Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fix This Now

“I fix what’s broken – except in the heart.”  Bernard Malamud, “The Fixer” (1966)

“Fix This Now” is the banner headline in the Indianapolis Star, as fallout continues over Governor Mike Pence signing a bill that allows businesses to discriminate against LGBTs.  Wilco cancelled an upcoming concert in Indy, and the public-employee union AFSCME cancelled a planned women’s conference.  The gaming convention Gen Con, which attracts 56,000 people annually, may relocate.  The governors of Connecticut, New York, and Washington imposed bans on their states funding travel to Indiana.  Angie’s List executive Bill Oesterle, a former aide to Governor Mitch Daniels, declared: “What puzzles me is how this effort came to the top of the legislative agenda when clearly the business community doesn’t support it.”

Here is part of what the Indianapolis Star editorialized:

We are at a critical moment in Indiana's history.
And much is at stake.
Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.
All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future.
The consequences will only get worse if our state leaders delay in fixing the deep mess created.
Half steps will not be enough. Half steps will not undo the damage.

Bernard Malamud’s novel “The Fixer” is based on the 1913 trial of Russian Jew Menahem Mendel Beilis, a brick factory superintendent in Kiev charged with killing a 13 year-old boy.  The charges against him were so unjust the case produced worldwide condemnation and caused the Tsarist Russian regime to back down.  Let’s hope the uproar over Pence’s action has the same outcome.  Republicans tend to listen when corporations threaten hostile action.

In a story that flooded the internet but appears to be a hoax, Marcus Bachmann, husband of former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, supposedly was refused service and asked to leave when attempting to buy something at a dress boutique for Michele.  Bachmann allegedly said: “I was aghast.  I’ve been shopping for Michele for years.  I had no idea why the woman in the store turned on me like that.  I thought perhaps she had suddenly become ill.  I was gobsmacked!  I never realized a law meant to protect individuals’ religious freedoms would be twisted in such a way as to discriminate.”  The word gobsmacked is a tip-off that the story is, in all likelihood, fiction.  In fact, the law is not scheduled to go into effect until July.  The story seems just too good to be true.  But then, too, is a photo of Pence signing the bill with creepy-looking religious fanatics surrounding him.
Jerry Davich reported that Pence has cancelled a scheduled appearance at next week’s Lincoln Day Dinner in Chesterton.  One person speculated that probably “no one wants to be in the same room or associated with him.”  Another added sarcastically: “Yep.  There’s presidential material, all right.”

Along with a photo of a 1922 KKK parade in Muncie, Bill Carey posted: “Indiana has a long and proud tradition of respecting the strongly held religious beliefs of Christian organizations.”  The Klan 90 years ago was a major influence on Indiana’s Republican Party.  Even Mad magazine is piling on (see below).
Marquette Park in the fog; photo by Samuel A. Love

Tuesday started very foggy, especially near the lake, but warmed up during the course of he day so that I exchanged my winter coat for a light sweater.

Joyce Russell of the NWI Times dropped by the Archives to interview me about the Works Progress Administration, the New Deal agency formed 80 years ago.  Most Republicans hated the WPA – in fact, Porter County officials refused to implement it -  but it got many unemployed workers, including musicians, artists and historians, through the Great Depression with their dignity intact.  Steve McShane retrieved a half-dozen books for her to peruse, including Ron Cohen and my Gary pictorial history and the WPA Guidebook to the Calumet Region. 

IUN’s Center for Urban and Regional Excellence co-sponsored a “We the People” showcase and panel discussion featuring Munster H.S. students who will be representing Indiana at a national competition.  In the audience were Jean Poulard, Chris Young, Steve McShane, Anna Rominger, Larissa Dragu, Congressman Pete Visclosky, and other observers, including students from Gary schools.  Participating in the program were SPEA professors Ellen Szarleta and Joe Gomeztagle and NWI Times reporter Doug Ross, who asked if I’d write a guest column on Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana connections.  I recommended Judge Ken Anderson, a Lincoln expert, who when I contacted him said he’d be happy to do it.

The topic was “Procedural Justice and the Rule of Law.”  I was pleased that one young woman discussed Guantanamo and the perversion of such Constitutional guarantees as the right to due process and a speedy trial for prisoners we have kept there for over 13 years.  While as POWs they might not be entitled to protection under the Constitution, the U.S. is in clear violation of the Geneva Convention by holding them in limbo indefinitely.  Many have been cleared for release but still languish under terrible conditions. 
 Lee H. Hamilton

On hand as judges, along with Chancellor Lowe, were retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and the distinguished former Indiana Congressman Lee H. Hamilton.  I told Hamilton afterwards that the three of us shared something in common: we all wrote blurbs for James Madison’s “Hoosiers” that appear on the back of the book jacket.  Hamilton, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1965 and 1999, is head of IU’s Center on Congress.  “We the People” started as a Bicentennial Commission initiative but was later defunded because it was officially labeled an “earmark.”  I told Congressman Hamilton that I was a friend of Ray Smock, who served on the Bicentennial Commission while House Historian.  He replied that everyone thought very highly of the work Smock did and that he was pleased that he is presently director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies in West Virginia.

I telephoned Smock and he said he’s been on panels recently with Lee Hamilton and that he is in close touch the staff members at IU’s Center on Congress.  He told me that even though he grew up in Harvey, Illinois, he’s officially a Hoosier because he was born in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  His dad worked in a defense plant near there.

I spoke in Steve McShane’s class about Region memories of the Great Depression, commencing with a poem that appeared in the Post-Trib “Flue Dust” column (I wonder whether “Flue Dust” inspired Ron and me to come up the name Steel Shavings) by someone whose pen name was Quetzacoatl:

Ye horrible depression!
Ye’ve turned my hair to gray;
All things in my possession
Ye’ve stolen quite away.
My house is almost fallen down,
The rats run on the floor
I am the poorest man in town;
The wolf is at my door!

I read excerpts from student articles based on interviews Elizabeth Domsic, Alex Bencze, and Linda Erickson did with Depression survivors as well as this from Larry Luchene: “One common sight in town (Shelby) was to see smokers picking cigarette butts out of the gutters and the edges of sidewalks.  These people would shake the tobacco out of the butts into a pouch and later roll their own.”   I meant to read this paragraph from “Gary’s First Hundred Years” about Slovak-American Anna Rigovsky Yurin:

Anna learned how to can vegetables and make peach butter from skins that she had previously thrown away.  “What are you having for dinner?” a friend would ask.  “Potatoes and beans? Why, we are having beans and potatoes.”  Relatives frequently visited, and while the women talked and minded the children, the husbands played cards for matchsticks.  They argued, she recalled, as if gambling for real money.” They did not care how long the party lasted because nobody had to get up the next morning to work.

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