Like Daniel entering the Lion's Den, Barack Obama will step through "the Land of the Lyin'" (our official motto - no offense) on Thursday. The three-city tour will include rallies in Dayton, Cincinnati, and the place that's been most patient, Portsmouth.
All the rallies for "American Jobs" are free and open to the public. The schedule is:
11 am (gates open at 9) Fifth Third Field Dayton
3:00 pm (gates open at 1) Ault Park Cincinnati
7:30 pm (gates open at 5:30) Shawnee State U./Alumni Green Portsmouth
Friday's schedule is yet to be announced -- perhaps they will stay in the area?
While Obama has campaigned in Dayton and Cincinnati before, this marks the first time that he has come within eighty miles of Portsmouth. Since I've been urging Barack to visit the deep Buckeye south since January, I'll say a lot more about the Portsmouth leg of the tour below the fold. Consider this a case study in the Politics of Hope meets the Pit of American Decline.
The South Central Ohio Corridor
Entering Portsmouth from the north, there used to be a sign: "Where Southern Hospitality Begins!" It's now been moved to the river side exit to Kentucky; the people of Portsmouth are wonderful, but hospitality is less on the popular mind. This "All-America City" has led the way for the nation into economic depression. Call us trend-setters.
Portsmouth was once the center of North American civilization, and perhaps it still is. The largest prehistoric architectural works in the world are here -- a ten mile-long earthen effigy of a rattlesnake that crosses the Ohio River twice. A New Age cult movement (yeah, we got em) claims the rattle of that rattlesnake was the site of the fabled city of Atlantis, so grandiose and mysterious are the ruins. Abraham Lincoln came to see those earthworks in 1848, so Barack will be following a well-trodden path.
On Alumni Green at Shawnee State University, Barack Obama will literally be standing at the center of the belly of the biggest man-made beast in the world. Interpret freely.
Portsmouth has a lot to be said for its history. This was the epicenter of the Underground Railroad movement before the Civil War, and Portsmouth citizens were so dedicated to the Union cause, they started the tradition of honoring that war's martyrs at Tracy Park, which gave rise to the national holiday of Memorial Day. Great industries rose and fell here -- iron for the ironclads of the US Navy, shoes (now reduced to a shoelace factory), steel (now dependent for revival on investment from Russia), and the biggest atomic factory in the world, just north near Piketon (closed in 2001).
Now, whether North American civilization will continue may also be considered a Portsmouth affair. If the Tourism Bureau were smart, they'd advertise: "Come to Scioto County and see the American future!" Unemployment tops 10%, which doesn't begin to count the chronically out-of-work. The poverty rate topped 20% in 2005 and is now a dern-tootin higher, as Sarah Palin might say. Portsmouth has the highest crime rate and the worst drug problem of any city in Ohio. The city is depopulating rather fast.
Kentuckians used to aspire to Portsmouth as a goal. "Readin', Ritin', and Route 23" were called the three R's in Kentucky education, and now that's the title of a classic country song. These days, Route 23 is known as "the Mainline" going southward -- it carries crystal meth and other drugs in from Columbus and Detroit.
People do not understand Portsmouth area politics. Party label is irrelevant. In fact, this may be the one place left in the nation where the word "Republican" still conjurs images of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, accounting for the naming of our current Democratic governor, who hails from Scioto County. The local machine is solidly Democratic, but these aren't the Democrats you want to take home to mama. These are the remnants of the old Copperhead Democrats, whose granddaddies sympathized with their kin across the river before the Civil War.
They were called Copperheads because they bite without provocation or warning.
Corruption grows in these parts like pawpaws on the trees. Any dollars that do come in from Washington or Columbus are doled out on the dishonor system, as are ballot positions. One needn't go too far back to find examples. The mayor of Portsmouth, who acquired his office when the former mayor was recalled after a scandal, just fired the police chief last week, following charges of "abuse of power" that make Troopergate look like tiddly-winks (pun unintended, I swear, wink-wink).
I do not mean to suggest that law enforcement is lax here. On the contrary, speeding motorists stand little chance of getting through south Ohio with 401K plans intact. The Waverly Police Department is still under investigation for letting more than a hundred DUI arrestees go free with unblemished records, in exchange for thousand-dollar contributions to the town fund. We're assured the matter will be fully dealt with by the judicial system -- after the election.
And speaking of the judicial system, some fine upstanding citizens chained themselves to construction cranes in Columbus last week, to demand that Strickland act to end corruption in the Ohio family court system.
