Eli's Observations

Sad News

Dear Readers:

It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my father, John O’Toole.

My dad got a huge charge out of writing “Eli’s Observations” and I know he really appreciated your comments and feedback.

He will be sorely missed.

You can access all of his pieces on The Huffington Post by clicking here.

Caitlin O’Toole

“Friends, Romans and Countrymen … “

We’ve all read and seen disaster stories in which some courageous nitwit ignores safety and gets himself trapped in a crevasse (or use your own disaster here). He soon realizes he must find a way out or he will surely die or at the very least, miss the next installment of “Downton Abbey.”

Like many people, I find myself fascinated by these kinds of stories. Looking at the hero, I found myself saying “this guy must be liberal!” Liberals are people who are willing to sacrifice a lot of reality for a grand gesture.

President Obama is currently facing that choice between large political gestures or pain and suffering on the other hand. He is being nipped at by some of his most ardent supporters from the past because he has failed to fulfill all or even most of his campaign promises.

Of course, to carry all of those promises out would be impossible. But still, civil rights groups, the environmental crowd, the gender crowd and the disarmament crowd are each beginning to say “Where’s the beef?”

Did you ever try making a burger with one hand? That is the predicament of our present President. Each new attack or demand ties at least one of his hands behind his back while he tries to deal with it or explain it.

The demands of these pressure groups (well-meaning though they are) are based on an unreasonable expectation and an unreasonable timetable. The liberals and progressives should pause to ask themselves the question so dear to Republican hearts, “What would Jesus do?” More to the point, what would President Mitt Romney do? Or President Gingrich? Or even scarier, what would President Rick Sanctimonious do? I urge them to take a deep breath and then decide to help the President to avoid some of the pitfalls he’s facing every day. At this point, President Obama doesn’t need more critics, he needs more help.

Deficits and Digressions

I listen to a lot of public radio and watch public television, too. No, it’s not usually even hard news. If I ever was a news junkie, I think cable news has tempered my addiction. Even the venerable PBS Newshour might more aptly be called the “Re-hash Hour.” It’s probably the ghastly alternative of the Faux News Channel that keeps me and a lot of other people loyal.

Here’s where I’m supposed to write “Oh, I may have begun to digress –” I haven’t really established a subject yet. Just push on, folks.

My subject today was going to be “the sequester and other hoaxes” (isn’t sequester a verb?) I’ve only seen the word used once before in the opening to a song by Rogers and Hart: How we love sequestering/Where no pests are pestering/No mama to hold us in tether — “which raises the question of whether Larry Hart had some kind of mother complex. Ah, but I fear that I –”

I’ve read that the sequester was to protect the politicians from avoiding the tough choices on budget matters, but who is protecting us from them? The sequester that the Congress cooked up is like playing Russian Roulette with blanks. Has the National Rifle Association taken any kind of position on this yet? “Sequesters don’t kill people –” I could question Wayne LaPierre on why he supports Le Sequester. I’ve been wondering if there’s any way you can sequester an individual. Like, say, Le Wayne LaPierre? Or maybe just drop him off le fiscal cliff? Ah, but I fear I’ve begun to –

Another reason to listen to NPR is to hope you are somehow magically balancing out Rush Limbaugh or hear a news bulletin that he’s blown his own head off. It’s really not nice to call people names, but somehow, the word Fat Head occurs to me.

Now, a few questions just for fun. 1.) Who looks more porcine, Limbaugh, or Mitch McConnell? If NPR did broadcast a bulletin about someone blowing Limbaugh’s head off, what do you think they’d find inside? Lee Atwater’s Collection of Dirty Tricks? Now, I’m certain I must be digressing –

Again, it’s not nice to call people names — but have any of you noticed that Lindsay Graham seems to rock back and forth constantly especially when he is harassing a witness? (Really! You should check the Hagel tapes.)

Question 2.) Has anyone else heard the rumor that John McCain has suggested water-boarding Hagel?

