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Monday, April 17, 2017

When We Were Great

A few years before she died, I asked my mother if it was simply a rite of passage that most elderly Americans conclude that our country is going to hell. I always hear that from the older demographic- I think because the younger demographic has no historical point of reference. You can only know how bad America has gotten by knowing what a great country this once was. There is no other way. We did not become great because of governance or socialistic practice or legal precedent- we were great once because anyone who worked hard and used common sense could find the American dream and the rule of law protected them. Today the rule of law protects the aristocracy and the corporate oligarchy via the Supreme Court. All nine of those Harvard grads exist solely to protect the haves from the have nots. One day there will be another revolution and a bunch of those necks are gonna get stretched. That's history and that's how it always ends-the cynical side of me desperately wants to be here when it happens.

My story begins here.

They called it the "Gibralter of Unionism." In turn of the 20th century Butte, Montana the struggle was real. Conditions in the mines were deplorable but if you wanted a shot at the American dream you had to pay the admission price. Maybe you paid the admission price at places like Five Points in Manhattan, in Chicago stockyards, or in Butte mines.

In the Butte, Montana of my childhood- nearly everyone from wool growers to barbers were union members. It had all started with the miners, of course. That it got out of hand and included nearly every worker in Butte- seemed normal somehow. Understandable I suppose, given the circumstances.

But people in Butte believed that America was great. I used to hear them say that. Imagine people talking about what a great country this was- all the time.

A miner in turn of the century Butte, Montana worked six 12 hour days. That's a 72 work week- working a mile underground with no light and breathing air saturated with rock dust and various gases. There were no "benefits" at the time. No retirement plans, no health insurance, no disability, no overtime, or funeral expenses. You made 3 dollars a day, a quarter an hour, blowing up rock and reducing it to rubble- putting it in the box to be carried to the surface. In 1917, 3 bucks was barely a livable wage. In the old days, they killed thousands of mules and horses dragging ore to the surface. Thousands of miners lost their lives. But that was their American dream.

When I hear people bad mouth unions, I don't think about some clown working 40 hours a week- making 75 grand affixing rear view mirrors onto car doors standing in a Detroit assembly line. I don't think about mobsters, teamsters, or government workers. I think about miners covered in dirt, choking on dust, lifting heavy rock in the darkness a mile below the earth's surface, doing that for a quarter an hour- 72 hours a week and dying in accidents or with black lung.

You wanna know tough? Try that shit for 30 or 40 years.

On the other side of that 72 hour work week was the most ruthless company that ever existed. Not only did they break unions and kill workers- employing them like cattle- but it has always been my belief that Percy Rockefeller ordered the assassination of union organizer, Frank Little, in 1917. For more on that topic, try this link.

The history of Butte is the history of America. It pits immigrants v the wealthy and elite aristocracy- the ruling class. It's a fascinating story and I could go on but I'd be missing the point. What was it that made America great?

In the 1800's, America equaled promise. People were getting rich in America. We had a Constitution and a Bill of Rights which guaranteed basic human freedoms. Freedoms that were denied elsewhere. We had land and resources. We had opportunity.

In the America of my youth, there was a sense of fair play. People were free to work as much as they wanted to. To invent new things with new ideas. The rule of law protected people who had great ideas and new inventions. It rewarded them handsomely. The rule of law prevented others from stealing their ideas or property. The government could not come in and steal their wealth either. Courts routinely ruled in favor of our working class.

We had freedom. We had morality. We had two parent families with fathers present and accounted for- parents that married and attended church. We didn't kill our children. We said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning because we were grateful for what we had.

People disciplined their children. Children did not run around screaming. They were removed immediately or spanked first and then removed.

Businesses treated people like customers. We had competition, not monopolistic corporations who essentially price fix everything and treat customers like garbage.

