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Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Do They Know It’s Mardi Gras?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

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Outside of New Orleans and southern Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama, Mardi Gras generally comes as news—if it comes at all—to people in the rest of the United States when they see footage on network and cable news. Oh, it must be Mardi Gras again. Look at all those crazy-dressed people milling around on Bourbon Street. Now back to work, or looking for a job.

There are emigrés from New Orleans and southern Louisiana all over the U.S. and around the world who feel Carnival coming for weeks before the big day arrives, and we know it’s not a one-day affair (how could it be?). We look around at life going on in January, February, and sometimes March, and wonder how our fellow citizens can not know that Carnival is coming, that it has already started, it’s here. And especially on Fat Tuesday itself—which is today—seeing life go on as Just Another Day, earning just another dollar, we’re reminded of the 1984 Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (recorded to raise awareness and aid for the 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia). It is not entirely a fair comparison, but there’s a resemblance, and the question does come up.

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New Orleans–based social justice journalist Jordan Flaherty published an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled Five Myths about Mardi Gras that does a decent job of dispelling some misconceptions about Carnival—we’re all for dispelling false views, especially about New Orleans and Louisiana—and we recommend Jordan’s piece. But first we’d like to offer the following essay, which goes into more detail about the historical, cultural background of what we call Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival. (Interestingly, in this international world we live in, there are other terms in other languages!) We humbly present the following, originally written by one of our staff writers for Festivals and Holidays, a Macmillan Profiles encyclopedia.

Times-Picayune coverage of Mardi Gras here. And see photos of this year’s parades by our friends here, here, and here.

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Mardi Gras: From Ancient Origins, with a New Orleans Twist

Mardi Gras, also called “Shrove Tuesday” or “Fat Tuesday” is a flamboyant Carnival celebration that most Americans associate with the city of New Orleans. The exact date for Mardi Gras varies from year to year, but it always falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, forty-one days before Easter.

Mardi Gras has roots deep in pagan rites of ancient Greece, and is the “climax day” of a whole season of festivities—balls, parties, parades—that begins on Twelfth Night, or Epiphany (also known as January 6). Although the festival is most commonly associated with the Crescent City, the first American Mardi Gras was celebrated in Mobile, in present-day Alabama, in the 1830s (except it was really New Year’s Eve). Mardi Gras is still celebrated in Mobile, as well as in other southern Louisiana towns and cities such as Baton Rouge, New Roads, and Lafayette.

“Fat Tuesday,” the culmination of over a month of celebrations, is the great day when the parades of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and the Krewe of Rex roll down oak-lined St. Charles Avenue into downtown New Orleans, where thousands, or a million—not necessarily sober—are lined along Canal Street, the widest downtown street in America. When the great floats arrive, and the masked captains and marshals in robes of medieval royalty hold out their hands full of beads, people yell, “Throw me somethin’, mister!” and reach up in a joyous frenzy for the colorful beads, cups, doubloons, and the famous painted Zulu coconuts. Though the big parades don’t go into the Vieux Carré anymore, the crowd swells across Canal into the French Quarter: sometimes a million people are crowded together on land that is [just a few feet above] sea level, a quarter mile from the Mississippi River. [Ed. note: bracketed phrase corrects a factual error in the original.]

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How the World Has—and Has Not—Changed in 50 Years

Friday, January 6th, 2012

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Portraits of Courage, Struggle, and Defiance

This is the mug shot of Joan Trumpauer, a 19-year-old Duke University student and SNCC member who was arrested by the Jackson, Mississippi, police with eight other activists as they arrived on a train from New Orleans to participate in Freedom Rides in early June 1961. Joan Trumpauer had already participated in lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C. (She is the student having sugar poured on her head in this iconic image.) The photos above and several dozen other powerful images from 1961, mostly by American news photographers, are part of an impressive collection posted by The Atlantic Monthly. See more below. (H/T to A Continuous Lean.) Some of the viewers’ comments on the photos are instructive; others, particularly about civil rights, are disturbing, depressing.

The caption to Miss (not yet Ms.) Trumpauer’s mug shot explains:

A Jackson Police Department file booking photograph of Freedom Rider Joan Trumpauer provided by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, taken on June 8, 1961. 19-year-old Duke University student and part-time secretary in the Washington office of Senator Clair Engle of California, Trumpauer arrived in Jackson, Mississippi to take part in the June 4, 1961 Mississippi Freedom Ride. She and eight others were promptly arrested and refused bail. Trumpauer served three months in jail, later enrolling in traditionally black Tougaloo college, which had just started accepting white students. 

