My blog., Opinion, Uncategorized

A Long Hot Stinking Summer

A summer heat wave has hit the North Coast.  When you have three days in a row above 90 degrees and humidity to boot, North Bay Ontario sounds very alluring by now.

As the air conditioner cranks up and I run out of ice cubes in the freezer, I for some reason think about an old movie  that many have seen over the years, some of you even when it first came out in Cinemascope..The Long Hot Summer.  This overblown 1958 melodrama (the working title for the script had to be SUDS) with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward was a big deal when it came out.  However, whenever I see it, I start howling with laughter half way into it.

Cleveland’s own Newman plays Ben Quick, a redneck hustler with a history of setting fires.  He stirs things up in a small Southern town owned by an even bigger redneck hustler, Will Varner, played by Orson Wells.  Varner is the fat, coarse, conniving, big mouth operator who owns the entire area and nobody, not even his pig-headed daughter (Joanne Woodward) will stop him from getting his way.  In this epic full of  nasty rumors, fights, Angela Lansbury pestering Orson on when they’re getting married, Lee Remick running around in as flimsy a wardrobe she could under the Eisenhower Administration, Orson being trapped in a barn by his own son (played by Anthony Franciosa; now what’s a Paisano doing in a flick like this?) who tries to set it on fire, Paul nearly getting lynched, and oh yes Joanne falling in love with apparently a gay guy, Paul woos Joanne throughout and, after all THAT, there’s a happy ending.  How the heck did they pack all that crap in a little under two hours?

There’s another good reason why The Long Hot Summer is on my mind and it’s not just the sweltering heat.  While First Son-in-Law Jarrod is no Newman, for the life of me, when I think of Orson barking orders from the big white plantation house he calls home, it’s so easy to move on to The Donald think he can do the same thing in the Oval Office.

The reality TV show that has become the presidency is not only providing a steady stream of ‘breaking news’ for evening cable news shows, and fodder for the Australian Prime Minister to make jokes out of, but we all now despite his protestations there’s, as Malcolm Turnbull quipped “this Russian Guy” who must be elated that whatever took place last year gave him a bang for his ruble.  Yet, for many Americans, there’s a dark edge to the humor and I that when I watch the news I am amazed and angry at the same time.

Even when Trump goes, the damage has been done.  As I’ve written in previous posts, many of the people who voted for him did so because he promised to deliver on changing things that they believed hurt themselves, their families, and communities.  What Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have been trying to ram through Congress (such as the Health Care Bill now under wraps in the Senate) are not the things many voted for   Their anger and frustration will flare up again, and get worse.  Now, as shown by incidents such as what happened in Alexandria Virginia, you also have disturbed people who, in this case, supported Bernie Sanders who felt they had to take the law in their own hands with near tragic consequences.  If neither party really makes an effort to address the average American’s need for a living wage, good health care, opportunities for their children, safe communities, and that the future will at least get a little better (which I argue was starting to happen under the Obama Administration), there will be such an explosion that our governing class won’t know what hit them.

As I write this, another movie comes to my mind far removed in location, and tone from the Newman/Woodward Sudser.  It’s  a rather sparse black and white 1961 film version (with Sidney Poitier and another Cleveland native Ruby Dee) of a play by Lorraine Hansberry: Raisin in the Sun.  It is the story of a black family buying a house in an all white area of Chicago.  Naturally, a very polite meek looking white man from the local neighborhood association drops by to offer them a check to get the hell out of there.  The happy ending in this film is that they managed to stay.  For those of you reading this who don’t know it, Ms. Hansberry took the title of her drama from a poem, A Dream Deferred, by Langston Hughes.  Of course it was a reflection on the hopes and frustrations of African=Americans in the 1950s but the message is universal; especially today

Starting on Sunday, things here south of Lake Erie will be a little more normal with temperatures in the high seventies by Tuesday. On that day is the congressional election in Georgia  I will definitely keep an eye on it and, naturally, I hope Ossoff can pull it off.  If he does, then there is hope for next year in my book.  Then of course is Robert Mueller’s investigation.  However, it will take a few years I fear before anything approaching normal will take place in the country.  In the meantime, will things explode?

