Thursday, September 29, 2011

American Politics Needs a Wangari Maathai

Abraham Lincoln famously wrote in his concluding remarks to his Annual Message to Congress in December of 1862:

"We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless."

This week the world lost one of its "...last best hopes..." with the passing of Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.

Who was Wangari Maathi? Like many Americans, until just recently I had never heard her name. But after watching the excellent PBS Independent Lens documentary TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, I am convinced that Lincoln’s prophetic remarks on freedom nearly 150 years ago are equally prophetic and applicable to the state of political affairs today in America.

When the state of political affairs in her native Kenya devolved into partisan tribal cronyism, homicidal violence and brutal political suppression, Wangari Maathi, a divorced mother of two, in a society which devalued women, stepped forward and led with peaceful nonviolent movements like the Freedom Corner and Greenbelt Movements to change the corrupt, male-dominated political system in her country. In perhaps the documentary’s most desperate and poignant moments, when Wangari and her fellow mothers were descended upon by Kenyan security forces with clubs and batons to disrupt a nonviolent protest seeking the release from jail of their sons and other political prisoners, the women stripped naked and shook their breasts at their attackers who nevertheless beat them unmercifully, leaving Maathi in a coma. Thankfully she recovered and this act of incredible courage and moral force in the face of violent wickedness eventually led to a new consciousness among the general public in Kenya and important reforms.

With the political parties in America behaving like tribes in Kenya, engaging in an endless cycle of payback, revenge and cronyism we could use the likes of a Wingari Maathi and the courageous mothers of Kenya. Perhaps their American counterparts could even strip naked in front of a joint session of Congress and shake their collective breasts to shame Congress into abandoning their childish and destructive partisan ways and act like grown-ups and start doing the people’s business.

Lincoln, Ghandi, King and Mandela will have to move over and share their space in the hall of human greatness because sister Wangari is moving in.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fourth Annual Ponderosa Stomp Music Conference Day One

"I liked you better when you didn't know who you were", Bobby Rush quoting someone commenting on him.

If you are ever fortunate to attend the Ponderosa Stomp, make sure you plan ahead, come early and take in the annual Music Conference sponsored by the event. Better yet, book the VIP Package from my friend Angelo, President and owner of Louisiana Travel. One of the better unintended consequences to come out of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana Travel is one of the best travel services I have ever worked with and can handle all of your Louisiana business conference and recreational travel needs. I have booked two packages thru Angelo, Melanie and the good folks at Louisiana Travel and recommend them very highly.

Now going on its fourth year, the Ponderosa Stomp Music Conference consists of three days of film, panel discussions and networking for the music industry, press, record collectors, dee jays and just plain old music heads. When you attend the music conference you are treated each day to an exquisite buffet luncheon put out by some of the finer New Orleans restaurants and caterers. My favorites were the Cuban artichoke and spinach sandwiches, and the BBQ pulled pork sandwiches "Memphis" or "Tennessee" style as we say up North at Caps Grille in Minneapolis. (Just don't stick you foot in your mouth like I did and recommend the pulled pork to your new friend Mark from England or he may wryly tell you "... thanks, but I don't think its Kosher".) to be continued...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dinner at K Paul's Louisiana Kitchen and a Cigar Factory Maduro: A Perfect Ending to a Beautiful Day

The last two times I have been in New Orleans I have meant to have a meal at perhaps the greatest, if not most iconic Cajun restaurants, K Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. Well after a wonderful day made all the more special by almost missing my plane, escaping the 29 degree weather back in Minneapolis and basking in the sunshine and 86 degrees of New Orleans, I decided to treat myself to a great meal. Although I was dining alone, the staff made me feel right at home, allowing me to sit at the bar so I would not feel uncomfortable and even taking my picture with the bust of the naked Nubian Queen which was right next to me on the bar and became my "date".

