Saturday, April 30, 2011

Portsmouth's Copout

A copy of the ballot Portsmouth voters will be handed next Tuesday, May 3rd

      There is a primary election in the city of Marion, Ohio, on Tuesday, May 3rd, as there is in Portsmouth, but there is no measure on the Marion ballot to increase the city income tax, as there is on the Portsmouth ballot (shown above, with Police Chief Horner's face). Marion has managed to make cost-cutting  savings and still stave off  layoffs in the police department without resorting to a “safety levy,”  and without scaring senior citizens into voting for it. Marion accomplished a compromise with real collective bargaining, not with collusion between the public employee unions and corrupt Portsmouth politicians who push for a  “safety levy” rather than bargaining seriously with public employees.
According to John Jarvis of the Marion Star, on April 29th, at a special meeting, the Marion City Council gave a first reading to an agreement negotiated by Mayor Schurtzer and the three unions representing Marion’s police officers.  If finally approved,  that agreement is expected to  save the city’s general fund about $274,404 in 2011. The savings would be achieved, for the most part, by increasing furlough days of the police; reducing the number  of  their sick leave sell-back days; reducing the city’s share of their pensions; reducing  the city’s share of their health insurance; and suspending their holiday overtime pay for the rest of 2011. These negotiated cost cutting measures are expected to save the jobs of the five members of the police force who were scheduled to be laid off.
In Portsmouth, instead of negotiations  between the city and the police, we have a “safety levy”; instead of cutbacks we have copouts; instead of cooperation, we have capitulation on the part of city officials; instead of layoffs, or the possibility thereof, we have talk of renovating the Marting building (again!) as the new home for  the police department. What the Portsmouth Police Department needs more than a new police station is a new police chief. Marion has Chief Tom Bell, who helped resolve their budget crisis, while Portsmouth has  Chief  Horner, a loose cannon who is always looking out for number one and undermining whoever the mayor is. Horner has recently been interviewed by the New York Times and on National Public Radio as if he was a knowledgeable  authority on and leader of the fight against drugs in Portsmouth. In fact, Horner with his bumbling incompetence and paranoid management style worsened  Portsmouth’s drug problems.  The group that Horner has targeted as Enemy Number One are not the drug dealers but the Concerned Citizens, a senior citizens group that has criticized him and that he in turn has denounced as “domestic terrorists.”
Demoralized and divided, members of the Portsmouth police force deserve some special compensation for the stress of having to perform a very difficult job under Horner, but the “safety levy” will not provide that compensation. The “safety levy” will perpetuate the problems in the police department and in the city, not solve them. For that reason  residents of the city, including those  police who reside here, should vote against the levy. Milking the taxpayers and exploiting the fears of senior citizens about crime by pushing a “safety levy”  is not the way Mayor Schurtzer and the police unions are reducing the costs associated with Marion’s police department, and it shouldn’t be Portsmouth’s way either. The Portsmouth “safety levy” is not a solution, it is a copout.
The language of the “safety levy” states that it would be used for “the operations of the Police and Fire forces of the City of Portsmouth and for no other purpose whatsoever.” That sounds to me as if the levy money can be used to renovate at a cost of millions  the infamous Marting Annex building (shown below) for use as a police station. Councilman Albrecht, who always does just what the Marting Foundation wants him to do, recently proposed renovating the Marting Annex for just such a purpose.

 Will the Safety Levy provide the money to renovate the infamous Marting Annex into the new Portsmouth police station? 

Meanwhile, the even more  infamous toxic Adelphia Building (shown below) sits and rots, waiting until the financially strapped city can come up with money to tear it down. Horner and the city council were in favor of renovating it for use by the Portsmouth police department, just as they will probably be in favor of renovating the Marting Annex. 

The toxic Adelphia building, formerly scheduled to be renovated as new home of Portsmouth police department

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Levees and Levies: Portsmouth, Chillicothe, and Marion

A county map of Ohio, showing three cities, Portsmouth, Chillicothe, and Marion, the county seats of Scioto, Ross, and Marion counties, located approximately in the same latitude in the so-called Midwestern Rustbelt. The three medium-sized cities, with shrinking populations of 20,000, 22,000 and 32,000, respectively, are currently attempting to deal, as are many cities in Ohio, with sizable budget deficits.

