Aug 30, 2015

August 30, 2015: Best New Deal Tradition, In Search of Social Justice, Transcends the Left.

Early dismissed as a modern-day Don Quixote, Bernie Sanders has mounted his Rocinante (1) and, speaking in the best New Deal tradition is making his charge demonstrating as he does that the much vaunted Clinton Machine is nothing more than an aging mill twisting, like a helpless weathervane, vainly in the wind. For this is no Knight-Errant off in search of adventure, but a true populist in search of social justice. Accordingly, he has sparked a prairie fire that now threatens the ramparts of the Democratic ‘Mossbacks ‘seeking to extend the legacy of Bill Clinton into its fifth term.  Attracting tens of thousands to campaign rallies, 29,000 at a recent rally in Portland Oregon, and finding himself in a statistical dead heat with Clinton in the State of New Hampshire, the Sanders campaign now has many long-time political activists pondering the recently unthinkable.  As Professor Robert Reich posted today on Facebook:

So could it be a President Sanders after all? A new survey by Ann Selzer, Iowa’s most respected pollster, shows Hillary Clinton’s lead over Bernie in Iowa has shrunk to just 7 percentage points, while Donald Trump’s favorability with Republicans has sharply increased. Meanwhile a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday shows that in a hypothetical general election match-up, Sanders tops Trump 44% to 39%. 

By the way, here’s what Bernie said this morning on CNN’s “State of the Union," in response to Jake Tapper's question about whether Hillary would take on the billionaire class:

 "I think that the business model of Wall Street is fraud. And I think these guys drove us into the worst economic down turn in the modern history of America. And I think they’re at it again. I believe when you have so few banks with so much power you have to not only re-establish Glass–Steagall Act but you’ve got to break them up. That is not Hillary Clinton’s position. I believe that our trade policies with NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China have been a disaster. I am helping to lead the effort against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That is not Hillary Clinton’s position. I believe, along with Pope Francis, and almost all scientists, that climate change is threatening this planet in horrendous ways and that we have to be aggressive in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel, and defeat, and defeat the Keystone pipeline, that is not Hillary Clinton’s position. I believe that as opposed to my Republican colleagues who want to cut Social Security, I believe we should expand Social Security by lifting the cap on taxable income. That’s not Hillary Clinton’s position. I believe that we’ve got to raise the minimum wage over a period of several years to $15 an hour. Not Hillary Clinton’s position. I voted against the war in Iraq. Hillary Clinton voted for it."

Your reaction?" (2)

This, is a great summation of the case for Bernie. Unless and until Hillary repudiates everything the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) did to the Democratic Party and this country, unless she repudiates the economic legacy of her husband's presidency by adopting a sensible and long overdue return to the economics of the New Deal, she will get little support from the progressives in this country. As the polls show, Bernie Sanders has appeal that transcends the left, as well as the Democratic Party, tapping an alienation and an anger, long bubbling under the surface, that thought it had found its champion in Obama 8 years ago and has been disappointed. Since then the groundswell has only grown and the Democratic Party must prepare itself for the inevitable realization that Hillary Clinton will not likely be its standard bearer.  The bottom line is that this windmill, even if it were to unseat the intrepid knight from his faithful horse, is a hollow, aging edifice not likely to take us anywhere.

1.  Rocinante, the name Quixote gave to his horse, means ‘work horse’ here referring, by analogy, to the ‘commoner’ or ‘common man’.
2. Robert Reich, Facebook post 8/30/15

Aug 18, 2015

August 17, 2015: Note from Daily Kos, Violates the Sensibilities, Interests of the Oppressor

I just checked my inbox and to my chagrin discovered an email from Daily Kos featuring an essay by one Shaun King entitled “Why Bernie’s fake apology to black folk really bothers me”.  What bothers me is why Mr. King would take issue with how Bernie has handled the situation.  Confronted by a group of hotheads, physically taking the podium and interrupting a few of Sander’s political rallies, a campaign spokesman emailed the group suggesting that they send a responsible representative to meet with Sanders in an appropriate space. This is hardly an apology.  The media, Daily Kos among them, have responded by dismissing his “apology” as callous and insincere. Faux News is having a field day over the developments as the right-wing echo machine wrings its hands in glee hoping to witness an early snuffing of the only legitimate grass-roots ‘movement’ to arise in this country since at least the 1960’s.  Here was my response:

"So you are implying that you would respect a candidate for President of the United States that         when confronted with a group of screaming hotheads immediately falls to his knees and genuflects before them, then announces to the world that he accepts their entire agenda?

