Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Big Short

Michael Lewis is a productive, creative and very successful writer.
by Charlie Leck

“Michael Lewis, who has authored many fine books, has out-done himself and produced his finest work.” [Charlie Leck, Ad Astra]

I’ve always wanted to quote myself, so there – I’ve done it! (Actually, I’ve done it a few other times, too.)

I first met Michael Lewis as a writer when I read his extraordinary baseball book, Moneyball. A friend, knowing my interest in good baseball literature, recommended it to me. I found it a most fascinating and revealing book, opening my eyes to baseball statistics and what they mean or don’t mean in relation to the adequacy of players or teams. I sent that book on to my brother when I finished reading it because I knew he, as a significant and knowledgeable baseball fan, would enjoy it. Not too long ago, he was telling me about this great baseball book called Moneyball and that I should be sure to read it. He’d left it lying around for a long time before he finally got to it, forgetting completely where it had come from.

Lewis, a young man, has ten books to his credit already. He’s a very good writer – not a literary giant, but a good, solid writer. He tells his stories with great skill and his books always “move right along” with great smoothness.

He is also the author of the very big seller, The Blind Side, which was made into a very popular Hollywood flick. That book told a very touching and moving story and it held me absolutely spellbound. I refuse to see the film because I don’t want to spoil the memory of my enjoyment as I read the book itself.

These two books led me to read some other of Lewis’ works: Liar’s Poker and The Money Culture and Losers. Each one of them was captivating.

Now, Michael Lewis has given us The Big Short. It’s a blockbuster and has taken the nation by storm. Because the book is so commonly known, it’s probably foolish to write about it here -- it's like I’m being banal. Yet, I’ve just got to scream it out: “You’ve outdone yourself, Michael Lewis; for this is your finest work yet. Thanks a lot!”

If you want to understand the financial mess we got ourselves into in this country and how we virtually raped low and middle income families to create massive wealth at the top, you’ve got to read The Big Short.

The crucial question, as posed on the book’s dust-jacket, is this: “Who understood the risk inherent in the assumption of ever-rising real estate prices, a risk compounded daily by the creation of those arcane, artificial securities loosely based on piles of doubtful mortgages?”

There are a few heroes in the book and that saves the day, because the book simply would have been too awful to read had it only been about the scoundrels. Steve Eisman is one of those heroes. His speech, on the morning that the sub-prime market finally crashed and brought down dozens and dozens of banks around the nation, is delightfully detailed in Lewis’ book – in moment by moment counter-point with the actual decline of the market.

March 14, 2008

“‘The minute Steve starts to speak,’ said Vinny, ‘the stock market starts to fall.’ As Eisman explained why no one in his right mind would own the very shares [Bear Stearns] he had bought sixteen hours earlier, Danny dashed off text messages to his partners.

9:49. Oh my—Bear at 47

“‘If [the U.S. financial system] sounds like a circular Ponzi scheme it’s because it is.’

9:55. Bear is 43 last OMG

‘The banks in the United States are only beginning to come to grips with their massive loan problems. For instance, I wouldn’t own a single bank in the State of Florida because I think they might all be gone.’

10:02. Bear 29 last!!!

‘The upper classes of this country raped this country. You fucked people. You built a castle to rip people off. Not once in all these years have I come across a person inside a big Wall Street firm who was having a crisis of conscience. Nobody ever said, ‘This is wrong.’ And no one ever gave a shit about what I had to say.’

Here’s your chance to find out what happened to America’s banks and other mortgage lenders in an awesomely interesting and exciting way. My palms actually sweated at times while I read. Of course I felt a burning rage, as well.

It's the way Lewis writes. He drags you into his story and makes you a part of it. He makes you want to jump up at one of these meetings of the big shots and shout: “What the fuck are you doing?”

Go get The Big Short and read it. You’ll send me a thank you note.


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Monday, August 30, 2010

Then and Now

A reader took the time to write a thoughtful message – some of it critical, yet kind – and I want to take the time for a thoughtful reply!
by Charlie Leck

A regular reader wrote some thoughtful comments to me about the general tone and tenor of my blogs – not of any one of them in particular, but of my thinking over the span of them. I appreciated the time he took to make some comments, pose some questions and express some differences of opinion. Let me refer to him here as Mo.

Howard Zinn
Mo, upon a recommendation in one of my blogs, took the time to read Howard Zinn’s extraordinary book, A People’s History of the United States. Or, at least, he tried to read it and got part way through it. I don’t think Mo liked it particularly, but that doesn’t come as a surprise. Zinn can rattle us with his abrasive and negative approach.

“According to Howard Zinn,” Mo writes, “what has America ever done right? Can’t find it in the first 291 pages and suspect I will not in the other half of the history account. He is negative to the point of distorting history.”

For just a moment, let’s just get to know the late Howard Zinn here. I had the opportunity to hear Zinn lecture a couple of times and I also had the great joy of sitting one on one with him for over an hour, picking his brain. I can tell you this for certain: Zinn did have a sense of humor and he could laugh about his own foolishness as well as that of others. I never asked him the question directly, but I think he loved his native land – America – but he was also very exasperated by it. He understood that people are basically lazy and they want simple answers and solutions to complex questions; therefore, for example, they’ll accept pabulum when it comes to matters of science, religion and history.

