W. Carlton Weddington: My Six Months with Donald Harvey, “The Angel of Death”

Never in a million years did I think I would be sitting behinds bars in a state prison interacting with some of Ohio’s notorious high profile murders, rapists, pedophiles, drug dealers, robbers, drug addicts, gang members, and snitches; but in 2012, that became a reality. A who’s who of individuals that you heard about on the news, read about in the papers or that T.V shows did reports about; they all seemed to have ended up in A.O.C.I. in protective custody.

Almost two years later — these same men who if I were told I would have to be confined with for more than 2 minutes, let alone 2 years, I might have taken my own life in fear that whatever heinous act that got them here — I might meet the same fate, but now I have no fear of. In fact, mostly I feel sorry for them because my mental strength and education out-matches whatever means they used to victimize others on the outside.

Most inmates I encountered abandoned the difficult path of study, self-discipline, and rehabilitation for the instant gratification of prison life that leads to the perpetuation of the street life that brought them here. In Protective Control Unit alone, my first year in East 2 housing block, I lived among “The Angel of Death”, “The Handcuff Rapist”, The 1-75 Murderer”, Matt Hoffman who murdered a family and stuffed them in a tree, and since then in West 2 housing block, “The Highway Shooter” and T.J. Lane “The School Shooter”.

For 6-plus months I celled with one of America’s most notorious serial killers — although now in his early 60’s this soft spoken, openly gay and unassuming man was once known as the “Angel of Death”. Donald Harvey still scares many of PC’s other inmates even though he’s a stroke survivor, and he moves a little slower than usual. His resume proceeds him, even after serving 25 years of a life sentence for murders associated with his work as an employed medical assistant at the local VA and hospitals in Northern Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

During a conversation we had, he mentioned he had 91 bodies to his name although he was convicted for less. It was nothing for him to describe how he poisoned neighbors and killed his roommates father. I never felt threatened by Donald, although initially when I was told he was going to be my cellmate, it was a concern. It was either take him as a “cellie” or take someone I didn’t know.

Weddington and Harvey

I actually had some interactions with Mr. Harvey when we were housed across the hall in E-2 Block. Now in W-2 Block, I was part of a group that was assigned to the old patient wing which consisted of much larger cells and hot water sinks in two cells on the hall. The highlight of these cells is that they are actually big enough to hold 4 men, but now since we occupied the unit, only 2 men can live in these cells now.

The greatest thing I liked about these cells was that both beds were on the floor and not stacked on top of one another, as the other cells were. I chose the bed next to the window and wall rather than be next to the door across from the toilet: Being able to sleep with my back to or facing the wall, and not having to be awaken by a grown man doing the number 1 or 2 at the toilet, or the door slamming shut by my head.

Harvey and I got along for the most part. He had his quirks, as I am sure I had some issues too, but for the most part it was a non-eventful cell relationship. Occasionally his southern mis-education clashed with my northern progressive learning when the political talk shows were on, but most of the time I was tortured by daytime soaps, the Home and Garden Channel (which had no sound), or primetime reality shows like Dancing with the StarsThe Bachelor, or Big Brother.

Harvey was the avid fan, and I learned to watch Big Brother with Donald as if I had chosen to watch it myself. Eventually, I got my own TV and plugged in my headphones to watch what I wanted. He pretty much kept to himself and sat on his bunk watching television, reading a book or listening to music. He had a few friends that would write him on a regular basis and he would hear from his mother or talk to her on the phone. On the block, he would walk the yard with his walking partner and occasionally sit in the day room. For me, being the cellmate of the notorious “Angel of Death” was not so bad. But after 6 plus months, he moved in with “Jelly Roll” the “Handcuff Rapist” who was a former cellmate of his and I ended up with some knucklehead kid from Cleveland; What a change of pace.

I was released in the end of October 2014 and Donald was transferred to Toledo Correctional Institute after the fall out of the T.J. lane and others escape attempt. Protective Control inmates like Harvey with high profile cases and notoriety where sent to various Institutions across the state. A few stayed at Oakwood but it would never be the same again. Unfortunately for Harvey it would be his last move.

On March 30, 2017 Donald Harvey dubbed “The Angel of Death” was brutally beaten in his cell and died as results of his injuries at the age of 64. A tragic death for a serial killer whose fate was not believed to have come soon enough and who left this life with little fan fair unlike when he was on trial and first began his multiple life sentences. Arsenic and cyanide were his choice means to poison patients and other hideous means when he was a nurse’s aide from 1970 to 1987 when he was convicted.

W. Carlton Weddington: We Still Need Black History Month

The word History comes from the Greek word – historia, meaning knowledge acquired by investigation, it is the study of the human past; a chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes.

Each February, we celebrate and take time out to acknowledge the contributions that individuals and organizations of the African Diaspora made not only to and within the United States of America but around the World. Black History Month is celebrated annually in the United States (US) and Canada in February and the United Kingdom in the month of October. Historian Carter G. Woodson founded “Negro History Week” in 1926, to honor two Americans who greatly influenced the lives and social condition of African-Americans: former President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist former slave Frederick Douglass. Woodson chose the second week of February because it marked their birthdays.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are more than 41 million black residents in the United States, including those of more than one race. They make up 13.5 percent of the U.S. population.

In 2009, the inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American President, lent Black History a special significance because President Obama took the Oath of Office on January 20, the day after Americans honored the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a Federal holiday and National day of service. In his inaugural address, Obama acknowledged the historical importance of a moment in which “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred Oath.”

Black History Month sparks an annual debate about the continued usefulness and fairness of a month dedicated to the history of one race. Critics have suggested that Black History is irrelevant because it has degenerated into a shallow ritual and serves to undermine that “Black History” is “American History”. Some believe Black History Month should focus on positive as well as negative aspects of the black experience. “Certainly, struggle has been an ongoing theme in our history from the very beginning. However, we were not slaves prior to being captured in Africa — and while slavery was part of our experience for 250 years, we have a hundred-and-some years in freedom that we also need to deal with.”

