s certain – as certain as sunshine in Camelot – that New Jersey is riddled with crime and rotten politics. And the rogues show no party favoritism. They come from both sides of the aisle.

You know, in New Jersey, I think the rottenness – the dirtiness – the filth – and the devil is in both the polluted air and the vile water. Oooooooh, New Jersey, what a shame!

44 people were arrested in a law enforcement crack down on crooks in New Jersey yesterday. Among the arrested and sure to be indicted were 3 mayors, 2 state assemblymen and 5 rabbis.

The New York Times
says this case “could rival any of the most explosive and sleazy episodes in New Jersey’s recent past.” [Read the NY Times article and see the remarkable photographs]

The acting U.S. Attorney in New Jersey said that “corruption was a way of life” for the defendants and added that ordinary citizens of the state “don’t have a chance” against the methods of those he arrested.

Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, of Jersey City, was one of those handcuffed yesterday. Smith had run on an anticorruption platform in the last election. He is charged with taking $15,000 in bribes.

Peter J. Cammarano III was also arrested. He is the mayor of Hoboken.

The Secaucus mayor, Dennis Elwell, was also arrested.

The Hoboken mayor is caught on tape agreeing to help a developer get favorable treatment in return for cash.

David M. Van Pelt, a state assemblyman from Ocean County, sits on the legislative environmental committee. He’s accused of accepting money to get the donor the environmental permits he needed. He assured the snitch that the “the environmental committee works for me,” and took $10,000 in cash.

A survey of some of my old friends in New Jersey seems to show that the people thought these public officials were tumbling for far too little money.

"If you're gonna be a crook," one old friend said, "you's may as well go for it!"

I’m not going into any more of the horrid details here. Read about it if you like. My purpose here is to just reminisce about the state of my youth and how that state can’t stand to see any other state rated as more crooked and corrupt than it is itself. All of the activities in Illinois lately must have made the crooks in NJ a little upset and they knew they had to push their criminality just a bit more.

Oh, New Jersey, where the bad guys simply run the show!
Oh, New Jersey, the land where crime falls as heavy as the snow!

Where the bums and gents alike are all big crooks!
Oh, to live in a state where we all might get our fortunes tooks
And the land is so grand
With the bucks right at hand
For any jerk who wants to join the mob

Oh, New Jersey, where the Jews and Catholics get along!
Oh, New Jersey, the mayors and councils lean towards wrong!
Where the felons, mugs and thieves are all so strong!

Oh, to live in a place where the money flows free
Just like the waves that rise upon the sea
With the cops and the mayors on your side
You’re free to rise right up there with the tide
And grab some dough
From the jerks who don’t know
That in Jersey they’re set up to take the falls
And the rabbi laughs and the priest guffaws
For in Jersey, you see, it’s the lambs that get fleeced
And the innocent fools
Are like the wind that blows across the stinky pools

Ooooooooh, New Jersey
the land of my youth and home of my hope,
You’re a land like no other in such scope

Oooooooooooh, New jersey,where the wind lifts the stink
and dribbles it like rain
and the smell of cash is all the folks in Jersey really like

Oooooooooooh, New Jersey, the land of my pride
Where my kin folk abide
And crime seems to glide
So freely all along the shore

We’re only sayin,
You’re doing fine, New Jersey,
New Jersey, N.. J…!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


We are forgetting something! America’s health care delivery system must be reformed or it will ruin our economy!
by Charlie Leck

E.J. Dionne, the Washington Post columnist, put it quite clearly about the health care reform debate, calling it…
“the greatest economic justice battle of our moment”
He said that in a speech he delivered at the Chautauqua Institution in New York, in which he discussed “the limits of economic markets and the ethics of capitalism.” It was both a brilliant and interesting presentation. I invite you to listen to it.

The health care crisis in America is double pronged. First, it is a matter of human justice. People should not be left without health insurance. Civilized nations in the world have shown that every citizen can be covered and is covered. Health care is an important human right that should not be withheld from anyone. Second, the health care crisis is also an economic crisis. The cost of health care in America rises each year at a far greater rate than does our general cost of living index. The nation can economically handle that only so long. Such rapidly increasing costs must be reigned in for the safety of the nation’s economic health.

One of our great (and I mean, “great”) local writers, Jim Klobuchar (father of one of our U.S. Senators) was hopping mad about health care costs in his latest offering. Here’s how he began his piece, which you can find here.
"The quarterly earnings statement of one of the nation’s largest health insurers this week reported increased profits of nearly 155 per cent above a year ago. Its net earnings were more than $850 million.

"All of us, in the midst of the recession malaise and the catastrophic loss of jobs, are expected to stand up and applaud this triumph of American corporate enterprise.

"All of us, it should be added, with the exception of the more than 45 million people in America who aren’t covered by health insurance and can’t afford a cancer checkup. Add the thousands who are losing it every day.

"The story in one of the newspapers I read detailing the big profit increase offered a caveat to head off any rash notion that the world is peaches and cream for corporate health insurers.

'Unemployment could continue to surge,' it warned, 'cutting membership rolls (those who can afford insurance). Health reform could produce a government health plan, creating competition and crimping profit.'

Oh, the ugliness of it in the eyes of the swashbucklers of the insurance industry--health care reform and actual competition in the market place for the corporate health insurers, who are now free to pick and choose who they are going to insure and whose lives they have the power to save."
One of the tried and true ways to get costs under control is to provide competition for these greedy insurance companies. One of the primary goals of the President’s proposal is to control costs and to get things under control.