As I told the bartender, my friend Don O'Dell's father, Dave had the first authentic Cajun restaurant in the Twin Cities, the Mariner and Emporium of Jazz in Mendota and had sent his chefs to K Paul's for training. Dave was also the sole distributor for K Paul's spices for many years in the upper Midwest. Although sadly the Mariner and Emporium of Jazz is no more, eating K Paul's gumbo tonite with the black roux was like hooking up with an old lover, but better. Following the Chicken and Andeuille sausage gumbo, I had the crab fingers in a popcorn batter with the greatest sauce known to man. Top it all off with the phenomenally simple but exquisite bread and sweet breads and it was a meal that brought tears to my eyes and for under $20!!

If you ever go to K Paul's you must go one block toward's the Warehouse District and stop at Laura's for her incredible Rum Prailine Brittle, Coon Ass Bark(white chocolate, macadamian nuts and chili pepper) or my favorite, the dark chocolate Mississippi Mud with caramel and prailines (candied pecans).

For my walk back to my hotel in the Warehouse District I smoked a wonderful full bodied Maduro cigar, fresh from the Cigar Factory and you had the perfect ending to a beautiful day. Eat your hearts out Minnesota! Living large in the Big Easy! Who Better?

Ponderosa Stomp Music Conference Day One Wrap: It's All About Love and Respect

Until one attends a Ponderosa Stomp event it impossible to explain to the uninitiated what the big deal is. So I apologize to my friend and colleague Jody for being a little sarcastic and snippy in my opening article today but he had spent the week needling me about something that is truly dear to my heart.

You see, what makes the Ponderosa Stomp such a great event isn't just the great music, it is certainly all of that. It isn't just being able to see some of the greatest, legendary musicians and songwriters who have ever lived, but there is that. It isn't just that it is one of the greatest party's you will ever attend. What makes the Ponderosa Stomp so special is love and respect.

First of all it is the love and care and attention to detail with which Ira and the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau put together each years line-up. Although it is always an eclectic mix of the greatest music on earth, American Music: blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and rockabilly, there is always an emphasis on New Orleans music. While Austin may have overshadowed New Orleans as of late as the epicenter, or at least the home of perhaps the greatest number of great musicians in recent years, New Orleans is still the Jerusalem or Mecca of American Music. So it is only fitting that this event takes place in the Crescent City.

Second, it is the love and respect that the musicians, songwriters, producers and industry people have for one another, which, in a cut throat business like the music industry can seem like an almost impossible task. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Ira started the Music Conference segment of the Stomp four years ago. Not only does it give hardcore music heads a chance to live vicariously through, and get a glimpse into the lives of their heroes and heroines, more importantly it gives the musicians a chance to catch up, reminise, let bygones be just that and appreciate each other for the gifts they gave one another years ago and express their gratitude and love for each other. Perhaps the saddest thing about the Stomp is the reoccurring expression of remorse by the musicians that they did not get a chance to express their gratitude, love and respect to one of their fellow musicians and mentors before they passed on. We heard alot of that today.

Lastly, unlike the commercialized, money oriented fan fests of country music or even say NASCAR, at the Ponderosa Stomp there is truly a genuine love, respect and appreciation by the musicians for the fans that goes well beyond money. This may sound corny and trite, but anyone in attendance at today's music conference knows what I am talking about. I challenge anyone in attendance today to say that Bobby Rush, Carol Fran or Lavalle White's emotional thank yous and displays of love and affection for the fans, music press and other musicians in attendance was not 100% real. Perhaps that's the biggest point I am not so eloquently trying to make: The Ponderosa Stomp is real. Real music by real musicians for real music lovers. And it don't get any sweeter than that.

Ponderosa Stomp Fourth Annual Music Conference

New Orleans, LA

It should be to no ones surprise that I barely made my plane this morning. As usual for me before any trip, I waited til the last minute to do all the things necessary to get ready only to forget my cell phone. I had to run back to my house, missed my train to the airport, had to run like O.J. from a crime scene through Terminal 2 at MSP only to go in the wrong direction. By the time I got near my gate they were beginning to close it when they spotted me, yelled out my first name and held the plane until I boarded. As almost every seat on the plane was taken, I picked one of the remaining open middle seats, between two twenty somethings, who did not appreciate the schweatty old guy dripping and weazin' on them all the way to our first stop, St. Louis.