Final question: Pick the one Congressperson who was not ever in combat:

a.) Bob Kerry. b.) Tammy Duckworth c.) Max Cleland. d.) Robert Dole. e.) George W. Bush. f.) Daniel Inouye.

If you guessed Little Bush, you were right. Technically, paper cuts do not qualify as being wounded in combat. Oh, but now I really am digressing. I don’t care. John McCain doesn’t care either, except for one question he seems to think is a “gotcha” question: “Did you support The Surge?” My answer would be “Sorry, Boots. I went for the gray gaberdine.” Does that disqualify me for anything?

I hope I haven’t digressed too much.

Our Floundering Founders

The congressional branch of our government seemed from the beginning like a compromise both in its purpose and geographical location.  Contrary to the fervid fantasies of many of today’s Teapotheads, the men who tried to put this country together did not really have much “unum” in their attempts to establish the “E pluribus” part.

First of all, they weren’t sure they were Americans by any means. They may not have liked King George nor his policies, but they thought of themselves as Englishmen.  But, our present day Tea Party has not declared its independence from the U.S., possibly because no one wants them.

The first Thirteen colonies to sign up to ratify our Constitution might have seemed on the surface to have only a few commonalities with today’s GOP right wing extremists. Though they dumped some tea into Boston Harbor, most of these rebels were complaining about “burdensome red tape” and taxes.

Then there was the problem of slavery. About half of the original colonies were opposed to slavery, some vehemently. The rest of the colonies were almost as vehement in support of it. Division over slavery turned out to be primarily a Southern versus Northern quarrel, with not that many swing states in play.

The colonies might have been united by religion (does that ever happen?) Though the American rebels were overwhelmingly Christian, they were riven by a dozen schisms ranging from the Puritans to the Quakers. Once again, they were more united in what they didn’t want: an established state religion.

They were pretty much limited to muskets and one-shot pistols, not a Bushmaster in sight. They were keen on protecting themselves not so much from other groups of people as from the central government.

Thus, each colony was permitted, in what became our Bill of Rights, to raise a militia to defend its homes. But a “militia” was not a mass mail order business designed to sell weapons to anyone with the price. Nor was it intended to be a pressure group in our politics. That came much later.

Our Founding Fathers really valued privacy and would have been furious if any government had tried to tell them how to regulate their personal sex lives. Maybe they’re not such a good match for our present-day Teapotheads.

Their version of democracy was minus a Karl Rove or Koch Brothers so it still looks pretty good from our vantage point. Maybe we ought to pay attention to what they really believed in, starting with the Declaration of Independence.

To visit John O’Toole on the Huffington Post, click here.

Gunsmoke

Remember those cute, elegantly-colored Russian nesting dolls that people once gave as last minute stocking stuffers? We have some of those, too, mostly in our politics. At this point, I could use my favorite slogan, “follow the money.” In this case, let’s follow those deceptive little dolls to see where the NRA and other gun groups get their money.

Imagine a slide of a father and young son carrying rifles, looking up at a “V” of ducks above. They’re identified on the slide as mallards. Its caption might read, “preserve our forests.” The next slide might show a doe in the distance with a similar patriotic slogan. But the rifles are bigger, with more elaborate gun sights.

The U.S. Capitol or the Stars and Stripes would be in the background of another slide, offering a partial list of the distributors of firearms in the U.S. These include Wal-Mart, Dick’s Sporting Goods (with 480 stores), and an endless array of smaller gun outlets, all the way down to the ones that list “guns, bullets, and live bait.”

Our next patriotic slide could reveal some of the financial backers concealed by their brand names. Cerberus Capital Management LP are investors in the Freedom Group, which manufactures the Bushmaster rifle that law enforcement officials say was used in the Newtown, Conn., slaughter. (One wonders whether Governor Romney considers all of those corporations to be persons.)

Many of these groups are changing their brand names or selling out. While Cerberus is trying quietly to sell the Freedom Group, others try for a lower profile, including such familiar names as Beretta, Colt,  and Browning. All of these are already under the umbrella of the Winchester brand.

