Tag Archive | "Franklin D. Roosevelt"

The Real Truman Show

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In 1998, The Truman Show was a major motion picture box office and critical success.  It was the story of a young man living what appeared to be a normal life in his hometown of Seahaven, a tiny seaside village that was actually a complete television set built under a giant arcological dome.

 

Truman Burbank was the star of the show — but he did not know it.  He didn’t realize that his quaint hometown was a giant studio set run by a an Oz-like “wizard” who was its creator, that all the people living and working there were actors, and that even his mother and wife were contract players.  Gradually, Truman got wise.   And, what he discovered had audiences laughing, crying, and cheering.

 

More than a century earlier began the story of another Truman, one that would have a profound impact on U.S. history and produce our 33rd President.  On May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri was born Harry S. Truman, the oldest son of John and Martha Ellen Truman.  His parents chose S. as his a middle initial to please his two grandfathers who both had middle names beginning with the letter “S.”

 

A farmer and livestock dealer, John Truman would relocate his family several times before ultimately settling in Independence, Missouri where young Harry would spend most of his boyhood on the farm.  John’s activity in the local Democrat Party provided Harry with political connections and helped to establish the ideals that he would hold for a lifetime.

 

As a boy, Harry was deeply interested in music, reading, and history and studied the piano until the age of 15 – all with the encouragement of his mother who remained his confidante well into his Presidency.

 

Coming from humble roots, Harry learned the value of hard work and his life experiences helped to shape his perspectives.  At the age of 16, he secured a job as timekeeper on the Santa Fe railroad where he came in contact with down and out hobos at nearby camps.  He then got a few clerical jobs and worked in the mailroom of the Kansas City Star before returning to the farm.

 

He dreamed as a child of attending the United States Military Academy.  His eyesight, however, prevented his entry.  He later enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard, passing the vision examination by memorizing the eye chart and serving from 1906 until 1911.

 

With the onset of World War I, Harry rejoined the Guard and was sent to Camp Doniphan near Lawton, Oklahoma.  At Camp Doniphan and later at Fort Sill, he would meet two men that would be intimately involved in his post-war life – Edward Jacobson, a Jewish clothing salesman from Kansas City with whom he ran the Camp’s canteen and Lieutenant James M. Pendergast, nephew of Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast.

 

Harry attained the rank of Captain in the United States Army before being deployed to France as Commander of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 60th Brigade, 35th Infantry Division.  As Commander, Captain Harry Truman disciplined his poorly trained unit and led them through the war without a single casualty.  His artillery unit supported General George S Patton’s tank brigade in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  On November 11, 1918, just before the 11th hour, his unit fired the last shots of World War I, a war in which Harry Truman distinguished himself as a leader.

 

After the war, Harry and his good friend Edward Jacobson opened a haberdashery in Kansas City, Missouri.  During their partnership, Harry learned a lot about Zionism from his friend and, after initial success, they were forced into bankruptcy in the recession of 1921.  Harry’s long-standing friendship with his Jewish partner, however, would leave an indelible mark on him.

 

Harry moved back to Independence Missouri, and married Bess Wallace on June 28, 1919, climaxing a long romance.  The couple would later have one child named Margaret in 1924.

 

In 1922, with the help of Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast, Harry was elected as an Administrative Judge in the Jackson County court, this would be the first of the stepping stones that would carry Harry’s political career through the 1930s and into the world of national Democratic politics with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

 

Unsatisfied with his judgeship, Harry aspired to the political office of Governor or Congressman, but his political boss Tom Pendergast rejected the idea.  In 1934, however, Pendergast reluctantly backed Harry Truman in a bid for the U.S. Senate and was pleasantly surprised when Truman won.

 

Harry entered the Senate with the reputation as the ”Senator from Pendergast,” causing him great concern and leading him to state that ”although he offered patronage to Pendergast, he always voted his conscience.”  He later defended his patronage statement by saying that by “offering a little to the machine, he gained a lot.”

 

As a new Senator, Harry spoke out against corporate greed, uncontrolled Wall Street speculation, and special interests groups gaining undue influence in government affairs, issues that were largely ignored by the Roosevelt Administration.

 

In 1940, Truman – politically weakened by his benefactor Pendergast’s imprisonment for income tax evasion – faced a strong Republican challenge for his Senate seat.  Harry insisted that a Republican judge and not the Roosevelt Administration led to the downfall of the Pendergast machine. His future now looked dim, but support from St. Louis party leader Robert E. Hannegan helped pave the way for his reelection.