After all those going to Misery deplaned I moved up to one of the front rows which I shared with a very nice woman whose Hennepin County Library book that she left on her seat while using the lavatory, was stolen. We had a nice conversation and she was on her way to Birmingham, our second stop, to attend her childhood Southern Baptist Church's 100th Anniversary. Despite what you are thinking, we had alot in common, e.g. college student children, and her company made the flight go fast.

I just finished attending the conference's first speaker's discussion "Chicken Heads and Bow Legged Women: A discussion with Bobby Rush, which was of course riveting and hysterical. Gotta fly to catch the symposium on one of my heroes, Guitar Slim and later my favorite diva, Lavelle White. Ciao for Now!

We Will Stomp You: Trail To the Tenth Anniversary Ponderosa Stomp Begins Now!

All my bags are'nt packed, I'm not ready to go,
Jody can blow it out his nose,
I love to waive the one finger salute
to say goodbye, ttttbbllt,
But the dawn is breakin' it's early morn
The light rail is waitin' he's blowin' his horn
Already I'm so lonesome I could die, NOT!

So blow me and smile for me
Tell me that you won't hate me
Remember this image and never let it go
Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
I'll be really hungover when I come back
Oh yeah, I really don't hate to go

There's so many times you've let me down
telecommuting like a chubby clown
I tell you now, they don't mean a thing
Every place I go, I'll think and laugh at you
Every song I sing, I'll sing for you
When I come back, I'll be minus my wedding ring

So blow me and smile for me
Tell me that you're envious of me
Remember this image and never let it go
Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
I'll be really hungover when I come back
Oh yeah, I really don't hate to go

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Six Degrees of 911: “It’s A Small World After All”

Like most Americans over the age of 15, I can remember September 11, 2001 as if it were yesterday. Who could forget that incredibly blue, cloudless sky and the fresh, crisp air with the first hints of the coming change in seasons that would soon be Fall.

It was shortly before 9:00 AM and I was working at the computer in my “Parkway South” (aka home) law office in South Minneapolis. I had a television on in the background with the CBS Morning Show on when I heard Bryant Gumbel announce reports of a fire at the World Trade Center. I thought to myself, “this has got to be interesting…” and got up and went over to the t.v. just in time to see what looked like a shadow pass in back of one of the towers only to explode out of the side of the tower facing the camera in a spectacular orange fire ball.

As I stood there staring at the television screen in utter disbelief, the telephone rang and like I was in some kind of strange, hypnotic trance, I picked up the receiver and said hello without even glancing, as was my custom, at the caller ID. You see, I had consulted earlier that summer with a potential client, a bank robbery suspect, being held under a federal hold at the Sherburne County, MN jail. At the time they were constructing a new federal courthouse and detention center in downtown Minneapolis and until the new facility was ready, the federal government was contracting with Sherburne County, which had just built a state of the art facility with plenty of capacity, to house federal detainees and prisoners awaiting trial and/or hearing.

When my prospective client did not come up with the retainer fee, I stopped taking his collect calls from the Sherburne County jail which had run up to a not insignificant amount. Because my prospective client had been accused by jail staff of being uncooperative, they had moved him into the solitary confinement wing at the Sherburne County jail.

Hearing the voice of my unrequited client, I snapped out of my trance and unleashed a torrent of verbage, something to the effect: “You would never believe what just happened, I just watched an airliner fly into and explode against one of the World Trade Centers…”. Over the course of the next hour, the one hour my client had outside his cell in solitary, I relayed the incoming news to my client who in turn was passing along the information to the other prisoners in the solitary wing by yelling updates down the hall.

It was not until the next day and reading the Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers did we discover that also in the solitary wing of the Sherburne County jail that day was Zacarias Moussaoui, who has been held since August of 2001 after raising suspicions at a Minnesota flight school. Despite what the newspapers reported as when Moussaoui first learned of the attacks when he walked into a television lounge and saw new reports later in the day, to which he allegedly pumped his fist in triumph, both my prospective client and I knew the truth, that we were the first persons to apprise him of the news of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

If you will remember, in the days following 911 there was considerable discussion of the government listening in on attorney client phone calls from jail and you can bet I was sweating that I would receive a phone call from the FBI asking me to explain myself, which thankfully never came.