And while all of this goes on, the Republicans, who desperately want to protect the pack of profit hungry wolves in the health care industry, talk about breaking President Obama’s back.

“If we’re about to stop Obama on this,” GOP Senator Jim DeMint said, “It will break him.”

DeMint is, of course, speaking in political terms – of course!

Tim Kaine, the head of the Democratic Party, calls it “slash and burn politics!”

The Republicans talk of the debts we’re leaving our grandchildren. No, they don’t talk about it, they rave, rage and rag about it incessantly. Yet, the staggering debt our health care system is leaving for our children’s children is massive.

Last night, in a prime-time press conference designed to take his case to the American public, the President stated the argument very bluntly.
“If somebody told you that there is a plan out there that is guaranteed to double your health-care costs over the next 10 years,” he said, “that’s guaranteed to result in more Americans losing their health care, and that is by far the biggest contributor to our federal deficit, I think most people would be opposed to that,...

“That’s what we have right now... So if we don’t change, we can’t expect a different result.”
One of the sad, sad events we are being forced to watch right now is political horse-trading. Elected officials are thinking more about protecting their seats (and you could use a more earthy term here) than they care about protecting the health of the American public and the American economic system.

Don’t talk of the American populace as tiring of this debate. Don’t tell me they want it put off. I don’t believe that for a second. Remember the reasons Obama was elected. One of the great cornerstones of his campaign was “health care reform” and “health insurance coverage for every American.”

There are 45 million – yes, yes, I said 45 million – Americans out there with no health care coverage. Many of them are forced into expensive emergency rooms when they need routine health care attention. That bill goes to the public and that bill is staggering.

Jim Klobuchar goes on about the petty, silly, arrogant political in-fight when what we really need is action

“What we know for certain is the ferocity of the opposition to health care reform and to any significant measure of government involvement in that reform. We also know for certain that, every day, thousands of Americans are losing their homes and in danger of adding to the toll of the uninsured. We also know the virtually forgotten truth of the debate is that the American health care system in its present form is one of the most inefficient and costliest in the civilized world, a cost swelled by claims agents whose primary jobs are to deny claims.

“But the very complexity of reforming it through the legislative process, the horse-trading involved in it, is an open invitation to the “outs” in today’s political climate in Washington. That is to ignore the reality of millions of Americans being squeezed harder every day by a recession brought on by the same voices of greed and privilege who are now trying to sink health care reform."
Those of you, reading this, who really believe in the President’s attempt to bring all of America under a satisfactory health care umbrella, must declare your support of the President’s proposal. It is very easy to get a message to your U.S. Senator and your U.S. Representative. You can go on line and have the job done in 10 minutes.

Please, stand up and support President Obama now! Let’s not let the Republicans break him. If they break our President they break the dream and we who do not stand up now will be to blame.
*In an commentary in our local on-line newspaper, MinnPost, former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton presents a solid argument for single-payer health insurance. You might like to read it [click here].

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ammunition Shortage

Oh, my God (or in 21st century, groovy lingo, “OMG”), there is a shortage in ammunition in the United States!
by Charlie Leck

How could this happen?
There ain’t enough ammo for the rednecks! Can you believe it? Suddenly, America’s gun owners are convinced that President Barack Obama is going to try to have the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution revamped, rewritten, removed or reinterpreted. They are running to their gun stores to buy guns and ammo. Well, there’s all kinds of tricky ways to stimulate the economy.

This is America!
This is the land of liberty -- the land of freedom of expression -- the land set free from religious oppression -- the land of guns and ammo. OMG!

If you haven't begun to stockpile your guns and ammo, it's too late!
Sorry folks, but here's the bad news: If you haven't already built up a significant cache of guns and the little things that go in them, you're already too late. I wish I wasn't the bearer of such bad news, but, as Walter used to say, "that's the way it is!"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The American Civil Liberties Union may be the most important non-profit organization in the nation!
by Charlie Leck

At this very moment, here in Minnesota and as I write this, the Minnesota office of the American Civil Liberties Union is working hard to assure that the Constitution of the U.S. is working. The organization, of which I am a proud member, is suing a K-8 Charter School in Rosemount. There have been reports for months now that school is promoting and endorsing a particular religion (Islam) in its school.

Why our God, your God, their God or any God must not be worshipped in our public schools!The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) has fought with all its might to stop the ACLU from investigating what’s going on within the school. [See Katherine Kersten column in the StarTribune]The ACLU is a watch dog over the Constitution and the individual’s rights of Americans under the Constitution. It has been particularly concerned about religion in public schools whether that religious inclination happened to be Christian or some other leaning. A women recently responded to an ACLU Blog with these strong words, which show how the work the of the ACLU is so misunderstood:

“…you are right on one thing, In America we are able to have freedom of religion that is one of the great things about American you can chose to serve OR not serve whatever God you chose. But what right should you have in trying to force those of us that Love the Lord Jesus Christ to worship him in confined areas? He has already been taken out of schools, look how that is working out for you are children are more violent then [sic] ever before killing raping and babies born without two parents to love and care for them. you think you are doing good by making everyone conform to your ideas of how this country should be run but they are your ideas which you are entitled to. but I to am entitled to mine. this country was founded on the belief in God and you can chose to not believe and have your own opinion on the matter but our constitution was designed with God in it.”
The ACLU has over 500,000 members in the nation (and it’s my feeling it should have many, many more). It maintains approximately 200 staff attorneys and utilizes thousands of volunteer attorneys to handle many civil liberties cases every year. There are staffed offices in all 50 states in the nation. Visit the ACLU web site to learn more about this important organization.

