Monday, October 31, 2011

Desegregating the Minnesota Twins (1964)

Kwame McDonald died last week and I have respectful, kind memories of him!
by Charlie Leck

“If you love yourself, you will never let you down!”

Kwame McDonald thought you had to have self-love and self-confidence. “If you love yourself,” he said, “you will never let you down.” He tried to teach this to children who had every reason to lack self-confidence.

Mr. McDonald died last week at the age of 80. I met the man only briefly in 1964, but I have read plenty about him and I heard him chattering about sports and kids in sports a number of times on the radio. I grew to like him and looked forward to the day when, perhaps, I’d get to spend some time with him and talk about some of the things we had in common. It never happened. I just didn’t try hard enough to make it happen. So, it was my own damned fault.

Here’s where I’ll begin in telling you about Mr. McDonald. When the Minnesota Twins came into existence up here – moving from Washington, D.C. and changing their name from the Washington Senators – Mr. McDonald worked for the Urban League here in Minnesota. He also dabbled in writing about sports for the local newspaper that served mainly the black, minority community. He heard the Twins kept segregated housing facilities for their players at the spring training facility in Florida. It didn’t sit well with him and he didn’t think it was right morally or even as a “team-building” strategy. So, in 1963, he led a small campaign to convince the team to change its policy. After several years of dragging their feet, the Twins ownership and management staff, including their Travel Secretary, with whom I was well acquainted, didn’t hesitate after the Urban League and the NAACP got involved. They saw the sense that Mr. McDonald was making and the change came swiftly and completely after that.

That year – 1964 – was the same year that I went down to Mississippi to make a contribution, as a civil rights worker – to the Mississippi Voter Registration Project. So, I felt a kinship with Mr. McDonald when I read about him in the newspaper. In the autumn of ’64 he was invited to lecture at the graduate school I attended. The entire school gathered to hear him. He didn’t want to talk about the small movement he led to integrate all of the Twins’ facilities. He wanted to talk to us about our own attitudes and how strong we needed to be on matters of racial justice. He always pointed to the children and he pleaded that they needed a break. They needed to grow up in a world of justice and equality. Kwame McDonald loved children.


Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1946, but life wasn’t easy for him. It took some years before white players would treat him with respect. There were always nagging problems for him at hotels and restaurants during spring training in Florida and when the team was on the road during the season. Jackie Robinson was an extraordinary ball player, but he had to be tough in ways that white players didn’t and he put up with insults and general injustices and always seemed to keep smiling.

This past spring, I visited a high school classmate of mine who lives down in southern Georgia. She had a big surprise for me. Knowing how much baseball is a part of my soul, she took me out for a little drive to the little town of Cairo. On a quiet, country road, she stopped the car in front of a small piece of property where there stood a lonely chimney and, on a pole, some sort of notification sign.

“Come on,” she said, “this will interest you.”

I climbed from the car and up the little bank that led up to the property. I turned and looked at the sign. “Birthplace of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American in Major League Baseball.”

It did affect me. A tear swelled up in my eye and a lump grew in my throat. How I remember the blurring speed of Jackie Robinson as he tore around first place and headed for second after stroking a line drive into one of the outfield gaps. I hated the Brooklyn Dodgers just as my old man did, but I loved Jackie Robinson and my heart was always pulling for him and cheering for him in every Dodger game I saw.

Back in the early 60s, the Minnesota Twins had to lease a ball field for their spring training facility from the city of Orlando and then they had to find housing accommodations for all the players they brought to camp. The team leased the Cherry Plaza Hotel. The hotel held firm to their segregationist policy (common all over the southeast) and wouldn’t let black players stay in the hotel. The Twins had a couple of really talented black players and they had to find separate accommodations for them because their hotel wouldn’t take “any Negroes.” The black players had to accept clearly inferior housing conditions. Hank Aaron, who played for the Milwaukee Braves back then, was one of the most outspoken about the unequal treatment of black players.

It appears that the management of the teams that trained in Florida were working hard to cure the problem. Major League baseball was threatening to move all of their teams out of Florida to facilities in the southwest. By 1962, most of the teams had solved their problems with the hotels and boarding houses they used to house players. Sadly, the Minnesota Twins were the last team to solve this housing problem. A law suit was brought against them in 1962; yet it took two more years before the problem was solved.

Walter Mondale was the Minnesota Attorney General back in those days and he was very involved in the issue, as were two Minnesota Governors – Karl Rolvaag and Elmer Anderson. Calvin Griffith was the owner of the ball team back and he was a stubborn cuss.

Governor Anderson showed signs of anger in his correspondence with the Twins’ owner. Mr. Griffith argued for time because he was negotiating with the city of Orlando about building a new grandstand at the Tinker Field ball park. Anderson told Griffith that the time for waiting was over and that the matter was an embarrassment for Minnesota.

