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I Still Say Happy Easter; A Quick Little Post.

As news about how Cleveland and other law enforcement look for a man bent on killing more than the elderly man he did this afternoon (and for a time posted on Facebook), perhaps wishing everyone a Happy Easter seems rather trite.  All this started while I was in Grand River Ohio at an Easter Dinner given my a lady who told me she hadn’t done such a thing in 35 years.  The scattered rain predicted by the weather people last night pretty much passed us and in fact it was a beautiful day.  What a disconnect from how my day was as all this developed in my city.  This is on top of the fact that on Friday a man who owned a small car dealership on East 185th St. was shot with his wife.  All this has been so utterly senseless.

I just came across Councilman Michael D. Polensek’s (Ward 8) comments yesterday on this.  I wonder what he thinks about this new incident.  American carnage.

Yet, you have to try to put this into a bigger picture.  The shootings Friday were so shocking for everyone here in the East 185th St. area is because, overall, crime has been in fact going down a little.  My area is considered to be the second safest area in the city of Cleveland (after West Park). Major projects are underway, such as the renovation of the La Salle Theater and (as cited in my previous blog entry) property values are slowly but steadily recovering.

I hope they find the murderers and perhaps Mayor Jackson and staff will reconsider their proposal to recruit only 65 more police officers when, thanks to our vote in November for an income tax increase, they can hire so much more and put them in our communities

Once again, I still say Happy Easter.

 

 

 

 

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About Cleveland, Opinion, Uncategorized

Back to a Brown Bag Lunch.

 

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The Brown Bag Lunch.

The song “Spinning Wheels” by Blood, Sweat, and Tears seems appropriate for today as I drove downtown from the job Wednesday afternoon to stop in at my alma mater, The Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.  This is one of the varieties of programs that my old college has to fill the large building at the corner of East 17th Street and Euclid Avenue.

Moderated by Charles (Chip) Bromley, Director of the Ohio Fair Lending Coalition, it featured former Country Treasurer (now Director of the Thriving Communities Institute) James Rokakis and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress Inc.’s Erika Anthony.  To a packed room, they discussed how organizations such as theirs play a role in pivoting new housing and investment into rehabilitating housing.

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Erika Anthony (left) and James Rokakis (center) at the Brown Bag Lunch.

The audience consisted of students, planners, and even two professors from when I was there as a student. Ms. Anthony, herself a graduate of the College, talked about how she’s now teaching a class there.  As for the Ohio Fair Lending Coalition, it is a collaboration of fair lending organizations throughout Ohio and part of Organize! Ohio which is a community organizing group.

James Rokakis delivered one of his speeches on the impact County Land Banks have had not only in Cuyahoga County but throughout Ohio.  Roughly half of the state’s 88 counties have one.  Since 2008, the Land Bank Bill has been tweaked six times.

However, demolishing vacant buildings isn’t just an inner city phenomenon.  “Blight is everywhere,” Mr. Rokakis told the audience and gave examples of small cities and towns throughout Ohio with downtowns as virtual ghost towns.  The loss of local government funds has paralyzed communities such as Portsmouth and Elyria Ohio for that matter.  He also added that Dan Gilbert’s Office was very helpful with getting the demolition fund money.

“People ask me ‘What are you going to do with all the vacant lots in Ohio?” Mr. Rokakis admitted, “ I have no idea.”  However, at least in Cleveland some things such as infill housing, urban agriculture, and adjacent homeowners buying the vacant lots to add to their own yards is quite common.  Warren Ohio had a plan to create wildflower gardens on their vacant properties.  While studies show that these demolitions helped stabilize the property values of surrounding houses, many of the buildings that wind up in the Cuyahoga County Land Bank are structurally sound and, with some work, can be put back on the market.

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Charles Bromley checks out the audience.

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Cleveland Ward 12 Councilman Anthony Brancatelli listens during the Q&A session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Erika Anthony, the goal of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress Inc. (also known as CNP), is not so much to tear down but to rehabilitate houses and getting people to move in them.  As CNP’s Executive Summary states, “We estimate that 1,081 programmatic rehabs completed between 2009 and 2015 in Cuyahoga County preserved or increased just over half a million dollars_$539,318,3018_in its values of surrounding houses.”  This is not an insignificant amount of money and this, combined with the work by the Land Banks, certainly stabilized the property values of many neighborhoods.

