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Some Grunts From a Grumpy Guy

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If the Senate Republicans do not join with Senate Democrats to pass the bill offering financial relief for the sick, dying, and the dead Ground Zero workers -- a bill that has stalled far too long and one already passed by the Congress -- they will be committing a political crime of monumental proportions. Don't tell these men, women, and their families that we can't afford it while we are still squandering billions on the Afghan war. Yes, I do have a personal interest in this bill. My nephew-by-marriage John McNamara, a heroic fireman who worked for months at the Ground Zero cleanup and one who volunteered to rescue flood victims after Katrina, died a year ago as a result of illnesses caused by that cleanup, leaving his wife and three year old son. In the words of Arthur Miller, "Attention must be paid."

1. Nobody has profited as much as the Republicans from Ground Zero chest thumping. There's the appalling, ever shameless, I was there Rudy G, who has demeaned the death of thousands by his crass use of this tragedy for political ends, and the shamelessness of every Republican stump speaker decrying the plans for the Muslim center, a dubious idea at best but a legal one, although none ever spoke out against the strip clubs and fast food joints that truly desecrate this downtown neighborhood. And who now dares speak out against the plans to build the un-lovely Freedom Tower? It is less a monument to the city's post 9/11 revival than a huge albatross for NYC to carry for years until a financial recovery fills the building. If any ground can be called sacred as this is it should be devoted to a large park like memorial to those who died there and not another ugly office tower by the owner of the land.

2. How sad that discouraged and despairing voters, the jobless together with the elderly may put at risk their own Social Security, unemployment insurance and Medicare by voting Republicans back into power. Speak of your death panels for the elderly. This is just what Sarah and her cohorts will accomplish when and if they determine the country's medical agenda. Let the elderly live, bless their dear little hearts; just starve 'em slowly of any necessary medical treatment if you can. No gas chambers for them, just hours in the waiting room followed by denial of coverage. The Republicans will continue their unbroken history of enriching insurance companies in exchange for campaign contributions. Hello to a broken health-care, and greetings to a broken wheel-chair.

3. The Democrats failure to connect with the voters has much to do with the elegant and cool personality of Mr. Obama, as it does with jobs. There is the indisputable fact that a hot-tempered black man, expressing true anger over the injustices in this society would scare the hell out of many voters and would have been unelectable. Cool got this president elected, but cool may result in a one term presidency. More jobs were lost under the Republicans but it is hard to tell that to the unemployed now with a distant-seeming president presiding over a technocratic White House. The president for all his brilliance chills the bones of the very people who now need warmth, compassion, and the sense that he is the champion in their camp, vigorously and eloquently advancing policies that will help to restore their economic lives. And don't you hate the way the term middle class is used by Dems and Repubs alike to cover everyone making under 250 thousand dollars, a term which includes the working and unemployed poor as if there was no distinction between the true poor and someone making 249 thousand dollars? Why can't this administration use words that are meaningful rather than tired euphemisms? Is it because nobody gives a damn about the unemployed or the working poor but the unemployed and the poor, and no administration dares say so?

4. The news that illegal foreclosures happened time and again over the past years will surprise few who have friends or family fighting to hold on to their homes. This news is little help for those who have already been driven from their homes because of a bank's refusal to work with under-water owners to modify their loans to an affordable level. Bad marks here for the Obama administration which failed to protect, investigate, and act upon the grievous behavior of such banks. My friend Molly lost her apartment, her only home, which she had purchased twenty years ago. She is an ailing seventy-six year-old woman alone in the world whose hopes were drowned in the paperwork of this program. Thrown out of her apartment, now she must choose between paying her new higher rent, and buying food and medicine. And there are now millions like her.

5. Bye Bye Rahm Emanuel. I am a long time Chicago lover, and I pity that great city if an elected Mayor Rahm does the same miserable job there that he did in Washington as adviser to the president. He was supposed to be the enforcer of the best progressive programs of this administration. Instead he proved once again that his much heralded tough-guy pragmatism can be a toxic mixture of cowardice and smart-ass stupidity. The old policy of betraying friends and making deals with enemies failed to work in Washington. He belongs on Dancing with the Stars -- where he will make some really smart moves with the quick step and cha-cha-cha (no Michael Bolton he) but not in the mayor's office.

6. Meg Whitman's explanation of how she hired and then later fired her beloved but undocumented household worker leaves much to be desired. Ms. Whitman sees the firing of that poor but honest worker whom she dearly cared about as her civic duty. Many years ago when my wife discovered that a woman working for us was undocumented, she went to court to help her get a green card and fight for a change in her immigration status because she cared about her and regarded her as a valuable human being. And she won that very difficult battle. This was done by a woman who lacked the wealth and the resources that Ms. Whitman had, but had a loyalty to a fellow human being, and what Ms. Whitman appears to lack is loyalty to anything but her own political ambitions.

7. For all the teacher bashing that is going on in this country today, you would think that responsibility for the education of children begins and ends with underpaid and underappreciated teachers. Did anyone ever hear of parents who do not check to see that children attend school, do their homework, and respect the slow business of learning over immediate gratification? Yes, we need better teachers and better schools. And we have always have needed that. But most of all we need more engaged parents. And fewer death-to-the brain tests that are valued more for grades earned by rote learning than minds truly enriched and stimulated by the subject studied. Critical thinking, the most valued quality that a woman or a man carries through life, can't be squeezed into a standardized quiz.

8. The death of Tony Curtis at 85 proves that it is a mistake to write anyone off as a no talent pretty boy in their youth. After many misadventures in films he performed with amazing brilliance in The Sweet Smell of Success and in Some Like it Hot. And the death of Gloria Stuart at 100, the lovely young woman of early B-movies, and the lovely old lady of Titanic, again proves that for many life does not travel a straight course, that it can be a matter of fits and starts, that it is never too late to be great, and man oh man was she beautiful. Looking at some of the studio stills of Ms. Stewart in her prime (her heyday was every-day of her long and varied life) you can judge how much artistry and beauty was lost when black and white photography gave way to color film, and Ms. Stuart gave up making films. RIP