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A Quick Little Post, My blog., Opinion

Comey Fired: A Quick Little Post.

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The Democratic Action Day at Lakeland.

So much has happened in the last four days that it’s hard to keep up.  Tonight, as I was driving home from my neighborhood block watch meeting, I was stunned to hear on the radio that FBI Director James Comey was fired.  Of course it’s all over the news and will be discussed further in media tomorrow so I won’t write much about it.  After all, this is just a blog and politics, or my life, is not the central part of this.  However, with all that has happened from Macron winning the Presidential election in France, to Barak Obama’s speech Sunday accepting this year’s Profiles in Courage Award, to Sally Yates finally speaking before Congress, so much has occurred to reflect on for me.

Saturday, I went to a Democratic Action Day meeting at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio.  There, on an unseasonably cold and rainy day, I spent over four hours there pretty much participating in a format I’ve sat in many times before.  However, when I saw the first email regarding this event, something in my gut told me to be there.

The first part was a political action boot camp conducted by two young organizers with the Ohio Democratic Party.  As I looked around who was in the audience I saw many familiar faces from Lake and Geauga Counties, many not only older than the two organizers but even myself.  Their age wasn’t the point, their passion to do something was.In our little break out sessions, we were supposed to talk about why we were there.  I didn’t get to speak but that was by choice.  While my gut told me to be there, my head was wondering why do this once again.  However, when some of the men and women in my group spoke about why they wanted to be politically active in some way, I must admit I was impressed.  They were willing to do something that many my age, and younger, fail to do and didn’t really expect much out of it but to get some Democratic candidates elected.    For a pretty burned out hack like myself, it was good to hear what they had to say.

The candidate’s forum afterwards was another thing I sat in many a time before.  It was the same format with different people asking for support for the various offices they were going to run for; and in some cases against each other.  As I sat there listening to each on pitch their case, I thought about what was going on in the nation at large; things I have sometimes touched upon in a previous quick little post.  I thought about how my father told me the night before when he came over that he hoped that ‘the guy’ would win the French election; though I reminded him that Marine Le Pen was the one that Trump liked.  Buyer’s remorse is finally setting in, though he hasn’t completely admitted it.

That’s why the 2018 election is important; we can’t wait four years to just vote Donald Trump out.  We need to get people in Congress to be an active check not only on this White House but on people who are so willing to let him get away from it.  It’s also important for Ohio that we, and this is my own personal opinion, more Democrats into State wide offices because I do honestly believe that this party can do a better job helping out everyday people and communities in so many matters.  Though for twenty years of work I may seem to only have a bunch of T-shirts and bad feet, and a chip on my shoulder to boot, I know that despite what so many people I know say that I get nothing for it (and they only want my time and money) I will probably wind up working on a campaign in some form just like those people in that school room at Lakeland.   You have to be part of the solution, not contribute to the problems gripping this country.  All those Macron supporters in France Sunday showed what can be done even despite interference from a foreign power and a strong ultra-nationalist message from a slick operator that can be so appealing.  What Obama spoke about Sunday builds upon this, not just in terms of calling upon lawmakers  to protect the Affordable Care Act, but to be adults and play more than party politics especially during this time when we have an Administration which plays dirty.   We have to each do our part and hope that the potential damage that is taking place for at least a few years will not be too harmful to our country we can find a person who can be a president we can be proud of again in 2020.  So, you all know where I stand.

 

Photograph by James Valentino

 

 

 

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My blog., Opinion, Uncategorized

Don Peck’s America Is Still In A Pinch.

I remember something from when I was in college that still sticks in my head.  I was with my parents at a restaurant in Painesville Township which is east of Cleveland, Ohio.  We went to this place over the years and we would usually sit in the enclosed porch section which looked out on Mentor Avenue.  Anyway, that day we were there not too long after my father, a certified welder who was laid off from his previous one, got a better job.  For some reason, as my mother talked to the waitress she mentioned this fact and that she was glad because for a few months we didn’t have any health insurance.  As she was saying that, she almost sobbed and I could tell she was embarrassed.  “I know,” the waitress replied and a few seconds later my mother regained her composure and we gave our order.