I would argue that the investigation and the study of our past is still relevant and required today. Since the miraculous and stunning election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency of the United States, people have shown their true colors and miss-education about the many people, their ethnicity and culture that make up our great nation. Specifically we look at just 2 individuals Trump has selected to lead departments of the federal government with little to know understanding of the people whose lives will be affected by their decisions. Culture competency is of the utmost importance but is not evident in their first public statements regarding African-Americans. Just this past Black History month, Betsy DeVos showed her lack of competence and understanding by stating, “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.” Clearly the US Secretary of Education is “devoid” of understanding that blatant racism, Jim Crow in the South and segregation were the reasons Historically Black Colleges and Universities were founded to provide education to black and minority students otherwise barred. In his first official address to his Housing and Urban Development staff as Secretary, Ben Carson did the unconscionable. He said “…That’s what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.” Seriously? This is unacceptable, Africans were ripped from their families and brought to this country in chains under the most deplorable of conditions. The idea that these men, woman and children came to the Americas upon their own freewill and accord as immigrants is dumbfounding. Both DeVos and Carson were absolutely wrong in their interpretation and understanding of African-American history and shines light on the continued need for education of culture and conversation about a group of people that have help make America great. “In Trump world, their reality never matches our truth and history is re-written to justify falsehoods and lies becoming nothing more than ‘his’ story.”

Some of the most powerful, culturally rich nations and people on this earth have one thing in common. They think of themselves and their cultures as being of the utmost importance. You will find this to be evident among Anglo-Americans, Hispanics, Chinese, Arabs, Japanese, Europeans, Jews, Nigerians, East Indians and many others. The desire to know one’s history and preserve one’s culture is strong among many nationalities and peoples. In fact, people around the world have gone to war in order to preserve their language, culture and identity. Knowing this fact, we must remind ourselves of the importance as Blacks in America to continue the cultural renaissance began in the sixties by returning to the good aspects of Black culture, learning the history of Black cultures and civilizations in the Americas, Africa and around the world and using the preservation and application of cultural assets as a way to instill pride and continuity into Black people and all Americans.

“According to African-American historian John Henrik Clarke, in order to control a people, you must first control what they think about themselves and how they regard their history and culture. And when they feel ashamed of their culture and their history, prison chains are not necessary. This statement is a true assessment of what is going on in the black community. Many generations of African-Americans have been poisoned with self-hatred as a result years of slave mentality programming. Some of us have forgotten about the blood, sweat, and tears of Africans who were brought to this country against their will and whose blood still runs deeply in our veins.” The most tragic consequence of this mentality is that many African-American children are growing up today complacently ignorant about their heritage, not caring about anything other than the latest pair of Air Jordan’s and the new hot rap single.”

That is why it is so important to know one’s heritage and for our leaders down to our children to have a reasonable understanding from whence they and we come.

Greg Harris: Uniter in Chief?

Greg HarrisThe opportunity for Donald Trump to espouse a vision for a largely post-partisan right-of-center new politics is his to claim.  He is not ideological to his core, which can potentially be an asset. For Trump to truly succeed at unifying (most of) the nation, he must triangulate—i.e. prioritize an action agenda that seeks to solve our most pressing problems as a nation over a partisan agenda that takes sides and leads to ongoing policy stalemate.

Here are some ideas on how Trump can change business as usual in Washington and win the admiration of most Americans regardless of political affiliation:

Foreign Policy

As a primary candidate, Trump was actually the least hawkish of the GOP field (with the possible exception of Rand Paul). Trump’s critiques of the Iraq war, for example, were heartfelt as he espoused the most realistic albeit unorthodox (for Republicans) views on foreign policy, correctly faulting our military adventurism in Iraq as creating the conditions that gave rise to ISIS. Similarly, he challenged our targeting of dictators in Syria, Libya and Iraq as creating more human suffering and instability, not less.

A more humble policy where nation building is prioritized less, and aligning NATO-level with street-level intelligence is prioritized more, would create a more resourceful and targeted way to defeat not nations but, rather, nation-less terrorist cells.


Tax Reform

If Trump is sincere about cleansing Washington and serving the people over the powerful, there is no better place to start than tax reform. One key area is replacing the income tax with a national sales tax. Such reforms could be progressive by exempting the first $10,000 in worker earnings from payroll tax (as two-thirds of Americans pay more in payroll tax than income tax) and applying the VAT to financial transactions and capital gains (hence, not sparing the one percent who make most their income off stocks versus salary). It would also reduce waste by addressing the hundreds of billions in uncollected taxes in our current system, while drastically downsizing the scope of the IRS.

More exciting still, such tax reform would serve Trump’s stated priority of cleaning “the swamp” and cleansing democratic institutions hijacked by powerful interests and lobbyists that currently manipulate the tax code to the advantage of elites that pay for their services.


Infrastructure & Energy

Infrastructure is one area where Trump has signaled a willingness to go big, and there is no other area that spells more opportunity for our nation to remake our economy while making a middle class life a reality again for millions of “forgotten” Americans. His proposed $1 trillion would be sufficient to fund thousands of projects in queue to fix crumbling bridges and sewer systems, expand congested highways, bolster flood prevention, fix an antiquated energy grid, and so on.   In light of estimates that with “every billion dollars that you spend on infrastructure, you create 18,000 to 25,000 jobs,” millions of new jobs would be created.

If President Trump complemented investment in transportation with a goal of energy independence, he should look to make wind a primary energy supplier for the East and West coast states, plains states (from Kansas to Texas following the wind corridor) and regions along the Great Lakes; similarly, solar power could be a primary energy source for our Western and Southwestern states, perhaps combined with investment in desalination technology and distribution channels to make California and Southwestern states less vulnerable to drought.  These types of investments would be 21st century equivalents to Hoover Dam.

