The Democratic Party Should Learn from FDR

Democrats should learn and read FDR rather than just ape his program names. FDR’s acceptance speech at the 1936 convention is amazing – and you can see why he was elected to four terms. In this speech, he lays out the case that while we won political freedom in 1776, the then-current fight in 1936 is for economic freedom – and that you can’t have true political freedom without economic freedom.

It’s a long read of course. The speech was half an hour long, short by today’s standards, but way too long for modern political discussion, but if you look at the economic problems we face now brought on by globalization, automation, concentration of economic power, and the resulting transfers of wealth and power from the middle- and lower-classes to the privileged, this speech is spot-on, and should be the playbook for whichever Democratic candidate goes up against the corrupt GOP machine.

Some excerpts:

“Throughout the Nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.

“An old English judge once said: “Necessitous men are not free men.” Liberty requires opportunity to make a living-a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.”


“Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.

“These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the Flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.”

“We are poor indeed if this Nation cannot afford to lift from every recess of American life the dread fear of the unemployed that they are not needed in the world. We cannot afford to accumulate a deficit in the books of human fortitude.

“In the place of the palace of privilege we seek to build a temple out of faith and hope and charity.”

This is FDR laying our his case for his fight against the tyranny of economic privilege. Much of what he tried to do crossed some lines – but he said in response (in this speech):

“Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales.”

This is greatness.

A Rant on Airline Travel

[Ed. Note: I wrote this while on a flight home from Milwaukee five years ago today, back when I returned to consulting for a living. Business consulting means you must travel to clients since they will not come to you. Clients want you to come to them, but generally will not foot the bill for anything other than Economy-Class tickets. “Economy” in this case does not mean only financial economy, it also means economy in space, comfort, and dignity. With cheapness comes pain. I edited it slightly, and added some comments after.]

March 1, 2012

I am writing this on a United 757 winging our way from Denver to Portland, which is where I will get the connector to Bend.

On this trip, we were late out of Bend because of snow, I had to traverse TSA with its full body scan, had to endure a cramped window seat at the back of the plane and a cramped aisle seat on the next flight. I paid $25 to check my bag, which did not make the connection, and even though United swore they would courier me the bag that evening, I had to return to the airport to get my bag… and then no one was there. Luckily, I dialed enough numbers to find a guy in operations who came up to open the baggage office. An actual quote from a United employee at the airport was “we are slow, but friendly.”

I am now sitting in an aisle seat on a full plane, with a friendly, yet large, man on the middle seat. I am large, too, so I am listing to port as I write this, my left shoulder being hit every time someone walks by, including the flight attendants.

My first flight today was overbooked, and the gate agent was annoyed because I showed up “last minute”. I tried to get a seat assigned last night, but was unable to. I tried to get a seat assigned at the ticket counter, but the agent said to go to the gate. But, to the gate agent, it was “last minute”.

I would have been bumped, except one nice soul accepted the $400 bribe, and agreed to take a bus(!) from Milwaukee to O’hare to catch a new plane (a bus because the agent didn’t trust that the flight to ORD would make it on time).

Almost every time I fly United it is a pain in the ass.

But this is not a rant against United. Rather, it is a rant against the demise of American air travel. It used to be that flight time was an ideal time to to get work done – open the laptop or notebook and go head’s-down for some uninterrupted work. Flying was never fully comfortable for me, but it was generally less crowded and less cramped.

It is impossible for me to do anything but sit stoically and endure the flights (although I can at least type this out on my iPhone.) And it is too bad.

There is a better way to do this. Hell, if I could, I’d pull a John Madden and get a custom bus. But, really, I would say that if we abolish the TSA and allow people to get onto a plane without being electronically strip searched and carrying what they want, that would be a great start.

Then, if the airlines stop nickel and dime-ing people that would help. It is cheap and petty that United charges $25 per checked bag and $8 for a snack. United has sucked for a long time, but the cure for them is to provide first class service from employees who give a damn. If they do that then they could charge the premium they seem to think they are entitled to and cut the crap.

What we need is a premium version of Southwest. 

The upshot for me is that flying is now like entering a wormhole with nothing to do but turn off until you get to where you are going. From a business perspective that means I must charge clients for travel, since travel is now an opportunity loss. From a personal perspective it means that flying is awful.


Some thoughts, five years on:

I have probably logged more airline miles than at least 98% of Americans. There was a time in the late ’90s that I flew twice a day between Burbank and San Jose, and I did that for months. Virtually all my travel was business travel, and most of that was when I was with KPMG Consulting. When you do something like this for as long as this, you develop a level of skill that you don’t know you have until you realize other people don’t have it. You learn how to pack quickly and efficiently: to roll your clothes, not to fold them, and toss out the “packing squares.” You learn how and when to get to the airport. You learn that trying to carry everything on the plane is stupid. There is no need to be afraid of claiming baggage, and life is so much better when you have only one carry-on, except on airlines like Alaska, where you can gate-check your bag. You learn to carry snacks and to carry a filtered water-bottle. You also learn to fly in your suit – if your suit is comfortable (which all suits should be), it is better than jeans and cheap running shoes, and everyone treats you like royalty. This is, as Helen Reddy said, “wisdom born of pain.”