I write this because this was in fact over two decades ago and the bread and butter problems that so many men and women have faced then are still occurring, the latest as a result of the Great Recession of 2007-2008.  In light of the race in Georgia, the Scientist March, and (as I shall call him) the idiot savant’s refusal to still release his tax returns, reading Don Peck’s Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It is again very illuminating on how we got to this point. As I originally wrote in a review six years ago, Pinched is a well research book. In nine chapters, the author explores how the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression has had lasting impact on the average American.

Peck argues that the financial meltdown of ten years ago simply accelerated long-standing trends in American society when it comes to making a living (and thus echoes to a degree Derek Thompson in his later piece) “America’s classes are separating and changing.  A tiny elite continues to float up and away from everyone else.  Meanwhile, as manufacturing jobs and semiskilled office positions disappear, much of what the United States has historically regarded as its middle class is in danger of drifting downward.  Left in between is what might be thought of as the professional middle class-unexceptional college graduates, for whom the arrow of fortune points mostly sideways, and an upper tier of college graduates and postgraduates for whom it points progressively upward, but not spectacularly so.” (Page 34).  In this environment women apparently rebounded in finding jobs better than many working class men.

This crisis directly affects politics and from the sharp swings in voting patterns, people are at a point where any change is worth it. “American politics has grown meaner as economic anxiety has lingered.  Anti-immigrant sentiment has risen, and support for the poor has fallen.  By many measures, trust-which to a large degree separates successful societies from unsuccessful ones-has diminished.  The number of active militias in the United States increased from 43 to 330 between 2007 and 2010.  And while frustrations will ebb when the economy improves enough, ideas and attitudes carry their own momentum” (Page 25).  This leads Peck in Chapter Eight to make this very accurate conclusion: “In the end, if we remain stuck in an economic climate in which stagnation and disappointment are the norms for large numbers of Americans, the most-likely risks to our politics are not rogue leaders or an insurgent populist party.  They are endless vacillation, low levels of public trust, and political options that are stunted by a poisonous atmosphere and heavy discontent.” (Page 152).  As shown in Weimar Germany and 1930’s France, a long festering economic malaise can make people turn against mainstream institutions which they feel failed them and look for something else; usually something more authoritarian in nature.

As a man, it does interest me reading this what Mr. Peck writes about men in the work force.  He goes even further to put this in the greater context of generations who had gone through the Great Depression, and even the Gilded Age.  (Something common with today). On the study of the Great Depression in Chapter 3. “Many young adults who could not find footing in the job market were left permanently scarred. Glen Elder, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina and a pioneer in the field of ‘life course’ studies, has spent much of his career tracking the various generations that lived through the Depression, to see how it shaped their lives.  Some three decades after the Depression ended, and even after a long postwar boom, he count a pronounced diffidence in aging men (though not women) who had suffered hardship as twenty-and thirtysomethings during the 1930s.  .Unlike peers who had been largely spared during those lean years, these men came across, Elder told me, as “beaten and withdrawn, lacking ambition, direction, confidence in themselves.” (Page 53).  This is also something that can be seen in later generations of men who were affected by later economic crises.  It would be interesting to see if this lack of self-confidence and direction manifests currently in thirty-something millennials as well.

The interviews are still potent.  From a homeowner in Bridgewater Florida to an unemployed construction worker with eight children in Reading Pennsylvania, Peck interviewed a wide range of Americans for whom the American Dream tanked.  For some reason, the plight of a man using the name Mark Nickelson sticks in my head.  A native of Ohio, he worked his way through college and got into law school passing the bar in both Massachusetts and New York.  However, after much effort, he only landed a job at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2010 through a fellowship program “The job doesn’t make use of his law degree, and he doesn’t advertise that degree around the office, he said.  Whenever a colleague finds out, ‘they’re like, You went to law school?  What are you doing here?” (Page 75).   Nickelson should be in his early 30’s now and I wonder if he finally got to use that degree, or pay off those student loans.