In a column worth reading in full, “Toward a Manifested Courage,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic, quotes a prison superintendent’s reply to Trumpauer’s mother (a native of Georgia whom Joan later described as “an unrepentant segregationist”):

Your daughter is receiving plenty of food, has been provided with a toothbrush, tooth paste, and whatever else she actually needs. 

I notice that you state that as a mother of a minor that you want to be notified in the case of any emergency. What I can not understand is why as a mother you permitted a minor white girl to gang up with a bunch of negro bucks and white hoodlums to ramble over this country with the express purpose of violating the laws of certain states and attempting to incite acts of violence.

The Trumpauer photograph appears among many other portraits in Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders by Eric Etheridge. Click here to see more images. And see the gripping American Experience (PBS) documentary “Freedom Riders,” available through Netflix.

We detail the Joan Trumpauer experience at some length here out of admiration of her (awe-) inspiring personal courage (“Now if whites were going to riot when black students were going to white schools, what were they going to do if a white student went to a black school?”) and as a prelude to, an early honoring of, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Monday, Jan. 16).

Now, some selections from the Atlantic photo feature “50 Years Ago: The World in 1961.”

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George Lincoln Rockwell, center, self-styled leader of the American Nazi Party, and his “hate bus” with several young men wearing swastika arm bands, stops for gas in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 23, 1961, en route to Mobile, Alabama. (AP Photo)

A policeman orders his dog to attack a man who was too slow in obeying his order to move away from in front of police court, shortly before nine African-American college students went on trial for sitting-in at a (white) public city library, on March 29, 1961, in Jackson, Mississippi. (AP Photo/Jackson Clarion-Ledger)

 

 A Freedom Rider bus goes up in flames after a firebomb was tossed through a window near Anniston, Alabama, in May of 1961. (AP Photo)

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As We Enter 2012, Best Wishes to All

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

May the new year bring you all the good things you wish for.

We’ll be brief with our greetings and good wishes, as last night’s champagne slowly wears off, and as there’s some house-cleaning to do before guests arrive for the New Year’s Day dinner . . .

For all our readers here in the “upper blogosphere” and for everyone beyond, we wish a year of good health to all, steady employment, rewarding work, and, while we’re at it, good luck and bon courage in putting the “progress” in “progressive.”

State. We wish for a calm, boring hurricane season for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, steady recovery from the wicked hellacious storms of yesteryear, and strong, robust flood protection and generous funding for coastal restoration of the eroding Louisiana coast. We also pray for no BP-style oil spills in the Gulf—or any other kind. 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster was enough to last for quite a while, thank you. Let those who are still recovering from that catastrophe find abundant catches of healthy seafood in clean waters, and may those still making their way back home to New Orleans and environs find affordable housing in safe neighborhoods and steady employment.

Nation. The United States has its own peculiar, festering, largely neglected problems amid the stresses of the world. During this 2012 presidential campaign season, which had already overstayed its welcome long ago, we hope that the ideas and priorities generated by the Occupy Wall Street movement will take even stronger hold on the public imagination and find their way into debates, policy, and actual programs. May the good ideas be fulfilled. Let’s keep reminding public officials and reporters and editors that there is a terrible and increasing wealth disparity in this nation, an endangered middle class, and an even more threatened (and growing) population of struggling poor people: our brothers and sisters. We are not holding our breath waiting for Congressional action—we expect nothing but continuing obstruction from one party and particular, and the other party ain’t much better but for a few individual exceptions—but we do detect energy and ideas in the Occupy people across the U.S. and around the world. Good work; keep it going, please. Long live the 99 Percent!

World. Among our wishes for world peace and goodwill among peoples, we wish the citizens and the economies of Europe in particular good luck in finding workable solutions to their ongoing crises, and we wish for renewed energy for all nations’ reformers and progressives. As 2011 was not a good year for despots and dictators, let 2012 be a good year for fair and honest leaders. Looking around the globe, we hope the activists of the Arab Spring will succeed in making a better life for themselves—not forgetting their women—and we pray that cool, sane heads will prevail (this is possible) in Iran and in its foreign relations; good luck to the Green Revolution reformers in that troubled land.

Here at Levees Not War we’ll work hard to bring you, as regularly and steadily as we can, reporting and commentary that is based in reality and in hopes for stronger, durable infrastructure, a healthier and better-sustained environment, and more peace, less war. (Click herehere, and here for New Year’s greetings from previous January 1’s.)

We hope you enjoy this new year, and hope it brings you all the good things you wish for.

Well, we meant to be brief. And now, there’s some more house-cleaning to do . . .

