Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tomthemick@gmail.com

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hope And Change Circle The Drain


The Obama Administration is actually doing what the Nixon Administration only dreamt. Nixon was forced to resign for even thinking about using the IRS to harass his political enemies, but Obama’s minions actually do it, and so far, have gotten away with it. Why? The Mainstream Media. They went after Nixon tooth and nail, but they treat Obama with kid gloves. Should we be surprised? No. The Mainstream Media gave him to us, and they’ve been protecting him ever since.

The president is powerful. Congress is too. Each is jealous of its power and each bristles when it’s infringed by the other. The media, however, are more powerful than both. Why? Because of the old aphorism: “In politics, perception is reality.” And who controls perception? The Mainstream Media. When they chose to go after Nixon for covering up the Watergate break-in, they crippled him. They covered the congressional investigation into Watergate relentlessly, and nothing motivates politicians like television cameras and newspaper ink. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire. They fueled the process that forced Nixon to resign or face impeachment. Congress just went along. Ultimately, so did Nixon.
When John Dean gave then-IRS Commissioner John Walters an enemies list with 200 names on it, Walters was shocked. According to TaxProfBlog, Mr. Walters said in a 1997 interview with The Washington Post. “‘John, do you realize what you’re doing?’ he remembered saying. ‘If I did what you asked, it’d make Watergate look like a Sunday school picnic.’” Well, Walters didn’t do it, but Lois Lerner did. So did many other IRS officials, and not just the “rogue” agents in Cincinatti. They said their orders came from Washington, DC. I believe they came from the White House. Can I prove it? Not yet. Not until those emails are found. Do I believe they accidentally disappeared? No. Neither do 76% of Americans according to a recent poll, including a plurality of Democrats. They believe the Obama Administration deliberately destroyed those emails in a cover up. America smells a rat, and the all the kings reporters and all the kings spin can’t put it together again.
Watch Trey Gowdy shred IRS Commissioner Koskinen

Still the Mainstream Media choose to ignore the story, even after the president repeated his claim last week that the IRS scandal and other were “fabricated issues, they're phony scandals that are generated. It's all geared towards the next election of ginning up a base,” said Obama with unmitigated gall. What did The New York Times - flagship of the Mainstream Media - do with it? It devoted its front page to bridge traffic and buried the missing emails IRS scandal on page fourteen.
Nonetheless, it’s getting so that the only thing that pushes an Obama scandal off the stage is another Obama scandal, and there are still two and a half years to go in his second term. Obama’s poll numbers are worse than Carter’s or Bush’s. Even Obama kiss-up George Stephanopoulos asked him last week: “More than half of the Americans have lost confidence in your ability to lead the country and get the job done. That must have been stunning to you. Disappointing?” Obama blew off the question.

Clearly, the president is tanking fast in the eyes of the average American when only 11% believe the IRS loss of emails was an accident. All Obama knows how to do is make speeches. He will continue to lie eloquently, but what will the effect be on the majority of Americans who voted for him twice? Credibility, once lost, is extremely difficult to recover. How will his former supporters explain why they continue to support a narcissistic, incompetent, lying buffoon? And how will they reconcile this situation with their progressive world view?

Hard to predict, but it could come down to two scenarios: One, the American public will realize that their cherished “progressive” world view is inherently flawed. They’ll see that the VA is incompetent because it’s completely run by the federal government. They’ll make the intellectual leap and generalize their understanding that Obamacare will onlyl become a larger version of the VA - a completely government-run health care system and they themselves will be dying on secret waiting lists waiting for appointments that never come. They’ll extrapolate and realize that big government isn’t the way to fix problems, but that it is the problem.

Or not.