The Governor traveled to Florida and booked a room in the Cherry Plaza Hotel. The hotel was unyielding and made it clear to Governor Anderson that it would not bend its policies. Anderson kept nagging both the hotel and the management of the Twins’ organization for a change in the spring housing policy. He grew frustrated that he was getting nowhere.

The State Commission Against Discrimination (SCAD) came to the Governor’s assistance. SCAD was made up of nine commissioners who were all appointed by the Governor. SCAD’s role in life was “to secure compliance with the Minnesota State Act Against Discrimination, which makes it an unlawful act to discriminate against a person in his quest for employment or housing because of his race, creed, color, religion or national origin.”

SCAD brought a suit in the case on behalf of one of the Twins’ players, catcher Earl Battey. Because it required action in a different state (Florida) it got nowhere. SCAD then filed a direct suit against the Minnesota Twins and its ownership. The legal action particularly singled out the organization’s travel secretary, Howard Fox, for not doing enough about the matter. Years later I would get to know Howard Fox well. He became a good friend and frequent golfing partner, but I could imagine him dragging his feet on this issue. Howard died last year.

More and more newspaper stories appeared about the Twins’ stubbornness. Fox and Griffith were on a hot seat and it was getting hotter. Early in 1963 the newspapers learned that the Twins had signed another lease with the Cherry Plaza Hotel. The hotel would not yield to pressure from either the Minnesota Governor’s office (now under Governor Karl Rolvaag) or to the Minnesota press. 1963 would see no changes in the housing question for the Twins. The team was the last in baseball to have segregated housing for its players during spring training.

The issue dragged on and anger started to brew. Earl Battey publically stated that the issue was affecting team morale. Something had to be done. Angrily, the Minnesota Chapter of the NAACP announced it was getting involved. They announced they would picket the Twin’s opening game at Metropolitan Stadium in 1963. This pressure started to have an impact on the owner of the team, if only getting him really boiled into a red hot anger. He tried to take action to stop the demonstration.

Constant pressure on Griffith and Fox from civil rights organizations, the Governor’s office, the Attorney General’s office and, unceasingly, from SCAD, caused the Twins to finally wake up. For the spring of 1964 they signed a contract with the Downtowner Motel in Orlando and abandoned the Cherry Plaza Hotel. Segregated housing was finally over!

Kwame McDonald talked to us in 1964 about the Twins and the battle it took to get the organization’s ownership to do the right thing. He was very involved in setting up the public demonstrations that finally pushed Calvin Griffith to do what he had to do to end his own policy of racial injustice. It was almost 20 years after Jackie Robinson had “broken the color barrier” in Major League baseball. Mr. Griffith was a selfish, stubborn and foolish man. He proved it over and over again during his period of ownership. He fought off state agencies, bad press and powerful state officials, but Kwame McDonald and the NAACP brought Griffith to heal.

I kept my ears open about Kwame McDonald over the years. He settled into covering sports. He sometimes was interviewed on some of the radio sports talk shows.

When I read the obituaries about him, I was reminded of his strength and resolve. Now I learned something new.

Kids loved him. He gave nearly all his time to encouraging children to have confidence in themselves and to learn and to get what they deserved out of life. He went into the schools and kids gravitated to him as if he was a magnet. He talked to them and tried to encourage them to work hard and to learn – and to love themselves!


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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Gopher’s Kill

It’s tough being a Minnesota Sports Fan these days, but there is one bit of entertainment – one little bright spot – that brings me some joy!
by Charlie Leck

You know by now that I try not to get too serious on Sundays. I’ve got a couple of complicated, opinionated and serious blogs waiting in the wings, but this morning I want to write about being a hopeless sports fan. My two favorite activities in life these days are [1] reading a really good and stimulating book (right now I’m enjoying Bill Bryson’s At Home) and [2] watching a Minnesota sports team (live or on TV) in competition. And, sadly, Minnesota sports are in the tank right now – we getting killed in professional baseball (Twins), professional hockey (The Wild), professional basketball (Timberwolves), professional football (Vikings) and in virtually all college sports (Gophers).

Charlie Walter’s, a local sports columnist better known as the Shooter, recently recommended we just “pull the shades down” so people can’t look in and see what a mess things are!

Here’s a Washington Post review by Louis Bayard of Bryson’s book.

But, my dear friends from around America, yesterday made it all worthwhile and the morning sunrise, which is happening just as I write this, is particularly beautiful and the birds have begun to sing and chirp and the air is crisp, clean and clear this Sunday morning. Ah, the wonder of Minnesota in the autumn!

Yesterday, on the campus of the University of Minnesota, something very unlikely took place and I loved viewing every single moment of it. The Minnesota Gophers sent the University of Iowa Hawkeyes home weeping and gnashing their teeth!


It wasn’t a masterful game. The Hawkeyes ran all over the Gophers. The Hawkeyes appeared the better team by a big margin for the first three quarters; however, the team from Iowa kept making mistakes and kept failing to capitalize on advantages. Finally, they left the door open just a crack and the Gophers sneaked through the opening and pounced on the Hawkeyes and totally dominated the fourth quarter of the game.