*Katherine Kersten’s column in the Sunday StarTribune about the TiZA battle with the ACLU is extremely important [click here to read it].

It is vital that the ACLU attempt to investigate the TiZA operation is successful. This is not just an important matter in Minnesota. It is something to be watched all around the nation. We can not allow public funds to be used to support and sponsor Christian or Islamic or Jewish education. The Constitution prohibits it.

I’ll be watching these developments and reporting them here for you – especially for you national readers.

In the meantime, go to the ACLU web site and become a member.

Monday, July 20, 2009

All Hail the Loser!

It was a monumental defeat that crushed millions of golf fans around the world!
by Charlie Leck

The 2009 British Open Championship will always be remembered by the golf world (meaning those of us who love and cherish golf and all its traditions and lore) for the golfer who lost it and not for the one who won it. That’s too bad for Stewart Cink, a terrific guy and a wonderful golfer who was introduced at Turnberry yesterday as the Champion Golfer of the Year.

But yesterday, as a dearly admired 59 year old stood out in the middle of the 18th fairway with a 9 iron in his hand, we all thought Tom Watson was both the Champion Golfer of the Year and the Champion Golfer of History.

Watson struck the shot cleanly and perfectly; perhaps he hit it too well. Had it but just a few feet less in distance to it, the Championship was his and it would have become the most startling and dramatic moment in golf history. Instead, Watson’s shot was just a bit too deep into the putting surface and it rolled over the back edge and down a steep slope. It stopped up against some thick grass that looked about 2 inches deep. A young Tom Watson would have clipped the ball neatly with some kind of wedge and maneuvered it, somehow, within a tap in distance from the hole.

That is exactly the problem a 59 year old has in trying to win any kind of golf tournament, no less one of the most important championships in all of golf. When Tom Watson took the putter out of his bag for that shot, I knew he was in trouble. His tired, jangled nerves could not handle the precision it would have taken to clip the ball cleanly with a wedge.

The shot that Watson chose required him to hit the ball up a steep hill for the first ten or fifteen feet over fairway length grass. When the ball then reached the green it would break slightly down hill and curl somewhat to the left. The higher grass behind his ball would definitely get in between the face of Watson’s putter and the ball.

How would he judge the strength with which the ball needed to be hit? That was the question.

Watching him out in the fairway, before he hit that 9-iron, there were tears in my eyes and my heart was pounding. I thought I was about to see one of the most incredible moments in sports history. A man near 60 was about to beat boys and men in their prime athletic years. I was nervous as hell for him. I could see that he was masterfully keeping himself under control. He had done it for four consecutive days in good weather and bad, in windless and blustery conditions, and in sunshine and rain.

I found myself virtually praying: “One more shot!”

Then, when he hit it, I flinched and thought it was too neat, too clean, too completely perfect. I’d seen so many golfers roll over the backside of that green; and I knew how those players struggled to get the next shot close.

Watson’s recovery attempt put the ball 12 feet or so past the cup. To win, he had to knock in a putt. It is, however, precisely this putt, of this distance and under this kind of pressure, that is his Achilles Heel. He didn’t just hit the putt poorly, but his stroke was astonishingly bad and embarrassingly jittery. It was the dreaded enemy of all golfers past their prime – the short putt.
Stewart Cink and Watson finished in a tie. They would go to a four hole playoff. I stood up in my silent living room and looked at the TV set. Only my dog heard me speak.

“Turn out the lights! The party’s over!”

Tom Watson looked like a character out of a Greek tragedy. He was exhausted and staggering. Life had seeped out of him. He was beaten – completely defeated. He had waged a spectacular war against reality – against human impossibilities – and he had nearly won. If only the golf gods had thrown a gust of wind against that perfectly hit nine iron and knocked it down a few feet short of where it actually landed.

There is no finer gentleman in the game of golf than Tom Watson and he took defeat with nobleness and dignity. His joy for Stewart Cink was genuine. Watson had won the Open Championship 5 times in his prime years and he knew what Cink was feeling.

Watson’s greatest victory in golf came in the Open Championship of 1979 in a tough game against Jack Nicklaus on the very golfing grounds on which he lost yesterday. The encounter would forever after be known as the Dual in the Sun. It was a tough battle against a superb golfer under a bright, hot sun on that last day. Ironically, Watson would win it by knocking in a short putt on the final hole – the same putting surface on which, yesterday, he could not make the putt.

This year, however, Watson was battling only against himself and his own aged and frayed nerves and his own weary body. Unfortunately, he lost.

Millions of people must have been glued to their TVs as I was. They must have felt that same emptiness of heart and sorrowfulness of spirit that I felt. I have never before felt such deep grief for a defeated athlete as I felt yesterday for Tom Watson.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Who is against Health Care Reform?

Can you make a good guess? Who is big-time against Health Insurance and Health Care Reform?
by Charlie Leck

Well, let’s see! How good was your guess.

The health care industry is spending $1.4 million per day on its lobbying effort against the Obama program. Yup! You heard me right. I said $1.4 million dollars per day. That means the industry will spend approximately $245 million yet this year.