“Levees Ready to Burst as Rain Pounds Central U.S.,” the headlines say. Because Portsmouth has a levee, or flood wall, the  heaviest rains in many years will not stop the voters on the  May 3, 2011, primary from having their say on a proposed increase in the city income tax. After record spring rains, Portsmouth is fortunate to have a levee to prevent floods but  it is unfortunate in  that it may soon get a tax levy that may prove as bad for the city as the earth levee has proved good. What Portsmouth needs, but which it will probably  not get because of its corrupt government, is a financial flood wall to protect it from rising taxes.
          Last year, Chillicothe tried to address its budget deficit  by cutting the number of city employees and increasing the city income tax. While many Chillicotheans were in favor of cutting the cost of city government—and the number of city employees—they were definitely not in favor of an increase in the income tax, which they rejected by a wide margin. On  May 3rd, Portsmouth voters will decide whether to raise the city income tax. The proposed  so-called “safety levy” will be on the ballot, but there will be no proposal to reduce the  cost of  city government by reducing the number of city employees, or at least their salaries and benefits. What mayor unelect Malone has proposed to deal with the budget deficit is to increase the city income tax by  0.6 percent, which is larger than the 0.4 income tax increase that Mayor Sulzer had failed to get passed in Chillicothe. It doesn’t sound like much, 0.6, but each percentage point represents millions of dollars.
In contrast to Chillicothe and Portsmouth, Marion is not considering raising its income tax rate, which currently stands at 1.75 percent. Instead of raising the rate to 2 percent, as the mayors of Portsmouth and Chillicothe want to do, Marion’s mayor,  Scott Schertzer, proposed cutting the high cost of city government, the chief item of which in almost all cities is the cost of  city employees, in salaries and benefits. According to the Marion Star, Schertzer proposed eliminating the city’s pick-up of employee pensions, the sick leave sell-back benefits, the health savings accounts and the insurance premium caps. He also proposed implementing 64 unpaid furlough hours  during the last seven months of 2011 to save an estimated $1.1 million. Schertzer presented his proposals to the six unions representing Marion’s  public employees, and he set April 14th as the deadline for the unions to respond. He said that if  he could not reach an agreement with all six unions, he would begin extensive layoffs beginning May 1st. Unions representing administrators, maintenance personnel, street, sanitation and wastewater workers refused to renegotiate existing contracts. But the union representing the Fire Department, which could have lost as many as a third of its personnel, entered into negotiations with the mayor. They offered their own cost cutting package, which they claimed would save the city even more than the mayor’s cost cutting package but which would not require drastic reduction in the number of fire fighters. By contrast, Portsmouth mayors, such as Bauer, Kalb, and Malone, don’t negotiate with, but rather capitulate to, public employees, who constitute their hard-core constituency. They know if they lose the support of public employees, they are toast.
On  Monday, April 25, 2011, which was yesterday,  the Marion City Council voted in favor of the agreement  that Mayor Schertzer and the International Association of Fire Fighters,  representing the Marion  Fire Department, had negotiated. Lt. Wade Ralph, vice president of IAFF Local 379, said the fire fighters’ concessions would save the city’s general fund $368,895, which was more than the $340,731 saving that had been sought  by Schertzer in a proposal he made earlier in April. Schertzer praised the cooperative spirit of IAAF Local 379,  and he rescinded  the scheduled layoff of twelve fire fighters. In addition, the  fire fighters got a one-year extension of their current contract.