These are just a few examples of how difficult it is to identify some of these weapons at their source. Several of these companies have recently changed their product line. Wal-Mart has decided not to distribute Bushmasters, and other semiautomatic rifles, for the time being, and other distributors are contemplating a similar move.

Lest the weapon and ammo business seem like small potatoes, let’s do some comparisons. In 2011, there were just over 14,000 McDonalds in this country and over 36,000 grocery stores. According to ABC News, there were over 129,000 federally licensed gun and ammunition dealers.

You could follow these numbers and these names until you were dizzy but they couldn’t possibly reveal the cost or the loss of killing one of those children at Sandy Hook. Many of these corporations have cracker jack accounting firms tracking their every move. Maybe they could give us a specific number for the life of each of these children. I’m pretty sure they won’t.

Heroes

I had planned rather vaguely to write another blog about political conflict, most specifically in Congress. But the events that happened on Friday, December 14th, in a small elementary school in Connecticut made my ideas seem trivial and made the Congress seem trivial, too. I would have to change my plans, just as Victoria Soto and many of her brave colleagues did that day. My subject is heroism.

Of course, there are many kinds of heroism, ranging from the real exploits of our wounded warriors to the kind of farce many of us were fed in high school: “Shoot if you must this old grey head, but spare my country’s flag.” Puh-leeze.

You may soon guess I’m a little wary of white-haired heroes of any kind. I remember a scene in the Wizard Of Oz where the Great Oz himself tells the frightened lion about heroes in many hometowns who showed up once a year for a parade, dusting off their medals, for wars that were sometimes of dubious value. Most of these wars were big on slogans and small on results. Personally, I never could remember the Maine. I’m still trying to keep it straight about Pearl Harbor.

I am most unsympathetic to white-haired patriots in Congress who are always looking for a war to start in order to create new heroes, young men who are often killed or maimed to no seeming gain.

If all this makes me sound cynical, let me tell you about my heroes! You read about many of them recently. None of them marched toward their fate in uniforms or carrying any weapons. But they ran towards danger fearlessly. Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach actually ran toward the killer to try to stop him. They were both killed.

Kaitlin Roig hid all of her students in the bathroom, and Victoria Soto hid all her students in closets and cabinets. When the killer came for them she told him the kids had gone to the gym. She was shot dead, but the killer went on to his next targets.

I have no idea what kind of decoration these adults will receive but whatever they may be they won’t do justice to the courage and selflessness the recipients displayed.

Of course, every story about heroes needs a villain. Mine is named Wayne LaPierre. This is the head of Murder, Inc. (a.k.a. The National Rifle Association.) He had the gall to suggest that the answer to massacres of our children by people carrying military weapons into their schools would be to give every school an armed guard. If that didn’t work, I suppose LaPierre would favor arming all the children.

If Sandy Hook were an isolated incident, perhaps we would spend time talking about it as social psychology. But we have already had our Columbines and our Auroras and enough other less publicized gun massacres to know that this subject is neither amusing nor trivial.

LaPierre is as guilty of aiding and abetting a crime as is the accomplice who hands a killer a loaded gun. Of course, there are differences. I’m sure LaPierre makes a very nice salary indeed, and he doesn’t seem to feel the need to kill himself at the end of each firearms rampage. No, with a smug, satisfied smile, he goes on to suggest that it’s somebody else’s problem, and somebody else should solve it. If they decide that the answer is to arm everybody in the United States, I’m sure LaPierre will be ready to help get them equipped.

I never read Dante’s “Inferno,” but I’ve come across countless references to the various Circles of Hell. They’ve become part of the vocabulary of Western literature. So if there is a special Circle for men who exploit mental illness and murder for their own gain, I’m sure they’ve saved a seat for LaPierre. A hot seat , I hope.

Aging Gracefully?

Since Thanksgiving breaks up a lot of routines and many readers are used to this column arriving sometime during the weekend, I have advanced this week’s piece to today.