 

As a senator Truman visited military bases and noticed the waste and profiteering that existed.  He formed the Truman Committee to investigate and expose the corruption, saving the government $15 billion dollars, elevating his national exposure with his picture on the cover of Time Magazine, and erasing from the public’s memory his association with the discredited Tom Pendergast.  No other Senator to that point in time had ever gained more benefit from a special investigation committee than Harry S Truman.

 

In 1944, the Democratic Party – at its national convention – had to decide on a new running mate for incumbent President Roosevelt.  With the strain of World War II and health problems plaguing the President, most party leaders considered he would not finish his term of office; thereby, making the selection of a Vice Presidential candidate even more critical.

 

The party favorite was Henry Wallace, but some party leaders thought he was too far to the left and eccentric.  The President suggested Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas or Harry Truman as potential running mates.  Ultimately, Truman received the nomination.

 

Truman’s nomination, referred to as the ”Second Missouri Compromise,” helped spur the ticket to a 432 – 99 electoral vote victory over New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey and his running mate, Ohio Governor John Bricker.  And, on January 20, 1945, Harry S. Truman was sworn in as the Vice President of the United States of America.

 

In Truman’s short time as Vice President before Franklin Roosevelt’s death, the two met in private on only two occasions, and the President rarely consulted him on important decisions.   As a result, when President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945 – just 89 days into the term – Truman required extensive briefings to gain the knowledge he needed to assume the reins of power, including the top secret Manhattan project that built the atomic bomb.

 

As President, Truman requested that President Roosevelt’s cabinet remain, but made it clear that he was in command.  His decision to use the atomic bomb in the Pacific theater of war against the Japanese was highly controversial but ended World War II and saved untold American lives that would have been required to subdue the Japanese.

 

His command also extended to international and race relations.  He was a major supporter of the United Nations and even appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to serve on its first American delegation.  He also was the first to recognize the State of Israel, just eleven minutes after it declared itself a nation on May 14, 1948 – despite fears that the Arab states would retaliate by cutting off oil exports to the U.S.  At the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Truman supported a strong civil rights platform plank as a means of uniting the northern and southern wings of the Party and, two weeks later, issued an Executive Order integrating the Armed Forces of the United States.

 

Perhaps best remembered for his stunning come from behind victory over Thomas Dewey in the 1948 Presidential Election, Truman was a man of strong character who took responsibility for his actions and never forgot his friends – regardless of the political costs.  He was unambiguous in his speech and fearless in making the tough governmental and political decisions.  And, like a fictitious character developed four decades after he left office, he learned from his experiences and recognized the opportunities to apply that knowledge.  His story, like Truman Burbank’s will leave you laughing, crying, and cheering.  His is certainly one of the greatest stories of the 20th  Century.

 

 

Solving Unemployment

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In September of 2008, the United States of America experienced a financial meltdown, resulting in massive, escalating unemployment.  Government stepped in to fill the gap, using $710 billion in taxpayer’s money in an attempt to resolve the situation.  The money was allocated to keep the “big boys” on Wall Street and in the insurance industry afloat, and ostensibly, to save jobs.  Lo and behold, the financial market has recovered to some degree, but the unemployment rate remains high.  Why?


Like most businesses, the financial and insurance industries are interested primarily in profits, and not what benefits the country-at-large.  The difference, however, between finance and insurance, and other industries, is that the first two are heavily regulated by the government, and for good reason.  The mandates exist largely to protect taxpayers from fraud and theft.  Knowing that their you-know-whats’ were hauled out of the fire by the taxpayer bailout, for the express purpose of maintaining and creating jobs, why have those industries not responded in this way?  President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “The economy of the country depends on the spending power of its people.”  How right he was!  FDR tried to jumpstart the economy during the Great Depression by creating jobs though government-run programs such as WPA and CCC.  Because these jobs did not originate from the private sector, he did not achieve this goal.


Our capitalistic system demands that employment must be profitable.  How, then, do we fulfill this demand in this terrifying economy?   The first step is to achieve a meeting of the minds between government and the private sector as to which will be the source of employment.  When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and plunged us into World War II, meetings such as this took place, and were successfully concluded, to organize the nation into a smoothly running machine capable of winning the war.  Once faced with a common enemy, it did not take long for both parties to offer viable solutions, including changes in the products, machinery, and workforce complexion of manufacturing.


As a nation, we must take a page out of that book to resolve today’s economic and employment problems.  Both parties, government and industry, must realize that there has to be give and take, not a rape of the American public by taking advantage of a crisis situation.  Now bolstered with $710 billion, the private sector must begin to recall employees it had downsized in response to the 2008 stock market crash.