He regarded written histories – not just of the United States, but all of them – with a great deal of skepticism. He was not a nullifidian, however. He simply understood that people wanted their histories to be as simple as possible – they were to provide answers and not raise questions.

Zinn believed that every, single work of history is a “political document.” Zinn, an activist and organizer, clearly labeled his own work, on the history of the United States, “a people’s history.” As you begin reading it, he forewarns you: “With all its limitations, it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance.

"The mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction-so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people's movements-that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission."

I think Mo missed Zinn’s warning. He is a leftist. He is concerned about the immense power on the right. He thinks it is so powerful over there that even history can be corrupted and distorted to suit the needs and goals of the right. That is not a laughing matter and Zinn wanted to correct the distortions.

If, over the years, I’ve become a student of anything it is of historical accounting – or the writing and reporting of histories. I began sensing the need during the Vietnam War era. Accounts of the 20th century history of Vietnam, and the events that led the U.S. to intervene there, differed widely, depending on who was writing them and for whom they were written. In 1967 and 1968, it was important for me to know the truth and to speak the truth. Is there anything more burdensome on the conscience than the decision to condemn one’s own nation? Get it right, I told myself.

In those Vietnam years I discovered that Zinn was correct about works of history and how they mingled with political perspectives and the interests of the State. The government and the leaders of government were feeding us pabulum because they didn’t think we could handle chewing on tough meat. They made their accounts simple. However, the questions surrounding Vietnam were complex. Even statesman and legislators preferred the simple accounts and explanations.

Had we faced up to the hard and chewy questions back then – if Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson had faced up to them – we most likely would not have taken the course we did in Vietnam.

Yet, then and now, our government is sorely tempted to support and stand behind corrupt governments if the alternative is anti-democracy governments. Some of you will say: “That okay!” Well, maybe, in some strange cases, it is; however, we should be able to approach that decision with the truth as our guide and not in foolish and blind ways. That is Zinn’s point.

To think that Zinn is not positive and hopeful is to misread him. His account of the Civil War, and the complex questions that led us into that war, is a good example. Zinn paints an outstanding picture of how we got there and of the people who brought us there. His treatment of Abraham Lincoln is brilliant. No leader, in such a situation, could remain unscarred by history. Yet, scarred as he was, Lincoln stood above history in that time and made mostly sound and unselfish decisions.

Zinn’s book never leaves my desk. When I read a work of history of the United States, I counter-balance it by reading Zinn. For instance, read the conventional histories of the Mexican-American War and then turn and read Zinn’s account (well documented and sourced in every way). The conventional histories tell us it was a matter of “Manifest Destiny” to seize half of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California from the Mexicans. The war was provoked by Mexico, we are told.

It is the easiest matter to blindly believe that. It keeps things simple and neat. It allows us to sleep better at night. How much does it matter that it is not the truth? The people were duped by the government then, just as they were duped by the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” in our own age! It was our manifest destiny that America should spread from sea to shining sea. To believe that it was so makes everything easier to swallow – no chewing required.

Mexico agreed to the sale of its western territories because an American military force captured Mexico City and forced the Mexican government to agree to the sale.

Oh, how humorless! Yes, I’ll give Mo that. It is pretty tough to chew.

When Zinn wrote his history, he had one thing in mind and that was to correct the errors, to understand the truth, and to get it right. It ain’t comfortable, but it’s interesting. Mo thinks Zinn distorts history. When you view his work of history as a counter-balance, which he carefully told us it was, it is not a distortion, but a correction. At the very least, it allows us to get another point of view – another perspective – of history.

The New York Times gave Zinn’s history book a rave review and declared it ought to be “required reading.” Right winger Daniel Flynn panned it and called it biased and a “cartoon anti-history.” Flynn could not, however, point to specific errors or mistakes. Hundreds of universities and colleges in America require a reading of Zinn’s book in their advanced history classes. The super-patriotic crowd who believes America is always correct will, of course, not like this book. On the other hand, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called Zinn “a polemicist” and not a historian. Schlesinger had his own reputation to worry about for some of the decisions John F. Kennedy’s insiders (including Schlesinger) made during that administration.

William Blum, author of Killing Hope, gets it about right in his comments on Zinn’s history book.

“A People’s History and his other writings can be seen as an attempt to make up for omissions and under-emphases of America’s dark side in American history books and media.”

Frankly, if I’m going to be a good student of American history, I need to know about those omissions.

On God
Mo, also faithfully read
my recent blog about God and Glenn Beck. I must have jumbled up that blog because Mo asks me a question that I don’t think is necessary.

“We went to the space museum and viewed a film on the Hubble space craft,” Mo tells me. “Space is a wondrous place, God is there, but is he not also in us with the Holy Spirit?”

If I wrote anything in that blog to give the impression that I did not think God is in us, I apologize. Let’s just drop the concept of the Holy Spirit because it is too confusing and restrictive (it tends to make things only Christian when I want to be more universal). God is with us and in us! That is where it begins.

The finest theological work I ever read was a work by Joseph Haroutunian called God with Us. Again, it is not popular because it falls into that category of not being pabulum. It requires you to stretch the boundaries of your mind and discard old and simple thoughts for new and complex ones.

God? God? God?

That is how I titled that blog to which you refer, Mo. And, I did it for a reason – because, you see, the reality of God is not easy to understand. People, however, approach this subject as they do their histories. They want it simple, complete and easy.