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Retrieved from the Spam Filter

Friday, November 25th, 2011

On the lighter side of Giving Thanks, and in the holiday spirit of giving, we were moved to share with you our dear readers some of the expressions of gratitude and encouragement we’ve received in recent weeks. Somehow these comments were caught up in the spam filter. How could this happen? We regret that these sincere and thoughtful remarks were caught in the net designed to catch unsolicited junk mail and other wastes of InterWeb bandwidth.

So now, without further ado, and without any alteration, a few words from our fans, without whose support we might not have the courage to persevere in these often dark days . . .

“I desire very much enjoyed this data content.”

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Okay, I am going to be brave and try these but I wanted to know how you coat them with peanut butter. Do you melt the peanut butter and it just hardens as it cools? Please advise . . .I need help! —U.C.O.

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We’ll keep checking the in-box and spam filter and sharing readers’ comments from time to time. Meanwhile, create you joyful, at all times go after your heart, and coat them with peanut butter.

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On Independence Day, with Help from a Founding Mother

Monday, July 4th, 2011

“In the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.”

Abigail Adams, letter to John Adams, then in Philadelphia, March 31, 1776

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On holidays we like to take a break from our often critical attitude about “what fresh hell” is breaking forth and to say something affirmative about the meaning of the day and why it is celebrated.

Everyone knows that the Fourth of July, which we prefer to think of as Independence Day, celebrates the new United States of America’s (declaration of) independence from Britain. This is true, and this is good.

But, today, after reading that the median pay for a CEO of the top 200 corporations in the U.S. is $10.9 million—$10.9 million for a single individual—up 23% since 2009 (how many jobs could that money create when the unemployment rate has exceeded 9% since May 2009, with at least 15 million lacking any job at all?) . . . and knowing that Congress in its wisdom recently extended the reduced (35%) rate of taxation for those millionaires (rather than let it return to 39%), a reduced taxation that continues for the 10th year to starve the national treasury of desperately needed revenues . . . and while as a related result “leaders” of a purportedly serious and fiscally responsible political party insist in budget deficit talks that revenue increases of any kind are “off the table” . . . Then we have to ask what freedom and what liberty do the ordinary people of this nation have anymore?

Are we the people free from corporate dominion? Are the press and the airwaves free? Are the 15+ million unemployed free to work and earn a living wage? Are the young graduates of our schools free to find jobs worthy of their skills and intelligence? Are workers free to negotiate with employers about their wages and working conditions? Are we citizens free to see a substantial portion of our tax dollars go to education and social safety net programs like health care assistance and Social Security? Are we free to say that the tax dollars we’re compelled to pay will not go to the wars that a majority of the population wants to end? Are women free to determine their own reproductive choices without shame or criminal prosecution? Are their doctors free to advise them simply on the basis of medical science?

Truly it seems that a different form of servitude—or maybe there’s another word for it—has taken hold of this country while a hypnotized, narcotized, War-on-Terror-ized populace is reminded constantly of “our freedoms.” Would these be the same freedoms for which American soldiers who can’t find a job anywhere else are sent to fight in tour after tour of duty in three simultaneous wars, then are brought home, if not in a box, to fend for themselves for jobs and health care?

Just askin’.

But on a more positive note, which we really do want to strike: We do sincerely tip our hats (we wear several) to salute those brave patriots of the Revolutionary War, and to the Founding Fathers who composed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States—but also to the Founding Mothers we rarely hear about, such as Abigail Smith Adams (1744–1818), aka Mrs. John Adams.

Particularly in a year that has seen, “from sea to shining sea,” systematic and relentless efforts by state and federal legislatures to strip away the rights of workers and voters, and rape-like assaults on women’s reproductive freedoms—and when a couple of women are campaigning for the presidency even though they appear not to believe in the idea of governing, or of learning—some passages from the wise Mrs. Adams are worth pondering, and practicing, enacting.

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Happy Mardi Gras 2011

Monday, March 7th, 2011


“To many New Orleanians, Mardi Gras is not just the day itself, but the season leading up to it. . . . In the two weeks before Fat Tuesday these [Mardi Gras] krewes throw their famous parades. Every night, people from every class and neighborhood make plans to meet “at Bacchus” or for Endymion . . . , picking a corner to meet, bringing food and drinks in coolers, and often ladders with specially constructed boxes on top in which children sit to catch the beads and trinkets that spew from the parade floats like water from the fountain of life itself.” —Tom Piazza, Why New Orleans Matters (pp. 97–98)

When the cares of this world grow too heavy, we all need a break from the ordinary, and that is why we have Carnival. And this festive season, which begins at Epiphany and whose climax is Mardi Gras (this year Tuesday, March 8), is a big part of the reason why this blog cares so much about the health and well-being of New Orleans: the city, its people, and its culture. It’s the City That Care Forgot, but also a place that has lately seen too much to worry about (thanks most recently to a company called BP).

