Monday, December 20, 2010

Politics: Speaker Designate John Boehner: A Traitor to His Class

Our future Speaker of the House John Boehner isn’t afraid to cry in public.

He readily admits to being an emotional man. His friends and colleagues all know it and accept it and he’s not about to change.

But what does he cry about?

During his victory speech on Election Night, Boehner teared up as he spoke about being a working class stiff who has been chasing the American Dream all his life. Now that he’s gotten hold of the brass ring, however, the rest of us should realize that he has allied himself with a bunch of revolutionaries who seek to destroy that Dream by getting rid of “safety nets” and services that have helped the working class lead a decent comfortable life.

“I’m a regular guy with a big job” said Boehner off-handedly to Lesley Stahl in a “60 Minutes” interview where she cooed and giggled over him like a schoolgirl with a crush. She found the man likable because he was so “authentic.” She predicts the public will like him, too, probably because he represents the epitome of the twentieth century log cabin story.

“I put myself through school, working every rotten job there was,” he continued.

The small-town Ohioan grew up as the second oldest in a working class family with 12 kids. He went to Mass every morning at an all-boys Catholic school and lived in a small house with one bathroom and both parents—who happened to be John Kennedy Democrats.

Boehner worked in their father’s bar in Reading outside Cincinnati where he mopped the floor, helped with breakfast, cleaned up the dishes and washed the windows.

He worked nights to pay for tuition at Xavier University in Cincinnati, a private Catholic institution, and became the first person in his family to attend college, which took him seven years to complete. He met Deborah, his future wife of 37 years, when he was a janitor on the night shift emptying the trash.

After college he got a sales job in the packaging and plastics industry and worked his way up to become president of the firm. He resigned in 1990 when he was elected to Congress.

These are all admirable qualities by working class standards but unlike most, the self-made man became a millionaire. He also said this was the time he converted to Reagan Republicanism because he was so shocked that taxes ate up so much of his income.

What’s missing in this picture is the recognition that tax monies have always been critical to business success, including Boehner's. How? They provide the legal framework to enforce business contracts, roads and airports to transport goods and people, regulated utility rates that provide reasonably-priced utilities to industrial concerns and public schools and universities that provide a trained workforce. And yet, John Boehner thinks his success is due entirely to his own efforts and that he owes his fellow citizens nothing.

Now that he's in power, he wants to attack the public services and programs that make it possible for working class people to succeed just as he did. And in doing so, he is undercutting the most important resource that any business needs: well-educated, skilled and healthy people. He wants to do it by underfunding or defunding the monies used to subsidize state college tuition, public health, affordable housing, public education, public transportation and roads.

It shouldn't escape our attention that these things were made possible by those liberal New Deal Democrats, courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and his successors.

Over the past 100 years as the richest Americans have profited most from the United States’ rise to world prominence and power, they have consistently complained about paying taxes.

Unfortunately, working class people have been suckered into these concerns to their own detriment. They see the high cost of living, the global economy and job downsizing affecting them but they believe what Republicans tell them:  high taxes are the culprit.

There is no doubt in my mind that Boehner is sincere in his tears but he's completely misguided in his analysis.

For example, he says he can’t bring himself to visit a school anymore because it’s “too emotional” for him. He’s not sure the kids will “have a shot at the American Dream.”  If John Boehner has his way, they won't.

Over the past 30 years the the GOP has been doing everything it can to get rid of public schools, including the imposition of high stakes testing that ties the schools’ funding and teachers’ jobs to students’ performance.

Boehner’s biggest cry is government spending.

“Your government is out of control,” he yelled in his campaign for re-election. “Do you have to accept it? Do you have to take it? Hell, no, you don’t.”

Lesley Stahl characterized Boehner’s campaign as a “strategy of defiance” against Obama and the Democrats. What this really turned out to be was obstruction against working class Americans who are unemployed, underemployed and uninsured for health care.

Boehner, who co-authored the Contract with America in 1994, has now allied himself with the Tea Party, that ruse of a group that appeals to working class Americans’ fears and insecurities in this disastrous economic climate. 

Truth be told: Boehner is a traitor to his class, the working class, and he should be ashamed of himself.

The Republican Party has consistently shown itself to be the party of the rich and it has been reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans for decades. Last week they forced passage of an extension of the Bush tax cuts that helps millionaires!

The Republicans have also been chipping away at government services in the name of tightening the belt of Big Government. However, after eight years of Bush and now two years of Obama, the deficit has reached $900 billion anyway.

“Washington has spending problem,” said Boehner. 

This is the typical businessman’s complaint and quite frankly it’s a little old.  Spending is what you do with tax money. 