Now, what about the movers and shakers of the nation?  What role or responsibilities do they have?  Peck cites the work of Christopher Lasch whose book The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy is something worth the author of Pinched to refer to,  Lasch believed that America’s elite feels that they are part of a global community (think Davos or that W20 Summit in Berlin Ivanka Trump went to) but are emotionally detached from the rest of the nation.  Patriotism is not high on their list. “Consequently, Lasch argued, modern elites tend to “exercise power irresponsibly, precisely because they recognize so few obligations to their predecessors or to the communities they profess to lead.  Their lack of gratitude disqualifies meritocratic elites from the burden of leadership, and in any case, they are less interested in leadership than in escaping from the common lot-the very definition of meritocratic success.”  (Page 112).  On the other hands there are those of this group, with their pocketbooks, have done just as much harm to our body politic as those who give up their citizenship to save a buck.  Thus the elites that lefties, populists and Tea Party types have been railing against are not really the ones holding the reins, or pocketbook, of power.  The Koch Brothers, the Mercers, and Betsey DeVoss’ family have done far more to threaten the proverbial American Way of Life than Chris Matthews, the NAACP and Cher ever did.

Naturally in a book like this, solutions are suggested.  After all, who would really want to buy a scathing critique about America without offering a ray of hope? Peck (along with Thompson, McAffee and Brynjolfsonn, and Jim Russell for that matter), pointed out what may be measures that could in the long run address this situation the American Middle Class is stuck in.  Like these other gentlemen, and Richard Florida for that matter, Peck asserts that improving the education opportunities of lower-income children is crucial, but doesn’t get into real details.  “Over the next decade or two, college education simply cannot be the whole answer to the woes of the middle class since even under the rosiest of assumptions, most of the middle of society will not have a four-year college-degree.”  (Page 177)   I do like the idea of career academies as well as the concept of a national innovation bank.  Some of his other ideas, such as Wage Insurance, would never play in the current political climate. Wage Insurance, something many in Trump’s Circle of donors would scoff at, “ Wage Insurance kicks in when unemployed people find a new job that pays less than their old one, making up part of the difference, say half, for a couple of years.” (Page 167).

While soaking the rich isn’t the answer, I agree with Peck that high earners should be paying more than they do now.  I wonder what he thinks about Trump’s idea to repeal the estate tax (as Governor John Kasich has done in Ohio)?  Aggressive wage subsidies (for up to a year) to employers who hire the long-term unemployed, a targeted and temporary incentive, seems interesting but again questionable.

While I do understand Peck’s argument that people’s mobility to get to jobs in other parts of the nation should be encouraged, what about the towns they leave behind?  Besides that, in light of the problems people have with student debt, the idea of using college loans as a model for a relocation loan (Page 165) seems unfeasible. Putting more money into R & D is laudable.  However, in light of what has happened since November 2016, it would be a struggle to keep government spending in this area as it is.

After repeated attempts to contact the Atlantic and Mr. Peck, I still haven’t received a response.  However, here are the questions I wanted to ask him.

  1. When he wrote this book, did he ever thought that after two terms of Barak Obama we would wind up with something like the Trump Administration?
  2. What does he see the economic state of most Americans in 2021?
  3. Have the notions of public responsibility, social cohesiveness in short a functioning Civil Society continue to weaken since 2011?
  4. Did he think what Christopher Lasch wrote about has become a reality?

It would have been really nice to hear what Mr. Peck had to say about these.

Recently, a book by Washington Post reporter Amy Goldstein on the fate of people .living in Janesville Wisconsin after the GM plant there closed in 2008 shows that what Peck discovered in his book still affects so many people around the nation; and that many wound up voting for Trump.  I would be surprised if Mr. Peck writes a sequel to Pinched in 2021.  After four years of Trump on the one hand and a Congressional leadership eager to pursue the same policies that led our economy to the brink in 2008, we’ll get to see if the problems he chronicled remain or gotten worse.

