Halloween, the Day the Dead Walk; RT has been dealing with some ghosts of his own as we approach the end of the Celtic year, which may explain why out of the blue he checked out Larry McMurtry’s fine short biography of Crazy Horse, the famous Sioux warrior. Not much is known about Crazy Horse himself (though we do know that he was averse to being photographed), but quite a bit is known about the Sioux people and their struggle to save their land and way of life from encroaching settlers. And perhaps no survival from that long fight is more remarkable than this group portrait of many of the principal Sioux leaders. Though these men were active for decades, they are best remembered for their participation in the famous Great Sioux War of 1876, which gave us the Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka Custer’s Last Stand.
Hold on to your hats, folks, here they are:
To give the reader some idea of the scope of these men’s lives, RT offers a pair of brief biographical notes:
Red Cloud (1822-December 10, 1909). Best known as the leader of Red Cloud’s War (1866-1868); fought to protect the Powder River country from encroachment by whites. The Sioux were victorious, in particular winning the Fetterman Fight, one of the worst defeats the U.S. Army experiencing during its struggle with the Sioux. Also prominent as a negotiator and diplomat on behalf of the Sioux, including the negotiation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868).
Young Man Afraid Of His Horses (1836-July 13, 1893). Fought during Red Cloud’s War. A prominent Indian negotiator, active until the end of the Sioux wars in the early 1890s and especially in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre.
As the Dakota access pipeline protests bear witness to, the long struggle of the Sioux to preserve their traditional way of life is not yet over.
Photograph: Red Cloud and Other Sioux. circa 1860-1880. Library of Congress. WikiCmns. Public Domain.
No one has ever said that RT isn’t a romantic, and he’ll add that being one is not a bad way to cope with troubled times. So here are his reflections on last night’s Republican sweep of the midterm elections–with a distinct stress on the positive:
1) Recreational Marijuana will soon be legal in five states, including Alaska. Five states doesn’t sound like a lot, but RT has a feeling that momentum is growing across the United States for full legalization. As RT has said recently, this can only be good news for West Virginia, which needs all the revenue sources (and legal jobs) it can get. (And by the way, Alaska will be taxing marijuana at $50 the ounce.)
2) Republicans did not quite take over the WV state legislature. They certainly got hold hold of the House of Delegates, with a 64-36 seat majority; on the other hand, the state Senate is evenly split, 17-17, and since the Governor is a Democrat, it means that the Senate remains effectively, if just barely, in Democratic hands. RT will opine that since Democrats have controlled the WV legislature since 1931, the change in power may not be an entirely bad thing. And it is certainly a wake-up call to state Democrats to do some housecleaning and decide how they can address West Virginia’s real needs.
3) Minimum Wage Increases. Voters in four Republican-controlled states have approved referenda increasing the state minimum wage. Of particular note is Alaska’s ballot measure, which raises the state wage to $10.10/hr. and thereafter indexes it to increases in the cost of living. Just to remind folks, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr.
4) A Successful Gun-Control Initiative. Washington State will now require background checks on all gun sales, including at gun shows and online.
Living in the eastern Panhandle as RT does, he saw a lot of local lifestyles as he canvassed with Kris Loken for the 62nd WV Delegate seat (she lost to a longtime incumbent). The big problem that Democrats face locally (and perhaps nationally) is the image we project: non-local and successful, or, to put things more plainly, we look like carpetbaggers, regardless of the length of time we’ve lived in the area or the efforts we’ve put into local organizations. On the other hand, RT thinks that the good work Democrats are investing in local lives and politics is building some bridges.
Painting: Virgil’s Tomb: Sun Breaking Through the Clouds (1785). Joseph Wright of Derby. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
RT has been canvassing for a local candidate for the West Virginia legislature, Kris Loken, who is running for the WV House of Delegates 62nd district seat. An organized, focused, and determined lady, Ms. Loken served in the U.S. diplomatic corps for 27 years, and has been actively involved in local causes since her arrival in the state some years back. RT thinks she would make a great delegate.
Canvassing has been an eye-opening experience for RT, bringing him as it does into contact with a wide range of people and life stories. In particular, it has made him think carefully about what policies and approaches, other than the rather limited (though important) suggestions on the burner right now, would help WV climb out of the difficult spot it finds itself in.
