Sunday, August 30, 2009

I did go home again!

WE SPENT A pleasant weekend refreshed by a reintroduction to old friends and the serenity of the Laurel Highlands in Western Pennsylvania. The occasion was a high school class reunion -Number 60 by hard count! - and despite the tiny size of the original class at Ramsay High School in Mt. Pleasant, there are still enough of us around to guarantee that the event was worth the effort by classmate Al Maida and his team.

Although Nancy has wondered about the accuracy of some of the weird stories I've occasionally recycled from my hometown days, her suspicions were erased as my classmates assured her that the stories were true. There was clear memory of the medicine show that came to town in which I had been hired as a pianist. Vince Balcerek, who hung out with me on the cold vacant sidewalk in front of my uncle's restaurant on Main St. at night because there was nothing else to do, remembered more about my relatives than I did. And Dr. Ed Levin, an amiable straight-A student with no airs about his talents, easily recalled the classmate, a coal miner's son, who had trouble pronouncing Hamlet and MacBeth in Mrs. Haberlin's English class. (It was Hamleth, and MacBett., for heaven's sake.) And all agreed that it was not wise to anger any of our stern high school teachers.

But beyond the camaraderie of a single Saturday evening dinner among friends, the gathering had a sense of balance, good humor and quiet respect that one doesn't often find in a crazy world. Joined by a 60-year bond, I was able to feel temporarily unchallenged by our routine encounters with the ugliness of the daily news.

Mt. Pleasant is the other side of a modern mobile world. There are still a number of classmates who remained in the little town and made a decent life for themselves, some calling it a night after another Steelers football game. (I snuck out from the dinner table for another update of the exhibition game between Pittsburgh and Buffalo that was on the TV above the bar in the next room.) These folks are just as aware of the swirl of happenings beyond their hometown as the rest of us, I'm sure. But on this welcoming night in Nino's restaurant, with dinner plates brimming with roast beef, chicken and pasta, we all preferred to live in the personal encampment of our shared past.

No one tried to exalt the town for anything more than it is: A slowly shrinking population with a stagnation that is worrisome without a remedy. All of the town's nearby coal mines and the five nationality schools have closed. Some of the family restaurants have vanished. The high school has moved to another site. On the upside, a Holiday Inn Express has opened near town. As Al Maida sighed, it's still a town worth everyone's good intentions and feeling. It is what it is. Home.

So yes, I escaped into the past and it was good to see that remaining gang again, talk about things that are now anecdotal keepers and let the rest of an often deranged world slip by unnoticed.

This was our third reunion over the past 10 years. Some of us suggested to Maida that we ought get smart and start holding them every year rather than wait another five years. He thought it would be good idea, too. Besides, everyone should be blessed with a small town to think about from time to time.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rove's GOP: The Grand Opposition Party

HOW ABOUT that fellow Karl Rove. While we were busy finding fault with him as a slippery back-alley dealer, he pops up at a fund-raiser in Utah to deliver an honest assessment of his party. The statement, which should be bronzed:
"This year is going to be defined by Republicans and conservatives by what we oppose."

That ringing endorsement of the Party of No comes awfully close to what Groucho Marx once asserted:
"Whatever it is, I'm against it."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Now there are no leaders on Capitol Hill

SEN. TED KENNEDY'S uniquely towering stature in Congress on behalf of the nation has challenged some of his political colleagues to find words on how he might be replaced to move forward with his powerful commitment. That, unfortunately, is a foolish pursuit. He can't be replaced. It not only says much about his own worthiness as a humane figure amid the bruising political brawl of Washington, but also of the barren ground on Capitol Hill these days. Where to turn for leadership today amid the invective that passes itself off as loyal opposition? To John McCain? Harry Reid? Orrin Hatch? Mitch McConnell? Max Baucus? Put the best of their meager talents together and you won't find a hint of leadership. Only arid politicians who are unable to see beyond the trees.

Kennedy went about his work with determined interest and - yes it can be said in a town where pettiness and well-oiled self-interest rule - class. Faultless? Of course not. We all know that story from his past. Certainly he was partisan - a liberal Democrat to the end. But petty. self-consciously in need to award himself merit badges as a crass political operative with his next campaign solely in mind - never. Forever the optimist about what's possible but yet undelivered in America - always and always.

Even in death, his mystique is undiminished as some of his colleagues are proposing to attach his name to a health care reform bill that he long fought for in hopes that it will spur action. Who else could claim that honor on the Senate floor? And at what Town Hall meeting?

I have a photograph of Kennedy taken as I trailed behind him and the late United Rubber Workers chief Peter Bommarito at one of the Akron rubber plants. Although he was a wealthy prince of a family dynasty, Kennedy fervently supported the welfare of the workers and promised to work for them in whatever way he could help. That was back in the 1970s, To no one's surprise, he kept his word. For his long service to the nation, it could be said that he never lost sight of the forest while others dallied at the base of a tree.

There will be a void.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sen . McConnell: The hapless hypocrite etc.

HAS THERE EVER been a more hapless hypocrite than Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate? McConnell a Medicare-eligible deadpan who should have been dismissed to his Old Kentucky Home years ago, has been an ardent critic of the stimulus program and once sniffed: "You do have to wonder, though, whether the stimulus has had any impact at all."