But we won’t dwell on the cares just now—that’s what Carnival is for. It’s also for making fun of hardships and folly, flipping ’em around jujitsu-like with a sense of humor, satire, absurdity. Sometimes it’s the only way to deal. Let it go for a while. Lighten up.  The ancient Greeks and Romans, with their bacchanalias and Lupercalia (Carnival’s deep-historical origins), understood that if you don’t cut loose from time to time with a little madness here and there, you get hit with the big madness, the kind that doesn’t go away. Therefore . . .

To all our friends in and around Louisiana, to all who “Be a New Orleanian, Wherever You Are”—we wish a lively and frolicsome Mardi Gras, a celebration of life, humor, imagination, and letting the good times roll, everybody all together.

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“It is rare indeed to have every, or almost every, citizen in a city tuned to the same channel at the same time. Everyone agrees to have a day, the same day, in which no one can be certain what is going to happen. People light out in the morning, often wearing masks or costumes that advance an alternate persona for themselves. They may have certain stops that they know they will want to make, but they are also open to the fact that the winds of the day may lead them elsewhere, and that that is part of the point of it all. One submits to the multifarious flow of chance and felicity, of music and motion.” —Why New Orleans Matters (pp. 98–99)

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Sad Farewell to “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.

That is the full text of MSNBC’s official announcement of the abrupt cancellation of the network’s highest-rated show.

File Under “WTF?!”

Just about everyone seems surprised—even though Olbermann was briefly suspended in November after it was disclosed that without network approval he had contributed to the political campaigns of several Democratic candidates for Congress in the 2010 midterm elections (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot in Tucson on Jan. 8). Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo, who was a guest on the program, titles his post “What the Hell Was That About?

I was just on in the opening segment of Olbermann tonight. And I get home and get this press release from NBC saying this was the last episode of Countdown. At first I figured it had to be a spoof email because, jeez, I was on and I didn’t have any sense that any other than a regular Friday evening show was on. But sure enough I pulled up the recording and now I’m watching his final sign off.

Comcast Purchase of NBC a “Disaster for Democracy”

The American press is vague as to the source of the decision—was it voluntary?—but Olbermann himself, in his brief but gracious farewell address, refers up front to “what I’ve been told, that this is the last edition of your show.” That’s pretty clear English to us. And, for more plain English, the Guardian (UK) says it was the network’s decision: “Keith Olbermann dropped by NBC: Keith Olbermann, the controversial MSNBC cable news host, has his contract abruptly terminated by parent company NBC.” Keith went on to thank his loyal audience:

My gratitude to you is boundless and if you think I’ve done any good here, imagine how it looked from this end. . . . This may be the only television program wherein the host was much more in awe of the audience than vice versa.

We tend to assume that network executives, whether or not they possess soul or conscience, are at least business-savvy. In this instance we pause to reconsider. Cancelling the highest-rated host, the anchor of the network’s prime time lineup, midway through a four-year contract? MSNBC denies any connection between the Countdown cancellation and the recently approved purchase of NBC Universal by Comcast (though not approved by Sen. Al Franken, a former NBC employee). Comcast, too, issued a statement denying any influence in the matter. Juan Cole points to the merger’s removal of Olbermann’s patron and protector Jeff Zucker, the former head of NBC programming.

New York Times media reporter Bill Carter quotes law professor Marvin Ammori, a former adviser to the nonprofit group Free Press, who opposed the merger as bad for democracy:

Keith Olbermann’s announcement tonight, the very same week that the government blessed the Comcast-NBC merger, raises serious concern for anyone who cares about free speech. Comcast proved expert in shaking down the government to approve its merger. Comcast’s shakedown of NBC has just begun.

Taking Countdown’s 8:00 p.m. slot will be The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (possibly to be retitled as it’s moving from 10:00 p.m.). Will the ratings plummet? What is the rapport between O’Donnell and the very popular Rachel Maddow? The “toss” from Keith to Rachel has a casual, friendly tone; what’s the relationship going to be now? (Click here for Rachel’s brief remarks on Real Time with Bill Maher.) Lawrence O’Donnell is knowledgeable about politics, and telegenic, but as a host and as an interviewer he has frequently come across as bullying, overbearing, and lacking in the self-deprecating sense of humor that Keith Olbermann often displayed (though he too tends to come on strong when he’s hot under the collar).

