Domestic atrocities

To paraphrase Lily Tomlin, no matter how loathsome you think today’s Republican Party is, you can’t keep up. Last week I got a memo from them that was so criminally insane it made me spit Starbucks French Roast on my Dockers.

The memo, from the National Republican Congressional Committee, accused U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, a Yooper from Escanaba, of being soft on communism. I rubbed my eyes. Was this really dated ... 1955?

Nope. “Stupak Votes FOR Naming U.S. Post Office after Reputed Communist,” was the screaming headline. Was this a gag? First of all, trying to smear people that way went out of style after the demagogue Joe McCarthy was condemned by his own U.S. Senate, and then speedily drank himself to death.

Plus, Bart Stupak is about as much of a left-winger as I am a member of the U.S. Olympic gymnastic team. He’s a socially conservative Democrat, a former cop who is strongly anti-abortion. He’s fairly liberal on economic issues, and to the right of his party on environmental matters. In other words, he votes the way his district feels, and beats every opponent the GOP sends his way.

So what in the moonlight was this all about? Suddenly, I had a gleam in my eye. Maybe, just maybe, the revolution was starting in the resource-raped frozen North, and ol’ Bart was on the cutting edge. I had visions of cases of vodka from across the Bering Strait, fur ushanka hats, the red banner fluttering above the Rosa Luxemburg Post Office and General Store in Ironwood, 49928.

Then I read the rest of the press release. This is what really happened: Stupak voted to name a post office in Berkeley, Calif., after 94-year-old Maudelle Shirek, the now-retired vice-mayor of that town.

But why, you ask, was our congressman trying to name a post office after a communist? He wasn’t, and she isn’t a communist. Nor did Stupak, in all probability, have any idea at all who she was.

Here’s the truth. Maudelle Shirek, the granddaughter of slaves, was a longtime peace activist and civil rights worker in Berkeley. She is now near the end of her life, and her congressman, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, sponsored a bill to name a post office for her. This happens all the time in Congress.

Other members, as a courtesy, routinely support their colleagues’ requests to name things after whomever they want in their district. But this time, the nomination excited the passions of one Steven King, a horror novel of a congressman from some backwater town in Iowa.

True, Steve the Lesser never went to college, but he knows his commies. He owned a construction company before his elevation by the voters, and now mainly spends his time fighting against unions and civil liberties.

“Joe McCarthy was a hero for America,” this pea-brain proclaimed last week. When someone told him that Shirek had been in favor of freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal, he started to twitch. Then he learned that she had supported a library in Berkeley that, according to the GOP press release, “provides information on progressive alternatives” and “says its stated mission is to support struggles for racial and gender equality, and for Socialism.”

Damn. How much more un-American can you be? Republicans rallied around the flag, and the post office naming was defeated on a 215-190 party-line vote.

Heartbroken, the elderly lady denied she was a communist, but that didn’t matter to Carl Forti, the slimeball “communications director” who writes press releases for the congressional Republicans. All he would say is “Rep. Stupak should explain why he believes taxpayers ought to foot the bill in order to have someone who embraces communism and is an apologist for a cop killer [apparently Mumia] honored with her own post office.”

The Republicans ought to explain why they don’t bathe in Lysol every night. What’s most hilarious is that while it may be news to the GOP, Soviet-style communism went out of business in 1991.

Ronald Reagan, in fact, had a lot to do with that. During his last years in office, he and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a communist to the core, spent more time embracing each other than any couple I’ve ever seen on Fire Island.

Today’s Republicans evidently didn’t get the memo.


The Truth About the Newspaper Sale: Two months ago, Detroit media were rocked by reports that Knight Ridder had sold the Free Press to Gannett and that Gannett had sold The News to MediaNews Group, a private company run by a character named Dean Singleton. Additionally, the Joint Operating Agreement, under which the newspapers combined their business functions, has been renegotiated, something that should have required government approval.

Now the facts are in — and they’re more shocking than even I imagined. This was a deal constructed so that, for all practical purposes, Gannett now owns both papers. Here’s the scoop:

The old JOA split profits 50-50 between Knight Ridder and Gannett, with Gannett being the dominant partner on the board. What are the terms of the new JOA? Gannett owns 95 percent. Not only that, MediaNews doesn’t get one cent until at least 2009 — if then.

Instead, MediaNews will get a “monthly fixed distribution” — an allowance — that will amount to $5 million a year and then decline steadily to $1.9 million seven years from now. Gannett also is supposed to reimburse MediaNews for “news and editorial costs.”

Know what this looks like to me? Gannett really owns both papers, for all practical purposes. Singleton has been hired as sort of a general manager to administer The Detroit News and create a pretense of competition.

Eventually, if it makes sense, they’ll just shut down The News. Or maybe not, depending on how the profit flow looks. In any event, this whole deal is an outrage and a sham, and should be reversed by the federal government.

Oops, I forgot. This deal does prove communism is a serious threat in this country. Communism for the rich, that is.

Let me know when the press release from the National Republican Congressional Committee arrives.


So long, Maryann: Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey’s long and distinguished career deserves far more than a footnote. Last week she announced that, for medical reasons, she is withdrawing from the race.

Without any doubt, she would’ve been re-elected easily. But, full of class to the core, she knew it was time to take a bow. So let me say that while there were those who disagreed with her on some issues, nobody ever doubted her integrity, or that her heart was in the right place.

Her retirement means that Detroit ought to have at least four new faces on council, assuming God keeps Lonnie Bates from finishing in the money. And it also raises another unanswered question:

Ken Cockrel Jr., the near-certain next council president, is an intelligent and decent man. But can he become outgoing enough and marshal the skills to become the true leader that body sorely needs?

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]. Hear him weekdays at 1 p.m. on WUOM (91.7 FM or
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