Yet, there he was, at the Blue Grass Army Depot construction site in Madison County, Kentucky, puffing up his efforts to finance the site, boasting: " This is going to be a source of significant employment. At the peak, we could have up to 600 people working on this, and we believe the substantial majority of those workers will be Kentuckians."

Guess what? No fair. You peeked. The stimulus package picked up $5,876,000 of the construction tab. Such hypocrisy has become quite common for stimulus opponents, from McConnell , Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford down to the Tea Partying Robart Administration in Cuyahoga Falls. As for McConnell, don't you think he should stop wondering?

* * * *
What's that!?!?!!? A new phrase has arrived to describe the health-care debate: Honest truth.
The redundancy appeared in a headline above an Op-Ed Beacon Journal column by conservative Charles Krauthammer, as in: The honest truth about end-of-life counseling. If any of you are aware of a rogue dishonest truth, I'll be happy to post it.

* * * *

The passing of Ted Kennedy has already given the Republicans' fascination with death a new platform to resist health-care reform in nefarious ways. The latest to speculate on what Kennedy would have done to defog the so-called debate is Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, another of the party's safely ensconced Medicare-eligible white guys who are out to spare America from
outrageous fortune. Without fear of contradiction from the deceased, Bond now presumes that Kennedy would be the man of the moment in resolving the health-care stalemate. Says Bond:

"I believe that Ted Kennedy, if he were there, would signal time out and let's go back and work together."

How collegial, even if it is fiction. Kennedy is no longer there, so what else do you now have in mind, Senator, to reassemble the inertial proceedings? By the way, LBJ isn't available, either. And by the way a second time, what's a good Missouri Republican doing saying nice things about a senator who declared at the Democratic Convention that universal health care is a right, not a privilege - the opposite of what the Republican mantra would have us believe these days. ?

PS: The reason I make occasional reference to "Medicare-eligible white guys" is that it is pregnant with meaning. The guys are, in fact, crinkly white, and are, in fact, Medicare-eligible. You have to pass a certain age for the latter. .

Monday, August 24, 2009

If it sounds like madness....

IN HER book, A Distant Mirror, a voluminous account of the troubled 14th Century, Barbara Tuchman writes of the collapse of French King Charles VI's mind - insanity. "Madness," she keenly observes, "was familiar in the Middle Ages in all its varieties."

In some respects, I find that consoling to those of us who have been forced to witness a total collapse of some of those weaker links who are trying to infuse the public with the evils of public health insurance. Since President Obama took office and continued to raise a subject that carried him through his election campaign, his opponents are all but resorting to the Medieval culprits of witchcraft and sorcery to deceive the public.

The vanguard of opposition includes some Medicare-eligible (!) Republican and Democratic senators who could care less about the wisdom of single payer health care than they do about putting Obama in his place. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the witless Iowa Republican, has been changing his position on health care reform by the hour, first scaring his town hall audience that you can throw your grandma under a bus, or wherever, with a provision in the bill that Sarah Palin narrowed down with the simplicity that even a moose could appreciate - death panel. Then Grassley sort of recanted by lying, asserting that it was the Obama crowd that was guilty of overplaying the "death panel" card while he was trying to play with a full deck. Finally, he insisted that when he spoke to his town hall, he was merely repeating Obama's words and meant no harm by it. The man insults himself and all mindfully alert 75-year-olds every time he sets out to explain what he last said by contradicting himself. .

Next comes Sen. Max Baucus, the conservative Montana Democrat who has a death lock on his Senate Finance Committee that's working on a bill. But he may want to check his state's latest polls. Not encouraging for his line of work.

I was beginning to enjoy some relief from the absence of Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut's hybrid contribution of a man for all seasons - Democrat, McCain supporter, Independent. A moralistic whiner, Joe was back on the tube Sunday maintaining that although health care is a serious moral concern, Obama-style health care reform should wait for a fix until after the recession, whenever that may be. But he could change his mind tomorrow.

Finally, there were John McCain and Orrin Hatch, two septuagenarians who say a health-care bill would be ready to pass if Sen. Ted kennedy were in charge of its fate. Minor problem: Back in the 90s, when Kennedy did offer a plan, McCain and Hatch voted against it.

It's maddening. Clearly not all of the farmers are in their dells these days. Back in the days of Mad King Charles all sorts of quacks came forward with their miracle potions to restore his mind. Today, the opposite is true. It's the quacks who are in need of the miracle potions.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Grumpy Abe's first anniversary

THE WEEK END MARKED the first anniversary of the Grumpy Abe blog. Not with a patio party and presents or anything like that. Has it been a year already? It has, and nobody anticipated more than I did that at some point I would say , to hell with it, and go about my other business. After all, it wasn't my idea in the first place. I knew nothing about the technology of blogging and cared less. Blogging was for the younger hip writers and chatterboxes. But I finally relented at the urging of friends and 333 posts later - having never taken anybody's advice to shut up - Grumpy Abe will begin a second year.

In many respects. it was a reprise of my newspaper/magazine years. The only difference, I suppose, is that I once got paid for what I now do for nothing. It's also been an educational experience that connected me daily to the absurdities of the political world , some of which I could not express in a family newspaper. Big-name infidelity and the domination of Rush Limbaugh, the Great White Whale, over the Republican Party always trumped all else in the national media.

