Friday, March 9, 2018

West Virginia teachers challenge the oligarchs and send a message to working people across the country: Stand up for your rights!

The victory by West Virginia teachers in their nine-day strike for higher wages and more secure health benefits has already inspired teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky and other states to consider demanding the same of their legislators.

The wildcat strike was the latest act of public rebellion against the powerful forces that have taken over these United States--Republican legislatures across the land that starve state budgets in order to feed corporate greed, legislators little more than drones for the Koch brothers and the bills-writing ALEC organization, propaganda-spewing Fox “News” and a compliant corporate media that generally ignores worker needs or rights.

Add to that list, of course, the National Rifle Association, which preaches the 2nd Amendment but is really nothing more than the lobbying arm of a weapons industry more concerned with profits than the lives of school children.

The teachers’ strike in West Virginia is indeed viscerally connected to the public reaction to the horrible shooting at the Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That shooting in February took 17 lives and led to massive protests by students there and across the country against the NRA-spawned madness of our gun laws.

Across the land, people want to know what has happened to this country.

Here’s a hint: comments by West Virginia Senator Lynn Arvon, R-Raleigh, to an aide about the teachers’ strike: “The teachers have to understand that West Virginia is a red state and the free handouts are over.”

Such is the contempt many of our politicians have for regular people like teachers, who’ve gone years without pay raises and who see their pensions and health care plans threatened by legislators who brag about fiscal accountability yet refuse to collect the taxes rightfully owed by corporations, politicians whose own accountability is only to the lobbyists who funnel money into their campaign chests.

Of course, the bipartisan agreement reached by billionaire West Virginia Governor Jim Justice (he is the richest man in West Virginia) and state legislators—with the approval of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association--to end what was an illegal strike is clearly aimed to make the teachers “look like the bad guy … greedy and selfish,” in the words of one teacher quoted by writer Will Morrow of the World Socialist Website.

The teachers indeed got the 5 percent pay raise they demanded, a pay raise that extended to other government employees such as janitors, secretaries and law enforcement officers. However, they failed to get a tax on energy companies to help fund a health insurance program and got instead a “task force” to look into various options.

To pay for their pay raise, the legislators vowed to cut Medicaid, funding aimed at repairing ailing state buildings, and tuition assistance for students at community and technical colleges. In other words, as West Virginia Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair said, “there’s going to be some pain.”

And don’t kid yourself. Blair, Justice and the rest of the oligarchy controlling the state fully intend that those suffering from that pain place the blame on school teachers.

What’s encouraging is that the teachers garnered much public support during their strike. West Virginians knew their children’s teachers deserved a pay raise and a securely funded health care plan, and they stood with them despite a mainstream media that here as in most cases either ignores strikes or portrays them through the prism of the inconvenience they cause. So-called “liberal” MSNBC mostly ignored the strike despite its national implications and continued the network’s confounding obsession with finding a Russian excuse for Hillary Clinton’s presidential election loss.

Ironically the strike took place as the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing the so-called “Janus” case aimed at stripping public employee unions of their ability to collect union dues from non-member employees who benefit from their collective bargaining efforts. The ruling could have significant impact on public employee unions across the country.

Back in early 1985, your Labor South reporter covered the historic 11-week public teacher strike in Mississippi. Teachers from across the state marched on the state Capitol in Jackson and finally won a $4,400-over-three-years pay raise agreement. However, in some ways, it was a Pyrrhic victory because the agreement came with a no-strike provision that would fine teacher organizations up to $20,000 a day for future strikes.

As the strike in West Virginia wore on this month, labor historians from far and wide came to the University of Mississippi to participate in a symposium on the 1930s organizing efforts of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America union in the South and elsewhere.

The union worked hard to organize both farm and factory workers at the height of the Great Depression but eventually focused on factory workers due to the legal and other difficulties organizing field workers.

“Strikes by field workers who can’t pay dues is costly and a problem,” said Jarod Roll of the University of Mississippi.

