Tag Archives: Southern tradition

Squeezing the Poor and Middle Class

There’s a hill I drive up on my way home. Frequently, wheel covers — what used to be called  hubcaps — can be picked up in the vicinity because of all the asphalt patches on top of  asphalt patches put there through the years to plug potholes that jar and shake vehicles using the busy county road.

The road has not been properly resurfaced in years.  It’s been worth it, though, to hear  our Knox County mayor say: “We didn’t raise taxes this year.”

There are a host of  programs and social activities once considered important that are no longer funded, but all  things are now secondary to the Republicans squeezing of the poor and middle class, who have little influence with politicians.

One day there won’t be anything left to cut or any more county property left to sell, but this year, once again, “We did not raise taxes.”

On the same subject, nearly 20 people are dead at last count in South Carolina and a good deal of the state is under water because of failed dams.

Republicans are in charge there, too, and in 2013 only $260,000  was spent on dam inspections, the same amount as in 2010, with the state already listed as 45th in the amount of money spent on upkeep and inspections. Next door, North Carolina spent $2,000,000 — nearly 10 times as much — despite a Republican controlled legislature.

Interestingly, dams and levees in North Carolina seem to have stood up well to the Atlantic Ocean and the last storm.

Who wants to  bet that S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and the Republican controlled legislature were able to say this year, “We did not raise taxes.”

Our own Republican Governor, Bill Haslam — backed by a Republican controlled legislature — says he hasn’t decided on privatizing hundreds of state jobs, but he’s now paying three private consultants $612,000 annually to help him do what he says he hasn’t decided to do yet.

If privatization occurs, state employees — because the governor is so concerned about them — will likely be offered their same jobs at  lower wages, without state  insurance benefits.

That’s how it works. It will allow the politicians to funnel money into the pockets of wealthy colleagues  — cronyism raw and done without shame — and the governor will  able to say, “We didn’t raise taxes this year.”

Let’s face it — the governor won’t have to face the employees he throws to the wolves at the country club where wealthy colleagues will be toasting his business sense — just as he doesn’t have to face the thousands of Tennessee’s poorest without proper healthcare while funds to pay for that insurance are unclaimed in order to keep from making President Obama look good.

And when all is said and done,  the money still won’t trickle down.




I Really, Really Wish I Hadn’t Said That

Have you ever opened your mouth to speak and before the words had completely left your lips, realized that you have said something totally ludicrous? Of course you have; we all have.

Is anyone else old enough to remember when President Jimmy Carter was speaking at the funeral of former Vice-President Hubert Horatio Humphrey — and for whatever fluke of the moment — instead called him Hubert Horatio Hornblower, a fiction British Naval officer created by author C. S. Forester?

My most spectacular faux pas — from an old French term that means “screwed up, royally” — recently happened at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant in North Knox County, where I had met with Gary Wade, Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court and one of his friends for breakfast.

The meeting was ostensibly to discuss a football game played between Powell High School of Knox County and Sevier County High School of Sevier County (of course) in 1963, which Powell, the decided underdog had won.

Wade played in the game and I watched it from the stands, holding hands with a high school sweetheart. I had written about the game a few weeks earlier and the Tennessee Supreme Court Justice and I both agreed it was at least among the most exciting games we had ever witnessed and saw nothing odd about meeting to discuss an athletic contest that happened more than 50 years ago over breakfast.

Having exhausted game talk after a few minutes, the conversation drifted to other subjects. I can’t recall many details of a conversation that happened weeks ago, but part of it had to do with the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, because I was venturing the opinion that if the Founding Fathers of this country had written as clearly in our Bill of Rights as Tennessee’s Constitutional framers wrote in their equivalent Section 26 in the Declaration of Rights, it would have avoided a lot of squabbling.

That Section 26 of the Tennessee Declaration of Rights, said: “That the citizens of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.” Just imagine if that sentence had been added to the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, how different things might have been to day — when it comes to, say mass killings, if weapons were really regulated enough to be kept from the hands of the severely mentally disturbed and criminals.

In the heat of the moment, as I was making my point, I blurted out, “Have either of you ever actually read the original Tennessee Constitution?”

The words were out there with no way to turn them into a joke or make them go away. Chief Justice Wade is a merciful and courteous man who may have produced just a flicker of a smile, as I dropped my head and mumbled something along the lines of, “That was a really silly thing for me to ask.”

I don’t know if the judge’s friend was amused or not because my eyes were downcast in shame on my biscuits and gravy. But being the nice man he is, Justice Wade changed the subject — probably back to the football game –and pretended I had not just made an ass of myself.

It was even worse than a television interview 25 years ago during which I was talking to an attractive television news woman about a new adult entertainment ordinance passed by Knox County. She asked what separated an adult oriented film from one that was permissible without a permit.