So, we wonder, will it be “liberal business as usual” around MSNBC? Is this indeed only the beginning of a shakedown? Who will be the next to go? Will the others feel a chill and thought-police themselves? We do not expect Rachel Maddow, for one, to curb her enthusiasm for progressive causes.

“Good Night, and Good Luck”

We regret the departure, not only for Mr. Olbermann personally, but also for his many, many viewers—who showed their love in November in demanding that MSNBC immediately bring him back on the air—and for the good causes he promoted. We salute him for drawing attention to critical issues many others shied away from: Keith Olbermann was the sole voice on mainstream TV demanding to know what exactly happened in the fishy “reelection” of George W. Bush in 2004, particularly in Ohio and with the suspect Diebold electronic voting machines. He kept the pressure on the Bush administration’s illegitimate war in Iraq and the arrogance of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Republican party’s shady dealings political and financial, when no one else in the mainstream media was speaking up. As David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America, writes:

For nearly eight years, Countdown with Keith Olbermann led the charge against conservative misinformation in prime time. He was one of the few voices in the media willing to hold the Bush administration accountable and fight the right-wing smears against progressives and their policies.

Levees Not War also applauds Keith Olbermann for his promotion of the Free Health Clinics in New Orleans, Little Rock, and Kansas City organized by the National Association of Free Clinics. His efforts helped raise $2 million for the free clinics, and he always praised the viewing audience for their life-saving generosity.

Toward the end of his last night on Countdown, Olbermann read a short story by James Thurber, as he often does on Friday evenings. (He had read Thurber stories to his father late last year when he was dying in the hospital; Mr. Olbermann suggested that Keith read the stories to his TV audience, too.) Keith read “The Scotty Who Knew Too Much” (1940), which ends with the moral, “It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers.”

Thank you, Keith Olbermann, for asking some of the hardest questions during some of the hardest times.

And good luck.

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Now Entering 2011: Wishes + Promises for the New Year

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

“Here and now I want to make myself clear about those who disparage their fellow citizens on the relief rolls. They say that those on relief are not merely jobless—that they are worthless. Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief—to purge the rolls by starvation. To use the language of the stock broker, our needy unemployed would be care for when, as, and if, some fairy godmother should happen on the scene.

“You and I will continue to refuse to accept that estimate of our unemployed fellow Americans. Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, draft of “New Deal” speech accepting Democratic party nomination (1932); facsimile in When Art Worked: The New Deal, Art, and Democracy (Rizzoli, 2009), p. 20

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We wish you our readers a good new year in 2011: good luck, steady employment, safe travels, fun with family, and all those good things. We also wish for all a government both at the local and state level and at the national level that takes care of its people—particularly the poor and powerless. This is never the “given,” but the ideal we strive for.

Just as FDR in July 1932 pledged to the nation “a new deal for the American people” (see below), we on a much more modest level promise persistent efforts to push public officials to protect the people, the land, the nation with investments in infrastructure, environmental stewardship, public health and education programs, and so on—and to end the wars that are wasting our nation’s energies and resources, especially our human resources. (Yes, we have our work cut our for us, but we’re not alone.)

“We Must Rebuild Our Strength Here at Home”

So much remains to be done. As ever, we hold that “National Security Begins at Home.” We believe that deep down our president understands this, but he is pushed and driven by powerful forces insisting on War Forever. As Obama said at West Point in December 2009, “we must rebuild our strength here at home . . . . the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.” We’re not sure how sincerely he meant that—or his semi-pledge to draw down troops from Afghanistan in July 2011—but we mean to hold him to his words.

We also mean to support the president when we can (actively, vocally), to give him the progressive backing to be all he can be. We want to help him because the opposition he’ll be facing in the new 112th Congress is likely to be incessant, poisonous, and directly opposed to the humane ideals that the Democratic Party at its best represents—values expressed above by President Roosevelt and stated eloquently the official version of his nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in July 1932:

As we enter this new battle, let us keep always present with us some of the ideals of the Party: The fact that the Democratic Party by tradition and by the continuing logic of history, past and present, is the bearer of liberalism and of progress and at the same time of safety to our institutions. And if this appeal fails, remember well, my friends, that a resentment against the failure of Republican leadership . . . to solve our troubles may degenerate into unreasoning radicalism. . . .

What do the people of America want more than anything else? To my mind, they want two things: work, with all the moral and spiritual values that go with it; and with work, a reasonable measure of security–security for themselves and for their wives and children. Work and security—these are more than words. They are more than facts. They are the spiritual values, the true goal toward which our efforts of reconstruction should lead. . . .

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