Furthermore, if Trump did like Eisenhower–who oversaw the construction of the modern highway system with the coming of the age of the automobile–and declared the coming of the age of advanced transit linking all of America by high speed rail and intra-linking communities by spokes that feed of that rail (street cars, etc.), we would surpass the high rail and transit networks of advanced European and Asian nations while opening up massive new economic opportunity for our nation (e.g. connecting the working poor to job centers).

These investments would help America largely run on its own energy sources.  And it would also shift geopolitical power away from oppressive regimes that feed on oil money, and end our days spending trillions on wars fought over foreign oil. In so doing, Trump could really create an America First energy policy and foreign policy.



Unlike candidate Trump, President-elect Trump has signaled a willingness to maintain some key features of Obamacare—including allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance policies, and prohibiting discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Trump might also consider a reform proposed from John Kerry’s 2004 campaign and allow federal subsidy for catastrophic care, and lower the age for Medicare eligibility (paid for my lifting the payroll tax cap). Such action would stabilize and even lower health insurance premium costs. Additional proposals like allowing insurance company completion across state lines (hence, curbing regional monopolies) would also help to keep premiums on par with inflation. In this way, a conservative alternative to Obamacare would also be compassionate, efficient and effective.


Immigration Reform

Contrary to his campaign rhetoric, President-elect Trump has signaled that he would pursue a more refined focus on illegals that have committed crimes, versus illegals in general. Trump should go further by rewarding good behavior and – consistent with his law and order views – reward with amnesty those illegals that have paid taxes, committed no crimes and demonstrated through their actions that they are very much an asset to America. Such an approach would be well received by most Americans, and win over in particular the support of many Latinos.


Rewarding Work

America is a generous country that pretty much guarantees a pathway to success for those who take advantage of the free education that is offered them, stay out of trouble, and work hard. But government cannot cure personal and moral issues. What government can do, in targeted ways, is reward positive behavior like hard work and continuing education.

For example, Ronald Reagan conceived of the earned income tax credit as a means to reward work by supplementing modest wages. Trump can build on such policies by expanding the EIC. He can also support small businesses (like mine) that are the leading employers in our nation. Small business owners are especially good at vetting and cultivating reliable workers, and could offer such worker more hours and more income if we were to get some relief in areas like payroll tax (perhaps by waving the employer match for the first $5000 in income), which deeply cut against our bottom lines.


Social Issues

Stay moderate. Young liberal and conservative minded folks alike increasingly could care less if a Gay couple gets married. But they do care about issues like crushing student debt, or spending trillions on foreign wars while we cannot afford to repair our nation’s antiquated infrastructure, or adequately care for our heroic veterans. Trump can be a leading voice for criminal justice reforms (now strongly advocated by many conservatives, including the Koch Brothers), including more cost effective policies to deal with the drug epidemic, including expanding addiction and mental health treatment that costs far less than prison.

Should Trump forge a new conservatism that applies serious and cost effective solutions to the pressing issues in out time – from quelling military adventurism to building a 21st century infrastructure and energy policy that would create millions of new – he would ironically evolve from a divisive candidacy to a unifying presidency. Here’s hoping the President-elect defeats ideologically driven Washington gridlock by ruling from a radical, activist center that shuns partisanship in favor of progress.

Greg Harris: Donald Trump — The Art of the Divide

Greg HarrisThis column isn’t about me, but if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to talk briefly about my own short-lived political career in order to make a broader point about today’s political dynamics as played out in the current presidential primaries.

I ran for Cincinnati City Council in 2007, and while unsuccessful, I did well enough to get appointed to fill Mayor John Cranley’s seat when he left City Council in early 2009. I didn’t enjoy much of a honeymoon, however, as the impact of the Great Recession hit locally, and Cincinnati suddenly faced a $50 million budget shortfall. And this is when I got a crash course in politics.

Councilmembers who I thought I knew well started holding press conferences that, in my view, played off ignorance: they claimed the deficit wasn’t real, and that lots of police officers were going to needlessly get laid off. From my own research (I came from a policy background and knew how to dissect budgets) however, I learned that while public safety consumed two-thirds of the city budget, not all dollars were being spent in ways that made us safer. For example, why were we spending millions in costly overtime for walking patrols when police visibility should have been prioritized and integrated into FOP contracts? I also concluded that if the FOP simply considered forgoing a raise for their members for the first time in five years, then they could largely achieve the cuts that were asked of their department without layoffs.

But such modest sacrifice was not considered. Furthermore, as the city’s newest Councilmember, I was depicted as the vital 5th vote (out of nine councilmember) that could save police jobs, or, be the guy who does them in. I confess, the temptation was great. I could’ve branded myself all the way to Election Day as the guy who saved police jobs and kept our city safe. But I knew the issue was a charade, and it had little policy integrity. If we spared the police department of any cuts in face of a large deficit, the balance would be taken from other programs like basic services. I didn’t bite, despite the temptation.
My larger point? Locally and nationally, the politics of fear mongering and division can win elections. Apparently, no one knows this as well as Donald Trump. We are now seeing his encouragements of violence at rallies leading to actual violence. We are seeing him pit different groups of Americans against one another—e.g. preying on ignorance about our nation’s immigrant tradition and about Islam. Nothing comes cheap, easy and instantly gratifying than stoking anger. To the credit of Governor John Kasich, he has waged a unifying presidential campaign that is the antidote to Trump’s day to day, free association belching of discord.

Many Americans have legit reasons for being angry and scared. Middle class wages have been stagnant. The powerful seem to operate by their own rules. New enemies take shapes and forms we aren’t accustomed as nation-less terrorist cells. Some feel their faith and traditions are being undermined. A vulnerable America deserves empathy and action, and Democrats and Republicans have been complicit in systemically redistributing wealth and influence away from working people.