Field workers were often the most in need of union protection, yet they weren’t protected by national labor laws (thanks to the Southern Democrats in Congress) and the seasonal, nomadic nature of their work as well as their poverty and pitiably low wages made it difficult to organize them into a union.

(To the right, a Depression-era strike banner from the Southern Tenant Farmers Union on display at the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza, Arkansas)

Still, Roll said, one of the most dynamic labor stories of the 1930s was that of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, a bi-racial organization founded in the Arkansas Delta which joined UCAPAWA and which won key victories against recalcitrant Southern landowners.

Like the SFTU, the school teachers in West Virginia had the deck stacked against them, but they carried the day even if their victory isn’t across the board. What they did was send a message across the land that people are getting sick and tired of what’s happening in this country. They’re ready to stand up for their rights, and the powers that be better listen.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Mississippi: Rich in the arts, poor in politics. The state celebrates the legacy of its musicians, writers & artists while many of its legislators want to allow guns on college campuses and in football stadiums

(Tommy Igoe in Oxford, Mississippi)

OXFORD, Miss. – Jazz drummer and Birdland Big Band leader Tommy Igoe’s enthusiasm was contagious. The hundreds in the audience at the Gertrude C. Ford Center were clapping, smiling, nodding to each other as the Grammy Award-winning New Yorker explained his music.

“Charlie Parker is our hero up here,” he said, referring to the saxophone-playing jazz giant who along with trumpet-playing bandleader Dizzy Gillespie helped create bebop jazz in the 1940s. “Rebels and renegades. He blew up the false set of rules on improvisation. He had many detractors as well as fans. If you want to blow something up, people are going to hate you.”

As Igoe’s 10-piece band prepared to do Parker’s “Donna Lee”, Igoe added, “the best music should have a little danger to it. We’re keeping it way dangerous.”

What followed was a rousing rendition of Parker’s conversion of the old standard “Back Home Again in Indiana” to a bebop anthem. The band also played Gillespie’s Latin classic “Tin Tin Deo”, Count Basie’s “Deacon”, and even some jazz-infused Steely Dan music.

A few days later the Oxford Film Festival got underway featuring filmmakers and films from around the world as well as closer-to-home films such as “Dear Mr. Bryant”, a plea to Mississippi’s governor for tolerance, “Cowgirl Up” about a Mississippi cowgirl, and “Hand Made”, a short feature about Vaughn woodwork artist Greg Harkins.

I wandered through it all with a recurring thought about the sharp contrast between artistic Mississippi and political Mississippi. At the same time Mississippi is hosting and contributing to great music and film many of its political leaders are voting “Yes” to a bill that would allow citizens to carry guns on college campuses. SEC officials are already decrying the prospect of gun-wielding fans in crowded stadiums watching hotly contested football games.

A few days before Tommy Igoe’s band wowed his Oxford audience, news surfaced that the Department of Human Services in the nation’s poorest state had to return $13 million in federal funds aimed at providing childcare for poor families. Mississippi, which along with local governments was able to hand Continental Tire a $650 million incentives package to build a plant in the state, couldn’t come up with the matching funds needed to get the $13 million for poor children.

This is a state justly proud of its contributions to the nation’s musical, literary and artistic heritage. A likeness of Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner was on the cover of the Oxford Film Festival program this year. Very fitting as one of the best-known Big Screen renditions of a Faulkner story, “Intruder in the Dust”, was filmed in Oxford. In fact, the 1949 film, starring David Brian and Claude Jarman Jr., premiered in Oxford.

(To the right, William Faulkner, photo by Carl Van Vechten, 1954)

Country musician Marty Stuart recently announced he’s going to develop a country music museum and performance center in his Philadelphia, Mississippi, hometown. The museum will include Stuart’s own personal collection of 20,000 artifacts such as Patsy Cline’s boots, Johnny Cash’s black suit, and handwritten lyrics by Hank Williams.

“Mississippi is such a wellspring for so many different musical traditions for our country and for the world,” Smithsonian musical curator John Troutman told the Associated Press. He is an advisor for the Stuart project.