Where is God? In outer space? I suppose so! Why not? However, where shall I experience and know God and make the determination that God is real? In me! With me!

That is the only way I can experience the reality of God; that is, within me!

Guys like Haroutunian and Paul Tillich are able to put into words what I feel about God. Though the hymns and simple thoughts we share in Church are okay and inspirational, I don’t think they deal in realities. I think Jesus did. I like him. He understood where God is.

A professor of mine saw God in an unconventional Trinitarian way. Draw a triangle. On one point write “God”… on another write “Self”… and on the third jot “Others.” In the center of the triangle put “Love.”

What is it Jesus said about this? If we think we can love God and not our neighbors, we deceive ourselves. Jesus told us that he who loves his neighbor loves God and he loves himself, and God loves him and abides in him. Apply all of that to the triangle you’ve just drawn out.

God is in us and with us when we love others – and not just a few chosen, easy to love people – but when we love all others – even the very difficult to love. Wow! That’s hard!

And that’s what I was trying to say in that blog about Glenn Beck. Boy, does Beck know what he’s getting into when he summons God back into America.

It sounds so simple to say that Jesus really understood God. The question is: Do we understand Jesus?

Outer space I don’t know about? I don’t get it! Inner space I get and that’s where I look for God. It’s where I experience God also.

“I read your blog most every night,” Mo said. “It has become a must do thing for me.”

Mo, I’m glad you read my blogs. I was thinking about retiring from this blog writing deal; but knowing you are out there and that you’re willing to read my “stuff” makes me want to keep writing something with a touch of care and caution.

It’s a wondrous world, Mo. All that stuff you saw when you were looking out into the vastness of space is incredible and beautiful, so God must be there. But, man, when I look inside a beautiful and loving person I see something so wondrous and amazing that I know God exists.

Thanks, Mo. Thanks for everything.


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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Glenn Beck’s Call to God

Beck and his followers ought to be careful about calling on God, because they may get just what they are asking for!
by Charlie Leck

Glenn Beck gathered with followers of the Tea Party movement in Washington on Saturday. The crowds were big. They were ready for some religious fervor. Glennn Beck announced what they wanted to hear: “America today begins to turn back to God!”

The entire gathering smacked of a religious revival, including plenty of gospel music and conservative sermons.

“For too long this country has wandered in darkness,” Beck proclaimed.

Sarah Palin talked about restoring, rather than transforming, America!

This was a rally that was calling America back to something – as conservatives do – and away from change and progress. The hard right wing of American conservatism has always been afraid of changing. They don’t want change. Instead, they want to return to something that never existed, except in their imaginations, in the first place. Change frightens these conservatives and they usually oppose it as ungodly.

They believe that America was once a “Christian nation.” They believe that God was at the center of American ideals and that stability in America came from the nation’s deep belief in and faithfulness to God.”

These are people who do not understand American history. America, you see, has never been a stable and static nation. America, from its founding, has always been a nation transforming itself and evolving along with changes in technology and the changes in the global situation.

On the heels of the revolution and election of a first President, the nation had to defend itself almost immediately in the War of 1812. Then the brief and highly questionable Mexican War came along and it would be difficult to believe that God would want anything to do with that contest. One of the bloodiest wars in the history of mankind was our own war between the North and the South, where fellow-countrymen fought against each other and where kin killed kin. God? Please!

One could go on and on and show America growing, changing, evolving and transforming itself.

My point here, however, is that those who are calling now upon the name of God don’t really have a solid idea of who or what God might be. To them, God is like something that could be purchased in a chocolate store. It’s good and easy to get and makes us feel groovy and satisfied.

Instead, I think, God is more bitter than that and what He asks of us is not easy to swallow. God disturbs us and agitates us and challenges us. Do more! Make peace. Care for those in need.

“Help of the helpless,” the old hymn calls Him.

Glenn Beck calls us to more “faithfulness to God.” Be careful what you ask, Glenn, for you may get it. For now you must struggle with the question about what it means to be faithful to God. If you are talking about the “God of the Ages,” Mr. Beck, you are not talking about a God who will protect us while we gather wealth and material abundance for ourselves. Lord, no!

God, I believe, is out there with the community organizers you so disdain, Mr. Beck. God is driving them to work harder and harder to solve the problems of poverty and violence. God wants to see less accumulation of wealth and more sharing of the abundance of grace he has shed upon us. God, I think, wonders about 9-figure corporate bonuses and unjustly low minimum wages.

God calls all men to be brothers and all women to be sisters and all people to be of one world family. There is no hatred within God. All people are his children – Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and even Christians.

The real God is not the God of revival pastors who promise success and abundance in return for believing in Him.

Those who accept God accept a heavy burden in the call to restore righteousness and fairness among all the people of the world.

The real God has no favorites, Mr. Beck. He doesn’t favor America over other nations. He doesn’t favor white people over other people. He doesn’t favor Christians over people of other faiths or even people of no faith.

Be mighty careful about calling this nation back to God, Mr. Beck; for God, I think, is enchanted with many of the ideas and concepts you oppose. You may “sow the wind,” Mr. Beck, and “reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7)

I promise you this: God is not the possession of the born-again Christians. I think God is even a little disturbed by them and would like to rattle their cages and tell them to stop yappin’ and start doin’ the deeds of kindness to which he has called them.