Lt. Wade Ralph and Mayor Scott Schertzer, who negotiated contract

Portsmouth and Marion: Night and Day

The contrast between Marion and Portsmouth and between Mayor Schertzer and Mayor-unelect Malone in dealing with budget deficits is like night and day. The Marion Star reported last week that twelve of  Marion’s fire fighters and five of its police officers had received layoff notices from Mayor  Schertzer. Mayor-unelect David Malone of Portsmouth, by contrast, has not sent out layoff notices to any city employees. In fact, Malone  rehired employees who had been laid off by the previous elected mayor, Jane Murray. The case of Lizzie Borden proved that you can’t chop your mother up in Massachusetts, and the case of Mayor Murray proved that you can’t layoff  public employees in Portsmouth, Ohio, without being treating like a war criminal.  The  mobilization of public employees against Murray was immediate and effective, and she was recalled from office before she finished the  first year of her term. There was more than one reason why Murray was recalled, but the most important by far was the perception by city employees that with her as mayor their jobs were in jeopardy. Murray’s laying off of three city employees was viewed as an atrocity. She was accused of being cruel, crazy, and tyrannical.
In terms of, character, intelligence, and toughness, the contrast between Malone and Murray is striking, and so  is the contrast between Malone and Marion’s mayor Schertzer, who  prior to being elected mayor was an educator in Marion County for thirteen years as well as an employee of the Ohio State Treasury and the Ohio Secretary of State. Schertzer did not become mayor to servilely serve the crooks who control the city.  Like mayors Bauer and Kalb before him, the philandering preacher Malone is a tool drawn from Portsmouth’s  ample pool of con artists, fools, and failures  that the rich white trash of Portsmouth draw on to fill public offices.  Malone raised no hopes in the people when after playing  the game of political musical chairs he finally got to be mayor, as he had failed to do when he twice ran for the office.  The only thing Malone raised when he became mayor was the  water rates, which were increased  by a whopping 18 percent.
It may be in the short-term interest but it is not in the long-term interest of Portsmouth  public employees, including its  fire fighters and police, that the income tax increase should be passed. It will help all the citizens of Portsmouth if the state declares Portsmouth in a fiscal emergency and steps in to require the city  to operate on  a sound financial basis. Passing the income tax levy on May 3rd will postpone state intervention, and the financial reckoning, but it will not prevent it. The gains that Portsmouth  public employees have been  able to “negotiate”  from incompetent and corrupt mayors will probably be paid for dearly by everyone, including the fire fighters and the police, in the not too distant future. The people of Portsmouth cannot afford to  have mayors like Bauer, Kalb and Malone, and an enabling city auditor like Trent Williams, who has played a financial shell game for the last decade. We now have a levee to protect us from the rising river,  but where is the financial flood wall that will protect us from rising levies?

Noah Says

Biblically,  the world ended in a flood,
With everything but the ark buried in mud.
But now, as water rates rise and global warming waxes,
Noah says, “Goddamn it, Mayor-unelect, no more taxes!”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Income Tax Increase will Decrease Opportunity

“The last thing the foxy lawyer and the skanky developer want is for the state to step in and impose some fiscal order, as it has at the county level.”

In my previous post, I described  how an income tax levy, labeled the “safety levy,” was soundly rejected by Chillicothe voters on November 2, 2010. I predict that, by contrast, the proposed Portsmouth income tax increase, from 1.6 to 2 percent, which has also been labeled the “safety levy,” will pass on May 3, 2011. It won’t be passed by a landslide, but it will pass.
The Portsmouth income tax levy will pass, firstly, because it is being  called a “safety levy.” That scare tactic didn’t work in Chillicothe, but it probably will in Portsmouth.  If citizens think that if they don’t vote for the levy, if they think that if they don’t support the police and the fire departments, that they might be putting their lives and property in jeopardy, then they will vote for the levy.
The income tax levy will probably pass, secondly,   because it will appear on the primary ballot, in May, not on the general election ballot, in November. Far fewer citizens vote in primary elections, which increases the levy’s  chances of passage. The fewer the voters, the greater the  chance an unpopular ballot measure can pass. The majority of Portsmouth’s residents would probably  not favor an income tax increase, but the majority of Portsmouth’s registered voters  will not be voting in the primary election:  a  minority,  possibly a small minority of those  registered will vote for it because it will be in their economic interest.
The income tax levy will probably pass, thirdly, because city employees,  and especially members of the police and fire departments, will campaign vigorously for it, and those city employees who live in the city will vote overwhelmingly for it. The same city employees who worked so hard to remove Mayor Murray from office will work hard to pass the levy.
The  income tax levy will probably pass, fourthly,  because a committee has been formed to raise money and campaign in support of it.  The Committee in Support of Police and Fire has registered with the Scioto Board of Elections. A similar committee formed in Chillicothe to support the “safety levy” was not successful, but public employees and the police and fire personnel in particular have more political clout in Portsmouth than they do in Chillicothe.
The income tax levy will probably pass, fifthly, because its supporters  have a captive audience in the many senior citizens who live in private and public housing complexes in Portsmouth, and particularly those who live in private and public housing complexes where polls are located. No matter the weather, or whether it is a primary or a general election, these senior citizens located in complexes where polls are located don’t have to leave home to vote. Why and how the seniors vote, and who is in position to influence them, is something somebody should   look into. Not long before Mayor Murray was recalled from office, the director of Hill View, functioning as a ward heeler,  sent a letter to residents critical of the mayor that was political in its implications.  Did patients in the Alzheimer’s ward get a copy of  that letter? Will the tax levy get the Alzheimer vote? The door at Hill View is always open for city auditor Trent Williams to entertain or enlighten the residents.The most notorious figure in Portsmouth, Mike Mearan, was appointed to  the board of the Portsmouth Metropolitan Housing Authority, in my opinion, for the same reason he was later appointed  to the Portsmouth City Council: to maintain the corrupt clique’s political control of the city.