This story just goes to show how interconnected we are and how small the world is that I would play a role in the most defining event of our generation. Kevin Bacon eat your heart out.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Speaking Truth to Idiots: President Obama's Jobs Challenge to Joint Session of Congress

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, and fellow Americans:Tonight we meet at an urgent time for our country. We continue to face an economic crisis that has left millions of our neighbors jobless, and a political crisis that’s made things worse. This past week, reporters have been asking, “What will this speech mean for the President? What will it mean for Congress? How will it affect their polls, and the next election?”But the millions of Americans who are watching right now, they don’t care about politics. They have real-life concerns. Many have spent months looking for work. Others are doing their best just to scrape by — giving up nights out with the family to save on gas or make the mortgage; postponing retirement to send a kid to college. These men and women grew up with faith in an America where hard work and responsibility paid off. They believed in a country where everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share — where if you stepped up, did your job, and were loyal to your company, that loyalty would be rewarded with a decent salary and good benefits; maybe a raise once in a while. If you did the right thing, you could make it. Anybody could make it in America. For decades now, Americans have watched that compact erode. They have seen the decks too often stacked against them. And they know that Washington has not always put their interests first. The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we’ll meet ours. The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy. (Applause.) The question is — the question is whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning. Those of us here tonight can’t solve all our nation’s woes. Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers. But we can help. We can make a difference. There are steps we can take right now to improve people’s lives. I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans — including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything. (Applause.) The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for long-term unemployed. (Applause.) It will provide — it will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. (Applause.) It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and if they hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away. (Applause.) Everyone here knows that small businesses are where most new jobs begin. And you know that while corporate profits have come roaring back, smaller companies haven’t. So for everyone who speaks so passionately about making life easier for “job creators,” this plan is for you. (Applause.)Pass this jobs bill — pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or if they raise workers’ wages. Pass this jobs bill, and all small business owners will also see their payroll taxes cut in half next year. (Applause.) If you have 50 employees — if you have 50 employees making an average salary, that’s an $80,000 tax cut. And all businesses will be able to continue writing off the investments they make in 2012. It’s not just Democrats who have supported this kind of proposal. Fifty House Republicans have proposed the same payroll tax cut that’s in this plan. You should pass it right away. (Applause.) Pass this jobs bill, and we can put people to work rebuilding America. Everyone here knows we have badly decaying roads and bridges all over the country. Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our skies are the most congested in the world. It’s an outrage. Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us a economic superpower. And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America? (Applause.) There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work. There’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America. A public transit project in Houston that will help clear up one of the worst areas of traffic in the country. And there are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating. How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart? This is America. Every child deserves a great school — and we can give it to them, if we act now. (Applause.) The American Jobs Act will repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools. It will put people to work right now fixing roofs and windows, installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across this country. It will rehabilitate homes and businesses in communities hit hardest by foreclosures. It will jumpstart thousands of transportation projects all across the country. And to make sure the money is properly spent, we’re building on reforms we’ve already put in place. No more earmarks. No more boondoggles. No more bridges to nowhere. We’re cutting the red tape that prevents some of these projects from getting started as quickly as possible. And we’ll set up an independent fund to attract private dollars and issue loans based on two criteria: how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it will do for the economy. (Applause.)This idea came from a bill written by a Texas Republican and a Massachusetts Democrat. The idea for a big boost in construction is supported by America’s largest business organization and America’s largest labor organization. It’s the kind of proposal that’s been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike. You should pass it right away. (Applause.)
Pass this jobs bill, and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work. These are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher. But while they’re adding teachers in places like South Korea, we’re laying them off in droves. It’s unfair to our kids. It undermines their future and ours. And it has to stop. Pass this bill, and put our teachers back in the classroom where they belong. (Applause.)Pass this jobs bill, and companies will get extra tax credits if they hire America’s veterans. We ask these men and women to leave their careers, leave their families, risk their lives to fight for our country. The last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home. (Applause.)Pass this bill, and hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged young people will have the hope and the dignity of a summer job next year. And their parents -- (applause) -- their parents, low-income Americans who desperately want to work, will have more ladders out of poverty.Pass this jobs bill, and companies will get a $4,000 tax credit if they hire anyone who has spent more than six months looking for a job. (Applause.) We have to do more to help the long-term unemployed in their search for work. This jobs plan builds on a program in Georgia that several Republican leaders have highlighted, where people who collect unemployment insurance participate