Stop claimin’ God is somehow in the conservative camp, Mr. Beck, because you are dead-wrong on that count.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing steam
[Amos 5:23-24]


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Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Sad, Sad Saturday Morning

On the anniversary of one of the greatest freedom speeches in our nation’s history, Glen Beck will gather the Tea Party at the Lincoln Memorial.
by Charlie Leck

The Tea Party, rallied there by Glen Beck, will gather in Washington, at the Lincoln Memorial, on the anniversary of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior’s great “Let Freedom Ring” speech and claim they are the real heirs of Doctor King’s legacy.

They will, however, spout their anti-government, libertarian blather and their voices and temperament will be of hatred and division. You will not sense the spirit of Doctor King at these gatherings even though there will be attempts to imitate it.

They will call for less government and less assistance for those human beings who need it and deserve it. As you listen to them, do NOT forget the real message behind Doctor King’s remarkable speech.

“In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

This great leader was trying to remind America that it had a moral and social responsibility to solve the problems of poverty and injustice. He was rallying government to assume that responsibility. The Tea Party will claim government should have no role, or a very limited role, in solving social problems.

The day Doctor King dreamed of in his great speech has not yet arrived…

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

You will not hear voices of hope and renewal at the Tea Party rally. You will hear condemnation and consternation. You will not hear positive possibilities of lifting people up from poverty and hopelessness. You will hear attacks on government and upon those who seek a better and more just nation.

It is appalling that Glen Beck gathers these folks on this great and important day in the history of the Civil Rights Movement and tries to disguise all that hatred and neglectfulness behind the spirit of Doctor King.

This will be a sad morning for me. Glen Beck and Sarah Palin speaking from the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Doctor King’s great speech is a sad, sad thought.

If you want to see a video of Doctor King's great speech and the rally at the Lincoln Memorial, click here!


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Friday, August 27, 2010

Visitors from France

Helen, one of the spectacular Nobile children we had
visiting with us for a couple of weeks.

Why do the French seem so beautiful?
by Charlie Leck

Why are the French so beautiful? I suppose it begins with their language. It's so gentle and smooth and hypnotic. Then, of course, their food is also gentle and smooth. I guess it's also hypnotic.

We had visitors from France this summer. They stayed a couple of weeks. They were most interested in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Surprised? Of course not!

We were conscious of our diets while they were here. We were cautious about what we put out for dinner. We ate fresher and healthier foods. We had some nice wines around. We left the TV off as much as possible. We took some time during each day to do some drawing -- even if we weren't good at it -- just for the fun of looking at something so carefully. It was quite nice.

We did take them to a Twins' baseball game because we had already planned to go ourselves. They found it interesting and funny! I took the kids to Valley Fair (an amusement park not too far from here) and they loved it and had an exciting time. When they got home they worked at acting blasé about the whole experience.

They liked the civility of Minneapolis and they were impressed with how educated most of the people seemed -- and how important the theatre is to us here -- and how good the restaurants seem to be. They also liked our farm and all the animals and the big woods that surrounds our house.

Doesn't it all say something? Have you traveled in Provence? Normandy? Paris? What gentle, smooth and hypnotic places!

The mother, Lorence, had always a happy and bright look about her.

Andre was prepared to joke and play around with anyone.

Patti, the father, artist and philosopher loves his children immensely.

Armond came to America seeking adventure and excitement.


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Thursday, August 26, 2010

What, or who, is white? Who is Christian?

So many of the people who regularly touch my life live in constant fear that, one day within the next generation or two, the world will no longer be dominated by white people or Christians!
by Charlie Leck

I am astounded by my white, Christian brethren who sound as if they are prepared to go to battle with all people different than they. [See Wednesday's blog for a discussion of prepositions and the objects of prepositions.]

There is one fellow in my golf club who used to send me all sorts of heated emails about Muslims and how they are going to dominate America even as, as he said, they currently dominate Europe. He stopped sending them when he tired of my constant fact-checking of them. A very fundamentalist Christian lady emails me regularly about the danger of other religions and keeps proclaiming that Christianity is the ONLY faith through which one can come to God – that one only truly knows God through Christ. She claims we were founded as a Christian nation and that we ought to make that formal by law.

Oh, my goodness.

Do we realize, that if we lined up for battle, how outnumbered we are – we white and we Christians?

And what does it mean to be white? Can anyone answer that? Are Middle-Eastern people white? If not, what color are they? What about South Americans? What are the Indians of India and what are Native Americans?

You may think you can easily answer the above questions, but you cannot when you begin to think about all the complexities of race.

How many human racial groups are there? Quickly, off the top of your head!

Are Asians a racial group or a geographic group? Quickly!

What does it mean to be Caucasian? Does it mean white? Or does it mean people of a geographic group – descendents of Caucasus region of Europe/Asia.

Into what classification do we put people with mixed parentage?

If one uses generally accepted definitions of different nationalities as either white or non-white, we should understand (we white folk) that we are outnumbered by more than 4 to 1.

Those of us who accept the label of Christian are also seriously out-numbered by 3 or 4 to 1.

Fundamental Christian groups claim there are more than 2 billion Christians in the world. It is a seriously inflated and fictitious number. Don’t ever believe it? Christians don’t lie; however, many liars are Christians.

My greatest disagreement with fellow Christians has to do with the concept of one true faith – that is, that there is only one route to salvation (accept the word, salvation, just for now, in its loosest possible sense). Of course, these Christians use the Bible as their source for such sure knowledge. The Bible, however, is a seriously questionable source since the early Church so regularly tampered with the original documents in order to both establish a liturgical theatre and to justify its own primacy over all other religions.

