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April 9, 2003, 9:35 P.M.

Who are The American People? My parents are children of the Depression and World War II. These catastrophic historical events left indelible marks on them and shaped the future for me and my children. Looking back, the lessons taught by war and hardship have been, by and large, good and valuable, and have improved the character of their generation.

These blue-collar Americans of the 1940s and 1950s, survived hardship by acquiring skills, and valued the ability to make a living more than an education. They were realistic about what they could personally do to change the future. They could scarcely believe that they might influence world events or politics or the global economy. Instead, they exercised their influence through hard work and perseverance to improve their own lives and make a better future for their children. That meant working hard and giving opportunities to their kids that they themselves did not have.

The idea that through hard work, you can improve your lot over your parents’, and that you can make life better for your children than it was for you, is woven throughout the fabric of the American dream. This fabric is frayed, and it is unraveling for my generation. For the first time since the Second World War, the promise that I can give to my children what my parents gave to me is not a certainty. Several developments lead to this inevitable conclusion.

Our parents are living longer. While this is obviously good news in one sense, their longer life span threatens my generation’s retirement, affordable health care and college education for our children. Each generation must look to its children for support under our system. Our ability to continue to pay into the social security and Medicare/Medicaid systems is due in no small part to our education. Look at the cost of a higher education today, compared to the cost of the same education 25 years ago. In 1976, a high school graduate could attend a state college or university for a few thousand dollars per year. By 1986, the same education was decidedly more expensive and by 2003, a semester at a school like UNH is out of reach without financial aid or parental assistance.

The fact is that as college becomes less affordable, less of the next generation (who will support my retirement) will be qualified to enter the work force at a level that will allow them to make their children’s lives better than their own. In my parents’ generation, and to a lesser extent in my own, a college education was not essential. With the loss of an industrial and manufacturing base in this country, there are few well-paying jobs for those without a college or trade school education.

This change has occurred over my lifetime. My father is a heavy equipment mechanic. He learned his trade on the equipment that was developed during World War II. His skills really didn’t have to change much until the 1970s when, because of the energy crisis, he had to improve his skills to keep pace with changing technology in the auto industry. Today, the technology in a modern bulldozer is enough to cause a guy like my dad to welcome retirement, a concept that was always strange to him. A person entering the trade today must have training in computer diagnostics. I actually used to be able to tune up my own car. My new lawnmower now presents a real challenge.

Another change is the global economy. The United States no longer provides goods for world consumption. Most of the goods sold in world markets, with the notable exception of airplanes, tanks and SUVs, are produced outside of this country. There has been a shift in our economic base from industry to information. Here again our less educated are at a disadvantage here and abroad. Workers educated less expensively outside the U.S. compete for jobs with our own graduates in increasing numbers.

Global politics are changing as well, as evidenced by the shifting alliances and disintegration of old relationships that we have observed in the weeks leading up to the current Gulf War. Old friends like France and Germany, once dependant on the U.S. for their survival in the face of the Soviet menace, now feel empowered to act independently and stand against their former protector. New alliances are forming with old east bloc countries, which are moving into the western sphere of influence. I can’t guess where these changing alliances will lead us, but the concept of a global, democratic hegemony dominated by the United States and its interests is no longer a certainty.

This brings me around to my question. Who are The American People? I hear politicians say that they know what The American People want, but they say that without knowing the answer to my question. To a Republican, The American People don’t want taxes, don’t want government, and really don’t care about helping anyone else get a slice of the pie. To a Democrat, The American People want government in their lives to protect them from Republicans and their friends in big business. Republicans and Democrats believe The American People are decent, hard working people, at least at election time.