But this is election time, and we're all supposed to wear a happy face, which I am, see: :-)
Atomic Politics in South Ohio
John McCain came to Portsmouth in July for a "town hall meeting," an event that was truly awesome in its audacity of lies. He promised the area "a big part of 700,000 jobs" from nuclear power revival, though he did not say from whence those jobs would come, or how long they would last. In fact, what McCain had in mind, which came out in the first presidential debate, was that his administration would help the local big company USEC Inc. site a storage center for spent nuclear fuel at Piketon -- a project that defies pre-election specification. (This is why he vaguely accused Obama of opposing nuclear "storage" in the debate.)
Politically blocked from pursuing spent fuel storage, USEC has applied for two-billion dollars worth of federal loan guarantees, allegedly to finance construction of a new uranium enrichment plant. To USEC's credit, that company was begging for massive federal bailout when corporate welfare wasn't cool.
Since there are now four competing new uranium enrichment projects in the United States, in a diminishing market (because the credit crunch squeezes new nuclear projects most of all), and USEC's is the least commercially viable, there is zero justification for a USEC bailout -- except, of course, that USEC's project is located in the land of quadrennial fraudulent promises of jobs.
Which has created quite a dilemma. Last spring, Ted Srtrickland himself told the Portsmouth Daily Times that USEC's plant cannot be financed. He wanted USEC to leave the site and turn it over to AREVA, the French nuclear giant, so they could build a centrifuge enrichment plant on the site instead. That site also is underlain by prehistoric Indian earthworks of a spectacular nature.
AREVA, however, chose to locate its new plant in Idaho. And last week, AREVA filed an application directly competing with USEC for the $2 billion in available DOE loan guarantees. http://www.world-nuclear-news.com/... AREVA has a much more viable project, and they also have on file statements from the Ohio governor attesting to that fact.
As a result, USEC stock is tanking, down from a high of $25 in 2007, to less than $4 per share now, down about 30% just in the last week. Not exactly a wise target for federal loan guarantees.
The problem is that under pressure from Ted Strickland, on September 2, Barack Obama issued a statement endorsing the USEC loan guarantees. Snakepit full of copperheads. Gotcha!
A Fraud on the Community Busted
A complicating factor in all of this is that the community in Pike and Scioto counties is done with all this political flim-flammery. We want those nice real rosy green-collar jobs in renewable energy manufacture that we heard Barack and Al Gore talk about from Denver on our newfangled TV sets with rabbit ears. Yes, we got technology in Appalachian Ohio now.
We also have a new Citizens Advisory Board at Piketon, which over five thousand area residents petitioned to create. That board, not the governor in private deals, is supposed to consider proposals for site use. We also have a radical invention we claim credit for in Appalachia --it's called "community organizers."
But as the polls started going south for John McCain and his nuclear delusions, the Copperheads had to come up with some alternative to tipping the election McCain's way, as would have been their preference. In other words, they had to prepare to marshall their influence with an incipient Obama Administration.
To get Barack Obama to believe that day was night and night was day in south Ohio, someone commissioned a focus group on the subject of the Piketon site, held on the evening of September 26, the same night as the first Obama-McCain debate, at the Portsmouth Holiday Inn Express. (The attendees knew nothing about the subject, but they stayed at the Holiday Inn Express -- it's almost funny.)
The Focus Group was entitled "Portsmouth Opinion Leaders" -- virtually identical to the groups of "community leaders" who were assembled in 2006 to "speak for" the community in endorsing plans for spent fuel storage at Piketon -- a caper that almost got Jean Schmidt diselected. This is how decisions get made in modern-day Appalachian towns.
The POL focus group on the 26th was hardly selected at random or by merit. The participants -- limited to residents of Scioto County, which is not where the Piketon site is located but happens to be where Barack Obama is visiting -- included all three Scioto County members on the board of SODI, a private development corporation that is a partner in the consortium that propoed a spent fuel storage facility for Piketon in 2006. In addition, the mayor of Portmouth (the one who fired the police chief) was invited, as well as the mayor of New Boston, where the spent fuel would have been unloaded from barges were invited. Both mayors had provided letters of endorsement for the spent fuel storage consortium in 2006.
Also among the 14 invited participants were three residents, including two next-door neighbors, from a fake "community group" that was also invited to closed-door meetings during the 2006 waste consortium process. Of the 14 invited participants, at least nine are identifiable as in some way connected to the 2006 consortium process for demonstrating "community support" for SNF storage, which resulted in a $674,000 federal grant. All public officials involved are Democrats.
