Today’s theme: drastic changes in fortunes and lifestyles.
In its not-so-brief and thoroughly unhappy life, ground zero has been a site for many things: tragedy and grief, political campaigns and protests, battling architects and warring cultural institutions, TV commercials and souvenir hustlers. Perhaps it was inevitable we’d end up at pure unadulterated farce.
This is a dramatic change from just a year ago. In the heat of election season, the Bush-Cheney campaign set off a melee by broadcasting ads that featured the shell of the World Trade Center and shrouded remains being borne away by firefighters. Ground zero was hallowed ground, and the outcry against its political exploitation was so fierce that the ensuing Republican National Convention went nowhere near the site that had made New York its cynical choice of venue in the first place. Instead, the prospect of terror and the hot-button-pushing invocations of 9/11 were shoveled into the oratory at Madison Square Garden, where Rudolph Giuliani had a star turn. All the post-election talk of “moral values” notwithstanding, the terrorism card proved the decisive factor in the defeat of John Kerry, a character whose genius for equivocating on just about any issue rendered him a pantywaist against an opponent who had stood with a bullhorn in the smoky wreckage and had promised to round up the bad guys “dead or alive.”
But once the election was over, ground zero was tossed aside like a fading mistress. The only time it has figured in national public discourse since was when the president nominated Bernard Kerik director of homeland security. The most damaging of the subsequent allegations against this 9/11 hero – that he had used an apartment for rescue workers overlooking the site as a hot-sheets motel for an extramarital tryst – didn’t just end his government career; it effectively downsized ground zero from sacred ground into crude comic fodder for late-night comics. The fallen cultural status of the site in the months since is epitomized by the recent news conference at which Donald Trump thought nothing of showcasing his own stunt plan for ground zero (building replicas of the twin towers, only a story higher) as a promotional tie-in to the season finale of his reality show, “The Apprentice.” Though there was some outrage among the 9/11 families, everyone else either giggled or shrugged (and “The Apprentice” was still eviscerated by “CSI”).
He looks like a different person.
He used to weigh 400 pounds. Now he’s 200. He seems taller. His dimples flash when he smiles. He’s still getting used to being able to slip by people in the mall, instead of having to say, “Excuse me,” and enduring their stares as he lumbers past.
Just don’t call him a success story. Yet.
It’s been a year since Matt Strollo, 18, had weight loss surgery, and three months since his story ran in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Since that first article, he’s lost another 20 pounds. He got a raise at work. He’s started to learn to drive. He’s lost the sadness that used to cling to him as surely as his extra weight.
COLUMBUS – With its intrigue of missing rare coins bought with state funds and campaign cash flowing to Ohio Republican leaders, some are predicting that “Coingate” will be a bigger scandal than the one that led to a near-Democratic sweep of statewide offices in 1970.
But the question now is whether Democrats will capitalize on the growing Republican scandal surrounding the state’s $10 million to $12 million loss in rare-coin investments controlled by Tom Noe, a prominent Toledo-area GOP fund-raiser and coin dealer.
“The people in the state of Ohio are going to want to elect people in 2006 who they can trust will not use their positions to help their contributors,” said state Sen. Marc Dann, a Democrat from suburban Youngstown. “The folks in charge now have shown their willingness to help their contributors at the expense of the state.”
Federal and state authorities Thursday said they are pursuing criminal and civil charges against Mr. Noe for allegedly misappropriating millions from the state’s rare-coin investment.
It’s unclear whether Mr. Noe used some of the state’s money to make contributions to Republican candidates, including President Bush’s re-election campaign, said Ron O’Brien, Franklin County prosecutor.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI are investigating whether Mr. Noe violated campaign-finance laws. That probe has focused on an October, 2003, fund-raiser in Columbus that generated $1.4 million for the Bush campaign.
The Bush-Cheney campaign lists Mr. Noe as a “pioneer” for raising from $100,000 to $250,000 for the President’s re-election campaign.
Ohio ended up being the most crucial swing-state win for Mr. Bush in last year’s election, with Democrat John Kerry conceding the race on the day after the election only after it became clear that Ohio’s electoral votes would go to Mr. Bush.
Political observers have said the GOP’s control of state government, and GOP fund-raising in the state, was crucial to Mr. Bush’s win.
Ohio Democrats haven’t won a governor’s race since 1986.
Like a prairie fire, the controversy over the state’s $50 million rare-coin investment controlled by Mr. Noe crackled and heated up in the days and weeks after The Blade’s first story on the unusual investment was published on April 3.
But the flames now threatened to immolate Republican leaders, with last week’s revelation that Mr. Noe’s attorneys had told law-enforcement authorities that $10 million to $12 million of Capital Coin’s assets are “unaccounted for.”
And the story-turned-scandal is no longer just an Ohio story.
In addition to broadcast and cable TV coverage, the New York Times yesterday ran a front-page story on it above the fold with the headline: “Coins Go Missing, and GOP insider becomes outcast.”
The Democratic National Committee on Friday called for President Bush to return all of the money that Mr. Noe raised for his re-election bid.
“The problem is that President Bush has seized on that access from the scandal-plagued characters such as Jack Abramoff, and now Tom Noe,” said Josh Earnest, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. Abramoff is a powerhouse lobbyist who has been embroiled in a scandal reaching top Republicans in Washington, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Mr. Abramoff’s clients allegedly paid for free overseas trips for Mr. DeLay. Moreover, Mr. Abramoff is being investigated by the Justice Department for allegedly bilking Indian tribes of millions of dollars in fees.
Mr. Earnest said a culture of corruption that mirrors Ohio’s political climate exists also in Washington, where Republicans have control of the presidency, the Senate, and the House.
Remember, Watergate started with a “third-rate burglary.”