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Don Peck’s Pinched Revisited; A Quick Little Post.

Recently, I went to my local library.   there, among the books by Richard Florida, Mark Levin, and at least three Ann Coulter’s, stood out one I read years before; Pinched by Atlantic’s deputy editor Don Peck.  It came out in 2011 and, at the time, I wrote a review of it for the Yahoo Contributor Network.  While for some reason  I could not google the finished product, I discovered on an old flash drive one of my drafts for it so here it is.

In Pinched, How the Great Recession has narrowed our futures and what we can do about it, Don Peck looks at what has happened in the last three years with the economy; and how it has changed the way we live, work, and how we identify ourselves.

He doesn’t say anything that others, such as Paul Krugman or Kevin Phillips had alluded to in their work, but he does organize things in a clear, concise manner and backs them up with the real life experiences of everyday people.  From a former construction foreman only recently found steady work after losing his job in 2008 to the president of a homeowner’s association in Florida development ravages by the foreclosure crisis, Peck gives the reader an idea of how most people are struggling with the new economic situation in America.  

Mr. Peck also went to the Aspen Ideas Festival where those unaffected by the Recession talked about social issues, policy problems; and as he puts it “a near-total insularity from the non-elites, and a personal detachment from the struggles of other Americans (pg. 115).   He devotes full chapters on the plutonomy, a term three analysts came up with in a paper for the wealthy few as at Aspen, to Generation R, those recent college graduates who end up unemployed and living back at home.   However, Peck examines every level of American society on how economic downturns, and not just the recent one, seriously affect people for years.

There is one paragraph that resonates with me.  He interviews the economist Lisa Kahn who has done studies on how economic downturns affect an individual’s subsequent career.   “When Kahn looks more closely at the unlucky graduates at mid-career, she found some surprising characteristics.   They were significantly less likely to work in professional occupations or other prestigious spheres.   And they clung more tightly to their jobs; average job tenure was unusually long.   People who entered the workforce during the recession ‘didn’t switch jobs as much, and particularly for young workers, that’s how you increase wages,’ Kahn told me.   This behavior may have resulted from a lingering risk aversion, born of a tough start.   But a lack of opportunities may have played a larger role, she said, when you’re forced to start work in a particularly low-level job or uneasy career, it’s easy for other employers to dismiss you as having low potential.  Moving up, or moving to something different and better, becomes more difficult.” (pgs. 64-65).

This is a more wide-spread phenomenon than I ever imagined.  I know that, if I understood this in 2004, perhaps I wouldn’t have given up on my like as I did for half of the last decade.  Yes, Pinched hits me on a personal level; very few books have done that.

As for possible measures to address this present state, Peck does mention a few good things.   Some, such as campaign finance reform and unemployment insurance, have been mentioned by other people before (such as Robert Reich), and possibly make far too much sense to even be discussed in Congress let alone passed.

However, Pinched is definitely worthwhile reading and makes you think.   Mr. Peck sums up his hopes best with one paragraph towards the end of the book.   He believes that,

“A society in which the different classes jostle more frequently alongside one another-living in the same communities and cities, harboring the same hopes and expectations for their children-is inherently healthier than one in which they are segregated physically and split by cultural norms.   Broader exposure to one another would foster the ideals of civic equality and equal opportunity that are our cultural bedrock.” (pgs. 186-187).

I couldn’t write it better myself.

A lot has happened in the nearly six years since it was first published.  The polarization we’re faced with today is in some ways even worse than when Peck wrote this book.  One can also argue that, on November 7th 2016, the plutonomy won after all, and I don’t just mean by Donald Trump becoming president.Yet, Pinched seems worth re-reading so that’s what I am about to do. Continue reading

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My blog., Opinion, Uncategorized

Rasputin’s Death.

With President Obama expelling 35 Russian diplomats linked to the computer hacking this past year,  it’s kind of ironic that for the past week I’ve worked on this for the bog.  Depending on what calendar you use, today is the 100th anniversary of the murder of Grigory Rasputin.