In turn, the government must make business more profitable by facilitating this period of transition and growth through a reduction in taxes and by supplying work to industry.  Simultaneously, entrepreneurs and small businesses should be allowed to invest in the job market by easing the restrictions that pose problems to the operation and, by association, profitability of their businesses.  The final goal should be to employ more than 95% of the nation’s workforce, thus reducing the current 10 percent rate of unemployment. With more workers contributing to social programs via automatic payroll deductions, those programs would become solvent and self-sustaining.


A renewed workforce equates to money in the pockets of consumers.  With disposable incomes, consumers will stimulate the economy on all levels: they will be able to patronize a broad range of providers of products and services.  The economy would blossom. Both government and business would profit, and Americans would not be losing their homes, going hungry, and forced to learn Chinese and Arabic in the hopes of landing jobs in foreign lands.


If all of this could be accomplished, the next step would be to transform government to run in a business-like manner.  Citizens should be viewed as clients; every business creates and maintains a client base, or the business does not exist.   This strategy would make government more fiscally accountable while providing needed services to its citizens.  By abolishing earmarks and lobbying, we’d dramatically reduce corruption of our elected officials and make government more responsive to the needs of its clients, us.


Next, let’s merge Social Security and a Federal pension plan into one viable program for every citizen.  Laws must mandate that elected officials have the same programs as regular citizens, not special concessions.  Money collected for social programs (Social Security, etc.) should not be placed into a general fund, but allocated for the purposes for which they were intended (i.e., solvency of senior citizens upon their retirement).  The U.S. Treasury Department should place the funds into separate, low-risk, interest bearing accounts to be managed by financial professionals.  These professionals must demonstrate ethics and business practices that will be held to the highest scrutiny, via meticulous, unannounced external audits.  All finances must be reconciled; no secret slush funds for those seeking to rip off “the little guy.”


This plan may not be the cure-all for our country’s woes, but it is a start in the right direction!  When you consider the cold reality, what is the shortest road to national success?  Is it healthcare?  Housing?  The financial market? Or jobs?  Which one of these choices relates to President Roosevelt’s declaration that the economy of the country depends on the spending power of the people?  The answer to that question, obviously, is “jobs.” Without consumer confidence and resultant spending, our nation would be reduced to “banana republic” third world status.  Yes, I said “third world” and not “emerging nation.”  Let’s call it what it is, shall we?  Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.


The recipe for success will lie in the hands of the three parts of our Federal system.  Every citizen, therefore, should be extremely well informed and painstakingly selective when voting for our representatives in 2010 and the future.  And if this article has offended you in any manner, you may very well be a part of the problem and not the solution. 

The Fear Factor

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Fear

As we enter a new decade, I ponder our nation’s motivating factor for going forward.  Will it be love, hate, happiness, or fear that drives us?  Given the rotten economy in all its manifestations, ceaseless wars, rising crime, and new threats to our national security, my money’s on fear.

 

Confronted with situations that engender fear, the human body reacts physically: a powerful hormone, adrenalin rushes through our veins, prompting the “fight or flight” response.  In such situations, the majority of us choose the latter; otherwise, we would have obliterated each other from the face of the Earth by now.  The same is true for the animal kingdom.  Highly acute senses clue animals in to approaching danger.  In response, they dig their burrows deeper, transport their young to safer ground, stand and defend their territory tooth and nail — or, like the ostrich, stick their heads in the sand in the hope that the “fear factor” will simply take a hike.

 

Allegedly, God made homo sapiens more intelligent than animals.  Our superior intellect can help us to control our fears, so that we don’t wind up like the at-risk ostrich or the proverbial chicken without a head, ruled by panic and indecisiveness.  If we fear the unknown, it stands to reason that knowledge is our best weapon to combat our terrors.  We must educate ourselves with respect to the issues.  We must conduct our research, including examining our sources to gauge their veracity and reliability.  We must seek out the advice of people who have been in similar situations and who have emerged stronger and wiser.

 

For instance, it’s common knowledge that the Earth is on a crash course with a major meteor in the foreseeable future.  A prevalent theory postulates that it was just such a meteor that caused the dinosaurs’ extinction and the initiation of our last Ice Age.   However, this understanding has led our scientists to craft a viable plan to destroy the heavenly body as it hurtles toward us through space, before it can become a genuine threat to our planet.  Talk about Star Wars!