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Map of Cuyahoga County showing sub-markets and location of rehabilitated properties.

As for how all this impacts North Shore Collinwood, it’s hard to say.  As of this writing, I’m still waiting for Ms. Anthony to get back with me with data on this.  However, according to the map, the further West you go, the more stressed the submarkets’ become.  Admittedly, on the East Side of Cleveland there are no truly higher functioning ownership areas.  However, the submarket with East 185th St. (and where I happen to live) is in the Moderately Functioning Ownership category with 10-11 rehabs taken place there.  In this category, the average impact per rehab is $501,651.  It’s really hard to tell how this translates into neighborhood property values but the average median price has not only stabilized but we up again a little since the mortgage meltdown of almost a decade ago.  On the other hand, it is still a far cry from what houses off East 185th St.  were fetching in 1997.

One felt there that the speakers as well as many in the audience were all trying to squeeze blood from the proverbial stone when it comes to finding the funds not just for home rehabing but other programs as well.   The elimination of the local municipal fund by the Kasich Administration was a major blow to city planning and housing departments and the proposed cut to HUD’s budget trickles down into less money from the Federal Government as well.

It will be interesting to note how the housing market and the money available for home and land bank programs will fare in the next few years.  In the meantime, there will be more Brown Bag lunches.

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A Quick Little Post, My blog., Uncategorized

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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The Writer’s Group in Akron.

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Downtown Akron, looking north.

Saturday, March 18, 2017, I drove through dense fog and low visibility on I-271 for something I just saw in an email a few days before.  I went to a Writer’s Group Mix and Mingle Networking Social at Baxter’s Bar in Downtown Akron Ohio. While it wasn’t “a social networking evening with local authors, artists, art lovers, writers, publishers and business professionals,” the email implied (for example, local mystery writer Les Roberts was nowhere in sight), it was in many ways better than that.

The brainchild of Akron native Kora Sadler, the group came together because a few years ago she wanted to write a family memoir.  From the way she talked, I can tell that writing and the group has become her passion. Apparently, there was a need in the Akron area for aspiring writers to find a place to share their work and people kept joining.  I learned from her that they have had people not only from Canton but as far away as Alliance and Youngstown join them.   They even self publish their own book; an anthology of stories and poems that group members contributed to the project.

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Kora Sadler (center) talks to a new member as others look on.

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Other members of the group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The format seems similar to the one that Dave Van Horne has up here in Cleveland, except that they have theirs once a month on a Saturday morning at a local library and it’s free.

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While I couldn’t talk to everybody, I did manage to chat with a few around me, including Kora.  Bob, who sat next to her, has already self-published three books.  A resident of Goodyear Heights, he explained to me how Lulu was very helpful, and easy, to use. Apparently, Bob prefers Lulu over Amazon which has its’ own Create Space software for self publishers as well.  There was also a man named Peter Schmotzer came into the place and asked the group for feedback for his new book which he had copies of.  In a subsequent email Peter wrote that it was for him a journey to be a better writer and these groups are a great way to meet new writers and get their perspectives on the art.

While there seems to be a big debate over the merits of self-publishing, the industry seems to be growing.  According to a Financial Times article from 2013, “self-published works accounted for 40 percent of author royalties generated by ebooks at Amazon.“ Since then the self-publishing market has continued to grow, with Bowker stating more than 725,000 works were published this way in 2015. However, is self-publishing more for creative writing than say non-fiction or pieces of journalism?  After all, this blog is essentially me self-publishing articles posing as posts for the public to read.  What about book reviews like you see writers do for The New York Review of Books?   How can you make the leap from being an ‘emerging’ writer to a professional one that editors of, let’s say Crain’s Cleveland Business or Atlantic Cities, would take seriously?   There are different shades of what you want to do on any endeavor and that applies to writing.