I’ve also decided to take a break from politics. The subject is writing. The public seems a little obsessed about writing. Very few people have real writing ability but it sometimes seems that there are more people who want to write books and articles than there are those who want to read them (I guess that’s why blogs were born.) But books seem to be just as numerous as ever, and that means that occasionally one of them shows up on my desk in spite of the fact that I don’t review books. I assume the sender had never read the blog or was just plain desperate. He or she might want to consider sandwich boards.

Some books are sent to us by friends long after they’ve been published (“You’ll find this interesting!”) The book I have in mind today, Albert Brooks’ “2030: The Real Story of What Happened to America,” can’t be considered blurb material since it was published several years ago.

Albert Brooks is a funny, quirky filmmaker, and this book is quirky, funny and serious. It deals with something few people want to hear about: what to do about old people who go on living, longer and longer, using up their social security and pensions. They also are very large consumers of public health dollars.

I recently attended a birthday party for an artist friend who is celebrating her 100th birthday. She’s still active in her profession and doing fine, with an exhibition due early next year. At her party, I noticed that many of the guests seemed to me to be in their late 70s or even late 80s. But few of them appeared to be infirm.

I asked myself were these people to be regarded as an annoying and expensive surplus? In his novel, Brooks describes several young characters who gradually become hostile to older people whom they regard as greedy geezers, blocking everyone younger from a better life.

There is probably some truth to that. Some of my friends and relatives who live in rural or suburban places say that older people in their communities routinely vote against tax increases for education. We’ve seen a little of this kind of bloc voting in our national elections.

So, does it have to be a choice between young people or their parents? Recent public statements by some Darwinian Republicans would have you think so. I have a different slant.

Instead of focusing on the age of the average citizen, let’s take a look at the big earners and the obscene fortunes that so many have amassed. We could then tax them accordingly. A revolutionary idea!

There’s a reason we used to call that kind of tax “progressive taxing.” It has fostered a progressive element in our society rather than divisive agism. Does that make me a tax-and-spend liberal? If we spend the money on better health care and better education, you can count me in.

I said this piece would be about writing, not politics. Apparently you can take the boy out of politics but you can’t take the politics out of the boy. Maybe next time.

Stop The Presses?

They sat like well-behaved school children, trying not to fidget in the crowded rows of chairs, waiting for the grown-up talk to be over. They wanted dessert. They were already feeling deprived, and the Washington Press Corps often got grouchy when they weren’t fed the kind of stuff they liked. They were tired of election food.

The endless Clown-of-the-Week primaries by the Republicans had not been satisfying for long. No-Drama-Obama and No-Charisma-Romney had been disappointing. No flash! No clash! The debates had offered little chance to stir things up.

The press turned to election night hoping for some last-minute suspense and excitement. But no matter how much they tried to hype things, David Axelrod’s numbers kept turning out to be true. There was to be no all-nighter, no nail-biter, no fist fights at the polling places. Even when some Republican governors suppressed tens of thousands of voters, it didn’t seem to have caused a ruckus.

Reluctantly, the Press Corps had sat in The White House facing the prospect of having to report real issues, like taxes, like the deficit, like energy policies. Complicated stuff! But their hopes began to rise with the tragedy at Benghazi. At least they could count on Senator McCain to start rattling the sabre.

They got a real story from two women that had never been on their radar screen: Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley. These two women seemed to be about to topple the head of the CIA, and possibly another four-star general. This was juicy stuff. David Petraeus with all those ribbons on his chest? A brilliant female soldier with “toned arms?” Definitely the stuff of serious journalism.

Right on schedule, Senator McCain began demanding hearings. Big hearings. The press followed his lead eagerly. This was better than following him to some dusty place in the Middle East where people got shot. Much better.

When there seemed to be confusion about what had happened at Benghazi, and why, McCain rode to the rescue shouting, “Cover Up!” The Washington Press Corps still liked the image of the outspoken soldier demanding the facts. These silly emails were suddenly being elevated to Watergate level.

Confusion over who did what and when at Benghazi gave the press a third victim, U.N. Delegate Susan Rice, who might have, at most, been guilty of “mis-speaking.” However, Senator Lindsey Graham, McCain’s Sancho Panza, announced that he no longer trusted her. This from a man who had trusted Condi Rice with her fantasies of Weapons of Mass Destruction and mushroom-shaped clouds!