More likely, it will be scenario two: proud “progressives” will rationalize the failed Obama presidency by telling themselves that it isn’t progressivism causing the collapse; the cause is Obama himself. Either he isn’t competent to be president, or he is a schemer and has been all along - the wrong man to lead us all to progressive utopia. If we could only put the right person in there, everything would be fine. This is the more likely course.
Meanwhile, what do we do with the pathetic Mr. Hope and Change? How will the Mainstream Media handle him for the next 2 1/2 years? Be interesting to see.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Magouliana, High In The Peloponnesus


It was while we were burying my father-in-law, Ted, at Arlington National Cemetery eighteen months ago that my wife’s family started organizing our trip to Greece. Ted was a disabled veteran of WWII whose father immigrated from Magouliana (Mah-GOOL-yah-nah), a small, high-mountain village in the Peloponnesian Peninsula of Greece. Ted never wanted to visit there even though he could have afforded to, but his wife did. He was proud of his Greek heritage, spoke the language, and attended a Greek Orthodox Church in Lowell, Massachusetts. He liked to hang out with other veterans at the Greek/American Club in Lowell, but he considered himself an American. Like his father, wanted to cut ties to the old country. His widow, however, did not consider a trip there to be disloyal to America.
Roseann at her father's grave in Arlington, VA

The only road in to Magouliana

Four days into our Greek tour, we were leaving the area of Mycenae from where King Agamemnon set off to conquer Troy. We drove inland to Vytina, a mountain ski town closest to Magouliana and big enough to have a few hotels. There we stayed the night. Nearby Magouliana has only one tavern and no hotels. There’s only one road in and out and it has the highest elevation of any inhabited village in the Peloponnese. The views are spectacular from inside a high semicircle cut by nature out of a mountainside. I wondered why they built their houses so far up instead of in the small valley below. Then, surprisingly, I discovered the village was originally built even further up around the very top of the slope. That village, however, was destroyed by the Turks when they invaded in the 15th century. They forced villagers to rebuild it on the present site. Turks occupied Magouliana and the rest of Greece for four hundred years until they were driven out in the mid-nineteenth century. I learned later that the war for independence began right there in Vytina and Magouliana. Now I have an idea about where my wife’s sometimes fiery nature may have originated.
High in the Mountains

Beautiful setting

Our licensed guide was an older woman from Athens named Dora. She’d been guiding groups around Greece for forty years and had never heard of Magouliana. Neither had she heard of my wife’s maiden name of Kosiavelon. A clerk at Ellis Island had substituted the “n” at the end in place of the original “s” when her grandfather, Athanasios Kosiavelos was processed through in 1902. There are still people by that name living in Magouliana and they’re relatives. Ted’s widow had done extensive genealogical research and contacted some of them. One branch lives in Athens but maintains a vacation house in the old village. Although they didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Greek, we were able to communicate through our guide, Dora, who was wonderful. The language gap didn’t seem to matter much though. Warm feelings went back and forth in spite of it.
What language barrier?

Dora helps translate

Greek mountain hospitality

We were all treated to a mega-dose of Greek hospitality at their home high on the mountainside. They fed us three kinds of meats, homemade baked goods, vegetables, desserts made from walnuts grown on their own trees, and wine they made from grapes they also grew themselves. We were all quite moved by their warmth and graciousness. There had been about 2200 people in the village when Athanasios Kosiavelos left for New York via Naples, Italy in 1902, but fewer than 300 now. Athanasios had four brothers, but only the oldest stayed, inheriting whatever property the family owned. We found the house where Athanasios lived, which is only partially occupied now and had formerly housed a grocery store run by his family.
Roseann at her grandfather's house

Checking out her grandfather's church

Dora explains why so many young men left around 1900

My wife, Roseann, wasn’t sure what to expect and feared finding a poor, backward village with similar people, but that wasn’t the case at all. It appeared quite prosperous and the spectacular location enhanced the charm of the people still living there. The emotional greetings of the Kosiavelos relatives moved me in ways I did not expect because I’m only an in-law. They opened up the now unused church and school so we could see where Athanasious worshiped and became literate. There’s another church in use now and the village’s two remaining students are bussed to Vytina. 
Referring to the family tree

Magouliana in 1900 when Athanasios left for America

In the center of town was a statue of the man who led the mid-nineteenth rebellion against the Turks from Magouliana, but I couldn’t decipher his name because it was printed in the Greek alphabet. Much of the fighting in the Greek civil war following WWII also took place in the area, a struggle which ended in victory over communist forces. The village, like the country, had seen many changes in its long and storied history. I was proud that my children and grandchildren are descended from the warm and courageous people who called it home.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Historical Reckonings In Democracy's Birthplace

(This column ran last week in the newspapers. Didn't have time to post it while traveling.)