in temporary work as a way to build their skills while they look for a permanent job. The plan also extends unemployment insurance for another year. (Applause.) If the millions of unemployed Americans stopped getting this insurance, and stopped using that money for basic necessities, it would be a devastating blow to this economy. Democrats and Republicans in this chamber have supported unemployment insurance plenty of times in the past. And in this time of prolonged hardship, you should pass it again -- right away. (Applause.)Pass this jobs bill, and the typical working family will get a $1,500 tax cut next year. Fifteen hundred dollars that would have been taken out of your pocket will go into your pocket. This expands on the tax cut that Democrats and Republicans already passed for this year. If we allow that tax cut to expire -- if we refuse to act -- middle-class families will get hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time. We can’t let that happen. I know that some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away. (Applause.)This is the American Jobs Act. It will lead to new jobs for construction workers, for teachers, for veterans, for first responders, young people and the long-term unemployed. It will provide tax credits to companies that hire new workers, tax relief to small business owners, and tax cuts for the middle class. And here’s the other thing I want the American people to know: The American Jobs Act will not add to the deficit. It will be paid for. And here’s how. (Applause.)The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about $1 trillion over the next 10 years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I am asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act. And a week from Monday, I’ll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan -- a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run. (Applause.)This approach is basically the one I’ve been advocating for months. In addition to the trillion dollars of spending cuts I’ve already signed into law, it’s a balanced plan that would reduce the deficit by making additional spending cuts, by making modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and by reforming our tax code in a way that asks the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share. (Applause.) What’s more, the spending cuts wouldn’t happen so abruptly that they’d be a drag on our economy, or prevent us from helping small businesses and middle-class families get back on their feet right away.Now, I realize there are some in my party who don’t think we should make any changes at all to Medicare and Medicaid, and I understand their concerns. But here’s the truth: Millions of Americans rely on Medicare in their retirement. And millions more will do so in the future. They pay for this benefit during their working years. They earn it. But with an aging population and rising health care costs, we are spending too fast to sustain the program. And if we don’t gradually reform the system while protecting current beneficiaries, it won’t be there when future retirees need it. We have to reform Medicare to strengthen it. (Applause.)I am also -- I’m also well aware that there are many Republicans who don’t believe we should raise taxes on those who are most fortunate and can best afford it. But here is what every American knows: While most people in this country struggle to make ends meet, a few of the most affluent citizens and most profitable corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary -- an outrage he has asked us to fix. (Laughter.) We need a tax code where everyone gets a fair shake and where everybody pays their fair share. (Applause.) And by the way, I believe the vast majority of wealthy Americans and CEOs are willing to do just that if it helps the economy grow and gets our fiscal house in order.I’ll also offer ideas to reform a corporate tax code that stands as a monument to special interest influence in Washington. By eliminating pages of loopholes and deductions, we can lower one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. (Applause.) Our tax code should not give an advantage to companies that can afford the best-connected lobbyists. It should give an advantage to companies that invest and create jobs right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)So we can reduce this deficit, pay down our debt, and pay for this jobs plan in the process. But in order to do this, we have to decide what our priorities are. We have to ask ourselves, “What’s the best way to grow the economy and create jobs?”Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can’t afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? (Applause.) Right now, we can’t afford to do both.This isn’t political grandstanding. This isn’t class warfare. This is simple math. (Laughter.) This is simple math. These are real choices. These are real choices that we’ve got to make. And I’m pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It’s not even close. And it’s time for us to do what’s right for our future. (Applause.)Now, the American Jobs Act answers the urgent need to create jobs right away. But we can’t stop there. As I’ve argued since I ran for this office, we have to look beyond the immediate crisis and start building an economy that lasts into the future -- an economy that creates good, middle-class jobs that pay well and offer security. We now live in a world where technology has made it possible for companies to take their business anywhere. If we want them to start here and stay here and hire here, we have to be able to out-build and out-educate and out-innovate every other country on Earth. (Applause.)
And this task of making America more competitive for the long haul, that’s a job for all of us. For government and for private companies. For states and for local communities -- and for every American citizen. All of us will have to up our game. All of us will have to change the way we do business.My administration can and will take some steps to improve our competitiveness on our own. For example, if you’re a small business owner who has a contract with the federal government, we’re going to make sure you get paid a lot faster than you do right now. (Applause.) We’re also planning to cut away the red tape that prevents too many rapidly growing startup companies from raising capital and going public. And to help responsible homeowners, we’re going to work with federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near 4 percent. That’s a step -- (applause) -- I know you guys must be for this, because that’s a step that can put more than $2,000 a year in a family’s pocket, and give a lift to an economy still burdened by the drop in housing prices.So, some things we can do on our own. Other steps will require congressional action. Today you passed reform that will speed up the outdated patent process, so that entrepreneurs can turn a new idea into a new business as quickly as possible. That’s the kind of action we need. Now it’s