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The Ernest Hemingway Mojito.

As for the bar itself, it reminds me a bit of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Library on Waterloo Rd. in Cleveland; except a longer bar and more people on a Saturday afternoon.  Considering I arrived at 3:30 PM, it was already happy hour and naturally people were drinking the specials. In my case, an Ernest Hemingway Mojito for five dollars.  I don’t know what made it different from any other mojito (more rum?) but it had plenty of mint and hit the spot.  They all got a laugh out of me when I told them how I didn’t know that Lock 3 was their Minor League Baseball stadium until I saw it as I drove down the street trying to find the place.  As a matter of fact, Canal Park, home of the RubberDucks, is one fine looking baseball field from what I saw on the street.

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Baxter’s Bar Main Entrance.

It just goes to show you that there are a lot of creative people here in NE Ohio.

Photographs taken by James Valentino

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About Cleveland, Opinion, Uncategorized

What Happened to the West Quad Project?

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A view of the West Campus of Case Western Reserve University taken in October 2016.  Note the solar farm and the old Mt. Sinai Hospital Parking Garage in the distance.

For every highly touted project that gets built in the Cleveland area, another slowly vanishes.  I see one of them every workday as I drive drown East 105th street past the site of the old Mt. Sinai Hospital.

More than eleven years have passed since Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) announced its’ plans for the former Mt. Sinai Hospital property on East. 105th St.Called the West Quad Project, it was to be designed to be one of the premier research parks in the nation. Case Medical School committed itself to be the first ‘anchor tenant’ and Forest City Enterprises was to build the new buildings on the 14 acre site. As the plan stated “The first of these partnerships is already underway “

Within a few years, things changed.  In 2008, Shannon Mortland wrote in Crain’s Cleveland Business that the university was retooling the project, renamed the West Campus, into a smaller, less expensive, light (August 4, 2008).  Instead of a 1 million square feet research campus, plans were made for a 100,000 square foot building to house a variety of programs. That proposed building wasn’t built.  Since then, very little has been done and the visions of a medical research center have moved elsewhere.  The CWRU Health Education Campus, originally announced for the West Campus, is now currently being built on Euclid Avenue on land donated by the Cleveland Clinic.  With the exception of the Temple Tifereth Israel being acquired in 2014 (and now the Maltz Performing Arts Center) to all appearances the West Campus’ development is now a low priority.

In the fall of 2016, I tried contacting people at Case Western Reserve to learn the current status of the project.  After some false starts, I did reach Kevin Maywood was nice enough to refer me to his boss Bill Lubinger.  In our brief phone conversation, Mr. Lubinger did mention the new pedestrian bridge CWRU built over Doan Brook for around $7 million as a recent investment regarding the West Campus.  At his suggestion, I sent him an email with further questions on the project (his reply, as of February 2017, is still pending). In the meantime, I did a little investigating of the site myself.

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The Western side of the campus seen on Ansel Road.

While I already knew about the road construction on East 105Th St., Mt. Sinai Dr. was completely blocked for the same reason (Mt Sinai Drive has since been reopened).    Currently, the West Campus appeared to consist mainly of parking; a reminder of the days Mt. Sinai Hospital stood on the site.  Besides the Mt. Sinai Parking Garage, solar panels, a grassy slope, the Maltz Center (still waiting for phase two) and the Wright Fuel Research Center for Structural Biology Building stand.  Dedicated in 2005, the 18,700 square foot facility is the only new building that the university constructed as part of the original proposal.  East 101 St, and Ansel Road, which borders the Campus on the West side of the street, consists mainly of empty lots on the west side (with the exception of the Citizens Leadership Academy) with many of the side streets having road blocks right at the end.  However, the housing stock, though run down, appears to have plenty of character and the makings of a great neighborhood.

Why should this matter?  For starters, having taken over the site when Mt. Sinai Hospital closed and promising great things for it, Case Western Reserve University should follow through and make a real campus out of the place.  Also, considering the money both the VA Hospital and natural History Museum put into their facilities in the same area, it makes sense that this remaining component to what I consider for many motorists coming from the I-90 the Gateway to University Circle should be taken seriously.   Finally, that can be a great spot to put some of the university’s non-medical related programs in.