I am tired of people who are Christian and white thinking those two attributes make them better than other people. Besides being extraordinarily ignorant, it leads to nothing but trouble.

Fundamentalists of any faith are a danger and they are potential radicals. It was not Muslims (people of Islam) who destroyed the World Trade Towers. The towers were destroyed by fundamental, radical and ignorant Muslims. The Federal Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by a fundamental and radical Christian – and he was also ignorant.

All of these things whirl around in my mind when I think about the opposition to the proposed and planned Muslim Center in lower Manhattan. If you want to read the best -- the very best -- statement made about his whole matter, I urge you to read Dick Cavett's blog REAL AMERICANS PLEASE STAND UP!

It is time for us all to make peace and truly attempt to understand one another.

My last question is this: Why are we afraid of a group of people who want to briefly and regularly pray a few times each day?


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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Supreme Court Weakens our Democracy

With its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has severely weakened our democracy and given enormous power over our elections to corporate America.
by Charlie Leck

We made this observation months and months ago (stated immediately above in the subtitle); however, we didn’t have a concrete example of how that decision would work within our democracy until the Target Corporation matter this summer. Target came bullying its way into the Minnesota gubernatorial election by making an extremely large financial donation to one of the candidates through a ‘paper’ transaction with an organization called Minnesota Forward.

Tony Regare, From Tony’s Keyboard, has written some awfully good things over the past few weeks about the damage the Supreme Court has done to us with its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision last autumn (No. 08-205).

Now the best analysis yet of the dangers involved in this decision by our highest court comes from Myles Spicer (as published on MinnPost.Com under the title The Hidden Dangers of the Supreme Court’s Decision).

In a couple of paragraphs, Spicer sums up what many of us fear most… I strongly urge you to read Spicer’s full statement. Below I print only two paragraphs of the total.

Corporate executives are strongly tilted to the right
This may be assumed and self-evident, but still needs added vetting. Gregg Steinhafel, Target's CEO, is a strong Republican supporter. And it is no wonder he would direct his company's funds to a hard-right candidate. He is reported to have given Emmer $2,000 individually (the maximum); and over $25,000 mostly to various Republican causes. Historically, individual contributions from Target's other top executives have gone mainly to Republicans. Moreover, Steinhafel's total compensation, from all sources, at Target last year was over $13 million — not atypical for top executives at major corporations. There is little question where such contributors will send their company's money. When we see other corporate contributions, count on them going the same way Steinhafel's corporate money went.

Interlocking boards
As with most corporations, the Target board is made up of current or former executives with other major American corporations. These include directors associated with such companies as Eli Lilly, General Mills, United States Cellular, Xerox and Wells Fargo. This creates a clique — a "club" — of individuals with a common cause; and that cause is clearly the one espoused by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other similar supporters of the right. If Steinhafel made his contribution to MN Forward with the knowledge and acceptance of the board, then this assumption of a collusive effect is correct; if he did it without board approval, it brings up what I consider an abuse of management power.

When you read through this argument by Spicer, you realize how powerful corporate giving can be and how it will often negate the power of the individual to influence political campaigns.

The Supreme Court of the United States gave one side in America’s historic political contest the overwhelming power to control elections.


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It is I

It drives me crazy, but there is nothing I can do about it – the whole thing is bigger than us (oh, excuse me… the whole thing is bigger than we!)
by Charlie Leck

It is I, here again, posting another blog. Thank you for visiting and reading my work.

This morning I am remembering the many times, when I was a young lad, coming home from somewhere and bursting into the house, only to hear my mother’s voice calling from another room.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me,” I’d say.

“Did I hear you correctly, Charles Henry? It is I! How many times need I tell you?”

“No, no,” I’d respond like a wise guy, “it isn’t you. It’s me!”

At that point I would hear her heavy footfalls on the stairs, heading down to confront me. I knew I was in for a good ear twisting.

How many times I hear this mistake these days from otherwise very articulate and well-spoken folks. A radio personality I like very much, with a big, booming voice, is always saying things like: “Well, those guys are supposed to know better than us!” (That’s a direct quote from yesterday’s show.)

I scream at the radio at the top of my lungs: “…better than we, you idiot!... those guys are supposed to know better than we!”

It doesn’t matter anymore. I see the error in books by outstanding writers. I hear it from the leading talking heads on radio and TV. When I complain to my daughter, who teaches English at the college level in Chicago, she just shakes her head and explains that the language is changing – evolving!

Evolving, schmolving! It still grates on my nerves like fingernails on sandpaper when I hear it.

Back in my second single days, when I got lonely and needed an injection of family life, there was one wonderful, Serbian friend, Mary, whose home I could always visit and feel welcomed. She was a stickler about the proper use of pronouns, however, and she reminded me very much of my mother. We would sit at her lovely dining room table, having a mellow and comfortable family moment, and she would not stand for grammatical errors in the dinner-time conversation. Her children reminded me of me in my youth. They loved to toy with their mother and often erred intentionally.

I remember having to memorize the entire English preposition list and being tested on it. I don’t think kids do that today. I don’t think they know what a preposition is – aboard, about, above, across, after…. et al. A preposition is a linking word and it links words (nouns, pronouns) and phrases in a sentence. The word introduced by the preposition (them) is called the object of the preposition. When the pronoun is not an object of the preposition it is then, instead, “they.”