City  auditor Trent Williams  holding forth at Hill View

Finally, and most importantly, the income tax levy will probably pass because the foxy lawyer and skanky developer who have never been elected to any public office but nevertheless control the economy and most of the public officials of Portsmouth  city goverment will conclude that it is in their interest to keep the state from declaring the city in a state of fiscal emergency. The last thing the foxy lawyer and the skanky developer want is for the state to step in and impose some fiscal order, as it has at the county level.
I hope I am proved wrong in my predictions, but I think the income tax levy will pass on May 3rd, and its passage will help perpetuate the kind of deficits the levy is supposed to alleviate, if not put an end to.  Too many of  the poor white trash are addicted to drugs, as Ohio County Losing Its Young to Painkillers’ Grip,” a story in today’s New York Times illustrates. What the Times did not point out is that many of the problems of Portsmouth are related to the  rich white trash who are hopelessly addicted to money. It is they who have removed competition and opportunity and made the city the soulless place where drug trips are the only way out for the young.  I think the passage of the income tax levy will help perpetuate the control of Portsmouth by the rich white trash who control almost everything in the city, not just the Chamber of Commerce and the SOGP, but the politicians, the chief of police, and the unions. The income tax increase will further decrease what little opportunity there is in Portsmouth.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Nov. 2010: Chillicothe Rejects Sulzer's "Safety Levy"

Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer, whose proposed “safety levy was rejected by voters.

For purposes of a comparison with Portsmouth, which I will make in my next posting, what follows is  a brief account of the  proposed income tax increase that was put on the ballot  last November in Chillicothe in response to that city’s budget deficit. As a result of the Great Recession, Chillicothe like many cities in the United States had a deficit in 2010. But it could have been much worse, for Mayor Joe Sulzer had previously reduced  city expenses by cutting  salaries of city employees by 2 percent and laying off  33 of those  employees, including five in the  fire and two in the police department. More police would have been laid off, but in September 2010 the city received a federal grant that saved the jobs of several of them.  Sulzer’s cost cutting did not stop with layoffs.  He closed a fire station and ordered a reduction in overtime in the police and fire departments. Overtime is one of the hidden costs of police and fire personnel that former Portsmouth  mayor Murray tried to reduce. Imagine what would have happened if, instead of three city employees,  she had laid off  as many as 33.
But Mayor  Sulzer’s  cost cutting was not enough to balance Chillicothe’s budget. There was still a projected deficit of  $164,000 for 2010. The Chillicothe  City Council called on him to take further action. So, a year ago, in April 2010,  he announced he would ask voters in the November 2010 election to approve a 0.4 increase in the city income tax, raising the tax from 1.6 to 2 percent. The 0.4 tax increase was expected to raise $2.6 million dollars, more than enough to cover the anticipated $2.4 million dollar 2011deficit.
Since most of  the income tax increase would go to  pay for costs associated with the salaries, pensions and benefits of the police and fire personnel, whose primary responsibility is to protect lives and property, Sulzer called the proposed increase tax “the safety levy.” In letters to the Chillicothe Gazette, and on Topix and Facebook, angry citizens objected not only  to the tax increase but also to its being called a “safety levy,” accusing the mayor and the police and fire departments  of using scare tactics. “We’re hearing a lot of skepticism out there,” a detective told a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. “They think it’s a scare tactic, but it’s not.” The skeptics the detective referred to disagreed. They thought the issue was not public safety but the high cost to taxpayers of Chillicothe’s public employees and the police and fire personnel in particular.
Safety Levy Committee