He was a rough Siberian peasant and healer who claimed to be a holy man.  Introduced to the Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra, in 1905, he insinuated himself into the Imperial Family because of what was at the time a state secret.  Their son, the Tsarevitch Alexei, was a hemophiliac, a disease where the patient’s blood cannot clot even with the slightest injury.  The gene was carried in females, but manifested in their male progeny.  Alexandra blamed herself for her son’s illness, which doctors said was incurable.  Her high-strung personality made matters worse.  Rasputin had the gift of stopping the boy’s bleeding. One incident in 1911 at the hunting lodge in Spala, where Alexei nearly died, solidified her unquestioning support for “Our Friend”.  As for the Tsar, he went along with it because he couldn’t tell his wife no.

With the empress’s increasing interference in government, especially with the outbreak of World War I, and asking his advice in even choosing government ministers, Rasputin’s influence was stoking the fires of resentment that was already there since even before the Revolution of 1905, whose lessons Nicholas chose not to learn from.  Alexandra refused to believe the stories circulating about Rasputin’s womanizing, drunken orgies, and boasts that he ruled Russia; and her.  When Nicholas received police reports of his bad behavior he put them away.

By the fall of 1916, repeated efforts by the tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress, and other family members, including her own sister the Grand Duchess Elizabeth (the widow of Nicholas’ Uncle Serge and by then a nun), to send him away were rebuffed.  “She treated me like a dog!” Elizabeth was quoted as saying, in one book to her friend Princess Zinaida Yussopova (The Romanovs, 1613 -1918, by Simon Sebag Montifiore, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016 ), or to her niece and nephew the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich; who were also in fact the Tsar’s first cousins (Elizabeth, Grand Duchess of Russia, Hugo Mager, Carroll and Graf Publishers, Inc. 1998), depending on which book you read.  By this time, plans were set to get rid of him.

Princess Yussopova’s son, Felix decided he must kill Rasputin.  Married to the Tsar’s niece, Irina, he told Rasputin to visit the Yussopov Palace in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) under the pretext of meeting his beautiful wife.  With the assistance of a few monarchist politicians, and the Grand Duke Dmitri, they did just that on December 17th according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time; our December 30th.  Every historian seems to have a different slant on it.  Did Felix do this for kicks or was it an act of patriotism?  Was it Dmitri who fired the fatal shot?  Did Rasputin die in the palace or drown in the river where they dumped him (and apparently tried to untie the ropes around his body)?  It depends on what account you read.  However, in a letter to his father, Dmitri, while not discussing his own role in the act, said that the assassins couldn’t let Russia be governed by “little notes written by a lecherous, dirty, and almost illiterate scoundrel” (The Flight of the Romanovs, a family saga, John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov, Basic Books, 1999).

Rasputin’s death was welcomed as a patriotic act in sections of Russian Society.  This included members of Nicholas’ extended family. The ‘dark forces’, as the press called him, was gone and now things would be different. However, not all of them condoned murder. The Tsar’s sister, Olga, saw the act as what it was; premeditative murder, and that Felix and Dmitri’s role in it “proved how low we had fallen.” (The Flight of the Romanovs, a family saga, John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov, Basic Books 1999).  Within three months revolution would break out for the second time and her brother would abdicate.   Dmitri was by then exiled to Persia, which ironically saved his life.  He would later die in Switzerland of tuberculosis in 1942, having gotten married and divorced to an American in the meantime and fathering a son who later became mayor of Palm Beach.  Felix and Irina wound up in Paris by 1919.  As for Nicholas and Alexandra, they would be shot with their children in July 1918 in a town called Ekatrinburg in the Urals that later became, as Sverdlovsk, the place where Boris Yeltsin started his political career.  Rasputin’s death in the end didn’t avert disaster, let alone Lenin and Stalin.

