02 March 2007


Some disturbing news from the national poverty front......the “percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high.” And closely connected is another statistic which we have become accustomed to hearing—the differences between the haves and the have-nots continues to rise.

This current report, based on 2005 census figures, shows that the number of “severely poor Americans” has grown by 26% since 2000. And while we continue to hear about the strong national economy; "wages and job growth have lagged behind, and the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries."

Is this really a surprise? Economists and other writers on the left have been saying this for the past decade--but few listen.

Something else the good old USA can be proud of….."over the past two decades, America has had the highest or near-highest poverty rates for children, individual adults and families among 31 developed countries." This data comes from the ongoing Luxembourg Income Study. Timothy Smeeding, who worked on that study and now heads the Center for Policy Research at Syracuse University said of the United States, “It’s shameful…we’ve been the worst performer every year since we’ve been doing this study.”

A recent UNICEF/United Nations survey found some of the same trends. In fact, according to the UNICEF data, children in Great Britain and the United States have a lower quality of life than children in the 21 wealthiest countries of the world. The numbers showed that the United States ranked at the bottom because “of its higher infant mortality, lower immunization rates, higher number of deaths from accidents and injuries before age 19, and more children reported fighting in the past year or being bullied in the previous two months.”

How do you suppose the conservative, free market zealots are going to respond to these reports--if indeed, they respond at all? Some distinct possibilities:
1. It’s the kid's own fault--bad life choices.
2. More tax cuts for the rich might help.
3. These kids should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
4. The parents screwed up.
5. Gay marriage….yes, that’s the problem.

I suppose if I say anything more, I will hurt the troops. But as my friend Peter says, the problem with these poor and poverty-stricken children is that they aren’t fetuses. If they were, the people in power would help them! That's right, the current morons are really only interested if you are a fetus or of military age—anything in-between and you are on your own.

Heath Care Embarrassment

Related to the poverty story above, most of you have probably already read about the 12 year-old Maryland boy who died this week from toothache complications. The Washington Post ran the story on Wednesday.

The fact is, the young man didn't die really from the toothache--he died because this fucking country doesn't provide the most basic health care services to its most vulnerable citizens.

Deamonte Driver had a toothache that led to an infection. That infection spread to his brain. The original problem could have been remedied with an $80.00 tooth extraction. But it seems that Deamonte's mother works a low-wage job that doesn't provide her with health insurance (big surprise). Ms. Driver's children were eligible for Medicaid benefits, but dental care under that program is extremely difficult to secure--most dentists in Maryland do not accept Medicaid because of "low reimbursement rates."

study done several years ago suggested that uninsured adults were more likely to die prematurely than those with health coverage. Wow, who would have guessed? Sorry to be so cynical--but read the study's press release and you will begin to understand the tremendous disadvantages that the poor and uninsured must endure.

And yet, all Congress can do is talk about why big government shouldn't get involved.....how universal coverage will not work....how the welfare state will make us all weak and dependent....how Canadians have to wait five years to get a doctor's appointment....and how taxes will go up if we give everyone health insurance coverage.

And while our elected representatives argue--a young man died because he and his poor family couldn't get a simple, cheap, medical procedure.

In the meantime, the cost of the illegal occupation of Iraq keeps adding up--right now it is somewhere in the vicinity of
$405 billion. Yes, that's billion dollars.

01 March 2007

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. 1917-2007

I think I was about 23 years old at the time. Just out of college and still trying to decide what to do with my life. Actually, I knew what I wanted to do—I wanted to be a historian…..yes, a historian. But I still lacked both the self-confidence and desire that one needs to make that long-term PhD commitment.

Anyway, Arthur Schlesinger had just published a new biography on Robert Kennedy—and I was excited. Even though I had little money (I don’t think I had a job at the time), I immediately went out and bought a hardcover copy—1066 pages in all.

While Robert Kennedy was my primary interest, I was also captivated by Arthur Schlesinger, the historian. While becoming a real historian remained a fantasy for me, at least I had a role model. Schlesinger was not only a historian, but he was a certified, unabashed liberal who had worked in the Kennedy White House. I could pattern my life after this guy. Hell, he might have even been a New York Mets fan!

One day, while absorbing parts of those 1066 pages, I decided it would be nice to get Schlesinger to autograph the book. I knew I couldn’t go to his office in New York City—so I wrote him a letter. I said I admired his work (especially this book), and I would really appreciate an autograph. I wasn’t expecting a reply.