But knowing how to do it does not make it fun or easy. I am blessed now in that I don’t have to travel weekly anymore. I am wise enough to know that airlines are not going to change. Unless you pony up for a higher class, your ride will get worse. If there is a choice of driving or flying, I will rent a huge car with Sirius XM and drive. When self-driving cars come along, I will use a car much more often.

We are human, and we can never replace being with each other in person. And we cannot bring Paris to our front door. At least for now, we are stuck with the airlines.

However, traveling for work has become less and less necessary. The capability to do quality work remotely has only gotten better since 2012. Mobile networks are better, mobile phone technology is better, coverage is better. I literally can do my job anywhere there is cell coverage and electricity, which is most of the United States and much of the world. I have worked in parks with chipmunks at my feet, in cafes in London, and, yes, at the beach (Note: if you are at the beach, just enjoy the beach. Just because you can work there doesn’t mean you should). I currently work on the edge of a national forest. Who needs to fly?

Airlines will not get better. The only incentive they have is to pack more and more people into larger and larger planes. Technology will save us from this mess, not the airlines. Thank God for technology that lets me opt out of seat 37E.

We See Dead People

When I was a teenager, we had a neighbor next door who lived in the same house since the mid-1930s. She had a sister who was a pack rat, and subscribed to magazines and news papers, and never threw them away. Rather, she put them in the garage. After fifty years of this, the garage was full. Since my neighbor’s sister passed away, my neighbor asked me if I would clean out the garage for her for a sum, and said I could keep whatever I found in the garage.

The house was a nice thirties-style California house, two stories, with stucco and a Spanish tile roof, and three huge avocado trees in the backyard. The garage was detached, and was just big enough for a decent sized DeSoto if it weren’t for the fact that it was fully stuffed with newspapers and magazines. Over the next week, I attacked the garage.

The garage was a time machine. When I opened the garage door, I was confronted with stacks and stacks of relatively recent newspapers. Most of what I found was, at least to me, just a bunch of papers, and so I recycled virtually all them. However, I hit pay dirt when I got to the 1930s and ’40s, which was about 80% into the garage. I found dozens of copies of magazines like GQ, Look, Liberty, Life, and others. I kept a lot of them, and sold a number to used book stores in Hollywood.

The magazines I really prized, and the ones I still have today, were from the ’30s: The first few years of “Look” magazine, and a pile of “Motion Picture” and “Photoplay” mags. These magazines were so beautiful! The colors of the covers were so rich, with pictures of the stars, like Deanna Durbin, Olivia De Havilland, Delores Del Rio, Sonia Henny, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable. I fell in love with the glamor that was 1930s Hollywood. All the stars were dressed to the nines. They all drove huge Duesenbergs, Cords, and Lincolns, and smoked Lucky Strikes (with the green pack), or Camels, or Chesterfields. They all smiled, and when they were not smiling, they were fighting over some man. It was a walk into a world that was vivid and alive before me, but which no longer existed.

I have a box set of movies that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The first few movies were from the years 1929 through 1937: “Broadway Melody,” “Grand Hotel,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,”and “The Life of Emile Zola.” “Broadway Melody” was the first sound picture to win Best Picture. It won the Oscar eighty-seven years ago.

These four movies are worth watching. It is interesting to see how movies changed during the “Golden Age,” but more importantly, at a time when Hollywood was cranking out movies by the trainload, these were the best of their time, and are really well made, and entertaining.

As I watched these movies, I realized that everyone in them or involved in making them is dead now. Every actor, every extra, all the sound men, all the camera men, the screen writers, the directors, the producers, the caterers, everyone. And yet, here they are, alive, on the screen. You see and hear the actors. You hear the words of the writers, you see the direction of the directors, and the cinematography of the cameramen. They live on, even though they are no longer here in the flesh.

A few years ago I realized that technology has given us a gift that I don’t think people really understand. And that is: we are the first people who can see and hear what generations past really looked like and sounded like. Photography first started in 1839, and sound recording started in 1877, so we have records of people going back to the nineteenth century – all of whom are now dead. But movies with sound came into being in 1927, less than one hundred years ago. While photographs and sound recordings are great, movies bring people to life. It fascinates me that we can see people on the screen, and they are alive! And yet they are no longer with us.

We as human beings naturally put our generation and our era as the pinnacle of times. We know so much. We are dealing with problems no one ever heard of before. The ’70s, the ’60s, the ’30s – oh, it was so much simpler then! So much more innocent! They never had to deal with the problems we have now. How did they ever live without ATM machines or mobile phones? But I don’t believe there ever were innocent times. Humans are brutal and we tend to focus on the good and gloss over the bad when we cast our memories back to those “simpler times.”

