As I reflect on and celebrate Pete Seeger’s life, I’m reminded that in the great tradition of American folk music, the lyrics, for the most part, remain constant while their applicability often evolves with the changing times. The revising and honing of folk songs keep them relevant, and serve as catalysts for social change from one generation to the next.
It wasn’t long ago when it seemed that the tobacco lobby’s stranglehold over New York policymaking was finally broken. In addition to federal court decisions, state actions were being taken. During the years of the Pataki Administration, the state raised its tobacco tax, enacted one of the nation’s most sweeping restrictions on smoking in public places and in work environments. The Spitzer Administration bolstered funding for the state’s tobacco control efforts, helping it rise to the 5th most well-resourced program in the nation. In the Paterson Administration, New York raised its tobacco tax rate to the highest in the nation.
Moving from New York City to Raleigh, North Carolina upon ordination was my first serious foray out of a somewhat insular northeastern cocoon and into “real” America. I was not exactly sheltered until then. I grew up in an ethnically diverse Queens neighborhood, and the inner city public high school I attended was a testing ground for class and racial coexistence. Still, I thought I knew what difference was until I discovered how different difference could be in the same country, less than five hundred miles south of where I grew up. The Raleigh and East Carolinas that I remember from the early nineteen nineties were a study in contrasts. The city is part of an urban powerhouse of cosmopolitanism that attracts people and businesses from all over the world. Yet it also boasts some of the world’s most rigidly conservative churches and it sits in the midst of the American tobacco farming industry, a very traditionalist, hierarchical culture.
I’ve never been a big fan of actor Matthew McConaughey, but his recent award winning performance in The Dallas Buyers Club might change my opinion of him. In that movie The Dallas Buyers Club, Mr. McConaughey plays the role of Ron Woodroof, a real-life Texas cowboy who was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1985.
At President Obama’s State of The Union Address scant attention was given to foreign policy. He did note that “the war in Afghanistan is coming to end;” but in reality the war continues. It just so happens the U.S. will be absent from it. Yet the truncated reporting on foreign policy is suggestive. Could it be there is little to report or is it more telling to suggest that there is little good news to report?
I was proud and delighted during the fund drive to find Joe Donahue and this station helping to prevent 600 tons of carbon emissions by offering carbon certificates so that the big power companies could not get the permissions those certificates represented to pollute our atmosphere.
For those of us with multi-generational and still functioning memories, except for techno-centric system difficulties, there’s little to be optimistic about with respect to the present state of governance at just about every level, in these apparently ‘disunited states of America’. For this archaic member of the so-called “Greatest Generation,” time seems to have U-turned into reverse mode, by more than ninety years. Although it had backed away from the League of Nations and World Court, The U.S. in 1921 (the year before this commentator was born) convened separate conferences on limiting naval tonnage and non-use of asphyxiating gasses; to which most nations agreed. The U.S. avoided signing a commitment against the use of armed force, without congressional approval, which somehow seems not to have been given.
The governor’s budget is based on a huge promise – that he will keep the budget growth to less than 2%. The governor presents this number as a simple feat, keep to the rate of inflation and he can use some of the revenues for a tax cut.
At five, I take the old farm path, past the horses.
The sky is purple, with long stretches and swaths of other colors across the silent evening, one horizon to another. Some previous snow is still clinging to the north sides of barren trees, as well as lying on a few upper branches. Hard to believe there'll be greenery again, one day.
Like many in the Hudson Valley, I took the loss of Pete Seeger personally. He was a great national and international figure having received over 20 honors and awards including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, the Harvard Arts Medal, the Kennedy Center Honor and been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame to name a few. For us who lived in and near Beacon, NY where he had lived for 65 years, he was a local hero. The sloop Clearwater and the attention it brought to the Hudson River actually led to an actual clean-up of terrible pollution. Now, the river can be fished and it’s safe for swimming.