Veterans Day

grandpa01That’s a photo of my grandfather during his Navy days. Born in 1912, he lived in a German speaking section of Queens before enlisting and spending 30 years in the service.

He was twelve years deep when Pearl Harbor was hit and, fortunately, his boat, the U.S.S. Ellet, was out on patrol when it was. He was there a few days later and saw the wreckage. “A pile of junk!” he told me, “It was all going to be mothballed anyway. We knew they were coming.”

Grandpa went on to fight in some major battles—none of which he told me about, I only learned about them after he died. The man would give you the most detailed directions to the gas station but only once told me about the time he saw a test detonation of an atomic bomb. He never mentioned going behind enemy lines in perfect radio silence to help launch the legendary Doolittle Raid or the time he was at a little battle called Midway.

grandpa-log-book

A portion of Grandpa’s Navy log book noting service at Midway, Guadacanal, and the Solomon Islands

When I learned about that one I picked up a book about the subject and was pleased to learn the aircraft carrier his destroyer shielded, the U.S.S. Enterprise, was instrumental in the battle. Later I tracked down a man who served with my grandfather on the Ellet and called him. I damn near cried when he told me, “When I knew your grandfather aboard The Ellet he was the Chief Boatswains Mate. I remember him very well because he was one of the kindest gentleman I met during my four years on the Ellet.”

Grandpa went on to become a Chief Warrant Officer, which, I believe, is the top rank someone can achieve without attending the Academy. A friend of mine who went to military school told me, “That’s the equivalent of Top Sergeant in the Army. They are the guys you want to be around when the bullets start flying because they know what to do.” Not bad for a guy who dropped out of school in the 8th grade.

Because of his Navy and Electric Boat pensions, Grandpa had a comfortable retirement and, although he lead a modest life with my grandmother, I grew up thinking he was one of the richest men in the world.

While he was a thrifty German to the core, he was generous to those he loved. Before I graduated from high school he told me he would pay for my college education if I opted to go. I did back when tuition at the University of New Hampshire was $8,000 a year and Grandpa paid for all four years for both me and my brother. Not sure I would have gone if not for him and my professional career was effectively launched by him and funded by the Navy.

We lost Grandpa in 2009 and he was buried with full military honors. Although I would never would wish it on anyone, military funerals are one of the most deeply effecting experiences you can attend.

At the close of the ceremony, two officers fold up the flag, walk over and solemnly hand it to the next-of-kin, in this case, my mother. The soldier delivering it looked deep into my mom’s eyes and said something that had the emotional power of a fist on an egg. I don’t remember the words exactly but I remember bursting into tears so hard I was embarrassed. When the bugle plays taps, forget it, you are done. If there is one thing the military knows how to do, it is conduct a funeral that will leave you emotionally overwhelmed.

In short, my grandfather was a role model and, quietly, a badass. The Navy shaped him into the man he was—a resolute man of honor with a good heart.

Thank you for your service, veterans. Today is your day.

Understanding What Just Happened

The whole thing is worth reading but this is the story that stuck with me:

There’s a man named Danny Hartzell, who I met down in Tampa, which is one of the main locations of the book. He’s a husband, father of two kids, didn’t get past high school. In fact, I think he dropped out around ninth grade. But he had skills as a welder and for a while was gainfully employed and he had the satisfaction of making things and working with his hands, of doing a job well.

Then those welding shops began to close down. He ended up in a plant packing potato chips and other snacks which is not necessarily a job that a man like that sees as being worthy of his skills and dignified. And then that went away with the Great Recession.

Then he was left to shuffle between part-time jobs at Target and Wal-Mart, never sure what his hours were going to be, completely up in the air with no say over his schedule. He was forced into it because he was desperate for hours because at times he was working 10 – 12 hours a week. It all depended on what the store needed.

He was operating a forklift or moving, carrying boxes and talking to customers, which was not his favorite thing to do because he said to me once “I’m not a hello, how are you, what’s your dress size?” – kind of guy. Because of this the family fell on very hard times as his hours and wages dropped. They became homeless for long periods of time.

The worst was this was the heartbreaking case of a man who in some ways was doing everything right. Although he blamed himself for quitting school, he’d assumed that there would be employment for him and a living to support a family. The family stayed together. They were not doing drugs. They were not drinking. They were not committing crimes. They were in some ways doing exactly what politicians ask of them, and they were still desperate. I mean, they were barely surviving.

And what I felt most of all was their aloneness. There was no one, nothing to support them. They weren’t in a church. There was no local civic group that had adopted the kids and the family in a way. There was the corporation which was an utterly indifferent heartless animal that used him and then threw him aside as it needed to. They didn’t have a neighborhood watch – they weren’t part of anything larger than themselves.

And this struck me as being a way more and more Americans live in a way that has undermined our confidence in ourselves and our democracy. So that was the Hartzell family in Tampa.

At around the same time the Hartzell family were losing their home, imagine them watching rich Silicon Valley / DC / Los Angeles / New York City kids on TV talking about how great their new Tesla drives (so much better than the crap Detroit makes!), getting a billion dollars for their five person startup, and raving about all the fun features in their new Chinese manufactured iPhone.

Now imagine the Hertzell family turning to their leaders and hearing, “I’m sorry but those jobs are not coming back. College is now a requirement for getting a job that pays a living wage. Sure it’s $45,000 a year but don’t worry, you can take out these crippling loans while we come up with a plan to make it more affordable someday in the future.”

