Archive for January 12th, 2004

Doncha Hate It When That Happens

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Clark: Where’s My Wampum Belt?

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A gray and slushy Monday morning, as an intermittent spit of leftover snow
drifts from the sky to join the light coating on the ground.  The
last free Monday of our blessed break between semesters – the perfect opportunity
to see Gen. Wesley Clark, the last of the major candidates remaining on
the Dowbrigade’s dance card.

The drive up was quiet and uneventful, solo this trip, with the California
Guitar Quartet’s version of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on the stereo.
Like most experienced drivers, the Dowbrigade uses but a fraction of
his mental horsepower on the road, except in emergencies, of course,
and lets his mind range and ruminate as the signposts fly by and and
the tunes roll off the stereo.  For a good long stretch we followed
the recommended six car lengths behind a small white pickup truck with
some kind of Port-O-Potty or small plastic shed lashed to the bed in
back.

We were lost in thought considering a recently-hatched scheme to quit
our job before we get laid off, and dedicate a solid year to just blogging.
As we pulled into the passing lane, in a fraction of a second, the Port-O-Potty
came loose, flew off the back of the truck, and exploded on the pavement
just about six car lengths behind the white pickup truck, in the spot
we had vacated just seconds before.

No rush of adrenalin resulted, no cold sweat at a narrow escape or attack
of nerves in relief or surprise.  Just a calm appraisal of the fact
that clearly a message had been sent.  The meaning of the message
was less than clear. That the difference between being a goofy blogger
on the way to a press conference and a messy smear by the side of Interstate
93 can lie in a semi-conscious decision to pass a pokey pickup truck?
That we should go ahead and leave our secure if boring job, because one
never knows how much time one has left? That we should stop thinking
so much and pay more attention to the driving? We tried to concentrate
on our destination

The event was being held at the New Hampshire Historical Museum in Concord.  It
involved the formal endorsement of Clark by the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi.
The Abenaki are an affiliated group of culturally related peoples who
inhabit Wobanakik ("Place of the Dawn"), which is now called
Northern New England and Southern Quebec. The Abenaki were represented at the event
by Chief April Rushlow.

When we arrived at the Museum, we gravitated towards the knot of journalists
and photographers hanging out at the staff entrance. There
were about 20 of them, all in their last 20’s and early 30’s. and discussing
travel arrangements, airport horror stories, hotel accommodations in
New Hampshire and Iowa, whether pizza had been ordered for lunch-on-the-fly
and if so where it would be delivered. No one was talking politics.

The Dowbrigade wondered where the public was. Turns out, the public
wasn’t invited – the event was officially a press conference to announce
the endorsement, although it was not so indicated on the PoliticsNH
Events Calendar
we use to plan these trips. So we whipped out our
little yellow notepad, started jotting, and tried to fit into the band
of media whores.

One young woman, who seemed to work for either the museum or the Clark
campaign, was going around and asking people if they needed anything.  When
she approached the Dowbrigade she asked, "Who are you with?"

"I’m a Citizen Journalist," we proudly declared.

She looked puzzled. "What does that mean?"

"It means I don’t work for a media outfit."

"Who DO you work for?" A hint of suspicion.

"BU"

Sometimes the truth works better than fabrication. Not wanting to waste
any more time with anyone so questionably employed, she hurried to the
next media weenie.

Finally, most of the group moved outdoors, which indicated the imminent
arrival of the campaign principal. The General pulled up at the head
of a convoy of SUVs with one-way glass.  We followed him into the
building; Clark went into the museum offices while the press were ushered
up to the third floor.

The press conference had been set up in an incredibly cramped space
in a forest clearing in front of a birch bark dome tent in the midst
of an exhibit title "People of the Dawn Land", apparently although not
explicitly related to the Abenaki. There was so little room around the
exhibit that press people were crouched in the entrance to the hut, peering
around display cases and trying to avoid native artifacts.