Mayor Sulzer, the chiefs of the police and fire departments,  the president of the city council and others, formed the Safety Levy Committee, which registered with the Ross County Board of Elections. Prior to the November 2nd election, the  Safety Levy Committee conducted a campaign to educate citizens on the role of  police and fire personnel in protecting lives and property. On their own time, members of the police and fire departments went door to door as part of the education campaign. To win the hearts and minds of  voters, the police and fire departments sponsored  a “Party in the Park,” featuring live music and a cornhole tournament.
Opponents of the tax increase countered with their own education campaign, forming  a committee called Citizens Invalidating Tax Increase (CITI). An anti-levy website named Stop the Government Corruption Now  made blistering attacks on the wastefulness and corruption of city government.  The Ross County-Chillicothe Chamber of Commerce produced a detailed analysis of the costs of city government,  focusing on the police and fire departments. The most radical of the Chamber’s suggestions was to eliminate the Chillicothe Police Department and contract with the Ross County Sheriff’s Office  to police the city. It had been done in other communities, the Chamber pointed out, and should be considered in Chillicothe.
Because there was another  ballot issue  upsetting  residents—the use of cameras at stop lights—the turnout for the November 2nd  election was heavy. The levy and the cameras were decisively rejected by voters as were incumbents up for reelection, no matter what their party affiliation. The longtime Republican city auditor William D. Morrissey and the  president of the city council were voted out of office. If the Democratic Mayor Sulzer had been on the ballot, there is no doubt he too would have been voted out of office.  That is probably why  he announced after the defeat of the levy that he would not run for reelection. Because of the defeat of the levy, the police department was expected to lose eight more officers in 2011, including six who were retiring but wouldn’t be replaced, dropping the number on the force to 29. Federal statistics show that cities the size of  Chillicothe  (and Portsmouth)  have police forces that average 44 members, but with more layoffs Chillicothe could drop as low as 29. 
     A member of the police force told the Columbus Dispatch, “It’s an absolute desperation situation.” The police and fire personnel may have thought the situation was desperate, desperate enough to turn to cornholing, perhaps the last refuge of public employees in Ohio, but their critics hailed the defeat of the tax levy as a triumph of democracy as well as  an act of fiscal sanity. An opponent of the levy said the Citizens Invalidating the Tax Increase successfully led the effort to educate the public about the misnamed ‘safety levy.’ Once again, the citizens repudiated the lies spread by the city and voted the levy down in a landslide!” 
     As I mentioned, in my next posting I will compare the Chillicothe and Portsmouth income tax levies, and what they reflect about the two cities, so alike and yet so different.
Will there be a cornhole tournament in Tracy Park before the May 3rd vote on the income tax levy?

Friday, April 08, 2011

4: Oxy and Contin in the Doctor's Office

“The doctor swung around in his chair and glanced  up reverently at the large framed poster photo of his hero on the wall.