No matter. The press now had three attractive women and boxes full of secrets, or at least emails. There were still some complaints from Congress about our not sending arms to Syria, but McCain was able to drum up very little enthusiasm for going over there with troops. This was much better copy and the hearing rooms were usually air conditioned.

So, big issues and fiscal affairs would just have to wait. The Washington Press Corps knew an important story when they saw one! What a relief to know that our watchdogs are watching out for the real problems.

What’s The Rush?

Aesop must have met some ancient Republicans while he was working on his fables. In them there was a fox who announced that he could not reach the grapes overhead but that they must have been sour anyway. Some GOP leaders seem to have been hanging around the same grape vineyard. Karl Rove couldn’t admit that the better man won, or even that the better ideas won. Or that his own multi-million dollar propaganda effort seems not to have swayed the voters one bit.

The Faux News Channel finally admitted the loss with a not-too-subtle message that either the public got it wrong or their candidate did. Most seemed to blame it on Romney. He lacked the skills that George W. had of choosing some big, big lies and sticking with them consistently. W. knew the virtue of consistency, if not honesty. Limbaugh dismissed the GOP candidate as if he had never heard of him before.

It’s a shame that people like Rove or Limbaugh won’t ever run for office themselves. What a target Limbaugh would have made for satirists! Picture “The Great White Whale” or perhaps headlines like “The Fat is in the Fire” or “The Mouth That Roars.” We can only dream of such things because these “pundits” will never run the risk of putting themselves before the public. Besides, he already has an audience (strangely known as “Dittoheads”) who live for his every tirade.

Rush and his imitators offer this audience endless, mindless anger. Their listeners are frustrated citizens who are angry at anyone who looks differently, thinks differently, or acts differently. They’re not going to be discouraged by election results or persuaded by logic. This group (mostly older white men) may just have to die and go to Haters’ Heaven before Rush runs out of listeners.

But we should not get too comfortable listening to NPR about our victories. The Limbaughs and Koch Brothers are still out there working hard to undermine everything we’ve done. The Barbarians are still at the gate, and it’s time for us to get back to work.

Just Two More

Way back when, I still thought of a tea party as a harmless pastime for little girls. The only people in robes who worried me were in the white ones with pointed hoods. But recently, I’ve learned to fear the guys in black robes because their target isn’t a bank, it’s the progress we’ve made in the 20th Century.

Butch Scalia, Two-Gun Thomas, and Alley-Oop Alito are fixing to shoot holes in the Bill of Rights. Right now, they’re taking aim at reproductive rights and consumer rights, and they’ve already blasted a huge hole in our political rights with the People United decision. This election has shown that every man in the country who’s got a million dollars can run for the Senate but he hasn’t got a chance against the Karl Rove gang who’ll be packing ten or twenty million, or whatever it takes. And all that the Scalia gang needs to get rolling are two more sidekicks. Once they get those two seats on the Supreme Court, what’s going to stop them?

This judicial/political takeover is barely noticed by our voters because our famous free press is busy on important stuff. Most of our “journalists” cover politics as if it were a sport. Who won that second debate? Who scored with that new TV spot? Who’s behind in what market, and by how many points? And who has the most charismatic family, or, failing that, a pick-up truck and a cute dog?

But wait — what about all those hard-hitting questions and interviews on the Sunday talk shows? Won’t they expose the dangers ahead? Folks, there’s not a politician running for dog catcher who hasn’t figured out how to handle an interview, whether it’s David Gregory or David Letterman. 1.) Ignore the question and deliver your talking points. 2.) Repeat the process but stretch it out. Throw in an occasional appropriate chuckle. 3.) Run the clock out — they’ll never lay a glove on you.

So don’t wait for our free press to sound the alarm. Our press isn’t a watch dog. It’s a show dog. Remember, the Gang in Black is getting near the ranch. In fact, they’re only two seats away.