Besides CWRU’s plan to add a wing to the Maltz Center, what else can be put on the site?  One must remember that when it became part of Case Western Reserve University in 1967, the Case Institute of Technology was considered by many to be the MIT of the Midwest. Along with the Performing Arts, and Fuel Cell Research, why not some engineering programs related to green energy or artificial intelligence? The School of Engineering can easily construct another building (I don’t know, say 100,000 square feet?) for their programs.  After all, with the new money for a Center for Excellence, why not put it on the West Quad?  Also, a business incubator along the lines of the one in Youngstown, Ohio wouldn’t be bad for that location either.

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A view of some of the housing stock off of Ansel Road across from the West Campus.

Why not buy the vacant lots along East 101th St and reopen the entrances to the side streets?  A quick look at the County Fiscal Officer’s website shows that many of the parcels between East 93rd and East 101st are either owned by the City of Cleveland or the Cuyahoga County Land Bank; it would be relatively inexpensive for CWRU to take them over.  Graduate student housing can be constructed along the latter street facing the West Campus, at least on a small-scale.  It would be possible that, over time, a vibrant college neighborhood adjacent to the Campus can become a reality. Then, as part of an emerging innovation district at University Circle, we can have a “community of opportunity.”  According to the research institute PolicyLink, such communities are “places with quality schools, access to good jobs with livable wages, quality housing choices, public transportation, strong social networks. “ (Jonathan F. P. Rose, The Well Tempered City, pg 279). This can be seen to some extent already in Pittsburgh near Carnegie-Mellon University and it’s only logical that something like that should exist here.

In the four months since I started writing this, nothing has changed. As I drove down to University Circle this past Sunday, I stopped at the parking lot next to the Rockefeller Lagoon.  The empty hulk of the Mt. Sinai Parking  Garage loomed in front of me in the distance.  You couldn’t tell this was part of a major university.  Yet, the potential is there.

Case Western Reserve, is it time for a reboot?

 

 

Photographs James Valentino

 

Note; this was originally intended to be an op-ed which I submitted to a Cleveland Area publication in early December.  After emails with the editor and a phone call in early January where the editor said they will get back with me a week later, I received an email in February stating it wasn’t a “good fit”.  So, I apologize for the delay.

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A Quick Little Post, Opinion, Uncategorized

Looking for the American Dream; A Quick Little Post.

Who would have thought Trump’s well rehearsed speech to a Joint Session of Congress Tuesday would be the eye in the storm call his presidency so far?  He almost made it a whole day with people focusing on how well-behaved he was in the Chamber that night when news of Attorney General Session’s meetings with the Russian Ambassador stole his thunder.  Now, he tweets that the former president wire-tapped his phones and bellows for an investigation while violence breaks out in Berkeley between Anti-Trump protesters and his supporters.  Now, our President tweets his predecessor wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower, blames the generals for the botched job in Yemen, and goes back down (at our expense) to Palm Beach for another weekend. For all those people last year who chanted “lock her up” referring to Hillary Clinton and her emails, what are they thinking now?  Do they still say give Donald Trump and his boys a chance?

The Washington Post Daily 202 on Thursday and Friday had some interesting tidbits.  Apparently, four orders were signed under the radar that have nothing to do with renegotiating NAFTA, getting higher wages to working class voters, or making Americans work again; but do sound like something you’d see many Tea Party types in the past applaud; such as making it easier for the mentally ill to get guns..

All though brouhaha the only ones who appear to be benefiting seem to be Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell; especially if suddenly Mike Pence winds up being President.  Talk about a backstage coup.  It would be like the George W. Bush Presidency all over again; with the inevitable consequence. Once again, we will see if in a year how it all plays out.