Nervous and perplexed, flummoxed by the kittens,  Dr. Gudenoff  sat behind the cluttered old desk in his small office in the Freedom from Pain Clinic, looking  nothing like the calm and confident man, his hero, in the framed poster photo hanging on the wall behind his desk. There was also a “Thank You for Not Smoking” sign on the wall. The doctor, a chain smoker, suffered from emphysema.
“Madelyn, what about these troublesome kittens?” the doctor asked his assistant. Because of his secret, the doctor  was eager to get Madelyn, her daughter Barbie, the man with the shaved head, the hollow-eyed woman sitting impassively in the chair next to his desk, as well as the kittens—however many there turned out to be—out of his office.
“It’s my fault, doctor, I shouldn’t have . . .” Madelyn began
“No, doctor, it’s my fault . . .” Barbie said, interrupting her mother, “the kittens . . .” But Barbie, in turn,  was interrupted by the doctor as Oxy slunk  back into the office  after having been thrown out on his ear by Madelyn.
“Just how many kittens do we have anyway?” the doctor asked Madelyn.
“Just  two,” Barbie piped up.
“But there will be zero in a minute,” her mother vowed, bending down to pick up Oxy with one hand and Contin with the other. The kittens  cringed, fearing they might be tossed out the door again. But they were  willing to take that risk since it gave them an opportunity to lick her hands.
“This is a clinic,” the doctor reminded Madelyn, “and no place for pets.”
“I understand, doctor,” Madelyn said. “But they slipped in the front door.”
“I’m puzzled,” the doctor said. “First they scratch your hand, now they lick it. Why are they so affectionate?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Could I  catch cat scratch fever?” a worried Barbie asked, examining her hand.
 “Nonsense!” the doctor said.
“Linda Blake caught cat scratch fever in the second grade,” Barbie said.  
“And will she someday catch  chronic fatigue syndrome?” the doctor asked sarcastically.
“Will who catch chronic fatigue syndrome?” the confused Madelyn asked.
“The second grader . . . what’s her name?”  the doctor asked.
“Linda Blake,” Barbie said.
Striving to keep his anger in check,  the doctor said, “Women should try to be less emotional.”  
 “Like the man in the picture?” the man with the shaved head asked, looking up at the photo over the doctor’s head. The doctor swung around in his chair and glanced  up reverently at the large framed poster photo of his hero on the wall.
“You know he looks like a preacher I heard in Indianapolis once,” the man with the shaved head  said.
“He wasn’t a preacher,” the doctor said. “That’s Friedrich Hayek.”
“Who?” the man asked.
“He was a philosopher and an economist. A Nobel Prize winning economist.”  The doctor turned around in his chair and picked up a pamphlet from the   stack on his desk. “These are a condensed, illustrated version of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which I give to  patients on their first visit.”
 “Do I get one?” the man with the shaved head asked.
“You certainly do,” the doctor said, like a missionary distributing  free bibles. “And you too,” he said, holding out a pamphlet to the hollow-eyed woman.
“I’ve got one,” she said unenthusiastically.
“Did you read it?” he asked.
“I looked at the pictures,” she replied.
 “Yeah, it’s got pictures,” the man with the shaved head confirmed,  riffling the pages. “I appreciate that.”
 “Don’t  you always say it’s better to be safe than sorry, mommy?” Barbie asked, still looking at her hand.  
“About what?”
“About cat scratch fever,” she said. 
At the mention of cat scratch fever, the doctor, exasperated, put his head in his hands.
“Maybe a prescription wouldn’t be a bad idea, doctor,” Madelyn said.
“Oh, very well,” he said throwing up his hands. He flipped through the pages of his  Merck Manual.  “Here it is. Vibramycin.” He hurriedly scribbled a prescription.
“With god anything is possible,” the man said, tapping his brow, where the same words were tattooed. Isn’t it wonderful the way the Lord provides a cure for all man’s ills?” the man  added, while looking  at the illustrations in The Road to Serfdom pamphlet.
“It wasn’t the Lord who provided, it was Pfizer,” the doctor said.  “Be sure to read that pamphlet, and don’t  just look at the illustrations,” he added.
 “What’s it about?” the man asked.
“It’s about the lack of initiative  and the heavy hand of government,” the doctor said. “Look at all these reports on my desk. I have to fill them out. Every week. In triplicate!” He brought his fist down on  his desk. “If it isn’t the city health department, it’s the county health department. If it isn’t the federal government, it’s the state government. If it isn’t the DEA it’s the FDA.” Because of his emphysema, he needed to stop for a few seconds to catch his breath. “And then there’s the liberal media, making  all this hullabaloo about pain pills, pain pills, pain pills! As if that’s what’s ruining this country! As if every American is  an addict! As if pain isn’t a fact of life and a serious problem for millions of  Americans!” He pounded the desk again. “They accuse me of  catering to druggies! That’s what the giant propaganda machine is accusing us of.” He paused to catch his breath again. “Listen to this,” the doctor said, reading from one of the pamphlets. “ ‘In an unsuccessful effort to educate people to uniform views, ‘planners’ establish a giant propaganda machine—which a coming dictator will find handy.’ ”
“What page are you on doctor?” the man with the shaved head asked.
“Page seven,” he said.