My initiation into blogging occurred a few days before the Democratic Presidential convention and it immediately raised a few eyebrows that it was nothing more than an ad hoc deliverance of liberal propaganda to my conservative friends. The word propaganda morphed into socialism among right-wingers who often struggle with their command of the language. To that extent, I fooled them. Call it what you will - but it wasn't ad hoc. The year also further isolated me from all of the moderns who spoke mostly with tweets when they should have been reading a good book.

One year being a nice round measure of time, I went back over my dog-eared notebooks for a refresher course on what had NOT yet happened when the blog was born. Without trying to arrange history in chronological order - my notes are too scattered - here are some items that I think should make trivial history drawn from the past 12 months:

  • The forever accommodating and clownish Rep. Michele Bachmann, the court-jester Republican from Minnesota, monumentally declared that she would vote against the stimulus bill because "we are running out of rich people in this country." At the time, I could only wonder what was the absolute minimum of rich people that the country needed to survive.

  • There was John McCain struggling for safe passage to the presidency (a matter of natural selection?) as the GOP's temporary pater familias accusing Democrats of "generational theft," this from the nominee of a party that still claims Abraham Lincoln as its soul in a clear case of identity theft..

  • If you really wanted to feel teensy weensy small, you had only to heed Dr. Alan Bess, of the Carnegie Institution of Science, who told us there could be 100 billion planets in our galaxy. And we have all we can do to manage just one!

  • This quote from the late John Kenneth Galbraith was somehow revived and would not have pleased the Alan Greenspans of our land: "If all the economists were laid end to end - it would be a good thing."

  • It was not until September that we learned that an obscure Alaskan governor, Sarah Palin, might be useful in launching McCain into the White House with a wink and a lack of brain gloss about world affairs. On election day, I heartily thanked Barack Obama for protecting us from the travesty of a hockey mom a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Why would a major - well sort of major - political party trade on such an unthinkable risk, stooping so low to conquer? And her sponsor, William Kristol, a wily front-and-back channel Neocon, took another hit when the New York Times dropped his column for erratic probity.

  • The year also produced a galaxy of names with varying claims to a savaged honor system: Rod Blagojevich, Miss Tia, John Ensign, Bobby Jindal, Mark Sanford, Warner Mendenhall, John Edwards, Joe the Plumber and Wasilla. Jindal, by the way, came and went before I got a chance to really know him.

  • George Bush remained the president until January, but by then, he had opted out of the photo-op. He was a reminder of Disraeli's complaint that the British Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, was "sauntering over the destinies of a nation and lounging away the glory of an empire."

  • Gadgets called iPhones forced their way into my vocabulary, but I didn't write about them because I could never remember whether the "i" or the "P" was capitalized. Too often I confused the word with a Greek play by Euripides. On the other hand, the only communication that suffered still more the past year was the the slow death by strangulation of the nation's newspapers.

  • Some things never changed the past year.Silvio Berlusconi still made light of his young girlfriends, a habit that cost him no more than 2 points in Italy's popularity polls, for which he declared proudly that Italians liked him "the way I am." Can you imagine how the same story would have played if it were an American president?

  • One of the winners in the summer months of media attention to health care reform was Dick Cheney, who flew under he radar regarding his ghoulish performance on torture , leaving him apparently still at large.

  • The final word on the year cames from George Bush, who boasted in the dismal end that he was happy with how it all turned out for him, explaining: "What matters to me is I didn't compromise my soul to be a popular guy." To which I would respond: "Sorry, George. It wouldn't have worked anyway."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Robart moment: Falls Tea party

WELL, THE folks at Cuyahoga Falls City Hall must be in a stage of extreme ecstasy today. A Tea Party event Wednesday evening drew thousands of protestors to damn the federal government and put an end to taxes, government programs, deficit spending and the Obama Administration. Republican Mayor Don Robart, one of the event's leading citizens as well as a government employe himself, told an interviewer that people are fed up with the "massive increase in government" and failed Obama programs like the stimulus package's "lack of effectiveness" and the "health care thing." He hoped the Tea Parties would continue to flourish.

From the reports I read, there was the usual amount of attacks on socialism, and a Hitlerian president, much of it inspired by medieval crackpots like Glenn Beck. But Robart was obviously out to inspire the crowd, without regard to the fact that he was biting the hand that has long fed his island-like political enclave. For starters there has been the flow of federal cash into community projects. And even his proud guest, the Cleveland Orchestra's summer visits to Blossom Music Center, depends on cash from the National Endowment for the Arts, for which it is ever grateful.

When the mayor starts obtusely condemning cash flow from D.C., he is clearly out of his league. He could prove me wrong, of course, and simply reject one more dollar from socialists in Washington.

FOOTNOTE: While the stimulus program was being declared DOA, two items might have caught somebody's attention when they weren't raising their fists at the Tea Party. Stimulus money created summer jobs for more than 13,000 Ohio young people. Oh, and Bill Seigferth, president of Akron Education Assn., reported that stimulus money opened 73 new teacher jobs in the city. And in the same batch, General Motors said the Cash for Clunkers program has been so successful that it will return more than 1,000 workers to their jobs in Lordstown.