(Lester Young in 1944, LIFE magazine)

Add a country music museum to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Grammy Museum in Cleveland, and, of course, Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, and your next question is: Why not a jazz museum? Better known for its blues, Mississippi was also home to the great jazz bassist Milt Hinton (Vicksburg), pianist Mose Allison (Tippo), tenor sax genius Lester Young (Woodville), and modern-day jazz artists like singer-songwriter Cassandra Wilson (Jackson) and pianist Mulgrew Miller (Greenwood).

Yes, Mississippi loves and is rightly proud of its arts. Still, even with all that great jazz, country music, literature and let’s not forget painting and sculpture—from  Theora Hamblett (Oxford) and Walter Anderson (Ocean Springs) to Wyatt Waters (Clinton), many people first think of the blues when they think of Mississippi. The blues. Maybe the state’s politics have something to do with that.

This column was first published in the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Mississippi.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Labor South roundup: Union membership grows in the South; another effort to undermine public employee unions; a crusading newspaper in West Virginia files for bankruptcy; and the CWA fights for call workers in Mississippi

(The Battle of Blair Mountain, West Virginia, in 1921, one of the first major confrontations of the 20th century between Southern workers and company owners)

It’s time for another Labor South roundup, and this time we see union membership growing in the South despite two big losses in 2017, another case before the U.S. Supreme Court to undermine public employee unions, the bankruptcy of a crusading newspaper in West Virginia, and a fight by the Communications Workers of America for call center employees in Mississippi and beyond.

Dixie holds its own on the labor front despite two major hits in 2017

Facing South, the online magazine of the North Carolina-based Institute for Southern Studies, reports that union membership in the South rose by 130,000 to 2.3 million workers in 2017, increasing the percentage of workers in unions from 4.9 percent to 5 percent. While still less than half the 10.7 percent national rate, the South is at least moving forward rather than backward like membership in other parts of the country.

The numbers above don’t include the more than half a million Southern workers who enjoy the benefits of a unionized workplace but haven’t joined the union thanks to the so-called “right to work” laws in place across the region.

The region suffered two major setbacks in 2017: the lopsided vote against unionization at Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina, plant in February—nearly three-fourths of voting workers cast their ballots against the union; and the August vote against unionization that took place at Nissan’s plant in Canton, Mississippi. In both cases, however, state political and business leaders joined in a phalanx of opposition, spreading fear and intimidation via personal meetings with workers and anti-union ads on television.

“While these stinging defeats garnered national and international attention—and new speculation about the fate of labor in the South—the latest government data shows unions in the South were able to maintain their numbers, in part due to support from younger workers,” Facing South’s Chris Kromm wrote in his article.

Kromm cites a study that shows 76 percent of the union membership gains in 2017 came from workers under the age of 35.  A good sign for the future!

Another effort to weaken and even destroy public employee unions

The U.S. Supreme Court later this month will hear the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, a blatant effort by the state of Illinois to impose a so-called “right to work” rule on public employees, challenging unions’ right to collect dues from nonmembers for collective bargaining.

A similar effort was made two years ago in the Friedrichs. v. California Teachers Association case. The death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia before a ruling left the high court with a 4-4 tie on that case.

The Catholic Bishops of the United States issued an amicus brief last month supporting the AFSCME. Catholic bishops “have long and consistently supported the right of workers to organize for purposes of collective bargaining,” the group’s brief says. “Because this right is substantially weakened by so-called `right-to-work’ laws, many bishops—in their dioceses, through their state conferences, and through their national conference—have opposed or cast doubt on such laws, and no U.S. bishop has expressed support for them.”

The legendary labor priest, Monsignor George Higgins, once had this to say about those who claim “freedom of speech” as a justification for avoiding paying union dues: such a claim is “too absolute and extreme … the requirement of financial support for the union (is) a legitimate limitation on such a broad freedom.”