The proverbial “little guy” deserves an agenda that respond to his fears. What “he” is getting is a showman that is stoking his fears for political advantage.

The greatest political compliment I ever received was from my friend George who said I was one of the few politicians he knew “who cared more about doing his job than keeping his job.” In some ways I lived up to this compliment, and other ways I didn’t. But we deserve leaders who put their townships, their cities and their nation ahead of their own election or re-election. Trump’s pathological self-worship and lack of depth has led him to fan flames without concern for their consequences because in the end he serves mostly himself.

The politics of division and fear mongering are cheap and easy. Politicians can take it to an art form. Public servants, by contrast, take on the far more difficult task of seeking genuine ways to serve the people and appeal to their better angels.

John Y. Brown, IV at the Jefferson-Bullitt Conservative Social

Rebecca just edited and sent me this video from last May.
It was just after the gubernatorial primary and my son and I were invited by the wonderful Rachel Ford Jones to speak at the Jefferson-Bullitt Co Conservative Club, with my son giving the conservative viewpoint on the election and me giving the liberal viewpoint
It was an honor to be asked to speak and we had a lot of fun.. Hearing my son, who just turned 21, speak to an adult audience and be as poised and thoughtful as he was, made me awfully proud.
I love that Johnny has his own political views. We discuss and debate politics often. At times we disagree passionately but we always are respectful of one another. I have learned a lot from debating with Johnny (and believe –or hope anyway–that Johnny has learned a lot from me). Our political discussions have made us both more thoughtful about our individual viewpoints and more respectful of opinions that differ from our own.

John Y. Brown, III: How to Survive a Winter Storm

jyb_musingsHow to survive a major storm –and (maybe) find your inner hero

As we hunker down tonight for Kentucky’s Blizzard-Palooza, I am reminded of an even bigger storm I endured over 20 years ago and, as awful as it was, I actually remember in a weirdly endearing way.

I was a newlywed and recent law school grad and had just moved to Tamarac, Florida, to start a new job in Ft Lauderdale. I chose Tamarac because I was able to get a great deal on a condo rental and had rented it sight unseen.

As we drove into Tamarac we noticed it wasn’t the young hip town we had hoped it would be but was a retirement community. The first restaurants we saw were all buffet restaurants and each block was dotted with prosthetic stores. I admitted to Rebecca
I probably should have researched Tamarac better (this was pre-Internet days; there was such a time) but encouraged her to look on the bright side: it was a great deal, we wouldn’t have rowdy neighbors, and hey, it was Florida.

We found our pink pastel retirement condo, unpacked, picked up some toiletries, rented some movies at Blockbuster and got dressed-up and headed out for our first big date night in Florida.

We got home late and as we got ready for bed, Rebecca flipped on the television and yelled for me to come quickly.

“What is it?” I asked.

Rebecca pointed to the TV, “Look! They are warning that a major hurricane is coming tomorrow and saying we should evacuate”

“Nah.” I muttered reassuringly. “It’s Florida. They have hurricanes all the time. We’ll be fine.”

We turned off the TV went to bed and didn’t wake up until noon the next day.

We leisurely headed to grocery to stock our new home but noticed the grocery was busy–crazily busy– and much of the shelves had been cleared.

We bought a few items and headed home to find out more about this hurricane. It was called Hurricane Andrew.

I still wasn’t overly concerned. I’d been through hurricanes before. But Rebecca hadn’t and was getting worried.

I decided to snap into action as the strong protective husband I sensed my wife and our small shih-tzu dog, Julep, were yearning for me to be. Since the grocery stores had limited choices, I went to Miami Subs and bought half dozen sub sandwiches. I proudly
showed Rebecca how I’d outsmarted our bleak circumstances and made sure we wouldn’t be without food.

But instead of being relieved, Rebecca looked more nervous than before and told me she thought we should evacuate like everyone else. She had been watching the news and miles of streaming cars were south Florida in a mass exodus.

“Look,” I implored. “How many times will we get to say we lived through one of the worst storms in modern history —and survived it?” I paused. “Think about it.” I paused again. “This is an historic opportunity.”

It was my way of coping. I was trying to appear brave and considered Mother Nature throwing down the gauntlet to us. The movie Forrest Gump hadn’t been released yet but I was already channeling Lt Dan defiantly trying to take on a vicious storm on a sinking
shrimp boat. Of course, in my version, I wouldn’t be outside on a sinking ship but inside a air-conditioned pink condo eating a gourmet sub sandwich. But it’s the same basic idea.

As I jabbered on, I noticed fearful tears welling up in Rebecca’s eyes.

“What about Julep?” She asked. “What if we all die?”

I felt a lump welling in my throat and despite my brilliant sub sandwich maneuver, I was beginning to second guess the wisdom of my plan to stare down Hurricane Andrew.

We looked again at the TV and now it was eerily quite outside—the chilling calm before the storm.

Reporters were telling us the roads were now clear; that the city had been evacuated and those who stayed behind were hunkering down to brave the storm.

“Get the dog.” I said resignedly. “We’re leaving.”

Rebecca hugged and thanked me, got Julep and a change of clothes, and we hopped in the car and were off.

We had a clear shot —hardly any traffic –all the way to north Florida as we outran Hurricane Andrew. It was a bizarre consolation prize for our (my) foolhardy delay.

We were nearing the Georgia border and now were exhausted and ready to find a hotel room for the night. But tens of thousands of others had the exact same thought and started hours before us. Hotel after hotel told us they were full. About 5am we were
nearing Valdosta, GA and found a La Quinta Inn. There was a single room available someone had reserved but they hadn’t shown and the manager graciously gave it to us. We didn’t dare tell the manager about Julep in case they had a “no pet” policy. I tucked
Julep under my arm and smuggled her by the manager and she thankfully didn’t yelp.