Flying over the Peloponnesus on the way to Athens from Rome, I was struck by how mountainous it was below me, much more so than New Hampshire or Maine. Zig-zagging switchback roads climbed even the biggest mountains. Some serviced the numerous windmills and cell phone towers up there, but others led to high villages on steep slopes. One of the smallest, called Magouliana, is the one from which my wife’s grandfather emigrated to America in 1902. More about Magouliana later. It needs its own column. “Wow!” I thought from the plane. “That’s rugged country.” This impression was confirmed when, two days later, we began our tour of the huge peninsula called Pelopponesus, the largest in Greece.

Roseann and Me at Parthenon
(That's a bra for the camera around my waist)

A small Mercedes bus met us at the airport near the sea on the outskirts of Athens. There were nine in our party, all members of my wife’s extended family making the trip. My first feeling was sadness because of the graffiti I saw defacing virtually every vertical surface as we drove to our hotel downtown near the Acropolis. The hotel was nice but a four-story building across the street was unoccupied and not well maintained either. Wherever I travel I notice how much graffiti there is because I see it as a barometer of civilizational decline. Thankfully, there was none visible at the Acropolis itself, a very impressive site, especially considering its antiquity going back three thousand years.
Parthenon from our hotel dining room in early evening

Impressive columned temples built up there by the Mycenean Greeks were destroyed by the Persians after the Battle of Thermopylae, then rebuilt during the Classical Period after 480 BC. I was impressed that people like Socrates, Plato and the Apostle Paul walked those same streets upon which I was strolling. I’d grown up reading and hearing about them over and over. It was from Socrates’ methods that I developed the teaching style I used for nearly my entire career.
People we met in Athens were friendly and most spoke English, a good thing since none of us spoke very much Greek. They made eye contact on the sidewalks, unusual for inhabitants of a big city in my limited traveling experience. Our tour guide was an older woman from the city named Dora, who had been doing that job more than forty years and spoke five languages. 
What happens when the EU closes the Euro spigot

After two days in the Athens, we headed for the Peloponnesus via Corinth, a city on the isthmus connecting to mainland Greece. All along the way were unfinished buildings: concrete skeletons with steel rebar sticking out, some with building materials stacked inside and bleaching in the sun. They were projects begun and never finished after European Union funds dried up. Many older buildings were abandoned too, some residences, but mostly businesses. Graffiti covered them. It was depressing to see it everywhere as we proceeded down the highway. Some evidently was political. Some was sprayed on in support of soccer teams. I recognized anarchy symbols and native Greeks I questioned explained symbols of soccer teams. Most, however, was mindless. Past Corinth, in rural areas of the Pelopponesus, there was considerably less of it.
Roseann, Christina, graffiti as we walk back to our hotel in Athens

My wife’s niece, Christina, who was living in Greece and visited us in Athens, told me the official unemployment rate there was 28%, but the real rate was double that. Our guide, Dora, said the economy had been depressed for about three years. As she explained it, the socialist government under Papandreou promised to eliminate poverty and for twenty years, it borrowed and spent. He knew the bill would come due eventually, but it wouldn’t be until after he was dead. I got the impression that her politics had morphed rightward as she apprehended the process Margaret Thatcher described: “Socialism works until you run out of other peoples’s money.”
Real markef forces are asserting themselves in Greece now as they inevitably must anywhere. The adjustment is quite painful, but necessary for a real economic recovery. It reminded me that we in the United States will soon run out of other people’s money as well. We’re putting off that reckoning with our “quantitative easing” policies of money-printing, but that cannot go on forever either. Postponing the inevitable only makes it more painful to bear when it finally comes. I used to think that would be after I was dead too, but now I’m thinking it will be here sooner, and I will have to watch as American decline accelerates. It will be a test of our polity. Can we withstand the crisis to come? Will the veneer of civilization keep hold over the seething mass of humanity?
Our guide was a scholar and offered perspective on Greek history though from Myceneans, to Dorians, to Persians, to Romans, to Byzantines, to Turks, to Nazis. After “periods of decadence” as she put it, come periods of decline and suffering. Greeks have endured it many times, but their history is so much longer than our own. As we toured Athens, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Olympia, Delphi, and Kalambaka, we were shown how, for millennia, people at each locale endured tumultuous reckonings after those “periods of decadence.”
Can we forestall that suffering here in the United States? In the face of mounting evidence that it may be too late for us, I continue to choose optimism. I don’t want to spend any more time than necessary in the state of mind produced by its opposite.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Was That?

