September 26, 2012

After reading Robert Caro’s The Power Broker many decades ago, I relished the thought of losing myself in his recently-published four-volume (with another to come) biography of Lyndon Johnson, which I recently finished reading.  Johnson was, Caro suggests, as power-hungry as one can get, and succeeded, albeit due in large part to the twist of fate in Dallas that resulted in Kennedy’s assassination, in reaching his goal of the presidency.  He also amassed a vast personal fortune, and a place in history.  He arguably did much good, especially in the area of civil rights (after he did much bad in that same area).

To me, the book raises an interesting question about power.  If you have to sell out your ideals to achieve it, how much power do you really have?  Johnson may have been able to achieve some his personal goals and his goals for the nation, but he had to make so many compromises and arguably do so much bad that the good and bad can be viewed as a wash.

Johnson was a person of remarkable drive, born of his childhood, during which his family lost everything, including their standing in the community.  His whole life can be seen as a reaction, in the tradition of Citizen Kane, to that childhood.  Whether the rest of us, or even he, is better off is a matter of debate.

Third World New York?

September 14, 2012

A cyclist breaks a wheel on a potholed street in a major city near the State’s capital.

A lawyer goes to the State Library to conduct legal research, only to find that several of the treatises he consulted had not been updated for several years, rendering them virtually useless.  The other public access law library in Albany is open only three days a week.

A person living in a city, two miles from the Capitol,wants to go to downtown Albany by public transit.  She will have to walk a half mile to the nearest bus stop, and even during rush hour, she may wait up to half an hour for a bus.  It may be quicker to walk, except in the winter, when the walkways on the bridges over the railroad tracks are not cleared and become icy.

Compared to what I saw in Sweden this summer, our public sphere is definitely third world.  I  think we have a right to demand — and government has an obligation to provide — basic services of decent quality.  If it can’t, we need to find out why and correct the problem, and it may not be as simple as throwing more money at it.

Even the relatively affluent cannot escape bad roads, traffic delays and, in some cases, poor public schools.  While some of the Republicans’ ideas have some validity, I absolutely disagree with their disagreement with the Obama and Warren observations that no one’s success is due to solely to his or her own efforts.  We all benefit from public services.  Why such an affluent country puts up with such poor services is beyond me.