Now do you understand why a lot of politicians want to delay passage of a health reform bill until next year sometime? They just don’t want the gravy train stopped.

Did you see the numbers that Democracy for America sent out this week? Whew! Here what a handful of U.S. Senators have taken in from insurance companies and the health care industry.

Senator Max Baucus $3,973,485
Senator Evan Bayh $1,565,088
Senator Kent Conrad $2,154,200
Senator Dianne Finestein $1,749,887
Senator John Kerry $8,994,077
Senator Mary Landrieu $1,653,943
Senator Joe Lieberman $3,308,621
Senator Ben Nelson $2,214,715

It will be fun to watch how active the liberal John Kerry is on this Obama effort.

Now, are you doing your part?
Do you support Obama health care reforms? I do. The U.S. lags way behind more than a dozen other nations in the quality of the health care it provides its citizens and it is more costly than more than two dozen other countries.If you support Obama in this and you’re not writing your U.S. Senators and your own U.S. Representative, then you are NOT doing your part. If our Congresspeople are flooded with letters from millions of people, demanding a change in the way we deliver and receive health care in this country, then we’ll see change. Sit back and do nothing and Congress will find it easy to put it off one more time.

What does our Congress care?
Our U.S. Senators and Representatives receive the best health care insurance coverage that can be found anywhere in the U.S.. What do they care? I’m serious about this. Don’t bitch and complain about Congress doing nothing if you do nothing as well. You’ll have no right to complain.

Write letters telling the hot shots to support the Obama effort on this matter. Tell your friends to write letters as well.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I have no idea why I had to work so hard as a kid. I just don’t remember the reasons!
by Charlie Leck

Within a few days of beginning my first job in life, I was fired from it. I haven’t the slightest idea why. I never got an explanation. I just remember sobbing like crazy when I was booted. As I cried, I begged the nasty fellow who let me go to explain why he was doing it.

“It’s just best,” he said, “it’s just best.”

It turned out it was. Rid of that 50¢ an hour job, I was able to take another for 50% more. You’d probably think me crazy if were to tell you that losing that first job still rubs me raw and hurts my ego, but it’s true.

I was 11 years old when I took the job and I was put to work with another boy who was a year or two older than I. We were to mow and groom the cemetery up by the old Congregational Church in my home town of Chester, New Jersey.

I’d never used a power mower before, but I don’t remember that as a problem. Our boss, a fellow who lived right there on the north edge of the cemetery, showed us how to fuel them, start them and use them safely. Because we were young, we were only asked to put in a few hours a day and only a few days each week. It all seemed simple to me.

I was a big kid compared to other boys my age. I was taller and broader and stronger than most. Work didn’t frighten me either. I’d been given plenty of jobs around home and in my father’s general store for a few years already.

“Charles Henry,” my mother would often call out, “put the bottles away.”

In those days, folks were diligent about returning their glass coke and root beer and orange soda bottles. They got 2¢ for each one they returned. The bottles were just put down on the floor in a far corner of the store, just off to the right of the “meat box,” as we called the big refrigerator where the cold cuts were stored. When the spread of bottles got so big that it was impossible to walk around them to get to the soda fountain, some one of us kids had to tote them into the “back room,” a large storage room, nearly as big as the retail area.

At an early age I learned to fit one of each of my fingers down into a different soda bottle and cart 10 of them at a time back to where all the sodas were kept in storage, waiting to go into the big coolers behind the fountain. It was important to put them in their proper cases so the Coca Cola driver didn’t end up getting Pepsi bottles in his cases. My father would get his 2¢ refunded for each bottle he sent back to each different and various bottling company.

I was either putting bottles away or helping with the task as early my 6th year of life. I was burning trash by the time I was 10 and working at the cash register by the time I was 12. I also worked on assembling the Sunday morning newspapers by the time I was 10 (I wrote here before about this regular Sunday morning ceremony). I was sprinkling sweeping compound and cleaning up the floors of the store when I was 10, too.

None of this includes the regular chores I had in our own living quarters of the same big building. I regularly dusted the floors and the furniture and made and changed the linens on, at least, my own bed. I was also assigned to regular yard clean-up duty.

My point is that I came out of a family that expected work and responsibility fulfillment out of each of the children. I didn’t mind work. I wasn’t afraid of it and I wasn’t put off by it.

So, I was quite stunned the day the old caretaker of the cemetery let me go. My dad wasn’t very happy about it either, but he didn’t see it as a crying matter. He booted me in the seat of the pants and told me to “cut it out.”

He arranged for another job for me within a day or two. I don’t know why it was so important for him that I work. I can’t remember. I don’t think I was expected to contribute anything to the family. Early on in my life, however, my parents had explained banking and savings to me. I was expected to have a savings account and to contribute to it regularly and to grow it. I was never allowed to withdraw from it. If I had a big purchase I wanted to make, like a bike or ball glove, my dad always came up with the money for that. I think it just had to do with my old man’s own work ethic. Work was important to him and to society in general. It also kept a kid out of trouble.
So, a day or two after being fired from my cemetery job, and a month or so before my 12th birthday, I was working down at Fred Mosel’s gas station, pumping gas, checking oil and cleaning windshields. It was a job I liked much better than mowing grass and trimming weeds in the cemetery. I had a chance to talk to people who were very much alive. I worked off and on for Mr. Mosel right through my freshman year in college. He was a good man who both looked and acted like he ought to be a college professor. He had a beautiful, brilliant and charming wife who had grown up in the south and still carried the accent in her voice.