The next day we took it easy and reflected on how grateful we were that we fled and were safe and dry in a nice hotel with electricity. We stayed a second night and the next morning I called UK law school to see if final grades had been posted. I called
from the phone in the hotel room (we didn’t have a cell phone; there was such a time) and gave the administrator my social security number while still on my knees, where I had just prayed fervently for good grades allowing me to graduate.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” I yelled into a pillow to muffle the sound of my ecstatic scream when I received the merciful news I had graduated from law school.

As an aside, I have always had an affection for LaQuinta Inns ever since.

We decided it was time to head home to survey the damage and face the consequences. We pulled in just before nightfall and to our amazement our condo building hadn’t been hit at all. We even had electricity. We had remarkably been spared.

Other towns nearby, like Kendall and Homestead were nearly decimated. 25,000 homes were destroyed and 100,000 more damaged. Over a million homes were without electricity –many for weeks. 26 people died and property damage totaled over $26 billion. Hurricane
Andrew was the most destructive hurricane in American history.

We went inside and threw away the four extra sub sandwiches, unpacked and turned on the TV just as if nothing had happened since we turned it off two days earlier.

It’s truly amazing how quickly we can return to our petty normalcy even after just being spared major devastation.

A few days later I returned the movies we had rented from Blockbuster and was charged a late fee. I argued that Blockbuster should waive the late fee because the hurricane was an “Act of God” that caused me to flee the city for several days and return
the movies late. I tried explaining in a lawyerly fashion that these clauses were in all contracts and called a force majeure clause. The teenaged clerk looked at me like I was a babbling ass, which I was. But that didn’t stop me.

“Look, I’m a lawyer.” I explained. “Trust me. This is not something you want to fight me on.” I didn’t threaten to sue Blockbuster over the $2 late charge but tried to insinuate that was a distinct possibility.

The clerk told me he’d have to talk to his manager the next day but had to charge me the late fee for now. I shrugged and paid the late fee and strutted out of Blockbuster as dauntingly as I could in a T-shirt.

I probably hadn’t impressed my teen accuser, but told myself I had grown a lot the week of the storm. I was now a law grad and just had my first legal run-in over a movie rental late charge and, despite losing, had made some forceful legal points.

And, of course, I now was a fearless survivor of a major storm.

I got into my car and headed back to my pink pastel condo where I was sure my wife and shih tzu were waiting eagerly for their hero to return home.

Maybe tonight in Kentucky there are some young insecure newly married young men awaiting the avalanche of snow and fearful they won’t know how to handle it. Fear not. This may be the night you find your hero’s voice. Or maybe it won’t be and you’ll end
up like me with only a silly story about how you survived Kentucky’s winter storm in 2016. Either is fine as long as you are lucky enough to come out unscathed.

My advice? Do what they say on the news and don’t get hung up on ideas involving sub sandwiches. And most importantly, realize your wife really knows best and if you trust her instincts, you’ll both be fine — and she’ll still love you and pretend you’re
her hero.

And, finally, if you decide to pick a fight with a teenage clerk, don’t. Just pay and walk away. Trust me on this. I’m a lawyer, you know.

Good luck!

John Y. Brown, III: Fancy Farm in the Cultural Crosshairs: The War on Fancy Farm

JYB3This year, ironically, it was Fancy Farm itself that was the recipient of some of the most potent barbs from the speaking dais.

The annual Fancy Farm picnic is famous for hosting an annual platform for face-to-face political zingers, barbs and put-downs. It is unique to the nation and perhaps the last living remnant of the historic stump speaking tradition of political campaigns that preceded modern media and the current TV/Internet/Social Media dominance of political campaign messaging.

The old-fashioned way of political campaigning on display at Fancy Farm is, some are now arguing, a useless and corrosive relic that needs to be politely euthanized.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin began his speech by questioning the value of what he characterized as the mean-spirited vacuity of Fancy Farm rhetoric. “We are celebrating our divisions, and we’re doing it in the childish way that frankly does not resolve any of the issues we face.” Bevin then zigged and zagged with several variations of what strove to be a statesman-like speech, including the Pledge of Allegiance, but instead came off as more of a politically tone deaf misfire for what is expected at Fancy Farm.

The insurgent Republican nominee for governor, Matt Bevin, has already defined himself as a successful critic of Kentucky political traditions. Bevin’s first major political pronouncement after winning the Republican primary was that the statue of Jefferson Davis in the state Capitol Rotunda, where it had been on display for over 50 years, needed to go because it was offensive and out of step with modern values. And Bevin’s leadership stock soared as most other Kentucky politicians –from both political parties –quickly agreed and also called for the removal of the Davis statue from the Capitol rotunda. Will Bevin’s declarations against Fancy Farm, the 135 year old political stump speaking picnic, meet with similar success or be viewed as an overreach? That is the question playing out now as the Fancy Farm relevancy discussion intensifies.

After Bevin’s speech some commentators seemed sympathetic to Bevin’s questioning of the modern value of Fancy Farm. They asked, What value is there, really, from candidates running for high political office congregating in deep Western Kentucky for one weekend in August each year to simply throw hard political punches and cutting verbal jabs at their opponents?

Fancy Farm seems to invite and even celebrate the most frivolous of political maneuverings and machinations. Observers cheer and jeer their candidates and political party –often jeering more than cheering. The criticisms being leveled at Fancy Farm are largely high-minded appeals that liken Fancy Farm to a political form of Internet bullying or vicious Twitter insults, which likewise have no role in our public discourse and shouldn’t be tolerated or encouraged.

Certainly, there would be value in better ensuring that the speaking and politicking at Fancy Farm more closely honor the historic practices Fancy Farm seeks to celebrate. It’s hard to disagree that, at times, Fancy Farm rhetoric and activities get derailed into something more akin to a vaudeville act than old-timey political stump speaking. I’m not suggesting a sanitized version of Fancy Farm. That would miss the point. One of the great values of Fancy Farm is that it provides a political forum that is unsanitized, as political commentator Scott Jennings aptly put it.