Also joining the fight for the union is the American Association of University Professors. “Public employees and supporters of public services and higher education from coast to coast will join hands in solidarity actions against the attacks on working people,” AAUP General Counsel Risa Lieberwitz and Senior Staff Counsel Aaron Nisenson said in a statement.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case February 26 with a decision expected by the end of the Court’s term in June.

A crusading West Virginia newspaper files for bankruptcy

I’ve long been a distant admirer of the Charleston Gazette in Charleston, West Virginia, and particularly its reporter, Ken Ward Jr., who covers the coal industry.

Eight months after winning a Pulitzer for its hard-hitting reportage, the newspaper has filed for bankruptcy. Declining circulation and a costly, federally challenged purchase of a competing newspaper in the city were factors leading to the filing.

A sale by the owning Chilton family to a buyer could extend the life of the paper, but many worry whether it will lose the cutting edge that allowed it to expose “corruption, greed and incompetence” for decades, New York Times writer Niraj Chokshi wrote recently.

In 2011, the newspaper called for the federal government to restore the designation of Blair Mountain in West Virginia as a historic site to protect it from those wanting to strip mine it. Blair Mountain was the site of a bloody confrontation between striking miners and machine gun-wielding thugs and deputies in 1921, an event that became in the words of a Charleston Gazette editorial “America’s biggest armed insurrection since the Civil War.”

The site got the federal designation in 2009 but then lost that designation in a delisting in 2011. A federal judge then in 2016 ruled against the delisting. The U.S. Department of the Interior appealed that ruling but later dropped its appeal.

In September 2002, reporter Ward put the lie to President Bush’s pat on the back to the “Quecreek Nine” after their rescue from a Pennsylvania coal mine. “His administration has done all it can to dismantle the safeguards meant to prevent coal miners from dying on the job,” Ward wrote in the magazine In These Times. “Since taking office in January 2001, Bush has proposed mine safety budget cuts, halted regulatory improvements and reduced enforcement efforts.”

CWA challenges General Dynamics’ treatment of its call workers in Mississippi and elsewhere

The Communications Workers of America wants the Wage and House Division of the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate alleged wage violations by General Dynamics Information Technology Inc.

The union says the company pays its call agents “at a lower prevailing wage than their job duties merit.” The workers assist callers on enrollment in and questions about Medicare, Medicaid and other government services.

Approximately 2,000 workers at the call center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, could see their wages rise from $3,600 to nearly $6,600 annually if the federal government required the company to classify and pay them properly, the union says. The company challenges these claims and even CWA’s right to make them since the workers aren’t members of the union.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Migrant families caught in a broken immigration system and torn apart because of it

(Father Michael McAndrew)

OXFORD, Miss. – Rigoberto Salas, his wife, and their five children of nearby Batesville, Mississippi, were elated last March when a Homeland Security court in Jena, Louisiana, agreed to cancel an order that would have deported Salas back to his native Mexico. Still, he was held in detention pending a federal appeal.

Eight months later the Immigration Board of Appeals reversed the court decision and ordered him deported due to his lack of documentation. He has lived in the United States since 1992.  His children, aged 3 to 14, grew up here.

Despite testimony that “two of his daughters are suffering from depression, his son suffers from learning disabilities and is in special education classes, and his youngest daughter is having nightmares and waking up screaming at night,” the Board of Appeals decided the children “will be cared for and supported” by their mother even though she is also undocumented. The Salas family has appealed this decision.

The Salas family is one of many in Mississippi and across the country caught in the madness of the immigration debate and politicians’ failure to pass real and meaningful reform of a broken system. As nationally syndicated columnist Michael Reagan, son of the former president, wrote recently, these families have become “a bargaining chip” in the battles between Republicans, Democrats and President Trump.

Trump owes his presidency in part to his demagoguery of the immigrant issue. He has ordered the end to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the program that provides some protection to undocumented children. He continues his ridiculous demand for a 1000-mile, $20 billion wall on the Mexican border.

Like Trump, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant occupies the state’s highest office in part because of his own anti-immigrant blusterings, including a highly questioned claim that migrant workers cost the state $25 million a year (where’s the thanks for rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina?).