In that fourth quarter I watched one of the most perfectly executed plays I have ever seen in a football game – ever!

The onside kick in football is almost always a gamble and its outcome is nearly always controlled by pure luck. Rarely is their real execution. Yesterday was the exception and that crazy, strange and dangerous play was the difference in the ball game. If you’re a football fan and understand the on-side kick, you will NOT (I mean NOT, NOT, NOT) want to miss seeing this play two or three times. It is my gift to you this morning. [Click here and then click on the video highlights and report of the game. Then pay special attention to the on-side kick in the fourth quarter. Note that it is executed to absolute perfection; so well, as a matter of fact, that one can only conclude the Gophers deserved to get the ball back!] I kept sliding the play bar back again and again so I could watch the play over and over.

Enjoy it!

Win or lose, I have enjoyed the Minnesota Gophers' football team this year. It's all about Jerry Kill their wonderful, little coach. He looks about as far removed from the academic atmosphere of a great university as one could possibly be. "They would have ran me out of town if that play didn't work," he said after the game yesterday. It's how he always talks. He works as hard as a human being can work. He's making millions but doesn't care a bit. He buys lunches for all the students who come to the games. He gives huge amounts away to charities. He fights for good pay checks for his assistants. He's as humble and modest as a guy can be. And, he loves his work and thinks he has the best office in the world (the football field). I love Jerry Kill and I hope so much that he is able to succeed here against all the odds that say he won't.

I’ll be back tomorrow with some more serious matters for you to think about!

And, if you don’t know who Floyd of Rosedale is, you’d better do a little research.


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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Books Awaken

Today I present, for you viewing pleasure, a danged cute cartoon! Enjoy!
by Charlie Leck

I keep telling you about Open Culture. I sure hope you’ve gone there and found out what a clever and entertaining web site it is. You’ll find a ton of very serious and educational material; however, you’ll also find some plain old fun.

This morning they featured a Warner Brothers cartoon, Book Revue, that was named one of the 50 best of all time by a group of 1,000 animation professionals. The scene is a closed book store and it is the middle of the night. Suddenly the books begin to stir. Take it from there….

If this didn’t make you smile a little, what can I say? I’m just tired of ranting so much. This was a nice break.


However, after that nice bit of comedy, we’ll turn to a real cartoon character – Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Ned Ryan, the President of American Majority, an organization closely identified with the Tea Party, has urged Ms. Bachmann to knock it off. “It’s time for Michele Bachmann to go,” reads the first line of the statement.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that Michele Bachmann is about Michele Bachman,” the Executive Director, Matt Robbins, said.

Even the right and the very heart of the Tea Party is starting to tire of Ms. Bachmann’s love affair with Ms. Bachmann.

I can only hope her run is over.

That’s all, folks!


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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Skeptics about Global Warming are just Dead Wrong!

“Now let me explain why you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer.”
by Charlie Leck

Don Shelby, a hot-shot newsman up here in Minnesota, wrote a very interesting story on the MinnPost site that I want to recommend to you. It’s about one of the most prominent scientist-global-warming-skeptics who has now admitted he was wrong! Richard A Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California and leads the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project (BEST) that the crowd of nay-sayers about global warming were betting on to prove that warming is a bunch of hokey. Unfortunately (or fortunately) Muller was led to quite the opposite conclusion.

It’s a very important and interesting story and Shelby has written it well. Be sure to read it – especially if you’ve had doubts about global warming!

The Koch brothers are significant funders of BEST. I gave you a long dose about them and their quirky political positions in yesterday’s blog. They can’t be happy about Muller’s new position.

Here are some interesting comments from Shelby about this…

“In other words, the skeptical funders of the study just backed the wrong horse. Charles Koch helped pay for a study that says everything Charles Koch believes in is wrong.

“Over his career, Muller has said so many awful things about so many good scientists that they are not likely to let him off the hook. Grudges are hard things to let go. But I hold no grudge against Muller, even though his behavior, on occasion, has been ungentlemanly and hurtful. So, let me say it takes guts for Muller to stand up and say he was wrong. I admire facts and knowledge, and apparently, so does Muller. He couldn't run from them. No one can, no matter how hard we try to wish them away, no matter how much the facts harm our vested interests, your political leanings or how often you argued with your brother-in-law about the poor quality of the temperature measurements. It made you sound smart, then.

Shelby then goes on to say some interesting and important things about skepticism itself. It’s really good reading! Go for it!


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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Who is Herman Cain?

To understand Herman Cain one has to also understand the Koch brothers!
by Charlie Leck

Since I wrote the last draft of this blog, I read about the name of Herman Cain's campaign organization. It is Americans for Cain (AFC). Nothing too startling, is it? However, as you read this blog notice how similar it is to so many other organizations in the conservative world that have been funded by and encouraged by the very strange Koch brothers. [You can view the first ad in Iowa that AFC is running on Cain's behalf. It goes after both Perry and Romney.]