I remember in one book there was a paragraph of a report written by someone in the Okrana (the Imperial Secret Police) in December of 1916.  In it there was the warning that ‘the dark body of the Russian Population was at its breaking point.  It was possible that one incident may spark mass civil unrest which may be hard to control.  In another book, I learned that the first incidents where soldiers refused to obey orders to break up local demonstrations took place, not at the beginning of March with the bread riots that triggered the Revolution, but also in the last months of 1916.  The signs were all there but government officials, let alone the Imperial couple, ignored them.  That’s important to understand, once the population at large unleashes its anger at what they perceive is a ‘rigged system’ those in power usually don’t know what hit them.

Is there a lesson that can be learned from all this?  With all this stuff about president-elect Trump, please note that his election is a symptom of something that’s been stirring up already.  Wasn’t Barak Obama a ‘change candidate’ too?  As Paul Krugman wrote recently in his blog, What Do Trump Voters Want?”, people who consider themselves Trump supporters don’t want handouts but the well-paying jobs with benefits that their dads and granddads had at GM or US Steel; when we were the “Arsenal of Democracy” as Franklin Delano Roosevelt said.  Many of these towns that voted for Trump, like Warren  or Conneaut here in Ohio never really recovered from the loss of manufacturing and when companies do come back they are using modern equipment that means a lot fewer workers,   The Daily 202 had a very interesting piece  a few weeks back showing how  Trump over performed in counties with higher rates of drug-abuse and suicides, indicating that “alcoholism, overdoses and suicide are symptoms of the deeper social decay that was caused by deindustrialization.” In my opinion, this sounds eerily similar to what has happened in so many central cities in the rust-belt, and what minorities have been struggling with for a long time as well Continue reading

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Nothing But Blue Skies in Oberlin? A Quick Little Post More Or Less.

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Oberlin College, November 12, 2016.  Finney Chapel is to the left.

Yesterday, as apparently people across the country were getting ready for another round of anti-Trump protests in major Cities, I drove out West to Oberlin Ohio.   For what I suddenly realize are almost two decades, I have gone there on my own.  One could argue that it was my ‘air raid shelter’, a place geographically removed from everyone and everything I knew so I can breathe a little bit easier.  Also, back in my twenties, I could have the illusion in my head that I was going to this college town and look around; especially since in reality my parents could never have been able to afford it.

There, swinging on a swing from a tree next to Finney Chapel, this blogger looked up at the blue sky and for a few moments not only forget the sciatic nerve flare I have been experiencing but the nagging pain in the neck knowing what happened this week.   However, across the park was a sight that kept bringing me back to, believe it or not, the Presidential election and the “Two Americas” that raised its’ ugly head again.

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A view of the restaurant with the fireplace in the background.

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The lobby of the old Inn around Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the highlights of a day trip to this college town was the Oberlin Inn.  It looked like an overgrown 1950’s brick motor lodge with lawn and gardens in the font facing the square.  In the spring, snow crocuses dotted the beds, in the fall purple asters bloomed and it all could be seen from the Garden restaurant.  Located at the front of the Inn to the left of the lobby, the restaurant was one of those standard places that you would receive coupons in those Entertainment books people got as Christmas gifts.  It wasn’t special like Chez Francois or Pier W, but it was good and the staff was friendly.  At Christmas, the Inn looked quite festive, especially with the fireplace in the restaurant lit up and the poinsettias decorating the lobby.   The place had charm, and was something special in a very ordinary way.

As a matter of fact, they had a very nice brunch on Sundays that drew people from all over Lorain County it seems.  Certainly more than once I saw a local chapter of the Red Hat Society getting a big table for lunch which I would kid the host about.  The host, nickname ET was an African-American man in his 70’s who was retired but still active not just there but his band which he kept telling me about.  I just couldn’t tell him that I wasn’t about drive home from say a gig in Wellington Ohio in the middle of the night if I went to hear them play.  However, ET and many of his colleagues I’ve gotten to know casually over the years.   I also know that they weren’t too keen on what was being built next door; the inn’s replacement.  In an effort to ‘go green’ the College took of the City of Oberlin’s call to be more sustainable and, having the need for more conference space and updating amenities, they decided to build a brand new hotel; and bring in new management to boot.  Most of the men and women who worked there weren’t going to be hired for the new facility.

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The deserts at one of the Oberlin Inn Sunday brunches.  Taken a few years ago.