Fred paid me 75¢ an hour and a few of the richer guys in town, like Arnold Nichols or Abe Meyers, would often give me a dime or quarter tip. Fred knew I was a ball player and he always respected that and made sure I was done in time every day to make it up to the ball field for evening practices and games.

I pumped gas for a lot of the same people that I waited on in our little general store. Chester was a pretty small town back then and, if you lived in the borough, you were pretty well known and knew everybody else by name. You also knew many of the folks out in the township.

In the summer of ’53, as I was approaching my 13th birthday, I went to work on the magnificent Chubb estate down off Pottersville Road, about 3 miles south of town. Again, it’s a job my father arranged for me. Jud Russell, a regular customer at our store, and a guy who became a close friend of my father’s, was the farm manager on a part of the estate called Highland Farm. I’m sure my father told Jud about my baseball activities because he always made sure my work day ended in time for me to get back to town and up to the ball field on time for my games or practices. It was an easy bike ride down to the estate, but, as I remember it was all pretty much uphill all the way back to town. An old, quiet road, the Old Chester-Gladstone Road, ran parallel to the highway and that made it a pretty safe rout as well.

Farm work, as I learned then and know now, is tough work that makes a man out of any boy. And, I really liked it a lot. It never bored me and I never really got tired of doing it. I spent a couple of summers working for the Chubb family. I worked with really good people and the experience made me a better person.

Combining oats – the way it was done when I was a boy – was the hardest, toughest and nastiest job I ever had. Any other job on the farm seemed easy after combining.

While Renee Webb, a full-time farm employee, drove the tractor around and around the field, I drew the job of riding back on the combine. I sat on a little bench in front of two tubes from which the oats, separated from its straw grass, would come rushing down into the bags that I had attached to the opening of the chutes. My job was to get one filled up, to tie it quickly and drop it down a slide on to the ground, while a second bag, fixed to the alternate chute, was filling up. One couldn’t miss a beat at this job or there would be an overflow problem and oats would be wasted on the ground. It called for a good and fast tying job and the fixing of another bag on the chute before I could change the lever that directed the oats into the new bag. Then I would quickly pull the opposite, full bag off, tie it and drop it down the slide. On with another bag, change the pouring direction, tie and drop. On and on the job went and round and round the tractor and combine went. The dust was thick and covered every inch of me from head to toe My nostrils filled with the dust and so did my eyes.

Renee had begun the whole operation at a time that he knew would get me on my bike and back into town in time for my baseball responsibilities – and a quick bath. I don’t think I ever missed a practice and I know I never missed a game. Working on that farm did wonders for my game, too.

I played in my first Little League game in that same summer. I was pretty excited about the trip down to the Brookside ball field, just east of the town of Mendham. Boy, there were fences out there and flags flying, just like a big league ball park. My first time up in a real organized baseball game, Tommy Pugh threw a whopper up there to me and it was just under letter-high and it hung there as if inviting me to strike it. To this day, 55 years later, I can remember the ball sailing far above the fence in left field and climbing even over the trees behind the fence and landing in the brook beyond the trees. It was the happiest moment I ever had on a ball field and it was due, I fully knew, to those big bags of oats I had to haul around – and to the bales of hay I had to stack on wagons and then move into the hay barns – and to the bullpens I had to clean out pitch fork by pitch fork – and to the fence posts I had to haul off of wagons and drop into the holes I had dug for them.

One of my most extraordinary experiences at Highland Farm happened to me one day when Renee and I were out repairing some fencing along Pottersville Road, south of the main farm. The fence ran alongside the road, on the top edge of a steep bank that fell away into some thick brush. We’d just placed a post in a hole we’d dug for it and Renee was holding the post in a nice level position while I refilled the hole with dirt and then tamped it down firmly, so that it was as hard as concrete. As I moved around the post and the hole, tamping, tamping, tamping, my foot got planted on some very loose dirt that gave way beneath me and, before I could catch hold of anything, I went tumbling down the bank and crashed into the thick brambles and right into a large next of yellow-jackets who were not happy about my visit. I was immediately under attack and the bees got quickly underneath the legs of my jeans and under my t-shirt. I came scurrying up the bank and Renee saw what was going on. He tackled me and rolled me over and over on the hard ground, trying to kill the bees that were under my clothing.

I had to be hauled down to Gladstone, a town just a few miles south, to visit a doctor who treated my dozens and dozens of bee stings. Work ended early on that day.

Cleaning the bullpens would not have been a good experience for most people, but I enjoyed it. The Chubbs raised magnificent cattle. They were prize winners at cattle shows all over the eastern United States and Canada. To produce great steers, a farm needed great bulls. When a farm had a great bull, that animal was taken care of in a pampered, careful way.

I had finished cleaning out a stall in the bull barn one day and leaned outside the barn to give Renee the word that I had finished. I pulled open the door that allowed the bull to move between his outside paddock and his barn stall and then I hurried out of the bull’s way through the sliding door that led to the aisle of the barn. Renee wanted me to do a minor clean up of the outside pen on that day. So, we needed the bull to be inside so we could close his door and I could safely clean the pen. It must have been so nice a day that the bull had no inclination to go inside, so Renee climbed over the fence to herd the big animal into the barn. I sat on the top of the fence and watched and waited.