So, by all indications, Herman Cain is “sitting in the catbird seat” in Iowa. Oh, how I remember the legendary, great baseball broadcaster for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Red Barber, using that expression to describe situations in ballgames. For the moment at least, that’s where Herman Cain is among Republicans in Iowa and, according to some political analysts, nationwide – he’s in the catbird seat as well.

What if, to everyone’s surprise, Herman Cain got the nomination in the Republican Party? Who the heck is Herman Cain?

Well, hold on to your hats folks, because I think we are all about to find out about him in the coming months. Those of us who thought he was a mere joke are about to learn a lesson about hasty assessments. Herman Cain is for real and we’d better take a close look at him.

I like to think of him as a former resident of Minneapolis. He came up here from Atlanta in 1977 to go to work for the Pillsbury Company after beginning his business career with Coca-Cola. He rose quickly through the ranks and took an important position with the company’s Burger King operations and then took over as the President of the Godfather’s Pizza division in 1986. Two years later, he and some other investors purchased the pizza retailer and began running it as an independent company. He resigned from that company in 1996.

Herman Cain has a head on his shoulders and I think he is in this campaign for real. I also think, in spite of the doubters, that he can raise the money to make a real race of it. Yet, he is also an enigma and he should be looked at cautiously.

You could easily go to Wikipedia or many other sources to get biographical information about Herman Cain, but I’ll give you a quick summary here – by way of introduction. I’ll try to be fair even though I’m generally suspicious of his candidacy because of his pretty close connections with the Koch brothers and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is pretty solidly funded by the Koch brothers. (See more about AFP a few paragraphs down this blog!)

Herman Cain
was born in December, 1945 in Memphis. Twenty-two years later, he graduated from Morehouse College as a math major and received a MA in computer sciences a couple of years later. After graduation, he worked for a short time as a civilian employee of the United States Navy. His business career began to take off in Atlanta, where he worked for Coca-Cola as a computer analyst and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1977, as I’ve already explained, he joined Pillsbury up here in Minnesota.

A fellow I played some golf with up here in the 90s, who ran both Green Giant and Burger King for a while, has been quoted as speaking highly of Cain’s time with Pillsbury.

He has served on the board of directors of a number of significant companies and was also the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (’95-’96), serving as a Deputy Chairman (’92-94).

Currently, Cain writes an opinion column for the North Star Writers Group. He’s also done some radio work and has identified himself as a strong conservative through both these media endeavors.

Over the years, he has received honorary degrees from Creighton U., Johnson & Wales U., Morehouse College, the University of Nebraska, NYC Tech., Purdue U., Suffolk U., and Tougaloo College.

In 2005, Cain began working for Americans for Prosperity (AFP). There, Cain worked with Mark Block, who would later become his campaign manager.

He lives these days in Atlanta (suburban Sandy Springs) and is a member of the Antioch Baptist Church North, which boasts that it is a liberal, activist church. Cain has served as an associate minister of the congregation without pay. It appears that he sometimes a divisive force in the church, offering opinions that differ greatly from the senior pastor.

He is married and has two children.

The heart of his current campaign appears to be a plan to restore economic strength and power to America though a 9-9-9 tax plan. He explains it simply as a replacement for the current tax code and would institute a 9 percent, across-the-board tax on income, a 9 percent business transactions tax and a 9 percent federal sales tax. (Robert Reich, who I admire, is an ardent critic of the Cain plan and calls it “a fraud” and says it “raises taxes on the poor and lowers them on the rich!” [Click here to read Reich’s criticism!] And, Tuesday’s Washington Post carried this front page story about Rick Perry’s new flat-tax plan.

That’s a decent sketch of Herman Cain’s life. To this point I think I’ve been unbiased, but now let me turn to what troubles me and to the disagreements I have with the Cain philosophy. In many ways it would be a blessing for the Obama administration if Cain were his opponent. It would be difficult for anyone to agree with all of Cain’s radical ideas and Obama would capture the fabled center of the campaign.

What is Americans for Prosperity (AFP)?
AFP appears quite certainly to be the organization that provides the major funds to keep the Tea Party Movement going! It also appears to front the very special interests of the Koch brothers, a couple of billionaire guys I’ve written about here several times. AFP clearly works against the interest of progressives and the initiatives of the Democratic Party, including labor unions and the protection of the environment (lobbying against international climate talks). It stands against most health care reform proposals. The organization is emphatically anti-Obama. The AFP budget in 2010 was in excess of 40 million dollars and most of that was spent in the election to defeat Democrats.

If you want to understand how AFP works and, more importantly, the Koch brothers, I strongly recommend an amazing article in The New Yorker by Jane Mayer: Covert Operations. It’s not a short piece by any means, but it’s extremely well written and it will give you a very good look at the goals of libertarians, David and Charles Koch.