When the  doctor finished reading page seven aloud, he looked around. The man with  the shaved head nodded in agreement, but Madelyn looked like she hadn’t been listening. Barbie was still examining her scratched hand, and the hollow-eyed woman was staring at the floor. The two kittens had their ears pricked up, but not because they were listening to the doctor. With their acute hearing, Oxy and Contin had  picked up the faint sound of scratching  coming from somewhere in the doctor’s office.  The hollowed-eyed woman, sitting right next to the desk, heard it too. She stood up and took a step back.  
“What is it?” the doctor asked, noticing her agitation.
 “The scratching,” she said
“What scratching?” the doctor said,  pretending he didn’t know what she was talking about.
“There’s something scratching inside your desk,” she said anxiously drawing her hands together under her chin.  
 “What scratching?”
 “Inside your desk,” she repeated.
Worried they were about to discover his secret, the doctor tried to make a joke of it.  “Are you coming down with cat scratch fever?” He got up from  his chair and cleared his throat. “You’re imagining things,” the doctor told her, hastily writing her an  Oxycontin prescription.  He handed it to her with one hand and with the other on her shoulder, he began to guide her toward the door. “I’d like  everyone to leave my office so I can get back to work.”
As the doctor guided the woman toward the door, Barbie slipped  in to the office and circled around everybody until she was behind the doctor’s desk.
By leaning over and cocking her ear, she determined that the  scratching was coming from the large file drawer on the right side of the desk. She pulled the drawer open slowly, and at arm’s length, afraid of what might be inside. When she saw what it was, she gave a scream. About to go out the door, everyone turned to look.
 “What is it, Barbie?” her mother asked.
Before Barbie answered, a  rodent leapt out of the drawer up onto the desk.
“My god!” the hollow-eye young woman screamed. “A rat!”
“It’s alright,” the doctor reassured them. “It’s alright. Just calm down. I can explain.”
With the rat standing up on its hind legs on the desk, as if  it too was waiting for the doctor’s explanation, and as  Oxy and Contin in the arms of Madelyn stared in disbelief at the rat, and with Hayek on the wall looking down imperturbably, like the photo of the  president of the United States in thousands of post offices all across the country, the doctor began his explanation. Meanwhile, outside the Freedom from Pain Clinic, the impatient “patients” standing in line  in the cold, waiting for their  fix, shifted from foot to foot to keep the blood in their toes circulating, wondering why there had been no movement in the line for at least a half hour.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Kick-Ass Kasich

Beaming John Kasich, the Kick-Ass Governor of the Buckeye State

 Kasich and Free Market Fundamentalism

     Free market fundamentalism is the  blind faith that only free (i.e., unregulated) markets, not the government,  can solve financial and social problems. That premise is the April Fool’s gold of free market fundamentalism. Government, as President Reagan memorably pronounced, “is not the solution to our problem, it is the problem.” But where would we have been in the Second World War, for example, without the government?  I know where Reagan was during the Second World War. He was in the military, but he stayed stateside and never saw action because he was nearsighted. Reagan did see action in the  Second World War, but only  in films made before and after the war. In 1941, in International Squadron, he played the American Jimmy Grant, flying with the RAF, as “the Yankee daredevil air-devil.” In the postwar  1957  B film Hellcats of the Navy, Reagan played the brave commander of a submarine operating in the dangerous waters off Japan. When he was not playing a hellcat, Reagan played the buckaroo in such films as  Cowboy from Brooklyn and Santa Fe Trail, and when he was not playing the buckaroo he was playing a bozo in such films as  Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). The movies Reagan were in earned him no accolades as an actor and negligible profits for his employers. So he turned to huckstering for General Electric and then to politics, where he struck pay dirt as a free market fundamentalist. Today, he is revered by right-wing Republicans. 
    As befits an icon of free market fundamentalism,  Reagan’s likeness may end up  on our money, along with George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln, or so some of his Republican admirers hope. They recently proposed that he should replace President  U.S. Grant on the 50 dollar bill, but that proposal  was shot down by offended Buckeyes who, while taking nothing away from the Gipper, would not allow him to displace Grant on the 50 dollar bill. After all,  Grant had served his country not only as president but as a daredevil  lieutenant in the Mexican American War and as a legendary general in the Civil War. Fortunately for the country and for the cause not of free markets but free people, Grant was not nearsighted. Free market fundamentalists serve the interests not of democracy and freedom, but of  reactionary and repressive plutocrats, such as the  billionaire brothers who are reputedly subsidizing the Tea Party movement.