What ails West Virginia is a syndrome hard to diagnose. Some problems, nonetheless, are easy to identify:
1) Demand for coal, WV’s leading export, has recently plummeted. In 2013, the value of state coal exports fell 40%, from $7.4 to $4.4 billion. And this in spite of the fact that WV coal contains about 50% more energy than coal from Wyoming, which today is the United State’s leading producer of coal. The problem? WV coal is high in sulfur dioxide and costs more to extract–the easily reachable deposits have all been mined.
2) Wages in West Virginia continue to fall. Historically, the best paying jobs in the state have been in manufacturing, chemicals, and mining. Employment in all these sectors has fallen dramatically for decades, while the number of low paying service sector jobs has increased. Unionization has also declined, and the result of these changes has been a significant drop in worker income.
3) Young workers, educated in West Virginia, continue to leave the state in large numbers. With college tuition, as throughout the country, increasing dramatically in West Virginia, young workers often leave the state looking for better-paying jobs, if for no other reason than to pay off their student loans.
The debate continues over what to do about these changes, but seems, in RT’s opinion, to be bogged down in details, which, while important, do not give us overall goals for West Virginia. What is lacking is a sense of direction or momentum. No big picture solutions are being offered. RT offers a few suggestions:
1) Take advantage of the resources already available in the state. Leaders will often talk of the West Virginia’s coal and natural gas resources, but no so often of its human resources. If, as seems apparent to RT, workers in the state tend to show mechanical genius, a trait possibly left over from the glory days of manufacturing and railroads, then why not encourage the use of these skills? Why have glass manufacturing and pottery production, once big employers, been allowed to languish?
2) Encourage small businesses in West Virginia. Small businesses generate jobs, and their expenditures and profits remain within the state.
But starting a small business is no small feat: these days, a prospective small business owner must have excellent credit to obtain a start-up loan, and the extra hours and devotion to producing a high-quality service can easily exhaust the owners; finally, there are the paperwork requirements and local taxes.
The solution, as far as RT can see, is the creation of small business zones, areas that remove some of these barriers to economic development. These zones would offer not just tax breaks for businesses less than three years old, but also reduce monthly state, county, and municipal paperwork to a single document no longer than four pages and provide customized help from the state employment agency in finding appropriate staff.
RT recommends implementing this program in the Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling, Beckley, and Martinsburg areas.
3) Legalize recreational marijuana. In 2011, PBS ranked West Virginia as one of the biggest marijuana producing states in the country. Legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in West Virginia–or at least legalize its medical use. And while we’re at it, let’s legalize hemp and its many uses.
hmmm…RT can see that while this post looks at some important issues, it doesn’t really offer a glimpse of what the overall direction West Virginia should be going in…a big topic for his next post.
Want to help West Virginia Democrats? Here are a couple of links:
Photo: Saturday Afternoon Street Scene, Welch, McDowell County, WV, 1946. Russell Lee. WikiCmns. NARA – 541004. Public Domain.
Mid-term elections are drawing near, and RT feels the need to talk about some of the election issues that are really important to the well-being of the United States and its election processes. Chief among these issues must be the redistricting process by which states draw congressional district boundaries. And actually, RT has some good news to report about this.
It turns out that a number of U.S. states (seven, to be precise) do not leave redistricting to their legislatures, but have turned them over to independent or bipartisan commissions. Who are these few and brave? Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington. Three states, Florida, Iowa and Maine, give independent bodies authority to propose redistricting plans, but preserve the role of legislatures to approve them. Seven states, finally, have only a single representative for the entire state because of their low populations, and therefore do not need to redistrict; these are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.
Here’s the bad news: 34 U.S. states let their legislatures redraw the district maps that in no small part will determine who gets re-elected. Here are some of the results: in 2012, Democratic Party candidates received 1.2 million more votes than Republicans did in the federal election, but the Republicans won a 234 to 201 majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Here’s another example of the effect of unfair redistricting. In California, a state which Democrats have long controlled, the redistricting system was so biased in favor of incumbents that out of 765 elections held in the state between 2001 and 2011, only 5 seats changed hands. (And please note, this appalling statistic helped inspire a reform of California’s redistricting process in 2008.)