“In Washington, [David] Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.”

“With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars.”

There’s a Koch Industries refinery operating here in Minnesota, just southeast of the Twin Cities. The company also operates refineries in Alaska and Texas. The company also owns a number of other companies, a few of which are Brawny (paper towels), Dixie (cups) Georgia-Pacific (lumber), Stainmaster (carpet) and Lycra.

Koch Industries, after Minnesota’s Cargill Corporation, is the second largest privately owned company in America.

David and Charles are worth somewhere around 17 to 25 billion dollars each! Only Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are worth more among Americans. Unlike Buffett and Gates, the Koch brothers are libertarians. They believe in and work toward much lower personal and corporate taxes and much less regulation of American industry. They also oppose the amount of social services that America provides to the needy through the federal government.

Now, on the other hand, a study released by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst accuses Koch Industries of being one of the top ten polluters in the United States. Greenpeace goes further and says Koch Industries is the “kingpin of climate science denial.”

“They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation and obfuscation!”
Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity, puts it more strongly: “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

AFP is the nation’s leading advocate of the Tea Party Movement and AFP exists on a foundation constructed by and funded by the Koch brothers.

Peggy Venerable, a close friend of the Koch brothers and a clear organizer on their behalf, recently said: “I was part of the Tea Party before it was cool.”

It’s clear that the Koch brothers want to bring down President Obama. He shouldn’t take it personally because the brothers oppose anyone with a progressive agenda – anyone who wants to take a strong stand on protecting the economy – anyone who wants to increase protections for the workers – anyone who wants the wealthy to pay a greater share in funding the American agenda and the American dream.

David and Charles were raised as libertarians – radical ones at that. Their father, Fred Koch, was one of the original members of the John Birch Society that had been behind the incredible spread of the fear of communist take overs in the 50s. The Society considered Dwight David Eisenhower, our President, as a communist. Fred was adamant about communist control over the civil rights movement of the late 50s and 60s. Though it is clear that the two brothers grew to think the ideas of the John Birch Society were on the “whacko” side, they seemed to transfer that distrust and suspicion to the very government of the United States.

Look at some of the ideas of the libertarian movement that Charles and David Koch support so vehemently. They want to abolish the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. and federal regulatory agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Energy. They want to end Social Security and minimum wage laws, gun control and all personal and corporate income taxes. The Libertarian Party has endorsed the legalization of prostitution, recreational drugs and suicide.

William Buckley, America’s best know and most famous conservative, called the movement “Anarcho-Totalitarianism.”

The Libertarian Party was a flop in America and the Koch Brothers knew their approach to politics had to change. The brothers have created numerous foundations and political action committees and funded them with hundreds of millions of dollars – more money than we will ever know about because the bucks are nearly untraceable.

The Koch brothers are behind the creation of the Cato Institute, the nation’s leading far-right-wing think tank. No institution has been more involved in promoting aggressive opposition to the climate-change movement than Cato.

Think about it! The Kochs are considered among the very biggest polluters in America. The Koch brothers fund dozens of organizations that pooh-pooh any concepts of global-warming and pollution. You don’t suppose there is a connection, do you?

Give me a giant break, will you?

The brothers have set up and funded a number of these ultra-conservative think tanks and some of them in surprising places. One, for example, is at George Mason University – a public institution. It’s called the Mercatus Center and promotes itself as being part of the University. The Kochs control it and the University hosts it. Something doesn’t smell right.

It’s through Koch brother dollars that Citizens for the Environment was set up. It calls acid rain and global warming a “myth.” So far no one has been able to find any members of this organization and it appears to be only a spinoff organization of Citizens for a Sound Economy (another group supported by the Koch brothers).

The Koch brothers have established themselves as patrons of radical, right-wing, anti-establishmentarianism in America. The over-riding concept they want to sell, however, is that strong pollution controls hurt American industry and the American economy and that the concept of global warming is a farce.

And, Herman Cain is their man!

Now, granted and fully admitted, the guts of this blog is based on the extraordinary article by Jane Mayer and I promised you that the article is carefully sourced and appropriate and impressive documentation is provided. As I said earlier, it’s very lengthy, but you’ll learn just how deeply the Kochs influence contemporary ultra-conservative political thinking. Their fortune is the engine driving strange conservatism in America today. She concludes her long essay with this paragraph:

“The Kochs have long depended on the public’s not knowing all the details about them. They have been content to operate what David Koch has called ‘the largest company that you’ve never heard of.’ But with the growing prominence of the Tea Party, and with increased awareness of the Kochs’ ties to the movement, the brothers may find it harder to deflect scrutiny. Recently, President Obama took aim at the Kochs’ political network. Speaking at a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser, in Austin, he warned supporters that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Citizens United case—which struck down laws prohibiting direct corporate spending on campaigns—had made it even easier for big companies to hide behind ‘groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity.’ Obama said, ‘They don’t have to say who, exactly, Americans for Prosperity are. You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation’—or even, he added, ‘a big oil company.’”