The irony is that, if you happened to see Fahreed Zakaria GPS today, the American Dream in increasingly a Canadian one.  Former Canadian diplomat (and Conservative) Scott Gilmore discussed with Mr. Zakaria his latest article he wrote for Maclean’s titled The American Dream has Moved to Canada.   Mr. Gilmore pointed out many studies that shows that, on average, that Canada has surpassed us in such things as longevity, obtaining a college degree, even a freer press.  In his article, he referred to the fact that the World Economic Forum has ranked Canadians as the sixth happiest in the world.  What about us?  We’re ranked at thirteenth.

In many ways that fact that Donald Trump is still in office, or not, for a full term isn’t really the main issue for many people.  What is important is if those promises he made on the ‘bread and butter’ issues (let alone restoring the American Dream) really start coming to fruition.  If all that results from all this mess is a Mike Pence presidency with a Paul Ryan budget,  you will have a whole lot more angry people out there than we do now; and incidents like Berkeley will be nationwide.  If that happens, then couldn’t the Kremlin say their gamble paid off?  Let’s see what the next seven days has in store for us.

 

 

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A Quick Little Post, Opinion, Uncategorized

Happy President’s Day: A Quick Little Post.

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Lake Erie at Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor, Ohio.  Taken earlier this month.

Things have been quite calm here on the North Coast.  Unlike last year at this time, we are experiencing an early taste of Spring.  Snowdrops and iris reticulas are starting to emerge in the garden.  The snow is gone and Lake Erie looks like it does in early April.  Work on a new pier at Euclid Beach has begun and, despite money gaps, the renovation of the La Salle Theater continues. Today, at a special ward club meeting I went to, I leaned that after West Park, my neighborhood is the safest in the city of Cleveland   Property values also seem to continue to be slowly recovering and the person who bought the house across the street from me seems to be moving in.  The reality of everyday life is serene compared to the firestorm I see everyday on the evening news regarding our government.

It’s really had to keep up with the revelations regarding President Trump and his merry band that seem to hit the public hourly.  I’ve stayed up until midnight a few times to learn what’s going on with our President and his merry band; and I don’t just mean the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn last Monday.  The cable tv talking heads are right; it’s only been a few weeks since the inauguration and it feels like it’s already been a year.

E.J. Dionne wrote in one of his recent pieces for his column (Admit it: Trump is unfit to serve) “What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?  Okay, so Donald Trump is unfit to serve but what does it reflect on the millions who voted for him?  What about Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell?

Those who left the Democratic party to vote for Trump didn’t vote for the Republicans’ calls to repeal Obamacare or Paul Ryan’s plans to privatize everything.  They want to see jobs coming back to Ashtabula Ohio or Grand Rapids Michigan and are willing to wait a bit to see if the man can deliver.

I don’t have to know what his base thinks about his performance, I just had to listen to it across the table at Muldoon’s last night.  For one, my own father is still keen on Trump.  Yesterday he made two comments which show how a family can be so divided politically.  The roundups now hitting the country of illegal immigrants merely verifies what he already thought.  “They arrested an illegal alien who has been collecting social security” he told me. Later, I found the source of this news, from a Breitbart article printed in May 2016.   I merely drank my water.  I also decided not to tell hem what I heard of a transgender woman being turned in to ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) by her boyfriend after she got a protective order against him.  As I ate my hamburger, he went on to talk about how things will turn around in coal country; which is rather surprising coming from a retired welder.  “They keep worrying about the water but what’s good with water if they don’t have jobs?” was another comment which for once I was too tired to counter.

He’s not alone.  As a clip I saw Friday on MSNBC of interviews of residents of Kenosha Wisconsin shows, those Obama voters who went for Trump will give him the benefit of the doubt.  They are attracted to the man and his message.  As I’ve written before, what will they feel if all those well-paying jobs don’t come back to the Rustbelt or, worse, Trump is gone before 2020 and the vice-president, who is in my opinion a Mid-Western version of George W. Bush, takes charge?  Deep down, that is exactly what Republicans like Paul Ryan want to get their agenda moving; but did Trump voters like my Father and those above vote for business as usual 2006?

When I heard Saturday that rally in Florida them play the Rolling Stones tune “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, I kept thinking again the Eurythmics “Would I lie to you?” would be much more appropriate.  Happy President’s Day tomorrow folks.

 

Photograph by James Valentino.

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