Yes, the gerrymander is alive and well and living in the United States.
To be fair to redistricting commissions (and state legislatures trying to eliminate gerrymandering), it’s impossible to devise a system that will leave everyone feeling adequately represented. On the other hand, here are a few common-sense criteria that are often suggested for redistricting. Districts should:
1) contain approximately equal populations;
2) be contiguous and compact;
3) contain approximately equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans;
4) contain both urban and rural neighborhoods; and
5) ensure that the major cultural and racial communities in a district are equitably represented in municipal, state, and federal legislatures.
1) hand over responsibility for redistricting to an *independent* (i.e., no members from the state legislature) commission. In this regard, Iowa provides an excellent model of the process that should be adopted; and
2) monitor for and adjust the redistricting process in response to poor turnover rates between parties in electoral districts.
The goal here is to ensure elections that offer voters a real choice; this in turn should lead to competition of ideas, the equitable distribution of power, and the forging of compromises that resolve difficult disagreements.
Map: 113th U.S. House of Representatives Districts. WikiCmns; author: Mr. Matté; uploaded by Magog the Ogre. CC 3.0.
Think about this: there are 45 million refugees in the world today; 207 nations each have smaller populations than this figure. Yet refugees, people who have fled terrible conditions in their home countries or who have been forced to leave, have no government.
Or think again: refugees do have a government of sorts–one that is administered by the United Nations and that is responsible for delivering the most basic of services: food, clothing, housing, and medicine. What is this amazing organization? The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
This is what UNHCR does: 1) advocate for the basic rights of refugees; 2) ensure clean water, food, basic housing, and medical care; and 3) seek long-term solutions via repatriation or resettlement. In its efforts, UNHCR has an indispensable partner: the World Food Program. WFP provides food, on average, to 90 million people each year.
The labors of these two organizations rarely make the press, and yet there can be no question that they have eased the suffering and saved the lives of millions over the several decades they have operated. UNHCR and WFP should be incorporated into any future world government or coordinate as part of the essential services it provides. And surely, any world government’s primary goals must include, when possible, the repatriation of all refugees. RT
Photo: Distribution of high energy biscuits and medical supplies in Kibati, Goma, Congo (2008). Author: Julien Harneis, WikiCmns; CC 2.0 Generic.
a wonderful essay on working with older folks… RT
(reposted from Melonie’s Poetic Life)
Dreams have a way of lingering. The last remnants of the Second Bulgarian Empire were absorbed by the expanding Ottoman Empire in 1396, at which point Bulgaria became one of the (many) nations ruled by the Ottoman Turks. But the heart of Bulgarian culture remained intact and reemerged when Bulgaria won de facto independence from Turkey in 1878. The second ruler of the newly reemerged state (and the first to take the title Tsar, or King) was Ferdinand I (1861-1948), whose portrait is at left.
Ferdinand was elected prince-regent in 1887, a romantic time; rapidly, however, things became more pragmatic and bellicose. He steered Bulgaria through the Balkan Wars (Bulgaria was on the winning side in the first war, but lost the second). He abdicated in favor of his son, Boris, in 1918, to save the Bulgarian throne. His sexual adventures had caused a long-running scandal. But, more importantly, after losing the the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria, as one of the Central Powers, was on the losing side in the First World War. Lest present-day readers think him frivolous, Ferdinand helped expand Bulgarian territory during the First Balkan War and lived to see the execution of his younger son, Kiril, by the newly proclaimed People’s Republic of Bulgaria in 1945.
The communist regime in Bulgaria collapsed in 1989, just five years after the death of Ferdinand’s elder daughter, Eudoxia. In 2001, Simeon II, Ferdinand’s grandson, who had reigned during his minority as Tsar from 1943-1946, was elected Prime Minister of a newly democratic Bulgaria. Simeon remained in office until 2005, during which time his country joined NATO and political and economic conditions visibly improved.
Photo: Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria in his younger days; royal photographer. WikiCmns; Public Domain