We were trying to figure out how to get a picture with the candidate,
to add to our gallery and post on our blog. Unlike previous expeditions,
this time we were alone, and there were no sympathetic fellow gawkers
to ask for a favor.  We were surrounded by working professionals,
and they would probably prefer pulling down their pants to stopping their
work at the critical moment to take a picture or some goofy jerk like
the Dowbrigade.

The best we could come up with was holding the camera at arms length
with the left hand and throwing our right arm around the candidates shoulder
while pressing the shutter with our left thumb. We practiced this a few
times and people began nervously edging away from us, even in that crowded
space.

But the best-laid plans, etc. Clark entered by another route and suddenly
was at the brightly lit dais, being introduced by the Chief. She seemed
a bit overwhelmed, and stumbled through three sentences before turning
things over to the candidate.

Clark rushed through a two-page prepared statement. He was happy to
receive this endorsement. Many native American tribes and organizations
have endorsed him.  He is in favor of affirmative action and thinks
the far majority of Indians shouldn’t have to pay taxes. The Chief gave
him a certificate and a thin strip of beaded leather she called "wampum".

It was rushed and insincere.  We were shocked at his lack of empathy
with the audience, his rushed and perfunctory delivery.  He was
just going through the motions.  Then we realized what was different
from the Dean, Lieberman and Kerry appearances we had seen-the audience.
There were no "voters" at this press conference.  No "real"
people.  They were all pro’s, and all basically doing the same thing,
serving the same master.  Creating the news as we know it, getting
the message out, accomplices in a scam so complex even the most astute
participants only understood a fraction of what was going on.

After finishing
his prepared statement, Clark turned to leave. Despite calls from the
reporters, he declined to take question and made for the
exit, surrounded by the inner circle of his campaign trail coterie.
But then he got waylaid by a 4th grade class from a private catholic
school, and we all got a chance to see the softer gentler General Clark.

He really seemed to enjoy schmoozing with the kids.  He joked and
quizzed them on the museum. He bragged about having just met a "real
Indian Chief". It was at this point he shouted out the unforgettable
line, "Where’s my Wampum belt?"

Finally, his handlers pried him away from the 4th graders and formed
a flying wedge to get him through the frenzied press core, who insisted
in shouting questions having to do with some challenges to the Generals
Democratic credentials.

Show over, we filed back out towards the elevator, our car, and the
long drive back to Boston.  A little disappointed in not hearing
anything substantive as well as missing out on our photo op, but what
did we expect. We had seen enough to know we wouldn’t
be
voting for the good General.  He wasn’t The One.

Most of the press corp had stayed to chat with the Chief and members
of the campaign staff; only the Dowbrigade and one single female waited
for the elevator.  Suddenly the door opened, and there stood Candidate
Clark and his core team. He looked at the young lady and smiled, "Going
down?"

Always one to seize the moment, we hopped aboard and promptly asked
the General to pose for a photo.  As soon as we assumed the straight-armed
position, a member of the General’s staff offered to take the shot, results
above.

We had left our car at a public meter across from the museum. As we
walked up to it we remembered we had forgotten to put any money in
upon arrival
an
hour
earlier.  No
ticket.  All in all, a good road trip.

The Iron Law of Wages

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William Pfaff has an interesting take on the work of 18th century economist
David Ricardo. Ricardo argues that in a true open market, wages will
tend to stabilize at subsistence level; any lower and workers will start
to die or riot, any higher and jobs will tend to relocate in search of
lower wages. Welcome to that brave new world.

The iron law of wages is also simple and logical. It says that wages
will tend to stabilize at or about subsistence level. That seemed inevitable
to Ricardo, since while workers are necessary, and so have to be kept
alive, they have no hope of any better treatment since they are infinitely
available, replaceable, and generally interchangeable.

Ricardo’s wage theory has seemed untrue. The supply of competent workers
in a given place is not unlimited; neither workers nor industry are perfectly
mobile, and labor demonstrated in the 19th and 20th centuries that it
could mobilize and defend itself. The iron law of wages would seem to
function only if the supply of labor is infinite and totally mobile.

Unfortunately that day, for practical purposes, has now arrived, thanks
to globalization.

from the International Herald Tribune