The American People are scared: frightened about the future for their children and for themselves. The American People are afraid that the people out there who hate us enough to attack us here will not go away with Shock and Awe, and that they will be back with a vengeance when the air strikes are over. They are afraid that the American Dream is a lie. Sure, the political system in place today can hold things together for a while, but it all boils down to pie. Pie: who has it, who wants it, and how to get more of it. There are only so many slices in a pie, and an ever-increasing amount of pie is being consumed by an ever-decreasing number of people. This can only go on for so long before those people without enough pie take some slices back. This holds true for our own country as well as for the rest of the planet. Right now people don’t like us because, even though we have quite a lot of pie, we still want to take some away from others. Eventually, we are going to have to learn how to share.

I graduated from high school in 1976. I belong to the first generation in my family to go to college. I worked as a laborer, a union mason, a truck driver, a bulldozer operator, a truck mechanic and a bartender, I pumped gas and sold scrap metal on the side, all to get to where I am today. And where I am today is scared. Afraid that I can’t send my kids to college and that they don’t have the time or opportunity to do it the hard way, like I did. Of course, I will send them because they have to go. But I am afraid that the promise of social security, Medicare and a comfortable retirement for myself will not bear fruit. I am afraid that I will have to sacrifice these things so that my children can do at least as well as I have. But they will have to provide for themselves, abandoning the traditional American dream and their parents, in order to survive and to provide for their children.

My cousin, Jeff, shares my upbringing. Although he is a Republican, he is as disillusioned as I am with our traditional political parties, and I must say he makes a good argument. He says that the Democrats have let us down. They have promised us the Dream since 1945. But they haven’t delivered, and they haven’t been flexible enough to keep the gulf between the Haves and the Have Nots from swallowing up the middle class. He says that the Republicans haven’t let us down because they never promised us anything to begin with. They have simply devised an ugly, Lord-of-the-Flies, natural-selection sort of system that rewards those who claw their way to the top of the pile.

Other people are thinking this way as well. Several members of the Concord Coalition, a group of prominent Republicans and Democrats, raised these very issues in a letter to the editor in today’s New York Times. Equally significant is their recognition that the next generation, my children’s generation, will be in worse shape than we are if we keep going this way. I don’t see the next generation paying 33% of their income to support me, with no hope of their children being able to do the same for them. This system will leave them feeling cheated, lied to, and wishing the old folks were dead. I don’t trust my future to my government. Perhaps I shouldn’t trust my future to anyone, but the promise has been that I could do just that.

April 9, 2003, 10:15 A.M.

I'm happy to report that Governor Benson is learning a little about government. The largest citizen legislature in the country is proving its mettle. Benson thought that he was going to waltz in to Concord and have his way with state government, just like he did at the helm of Cabletron. The House, the Senate and the Executive Council, however, are not dancing to the same tune.

First, the legislature put the brakes on Benson’s boneheaded plan to “borrow” $32 million from an account set up to subsidize health benefits for retired state employees. Thank goodness they realized what bad business that scheme was.

Closer to home, the House Finance Committee has pointed out the truly disasterous consequences of the Governor’s plan to close the women’s prison in Goffstown and move it to Laconia. Of course, I don’t think any of Laconia's representatives even noticed (memo to Glenn, Jim, Don, Bob, Tom and Bob: you can go back to sleep now). Not only was that plan a bad economic idea, the crowding that would result from this move would compromise the safety of inmates, correction officers and my little town. The situation certainly would not be helped by the Governor’s proposed cuts in the Department of Corrections budget. The committee added $17 million to Benson’s proposed Corrections budget, according to the Concord Monitor.

Benson’s budget was never realistic because running a state is not exactly like running a business, especially when things like public safety are concerned. The Governor has a lot to learn in this regard. The Concord Monitor editorial predicts a special legislative session to sort out the mess – gonna be a hot time in the old town this summer.

April 9, 2003, 10:10 A.M.

Steve Clemons, writing in today’s New York Times proposes an idea for the post-war distribution of Iraqi oil proceeds, much like the model in place in Alaska. In the 1970’s a fund was created from oil money called the Alaska Permanent Fund. Dividends are paid to state residents from the fund annually and those payments have reached about $8,000 per year per resident.