Now imagine a legion of well paid talking head “journalists” broadcasting the popular views of the rich living in Washington DC, Manhattan, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Imagine Tom Friedman typing up an op-ed in the New York Times while safely ensconced in his 11,000 square foot mansion in Maryland pleading with Trump voters to not do it after ignoring them for decades.

Now imagine the Hartzell family being called “stupid”, “racist”, “sexist”, or “deplorable” for voting for Trump.

Do you think they show up at the polls? You bet your ass they do and they don’t give a shit if Trump is a liar or charlatan or a neo-Nazi or whatever. Because he took the time to meet them, talk to them, and tell them what they needed to hear. Democrats failed to meet that challenge.

Latest Letter to the Editor

The Salem News published my letter. I’ve reprinted it below:

Governor Baker’s concern for the homeless is commendable and I applaud his efforts. I would, pill however, cialis like to make a suggestion for addressing the issue. The solution for homelessness is not made up of a patchwork system of hotels and shelter beds. Rather, it is accomplished by the seemingly radical step of giving them homes.

This may strike some as a liberal fantasy, a wasteful giveaway, and prohibitively expensive. The success of a program in Salt Lake City in deep-red Republican Utah suggest the opposite on all counts.

In 2005, the city created a program where they gave the homeless homes and found it was more effective and, over the long term, cheaper. Whereas the average homeless person cost the city more than $20,000 dollars a year in shelters, emergency-room visits, ambulances, police, and so on, simply giving them a home cost $8,000 annually.

A study in Colorado reached a similar conclusion. It found the average homeless person cost the state $43,000 a year while simply housing the person reduced the cost to just $17,000.

When addressing homelessness, it’s clear the most effective method is to fix the root cause of the problem rather than treat the symptoms. I hope the Baker administration takes the bold step of doing this in Massachusetts.

Letter to The Editor

The Salem News published my letter. I’ve reprinted it below:

Reserved01

The new parking spot for those wounded in combat

On a recent trip to Panera in Vinnin Square, I noticed the addition of a new special parking space next to the two handicapped spots. It was a spot designated for veterans who had been wounded in combat.

While I applaud the notion, I was left questioning the motives. Please don’t get me wrong — honoring the sacrifice of veterans is absolutely necessary in our society. When it comes to voting for political leaders, I always lean toward the vet who put their lives on the line for our country.

But to me this new spot looks like a solution in search of a problem. A lack of parking for those with limited mobility (caused by combat or otherwise) was never an issue. I’ve never seen both the regular handicapped spots filled in this parking lot and injured vets were always free to park there.

Rather than solving a problem, I believe this new parking spot is just an advertisement for Wounded Warrior, the scandal-plagued charity whose name is prominent on the sign. As one anonymous vet said in the Daily Beast article about the organization, “They’re more worried about putting their label on everything than getting down to brass tacks. It’s really frustrating.”

This analysis was confirmed earlier this year in a New York Times article titled “Wounded Warrior Project Spends Lavishly on Itself,” which found only 60 percent of donations went to veterans; 40 percent went to “overhead.” The organization’s top two executives, Steven Nardizzi and Al Giordano, were fired shortly afterward.

Unfortunately, despite these firings, we appear to be getting more of the same from the company — publicity stunts masquerading as charitable acts. It’s clear funds donated to Wounded Warrior continue to go to advertising for more money, not to meeting the real needs of vets.

I urge those who want to donate to veteran causes to instead look to organizations like Fisher House, which received four stars from Charity Navigator and an A+ rating from Charity Watch. In contrast to Wounded Warrior, Fisher House spends close to 95 percent of its budget on programs that help vets. They spend their time providing real services, not creating phony baloney parking space ad slots.

Consider the Source

To the editor:

I read with some interest the May 25 editorial in The Salem News, unhealthyFor fiscal health, seek Bay State ranks next to last.” The editorial noted Massachusetts’ poor standing in a recent survey of economic health conducted by an entity called The Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Curious to know more about this organization I had never heard of before and their “market-oriented approach to solving problems, order ” I did some quick Google searches. It was not long before I discovered the Mercatus Center obtains a significant portion of its funding and support from the Koch Brothers, the billionaires duo with a long history of supporting extreme right-wing policies.

Both the CEO and executive vice president of Koch Industries sit on the Mercatus board and the think tank moved there after a $30 million giveaway to George Mason University from the Koch family.

After reading the ratings of various states on the Mercatus Center website, one has to wonder what criteria this Koch funded think tank used to evaluate economic health. The survey gave low marks to Massachusetts (in 2015 the sixth-wealthiest state in America), Maryland (the wealthiest state in America), New Jersey (the second wealthiest state in America), California (the ninth wealthiest state in America and the eighth largest economy in the world), and New York (home to the wealthiest city in America).

Downtown Fargo, the largest city in North Dakota

Downtown Fargo, the largest city in North Dakota

At the same time the Koch-sponsored survey gave high marks to (get this) Alaska, Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota. While these states are all very nice, few outside of the Koch sphere of influence would regard them as economic or cultural powerhouses. Given the choice between living in Boston or Fargo, I know which one I, and many others, would choose.

When receiving criticism, it’s important to first consider the source. And when the source of an editorial in a local paper is from an out-of-state, Koch-sponsored think tank devoted to pushing an extreme right wing agenda, I think any rational person knows the proper response.