Look these people have no legitimate reason to be assaulting the likes of Bernie Sanders who is the only person presently in the Presidential race who has done anything to further the interests of those struggling in this country.  The Clintons? Are you kidding me? What have they done but savage the safety net, hanging the poor and the middle class out to dry.  The Republican field?  Why did they wait until Jeb was finished speaking before they engaged in their boorish behavior?  Why don't they go to a Trump or Cruz or Paul rally and exhibit such behavior?  Is it because they know they will get no hearing, or is it that they are afraid to do so?

Sanders owes this 'movement' no apology.  What has happened and is happening in America is and has long been a national disgrace, a disgrace that Sanders has spent his entire life trying to rectify.  To demand an 'apology' not only makes no sense, but violates the sensibilities of all those who have tried and are trying to move this country forward."

No one has responded more forcefully than Bernie Sanders on the issues of racism, police brutality, racial profiling and the wholesale incarceration of Blacks and Latino’s in this country.  No other candidate has called for the demilitarization of America’s police forces.  But it doesn’t matter to these people, who have been hell-bent on gaining national attention by disrupting the candidate in this race drawing larger crowds than all the others put together.  I suppose it’s the price one pays nowadays for taking the podium and delivering a message that rings in our ears like the Bell of Liberty.  But in attacking Bernie the forces demanding justice risk doing material damage to the only candidate now running willing or capable of delivering that justice. 

The tactics of “Black Lives Matter” remind me of the Teabaggers.  You remember them, shouting down town meetings, demanding to ‘take our country back’, while carrying placards saying “Hands Off My Health Insurance”.  Yes, you remember them, ‘populists’ purporting to defend the private insurance industry against encroachments by government.  Let’s keep those lifetime limits on coverage, those pre-existing conditions, those high premiums, and this lack of competition.  All in the name of ‘freedom’.  Shills of the capitalist cavorting as populists.  The BLM ‘movement’ adopting similar tactics and attacking the likes of Bernie Sanders are likewise demonstrating a similar political intelligence: serving only the interests of the oppressor.

Aug 16, 2015

August 16, 2015: An Icon and a Gentleman, Voice of Reason, The Poorer Now

I awoke this morning to discover that Julian Bond has passed away due to an undisclosed illness.  He was 75.  Bond came to my attention, as he did with most of America, during the contentious 1968 Democratic National Convention where “contrary to his intentions, he became the first African American to be proposed as a major party candidate for Vice President of the United States.  While expressing gratitude for the honor, the 28-year-old Bond quickly declined, citing the constitutional requirement that one must be at least 35 years of age to serve in that office.” (1)  The convention, conducted amid the tumult of the Vietnam War and the resulting Police Riot in the streets of host-city Chicago, subsequently nominated Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine for Vice President joining Hubert Humphrey at the top of the ticket.  A team that would subsequently suffer a narrow loss to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. 

By 1968, Bond, at the young age of 28, had already achieved a great deal.  In 1960 he was one of the founding members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a group that would quickly take to the ramparts and become the vanguard of the movement to register black voters in the heart of Dixie, as well as leading protests in several states to end segregation in public places.  Elected in 1965 as one of eleven African-Americans to the Georgia House of Representatives, the Georgia State Legislature “voted 184-12 not to seat him because he had publicly endorsed SNCC’s policy regarding opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War” (2) and expressing sympathy for those ‘unwilling to respond to a military draft” (3).  This action was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States when in 1966 it ruled in Bond v. Floyd “that the Georgia House of Representatives had denied Bond his freedom of speech and was required to seat him. (4)  He subsequently served 4 terms in the Georgia House and from 1975-1987 he served six terms in the Georgia State Senate.