Migrant workers came to the United States in droves after NAFTA was signed in 1994. Countless numbers farmed small plots or held other jobs that NAFTA destroyed. The legendary independent journalist John Ross explained it succinctly: NAFTA “dumped so much bad corn in Mexico that millions … abandoned their homes and headed north.”

Even Trump recognizes that NAFTA was a bad deal, but he fails to make the connect to the hard-working migrants who had to leave behind home, extended family, and culture to make a livelihood for their loved ones.

“There are forces that crush the spirit of people on the move,” Father Michael McAndrew wrote in his 2013 book Migrant Faith.  Based in Greenwood and Bruce, Mississippi, the Catholic priest has worked with migrant workers for decades. “There is the separation from loved ones. There are feelings of guilt when the migrant is unable to be present with a parent or relative when they are ill or dying.”

Then there are those torn from their families and forced to return after building a new life here for years.

Seven days after the birth of his third child in March 2017, Miguel Torres of Batesville found himself in the custody of federal immigration officers and soon deported from the land he had called home for 15 years. Martin Duron of Greenwood, father of five, was a prospering businessman in irrigation systems management and on the parish council of his church in April 2017 when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested him. He and his family departed for Mexico in June.  

ICE arrests have increased 40 percent under Trump. Last year judges rejected 60 percent of those seeking asylum in the United States. Often those returning to Mexico do so in great danger.

Deportees are “prime targets for crime, since they (are) presumed to have money,” writes Sarah Stillman in a recent article on the issue in the New Yorker. 

“`Why do Americans hate Mexicans?’” a young Mexican named Samantha once asked Father McAndrew during a 2007 sabbatical in Mexico. “It was a question filled with pain and simply not understanding the animosity of so many Americans.”

It’s a question that shouldn’t have to be asked.

This column appeared recently in the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Mississippi.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Labor South Roundup: Organizing in the Big Easy, a pro-union U.S. Senator in Alabama, and a new Poor People's Campaign out of North Carolina

(The Rev. William Barber II of North Carolina during a visit to Selma, Alabama, in 2015)

Looking ahead at 2018 reveals some few hopeful signs on the horizon despite the scary mess in the White House and continuing Republican rule across much of the land.

Organizing in the Big Easy

In New Orleans, workers in the hospitality industry have organized to improve their lives at the workplace, a grassroots effort that is showing some real promise. A recent article in Gambit by Kat Stromquist says members of the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee (NOHWC) want to stop “the manager who skims tips from employees” and stop the practice making waitstaff pay “for kitchen mistakes out of their paychecks.”

They’d also like a “guaranteed 40-hour work week and a chance to earn overtime.”

Tourism is a big industry in post-Katrina New Orleans with 10.45 million people going to the Big Easy in 2016 and spending $7.41 billion while there, Stromquist reports.

Yet hospitality workers earn some of the lousiest wages in New Orleans, generally less than $10 an hour.

The NOHWC has proposed a 10-point Work Week Ordinance to give workers more say in their working lives, including input into scheduling and shift assignments.

A year ago this month, approximately 500 workers in the hotel industry joined UNITE HERE Local 2262, which already had representation at Harrahs New Orleans Hotel and Casino, Loew's New Orleans Hotel, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

It’s Fair to Hope in Alabama

Democrat Doug Jones’ victory over Neanderthal Roy Moore in the recent U.S. Senate race may be just some kind of quirk to Fox News, but it provides a platform for a proud, much needed pro-union voice in the millionaires’ club known as the Senate.

Jones is the grandson of card-carrying union member steelworkers, and Jones himself was a steelworkers member at US Steel Fairfield Works during his college summers. He boasted of his union ties while on the campaign trail.

An openly pro-union Democrat from the Deep South in Congress? The Clintonistas must be as disgruntled about that as Republicans!

A Poor People’s Campaign coming out of North Carolina

The Rev. William Barber II, leader of North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement and one of the most dynamic social justice advocates in the country today, helped launched a new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in December, taking inspiration from the Poor People’s campaign that Martin Luther King Jr. started 50 years earlier in December 1967.