Read more at:

The Koch brothers will be an enormous force in the 2012 elections. The Supreme Court has made the use of such influence so much easier than it was in past elections. It will be difficult to stand up to the fortune they will spend to spread their message and to elect their candidates.

If the American people could understand who is driving these ideas and how that particular political agenda benefits large corporations and the extremely wealthy, then they might rise up in united numbers to vote against such extremism.

Now, we began with Herman Cain and ended up discussing the Koch brothers. I hope you see the connection. Mr. Cain is their man! See this extremely good article on Alternet if you want to understand that further. You'll also find information there about Mark Block, who organizes for Mr. Cain and runs the campaign. For instance, Block was banned from involvement in Wisconsin politics for a period of three years because of violations of fair campaign law. Block also chaired Wisconsin's chapter of the AFP for six years. Alternet draws very clear lines from Herman Cain to his involvement with the Koch boys. Then read on about Cain's campaign staff and how deeply they have been involved in the ultra-conservative movement in American politics.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What is the Occupy Movement all about?

I keep asking myself what Occupy Wall Street is all about and I keep trying out different answers on you!
by Charlie Leck

What the heck is the movement all about? These protests by the 99 percent? These gatherings that keep annoying the heck out of one city after another?

Move-On-Dot-Org tries to answer the question with a very powerful video. This short presentation opens with a very powerful statement by Elizabeth Warren. Ms. Warren is an extraordinary woman who will try to run for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 2012 and I hope to goodness she gets elected. I keep hoping the nation is tiring of politicians who so blatantly favor corporate America and the 1 percent. Listen to Ms. Warren and see if you don’t agree with her very straightforward explanation of why we are in such a muddled economic mess in our nation today.

Ms. Warren is currently the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. She’s a very savvy person.

[Go here to watch the video and listen to Ms. Warren’s short statement!]


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Sheep Sketches – or Lovely Little Gifts

Painters were in the house today, doing up the walls and sloping ceiling of my library; and I spent a casual morning in the kitchen, with a lovely little book that motivated me to try some sketching.
by Charlie Leck

Should you find today's blog a little too crazy, blame in on the paint fumes!

Henry Moore protested that he was not an abstract artist – “…and I have never tried to be.” The very accomplished and successful sculptor claimed: “…the basis of all my work is the human figure.”

“A sculpture of mine has to have a head and a body. It might seem to some people to be abstract, but I know which part is the head, which part is the arm, which part is a child.”

I choose this subject today – Henry Moore, sculptor – because someone gave my wife a precious, little gift this past weekend. One of her customers at the farmers market in Midtown Minneapolis, who is also now a friend, as so many of her customers have become, gave her a paperback copy of Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook.* It touched my wife, Anne, and she was extremely pleased by it. Friends had given it to this lady and, though she thought it was special, she thought Anne would appreciate it even more. So, it will get an honored place in our library

Henry Moore was a contemporary of my father’s. I wonder if my old man had ever heard of Moore. The sculptor was born in England within a month of my father’s birth in 1898 and he died in 1986, outliving the old man by more than a decade. Though, as in the above quotation, Moore claimed not to be an abstractionist, he certainly was. His works were large in size and were usually of the human figure – most of them suggestive of a woman’s body. Most of these works have hollow areas or are pierced in one way or another. They were either of marble or bronze.

Though he became extremely wealthy in the latter third of his life, Moore lived conservatively and prudently and most of his money was preserved and continues to fund the Henry Moore Foundation that supports educational projects and promotes the arts.

So, why a sheep sketch book? Moore explains it this way:

“My drawings of sheep began during the preparations in my studios for a big exhibition in Florence in 1972. The shippers and packers were all around, making such a disturbance that it was impossible to work, and I retired into a small studio which faces the field that I let to a local farmer for sheep grazing. I sat in this little studio making small plaster models or maquettes – I work differently now from the way I did as a young sculptor, and I now make maquettes in the round which I can imagine any size I like, but which I can hold in my hand and look at from any point of view.

“I have always liked sheep, and there is one big sculpture of mine that I call Sheep Piece because I placed it in a field and the sheep enjoyed it and the lambs played around it. Sheep are just the right size for the kind of landscape setting that I like for my sculptures: a horse or a cow would reduce the sense of monumentality. Perhaps the sheep belong also to the landscape of my boyhood in Yorkshire. If the farmer didn’t keep his sheep here, I would own some myself, just for the pleasure they give me.