When you you look at motion pictures from decades ago – ideally the best ones, but even the worst ones, you are forced to recon with the fact that these people really were alive. They breathed and they lived and they married, and mourned, and lived in fear, and triumph – and you know that these people, these generations now dead, had the same fears and aspirations, and desires, and faults that we have now. We have the benefit of hindsight – we know what happened after these movies were made, and we know what happened to the actors and the players in them, thanks to IMDB and Wikipedia. At the time, we didn’t know how the depression would end. Considering that other countries resorted to fascism and communism to attempt to solve their economic challenges, and given where Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s head was at, we could have easily become a socialist state. No one knew at the time. We do know that they partied and enjoyed their good times when they had them. It seems every generation thinks the old folks were stodgy and that they are the first generation to have fun and stay out all night. But we know that’s not true. We know because we read, but we really know because of the movies. The song “Lullaby of Broadway” won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1936 – and it was about people who stayed up all night partying on Broadway:

When a Broadway baby says “Good night,”
It’s early in the morning.
Manhattan babies don’t sleep tight until the dawn.

If you clicked on the link above and saw the Busby Berkeley clip of all those dancers tapping in the movie, you have know know that virtually all of them are no longer with us. But they were alive! And every single one of them had their dreams and aspirations of making it in Hollywood, and every single one of them was flesh and blood. Whatever life they ended up having after this clip, it is over now.

Then we look at something like this, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” and marvel at how beautiful and poetic it is, and how alive Fred and Ginger are, and how even then people were desperate, had money problems, were discouraged, were suicidal, and:

There may be teardrops to shed
So while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance
Let’s face the music and dance.

We are human beings and yet we are so quick to forget that there have been human beings for thousands of years before our generation, and that every generation in every country, and on every continent, in every era, in every station of life, lived and loved and bled and hurt and died. And we have documented it now. The previous generations are no longer figments of  history books or snippets of novels about rich people, or books of quotations. We can see them, alive, on the screen, even though they are long dead.

I find it reassuring. I don’t feel alone in my experiences. While whatever we are dealing with now is real and urgent to us, it is comforting to know that other people faced similar and even worse situations and lived – at least in the aggregate. It is reassuring and sometimes frustrating to know that history has echoes. You can look at the fight Humankind has had with ignorance, want, and evil, and be discouraged that we still have to fight ignorance, want, and evil. And yet, while we have had horrific experiences as a species, we are still here, and we have won the major battles, albeit with casualties. We have dodged nuclear war, so far, when the odds were against us. We have become more tolerant over our existence even though there are still deep pockets of intolerance. We are winning the fight to transcend primitive tribalism, even though there are those that are grasping onto it with both hands. We are incrementally better. But we were also pretty damn good back in the day, as well. And now we have the proof we didn’t have before.

Trump: Use Couriers

“It’s very important, if you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old fashioned way because I’ll tell you what, no computer is safe.”

Donald J. Trump

“Dimitri… look, Dimitri… Dimitri, the carrier pigeon is… look, it’s on its way, alright? Just hold off on the bombers… I mean for now, ok?… Well, I can’t tell you over the phone! Someone might be listening!”

Riff on Dr. Strangelove. Imaginary call between the President and the Russian Premier Dimitri.

I don’t know what to say about this. Using couriers to send communications because “no computer is safe” is asinine. Shall I spell out why?

Any computer leaks that happen in the current age are due to sloppiness rather than an inherent risk of computing. The DNC emails were hackable because of weak processes, for example, not because any old schmo with a computer can open emails like a can of peaches. Messages can be encrypted with technology that renders them virtually impossible to crack.

Regardless of crack-ability, consider the process. Let us compare the methods of sending an important message from the President to the Senate Leader, for example.

Method A: An encrypted message exchange using an internal computer network disconnected from the Internet, in which the message is encrypted in transit with the highest level of encryption. I don’t know if this is really how an electronic message would travel from President to Senate Leader, but it certainly is doable. The president or his aide types up a message, sends it, it is encrypted in transit, decrypted on receipt, and the senate leader reads it.

In method A, a bad actor will have to have physical access to the computers. Unless he is looking over the shoulder of the sender or recipient, all he is going to get is an encrypted message – which is virtually unbreakable.

If we modify method A a bit and allow the message to be sent across the internet via something like a super-encrypted Instant Message server, then the bad actor may get the encrypted message, and again, it is virtually unbreakable. To avoid Podesta-style breaks, we apply a two-factor authentication that requires a password and the code of a physical code key. That one thing would have stopped the Podesta-leaked emails.

Method B: The president or his aide types up a message and hands it to a courier. The courier is mugged on the way to the recipient, and the message is now in the hands of the bad actor. Of course, the message could have been encrypted and then printed, but that would require… a computer. Unless you use easily-cracked platens “the old fashioned way.”

We have been using encoded electronic messages at least since World War II. There is no other way to look at this than that Trump is clueless. There is no defense of this.