The econmy isn't out of the woods yet, but are Robart and friends so blind not to see a little daylight that will mean a lot to other folks. The answer: Yes.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On how not to be a good sport

THE CLEVELAND BROWNS' decision to charge $25 for parking might encourage fans to take alternate action and dock their cars at the Lake Erie marina. It's something to think about when the team's new coach, Eric Mangini, laments that uninspired practice sessions mean that the players are tired.....One other pro football note: Brett Favre is tiresome.

Auto fatalities vs. life expectancy in U.S.?

WE NOW KNOW why the U.S. lags so many other countries in life expectancy. It has nothing to do with the comparative quality of our health care. Rather, we lower our longevity rate because we have more homicides and auto fatalities. At least that's an argument by conservative columnist Steve Chapman on today's Beacon Journal Op-Ed page. Right.

In a half-page spread that reads like an emancipation proclamation for our entire health-care industry, Chapman cites a study by two conservative academics in a book that came out in 2006 titled The Business of Health. The authors are Robert L. Ohsfeldt, a professor in the Texas A&M School of Rural Health who once worked for Eli Lilly; and John E. Schneider, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa.

Although I haven't seen anybody argue that our health care is shabby - it's not! - quality is one of the defense arguments for those who oppose health care reforms - as does Chapman when he cites homicides and auto accidents. The issues are cost containment for all and coverage for the uninsured, whose health care cost is now passed on to hospitals and those of us lucky enough to have Medicare, an idea once disdained by Republicans who are now out to minimize or defeat reforms. In Chapman's long argument to the jury, I noticed that he carefully avoided the cost issue for all of us as a burden that is driving some workers to give up their insurance coverage altogether because they can't afford monthly company co-pay of $600-$7oo.

All of this recalls the time when a lunch partner defended some horrendous big U.S. casualties in Iraq by citing the number of Americans killed on their highways at home.

Oh, well. The national media (read: television and op-ed columnists) are having a yummy time focusing on a Mr. or Mrs. "X" at Town Hall meeting suggesting that Obama ought to leave the country or that free medical coverage is not covered in the Constitution. Oh? Nor is Medicare and Social Security. Socialistic? You bet. Everybody who wants to give them up, raise your hand.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The curse of Moses Cleaveland


  • A friend who is a Cleveland sports fan raises troubling questions after each loss, among them: What is it about Cleveland? A... It's the Moses Cleaveland curse! When the surveyors drew up the first maps of the settlement founded by Cleaveland, they dropped the "a" from his name. Horrified, he cast an eternal curse on the place. Or something like that. Won't make any difference whether Quinn, Anderson or Kosar is the quarterback. Moses was here first.
  • As the White House hopes for a public option in health care continue to vaporize, I'll have to repeat my theory that Democrats have no guts, and Republicans have no conscience. The second part of that is that Republicans take no prisoners while Democrats willingly allow themselves to be the prisoners.
  • Now that former congressman Dick Armey is making the rounds with his bloated Texas-size ego guiding the narrative of Tea Parties, he would seem to be a perfect dance partner for another Texan, Tom DeLay, in a record breaking 20 second marathon on the ballroom floor. What is it about Texas?
  • Imagine how much better life would be if all of the things promised by the TV commercials were really true. Even half-true!
  • Pity the poor company executives who are giving up choice seats for themselves and clients at baseball games because they don't want anybody to think that they are wasting big dollars on corporate excesses. Seems a rather strange sacrifice to me since millions of corporate dollars are being wasted on the .221 hitters in the dugout.

Monday, August 17, 2009

DeLay dancing with stars in his eyes, etc.


  • After watching the painful evolution of a health care reform plan, I have concluded that there may be some things on Capitol Hill that money can't buy. But offhand, I can't think of any...
  • Now that a desperate audience seeking TV world has invited Tom DeLay, a scoundrel of the first rank, to appear on Dancing with the Stars, may we next see a guest appearance by Sarah Palin on Jeopardy? I would pay to see Rush Limbaugh as a pole dancer at Tony Soprano's Bada Bing. Hokier than DeLay on Dancing with the Stars? I think not.
  • How many more national sponsors must Glenn Beck lose before Fox owner Rupert Murdoch, always the bottom-line guy, decide to replace him with old Frankenstein movies to lighten up the fare?
  • Wednesday evening's Tea Party on the Riverfront Mall in Cuyahoga Falls will doubtless have a lot of fussn' about government and taxes in general. As I have mentioned earlier, it is billed as "non political" even though Mayor Don Robart and a legislative candidate, both Republicans, are featured speakers. But considering how much federal and state money has touched down in the city, it might be unwise to complain too much about some of the hands that are feeding the Falls. One example: a $750,000 "neighborhood stabilization" grant from Uncle Sam. Well, as Nikita Khruschchev was fond of saying, "What's mine is mine, and what's yours is negotiable."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It depends on whose race is being gored

THERE WAS A story and photo in Sunday's paper that reported the arrest of a 20-year-old woman who was charged with a bank robbery attempt in Cuyahoga Falls. Aside from the oddity of a young woman being the suspect, I also noted another element in the case: she was white.