I was pretty shocked when I saw the bull turn on Renee I was more shocked when my supervisor lost his footing and went down and the bull was on top of him in an instant, butting him with his head and poking and bashing the downed man. I panicked somewhat and I was at a loss for what to do. I tried shouting and screaming at the bull. Finally, I looked around and saw there was no help. I ran around to a place where I could climb to the top of the fence and reach the bull’s back with the pitchfork I held in my hand. With all my might, I drove the pitch fork into the bull’s back. Fortunately, he responded to my strikes and turned on me. Just as he crashed into the fence post where I had stood, I jumped back ward to the ground. Renee was struggling to get back up and the bull looked over to him and then to me. To distract the bull from the target inside the pen with him, I climbed back up on the fence and waved and screamed at the bull. When he charged me again, I jumped back again to the ground and hoped the fence would hold. The sound of the bull’s head smashing into the thick, wooden boards sticks in my mind now as I write this. Renee had made it into the barn and the bull’s stall and managed to slide shut the door to gain his sanctuary. I disappeared from the bull’s sight so that he would calm down. I ran all the way around to the front of the barn to find Renee. He lay on the floor inside the bull’s stall. He pointed to a phone on the wall in the front of the barn.

“Better call for an ambulance. I ain’t feelin’ too good.”

We knew the telephone operators by name is those days and nearly all of them knew Henry Leck’s children. Dotty Thompson heard the fear in my voice and she put out an emergency call for the volunteer rescue squad in Chester and we heard the sirens approaching within five minutes or so.

It’s exciting to think back on those days. They were extraordinary learning experiences for a young kid. I took them with me on my travels through life and now, here in the quiet that comes with my current age, I can think back on them and shake my head in wonder.

The two years (summers anyway) working for Mr. Chubb were pretty special. They were good for me both physically and mentally and probably intellectually, too. It’s all part of my Chester story and the story of growing up as one of Henry and Milly Leck’s boys.

During the summers, I did farm work all through my high school years. I moved up to Pleasant Hill Farm, north of town, after two summers at the Chubb estate. That was a big dairy operation that moved me up to a $1.25 per hour. Every day was consumed with barn cleaning. Though there were automatic conveyors that moved enormous amounts of manure out of the barn and into waiting spreaders, the owners wanted everything to be made spotless each day. It was a showcase kind of farm, owned by a guy who made a fortune with a chain of roller skating rinks – America on wheels.

All the barns had piped in music, playing soft and soothing music all through the day. It was done to increase milk production. I wonder if it really worked.

When we weren’t cleaning barns, we were working with hay bales. I and the other high school boys who worked up there moved thousands and thousands of bales of hay from the fields into the big lofts in the barns. We didn’t have bale-throwers back then, as we do on our farm today, so we had to move each bale from the ground to the big hay wagons and then from the wagon on to an elevator that dropped the bales on the floor of the lofts. Then they had to be neatly and tightly put into stacks that eventually grew all the way to the tall, vaulted ceilings of the barn.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Obama is a Giant before the NAACP

The President returns to his roots -- a giant standing on the shoulders of giants!
by Charlie Leck

I had planned a far different blog for this morning, but sometimes even good plans must be set aside.

Something extremely important happened yesterday. Barack Obama returned as 44th President of the United States to an NAACP convention. I urge you with all my might to go and watch and hear.

“I stand here tonight on the shoulders of Giants and I’m here to say thank you to those pioneers and thank you to the NAACP.”
The President’s cadences and inflections changed as the speech went on; and by the end of his speech he was on a roll that was very reminiscent of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior. It was quite remarkable and everyone should watch and listen to this extraordinary speech that I think will go down in history as one of the great Presidential orations.

“Changes have to come from the people!”

“There has never been less discrimination in American than there is today; but, make no mistake, the pain of discrimination is still felt in America…. On the 44th anniversary of the Civil Right Act, discrimination can no longer be allowed to stand.”

“There’s a reason the civil rights movement was written in our schools… there is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God-given potential.”

“If black and brown students cannot compete, then America cannot compete.”

“I got an Amen Corner back there… "

“Folks in Congress are getting a little tuckered out, but I’m tellin’ em we can’t rest. We’ve got a lot to do.”

“Government programs alone won’t get our children to the Promised Land. We need a new mind set, a new set of attitudes, because one of the most destructive legacies of discrimination is the way we’ve internalized a sense of limitation – how so many of those in our community have come to expect so little from the world and from themselves.”
At about the 24 minutes mark of the speech, Obama swings into this new voice pattern and completely different attitude in his delivery. He is clearly speaking to the black community at this point. He isolates them and begins to pound out what it means to be responsible and “get it done.”

If nothing else, go to the link for the video of this speech and move the slider forward to the 30 minute mark and listen to the extraordinary 5 minute conclusion of this speech.

“We have to say to our children, Yes, if you’re African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that someone in a wealthy suburb does not. But that’s not a reason to get bad grades, that’s not a reason to cut class, that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school.

"No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands – and don’t you forget that.

“To parents, we can’t tell our kids to do well in school and fail to support them when they get home. For our kids to excel, we must accept our own responsibilities. That means putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour. It means attending those parent-teacher conferences, reading to our kids, and helping them with their homework.

“And it means we need to be there for our neighbor’s son or daughter, and return to the day when we parents let each other know if we saw a child acting up. That’s the meaning of community. That’s how we can reclaim the strength, the determination, the hopefulness that helped us come as far as we already have.