According to Facing South, the campaign has “plans for massive civil disobedience at state legislatures to challenge regressive public policies that hurt the poor.”

Martin Luther King is smiling from heaven.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Hoping for fewer Scrooges among the politicians in charge in Mississippi

(1870s depiction by Fred Barnard of Bob Cratchit holding Tiny Tim)

This was my Christmas 2017 column for the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Mississippi, a column that looks to Charles Dickens to give us some hope for better things in 2018.

OXFORD, Miss. – I settled comfortably into my favorite chair one recent night and popped in a DVD of the best Christmas movie ever, the 1951 version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.

No one ever portrayed a better Ebenezer Scrooge than Scottish actor Alastair Sim, who plays to perfection the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” whose ghost-and-spirit-inspired conversion later in the story will have him declaring, “I’m not the man I was!”

“I have endeavored in this ghostly little book to raise the ghost of an idea,” Dickens once wrote about his 1843 tale. “May it haunt (readers’) pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it by.”

I’ve seen the film a dozen times, yet I keep discovering new things in it. “You were a good man of business,” Scrooge tells the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley. “Business!” cries out Marley, rattling the heavy chains his life of greed and lack of compassion for the poor earned him in eternity. “Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business!”

Dickens scholar Norrie Epstein says the writer “never failed to weep” whenever he read his story out loud.  I’m afraid he’d be sobbing uncontrollably today if he saw how his “ghost of an idea” has fallen on deaf ears.

Here in Mississippi, nearly one out of every three children live in poverty worse than that of Tiny Tim, whose father Bob Cratchit is so poorly paid by Scrooge than he can’t get Tim the medical treatment he needs to save his life.

In fact, Tiny Tim might consider himself fortunate even to be alive if he were in Mississippi, which has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation. Mississippians are more likely to die prematurely than people from any other state. The fact is Mississippians, young or old, typically don’t live as long as people from other states.

When Bob Cratchit begs to take Christmas day off, Scrooge grumbles, “a poor excuse to pick a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December.” Who knows how the old miser (before his conversion) would’ve reacted if Bob had slipped and hurt himself after coming back to work on December 26?

Probably much like Mississippi’s Republican leadership. With their gutting of the state’s Workers’ Compensation protections in 2012, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and his fellow Scrooges in the state Legislature have made sure workers here are the nation’s least compensated for work-related injuries and thus the least protected. They are among the country’s most at-risk workers. A Mississippi worker is twice as likely to be killed on the job as the typical U.S. worker.

In fact, no one really knows how bad workers have it here in Mississippi because this is one of the nine states that refuse to collect reliable data on serious workplace injuries. Yet hear Gov. Bryant’s response to the 2012 Workers’ Compensation gutting—which added a host of hurdles for workers to jump before they can qualify for compensation: Mississippi has “the most job-friendly environment in America.” Friendly for whom? You know.

Here’s another way to say it: employers in Mississippi don’t have to worry about the “humbug” of being responsible for the safety of their workers.

Like Dickens himself, I confess to shedding a tear or two every time I get toward the end of “A Christmas Carol”. After Jacob Marley scares the wits out of the skinflint and then the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future do their work on him, Scrooge is a changed man. No more is he the soulless moneylender who tells a Christmas donation seeker that the poor might be better off dead. That way they could help “decrease the surplus population.”

At the end, Scrooge is indeed a new man, one whom people would come to say, “no man could keep Christmas as well as Ebenezer Scrooge.”

Dickens offers us hope at the end of his tale. Indeed, isn’t hope the very heart of the Christmas story? Maybe there’s hope even in poor ol’ Mississippi, hope that political leaders one day will see in those less fortunate a common humanity—not simply shirkers or ne’er-do-wells—and thus realize “their common welfare” is the business of us all.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Christmas Carol revisited, and an immigrant family's search for refuge


(Charles Dickens)

Christmas is just around the corner, and I've pulled out my "Ultimate Collector's Edition" DVD of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens' wonderful story of the Cratchit family and mean old Ebeneezer Scrooge, whose greedy, miserly descendants are many today with few of them likely to experience a ghost-and-spirit-induced conversion! 