We are at a time when racial innuendo and worse appear to be on the rise with a segment of the public particularly abusive about Barack Obama's arrival at the White House. That was demonstrated once again by the North Canton police dispatcher who e-mailed a photo-shopped Air Force One with the N-word on the tail. She couldn't stop laughing, she said. Oh?

So I had to wonder how many of the white readers reacted when the picture of a young white woman accompanied the robbery story. Were they as indifferent to the woman's skin color as they might have been if she had been an African American, Asian or Latino or anybody else not in the the reader's comfort zone? . How many would have felt at least a tinge of bias because a crime suspect wasn't white? You know, those people are always causing trouble. On the other hand, how many, by knee-jerk definition, would have looked at the young woman's picture and concluded that all white people are criminals? Just asking.

I can't attempt to answer these questions, other than to sense that some whites won't share the guilt for another white who has gone astray but do not hesitate to condemn an entire race for stereotypical criminality. In this instance, the young woman was white. I doubt that her skin color bothered anyone. On the other hand., if she had been.....well, that's how ingrained racism works. Right?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Newspapers and Grassley-roots protests


Although the health-care reform issue has been hotter than your outdoor grill this summer, the hometown newspaper coverage leads me to wonder about the papers' priorities. In today's Beacon Journal, for example, there was no mention of it at all. It didn't exist in the news columns although one letter writer on the editorial page did have something to say about it. (As we used to scream when a baseball fan in the stands caught a foul ball, "Sign her up!")

Incidentally, the paper's omission occurred at the time when a new development in the noisy debate over "death panels" was being reported in the Plain Dealer and other media. The misstated panel has been omitted from the bill being written in a Senate Finance Committee.

Perhaps even worse than the absence of a story was the lopsided story published by the Zanesville Times Recorder that reported the comments by a group called the Zanesville Patriots who were protesting at the Zanesville office of U.S. Rep. Zack Space. They raised the usual number of ill-informed questions about the issue, with one quoted as worrying that if her father has a third heart attack, "they'll just tell us to pull the plug."

The problem here is that the reporter never added a line or two to balance these attacks with what reform proponents have said to set the record straight. At this point it's questionable whether the complaints will fade away even with the the so-called death panel withdrawn. When they run out of questions in the assault on President Obama, they'll simply invent some more.

Health-care footnote:

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican serving on the Senate Finance Committee preparing a reform bill, is a stand-out recipient of the Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL) award after reporting the withdrawal of the "death panel" language in the draft, saying:

"We dropped the end-of-life provisions from consideration entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly.

Senator, a reasonable question: And who has been, eh, "misinterpreting" the language of the bill with death-panel warnings in your public speeches more than you, sir?"

The bill should include medical insurance coverage for incoherence.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The GOP's fascination with death

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY - the party of Lincoln's towering wisdom and of Reagan's Morning In America and of the earlier Bush's Thousand Points of Light and of the later Bush's "compassionate conservatism", remember? - has now become a party preoccupied with death. It has been the source of such terms as "death tax", which, when applied to, say, an unemployed assembly line worker, would heavily tax the surviving family's fictitious multi-million dollar estate upon his untimely death. Having settled that question of liberal fatalistic policy, the GOP turned to "death panel" , courtesy of Sarah Palin, the Party's new Aphrodite who is certain that her infant son would be dead in the hands of the New Socialists out to reform health care. Other Republicans have mindlessly tacked up similar death notices for Ted Kennedy and Stephen Hawking.

Most recently arriving is from the lips of Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican, who has plastered the health reform issue with the term "death counselor" . This is not to mention the rowdies who argue that democracy is ready for extreme unction or the fellow who said the best immigration reform would be to send Mexicans back home with bullets in their heads.

America's frontier days have returned as bold gun toters, covered by law, turn up at town hall meetings to prove they can rightfully bear arms.

One strains to find a Republican on Capitol Hill who has the courage to stand up and say this is not to way to find common ground on significant issues. The place is crowded with Faustian characters who are willing to trade their souls for personal gain and the most convenient distance between two points is paved with lies.

Yesterday, for example, there was Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican rising at a public meeting to denounce the White House's health reform efforts. Grassley, a member of a committee drafting health care legislation, bowed at the altar of Sarah Palin by declaring that the White House was out to "pull the plug on grandma." I would think he was kidding, but he is an older white guy who doesn't appear to smile very often. (Only, perhaps when he receives another big chunk of money from the health insurance companies).

Republicans, of course, like to point tot he Blue Dog Democrats as the major obstacle to Obama's ideas - some of whom are also on the A-list of these companies. That's true and equally despicable, but they don't show up at meetings to petrify their audiences with death threats. The only effective rhetoric that has benighted so many people these days has been coming from the GOP since the November election. Often inflammatory with a carefully staged undertow of racism, it suggests that the Republican operatives in D.C. have nothing more to offer Americans than persuading them that the world is flat or that the Russians are coming.

In a profession, which in some precincts could be considered the oldest, where exaggeration, hyperbole and free-style fudging by both sides are more than acceptable behavior, the modern Regional Republican Party has ventured well beyond that to offer us one of the most shameful performances in modern history. Disgraceful, to be kind about it.