Bond also taught at several universities including American University, Drexel, Harvard and the University of Virginia. (5)  More recently he served for 12 years as the chairman of the NAACP, after having been the first President of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Always a man of principle, in 1967 he was one of eleven House members who refused to vote “when the legislature elected segregationist Lester Maddox…as Governor of Georgia”, (7) after the election, in which neither major candidate won a clear majority of the vote, was left for the legislature to decide.  Later he boycotted the funeral services for Coretta Scott King because “the King children had chosen an anti-gay megachurch” in which to hold the services. (7)

A voice of reason in unreasonable times, a gentleman, a scholar, a warrior for righteous cause.  We have been enriched by his presence and will be the poorer now.  
(2). Ibid
(3). Ibid
(4). Ibid
(5). Ibid
(6). Ibid

(7). Ibid

Aug 14, 2015

August 13, 2015: Where is the Justice Department, a matter of Anti-Trust, Cabals and Cartels

In the wake of the decision handed down last month by the Supreme Court that the Federal Government has the constitutional authority to establish public insurance exchanges, thereby driving the final nail into the conservative arguments concerning the validity of the Affordable Health Care Act, the insurance industry immediately began an orgy of mergers.  Economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich had this to say:

“Now that insurers know the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, they’re merging like mad. Today Aetna announced it will spend $37 billion to buy rival Humana in a deal that will create the nation's second-largest health insurer. Yesterday, Centene announced a $6.3-billion deal to acquire Health Net. Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier Anthem just made a $47-billion offer for giant insurer Cigna.

We’re rapidly on the way to having a handful of giant health insurers. The only difference between this outcome and a government-run single payer, such as Medicare for all, is that revenues will go into executive salaries, dividends, and advertising and marketing rather than into lower premiums and health care.

When will we learn?” (1)


It is a poignant question and one that should be troubling to every Progressive Democrat in America.  When will we learn?  The answer, as it pertains to the elites in this country, is that—like the Commanding Generals on the Western Front a century ago—they will never learn.  But the question runs deeper, when will we—we the people—learn?  Not since George W. ‘Ol Two-Cows’ Bush upon assuming the presidency dropped the anti-trust suit against Microsoft, a case that the government was incidentally winning, this government has not brought a significant anti-trust action. For nearly a generation there has been a veritable orgy of mergers and acquisitions as the banks, the oil companies, the pharmaceuticals and other major players have merged and joined forces in an erstwhile effort to further concentrate economic and political power.  Now, with the ACA firmly in place the major players in the Health Insurance industry are wasting no time in going about the business of strangling competition. 
The consequences cannot be good, for the concentrations of economic power into fewer hands, and the concentrations of the political power that follows will mean that the long anticipated benefits resulting from the creation of public insurance exchanges as well as the requirement that all participate in the system will be strangled at birth by the attempts of the industry to further eliminate competition.  Whatever ‘savings’ anticipated by the Act will soon be undone as the industry morphs into a cartel with less than a handful of companies commanding the markets.

Economists have long recognized that the behavior of Capital is to concentrate itself into fewer and fewer hands.  Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once observed that however the capitalist lauds competition, the fact is that he hates competition and will do whatever it takes to rid himself of it.  The classic example of this, dating back to the nineteenth century heyday of the modern capitalist experiment, was the railroads.  Financiers like Gould and Fiske would buy up railroads, like the old Erie Railroad, not to invest in them and improve them, but to close them down and eliminate the competitor.  Similarly, General Motors famously bought the old trolley companies in Los Angeles in order to close them and render the population dependent on the automobile.  Surveying the American experience Professor Galbraith observed that when confronted with competition the Capitalist will soon scurry for cover, seeking government protections by way of tariff restrictions, favor by way of government contracts, and the manipulation of the marketplace by the elimination of competition by way of restricting or eliminating government oversight and regulations. 

Governments also have long recognized this behavior and began immediately after the Civil War, with the passage of the Sherman and Clayton Anti-Trust Acts to address these unwelcome tendencies.  But it has, historically, fallen upon the People to insist on a remedy.  In fact, by 1905 Anti-Trust laws were being applied by the courts not to Capital but Labor.  After having decided in “United States v. E.C. Knight Co… that the Sherman Act could not be applied to a virtual monopoly of the sugar industry because the manufacture of sugar was not in interstate commerce”, the court had “(f)or all practical purposes…virtually set aside the Sherman Act”.  This action by the court was soon followed in the 1905 decision in Swift and Co. v. United States in which “the Court held that a combination of meat packers (union) was an illegal monopoly under the Sherman Act on the ground that its activities were transactions in interstate commerce”(2)  By the early years of the last century Capital, ensconced in power, had co-opted government and, with the aid of an ideologically compliant Court, set about making a mockery of not only free enterprise but the will of the people.