Of course, the DVD version I have is the best in my opinion, Alastair Sim's masterful portrayal of Scrooge in the 1951 version of the film.

Ah, Scrooge, the moneylender who, as Dickens expert Norrie Epstein has written, "controls others by keeping them in his debt." Sound familiar? Today, it's entire nations in bottomless debt, and their Scrooge is the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Union, and hedge fund operators on Wall Street.

Then there's Scrooge, the "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" who begrudges his poor clerk Bob Cratchit ever hour away from the chains of his desk. Pick a modern-day corporation--Nissan or Walmart's a good place to begin--and there you have an example of the descendants of Scrooge.

"I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an idea," Dickens once wrote. "May it haunt (readers') houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it by."

I'm sorry to say the folks who most need to read Dickens probably don't and never will.

Below is another familiar tale, my version of which I first presented back in 2010. I've re-published it several times in this space, and I offer it again this year for pondering as, I sincerely hope, all of you have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Here it is:

(The Holy Family's flight to Egypt, as depicted by Giotto)

They were descendants of immigrants who themselves became immigrants.

Soon after the baby arrived, a dream came to the father that the little family would have to leave their homeland if they were to survive. Even the life of an innocent child was in danger in their homeland.

So the three of them—father, mother and child—left their tiny village and embarked on a treacherous journey through the desert wilderness. They were very poor and had little more than the clothes on their backs.

They traveled by day and by night, ever fearful they might be captured or attacked, until they finally crossed the border. They brought no documentation with them, only their humility and the father’s willingness to work hard to support his family.

He was a trained craftsman, good with his hands, and his work was valued even if he was paid so little he could never hope to rise out of his poverty. With his teenage wife tending to their baby, he went out among the people to earn bread and shelter for them.

He heard the whisperings among those in this new land. They called him and his family foreigners, outsiders, and even illegal aliens, as if they had come from the moon and their very existence was something less than human, a violation of not only the law of the land but also God’s law.

“They’re just here to take our jobs, to feed, house, and clothe themselves at our expense,” he heard one of them say.

“They don’t even take the time to learn our language,” said another.

“Why are they even here? Is their own country not good enough for them? Perhaps they’re spies,” said yet another.

“The way people like these spawn they’ll soon be everywhere, expecting their new offspring to be treated equally just because they were born here, like so many little anchors for their illegal parents. Anchor babies, that’s what they’ll be.”

Some of these whisperings came from the very people who benefited from his labors. They would say these things as soon as they walked away from the worksite and rejoined their neighbors and friends. Local leaders heard the comments, too, and saw an advantage in such fears, prejudice, and suspicions. So they began to talk among the crowds and, being leaders, talked loudest of all, loud enough for everyone to hear.

Even some of the priests joined the chorus, invoking God’s judgment from their pulpits, condemning the strangers for breaking the law and taking advantage of people’s hospitality.

The father and mother, already homesick, longed for their faraway families and friends. They knew many did not welcome them in this strange land, but they also feared for their child’s life if they returned home. Did their little child have any idea of all the troubles that surrounded them?

The father remembered how his ancestors had been immigrants to this very land many generations before and had prospered here, but then a new leader had turned them into slaves and they had left. Now he and his wife and child had returned because their own land had become hostile. When would it all end? Where was there a refuge?

Eventually the father, whose namesake had been a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams, had yet another dream, and this one told him the time had come to return home. So he and his wife packed their belongings, wrapped up their child to keep it warm, and journeyed back to their homeland. They had to be careful. Dangers still lurked, but at least they were home.

And back in the strange land where they had sought refuge, some indeed missed them. “He did good work,” one said. “You know, they never really bothered anyone,” another said.

But these voices were quickly drowned out by the leaders and their priests who cried “Good riddance!” and then looked for others to condemn.