If you are a true believer in your party's direction, and this angers you, I can assure you that I'm not the problem. It you want to know where the trouble lies, look into your mirror.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Here they come - without the crumpets

WELL, THERE'S going to be some light "family oriented" discussion (and doubtless heavy breathing!) about tea next Wednesday evening on the Riverfront Mall in Cuyahoga Falls. It's billed as a Tea Party by an outfit called Summit912, a protest group inspired by weepy Political Philosopher Glenn Beck , the bizarre talk show figure who most recently suggested that Nancy Pelosi be poisoned.

The area group was founded by Amy Schwan, of Akron, who told a Falls news reporter that"we've been mad for a long time. Glenn Beck just motivated us to get off our butts and start to do something." Cool.

The event is being promoted as a non-political "meetup" and family affair to talk about - it says here on the 912 website - "over-taxation, nationalized health care, cap and trade and individual rights." Cool again. But why does it bill itself as "non-political" when the site carries an exhibit of an item called "The Clock. How many days Obama has left" and goes after all of the hot-button issues aimed at you-know-who? Not cool.

According to the Falls reporter (Schwan didn't return my calls), Schwan said Summit912 (Beck's reference to the day after 9/11 - at least he can read a calendar accurately, if nothing else) the Falls was chosen for the tea party because it has a Republican mayor, Don Robart, who only incidentally will be one of the speakers along with Frank LaRose, a Republican legislative candidate. I confess I do have trouble separating speakers with clear political IDs from politics. If they had wanted to liven up the party they should have invited, as a bipartisan outreach, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. Now that would be cool.

I did check in with Alex Arshinkoff, the Summit County chairman, who forcefully denied any connection to the tea party. "I don't know anything about it," he asserted. "It's not a Republican Party event." But he did give it the party's Good Housekeeping seal of approval. "I am happy that they are having it. There are not a lot of right-wing Republicans in the Democratic Party and there are not a lot of left-wing socialists in the Republican Party." It's one of those careful separations of wheat from chaff, I think.

So we're back to politics, which is what I figured as soon as I read about Summit912. Cool - if not entirely forthcoming about who they are. And don't count on crumpets.

The Return of the Middle Ages

AMERICANS LOVE to be fearful. As a child, I learned that from my own dear mother. She warned me that anybody who went outdoors within a couple of hours of having a hair wash would be a candidate for pneumonia. God help me if I did. I could forgive my mother's daily myths. She had my best interests at heart with very little education, and like my father, never read a book

But a political party that today has strong medieval tendencies and devotes most of its time to spreading fear? That takes us back a thousand years when illiterate folks were largely isolated in tiny villages and lived by the fearful myths of the day because there was no way to challenge them. For some it was the weighty threat of excommunication for an imagined misdeed. For others it was the silhouettes of advancing witches on the dusky horizon.

We have our share of witches and warlocks on the horizon today. Having lost to Obama last November, the Republican Party is reaching deeply into its cesspool of fears to win back some ground. It is clubbing folks with preposterous stories of death and destruction. And why not? It worked for George Bush, when he used Saddam Hussein and fictitious weapons of mass destruction to whip up public (and, alas, media) fervor to lead us into disastrous war. As I've written earlier, it was Bush & Co. against Gog and Magog.

Now, the weapon of mass destruction is single payer health care. The right-wing (i.e., Republicans and their enablers) opponents are conjuring up mushroom clouds from coast to coast should the Obama Administration have its way. And if you listen to all of those people shouting their protests at the town hall meetings, it's obvious that once again the know-nothings are gaining a lot of ground. Time and again the government Medicare program that has worked well for millions, including me, has been reduced to fiction by people who have no idea who is behind their Medicare coverage. Where do you think they're getting the frightening disinformation? Guess.

And when Sarah Palin tells you that her parents and infant son would be a victim of a "death panel" if the Administration prevails, it quickly enjoys currency among the uninformed fearful - or are they the don't-want-to-be-inf0rmed fearful? . We are immediately back to the Middle Ages, the only socio-politico culture that seems to work for a party with no progressive ideas of its own. It might help Obama if he told Americans to wash their hair anyway.

Monday, August 10, 2009

All agog about Gog and Magog

DID YOU read that former French president Jacques Chirac said he was "boggled" by George Bush's reasons for appealing to him for French support in 2003 to invade Iraq . I know, still one more leftover from the miserable Bush administration may be over the top, if not tiresome, in dismantling what for the most part has already been dismantled. I get that way myself at times, until a pearl like this one arrives from Chirac's lips.

According to an online report, Chirac said Bush called him and warned that the Middle East was erupting through work of two Biblical evil-doers, Gog and Magog, characters from the Apocalypse. Bush described America's response as a "mission from God"and sought accord from like-minded Christians.

Chirac quoted Bush as saying:

"Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East... The Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled... This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before the New Age begins."

Unsurprisingly, biblical diplomacy wasn't good enough to recruit the French,who were later scolded by the administration's symps as being too mulish to merit our consideration of their fried potatoes.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A woeful opera in too many nasty acts

WE'RE LIVING with the myth that the "debate" over health care reform is all about what's best for ordinary citizens. But there's nothing very ordinary about the nasty narrative that's in our face today. Americans might just as well be taking sides on whether Silvio Berlusconi should be running around his luxurious Sardinian estate with tempting young girlfriends. It really doesn't matter what ordinary Americans think. (Nor does the Italian premier care about what Italians think!)