“It also means pushing our kids to set their sights higher. They might think they’ve got a pretty good jump shot or a pretty good flow, but our kids can’t all aspire to be the next LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice. I want them aspiring to be President of the United States.

“So, yes, government must be a force for opportunity. Yes, government must be a force for equality. But ultimately, if we are to be true to our past, then we also have to seize our own destiny, each and every day.”
I can’t say enough about this speech. It wasn’t a speech pleading for money for the cause. It wasn’t a speech begging the white community to be fairer. It was a speech to those who have been underrepresented and unfairly treated, imploring them to rise above mistreatment and discrimination to become what is always possible in America for those who work hard and fairly.

Then, in a towering, powerful way, like the surf rolling inevitably toward the shore, Obama rose up in conclusion:

“So, I know what can happen to a child who doesn’t have that chance. But I also know what can happen to a child who does. I was raised by a single mother. I don’t come from a lot of wealth. I got into my share of trouble as a kid. My life could easily have taken a turn for the worse. But that mother of mine gave me love; she pushed me, and cared about my education; she took no lip and taught me right from wrong. Because of her, I had a chance to make the most of my abilities. I had the chance to make the most of my opportunities. I had the chance to make the most of life.

“The same story holds for Michelle. The same story holds for so many of you. And I want all the other Barack Obamas out there, and all the other Michelle Obamas out there, to have that same chance – the chance that my mother gave me; that my education gave me; that the United States of America gave me. That is how our union will be perfected and our economy rebuilt. That is how America will move forward in the next one hundred years.

“And we will move forward. This I know – for I know how far we have come. Last week, in Ghana, Michelle and I took Malia and Sasha to Cape Coast Castle, where captives were once imprisoned before being auctioned; where, across an ocean, so much of the African-American experience began. There, reflecting on the dungeon beneath the castle church, I was reminded of all the pain and all the hardships, all the injustices and all the indignities on the voyage from slavery to freedom.

“But I was also reminded of something else. I was reminded that no matter how bitter the rod or how stony the road, we have persevered. We have not faltered, nor have we grown weary. As Americans, we have demanded, strived for, and shaped a better destiny.

“That is what we are called to do once more. It will not be easy. It will take time. Doubts may rise and hopes recede.

“But if John Lewis could brave Billy clubs to cross a bridge, then I know young people today can do their part to lift up our communities.

If Emmet Till’s uncle Mose Wright could summon the courage to testify against the men who killed his nephew, I know we can be better fathers and brothers, mothers and sisters in our own families.

“If three civil rights workers in Mississippi – black and white, Christian and Jew, city-born and country-bred – could lay down their lives in freedom’s cause, I know we can come together to face down the challenges of our own time. We can fix our schools, heal our sick, and rescue our youth from violence and despair.

“One hundred years from now, on the 200th anniversary of the NAACP, let it be said that this generation did its part; that we too ran the race; that full of the faith that our dark past has taught us, full of the hope that the present has brought us, we faced, in our own lives and all across this nation, the rising sun of a new day begun.”
Go to MSNBC-TV video site to watch the President address the NAACP

If you prefer to read a full text of the speech (click here), but, remember, you will miss the extraordinary cadences and accents of the Obama voice in his remarkable delivery.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Marriage of My Parents

The little wedding chapel in Elkton, Maryland.

They wed in Elkton, Maryland, in 1928.
by Charlie Leck

In 1928, when my mother was a 17 year old girl, and my father a 29 year old man, they stole away from New York City and traveled down to Elkton, Maryland to be married.

Gosh, I wish I could have been there. I wish I could even imagine it.

Over the years I tried vigorously to get anyone to talk about it. Either my big sister and older brothers knew nothing about the history of the event or they didn’t think I had any right to hear about it. My parents weren’t talking and neither were my mother’s parents. I tried tapping into each of them.

All I could find out from anyone was that Maryland was the only state anywhere near New York that required no blood tests and no waiting period until one was established in 1938.

So, with no facts in hand, I was left only to making things up, which, often, I really don’t mind at all.

To give my fantasy at least a touch of reality, I traveled to Elkton in the early 90s to get some sense of the setting in which my drama would take place. My wife was at a horse show in Fair Hill – not so far away – and I took our rental car and drove over to Elkton. By asking some old timers I bumped into, I found out that there was, back in those days, a train that came down from New York City, through Philadelphia and on down to Baltimore. It made a stop in Elkton. Voila! There you are. I had a story.

My mother, Mildred Ann Svejda, was from a strict Roman Catholic family. My father’s family was German Lutheran. My father was 12 years older than my very young mother. It’s easy to guess that Grandma Svejda (Emma) was foursquare opposed to the marriage.

"You're so young, Milly. He's 12 years older than you. He isn't a Catholic, Milly! You must be married in the Church."

Having been close to my grandpa, Frank Svejda, I can imagine him winking at my dad and nodding that he should go for it. He and my dad were always very close during my life and I was always fascinated with that camaraderie and their friendship.

Another ingredient important for the mixture here was that my mother was a stubborn, entirely independent and determined woman. I can imagine her making the decision and telling my father that she had girl friends who had taken the train to Maryland, gotten married, spent a one night honeymoon there, and then traveled right back to New York so they could get immediately back to work.