The Almighty Dollar

In the hands of sanctimonious free market fundamentalists, Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand becomes the hand  of  God. In the Manichaean theology of free market fundamentalists, the government is evil and profit making enterprises  good, ipso facto. According to this devilish theology, if someone is making a profit, that is good; if someone is trying to regulate or reduce profits, that is bad.  The only exception to this rule, according to Nobel economist Friedrich Hayek, author of The Road to Serfdom, is if regulation promotes profits: then it is good. It is the Republicans, of course, and Tea Partiers in particular, who are strongest in their denunciation of regulations. What is good for business is good for the country is a deeply held conviction shared by many Republicans and some conservative Democrats. Instead of viewing the profit motive as a necessary evil, and the love of money as the root of all evil, as some of us think, the free market fundamentalists see the profit motive as manna from heaven. “Seest thou a man diligent in business, he shall stand before kings,” the bible says.  For the fundamentalist,   faith in profits is what made America the greatest country in the world.  In the words of another free market fundamentalist,  president Calvin Coolidge, “The business of America is business.”
“Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything,” Paul Krugman, a different kind of  Nobel economist, wrote in the New York Times last December, “yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.” In view of the economic calamity they were instrumental in bringing about, it astonishes me that free market fundamentalists  never missed a beat.   Krugman calls the most recent version of free market fundamentalism “zombie economics” because the Great Recession, which should have killed it, hardly made a scratch. “Yes, politics is the art of the possible,” Krugman wrote. “We all understand the need to deal with one’s political enemies. But it’s one thing to make deals to advance your goals; it’s another to open the door to zombie ideas. When you do that, the zombies end up eating your brain—and quite possibly your economy too.

Kicking Ass in the Buckeye State

Since Republicans are  virtually in complete control of Ohio  politically, free market fundamentalism is alive and kicking ass in the Buckeye state. The recent passage by the Ohio legislature of SB5, curtailing the rights of public service employees,  is the most recent manifestation of its baleful influence. Since Ohio is in the grip not just of perennial Buckeye football fever but of  what could be called  “eyeing the buck fever,” an often heard slogan might serve as a new state  motto. Instead of “With God all things are possible,” the state slogan  might  be changed simply to, “GO BUCK$!” When he had a show on Fox News, where he sometimes sat in for Bill O’Falafel, Kasich claimed atheists and the ACLU were waging a war against Christmas.  A blogger on Plunderbund   pointed out that Christmas’s worst enemy is the free market, which has  so shamelessly  commercialized the religious holiday that it’s a travesty.  “When you get right down to it,” a blogger  wrote in “Jesus vs. the Free Market,” “the closest thing we have to an actual war on Christmas is the secularization of the holiday and these changes have almost exclusively come from private industry.” Given their druthers, free marketers will privatize everything. Nothing is sacred, including Christmas,  unless it’s for profit. Among other things, Kasich wants to privatize prisons, the turnpike, and the lottery. Even the conservative Buckeye Institute, a strong advocate of privatization,  balked at the extent of Kasich’s ambitious privatization plans. The Institute urged Kasich, according to a blogger on  Plunderbund  not to rush headlong into privatizing Ohio’s assets when capital markets are weak.  Ohio taxpayers have made billion dollar investments in those assets and deserve to see a strong return on their investments. If the devil is involved anywhere in this, it’s in the details of free market fundamentalism, in the belief that regulation is evil and profits are good, no matter what price the public has to pay.

Bedtime for Bozo

Free market fundamentalism is the twentieth century update of nineteenth century social Darwinism. The survival of the fittest becomes the survival of the wealthiest.  What does it profit a free market fundamentalist to gain the Buckeye state and lose his soul? It is time to take the buck out of Buckeye. It is time to stop worshipping the Almighty Dollar. It is time for the Invisible Hand to release its stranglehold  on government. Where does it get us anyway? The deficits and the size of government grew larger and faster under President Reagan than under his predecessor President Carter. The deficits already appear to be growing faster under Governor Kasich than they were under his predecessor Governor Strickland. After carefully analyzing Kasich’s budget, the Buckeye Institute concluded that the Republican governor, fresh from making a killing on Wall Street,  is not lowering the cost of government, he is raising it. Just today, April 1,  Ralph Nader released a statement criticizing Kasich for not cutting corporate welfare in Ohio. Kasich had attempted to flatter Nader in his State of the State address, but Nader was not appeased.  “I've been reading about how the legislature and you have been pounding the public employee unions but not going after corporate welfare kings with the same focus and intensity,” Nader wrote. Tea Partiers will never believe it, but the liberal Democrat  Strickland, according to the Buckeye Institute,  was a  more responsible budgeter than his Republican successor. Kasich, like Reagan, appears to be more  pussycat than hellcat, more buck passer than  buckaroo, more summer soldier than lion of winter, more amiable dunderhead than thundering thunderhead, who, while kicking workers’ asses, is only too willing to play patsy for the plutocrats. His plummeting poll numbers among Buckeye voters suggest that bedtime for bozo may come much sooner than anyone imagined.


The Ohio Statehouse: A tabernacle of free market fundamentalism?