John called Sandy and talked about me.
The truck was moving between us.
The books were written particularly for them.

I write better than he (does)

In the latter example, there is no linking preposition and there is an understood verb (does). When I hear this particular example spoken incorrectly in grates on me because I instinctively hear the understood, but missing, word.

I write better than him (does)!

Urrrrrgh! How awful the sound of that. How lovely when spoken correctly.

I’ve gotten as bad as my mother. I am constantly correcting people – even sales clerks – when I should simply keep my big mouth shut!

I was in the bookstore – a learned, little shop with very sophisticated and actual readers as clerks – when one clerk stood at the computer and struggled.

“Who made this entry?” She asked.

“Oh, that was me,” a younger lady, standing back in a small aisle, shouted.

“No, no,” I shouted back to her. “That was I.”

“No, it wasn’t,” she said, surfacing from behind the row of books. “It was me.”

We could have stood there, arguing all day long about whether it was she or I. I remembered my mother, calling down the stairs.

“Who is it?”

“It is I, mother. It really is I. It would only be ‘me’ if I were an object of the preposition, mother.”

“Oh, how nice,” I hear my mother saying. “The good King’s language shall be preserved!”

If she had a grave, these days, my mother would be rolling over in it.


Was it all such wasted time?


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Sunday, August 22, 2010


Things didn’t go well yesterday after my wife came home in an absolute funk…
by Charlie Leck

Things are normally pretty peaceful around here on a Saturday. And, my wife is normally a very stable, even-keeled and rock of a person. Today, however, around two o’clock she called to tell me her billfold was stolen – this is the billfold with all her credit cards (at least four), a debit and cash withdrawal card (ATM), driver’s license, passport data card, insurance card, Medicare card and $340 in cash. There’s probably a dozen other items in there that she can’t think of right now in her agitated state.

A couple of 14 year old kids ran a con on her as she was loading up her truck after the Midtown Farmers Market closed yesterday. She has both a trailer to pack up and also some things to load into the backseat, interior compartment of her pickup truck – table cloths, signs, business and recipe cards, some sheepskins, an adding machine. It takes a couple of trips from the back of the trailer to the driver’s side of the pickup – not more than twenty feet. She started the whole process with the first trip to the pickup yesterday, leaving the door open because she knew she’d be right back and really hardly out of sight of the open door. Her purse was laying on the backseat.

What happened after that first load of little things was put in the pickup is that a fine little gentleman of about 14 interrupted her when she was back at the trailer and asked her a couple of questions about lamb. He had never eaten lamb he said sweetly.

“Is it good?”

Well, oh my, my wife thinks so and she told him. He asked another couple of questions about its tenderness and taste. My wife was pleased by his sense of curiosity and she climbed inside the freezer trailer to find him a package of lamb steaks as a gift.

“Take them home and have your mom try them,” she suggested to the young man. He was mighty pleased and thanked her with a big smile as he climbed on his bicycle and road away.

Well, it was plenty of time for his partner-in-crime to rifle my wife’s purse, find the billfold right at the top of the heap of stuff she keeps in there, and be off to the hinter lands of south Minneapolis.

She was frantic.

“What can I do?”

Well, we climbed in my car and headed for Minneapolis. As we drove, she called various credit card companies by using the phone numbers on the back of my cards and canceled the cards immediately.

My big idea is that we would go down to the farmers market and look in the trash cans and the portable toilet on the south end of the parking lot because that’s the way the two boys would likely have gone.

“Perhaps they peeled out the cash and threw the rest away.”

Well, the toilet area was locked up when we got there and so was the trash and sanitation stand next to it.” I looked down an alley across the street and noticed there were trash cans behind every house all the way down the alley. Over at the YMCA, across the street, there were big garbage dumpsters. There were even bigger ones at the big high school just a block away. Things were looking pretty hopeless.

There was a police precinct station just a few blocks away. I decided we’d go over there and report the incident. A patrolman met us in the parking lot as we approached the building and asked if he could help. We told him the sorry story. He shook his head in despair and showed us a look that indicated we ought to be more careful with our belongings.

“You understand there’s no chance we’ll catch them.”

“Yes, but shouldn’t we still report the crime?” My wife was sounding a little incredulous.

“You can call 3-1-1 and report it. They’re closed down for the weekend, but you can call on Monday. Or, you can file a report on the Internet’s 3-1-1 site.”

All was hopeless! Clearly!

We drove home! More correctly, I drove and thought I’d take the express lane on the freeway as I almost always do. I moved left to slide into it and only then spotted the gates indicating it was closed. Odd that it would be closed at 4:20 in the afternoon. It was always open then, but, then, this was a Saturday.

I needed to hurriedly move out of the lane and back to the right. I started to, but there was a car already there, right next to me. I had to jerk the car back left and couldn’t stop before one of the big gates slammed against the rear view mirror on my side of the car and plucked it off as neatly and cleanly as you could imagine. Only the electronic control-wiring was left staring into the car at me. Damn!

I couldn’t stop. It was a narrow, single lane area, raised above the city below me. Cars were coming like crazy. I accelerated and joined the flow of traffic. Of course, my wife, who had been on the phone with another credit card agency, screamed when she heard the smash of the gate against my rear view mirror, startling the poor fellow she was chatting with and me as well.