People had respect for others. They relied and leaned on each other. This reliance fostered a sense of unity, a notion that we are all in this together. Anybody that has spent a night in a foxhole or gone through a traumatic event knows about reliance and trust. It transcends and permanently changes relationships. Bonds forged through reliance on others in desperate situations are bonds that last a long, long time. Ask any combat veteran.

We once had an objective media that reported news. We could trust them in as much as they simply reported what they were told. If the government lied to them- they reported it that way. They did not editorialize and chime in with their opinions.

We had a legal immigration system, that up until 1967, allowed about a million people annually to become citizens. Our borders were not over run with criminals, drug smugglers, and cheap labor. Our crime rates have soared because we are afraid to call out Mexican nationals for the crime they are responsible for. Just look at a jail roster in Texas, Arizona, or S. California. While our infrastructure and court system remained clogged with this human sewage other cities provide sanctuary and government benefits for them.

The Central Bank, the root of much evil, did not exist until 1913. It only took them 16 years to destroy America (1929) which in turn enabled politicians to step in and start eroding and destroying our freedoms- but even then, politicians, crooked bankers, and criminals like Hillary Clinton were prosecuted. We did not make excuses for their conduct. Investigative committees actually investigated and charged people. An episode like the gross misconduct at Benghazi would have been exposed to the light of day. We do not leave our own to die.

Today that has all changed. The rule of law has been eroded and replaced by a nanny government that seizes our money and incentive to work. Courts routinely rule in favor of corporate America and the expanse of even more federal power. Our freedoms are dwindling- you can't enjoy the product of your labor if your government is taking it from you and redistributing it. Church attendance is down. Our gratitude, expressed via the Pledge of Allegiance, is now gone. We abort our children and then live with the guilt of that act over the course of our lives. We do so because we don't believe in a God or a final reckoning. Our children are raised by single parents without partners.

Children are undisciplined. People are angry- they treat others with disrespect. The sense of community and unity has been replaced by a false sense of anonymity and independence. Our media editorializes the news. It has gotten so bad that I simply don't watch the news anymore. Our immigration system is a sham. We are over run with illegal aliens and crime.

The corporate oligarchy rules over us. They price fix the cost of borrowing, communication costs, oil, insurance, and drugs. They control what we see and hear. The Central Bank has ruined our economic way of life. It ruined our lives in 1929, and it did it again in 2007. The final reckoning for this last episode has yet to happen- but it will.

Politicians are now above the law. They break the law with impunity. Our Presidents conduct bombing campaigns in any country that they choose. We don't trust government. Congress has an approval rate of only 15% because they are obstructionist, compromised power brokers who sell themselves for re-election contributions.

We were a proud nation once. I don't see that anymore. I don't hear people say America is great- because it no longer is. There is no reason why we couldn't have the best health care system anywhere in the world, a fair tax structure, or an orderly and legal immigration process.

We continue to accept terrible performance from our cowardly leadership which desperately needs term limits- all of it. This includes judges- no more guaranteed, lifetime gigs. They don't rule on strict precedence, they legislate.

The problem is that making drastic and desperately needed changes requires courage. I just don't see any courage out there. We have fallen into some mid pack level of mediocrity where doing the right thing for all of us is no longer a concern. We accept poor performance to avoid confronting problems and issues. I see cowards where great men once stood.

So I don't think it's a rite of passage. My mother didn't either. I think it is an opinion based on the deterioration of our core values and morals which has happened over decades and the last century. When I asked mom the question she understood the distinction I was making about whether all old people make the same observation. She said, "Maybe so, but it really has gotten a lot worse."

Mom spent the last few years of her life getting gouged for healthcare and prescriptions. Very often, she would call providers and ask simple questions about itemizing bills or pricing structures. She was amazed at how evasive their answers were and how annoyed they were that she was even asking. She could never get a straight answer. Mom was just looking for a fair price in a system that isn't interested in fair pricing and truth be told, wasn't even interested in her just so long as they received their insurance check. She was merely a conduit for payment.

It doesn't take too much imagination to understand how mom felt.