NOT included in the focus group was any member of SONG: Southern Ohio Neighbors Group, which had collected the 5,000 signatures opposing spent fuel storage and calling for a Citizens Advisory Board. Only one member of the Advisory Board was contacted, but he declined to participate.
The identities of the focus group participants were not supposed to be disclosed. We know those identities because we busted them. Four members of SONG, including one member of the Advisory Board, went to the Holiday Inn Express during the focus group, and we saw the participant list. (We did not actually know that we were not invited -- we had only heard through the grapevine of a "meeting.")
We were not permitted in the room, but afterward we spoke to the moderator, who was Thomas Riehle, senior partner of RT Strategies, a well-known political polling firm in DC. Riehle, a pollster for top-flight Democrats, earned a certain reputation in 2005 when he conducted a scurrilous "omnibus poll" on sentiments about the Iraq War. That poll, which contradicted nearly every other opinion poll of the time, was utilized by George W. Bush to argue that public support for the war was still strong. RT Strategies conducted polls of the presidential race during the primaries with the Cook Report.
Portsmouth Focus Group participants were misled not only about the purpose of the "research," but also about the identity of the moderator. They were not given Mr. Riehle's name and were told the company was a market-research firm in Cincinnati. In other words, steps were taken to hide the fact that the nature of the "research" was political.
So who hired RT Strategies? Mr. Riehle would not disclose his client. But we can proceed quite far by process of elimination.
The issue was raised last week at a meeting of the Citizens Advisory Board at Piketon. At that meeting, both officials of both the US Department of Energy and Ohio EPA denied any involvement. An explicit end-run around the Advisory Board would be culpable by either agency.
We can rule out Republicans. McCain had already held his Portsmouth town hall and announced his Piketon policy, as ambiguous and dumb as it may be. Neither McCain nor Jean Schmidt would hire a Democrat to poll other Democrats on an issue that would likely go against Republican stated positions.
The Victoria Wulsin campaign denies involvement, and would not have the money to do it. We can rule out the Obama campaign as well -- if they wanted opinions about Piketon, they'd consult knowledgeable individuals, not commission a rigged group to give a rigged response this late in the game.
Now it's interesting that we've heard an explanation for this shady focus group -- the same explanation from two supposedly independent sources. One of the focus group participants, and a DOE official, have, on separate occasions, expressed the identical opinion that this was commissioned by a "a federal contractor preparing a D&D bid" related to Piketon work. D&D stands for Decontamination and Decommissioning.
There are about a dozen reasons why that explanation cannot possibly be true. The major D&D contracting bids were prepared last spring -- why conduct a focus group now, coincidentally two weeks before Barack Obama comes to town? (There were no such focus groups conducted then, or any other time.) And why only in the county that Barack is visiting? And why a political polling outfit from DC, not a market-research firm? And why the mix of public officials and selected "ordinary citizens"? A contractor could get the opinions of public officials for free by asking them. And why were opinions about future use of the Piketon site asked if the contractor were bidding on a cleanup contract?
No, that bit of conjectural malarkey represented evidence that the parties involved are getting their cover story straight. What happened here is that the same group of local and state Copperhead Democrats, together with USEC Inc. and its allies, retained Mr. Riehle's "polling firm" to manufacture evidence that "the community" needs and wants a USEC bailout.
Participants were selected to obtain that result and make it sound credible, with the intended consumer of the "research" being the Obama campaign. They needed to make sure that Barack would hold to the USEC loan guarantee promise, when he visits town. Much more than the spin of a centrifuge plant hangs in the balance. Area residents and local governments were the last ones duped into holding USEC stock.
But now they are busted. And USEC stock is stuck in a special Piketon purgatory. So what will Barack say about USEC when he comes to town, stepping amongst the lyin' and the snakes? Anything positive Barack does say about USEC will help Jean Schmidt get reelected, and would violate every principle Obama has espoused about financial responsibility.
On the other hand, if Barack fails to back a bailout for USEC, it's a direct affront to Teddy Strickland, who will be at his side, ready to slap or stab his back, as the case may be.
The Audacity of Hope
We who cling to hope in this community are curious to see what happens. It's showtime in southern Ohio, Barack. Do you really have the gumption to tell the truth and go against the good ol' boys of your own titular party on a matter of principle and integrity? Did you mean it about all those green jobs in renewable energy? Or was that only for other places, while Appalachians get stuck with coal and nuclear waste and contruction projects that lead to no permanent jobs. On Thursday, we shall see.
NOTE: More information about Piketon can be found at SONG: Southern Ohio Neighbors Group
CORRECTION: The original announcement suggested that Biden would join the tour. That appears to not be the case. I've corrected the title and text accordingly.