The creation of a similar distribution scheme in Iraq would have numerous benefits. It would raise the standard of living for all Iraqi citizens, it would stabilize the economy and give the people an all-important slice of the pie. The added benefit would be to prove to the world that we are not in Iraq to get more of the pie for ourselves. I hope some of the folks lining up to run post-war Iraq read the Times today.

April 7, 2003, 9:50 A.M.

Trouble in Texas: Back in January I wrote about the Bush administration's support for the Plaintiffs in two significant cases recently heard in the US Supreme Court. The case was brought by a group of white students who filed a lawsuit against the University of Michigan challenging the universities reliance on race as a factor in college admission decisions. A companion suit is pending against the University of Michigan Law School. Both of those cases were heard by the US Supreme Court this past week. The Bush administration weighed in on the side of the Plaintiffs with a brief that argued in favor of race-neutral admission policies.

The suggestion that our society is now so diverse and color blind that we no longer need to even consider race as a factor in college admissions is absurd. Our society is not color blind, nor is our politics. The most recent example comes out of Texas, of all places.

According to Associated Press reports, Tom Coleman was hired as an undercover police officer to work in Tulia, Texas, by the Swisher County sheriff’s department to work as an undercover police officer. Tulia is a town with a population of about 5000. Just under 250 of the town’s residents are black. Coleman was working as a welder at the time he was hired, but had some previous experience as a police officer.

Coleman had in fact previously been employed in Cochran County, Texas. Sheriff Ken Burke, Coleman’s employer in Cochran County, wrote a letter to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education complaining that Coleman had quit his job “in the middle of a shift, without notice, leaving behind debts and a patrol car parked in his driveway.” Apparently Burke also had to garnish Coleman’s pay for back child support and he wrote to the Commission that “Mr. Coleman should not be in law enforcement.” Coleman’s ex-girlfriend filed charges, that she later withdrew, claiming that Coleman had stalked her. She withdrew the charges but said she wanted the complaint on file in the event that he caused trouble later.

With this backdrop, Coleman was hired to investigate drug activity in Tulia. But more than that, he was given a list of county residents, most of them black, that he was to investigate. His investigation resulted in the arrest and conviction of 46 suspects, 39 of whom were black. This drug sweep earned Coleman the Texas Narcotic Control Program’s “Outstanding Lawman of the Year” award for 1999. His investigation used no audio or video surveillance, no corroborative evidence and no drugs were ever found, yet his drug busts resulted in 17 guilty pleas and 11 guilty verdicts, despite the fact that some of the accused had never even met their accuser.

According to an April 2, 2003 AP story, a current investigation into Coleman’s activities by the Justice Department and the Texas attorney general has turned up irregularities in the undercover investigation and a retired state appeals court judge conducting the investigation into Coleman’s activities has recommended that the convictions based on his testimony be overturned. The sheriff who hired Coleman testified at one of the trials that more blacks than whites were arrested because “black people do drugs in the streets and the parks and white people do them in their home.” He also admits that he had a list of blacks that he wanted investigated. This undercover investigation and the resulting convictions ware nothing less than institutional racism. To make matters worse, Coleman, who was hired to do his “investigation” even after a suit was filed against him for theft and abuse of power (the case was dismissed after Coleman paid $6,950 in restitution), is currently working as an undercover cop in another town.

In other news, the Justice Department released a report today containing U.S. prison statitics for the past year. The report reveals that "about 12 percent of all black men in the United States aged 20 to 39 were in prison or jail, by far the highest single group. In contrast, 4 percent of Hispanic males and 1.6 percent of white males in that age group were incarcerated." Add this ugly statistic and the Coleman story to the Trent Lott flap and the power of traditional southern politicians, and it is clear that race is still a big issue in this country. The government’s arguments before the Supreme Court last week were an attempt to gloss over and sterilize the racial inequity that still exists in this country. Even Texas isn’t big enough to hide the truth.

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