In this country the luxurious estate is the fortress set up by huge health insurance companies to protect their tidy investment in your health and mine. They are, of course, servilely aided and abetted by their beneficiaries within the ranks of both parties. Besides, we've learned rather quickly that there are few self-described "ordinary" folks at the disrupted Town Hall meetings. They are scripted in how to hack a reasoned discussion of the issue with their Democratic congressmen.

And who is the inspiration for the hackers who have been crafted with behavioral patterns that riotously break up these sessions? One is, of all people, Rick Scott, who has put up millions to fight health care reforms as head of Conservatives for Patients Rights. I love these benign sounding front groups with titles that have little to do with their line of work. They might as well be called Concerned Foxes for Chickens' Rights. This, after all, is the same Rick Scott who once headed Columbia HCA, a for-profit hospital system that chiseled so much money from the Feds that he finally had to pay a $1.7 billion fraud settlement. That's billion. Among other things, he closed unprofitable hospitals and cut back services to the patients who were unlucky enough to land in the profitable hospitals that made the cut. I'm obviously missing something here, folks. Where are the patient's rights that this conservative wants to protect?

Another who has cast a big shadow on the "debate" is former Texas congressman Dick Armey, who is one of the heavy hitters at "Lobbyists, Central" in D.C. His outfit is a warm and fuzzy number called DreamWorks. He's also the Co-Chairman of the Alliance for Retirement Prosperity, another straight-faced cover job? By now, I'm ready to accept the validity of Concerned Foxes for Chickens' Rights.

But some of the paint on these well financed civic enterprises is starting to flake. One woman who went bananas at one of Town Halls later told a network that she was "just a mom" from down the block who had arrived to express her frustration. She lied. When reporters checked her background, it turned out that she was a soldier for the Republican Party in her state. The script for these well organized assaults of public sanity also remind the shouters to spread out across the hall so that a speaker might conclude that everybody is up in arms against health care reform.

And didn't Rep. John Boehner, the House minority leader, referring to the town meetings, declare that it was going to be a long, hot summer for the Democrats? This raucous opera obviously won't be over until - unlike the fat lady - the woeful chorus of Boehner, Scott, Armey and The Mom, stop singing.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sotomayor approved; GOP holy day ends

THURSDAY WAS a sort of Holy Day for Republican senators who opposed Sonia Sotomayor. They enjoyed another opportunity for the party's preaching class to lead America away from the suspected judicial iniquities of the Dragon Lady. There are values of greater importance than competence, although they don't always apply to those who are making such distinctions. There was, for example, a befuddled John McCain who described Sotomayor as "immensely qualified" - then voted against her.

Among the nine Republicans who jumped ranks was Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, who will be retiring next year. Voinovich has been showing signs, often symptoms of a lame-duck status, of growing impatient with the southern regional command of his party - and is not shy about saying so. Good work, George!

Meanwhile, the Democrats voted unanimously to support her, a rare glimpse of how much more effective the party could be if it ever got its ideological act together. Fat chance. You don't have to be a party insider to know that such unanimity on a regular basis is like asking a Canada goose to hang out with a hummingbird.

I'm sure that Sotomayor's political opponents had worked overtime to find the smoking gun that would deny her nomination. Obviously, none was found. An historic moment, her rise to the Supreme Court bench. Despite the NRA's opposition, it wasn't even close .

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Obamaphobia in the checkout line


Woman #1 (looking at President Obama's picture with Oprah on the cover of a screeching tabloid: "Do you like Obama?"

Woman #2: "Yes, I do. Do you?"

Woman #1: "No. I don't trust him."

Woman #2: "Why""

Woman #1: "I don't know. I just don't. I guess you're going to vote for his health program."

Woman #2: "Vote? We don't vote on it."

Woman #1: "Oh. We don't? I'm still against it. "

Woman #2 "You mean you don't want to help the 50 million people who don't have health insurance?"

Woman #1: " If they don't have insurance it's their own fault."

She moved up to take up her turn to check out, and bought a copy of the Obama-Oprah tabloid to bring her up to date on the latest.

Woman #2 told another: "For God's sake. I would have thought more of her if she would have come right out and said she didn't like Obama because he is black. At least she would have been honest about it."

Well...yes. Unfortunately, you could say that about a lot of Obama haters these days.

A sitdown for mayor and police prez?

I FLINCHED when I read of the confrontation between Mayor Plusquellic and police at the scene of a post-midnight week-end brawl downtown. Not again! And it didn't take long for the hostilities to break out in charges and counter-charges in the Beacon Journal. The police union's president Paul Hlynsky and mayoral adversary accused Plusquellic of abusively interfering with officers at the scene with slurred words. The always combative mayor accused the officers of being dismissive of his efforts to clear up the trouble.

I wasn't there, but one must wonder about the implications of the "slurred words" when the paper also reported that the tapes of Plusquellic's calls to 911 showed that the mayor's speech was clear and direct. Hlyinsky also supposed that the mayor should have "minded his own business". Well, on that point, the mayor is the city's public safety director and police work is part of his business.

None of this is to suggest that Plusquellic could not have handled the situation with more restraint. But the relationship between him and the police union has deteriorated for some time and grew still worse when, by a couple of votes, officers decided to support his recall in June.