time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama and Colombia and South Korea -– while also helping the workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition. (Applause.) If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers. (Applause.) I want to see more products sold around the world stamped with the three proud words: “Made in America.” That’s what we need to get done. (Applause.)And on all of our efforts to strengthen competitiveness, we need to look for ways to work side by side with America’s businesses. That’s why I’ve brought together a Jobs Council of leaders from different industries who are developing a wide range of new ideas to help companies grow and create jobs.Already, we’ve mobilized business leaders to train 10,000 American engineers a year, by providing company internships and training. Other businesses are covering tuition for workers who learn new skills at community colleges. And we’re going to make sure the next generation of manufacturing takes root not in China or Europe, but right here, in the United States of America. (Applause) If we provide the right incentives, the right support -- and if we make sure our trading partners play by the rules -- we can be the ones to build everything from fuel-efficient cars to advanced biofuels to semiconductors that we sell all around the world. That’s how America can be number one again. And that’s how America will be number one again. (Applause.)Now, I realize that some of you have a different theory on how to grow the economy. Some of you sincerely believe that the only solution to our economic challenges is to simply cut most government spending and eliminate most government regulations. (Applause.)Well, I agree that we can’t afford wasteful spending, and I’ll work with you, with Congress, to root it out. And I agree that there are some rules and regulations that do put an unnecessary burden on businesses at a time when they can least afford it. (Applause.) That’s why I ordered a review of all government regulations. So far, we’ve identified over 500 reforms, which will save billions of dollars over the next few years. (Applause.) We should have no more regulation than the health, safety and security of the American people require. Every rule should meet that common-sense test. (Applause.)But what we can’t do -- what I will not do -- is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades. (Applause.) I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients. I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. (Applause.) We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe we can win that race. (Applause.)
In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own -- that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.Yes, we are rugged individualists. Yes, we are strong and self-reliant. And it has been the drive and initiative of our workers and entrepreneurs that has made this economy the engine and the envy of the world.But there’s always been another thread running throughout our history -- a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation.We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. Founder of the Republican Party. But in the middle of a civil war, he was also a leader who looked to the future -- a Republican President who mobilized government to build the Transcontinental Railroad -- (applause) -- launch the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges. (Applause.) And leaders of both parties have followed the example he set.Ask yourselves -- where would we be right now if the people who sat here before us decided not to build our highways, not to build our bridges, our dams, our airports? What would this country be like if we had chosen not to spend money on public high schools, or research universities, or community colleges? Millions of returning heroes, including my grandfather, had the opportunity to go to school because of the G.I. Bill. Where would we be if they hadn’t had that chance? (Applause.)How many jobs would it have cost us if past Congresses decided not to support the basic research that led to the Internet and the computer chip? What kind of country would this be if this chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do? (Applause.) How many Americans would have suffered as a result?No single individual built America on their own. We built it together. We have been, and always will be, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; a nation with responsibilities to ourselves and with responsibilities to one another. And members of Congress, it is time for us to meet our responsibilities. (Applause.)Every proposal I’ve laid out tonight is the kind that’s been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past. Every proposal I’ve laid out tonight will be paid for. And every proposal is designed to meet the urgent needs of our people and our communities.Now, I know there’s been a lot of skepticism about whether the politics of the moment will allow us to pass this jobs plan -- or any jobs plan. Already, we’re seeing the same old press releases and tweets flying back and forth. Already, the media has proclaimed that it’s impossible to bridge our differences. And maybe some of you have decided that those differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box.But know this: The next election is 14 months away. And the people who sent us here -- the people who hired us to work for them -- they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months. (Applause.) Some of them are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.I don’t pretend that this plan will solve all our problems. It should not be, nor will it be, the last plan of action we propose. What’s guided us from the start of this crisis hasn’t been the search for a silver bullet. It’s been a commitment to stay at it -- to be persistent -- to keep trying every new idea that works, and listen to every good proposal, no matter which party comes up with it.Regardless of the arguments we’ve had in the past, regardless of the arguments we will have in the future, this plan is the right thing to do right now. You should pass it. (Applause.) And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country. (Applause.) And I ask -- I ask every American who agrees to lift your voice: Tell the people who are gathered here tonight that you want action now. Tell Washington that doing nothing is not an option. Remind us that if we act as one nation and one people, we have it within our power to meet this challenge.President Kennedy once said, “Our problems are man-made –- therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.”These are difficult years for our country. But we are Americans. We are tougher than the times we live in, and we are bigger than our politics have been. So let’s meet the moment. Let’s get to work, and let’s show the world once again why the United States of America remains the greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)Thank you very much. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