 

Going back in time, during the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt realized that panic had settled upon our nation.  The collapse of Wall Street resulted in an unprecedented rate of unemployment. For the first time in our history, people lined up in the streets for handouts of staples, like bread and milk.  A “dog eat dog” attitude pervaded our national heart.   Realizing that leadership and hope were critical to averting further disasters, FDR instituted his Fireside Chats.  Families and friends pulled their chairs up to their primary source of communication — radio — to hear FDR’s soothing voice of reason over the airwaves.  Declaring that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” the President then announced the start of the New Deal.  This mandated governmental regulations for the banking industry and gave birth to the WPA (Works Projects Administration) and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp).  WPA and CCC were instrumental in providing jobs through which we were able to rebuild our country’s infrastructure.

 

Fear is a double-edged sword.  It can put us on the path to envisioning and enacting positive change, or it can paralyze us into doing nothing and becoming victims.  Knowledge makes all the difference, including discernment between truly great national leaders and those who merely spew rhetoric to gain votes.

How “Great” Is This Recession?

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Great Depression

History has a habit of repeating itself, maybe in not exactly the same sequence. Today’s fiscal woes are a reflection of the Great Depression of the twentieth century.  An economic tailspin ending in financial disaster and many suicides, the Depression began with the collapse of Wall Street in 1929 as a result of greed and speculative trading.  Overnight, millionaires became paupers and America’s lifestyle altered drastically.  President Herbert Hoover turned a blind eye to the situation, erroneously treating it as a market change that would correct itself:  an entire decade would pass before the market rebounded.

 

Wall Street’s collapse impacted the banking industry, which was short on cash. As rumors of a banking failure ran rampant, depositors rushed to retrieve their savings.  It was like that scene from the film It’s a Wonderful Life, where everyone in the small town demanded to pull their money out of George Bailey’s Savings and Loan — except that the 1929 reality was driven by millions of depositors.  Their actions created a domino effect, toppling banking institutions nationwide and causing the economy to hit rock bottom.

 

Unemployment skyrocketed as businesses struggled to stay afloat.  With no income, the housing market took a nosedive; thousands of people lost their homes and farms to foreclosures.  Mother Nature added to the havoc, bringing drought and dust storms that plagued America’s farmlands.  Fearing that all this horror was the wrath of God, people all across the country prayed for forgiveness.  Most of all, they prayed for deliverance.

 

The difference between the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the Great Recession of 2008-09 was that the government did not extend bailouts during the earlier crash.  In addition, insured savings accounts, unemployment insurance, credit cards, and Social Security did not exist.  The future looked bleak in the ’30’s for those who had not jumped out of windows.

 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt succeeded Hoover as our nation’s President, inheriting the daunting task of national recovery.  Roosevelt realized the answer to solving the problem lay in the spending power of the people.  To stimulate their spending, he passed the NRA (National Recovery Act), the WPA (Works Project Administration), and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps).  He also instituted the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) and the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation).  Roosevelt charged these organizations with the following tasks:

 

The WPA – Getting Americans back into the workforce and earning incomes.

 

The CCC – Taking young, indigent men off the streets to work on public projects.

 

The SEC – Overseeing financial institutions to ensure that they did not engage in fraudulent practices.

 

The FDIC – To bring trust back to the banking industry, so that depositors would reopen their savings accounts.

 

FDR also set up food banks to put food on the table of many starving and undernourished Americans.  He used the radio to broadcast his “Fireside Chats” and thus became a calming and authoritative voice during hard times.

 

As time passed, the President also enacted Social Security. This was a mandatory savings plan designed to enable those who retired at age 65 to enjoy their twilight in dignity.  All of these were the legacy of FDR, the only President in the history of the United States to be elected for four terms.

 

Despite his best efforts to jump-start economy, the Great Depression dragged on.  Its only solution was World War ll.  With the enactment of the draft and the demand for equipment and supplies needed to fight the war, the economy boomed.  Happy days were here again!

 

I lived through the Great Depression and witnessed men begging for food on the streets on cold wintry nights.   I remember how my mother made them sandwiches and hot drinks, and allowed them to sit in the entryway of our row house, out of the biting wind to enjoy the small offerings that must have seemed like manna to them.

 

The saying goes that “out of something bad comes something good.”  The Great Depression brought families together to enjoy each other’s company.  Holidays were anticipated with relish because it meant sitting around the dining room table for a good meal with several generations of our families.  In some respects, we may be a bit better off today with this current recession.  But in others, such as family intimacy and expressions of gratitude for what we still have, we are lacking. 

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