Although its origins are clouded in mystery, there is an oft-quoted, allegedly Chinese proverb that states, “May you live in interesting times.”
It's been used by many people over the years, ranging from Robert F. Kennedy in the real world to characters on the TV show The Sopranos.
In reality, many historians believe the phrase is a bastardization of an ancient Chinese curse that goes, “It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period.”
I'm not so sure about that sentiment; I prefer the more optimistic spin, believe it or not, because too much contentment — just like too much chaos — can be bad for the soul.
What I do know for sure is people living through the past year got sizable doses of both. This column has tried to chronicle the highlights and lowlights of the political realm, locally and nationally, and offer a smattering of fresh commentary and insight in the process. Whether it's succeeded, of course, is another matter entirely.
Here's a look back at excerpts from columns during a year that certainly was interesting, and at times chaotic.
“What Would Jesus Do in Iraq?,” (issue of Jan. 20): Even though U.S. military rules specifically prohibit the proselytizing of any religion in Afghanistan or Iraq, it was revealed this week that a military contractor has been printing references to Bible verses on high-powered rifle sights used by soldiers in those wars.
… Not only is the inscription completely unnecessary, it’s an insult to the people of other faiths and to atheists serving in our Armed Forces. Worse, it’s this type of zealotry that Muslim fundamentalists and jihadists hoped would occur in response to their actions. Extremists in the Islamic faith view Christians as crusaders bent on invading their lands and converting or killing their followers. When Christian fundamentalists here pull these types of stunts, it justifies that viewpoint and helps win converts for the jihadists.
“COAST, Finney Helped Create Stadium Mess,” (Feb. 24): (Attorney Chris) Finney and others affiliated with (the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes) recently appeared at a public hearing to tell county commissioners they oppose any effort to either raise the county’s sales tax or reduce a property tax rebate to plug the hole in the stadium account. The account is facing a $13.8 million deficit this year, which will jump to $25 million in a few years.
… In a guest column published in the
Forest Hills Journalon Sept. 13, 1995, Finney lavished praise on how fiscally sound the deal was and urged voters to approve it. Calling it “a perfectly sensible plan,” Finney added, “The plan makes sense, and it won’t cost me a nickel.” At the time, Finney was a leader of Cincinnatians United Against Taxes and Spending, a forerunner to COAST. To gain the group’s support, county officials agreed to use about one-third of sales tax revenues to rebate some property taxes for homeowners.
“Peeking into the Minds of Local Conservatives,” (March 10):
CityBeatrecently obtained a copy of an e-mail written by Brad Beckett — chief of staff to Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Monzel and a right-wing activist involved in anti-tax and anti-abortion causes — outlining the agenda of a secret conservative group called the Vanguard. We were fascinated by the wording the e-mail used and what it might reveal about the members’ outlook.
… Stressing that the group isn’t a political action committee and has no ties to the Republican Party, (Beckett) added, “We don’t consider ourselves a Republican group. We’re a conservative/libertarian group … we have disagreements among ourselves. We disagreed on the gambling issue.”
Beckett doesn’t consider the use of nicknames and adjectives as overly pejorative.
… But “overpaid and overfed” about City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.? That sounds rather like “the politics of personal destruction.”
“He is overpaid,” Beckett said. “It was just an attempt at humor. If I was going to attack them, it could’ve been a lot worse.”
“Corporations Don't Pay Their Fair Share,” (April 14): There are few words that can elicit as visceral a reaction as “taxes.”
Nobody likes to pay unnecessary taxes but, thanks to a generation of proselytizing by the Republican Party, many people don’t understand the concept of the common good and view all taxes as bad.
Apparently, items like roads and bridges, water and sewage systems and food and drug inspectors will all just magically pay for themselves, according to the anti-taxers.
… In 2008 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that two out of every three U.S. corporations paid no federal income taxes during an eight-year period, from 1998 through 2005. The GAO’s study covered 1.3 million corporations with a cumulative $2.5 trillion in sales.
“A Modest Proposal to Save the United States,” (May 19): One of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long while is a simple one that would have the support of most Americans, but politicians are probably too cowardly or greedy to do it.
The action would involve passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution consisting of two short, straightforward sentences. Its creator calls the amendment — without too much exaggeration — “eight words that could save our country.”
Here’s the amendment in its entirety: “Corporations are not people. Money is not speech.”
The proposed amendment’s origin, of course, springs from the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in the recent
Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commissioncase. In its January decision, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overturn a lower court’s ruling and removed existing restraints on corporations, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns.
“Pride is Bigger, But Is It Better?,” (June 30): Put any large group of people in a room and, after a while, they’re likely to disagree on something. And if you add one of the three often cited “forbidden” topics in so-called polite society — religion, politics or sex — the disagreement is likely to become a heated one.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Cincinnati’s Gay Pride Festival this year is causing quite a commotion.
… Some people, though, believe the whole festival has become too commercialized. A Facebook page entitled “Make Your Voice Heard for an Inclusive Cincinnati Pride!” was recently launched and already has 150 followers.