The ride home was a bit perilous – what without a rear view mirror and all and my wife’s continuous moaning about what a horrible day it had become. The Twins were getting their fannies handed to them too, and it was no relief listening to that game on the radio.

It was just a plain, old, bad day at Black Rock started by a couple of shrewed little fourteen year old kids on their bikes.

Are there lessons here? I could see the policeman’s face looking at us and I could tell he was thinking we were just a couple of farmer-hicks in from the countryside and ripe for picking.

“Maybe you ought to be a little more careful when you come into the city!”


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Friday, August 20, 2010

To Ana, a Descendant of Hal, at Target

Remember Hal, in Arthur Clarke's extraordinary science fiction novel, Space Odyssey?
by Charlie Leck

Ana, at Target, replied to my recent letter very much in HAL like language and thought process. It was like unsatisfactory sexual intercourse, this letter from Ana, leaving me feeling frustrated and quite empty. HAL, you may remember, stood for "Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer intelligence." Hal turned out to be a mean son-of-a-bitch and tried to kill all the crew aboard the spacecraft, Discovery.

Ana, it appears, runs targets Guest Relations Department (GURD) much like HAL ran Discovery -- that is, without feeling or sentiment. I had written a completely coherent and intelligent letter, if you don't mind me saying so myself, to Target's CEO about the misuse of my money within his corporation. Ana's reply was cold, sterile and off-point. I had to reply to her and I'll share that letter with you here.

August 20, 2010

Target Guest Relations
1000 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Dear Ana:

Thank you for your reply to my letter, Ana; however, you missed the point I was trying to make in my letter to your Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Greg Steinhaffel. I do feel as if I am probably writing to a computer – you know like Hal, the controlling computer aboard the spacecraft, Discovery One, in Space Odyssey, but you probably are too young to remember any of that, Ana.

My letter to your boss had nothing to do with your company’s civic activity or human and individual rights. I appreciate all your lofty comments about that, but it isn’t what I wrote to you about.

Ana I was talking about my money and your company’s profits. Don’t you understand that they are very much co-mingled? Complex for a computer, I know, but I’ll try to explain how it works in the retail business world. Here’s how it works! I spend money at Target. Target makes profits off of the money I and millions of other people spend at Target. You give a portion of those profits away to political candidates. Ergo, Ana, a portion of what you are giving away is my money.

I don’t want my money to go to political candidates, Ana – especially to political candidates as stupid, arrogant and low-down mean as Tom Emmer. So, Ana, it gets me angry and upset. I want you to get that money back.

I have no intention of spending money in your store as long as you have a policy of making political contributions. Now, Ana, don’t play me for a fool by telling me you actually gave it to an organization that promotes Minnesota’s business development. We are both adults here, Ana, and we can speak frankly. That’s a lot of bull!

I’ll send a copy of this letter along to Mr. Steinhafel, Ana. Perhaps he has a regular, human brain and can figure out the logic here. I’ll try to make him understand what my old man taught me decades ago: Don’t give money to political candidates if you are a retail business.

Thanks, Ana.


Charles H. Leck

cc: Mr. Greg Steinfafel, CEO, Target Corp

Folks, you should be writing your own letters to Target. You may write to Greg Steinhafel, Target's CEO, at the following address:
1000 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403


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Thursday, August 19, 2010


Bobby Thompson, a Giant, died on Monday night and it makes me think about my old man!
by Charlie Leck

My old man loved the New York Giants, the National League baseball team that played in the Polo Grounds in New York until about 1962. Oh my, how he loved them! This morning I picked up our local newspaper and read that Bobby Thompson – the guy who hit the 1951 home run that was called “the shot heard round the world” – had died on Monday night at his home in Savannah, Georgia. [You can read the story by Ben Walker AP Baseball Writer here!]

I went to my bookshelves and pulled down a little volume that I had written in 1995, called Essence. In it I had written about my old man and Bobby Thompson. Without the context of the whole book some of it will be vague for you, but you’ll get the picture – and, if you’re as old as I, you’ll remember the moment.

Oh, how my old-man loved the Giants. As a young man, he lived and worked in the Bronx. When the Giants played baseball in the grand, old Polo Grounds, my father would rush there from work, by trolley, to watch the Giants play. It may have been too much for him to watch the Giants miss out on winning the pennant year after year.

And then, when he took us all out to Jersey to live and grow up, he listened to them lose out to the bums from Brooklyn year after year. During those years he also had to put up with Bueska’s father, my grandpa, who loved the Dodgers and needled my father constantly.

I think my dad took some solace, however, from the fact that the Dodgers could never win the World Series. As much as he hated the Junior League, and especially the Yankees, I think he secretly rooted for them to knock off the Brooklyn Bums. It helped some when the Dodgers always lost in the great, world championship of baseball. But, he grieved that the Giants never got there. Until 1951, that is.

In August of that year, the Bums were already 13 games out in front of the Giants. My old-man was raging about firing the manager, Leo Durocher. Half the people in the Bronx and northern Jersey agreed with him. During a game, my old-man would get so angry when the Giants fell behind that he’d go over to the GE black and white and punch it off. He’d get so pissed off that he couldn’t watch.