It took a ‘revolt of the masses’ in the form of a ‘prairie fire’ of grass-roots protest in the form of the Greenback and Progressive movements to right the ship.  With the election of Teddy Roosevelt and later Woodrow Wilson the Progressives, able to influence first the Republican and then the Democratic Party would compel government to not only protect the people from the worst ravishes that Capital is prone but to empower workers to improve not only pay but working conditions as well.   Finally, with the coming of the New Deal and the passage of the Wager Act, Fair Labor Standards Act the enforcement of Anti-Trust laws and the institution of a long overdue regimen of Federal Regulation, the People, acting through government, were able to not only establish a system of relative economic justice but a large and thriving Middle Class as well.

There has been a great unravelling of this in the last 40 years, the greatest example of which is the destruction of the Labor Movement as well as the inability of this government to enforce the laws on the books, particularly Anti-Trust laws.  Trends that increasingly see no improvement with the election of Democratic Administrations, leaving one to ask: Where are you Mr. President?  Where is the Justice Department?

As Goldman-Sachs staffs the Treasury, no matter who which party assumes power; as Paul Volker advises a Democratic Administration on economic Policy; as the likes of Alan Greenspan would be found commendable by both a Jimmy Carter and a Ronald Reagan, a George Bush and a Bill Clinton; and as no administration since Carter has lifted a finger to aid and protect the workers on the shop floor; and as no recent administration has seriously enforced anti-trust, it is clear that cabal having seized the levers of power now owe their allegiance not to the people, but to the cartels they have empowered.

As the Middle Class writhes in agony, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush wait in the wings.  Nothing more need be said.  No matter who wins, we lose.  The Calvary isn’t coming.  When will we learn?  Good question Dr. Reich, it’s been nearly half a century now.  One thing is certain though, our ancestors were never such fools.

Meanwhile the Republicans have moved in Congress to eviscerate the Pell Grants making higher education unaffordable to much of the Middle Class.  You see they don’t want us competing with their kids in school either, they fear the competition.

(1). Robert Reich, Facebook post 7-15-15
(2). Tresolini, Rocco J. “American Constitutional Law” The Macmillan Company
                    New York, Collier-MacMillan Limited, London. Pg. 265


Aug 5, 2015

August 5, 2015: All-Dunn, Plumbing the Mendoza Line, New ‘Age of Shoddy’

For decades the threshold by which an athlete was judged competent to remain in Major League Baseball was determined by what became known as the ‘Mendoza Line’(1).  The standard was coined in 1979 by teammates Tom Paciorek and Bruce Bochte in honor of one Mario (Manny) Mendoza whose defensive skills were such that he played several years in the major leagues despite having a batting average hovering at or about .200.  This, the gods of baseball had determined, would be the absolute minimum offensive performance, the point at which one’s defensive skills however formidable could no longer justify one being in the lineup or on a major league roster.  As a struggling player’s batting average plummeted ever lower, the approach of the much feared ‘Mendoza Line’ would hang over the hapless ball player like the Grim Reaper waiting for that moment to call him ‘home’ and snatch him back to the corn fields of Iowa or snuff his career altogether.  No more.

With the advent of Free Agency and multi-year contracts, Major League Baseball has of late presented us with the proverbial ‘superstar’ free of the constraints of convention and not subject to the long established norms of the game.  I give to you as Exhibit One, one Adam Dunn.

