Thursday, April 10, 2014

Irony, Purple Power and Some Big Business Questions

I enjoy irony, especially when names are involved. Take, for example, a recent article in The New York Times Magazine. “A Tale of Two Valleys” related the entrepreneurial conflict between old and new techies in Silicon Valley. The first source quoted by the author was Sanjit Biswas, a nouveau techie whose last name cannot help but be a metaphor for the past as prologue in this rapidly evolving business segment.

Here’s another: An invitation arrived from the White Plains Historical Society to support its Historic Preservation Fund by buying raffle tickets. Grand Prize I would be a four-volume set of Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln. 

Grand Prize II would be a four-volume biography of Robert E. Lee, a Pulitzer Prize winning effort by Douglas Southall Freeman. How deliciously ironic for the author of a biography of the general fighting to keep millions of Afro-Americans enslaved to have the surname “free man”! How further ironically amusing that his middle name would be an all-for-the-South rallying cry, if ever there were one.

Purple Power: How would you like to walk around with a target on your chest or back? Probably not, considering the trigger-happy country we live in today. On the other hand, despite threats from the Taliban, nearly 60% of eligible Afghani voters are walking around with purple ink on their forefingers, proof positive they voted in Saturday’s elections. 

Which makes me wonder, why don’t we in the United States dip people’s fingers into an ink well, or create some other visual sign, to signify involvement in the one political process where all of us are equal? In our free society we fail to vote in markedly higher percentages than the threatened populace of Afghanistan. A purple finger would mark for all to see the commitment each individual has to our democracy. Conversely, lack of a purple stain would be a sign of shame, assuming one is a citizen and has not lost the right to vote.

My suggestion does have some kinks that need working out. We have a high percentage of absentee ballots cast. We also have early voting in some states. How would we identify those who take advantage of these alternatives to polling station visits? Maybe we could issue packets with just enough purple ink to paint one finger, to be applied on election day? 

If Catholics are willing to walk around in public with blackened foreheads on Ash Wednesday, if observant Jews are willing to walk around wearing yarmulkes, if Sikhs walk around wearing turbans, if Amish, Mennonites and Hasidic Jews are willing to walk around in distinctive garb, then everyone who cares about democracy should be willing to display their allegiance to the Red, White and Blue (the combination of red and blue make purple; add white and you get lavender).

Here’s another (tongue-in-cheek) idea: If we can't vote in superior numbers, perhaps we can enfranchise people in other democratic countries to help us select our president, for, after all, he or she is the leader of the free world. 

Shouldn't, say, the British or the Australians or the Polish have a vote in whom our commander-in-chief is, considering those countries always seem to support our military initiatives?

Keep Reading: Democracy demands an informed electorate. Yet, I sense a growing percentage of voters agree with a sentiment expressed during a dinner party we attended last Friday. Our host lamented he has been so depressed and distressed by the news lately that he has curtailed his reading of the front page of The Times. 

Secretly, I thought I was in the minority by also doing so, but the consensus around the table was that our host was not unique. Though we were all liberals (to the best of my knowledge), I believe the trend spans political denominations, and is not restricted to shunning The Times. We’re also turned off by network news telecasts.

I’m a big believer that an informed electorate is a prerequisite for a strong democracy. But I am distressed by the bickering from both sides of the political aisle and the tendency to reject outright any suggestions from the other side. 

Here's what I don't understand. If Republicans are the party of Big Business, why isn't Big Business pushing them to pass more projects that would help industry and put more people back to work and thus give the masses more money to spend on the products of Big Business?

Take infrastructure, for example. We need to shore up our bridges and tunnels, our highway overpasses, our rail beds and airports.

We need to modernize our power grid, our telecommunications network, our water supply system.

Surely the captains of industry see this. So why are they flushing tens of millions of dollars into the vest pockets of GOP legislators who are voting against their vested interests? What Machiavellian purpose is achieved? I'm no fan of Sheldon Adelson, but at least his wants are out in the open. When Republican presidential wannabes kowtow to him, we all know what he is demanding in return.

Sure. We know the fat cats don’t want to be forced to pay higher taxes. Nor do they want to pay higher wages. Or pay for health care for their workers. They want less regulation, fewer labor safety laws. But let's be practical. Democrats won't give them that, especially when the president is a Democrat. So why doesn't the industry elite look long term and push for investment that will benefit them in the present and near future?