Begun by local activists including JAC Stringer of the Black Mondays Drag King Troupe, it wants festival organizers to offer activities that appeal to a broader range of clientele besides just young, affluent white men who like to party. The movement especially wants to see more free events for people from low-income neighborhoods.
… In reality, these types of conflicts usually occur while planning any large event … this isn’t a gay problem or a straight problem; it’s a human problem. And like most human problems, it needs more communication to help solve it before next year’s event.
“Like It or Not, We're a Nation of Warmongers,” (July 7): If you listen to the federal government’s shady accounting tricks, defense spending only amounts to 20 percent of the budget, just behind the the cost of Social Security, Medicaid and other mandatory entitlement spending. But that doesn’t include the national debt, most of which was incurred for military reasons, and related costs.
A more honest accounting shows defense spending accounts for the vast majority of the federal budget. Roughly 36 percent ($965 billion) is allocated for current military operations. This includes not only the Defense Department’s budget but also the military portion from other departments’ budgets.
Additionally, another 18 percent ($484 billion) is allocated for past military spending, which includes veterans’ benefits and the interest on the national debt created by military operations.
Combined, that’s 54 percent of federal expenditures.
In fact, U.S. military spending — including the Defense Department plus spending on nuclear weapons — is equal to the military spending of the next 15 nations combined, according to the War Resisters League.
“Conservative Icons Bash Tax Cut Plan,” (Aug. 4): You know when the two men many conservatives have most admired on economic issues during the past 30 years say extending the Bush tax cuts would be harmful, it truly must be a dreadful idea. But that’s exactly what Alan Greenspan and David Stockman believe.
… Stockman wrote (in The New York Times), “In 1970 (the debt) was just 40 percent of gross domestic product, or about $425 billion. When it reaches $18 trillion, it will be 40 times greater than in 1970. This debt explosion has resulted not from big spending by the Democrats, but instead the Republican Party’s embrace, about three decades ago, of the insidious doctrine that deficits don’t matter if they result from tax cuts.”
“God, Geese and the Rodeo Clown Save the Nation,” (Sept. 1): What a monumental letdown. For a person who once described himself as a “rodeo clown” and regularly provides the type of high drama on his nightly TV show that would make the unhinged Howard Beale proud, Glenn Beck's much-hyped “divinely inspired message” to the American people landed with a thud this past weekend.
… But here's something for the God-fearing, Bible-thumping Beck supporters to consider. On his Fox News TV show two days after his speech, Beck talked about a “miracle” that occurred as the event began. Organizers had wanted a flyover by military jets to start the rally but Washington, D.C., airspace restrictions prohibited it. Then at 9:59 a.m., one minute before the rally's scheduled start time, a flock of geese flew directly over the mall.
“It was perfect coordination and perfect timing,” Beck told viewers. “Coincidence? Maybe. I think it was God's flyover.” … this is the man, dear conservatives, that you've anointed to save our nation. Good luck and may God have mercy on us all.
“It's Not a Misprint: Vote for COAST Leader,” (Oct. 6): Watching Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes squirm and contort the reasoning about his double-dipping plans during the past week has been supremely entertaining to anyone who's followed his political career closely.
… One outspoken critic of double-dipping over the past two decades was Rhodes. Here's what he told the
Plain Dealerabout the practice, “ It would be cheaper if I simply stole money from my neighbor, but that doesn’t make it right. This is an abuse of the system. You can put all the lipstick you want on the pig. But at the end of the day, it’s still a pig.”
There you have it, straight from Rhodes' own mouth. Dusty Rhodes is abusing the system. And it's not right.
“Council Avoids Tough Decisions, While Some Grandstand,” (Nov. 17): If you own a home in Cincinnati, and maybe even if you rent, you’re probably going to be paying more next year because city officials lack the political will to stand up to the local police union. Or the firefighters union. Or municipal retirees.
It’s budget time at City Hall, and Cincinnati City Council is grappling with various proposals to avoid a $60 million deficit next year.
… One of the proposals most likely to pass is a new garbage collection fee, which would be added to water bills … it could be argued that Cleveland and Columbus don’t need to charge as much as Cincinnati because both cities have more residents, meaning their tax bases are larger. But it could just as easily be argued that Cincinnati is reaping the consequences of poor decisions — or the lack of decisions, really — for the past 10-15 years.
“In Defense of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks,” (Dec. 1): In a bit of twisted logic that would do George Orwell's Ministry of Truth proud, U.S. officials and the media have said after each leak that they contain “nothing new” or “explosive” but then try to argue the leaks pose a clear and present danger to national security.
Just like the wannabe wizard in Oz told Dorothy and her companions, the U.S. government and its all-too-willing accomplices in the corporate-owned media are essentially saying to the American people, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
… History will vindicate the Julian Assanges and Bradley Mannings of the world. It might not be as kind to a president that took office promising transparency and to restore the rule of law but didn't.
And there you have our stroll down Memory Lane. The year's events make me feel like I need to take a shower. Let's hope 2011 is just as interesting.