“These sheep often wandered up close to the window of the little studio I was working in. I began to be fascinated by them, and to draw them. At first I saw them as rather shapeless balls of wood with a head and four legs. Then I began to realize that underneath all that wool was a body, which moved in its own way, and that each sheep had its individual character. If I tapped on the window the sheep would stop and look, with that sheepish stare of curiosity. They would stand like that for up to five minutes, and I could get them to hold the same pose for longer by just tapping again on the window. It wouldn’t last as long the second time, but altogether the sheep posed as well as a life model in an art school. Later I started to add setting, trying to make a pictorial arrangement. As I began to understand more about sheep, I could sometimes do further drawings in the evening from memory, or make a more finished drawing out of a rough sketch.

“The packing for Italy took about three weeks, so the first twenty or thirty pages were probably done then; but I went on drawing, because the lambing season had begun, and there in front of me was the mother-and-child theme. This is one of the favorite themes in my work: the large form related to the small form and protecting it, or the complete dependence of the small form on the large form. I tried to express the way the lambs suckled with real energy and violence. There is something biblical about sheep. You don’t hear of horses and cows in the Bible in the same way; you hear of sheep and shepherds.

“…The large back view of a sheep on page 27 was meant to be the end of the sketchbook – like the end of a Charlie Chaplin film, where he turns his back and walks off. But I was still enjoying my sheep drawing, and so I went on with it. Later, when I came back from the Florence exhibition and from carving in Italy through the summer, I found that the sheep had been shorn. They looked pathetically forlorn, naked, skinny, but the shearing revealed the shape underneath the wool. I didn’t like them as much when they were shorn. They must feel miserable; they certainly look it. So after a few more drawings of them in their shorn state, other interests took my attention, and the sketchbook ends.”

I liked reading all that. I was, it seemed, invited into a fine artist’s mind for a few seconds.

I spent several hours with Moore’s book of sheep sketches. They fascinated me with their swirling, zig-zagging and zooming lines – some so much darker and bolder than others. In some of the sketches you can sense Moore’s affection for his subjects; and in others you can get an appreciation for his sense of humor.

How I wish I could sketch well. I try and I always get discouraged. A cousin of mine – a Frenchman – and a very accomplished artist in the 16th and 17th century French school – tells me that sketching well is easy, but that it only comes after practice, practice, practice. He didn’t mean two hours of practice, but days and days and days of working at it and improving and improving.

I so admire the great artists even as I so admire the gifted writers. I keep practicing my writing and sense there are small and incremental improvements that come with that practice. The years are running out – perhaps galloping – and I think this sketch shows that I should stick to practicing my writing.

How nice a gift it is that this thoughtful person gave to us! I will spend more time with it this winter when the cold weather will command that I build a fire and sit by it with some delightful books in hand.

Sketch by Charlie Leck (not Henry Moore by a long-sketch)

*[First published in 1972 in hardcover by Thames & Hudson, New York and currently a copyright property of The Henry Moore Foundation, 1998]


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Monday, October 24, 2011

Minneapolis Playwright Center

We had a smashing time at the Minneapolis Playwright Center on Saturday evening and I’m anxious to go there again sometime!
by Charlie Leck

Mat Smart’s play, Tinkers to Evers to Chance, is still in its infancy. I think it’s going to be a terrific work and it was fun to be in on the developmental stages of Smart’s writing. It’s based on the great double-play combination of the dead-ball era, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. They played for the Chicago Cubs at the West Side Grounds on the city’s north side.

These are the saddest of possible words:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double-
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."

Francis Pierce Adams, a New York columnist, wrote the little ditty about the great legends of the game while he was on his way to the Polo Grounds. He needed “filler” for one of his columns. Little did he know his poem would be recited generations after he wrote it and that he’d make this trio of players so furiously famous and send them on to the Hall of Fame. These three guys were constant problems for the Giants ball club and Adams granted them even more acclaim with his poem. (They played together for the Cubbies from 1902 to 1912.)

Johnny Evers is one of the two central figures in Smart’s play. Smart makes him into a compelling character. The play has a time-warp that makes it impossible for Evers to have been around to really meet one of the other lead characters (he died in 1947 at the age of 65), but Smart is dealing with a grandmother, her daughter and her granddaughter in this time-line and the audience has to be on its toes to keep up with the time-period swings. This is a problem that wouldn’t have happened had more actors been involved to help us identify various and changing characters.

We saw the presentation at the Minneapolis Playwright Center and all the parts were read by only two actors who, even though they had the scripts in hand and didn’t have the benefit of a full-fledged set, did an absolutely wonderful job.

Smart’s dialogue got a little tedious at points in the second of the two acts, but I don’t think that’s anything that he can’t work out and he gets the benefit of hearing reactions from the audience that watched the work in the lab setting.

I liked what I saw at the Center and, in one evening, I became a total fan and look forward to going back there again.

Here’s what goes on at the Playwright Center and this is its concept:
“Theatre begins here,” is what their tag line says and I guess it literally does. It’s much like a writer’s lab. A play writer can try things out in miniature or immature form and see if his work is making sense and receive constructive criticism.