Boehner says he will attempt to cut spending by addressing some spending measure every week.  He’ll start by cutting the expenses of Congress by 5 percent.  He admits that will amount to only $25-30 million but he says it’s necessary to start somewhere.

Fine sentiments.  We’ll see where such symbolism goes with the institution that oversees its own raises.

Let’s face it. This system is made for the rich by the rich. They take care of themselves and don’t care about anyone else, especially the working class. They hire expensive lawyers who get them around tax codes and they lobby for legislation that benefits them.

The working class—and those of us who came from it—must start our own revolution and resist these Republicans, Tea Partiers, and the sell-out Democrats who are protecting the rich.

If we don’t, it will take more than crying to fix what ails America.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Politics: Richard Holbrooke Dies

Richard Holbrooke, a U.S. career diplomat and President Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, died on Monday, December 13.  He was 69.

Among his achievements were writing part of the Pentagon Papers and serving as the architect of the 1995 Bosnia peace accords, which ended the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.

I interviewed Holbrooke in November 2005 for an article I was writing about the Dayton Peace Prize, an event sponsored by Dayton Peace Prize Committee.  The committee is part of a community planning group called Dayton: A Peace Process (DAPP). It organized a series of high-profile events in fall of that year to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords.

The article was subsequently published in the Christian Science Monitor on November 17, 2005.   Here are some excerpts:
Holbrooke chose Dayton as the summit site, an unimpressive alternative to opulent settings in Geneva, Paris, or Washington. The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the largest in the country, provided stark accommodations for the nine participating delegations, sealed off the press, and displayed America's air power. This environment augmented Holbrooke's use of the "Big Bang" strategy - now known in diplomacy circles as a "Dayton" - where negotiators are locked in a room until they reach an agreement.
Proud that their town had been selected for the summit, Daytonians responded by welcoming the negotiators and then forming human peace chains around the base, holding candlelight vigils, and praying for peace throughout the 21 days of talks. Dayton's ethnic diversity did not escape the notice of the warring Balkan leaders, either.
"I love them," says Holbrooke of the people of Dayton in a telephone interview. "I believe that they are the absolute epitome of the best of America. They just showed what great energy and faith is out there in the heartland, which was dismissed by Washington."
 Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph offers a more down-to-earth assessment: "People reacted. There was a fire in Bosnia, and it was brought to our neighborhood. We took our garden hoses and tried to put it out. We just acted like neighbors. That's what we do in Dayton. If they're in trouble, we're in trouble."
Community leaders created the Dayton Peace Prize in 1999 to recognize individuals who contributed to the peaceful reconstruction of a society torn apart by war. A stipend of $25,000 goes to each recipient, who agrees to donate the money to a charity in the Balkans. The award, which is not given every year, went to President Bill Clinton in 2000 and philanthropist George Soros in 2002.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Food: Victorian Bakery Opens in New Location

Maria Brennan prepares for opening day at her new bakery on Crosstown and Burdick in this photo by William Wood, Kalamazoo Gazette (December 10, 2010)

William Wood posted a story on the bakery in the December 10 edition of the Kalamazoo Gazette and here is an accompanying video that I produced.  It's only my second video production so it's a little rough but it's a new way of reporting the news and it's a kick. 

Victorian Bakery has its own website at

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Travelogue: Gazette Story on Trip to Rwanda

Katsey Long, one of the therapists of our team, prepares to attend the Healing Mass where 5,000 people showed up.  Some people walked 15 miles to get the Mass, which lasted 4.5 hours.
I went to Rwanda in November to accompany my pastor, Fr. Ken Schmidt, and his parish associate, Sharon Froom, a therapist, as they gave trauma recovery workshops to 123 priests and human service professionals who are counseling people who survived the genocide of 1994.  One million people were killed during the 100 days that the genocide lasted and 100 percent of country is traumatized by this event.  

We stayed in Cyangugu, Rwanda, which is located in the southwestern part of the country.

Here is a link to a story I published in my home newspaper, the Kalamazoo Gazette on Saturday, December 11.

During the trip I kept a daily blog of our activities and you can see it on Trauma Recovery Associates in Rwanda.

I'm currently writing more articles and will post them on this blog as they are published.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Food: Kalamazoo Foods Market Opens

Today, the Kalamazoo Foods Market opened its doors and it was a hit with shoppers.

The market provides yet another winter market venue with local fruits, vegetables, meats, baked goods, eggs, and coffee.

Kavan and David Geary are the owners of the market.  Hear Kavan talk about it on the video.

Vendors were also happy to have this new market especially after the City of Kalamazoo kicked them out of the Bank Street Market parking lot last March.  See the Gazette story.  This year the city is offering stalls during the winter for $200.  Has anyone taken them up on that?

Congrats to the Geary brothers!