Citizens and voters today are bone weary of the modern consultant-controlled and remote TV/Internet/Social Media political campaigns. More than bone-weary, they are starving for authenticity and spontaneity. Something extinguished by the modern political campaign machines. Fancy Farm offers a glimpse, even if only a crude and momentary one, to voters seeking genuine human contact and real unscripted interaction with political candidates. The opportunity for that kind of “old fashioned” political interaction is rare and seemingly on the cusp of extinction. Fancy Farm, in it’s own rambunctious, rakish and rube-like ways is trying to fan that flame before it gets extinguished entirely.

At bottom, Fancy Farm may be a brutish attempt at trying to preserve something noble in politics: the genuine human element. An attempt, by the way, that all well-mannered and high-brow efforts to retain have failed to preserve. And, oddly, the raw carnival nature of the way Fancy Farm captures this voter-to-candidate connectedness may be what helps it succeed.

The chief complaint from Fancy Farm critics seems to be that the weekend picnic late each summer brings out the worst in our political instincts by encouraging candidates to say harsh, personally cruel and caricature-ish things about one another that demeans and diminishes our political process and needs to be eliminated rather than celebrated.

Ironically, the harshest barbs hurled against gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin weren’t originated at Fancy Farm but were quoted directly from television, internet and radio ads (our more modern campaign tools) by Senator Mitch McConnell when Bevin challenged Senator McConnell in the Senate primary last year. And the same can be said for much of the harshest Fancy Farm rhetoric—it is merely a repetition of what has been (or will be) run for months as paid political advertisements on television, radio and the Internet.

Ironically, then, what really makes Fancy Farm appear so crude and cruel isn’t what is actually said or done from the dais. Rather, it is simply because it is being said face-to-face rather than said more palatably by an actor in a soft voice-over for a paid political television advertisement.

Perhaps, what is truly shocking about Fancy Farm is that it reminds us of just how uncivilized, coarse, bizarre and ridiculous our “modern” political campaigning methods have become. And how it is actually these modern political campaign tactics that may be the real relics that are corroding our political process and need to be politely euthanized.

I believe Fancy Farm is a jarring reminder of that fact. But understanding the bigger problem requires looking beyond Fancy Farm and connecting dots that are much bigger and much more worrisome than a little picnic in the recesses of western Kentucky. Eliminating Fancy Farm won’t eliminate coarse political insults from the political process. It will only relieve candidates from ever having to say it to their opponent’s face.

This doesn’t justify the excesses of Fancy Farm but does help put them into a more honest perspective.

We should all work to find ways to provide authentic political events that better provide a vehicle for citizens to interact face-to-face with their political candidates. Any move away from the “modern” political campaigning practices of spending billions of dollars annually (that’s right, billions) for paid political advertisements featuring sanitized viciousness and nonsensical blather should be encouraged.

Crude and unsavory political insults should never be the bread and butter of our modern political discourse, but until we as a society are ready to have a serious discussion about really changing that very serious and chronic malignancy in our body politic, it’s hard to take seriously those focusing in on a once-a-year annual picnic that, at worst, merely caricatures in a fun and festive way –and allows us to laugh at it— the kind of political debate that we as citizens and voters have to endure remotely and pretend to take seriously as “real political campaigning” the rest of the year.

John Y. Brown, III: The Perils and Power of Praying with your Partner

jybderby_1During a recent routine physical, my doctor found some concerning results in my blood work and asked me to come in for some follow up tests which indicated I needed to see a specialist for still further tests to rule out anything serious.

I felt like I would probably be OK but was concerned and that night after I told Rebecca about it asked if we could pray together and she said, “Yes. Of course.”

I felt comforted by my wife joining me in prayer. I believe in the power of prayer and couldn’t imagine anything but good coming from it. Rebecca and I had done this before at the suggestion of a friend who told us praying together can be a great habit for couples if you can not worry about “sounding eloquent” and stay focused on your own praying and not your partner’s.

We knelt down, held hands and I prayed first. I asked God to please help me be free of the health problems that were concerning me and then added some “filler” prayer about other people and things so it wouldn’t seem to Rebecca (or God) like I was being overly self-centered and praying only for myself.

Then it was Rebecca’s turn. She asked God to please give her a “fuller heart” and then something else I couldn’t quite make out. I asked her to repeat it. I figured if I couldn’t hear it, God may not have been able to either. Rebecca again prayed for God give her a fuller heart and then followed with a more detailed way of saying what she had already said. Frankly, I didn’t feel the second part of her prayer added  much at all. But I was trying to focus on my praying and not Rebecca’s.

We both said “Amen” and then stood up and hugged. As hard as I tried not to think about Rebecca’s prayer, I couldn’t help notice she never asked God for me to be free of any health problems. I figured it was just an oversight on her part. I couldn’t imagine Rebecca purposely not praying for my health because she felt like she would give up an important chit with God that she was saving for something more important. So, I just let it go.

The next morning Rebecca and I got coffee and saw a good friend from church who had gone through some serious health challenges a few years ago and now was doing well. I shared with him my recent health concerns and he kindly assured me, “John, I’ll be praying for you to get a good medical report.” I made sure Rebecca was listening and responded, “Thank you. I’ll be doing the exact same thing myself!” I paused and looked over at Rebecca to see if she had anything to add. But she didn’t. Rebecca just smiled and hugged our friend goodbye and wished him a happy Derby weekend.

This was Rebecca’s second prayer snub for me in 24 hours and was obviously much harder for me to dismiss as just an oversight on her part. I didn’t say anything but was definitely bothered by it.

That night Rebecca and I were at dinner and she asked how I was doing. I told her I was a little anxious about the follow up blood tests being done the next day and hoped everything was OK. I tried to resist saying anything more but couldn’t resist. “Do you remember when we prayed last night?”