Then, about three weeks later, I received a small envelope from “The City University of New York.” Inside was neatly folded, small piece of stationary addressed to me with the following quote and signature:

”I have no expectation that any man will read history aright who thinks that what was done in a remote age, by men whose names have resounded far, has any deeper sense that what he is doing to-day.” --Emerson

With best wishes

Arthur M. Schlesinger

I was stunned….happy…ecstatic. That piece of paper remains one of my most cherished possessions. A few years later I had it laminated and it still graces the pages of that RFK biography. I won’t be so dramatic as to say Schlesinger’s response inspired me to become a historian—but I think it might have helped just a little.

I actually met him about fifteen years later at a history conference. He was just as I had expected—wearing his little bowtie and gleefully talking about FDR’s foreign policy. I swear, when Schlesinger talked about his hero FDR--the room got brighter, the sun came out, and smiles appeared on people’s faces. I think history was fun for Arthur Schlesinger. I think he enjoyed it and relished the opportunity to teach it to others.

Dr. Schlesinger passed away last evening. He will be missed.

28 February 2007

Happy Birthday Major Taliaferro!

I would like to thank my good friend Taber Akin for this submission. During the summer months, Taber is a site guide at Historic Fort Snelling. His portrayal of Major Lawrence Taliaferro is supreme....and his knowledge of the subject matter is absolute. And I am so pleased that Taber remembered this historic Minnesota birthday.

Born on 28 February 1794, Lawrence Taliaferro (pronounced Tolliver) can truly be regarded as one of Minnesota’s founding fathers. Taliaferro was here before Minnesota became a state and served the area and country for 19 years as a United States Indian Agent. Taliaferro is rarely mentioned in Minnesota history books, but he did extremely important work and should be remembered as one of the state’s leading historical figures.

Major Taliaferro was appointed as the United States Indian Agent for the St. Peter’s area in 1819 (this would soon be the site of Fort Snelling). He had been serving as an ensign in the 1st Infantry and resigned to accept the Indian Agency post. Taliaferro assumed his duties shortly after the arrival of the 5th Regiment of the U.S.Infantry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Leavenworth. The Taliaferro--Leavenworth relationship was strained from the start as each had different ideas on how to deal with frontier issues. But that relationship was short-lived as Colonel Josiah Snelling soon replaced Leavenworth. Snelling and Taliaferro—who may have served together on the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812—interacted famously. Their amicable military/civilian bond during the next decade helped to make Fort Snelling one of the most successful and efficient posts on the western frontier.

Under the direction of Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, Taliaferro was ordered to establish an Indian Agency among the local Dakota and Ojibwe nations. In fact, Calhoun’s instructions serve to illustrate Washington’s goals at the time. He stressed three objectives:
1. Enlargement and protection of the fur trade;
2. Permanent peace on the frontier by securing control of the tribes;
3. Keep foreign nations out of the area.

Major Taliaferro’s primary responsibility was to serve as the government representative on the frontier while building and maintaining positive relationships with the Dakota and Ojibwe Indians. Then there was the other task--regulating the fur traders. That is where Taliaferro’s job became frustrating, to say the least. The American Fur Company was a powerful presence in the area and Alexis Bailly operated the local factory. Taliaferro tried to enforce federal laws as required, but ran into problems with Bailly and the American Fur Company on a regular basis. Most of the difficulties centered on the smuggling of illegal liquor into Indian trading posts.

Unlike many other federal Indian Agents, however, Taliaferro was never employed by a fur company, never succumbed to the economic pressures and bribes from the fur traders, and surprisingly remained loyal to both the government and the American Indians he represented. The constant conflicts between the AFC and Taliaferro lasted until he resigned.

Records show that Taliaferro had a very positive relationship with the Dakota and Ojibwe Indians whom he worked with. Little Crow called Taliaferro "No-Sugar-in-Your-Mouth" for his skills in dealing candidly with the tribesmen, and his ability of not making promises which he couldn't keep. Taliaferro even built a council house just west of Ft. Snelling in 1823 where he received Indian visitors and mediated in local affairs. Both the Dakota and the Ojibwe would travel along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers to the fort to seek advice and to ask for charity and favors. The Ojibwe continued to visit Taliaferro even after they were assigned a different agent—that’s how much he was respected.