As I opened my mouth to say something about “gratuitous nudity,” my tongue froze, my mind shut down and I realized could not remember how to pronounce gratuitous. Rather than stopping the way a wise man would have and just rephrasing the answer, I pressed on and came out with a garbled word that sounded something like grat-chew-u-tus nudity.

It was almost as humiliating as asking the Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court if he had ever read the Tennessee Constitution. I comfort myself by promising never to say anything else without thinking it through — but I know that if I live long enough, I probably will.

Tragedy often spurs social change

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. Before it was over, 146 shirtwaist (today called blouses) makers, the majority of them young immigrant women, died in the fire that broke out on the eighth floor of the factory, or jumped to their deaths. Many were unable to escape because the doors on their floors had been locked to prevent them from stealing or taking unauthorized breaks.

Two years earlier, in 1909, there had been a walkout of workers of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, seeking to become a part of he International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) to address the horrible working conditions. Only 20 percent of the workers were involved and the company locked out its employees when it learned what was happening until the attempt to unionize failed.

In addition to the locked doors; there was no workable alarm system in the building, so by the time they realized what was happening the fire was already blazing around them; there were only a few exits available; and only two freight elevators that went to ground level; a group of 24 people who tried to escape on a shoddily built fire escape fell to their deaths when it collapsed. This left only two stairwells, one of which was blocked by fire below the workers and one that was locked from the outside; to avoid the flames 62 workers jumped to their deaths in desperation .

In the Shirt Waist factory where mostly young women labored nine hours a day, Monday through Friday and seven hours on Saturday in a poorly ventilated environment where highly flammable cotton scraps accumulated in large bins, and a supervisor had to unlock a door for the employees to visit the bathroom, few outsiders were aware of the conditions that were well-known to the managers and owners who saw maximum profit as the bottom line.

It was not the first disaster in which workers had died, but it struck a chord, especially when word of the locked doors began to spread. It must have been a surprise for most of the factory owners when more than 100,000 people participated in the funeral march for the victims.

Reform did not happen overnight, but within eight years, 90 percent of the factory workers in New York City had unionized and were creating better working conditions for their members. Even more importantly, many with money and social status, most of whom had never worked in a factory were shocked into radicalization.

Many political experts today see the death of 146 workers at the Shirtwaist factory, caused by pure greed, as the event that launched the progressive movement in this country and turned many Americans into sympathizers with the poor and downtrodden.

It was not the worst disaster involving the death of ordinary working people during that period of history in the United States, but the timing, the publicity and the public uproar changed the history and direction of this country.

On the evening of June 17, 2015, another such event — I believe — took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, when a racist thug named Dylann Roof, allegedly killed nine people with a handgun at a prayer meeting, because, in the words of a surviving witness, they were black, raping white women and trying to take over the country. That is how he evidently saw it in his twisted perspective of life.

While the nation was reeling from the mass killing inside a church, pictures emerged of Roof wearing flag patches on his coat from the now defunct nations of South Africa and Rhodesia where whites ruled blacks with an iron fist and kept them segregated from whites. In some of those pictures, he was waving the Confederate battle flag and burning, trampling and spitting on the American flag.

The Confederate battle flag, which was not the official flag of the Confederate states, has long been a sore spot with black Americans and many progressive whites, but every time it was mentioned as offensive, advocates declared the flag to be nothing more than a symbol of Southern cultural heritage; many of whom no doubt sincerely believe it, while failing to recognize that for black Americans and progressives it stands as a symbol of slavery and a shameful period of our history.

Within a day of the church massacre, thousands of South Carolinians — black and white — gathered at the capitol and demanded that the Confederate battle flag be taken down. Particularly galling, it seems, was that all other flags were at half mast because of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, while the Confederate flag flew full mast.

While I can’t predict the future, I can extrapolate from history, and I believe the Confederate battle flag will soon cease to be part of any official American branch of government. I think it will go to the museums as President Obama suggested and will only be seen in the hands of who reenact Civil War battles, on belt buckles, license plates and the jackets of diehards still waiting for the South to rise again.

For the first time, Southern politicians and wise presidential candidates seem to realize the tide has turned and they must break with those who cling desperately to the past or lose those who are firmly planted in 21st Century United States. How long it will take for two-thirds of the South Carolina legislature to agree on removing the flag, I don’t know, but I think it has now become inevitable. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to spur needed social changes.

I believe the massacre of nine black Americans inside the sanctuary of a church by a seemingly twisted, frustrated little racist thug has created the impetus that will take down the physical symbol of oppression to so many people so and that the nine people murdered in Charleston — like the 146 people who needlessly died in a factory fire –will not have been totally in vain.