“Sure.” Rebecca answered lovingly.

“Well, I kinda noticed when we were praying that you didn’t pray for me for my tests to come back clear.”

“What? Yes, I did!” Rebecca shot back defensively.

“No. You really didn’t. Because I was listening closely for it and it just didn’t happen..” I paused to let it sink in and added, “At first, I thought it was an oversight. But when you had a second chance to pray for me this morning  at coffee and didn’t take it, it bothered me.”

Rebecca explained, “The reason I didn’t ask God for you tests to be clear is because I have been taught only to pray for ‘God’s will to be done’ instead of asking for specific things that I want Him to do for me.”

“What?” I responded incredulously.  “You’re saying you didn’t pray for my health because of some new prayer orthodoxy you just learned?”

“Yes.  I’m serious. ” Rebecca defended herself.

I sighed and shook my head. “I’m sorry. I just don’t think I can buy that.  If you were praying for our children —or even our dogs for that matter —- I suspect you would ask God to ‘please help them be in good health (or whatever you wee wanting for them) and then maybe after that add ‘If it be Thy will.’ But I can’t see you just praying, ‘Thy will be done’ without offering God other suggestions if it involved our kids or our dogs.”

Rebecca looked both perplexed and exasperated.

I continued, “Look, I’m not mad. I can’t tell you how you should pray. That’s between you and God. All I know is that if you were the one having medical tests tomorrow, I would ask God for your tests to be clear”

“OK. OK. OK! “ Rebecca interrupted, “I’ll be sure to ask God for your tests to be clear the next time we pray.”

“Don’t do that.” I said defensively. “I’m not even sure I want you now.”

“What?” Rebecca blurted in confusion.

“I sure don’t want you to pray for my health if it’s just to make me feel better. I want you to really mean it.”

“Of course, I’ll mean it,” Rebecca said . “I’m just not very eloquent at praying and wasn’t thinking. I want nothing more than for you to be well. I just forgot to say it.”

“Really?” I asked. “Do you mean that?” Rebecca assured me she did and I began to feel better about things and changed our conversation to a lighter topic.

Later that night before bed, Rebecca and I knelt down again and held hands in prayer. Rebecca went first this time and asked God for a “Fuller and more loving heart” but this time added, “And please help with John’s health”

I have to admit I was a little disappointed. “Please help with John’s health?” seemed weak and vague to me –and unlikely to have much of an impact at all. But I didn’t say anything. I was just glad Rebecca was trying. I bowed my heard and took my turn, I asked God to please help me to get “A clean bill of health with my medical tests” and before I could finish my prayer, Rebecca interrupted and added, “And please God help John to get a clean bill of health with his upcoming medical tests.”

Rebecca nailed it that time. Sure, she was just repeating my prayer verbatim, but I felt like Rebecca finally “got it” and was fully on board with doing all she could, prayer-wise, to help me out.

We said, “Amen,” and stood up and I thanked Rebecca.

The next day at the doctor’s office Rebecca and I held hands waiting for my results to come back. It was a long wait. I apologized to her for being so silly about how she prayed for me. I told her I was scared and wanted all the help I could get. She kissed me on the forehead and I said, “Thank you for being hear with me today. As always.”

Rebecca said, “Of course. That’s what I do. I’m always here for you and the kids. That’s my life.”

I smiled and said, “Well, I guess ‘being there for the ones you love,’ is about the most important job a person can have in this world.” Rebecca kissed me again on the forehead and we continued to wait.

Eventually the doctor came in and told us that the new tests didn’t indicate anything that we should be concerned about. It was a huge relief. There would be some follow up tests but I was essentially getting a “clean bill of health.” I hugged Rebecca tightly and thanked her for being such a good and supportive partner.

That night Rebecca and I knelt again to pray. We thanked God for all our blessings —with a special mention for my good test results. There were no special requests this time for either Rebecca or me. I was willing to pray for something for Rebecca if she wanted me to but she said she couldn’t think of anything. I did throw in a special thanks to God for providing me with such a loving an supportive spouse.  I felt like it was the least I could do.

Praying together as a couple is a very good thing. But not as simple as it sounds.

I know we aren’t supposed to focus on each other’s prayers, but Rebecca noticed my special thanks to God for her and thanked me afterwards. There was nothing more I had wanted from Rebecca prayer that night.

It felt feally good and I was already looking forward to praying together with Rebecca tomorrow night.

And secretly hoped Rebecca would thank God for giving her such a “loving and supportive husband.” But decided I probably wasn’t going to say anything if she didn’t.

Greg Harris: The Kase for Kasich

Greg HarrisSpeculation about a Kasich presidential run is still very much alive and well, and deservedly so. By any objective measure, Ohio’s economic situation has improved greatly under his leadership, which was affirmed in his landslide re-election. Kasich has emerged as somewhat a maverick at a time when other presidential contenders are sounding very much alike in making appeals to a small base of the Republican party (with some exception for Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul).

Governor Kasich stands out for a track record that no other contender can offer: a track record of effectiveness at the state and federal level. While many presidential hopefuls spout the need to cut spending and shrink government, Kasich actually led Congressional efforts to accomplish a balanced budget while in Congress. And Ohio’s economic recovery outshines that of Wisconsin, the home state of current frontrunner, Governor Scott Walker.

As a fulltime Governor, Kasich cannot camp out in Iowa. But he can distinguish himself from other candidates by tapping his inner-wonk and letting it shine. He would quickly distinguish himself by releasing a specified plan on exactly how he would balance the budget, which would quickly make the rhetoric of other challengers—lacking specifics—sound empty. Furthermore, Kasich can espouse at the national level what he is trying to do at the state level: convert from taxing income to taxing consumption.