“…It gives the nation’s most exciting writers the time and tools to develop new work for the stage! The Center’s Core Writers travel to Minneapolis from across the country to move their plays closer to production with the support of the finest dramaturgical minds in the nation, under the leadership of Resident Director Hayley Finn.”

Dramaturgical, ey! Now there’s a new word for me. I love new words!

And the crowd at the Center was new for us, too – and very enthused and spirited and excited about watching this embryonic work. The spirit of the place was neat and worked its way it our systems.

I’ll become a supporter of the Center and budget a few bucks for them next year. If you love alive theater, you might want to think about it also. Certainly you’ll want to get familiar with this place that works out of a cute, old church in south Minneapolis.

By the way, we had a wonderful dinner at a terrific restaurant before we went over to the Center and I recommend it enthusiastically. If you like Thai food, you’ll be pleased if you dine at True Thai on East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis (only four blocks or so from the Center itself).


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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Knowing Steve Jobs

Dick Cavett wrote: “Un-self-forgivably, I failed to keep up our friendship from those days. Why do we do anything so dumb? (Or, if you don’t, why do I?)”.
by Charlie Leck

It must have been in ’83 or very early in ’84 that I began hearing about a new computer that Apple was going to bring out. The two whiz kids, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, had sold an awful lot of Apple computers in a few years. We had one in our home – the Apple IIe – and it was enormous fun. I wandered through the skyways in downtown Minneapolis and built up the courage to walk into my father-in-law’s bank and I asked to see our portfolio manager. We ended up have lunch together and I talked him into selling some stock that was just idling along in order to buy some Apple shares.

Two years later, that stock had increased pretty significantly and I thought it was time for some profit-taking. “Sell!”

I should have stuck with those two kids and I would have survived the little ups and downs they had. I could have watched Apple grow from a garage to the biggest company in America (officially announced in 2011).

Oh, my! I’ve read a lot about Steve Jobs in this last week. He was too young and too cool to die. That never seems to matter, does it?

Of all the reading I’ve done, nothing’s been better than Dick Cavett’s touching blog, Tough Sell! [Read the Dick Cavett blog here!] Within the blog you can see one of the earliest commercials Cavett did for the Apple II computer.

Cavett’s as good a writer as he was a talk-show host and comedian. He writes of meeting Jobs – having lunch with him really – and doing some work for him. Jobs would call from time to time and always sent the newest computer. But, Cavett didn’t keep in touch and the possible friendship never developed as it should have.

“Un-self-forgivably, I failed to keep up our friendship from those days. Why do we do anything so dumb? (Or, if you don’t, why do I?)”

“…God, how I wish I’d kept in touch. So many subjects I’d love to have talked to him about; imminent death and how to deal with it not the least of them. Picturing Steve, I can still feel the intelligence that shone out from those eyes.

And I? One little bump in the road and I went and sold that stock! I can still remember that portfolio manager’s words: “I think you should hold on to it. It wouldn’t be that great a loss if it tanks, but the upside could be enormous!”

Why do we do such dumb things? (Or, if you don’t, why do I?)


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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Weekend Reading

Here’s a link to some very special reading in the New Yorker Magazine about the winding down of the war in Iraq.
by Charlie Leck

Dexter Filkins’ piece in the New Yorker Magazine about the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is quite short and it won’t take you more than a few minutes to read. It’s also exceedingly well written and it will raise amazing questions for your mind and significant emotions in your heart. Here’s where you can find it!

What happened in Iraq anyway? Does any good come out of it?
Nearly 4,500 Americans lost their lives in the war. More than 32,000 were wounded and injured there – some extremely seriously. Troops from other countries died also. For what?

Filkins, who spent almost four years in Iraq, crosses his fingers as he answers the question – not because he is fibbing, but because he is hopeful that his most ideal sketch of an outcome will prove correct. Yet, he talks of all the possibilities and you should not miss reading his essay.

The writer is receiving significant criticism for being too optimistic and hopeful. I wonder what else we can do after a decade of scorching so many parts of the nation. Will we ever know how many Iraqis lost their lives – perhaps hundreds of thousands? Lordsy, can’t we hope, for this price, that something wonderful will now happen there – that democracy will blossom and that people will learn to respect one another and be more tolerant about each other’s differences?

About Dexter Filkins

“Dexter Filkins joined The New Yorker in January of 2011, and has since written about a bank heist in Afghanistan and the democratic protests in the Middle East. Before coming to The New Yorker, Filkins had been with the New York Times since 2000, reporting from Afghanistan, Pakistan, New York, and Iraq, where he was based from 2003 to 2006. He has also worked for the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times, where he was chief of the paper’s New Delhi bureau. In 2009, he won a Pulitzer Prize as part of a team of New York Times reporters in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2006-07 and a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2007-08. He has received numerous prizes, including two George Polk Awards and three Overseas Press Club Awards. His 2008 book, “The Forever War,” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Book, and was named a best book of the year by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and the Boston Globe.”


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