Lately I feel like I’ve betrayed my older male friends somewhat. Since I got my very expensive hearing aids about six weeks ago, their wives are elbowing them and pointing at me. “See? He did it,” they declare. “Why don’t you?” My friends respond with a grunt and a looking away. For years, my responses were identical to theirs. Loss of hearing is slow and insidious. The increments are so small we don’t notice it, but the people around us do.
Then wives would question me about what finally made me go to an audiologist. I wasn’t sure what the final straw was, but it could have been when my three-year-old granddaughter, Lila, said something to me and I said, “What?” Then she said it again and I said, “What?” again. The third time, she said it in measured cadence: “Can. We. Go. Out. Side. And. Ride. Bikes?” Yeah. I think that’s when I knew I had to do something.
Lila

My first awareness that there might be something wrong was four or five years ago when I was still teaching. At a forty-minute meeting with a handful of other teachers I heard myself say, “What?” nearly a half dozen times when nobody else did. Clearly I was the only one not hearing whatever was being said. After that, I noticed how often my wife asked me to turn down the television. Soon she was gently suggesting that I get my ears tested.

Sometime later I mentioned it to my doctor at my annual physical. “There’s no wax in your ears,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for someone your age to experience some loss of hearing.” When I asked what I should do about it, he said, “Do you want to wear hearing aids?” I said no, it wasn’t that bad. “Okay then,” he said. “Live with it.” I did for a couple of more years.
Then my wife said she heard beeping down in the basement of our South Portland house. “You don’t hear it?” she asked. I didn’t. When I went down there though, I did. Water comes into that basement after a storm sometimes and there’s a battery back-up for the sump pump that sends an alarm when it’s time to add distilled water to the cells. That’s where the high-pitched beep was coming from. I added water and it was fine, but the experience revealed another dimension to my hearing issue. What if I were by myself? I might have had to replace the battery. A hundred bucks — not too big a deal. But I began to think about it more and what other safety issues might be implied by what happened.

When I finally went for a hearing test, the audiologist told me I had moderate to severe loss with higher-frequency sounds. The hearing aids I purchased reopened that world for me. The first thing I noticed was that I could hear myself breathing through my nose, and realized I hadn’t heard it for years. Then I went outside and the birds were very loud.
Mornings are my favorite time of day. I like to sleep with the windows open during this time of year and let the birds wake me. I like to smell fresh morning air, then watch the day fill with light. Nobody else would be up but me and the world would be mine alone. But I’m sleeping in lately because I haven’t been hearing their high-pitched sounds loudly enough to wake me. That isn’t going to change because I take the hearing aids out at night and put them on the nightstand with my glasses. I still have my own teeth, but if I live long enough I may be taking them out too someday. Then I’ll need a bigger nightstand.

One of my older male friends took me aside afterward and asked me a few questions about my hearing aids and I patiently answered him. After one more experience such as what I described above, I think he’s going to make the jump and go for a test himself.

And I’m visualizing women out there saying to their husbands above a certain age: “Honey? Here’s an article you should look at.”