A Kasich candidacy could spark a more deliberate policy discussion on tax reform. As I asked previously in the RP, does the income tax complement the American entrepreneurial spirit, or serve as its harness? Perhaps a national sales tax instead of income tax is more in line with the American experiment? Exempting the first $10,000 in worker earnings from payroll tax (FICA) could offset the regressive nature of a sales tax. The message of doing away with the IRS would certainly have appeal to Republican primary voters.

Policies that encourage savings, a real individual-level valuing of goods, and genuine control over what you earn and how you spend what you earn, should be part of some new reckoning with an economy that is ever changing. It also addresses hundreds of billions in uncollected taxes, and would not exempt the very rich if applied to financial transactions and capital gains.

More exciting still, such tax reform would have a strong cleansing effect on democratic institutions hijacked by powerful interests that currently manipulate the tax code to the advantage of elites that pay for their services—you know, the very institutions that were formed to give power to the people.

Kasich is currently fighting to return some of the money to Ohioans from the natural resources on which energy interests’ profit. A carbon tax on energy interests that likewise profit off our land could be used to reduce personal and corporate income tax rates, while incenting industries to reduce their carbon footprint.

A Governor Kasich presidential platform could be built on re-empowering the individual in an otherwise consumption-driven nation while bettering our economic and environmental well-being.

While the Governor wouldn’t capture the bank of big donors initially, his platform of substance would ride a wave of earned media and capture the imagination of much of the primary electorate by offering specifics where others only produce rhetoric. He would emerge as a reformer with results and a compassionate conservative in one.

In the process, Kasich would revive the long dormant Teddy Roosevelt wing of the Republican Party that is decidedly not in the pocket of special interests, and that cares about a clean environment and clean government. In so doing, he would appeal to a silent middle that does not currently have a home in the two-party system.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: March Madness Mittyism

jyb_musingsCall it pre-spring fever but every year in March (just before the basketball Madness begins), I break out with a serious case of roundball Walter Mittyism (James Thurber’s meek and mild-mannered fictional character with a daring and vivid fantasy life.)

Growing up in Kentucky means the usual childhood dreams of grown-up greatness inevitably include, at some point, imagined greatness as a basketball player. For the vast majority of us, basketball greatness never goes beyond the dreaming phase. But it’s a dream that continues to linger posthumously.

Kentucky basketball in March is a beautiful thing to behold. I suspect I am not alone in experiencing this annual psychological condition as our state’s college basketball teams emerge to dominate college basketball. The fever always passes but rarely before I experience obvious –and occasionally embarrassing – tell-tale symptoms.

This past Monday night I asked my 20 year old son Johnny to join me at a basketball court where we could play some competitive pick up games and he agreed.

As I strode onto the court, I imagined myself becoming transformed from a 5′ 8 1/2 middle-aged man in ” reasonably good health” (My doctors words) into a 51 year old basketball phenom who was about to dominate a new court playing against some unsuspecting innocent bystanders.

The other players on our pick-up team were impressive. In fact, daunting. They were regulars and probably played in high school and maybe even college. Two of them could dunk with little effort. As I took my warm-up shots from the range where Aaron Harrison strokes his tournament game winning 3-pointer jumpers, I imagined myself dishing a thrilling off-the-glass alley-oop pass to my one of my teammates who finishes with a thunderous dunk. My pass would be, I imagined, part John Wall, part Andrew Harrison and part John Y Brown III. After the dunk my teammate would find me on the floor and point as if to say “Nice pass, my man” and I would casually nod back (but without pointing) as if to say, “Nice dunk.”

My son Johnny was warming up with me but seemed more concerned about how successfully we’d match up with our fellow players on the court. After a few minutes, our pick-up game had begun.

And a few more minutes after that, our pick-up game had ended.

Political philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have described the game for our team as “Cruel, nasty, brutish –and short.” Dick Vitale would have simply said “Blowout, baby!”

Mostly, though, I didn’t care about the humiliating loss. I just wanted to steady myself against the court wall before collapsing or having to lie down on the floor to catch my breath.

One pick-up game, it turns out, was all I could handle last Monday. As we drove home, I said to Johnny in an forced upbeat voice (after having caught my breath), “Well…. I guess we did it. We played.”

“Uh, no Dad. We didn’t do anything.” Johnny responded slightly irritated with me trying to put a happy face on our disappointing performance.

“It was our first pick-up game in a long time. We are just rusty. That’s all.” I offered.

“Sure, Dad. If you say so.” Johnny said as be broke into a self-deprecating grin, “You know, even though I missed both my shots I was secretly hoping our teammates thought to themselves, ‘Hey, that guy may have missed his shot but he does have really nice shooting form. I hope he shoots again soon.’” Johnny laughed louder mocking his feeble fantasy.

“I think they probably did think that!” I offered compassionately. “You do have good form. Even great form. In fact, I was thinking that very thought when you missed your first shot.”

“You’re my dad. I can assure you no one else on our team had that thought” Johnny said shaking his head.

“Well, Johnny, when I shot my air ball I was secretly hoping the other players  on our team were thinking ‘Hey, that guy may have just shot an airball but he does have really nice shooting form. He probably just feels nervous right now since it’s his first shot of the game. That happens to all of us including me.  I’m not surprised at all he shot an airball. I hope he shoots again soon.”

I paused “Do you think the other players might have thought that after watching my airball shot?”

We both kept laughing at ourselves as we pulled into the driveway and we pledged for the remainder of March we would only play basketball on our backyard goal.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about that stunning off-the-glass alley-oop pass to a teammate leading to a thunderous dunk? Well, it never happened. But it was a beautiful thing to behold. In my imagination anyway.

But there is a consolation for my annual March Mittyism.  Some Kentucky college basketball player will make a comparable stunning play this month and do so on national television as millions of roundball fans watch in awe. And that makes my delusional fantasies just a little less absurd because I, too, am a Kentuckian in March.

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