Then the Giants made their move. They wouldn’t lose and the Bums couldn’t win. Nervously, my father watched the race tighten. Still, when the Giants fell behind in any particular game, and it looked like they’d lose, he shut down the television. The next morning he’d learn from the Herald Tribune that the Giants had won. So, it became a ritual. If the Giants fell behind in a game, off would go the telly. As the season drew to a close, it became an absolute superstition. However, he couldn’t just shut down the television. The anger had to be there. It was part of the ritual. He’d curse at Leo (the Lip) Durocher, and then he’d snap off the picture and sound.

My father was wild with hope when the Giants caught the Dodgers on the last day of the season. It forced a play-off to determine the winner of the pennant. Best two out of three. Only problem? They had to play the dreaded team that my grandpa loved. Oh how my father feared the inevitable gloating that would follow should Durocher’s team choke and lose again. Old Frank Svejda would be merciless.

The Giants managed to split the first two games and force a finale at the Polo Grounds. The advantage seemed the Giant’s. But, when it came down to the last inning, the Dodgers took a frightening 4 to 2 lead and the Giants seemed doomed. My old-man headed for the television and cursed at it and Leo. He shut it down.

I couldn’t believe it. That was it! Do or die! No tomorrow! And my old-man turns off the game. I couldn’t bear it. But, it was part of a rite.

So, I slinked into the little living quarters attached to the store. The television wasn’t as good as the one my father kept behind the candy counter in the store, but I could see the action all right. Sure enough, the superstition was having some effect again. The Giants mounted a threat! Whitey Lockman and Alvin Dark got singles. With two men on base, Bobby Thompson came to bat. This was no Babe Ruth or Mighty Casey, but he was a steady, hustling ball player and he could poke one out. The Dodgers panicked and called for a relief pitcher. Ralph Branca made the long, long walk from the deep, center-field bullpen at the Polo Grounds.

I don’t remember all the pitches. I can’t recall all the little details. I only know it had something to do with the Suderhostl’s intercession and my old-man’s ritual. My old-man missed seeing one of the all-time great moments in the history of baseball. But then, if he hadn’t shut down that TV it would not have happened. Branca would have mystified Bobby Thompson and struck him out. The very history of the game was changed because of my father’s great superstition.

The sound of the ball against the bat, as Bobby Thompson made contact with Ralph Branca’s fast ball, was awesome. The tall, lanky batter knocked one up, over the Chesterfield pack. I saw the sphere sail high above the big package of cigarettes that stuck out from the second deck at the Polo Grounds. All hell broke loose. Russ Hodges, the Giants’ television announcer, was screaming over and over again.

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

I jumped up and down and mimicked the veteran play-by-play man.

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

I screamed it as I ran through the kitchen and into the store. I was a very big kid, just turned eleven, but I flew into my father’s arms. The years of frustration and anger were finally over. I knew it!

My old-man knew it, too. He knew it would work. All he had to do was shut down that damned picture tube and block out all the sounds. Everything came together at just the right instant. The planets were aligned perfectly. My father tended to his business and ignored the game. And, the Suderhostl reached down into this huge moment in human history and touched Bobby Thompson. Destiny! It’s true! But, these three dimension all had to be miraculously inter-twined and coincidental – the alignment of the planets, my father’s superstition and the intercession of the Divine.


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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Continuing to Target Target

I wrote to Target’s CEO last week and got back a form letter from Target Guest Relations!
by Charlie Leck

My personal boycott of Target Stores has continued. In these last few weeks, we’ve spent a few hundred dollars elsewhere that we would normally have spent at Target. Last week, I wanted to let Target’s CEO know just how much money I usually spent in Target Stores in a year’s period, so I wrote to him.

August 10, 2010

Mr. Greg Steinhafel, Chief Executive Officer
Target Corp
1000 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Dear Mr. Steinhafel:

I have been shopping at Target Stores for years. My wife shops there. My grown children, because they always shopped with me at Target Stores when they were at home, also shop at Target. I’ve regularly bought gift cards there for special occasion gifts and for holiday gifts – dozens of them every year and not at small denominations. Recently bought a flat screen TV there. My wife likes to stop at the Waconia, Minnesota Target Store on her way home from work to pick up necessities.

I’ve stopped shopping at Target and I’ve asked my kids to do the same. My wife is hesitant, but I keep imploring her.

I consider it my money that you gave to Tom Emmer recently. Certainly, it was a share of my money.

Tom Emmer lives out here near us. He’s not a good person even though he professes to be a Bible toting Christian. He doesn’t pay his bills and he speaks with a forked tongue.

My father was a retailer all his life. He always felt that those in retail businesses should be very personal and quiet about their politics. He was right, of course. Target should follow my father’s example.

I’ll resume shopping at Target only when you ask for that $150,000 contribution back. You’re not going to get any more of my money to give away to politicians of either party.


Charles H. Leck

Somehow, and for some reason, I got two exactly duplicate letters back from Ana, in Target’s Guest Services Department. They were form letters, sitting there and ready to go as a way of answering letters such as mine. The letter didn’t deal with the subject of my letter at all – that Target was using my money to make political contributions. It dealt instead with the question of respecting sexual preferences and basic human rights.

“At Target, we are fully committed to fostering an environment that supports and respects the rights and beliefs of all individuals.”

This wasn’t good enough for me. I want to hear from Greg Steinhafel himself. Maybe he could forego his round of golf this week in order to take the time to write to me.

DON’T SHOP AT TARGET! Corporations shouldn’t meddle in politics no matter what the current Supreme Court says.


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