The ball is now in the House Republicans court. Pay attention American middle and working classes and see whose side your elected official is on: yours or the wealthiest Americans. Pass this Bill!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Power of Place: Location, Location, Location

Yesterday I experienced the power that a special place has over us mere mortals. The notion that an inanimate object like the combination of wood, mortar and lake stones could have such a profound effect and evoke so much emotions still astounds me as I write this.

You see yesterday we laid the last of my mother and father's generation to rest. My mom's sister, my Auntie Gert, who had managed to reach the beautiful and wise age of 88 years. Gert lived her life on her terms and passed peacefully in her sleep in her own home. Like a beer commercial once said, " don't get better than this".

Following the internment at Ft. Snelling where my Uncle Harry and Aunt Gert have perhaps the most beautiful view in all the cemetery looking over a pond and fountain, a number of the cousins decided to head out to the old family cemetery where our grandparents are buried. Before stopping at the cemetery we pressed on to South Haven where my mother was born in a home which still stands and my Grandpa once owned and ran the corner cafe on Main Street. South Haven, population 193, is one of those towns which has not changed (other than the closed and boarded up store fronts and one burned out lot) in over forty years.

As we took stock of my Grandpa's boarded up cafe, I suggested we go out to the old family cabin on Lake Sylvia. My oldest sibling expressed doubts that I could find the cabin. Oh Ye of little faith! I had used this cabin as my party headquarters during college and I could find the place blindfolded and in a drunken stupor. Much to our amazement the old cabin still stood, resplendent in its simplicity, its charm intact but in improved form.

The hilltop cabin of my Uncle and mother's family was still in existence right down to the 1950's kitchen table and 1940's Skelgas stove with griddle. The current owner and her sister were present and invited us inside where upon seeing the aforementioned furnishings formerly belonging to my family I became overcome with emotion and had to step outside and compose myself. It is simply amazing how a place can conjure up such memories so real and powerful that it was almost like bringing the dearly departed back to life. God bless those wise enough to understand historic preservation.