I liked Elkton. I wandered its narrow streets and chatted people up. Several folks pointed me toward Main Street and the Historic Little Wedding Chapel. Though there is now a waiting period in Elkton, it still remains a popular place for couples to marry because of the wedding chapels that had been established there in the 1920s. The manager of the chapel spoke with me about my parents and it’s very possible they were married there; however, the chapel’s records prior to 1938 were destroyed. Yet, there were also competing chapels in those days and they all got their share of weddings. And, there was a local Justice of the Peace who advertised his services and hung out a shingle, announcing his availability to perform a wedding. Whatever, whether it was in the little chapel or before a Justice of the Peace, my mother had probably made advance arrangements. She was pretty organized and planned ahead.

So, in the summer of 1928, they boarded a train with another couple (probably friends who had also married in Elkton) and enjoyed the trip through New Jersey, into Philadelphia and then on south to Elkton. Knowledgeable cabbies would meet arriving couples at the train station and tell them all they needed to know about where to get a license (the courthouse remained open until 7 o’clock) and where they could marry. My parents arrived on time, purchased their license within five minutes and took their vows, with their friends acting as best man and matron of honor. Then, they went out to dinner and had crab and champagne.

I found the Howard House Tavern right there on Main Street. It announced that it had been in business since 1853 and it had a great big menu with plenty of crab. I ordered the plate of soft shell crabs and the steamed red potatoes (it’s what my mother would have had).

“And, oh, yes, can I get a split of champagne?”

“Certainly sir!” The waiter brightened up, sensing a tip of unusual size. “What kind would you like?”

“A Taitinger, please. Very chilled. And start me with a half-dozen raw oysters!”

It’s the way my old man would have ordered. He loved seafood and adored clams and oysters.

Alone, I sat back to enjoy the fantasy. Over there, only twenty feet or so away from me, at a corner table, I watched the best man stand and propose a toast. There was great laughter and everyone raised a glass. My mom and dad kissed.

Wow! She was a pretty good looking chick. She had that Bohemian nose, but it fit her and her dark skin glimmered. She was tall and thin and very, very happy. My dad was a tad shorter than she. He had very light hair, almost white. He wore a suit and tie nicely, like it was common for him. He was thin and his clothing hung nicely on his frame.

My dad was shaking his finger at his best man and laughing uproariously. My mother blushed and looked down at the table. Her matron of honor giggled and put her arm around her husband’s back. A huge platter of oysters were brought to the table and the waiter refilled their champagne glasses. My dad was singing something and the others at the table were laughing and clapping as he sang. His voice was quite high and quite good.

When you’re smiling, when you smiling
The whole world smiles with you
When you’re laughing, when you’re laughing
The sun comes shining through

But when you’re crying, you bring on the rain
So stop that sighing, be happy again
When you’re smiling, keep on smiling
The whole world smiles with you
The four revelers consumed the last of their champagne. I signaled to my waiter, calling him to my table.

“Bring them another bottle of champagne – whatever they’re drinking – and put it on my tab.”

My waiter hustled another bottle of champagne over to them. He quickly filled their glasses and, in response to their inquiry, he pointed over at my table. They turned to look over and waved to me and I smiled and lifted my glass in a toast to them.

The oysters and my champagne arrived. Both were spectacular. I ate and drank as I watched the little wedding party enjoying their lovely celebration. My mother was blushing about something and my father put an arm around her and gave her a big hug, kissing her sweetly on her cheek. He seemed to be filled completely up with a huge love for his new wife. She, just a child, was swimming in it as if in a gentle, still pond in a small stream.

My father’s buddy rose to his feet and began a song. His voice was stunning and the entire audience stopped and turned to listen to him.

Bring back once more those days of yore
So I can see my sweetheart,
that girl I adore

She won my heart right from the start
And now it won’t behave

That girl of mine
Oh how I love her
That girl of mine
I really love her

So she’s many miles away
I’m with her every day
Memories and love now bonded two
The packed house – each and every table – applauded and cheered the lovely song. My father was clapping wildly and my mother rose and clapped sweetly for the beautiful performance. The best man turned and waved to each corner of the room. His eyes caught mine. He saw me clapping. He bowed slightly and waved demurely to me.

“Oh, Charlie,” the woman with him was shouting, “you were wonderful!”

I lifted my champagne glass to him and tilted my head demurely, but my heart was pounding. It is my father’s brother, I thought. It is my Uncle Charlie. It is the man after whom I am named. And that is his wife, Tess – my wonderful Aunt Tessie.
My waiter arrived with the crab platter and slid it before me. He saw the tears in my eyes and he was taken aback.

“Are you all right, sir?”

“Yes, yes,” I said. “I’m just enjoying the little wedding party across the way.”

“What wedding party is that, sir?”

“The table to whom I sent the bottle of champagne.”

“What champagne is that, sir?”

I looked over to the corner where my mom and dad were celebrating with such fervor. They weren’t there. Six elderly folks, even older than I, were sitting there at a circular table. They looked both exhausted and bored. I peered up at my waiter. A lump grew in my throat and I couldn’t speak.

“Could I pour you more champagne, sir?”

I nodded silently. Everything was peaceful. A piano tinkled somewhere. There was a dull murmuring of voices spread out across the big, open room.

I had traveled through time and I’d been dropped back again in the now and the here, but I had gotten what I came for and it was a lovely split second of time.

The crab was wonderful and the champagne elegant. The tab extremely high.

An old postcard from Elkton show how marriages were at the center of its economy.

Main Street in Elkton about the time my parents would have married there.