I'm in Greece and having difficulty finding wifi connections, so this is an abbreviated post.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Hope And Change It Back

Obama said he would fundamentally transform the United States and that’s one promise he’s keeping. I hardly recognize it anymore.
Denee Mallon keeping vigil outside HHS

For example, The Associated Press reported last week about an Obama Administration Health and Human Services review board just ruling that we taxpayers can pay for a confused, 74-year-old army veteran who calls himself Denee Mallon to mutilate himself because he thinks he’s a woman. Medicare can fund his delusion, the Obama Administrations’s delusion, and the LGBTQ lobby’s delusion that he can fundamentally transform himself into a female. I don not share his delusion, but I’m forced to subsidize it. So are you.
The Associated Press didn’t report it that way though. The old wire service adheres to the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) homofascist “Media Reference Guide” for reporting on such stories. The AP used an upbeat tone throughout in keeping with the fantasy that everything related to homosexuality is “gay” and “glad.” I reported on the GLAAD guide in my May 6th column in case you missed it. The confused Mr. Mallon was dutifully referred to by the AP as “her” and “she” even though he’s male. Previous, more sane HHS rulings against taxpayer funding for such mutilation were referred to as “unjustified.” GLAAD spokespersons were exclusively quoted by the AP on the ruling. Not quoted were critics like me, who are appalled at Obama Administration priorities that let hundreds of other veterans around the country die on fake waiting lists while the LGBTQ “community” celebrates the “groundbreaking decision that recognizes the procedures as a medically necessary and effective treatment for individuals who do not identify with their biological sex.” The AP reported as if no one could possibly object to any of this as an outrageous waste of taxpayer money.
Want another example? The Mainstream Media ignored, or gave scant attention to the report that the US economy shrank in the first quarter of 2014. Evidently the Administration’s “Recovery Summer” of 2010 that was to follow Obama’s trillion-dollar stimulus of borrowed money for allegedly “shovel-ready” projects will have to be postponed again for the fifth straight year. Obsequious mainstream media news outlets that didn't ignore it altogether dutifully reported the economic decline was caused by an extremely harsh, cold, snowy winter that froze America’s you-know-whats off. Our shrinking economy had nothing to do with Obama’s brilliant Keynesian, drunken-sailor spending policies. Oh no. The president is still doing everything he can to reverse failed Bush policies that are really to blame for the economic mess we’re in.
And what caused this extremely harsh winter that caused our economy to shrink? It was “Climate change,” which used to be called “global warming.” That name-change became necessary when global temperatures refused to conform to Al Gore’s predictions that they would continue to go up in our planetary “fever.” The foolishness is just too obvious when progressive geniuses attribute the record-breaking cold winter we just had to “global warming.” The polar ice cap was supposed to have disappeared by now, but it hasn’t. The Himalayan glaciers were supposed to melt and they’re not. The oceans were supposed to rise and they’re not.
But what good is it to point all this out? The debate is settled. Mr. Hope and Change told us so, and my continuing to ridicule the massive delusion of human-caused global warming just makes me a flat-earther, a “denier,” a crackpot. Some true-believing progressive think people like me should be arrested and imprisoned. Will the Obama Administration issue its own Media Guide for what can or cannot be said about the Chicken Little Climate Change Cult? Is the NSA monitoring crackpots? Is the IRS? Of course not. Why would I even think such things?
It’s not likely they worry about a small-time columnist like me in the northern New England sticks, but others have been feeling enormous pressure to go along with the “settled debate.” Earlier this month, eminent Swedish meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson was invited to join the London-based GWPF (Global Warming Policy Foundation) an organization that dares to question the on climate change “consensus.” Immediately, he was besieged by a firestorm of criticism from the American climate-change cultists so severe that he feared for his health and safety and resigned.
When National Review columnist Mark Steyn dared call the sacred hockey stick graph venerated by the Climate Change Cult fraudulent, CCC high priest Michael E. Mann filed suit against him for defamation. Steyn could have avoided the suit by apologizing, but he refused. Rather, he’s raising money for his defense because he wants to put Mann on the stand and question him about the dubious data behind his sacred graph while he’s under oath.
I can’t wait. Maybe after the trial, I can begin to recognize my country again.

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