Taliaferro was also able to exert his influence by carefully distributing supplies like food, gunpowder, tobacco, and whiskey. The Indian Agency employed a blacksmith and armorer, John Treaty, who would repair Indian guns and traps. Since the Indians relied heavily on these supplies and services, and since those services could be stopped at any time, this helped promote peaceful relations between all involved parties. In addition to employing an armorer, Taliaferro also had a translator, Mr. Scott Campbell, who was essential to conducting the day-to-day business of the agency—as Taliaferro didn’t speak Dakota, Ojibwe, or French. Having a translator on site demonstrated Taliaferro’s respect for the Indians which he served.

In 1828 Taliaferro married Elizabeth Dillon. But like many whites on the frontier, he also fathered a child with a Dakota woman. That child, Mary, was born in the summer of 1828. Records indicate that she was raised in Minnesota, attended the Lake Harriet Mission School, and was represented by Taliaferro himself when asserting for “Half-Breed” rights. Mary held claims in an 1837 treaty, and was married in 1863 to a soldier from Fort Snelling.

Taliaferro was also, notably, the owner of a slave named Harriet Robinson, who would later marry famed freedom suit plaintiff Dred Scott. It is unknown exactly how Taliaferro came into ownership of Harriet, but what is known is that she worked as a servant in his home. As Justice of the Peace in the territories, Taliferro would have officiated at the marriage ceremony of Dred and Harriet—a marriage which many historians believe gave additional credence to the Scott's claim to freedom.

Major Lawrence Taliaferro faithfully represented the American government to the Indian tribes in the region—working tirelessly on behalf of the Dakota and Ojibwe. After being reappointed six times and working through four presidential administrations, Taliaferro finally resigned in 1839. His reasons for leaving included his continuing strained relationship with the fur traders, ineffective Federal Indian policy, and recurring illness. After leaving the area, Taliaferro and Elizabeth returned to her home in Bedford, Pennsylvania. He served in the Quartermaster Corps from 1857 to 1863 and died in 1871.

27 February 2007


I’m sure everyone has at least briefly considered what they would do if they won the lottery. Aren’t you just amazed at those folks who say they would still go to work every day? After winning millions of dollars, they would continue getting up at dawn, going to some crappy job, and coming home exhausted and miserable.

Well I sure as hell wouldn’t—and I don’t even have a crappy job. What would I do though? I think my post-lottery life would be a simple one. I would travel….and wherever I found myself, I would do the following:
--spend long hours in cafes reading and viewing the local people/culture
--sip coffee and drink Kir Royals
--eat expensive and exotic food
--go to art museums

* I would not wish to embark on these journeys without my lovely partner, who is a perfect travel companion
* I would also need some sort of radio to listen to New York Met games

Sounds decadent--
and that is just what I would be seeking. Helping my fellow man......well, I might get around to that at some point; but I think "self-indulgent" and/or "hedonistic" would serve me well for a while at least. The cafes, food, and coffee are self-explanatory. And if you are unfamiliar with a Kir Royal, you should really try it sometime.

But the art museums—yes, I simply adore art museums. This weekend, my lovely partner and I traveled to Chicago for a few days of rest and relaxation. While in the Windy City, we went to its wonderful art museum—and we were not disappointed.

I think the reason I love art is that I know little about it. I don’t have to understand or interpret it. I don’t have to take notes on what I see, nor do I have to give a lecture or explain it to someone. I can simply gaze at a painting and enjoy it. I could sit for hours looking at one work of art—which is something everyone should try (especially some of my students--many of whom cannot sit for five minutes without checking their cell phone, or laptop for instant messages. These caffeinated collegians ought to forced to sit before a Renoir for at least two hours, it would do them good).

And because I became interested in art later in life—I have lots to see.....lots of catching up to do. Currently, I am most enamored with 19th century art. In the U.S.—the Hudson River School and some later Gilded Age artists like John Singer Sargent. And in Europe, the Impressionists. So as a tribute to art--here are a few of my favorites from the Art Institute of Chicago.

It is this Renoir (Two Sisters) that I could gaze at for hours. Again, I am not sure what it is about this work--maybe the vibrant colors, or the brushstrokes....but I love the painting. Several other Renoir's also made their way onto my "favorite" list this weekend. Women at the Piano, and Young Woman Sewing both caught my attention. And as I mentioned earlier, I will not even attempt to explain these paintings--that would force me into some sort of teaching-mode. Suffice it to say, I like Renoir....I enjoy looking at his works....I am not sure why....and I don't care to figure it out.

There were several other Chicago prints that were memorable. Husking Bee by Eastman Johnson is a exquisite depiction of 19th century farm/rural life in New England.

And we were also lucky to catch this van Gogh, Starry Night over the Rhone River, which was included in a special exhibit.