Known as the ‘Big Donkey’, Dunn was acquired by the Chicago White Sox as a free agent in the off-season following the 2011 season.  Signing for a reported four-year 60 Million dollar contract (of which the Sox reportedly paid out 56 Million) Dunn struggled through the 2012 season hitting a paltry .159 in 496 plate appearances.  The following season he struck out a record 222 times in 649 plate appearances raising his average to .204. The “Sporting News”, making a mockery of sporting awards, promptly dubbed the ‘Big Donkey” 2013’s “Comeback Player of the Year”, perplexing future historians of the game as they ponder just how bad you have to be the previous year to win this honor with a batting average .004 points above the “Mendoza Line”.  Nevertheless the Texan clogged on.  In four years he hit a meager .201 for Chicago, striking out 720 times in 2187 plate appearances, or roughly 1/3 of the time.  As for the remainder he would, predictably by always going deep into the count, work a walk (321 of those over nearly 4 seasons); but more often than not hitting directly into a defensive shift as opposing teams would put the third baseman or shortstop over on the right side of the infield.  Dunn, always swinging for the fences would, if he got his bat on the ball at all, hit it into the defense or pop it up.  Saying that he was paid to hit home runs, he hit 106 of those in 4 years, many—all too many with the bases empty and when the additional run didn’t figure into a win or loss—the big oaf went about making a mockery of the game.

It cost Ozzie Guillen his job as Manager of the Sox.  Guillen had led the club to its first World Championship since “Pants” Rowland piloted the franchise in 1917, a feat which should have earned Ozzie a lifetime sinecure.  But as the club wound through the 2012 season with Dunn, in the middle of the lineup and striking out at a record pace, Guillen was unable to do anything about it.

You see at a cost of 12 million for the first year of his contract, Dunn was making a bit over $74,000 a game.  That’s about $8,250 per inning worked or, since he played mostly as a Designated Hitter, one would more accurately parcel it out by plate appearances or at-bats.  Assuming 4.2 plate appearances on average per game every time the ‘Big Donkey’ came up to bat it cost the club $17,619.00.  Paying a player this much money means that a manager no longer has the option to bench him, for no owner or General Manager is going to sit idly by and pay out that kind of money for an ‘asset’ that isn’t being used.  And so Sox fans had to endure nearly 4 long years of watching the big oaf.  By the time he left the team, mercifully traded to Oakland with a couple of months left on his contract, the White Sox had paid between 18 and 20 Million dollars’ worth of strike outs.
Moreover, when he did hit the ball it was predictably to the right side of the infield, weak grounders, pop-ups and fly balls hit right into the shifted defenses.  Rarely did he make plate adjustments to hit the ball to the now open left side or into the outfield down the left field line.  When he did to it, his average would rise but, after a few games, he would revert to old habits and the same old Dunn would return.  When ‘Hawk’ Harrelson, calling a televised game, would announce “Here’s Adam” it would send chills down the spine of any good Sox fan, much like fingernails scraping across a blackboard,

This is the conundrum in which the modern game finds itself. The Atlanta Braves had a similar experience signing Second Baseman Dan Uggla, the Yankees are presently paying Alex Rodriguez tens of millions as he presents the public with a meager .280 batting average.  Pitchers now routinely are paid as much as $5,000.00 per pitch!  Being a legal monopoly and confronted with ‘free agency’ and player unionization, the owners and players have made their deals with intent on passing the costs on to the consumer, resulting in skyrocketing ticket, parking and concession prices.  Meanwhile the quality of play continues to deteriorate as team play unravels, performance slumps, uniforms are worn improperly.  Today we witness in the sport the emergence of players from college programs and the minor leagues who simply have not mastered the fundamentals of the game.  They cannot make adjustments hitting at the plate, cannot bunt the ball, cannot field their positions properly, and make too many base-running mistakes.  Baseball has given us a ‘new age of shoddy’.

Ken Burns, in his television presentation of “Baseball” informs us that the sport has been central to the American Experience, playing major roles in establishing social norms from segregating to integrating American culture.  That it has.  What Baseball is presenting today is the example of what has gone terribly wrong with the economy and, by extension, the cultural norms.  Long established as a legal monopoly, baseball was able to function by oppressing its labor force.  With the coming of the Player’s Association and, more importantly, Free Agency the cork was removed from the bottle sending player compensation, profits, and costs through the roof.   Now it is quite impossible to imagine Major League baseball as being able to exist in anything other than a state-sponsored monopoly.  Oliver Wendell Holmes was quite right about that.  Another league in competition would surely likewise send the cost of labor skyrocketing, as it did when the old American Football League challenged the National Football League at its inception.  Professional sports, in order to function, nearly demand state protection.