After over a year’s worth of construction, the replacement for the old Oberlin Inn opened around May.   I did manage to go there a couple of Sundays since it opened and each time, it left me cold.  Yes, it is a modern green ‘machine for living’, to borrow a phrase the architect Le Corbusier called his buildings, and has all the charm of a townhouse in University Circle’s Uptown District.  As a matter of fact, the Inn at Oberlin looks like the kind of place fitting for a Hillary Clinton for President fundraiser.

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Interior of the new Inn at Oberlin. Photograph taken in June.

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Some Bauhaus inspired tableware.

I went there two times since it opened.  The service was excellent, the men and women who they hired to work there were friendly and attentive (one, I overheard telling a couple that she was a student at Lorain Community College).  The breakfast I had, free-range eggs, homemade bread, and ham, was good.  They even served coffee in a its own little steel percolator.   However, the menu was very limited, rather expensive, and both times the place left me feeling cold.

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The new Inn at Oberlin with phase two (left) well underway.  Taken yesterday.

After contemplating, and taking another photo, of the new inn, I wound up on the other side of town at a place called Sterk’s.  I admit I drove past it once or twice before but never went in there.  In the final months leading up to the closing of the old inn, one of the servers name Peggy told me that the owner wanted her to work there.   So, at least four months since she told me to stop over there to say hi, I went.  It was nothing special inside, kind of me reminded me of Muldoon’s, a pub in my neighbhorhood. Howevet I was early, already saw the menu on their website, and the service was good.  There was a strip steak for that day’s special and that’s what I got.  It was nothing fancy, but cooked the way I wanted it, nice portions, good price, and I’d go back again if I’m around there.

I also chatted with my server and asked how the new Oberlin Inn is doing.  As it turns out, she used to work there years ago and knew many of the people I did.  It turns out the Rotary and City Clubs now meet at Sterk’s since the new management at the inn didn’t want them there. They, referring to the Inn’s management, don’t want anything to do with the people in Oberlin; it’s seems just for the college.  She went on to say that Oberlin is a historic town with old buildings and the Inn looked out-of-place, “It looks like something dropped out of nowhere”.  When she went in there just to look, she thought it look sterile.  She had a feeling that it probably wouldn’t do too well in the long run and I made a joke about how, in a year, the managers would go to the college administration and see if they can renegotiate their contract.  When, I left a little after four o’clock, I noticed that the parking lot was starting to fill up.

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The old Oberlin Inn slated for demolition, June 2016.  The former restaurant awning still standing.

As I drove home, I was thought about something that started going in my head as I sat on the swing.  The complete mental separation between the new Oberlin Inn, and the college itself, from the rest of the town to me serves as a metaphor for the way many people think about our ruling class; a situation one man in particular managed to take advantage of all the way to the White House this January.

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The view from a swing in Oberlin, taken yesterday.

Photographs by James Valentino

 

 

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A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, My blog., Opinion, Uncategorized

Another Fall on the North Coast.

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The beach at Lake Erie Bluffs in Perry, Ohio.

Things are too busy to find time to write, especially for Mad Man On A Great Lake.     Considering the fact that there were only 24 views this month of this site, I think it’s appeal is starting to wind down.  We’ll see.

Instead of writing, I’ve been doing a lot of driving, and that doesn’t just include heading to the job.  It’s a time of political fundraisers, clambakes, and yes local recognition dinners (in this case, one for your District 5 Police Station this past Wednesday at the Cleveland Jobs Corps campus off of East 140th St.).  This writer has been so tired that it was only this weekend that he took up the keyboard, and pen, to resume work on a few projects.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the leaves are turning now in NE Ohio.  Driving out I-90 East today you can really notice to reds and golds emerging on the trees.  This is such a beautiful time of the year here along Lake Erie.  It helped that we had unseasonably warm weather this weekend which is another reason to head outside and, in my case, enjoy the surf at a Lake County Metropark in Perry Ohio.

img_20161016_121502We will see how many more views of the site take place by the end of the month.

Photographs taken by James Valentino

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