Time for a truce. The hostilities will serve neither side well, and certainly not enhance the image of the city itself. Maybe the answer is for Plusquellic, a la Obama, to invite the union boss to a sitdown over beer to work out a detente. It couldn't hurt.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Evolution, a thousand years from now

AS A MUCH-NEEDED escape from the political front, I have just finished reading a piece in The Teaching Company magazine on evolution. No, I'm not taking up the shopworn debate on intelligent design. Rather, I wanted to turn the key on the lock that has isolated me from a serious understanding of what is generally called the biotech revolution, a daunting term in itself. So you won't come near getting any expertise from me on the subject. But I at least really tried to understand, if only superficially, what science is talking about in tracking the path of humans from pre-history to the billions of uprights who walk the earth today. Some escape, huh?

The magazine featured a course by Prof. Lee Silver of Princeton University and the descriptive outline - here's where I have to inch forward carefully - turned to such terms as gene sequencing, FISH (Fluorescence in Situ Hybridization), DNA microarray and molecular clock, with great strides in the field since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003. If you've stayed with me so far, there is good news to report.

It seems to me that if notable scientists are still delving into the past to extend the curve into the future, we're in luck. It tells us that we are, at this moment, still evolving and the world will still be around for us to evolve in. That , of course, is hypothetical at this point, but on the upside for all humanity.

I have no idea where that will take us because there is no certain accounting for nuclear bombs, birthers, tea baggers and William Kristol . But Darwin did provide some clues by telling us that we will adapt like his finches. Well, no, we won't turn yellow or purple each spring, but you get the point.

Since I won't be on hand to admit my mistakes, I would suggest that a human being a thousand years from now will probably have a fleshy rectangular niche in his ear where he safely and permanently implants a cell phone, much like a pacemaker. TV remotes, too often misplaced under last week's newspapers, will be passe. One will be able to switch stations by activating a tiny device that develops in the tongue and will always taste like a root beer float. And hips will have shrunk on frequent flyers to accommodate centuries of squeezing into airplane seats. Really basic stuff, if you think about it.

But remember: These alterations will only occur if evolution is sustained by an active planet itself. We can hope. On the other hand, a worst-case scenario would have human beings returning to life in the treetops. By the looks of the noisy Neanderthals at the town meetings on health care, some among us are getting a head start.

Will the real McCain please stand up?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, the fellow who accepted Sarah Palin as his runningmate - remember? - seems to be getting flakier by the minute. While publicly complaining that his Republican party needs to do more to lure Latino voters into the GOP column, he now has declared that he will vote against Sonia Sotomayor because he fears she will legislate from the bench. (A fear, by the way, that has not discouraged his friend, Lindsay Graham, from supporting the nomination.)

Is McCain reclaiming his maverick status, or is he simply silly? The Arizona senator and his attempts at rational thought are often like two ships passing in the dead of night. What does he do now to appeal to the Latino vote in his own state? Or does it really matter?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Morrison could fill his foxhole for years

THERE'S A strictly political scenario being played out in Atty. Jack Morrison's rejection of demands that he resign from the University of Akron Board of Trustees in the wake of his two convictions on ethics charges. Although I suggested in an earlier piece that he would likely remain on the board during a drawn-out appeal to reverse the outcome of his bench trial, that is only part of the unfolding saga involving a Republican member of the board. Another reason is that his resignation would give Democrats a windfall opportunity to name one more Democrat to fill the vacancy.

Although Republicans dominated the UA board, as well as those of all other state universities during the 16 years when a Republican governor (Voinovich, Taft) controlled the appointments, the current occupant, of course, is Democrat Ted Strickland. He has appointed three Democrats to the nine-member UA board and would name another one next year. A vacancy now, and you do the math. Right: 5-4 Democratic control. It could be the leverage to influence Morrison's decision to stay put. An active (and influential) Republican at the county and state levels, he arrived on the board in 2005, which means he could hang around until his nine-year term expires in 2014 - or in the event that Strickland loses to a Republican next year. Even for politics, that's a long time.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The bookish right-wing polemicists

SCANNING THE Sunday book sections, it soon became apparent to me that the Obama boo birds are on wing rather early his year. And considering that the president hasn' t been in charge for more than seven months, this jury of "authors" has spent less time on their convictions than if he had been charged with a library fine.

The latest eruption from the right-wing jeering section is Michele Malkin's tome, Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheaters, Crooks and Cronies. Given the normal length of time to write and publish a book these days, it would be fair to suggest that our author, a right-wing polemicist, must have begun her outline for the Obama book when he was still at Harvard. But she's not alone. The ubiquitous Dick Morris, who has worked both sides of the aisle depending on the political climate of the moment, and his wife, Eileen McGann, are represented on the best-seller list by the apocalyptic work, Catastrophe, which the New York Times mini-captions as "stopping President Obama before he transforms America into a Socialist State".

There's also one by South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who's out with a remedial book, Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide into Socialism. And forever, there is always something from Bernard Goldberg, one called, A Slobbering Love Affair, the true (and pathetic) story of the torrid romance between Barack Obama and the mainstream media.

Really, Bernie. Slobbering? And considering how far downstream the mainstream media have drifted for several years, they are too far away from the action for mutual slobbering.