It is one thing to have a monopoly or, for that matter, an oligopoly or cartel.  These do exist and, sometimes as with the municipal power plant, the water department, or local hospital are necessary.  But to have an unregulated monopoly leads to the kind of dysfunctions that produce the Adam Dunn’s of this world and a management left powerless to influence performance. The lack of regulation, as it did in the American Auto Industry leads to Shoddy. Lack of competition without regulation lead to complacency and decline.  We must have one or the other.



Aug 3, 2015

August 3, 2015: To Bob Steiner, Civilizing the Barbarian, Very Least I Can Do

“It takes eighteen years and thousands of dollars to civilize the barbarian.”
                         ----from "The Quotations of Chairman Joe"

In my case it took a bit longer.  About this time forty-nine years ago I went to work for a pharmacist in downtown Grand Haven.  His name was Bob Steiner and he owned and operated a pharmacy located directly across the street from Hoffsteder’s news stand at the corner of Washington and Third Street.  Washington is Main Street in downtown Grand Haven at the foot of which lies the old Grand Theater and the bleachers for the musical fountain, proudly proclaimed at the time to be the world’s largest. 

Bob was, none of us could imagine at the time, one of a dying breed of businessman.  He owned and operated a once thriving establishment, one of two downtown druggists, and was a well-connected member of the community establishment, prominent in the local Chamber of Commerce.   Already feeling the pressure from the newly established shopping centers cropping up along the newly re-built U.S. Highway 31, Bob was one of the principle movers who worked to renovate the threatened downtown business district by getting other business owners behind the projects to build the new fountain as well as a project to heat the sidewalks downtown in the winter so as to make walking main street a more safe and pleasant experience.  Bob was a man about town, a man of property and standing, and a man who had connections and knew how to use them.  He was also a staunch conservative and a Republican.

This, for some reason, did not jaundice his view of a young lad from “the other side of the tracks” who, at the age of 17, he brought into his employ.  I took the job, at 65 cents an hour, having worked most of the summer at a Drive-In Theatre then managed by my uncle but, with it being seasonal employment and the summer being short, I knew I needed a job for the winter.  So it was that I found myself working at Steiner’s Pharmacy in the late summer of 1966 until April of 1967, during my senior year in High School.

Through the course of the ensuing months Bob, who worked nearly all the hours the store was open rarely filling his position with an assistant pharmacist would, while reacting to a newscast on a television he would occasionally watch, offer an opinion.  His views would reflect ones that would most closely fall near those expressed by Barry Goldwater or Bill Buckley, both of whom he held in high esteem.  This, after a time, would elicit a response because Bob, I soon found, was looking for a response—indeed a spirited response.  We soon found ourselves in a protracted discussion, if not debate, for my views were nearly diametrically opposed to his.  This, I was to discover, was not to be a liability for conservative though he was, he was also a man of reflection, discernment, tolerance and civility.  I discovered, all too late and to my own personal loss, that I didn’t appreciate his wisdom and his guidance nearly enough.

For you see that despite our divergent standing the community, despite our differences in political philosophy and economic standing, Bob nevertheless reached out and took this young lad in hand, however his reluctance and his immaturity.

One Saturday morning in March of 1967, as the war in Viet Nam was nearing its crescendo in terms of the numbers of troops that were to be at any one time committed and, subsequently, the draft of young men into the service, I just reaching my 18th birthday reported for work. 

“Joe”, Bob called out from the Dias overlooking the store from which he could survey the operation while he was filling prescriptions, “what are you going to do after you graduate?”

For a moment I thought he was asking if I were going to stay at his pharmacy.  I hated the place, the pay was a pittance, about half the federal minimum wage at the time, and I was eager to leave.  “I’m not sure” I replied.

“Are you going to college?”  he asked.

“I’ve applied to Grand Valley”, I answered, “but I haven’t heard back from them”

“Have you applied anywhere else?” 
“No” I confessed.  I had not.  The truth was that I had graduated dead center at place number 199 of the 400 who graduated in my class.  This was, in part a consequence of graduating from a parochial grade school and being put into industrial arts classes during my freshman year in High School.  I hated it and was bored by it and my grades reflected it.  Not until later, during my last two years when the school administration, after administering the Iowa Tests put me into more advanced classes that my grades began to improve.  I had made the ‘honor roll’ a few times in the last two years but it didn’t raise my overall grade point average above the absolute mean.  Nevertheless I had filled out an application because my friend Johnny Hierholzer, with whom I had been a classmate dating back to second grade at St. John’s Lutheran and who, being a neighbor living just around the corner had, along with his parents, pressured me into obtaining an application and sending it in.  Johnny was hoping I would be accepted and we could commute together to school as we had previously walked together from the old neighborhood to school.  He had better grades, I had my doubts.  Visions of the rice fields of Indochina beckoned.

The next Monday afternoon, after finishing a day at school, I reported for work at the drug store. I was counting the cash in the till when I heard Bob’s voice from his perch overlooking the floor.  “When you finish with the register, I want to see you in my office” he commanded.

Oh shit, what have I done now? I thought.  After having counted the cash in the register I proceeded back to his office, located behind a door to the right of the pharmaceutical counter and leading both to his office and the stairwell down to the basement. I finished with my clerical task, made sure there were no customers to wait on and then proceeded to the doorway leading to his office making sure not to go in too far so that I could hear if anyone entered the store.  Stopping short, Bob began to speak.

“I’ve got a friend at the College”, he began.  “He’s a good friend of mine.  His name is Mr. Putnam and he’s the head of the admissions department at Grand Valley.  You have an appointment to meet with him on Wednesday morning at 9AM.  I want you to go to the principal’s office at school tomorrow and tell him that you won’t be in school on Wednesday, that you are going up to the college to meet Mr. Putnam.  Do you understand?”

I nodded.

“Good.  Now if you don’t make that appointment on Wednesday morning I will not be a happy man, do you understand me?

Again I nodded.

“Now go back on the floor.”

I did as I was told.  I went up to the college on Wednesday morning full of hope but also full of trepidation.  Surely, I thought, my grades wouldn’t be good enough.  This school was a tough place I had heard.  It hadn’t received its accreditations, so it was flunking kids out left and right, tough standards, hard place.  What if my grades aren’t good enough, what if god knows, I get accepted here, how would I afford it?  I had no money and the job certainly wouldn’t support funding college.  What if I simply failed?  To say that things were precarious is an understatement.

I arrived at the college, found the admissions office, and was instructed to take a seat and wait for a few moments.  I expected some underling to emerge but, to my surprise, out came the director himself.  He introduced himself saying that he had heard some good things about me. What followed was a personal tour of the campus as the director took me from building to building describing the facilities, the hopes for the newly established college (now university), and what they were looking for in student recruitment.  Finally, after a couple of hours, he brought me back to his office.

“How about it?  Do you want to come here?” he asked.

“I don’t think I can afford it, my family doesn’t have much money and won’t be able to contribute anything.  I’m the oldest of six children and there isn’t much to go around”.  I replied.

“I can fix that” he said.

“How?”  I asked incredulously.

“A combination of student loans and grants.  We can make this happen.  How about it?” 

“O.K.” I replied.   I couldn’t believe it.

When I reported for work that afternoon Bob asked me how it went.  I told him that I had been accepted, still not truly believing it.  A smile crossed his otherwise humorless countenance. 
A few weeks later I moved on.  Johnny’s mother, then a secretary in the office of the W.T. Grant department store, had arranged an interview with the manager of the store.  In due course I landed a new job.  I never got around to appropriately expressing my appreciation or properly thanking Bob for his efforts. Full of stiff-necked pride and not properly socialized, I simply moved on.  He was a mentor to me before I knew or understood what mentoring was; indeed sometimes it takes longer than 18 years to get the barbarian out of the child. It does, I have come to understand, indeed take a village.

Bob is gone now, as are so many who have influenced my life.  I am ashamed to admit that I treated him shabbily, for here was a friend in the truest sense of the word; one that saw some promise in the boy and did everything he could to secure a place for him. These columns are his testament as well as mine, and although I know he would find little agreement with the opinions expressed herein he would readily befriend the soul that animates these pages. 
Thank you Bob Steiner, I know it is too late, but Thank You nonetheless. It is the very least I can do.